The Never-Never Country

Original Text: 
Henry Lawson, When I was King and Other Verses (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1906): 40-43. x.908/578 British Library
1By homestead, hut, and shearing-shed,
2    By railroad, coach, and track --
3By lonely graves of our brave dead,
5To where 'neath glorious the clustered stars
6    The dreamy plains expand --
7My home lies wide a thousand miles
9It lies beyond the farming belt,
10    Wide wastes of scrub and plain,
11A blazing desert in the drought,
12    A lake-land after rain;
13To the sky-line sweeps the waving grass,
14    Or whirls the scorching sand --
15A phantom land, a mystic land!
16    The Never-Never Land.
17Where lone Mount Desolation lies,
18    Mounts Dreadful and Despair --
19'Tis lost beneath the rainless skies
20    In hopeless deserts there;
21It spreads nor'-west by No-Man's-Land --
22    Where clouds are seldom seen --
23To where the cattle-stations lie
24    Three hundred miles between.
26    The strange Gulf country know --
27Where, travelling from the southern drought
28    The big lean bullocks go;
29And camped by night where plains lie wide,
30    Like some old ocean's bed,
31The watchmen in the starlight ride
32    Round fifteen hundred head.
33And west of named and numbered days
34    The shearers walk and ride --
35Jack Cornstalk and the Ne'er-do-well
36    And the grey-beard side by side;
37They veil their eyes -- from moon and stars,
38    And slumber on the sand --
39Sad memories steep as years go round
40    In Never-Never Land.
42    Through years of flood and drought,
43The best of English black-sheep work
44    Their own salvation out:
45Wild fresh-faced boys grown gaunt and brown --
46    Stiff-lipped and haggard-eyed --
47They live the Dead Past grimly down!
48    Where boundary-riders ride.
49The College Wreck who sank beneath,
50    Then rose above his shame,
51Tramps west in mateship with the man
52    Who cannot write his name.
53'Tis there where on the barren track
54    No last half-crust's begrudged --
55Where saint and sinner, side by side,
56    Judge not, and are not judged.
57Oh rebels to society!
58    The Outcasts of the West --
59Oh hopeless eyes that smile for me,
60    And broken hearts that jest!
61The pluck to face a thousand miles --
62    The grit to see it through!
63The communion perfected! --
64    And -- I am proud of you!
65The Arab to true desert sand,
66    The Finn to fields of snow,
68    While the seasons come and go;
69And this old fact comes home to me --
70    And will not let me rest --
71However barren it may be,
72    Your own land is the best!
73And, lest at ease I should forget
74    True mateship after all,
76    Are hanging on the wall;
77And if my fate should show the sign
78    I'd tramp to sunsets grand
79With gaunt and stern-eyed mates of mine
80    In the Never-Never Land.

Notes

4] Up-Country and Out-Back: remote inland part of a country; and the interior Australian desert. Back to Line
8] Never-Never Land: northern (uninhabited) Queensland. Back to Line
25] drover: herders of droves of livestock (to market). Back to Line
41] Bourke: in the centre of the Australian outback, once the largest inland port on the Darling River. Back to Line
67] Flax-stick: slang for New Zealand Maori native, evidently after his raft, often made of flax stocks. Back to Line
75] billy: pot with lid and wire handle for cooking over a fire. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1901
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 2001.
Rhyme: