The Great Grey Plain

Original Text: 
Henry Lawson, In the Days when the World was Wide and Other Verses (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1896): 124-26. x.908/13059 British Library. shel 0660 Fisher Rare Book Library
1Out west, where the stars are brightest,
2    Where the scorching north wind blows,
3And the bones of the dead gleam whitest,
4    And the sun on a desert glows --
5Yet within the selfish kingdom
6    Where man starves man for gain,
7Where white men tramp for existence --
8    Wide lies the Great Grey Plain.
9No break in its awful horizon,
10    No blur in the dazzling haze,
11Save where by the bordering timber
12    The fierce, white heat-waves blaze,
14    Or looms when the sunlights wane,
15Till it seems like a distant mountain
16    Low down on the Great Grey Plain.
17No sign of a stream or fountain,
18    No spring on its dry, hot breast,
19No shade from the blazing noontide
20    Where a weary man might rest.
21Whole years go by when the glowing
22    Sky never clouds for rain --
23Only the shrubs of the desert
24    Grow on the Great Grey Plain.
25From the camp (while the Rich Man's dreaming)
26    Come the `traveller' and his mate,
27In the ghastly daylight seeming
29And the horseman blurs in the distance,
30    While still the stars remain,
31A low, faint dust-cloud haunting
32    His track on the Great Grey Plain.
33And all day long from before them
34    The mirage smokes away --
35That daylight ghost of an ocean
36    Creeps close behind all day
37With an evil, snake-like motion,
38    As the waves of a madman's brain:
39'Tis a phantom not like water
40    Out there on the Great Grey Plain.
42    Where a man lives like a beast
44    That stretches to the East;
45And the hopeless men who carry
46    Their swags and tramp in pain --
47The footmen must not tarry
48    Out there on the Great Grey Plain.
49Out West, where the stars are brightest --
50    Where the scorching north wind blows,
51And the bones of the dead seem whitest,
52    And the sun on a desert glows --
53Out back in the hungry distance
54    That brave hearts dare in vain --
55Where beggars tramp for existence --
56    There lies the Great Grey Plain.
57'Tis a desert not more barren
58    Than the Great Grey Plain of years,
59Where a fierce fire burns the hearts of men --
60    Dries up the fount of tears:
61Where the victims of a greed insane
62    Are crushed in a hell-born strife --
63Where the souls of a race are murdered
64    On the Great Grey Plain of Life!


13] tank-heap: pile of mining ore dumped after sifting for gold? Back to Line
28] swagman: tramp. Back to Line
41] run: vein of ore for mining (?). Back to Line
43] mulga: small scrubby tree native to the Australian desert. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 2001.