© Anthony (Tony) Hammill

Winner, 2016 John O’Brien Bush Poetry Competition, Narrandera, NSW.

As guests of Mother England they were outcasts sent to hell;
From Ireland bound for New South Wales they bid a grim farewell.
They felled the trees and built the roads and toiled with brick and stone,
And shared the leg-irons’ harsh embrace that cut them to the bone.
While floggers stood to right and left and lashed in ruthless time,
And flesh fouled all nearby and taught the price of petty crime,
From the pillory a voice cried out beneath the cat’s cruel sting
That spoke for Irish patriots, “You’ll never make me sing!”
Some bolters chose to range the roads, for till their final breath,
They scorned to live in slavery, and chanced a brutal death!
Like Pharaoh’s Hebrew slaves the convicts laboured from the dawn;
In blood they laid foundations, and the colonies were born.

A second wave acquainted well with poverty and strife
Migrated from the Emerald Isle to seek a better life.
On many a lonely western track with swag and dray they went,
In slab-walled, grey selectors’ huts their spartan lives were spent.
Their white tents starred the goldfields where they washed the river sands,
From city smoke to sunburnt plain they toiled with calloused hands.
Their children grew up straight and tall to reap a crop well-sown,
And learned to love their country well, and call this land their own,
While ever with her heart of gold and faith as true as steel
The little Irish mother watched with hands to hold and heal.
The pioneers embraced their chosen life with each new morn;
With love they built their dwellings, and the Commonwealth was born.

Their work is done; beneath the Southern Cross they find their rest,
And fruitful is the golden land revealed to those oppressed.
The convicts and the pioneers have handed down the reins,
But evermore red Irish blood runs through Australian veins.
And when in grateful minds the pain and sacrifice are weighed,
We find the means by which our waiting debt may be repaid:
For we must grasp the flaming torch and carry on their fight
For freedom and equality, democracy and right!
We’ll honour them where candles placed in reverence are lit,
And joyfully propose the toast at tables where we sit:
“The stalwart folk from Erin’s Isle who swelled Australia’s ranks!”
With Blood and Love they triumphed, and their children give them thanks!

Note: Dedicated to my Irish ancestors, the first of my family in Australia.

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