I have always had the greatest admiration, as I have said many times, for the Swagmen and Women of Australia. This set of words by the great Henry Lawson sums up their characters. The tune that I came up with, when I read this poem, is a very close relative to the Morris tune Princess Royal and then links well with Australia, not that I am saying that all Morris Men and Women are Swagmen or Swagwomen. Martyn.
Words Henry Lawson
Melody M. Wyndham-Read
His old clay pipe stuck in his mouth his hat pushed to the brow
His clothes best suited for the south I think I see him now
And when the city streets are still and sleep upon me comes
In dreams I think of me and Bill a humpin of our drums.
I mind the first time that I came a stranger to this land
And I was stumbled sick and sore when Bill took me in hand
Old Bill was what chap would call a friend in poverty
For he was very kind to all and very good to me.
We’d camp beneath the lonely trees and sit beside the blaze
A nursin’ of our weary knees and smokin’ of our clays
And when we’d journey’d near and far and clouds were in the sky
We’d camp in some old shanty bar and sit a tellin’ lies.
‘Though time had writ upon his brow and rubbed away his curls
He always was and maybe still a favourite with the girls
I’ve heard bush women scream and squall I’ve seen them laugh until
They could not do their work at all because of Corny Bill.
Old Bill he was the jolliest chap that ever you did see
And often at some bush kick up they’d make old Bill MC
He’d make them dance and sing all night and make the music hum
But he’d be gone by morning light a humpin’ of his drum.
(Humpin’ of his drum means “carrying his swag”)