The Never – Never Land                         

Henry Lawson the great Australian poet,1867 – 1922, wrote these descriptive words of the Great Outback of Australia in 1901, and a few years later, quite a few years later, the great Australian Ian McDougall wrote this magnificent melody to fit round the words. Every time i have a longing for the Australian Outback I sing this song and thereby have saved my self countless amounts of money in airfares to quell one of my passions. Ian and his wife Jenny have a property outside of Gulargambone in New South Wales and this is right on the edge of The western Plains, an absolute paradise. We have been lucky enough to have David Yates’s stunning photos to use.


The Never –  Never Land         

words Henry Lawson/ tune Ian MacDougall

By homestead hut and shearing shed by railroad coach and track

By lonely graves where rest our dead up country and outback 

To where beneath the clustered stars the dreamy plains expand 

My home lies wide a thousand miles in the Never Never Land. 


It’s far beyond the farming belt wide wastes of scrub and plain 

A blazing desert in the drought a lakeland after rain

To the skyline sweeps the waving grass or whirls the scorching sand 

A phantom land a mystic realm this Never Never Land. 


Where lone Mount Desolation lies Mts Dreadful and Despair

Are lost beneath a rainless sky in hopeless deserts there

It’s North North West of No Man’s land where clouds are seldom seen 

To where the cattle stations lie three hundred miles between. 


The drovers on the great stock route this strange Gulf country know 

While traveling from the southern drought the great lean bullocks go

And camped at night where plains lie wide like some old ocean bed

The watchers in the starlight ride round fifteen hundred head.


The Arab to the desert sand the Finns to fen and snow 

The flax stick dreams of Maori land where seasons come and go 

Wherever stars may glow or burn in lands far East and West 

The wandering heart of man will turn to where he loves the best.


Lest in the city I forget true mate ship after all 

My billy can and tucker bag are hanging on the wall 

And I to live my life again would tramp to sunsets grand

With wide eyed mates across the plains to the Never Never Land 

With sad eyed mates across the plains to the Never Never Land. 


This was sent by Ian McDougall

 Henry Lawson’s original lines in The Never-Never Land were:

And I to save my soul again, would tramp to sunsets grand,
With stern-eyed mates across the plains of the Never-Never land. 
My paternal grandmother Pakie Macdougall was a nurse in Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, and nursed Lawson periodically when he was recovering from the latest of his alcoholic benders. He in gratitude gave her an autographed copy of his book The Days When the World was Wide, which is still in my collection. She was also a personal friend of the Sydney poet David McKee-Wright, who edited Lawson’s Selected Works for publishers Angus and Robertson. By that stage, Lawson was mentally pretty-well out of it, and he agreed to anything McKee-Wright suggested. So under McKee-Wright’s editorship those lines became:
And I to save my soul again, would tramp to sunsets grand,
With sad-eyed mates across the plains of the Never-Never land. 
Perhaps he was inspired by the sadness in Lawson’s own eyes, as by that stage old Henry had plenty to be sad about, having written the lines:
Two men walked on down the road, and I walked in between,
The man I was, the man I am, and the man I might have been.
When I did my own recording of  The Never-Never Land, I took the words of McKee-Wright as authentic Lawson, and used them. (The true situation was only afterwards pointed out to me by Lawson enthusiast and scholar Chris Woodland.) But with McKee-Wright in charge, this latter-day regret on the part of Lawson got projected on to the entire rural working population of Australia, who of course, tended to see things somewhat differently.
As well,I have good reason to believe that my own maternal grandfather, one Richard Lawrence Martin, was as a young man in that crowd of militant shearers underneath the  Tree of Knowledge at Barcaldine, Qld, in 1891, which by legend founded the Australian Labor Party. I never knew him, as he died before I was born.
Lawson is in my view one of the literary giants of the Anglophone world, and is up there with Chaucer, Shakespeare and the rest. His work does not centre upon such staples as parlour conversation, murderous human conflict and/or the upstairs/downstairs dramas across the spectrum from Jane Austen to the likes of  Downton Abbey, but it is just as true to life, if not more so.
I still publicly perform  The Never-Never Land, and when I do I sing the lines as:
And I to save my soul again, would tramp to sunsets grand,
With steel-eyed mates across the plains of the Never-Never land.
Sad eyes are found in the heads of life’s victims and losers. But stern eyes are those of people who tend to be grim and humourless. Steel on the other hand is a metaphor for strength combined with alertness, and a sparkling or shining reflectivity which still leaves space for humour and good cheer: which I think better fits the bushmen of Lawson’s day.  Anyway, I have convinced myself that it was the word Lawson was looking for.