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Henry Lawson

In their own words

Henry Lawson
Audio: 2 minutes

In the first fifteen years of my life I saw the last of the Roaring Days on Gulgong goldfield, New South Wales. I remember the rush as a boy might his first and only pantomime. ‘On our selection’, I tailed cows amongst the deserted shafts in the gullies of a dreary old field that was abandoned ere Gulgong ‘broke out’. I grubbed, ring-barked, and ploughed in the scratchy sort of way common to many ‘native-born’ selectors round there; and worked on building contracts with ‘Dad’’ Saw selectors slaving their lives away in dusty holes amongst the barren ridges; saw one or two carried home, in the end, on a sheet of bark; the old men worked till they died. Saw how the gaunt selectors’ wives lived and toiled. Saw elder sons, sloop-shouldered old men at 30. I watched old fossickers and farmers reading Progress and Poverty earnestly and arguing over it Sunday afternoons. And I wished that I could write.

The droughts of the early eighties, and other troubles, burst a lot of us round there. I worked in coach-factories, tramped the cities in search of work; saw the haggard little group in front of the board outside the Herald office at 4 o’clock in the morning, striking matches to run down the ‘Wanted’ columns; saw the slums and the poor – and wished that I could write, or paint.

I heard Tommy Walker, and Collins, and the rest of ‘em, and, of course, a host of Yankee free-thought and socialistic lecturers and dreamed of dying on the barricades to the roar of the ‘Marseillaise’ – for the Young Australian Republic. Then came the unexpected and inexplicable outburst of feeling (or madness) – called then the Republican riots – in ’87, when the Sydney crowd carried a disloyal amendment on the Queen’s Jubilee, and cheered, at the Town Hall, for an ‘Australian Republic’. And I had to write then – or burst.

Acknowledgements

Lawson, Henry (1899) The Bulletin, January 1899, Sydney

Attribution

Voiced by Joel Horwood

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Henry Lawson

Related information

Henry Lawson
Henry Lawson
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Regarding Henrys

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2015

Sarah Engledow ponders the divergent legacies of Messrs Kendall and Lawson.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

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