Henry Lawson Among Maoris
2 — The Reluctant Bushman
The Reluctant Bushman
The bushman's code* in terms of which Lawson judged nonAustralians took time to develop; the attitudes and assumptions underlying it were determined by events and pressures over many years.1 Much of the code Lawson would have absorbed during his childhood and adolescence at New Pipeclay (later renamed Eurunderee) near Mudgee in New South Wales. His most dramatic exposure to it was his brief spell on the Darling in 1892-3, when J. F. Archibald, editor of the Bulletin, gave him £5 and a railway ticket to Bourke.2 It was a season of severe drought and of depression and smouldering industrial dispute between shearers and sheep-owners. Lawson spent some time in Bourke where he found a job painting, then joined a mate Jim Gordon and headed west to a shearing shed at Toorale where they found a job picking up. From Toorale they walked to Queensland, through Goombalie to Hungerford. After a few months' casual work and tramping they returned to Bourke where they got a drovers' pass and took sheep by rail either to Homebush or Flemington on the western outskirts of Sydney.3 The jobs he took were always those of lower status in the outback scale of values: he was never a shearer but with his mates worked as wool-picker, wool-roller, wool-scourer, and rouseabout; sheep-droving, Russel Ward says, was much less esteemed than bullock-droving.4page 17
Lawson was always, as H. M. Green says, pedestrian, not equestrian.5 He had spent four to five months on the shearing boards of the Darling and the time of a train journey returning with the sheep to Sydney. A. J. Coombes has said, 'This brief sojourn formed practically the whole of Lawson's Australian bush experience between the time that he left Eurunderie [sic] and his death.'6 Arthur Jose wrote of Lawson's later 'knowledge that he could subsist indefinitely on the product of his one year's [sic] backblocks experience between Bourke and Hungerford'.7 But this ignores Lawson's sixteen years of less dramatic hardship at Eurunderee and Gulgong and his briefer spells at Lahey's Creek, Wallerawang, and Mount Victoria. The old and, one hopes, superannuated argument that at various times has involved Banjo Paterson (however genuinely), A. G. Stephens, Jose, H. M. Green, and more recently Cecil Mann, whether Lawson's representation of the outback was pessimistic, whether he 'understood' the bush, is not only irrelevant to his quality as an artist, it overlooks the intensity of his exposure to the physical and economic privations of the Darling country in 1892. If Paterson conceded that where he himself prospected on horseback and had his meals prepared for him, Lawson walked and had to cook for himself, he did not appreciate that Lawson was prospecting for employment and at times had no food to cook. Lawson's letters to Aunt Emma show what he suffered:
I am now camped on the Queensland side of the bordera beaten man…. No work and very little to eat; we lived mostly on johnny cakes and cadged a bit of meat here and there at the miserable stations. Have been three days without sugar. Once in Bourke I'll find means of getting back to Sydney-never to face the bush again…. You can have no idea of the horrors of the country out here. Men tramp and beg like dogs. It is two months since I slept in what you can call a bed. We walk as far as we can-according to the water-and then lay down and roll ourselves in our blankets. The flies start at daylight and we fight them all day till darkthen mosquitos start. I'm writing on an old tin and my legs ache too much to let me sit any longer. I've always tried to write cheerful letters so you'll excuse this one….8
After tramping the 140 miles to Bourke he wrote: 'My boots were worn out and I was in rags when I arrived here…. I find page 18that I've tramped more than 300 miles since I left here last. That's all I ever intend to do with a swag. It's too hot to write any more'.9
The situation in which Lawson found himself that summer was one in which nomadic workers were entirely dependent on the controlling forces-the sheep-owners and the climate; and those forces were malign. It was a situation in which the individual could not survive except in combination and mutual aid. The need was answered in political terms by the new unionism; in personal terms by the code of mateship, of which Lawson became the most articulate exponent. It was a partnership of two, or of three, men in unquestioning mutual loyalty for mutual protection and interest, and it carried a deep reserve of emotion, mutually recognised and respected, but seldom revealed or referred to. In Lawson's work indeed there are features of the same universe that one finds in a line of literature in English that includes Arnold and Hardy and Sargeson and Beckett, in which with variety of emphasis the universe is desolate or hostile or indifferent and the only consolation of the lonely or struggling human soul is the affection of others. In Lawson, the desolation is implied, and seldom stated except in terms of landscape or climate, and the emphasis is on the consolations and the comedy of comradeship. At a time when the code survives mainly in the outback or in such specialised male communities as the armed services, one of Lawson's several descriptions might be needed as illustration:
The Australian Bushman is born with a mate who sticks to him through life-like a mole. They may be hundreds of miles apart sometimes, and separated for years, yet they are mates for life. A Bushman may have many mates in his roving, but there is always one his mate, 'my mate'; and it is common to hear a Bushman, who is, in every way, a true mate to the man he happens to be travelling with, speak of his mate's mate—'Jack's mate'—who might be in Klondyke or South Africa. A Bushman has always a mate to comfort him and argue with him and work and tramp and drink with him, and lend him quids when he's hard up, and call him a b—fool, and fight him sometimes; to abuse him to his face and defend his name behind his back; to bear false witness and perjure his soul for his sake; to lie to the girl for him if he's single, and to his wife if he's married; to secure a 'pen' for him at a shed where he isn't on the spot, or, if page 19the mate is away in New Zealand or South Africa, to write and tell him if it's any good coming over this way. And each would take the word of the other against all the world, and each believes that the other is the straightest chap that ever lived-'a white man!' And next best to your old mate is the man you're tramping, riding, working or drinking with.10
Mateship had an unspoken protocol of which Lawson was a passionate champion. Jim Gordon tells this of their tramping on the Darling:
After leaving Gumbalie, we made across to the Hungerford road, which in a few miles brought us to a Government tank…. The day was warm, the water-bag empty, and we were tired and thirsty, so we stopped some distance back at the tank that was filled by an oil-engine pump, to keep the troughs supplied. Our other mate was in the lead, and he clambered up and filled a billy and handed it down to us. We both had a long pull. Then he said: 'Come up and have a look.' There was a carpet-snake about six feet long floating, dead and swollen! Henry's eyes flashed as he said: 'He's a blanker of a mate. Come on, we'll leave him.' As we lifted our drums to move on the man said, 'Where yer goin'? Ain't we goin' to camp here?' Lawson dropped his swag hurriedly and made a step or two towards him, and answered: 'We are going on, but you are staying here.' He stayed and I never saw him after. Thinking over the incident now I do not fancy that he saw the snake till after we drank the water, and on the spur of the moment invited us to look. Still it may have been his idea of humor.11
For reasons that will appear later in this study I want to concentrate on the recurring motif in Lawson of two symbolic bushmen Bill and Jim. They show up in a good number of poems and stories; Bill as Boozing Bill and Corny Bill, a mate and a rover, Boko Bill who stole some cases from a cart; and Jim as Jimmy Nowlett the bullock-drover, Jimmy Noland 'the stranger's friend', Jim Duggan and Jim Barnes, shearer and jealous mate, and Tambaroora Jim, the soft-hearted publican.12 He appears as Flash Jim, the breaker, and Jim the Ringer.13 Jim is likely in the heat of a quarrel to say things he does not mean, as when he quarrels with Bill and says he 'hoped the coloured races would in time wipe out the white'.14 As Jim Duggan he hates greed and injustice; he fights the boss-over-page 20the-board and is beaten, but when the boss-over-the-board does not sack him, Jim raises three cheers for him.15 When Bill-o'-th'-Bush dies, Jim and his mates bury him and Jim 'blubbers and is unashamed', then takes round the hat for Bill's widow and children.16
Bill and Jim quarrel, but they can count on each other's help in danger: 'with faces grim' they ride out to meet a bush fire.17 They are comrades in fights in peace and war: in a war Jim recalls the time when he was held by the police for assaulting a Chinese and Bill rescued him by laying out three policemen. Bill is hit by a piece of shell and dies, and Jim sticks to 'what's left of Bill'. Bill says, as Jim reminisces,
You needn't mag, for I knowed, old chum, I knowed, old pal, you'd stick.18
Lawson elevates them into type figures, if not symbols, of the Australian bushman. Jimmy Noland, the stranger's friend is likened to the Good Samaritan and seen as a model of Christ, and Bill is raised to an eternal figure:
He shall live to the end of this mad old world, he has lived since the world began,
He has never done any good for himself, but was good to every man.
He has never done any good for himself, and I'm sure that he never will,
He drinks and he swears and he fights at times, and his name is mostly Bill.19
According to the Bulletin, Lawson named (or more accurately nicknamed) his son Jim 'in memory of the many unknown heroes of that name who have been buried under the mulga trees in the Never Never'.20 He planned, if Bertha bore twins, to call them Bill and Jim.21
But it was characteristic of Lawson to attack the very convention he was to develop: 'Half the bushmen are not called "Bill", nor the other half "Jim". We knew a shearer whose name was Reginald! Jim doesn't tell pathetic yarns in bad doggerel in a shearer's hut-if he did, the men would tap their heads and wink'.22
He later claimed to differentiate between them as characters: Bill was steady and easy-going, hard-working but liked an occasional spree; Jim had good intentions but was undepend-page 21able and broke out when drunk but in the last resort he could be depended upon to enlist in a war, and to be loyal to his mate.23 He once conflated them into a joint figure Biljim, and then protested against the conflation. 'In the first place, there isn't, and never was any "Biljim". He's a monster that was invented by some alleged writer who never knew either Bill or Jim, and is equally unknown to them. Their natures are as far apart as poles are.'24 But if the invention was not his own he had used it in the previous year, when 'a certain man from anywhere, call him Biljim, journeying out to Hungerford, leaves a sick mate at the Half-way Pub'.25 In this story Biljim, who is likened to the Good Samaritan, gives the publican a couple of quid to look after his mate and promises to pay anything extra after shearing. And in 1917 Lawson again used 'Biljim' as a type-name for a bushman.26
Bill, Jim, and Biljim were seen as types of what Russel Ward has called the Noble Bushman; though there is some awareness that they are figures of the past. As early as 1905 Lawson is nostalgic:
Where are Bill and Jim and Mary and the Songs They used to Sing.27
The Bulletin's competition for an epitaph for Biljim in 1918 may be seen as the burial of a literary figure who had long ceased to exist in reality.28 But to Lawson, Bill and Jim typify his experience for a total of seventeen or eighteen years of two or three areas of New South Wales at a time in the country's history that he came to see as its most significant and by which he came to judge all other ways of living. The further he grew from that experience the more sentimental his exposition of the bushmen's code becomes. In the main, and in his verse, Bill and Jim typify the Darling experience rather than Eurunderee. It is 'the Bourke of Ninety-one and two' that Lawson sees as a lost Eden; the 'west' is 'the land of Bills and Jims'.29 It is the men of the West, of the Dry Countree, of the Never Never, who are the Men who made Australia, who were the first to enlist in the country's wars, real and imaginary, who will save Australia in the Storm that is to Come. The noble bushman is also white supremacist:
He has 'stood 'em off' while others escaped, when the niggers rushed from the hill.30
- And who will hold the invader back when the shells tear up the ground—
- The weeds that yelp by the cycling track while a nigger scorches round?31
His antipathy to urban behaviour appears in an undated clipping from the Worker: 'Put aside the bosh about Australia and what remains? The remnant of a dying race of men who were men, though somewhat small-minded, and a rising race of "dudes" and larrikins. What a land for swindlers!'32 And in the Worker in 1893 he said: 'The average Australian youth is a weedy individual with a weak, dirty and contemptible vocabulary, and a cramped mind devoted to sport; his god is a two-legged brute with unnaturally developed muscles and no brains'.33 In an undated typescript on the 'Sydney street crowd' he sardonically proposes mass extermination: 'In view of the utter failure of a Universal Decentralization policy, I am in favour of the establishment of commodious lethal chambers, with large crematoriams attached on all City and Suburban centres, and judicious Selection'.34
Lawson judged his society in terms of the bushman's code and increasingly he found himself out of sympathy with it. Australia discarded the values of the outback and Lawson in his latter years in Sydney disdained the new values of a commercial and partly industrial metropolis. In his later writing he looks backwards, and he hankered for the time when his writing had been in key with the national consciousness, or at least of the Bills and Jims whom he thought of as his readers. 'And so we go, with the motor car dust in our faces and the giggle and laugh in our ears; but the day shall come when the Sydney people shall remember Faces in the Street, as I remember the boy who wrote it.'35
* In this book I use bush in its Australian sense of 'rural hinterland', not in the New Zealand sense of 'rain-forest', and bushman to mean a rural dweller or worker and not an axeman or timber worker.
But there is a polarity in Lawson's attitude to the bushmen, reflecting the difference in the mores, on the one hand, of the diggers and the nomadic workers, and on the other, of settled families on selections and in small bush townships. It is this difference, I imagine, that underlies the symbols, noted by page 23Cecil Mann and Dorothy Green, of the Tent and the Tree.36 There is in Lawson's stories of the nomadic labourers a bias towards comedy or optimism and genial irony or sentimentality about human nature, and in his stories of selectors and bush wives a bias towards pathos and a pessimistic or darkly sardonic view, not so much of human nature as of life.
To explore this polarity it is necessary to sketch something of Lawson's personality and of the more immediate agents that determined it. Various images of Lawson have been cultivated by interested parties, and each of them has some truth. For some years after his death the nationalists presented him almost as the Noble Bushman himself; Marxists have promoted him as the exponent of the most healthy Australian traditions, the champion of the underdog and fearless spokesman against tyranny and injustice; his mates insisted on 'the real Henry'-a gentle, sensitive man with brown, searching eyes. There is plenty of witness to his geniality and amicability, and there is some to his moroseness. An inquiry like this that keeps in mind his misunderstanding in Mangamaunu must look for weaknesses and limitations, and result in a view of his personality that is incomplete. But in the main it is not necessary to go beyond Lawson's own view of himself.
His autobiography is invaluable to an understanding of him, and the tone of self-pity in the last passage quoted is characteristic of it. Yet, at least in the main, and best-known, part of the autobiography the self-pity is not offensive, and that part is curiously (to use Cecil Mann's word) 'satisfying', probably because the pity extends to everyone who comes into it, even those who hurt him.37
* I use the spelling Mrs Brooks used signing a letter in 1924.
Lawson's childhood, as his 'Fragment of an Autobiography' describes it, was at times as lonely and loveless as would seem possible for a boy to bear. Such attention as he received from his mother, who intermittently neglected the home and the children for her intellectual pursuits, was inadequate. His father, sturdy and affectionate enough, was taciturn. He formed no friendships with other children or warm attachments to his brothers and sisters, except, as Prout claims, for his young sister Annette who died before she was nine months old.43 Lawson's own words are eloquent:
The strange child (for I was little more), who had been misunderstood, mocked, and tormented at school the few months he went there until it* was a very hell he seldom cared to look back to-until he'd say while yet a child himself that he 'thought boys were very brutal and heartless', whereat his ignorant elders would consider him, to be if not as mad as his schoolma[s]ter said he was, at least very 'queer' and idiotic.44
Home was no more than a relief from school:
and then the craving for love, affection, even consideration where the [re] was none, the worship sympathy, love, even worship, wasted in a quarter where there was usu none.45
Home life was unspeakably wretched…. I remember, as a child, slipping round in the dark behind the pig-stye, or anywhere, to cry my heart out, and Old Pedro, the dog would come round with sympathectic nose and tail, and I'd put my arms round his neck and bury my face in his rough hair, and have my cry out… Yes, Pipeclay was a miserable little hell to me to the† bitter end, and a trip to Grannie's at Wallerawang, was the only glimpse of heaven my childhood ever knew…. But such a trip left me worse and more hopelessly in my own little hell afterwards.46
* it] the time written above, MS.
† the] be MS.
Gertrude O'Connor recalled: 'At times the whole responsibility of farm and family would fall upon his young shoulders when mother would develop one of those strange fits of abstraction in which she would seem to vegetate for days, taking heed of nothing and eating nothing.'47 It is one of these moods of Louisa's that Lawson uses in his story 'A Child in the Dark', described by Mrs O'Connor, perhaps with some exaggeration, as 'a wonderfully realistic picture of his home life upon the farm'.48 Lawson was pushing a plough before he was ten.49 His younger brother Peter remembered him as 'impatient, irritable, irrascible, impossible-pitching his mother's writing material into a shaft in her absense', and again as 'quick tempered, hasty and not always kind in judgment'.50 Of the Lone Hand version of the 'Fragment of an Autobiography' Gertrude said it could not be improved on, but Peter dismissed it as 'his reprisals against the maternal taunts'.51 Emma Brooks, the member of the family who knew him best, said, 'He was not a bad-tempered man but very irritable & dissatisfyed'.52
He was further isolated by his partial deafness which began when he was nine. When he left school and was painting schools with his father he continued to fear the schoolboys 'and avoided them on every possible occassion.'53 Emma Brooks described him as 'very bushey and bashful'.54 Lawson recalled that as a youth he was 'bushy, shy, different from other boys', and in the Sydney railway-carriage workshops his mother sent him to, he was the victim of gang torment.55 Writing his later autobiography he shed 'a hot burst of tears' for the 'delicate, shabby, soul-starved and totally uneducated Bush Boy of eighteen or nineteen, drought born and drought bred, who lived and suffered as I has discribed in a previous section of this series, and slaved in a factory amongst Sydney larikins …'.56
It is not surprising that he grew up with a deep sense of iso lation, even of desolation. The desolation he objectified in his 'western' landscapes. The isolation was artistically less tractable. In a sense, he never felt that he belonged.
In a letter to Ernest Watt, a soldier friend recovering from wounds in an English hospital, Lawson confessed this in a tone that veers between seriousness and playfulness:page 26
Now I'll tell you this, Benno, old chap, and you can tell the nurse if you like: married or single "happy home" or notthere's such a thing as home home sickness as well as the foriegn kind or brand; and when the hero-welcome-or prodigal-son welcome-it doesn't matter which-is over, you'll feel in you[r] bowels that aweful, sinking, worldemptiness which is infinitely worse than any home-sickness abroad, because it is born of [the] hoary Grand-father of all disallusions-(or imagined disallusions-its all the same-its all hallucinations*) and is, or will seem to be the End-the Limit. Its [a] mighty, omnipotent Rea[c]tion, of course - the same as on the first night in a Promised Land, like this; after a long voyage or a long trip, but to know that before hand doesn't help it. It comes sudden and unexpected like a bullet in a hail of shrapnel or anywhere. I've felt that kind of home-sickness for the last place I came from, or for anywhere, and so, I suppose have most of the other oldsters here. Then, for a space, you'd be ready to hug the first stray Turk you came across and drop a tear over his shoulder for the sake of the good old-(they'll seem old then) the good old times you had with him….† Perhaps, after all the chaps are happiest who went home in Gallipoli for the last time and are burried side by side with their brave and dearly beloved enemies. Allah is great-and Christ was very weary, and must have suffered both kinds of homesickness more than once. I suppose Allah got the hump often enough too.57
The passage is notable for a number of points. It shows the relation, in Lawson's philosophy, between the consolation of human affection and despair; the Promised Land is a let-down; even the chaos of Gallipoli can seem 'home' to a soldier who has known it and left it, and the only release from this kind of home-sickness is death, presumably the last (and first) 'home'. But even more notably, Lawson saw no point in distinguishing between real and imagined disillusions, saw both as hallucination, disillusion as only another illusion.
* hallucinations] hallicalusions MS.
† Punctuation as in the MS.
He told me that he had never had a drink until he was doing contract work with his father, and met some wild young spirits from the bush-workmates on his painting jobs. He found friendship and companionship in their recreations. He forgot the secretiveness and nervous diffident shyness that so oppressed him, forgot that he was deaf or tired or lonely or defeated. He felt confident and exhilarated, able to do anything, and to face the world.59
The comradeship, so unfamiliar, must have been as exciting as the drink; it is easy to understand why he found it so hard to give up the pub. He said: 'there was between us that sympathy which in our times and conditions is the strongest and perhaps the truest of all human qualities, the sympathy of drink. We were drinking mates together'.60 The mateship and union solidarity he found on the Darling in 1892-3 were an extension or confirmation of his first revelation of cameraderie; but more than this, he was participating in national events and felt the excitement of identification with a communal spirit and purpose. For artistic confidence he needed, and often drew on, a consciousness of spokesmanship and of having a distinct and sympathetic readership, 'the chaps who barracked for me … the men who had faith in me! … the men who believe in me'.61 There is in the Mutch papers a letter from a union secretary asking Lawson's permission to use lines from his verse on the tombstone erected for a shearer killed in one of the strikes of the 1890s, and on it Lawson wrote that this request made him 'prouder than anything'. In his latter years, the consciousness of being out of harmony with contemporary Australian aspirations is one of the sources of his sense of defeat, his self-engrossment, and self-pity.
But it must be recognised that Lawson was a bushman not by choice but by birth, and he was always a reluctant one. He remained true to his vow never to go on the swag again, and page 28if he inveighed against the 'towneys' of Sydney he was content to live most of his last twenty years among them. He came to the bushmen's cameraderie comparatively late in life, when he was twenty, and to the men of 'the west' when he was twentyfive; and his advocacy of their code is correspondingly superficial and sentimental. It was not so deeply assimilated as to eliminate the moodiness and the deep suspicion of others in which Eurunderee had trained him. His more memorable stories of the nomadic labourers are comic; his serious and pathetic stories are concerned not with mates but with the courage or persistence, in the face of hardship, of those who are stuck in the bush and not likely to get out of it.
It was not only the younger generation of his middle and later years that he was out of sympathy with. John Le Gay Brereton remembered a remark Lawson made in 1894:
'Now listen', he said. 'I know what I'm talking about. I couldn't say it in public because my living depends partly on what I'm writing for the Worker: but you can take it from me, Jack, the Australian worker is a brute and nothing else.'62
He was unfair to himself because he had, in the previous year and in the Worker, written contemptuously of workers, both urban and rural. And in 1894, again in the Worker, he attacked the very sentiment of which he was to become the chief apostle:
That egotistic word 'mateship'—which was born of New Australian imagination, and gushed about to a sickening extent—implied a state of things which never existed any more than the glorious old unionism which was going to bear us on to freedom on one wave. The one was too glorious, and the other too angelic to exist amongst mortals. We mus[t] look at the nasty side of the truth, as well as the other, conceited side.63
Lawson was aware that the bushmen in his writing were idealised In his 'Fragment of an Autobiography' this passage is cancelled and stetted: '(My diggers are idealised or drawn from a few better class diggers as [the shearers cancelled] my Bushmen are sketched from better class Bushmen)'.64 It is true that in a letter to George Robertson in 1917, he remembered 'the splendid type of shearer with which I was in contact in page 29Bourke in those days'.65 But nearer in time to his Bourke trip he wrote:
The average Australian bushman is too selfish, narrowminded, and fond of the booze to liberate his country. The average shearer thinks that he is the only wronged individual, and that the squatter is the only tyrant on the face of the earth. Also, the shearer is too often a god-almighty in his own estimation; and it would be good for him to know that Australia might worry along if there wasn't a sheep in all the land.66
The poetical bushman does not exist; the majority of the men out-back now are from the cities. The real native out back bushman is narrow-minded, densely ignorant, invul nerably thick-headed. How could he be otherwise?67
His own cult of the bushman's code was a rather shallow overlay on the bitterness of his childhood in New Pipeclay and his self-conscious youth in Sydney: 'It was torture through the invulnerable ignorance and mad unreasoning and absolutely unnecessary selfishness of others …'.68 He refers to those who remained on the abandoned goldfields as 'the most unspeakably dreary narrow and paltry minded of all communities'.69 He remembered 'the usual narrow-minded, senseless and purposeless little local fueds and quarrels'.70 Such petty quarrelling is what he meant by 'localism'; and 'ignorance'a word he uses repeatedly-seems to mean lack of appreciation of another point of view, inconsiderateness, selfishness, intoler ance. One imagines it was a word Lawson's mother might have used in the stinging taunts P. J. Lawson spoke of.
The situation of the noble soul, sensitive and generous, misunderstood by a crass populace, recurs in his writing. It is abstracted in his description of London as 'a great city … of ignorant selfishness, cultured or brutish, and of noble and heroic endeavours frowned down or callously neglected …'.71 It occurs in 'To the Advanced Idealist' where democracy spurns the Idealist's 'Eyes of Truth' and his exhortations to "Trust each other!' and accuses him of 'Axe to grind'.72 It occurs in 'Pigeon Toes' where the girl teacher in the bush school is also accused of having an axe to grind, and, as Lawson the boy had been in New Pipeclay, is called 'mad'. Dreariness and petty squabbling are the features of 'The Little World Left Behind' in which the only resident admired is the page 30leather-faced woman who 'looked her narrow, ignorant world in the face'.73
In a late poem he faces the contradiction in his attitude to bushmen, but the resolution is sentimental. In 'The Local Spirit', the 'local spirit' is equated with the 'envious tongue' that murders 'local truth', with 'paltry private interests / And local mean ambitions' to which 'General Good' is 'sacrificed'; it kills 'manhood'.
But, though they may be very few,
And poor as autumn stubble.
The local friends are leal and true
Whenever one's in trouble.
They make a man hold up his head
And face the world and dare it!
And that's—when all is done and said—
The other Local Spirit.74
Lawson did not explore conflict between an individual and a community, though the situation occurs occasionally in his writing, with the author championing one side or the other. For example the situation of the Advanced Idealist is identical with that of the Dying Anarchist, in which Lawson sides with the community. The anarchist finds his soul by recognising that in hating the world he is to blame for his loss of faith:
I lost faith in human nature! … Even when people were kind to me, and the world seemed treating me well, I grew suspicious. 'Axes to grind—axes to grind!' I cried, even when there were no axes to grind…. Ah, my brothers, [t]rust each other! Trust each other! Be true if you can—but trust each other! Have faith to the end.75
That this passage has autobiographical reference is indicated by the anarchist's memory of his servitude at Grinder Brothers, the fictional name Lawson used for the Hudson Bros, railwaycarriage workshops. But more often Lawson's sympathy is with the individual at odds with society. There is a small number of poems, most of them unpublished, in which there is relation between an exceptionally just or gifted man and an unindividuated crowd. What varies is whether the exceptional man's goodness or leadership is recognised by the crowd. 'The Good Samaritan' ispage 31
A man whose kinsmen never yet Appreciated him.76
In 'Cromwell' the English populace revile their leader when he is dead and go whoring after the Stuarts. In 'The Crucifixion' Christ is the Good Leader spurned and persecuted.77 'The Universal Brothers' is a variation of the Ugly Duckling myth: three unvalued geniuses reach belated recognition, the fool of the family as an inventor, the coward as a military hero, and the school dunce as a great poet.78 The leadership of 'The Man Ahead' is recognised but his followers are an ungrateful and disloyal herd, too ready to listen to doubters, who need authoritarian control:
Choke the cowards! and choke 'em quick For
the sake of the man to be next ahead.79
Only in 'The Drunken Leader' do the followers recognise the leader's charisma but they are no less herd-like in their reverently tending him through his drunken sleep, apparently unable to lead themselves until he recovers.80
Beneath the professed cult of the itinerant bushman's code, there is in Lawson the permanent outlook of the boy who suffered for sixteen years in New Pipeclay, who pitied himself and came to pity others who had suffered or stood up to the hardships of the bush or the ostracisms of its settlements. This aspect in him was in artistic control and is the impulse of some of his best prose. But one part of his personality that he never came to terms with in his writing is the relation of the outcast boy to society. The boy who had at times been neglected, undervalued, overworked, and mocked, continued to assert himself in Lawson's mind in self-comforting poses of genius rejected or of leadership, messianic or dictatorial. It is a part of Lawson that fortunately affects only some of his verse, and hardly at all affects his prose, which he himself valued more highly than his verse.81 But it was present, if then only latent, in the man who came to Mangamaunu in 1897.page 32