> Danny Spooner > Songs > On the Wallaby

On the Wallaby / The Tentpoles Are Rotting

[ Roud - ; Henry Lawson]

On the Wallaby is a poem from Henry Lawson’s book When I Was King (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1906).

The Bushwackers sang The Tent Poles are Rotten in 1981 on their album Faces in the Street which was produced by Trevor Lucas.

Martyn Wyndham-Read sang The Tent Poles are Rotten in 1986 on his Greenwich Village album of Australian songs, Across the Line.

Danny Spooner sang On the Wallaby on his 2004 CD of Australian songs of toil and reward, ’Ard Tack. He noted:

This song by Henry Lawson appears in Chris Kempster’s tribute to the poet, The Songs of Henry Lawson with Music (Viking O’Neil 1989). Chris cites three tunes and I probably sing a combination of the first two. The song was first collected by Stan Arthur, Bob Michell and Ken McGoldrick in the 1960s from the singing of E. and A. Nesbitt of Bundaberg, Queensland, and Dave de Hugard has adapted that tune. The words explore the toils and rewards of the itinerant life—so much a part of the Australia’s nineteenth century culture and identity.


Henry Lawson’s poem On the Wallaby

Now the tent poles are rotting, the camp fires are dead,
And the possums may gambol in trees overhead;
I am humping my bluey far out on the land,
And the prints of my bluchers sink deep in the sand:
I am out on the wallaby humping my drum,
And I came by the tracks where the sundowners come.

It is nor’-west and west o’er the ranges and far
To the plains where the cattle and sheep stations are,
With the sky for my roof and the grass for my bunk,
And a calico bag for my damper and junk;
And scarcely a comrade my memory reveals,
Save the spiritless dingo in tow of my heels.

But I think of the honest old light of my home
When the stars hang in clusters like lamps from the dome,
And I think of the hearth where the dark shadows fall,
When my camp fire is built on the widest of all;
But I’m following Fate, for I know she knows best,
I follow, she leads, and it’s nor’-west by west.

When my tent is all torn and my blankets are damp,
And the rising flood waters flow fast by the camp,
When the cold water rises in jets from the floor,
I lie in my bunk and I list to the roar,
And I think how to-morrow my footsteps will lag
When I tramp ’neath the weight of a rain-sodden swag.

Though the way of the swagman is mostly up-hill,
There are joys to be found on the wallaby still.
When the day has gone by with its tramp or its toil,
And your camp-fire you light, and your billy you boil,
There is comfort and peace in the bowl of your clay
Or the yarn of a mate who is tramping that way.

But beware of the town—there is poison for years
In the pleasure you find in the depths of long beers;
For the bushman gets bushed in the streets of a town,
Where he loses his friends when his cheque is knocked down;
He is right till his pockets are empty, and then—
He can hump his old bluey up country again.


As I don’t have Danny Spooner’s CD and don’t know what he is actually singing, I included Henry Lawson’s poem from the Australian Poetry Library.