The Stranger's Friend

A poem by Henry Lawson

The strangest things and the maddest things, that a man can do or say,
To the chaps and fellers and coves Out Back are matters of every day;
Maybe on account of the lives they lead, or the life that their hearts discard,
But never a fool can be too mad or a ‘hard case’ be too hard.

I met him in Bourke in the Union days, with which we have nought to do
(Their creed was narrow, their methods crude, but they stuck to ‘the cause’ like glue).
He came into town from the Lost Soul Run for his grim half-yearly ‘bend,’
And because of a curious hobby he had, he was known as ‘The Stranger’s Friend.’

It is true to the region of adjectives when I say that the spree was ‘grim,’
For to go on the spree was a sacred rite, or a heathen rite, to him,
To shout for the travellers passing through to the land where the lost soul bakes,
Till they all seemed devils of different breeds, and his pockets were filled with snakes.

In the joyful mood, in the solemn mood, in his cynical stages too,
In the maudlin stage, in the fighting stage, in the stage when all was blue,
From the joyful hour when his spree commenced, right through to the awful end,
He never lost grip of his ‘fixed idee’ that he was the Stranger’s Friend.

‘The feller as knows, he can battle around for his bloomin’ self,’ he’d say,
‘I don’t give a curse for the “blanks” I know the hard-up bloke this way;
‘Send the stranger round, and I’ll see him through,’ and, e’en as the bushman spoke,
The chaps and fellers would tip the wink to a casual, ‘hard-up bloke.’

And it wasn’t only a bushman’s ‘bluff’ to the fame of the Friend they scored,
For he’d shout the stranger a suit of clothes, and he’d pay for the stranger’s board,
The worst of it was that he’d skite all night on the edge of the stranger’s bunk,
And never got helplessly drunk himself till he’d got the stranger drunk.

And the chaps and the fellers would speculate, by way of a ghastly joke,
As to who’d be caught by the ‘jim-jams’ first, the Friend or the hard-up bloke?
And the ‘Joker’ would say that there wasn’t a doubt as to who’d be damned in the end,
When the Devil got hold of a hard-up bloke in the shape of the Stranger’s Friend.

It mattered not to the Stranger’s Friend what the rest might say or think,
He always held that the hard-up state was due to the curse of drink,
To the evils of cards, and of company: ‘But a young cove’s built that way,
‘And I was a bloomin’ fool meself when I started out,’ he’d say.

At the end of the spree, in clean white ‘moles,’ clean-shaven, and cool as ice,
He’d give the stranger a ‘bob’ or two, and some straight Out Back advice;
Then he’d tramp away for the Lost Soul Run, where the hot dust rose like smoke,
Having done his duty to all mankind, for he’d ‘stuck to a hard-up bloke.’

They’ll say ’tis a ‘song of a sot,’ perhaps, but the Song of a Sot is true.
I have ‘battled’ myself, and you know, you chaps, what a man in the bush goes through:
Let us hope when the last of his sprees is past, and his cheques and his strength are done,
That, amongst the sober and thrifty mates, the Stranger’s Friend has one.

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