The old year went, and the new returned, in the withering weeks of drought,
The cheque was spent that the shearer earned,
and the sheds were all cut out;
The publican’s words were short and few,
and the publican’s looks were black—
And the time had come, as the shearer knew, to carry his swag Out Back.
For time means tucker, and tramp you must,
where the scrubs and plains are wide,
With seldom a track that a man can trust, or a mountain peak to guide;
All day long in the dust and heat—when summer is on the track—
With stinted stomachs and blistered feet,
they carry their swags Out Back.
He tramped away from the shanty there, when the days were long and hot,
With never a soul to know or care if he died on the track or not.
The poor of the city have friends in woe, no matter how much they lack,
But only God and the swagmen know how a poor man fares Out Back.
He begged his way on the parched Paroo and the Warrego tracks once more,
And lived like a dog, as the swagmen do, till the Western stations shore;
But men were many, and sheds were full, for work in the town was slack—
The traveller never got hands in wool,
though he tramped for a year Out Back.
In stifling noons when his back was wrung
by its load, and the air seemed dead,
And the water warmed in the bag that hung to his aching arm like lead,
Or in times of flood, when plains were seas,
and the scrubs were cold and black,
He ploughed in mud to his trembling knees, and paid for his sins Out Back.
He blamed himself in the year ‘Too Late’—
in the heaviest hours of life—