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Faces in the Street: Chapter Seventeen

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  • Pip Wilson
    Posted anywhere in the world for Christmas, mate! Faces in the Street: Louisa and Henry Lawson and the Castlereagh Street Push . One chapter each Sunday. If
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 17, 2007

      Posted anywhere in the world for Christmas, mate!

      'Faces in the Street: Louisa and Henry Lawson and the Castlereagh Street Push'. One chapter each Sunday.

      If you need to refer to the glossary (for all the odd Aussie words) or the list of 230 people mentioned in the book, please go to


      where you can also read the entire novel free online, and the paperback may also be purchased.

      This book is self-published "at great expense to the management". If you can recommend it to literary agents and/or publishers, my thanks.

      Read the reviews from around the world:




      ~ So you’re back from up the country, Mr Lawson ~



      ircular Quay, and Henry’s glad to get his feet on dry land. He hates when this wooden bucket of a ferry is so full that he has to sit on the deck in Winter. It’s a warm and sunny day out of the wind, as he thought it would be when he woke up in his new digs on the other side of “the pond”, but on the harbour it’s freezing.


      It’s a funny thing, really, that he is going to arrange this poetic joust with Banjo Paterson. He gets on so well with Brady, he would have thought he’d strike a deal like that with someone like him, long before most otherSydney poets. He reckons he has very little in common with The Banjo, really. Banjo’s a poet for those who ride. Henry’s a poet for them what walks.


      Brady on the other hand, well, he’s a “them what walks” sort of cove, and they see eye to eye on most things, such as the Polynesian Labourers’ Bill. What right has any government to let bosses bring in Kanakas? They work for tuppence a jolly year while there’s white fellows and their families starving. Both he and Brady are unhappy about it, but not furious as Billy Lane is in the Worker. He sounds ready to throw in the towel, poor old Billy Lane . The breaking of the strike was very nearly the breaking of his heart. And it can’t have done his spirits much good to see the Boomerang finally fold, but good job he was out of there before the ship went fully down.


      “Good job I was, too,” Henry thinks.


      According to Mary, who heard it from someone on the Wagga Hummer (she’s selling a few nice articles to them now, lucky sheila), who heard it from some bloke in Bananaland, Bill Lane has given up on Australia and thinks the working class should move to Africa. Or was it South America ? Henry must admit, Bill did say something about that when he was talking about that novel he’s writing, but Henry didn’t take too much notice at the time. Thought it was a joke. Seems a bit far-fetched, thinks Henry, but the rumour’s getting around. If anyone could organise, it, Billy Lane could, thinks Henry. There’s no better-known labor man in the country, and few smarter.


      Harry Lawson and Edwin Brady – they’re both poets for Australia, and Henry’s the first to admit that ‘A Song of Southern Writers’ owes a lot to Brady, in style at any rate. Certainly not in content.


      As a matter of fact, Brady’s still rotten on him for some of the lines.


      “In the land where sport is sacred, where the labourer is a god,

      You must pander to the people, make a hero of a clod!

      What avail the sacrifices of the battles you begin

      For the literary honour of the land we're living in?


      “What sort of sentiment is that, Lawson?” the young fella had scolded. “You can’t write that about Australians! I love the way you introduce the problem, just like we talked about that day we first met, the Poetry Problem as I called it, or maybe you called it. Anyway we both agreed about the crook lot of the Australian poet. I like the way you put it:


      “Southern men of letters, vainly seeking recognition here –

      Southern men of letters, driven to the Northern Hemisphere!

      It is time your wrongs were known; it is time you claimed redress –

      Time that you were independent of the mighty Northern press.


      “ Independence – you know I agree with that,” Brady had said, “but not those lines about the People. OK, so Archy published it, and good luck to both of you, but it wouldn’t have got past me at the Workman, not a snowball’s chance in hell. No wonder you didn’t submit it to me. You shouldn’t talk about the People like that.”


      “I didn’t submit it to the Workman because you’re a rorter – I haven’t forgotten ‘The Cambaroora blanky Star’, ya shyster!”


      Back then, Henry had thought Brady sounded a bit too much like Mother. (Maybe he’s just narky about everything – who wouldn’t be when your marriage is on the rocks?) Perhaps he was right, who knows? Sometimes, though, it doesn’t seem like it’s all about class and economics. Sometimes it seems like half the people are drongos and the other half mongrels. They’re the main classes. The Drongocracy, the Mongrelsie – and the Aggrotariat. He knows he’d better keep that under his hat if he wants to earn a quid in Sydney-town, if he doesn’t want to end up on the Telegraph – or worse, Granny Herald. Curse the day if that happens. Thank God Archy is a man. He doesn’t care a fig for advertisers and their cronies.


      No, it seems odd to be planning this caper with Banjo Paterson rather than with Brady, but Banjo’s got the better sense of humour, and (to be blunt about it), the much greater pen. He can’t remember whose idea it was in the first place. But it was his own idea to meet in the Hero of Waterloo. Paterson didn’t seem too keen on that, but he saw the sense in it. Any of the pubs within cooee of Reiby-lane, and their majestic plan would be overheard by half The Bulletin writers and artists of Sydney . And of course, Paterson doesn’t want to discuss this at his work. Almost no one outside the Bully knows who The Banjo is, and certainly not at Paterson ’s chambers. Henry would rather meet in a pub than Banjo’s dingy little office anyway.


      “Did you bring it?” Banjo asks nervously. He’s never been in the Hero before. In fact, he’s never been in Windmill-street in his life. The only time he’s ever been in The Rocks at all was once when he had to defend a client, some poor pommie chap who’d got lost after leaving the Quay and been razored by one of Young Griffo’s mob in a lane off Lower Fort-street. The Chief Lieutenant of the Millers Point Push, if he recalls correctly. Nasty young larrikin and he deserved what the pommie and his mate dished out to him. By Jove, he wouldn’t be surprised if some of that push are in this very pub. He wants to see what Lawson has brought, and get back to his chambers as quickly as possible.


      “Of course I blanky brought it,” Henry says with a grin. “But what are you standing here for, the beer’s on the inside. Let’s go in, fer gorsake. What are you having?”


      “Do they serve old here?”


      “Not the Hero of Waterloo, old son. Try the colonial. Fred’s colonial is a good drop.”


      “Very well. A pony of colonial. No – I’ll have a sleever, mate, if you can afford it.”


      At the bar, Henry asks Bridget the barmaid the same thing he asked her yesterday.


      “What side of the counter is the lending shilling on today, darlin’?”


      “I think it’s on your side, ain’t it? Fred! Fred!! What side of the counter’s Harry’s bob on today?”


      “Yeah, ’is side,” the publican says as he emerges from the ice-room wiping his hands with a greasy bar towel. “G’day Harry! That poem about the selection was a bottler! No wonder you said Archibald would go for it. Give him one on me, Bridie.”


      “He’s shouting a mate, Fred. What’ll I do?”


      “Yeah, one for his mate too.” Fred looks over at the table. It’s not every day he sees a toff dressed like that.


      “Who is he, mate? Not Archibald?”


      Henry leans across the wet towel on the bar and surreptitiously beckons the publican to come closer. Fred is astonished.


      “The Banjo? Not The Banjo?! Henry Lawson and The Banjo in my rubbidy, both at the same time? Hey, Colleen, come out here!”


      “Belt up!” Henry says, almost jumping the bar, but it’s too late, and now he knows Banjo won’t get out of here easily.


      “Listen Fred,” says Henry, “no autographs today, all right? We have some business to do. Tell all the boys, willya, no flamin’ autographs today. And tell Colleen. She’s a shocker for autographs, never gives me a moment’s peace. How many brothers does she have? I like signing magazines, but I don’t know if Banjo does.”


      When they get down to business and The Banjo is re-reading ‘Up the Country’, Henry is pleased as Punch. Banjo can hardly stop laughing, and he reads bits out between chortles and slurps on his beer, quite unaware that it’s a Bishop Barker. Henry wishes he would notice.


      “What are you laughing at, Paterson ? It’s not supposed to be a flamin’ joke!”


      “I know, Harry, of course it’s not. It’s very, very good, and very moving. I agree with almost every word. I’m laughing at how this little jape is going to pan out. We can run it for weeks!”


      “I’ll drink to that!” Harry says, and they cheers.


      “This is good, Henry. You’re the best –


      “I am back from up the country – very sorry that I went –

      Seeking for the Southern poets’ land whereon to pitch my tent …


      “That sounds like you all right, Harry.


      “I have lost a lot of idols, which were broken on the track,

      Burnt a lot of fancy verses, and I'm glad that I am back.


      “Love it! Trochaic octameter is just perfect for this.”




      “Never mind, I’ll use the same measure in my reply. By Jove, this bit’s good:


      “Miles and miles of thirsty gutters – strings of muddy water-holes

      In the place of ‘shining rivers’ – ‘walled by cliffs and forest boles.’

      Barren ridges, gullies, ridges! where the ever-madd’ning flies –

      Fiercer than the plagues ofEgypt – swarm about your blighted eyes!


      “Brilliant! Jolly brilliant, Lawson! That’s exactly what the bush is like.”


      “Can you better it?”


      “I can try.”


      “You must, and then … I must better your reply.”


      Banjo’s more interested in reading than gasbagging, and for the first time Henry notices that Banjo moves his lips as he reads. So they have more in common than he thought, after all.


      “Do you think Archie will guess?” Henry asks.


      “Harry, Archy won’t have a clue. I’m a bit worried about the new literary editor, though. You know him better than I. When I write a poem in reply, do you think he’ll know we’re in collusion?”


      “AG Stephens? I worked with him on the Boomerang. Sharp as a tack, but if you and I aren’t seen in each other’s company, I think we can get our little duel past old Olfret, and make a few casers along the way. Quite a few casers.”


      “Well then let’s shake on it,” says Paterson , and Henry gives him his warmest, good mates handshake, without a trace of pressing the third knuckle on his hand.


      “You’re a top bloke, AB Paterson, and the greatest poet in … on your side of Pitt-street. It’s a pleasure to write poetry with you.”


      “Here’s to you, Henry Lawson. The greatest poet in the … on your side of the table in the Hero of Waterloo.”


      And the two young men clink glasses. Henry goes on to show him a short story he has written, one that he feels sure The Bulletin will take.


      “It’s based on an incident in the life of my Aunt Gertrude Falconer, about a drover’s wife who has to defend her family against a snake.” Henry outlines the story, which he thinks might be a two-quidder.


      Banjo thinks that sounds pretty good, and he’s quite forgotten the time and wants to shout another round, but Henry wants to get ‘Up the Country’ up to Reiby-lane before the Bully closes off the day’s submissions. After noon, there’s no hope of getting Mrs Chadwick the Chancy Cashier and Chit Chatter to receive an acceptance chit from Olfret – and Henry needs to pay the rent on that rat-hole in McMahons Point.


      “Thank the Lord the Bully is paying on acceptance again,” Henry says.


      “I didn’t know they ever stopped,” says Banjo Paterson. “They pay my accrued remuneration into my bank account at the end of each month. You should get them to do that. Much easier.”


      “Good idea,” says Henry. No point trying to explain something to a cove who wouldn’t ever grasp the point.


      “To the saltmines!” Henry says, and the two good mates get up to leave. Fred, Colleen and half of the barflies appear out of nowhere with Bulletins, Freeman’s Journals, Workmans, Workers, Dead Birds, old Boomerangs, pencils and scraps of paper. Henry drains the very last drop from his bitter while he and Banjo sign, he grooms his moustache, and the two men put on their hats and walk out into the sunshine and cool air in the shade of the gum trees in Lower Fort-street. Banjo shudders a little from fear, but not for long, as the Bishop Barker below his belt and the prospect of this very good jest warm his blood, and they laugh and joke all the way past Milton-terrace, then take different paths so as not to be spotted together by the Bulletin mob. Henry decides that first he should have a quick one with some of the wharfies at Walsh Bay so he takes the Downshire Steps, and Banjo takes Argyle-street, through the Cut.


      Rocking in his big swivel chair, Alfred Stephens loves the poem even more than Banjo did, if at all possible.


      “I am back from up the country – very sorry that I went –

      Seeking for the Southern poets’ land whereon to pitch my tent …


      “It starts with your usual heptameter, Lawson, but to good effect. Very good indeed. I’ll give you a chit for Mrs Chadwick,” and he continues reading for the second time. Henry’s thumbing through one of Alfred’s English review books, feigning nonchalance. Stephens continues aloud:


      “Dreary land in rainy weather, with the endless clouds that drift

      O’er the bushman like a blanket that the Lord will never lift –

      Dismal land when it is raining – growl of floods, and, oh! the woosh

      Of the rain and wind together on the dark bed of the bush –

      Ghastly fires in lonely humpies where the granite rocks are piled

      In the rain-swept wildernesses that are wildest of the wild …


      “Very good alliteration and onomatopoeia, and I admire the way you repeat, but slightly alter, the poem’s opening couplet in your ultimate stanza:


      “I am back from up the country, up the country where I went

      Seeking for the Southern poets’ land whereon to pitch my tent …


      “Excellent. But your ultimate couplet, Lawson, it’s … it’s marvellous:


      “I intend to stay at present, as I said before, in town

      Drinking beer and lemon-squashes, taking baths and cooling down.”


      “Trochaic,” Henry says, seriously.


      “Certainly.” Stephens rolls out the ultimate line again, slowly, and with liturgical intonations, enunciating each word like shining amber, topaz, aquamarine and diamond:


      “Drinking beer … and lemon-squashes … taking baths … and cooling down.


      “It’s better than anything of yours I saw in Brisbane . And I’ve been through a lot of back numbers of The Bulletin, and there aren’t many better than this, Harry. I’m sure Archy will agree, this is a one-quidder.”


      “A quid? You’re not slinging off at me? Olfret, you little beauty! I could kiss you, if you weren’t as ugly as a mud fence. I’d better kiss the Widow Chadwick instead.”


      “Better you than me, Lawson. Here you go. I’ll make it a guinea. This is a one guinea verse, and I expect I won’t see its like for a good while.”


      “Don’t be too sure,” Henry says cryptically, then he takes his chit downstairs to Mrs Chadwick the Chancy Cashier and Chit Chatter, who is not at all amused when told that Mr Stephens had told Mr Lawson that he would not get paid for ‘Up the Country’ unless and until he kissed her on the cheek. He sneaks one in quicker than she can dodge it.


      “Oww!! You blighter! You smell of beer, Henry Lawson!” she squeals, but with a smile, and the secretaries and comps laugh as well. “If Mr Chadwick were still alive, you scamp …”


      “He’d be kissing you better than that, Mrs Chadwick. He was a lucky man.”


      Henry takes his quid and shilling, walks jauntily to the door, and turns around and salutes.


      “Go!” snaps Mrs Chadwick.


      “Strewth, anyone would think I’m Deeming the Demon!”


      As Henry steps into Reiby-lane the door behind him shuts with the sound of the jingling bell.


      “A blinking guinea! Try and top that, Andrew Barton blanky Paterson !”


      Henry Lawson scuffles off to the Live and Let Live.


      “Blow it, I’ll take a tram.”

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