My anthropology colleague and I recently caught up with fellow PhD friends writing their thesis in mathematics. It’s wonderfully refreshing, infuriating and humbling trying to engage with such differing, hyper-esoteric ideas with comparatively expert friends. In fact, to be honest I don’t even remember how to do long division at all well, so glancing over sections of theses’ written in symbols and scribbles and symbolic hyper-noted notable symbolic maths doobiewhatsit symbols, the meaning of which are completely and utterly inaccessible to me, is quietly awesome.
Anyway, in the course of sharing cold drink and conversation, one of these aforementioned friends told us they’d recently attended the university ‘Literary/Writers Society Quiz Night’, where he won the ‘dirtiest limerick’ competition. While I cannot do his prize winning dirty limerick justice, I recall it had four lines that worked around the words ‘art’ & ‘fart’ & ‘beans’ & ‘shart’. It sounded terribly poetic when hesitantly recited impromptu, complete with dramatic poise and pause.
While this limerick is surely worthy of a post in itself the reason I’m bringing it up is because, coincidentally, my anthropology flatmate and I had been reading through dry classic Australian Poetry the afternoon of this said evening. Only a few hours before, we’d been discussing the odd little poem ‘The Bastard from the Bush’ by Anonymous (19th century).
It was surprising and heartening that such a subversive poem made it into a 2008 collection of Classic Australian poetry compiled by centre-left- australian-phillip-adams-esque-bourgeious-authors. I have a feeling it may have slipped through selection because, although published anonymously, it is frequently attributed to Henry Lawson.
I havent spent considered time reading over ‘The Bastard from the Bush’ but found it suitably cheeky and enjoyable. It reads as a poem about the interdependent yet fraught relationship between the the socio-political struggles of the early ‘bastards from the bush’ (non-politically aligned Australian workers who made their living from manual labour on country (or out bush)), and ‘The Push’ – those involved in the intellectual left-wing movement(s) in Australia at the time.
The poem is not only pointed and humorous but relevant to a contemporary Australian context in the sense that it reminds us of the disparities and disjunctures between the socialist and communist representations on the Australian Left and the workers they seek to interpolate, engage with, organise and mobilize.
Here is the poem in question:
As the night was falling slowly over city, town and bush,
From a slum in Jones’s Alley came the Captain of the Push,
And his whistle loud and piercing woke the echoes of the Rocks,
And a dozen ghouls came slouching round the corners of the blocks.
Then the Captain jerked a finger at a stranger on the kerb
Whom he qualified politely with an adjective and verb.
Then he made the introduction: ‘Here’s a covey from the bush-
Fuck me blind, he wants to join us—be a member of the Push.’
Then the stranger made this answer to the Captain of the Push,
‘Why, fuck you dead, I’m Foreskin Fred, the bastard from the bush.
‘I’ve been in every two-up school from Darwin to the ‘Loo,
‘I’ve ridden colts and black gins—what more can a bastard do.’
‘Are you game to smash a window?’ asked the Captain of the Push.
‘I’d knock a fucking house down,’ said the bastard from the bush.
‘Would you take a maiden’s baby?’ said the Captain of the Push.
‘I’d take a baby’s maiden,’ said the bastard from the bush.
‘Would you dong a bloody copper if you caught the cunt alone,
‘Would you stoush a swell or Chinkee, split his garret with a stone?
‘Would you have a moll to keep you, would you swear off work for good?’
‘What? Live on prostitution? My colonial oath I would!’
‘Would you care to have a gasper?’ said the Captain of the Push.
‘I’ll take the bloody packet,’ said the bastard from the bush.
Then the Pushites all took counsel, saying, ‘Fuck me, but he’s game.
‘Let’s make him our star basher, he’ll live up to his name.’
So they took him to their hideout, that bastard from the bush,
And they granted him all privileges appertaining to the Push.
But soon they found his little ways were more than they could stand,
And finally the Captain thus addressed his little band.
‘Now listen here, you buggers, we’ve caught a fucking tartar,
‘At every kind of bludging, that bastard is a starter,
‘At poker and at two-up, he’s shook our fucking rolls,
‘He swipes our fucking liquor, and he robs our fucking molls.’
So down in Jones’s Alley all the members of the Push
Laid a dark and dirty ambush for the bastard from the bush.
But against the wall of Riley’s pub, the bastard made a stand,
A nasty grin upon his dial, a bike-chain in each hand.
They sprang upon him in a bunch, but one by one they fell,
With crack of bone, unearthly groan, and agonising yell,
Till the sorely-battered Captain, spitting teeth and gouts of blood,
Held an ear all torn and bleeding in a hand bedaubed with mud.
‘ You low polluted bastard,’ snarled the Captain of the Push,
‘Get back to where your sort belong, that’s somewhere in the bush:
‘And I hope heaps of misfortune may soon tumble down on you,
‘May some lousy harlot dose you till your ballocks turn sky-blue.
‘May the pangs of windy spasms through your bowels dart,
‘May you shit your bloody trousers every time you try to fart,
‘May you take a swig of gin’s piss, mistaking it for beer,
‘May the next push you impose on toss you out upon your ear.
‘May the itching piles torment you, may corns grow on your feet,
‘May crabs as big as spiders attack your balls a treat,
‘Then when you’re down and outed, to a hopeless bloody wreck,
‘May you slip back through your arsehole, and break your fucking neck.’