The Bastard from the Bush


henry lawson bastard from the bush

Henry Lawson’s short stories and bush poetry helped define Australian identity: blokey mateship as a national characteristic. Purely platonic, of course. But two lines from The Bastard of the Bush undermine common perceptions of homosexuality in colonial Australia.

Bush ballads and poems once helped shape Australians’ perceptions of themselves. Blokes recited The Man from Snowy River in public bars. People sang Click Go the Shears at piss-ups. Hopefully, few remember my own mournful rendition of The Dying Stockman at a school concert.

A strapping young stockman lay dying,
A saddle supporting his head.
His two mates around him were crying…

The poetry was all colloquialism and Aussie slang. Stone the flamin’ crows!

But because of law and social taboo, only ‘clean’ or cleaned-up bush poetry endured. Think of it like Amiel’s 2003 hit Just Another F_cking Lovesong. We all know now that the radio edit replaced the crucial F word with ‘stupid’. But what if in half-a-century, only the radio edit survives?

Henry Lawson’s The Bastard from the Bush appeared in the late 1890s. Originally ascribed to Anonymous, common wisdom declared it a bawdy parody of Lawson’s earlier The Captain of the Push. However, evidence later emerged Lawson wrote The Bastard himself and then, when he needed money, cleaned it up for publication. Some still argue the toss, because the great bard reputedly only swore when drunk. F_ck me dead, as the Bastard might say. The wife-bashing racist was always drunk. Grog killed Henry Lawson. Yet, some choose to mistake the public image for the real man. Stone the flamin’ crows!

Queer History

Queer history suffered a similar fate to bush poetry. We got the bits condoned by law and social convention. It seemed very few queers existed in colonial Australia. A bit like yowies, occasionally spotted at a great distance in the wild.

Most of our knowledge derives from criminal cases or sensational newspaper reports. When homosexuality did finally become a topic of public discussion, some saw it as a modern invention.

“It never happened back in my day.”

Well actually, it did. And thanks to queer historians, our previously bowdlerised history is coming to light. Dig into the court cases of men arrested at beats, for example, and you discover some of those cruising places were busier than a sex-on-premise on pension day.

Henry Lawson’s poem disproves the idea Aussies were barely aware of homosexuality. The protagonist boasts that he’ll knock a man down and ‘f_ck him’ as proof of his toughness. His suitably impressed listeners then accept him into their gang.

Ignoring the morality and dubious context, we see that jokes about men enjoying sex with men were common currency in the 1890s. So much for ‘the crime among Christians not to be named’.

I’ve censored Lawson’s racist epithets. They add nothing to our understanding of the poem.

The Bastard from the Bush

The story of Foreskin Ned, a rough bushie who enlists in a Sydney ‘push’, a criminal gang.

As night was falling slowly over city, town, and bush,
From down in Jones’ alley came the Captain of the Push.
Then his whistle loud and piercing woke the echoes of The Rocks,
And a dozen ghouls came slouching round the corners of the docks.

Then the Leader jerked a finger at a stranger on the curb,
Whom he qualified politely with an adjective and a verb.
Then he made the introduction. “Here’s a bloke in from the bush.
F_ck me dead, he wants to join us and be a member of the Push.”

Then the stranger made this answer to the Captain of the Push,
“Why f_ck ya dead, I’m Foreskin Ned, the Bastard from the Bush.
“I’ve been in every two-up school from Wagga to the ‘loo.
“I’ve ridden colts and ***** ****, What more could a Bastard do?”

“Do you help the girls pick gum leaves?” asked the Captain of the Push.
“No, I hit ’em with the branches!” said the Bastard from the Bush.
“Would you knock me down and rob me?” asked the Captain of the Push;
“I’d knock you down and f_ck you!” said the Bastard from the Bush.

“Would you bash a bloody copper if you caught the c_nt alone?
“Would you stoush a swell or ******* ? Slit his throat with a stone?
“Would ya have a moll to keep ya? Would ya swear off work for good?”
Said the Bastard: “My colonial silver-mounted oath I would!”

Lawson’s authorship

Although tasteless, the author’s play on maidenhood and virginity indicates a mastery of wordplay.

“Would you care to have a cigarette?” said the Captain of the Push.
“I’ll take the f_cking packet!” 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.

So the Pushites all took council, saying “F_ck me but he’s brave.
“We’ll make him our star basher. He’ll live up to his name.”
So they took him to their hide-out, that Bastard from the Bush,
And granted him all privileges appertaining to the Push.

But soon, they found his little ways were more than they could stand.
So finally, their Captain addressed his little band

“Now listen here, you buggers. We’ve caught a f_cking tarter,
“At every kind of bludging, this bastard is a starter.
“At poker and at two-up he shook our bloody rolls.
“He swiped our f_cking liquor and he’s f_cked our f_cking molls.”

So down in Jones’ alley all the members of the Push,
Laid a dark and dirty ambush for that 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.

May crabs as big as spiders…

The poem ends with a litany of curses, vastly superior to modern-day threats about Karma taking out your enemies.

“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 will 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 ***’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 out, and a hopeless bloody wreck,
“May you slip back through your arsehole, and break your f_cking neck.”

For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Destiny Rogers

Destiny Rogers embarked on her career in the media industry immediately after high school, initially joining Mirror News, which later evolved into News Ltd. She fondly recalls editing Ian Byford's 'Passing Glances: A History of Gay Cairns' as one of her most fulfilling projects. Additionally, Destiny co-researched and co-wrote 'The Queen's Ball', chronicling the history of the world's longest-running continuous queer event. Her investigative work on the history of Australia's COON Cheese and Edward Coon culminated in the publication 'COON: More Holes than Swiss Cheese', a collaborative effort with Dr. Stephen Hagan. Destiny's journey at QNews began as a feature writer, and she was subsequently elevated to the role of Managing Editor of QNews Magazine in 2018. However, in July 2022, she decided to resign from this role to refocus on research and feature writing. For contact, please reach out at destinyr@qnews.com.au.

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