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Land of Forests Fleas and Flies



Collected and edited by Peter Bridge with Gail Dreezens.

On 9 April 1899 the Kalgoorlie Sun published the anonymous Ode to Westralia that immediately caught on across the land, resulting in widespread plagiarism, retorts and imitations which continued for many decades. The verse and variations has appeared in many papers and anthologies since then and has been used by politicians (Dr G Gallop, address to Australian Gold Conference, 9 April 2001) and playwrights to some effect.

A reminder though, to those whose angst against our West would have them use this verse splenetically, that it has in fact a solid foundation on t’otherside.This article is a preliminary attempt to trace the origins and influence of a doggerel verse, which like the ubiquitous Foo, crops up everywhere.Those who may find other instances of its use, and variations, are requested to forward the item to the publisher for inclusion in this sequence.
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This is admittedly a great country for the working man. Almost every other country under the sun claims that it has some special attractions to offer the worker. But the worker, meanwhile, with a fine lack of discrimination, everywhere loudly proclaims his belief that the particular country in which he lives is the finest country in the world – to live out of. And he is nearly right. There seems to be no part of this planet that is all custard and watermelon for the working classes.
At one time this country was practically a working man’s country. There weren’t enough of him to go round, and consequently he was a much sought after person. If he thought the manager of show No.1 was not exactly gentlemanly in his demeanor, all he had to do was to tell him so and go over to show No.2 where he was certain to find a job awaiting his arrival. He was in the proud position of being able to tell his boss at any moment to “go to h—,” without suffering for it to any appreciable extent.

But those days are gone, and the working man of to-day finds himself as dependent upon the favor or caprice of his boss as if he were in the eastern colonies. Hence Westralia is as heartly (sic) cursed now as Victoria or Queensland. Even in the good days she was cursed up hill and down dale by thousands of men who didn’t know when they were well off. Men came over here from 10s. or 15s. weekly in the eastern colonies to £4 in this, and then groaned about the cursed country. It is quite likely that the writer of the following effusion is in a steady billet and has not known hardship since coming to the colony. Anyway, here it is:-

Land of Forrests, fleas, and flies,
Blighted hopes and blighted eyes,
Art thou hell in earth’s disguise,
Art thou some volcanic blast,
By volcanoes spurned, outcast?
Wert thou once the chosen land
Where Adam broke God’s one command?
That He in wrath changed thee to sand,
Land of politicians silly,
Home of wind and willy-willy,
Land of blanket, tent and billy,
Home of brokers, bummers, clerks,
Nest of sharpers, mining sharks,
Dried up lakes and desert parks,
Land of humpies, brothels, inns,
Old bag huts and empty tins,
Land of blackest, grievous sins,

The contents, if not always the style, reminds one of Tom Hood, and its distant echoes evoke Bernard O’Dowd’s Australia, “A new demesne for Mammon to infest”, and his Last Stanzas of the Bush, but of course in a primitive ocker version.
The Ode was reprinted in the Sydney Truth of 21 May 1899. (later this original version appeared in Those Were the Days (1933), a Dorothy Hewitt play and Margins (1988).

Alan Deuchar, a Perth land-jobber, then used it in an ad in The West Australian of 3 June 1899, with a rider, As We See Ourselves :-

As Others See Us
(by Sydney “Truth”)
Land of Forrests, Fleas, and Flies,
Blighted hopes and blighted eyes,
Art thou hell in earth’s disguise,
Art thou some volcanic blast,
By volcanoes spurned, outcast?
Art unfinished – made the last,
Wert thou once the chosen land,
Where Adam broke God’s one command,
That He in wrath changed thee to sand,
Land of Politicians silly,
Home of wind and willy-nilly,
Land of blanket, tent and billy,
Home of brokers, poor paid clerks,
Nest of sharpers, mining sharks,
Dried up lakes and desert parks,
Land of humpies, cabins, inns,
Old bag huts and empty tins,
Land of blackest, grievous sins,

Land of Fortunes, easily made;
The land where ‘tothersiders strayed,
To grab the dividends that are paid,
Thou art to us a chosen land;
We hold your gold at our command,
Your riches are not in the sand,
The Home to be of Dukes and Lords,
In the near future – mark my words –
This land shall best all best records,
You are but in your infancy;
The time is near when you shall be
The strongest, richest colony,
Your Gold mines are the richest, best,
And in your Coal mines we’ll invest.
Against the world you’ll stand the test –

Several lines had been altered to mould it to the sensibilities of the decidedly conservative West.
Amusingly, the Sunday Times reprinted the original version on 4 June 1899, but as a ‘pleasing pome from a Sydney paper’. This after it had appeared in the Sun, their associated WA paper, two months before!
The Kalgoorlie Miner of 6 June reprinted the Deuchar version from the West, but credited it to the Sydney Truth. It had originated a few hundred yards away! Truly we don’t have to go to the “heathen Chinee”, for “ways that are dark, and for tricks that are vain”. JJ Tucker then wrote,(Kalgoorlie Miner, 8 June 1899), To Westralia. The latter two were reprinted in the Kalgoorlie Argus of 15 June.

(For the Kalgoorlie Miner)
Land of forests, mother of gold,
Wealth of coal in dreams untold,
Land of vineyard, orchard, fold,
Basking last in Sol’s high noon,
First to greet the nascent moon,
Yielding neighbor lands a boon,
Immensity of fecund space;
No seemless scurry, no mad chase,
No Yankee nurse for Saxon race,
North the torrid riplet curls,
South th’ Antarctic current whirls,
Hail! Golden marvel! Set in pearls!
Heed no pen-prick, witless jube,
Windy-bellied diatribe,
Jealous spleen of hireling scribe.
A jest, our “billy” – still it teems;
A jeer, our “tent” – tho’ taut its seams;
Hysteric screeching, idiots screams –
Thy name the “t’othersiders” bless,
Nor love thee than their mother less,
Their port from eastern storm and stress –
Take the “white man’s burden” up;
If scant thy breakfast, rich shalt sup
From dish of silver, jewelled cup.
Empire-builders are thy stock,
Build thee up, as they, on rock;
Thy God-sent freedom recks no stock.

J.J. Tucker
Perth, June 1, 1899

The poetic ping-pong continued with the Kalgoorlie Miner and Argus of 15 and 22 June, publishing:-
A Retort
(For the Western Argus)

Land of Sir Forrests and convict tales,
Wealth of coal in dreamings sail;
Land where vineyards, orchards fail,
Basking last in Sol’s high noon,
Last to raise a golden boom;
With a most ungodly tune,
Immensity of barren waste,
No fertility and much less grace;
Nor the energy of Saxon race,
North the dusty willy’s curl,
South the wild cat currents whirl;
Full of gold and dust – not pearls,
Too thick skined to feel a jibe,
Always ready for a bribe;
Jealous of all t’otherside,
Our jest – “the tin dog,” in it turns
Our jeer – “the Government,” red-taped seems;
Go to – all addled pated idiots scream,
Thy name, the t’othersiders’ curse
Nor love thee, than the Devil worse;
Thy port that’s emptied many a purse,
Put the “bluey” once more up,
If scant thy breakfast – less to sup;
In drinking the dregs of a bitter cup,
T’othersiders, of hardy stock
Built thee up; as they, of rock,
And given the Gropers a sudden shock,
Not to be outdone Billy Clare in his Clare’s Weekly,
There is a land of “pure” delight,
Where flies do swarm, and skeeters bite,
A land where often might seems right,
‘Tis W.A.
It has been called “the promised land,””
Its natives are a happy band,
And terra-firma there, is sand,
In W.A.
There “all that glitters is not gold,”
Of this I could a tale unfold,
Ah! many a man’s been “had” and “sold”
In W.A.
There “pleasures are like poppies spread,”
As Bobbie Burns so wisely said –
“They’ll bring you nought but fear and dread,”
In W.A.
A mighty man does there hold sway,
He’s been there long – and means to stay,
Some say he’s had his little day,
In W.A.
Of “Gropers” they have had a feast,
Let’s have some “wise men from the East,”
That’s what the people say, at least,
In W.A.
They’ve got a Mint, they’ve got a Zoo.
They’ve “Tattersall,” with big sweeps too,
And other “comforts,” not a few,
In W.A.
That land is fair, the climate’s good,
If one and all did what they could,
They’d make that country what they should,
That W.A.
[The logic contained in the last verse must make itself clear to the most ordinary mind. – Ed]

The disease was spreading:-
“Ex-Hillite,” Kanowna, wrote:-

“Some weeks ago you published an Ode to W.A. I sent a copy to a friend in Broken Hill, and by the last mail he favors me with the enclosed Ode to the Barrier, You might like to insert it.”
Sorry we can’t oblige. We have already rejected several better verses than those of the Barrier bard. No room for pointless doggerel.

The Boulder Bard writes:-

“Some time back I sent you an Ode to Westralia, considering it malevolent enough to be humorous. You paid me so well for it that I was saved for a week from those pangs of poverty so ably described in last issue by “Nomad.’ Since then the ‘ode’ has been printed by three editors, without acknowledgment to the SUN. Reaching Sydney, it was copied by John Norton’s un-Truth, and then some bounder who sells swampy Perth lots to distant dupes reproduced it as an advt., with some doggerel of his own as answer. Whereat my gorge has risen as high as Mt. Burgess, and from my Parnassus I fling forth the following:-

Band of robbers, jobbers, crimps,
Fat man’s tools and bully’s pimps,
Clique of deadheads, blackmails, imps,
In W.A.

You will publish unpaid screed,
Bury principle for greed;
Of the poor you take no heed,
In W.A.
Allan Deuchar, come along!
Honest pressmen you would wrong;
I will write you song for song,
In W.A.

11-6-1899 The Sun, Kalgoorlie
The Sunday Times of 1 October 1899 reprinted this from the Orange Leader:-

Hail, Australia! Land of beauty,
Sovereign of the Southern Seas!”
Where the policemen do their duty
Or neglect it, as they please!

Land of undetected robbers,
Where the murderer roams at large,
And the statesmen are all jobbers
At a reasonable charge!

Land of tricks and mining swindles!
Land of banks completely bung!
How our manly bosom kindles
When thy praise is nobly sung!

Own your failings, don’t dissemble ’em,
Why extol the kangroo?
If you want a national emblem,
Surely a Pea-hen will do?

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This study shows how creative juices flowed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries
as shown through one original verse.

I am indebted to West Australian flag waver and author, Peter J Bridge, who has generously allowed me to publish his work on this site. Peter operates an independent publishing house: www.hesperianpress.com

– WF