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© Warren Fahey

As Australia approached the mid-1800s there were already some songs about pioneering that had entered the tradition. One has to realise that Australia is an extremely large country and social interaction between early settlers would have been infrequent and when they did meet it would have necessitated a social gathering that most probably included social entertainment. The idea of songs written about shared experience, especially pioneering, would have been popular, as would have songs that reminded them of the ‘old country’.

There were also many songs about colonial life in the would-be cities. Some ridiculed the authorities and others dealt with life in the new country. Very few offered thanks or praise but this is a traditional perspective common to all frontier cultures.

The folk hardly ever let the truth stand in the way of a good tale and this song is a whopper as it documents the trials ad tribulations of a new-chum settler. The poor devil cops the lot – bushrangers, the barren bush, drought, hostile Aborigines and financial disaster before hot-footing it back to Mother England. He claims he’d rather sell matches door-to-door than return to Australia! Paterson, in his notes says, ‘It is noticeable that in all the ballads of early days there is a sort of happy-go-lucky spirit which reflects the easy come, easy go style of the times.’

Warren Fahey sings ‘The Settler’s Lament’.

Now all intent to emigrate,
Come listen to the doleful fate,
Which did befall me of late,
When I went to the wilds of Australia.
I sailed across the stormy main,
And often wished myself back again,
I really think I was quite insane
When I went to the bush of Australia.

Illawarra, Moneroo, Parramatta, Woolloomaloo (sic),
If you wouldn’t become a kangaroo,
Don’t go to the bush of Australia.

One never knows what does await,
For just as we entered Bass’s Strait,
We lost the half of our crew, and our mate,
As we sailed to the bush of Australia.
The vessel struck on a bank of sand,
And when we drifted to the land,
We soon were surrounded by a band
Of savages in Australia,

But I was so starved I look’d like a ghost,
I didn’t weigh more than four stone at most,
Thank heaven! I wasn’t fit for a roast,
For the cannibals in Australia.
So to Sydney town I travelled then,
The Governor gave me some convict men,
And I set off to live in a den
In the dismal bush of Australia.

And when I came to look at the land,
Which I got by his Excellency’s command,
I found it was nothing but burning sand,
Like all the rest of Australia.
But I bought a flock of sheep at last,
And thought that my troubles were passed,
But you may believe I stood aghast,
When they died of the rot in Australia.

My convicts were always drinking rum,
I often wished they were up a gum-
Tree – or that I had never come,
To the horrible bush of Australia.
The bushrangers my hut attacked,
And they were by my convicts back’d,
And my log hut was fairly sack’d
Of all I had got in Australia.

A thousand or two don’t go a long way,
When everyone robs you in open day,
And the bankers all fail and mizzle away
From the capital of Australia.
And it’s not very easy to keep your cash,
When once in twelvemonth your agent goes smash,
And bolts to New Zealand, or gets a whitewash;
It’s a way that they have in Australia.

So articles I signed at last,
And work’d as a man before the mast;
And back to England I came full fast,
And left the confounded Australia.
To sell a few matches from door to door,
Would certainly be a very great bore,
But I’ve made up my mind to do that before
I’ll go back to the bush of Australia.
Anonymous. Paterson included a version of this song in his revised edition of Old Bush Songs, 1924, under the title of THE BEAUTIFUL LAND OF AUSTRALIA and subsequently included in the Stewart and Keesing edition as THE SETTLER’S LAMENT. The version here was located in John Henderson’s Excursions and Adventures in New South Wales, Captain Henderson, of the 78 th Highlanders, had two volumes of his book published in 1854 and included this song implying that he composed it en route to Australia, adding that it was sung to the tune ‘King of the Cannibal Islands.’ It is more likely the work of Surgeon Goodwin who was in the Colony prior to Henderson.