Lepers  in  Our  Legend

​     The Australian continent was first inhabited through Aboriginal migration from S.E. Asia, some 40,000 years ago, perhaps even much, much earlier. The early migrants came in in dribs and drabs, and settled or wandered in defined territories as separate tribes. Some traded between tribes, each with defined boundaries and set social rules. The land of course had no common name then, such as ‘Australia’.
     With advancing technology and growing geographical expansion demands in Europe, this great southern land mass was ripe for invasion by one or more of the great powers. Had it not been Britain, one can only imagine the final result, had one of France, Spain, Portugal, Holland, Germany, China or Japan set their sights southwards. As it happened, the history of European settlement (British) within Australia began as recently as 1788.
     This poem, initially written as a song, briefly traces the development of Australia from that fledgling colony, 230 years ago, to the present. It attempts to outline some of the major historical and social events of the last two centuries. 

                “A nation which cannot confront its own past honestly is a nation with problems!”
                                                                                                                           - Neal Ascherson, The Observer, 1985.

Photos from Internet sources

Lepers  in  Our  Legend


Having been defeated,
Britain retreated,
From her American colonies;
Yet, hulks couldn’t handle,
That crime rate scandal,
So all eyes turned to ‘The Antipodes’. 

Lord Sydney had read,
What Cook’s words said,
All about New Holland’s eastern coast;
And that savages there,
Wouldn’t really care,
Perhaps a token resistance at most. 

That lush green shore,
Unexplored before,
Except for the Dutch and Portuguese;
‘Blacks’ on stage,
Before the last Ice Age,
Though Europeans didn’t count all these. 

They were squatters in a mansion,
To some, they didn’t belong;
Regarded lepers in our legend,
Though they’d been there so long.


*

A death’s commutation,
To transportation,
The First Fleet set sail in May;
Marines and sailors,
Thieves and gaolers,
Eight long months out to Botany Bay. 

As a ‘deserted’ place,
An ideal penal base,
For trade, or stores for naval use;
An Empire’s aims,
With illegal claims,
‘Terra nullius’ ’twas their excuse. 

Chained Irish sons,
English musket guns,
Aborigines swung clubs, threw spears;
’Twas martial law,
And a frontier war,
An invasion of 100 years. 

They were squatters in a mansion,
Living in paradise;
Regarded as lepers in our legend,
What a bloody sacrifice!


*


So Britain dumped its scum,
Economy ran on rum,
Rebellion again against Bligh;
Famine and greed,
Harsh times indeed,
Norfolk Island if you wouldn’t comply. 

Sought an inland sea,
In this dry country,
Vast areas that rarely saw rain;
Searching north and south,
To the Murray’s mouth,
Yet expeditions always ended in vain. 

The Outback farmed,
The environment harmed,
Meanwhile, that resource ’twas all around;
They forgot so it seems,
About ground water streams,
The Artesian Basin lay just underground. 

Ignored squatters in this mansion,
Waged war on them instead;
Seen as lepers in our legend,
And wanted them all dead!


*

Convicts paid their debt,
In toil and sweat,
Explorers crossed that dividing range;
Drove bullock drays,
In pioneer days,
Lots of wildlife that really seemed strange. 

Europe in disarray,
Many sailed away,
Migrants came here from overseas;
Then no barrier wall,
They welcomed all,
Except ‘Blacks’ and those ‘damned Chinese’. 

And free-selectors’ sons,
Waved bushrangers’ guns,
As Ned Kelly tried righting wrongs;
There was young Ben Hall,
And they weren’t all,
About whom poets wrote folk songs. 

They were squatters in our mansion,
‘Social outcasts’ was their lot;
Just lepers in our legend,
So they were hanged or shot.


*


Isolated wives,
Stockmen’s lonely lives,
Tent towns sprang up, everywhere;
And a fortune struck,
With a gambler’s luck,
Anyone could be a millionaire. 

A winning streak,
At Summerhill Creek,
Hargraves out there panning for gold;
That fever spread,
Mining silver and lead,
Broken Hill’s secret would later unfold. 

Bendigo’s and Ballarat’s,
Peasants and aristocrats,
Thousands of prospectors, a few fortunes made;
Tension reached its heights,
Over miners’ rights,
The legend spawned at Eureka Stockade. 

Didn’t want squatters in their mansion,
Telling them what to do;
Resented troopers’ law enforcement,
And that irksome ‘Diggers’ Licence’ too. 


*

Our population grew,
New colonies too,
Self-government for some by now;
And the convict flow,
Began to slow,
Transportation became a public row. 

Vast forests were felled,
Farmers’ spirits held,
As they battled drought, fire and flood;
Native inhabitants feared,
Tasmania cleared,
Wealth poured in from Aborigines’ blood. 

Exports of minerals and meat,
Wool and wheat,
Bush life ’twas tough, with highs and lows;
Frontier settlers led,
Then railways spread,
That first century soon would finally close. 

Still squatters in their mansion,
Back in Sydney or ‘The Bush’;
The legend was now growing,
As Lawson led this mythical push!


*


Then Federation,
For this new nation,
’Twas Nineteen Hundred and One;
Hearts afire,
British Empire,
Australia was her latest son. 

Constitution agreed,
Thorn in the seed,
With homage still to a king or queen;
Country’s history built,
On shame and guilt,
‘Colonials’ are how they were seen. 

They had just been to war,
Fighting the Boer,
In search of their real ident-it-y;
‘The Breaker’ soon found,
Dead barren ground,
And 500 young lives were the fee. 

They were squatters from this mansion,
It all seemed so insane;
Seen as lepers in our legend,
A sacrifice all in vain!


*

Tried once again,
To remove that ‘stain’ ,
Gallipoli was a test we passed;
Upon the world’s stage,
We’d come of age,
This new nation accepted at last. 

Light Horsemen’s blood,
French trenches in mud,
Victory at Villers-Bretonneux;
A foundation laid,
On a bayonet’s blade,
And the legend just continued to grow. 

Survivors home came,
Not nearly the same,
Severe physical and mental harm;
Soldier Settlement Laws,
Many failed because,
Of poor soil on each Outback farm. 

They were squatters in a mansion,
Who thought that they belonged;
Anzac lepers in our legend,
Rewarded? ... or were wronged?


*


During Depression years,
Widespread poverty and tears,
Yet the privileged seemed to cope quite well;
Our foreign policies,
Clashed with Japanese,
’Twas ’42 when Singapore fell. 

A setting Rising Sun,
The Cold War begun,
Immigration levels at new heights;
Arthur Calwell’s call:
“You can come in all!
As long as you are bloody ‘Whites’!” 

Then ‘Pig-Iron Bob’,
With his sheep-like mob,
Twenty three years of Conservative reign;
Took a royal stand,
Bashed the ‘Commie can’,
Led us back to war, ‘all the way’, once again. 

Didn’t want squatters in our mansion,
Where they did not belong;
Didn’t want lepers in our legend,
Kept them out for so damn long.


*

That Vietnam War,
Unlike those gone before,
With no Empire, Japs nor Huns;
Image slightly dented,
Their effort resented,
Rejected as true Anzac sons. 

And some now say,
That there will come a day,
When they can come in from the cold;
Yet that song was sung,
When they were young,
And now they’re too damn bloody old. 

Great battles were fought,
So they just ought,
To hold their heads up high and proud;
To their country’s call,
Some gave their all,
Unlike ‘shirkers’ hiding in the crowd! 

They feel like squatters in a mansion,
Who were held up in disgrace;
Anzac lepers in our legend,
Still trying to find their place.


*

Widespread unrest,
Moratorium protest,
Conscription abolished at last;
And Al Grasby’s clothes,
Got up the nose,
Of all those who’d ruled in the past. 

Gough called the tune,
Reforms all too soon,
Senate members began to stir;
Loans Affair blamed,
Ministers named,
Whitlam dismissed from office by Kerr. 

As years went by,
Fraser came, goodbye,
A multi culture pushed through by some;
Bob Hawke just cried,
A monarchy slide,
Now a republic is sure to come! 

They were squatters in our mansion,
Pushing policies that were wrong;
Some just lepers in our legend,
In power for far too long.


*

A ‘white shoe’ brigade,
Sudden fortunes made,
Tycoons enmeshed in corporate greed;
A futile chase,
After crooks like Skase,
Leaders in charge who failed to lead. 

‘Honest John’ on the scene,
Resurrected he’d been,
Gave a promise of ‘changes’ to come;
With a ‘Sorry’ denial,
And Joh’s sham trial,
Began beating old Menzies’ drum. 

Unlicenced guns banned,
Xenophobia fanned,
Refugees behind a razor wire fence;
Olympic Games here,
A terrorist fear,
As Bali Island lost its innocence. 

’Twas an invasion of our mansion,
In spite of our outrage;
We allowed lepers in our legend,
To take up centre stage.


*

‘White collar’ crime,
Tax avoidance this time,
Media barons’ and Directors’ fraud;
Some straight or bent,
Scandals came and went,
Tales of Tampa’s ‘children overboard’. 

Helped Timor freed,
From a neighbour’s greed,
After years having ignored their plight;
And free-enterprise,
Led to Wheat Board lies,
Hypocrisy reached a record height. 

Came the Iraqi War,
Like the Persian Gulf before,
What was that we heard Harold Holt say?
Into Afghanistan,
Soon Korea and Iran,
Looks like ‘déjá vu’ once again, ‘all the way’. 

There are squatters in this mansion,
And they seem to be all around;
Let’s remove these lepers from our legend,
Before they pull us down!


*

With welfare lurks
And dodgy business perks,
There are many now ‘in on the joke’;
A slap in the face,
For those who made this place,
These rorts could send this country broke! 

Because this ‘gravy train’,
We can’t maintain,
If we each don’t do our share;
To climb aboard,
To reap reward,
In practice we should show we care! 

Support for our troops,
And in community groups,
We can join in, there is little doubt;
Work and bend our backs,
And pay the right tax,
That’s what the legend is all about! 

We may be squatters in this mansion,
Living in paradise;
Yet, not lepers in our legend,
If willing to pay the price!


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