Title: Off the Bluebush
Verses for Australians West and East
Author: J. P. Bourke
Editor: A. G. Stephens
Illustrator: Ned Wethered
Release date: February 12, 2023 [eBook #70030]
Original publication: Australia: Tyrrell's Limited, 1915
Credits: David Wilson and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net
To the West
and the People of the West
TO WESTERN AUSTRALIA
Golden State of Golden Hearts
So Warm, So True
So Generous in their Welcome of a Wanderer
TO THE MEMORY OF OLD MATES
Women and Men
The Fondest and the Best
Who, even for me, Made Life a Brave Adventure
TO MY MOTHER
With all the Love that I shall never speak
This poor token of reverence,
All I could, for all I would
I humbly offer.
John Philip Bourke.
VERSES FOR AUSTRALIANS
WEST AND EAST
J. P. BOURKE
Edited by A. G. STEPHENS
Illustrated by NED WETHERED
22 Castlereagh Street
Copyright—First Edition. 2,000 copies, including 30 copies for Subscribers separately printed and bound and numbered and 25 Superior copies separately bound and numbered, published 1st August, 1915.—Wholly set in type and printed in Australia by Morton’s Ltd., 75 Ultimo Road, Sydney.
J. P. Bourke’s verses were contributed originally to The Sun, Kalgoorlie—chiefly during the editorship of Mr. C. W. Andrée Hayward, for whose cultivated appreciation Western rough-writers owe much—and to The Sunday Times, Perth.
The preliminary account of Bourke is reprinted, with some revision, from a series of articles contributed to The Leeuwin, Perth.
The illustrations by Mr. Ned Wethered represent the promising effort of a Western Australian designer and illustrator, almost wholly self-taught, aged twenty. Their youthful defects are apparent; yet they depict life, character, and scenery in a Western mining town with a gusto that preserves faithfully the spirit of the verses.
On behalf of Bourke, I record his expressed gratitude for the help which, contending with many difficulties, Ned Wethered gave to his friend.
A. G. S.
J. P. BOURKE.
They say that, when Abraham Lincoln had seen Walt Whitman, he summed his impression in the emphatic “This is a man.” That is what one feels in reading the verses of Western Australian  writers—“This is a man.” The work of the tribe of pseudonymous writers in Western newspapers—especially Kalgoorlie Sun and Perth Sunday Times—the work of “Bluebush” and “Dryblower,” “Crosscut,” “Prospect Good,” and the rest—is the most virile and the most original poetry that has been made in Australia since the Commonwealth began. “Here’s manhood,” I say, and “Here’s Australian manhood.” For vigour and versatility the East at the moment has few writers to rival this little Western comradeship.
The East has more refined writers, more cultivated and more artistic writers; but not more manly writers.
Poetry is a man’s work if it performs a man’s deeds. When, on the night of 24th April, 1792, Rouget de l’Isle tramped his lodging-house room “with a head of ice and fire” to compose “The Marseillaise,” how many deeds were his exultant verses worth! How vainly he himself would have fought to achieve the feats of swelling valour to which his art inspired others. In a literary aspect the words are little more than a rant:—
But this rant, as Carlyle says, when added to the stirring tune, “will make the blood tingle in men’s veins; and whole armies and assemblages will sing it with eyes weeping and burning, with hearts defiant of death, despot, and devil.”
The vigorous Western Australian verses that I praise are of that kind and approximate to that standard. They are written in peace, and cannot gain the hottest of mortal ardours, the exultation of war. But if there were  Australian war, here are the men to write our marching songs.
There is a literature of art, and there is a literature of humanity. The one kind does not exclude the other; the best poetry is human in impulse, artistic in expression. Yet inevitably, as verse is written, there are found writers with a languid pulse whose finest effects are gained by a decorative use of language, and opposed to these are the writers who use the oldest rhymes, the oldest rhythms, to give impetus to the messages of emotion that fly hot from their hearts.
This Western Australian poetry is often inartistic; it is often a poor thing considered as literature; but how broadly and strongly it appeals to our humanity! how graphic it is! how humorous or tragic! and how natural! It is written, for the greater part, not from a head to a head, but from a heart to a heart; and in its most effective passages it has the same force of sincerity, the same truth of vision, the same sympathy, that make the old ballads a precious possession, and that have captivated thirty centuries with the stories and descriptions of Homer.
There must be allowed, also, to the little school of Western Australian writers, besides their vigour and vivacity, a real singing talent, and no slight mastery of striking phraseology. Often enough their subjects are commonplace, yet it is rarely that their treatment of a subject is entirely commonplace. Almost always there is found a personal touch that in its way and to its extent is a true style, and a style effective to move the readers to whom it is addressed. It is said that the Arabs are careful not to tread on any scrap of written paper lest  it should contain the sacred name of Allah. In the same manner I think that every lover of poetry is careful not to contemn the rudest rhyme that may contain a heartbeat. That is to say that every lover of poetry is a faithful Catholic. He may like some kinds of poetry better than others, yet he finds every kind a good kind—however stiffly or crudely it succeeds in transferring its content of emotion. If it does not hold and convey emotion, then it is not poetry, no matter how fine its form or how famous the name of its author. I value this little wild garden of verses the more because it grows in Australia. Doubtless, its Australian appeal detracts from its quality considered as universal literature; yet that detraction is balanced by the additional attraction it has for readers here and now. I am not concerned to measure out comparative credit, but only to emphasise the point that we have here something that is worthy our credit.
The opinion offered, the attitude taken, follow after reading some hundreds of representative Western verses. The merit of those verses is to be found in the impression one receives from the whole—an impression gained from many patches of gold that shine in the quartz. An artist may touch everything with mastery. These writers are not artists, but men who utter the measures and rhymes that come to them often unsought; they are poetical interpreters of life and manhood. Accept them in that guise, and they need no justification from another’s hand: they justify themselves.
John Philip Bourke, who wrote for The Sun, Kalgoorlie, scores of stanzas that ring harshly or melodiously, but that ring true, has set down his page of Western history over the signature of “Bluebush.” Between East  and West his honours are easy; for he springs from the East, but it is the West that has inspired him. He was born in August, 1860, on the Peel River Diggings, New South Wales; he was born with the wandering blood. At the age of seventeen he sold his first reef to Clarke, of Gullandaddy station, for £600; then for seventeen years he settled down as a school teacher. In 1894 he went West and roughed it on the mining track.
He was pretty consistently lucky in making small “rises” of from £200 to £1000 (with a “record” of £1,250), but he never handled a wingless coin. His old Hunter River stock was mostly of Irish blood: does that account for a free hand and a blessing on a generous heart? Yet until his death he faced the world with a roguish eye and with bright and dark years of experience to write about. He died at Boulder, W.A., on 13th January, 1914.
The Sun praised him justly. “He was a writer of verse that appealed to everyone by its rugged force, its fertility of ideas, its truth and the spirit of human sympathy and true mateship which permeated every line. Straight as a gunbarrel and unfaltering in his denunciation of all that savoured of the mean, the paltry, or the unjust, Bourke was the whitest and the most lovable of men. Gifted with a keen insight into human nature and unlimited power of happy expression, he was a staunch friend and a true mate, and no man on the fields was more personally popular.”
What did Bourke write? The verse that appeals to wanderers, to reckless men, to men who have fought and lost, fought and won, fought and wasted their winnings  in all the ways of all the earth. Wasted? Not all wasted; not most, it may be.
It is a doctrine that must be preached cautiously; yet it is the best doctrine of all. So many people miss life by not grasping it; in saving other things they spend life itself: and at the end there is pity for those who cannot say “Vixi!” Let Bourke express himself:
But Bourke does himself injustice. His is a strain of toiling life once again made vocal—the real truth of real toil, as it may happen, as it has happened to thousands who have struggled “to gain from the West her  glorious golden prize”—and who have gained and have squandered, or have died struggling, or have “gone out on flukes,” as Bayley did, “with the new life just begun.”
From such a life as that stanza depicts, almost inevitably men turn to intoxicating liquor for consolation or for oblivion. Any reader of Western verses must see first how large a part liquor plays in life, and secondly, how large a part of that life, that life in the desert, in the sand, in the wilderness, can only be assuaged by liquor. Bourke writes:
“A Drunk’s Defiance” is a human plea. But Bourke urges the other side still more strongly—“No more verses in praise of wine!”
There are keen sight and shrewd sense underlying Bourke’s verses. There is sentiment, too, intermingled with pathos, in many places—as in “His Letter from W.A.”
And “Her Letter” came back:
Is that not a sympathetic expression of honest feeling, of true affection, that has gone out thousands of times to “the boys in the West”? In pieces like “Old Bill Bates” the note of mateship is struck; the note that has been the keynote of so many Western lives linked in the hearty give-and-take comradeship of two men—two bound closer, almost, than husband and wife, by long-shared  years of effort together. “At Bummer’s Creek” warrants all that has been said of the manly virtue of Western poetry—and is there anyone who has worked with men who has not found Dave’s mate?
That is not refined poetry; but it is essentially poetry; and let us never forget that all the refinements of life spring from precisely such realities as are illustrated by this humble “battler.” That a lady from whose body and mind every speck and thought of defilement are kept, may walk sedately down the shady side of St. George’s Terrace, some such man as Bill’s mate must have sweated crudely in the region of Kalgoorlie. The fancy is far-fetched, but it has a real basis; a large part of the burden of civilization is borne by “humble battlers;” and it is to the breed of these “battlers” that we look for civilization’s defence in the day of challenge. Let not the flower despise its roots.
The lines for “Our Goldfields Spring” are outspoken:
“Beer is Enough” is another piece full of racy virtue, expressed with perverse ingenuity:
Or take this sardonic expression of the doubt of Love:
Many such stanzas may deserve to be called coarse. A man can defend them and enjoy them, because they are not vulgar; they are not affected or insincere; they express the primitive man as he is found—under more or fewer layers of veneer—in every other man who is worth a woman’s salt. The work of John Philip Bourke must be taken now and then with a good deal of salt; but it holds the meat and mettle of manhood.
He died of thirst.
* * *
Morton’s Limited, Printers, 75 Ultimo Road, Sydney.
Inconsistent hyphenation (cocky patch/cocky-patch, fantods/fan-tod, flower-soul/flower soul, Glory rose/glory-rose, hobby-horse/hobby horse, inmost soul/inmost-soul, maiden hair/maidenhair, outback/out-back, rose-leaves/rose leaves/roseleaf, springtime/spring-time, taproom/tap-room, tempest tossed/tempest-tossed, window pane/window-pane) and non-standard spelling (smoothes, cris-crossed) retained.