I stood in the street in the noontide, precisely at midday time,
For the loud-mouthed bells of the G.P.O. had that moment ceased to chime
(I trust to the public dial, since the lever I used to wear,
The one cousin Amy gave me, my uncle has–to repair).
Well, I stood in the street in the noontide, a breakfastless, lunchless wight,
No prospect of dinner before me, no hope of a bed for the night;
And I railed in good Anglo-Saxon at the luck which had brought me out
To seek that Australian fortune I’d dreamed so often about.
Thus I stood in the street in the noontide, heart, stomach, and pocket void,
A seedy but well-dressed loafer, respectably unemployed;
And I heard what was meant for music, and the rhythmical tramp of feet,
And many a blazoned banner I saw far down the street.
And up the street in the noontide, with the painfully solemn air
Which your Briton in full enjoyment is proverbially known to wear,
There trooped in the glory of broadcloth some hundreds of well-fed men,
With a score of aforesaid banners, and bands–well, I counted ten.
Up, up that street in the noontide, like ants on their native hill,
These sorrowful revellers swarmed along at a pace that could hardly kill;
And the banners swayed in the sunshine as their bearers staggered beneath,
And the whole ten bands played different tunes, till I thought I should shed my teeth.
Then I said to my next-hand neighbour, a citizen hale and stout,
“Pray pardon a new chum’s wonder, but what is this all about?
Whose obsequies do we assist at; whom, whom do we follow round,
And oh! why are these mixed harmonies, these Gordian knots of sound?”
Unto which I received as answer, “A funeral! that be —- well!
It’s the Height-Hour Demonstration,1 as any but fools could tell.
It’s the workmen of Melbourne city, they’re a marching ‘and in ‘and,
All joining for self-protection, in one united band–.”
Then the band that is so united, though severed by ten bands more,
Passes out of my sight and hearing as it turns by the White Hart door;
And my scornful neighbour in going, of his own free will exclaims,
“They’re off to the S’cieties’ Gardens, t’enjoy their sports and games.”
But I stand at the corner-kerbing, as loafers are wont to do,
And chew the cud of reflection, which is all I have to chew;
And I use some more Anglo-Saxon, of the strongest kind that’s made,
The burden being, translated, “Why wasn’t I taught a trade?”
For these cornumanous2 parties, these eight-hour working bees,
Making honey (for “h” read “m” there), and sip its sweets at ease;
And with them the ancient adage acquires this reading new,
That “Jack’s as good as his master, and a great deal better too !”
Ah yes! they are truly blessed, these octohoral3 gents,
Though their tipple Is hardly Moet, and their ballrooms are but tents;
They can pay their way if they’re careful, and, free from trouble and debt,
Can pity their worse-off betters, fast trammelled by clique and set.
‘Tis sweeter to spend a shilling that can purchase one homely smile
Than to buy up the sneers of the many by paying for spurious style,
As is done by those tinselled tilters who so often salute the ground
From astride of their counterfeit chargers in society’s merry-go-round.
Pour moi–self-imported, unordered, my chances must needs be small–
I’m too heavily advaloremed4 to find a market at all.
Education and English polish are very unsaleable stuff–
The men that are wanted in Melbourne must be sent out here in the rough.
Perhaps if I gained experience of the sort that’s colonial-made,
I might worship the charms of Protection, and learn to abhor Free Trade;
But, ad interim, comes starvation, and I feel I am hardly fit
To study political problems, while in want of a three-penny bit–.
As thus I was standing a-musing, on aught but amusing themes,
The chimes called the faithful to luncheon, and rudely dispelled my dreams;
And my irrepressible stomach reasserted its right to yearn,
So I started off at a tangent, for my thoughts took a practical turn.
I followed the Austral workman through the “golden afternoon,”
To the scene of his innocent revels, where his bands played out of tune;
And I promised a Celtic contractor to carry him bricks in a hod,
For a note a week and my tucker, and a half-a-crown down–thank God!
Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos
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