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by Fergus McIvor Hughan

The Herald
Melbourne
1 December 1861.

Tis but a little lapse of time
Since they passed from out our sight;
Their hearts with hope were buoyant,
And each face with gladness bright;
And many were the fervent prayers
That in safety they might go,
Through a hidden land to the distant strand
Where ocean billows flow.

Theirs was no gay adventure
In some softly pleasant place:
They left home's quiet sanctitude
To meet a hostile race;
To carve a passage through the land,
That down its channels wide,
With a joyous start might flow a part
Of the restless human tide.

Across bleak stony deserts,
Through dense scrub and tangled brier,
They passed with hearts undaunted,
And with steps that would not tire;
Through morass and flooding waters,
Undismayed by toil and fears,
At their chief's command, with salient hand,
Fought on the pioneers.

Battled with cold and famine,
Battled with fiery heat,
Battled o'er rocks till a trail of blood
Was left by their wounded feet;
Battled when death with his icy hand
Struck down the body of Gray;--
'Onward!' they said, as they buried the dead,
And went on their gloomy way.

Now gather round your household hearths,
Your children by your knee;
'Tis well that they should understand
This tale of misery.
'Tis well that they should know the names
Of those whose toil is o'er;
Whose coming feet, we shall run to meet
With a welcome NEVER MORE.

Tell how these modern martyrs,
In the strength and pride of men,
Went out into the wilderness
And came not back again;
How they battled bravely onward,
For a nobler prize than thrones,
And how they lay, in the glaring day,
With the sun to bleach their bones.

Tell how their poor hearts held them up
Till victory was won;
How with fainting steps they journeyed back,
The great achievement done.
But of their anguish who may know,
Save God, who heard each groan,
When they saw no face at the trysting place,
And found themselves alone!

Left alone with gaunt starvation,
And its sickly brood of ills,
Stood Burke the sanguine, hopeful King,
And the hero-hearted Wills;
Sad and weary stood the pioneers,
With no hand to give relief,
And so each day winged on its way
As a dark embodied grief.

Who can guess the depth of agony--
That no mortal tongue may tell--
Which each felt when slowly dying
At the brink of hope's dry well!
Deserted, famished garmentless,
No voice of friendship nigh,
With loving care, to breathe a prayer
When they settled down to die.

Yet God be praised, that one dear life
Was held within His hand,
And saved, the only rescued one
Of that devoted band
Who went into the wilderness,
In the strength and pride of men:
The goal was won and their task was done,
But they came not back again.

We cannot break their calm, grand sleep,
By fond endearing cries;
We cannot smile them back again,
However bright our eyes;
But we may lowly bend the head,
Though not asham'd of the tears
We sadly shed, for the lowly dead,
Cut down in their bloom of years.

And laurel garlands, greener
Than war's heroes ever bought
With the blood of slaughtered thousands,
Shall by loving hands be brought;
And sanctified by many prayers,
Laid gently in their grave,
That the coming race may know the place
Where sleep our martyr'd brave.

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© 2017, Dave Phoenix