46 Great Opening Lines: 4

At least two hundred poor beggars were counted sleeping out on the pavements of the main streets of Sydney the other night – grotesque bundles of rags lying under the verandahs of the old Fruit Markets and York-street shops, with their heads to the wall and their feet to the gutter.

‘Dossing Out’ and ‘Camping’, Henry Lawson, 1896

The economic recession and strikes of the early 1890s forced a lot of Australia’s country people off the land and into urban areas, only to find there were no jobs there either. ‘Dossing Out’ and ‘Camping’ is a short story that paints a clear picture of the poverty of poor beggars who had been sleeping in the park but were driven out by rain, onto the streets, under the verandahs.

The title refers to ‘dossing out’ in the city and ‘camping’ in the bush, two different ways of living with no money. In the bush, Lawson writes, you can light a fire, boil the billy, make tea, catch a sheep and fry a chop, wash your shirt, wash yourself, whistle and sing by the camp fire, breathe fresh air and make poetry.

George Washington Lambert, ‘Sheoak Sam’, 1898

In the city, when you doss out, there’s no possibility of lighting a fire to cook over. And a man is generally too hungry to make poetry.

The story ironically appeared in the collection While the Billy Boils.


Journey to the centre: Great middle lines – 16

The Drover’s Wife, a short story by Henry Lawson published in 1896, has a plot that unfolds over an afternoon and a night, marked by time phrases like “It is near sunset” and “It must be near one or two o’clock”.  The story is an excellent example of Australian realism, well-told with dry, short sentences, few adjectives or adverbs but plenty of active verbs, all of this good for keeping the tension on, as you’ll see in this mid-point paragraph.

A bit of background:  A drover has been gone from home for six months.  His wife and children are alone in their bush hut.  A snake has slid under the floor boards and a thunderstorm brews.  The dog, Alligator, is wildly interested in the snake.

Near midnight.  The children are all asleep and she sits there still, sewing and reading by turns.  From time to time she glances round the floor and wall-plate, and whenever she hears a noise she reaches for the stick.  The thunderstorm comes on, and the wind, rushing through the cracks in the slab wall, threatens to blow out her candle.  She places it on a sheltered part of the dresser and fixes up a newspaper to protect it.  At every flash of lightning the cracks between the slabs gleam like polished silver.  The thunder rolls, and the rain comes down in torrents.

Alligator lies at full length on the floor, with his eyes turned towards the partition.  She knows by this that the snake is there.


File:Henry Lawson photograph 1902.jpg
Henry Lawson, 1902