Mallacoota Bar

by Henry Lawson

Curves of beaches like a horseshoe, with a glimpse of grazing stock
To the left the Gabo lighthouse, to the right the Bastion Rock;
Upper Lake where no one dwelleth - scenery like Italy.
Lower Lake of seven islets and six houses near the sea;
'Twixt the lake and sea a sandbank, where the shifting channels are,
And a break where white-capped rollers bow to Mallacoota Bar.

Gabo, of the reddest granite, cut off from the mainland now -
'Gabo', nearest that the black tongue ever could get round 'Cape Howe',
Gabo Island, name suggestive of a wild cape far away,
And a morning gale by sunlight, or a sea and sky of grey;
Gabo, where cold chiselled letters on the obelisk record
How the Monumental City sank with forty souls on board.

To the west the lonely forests, on the levels dense and dark
Native appletree and bloodwood, wattle, box and stringybark;
Land of tree-marked tracks and hunters - to their glory or their shame -
For a law makes Mallacoota sanctuary for native game;
To the east the rugged Howe Range, running down without a scar
To the mighty moving sandhills - close to Mallacoota Bar.

And the folk are like their fathers - Bushmen - sailors, fishermen -
And they live on fish and tan-bark, with a tourist now and then;
And on hunting? Well, I know not - and what matter if we know
That they did a bit o'smuggling' or o'wreckin' years ago?
For I love these kindly people, and 'twill give my heart a jar
When I see the figures fading on the sandbank by the Bar.

There's the old grey house of hardwood that seems built for mighty floods.
with the broad thick slabs laid lengthwise 'twixt the great round tree-trunk studs
That are slotted to receive them - and with shingles six foot long!
There's the house of hand-dressed timber that is nearly half as strong,
There's the rather modern cottage - but, as far as one can see
Everything in Mallacoota is as clean as it can be.

All is blue and gold this morning - green and gold and 'Bar all right'.
And three blurred sticks under Gabo to the sunlight show the white,
Bringing groceries from Eden, bringing all that we require -
Bringing flour and tea and sugar, roofing iron, and barbed wire,
Copper nails, and small inventions in machinery from afar,
And the little fleet of cutters race for Mallacoota Bar.

Waiting with two oars stuck upright on the sand 'to give them line',
We can see the green, transparent light show through the heaving brine -
Comes the S.E.A. and rising, pauses, swan-like, half in doubt,
While her skipper from the ratlines spies the bar and goes about;
'Now she comes!' and 'Now she's coming!' and, ere we know where we are,
She is snug beside the sandbank inside Mallacoota Bar.

Warren brings the water with him on the cutter Clara next
(When he doesn't, then his language speaks a sinful spirit vext);
Next the little lugger Lightning darts and misses, grounds and floats,
Finds the channel with flutter of her draggled petticoats,
Snuggles up beside the Clara, clattering down her little spar
Like a naughty drab that scrambles over Mallacoota Bar.

But the days are not all sunny - there are anxious times on decks,
Where the cutters run for shelter to the graves of ancient wrecks,
Round the Cape, or under Gabo, Tamboon, or Disaster Bay,
For they won't insure the hulls that cross the 'Coota bar to-day.

Extract of poem reprinted with perission from Henry Lawson Collected Verse Vol 3 1910-22
by Prof C Roderick, Angus & Robertson 1969.