Edge of the Milkyway is an Australian
Folksong based on
the traditional song, Humping My (or The) Drum.
The Drum is an expression generally used to describe taking to the road
on foot, with a swag of essentials, seeking work.
'Waltzing Matilda' is another way this phenomenon was expressed.
Verses of Humping The Drum first appear
in a newspaper, the North Queensland Register, on the 15th of February,
1926, to resurface in 1932 courtesy of Bill Bowyang's 'Old Bush Resitations'
and in 1957 via Stewart and Keesing's well known 'Old Bush Songs and Rhymes
of Colonial Times', and elsewhere (auslit.edu.au, AUSLIT, National Library
of Australia and The University of Queensland).
Humping a swag, humping bluey and humping my (or the) drum, are all expressions
commonly used before and around the turn of the 20th century, including
within other poems and songs such as 'The Poor Bushman' printed in The
Queenslander on Saturday 6th October 1894 which mentions both 'humping
old bluey' and 'humping my drum' in reference to travelling 'with a swag
on my back' (reprinted 10 days later in the Clarence and Richmond Examiner,
page 6, also supplied by G W Beaudesert).
Although the Bowyang version contains the lines regarding milkyway, shearer's
strike, fields of corn, merry crowd, flying stakes etc., the final verse
I sing and various other lines are relatively contemporary. Clearly a
person born in the 1870s, to be old enough to slink away from the shearer's
strike, is going to be in his 70s before he can refer to The Great War
as 'World War One', there having to be two world wars for that to be relevant
(WWI 1914-1918 & WW2 1939-1945) Although this is possible, Prof Graham
Seal constructed most of the final verse of my version.
I chose this version because of the way,
to some degree, it sums up an era via a phrase like 'the hungry years'
and the alternate attitude to the shearer's strike.
The city of the plains is Bathurst, although the photo is another of Bendigo.
All other photos are far more closely aligned. The bridge, for instance,
'is' the Condamine, in last verse period pics are of Omeo, Bendigo and
back of Burke.
The crowd shots are of striking shearer's in the 1890s and the line of
troopers on horseback were sent to quell the strike. More significantly,
the troopers shown at Dagworth station (written below pic) are very likely
those that precipitated the death of jolly swagman depicted in Patterson's
The tune is a cross between 'Star of the County Down' and predominantly
'Samhradh' (Summer) . . . possibly a Carolyn tune or older.
I play a Brian de Gruchy handmade guitar
and sang thru a Studio Projects microphone & Eurorack UB1204 by Behringer.
My guitar pedals include a Zoom A2 and a Roland Space Echo RE-20.
All connected to a Toshiba Satelite laptop computer.
I've humped my drum from Kingdom Come
To the edge of the Milky Way
I've camped out rough, from the cape to the gulf
And starved on Christmas Day
To make the weight for the Flying Stakes
and dodge the lynching crowd.
I wheeled my bike from the Shearer's Strike
not wanting a funeral shroud.
I dropped a line in the Condamine
while dossed in the pouring rain
I laughed aloud with the merry crowd
In the city of the plains
I've worked from morn in fields of corn
Till the sun was out of sight.
I waved farewell to my Sydney Belle,
When we sailed to join the fight.
I carried a gun through World War One
Then went on the track again
From Omeo through Bendigo
To Bourke and back again
I shed a tear in the hungry years
When jobs were short and few
I packed up a swag and my old tucker bag
There was nothing else to do.