THE SANDY HOLLOW LINE
The sun was blazing in the sky,
And the waves of shimmering heat
Glared down on the railway cutting;
We were half dead on our feet.
And the ganger stood on the banks of the cut,
And snarled at the men below:
'You'd better keep them shovels full
Or all of you cows will go;
I never saw such a useless mob,
You'd make a feller sick,
As shovel men you're hopeless
And you're no good with the pick'.
There were men in the gang could belt him
With a hand tied at their back,
But he had the power behind him
And we dare'nt risk the sack
So we took his insults in silence,
For this was the period when
We lived in the great depression, And nothing was cheaper than men.
We drove the shovels and swung the picks
And cursed the choking dust;
We'd wives and hungry kids to feed
So toil in the heat we must.
And as the sun rose higher,
And the heat grew more intense,
And flies were in their millions
And the air was thick and dense,
We found it very hard to breathe,
Our lungs were hot and tight
With the stink of sweating horses
And the fumes of gelignite.
But still the ganger drove us on
We couldn't take much more;
We prayed for the day we'd get a chance
To even up the score.
A man collapsed in the heat and dust,
He was carried away to the side.
It didn't seem to matter
If the poor chap lived or died.
'He's only a loafer', the ganger said,
'A lazy, useless cow. I was going to sack him anyway,
He's saved me the trouble now'.
He had no thought of the hungry kids
No thought of a woman's tears
As she struggled and fought to feed her brood
All down the weary years
And one of the government horses
Fell down and died in the dray;
They hitched two horses to him
And they dragged his corpse away.
Well the ganger was a worried man
And he said, with a heavy sigh:
'It is a bloody terrible thing
To see a good horse die.
You chaps get back to work', he said,
'And don't stand loafing there
Get in and trim and batter down
I'll get the engineer.
Well, the engineer he looked around
And he said, as he scratched his head,
No horse could work in this dreadful heat
Or they would all be dead.
'They're much too valuable to lose
They cost us quite a lot,
And I think it is a wicked shame
To work them while it's hot,
So we will take them through the creek
And spell them in the shade;
You men must all knock off at once -
Of course, you'll not be paid.
And so we plodded to our camps,
And it seemed to our weary brains
We were no better than convicts,
But we didn't wear the chains.
And in those drear Depression days,
We were unwanted men,
And we knew that when a war broke out
We'd all be heroes then,
And we'd be handed a rifle
And forced to fight for the swine
Who tortured us and starved us
On the Sandy Hollow line.
Source: Various Artists 'Navvy on the Line: Songs from the Australian Railway Tradition' Larrikin LFR009.
Roughly hewn, but a powerful song nonetheless. The Sandy Hollow line was begun as a depression relief project, but was eventually shelved as being 'impossible'.
I am not certain about the 'Get in and trim …' line in the second last section above. Can someone confirm or correct?
Some Oz 'Catters may have personal knowledge of Duke Tritton who evidently bridged the gap for southern urban folkies - many of whom had not experienced the bush - in the heady days of the so-called 'folk revival'. It would be great to hear some stories about him. We Top Enders were already in the bush and exposed mostly to Slim Dusty ditties (except, of course, in the oasis of the Top End Folk Club, then flourishing as a stepping stone on the hippie route to Asia)!