The End of the Way
Helen Alice Peters
- Helen Alice Peters
- The End of the Way
- oil on canvas
- 152 x 102.5 cm
signed lower right: Helen Peters 1906
Ninth Federal Art Exhibition, South Australia, 1906
This impressive large-scale painting of a 'sundowner', the iconic itinerant swagman, looking for work at the end of the day in hope of a bed overnight is painted with loose impressionistic brushwork. The blue water sparkles against the brown earthy landscape as the weary traveller reaches the end of the road, physically and spiritually. The painting illustrates a melancholy poem:
My old cowhide boots are all patchy and worn,
My trousers are ragged, my jumper is torn,
My billycock hat is an object forlorn,
My hair is unkempt, and my beard is unshorn.
And why is it so? In this fair land of gold,
Whose green-swelling bosom holds riches untold,
Why should I ever suffer from hunger or cold?
And why don’t I grow rich as I know I grow old? I’ll tell you!
Because, with my swag on my back,
I keep roaming about on the Wallaby track.
When first I arrived here, fifteen years ago,
My feelings were manly, my heart all aglow;
But now Hope’s bright flame in my heart has burnt low,
For I’ve no one to care for, and nowhere to go.
As I sit by my fire, in the cold morning air,
And break my night’s fast with a swagman’s rude fare,
I think of the riches of which I’ve no share —
I think of Life’s joys that to me are so rare;
Then, with “billy” in hand, and my swag on my back,
I wander away on the Wallaby track.
Like the white yeasty froth on the ocean-wave comb,
On the waters of life I am merely the foam,
As useless as it through the country I roam,
Without one single spot I can think of as home.
I know that by some folks this land is called free,
But in all of Australia, broad though it be,
There’s not one ingleside where a seat’s kept for me,
Not one face that grows brighter my presence to see,
When weary and sad, with my swag on my back,
I come trudging along on the Wallaby track.
They call me “Sundowner;” but what’s in a name?
Unless there’s attached to it some honest fame;
’Tis little I care now, for Life’s weary game
Has crushed my ambition and weakened my frame.
What matters it now, that in youth I could gaze
On the future made joyous by Hope’s golden rays?
Since nought’s left but regret for my past erring ways,
No prospect ahead but to finish my days,
With the sky overhead and the earth at my back,
In some out-of-way spot on the Wallaby track.
O young men who come out to this fair southern clime,
Draw a moral from this and be warned in time —
If you’re fast in your youth you’ll be old in your prime —
If you cling to the worldly you’ll lose the sublime —
If your evenings are passed in some flash Music Hall —
If you go to the demi-monde fancy dress ball —
If you drink, and play billiards, and gamble, you’ll fall Into debt —
into crime — you’ll be shoved to the wall —
And “last scene of all,” with your swag at your back,
Die a mendicant’s death on the Wallaby track.