Lyrical Darling

The Darling River has been a source of inspiration from Aboriginals to modern day storytellers, poets and artists.

One of Australia’s most famous poets, Henry Lawson spent time in Bourke and wrote lovingly of the Darling River, its communities and townships for the Bulletin.

Modern day poets and artists are continuing to find sources of inspiration from the history, landscape, people and moods of the Darling River.

Contributions to this page of the website would be welcome by contacting us.

Jane Eliza
© Andrew Hull, 2002

Here’s a ship that tells the tale, built in southern New South Wales
And crafted from the burnt out ‘Beechworth’s’ frame
Built to do a steamers work, she ploughed the Darling up to Bourke
And the Jane Eliza was her given name

Burning river-wood and gum, a travelling marketplace to some
She made her trade on timber, wheat and wine
But the port of Morgan in the south, is where she departed from for Louth
To carry a stone for the grave of Mary Devine

A monument fit for a queen, the most impressive headstone seen
In the river country and all the far surrounds
Australian granite, polished bright, twenty four feet in height
And valued well above six hundred pounds

The cargo hold is also filled with materials to help rebuild
The pub at Louth which recently burnt down
And so with a full head of steam, she turned out of the Murray’s green
And made a wake into the Darling’s brown

A drought was on the Western plains, the Darling was a muddy drain
And little more than a string of dirty pools
Along the bank in tidy piles, was timber gathered in for miles
And day and night she burnt the precious fuel

Crawling past the town of Tilpa, the sandbar at Curranyulpa
Is where the river bottom touched her wheel
They dug and pushed to find a way, but the Jane Eliza was there to stay
The Darling slowly dried around her keel

Classified a naval wreck, they held an auction on her deck
And sold the stranded cargo off at will
The timber for the Louth hotel, changed direction (and purpose as well)
And went to build a church at Broken Hill

The monument went overland, onto the hill where it now stands
To perform the task for which it was designed
A cross adorns the monument, and with a careful measurement
The spectacle was craftily aligned

Each sunset would mourn the loss, by lighting up the Celtic cross
And make her memory burn for evermore
But on the very day she died the sun would strike its polished side
And the light would blaze a pathway to her door

The Jane Eliza earned her bread, in that crusty river bed
Sawing timber powered by her steam
And when the Darling finally filled, she stopped being a timber mill
And continued on her long journey upstream

Desperate for transport work, she made her way on up to Bourke
And arrived three years later than they planned
But in the time that she was down, the railway line had got to town
And now the precious freight went overland

So with the Darling running full and a final load of wool
The Jane Eliza slowly steamed away
And down the swollen river swept, where just a month ago she slept
And made it home in three weeks and a day

The monument is standing still; the church is there in Broken Hill
Shindy’s Inn at Louth is going strong
But like the men who cut the wood, the Jane Eliza’s gone for good
And the riverbed is where her bones belong

My Darling
© Andrew Hull, 2007

My Darling wends her winding way across the Western Plains
She fills the narrow channel and spills into shallow drains
And runs within the country like the blood within its veins
And life follows with her where she goes
My Darling carries far more than the water she contains
And lives beyond the realm of what she shows
For water’s not the only thing that rises with summer rains
And not the only thing that ebbs and flows

My Darling keeps the secrets of the years spent at her side
My wishes found a place within her reaches to reside
The fears I kept she gently swept, and laughter multiplied
The tears that she harbours to this day
My Darling keeps a million other’s stories deep inside
And secrets that I know she won’t betray
She holds the treasure of my dreams whenever I confide
And worries which she washes well away

My Darling struggles bravely with the changes she has faced
The pieces taken from her that can never be replaced
The memories of landscapes now centuries erased
The efforts that are made to bend her will
My Darling bides her time within the track that she has traced
With vows that she has promised to fulfil
She knows the greed of men and their capacity for waste
While changing plans are forced upon her still

My Darling shrinks within herself and bakes beneath the sun
Responding to demands and to the damage that’s been done
She sleeps beneath the sand and refuses now to run
Her mighty frame a shallow shrunken creek
My Darling waits until the ties that bind become undone
To prove she is not pitiful and meek
She sleeps until the other cycle of her life’s begun
To show that we must listen when she speaks

My Darling like an army, swells and bursts across the land
And miles of open country now fall under her command
Defying opposition as her tributaries expand
She turns the shrunken wetlands into seas
My Darling carries death along with life within her hand
And occupies the flooded plains with ease
She offers up an argument that all must understand
And the strongest of will cannot appease

My Darling now withdraws and returns back to her source
She nestles in her bed without regret, without remorse
And fragile lands recover from the fury of her force
To go about the business of regrowth
My Darling does not compromise the nature of her course
For those actions are bound to her by oath
She is not a creator with a scheme she must enforce
And neither a destroyer, she is both.

My Darling has a spirit and a soul to which she clings
The flow of life and death are the cycles that she brings
The hopes, dreams and secrets are the stories that she sings
But her nature never was a guarantee
My Darling is the fountain from which life eternal springs
And holds the hope of what will one day be
She has a soul that courses through a million other things
And a spirit that has found a home in me.

The Big Caiwarra Hole
The Darling Dream
The Song of the Darling River
Where the Waters used to run

© Andrew Hull, 2005

They are fishing on the river
And that ancient old life-giver
Feels an unexpected shiver
At the life along its banks.

They’re displaying ancient skills
For a feast of scales and gills
Dipping deep their bulging bills,
Gulping down and giving thanks.

You can see them in the morning
When the river gums are yawning
And their wings beat out a warning
That the fish will never hear

With their bills of beaky leather
They descend and land together
Flying clones of web and feather
Fishing at Wilcannia Weir

The Big Caiwarra Hole
© Andrew Hull, 2006

Coffee coloured water by a school of Coolabahs
That silhouette the moonlight and picture frame the stars
As the pink of dawn starts gamely like a feeble legged foal
It’s daybreak on the Paroo by the big Caiwarra hole

There are memories of campfires scattered all along the plains
And serpent-tracks of rivulets from searching summer rains
There are fence-lines for the new men and scar trees for the old
And both have found salvation in this seam of Western gold

Now the yellow is between the leaves, the sky a purple hue
Ghost Gums singing softly as a gentle breeze blows through
I would trade my future travels just to see inside their soul
As they mark time on the Paroo by the big Caiwarra hole

Corellas scream into the scene and christen the new day
As the sun reaches treetops and bleaches night away
The water builds reflections that defy the gentle flow
Making shadows for the yabbie and the catfish far below

I have not known many places though I’ve traveled to a few
And I’ve crossed a hundred paths of people that I never knew
I could search in every place and man and still not reach my goal
But I’d find it on the Paroo, by the big Caiwarra hole.

The Darling Dream
By Ron Wilson, adapted by Andrew Hull

On the edge of the blue bush plains where the Darling banks are steep
And the black soil when it rains turns silver and waist deep

Where giant Ghost Gums lean and sway
Home and shade to the Western Grey
Where Black Cockies laugh and act the loon
And the billabongs shimmer to a blood red moon

This land is alive you can feel its pulse
When the sunset silhouettes a Brolga’s waltz
Wherever I go and wherever I’ve been
My mind takes me back on a Darling Dream

From the winter’s frosty mornings to the summers searing glare
Through the wild flowers in between and the Gidgee scented air

Where rolling red soil ridges like waves upon a shore
Break on black soil beaches before curling back for more
And all along that shoreline where long shadows tend to cast
The present and the future merge with an ancient past

Where centuries have forged a world that is both sweet and stone
And the landscapes mirrored in the hearts of those who call it home
So if time is just a measure of what a man has seen
Then I have lived forever, just by knowing a Darling Dream

The Song of the Darling River
By Henry Lawson

The skies are brass and the plains are bare,
Death and ruin are everywhere —
And all that is left of the last year’s flood
Is a sickly stream on the grey-black mud;
The salt-springs bubble and the quagmires quiver,
And — this is the dirge of the Darling River:

`I rise in the drought from the Queensland rain,
`I fill my branches again and again;
`I hold my billabongs back in vain,
`For my life and my peoples the South Seas drain;
`And the land grows old and the people never
`Will see the worth of the Darling River.

`I drown dry gullies and lave bare hills,
`I turn drought-ruts into rippling rills —
`I form fair island and glades all green
`Till every bend is a sylvan scene.
`I have watered the barren land ten leagues wide!
`But in vain I have tried, ah! in vain I have tried
`To show the sign of the Great All Giver,
`The Word to a people: O! lock your river.

`I want no blistering barge aground,
`But racing steamers the seasons round;
`I want fair homes on my lonely ways,
`A people’s love and a people’s praise —
`And rosy children to dive and swim —
`And fair girls’ feet in my rippling brim;
`And cool, green forests and gardens ever’ —
Oh, this is the hymn of the Darling River. 

The sky is brass and the scrub-lands glare,
Death and ruin are everywhere;
Thrown high to bleach, or deep in the mud
The bones lie buried by last year’s flood,
And the Demons dance from the Never Never
To laugh at the rise of the Darling River.

Where the Waters Used to Run
© 2006 Andrew Hull

There’s a rivulet of sand
With wind-blown rippled waves
And it cuts across the land
Like a Western Stream behaves
As it flows out to a lake
Lying bare beneath the sun
And the dusty shellfish bake
Where the waters used to run

There’s a lake beside the road
With a bed of open cracks
Where the search for water showed
Just a trail of dusty tracks
Where the bones that spike the floor
Show the damage that’s been done
And the rain will not restore
Where the waters used to run

There are gullies in the west
Parched billabongs and creeks
There are waterholes unblessed
By cloud that never speaks
And a hundred hot Decembers
Have now settled in the sun
In a land that scarce remembers
Where the waters used to run.

Flood Time
by Len Hippisley

There’s water in the river and the creeks begin to run,
The fish all think it’s wonderful, and birds just think it’s fun.
Maybe nature’s relenting, for the drought that’s been and gone,
Or maybe it’s another trial, with problems later on.

The birds have started nesting in hollows and in trees,
While some are nesting way below in places no one sees.
The watershed is flooding, maybe cyclones yet to come,
Though it’s wonderful for many, it’s disastrous for some.

With water rising higher than it has in years before,
The home of many creatures, they have gone, they are no more.
The river keeps on rising, who knows what can be done?
With dry land so far away, it’s not a choice for some.

But when you’re clinging to a log or up a sloping tree,
You’ll wish you were somewhere else, but that’s not to be.
Now the water’s falling, how much longer will it last?
It matters not for many; their use-by date has past.

(Supplied by Rachel Strachan, Tulney Point)

* You can see more of Andrew Hull’s work by linking to