Henry Lawson was born on 17 June 1867 at Grenfell in NSW, to Niels Larson, a Norwegian miner who had changed his name to Peter Lawson, and his wife Louisa. Lawson had an unhappy childhood and his parents separated when he was young. Lawson was a lonely and unpopular child at school, often unable to attend due to isolation and moving from place to place with his parents. His isolation was made even worse when he was left partially deaf due to a childhood illness.
Lawson left school in 1880 and moved to the Blue Mountains to work as a builder with his father. In 1883 he moved to Sydney to live with his mother and became an apprentice coach painter to Hudson Bros Ltd, studying at night to matriculate.
Unable to cure his deafness, find a better job or suceed in his studies, Lawson began to write. Inspired by his mother's republican friends, his first published poem, 'A Song of the Republic' appeared in the Bulletin in 1887. His first published short story, 'His Father's Mate', appeared shortly after his father's death. He began working as a journalist, writing articles for the Republican as well as publishing verse.
In 1891 Lawson was hired by the Brisbane publication the Boomerang, contributing prose and verse, as well as writing for the Worker. However the Boomerang ran into trouble and Lawson was let go. He then divided his time between odd jobs, writing and carousing.
Falling into a rut, J. F.Archibald sent Lawson to Bourke at the Bulletin's expense. The memory of this time, with its drought and hardships, would colour his work for the rest of his life. Work inspired by this period includes 'The Bush Undertaker', 'The Union Buries its Dead' and the short story collection While the Billy Boils in 1896. The same year another book was published, In the Days When the World was Wide and Other Verses. He also married Bertha McNamara in that year.
Returning from a trip to the Western Australian goldfields, Lawson began drinking heavily in the company of his friends. Bertha moved to New Zealand to try to remove Lawson from their influence, however when Bertha fell pregnant they returned to Sydney and Lawson returned to his old friends and habits. Lawson became obssessed with wanting to write in England and, sponsored by Earl Beauchamp, he finally took his family to England in 1900. Joe Wilson and his mates was written and published in London, however the climate and ill health forced the family to return to Sydney in 1902.
Lawson entered a decline. His wife left him, he drank heavily and attempted suicide. He was gaoled for failing to pay maintenance and spent time in mental hospitals. Although he was writing, his worked suffered and critics accused him of maudalin sentimentality. Works from this period include The skyline riders and other verses (1910), Triangles of life and other stories (1913) and My army, o my army! and other songs (1915). Friends arranged spells in the country and the Commonwealth Literary Fund granted him a pension of one pound a week but his alcoholism and deterioration continued. He died of a cerebral haemorrhage at Abbotsford on 2 September 1922.
A legendary figure and friend of prominent politicians, Lawson was granted a state funeral. Lawson is best remembered as one of Australia's greatest poets and story writers, and is most popularly known for his bush tales.
'Sez You' – A famous Lawson poem
heavy sand is yielding backward from your blistered feet,
And across the distant timber you can SEE the flowing heat;
When your head is hot and aching, and the shadeless plain is wide,
And it's fifteen miles to water in the scrub the other side --
Don't give up, don't be down-hearted, to a man's strong heart be true!
Take the air in through your nostrils, set your lips and see it through --
For it can't go on for ever, and -- `I'll have my day!' says you.
When you're camping in the mulga, and the rain is falling slow,
While you nurse your rheumatism 'neath a patch of calico;
Short of tucker or tobacco, short of sugar or of tea,
And the scrubs are dark and dismal, and the plains are like a sea;
Don't give up and be down-hearted -- to the soul of man be true!
Grin! if you've a mate to grin for, grin and jest and don't look blue;
For it can't go on for ever, and -- `I'll rise some day,' says you.
When you've tramped the Sydney pavements till you've counted all the flags,
And your flapping boot-soles trip you, and your clothes are mostly rags,
When you're called a city loafer, shunned, abused, moved on, despised --
Fifty hungry beggars after every job that's advertised --
Don't be beaten! Hold your head up! To your wretched self be true;
Set your pride to fight your hunger! Be a MAN in all you do!
For it cannot last for ever -- `I will rise again!' says you.
When you're dossing out in winter, in the darkness and the rain,
Crouching, cramped, and cold and hungry 'neath a seat in The Domain,
And a cloaked policeman stirs you with that mighty foot of his --
`Phwat d'ye mane? Phwat's this?
Who are ye? Come, move on -- git out av this!'
Don't get mad; 'twere only foolish; there is nought that you can do,
Save to mark his beat and time him -- find another hole or two;
But it can't go on for ever -- `I'll have money yet!' says you.
Bother not about the morrow, for sufficient to the day
Is the evil (rather more so). Put your trust in God and pray!
Study well the ant, thou sluggard. Blessed are the meek and low.
Ponder calmly on the lilies -- how they idle, how they grow.
A man's a man! Obey your masters! Do not blame the proud and fat,
For the poor are always with them, and they cannot alter that.
Lay your treasures up in Heaven -- cling to life and see it through!
For it cannot last for ever -- `I shall die some day,' says you.
Henry Lawson's Birth Registration
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Henry Lawson's Death Registration
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