Weary Australian soldiers tramping across the South African veldt during the Boer War.

On the Trek by Banjo Paterson

Homesickness of The Soldier

This poem by Banjo Paterson offers a sobering first-hand perspective on the hardship and homesickness experienced by Australian soldiers on the grueling treks of the Boer War.

The poem adopts the voice of a weary soldier tramping across the South African veldt. Paterson vividly conveys the monotony of life on the march through repetitive phrases like “the weary, weary journey” and “never-ending track.” Details like the endless wagon train evoke the drudgery of travel on trek.

Juxtaposed against this tedium is the soldier’s longing for home in Australia. Paterson captures his homesickness through pastoral images of the homestead, climbing roses, and shearing season. The soldier painfully imagines his absence from the excitement of shearing time.

The finality of death also haunts the speaker, as Paterson describes the grim realities of war – watching friends die and vultures circling. The soldier pointedly questions whether the war is worth the bloody price.

The simple ABAB rhyme scheme and folksy language give the poem an accessible, song-like quality. But Paterson uses this ballad structure to soberly depict war’s toll on ordinary Australian men. He reveals their sacrifice and suffering through the eyes of one homesick soldier.

While not overtly anti-war, the poem offers an unromanticized glimpse of the Wind and emotional burden for Australian troops. Underlying the straightforward rhymes is the poignant lament of a man longing for the pastoral beauty and comforts of home.

On the Trek

Oh, the weary, weary journey on the trek, day after day,
With sun above and silent veldt below;
And our hearts keep turning homeward to the youngsters far away,
And the homestead where the climbing roses grow.
Shall we see the flats grow golden with the ripening of the grain?
Shall we hear the parrots calling on the bough?
Ah! the weary months of marching ere we hear them call again,
For we’re going on a long job now.

In the drowsy days on escort, riding slowly half asleep,
With the endless line of waggons stretching back,
While the khaki soldiers travel like a mob of travelling sheep,
Plodding silent on the never-ending track,
While the constant snap and sniping of the foe you never see
Makes you wonder will your turn come—when and how?
As the Mauser ball hums past you like a vicious kind of bee—
Oh! we’re going on a long job now.

When the dash and the excitement and the novelty are dead,
And you’ve seen a load of wounded once or twice,
Or you’ve watched your old mate dying, with the vultures overhead,—
Well, you wonder if the war is worth the price.
And down along Monaro now they’re starting out to shear,
I can picture the excitement and the row;
But they’ll miss me on the Lachlan when they call the roll this year,
For we’re going on a long job now.

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