The Sydney Slums

Year: 1943

by James Sweeney   

They tell us Sydney's great and grand.
I wonder why our statesmen stand
For slums that long since be banned –
Disgraceful to the nation.

Wandering through a festering slum,
I watch the faces as they come,
Undernourished, pale and glum,
I marvel at their patience.

In Campbell Street, the home of thugs,
"Metho Fiends", fleas and bugs,
A man must really be a mug,
To camp at such a station.

In a little den they called a room,
They gave to me fork, knife and spoon,
For a cup there was no room,
On the box they called a table.

And when I scrambled to my bunk,
Whether sober or half drunk,
The pests they came on me to lunch,
I kicked while I was able.

The bugs they were so big and fierce,
They blistered feet and hands and face,
And when in anger I gave chase,
We raced around the stable.

Countless fleas, both big and small,
Crawled up my legs and up the wall,
And when their raids I tried to stall,
They jumped a five foot paling.

The mosquitoes buzzing round my ears
Would make a crocodile shed tears,
And if I lived a hundred years
At them I would be swearing.

Now to Sydney I bid adieu;
I may come back, and if I do
I hope no slums will meet my view,
Where young and old are ailing.

                    James Sweeney (1943)