Third Annual Great Genealogy Poetry Challenge

Genealogist Bill West has changed the title of his Great American Genealogy Poetry & Song Challenge to the Great Genealogy Poetry Challenge, giving those us from other countries to take part.  Thanks to Jill Ball for bringing this Challenge to my attention.

These are the guidelines I followed:

1. Find a poem by a local poet, famous or obscure, from the region one of your ancestors lived in. It can be about a historical event, a legend, a person, or even about a place (like a river)or a local animal. It can even be a poem you or one of your ancestors have written!  Or if you prefer, post the lyrics of a song or a link to a video of someone performing the song.

2. Post the poem or song to your blog (remembering to cite the source where you found it.)

3.Tell us how the subject of the poem or song relates to your ancestor’s home or life.

When I think of poetry and the Western District the name that comes to my mind is that of Adam Lindsay Gordon, poet, policeman, steeplechase jockey and daredevil.  However, many of Gordon’s poems could easily have been set in England.  The most obvious poem with a Western District theme is The Fields of Coleraine, which describes steeplechasing at the Coleraine racecourse, however, it doesn’t really give a feel for life in the area at the time.

I then came across a C.J. Dennis’ poem “When the Sun’s behind the Hill” from his book Blackblock Ballads and Later Verses, published 1918 when Dennis was living in Victoria.  The poem is about a  farming family and as many of my ancestors were farmers, right across Victoria, I thought it was appropriate.  While it is not as light and humorous as some of C.J. Dennis’ works, it is a lovely poem that describes the winding down of both the farm and the farmer at the end of a day.  It also reminds us a farmer’s day begins with the rising sun and ends “when the sun’s behind the hill…”

When the Sun’s Behind the Hill

There’s a soft and peaceful feeling
Comes across the farming hand
As the shadows go a-stealing
Slow along the new-turned land.
The lazy curling smoke above the thatch is showing blue.
And the weary old plough horses wander home’ard two ‘n’ two,
With their chains a-clinkin’, clankin’, when their daily toil is through,
And the sun’s behind the hill.

Then it’s slowly homeward plodding
As the night begins to creep,
And the barley grass is nodding
To the daisies, all asleep,
The crows are flying heavily, and cawing overhead;
The sleepy milking cows are lowing sof’ly in the shed,
And above them, in the rafters, all the fowls have gone to bed,
When the sun’s behind the hill.

Then it’s “Harry, feed old Roaney!”
And it’s “Bill, put up the rail!”
And it’s “Tom, turn out the pony!”
“Mary, hurry with that pail!”
And the kiddies run to meet us, and are begging for a ride
On the broad old “Prince” and “Darky” they can hardly sit astride;
And mother, she is bustling with the supper things inside,
When the sun’s behind the hill.

Then it’s sitting down and yarning
When we’ve had our bite and sup,
And the mother takes her darning,
While our Mary tidies up.
And Bess tells how the baldy cow got tangled in the wire;
And Katie keeps the baby-boy from tumbling in the fire;
And the baccy smoke goes curling as I suck my soothing briar,
When the sun’s behind the hill.

Then we talk about the season,
And of how it’s turning out,
And we try to guess the reason
For the long-continued drought.

Oh, a farmer’s life ain’t roses and his work is never done:
And a job’s no sooner over than another is begun.
For he’s toiling late and early from the rising of the sun
Till he sinks behind the hill.

But it grows, that peaceful feeling
While I’m sitting smoking there,
And the kiddies all are kneeling
To repeat their ev’ning prayer;
For it seems, somehow, to lighten all the care that must be bore
When the things of life are worrying, and times are troubling sore;
And I pray that God will keep them when my own long-day is o’er,
And the sun’s behind the hill.



Backblocks, Ballads and Later Verses, 1918

6 thoughts on “Third Annual Great Genealogy Poetry Challenge

  1. I’m not a great fan of poetry but I do love those old Australian poets like C J Dennis, Henry Lawson, Banjo Paterson etc.

    Their poems capture the essence of early life in Australia so well.

    I’m so glad you joined Bill’s challenge and shared this wonderful poem with us, thanks.


  2. Thanks Merron for sharing this poem -I’ve never heard/seen it before. I’m not a farmer but it seems to capture the rewards of quiet time after a busy day. I enjoyed this challenge, did you?


  3. Merron, I liked this poem because it’s universal for farmers. My Dad’s ancestors here in the States were farmers up in Maine and the poem could just as easily be about them as much as Australian farmers.

    Thanks for taking part in the Challenge!


    • Thank you Bill. I’m glad you enjoyed it. CJ Dennis was a great Australian bush poet, and mostly known for his humor. I’m glad the poem crossed over. Thank you for giving us Aussie genealogists a chance to participate.


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