The schools marched in procession in happiness and pride,
The city bands before them, the soldiers marched beside;
Oh, starched white frocks and sashes and suits that high schools wear,
The boy scout and the boy lout and all the rest were there,
And all flags save Australia’s flag waved high in sun and air!
The Girls’ High School, and Grammar School and colleges of stone
Flew all flags from their walls and towers – all flags except our own!
And down here in the alleys where Premiers never come,
Nor candidate, nor delegate, nor sound of fife and drum,
They packed them on the lorries, seared children of the slum.
Each face seemed soiled and faded, though scrubbed with household soap,
And older than a mother-face, but with less sign of hope:
The knowledge of things evil, of drunken wreck and hag,
Of sordid sounds and voices, the everlasting “nag” –
Oh, men without a battle-song! Oh, men without a flag!
They breed a nation’s strength behind each shabby little door,
Where rent-collectors knock for aye, and Christ shall knock no more;
The sounds that hurt the mother’s heart affright the children there –
Alarm-clocks on an empty tin, the tin tray on a chair;
For weary folk are hard to wake in hot and heavy air.
They sang in Pride’s Procession that Mammon might endure –
Oh, wistful singing faces, the children of the poor!
Oh, hideous fiends of commerce! Oh, ghouls of business strife!
I wait the coming of the things to wake the land to life;
The flag without a cross or bar, the drum without a fife!