“Freedom on the Wallaby” is probably Henry Lawson’s most famous poem. Packed with the passion of political revolt, it is a radical act as much as it is a simple bit of verse. The stimulus for Lawson to compose the poem was the Australian shearers’ strike of 1891. “Freedom on the Wallaby” was published in the Worker on May 16, 1891, but since it was conceived as political theater, its real publication within the realm of propaganda which seared its place into the cultural heritage of Australia occurred two months later.
It was on July 15, 1891 that a member of Parliament named Frederick Brentnall stood up in the Queensland Legislature on the occasion of a “Vote of Thanks” to the strike-breaking police charged with cracking some heads in a strikers camp and proceeded to recite the final two stanzas of Lawson’s poem. The response was the almost immediate demand for Lawson to be arrested on charges of sedition. Lawson’s response to that over the top reaction was another poem: “The Vote of Thanks Debate.”
Henry Lawson would go on to become the most popular Australian writer to date, while Brentnall’s fame today is usually reserved for his infamy as a footnote in the biography of Lawson.