The Union Buries Its Dead Summary

The Union Buries Its Dead Summary

An unnamed narrator who is typically considered to be a representative of Henry Lawson describes how one day he and his companions were in a boating in a billabong and came across a man droving horses along the bank. He called to the men in the boat to ask if the river was deep to which the comedian of the group replied that it was deep enough to drown in. A good-natured type, the man on horseback nodded and laughed and then kept going on his way. None of them gave much mind to the man after that.

The next a funeral was scheduled in town for a man who had drowned while attempting to drove some horses across a billabong. Though a stranger, he was a union man and that account for the funeral. The man was also a Roman while most of the town was Protestant, but the town was also strong unionist and thus the sense of fellowship. Even stronger than the bond of unionisms is the bond of drinking and so by the time the hearse finally got there, most of those attending were already well past being capable of getting their two feet to work the path that would follow the procession.

Including the corpse, the procession was only fifteen people. There follows some boldly drawn portraits of the procession: A handful were boarding at the pub where the funeral was taking place and they were all strangers to the narrator and his friends. A horseman briefly joins the procession but takes his leave when a friend waves him up to the veranda of the hotel.

Three sets of two people followed along behind the funeral procession. As they passed, a few pubs closed for business…until the last of the procession walked by. The procession marched pass three shearers, two of which took off their hats out of respect and one of which got kicked by another due to be stinking drunk. Upon learning the reason for this assault, the third also removed his hat with great difficulty.

Another horse drover was walking alongside the narrator and occasionally punctuating with path with appropriate selections of verse from the pen of Lord Byron. Then he asks the narrator if he remembers the horseman on the bank by the billabong from the previous day before informing him that he is the man whose funeral they are attending. The narrator remembers the horseman on the bank saying something, but can’t see to recall the exact words.

His tall friend reminds him that the man who is now a corpse commented upon it being a fine day that perhaps those words would have made a strong impact upon his memory if he’d know they were going to be the last words the stranger would ever speak.

Standing by the cemetery gate is a priest which someone in the back refers to as the devil. The priest proceeds to throw holy water on the coffin after carelessly throwing his cone-shaped hat to the ground. What happens next is described as a farce by the narrator: a man picks up the discarded hat and holds it a few inches above the priest’s head despite there being no rain and the fact that the gravesite was covered by shade. The priest did not even seem to notice this act, however, his manner seemed rather callous and overly businesslike to the narrator.

After the coffin makes it into the ground, the narrator describes a handful of usual stock characters to be found in such stories that are important to his story only on account of their not being part of it. He also admits that really nothing much at all was known the man they had just buried. There was a name found on his union papers—James Tyson—but later on they discovered that was not even his actual name. They did eventually learn what his real name was, but by the time he got around to writing the story down, nobody could even recall what it was.

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