In January 1868, John Boyle O'Reilly arrived in what was then the Penal Colony of Western Australia. He would spend a little over a year as a convict in the colony before he escaped to freedom aboard an American whaling ship. Australia, and convict life, were subjects that O'Reilly returned to many times in his writing and, today, he is regarded as an important author from that formative period in modern Western Australian history. His first volume of poetry, Songs from the Southern Seas, and Other Poems, was published in 1873 and contains the poem 'Western Australia'.
O BEAUTEOUS Southland! land of yellow air,
That hangeth o'er thee slumbering, and doth hold
The moveless foliage of thy valleys fair
And wooded hills, like aureole of gold.
O thou, discovered ere the fitting time.
Ere Nature in completion turned thee forth I
Ere aught was finished but thy peerless clime,
Thy virgin breath allured the amorous North.
O land, God made thee wondrous to the eye!
But His sweet singers thou hast never heard;
He left thee, meaning to come by-and-by.
And give rich voice to every bright-winged bird.
He painted with fresh hues thy myriad flowers,
But left them scentless: ah! their woeful dole,
Like sad reproach of their Creator's powers,--
To make so sweet fair bodies, void of soul.
He gave thee trees of odorous precious wood;
But, 'midst them all, bloomed not one tree of fruit.
He looked, but said not that His work was good,
When leaving thee all perfumeless and mute.
He blessed thy flowers with honey: every bell
Looks earthward, sunward, with a yearning wist;
But no bee-lover ever notes the swell
Of hearts, like lips, a-hungering to be kist.
O strange land, thou art virgin! thou art more
Than fig-tree barren! Would that I could paint
For others' eyes the glory of the shore
Where last I saw thee; but the senses faint
In soft delicious dreaming when they drain
Thy wine of color. Virgin fair thou art,
All sweetly fruitful, waiting with soft pain
The spouse who comes to wake thy sleeping heart.