Life On The Job

Henry Archibald Lawson (1867 - 1922) Australian Short Story Writer, Balladist & Poet

Photograph of Henry Lawson 1902
Photograph of Henry Lawson 1902 


Henry Archibald Lawson was born in a tent at Grenfell, NSW, on 17 June 1867. His father, a Norwegian seaman named Nils (Peter) Larsen (1832-1888), had jumped ship in Melbourne in 1855 to try his luck on the Australian goldfields. In 1866, Peter married 18 year-old Louisa Albury (1848-1920), anglicising his surname to Lawson with the birth of Henry, the first of the couple's four surviving children. (Source: State Library)

He wrote short stories and ballad-like poems, illuminating the lives of rural, working Australians. Lawson is often called "Australia's greatest writer." During the colonial period, he traveled extensively, and was frequently published in the Bulletin. He died impoverished in 1922. (Source: Biography)

The Birthplace of Henry Lawson


The Lawson family moved often during Henry’s early childhood, following each new rush for gold. In 1871, they settled at Eurunderee, near Mudgee, where Peter built the two-roomed timber house Henry would later describe in many of his stories.  (Source: State Library)

Lawson was 8 before Louisa's vigorous agitation led to a school being established in the district, and he was 9 before he actually entered the slab-and-bark Eurunderee Public School as a pupil in the care of the new teacher John Tierney.

 In the same year, 1876, after a night of sickness and earache, he awoke one morning slightly deaf. For the next five years he suffered hearing deficiency. When he was 14 the condition deteriorated radically and he was left with a major and incurable hearing loss. For Lawson, already psychologically isolated, the deeper silence of partial deafness was a crushing blow. (Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography)

Henry Lawson received only three years formal education. Louisa often needed help to run the family selection when Peter's building work took him away from home. ...Also quite shy, Lawson was bullied at school and gained much of his learning through private study and reading. (Source: State Library)

The loss of his hearing, he later wrote, was an event that ‘was to cloud my whole life, to drive me into myself, and to be, in a great measure responsible for my writing.’ After a few years of frequently interrupted schooling, he went to work with his father, who was by this time working as a building contractor. When his parents separated in 1883, Henry and his siblings went with their mother to Sydney. (Source: Australian Poetry Library)

In about 1880 Henry left school to work with his father and learned to enjoy the camaraderie of working men but, fatefully, also discovered a taste for alcohol which helped him overcome his shyness.  (Source: State Library)


In 1884, Lawson was apprenticed as a coach-painter to a railway carriage-works company [Hudson Brothers] at Clyde, in the Western suburbs of Sydney, at the same time attending night school to improve his education. It was about this time that Lawson began writing his first poems.  (Source: Australian Poetry Library)

Again, he found juggling full-time work and group study difficult, and failed his university entrance exams several times. (Source: State Library)

From 1887, while supporting himself with odd jobs, Lawson began publishing his verse in the Sydney press, especially the Bulletin and Australian Town and Country Journal. At the same time he worked on the Republican, the radical weekly paper edited and published by his mother. His sympathy for working Australians and strident support of the labour movement, and for an Australian republic, was evident in his early work.

In early 1891 he accepted a job on the reporting staff of the Brisbane radical newspaper the Boomerang. Though he was in Brisbane for less than a year, Lawson’s time as a journalist there honed his abilities to produce verse and prose quickly, and he contributed political and topical poems to the Boomerang and to the Worker. By the time he returned to Sydney in late 1891, he had decided to make his living as a writer.  (Source: Australian Poetry Library)

Did You Know?

A celebrity in Sydney during his life, Lawson is today remembered for the quality of his prose, exemplified in his best short stories such as 'The Loaded Dog' (1901), rather than for his poetry.

10 Dollar Note

His literary legacy has been commemorated by his appearance on Australian currency. The first 10-dollar note showed his profile, taken from the later years of his life, set against a background of scenes from his childhood on the goldfields in New South Wales.


In 1892, Lawson was sent on assignment by the Bulletin to report on life in the western part of New South Wales. He was stunned by the challenges faced by the inhabitants of this drought-stricken region. The trip served as inspiration for a number of his literary efforts. His mother published both the Republican and the Dawn publications. With her help, Lawson was able to put out his first collection, Short Stories in Prose and Verse, in 1894.

Lawson landed a book contract with Angus and Robertson. Through them, he published the poetry volume In the Days When the World Was Wide and the popular short story collection While the Billy Boils—both in 1896. Around this same time, Lawson met his future wife, Bertha Marie Louise Bredt. The pair wed in 1896 and eventually had two children together, son Joseph and daughter Bertha.

In 1900, Lawson went to London, England, with his family, hoping to become a literary sensation, but the trip proved to be a personal and professional disappointment. Lawson did, however, manage to write four stories featuring Joe Wilson during this time—considered to be among his best works of fiction. (Source: Biography)


In October 1887, his first published poem was printed in the Bulletin, and others followed soon after. Lawson's first published short story, 'His Father's Mate', appeared in December 1888.

Henry Lawson is a key figure in Australian literature. He was among the first writers of popular short stories and poetry that captured an emerging sense of national identity, even before the birth of the nation in 1901. Lawson wrote at great length about the land. Most of his works have a 'bush' theme and many, such as 'The Drover's Wife' (1892), depict the lives and characters of those who lived in the Australian bush and knew its harsh realities.

As well as being a fervent nationalist, Lawson was a strong socialist and social reformer. This is reflected in his support for ordinary people ('Faces in the Street', 1888) against those who oppressed them ('Freedom on the Wallaby', 1891). He was a staunch republican ('A Song of the Republic', 1887) and believed the events at the Eureka Stockade were fundamentally important in Australia's historical development ('The Fight at Eureka Stockade', 1890 and 'Australia's Forgotten Flag', 1911).

...Lawson had frequently been jailed for failure to pay maintenance for his two children and he was well known on the streets of Sydney as a chronic alcoholic.

Lawson's life was one of physical and mental difficulty. By the time he was 14 he had suffered major hearing loss, and later in life paralysis in one of his legs left him with a limp, hence the walking stick. All his jobs were relatively short-lived and the pressure of supporting a family by writing was relentless. In 1902 he attempted suicide and from 1907 he was admitted to mental hospitals several times. He became an increasingly frail figure, dying of a stroke in 1922. (Source: National Archives of Australia)

Henry Lawson 1949 Stamp
Henry Lawson - Stamp 1949

Later Years

In 1903 he bought a room at Mrs Isabel Byers' Coffee Palace in North Sydney. This marked the beginning of a 20 year friendship between Mrs Byers and Lawson. Despite his position as the most celebrated Australian writer of the time, Lawson was deeply depressed and perpetually poor. He lacked money due to unfortunate royalty deals with publishers. His ex-wife repeatedly reported him for non-payment of child maintenance, resulting in gaol terms.

He was gaoled at Darlinghurst Gaol for drunkenness and non-payment of child support, and recorded his experience in the haunting poem "One Hundred and Three" - his prison number - which was published in 1908. He refers to the prison as "Starvinghurst Gaol" because of the meagre rations given to the inmates.

At this time, Lawson became withdrawn, alcoholic, and unable to carry on the usual routine of life.

Mrs Byers (née Ward) was an excellent poet herself and although of modest education, had been writing vivid poetry since her teens in a similar style to Lawson's. Long separated from her husband and elderly, Mrs Bryers was, at the time she met Lawson, a woman of independent means looking forward to retirement. Bryers regarded Lawson as Australia's greatest living poet, and hoped to sustain him well enough to keep him writing. She negotiated on his behalf with publishers, helped to arrange contact with his children, contacted friends and supporters to help him financially, and assisted and nursed him through his mental and alcohol problems. She wrote countless letters on his behalf and knocked on any doors that could provide Henry with financial assistance or a publishing deal.

It was in Mrs Isabel Byers' home that Henry Lawson died, of cerebral hemorrhage, in Abbotsford, Sydney in 1922.

He was given a state funeral. His death registration on the NSW Births, Deaths & Marriages index is ref. 10451/1922 and was recorded at the Petersham Registration District. It shows his parents as Peter and Louisa.

 His funeral was attended by the Prime Minister Billy Hughes and the Premier of New South Wales, Jack Lang (who was the husband of Lawson's sister-in-law Hilda Bredt), as well as thousands of citizens. He is interred at Waverley Cemetery. Lawson was the first person to be granted a New South Wales state funeral (traditionally reserved for Governors, Chief Justices, etc.) on the grounds of having been a 'distinguished citizen'.

Henry Lawson's funeral
Henry Lawson's funeral
(Source: State Library of Victoria)

Lawson's works include:
1887 The Wreck of the 'Derry Castle
1887 Golden Gully
1888 The Watch on the Kerb
1889 The Roaring Days
1893 The Great Grey Plain
1896 While the Billy Boils
1897 The Lights of Cobb and Co
1900 On the Track
1901 The Country I Come From
1901 Joe Wilson and His Mates
1901 The Men who made Australia
1902 Children of the Bush
1905 The Elder Son
1905 When I was King
1907 Romance of the Swag
1907 Send Round the Hat
1910 The Skyline Riders
1910 The Rising of the Court
1911 The Strangers' Friend
1911 Mateship
1915 My Army, O, My Army

The Loaded Dog: Audio Book
(URL: )


Learn English Through Story - The Drover's Wife by Henry Lawson



NSW State Records: Eurunderee School 1876

Eurunderee School 1876
State Libary NSW: Henry Lawson - the man, his work and the legend

Henry Lawson - the man, his work and the legend
Inside History

Inside History
Bio: Henry Lawson

Bio: Henry Lawson

SMH Tuesday 5th September 1922 - Trove: State Funeral Henry Lawson

State Funeral Henry Lawson
Rochedal State School: Henry Lawson

All Down Under: Henry Lawson

All Down Under
Australian Geographic: Timeline: The life of Henry Lawson

Australian Geographic


Creative Response to Bullying in Schools

MiddleMiddle starstarstarstarstar

Ethical Understanding Australian Curriculum General Capability: Ethical Understanding

CriticalAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Critical and creative thinking
Personal and social capability
Australian Curriculum General Capability: Personal and social capability

ICT Capability Australian Curriculum General Capability: ICT Capability


Get It Write (from Try Engineering

PrimaryPrimary MiddleMiddle High SchoolSecondary

CriticalAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Critical and creative thinking



Go to Try Engineering - Get It Write or PDF here

This project is planned for 2 x 45 minute lessons.


Students explore how writing instruments have changed over time and work in teams to develop their own pen out of everyday items that can deliver a controlled amount of washable liquid watercolor (ink) to paper in order to write the letter “A”. They plan their design on paper, built it, test it, reflect on the activity, and share their experiences with the class.

Get It Write

1. Your teacher will go through the Get It Write history section of this project.

2. Look at the student worksheet:

Student Worksheet (copied from Try Engineering website) below:

Engineering Teamwork and Planning
You are part of a team of engineers given the challenge of developing a writing instrument out of everyday materials that can deliver a controlled flow of ink (well, actually washable liquid water color). You'll consider the challenge as a team, read about how different pen styles have been engineered over the years, and come up with your own design. Hint: you may need to engineer your "ink" as well, to change its viscosity.

Research Phase
Read the materials provided to you by your teacher. Consider how modern and older pen designs operate and think how you would develop your own working pen using the materials that have been provided to you.

Planning and Design Phase
In the space below or on a separate piece of paper, draw a detailed diagram showing the plan for your pen, including the materials you plan to use.

Detailed Diagram

Materials you will need:[List]

Presentation Phase
Present your ideas, drawings, and plan for your pen to the class, and listen to the ideas the other teams have come up with.

Construction and Testing Phase
Build your pen, and test it. You may need to adjust your design during this phase to reach your goal. You may also trade or use materials that other teams do not need….or ask your teacher for additional supplies. You should be able to write the letter "A" clearly on a piece of paper with your instrument.


Complete the reflection questions below and then share your experiences with the class:

1. How similar was your original pen design to the actual pen your team built?
2. If you found you needed to make changes during the construction phase, describe what happened that caused your design to adjust during manufacturing.
3. Which pen engineered by another team made was the most effective? What made this pen work the best?
4. Do you think that this activity was more rewarding to do as a team, or would you have preferred to work alone on it? Why?
5. If you could have used one additional material (tape, glue, wood sticks, foil -- as examples) which would you choose and why?
6. Did you change the viscosity of the fluid you used for your "ink?" If so, what did you do, and what impact do you think it had on how your team met the challenge?
7. Do you think your team could get a patent for you pen design? Why? Why not?



Material sourced from 

 All Down Under
Australian Government: Henry Lawson - Australian Writer & Poet
Australian Dictionary of Biography: Henry Lawson (1867 - 1922)
Australian Poetry Library

National Archives of Australia
Rochedal State School, Qld - Henry Lawson
State Library

State Library of Victoria

side 5

side bar

side bar

sidebar 9

Jeweller side

side 5

side bar

side bar

sidebar 9

Jeweller side

side 5

side bar

side bar

sidebar 9

Jeweller side

side 5

side bar

side bar

sidebar 9

Jeweller side

side 5

side bar

side bar

sidebar 9

Jeweller side

side 5