Monday, August 27, 2007

Songs of Sweated Labour

From the nz-folk list, John Archer writes:

Attention has been drawn to the sweated labour of young girls in South China. There are several New Zealand folk songs denouncing this abomination.

From Neil Colquhoun's Song's of a Young Country

Who robs the young girl of her right
by work that takes her day and night
to earn her poor starvation mite?
The sweater.

Who is it that will cheat and lie
and every cunning trick will try
his greed of gain to satisfy?
The sweater.

He is society's disgrace
and must be told so to his face
so out with him. Leave him no place
The sweater.

From Rona Bailey's Shanties By The Way

In the lands beyond the sea
where Khan and Sultan rule
Where they drink their coffee thick and black
and sip their sherbet cool
They have white Circassian girls for slaves
as well as nigger black
And now it seems in our own free land
that slavery's coming back.
It's fenced about with common law
and given a pretty name
But despite the paltry wage that's paid,
it's slavery all the same.

Such a good woman is Mrs McFee,
toiling with voice and hand
In the cause of the little Chinese girls
away in a distant land
Such a good woman is Mrs McFee,
for hers is an open door
And her name's at the top of the charity list
for the wives of the drunken poor
But Amelia Jane has a hungry look,
with hollows under her eyes
She says she was starved. But everyone knows,
Amelia Jane tells lies.

Silly and light is Amelia Jane,
she has no ideas of her own
You would never think her the bright little girl
that you one once on a time had known
She was clever enough when she went to school
she was pretty enough in her way
She hasn't improved, her schoolmates think,
when they met her in town today
It's all her fault, for whatever the cause,
I'm sure that Mrs McFee
Is a model mistress in every way,
and with that you will agree.

And my aunts taught me this song - there was a young boy on a the next
farm to theirs in South Taranaki in the 1920s who worked from dawn
until after dark seven days a week.

One day when I was out of work a job I went to seek
To be a farmer's boy ....
At last I found the very job at half-a-crown a week
To be a farmer's boy ....
The farmer said, "I think I've got the very job for you
Your duties will be light, for this is all you've got to do....
Rise at three every morn, milk the cow with the crumpled horn
Feed the pigs, clean the sty, teach the pigeons the way to fly
Plough the fields, mow the hay, help the cocks and hens to lay
Sow the seed, tend the crops, chase the flies from the turnip tops
Clean the knives, black the shoes, scrub the kitchen and sweep the flues
Help the wife wash the pots, grow the cabbages and carrots
Make the beds, dust the coals, mend the gramophone....
And when there's no more work to do.... the rest of the day's your own"

I would like to feature these on the NZ Folksong website and I would welcome any song-writer's compositions on the current New Zealand practice of conspiring in the deaths of young Chinese girls by buying sweated goods.

John A

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