Joe and Mary Wilson move from the little outback town of Gulong to the bush at Lahey's Creek. Mary becomes depressed over the drudgery and isolation of the place. The closest neighbors are the Spicers, dirt poor folks with a whole passel of children.

Mr. Spicer is usually on the road. Mrs. Spicer tries to maintain some beauty in her life by growing geraniums in the desert. At first she visits the Wilsons frequently, but soon she becomes reluctant to visit because she gets melancholic when she goes home. She tells Mary that the land has broken her--she is "past caring." At the end she dies in her bed. The last thing she tells her daughter to do is to water the geraniums.


Henry Lawson was an Australian short story writer whose innovative approach to writing is very similar to that of his Russian contemporary, Anton P. Chekhov. (However, Lawson was unfamiliar with Chekhov's work, which had not been translated into English at the time.) Lawson was one of the first writers to focus on the Australian outback and the people who lived there.

While he celebrated the Australian virtues of toughness and mateship, he also emphasized the country's harshness and its ability to damage the human spirit. Today's critics understand that he was writing about the "dark side" of the Australian experience.

"Water Them Geraniums" is one of a series of Joe Wilson stories that appeared in Joe Wilson and His Mates (1901), which along with Lawson's earlier collection While the Billy Boils (1896), contains the author's best work. Like Chekhov, Lawson never published a novel. Again like Chekhov, he was more interested in portraying character and interpersonal dynamics, than in developing plot.


First published in Joe Wilson and His Mates (1901).

Primary Source

The Penguin Henry Lawson Short Stories


Penguin Australia

Place Published

Ringwood, Victoria, Australia




John Barnes

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