Children of the Bush by Henry Lawson
[ Transcriber's notes: The year of first magazine publication is
shown in the table of contents below. Additional transcriber's
notes, including a glossary, are included at the end of the eBook. ]
Send Round the Hat: 1901
The Pretty Girl in the Army: 1901
“Lord Douglas”: 1901
The Blindness of One-eyed Brogan: 1901
The Sundowners: 1901
A Sketch of Mateship: 1902
On the Tucker Track: 1897
A Bush Publican's Lament: 1901
The Shearer's Dream: 1902
The Lost Souls' Hotel: 1902
The Boozers' Home: 1899
The Sex Problem Again: 1898
The Romance of the Swag: 1901
“Buckholts' Gate”: 1901
The Bush-Fire: 1901
The House that Was Never Built: 1901
“Barney, Take me home Again”: 1901
A Droving Yarn: 1899
Gettin' Back on Dave Regan: 1901
“Shall We Gather at the River”: 1901
His Brother's Keeper: 1901
The Ghosts of Many Christmases: 1901
SEND ROUND THE HAT
Now this is the creed from the Book of the Bush—
Should be simple and plain to a dunce:
“If a man's in a hole you must pass round the hat
Were he jail-bird or gentleman once.”
“Is it any harm to wake yer?”
It was about nine o'clock in the morning, and, though it was Sunday
morning, it was no harm to wake me; but the shearer had mistaken me for
a deaf jackaroo, who was staying at the shanty and was something like
me, and had good-naturedly shouted almost at the top of his voice, and
he woke the whole shanty. Anyway he woke three or four others who were
sleeping on beds and stretchers, and one on a shake-down on the floor,
in the same room. It had been a wet night, and the shanty was full of
shearers from Big Billabong Shed which had cut out the day before. My
room mates had been drinking and gambling overnight, and they swore
luridly at the intruder for disturbing them.
He was six-foot-three or thereabout. He was loosely built, bony,
sandy-complexioned and grey eyed. He wore a good-humoured grin at most
times, as I noticed later on; he was of a type of bushman that I always
liked—the sort that seem to get more good-natured the longer they
grow, yet are hard-knuckled and would accommodate a man who wanted to
fight, or thrash a bully in a good-natured way. The sort that like to
carry somebody's baby round, and cut wood, carry water and do little
things for overworked married bushwomen. He wore a saddle-tweed sac
suit two sizes too small for him, and his face, neck, great hands and
bony wrists were covered with sun-blotches and freckles.
“I hope I ain't disturbin' yer,” he shouted, as he bent over my
bunk, “but there's a cove—”
“You needn't shout!” I interrupted, “I'm not deaf.”
“Oh—I beg your pardon!” he shouted. “I didn't know I was yellin'. I
thought you was the deaf feller.”
“Oh, that's all right,” I said. “What's the trouble?”
“Wait till them other chaps is done swearin' and I'll tell yer,” he
said. He spoke with a quiet, good-natured drawl, with something of the
nasal twang, but tone and drawl distinctly Australian—altogether apart
from that of the Americans.
“Oh, spit it out for Christ's sake, Long'un!” yelled One-eyed Bogan,
who had been the worst swearer in a rough shed, and he fell back on his
bunk as if his previous remarks had exhausted him.
“It's that there sick jackaroo that was pickin'-up at Big
Billabong,” said the Giraffe. “He had to knock off the first week, an'
he's been here ever since. They're sendin' him away to the hospital in
Sydney by the speeshall train. They're just goin' to take him up in the
wagonette to the railway station, an' I thought I might as well go
round with the hat an' get him a few bob. He's got a missus and kids in
“Yer always goin' round with yer gory hat!” growled Bogan. “Yer'd
blanky well take it round in hell!”
“That's what he's doing, Bogan,” muttered Gentleman Once, on the
shake-down, with his face to the wall.
The hat was a genuine “cabbage-tree,” one of the sort that “last a
lifetime.” It was well coloured, almost black in fact with weather and
age, and it had a new strap round the base of the crown. I looked into
it and saw a dirty pound note and some silver. I dropped in half a
crown, which was more than I could spare, for I had only been a
green-hand at Big Billabong.
“Thank yer!” he said. “Now then, you fellers!”
“I wish you'd keep your hat on your head, and your money in your
pockets and your sympathy somewhere else,” growled Jack Moonlight as he
raised himself painfully on his elbow, and felt under his pillow for
two half-crowns. “Here,” he said, “here's two half-casers. Chuck 'em in
and let me sleep for God's sake!”
Gentleman Once, the gambler, rolled round on his shake-down,
bringing his good-looking, dissipated face from the wall. He had turned
in in his clothes and, with considerable exertion he shoved his hand
down into the pocket of his trousers, which were a tight fit. He
brought up a roll of pound notes and could find no silver.
“Here,” he said to the Giraffe, “I might as well lay a quid. I'll
chance it anyhow. Chuck it in.”
“You've got rats this mornin', Gentleman Once,” growled the Bogan.
“It ain't a blanky horse race.”
“P'r'aps I have,” said Gentleman Once, and he turned to the wall
again with his head on his arm.
“Now, Bogan, yer might as well chuck in somethin ,” said the
“What's the matter with the —-jackaroo?” asked the Bogan, tugging
his trousers from under the mattress.
Moonlight said something in a low tone.
“The —-he has!” said Bogan. “Well, I pity the —-! Here, I'll chuck
in half a —-quid!” and he dropped half a sovereign into the hat.
The fourth man, who was known to his face as “Barcoo-Rot,” and
behind his back as “The Mean Man,” had been drinking all night, and not
even Bogan's stump-splitting adjectives could rouse him. So Bogan got
out of bed, and calling on us (as blanky female cattle) to witness what
he was about to do, he rolled the drunkard over, prospected his pockets
till he made up five shillings (or a “caser” in bush language), and
“chucked” them into the hat.
And Barcoo-Rot is probably unconscious to this day that he was ever
connected with an act of charity. The Giraffe struck the deaf jackaroo
in the neat room. I heard the chaps cursing “Long-'un” for waking them,
and “Deaf-'un” for being, as they thought at first, the indirect cause
of the disturbance. I heard the Giraffe and his hat being condemned in
other rooms and cursed along the veranda where more shearers were
sleeping; and after a while I turned out.
The Giraffe was carefully fixing a mattress and pillows on the floor
of a wagonette, and presently a man, who looked like a corpse, was
carried out and lifted into the trap.
As the wagonette started, the shanty-keeper—a fat, soulless-looking
man—put his hand in his pocket and dropped a quid into the hat which
was still going round, in the hands of the Giraffe's mate, little Teddy
Thompson, who was as far below medium height as the Giraffe was above
The Giraffe took the horse's head and led him along on the most
level parts of the road towards the railway station, and two or three
chaps went along to help get the sick man into the train.
The shearing-season was over in that district, but I got a job of
house-painting, which was my trade, at the Great Western Hotel (a
two-story brick place), and I stayed in Bourke for a couple of months.
The Giraffe was a Victorian native from Bendigo. He was well known
in Bourke and to many shearers who came through the great dry scrubs
from hundreds of miles round. He was stakeholder, drunkard's banker,
peacemaker where possible, referee or second to oblige the chaps when a
fight was on, big brother or uncle to most of the children in town,
final court of appeal when the youngsters had a dispute over a
foot-race at the school picnic, referee at their fights, and he was the
“The feller as knows can battle around for himself,” he'd say. “But
I always like to do what I can for a hard-up stranger cove. I was a
green-hand jackaroo once meself, and I know what it is.”
“You're always bothering about other people, Giraffe,” said Tom
Hall, the shearers' union secretary, who was only a couple of inches
shorter than the Giraffe. “There's nothing in it, you can take it from
me—I ought to know.”
“Well, what's a feller to do?” said the Giraffe. “I'm only hangin'
round here till shearin' starts agen, an' a cove might as well be doin'
something. Besides, it ain't as if I was like a cove that had old
people or a wife an' kids to look after. I ain't got no
responsibilities. A feller can't be doin' nothin'. Besides, I like to
lend a helpin' hand when I can.”
“Well, all I've got to say,” said Tom, most of whose screw went in
borrowed quids, etc. “All I've got to say is that you'll get no thanks,
and you might blanky well starve in the end.”
“There ain't no fear of me starvin' so long as I've got me hands
about me; an' I ain't a cove as wants thanks,” said the Giraffe.
He was always helping someone or something. Now it was a bit of a
“darnce” that we was gettin' up for the girls; again it was Mrs Smith,
the woman whose husban' was drowned in the flood in the Began River
lars' Crismas, or that there poor woman down by the Billabong—her
husband cleared out and left her with a lot o' kids. Or Bill Something,
the bullocky, who was run over by his own wagon, while he was drunk,
and got his leg broke.
Toward the end of his spree One-eyed Began broke loose and smashed
nearly all the windows of the Carriers' Arms, and next morning he was
fined heavily at the police court. About dinner-time I encountered the
Giraffe and his hat, with two half-crowns in it for a start.
“I'm sorry to trouble yer,” he said, “but One-eyed Bogan carn't pay
his fine, an' I thought we might fix it up for him. He ain't half a bad
sort of feller when he ain't drinkin'. It's only when he gets too much
booze in him.”
After shearing, the hat usually started round with the Giraffe's own
dirty crumpled pound note in the bottom of it as a send-off, later on
it was half a sovereign, and so on down to half a crown and a shilling,
as he got short of stuff; till in the end he would borrow a “few
bob”—which he always repaid after next shearing-"just to start the
There were several yarns about him and his hat. 'Twas said that the
hat had belonged to his father, whom he resembled in every respect, and
it had been going round for so many years that the crown was worn as
thin as paper by the quids, half-quids, casers, half-casers, bobs and
tanners or sprats—to say nothing of the scrums—that had been chucked
into it in its time and shaken up.
They say that when a new governor visited Bourke the Giraffe
happened to be standing on the platform close to the exit, grinning
good-humouredly, and the local toady nudged him urgently and said in an
awful whisper, “Take off your hat! Why don't you take off your hat?”
“Why?” drawled the Giraffe, “he ain't hard up, is he?”
And they fondly cherish an anecdote to the effect that, when the
One-Man-One-Vote Bill was passed (or Payment of Members, or when the
first Labour Party went in—I forget on which occasion they said it
was) the Giraffe was carried away by the general enthusiasm, got a few
beers in him, “chucked” a quid into his hat, and sent it round. The
boys contributed by force of habit, and contributed largely, because of
the victory and the beer. And when the hat came back to the Giraffe, he
stood holding it in front of him with both hands and stared blankly
into it for a while. Then it dawned on him.
“Blowed if I haven't bin an' gone an' took up a bloomin' collection
for meself!” he said.
He was almost a teetotaller, but he stood his shout in reason. He
mostly drank ginger beer.
“I ain't a feller that boozes, but I ain't got nothin' agen chaps
enjoyin' themselves, so long as they don't go too far.”
It was common for a man on the spree to say to him:
“Here! here's five quid. Look after it for me, Giraffe, will yer,
till I git off the booze.
“His real name was Bob Brothers, and his bush names, 'Long-'un,'
'The Giraffe,' 'Send-round-the-hat,' 'Chuck-in-a-bob,' and
Some years before, camels and Afghan drivers had been imported to
the Bourke district; the camels did very well in the dry country, they
went right across country and carried everything from sardines to
flooring-boards. And the teamsters loved the Afghans nearly as much as
Sydney furniture makers love the cheap Chinese in the same line. They
love 'em even as union shearers on strike love blacklegs brought
up-country to take their places.
Now the Giraffe was a good, straight unionist, but in cases of
sickness or trouble he was as apt to forget his unionism, as all
bushmen are, at all times (and for all time), to forget their creed.
So, one evening, the Giraffe blundered into the Carriers' Arms—of all
places in the world—when it was full of teamsters; he had his hat in
his hand and some small silver and coppers in it.
“I say, you fellers, there's a poor, sick Afghan in the camp down
there along the—-”
A big, brawny bullock-driver took him firmly by the shoulders, or,
rather by the elbows, and ran him out before any damage was done. The
Giraffe took it as he took most things, good-humouredly; but, about
dusk, he was seen slipping down towards the Afghan camp with a billy of
“I believe,” remarked Tom Hall, “that when the Giraffe goes to
heaven—and he's the only one of us, as far as I can see, that has a
ghost of a show—I believe that when he goes to heaven, the first thing
he'll do will be to take his infernal hat round amongst the
angels—getting up a collection for this damned world that he left
“Well, I don't think there's so much to his credit, after all,” said
Jack Mitchell, shearer. “You see, the Giraffe is ambitious; he likes
public life, and that accounts for him shoving himself forward with his
collections. As for bothering about people in trouble, that's only
common curiosity; he's one of those chaps that are always shoving their
noses into other people's troubles. And, as for looking after sick
men—why! there's nothing the Giraffe likes better than pottering round
a sick man, and watching him and studying him. He's awfully interested
in sick men, and they're pretty scarce out here. I tell you there's
nothing he likes better—except, maybe, it's pottering round a corpse.
I believe he'd ride forty miles to help and sympathize and potter round
a funeral. The fact of the matter is that the Giraffe is only enjoying
himself with other people's troubles—that's all it is. It's only
vulgar curiosity and selfishness. I set it down to his ignorance; the
way he was brought up.”
A few days after the Afghan incident the Giraffe and his hat had a
run of luck. A German, one of a party who were building a new wooden
bridge over the Big Billabong, was helping unload some girders from a
truck at the railway station, when a big log slipped on the skids and
his leg was smashed badly. They carried him to the Carriers' Arms,
which was the nearest hotel, and into a bedroom behind the bar, and
sent for the doctor. The Giraffe was in evidence as usual.
“It vas not that at all,” said German Charlie, when they asked him
if he was in much pain. “It vas not that at all. I don't cares a damn
for der bain; but dis is der tird year—und I vas going home dis
year—after der gontract—und der gontract yoost commence!”`
That was the burden of his song all through, between his groans.
There were a good few chaps sitting quietly about the bar and veranda
when the doctor arrived. The Giraffe was sitting at the end of the
counter, on which he had laid his hat while he wiped his face, neck,
and forehead with a big speckled “sweatrag.” It was a very hot day.
The doctor, a good-hearted young Australian, was heard saying
something. Then German Charlie, in a voice that rung with pain:
“Make that leg right, doctor—quick! Dis is der tird pluddy
year—und I must go home!”
The doctor asked him if he was in great pain. “Neffer mind der
pluddy bain, doctor! Neffer mind der pluddy bain! Dot vas nossing. Make
dat leg well quick, doctor. Dis vas der last gontract, and I vas going
home dis year.” Then the words jerked out of him by physical agony:
“Der girl vas vaiting dree year, und—by Got! I must go home.”
The publican—Watty Braithwaite, known as “Watty Broadweight,” or,
more familiarly, “Watty Bothways”—turned over the Giraffe's hat in a
tired, bored sort of way, dropped a quid into it, and nodded resignedly
at the Giraffe.
The Giraffe caught up the hint and the hat with alacrity. The hat
went all round town, so to speak; and, as soon as his leg was firm
enough not to come loose on the road German Charlie went home.
It was well known that I contributed to the Sydney Bulletin
and several other papers. The Giraffe's bump of reverence was very
large, and swelled especially for sick men and poets. He treated me
with much more respect than is due from a bushman to a man, and with an
odd sort of extra gentleness I sometimes fancied. But one day he rather
“I'm sorry to trouble yer,” he said in a shamefaced way. “I don't
know as you go in for sportin', but One-eyed Bogan an' Barcoo-Rot is
goin' to have a bit of a scrap down the Billybong this evenin', an'—-”
“A bit of a what?” I asked.
“A bit of fight to a finish,” he said apologetically. “An' the chaps
is tryin' to fix up a fiver to put some life into the thing. There's
bad blood between One-eyed Bogan and Barcoo-Rot, an' it won't do them
any harm to have it out.”
It was a great fight, I remember. There must have been a couple of
score blood-soaked handkerchiefs (or “sweat-rags") buried in a hole on
the field of battle, and the Giraffe was busy the rest of the evening
helping to patch up the principals. Later on he took up a small
collection for the loser, who happened to be Barcoo-Rot in spite of the
advantage of an eye.
The Salvation Army lassie, who went round with the War Cry,
nearly always sold the Giraffe three copies.
A new-chum parson, who wanted a subscription to build or enlarge a
chapel, or something, sought the assistance of the Giraffe's influence
with his mates.
“Well,” said the Giraffe, “I ain't a churchgoer meself. I ain't what
you might call a religious cove, but I'll be glad to do what I can to
help yer. I don't suppose I can do much. I ain't been to church since I
was a kiddy.”
The parson was shocked, but later on he learned to appreciate the
Giraffe and his mates, and to love Australia for the bushman's sake,
and it was he who told me the above anecdote.
The Giraffe helped fix some stalls for a Catholic Church bazaar, and
some of the chaps chaffed him about it in the union office.
“You'll be taking up a collection for a joss-house down in the
Chinamen's camp next,” said Tom Hall in conclusion.
“Well, I ain't got nothin' agen the Roming Carflics,” said the
Giraffe. “An' Father O'Donovan's a very decent sort of cove. He stuck
up for the unions all right in the strike anyway.” (“He wouldn't be
Irish if he wasn't,” someone commented.) “I carried swags once for six
months with a feller that was a Carflick, an' he was a very straight
feller. And a girl I knowed turned Carflick to marry a chap that had
got her into trouble, an' she was always jes' the same to me after as
she was before. Besides, I like to help everything that's goin' on.”
Tom Hall and one or two others went out hurriedly to have a drink.
But we all loved the Giraffe.
He was very innocent and very humorous, especially when he meant to
be most serious and philosophical.
“Some of them bush girls is regular tomboys,” he said to me solemnly
one day. “Some of them is too cheeky altogether. I remember once I was
stoppin' at a place—they was sort of relations o' mine—an' they put
me to sleep in a room off the verander, where there was a glass door
an' no blinds. An' the first mornin' the girls—they was sort o'
cousins o' mine—they come gigglin' and foolin' round outside the door
on the verander, an' kep' me in bed till nearly ten o'clock. I had to
put me trowsis on under the bed-clothes in the end. But I got back on
'em the next night,” he reflected.
“How did you do that, Bob?” I asked.
“Why, I went to bed in me trowsis!”
One day I was on a plank, painting the ceiling of the bar of the
Great Western Hotel. I was anxious to get the job finished. The work
had been kept back most of the day by chaps handing up long beers to
me, and drawing my attention to the alleged fact that I was putting on
the paint wrong side out. I was slapping it on over the last few boards
“I'm very sorry to trouble yer; I always seem to be troublin' yer;
but there's that there woman and them girls—-”
I looked down—about the first time I had looked down on him—and
there was the Giraffe, with his hat brim up on the plank and two
half-crowns in it.
“Oh, that's all right, Bob,” I said, and I dropped in half a crown.
There were shearers in the bar, and presently there was some
barracking. It appeared that that there woman and them girls were
strange women, in the local as well as the Biblical sense of the word,
who had come from Sydney at the end of the shearing-season, and had
taken a cottage on the edge of the scrub on the outskirts of the town.
There had been trouble this week in connection with a row at their
establishment, and they had been fined, warned off by the police, and
turned out by their landlord.
“This is a bit too red-hot, Giraffe,” said one of the shearers.
“Them —-s has made enough out of us coves. They've got plenty of
stuff, don't you fret. Let 'em go to —-! I'm blanked if I give a
“They ain't got their fares to Sydney,” said the Giraffe. “An',
what's more, the little 'un is sick, an' two of them has kids in
“How the —-do you know?”
“Why, one of 'em come to me an' told me all about it.”
There was an involuntary guffaw.
“Look here, Bob,” said Billy Woods, the rouseabouts' secretary,
kindly. “Don't you make a fool of yourself. You'll have all the chaps
laughing at you. Those girls are only working you for all you're worth.
I suppose one of 'em came crying and whining to you. Don't you bother
about 'em. You don't know 'em; they can pump water at a moment's
notice. You haven't had any experience with women yet, Bob.”
“She didn't come whinin' and cryin' to me,” said the Giraffe,
dropping his twanging drawl a little. “She looked me straight in the
face an' told me all about it.”
“I say, Giraffe,” said Box-o'-Tricks, “what have you been doin'?
You've bin down there on the nod. I'm surprised at yer, Giraffe.”
“An' he pretends to be so gory soft an' innocent, too,” growled the
Bogan. “We know all about you, Giraffe.”
“Look here, Giraffe,” said Mitchell the shearer. “I'd never have
thought it of you. We all thought you were the only virgin youth west
the river; I always thought you were a moral young man. You mustn't
think that because your conscience is pricking you everyone else's is.”
“I ain't had anythin' to do with them,” said the Giraffe, drawling
again. “I ain't a cove that goes in for that sort of thing. But other
chaps has, and I think they might as well help 'em out of their fix.”
“They're a rotten crowd,” said Billy Woods. “You don't know them,
Bob. Don't bother about them-they're not worth it. Put your money in
your pocket. You'll find a better use for it before next shearing.”
“Better shout, Giraffe,” said Box-o'-Tricks.
Now in spite of the Giraffe's softness he was the hardest man in
Bourke to move when he'd decided on what he thought was “the fair thing
to do.” Another peculiarity of his was that on occasion, such for
instance as “sayin' a few words” at a strike meeting, he would
straighten himself, drop the twang, and rope in his drawl, so to speak.
“Well, look here, you chaps,” he said now. “I don't know anything
about them women. I s'pose they're bad, but I don't suppose they're
worse than men has made them. All I know is that there's four women
turned out, without any stuff, and every woman in Bourke, an' the
police, an' the law agen 'em. An' the fact that they is women is agenst
'em most of all. You don't expect 'em to hump their swags to Sydney!
Why, only I ain't got the stuff I wouldn't trouble yer. I'd pay their
fares meself. Look,” he said, lowering his voice, “there they are now,
an' one of the girls is cryin'. Don't let 'em see yer lookin'.”
I dropped softly from the plank and peeped out with the rest.
They stood by the fence on the opposite side of the street, a bit up
towards the railway station, with their portmanteaux and bundles at
their feet. One girl leant with her arms on the fence rail and her face
buried in them, another was trying to comfort her. The third girl and
the woman stood facing our way. The woman was good-looking; she had a
hard face, but it might have been made hard. The third girl seemed half
defiant, half inclined to cry. Presently she went to the other side of
the girl who was crying on the fence and put her arm round her
shoulder. The woman suddenly turned her back on us and stood looking
away over the paddocks.
The hat went round. Billy Woods was first, then Box-o'-Tricks, and
Billy contributed with eloquent silence. “I was only jokin',
Giraffe,” said Box-o'-Tricks, dredging his pockets for a couple of
shillings. It was some time after the shearing, and most of the chaps
were hard up. “Ah, well,” sighed Mitchell. “There's no help for it. If
the Giraffe would take up a collection to import some decent girls to
this God-forgotten hole there might be some sense in it. . . . It's bad
enough for the Giraffe to undermine our religious prejudices, and tempt
us to take a morbid interest in sick Chows and Afghans, and blacklegs
and widows; but when he starts mixing us up with strange women it's
time to buck.” And he prospected his pockets and contributed two
shillings, some odd pennies, and a pinch of tobacco dust.
“I don't mind helping the girls, but I'm damned if I'll give a penny
to help the old—-,” said Tom Hall.
“Well, she was a girl once herself,” drawled the Giraffe.
The Giraffe went round to the other pubs and to the union offices,
and when he returned he seemed satisfied with the plate, but troubled
about something else.
“I don't know what to do for them for to-night,” he said. “None of
the pubs or boardin'-houses will hear of them, an' there ain't no empty
houses, an' the women is all agen 'em.”
“Not all,” said Alice, the big, handsome barmaid from Sydney. “Come
here, Bob.” She gave the Giraffe half a sovereign and a look for which
some of us would have paid him ten pounds—had we had the money, and
had the look been transferable.
“Wait a minute, Bob,” she said, and she went in to speak to the
“There's an empty bedroom at the end of the store in the yard,” she
said when she came back. “They can camp there for to-night if they
behave themselves. You'd better tell 'em, Bob.”
“Thank yer, Alice,” said the Giraffe.
Next day, after work, the Giraffe and I drifted together and down by
the river in the cool of the evening, and sat on the edge of the steep,
“I heard you saw your lady friends off this morning, Bob,” I said,
and was sorry I said it, even before he answered.
“Oh, they ain't no friends of mine,” he said. “Only four' poor
devils of women. I thought they mightn't like to stand waitin' with the
crowd on the platform, so I jest offered to get their tickets an' told
'em to wait round at the back of the station till the bell rung. . . .
An' what do yer think they did, Harry?” he went on, with an
exasperatingly unintelligent grin. “Why, they wanted to kiss me.”
“Yes. An' they would have done it, too, if I hadn't been so long. .
. . Why, I'm blessed if they didn't kiss me hands.”
“You don't say so.”
“God's truth. Somehow I didn't like to go on the platform with them
after that; besides, they was cryin', and I can't stand women cryin'.
But some of the chaps put them into an empty carriage.” He thought a
“There's some terrible good-hearted fellers in the world,” he
I thought so too. “Bob,” I said, “you're a single man. Why don't you
get married and settle down?”
“Well,” he said, “I ain't got no wife an' kids, that's a fact. But
it ain't my fault.”
He may have been right about the wife. But I thought of the look
that Alice had given him, and—-
“Girls seem to like me right enough,” he said, “but it don't go no
further than that. The trouble is that I'm so long, and I always seem
to get shook after little girls. At least there was one little girl in
Bendigo that I was properly gone on.”
“And wouldn't she have you?”
“Well, it seems not.”
“Did you ask her?”
“Oh, yes, I asked her right enough.”
“Well, and what did she say?”
“She said it would be redicilus for her to be seen trottin'
alongside of a chimbley like me.”
“Perhaps she didn't mean that. There are any amount of little women
who like tall men.”
“I thought of that too—afterwards. P'r'aps she didn't mean it that
way. I s'pose the fact of the matter was that she didn't cotton on to
me, and wanted to let me down easy. She didn't want to hurt me
feelin's, if yer understand—she was a very good-hearted little girl.
There's some terrible tall fellers where I come from, and I know two as
married little girls.”
He seemed a hopeless case.
“Sometimes,” he said, “sometimes I wish that I wasn't so blessed
“There's that there deaf jackaroo,” he reflected presently. “He's
something in the same fig about girls as I am. He's too deaf and I'm
“How do you make that out?” I asked. “He's got three girls, to my
knowledge, and, as for being deaf, why, he gasses more than any man in
the town, and knows more of what's going on than old Mother Brindle the
“Well, look at that now!” said the Giraffe, slowly. “Who'd have
thought it? He never told me he had three girls, an' as for hearin'
news, I always tell him anything that's goin' on that I think he
doesn't catch. He told me his trouble was that whenever he went out
with a girl people could hear what they was sayin'—at least they could
hear what she was sayin' to him, an' draw their own conclusions, he
said. He said he went out one night with a girl, and some of the chaps
foxed 'em an' heard her sayin' `don't' to him, an' put it all round
“What did she say `don't' for?” I asked.
“He didn't tell me that, but I s'pose he was kissin' her or huggin'
her or something.”
“Bob,” I said presently, “didn't you try the little girl in Bendigo
a second time?”
“No,” he said. “What was the use. She was a good little girl, and I
wasn't goin' to go botherin' her. I ain't the sort of cove that goes
hangin' round where he isn't wanted. But somehow I couldn't stay about
Bendigo after she gave me the hint, so I thought I'd come over an' have
a knock round on this side for a year or two.”
“And you never wrote to her?”
“No. What was the use of goin' pesterin' her with letters? I know
what trouble letters give me when I have to answer one. She'd have only
had to tell me the straight truth in a letter an' it wouldn't have done
me any good. But I've pretty well got over it by this time.”
A few days later I went to Sydney. The Giraffe was the last I shook
hands with from the carriage window, and he slipped something in a
piece of newspaper into my hand.
“I hope yer won't be offended,” he drawled, “but some of the chaps
thought you mightn't be too flush of stuff—you've been shoutin' a good
deal; so they put a quid or two together. They thought it might help
yer to have a bit of a fly round in Sydney.”
I was back in Bourke before next shearing. On the evening of my
arrival I ran against the Giraffe; he seemed strangely shaken over
something, but he kept his hat on his head.
“Would yer mind takin' a stroll as fur as the Billerbong?” he said.
“I got something I'd like to tell yer.”
His big, brown, sunburnt hands trembled and shook as he took a
letter from his pocket and opened it.
“I've just got a letter,” he said. “A letter from that little girl
at Bendigo. It seems it was all a mistake. I'd like you to read it.
Somehow I feel as if I want to talk to a feller, and I'd rather talk to
you than any of them other chaps.”
It was a good letter, from a big-hearted little girl. She had been
breaking her heart for the great ass all these months. It seemed that
he had left Bendigo without saying good-bye to her. “Somehow I couldn't
bring meself to it,” he said, when I taxed him with it. She had never
been able to get his address until last week; then she got it from a
Bourke man who had gone south. She called him “an awful long fool,”
which he was, without the slightest doubt, and she implored him to
write, and come back to her.
“And will you go back, Bob?” I asked.
“My oath! I'd take the train to-morrer only I ain't got the stuff.
But I've got a stand in Big Billerbong Shed an' I'll soon knock a few
quid together. I'll go back as soon as ever shearin's over. I'm goin'
to write away to her to-night.”
The Giraffe was the “ringer” of Big Billabong Shed that season. His
tallies averaged a hundred and twenty a day. He only sent his hat round
once during shearing, and it was noticed that he hesitated at first and
only contributed half a crown. But then it was a case of a man being
taken from the shed by the police for wife desertion.
“It's always that way,” commented Mitchell. “Those soft,
good-hearted fellows always end by getting hard and selfish. The world
makes 'em so. It's the thought of the soft fools they've been that
finds out sooner or later and makes 'em repent. Like as not the Giraffe
will be the meanest man out back before he's done.”
When Big Billabong cut out, and we got back to Bourke with our dusty
swags and dirty cheques, I spoke to Tom Hall:
“Look here, Tom,” I said. “That long fool, the Giraffe, has been
breaking his heart for a little girl in Bendigo ever since he's been
out back, and she's been breaking her heart for him, and the ass didn't
know it till he got a letter from her just before Big Billabong
started. He's going to-morrow morning.”
That evening Tom stole the Giraffe's hat. “I s'pose it'll turn up in
the mornin',” said the Giraffe. “I don't mind a lark,” he added, “but
it does seem a bit red hot for the chaps to collar a cove's hat and a
feller goin' away for good, p'r'aps, in the mornin'.”
Mitchell started the thing going with a quid.
“It's worth it,” he said, “to get rid of him. We'll have some peace
now. There won't be so many accidents or women in trouble when the
Giraffe and his blessed hat are gone. Any way, he's an eyesore in the
town, and he's getting on my nerves for one. . . . Come on, you
sinners! Chuck 'em in; we're only taking quids and half-quids.”
About daylight next morning Tom Hall slipped into the Giraffe's room
at the Carriers' Arms. The Giraffe was sleeping peacefully. Tom put the
hat on a chair by his side. The collection had been a record one, and,
besides the packet of money in the crown of the hat, there was a
silver-mounted pipe with case—the best that could be bought in Bourke,
a gold brooch, and several trifles—besides an ugly valentine of a long
man in his shirt walking the room with a twin on each arm.
Tom was about to shake the Giraffe by the shoulder, when he noticed
a great foot, with about half a yard of big-boned ankle and shank,
sticking out at the bottom of the bed. The temptation was too great.
Tom took up the hair-brush, and, with the back of it, he gave a smart
rap on the point of an in-growing toe-nail, and slithered.
We heard the Giraffe swearing good-naturedly for a while, and then
there was a pregnant silence. He was staring at the hat we supposed.
We were all up at the station to see him off. It was rather a long
wait. The Giraffe edged me up to the other end of the platform.
He seemed overcome.
“There's—there's some terrible good-hearted fellers in this world,”
he said. “You mustn't forgit 'em, Harry, when you make a big name
writin'. I'm—well, I'm blessed if I don't feel as if I was jist goin'
I was glad he didn't. The Giraffe blubberin' would have been a
spectacle. I steered him back to his friends.
“Ain't you going to kiss me, Bob?” said the Great Western's big,
handsome barmaid, as the bell rang.
“Well, I don't mind kissin' you, Alice,” he said, wiping his mouth.
“But I'm goin' to be married, yer know.” And he kissed her fair on the
“There's nothin' like gettin' into practice,” he said, grinning
We thought he was improving wonderfully; but at the last moment
something troubled him.
“Look here, you chaps,” he said, hesitatingly, with his hand in his
pocket, “I don't know what I'm going to do with all this stuff. There's
that there poor washerwoman that scalded her legs liftin' the boiler of
clothes off the fire—-”
We shoved him into the carriage. He hung—about half of him—out the
window, wildly waving his hat, till the train disappeared in the scrub.
And, as I sit here writing by lamplight at midday, in the midst of a
great city of shallow social sham, of hopeless, squalid poverty, of
ignorant selfishness, cultured or brutish, and of noble and heroic
endeavour frowned down or callously neglected, I am almost aware of a
burst of sunshine in the room, and a long form leaning over my chair,
“Excuse me for troublin' yer; I'm always troublin' yer; but there's
that there poor woman. . . .”
And I wish I could immortalize him!
THAT PRETTY GIRL IN THE ARMY
Now I often sit at Watty's, when the night is very near,
With a head that's full of jingles—and the fumes of bottled
For I always have a fancy that, if I am over there
When the Army prays for Watty, I'm included in the prayer.
It would take a lot of praying, lots of thumping on the drum,
To prepare our sinful, straying, erring souls for Kingdom Come.
But I love my fellow-sinners! and I hope, upon the whole,
That the Army gets a hearing when it prays for Watty's soul.
—When the World was Wide.
The Salvation Army does good business in some of the outback towns
of the great pastoral wastes of Australia. There's the thoughtless,
careless generosity of the bushman, whose pockets don't go far enough
down his trousers (that's what's the matter with him), and who
contributes to anything that comes along, without troubling to ask
questions, like long Bob Brothers of Bourke, who, chancing to be “a
Protestant by rights,” unwittingly subscribed towards the erection of a
new Catholic church, and, being chaffed for his mistake, said:
“Ah, well, I don't suppose it'll matter a hang in the end, anyway it
goes. I ain't got nothink agenst the Roming Carflicks.”
There's the shearer, fresh with his cheque from a cut-out shed,
gloriously drunk and happy, in love with all the world, and ready to
subscribe towards any creed and shout for all hands—including Old Nick
if he happened to come along. There's the shearer, half-drunk and
inclined to be nasty, who has got the wrong end of all things with a
tight grip, and who flings a shilling in the face of out-back
conventionality (as he thinks) by chucking a bob into the Salvation
Army ring. Then he glares round to see if he can catch anybody winking
behind his back. There's the cynical joker, a queer mixture, who
contributes generously and tempts the reformed boozer afterwards.
There's the severe-faced old station-hand—in clean shirt and
neckerchief and white moleskins—in for his annual or semi-annual
spree, who contributes on principle, and then drinks religiously until
his cheque is gone and the horrors are come. There's the shearer,
feeling mighty bad after a spree, and in danger of seeing things when
he tries to go to sleep. He has dropped ten or twenty pounds over bar
counters and at cards, and he now “chucks” a repentant shilling into
the ring, with a very private and rather vague sort of feeling that
something might come of it. There's the stout, contented, good-natured
publican, who tips the Army as if it were a barrel-organ. And there are
others and other reasons—black sheep and ne'er-do-wells—and faint
echoes of other times in Salvation Army tunes.
Bourke, the metropolis of the Great Scrubs, on the banks of the
Darling River, about five hundred miles from Sydney, was suffering from
a long drought when I was there in ninety-two; and the heat may or may
not have been another cause contributing to the success, from a
business point of view, of the Bourke garrison. There was much beer
boozing—and, besides, it was vaguely understood (as most things are
vaguely understood out there in the drought-haze) that the place the
Army came to save us from was hotter than Bourke. We didn't hanker to
go to a hotter place than Bourke. But that year there was an
extraordinary reason for the Army's great financial success there.
She was a little girl, nineteen or twenty, I should judge, the
prettiest girl I ever saw in the Army, and one of the prettiest I've
ever seen out of it. She had the features of an angel, but her
expression was wonderfully human, sweet and sympathetic. Her big grey
eyes were sad with sympathy for sufferers and sinners, and her poke
bonnet was full of bunchy, red-gold hair. Her first appearance was
somewhat dramatic—perhaps the Army arranged it so.
The Army used to pray, and thump the drum, and sing, and take up
collections every evening outside Watty Bothways' Hotel, the Carriers'
Arms. They performed longer and more often outside Watty's than any
other pub in town—perhaps because Watty was considered the most
hopeless publican and his customers the hardest crowd of boozers in
Bourke. The band generally began to play about dusk. Watty would lean
back comfortably in a basket easy-chair on his wide veranda, and clasp
his hands, in a calm, contented way, while the Army banged the drum and
got steam up, and whilst, perhaps, there was a barney going on in the
bar, or a bloodthirsty fight in the backyard. On such occasions there
was something like an indulgent or fatherly expression on his fat and
usually emotionless face. And by and by he'd move his head gently and
doze. The banging and the singing seemed to soothe him, and the
praying, which was often very personal, never seemed to disturb him in
Well, it was about dusk one day; it had been a terrible day, a
hundred and something startling in the shade, but there came a breeze
after sunset. There had been several dozen of buckets of water thrown
on the veranda floor and the ground outside. Watty was seated in his
accustomed place when the Army arrived. There was no barney in the bar
because there was a fight in the backyard, and that claimed the
attention of all the customers.
The Army prayed for Watty and his clients; then a reformed drunkard
started to testify against publicans and all their works. Watty settled
himself comfortably, folded his hands, and leaned back and dozed.
The fight was over, and the chaps began to drop round to the bar.
The man who was saved waved his arms, and danced round and howled.
“Ye-es!” he shouted hoarsely. “The publicans, and boozers, and
gamblers, and sinners may think that Bourke is hot, but hell is a
thousand times hotter! I tell you”
“Oh, Lord!” said Mitchell, the shearer, and he threw a penny into
“Ye-es! I tell you that hell is a million times hotter than Bourke!
I tell you—-”
“Oh, look here,” said a voice from the background, “that won't wash.
Why, don't you know that when the Bourke people die they send back for
The saved brother glared round.
“I hear a freethinker speaking, my friends,” he said. Then, with
sudden inspiration and renewed energy, “I hear the voice of a
freethinker. Show me the face of a freethinker,” he yelled, glaring
round like a hunted, hungry man. “Show me the face of a freethinker,
and I'll tell you what he is.”
Watty hitched himself into a more comfortable position and clasped
his hands on his knee and closed his eyes again.
“Ya-a-a-s!” shrieked the brand. “I tell you, my friends, I can tell
a freethinker by his face. Show me the face of a—-”
At this point there was an interruption. One-eyed, or Wall-eyed,
Bogan, who had a broken nose, and the best side of whose face was
reckoned the ugliest and most sinister—One-eyed Bogan thrust his face
forward from the ring of darkness into the torchlight of salvation. He
had got the worst of a drawn battle; his nose and mouth were bleeding,
and his good eye was damaged.
“Look at my face!” he snarled, with dangerous earnestness. “Look at
my face! That's the face of a freethinker, and I don't care who knows
it. Now! what have you got to say against my face,
The brother drew back. He had been known in the northwest in his
sinful days as “Man-without-a-Shirt,” alias “Shirty,” or “The Dirty
Man,” and was flabbergasted at being recognized in speech. Also, he had
been in a shearing-shed and in a shanty orgy with One-eyed Bogan, and
knew the man.
Now most of the chaps respected the Army, and, indeed, anything that
looked like religion, but the Bogan's face, as representing
free-thought, was a bit too sudden for them. There were sounds on the
opposite side of the ring as from men being smitten repeatedly and
rapidly below the belt, and long Tom Hall and one or two others got
away into the darkness in the background, where Tom rolled helplessly
on the grass and sobbed.
It struck me that Bogan's face was more the result of free speech
than anything else.
The Army was about to pray when the Pretty Girl stepped forward, her
eyes shining with indignation and enthusiasm. She had arrived by the
evening train, and had been standing shrinkingly behind an Army lass of
fifty Australian summers, who was about six feet high, flat and broad,
and had a square face, and a mouth like a joint in boiler plates.
The Pretty Girl stamped her pretty foot on the gravel, and her eyes
flashed in the torchlight.
“You ought to be ashamed of yourselves,” she said. “Great big men
like you to be going on the way you are. If you were ignorant or poor,
as I've seen people, there might be some excuse for you. Haven't you
got any mothers, or sisters, or wives to think of? What sort of a life
is this you lead? Drinking, and gambling, and fighting, and swearing
your lives away! Do you ever think of God and the time when you were
children? Why don't you make homes? Look at that man's face!” (she
pointed suddenly at Bogan, who collapsed and sidled behind his mates
out of the light). “Look at that man's face! Is it a face for a
Christian? And you help and encourage him to fight. You're worse than
he is. Oh, it's brutal. It's—it's wicked. Great big men like you, you
ought to be ashamed of yourselves.”
Long Bob Brothers—about six-foot-four—the longest and most
innocent there, shrunk down by the wall and got his inquiring face out
of the light. The Pretty Girl fluttered on for a few moments longer,
greatly excited, and then stepped back, seemingly much upset, and was
taken under the wing of the woman with the boiler-plate mouth.
It was a surprise, and very sudden. Bogan slipped round to the
backyard, and was seen bathing his battered features at the pump. The
rest wore the expression of men who knew that something unusual has
happened, but don't know what, and are waiting vacantly for
developments.—Except Tom Hall, who had recovered and returned. He
stood looking over the head of the ring of bushmen, and apparently
taking the same critical interest in the girl as he would in a
fight—his expression was such as a journalist might wear who is
getting exciting copy.
The Army had it all their own way for the rest of the evening, and
made a good collection. The Pretty Girl stood smiling round with
shining eyes as the bobs and tanners dropped in, and then, being shoved
forward by the flat woman, she thanked us sweetly, and said we were
good fellows, and that she was sorry for some things she'd said to us.
Then she retired, fluttering and very much flushed, and hid herself
behind the hard woman—who, by the way, had an excrescence on her upper
lip which might have stood for a rivet.
Presently the Pretty Girl came from behind the big woman and stood
watching things with glistening eyes. Some of the chaps on the opposite
side of the ring moved a little to one side and all were careful not to
meet her eye—not to be caught looking at her—lest she should be
embarrassed. Watty had roused himself a little at the sound of a
strange voice in the Army (and such a clear, sweet voice too!) and had
a look; then he settled back peacefully again, but it was noticed that
he didn't snore that evening.
And when the Army prayed, the Pretty Girl knelt down with the rest
on the gravel. One or two tall bushmen bowed their heads as if they had
to, and One-eyed Bogan, with the blood washed from his face, stood with
his hat off, glaring round to see if he could catch anyone sniggering.
Mitchell, the shearer, said afterwards that the whole business made
him feel for the moment like he felt sometimes in the days when he used
to feel things.
The town discussed the Pretty Girl in the Army that night and for
many days thereafter, but no one could find out who she was or where
she belonged to—except that she came from Sydney last. She kept her
secret, if she had one, very close—or else the other S.-A. women were
not to be pumped. She lived in skillion-rooms at the back of the big
weather-board Salvation Army barracks with two other “lassies,” who did
washing and sewing and nursing, and went shabby, and half starved
themselves, and were baked in the heat, like scores of women in the
bush, and even as hundreds of women, suffering from religious mania,
slave and stint in city slums, and neglect their homes, husbands and
children—for the glory of Booth.
The Pretty Girl was referred to as Sister Hannah by the Army people,
and came somehow to be known by sinners as “Miss Captain.” I don't know
whether that was her real name or what rank she held in the Army, if
indeed she held any.
She sold War Crys, and the circulation doubled in a day.
One-eyed Bogan, being bailed up unexpectedly, gave her “half a caser"
for a Cry, and ran away without the paper or the change. Jack
Mitchell bought a Cry for the first time in his life, and read
it. He said he found some of the articles intensely realistic, and many
of the statements were very interesting. He said he read one or two
things in the Cry that he didn't know before. Tom Hall, taken
unawares, bought three Crys from the Pretty Girl, and blushed to
find it fame.
Little Billy Woods, the Labourers' Union secretary—who had a poetic
temperament and more than the average bushman's reverence for higher
things—Little Billy Woods told me in a burst of confidence that he
generally had two feelings, one after the other, after encountering
that girl. One was that unfathomable far-away feeling of loneliness and
longing, that comes at odd times to the best of married men, with the
best of wives and children—as Billy had. The other feeling, which came
later on, and was a reaction in fact, was the feeling of a man who
thinks he's been twisted round a woman's little finger for the benefit
of somebody else. Billy said that he couldn't help being reminded by
the shy, sweet smile and the shy, sweet “thank you” of the Pretty Girl
in the Army, of the shy, sweet smile and the shy, sweet gratitude of a
Sydney private barmaid, who had once roped him in, in the days before
he was married. Then he'd reckon that the Army lassie had been sent out
back to Bourke as a business speculation.
Tom Hall was inclined to reckon so too—but that was after he'd been
chaffed for a month about the three War Crys.
The Pretty Girl was discussed from psychological points of view; not
forgetting the sex problem. Donald Macdonald—shearer, union leader and
labour delegate to other colonies on occasion—Donald Macdonald said
that whenever he saw a circle of plain or ugly, dried-up women or girls
round a shepherd, evangelist or a Salvation Army drum, he'd say
“sexually starved!” They were hungry for love. Religious mania was
sexual passion dammed out of its course. Therefore he held that
morbidly religious girls were the most easily seduced.
But this couldn't apply to Pretty Girl in the Army. Mitchell
reckoned that she'd either had a great sorrow—a lot of trouble, or a
disappointment in love (the “or” is Mitchell's); but they couldn't see
how a girl like her could possibly be disappointed in love—unless the
chap died or got into jail for life. Donald decided that her soul had
been starved somehow.
Mitchell suggested that it might be only a craving for notoriety,
the same thing that makes women and girls go amongst lepers, and out to
the battlefield, and nurse ugly pieces of men back to life again; the
same thing that makes some women and girls swear ropes round men's
necks. The Pretty Girl might be the daughter of well-to-do people—even
aristocrats, said Mitchell—she was pretty enough and spoke well
enough. “Every woman's a barmaid at heart,” as the Bulletin puts
it, said Mitchell.
But not even one of the haggard women of Bourke ever breathed a
suspicion of scandal against her. They said she was too good and too
pretty to be where she was. You see it was not as in an old settled
town where hags blacken God's world with their tongues. Bourke was just
a little camping town in a big land, where free, good-hearted
democratic Australians, and the best of black sheep from the old world
were constantly passing through; where husband's were often obliged to
be away from home for twelve months, and the storekeepers had to trust
the people, and mates trusted each other, and the folks were
broad-minded. The mind's eye had a wide range.
After her maiden speech the Pretty Girl seldom spoke, except to
return thanks for collections—and she never testified. She had a sweet
voice and used to sing.
Now, if I were writing pure fiction, and were not cursed with an
obstinate inclination to write the truth, I might say that, after the
advent of the Pretty Girl, the morals of Bourke improved suddenly and
wonderfully. That One-eyed Bogan left off gambling and drinking and
fighting and swearing, and put on a red coat and testified and fought
the devil only; that Mitchell dropped his mask of cynicism; that Donald
Macdonald ate no longer of the tree of knowledge and ceased to worry
himself with psychological problems, and was happy; and that Tom Hall
was no longer a scoffer. That no one sneaked round through the scrub
after dusk to certain necessary establishments in weather-board
cottages on the outskirts of the town; and that the broad-minded and
obliging ladies thereof became Salvation Army lassies.
But none of these things happened. Drunks quieted down or got out of
the way if they could when the Pretty Girl appeared on the scene,
fights and games of “headin' 'em” were adjourned, and weak, ordinary
language was used for the time being, and that was about all.
Nevertheless, most of the chaps were in love with that Pretty Girl
in the Army—all those who didn't worship her privately. Long
Bob Brothers hovered round in hopes, they said, that she'd meet with an
accident—get run over by a horse or something—and he'd have to carry
her in; he scared the women at the barracks by dropping firewood over
the fence after dark. Barcoo-Rot, the meanest man in the back country,
was seen to drop a threepenny bit into the ring, and a rumour was
industriously circulated (by Tom Hall) to the effect that One-eyed
Bogan intended to shave and join the Army disguised as a lassie.
Handsome Jake Boreham (alias Bore-'em), a sentimental shearer
from New Zealand, who had read Bret Harte, made an elaborate attempt
for the Pretty Girl, by pretending to be going to the dogs headlong,
with an idea of first winning her sorrowful interest and sympathy, and
then making an apparently hard struggle to straighten up for her sake.
He related his experience with the cheerful and refreshing absence of
reserve which was characteristic of him, and is of most bushmen.
“I'd had a few drinks,” he said, “and was having a spell under a gum
by the river, when I saw the Pretty Girl and another Army woman coming
down along the bank. It was a blazing hot day. I thought of Sandy and
the Schoolmistress in Bret Harte, and I thought it would be a good idea
to stretch out in the sun and pretend to be helpless; so I threw my hat
on the ground and lay down, with my head in the blazing heat, in the
most graceful position I could get at, and I tried to put a look of
pained regret on my face, as if I was dreaming of my lost boyhood and
me mother. I thought, perhaps, the Girl would pity me, and I felt sure
she'd stoop and pick up my hat and put it gently over my poor troubled
head. Then I was going to become conscious for a moment, and look
hopelessly round, and into her eyes, and then start and look sorrowful
and ashamed, and stagger to my feet, taking off my hat like the Silver
King does to the audience when he makes his first appearance drunk on
the stage; and then I was going to reel off, trying to walk as straight
as I could. And next day I was going to clean up my teeth and nails and
put on a white shirt, and start to be a new man henceforth.
“Well, as I lay there with my eyes shut, I heard the footsteps come
up and stop, and heard 'em whisper, and I thought I heard the Pretty
Girl say `Poor fellow!' or something that sounded like that; and just
then I got a God-almighty poke in the ribs with an umbrella—at least I
suppose it was aimed for my ribs; but women are bad shots, and the
point of the umbrella caught me in the side, just between the bottom
rib and the hip-bone, and I sat up with a click, like the blade of a
“The other lassie was the big square-faced woman. The Pretty Girl
looked rather more frightened and disgusted than sentimental, but she
had plenty of pluck, and soon pulled herself together. She said I ought
to be ashamed of myself, a great big man like me, lying there in the
dust like a drunken tramp—an eyesore and a disgrace to all the world.
She told me to go to my camp, wherever that was, and sleep myself
sober. The square-jawed woman said I looked like a fool sitting there.
I did feel ashamed, and I reckon I did look like a fool—a man
generally does in a fix like that. I felt like one, anyway. I got up
and walked away, and it hurt me so much that I went over to West Bourke
and went to the dogs properly for a fortnight, and lost twenty quid on
a game of draughts against a blindfold player. Now both those women had
umbrellas, but I'm not sure to this day which of 'em it was that gave
me the poke. It wouldn't have mattered much anyway. I haven't borrowed
one of Bret Harte's books since.”
Jake reflected a while. “The worst of it was,” he said ruefully,
“that I wasn't sure that the girl or the woman didn't see through me,
and that worried me a bit. You never can tell how much a woman
suspects, and that's the worst of 'em. I found that out after I got
The Pretty Girl in the Army grew pale and thin and bigger-eyed. The
women said it was a shame, and that she ought to be sent home to her
friends, wherever they were. She was laid up for two or three days, and
some of the women cooked delicacies and handed 'em over the barracks
fence, and offered to come in and nurse her; but the square woman took
washing home and nursed the girl herself.
The Pretty Girl still sold War Crys and took up collections,
but in a tired, listless, half shamed-faced way. It was plain that she
was tired of the Army, and growing ashamed of the Salvationists.
Perhaps she had come to see things too plainly.
You see, the Army does no good out back in Australia—except from a
business point of view. It is simply there to collect funds for hungry
headquarters. The bushmen are much too intelligent for the Army. There
was no poverty in Bourke—as it is understood in the city; there was
plenty of food; and camping out and roughing it come natural to the
bushmen. In cases of sickness, accident, widows or orphans, the chaps
sent round the hat, without banging a drum or testifying, and that was
all right. If a chap was hard up he borrowed a couple of quid from his
mate. If a strange family arrived without a penny, someone had to fix
'em up, and the storekeepers helped them till the man got work. For the
rest, we work out our own salvation, or damnation—as the case is—in
the bush, with no one to help us, except a mate, perhaps. The Army
can't help us, but a fellow-sinner can, sometimes, who has been through
it all himself. The Army is only a drag on the progress of Democracy,
because it attracts many who would otherwise be aggressive
Democrats—and for other reasons.
Besides, if we all reformed the Army would get deuced little from us
for its city mission.
The Pretty Girl went to service for a while with the stock
inspector's wife, who could get nothing out of her concerning herself
or her friends. She still slept at the barracks, stuck to the Army, and
attended its meetings.
It was Christmas morning, and there was peace in Bourke and goodwill
towards all men. There hadn't been a fight since yesterday evening, and
that had only been a friendly one, to settle an argument concerning the
past ownership, and, at the same time, to decide as to the future
possession of a dog.
It had been a hot, close night, and it ended in a suffocating
sunrise. The free portion of the male population were in the habit of
taking their blankets and sleeping out in “the Park,” or town square,
in hot weather; the wives and daughters of the town slept, or tried to
sleep, with bedroom windows and doors open, while husbands lay outside
on the verandas. I camped in a corner of the park that night, and the
sun woke me.
As I sat up I caught sight of a swagman coming along the white,
dusty road from the direction of the bridge, where the cleared road ran
across west and on, a hundred and thirty miles, through the barren,
broiling mulga scrubs, to Hungerford, on the border of Sheol. I knew
that swagman's walk. It was John Merrick (Jack Moonlight), one-time
Shearers' Union secretary at Coonamble, and generally “Rep” (shearers'
representative) in any shed where he sheared. He was a “better-class
shearer,” one of those quiet, thoughtful men of whom there are
generally two or three in the roughest of rough sheds, who have great
influence, and give the shed a good name from a Union point of view.
Not quiet with the resentful or snobbish reserve of the educated
Englishman, but with a sad or subdued sort of quietness that has force
in it—as if they fully realized that their intelligence is much higher
than the average, that they have suffered more real trouble and
heartbreak than the majority of their mates, and that their mates
couldn't possibly understand them if they spoke as they felt and
couldn't see things as they do—yet men who understand and are
intensely sympathetic in their loneliness and sensitive reserve.
I had worked in a shed with Jack Moonlight, and had met him in
Sydney, and to be mates with a bushman for a few weeks is to know him
well—anyway, I found it so. He had taken a trip to Sydney the
Christmas before last, and when he came back there was something
wanting. He became more silent, he drank more, and sometimes alone, and
took to smoking heavily. He dropped his mates, took little or no
interest in Union matters, and travelled alone, and at night.
The Australian bushman is born with a mate who sticks to him through
life—like a mole. They may be hundreds of miles apart sometimes, and
separated for years, yet they are mates for life. A bushman may have
many mates in his roving, but there is always one his mate, “my mate;"
and it is common to hear a bushman, who is, in every way, a true mate
to the man he happens to be travelling with, speak of his mate's
mate—“Jack's mate”—who might be in Klondyke or South Africa. A
bushman has always a mate to comfort him and argue with him, and work
and tramp and drink with him, and lend him quids when he's hard up, and
call him a b—-fool, and fight him sometimes; to abuse him to his face
and defend his name behind his back; to bear false witness and perjure
his soul for his sake; to lie to the girl for him if he's single, and
to his wife if he's married; to secure a “pen” for him at a shed where
he isn't on the spot, or, if the mate is away in New Zealand or South
Africa, to write and tell him if it's any good coming over this way.
And each would take the word of the other against all the world, and
each believes that the other is the straightest chap that ever lived-"a
white man!” And next best to your old mate is the man you're tramping,
riding, working, or drinking with.
About the first thing the cook asks you when you come along to a
shearers' hut is, “Where's your mate?” I travelled alone for a while
one time, and it seemed to me sometimes, by the tone of the inquiry
concerning the whereabouts of my mate, that the bush had an idea that I
might have done away with him and that the thing ought to be looked
When a man drops mateship altogether and takes to “hatting” in the
bush, it's a step towards a convenient tree and a couple of
saddle-straps buckled together.
I had an idea that I, in a measure, took the place of Jack
Moonlight's mate about this time.
“'Ullo, Jack!” I hailed as he reached the corner of the park.
“Good morning, Harry!” said Jack, as if he'd seen me last yesterday
evening instead of three months ago. “How are you getting on?”
We walked together towards the Union Office, where I had a camp in
the skillion-room at the back. Jack was silent. But there's no place in
the world where a man's silence is respected so much (within reasonable
bounds) as in the Australian bush, where every man has a past more or
less sad, and every man a ghost—perhaps from other lands that we know
nothing of, and speaking in a foreign tongue. They say in the bush,
“Oh, Jack's only thinking!” And they let him think. Generally you want
to think as much as your mate; and when you've been together some time
it's quite natural to travel all day without exchanging a word. In the
morning Jim says, “Well, I think I made a bargain with that horse,
Bill,” and some time late in the afternoon, say twenty miles farther
on, it occurs to Bill to “rejoin,” “Well, I reckon the blank as sold it
to you had yer proper!”
I like a good thinking mate, and I believe that thinking in company
is a lot more healthy and more comfortable, as well as less risky, than
On the way to the Union Office Jack and I passed the Royal Hotel,
and caught a glimpse, through the open door, of a bedroom off the
veranda, of the landlord's fresh, fair, young Sydney girl-wife,
sleeping prettily behind the mosquito-net, like a sleeping beauty,
while the boss lay on a mattress outside on the veranda, across the
open door. (He wasn't necessary for publication, but an evidence of
I glanced at Jack for a grin, but didn't get one. He wore the pained
expression of a man who is suddenly hit hard with the thought of
something that might have been.
I boiled the billy and fried a pound of steak.
“Been travelling all night, .Tack?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Jack. “I camped at Emus yesterday.”
He didn't eat. I began to reckon that he was brooding too much for
his health. He was much thinner than when I saw him last, and pretty
haggard, and he had something of the hopeless, haggard look that I'd
seen in Tom Hall's eyes after the last big shearing strike, when Tom
had worked day and night to hold his mates up all through the hard,
bitter struggle, and the battle was lost.
“Look here, Jack!” I said at last. “What's up?”
“Nothing's up, Harry,” said Jack. “What made you think so?”
“Have you got yourself into any fix?” I asked. “What's the
Hungerford track been doing to you?”
“No, Harry,” he said, “I'm all right. How are you?” And he pulled
some string and papers and a roll of dusty pound notes from his pocket
and threw them on the bunk.
I was hard up just then, so I took a note and the billy to go to the
Royal and get some beer. I thought the beer might loosen his mind a
“Better take a couple of quid,” said Jack. “You look as if you want
some new shirts and things.” But a pound was enough for me, and I think
he had reason to be glad of that later on, as it turned out.
“Anything new in Bourke?” asked Jack as we drank the beer.
“No,” I said, “not a thing—except there's a pretty girl in the
“And it's about time,” growled Jack.
“Now, look here, Jack,” I said presently, “what's come over you
lately at all? I might be able to help you. It's not a bit of use
telling me that there's nothing the matter. When a man takes to
brooding and travelling alone it's a bad sign, and it will end in a
leaning tree and a bit of clothes-line as likely as not. Tell me what
the trouble is. Tell us all about it. There's a ghost, isn't there?”
“Well, I suppose so,” said Jack. “We've all got our ghosts for that
matter. But never you mind, Harry; I'm all right. I don't go
interfering with your ghosts, and I don't see what call you've got to
come haunting mine. Why, it's as bad as kicking a man's dog.” And he
gave the ghost of a grin.
“Tell me, Jack,” I said, “is it a woman?”
“Yes,” said Jack, “it's a woman. Now, are you satisfied?”
“Is it a girl?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
So there was no more to be said. I'd thought it might have been a
lot worse than a girl. I'd thought he might have got married somewhere,
sometime, and made a mess of it.
We had dinner at Billy Woods's place, and a sensible Christmas
dinner it was—everything cold, except the vegetables, with the hose
going on the veranda in spite of the by-laws, and Billy's wife and her
sister, fresh and cool-looking and jolly, instead of being hot and
brown and cross like most Australian women who roast themselves over a
blazing fire in a hot kitchen on a broiling day, all the morning, to
cook scalding plum pudding and redhot roasts, for no other reason than
that their grandmothers used to cook hot Christmas dinners in England.
And in the afternoon we went for a row on the river, pulling easily
up the anabranch and floating down with the stream under the shade of
the river timber—instead of going to sleep and waking up helpless and
soaked in perspiration, to find the women with headaches, as many do on
Christmas Day in Australia.
Mrs Woods tried to draw Jack out, but it was no use, and in the
evening he commenced drinking, and that made Billy uneasy. “I'm afraid
Jack's on the wrong track,” he said.
After tea most of us collected about Watty's veranda. Most things
that happened in Bourke happened at Watty's pub, or near it.
If a horse bolted with a buggy or cart, he was generally stopped
outside Watty's, which seemed to suggest, as Mitchell said, that most
of the heroes drank at Watty's—also that the pluckiest men were found
amongst the hardest drinkers. (But sometimes the horse fetched up
against Watty's sign and lamppost—which was a stout one of
“iron-bark”—and smashed the trap.) Then Watty's was the Carriers'
Arms, a union pub; and Australian teamsters are mostly hard cases:
while there was something in Watty's beer which made men argue
fluently, and the best fights came off in his backyard. Watty's dogs
were the most quarrelsome in town, and there was a dog-fight there
every other evening, followed as often as not by a man-fight. If a
bushman's horse ran away with him the chances were that he'd be thrown
on to Watty's veranda, if he wasn't pitched into the bar; and victims
of accidents, and sick, hard-up shearers, were generally carried to
Watty's pub, as being the most convenient and comfortable for them.
Mitchell denied that it was generosity or good nature on Watty's part,
he said it was all business—advertisement. Watty knew what he was
doing. He was very deep, was Watty. Mitchell further hinted that if he
was sick he wouldn't be carried to Watty's, for Watty knew what
a thirsty business a funeral was. Tom Hall reckoned that Watty bribed
the Army on the quiet.
I was sitting on a stool along the veranda wall with Donald
Macdonald, Bob Brothers (the Giraffe) and Mitchell, and one or two
others, and Jack Moonlight sat on the floor with his back to the wall
and his hat well down over his eyes. The Army came along at the usual
time, but we didn't see the Pretty Girl at first—she was a bit late.
Mitchell said he liked to be at Watty's when the Army prayed and the
Pretty Girl was there; he had no objection to being prayed for by a
girl like that, though he reckoned that nothing short of a real angel
could save him now. He said his old grandmother used to pray for him
every night of her life and three times on Sunday, with Christmas Day
extra when Christmas Day didn't fall on a Sunday; but Mitchell reckoned
that the old lady couldn't have had much influence because he became
more sinful every year, and went deeper in ways of darkness, until
finally he embarked on a career of crime.
The Army prayed, and then a thin “ratty” little woman bobbed up in
the ring; she'd gone mad on religion as women do on woman's rights and
hundreds of other things. She was so skinny in the face, her jaws so
prominent, and her mouth so wide, that when she opened it to speak it
was like a ventriloquist's dummy and you could almost see the cracks
open down under her ears.
“They say I'm cracked!” she screamed in a shrill, cracked voice.
“But I'm not cracked—I'm only cracked on the Lord Jesus Christ! That's
all I'm cracked on—-.” And just then the Amen man of the Army—the
Army groaner we called him, who was always putting both feet in
it—just then he blundered forward, rolled up his eyes, threw his hands
up and down as if he were bouncing two balls, and said, with deep
“Thank the Lord she's got a crack in the right place!”
Tom Hall doubled up, and most of the other sinners seemed to think
there was something very funny about it. And the Army, too, seemed
struck with an idea that there was something wrong somewhere, for they
started a hymn.
A big American negro, who'd been a night watchman in Sydney, stepped
into the ring and waved his arms and kept time, and as he got excited
he moved his hands up and down rapidly, as if he was hauling down a
rope in a great hurry through a pulley block above, and he kept saying,
“Come down, Lord!” all through the hymn, like a bass accompaniment,
“Come down, Lord; come down, Lord; come down, Lord; come down, Lord!”
and the quicker be said it the faster he hauled. He was as good as a
drum. And, when the hymn was over, he started to testify.
“My frens!” he said, “I was once black as der coals in der mined! I
was once black as der ink in der ocean of sin! But now—thank an' bless
the Lord!—I am whiter dan der dribben snow!”
Tom Hall sat down on the edge of the veranda and leaned his head
against a post and cried. He had contributed a bob this evening, and he
was getting his money's worth.
Then the Pretty Girl arrived and was pushed forward into the ring.
She looked thinner and whiter than I'd ever seen her, and there was a
feverish brightness in her eyes that I didn't like.
“Men!” she said, “this is Christmas Day-.” I didn't hear any more
for, at the sound of her voice, Jack Moonlight jumped up as if he'd sat
on a baby. He started forward, stared at her for a moment as if he
couldn't believe his eyes, and then said, “Hannah!” short and sharp.
She started as if she was shot, gave him a wild look, and stumbled
forward; the next moment he had her in his arms and was steering for
the private parlour.
I heard Mrs Bothways calling for water and smelling-salts; she was
as fat as Watty, and very much like him in the face, but she was
emotional and sympathetic. Then presently I heard, through the open
window, the Pretty Girl say to Jack, “Oh, Jack, Jack! Why did you go
away and leave me like that? It was cruel!”
“But you told me to go, Hannah,” said Jack.
“That-that didn't make any difference. Why didn't you write?” she
“Because you never wrote to me, Hannah,” he said.
“That—that was no excuse!” she said. “It was so k-k-k-cruel of you,
Mrs Bothways pulled down the window. A new-comer asked Watty what
the trouble was, and he said that the Army girl had only found her
chap, or husband, or long-lost brother or something, but the missus was
looking after the business; then he dozed again.
And then we adjourned to the Royal and took the Army with us.
“That's the way of it,” said Donald Macdonald. “With a woman it's
love or religion; with a man it's love or the devil.”
“Or with a man,” said Mitchell, presently, “it's love and the devil
both, sometimes, Donald.”
I looked at Mitchell hard, but for all his face expressed he might
only have said, “I think it's going to rain.”
They hold him true, who's true to one,
However false he be.
—The Rouseabout of Rouseabouts.
The Imperial Hotel was rather an unfortunate name for an out-back
town pub, for out back is the stronghold of Australian democracy; it
was the out-back vote and influence that brought about “One Man One
Vote,” “Payment of Members,” and most of the democratic legislation of
late years, and from out back came the overwhelming vote in favour of
Australian as Imperial Federation.
The name Royal Hotel is as familiar as that of the Railway Hotel,
and passes unnoticed and ungrowled at, even by bush republicans. The
Royal Hotel at Bourke was kept by an Irishman, one O'Donohoo, who was
Union to the backbone, loudly in favour of “Australia for the
Australians,” and, of course, against even the democratic New South
Wales Government of the time. He went round town all one St Patrick's
morning with a bunch of green ribbon fastened to his coat-tail with a
large fish-hook, and wasn't aware of the fact till he sat down on the
point of it. But that's got nothing to do with it.
The Imperial Hotel at Bourke was unpopular from the first. It was
said that the very existence of the house was the result of a swindle.
It had been built with money borrowed on certain allotments in the
centre of the town and on the understanding that it should be built on
the mortgaged land, whereas it was erected on a free allotment. Which
fact was discovered, greatly to its surprise, by the building society
when it came to foreclose on the allotments some years later. While the
building was being erected the Bourke people understood, in a vague
way, that it was to be a convent (perhaps the building society thought
so, too), and when certain ornaments in brick and cement in the shape
of a bishop's mitre were placed over the corners of the walls the
question seemed decided. But when the place was finished a bar was
fitted up, and up went the sign, to the disgust of the other publicans,
who didn't know a licence had been taken out—for licensing didn't go
by local option in those days. It was rumoured that the place belonged
to, and the whole business was engineered by, a priest. And priests are
men of the world.
The Imperial Hotel was patronized by the pastoralists, the civil
servants, the bank manager and clerks—all the scrub aristocracy; it
was the headquarters of the Pastoralists' Union in Bourke; a barracks
for blacklegs brought up from Sydney to take the place of Union
shearers on strike; and the new Governor, on his inevitable visit to
Bourke, was banqueted at the Imperial Hotel. The editor of the local
“capitalistic rag” stayed there; the pastoralists' member was elected
mostly by dark ways and means devised at the Imperial Hotel, and one of
its managers had stood as a dummy candidate to split the Labour vote;
the management of the hotel was his reward. In short, it was there that
most of the plots were hatched to circumvent Freedom, and put away or
deliver into the clutches of law and order certain sons of Light and
Liberty who believed in converting blacklegs into jellies by force of
fists when bribes, gentle persuasion and pure Australian language
failed to convert them to clean Unionism. The Imperial Hotel was called
the “Squatters' Pub,” the “Scabbery,” and other and more expressive
The hotel became still more unpopular after Percy Douglas. had
managed it for a while. He was an avowed enemy of Labour Unionists. He
employed Chinese cooks, and that in the height of the anti-Chinese
agitation in Australia, and he was known to have kindly feelings
towards the Afghans who, with their camels, were running white carriers
off the roads. If an excited Unionist called a man a “blackleg” or
“scab” in the Imperial bar he was run out—sometimes with great
difficulty, and occasionally as far as the lock-up.
Percy Douglas was a fine-looking man, “wid a chest on him an' well
hung—a fine fee-gure of a man,” as O'Donohoo pronounced it. He
was tall and erect, he dressed well, wore small side-whiskers, had an
eagle nose, and looked like an aristocrat. Like many of his type, who
start sometimes as billiard-markers and suddenly become hotel managers
in Australia, nothing was known of his past. Jack Mitchell reckoned, by
the way he treated his employees and spoke to workmen, that he was the
educated son of an English farmer—gone wrong and sent out to
Australia. Someone called him “Lord Douglas,” and the nickname caught
He made himself well hated. He got One-eyed Bogan “three months'
hard” for taking a bottle of whisky off the Imperial bar counter
because he (Bogan) was drunk and thirsty and had knocked down his
cheque, and because there was no one minding the bar at the moment.
Lord Douglas dismissed the barmaid, and, as she was leaving, he had
her boxes searched and gave her in charge for stealing certain articles
belonging to the hotel. The chaps subscribed to defend the case, and
subsequently put a few pounds together for the girl. She proved her
gratitude by bringing a charge of a baby against one of the chaps—but
that was only one of the little ways of the world, as Mitchell said.
She joined a Chinese camp later on.
Lord Douglas employed a carpenter to do some work about the hotel,
and because the carpenter left before the job was finished, Lord
Douglas locked his tools in an outhouse and refused to give them up;
and when the carpenter, with the spirit of an Australian workman, broke
the padlock and removed his tool-chest, the landlord gave him in charge
for breaking and entering. The chaps defended the case and won it, and
hated Lord Douglas as much as if he were their elder brother. Mitchell
was the only one to put in a word for him.
“I've been puzzling it out,” said Mitchell, as he sat nursing his
best leg in the Union Office, “and, as far as I can see, it all amounts
to this—we're all mistaken in Lord Douglas. We don't know the man.
He's all right. We don't understand him. He's really a sensitive,
good-hearted man who's been shoved a bit off the track by the world.
It's the world's fault—he's not to blame. You see, when he was a
youngster he was the most good-natured kid in the school; he was always
soft, and, consequently, he was always being imposed upon, and bullied,
and knocked about. Whenever he got a penny to buy lollies he'd count
'em out carefully and divide 'em round amongst his schoolmates and
brothers and sisters. He was the only one that worked at home, and
consequently they all hated him. His father respected him, but didn't
love him, because he wasn't a younger son, and wasn't bringing his
father's grey hairs down in sorrow to the grave. If it was in
Australia, probably Lord Douglas was an elder son and had to do all the
hard graft, and teach himself at night, and sleep in a bark skillion
while his younger brothers benefited—they were born in the new brick
house and went to boarding-schools. His mother had a contempt for him
because he wasn't a black sheep and a prodigal, and, when the old man
died, the rest of the family got all the stuff and Lord Douglas was
kicked out because they could do without him now. And the family hated
him like poison ever afterwards (especially his mother), and spread
lies about him—because they had treated him shamefully and because his
mouth was shut—they knew he wouldn't speak. Then probably he went in
for Democracy and worked for Freedom, till Freedom trod on him once too
often with her hob-nailed boots. Then the chances are, in the end, he
was ruined by a girl or woman, and driven, against his will, to take
refuge in pure individualism. He's all right, only we don't appreciate
him. He's only fighting against his old ideals—his old self that comes
up sometimes—and that's what makes him sweat his barmaids and
servants, and hate us, and run us in; and perhaps when he cuts up extra
rough it's because his conscience kicks him when he thinks of the
damned soft fool he used to be. He's all right—take my word for it.
It's all a mask. Why, he might be one of the kindest-hearted men in
Tom Hall rubbed his head and blinked, as if he was worried by an
idea that there might be some facts in Mitchell's theories.
“You're allers findin' excuses for blacklegs an' scabs, Mitchell,”
said Barcoo-Rot, who took Mitchell seriously (and who would have taken
a laughing jackass seriously). “Why, you'd find a white spot on a
squatter. I wouldn't be surprised if you blacklegged yourself in the
This was an unpardonable insult, from a Union point of view, and the
chaps half-unconsciously made room on the floor for Barcoo-Rot to fall
after Jack Mitchell hit him. But Mitchell took the insult
“Well, Barcoo-Rot,” he said, nursing the other leg, “for the matter
of that, I did find a white spot on a squatter once. He lent me a quid
when I was hard up. There's white spots on the blackest characters if
you only drop prejudice and look close enough. I suppose even
Jack-the-Ripper's character was speckled. Why, I can even see spots on
your character, sometimes, Barcoo-Rot. I've known white spots to spread
on chaps' characters until they were little short of saints. Sometimes
I even fancy I can feel my own wings sprouting. And as for turning
blackleg—well, I suppose I've got a bit of the crawler in my
composition (most of us have), and a man never knows what might happen
to his principles.”
“Well,” said Barcoo-Rot, “I beg yer pardon—ain't that enough?”
“No,” said Mitchell, “you ought to wear a three-bushel bag and ashes
for three months, and drink water; but since the police would send you
to an asylum if you did that, I think the best thing we can do is to go
out and have a drink.”
Lord Douglas married an Australian girl somewhere, somehow, and
brought her to Bourke, and there were two little girls—regular little
fairies. She was a gentle, kind-hearted little woman, but she didn't
seem to improve him much, save that he was very good to her.
“It's mostly that way,” commented Mitchell. “When a boss gets
married and has children he thinks he's got a greater right to grind
his fellowmen and rob their wives and children. I'd never work for a
boss with a big family—it's hard enough to keep a single boss nowadays
in this country.”
After one stormy election, at the end of a long and bitter shearing
strike, One-eyed Bogan, his trusty enemy, Barcoo-Rot, and one or two
other enthusiastic reformers were charged with rioting, and got from
one to three months' hard. And they had only smashed three windows of
the Imperial Hotel and chased the Chinese cook into the river.
“I used to have some hopes for Democracy,” commented Mitchell, “but
I've got none now. How can you expect Liberty, Equality or
Fraternity—how can you expect Freedom and Universal Brotherhood and
Equal Rights in a country where Sons of Light get three months' hard
for breaking windows and bashing a Chinaman? It almost makes me long to
sail away in a gallant barque.”
There were other cases in connection with the rotten-egging of
Capitalistic candidates on the Imperial Hotel balcony, and it was
partly on the evidence of Douglas and his friends that certain
respectable Labour leaders got heavy terms of imprisonment for rioting
and “sedition” and “inciting,” in connection with organized attacks on
blacklegs and their escorts.
Retribution, if it was retribution, came suddenly and in a most
unexpected manner to Lord Douglas.
It seems he employed a second carpenter for six months to repair and
make certain additions to the hotel, and put him off under various
pretences until he owed him a hundred pounds or thereabout. At last,
immediately after an exciting interview with Lord Douglas, the
carpenter died suddenly of heart disease. The widow, a strong-minded
bushwoman, put a bailiff in the hotel on a very short notice—and
against the advice of her lawyer, who thought the case hopeless—and
the Lord Douglas bubble promptly burst. He had somehow come to be
regarded as the proprietor of the hotel, but now the real proprietors
or proprietor—he was still said to be a priest—turned Douglas out and
put in a new manager. The old servants were paid after some trouble.
The local storekeepers and one or two firms in Sydney, who had large
accounts against the Imperial Hotel (and had trusted it, mainly because
it was patronized by Capitalism and Fat), were never paid.
Lord Douglas cleared out to Sydney, leaving his wife and children,
for the present, with her brother, a hay-and-corn storekeeper, who also
had a large and hopeless account against the hotel; and when the
brother went broke and left the district she rented a two-roomed
cottage and took in dressmaking.
Dressmaking didn't pay so well in the bush then as it did in the old
diggings days when sewing-machines were scarce and the possession of
one meant an independent living to any girl—when diggers paid ten
shillings for a strip of “flannen” doubled over and sewn together, with
holes for arms and head, and called a shirt. Mrs Douglas had a hard
time, with her two little girls, who were still better and more
prettily dressed than any other children in Bourke. One grocer still
called on her for orders and pretended to be satisfied to wait “till Mr
Douglas came back,” and when she would no longer order what he
considered sufficient provisions for her and the children, and
commenced buying sugar, etc., by the pound, for cash, he one day sent a
box of groceries round to her. He pretended it was a mistake.
“However,” he said, “I'd be very much obliged if you could use 'em,
Mrs Douglas. I'm overstocked now; haven't got room for another tin of
sardines in the shop. Don't you worry about bills, Mrs Douglas; I can
wait till Douglas comes home. I did well enough out of the Imperial
Hotel when your husband had it, and a pound's worth of groceries won't
hurt me now. I'm only too glad to get rid of some of the stock.”
She cried a little, thought of the children, and kept the groceries.
“I suppose I'll be sold up soon meself if things don't git
brighter,” said that grocer to a friend, “so it doesn't matter much.”
The same with Foley the butcher, who had a brogue with a sort of
drawling groan in it, and was a cynic of the Mitchell school.
“You see,” he said, “she's as proud as the devil, but when I send
round a bit o' rawst, or porrk, or the undercut o' the blade-bawn, she
thinks o' the little gur-r-rls before she thinks o' sendin' it back to
me. That's where I've got the pull on her.”
The Giraffe borrowed a horse and tip-dray one day at the beginning
of winter and cut a load of firewood in the bush, and next morning, at
daylight, Mrs Douglas was nearly startled out of her life by a crash at
the end of the cottage, which made her think that the chimney had
fallen in, or a tree fallen on the house; and when she slipped on a
wrapper and looked out, she saw a load of short-cut wood by the
chimney, and caught a glimpse of the back view of the Giraffe, who
stood in the dray with his legs wide apart and was disappearing into
the edge of the scrub; and soon the rapid clock-clock-clock of the
wheels died away in the west, as if he were making for West Australia.
The next we heard of Lord Douglas he had got two years' hard for
embezzlement in connection with some canvassing he had taken up. Mrs
Douglas fell ill—a touch of brain-fever—and one of the labourers'
wives took care of the children while two others took turns in nursing.
While she was recovering, Bob Brothers sent round the hat, and, after a
conclave in the Union Office—as mysterious as any meeting ever called
with the object of downing bloated Capitalism—it was discovered that
one of the chaps—who didn't wish his name to be mentioned—had
borrowed just twenty-five pounds from Lord Douglas in the old days and
now wished to return it to Mrs Douglas. So the thing was managed, and
if she had any suspicions she kept them to herself. She started a
little fancy goods shop and got along fairly comfortable.
Douglas, by the way, was, publicly, supposed, for her sake and
because of the little girls, to be away in West Australia on the
Time passes without much notice out back, and one hot day, when the
sun hung behind the fierce sandstorms from the northwest as dully lurid
as he ever showed in a London fog, Lord Douglas got out of the train
that had just finished its five-hundred-miles' run, and not seeing a
new-chum porter, who started forward by force of habit to take his bag,
he walked stiffly off the platform and down the main street towards his
He was very gaunt, and his eyes, to those who passed him closely,
seemed to have a furtive, hunted expression. He had let his beard grow,
and it had grown grey.
It was within a few days of Christmas—the same Christmas that we
lost the Pretty Girl in the Salvation Army. As a rule the big
shearing-sheds within a fortnight of Bourke cut out in time for the
shearers to reach the town and have their Christmas dinners and
sprees—and for some of them to be locked up over Christmas Day—within
sound of a church-going bell. Most of the chaps gathered in the
Shearers' Union Office on New Year's Eve and discussed Douglas amongst
“I vote we kick the cow out of the town!” snarled One-eyed Bogan,
“We can't do that,” said Bob Brothers (the Giraffe), speaking more
promptly than usual. “There's his wife and youngsters to consider, yer
“He something well deserted his wife,” snarled Began, “an' now he
comes crawlin' back to her to keep him.”
“Well,” said Mitchell, mildly, “but we ain't all got as much against
him as you have, Began.”
“He made a crimson jail-bird of me!” snapped Bogan. “Well,” said
Mitchell, “that didn't hurt you much, anyway; it rather improved your
character if anything. Besides, he made a jail-bird of himself
afterwards, so you ought to have a fellow-feeling—a feathered feeling,
so to speak. Now you needn't be offended, Bogan, we're all jail-birds
at heart, only we haven't all got the pluck.”
“I'm in favour of blanky well tarrin' an' featherin' him an' kickin'
him out of the town!” shouted Bogan. “It would be a good turn to his
wife, too; she'd be well rid of the—-.”
“Perhaps she's fond of him,” suggested Mitchell; “I've known such
cases before. I saw them sitting together on the veranda last night
when they thought no one was looking.”
“He deserted her,” said One-eyed Bogan, in a climbing-down tone,
“and left her to starve.”
“Perhaps the police were to blame for that,” said Mitchell. “You
know you deserted all your old mates once for three months, Bogan, and
it wasn't your fault.”
“He seems to be a crimson pet of yours, Jack Mitchell,” said Bogan,
“Ah, well, all I know,” said Mitchell, standing up and stretching
himself wearily, “all I know is that he looked like a gentleman once,
and treated us like a gentleman, and cheated us like a gentleman, and
ran some of us in like a gentleman, and, as far as I can see, he's
served his time like a gentleman and come back to face us and live
himself down like a man. I always had a sneaking regard for a
“Why, Mitchell, I'm beginning to think you are a gentleman
yourself,” said Jake Boreham.
“Well,” said Mitchell, “I used to have a suspicion once that I had a
drop of blue blood in me somewhere, and it worried me a lot; but I
asked my old mother about it one day, and she scalded me—God bless
her!—and father chased me with a stockwhip, so I gave up making
“You'll join the bloomin' Capitalists next,” sneered One-eyed Bogan.
“I wish I could, Bogan,” said Mitchell. “I'd take a trip to Paris
and see for myself whether the Frenchwomen are as bad as they're made
out to be, or go to Japan. But what are we going to do about Douglas?”
“Kick the skunk out of town, or boycott him!” said one or two. “He
ought to be tarred and feathered and hanged.”
“Couldn't do worse than hang him,” commented Jake Boreham,
“Oh, yes, we could,” said Mitchell, sitting down, resting his elbows
on his knees, and marking his points with one forefinger on the other.
“For instance, we might boil him slow in tar. We might skin him alive.
We might put him in a cage and poke him with sticks, with his wife and
children in another cage to look on and enjoy the fun.”
The chaps, who had been sitting quietly listening to Mitchell, and
grinning, suddenly became serious and shifted their positions uneasily.
“But I can tell you what would hurt his feelings more than anything
else we could do,” said Mitchell.
“Well, what is it, Jack?” said Tom Hall, rather impatiently.
“Send round the hat and take up a collection for him,” said
Mitchell, “enough to let him get away with his wife and children and
start life again in some less respectable town than Bourke. You needn't
grin, I'm serious about it.”
There was a thoughtful pause, and one or two scratched their heads.
“His wife seems pretty sick,” Mitchell went on in a reflective tone. “I
passed the place this morning and saw him scrubbing out the floor. He's
been doing a bit of house-painting for old Heegard to-day. I suppose he
learnt it in jail. I saw him at work and touched my hat to him.”
“What!” cried Tom Hall, affecting to shrink from Mitchell in horror.
“Yes,” said Mitchell, “I'm not sure that I didn't take my hat off.
Now I know it's not bush religion for a man to touch his hat, except to
a funeral, or a strange roof or woman sometimes; but when I meet a
braver man than myself I salute him. I've only met two in my life.”
“And who were they, Jack?” asked Jake Boreham.
“One,” said Mitchell—“one is Douglas, and the other—well, the
other was the man I used to be. But that's got nothing to do with it.”
“But perhaps Douglas thought you were crowing over him when you took
off your hat to him—sneerin' at him, like, Mitchell,” reflected Jake
“No, Jake,” said Mitchell, growing serious suddenly. “There are ways
of doing things that another man understands.”
They all thought for a while.
“Well,” said Tom Hall, “supposing we do take up a collection for
him, he'd be too damned proud to take it.”
“But that's where we've got the pull on him,” said Mitchell,
brightening up. “I heard Dr Morgan say that Mrs Douglas wouldn't live
if she wasn't sent away to a cooler place, and Douglas knows it; and,
besides, one of the little girls is sick. We've got him in a corner and
he'll have to take the stuff. Besides, two years in jail takes a lot of
the pride out of a man.”
“Well, I'm damned if I'll give a sprat to help the man who tried his
best to crush the Unions!” said One-eyed Bogan.
“Damned if I will either!” said Barcoo-Rot.
“Now, look here, One-eyed Bogan,” said Mitchell, “I don't like to
harp on old things, for I know they bore you, but when you returned to
public life that time no one talked of kicking you out of the town. In
fact, I heard that the chaps put a few pounds together to help you get
away for a while till you got over your modesty.”
No one spoke.
“I passed Douglas's place on my way here from my camp to-night,”
Mitchell went on musingly, “and I saw him walking up and down in the
yard with his sick child in his arms. You remember that little girl,
Bogan? I saw her run and pick up your hat and give it to you one day
when you were trying to put it on with your feet. You remember, Bogan?
The shock nearly sobered you.”
There was a very awkward pause. The position had become too
psychological altogether and had to be ended somehow. The awkward
silence had to be broken, and Bogan broke it. He turned up Bob
Brothers's hat, which was lying on the table, and “chucked” in a
“quid,” qualifying the hat and the quid, and disguising his feelings
with the national oath of the land.
“We've had enough of this gory, maudlin, sentimental tommy-rot,” he
said. “Here, Barcoo, stump up or I'll belt it out of your hide!
I'll—I'll take yer to pieces!”
But Douglas didn't leave the town. He sent his wife and children to
Sydney until the heat wave was past, built a new room on to the
cottage, and started a book and newspaper shop, and a poultry farm in
the back paddock, and flourished.
They called him Mr Douglas for a while, then Douglas, then Percy
Douglas, and now he is well-known as Old Daddy Douglas, and the Sydney
Worker, Truth, and Bulletin, and other democratic
rags are on sale at his shop. He is big with schemes for locking the
Darling River, and he gets his drink at O'Donohoo's. He is scarcely yet
regarded as a straight-out democrat. He was a gentleman once, Mitchell
said, and the old blood was not to be trusted. But, last elections,
Douglas worked quietly for Unionism, and gave the leaders certain
hints, and put them up to various electioneering dodges which enabled
them to return, in the face of Monopoly, a Labour member who is as
likely to go straight as long as any other Labour member.
THE BLINDNESS OF ONE-EYED BOGAN
They judge not and they are not judged—'tis their philosophy—
(There's something wrong with every ship that sails upon the
—The Ballad of the Rouseabout.
“And what became of One-eyed Bogan?” I asked Tom Hall when I met him
and Jack Mitchell down in Sydney with their shearing cheques the
Christmas before last.
“You'd better ask Mitchell, Harry,” said Tom. “He can tell you about
Bogan better than I can. But first, what about the drink we're going to
We turned out of Pitt Street into Hunter Street, and across George
Street, where a double line of fast electric tramway was running, into
Margaret Street and had a drink at Pfahlert's Hotel, where a counter
lunch—as good as many dinners you get for a shilling—was included
with a sixpenny drink. “Get a quiet corner,” said Mitchell, “I like to
bear myself cackle.” So we took our beer out in the fernery and got a
cool place at a little table in a quiet corner amongst the fern boxes.
“Well, One-eyed Bogan was a hard case, Mitchell,” I said. “Wasn't
“Yes,” said Mitchell, putting down his “long-beer” glass, “he was.”
“Rather a bad egg?”
“Yes, a regular bad egg,” said Mitchell, decidedly.
“I heard he got caught cheating at cards,” I said.
“Did you?” said Mitchell. “Well, I believe he did. Ah, well,” he
added reflectively, after another long pull, “One-eyed Bogan won't
cheat at cards any more.”
“Why?” I said. “Is he dead then?”
“No,” said Mitchell, “he's blind.”
“Good God!” I said, “how did that happen?”
“He lost the other eye,” said Mitchell, and he took another drink.
“Ah, well, he won't cheat at cards any more—unless there's cards
invented for the blind.”
“How did it happen?” I asked.
“Well,” said Mitchell, “you see, Harry, it was this way. Bogan went
pretty free in Bourke after the shearing before last, and in the end he
got mixed up in a very ugly-looking business: he was accused of doing
two new-chum jackaroos out of their stuff by some sort of confidence
“Confidence trick,” I said. “I'd never have thought that One-eyed
Bogan had the brains to go in for that sort of thing.”
“Well, it seems he had, or else he used somebody else's brains;
there's plenty of broken-down English gentlemen sharpers knocking about
out back, you know, and Bogan might have been taking lessons from one.
I don't know the rights of the case, it was hushed up, as you'll see
presently; but, anyway, the jackaroos swore that Bogan had done 'em out
of ten quid. They were both Cockneys and I suppose they reckoned
themselves smart, but bushmen have more time to think. Besides, Bogan's
one eye was in his favour. You see he always kept his one eye fixed
strictly on whatever business he had in hand; if he'd had another eye
to rove round and distract his attention and look at things on the
outside, the chances are he would never have got into trouble.”
“Never mind that, Jack,” said Tom Hall. “Harry wants to hear the
“Well, to make it short, one of the jackaroos went to the police and
Bogan cleared out. His character was pretty bad just then, so there was
a piece of blue paper out for him. Bogan didn't seem to think the thing
was so serious as it was, for he only went a few miles down the river
and camped with his horses on a sort of island inside an anabranch,
till the thing should blow over or the new chums leave Bourke.
“Bogan's old enemy, Constable Campbell, got wind of Bogan's camp,
and started out after him. He rode round the outside track and came in
on to the river just below where the anabranch joins it, at the lower
end of the island and right opposite Bogan's camp. You know what those
billabongs are: dry gullies till the river rises from the Queensland
rains and backs them up till the water runs round into the river again
and makes anabranches of 'em—places that you thought were hollows
you'll find above water, and you can row over places you thought were
hills. There's no water so treacherous and deceitful as you'll find in
some of those billabongs. A man starts to ride across a place where he
thinks the water is just over the grass, and blunders into a deep
channel—that wasn't there before—with a steady undercurrent with the
whole weight of the Darling River funnelled into it; and if he can't
swim and his horse isn't used to it—or sometimes if he can swim—it's
a case with him, and the Darling River cod hold an inquest on him, if
they have time, before he's buried deep in Darling River mud for ever.
And somebody advertises in the missing column for Jack Somebody who was
last heard of in Australia.”
“Never mind that, Mitchell, go on,” I said.
“Well, Campbell knew the river and saw that there was a stiff
current there, so he hailed Bogan.
“'Good day, Campbell,' shouted Bogan.
“`I want you, Bogan,' said Campbell. `Come across and bring your
“`I'm damned if I will,' says Bogan. `I'm not going to catch me
death o' cold to save your skin. If you want me you'll have to bloody
well come and git me.' Bogan was a good strong swimmer, and he had good
horses, but he didn't try to get away—I suppose he reckoned he'd have
to face the music one time or another—and one time is as good as
another out back.
“Campbell was no swimmer; he had no temptation to risk his life—you
see it wasn't as in war with a lot of comrades watching ready to
advertise a man as a coward for staying alive—so he argued with Bogan
and tried to get him to listen to reason, and swore at him. `I'll make
it damned hot for you, Bogan,' he said, `if I have to come over for
“`Two can play at that game,' says Bogan.
“`Look here, Bogan,” said Campbell, `I'll tell you what I'll do. If
you give me your word that you'll come up to the police station
to-morrow I'll go back and say nothing about it. You can say you didn't
know a warrant was out after you. It will be all the better for you in
the end. Better give me your word, man.'
“Perhaps Campbell knew Bogan better than any of us.
“`Now then, Bogan,' he said, `don't be a fool. Give your word like a
sensible man, and I'll go back. I'll give you five minutes to make up
your mind.' And he took out his watch.
“But Bogan was nasty and wouldn't give his word, so there was
nothing for it but for Campbell to make a try for him.
“Campbell had plenty of pluck, or obstinacy, which amounts to the
same thing. He put his carbine and revolver under a log, out of the
rain that was coming on, saw to his handcuffs, and then spurred his
horse into the water. Bogan lit his pipe with a stick from his
camp-fire—so Campbell said afterwards—and sat down on his heels and
puffed away, and waited for him.
“Just as Campbell's horse floundered into the current Bogan shouted
to go back, but Campbell thought it was a threat and kept on. But Bogan
had caught sight of a log coming down the stream, end on, with a sharp,
splintered end, and before Campbell knew where he was, the sharp end of
the log caught the horse in the flank. The horse started to plunge and
struggle sideways, with all his legs, and Campbell got free of him as
quick as he could. Now, you know, in some of those Darling River
reaches the current will seem to run steadily far a while, and then
come with a rush. (I was caught in one of those rushes once, when I was
in swimming, and would have been drowned if I hadn't been born to be
hanged.) Well, a rush came along just as Campbell got free from his
horse, and he went down-stream one side of a snag and his horse the
other. Campbell's pretty stout, you know, and his uniform was tight,
and it handicapped him.
“Just as he was being washed past the lower end of the snag he
caught hold of a branch that stuck out of the water and held on. He
swung round and saw Bogan running down to the point opposite him. Now,
you know there was always a lot of low cunning about Bogan, and I
suppose he reckoned that if he pulled Campbell out he'd stand a good
show of getting clear of his trouble; anyway, if he didn't save
Campbell it might be said that he killed him—besides, Bogan was a good
swimmer, so there wasn't any heroism about it anyhow. Campbell was only
a few feet from the bank, but Bogan started to strip—to make the job
look as big as possible, I suppose. He shouted to Campbell to say he
was coming, and to hold on. Campbell said afterwards that Bogan seemed
an hour undressing. The weight of the current was forcing down the
bough that Campbell was hanging on to, and suddenly, he said, he felt a
great feeling of helplessness take him by the shoulders. He yelled to
Bogan and let go.
“Now, it happened that Jake Boreham and I were passing away the time
between shearings, and we were having a sort of fishing and shooting
loaf down the river in a boat arrangement that Jake had made out of
boards and tarred canvas. We called her the Jolly Coffin. We
were just poking up the bank in the slack water, a few hundred yards
below the billabong, when Jake said, `Why, there's a horse or something
in the river.' Then he shouted, `No, by God, it's a man,' and we poked
the Coffin out into the stream for all she was worth. `Looks
like two men fighting in the water,' Jake shouts presently. `Hurry up,
or they'll drown each other.'
“We hailed 'em, and Bogan shouted for help. He was treading water
and holding Campbell up in front of him now in real professional style.
As soon as he heard us he threw up his arms and splashed a bit—I
reckoned he was trying to put as much style as he could into that
rescue. But I caught a crab, and, before we could get to them, they
were washed past into the top of a tree that stood well below
flood-mark. I pulled the boat's head round and let her stern down
between the branches. Bogan had one arm over a limb and was holding
Campbell with the other, and trying to lift him higher out of the
water. I noticed Bogan's face was bleeding—there was a dead limb stuck
in the tree with nasty sharp points on it, and I reckoned he'd run his
face against one of them. Campbell was gasping like a codfish out of
water, and he was the whitest man I ever saw (except one, and he'd
been drowned for a week). Campbell had the sense to keep still. We
asked Bogan if he could hold on, and he said he could, but he couldn't
hold Campbell any longer. So Jake took the oars and I leaned over the
stern and caught hold of Campbell, and Jake ran the boat into the bank,
and we got him ashore; then we went back for Bogan and landed him.
“We had some whisky and soon brought Campbell round; but Bogan was
bleeding like a pig from a nasty cut over his good eye, so we bound wet
handkerchiefs round his eyes and led him to a log and he sat down for a
while, holding his hand to his eye and groaning. He kept saying, `I'm
blind, mates, I'm blind! I've lost me other eye!' but we didn't dream
it was so bad as that: we kept giving him whisky. We got some dry
boughs and made a big fire. Then Bogan stood up and held his arms stiff
down to his sides, opening and shutting his hands as if he was in great
pain. And I've often thought since what a different man Bogan seemed
without his clothes and with the broken bridge of his nose and his eyes
covered by the handkerchiefs. He was clean shaven, and his mouth and
chin are his best features, and he's clean limbed and well hung. I
often thought afterwards that there was something of a blind god about
him as he stood there naked by the fire on the day he saved Campbell's
life—something that reminded me of a statue I saw once in the Art
Gallery. (Pity the world isn't blinder to a man's worst points.)
“Presently Jake listened and said, `By God, that's lucky!' and we
heard a steamer coming up-river and presently we saw her coming round
the point with a couple of wool-barges in tow. We got Bogan aboard and
got some clothes on him, and took him ashore at Bourke to the new
hospital. The doctors did all they knew, but Bogan was blind for life.
He never saw anything again—except `a sort of dull white blur,' as he
called it—or his past life sometimes, I suppose. Perhaps he saw that
for the first time. Ah, well!
“Bogan's old enemy, Barcoo-Rot, went to see him in the hospital, and
Bogan said, `Well, Barcoo, I reckon we've had our last fight. I owe you
a hiding, but I don't see how I'm going to pay you.' `Never mind that,
Bogan, old man,' says Barcoo. `I'll take it from anyone yer likes to
appoint, if that worries yer; and, look here, Bogan, if I can't fight
you I can fight for you—and don't you forget it!' And Barcoo used to
lead Bogan round about town in his spare time and tell him all that was
going on; and I believe he always had an ear cocked in case someone
said a word against Bogan—as if any of the chaps would say a word
against a blind man.
“Bogan's case was hushed up. The police told us to fix it up the
best way we could. One of the jackaroos, who reckoned that Bogan had
swindled him, was a gentleman, and he was the first to throw a quid in
the Giraffe's hat when it went round for Bogan, but the other jackaroo
was a cur: he said he wanted the money that Bogan had robbed him of.
There were two witnesses, but we sent 'em away, and Tom Hall, there,
scared the jackaroo. You know Tom was always the best hand we had at
persuading witnesses in Union cases to go home to see their mothers.”
“How did you scare that jackaroo, Tom?” I asked.
“Tell you about it some other time,” said Tom.
“Well,” said Mitchell, “Bogan was always a good woolsorter, so, next
shearing, old Baldy Thompson—(you know Baldy Thompson, Harry, of
West-o'-Sunday Station)—Baldy had a talk with some of the chaps, and
took Bogan out in his buggy with him to West-o'-Sunday. Bogan would sit
at the end of the rolling tables, in the shearing-shed, with a boy to
hand him the fleeces, and he'd feel a fleece and tell the boy what bin
to throw it into; and by and by he began to learn to throw the fleeces
into the bins himself. And sometimes Baldy would have a sheep brought
to him and get him to feel the fleece and tell him the quality of it.
And then again Baldy would talk, just loud enough for Bogan to
overhear, and swear that he'd sooner have Bogan, blind as he was, than
half a dozen scientific jackaroo experts with all their eyes about
“Of course Bogan wasn't worth anything much to Baldy, but Baldy gave
him two pounds a week out of his own pocket, and another quid that we
made up between us; so he made enough to pull him through the rest of
“It was curious to see how soon he learned to find his way about the
hut and manage his tea and tucker. It was a rough shed, but everybody
was eager to steer Bogan about—and, in fact, two of them had a fight
about it one day. Baldy and all of us—-and especially visitors when
they came—were mighty interested in Bogan; and I reckon we were rather
proud of having a blind wool-sorter. I reckon Bogan had thirty or forty
pairs of eyes watching out for him in case he'd run against something
or fall. It irritated him to be messed round too much—he said a baby
would never learn to walk if it was held all the time. He reckoned he'd
learn more in a year than a man who'd served a lifetime to blindness;
but we didn't let him wander much—for fear he'd fall into the big
rocky waterhole there, by accident.
“And after the shearing-season Bogan's wife turned up in Bourke—-”
“Bogan's wife!” I exclaimed. “Why, I never knew Bogan was married.”
“Neither did anyone else,” said Mitchell. “But he was. Perhaps that
was what accounted for Bogan. Sometimes, in his sober moods, I used to
have an idea that there must have been something behind the Bogan to
account for him. Perhaps he got trapped—or got married and found out
that he'd made a mistake—which is about the worst thing a man can find
“Except that his wife made the mistake, Mitchell,” said Tom Hall.
“Or that both did,” reflected Mitchell. “Ah, well!—never
mind—Bogan had been married two or three years. Maybe he got married
when he was on the spree—I knew that he used to send money to someone
in Sydney and I suppose it was her. Anyway, she turned up after he was
blind. She was a hard-looking woman—just the sort that might have kept
a third-rate pub or a sly-grog shop. But you can't judge between
husband and wife, unless you've lived in the same house with them—and
under the same roofs with their parents right back to Adam for that
matter. Anyway, she stuck to Bogan all right; she took a little
two-roomed cottage and made him comfortable—she's got a sewing-machine
and a mangle and takes in washing and sewing. She brought a
carrotty-headed youngster with her, and the first time I saw Bogan
sitting on the veranda with that youngster on his knee I thought it was
a good thing that he was blind.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because the youngster isn't his,” said Mitchell.
“How do you know that?”
“By the look of it—and by the look on her face, once, when she
caught me squinting from the kid's face to Bogan's.”
“And whose was it?” I asked, without thinking.
“How am I to know?” said Mitchell. “It might be yours for all I
know—it's ugly enough, and you never had any taste in women. But you
mustn't speak of that in Bourke. But there's another youngster coming,
and I'll swear that'll be Bogan's all right.
“A curious thing about Bogan is that he's begun to be fidgety about
his personal appearance—and you know he wasn't a dood. He wears a
collar now, and polishes his boots; he wears elastic-sides, and
polishes 'em himself—the only thing is that he blackens over the
elastic. He can do many things for himself, and he's proud of it. He
says he can see many things that he couldn't see when he had his eyes.
You seldom hear him swear, save in a friendly way; he seems much
gentler, but he reckons he would stand a show with Barcoo-Rot even now,
if Barcoo would stand up in front of him and keep yelling—-”
“By the way,” I asked, “how did Bogan lose the sight of his other
“Sleeping out in the rain when he was drunk,” said Mitchell. “He got
a cold in his eye.” Then he asked, suddenly:
“Did you ever see a blind man cry?”
“No,” I said.
“Well, I have,” said Mitchell.
“You know Bogan wears goggles to hide his eyes—his wife made him do
that. The chaps often used to drop round and have a yarn with Bogan and
cheer him up, and one evening I was sitting smoking with him, and
yarning about old times, when he got very quiet all of a sudden, and I
saw a tear drop from under one of his shutters and roll down his cheek.
It wasn't the eye he lost saving Campbell—it was the old wall-eye he
used to use in the days before he was called 'One-eyed Bogan.' I
suppose he thought it was dark and that I couldn't see his face.
(There's a good many people in this world who think you can't see
because they can't.) It made me feel like I used to feel sometimes in
the days when I felt things—-”
“Come on, Mitchell,” said Tom Hall, “you've had enough beer.”
“I think I have,” said Mitchell. “Besides, I promised to send a wire
to Jake Boreham to tell him that his mother's dead. Jake's shearing at
West-o'-Sunday; shearing won't be over for three or four weeks, and
Jake wants an excuse to get away without offending old Baldy and come
down and have a fly round with us before the holidays are over.”
Down at the telegraph-office Mitchell took a form and filled it in
very carefully: “Jacob Boreham. West-o'-Sunday Station. Bourke. Come
home at once. Mother is dead. In terrible trouble. Father dying.—MARY
“I think that will do,” said Mitchell. “It ought to satisfy Baldy,
and it won't give Jake too much of a shock, because he hasn't got a
sister or sister-in-law, and his father and mother's been dead over ten
“Now, if I was running a theatre,” said Mitchell, as we left the
office, “I'd give five pounds a night for the face Jake'll have on him
when he takes that telegram to Baldy Thompson.”
Sheep stations in Australia are any distance from twenty to a
hundred miles apart, to keep well within the boundaries of truth and
the great pastoral country. Shearing at any one shed only lasts a few
weeks in the year; the number of men employed is according to the size
of the shed—from three to five men in the little bough-covered shed of
the small “cockatoo,” up to a hundred and fifty or two hundred hands
all told in the big corrugated iron machine shed of a pastoral company.
Shearing starts early up in northern Queensland, where you can get a
“January shed;” and further south, in February, March or April sheds,
and so on down into New South Wales, where shearing often lasts over
Christmas. Shearers travel from shed to shed; some go a travel season
without getting a pen, and an unlucky shearer might ride or tramp for
several seasons and never get hands in wool; and all this explains the
existence of the “footman” with his swag and the horse man with his
packhorse. They have a rough life, and the Australian shearers are
certainly the most democratic and perhaps the most independent,
intelligent and generous body of workmen in the world.
Shearers at a shed elect their own cook, pay him so much a head, and
they buy their rations in the lump from the station store; and
“travellers,” i.e. shearers and rouseabouts travelling for work, are
invited, as a matter of course, to sit down to the shearers' table.
Also a certain allowance of tea, sugar, flour or meat is still made to
travellers at most Western station stores; so it would be rather
surprising if there weren't some who, travelled on the game. The
swagman loafer, or “bummer,” times himself, especially in bad weather,
to arrive at the shed just about sundown; he is then sure of “tea,”
shelter for the night, breakfast, and some tucker from the cook to take
him on along the track. Brummy and Swampy were sundowners.
Swampy was a bummer born—and proud of it. Brummy had drifted down
to loaferdom, and his nature was soured and his spirit revengeful
against the world because of the memory of early years wasted at hard
work and in being honest. Both were short and stout, and both had
scrubby beards, but Brummy's beard was a dusty black and Swampy's fiery
red—he indulged in a monkey-shave sometimes, but his lower face was
mostly like a patch of coarse stubble with a dying hedge round it. They
had travelled together for a long time. They seemed at times to hate
each other with a murderous hatred, but they were too lazy to fight.
Sometimes they'd tramp side, by side and growl at each other by the
hour, other times they'd sulk for days; one would push on ahead and the
other drop behind until there was a mile or two between them; but one
always carried the billy, or the sugar, or something that was necessary
to the comfort of the other, so they'd come together at sundown. They
had travelled together a long time, and perhaps that was why they hated
each other. They often agreed to part and take different tracks, and
sometimes they parted—for a while. They agreed in cadging, and cadged
in turn. They carried a spare set of tucker-bags, and if, for instance,
they were out of sugar and had plenty flour and tea, Brummy or Swampy
would go to the store, boundary-rider's hut, or selector's, with the
sugar-bag in his hand and the other bags in his shirt front on spec.
He'd get the sugar first, and then, if it looked good enough, the
flour-bag would come out, then the tea-bag. And before he left he'd
remark casually that he and his mate hadn't had a smoke for two days.
They never missed a chance. And when they'd cadged more tucker than
they could comfortably carry, they'd camp for a day or two and eat it
down. Sometimes they'd have as much as a pound of tobacco, all in
little “borrowed” bits, cut from the sticks or cakes of honest
travellers. They never missed a chance. If a stranger gave Swampy his
cake of tobacco with instructions to “cut off a pipeful,” Swampy would
cut off as much as he thought judicious, talking to the stranger and
watching his eye all the time, and hiding his palm as much as
possible—and sometimes, when he knew he'd cut off more than he could
cram into his pipe, he'd put his hand in his pocket for the pipe and
drop some of the tobacco there. Then he'd hand the plug to his mate,
engage the stranger in conversation and try to hold his eye or detract
his attention from Brummy so as to give Brummy a chance of cutting off
a couple of pipefuls, and, maybe, nicking off a corner of the cake and
slipping it into his pocket. I once heard a bushman say that no one but
a skunk would be guilty of this tobacco trick—that it is about the
meanest trick a man could be capable of—because it spoils the
chances of the next hard-up swaggy who asks the victim for tobacco.
When Brummy and Swampy came to a shed where shearing was in full
swing, they'd inquire, first thing, and with some show of anxiety, if
there was any chance of gettin' on; if the shed was full-handed they'd
growl about hard times, wonder what the country was coming to; talk of
their missuses and kids that they'd left in Sydney, curse the squatters
and the Government, and, next morning, get a supply of rations from the
cook and depart with looks of gloom. If, on the other hand, there was
room in the shed for one or both of them, and the boss told them to go
to work in the morning, they'd keep it quiet from the cook if possible,
and depart, after breakfast, unostentatiously.
Sometimes, at the beginning of a drought, when the tall dead grass
was like tinder for hundreds of miles and a carelessly-dropped match
would set the whole country on fire, Swampy would strike a hard-faced
squatter, manager or overseer with a cold eye, and the conversation
would be somewhat as follows:
Swampy: “Good day, boss!”
Boss (shortly): “'Day.”
Swampy: “Any chance of a job?”
Boss: “Naw. Got all I want and we don't start for a fortnight.”
Swampy: “Can I git a bit o' meat?”
Boss: “Naw! Don't kill till Saturday.”
Swampy: “Pint o' flour?”
Boss: “Naw. Short ourselves.”
Swampy: “Bit o' tea or sugar, boss?”
Boss: “Naw—what next?”
Swampy: “Bit o' baccer, boss. Ain't had a smoke for a week.”
Boss: “Naw. Ain't got enough for meself till the wagon comes out.”
Swampy: “Ah, well! It's hot, ain't it, boss?”
Boss: “Yes-it's hot.”
Swampy: “Country very dry?”
Boss: “Yes. Looks like it.”
Swampy: “A fire 'ud be very bad just now?”
Swampy: “Yes. Now I'm allers very careful with matches an' fire when
I'm on the track.”
Boss “Are yer?”
Swampy: “Yes. I never lights a fire near the grass—allers in the
middle of the track—it's the safest place yer can get. An' I allers
puts the fire out afore I leaves the camp. If there ain't no water ter
spare I covers the ashes with dirt. An' some fellers are so careless
with matches lightin' their pipes.” (Reflective pause.)
Boss: “Are they?”
Swampy: “Yes. Now, when I lights me pipe on the track in dry weather
I allers rubs the match head up an' drops it in the dust. I never drops
a burnin' match. But some travellers is so careless. A chap might light
his pipe an' fling the match away without thinkin' an' the match might
fall in a dry tuft, an'-there yer are!” (with a wave of his arms).
“Hundreds of miles o' grass gone an' thousands o' sheep starvin'. Some
fellers is so careless—they never thinks. . . . An' what's more, they
don't care if they burn the whole country.”
Boss (scratching his head reflectively): “Ah-umph! You can go up to
the store and get a bit of tucker. The storekeeper might let yer have a
bit o' tobacco.”
On one occasion, when they were out of flour and meat; Brummy and
Swampy came across two other pilgrims camped on a creek, who were also
out of flour and meat. One of them had tried a surveyors' camp a little
further down, but without success. The surveyors' cook had said that he
was short of flour and meat himself. Brummy tried him—no luck. Then
Swampy said he'd go and have a try. As luck would have it, the
surveyors' cook was just going to bake; he had got the flour out in the
dish, put in the salt and baking powder, mixed it up, and had gone to
the creek for a billy of water when Swampy arrived. While the cook was
gone Swampy slipped the flour out of the dish into his bag, wiped
the dish, set it down again, and planted the bag behind a tree at a
little distance. Then he stood waiting, holding a spare empty bag in
his hand. When the cook came back he glanced at the dish, lowered the
billy of water slowly to the ground, scratched his head, and looked at
the dish again in a puzzled way.
“Blanked if I didn't think I got that flour out!” he said.
“What's that, mate?” asked Swampy.
“Why! I could have sworn I got the flour out in the dish and mixed
it before I went for the water,” said the cook, staring at the dish
again. “It's rum what tricks your memory plays on you sometimes.”
“Yes,” said Swampy, showing interest, while the cook got some more
flour out into the dish from a bag in the back of the tent. “It is
strange. I've done the same, thing meself. I suppose it's the heat that
makes us all a bit off at times.”
“Do you cook, then?” asked the surveyors' cook.
“Well, yes. I've done a good bit of it in me time; but it's about
played out. I'm after stragglers now.” (Stragglers are stray sheep
missed in the general muster and found about the out paddocks and shorn
after the general shearing.)
They had a yarn and Swampy “bit the cook's ear” for a “bit o' meat
an' tea an' sugar,” not forgetting “a handful of flour if yer can spare
“Sorry,” said the cook, “but I can only let you have about a pint.
We're very short ourselves.”
“Oh, that's all right!” said Swampy, as he put the stuff into his
spare bags. “Thank you! Good day!”
“Good day,” said the cook. The cook went on with his work and Swampy
departed, catching up the bag of flour from behind the tree as he
passed it, and keeping the clump of timber well between him and the
surveyors' camp, lest the cook should glance round, and, noticing the
increased bulk of his load, get some new ideas concerning mental
Nearly every bushman has at least one superstition, or notion, that
lasts his time—as nearly every bushman has at least one dictionary
word which lasts him all his life. Brummy had a gloomy notion—Lord
knows how he got it!—that he should 'a' gone on the boards if his
people hadn't been so ignorant. He reckoned that he had the face and
cut of an actor, could mimic any man's voice, and had wonderful control
over his features. They came to a notoriously “hungry” station, where
there was a Scottish manager and storekeeper. Brummy went up to
“government house” in his own proper person, had a talk with the
storekeeper, spoke of a sick mate, and got some flour and meat. They
camped down the creek, and next morning Brummy started to shave
“Whatever are you a-doin' of, Brummy?” gasped Swampy in great
“Wait and see,” growled Brummy, with awful impressiveness, as if he
were going to cut Swampy's throat after he'd finished shaving. He
shaved off his beard and whiskers, put on a hat and coat belonging to
Swampy, changed his voice, dropped his shoulders, and went limping up
to the station on a game leg. He saw the cook and got some “brownie,” a
bit of cooked meat and a packet of baking powder. Then he saw the
storekeeper and approached the tobacco question. Sandy looked at him
and listened with some slight show of interest, then he said:
“Oh that's all right now! But ye needn't ha' troublt shavin' yer
beard—the cold weather's comin' on! An' yer mate's duds don't suit
ye—they 're too sma'; an' yer game leg doesn't fit ye either—it takes
a lot o' practice. Ha' ye got ony tea an' sugar?”
Brummy must have touched something responsive in that old Scot
somewhere, but his lack of emotion upset Brummy somewhat, or else an
old deep-rooted superstition had been severely shaken. Anyway he let
Swampy do the cadging for several days thereafter.
But one bad season they were very hard up indeed—even for Brummy
and Swampy. They'd tramped a long hungry track and had only met a few
wretched jackaroos, driven out of the cities by hard times, and
tramping hopelessly west. They were out of tobacco, and their trousers
were so hopelessly “gone” behind that when they went to cadge at a
place where there was a woman they were moved to back and sidle and
edge away again—and neither Brummy nor Swampy was over fastidious in
matters of dress or personal appearance. It was absolutely necessary to
earn a pound or two, so they decided to go to work for a couple of
weeks. It wouldn't hurt them, and then there was the novelty of it.
They struck West-o'-Sunday Station, and the boss happened to want a
rouseabout to pick up wool and sweep the floor for the shearers.
“I can put one of you on,” he said. “Fix it up between
yourselves and go to work in the morning.”
Brummy and Swampy went apart to talk it over.
“Look here! Brum, old man,” said Swampy, with great heartiness,
“we've been mates for a long while now, an' shared an' shared alike.
You've allers acted straight to me an' I want to do the fair thing by
you. I don't want to stand in your light. You take the
job an' I'll be satisfied with a pair of pants out of it and a bit o'
tobacco now an' agen. There yer are! I can't say no fairer than that.”
“Yes,” said Brummy, resentfully, “an' you'll always be thrown' it up
to me afterwards that I done you out of a job!”
“I'll swear I won't,” said Swampy, hurriedly. “But since you're so
blasted touchy and suspicious about it, you take this job an'
I'll take the next that turns up. How'll that suit you?”
Brummy thought resentfully.
“Look here!” he said presently, “let's settle it and have done with
this damned sentimental tommy-rot. I'll tell you what I'll do—I'll
give you the job and take my chance. The boss might want another man
to-morrow. Now, are you satisfied?”
But Swampy didn't look grateful or happy.
“Well,” growled Brummy, “of all the —-I ever travelled with you're
the —-. What do you want anyway? What'll satisfy you? That's all I
want to know. Hey?—can't yer speak?”
“Let's toss up for it,” said Swampy, sulkily.
“All right,” said Brummy, with a big oath, and he felt in his pocket
for two old pennies he had. But Swampy had got a suspicion somehow that
one of those pennies had two heads on it, and he wasn't sure that the
other hadn't two tails—also, he suspected Brummy of some skill in
“palming,” so he picked up a chip from the wood-heap, spat on it, and
spun it into the air. “Sing out!” he cried, “wet or dry?”
“Dry,” said Brummy, promptly. He had a theory that the wet side of
the chip, being presumably heaviest, was more likely to fall downwards;
but this time it was “wet” up three times in succession. Brummy ignored
Swampy's hand thrown out in hearty congratulation; and next morning he
went to work in the shed. Swampy camped down the river, and Brummy
supplied him with a cheap pair of moleskin trousers, tucker and
tobacco. The shed cut out within three weeks and the two sundowners
took the track again, Brummy with two pounds odd in his pocket—he
having negotiated his cheque at the shed.
But now there was suspicion, envy, and distrust in the hearts of
those two wayfarers. Brummy was now a bloated capitalist, and proud,
and anxious to get rid of Swampy—at least Swampy thought so. He
thought that the least that Brummy might have done was to have shared
the “stuff” with him.
“Look here, Brummy,” he said reproachfully, “we've shared and shared
“We never shared money,” said Brummy, decidedly.
“Do you think I want yer blasted money?” retorted Swampy,
indignantly. “When did I ever ask yer for a sprat? Tell me that!”
“You wouldn't have got it if you had asked,” said Brummy,
uncompromisingly. “Look here!” with vehemence. “Didn't I keep yer in
tobacco and buy yer gory pants? What are you naggin' about anyway?”
“Well,” said Swampy, “all I was goin' to say was that yer might let
me carry one of them quids in case you lost one—yer know you're
careless and lose things; or in case anything happened to you.”
“I ain't going to lose it—if that's all that's fretting you,” said
Brummy, “and there ain't nothing going to happen to me—and don't you
“That's all the thanks I get for givin' yer my gory job,” said
Swampy, savagely. “I won't be sick a soft fool agen, I can tell yer.”
Brummy was silent, and Swampy dropped behind. He brooded darkly, and
it's a bad thing for a man to brood in the bush. He was reg'lar
disgusted with Brummy. He'd allers acted straight to him, and Brummy
had acted like a “cow.” He'd stand it no longer; but he'd have some
satisfaction. He wouldn't be a fool. If Brummy was mean skunk enough to
act to a mate like that, Swampy would be even with him; he would wait
till Brummy was asleep, collar the stuff, and clear. It was his job,
anyway, and the money was his by rights. He'd have his rights.
Brummy, who carried the billy, gave Swampy a long tramp before he
camped and made a fire. They had tea in silence, and smoked moodily
apart until Brummy turned in. They usually slept on the ground, with a
few leaves under them, or on the sand where there was any, each wrapped
in his own blankets, and with their spare clothes, or rags rather, for
pillows. Presently Swampy turned in and pretended to sleep, but he lay
awake watching, and listening to Brummy's breathing. When he thought it
was safe he moved cautiously and slipped his hand under Brummy's head,
but Brummy's old pocket-book—in which he carried some dirty old
letters in a woman's handwriting—was not there. All next day Swampy
watched Brummy sharply every time he put his hands into his pockets, to
try and find out in which pocket he kept his money. Brummy seemed very
cheerful and sociable, even considerate, to his mate all day, and
Swampy pretended to be happy. They yarned more than they had done for
many a day. Brummy was a heavy sleeper, and that night Swampy went over
him carefully and felt all his pockets, but without success. Next day
Brummy seemed in high spirits—they were nearing Bourke, where they
intended to loaf round the pubs for a week or two. On the third night
Swampy waited till about midnight, and then searched Brummy, every inch
of him he could get at, and tickled him, with a straw of grass till he
turned over, and ran his hands over the other side of him, and over his
feet (Brummy slept with his socks on), and looked in his boots, and in
the billy and in the tucker-bags, and felt in every tuft of grass round
the camp, and under every bush, and down a hollow stump, and up a
hollow log: but there was no pocket-book. Brummy couldn't have lost the
money and kept it dark—he'd have gone back to look for it at once.
Perhaps he'd thrown away the book and sewn the money in his clothes
somewhere. Swampy crept back to him and felt the lining of his hat, and
was running his hand over Brummy's chest when Brummy suddenly started
to snore, and Swampy desisted without loss of time. He crept back to
bed, breathing short, and thought hard. It struck him that there was
something aggressive about that snore. He began to suspect that Brummy
was up to his little game, and it pained him.
Next morning Brummy was decidedly frivolous. At any other time
Swampy would have put it down to a “touch o' the sun,” but now he felt
a growing conviction that Brummy knew what he'd been up to the last
three nights, and the more he thought of it the more it pained
him—till at last he could stand it no longer.
“Look here, Brummy,” he said frankly, “where the hell do you keep
that flamin' stuff o' yourn? I been tryin' to git at it ever since we
“I know you have, Swampy,” said Brummy, affectionately—as if he
considered that Swampy had done his best in the interests of mateship.
“I knowed yer knowed!” exclaimed Swampy, triumphantly. “But
where the blazes did yer put it?”
“Under your head, Swampy, old man,” said Brummy, cheerfully.
Swampy was hurt now. He commented in the language that used to be
used by the bullock-punchers of the good days as they pranced up and
down by their teams and lammed into the bullocks with saplings and
crow-bars, and called on them to lift a heavy load out of a bog in the
bed of a muddy creek.
“Never mind, Swampy!” said Brummy, soothingly, as his mate paused
and tried to remember worse oaths. “It wasn't your fault.”
But they parted at Bourke. Swampy had allers acted straight ter
Brummy—share 'n' share alike. He'd do as much for a mate as any other
man, an' put up with as much from a mate. He had put up with a lot from
Brummy: he'd picked him up on the track and learned him all he knowed;
Brummy would have starved many a time if it hadn't been for Swampy;
Swampy had learned him how to “battle.” He'd stick to Brummy yet, but
he couldn't stand ingratitude. He hated low cunnin' an' suspicion, and
when a gory mate got suspicious of his own old mate and wouldn't trust
him, an' took to plantin' his crimson money—it was time to leave him.
A SKETCH OF MATESHIP
Bill and Jim, professional shearers, were coming into Bourke from
the Queensland side. They were horsemen and had two packhorses. At the
last camp before Bourke Jim's packhorse got disgusted and home-sick
during the night and started back for the place where he was foaled.
Jim was little more than a new-chum jackaroo; he was no bushman and
generally got lost when he went down the next gully. Bill was a
bushman, so it was decided that he should go back to look for the
Now Bill was going to sell his packhorse, a well-bred mare, in
Bourke, and he was anxious to get her into the yards before the horse
sales were over; this was to be the last day of the sales. Jim was the
best “barracker” of the two; he had great imagination; he was a very
entertaining story-teller and conversationalist in social life, and a
glib and a most impressive liar in business, so it was decided that he
should hurry on into Bourke with the mare and sell her for Bill. Seven
Next day Bill turned up with the missing horse and saw Jim standing
against a veranda-post of the Carriers' Arms, with his hat down over
his eyes, and thoughtfully spitting in the dust. Bill rode over to him.
“'Ullo, Bill. I see you got him.”
“Yes, I got him.”
“Where'd yer find him?”
“'Bout ten mile back. Near Ford's Bridge. He was just feedin'
Pause. Jim shifted his feet and spat in the dust.
“Well,” said Bill at last. “How did you get on, Jim?”
“Oh, all right,” said Jim. “I sold the mare.”
“That's right,” said Bill. “How much did she fetch?”
“Eight quid;” then, rousing himself a little and showing some
emotion, “An' I could 'a' got ten quid for her if I hadn't been a dam'
“Oh, that's good enough,” said Bill.
“I could 'a' got ten quid if I'd 'a' waited.”
“Well, it's no use cryin'. Eight quid is good enough. Did you get
“Oh, yes. They parted all right. If I hadn't been such a dam' fool
an' rushed it, there was a feller that would 'a' given ten quid for
“Well, don't break yer back about it,” said Bill. “Eight is good
“Yes. But I could 'a' got ten,” said Jim, languidly, putting his
hand in his pocket.
Pause. Bill sat waiting for him to hand over the money; but Jim
withdrew his hand empty, stretched, and said:
“Ah, well, Bill, I done it in. Lend us a couple o' notes.”
Jim had been drinking and gambling all night and he'd lost the eight
pounds as well as his own money.
Bill didn't explode. What was the use? He should have known that Jim
wasn't to be trusted with money in town. It was he who had been the
fool. He sighed and lent Jim a pound, and they went in to have a drink.
Now it strikes me that if this had happened in a civilized country
(like England) Bill would have had Jim arrested and jailed for larceny
as a bailee, or embezzlement, or whatever it was. And would Bill or Jim
or the world have been any better for it?
ON THE TUCKER TRACK: A STEELMAN STORY
Steelman and Smith, professional wanderers from New Zealand, took a
run over to Australia one year to have a look at the country, and
drifted out back, and played cards and “headin' 'em” at the
shearing-sheds (while pretending to be strangers to each other), and
sold eye-water and unpatented medicine, and worked the tucker tracks.
They struck a streak of bad luck at West-o'-Sunday Station, where they
were advised (by the boss and about fifty excited shearers) to go east,
and not to stop till they reached the coast. They were tramping along
the track towards Bourke; they were very hard up and had to “battle"
for tucker and tobacco along the track. They came to a lonely shanty,
about two camps west of Bourke.
“We'll turn off into the scrub and strike the track the other side
of the shanty and come back to it,” said Steelman. “You see, if they
see us coming into Bourke they'll say to themselves, `Oh, we're never
likely to see these chaps again,' and they won't give us anything, or,
perhaps, only a pinch of tea or sugar in a big lump of paper. There's
some women that can never see a tucker-bag, even if you hold it right
under their noses. But if they see us going out back they'll reckon
that we'll get a shed likely as not, and we'll be sure to call there
with our cheques coming back. I hope the old man's got the lumbago, or
sciatica, or something.”
“Why?” asked Smith.
“Because whenever I see an old man poking round the place on a stick
I always make for him straight and inquire about his trouble; and no
matter what complaint he's got, my old man suffered from it for years.
It's pretty hard graft listening to an old man with a pet leg, but I
find it pays; and I always finish up by advising him to try St Jacob's
oil. Perhaps he's been trying it for years, but that doesn't matter;
the consultation works out all right all the same, and there's never
been a remedy tried yet but I've got another.
“I've got a lot of Maori and blackfellow remedies in my mind, and
when they fail I can fall back on the Chinese; and if that isn't enough
I've got a list of my grandmother's remedies that she wrote down for me
when I was leaving home, and I kept it for a curiosity. It took her
three days to write them, and I reckon they'll fill the bill.
“You don't want a shave. You look better with that stubble on. You
needn't say anything; just stand by and wear your usual expression, and
if they ask me what's the matter with my mate I'll fix up a disease for
you to have, and get something extra on your account, poor beggar!
“I wish we had a chap with us that could sing a bit and run the
gamut on a fiddle or something. With a sickly-looking fish like you to
stand by and look interesting and die slowly of consumption all the
time, and me to do the talking, we'd be able to travel from one end of
the bush to the other and live on the fat of the land. I wouldn't cure
you for a hundred pounds:”
They reached the shanty, and there, sure enough, was an old man
pottering round with a list to starboard. He was working with a hoe
inside a low paling fence round a sort of garden. Steelman and Smith
stopped outside the fence.
“Good day, boss!”
So far it was satisfactory.
He was a little man, with a wiry, red beard. He might have been a
“You seem to be a bit lame,” said Steelman. “Hurt your foot?”
“Naw,” said the old man. “It's an old thing.”
“Ah!” said Steelman, “lumbago, I suppose? My father suffered cruel
from it for years.”
“Naw,” said the old man, moving closer to the fence. “It ain't in me
back; the trouble's with me leg.”
“Oh!” said Steelman. “One a bit shorter than the other?”
“Well, yes. It seems to be wearin' a bit shorter. I must see to it.”
“Hip disease, perhaps?” said Steelman. “A brother o' mine had—-”
“Naw, it's not in the hip,” said the old man. “My leg's gone at the
“Oh! stiff joint; I know what that is. Had a touch of it once
myself. An uncle of mine was nearly crippled with it. He used to use St
Jacob's oil. Ever try St Jacob's oil?”
“Naw,” said the old man, “not that I know of. I've used linseed oil
“Linseed oil!” said Steelman; “I've never heard of that for stiff
knee. How do you use it?”
“Use it raw,” said the old man. “Raw linseed oil; I've rubbed it in,
and I've soaked me leg in it.”
“Soaked your leg in it!” said Steelman. “And did it do it any good?”
“Well, it seems to preserve it—keeps it from warping, and it wears
better—and it makes it heavier. It seemed a bit too light before.”
Steelman nudged Smith under cover of the palings. The old man was
evidently a bit ratty.
“Well, I hope your leg will soon be all right, boss,” said Steelman.
“Thank you,” said the old man, “but I don't think there's much hope.
I suppose you want some tucker?”
“Well, yes,” said Steelman, rather taken aback by the old man's
sudden way of putting it. “We're hard up.”
“Well, come along to the house and I'll see if I can get yer
something,” said the old man; and they walked along outside the fence,
and he hobbled along inside, till he came to a little gate at the
corner. He opened the gate and stumped out. He had a wooden leg. He
wore his trouser-leg down over it, and the palings had hidden the
bottom from Steelman and Smith.
He wanted them to stay to dinner, but Steelman didn't feel
comfortable, and thanked him, and said they'd rather be getting on
(Steelman always spoke for Smith); so the old man gave them some cooked
meat, bread, and a supply of tea and sugar. Steelman watched his face
very close, but he never moved a muscle. But when they looked back he
was leaning on his hoe, and seemed to be shaking.
“Took you back a bit, Steely, didn't it?” suggested Smith.
“How do you make that out?” snorted Steelman, turning on him
suddenly. “I knew a carpenter who used to soak his planes in raw
linseed oil to preserve them and give them weight. There's nothing
funny about that.”
Smith rubbed his head.
A BUSH PUBLICAN'S LAMENT
. . . For thirst is long and throats is short
Among the sons o' men.
M. J. C.
I Wish I was spifflicated before I ever seen a pub!
You see, it's this way. Suppose a cove comes along on a blazin' hot
day in the drought—an' you ought to know how hell-hot it can be
out here—an' he dumps his swag in the corner of the bar; an' he turns
round an' he ses ter me, “Look here boss, I ain't got a lonely steever
on me, an' God knows when I'll git one. I've tramped ten mile this
mornin', an' I'll have ter tramp another ten afore to-night. I'm
expectin' ter git on shearin' with of Baldy Thompson at West-o'-Sunday
nex' week. I got a thirst on me like a sun-struck bone, an', for God
sake, put up a couple o' beers for me an' my mate, an' I'll fix it up
with yer when I come back after shearin'.”
An' what's a feller ter do? I bin there meself, an—I put it to you!
I've known what it is to have a thirst on me.
An' suppose a poor devil comes along in the jim-jams, with every
inch on him jumpin' an' a look in his eyes like a man bein' murdered
an' sent ter hell, an' a whine in his voice like a whipped cur, an' the
snakes a-chasing of him; an' he hooks me with his finger ter the far
end o' the bar—as if he was goin' ter tell me that the world was
ended—an' he hangs over the bar an' chews me lug, an' tries to speak,
an' breaks off inter a sort o' low shriek, like a terrified woman, an'
he says, “For Mother o' Christ's sake, giv' me a drink!” An' what am I
to do? I bin there meself. I knows what the horrors is. He mighter
blued his cheque at the last shanty. But what am I ter do? I put it ter
you. If I let him go he might hang hisself ter the nex' leanin' tree.
What's a drink? yer might arst—I don't mind a drink or two; but
when it comes to half a dozen in a day it mounts up, I can tell yer.
Drinks is sixpence here—I have to pay for it, an' pay carriage on it.
It's all up ter me in the end. I used sometimes ter think it was lucky
I wasn't west o' the sixpenny line, where I'd lose a shillin' on every
drink I give away.
An' supposen a sundowner comes along smokin' tea-leaves, an' ses ter
me, “Look her, boss! me an' my mate ain't had a smoke for three days!”
What's a man ter do? I put it ter you! I'm a heavy smoker meself, an'
I've known what it is to be without a smoke on the track. But
“nail-rod” is ninepence a stick out here, an' I have ter pay carriage.
It all mounts up, I can tell yer.
An' supposen Ole King Billy an' his ole black gin comes round at
holiday time and squats on the verander, an' blarneys an' wheedles and
whines and argues like a hundred Jews an' ole Irishwomen put tergether,
an' accuses me o' takin' his blarsted country from him, an' makes me
an' the missus laugh; an' we gives him a bottl'er rum an' a bag of grub
ter get rid of him an' his rotten ole scarecrow tribe—It all tells up.
I was allers soft on the blacks, an', beside, a ole gin nursed me an'
me mother when I was born, an' saved me blessed life—not that that
mounts to much. But it all tells up, an' I got me licence ter pay. An'
some bloody skunk goes an' informs on me for supplyin' the
haboriginalls with intossicatin' liquor, an' I have ter pay a fine an'
risk me licence. But what's a man ter do?
An' three or four herrin'-gutted jackaroos comes along about
dinner-time, when the table's set and the cookin' smellin' from the
kichen, with their belts done up three holes, an' not the price of a
feed on 'em. What's a man ter do? I've known what it is ter do a perish
on the track meself. It's not the tucker I think on. I don't care a
damn for that. When the shearers come every one is free to go inter the
kitchin an' forage for hisself when he feels hungry—so long as he pays
for his drink. But the jackaroos can't pay for drinks, an' I have ter
pay carriage on the flour an' tea an' sugar an' groceries—an' it all
tells up by the end o' the year.
An' a straight chap that knows me gets a job to take a flock o'
sheep or a mob o' cattle ter the bloomin' Gulf, or South Australia, or
somewheers—an' loses one of his horses goin' out ter take charge, an'
borrers eight quid from me ter buy another. He'll turn up agen in a
year or two an' most likely want ter make me take twenty quid for that
eight—an' make everybody about the place blind drunk—but I've got ter
wait, an' the wine an' sperit merchants an' the brewery won't. They
know I can't do without liquor in the place.
An' lars' rains Jimmy Nowlett, the bullick-driver, gets bogged over
his axle-trees back there on the Blacksoil Plains between two flooded
billerbongs, an' prays till the country steams an' his soul's busted,
an' his throat like a lime-kiln. He taps a keg o' rum or beer ter keep
his throat in workin' order. I don't mind that at all, but him an' his
mates git flood-bound for near a week, an' broach more kegs, an' go on
a howlin' spree in ther mud, an' spill mor'n they swipe, an' leave a
tarpaulin off a load, an' the flour gets wet, an' the sugar runs out of
the bags like syrup, an'—What's a feller ter do? Do yer expect me to
set the law onter Jimmy? I've knowed him all my life, an' he knowed my
father afore I was born. He's been on the roads this forty year, till
he's as thin as a rat, and as poor as a myall black; an' he's got a
family ter keep back there in Bourke. No, I have ter pay for it in the
end, an' it all mounts up, I can tell yer.
An' suppose some poor devil of a new-chum black sheep comes along,
staggerin' from one side of the track to the other, and spoutin'
poetry; dyin' o' heat or fever, or heartbreak an' home-sickness, or a
life o' disserpation he'd led in England, an' without a sprat on him,
an' no claim on the bush; an' I ketches: him in me arms as he stumbles
inter the bar, an' he wants me ter hold him up while he turns English
inter Greek for me. An' I put him ter bed, an' he gits worse, an' I
have ter send the buggy twenty mile for a doctor—an' pay him. An' the
jackaroo gits worse, an' has ter be watched an' nursed an' held down
sometimes; an' he raves about his home an' mother in England, an' the
blarsted University that he was eddicated at—an' a woman—an'
somethin' that sounds like poetry in French; an' he upsets my missus a
lot, an' makes her blubber. An' he dies, an' I have ter pay a man ter
bury him (an' knock up a sort o' fence round the grave arterwards ter
keep the stock out), an' send the buggy agen for a parson, an'—Well,
what's a man ter do? I couldn't let him wander away an' die like a dog
in the scrub, an' be shoved underground like a dog, too, if his body
was ever found. The Government might pay ter bury him, but there ain't
never been a pauper funeral from my house yet, an' there won't be one
if I can help it—except it be meself.
An' then there's the bother goin' through his papers to try an' find
out who he was an' where his friends is. An' I have ter get the missus
to write a letter to his people, an' we have ter make up lies about how
he died ter make it easier for 'em. An' goin' through his letters, the
missus comes across a portrait an' a locket of hair, an' letters from
his mother an' sisters an' girl; an' they upset her, an' she blubbers
agin, an' gits sentimental—like she useter long ago when we was first
There was one bit of poetry—I forgit it now—that that there
jackaroo kep' sayin' over an' over agen till it buzzed in me head; an',
weeks after, I'd ketch the missus mutterin' it to herself in the
kitchen till I thought she was goin' ratty.
An' we gets a letter from the jackaroo's friends that puts us to a
lot more bother. I hate havin' anythin' to do with letters. An'
someone's sure to say he was lambed down an' cleaned out an' poisoned
with bad bush liquor at my place. It's almost enough ter make a man
wish there was a recorin' angel.
An' what's the end of it? I got the blazin' bailiff in the place
now! I can't shot him out because he's a decent, hard-up, poor devil
from Bourke, with consumption or somethin', an' he's been talkin' to
the missus about his missus an' kids; an' I see no chance of gittin'
rid of him, unless the shearers come along with their cheques from
West-o'-Sunday nex' week and act straight by me. Like as not I'll have
ter roll up me swag an' take the track meself in the end. They say
publicans are damned, an' I think so, too; an' I wish I'd bin operated
on before ever I seen a pub.
THE SHEARER'S DREAM
Mitchell and I rolled up our swags after New Year and started to
tramp west. It had been a very bad season after a long drought. Old
Baldy Thompson had only shorn a few bales of grass-seed and burrs, so
he said, and thought of taking the track himself; but we hoped to get
on shearing stragglers at West-o'-Sunday or one of the stations of the
It was very hot weather, so we started after sunset, intending to
travel all night. We crossed the big billabong, and were ploughing
through the dust and sand towards West Bourke, when a buggy full of
city girls and swells passed by. They were part of a theatrical company
on tour in the Back-Blocks, and some local Johnnies. They'd been driven
out to see an artesian bore, or wool-shed, or something. The horses
swerved, and jerked a little squawk out of one of the girls. Then
“Ow-w! Two old swaggies. He! he! he!”
I glanced at Mitchell to see if he was hit, and caught his head
down; but he pulled himself up and pretended to hitch his swag into an
About a hundred yards further on he gave me a side look and said:
“Did that touch you, Harry”
“No,” I said, and I laughed.
“You see,” reflected Mitchell, “they're more to be pitied than
blamed. It's their ignorance. In the first place, we're not two old
tramps, as they think. We are professional shearers; and the Australian
shearers are about the most independent and intelligent class of men in
the world. We've got more genius in one of our little fingers than
there is in the whole of that wagonette-load of diddle-daddle and
fiddle-faddle and giggles. Their intellects are on a level with the
rotten dramas they travel with, and their lives about as false. They
are slaves to the public, and their home is the pub-parlour, with
sickly, senseless Johnnies to shout suppers and drink for them and lend
their men money. If one of those girls is above the average, how she
must despise those Johnnies—and the life! She must feel a greater
contempt for them than the private-barmaid does for the boozer she
cleans out. He gets his drink and some enjoyment, anyhow. And how she
must loathe the life she leads! And what's the end of it as often as
not? I remember once, when I was a boy, I was walking out with two
aunts of mine—they're both dead now. God rest their fussy, innocent
old souls!—and one of 'em said suddenly, 'Look! Quick, Jack! There's
Maggie So-and-So, the great actress.' And I looked and saw a woman
training vines in a porch. It seemed like seeing an angel to me, and I
never forgot her as she was then. The diggers used to go miles out of
town to meet the coach that brought her, and take the horses out and
drag it in, and throw gold in her lap, and worship her.
“The last time I was in Sydney I saw her sitting in the back parlour
of a third-rate pub. She was dying of dropsy and couldn't move from her
chair. She showed me a portrait of herself as I remembered her, and
talked quite seriously about going on the stage again.
“Now, our home is about two thousand miles wide, and the world's our
stage. If the worst comes to the worst we can always get tucker and
wood and water for nothing. If we're camping at a job in a tent there's
no house-cleaning to bother us. All we've got to do when the camp gets
too dirty is to shift the tent to a fresh place. We've got time to
think and—we're free.
“But then, agen,” he reflected, “there's the world's point of view
to be considered. Some day I might be flashing past in a buggy or
saloon-carriage—or, the chances are it will be you—and you might look
out the window and see an old swaggy tramping along in the dust, or
camped under a strip of calico in the rain in the scrub. (And it might
be me—old Mitchell—that really wrote your books, only the world won't
know it.) And then you'll realize what a wretched, miserable life it
was. We never realize the miseries of life till we look back—the
mistakes and miseries that had to be and couldn't be helped. It's all
luck—luck and chance.”
But those girls seemed to have gravelled Mitchell, and he didn't
seem able to talk himself round. He tramped on, brooding for a while,
and then suddenly he said:
“Look here, Harry! Those girls are giving a dance to-night, and if I
liked to go back to Bourke and tog up and go to the dance I could pick
out the prettiest, dance with her all the evening, and take her for a
stroll afterwards, old tramp as they thought me. I've lived—but it
wouldn't be worth my while now.”
I'd seen Jack in a mood like this before, and thought it best to say
nothing. Perhaps the terrible heat had affected him a little. We walked
on in silence until we came to the next billabong. “Best boil the billy
here, Harry,” said Mitchell, “and have some tea before we go any
I got some sticks together and made a fire and put the billy on. The
country looked wretched—like the ghost of a burnt-out land—in the
moonlight. The banks of the creek were like ashes, the thin, gnarled
gum-bush seemed dry-rotting fast, and in many places the surface of the
ground was cracked in squares where it had shrunk in the drought. In
the bed of the creek was a narrow gutter of water that looked like bad
Mitchell sat on his swag, with his pint of tea on the ground by his
foot, and chewed his pipe.
“What's up, Jack?” I asked. “Have you got the blues?”
“Well, yes, Harry,” he said. “I'm generally dull the first day on
the track. The first day is generally the worst, anywhere or
anytime—except, perhaps, when you're married. . . . I got—well, I got
thinking of the time when a woman's word could have hurt me.”
Just then one of the “travellers” who were camped a bit up the creek
suddenly commenced to sing. It was a song called “The Shearer's Dream,”
and I suppose the buggy of girls, or the conversation they started,
reminded him of it. He started his verses and most of his lines with a
howl; and there were unexpected howls all through the song, and it
wailed off, just as unexpectedly, in places where there was no pathos
that I could see:
Oh, I dreamt I shore in a shearer's shed, and it was a dream of
For every one of the rouseabouts was a girl dressed up as a
Dressed up like a page in a pantomime, and the prettiest ever
They had flaxen hair, they had coal-black hair—and every shade
“Every” with sudden and great energy, a long drop on to “shade,” and
a wail of intense sadness and regret running on into “between,” the
dirge reaching its wailsomest in the “tween” in every case.
The shed was cooled by electric fans that was over every
The pens was of polished ma-ho-gany, and ev'rything else to
The huts was fixed with spring-mattresses, and the tucker was
And every night by the biller-bong we darnced to a German band.
There was short, plump girls, there was tall, slim girls,
and the handsomest ever seen
They was four-foot-five, they was six-foot high, and hevery
Our pay was the wool on the jumbucks' backs, so we shore till
The sheep was washed afore they was shore (and the rams was
And we all of us cried when the shed cut out, in spite of the
long, hot days,
For hevery hour them girls waltzed in with whisky and beer on
“Chorus! you —-!”
They had kind grey eyes, they had coal-black eyes, and the
grandest ever seen
They had plump pink hands, they had slim white hands, and
There was three of them girls to every chap, and as jealous as
“Ow! you —-”
The singer's voice or memory seemed suddenly to have failed him at
this point, but whether his mates hit him on the back of the head with
a tomahawk, or only choked him, I do not know. Mitchell was inclined to
think, from the sound of it, that they choked him.
THE LOST SOULS' HOTEL
Hunqerford Road, February. One hundred and thirty miles of heavy
reddish sand, bordered by dry, hot scrubs. Dense cloud of hot dust.
Four wool-teams passing through a gate in a “rabbit proof” fence which
crosses the road. Clock, clock, clock of wheels and rattle and clink of
chains, crack of whips and explosions of Australian language. Bales and
everything else coated with dust. Stink of old axle-grease and
tarpaulins. Tyres hot enough to fry chops on: bows and chains so hot
that it's a wonder they do not burn through the bullock's hides. Water
lukewarm in blistered kegs slung behind the wagons. Bullocks dragging
along as only bullocks do. Wheels ploughing through the deep sand, and
the load lurching from side to side. Half-way on a “dry-stretch” of
seventeen miles. Big “tank” full of good water through the scrub to the
right, but it is a private tank and a boundary-rider is shepherding it.
Mulga scrub and sparse, spiky undergrowth.
The carriers camp for dinner and boil their billies while the
bullocks droop under their yokes in the blazing heat; one or two lie
down and the leaders drag and twist themselves round under a dead tree,
under the impression that there is shade there. The carriers look like
Red Indians, with the masks of red dust “bound” with sweat on their
faces, but there is an unhealthy-looking, whitish space round their
eyes, caused by wiping away the blinding dust, sweat, and flies. The
dry sticks burn with a pale flame and an almost invisible thin pale
blue smoke. The sun's heat dancing and dazzling across every white
fence-post, sandhill, or light-coloured object in the distance.
One man takes off his boot and sock, empties half a pint of sand out
of them, and pulls up his trouser-leg. His leg is sheathed to the knee
in dust and sweat; he absently scrapes it with his knife, and presently
he amuses himself by moistening a strip with his forefinger and shaving
it, as if he were vaguely curious to see if he is still a white man.
The Hungerford coach ploughs past in a dense cloud of dust.
The teams drag on again like a “wounded snake that dies at sundown,”
if a wounded snake that dies at sundown could revive sufficiently next
morning to drag on again until another sun goes down.
Hopeless-looking swagmen are met with during the afternoon, and one
carrier—he of the sanded leg—lends them tobacco; his mates contribute
“bits o'“ tea, flour, and sugar.
Sundown and the bullocks done up. The teamsters unyoke them and
drive them on to the next water—five miles—having previously sent a
mate to reconnoitre and see that boundary-rider is not round,
otherwise, to make terms with him, for it is a squatter's bore. They
hurry the bullocks down to the water and back in the twilight, and
then, under cover of darkness, turn them into a clearing in the scrub
off the road, where a sign in the grass might be seen—if you look
close. But the “bullockies” are better off than the horse-teamsters,
for bad chaff is sold by the pound and corn is worth its weight in
Mitchell and I turned off the track at the rabbit-proof fence and
made for the tank in the mulga. We boiled the billy and had some salt
mutton and damper. We were making back for Bourke, having failed to get
a cut in any of the sheds on the Hungerford track. We sat under a clump
of mulga saplings, with our backs to the trunks, and got out our pipes.
Usually, when the flies were very bad on the track, we had to keep
twigs or wild-turkey=tail feathers going in front of our faces the
whole time to keep the mad flies out of our eyes; and, when we camped,
one would keep the feather going while the other lit his pipe—then the
smoke would keep them away. But the flies weren't so bad in a good
shade or in a darkened hut. Mitchell's pipe would have smoked out Old
Nick; it was an ancient string-bound meerschaum, and strong enough to
kill a blackfellow. I had one smoke out of it, once when I felt bad in
my inside and wanted to be sick, and the result was very satisfactory.
Mitchell looked through his old pocket-book—more by force of habit
than anything else—and turned up a circular from Tattersall's. And
that reminded him.
“Do you know what I'd do, Harry,” he said, if I won Tattersall's big
sweep, or was to come into fifty or a hundred thousand pounds, or,
better still, a million?”
“Nothing I suppose,” I said, “except to get away to Sydney or some
cooler place than this.”
“I'll tell you what I'd do,” said Mitchell, talking round his pipe.
“I'd build a Swagman's Rest right here.”
“A Swagman's Rest?”
“Yes. Right here on this very God-forsaken spot. I'd build a
Swagman's Rest and call it the Lost Souls' Hotel, or the Sundowners'
Arms, or the Half-way House to —-, or some such name that would take
the bushmen's fancy. I'd have it built on the best plans for coolness
in a hot country; bricks, and plenty of wide verandas with brick
floors, and balconies, and shingles, in the old Australian style. I
wouldn't have a sheet of corrugated iron about the place. And I'd have
old-fashioned hinged sashes with small panes and vines round 'em; they
look cooler and more homely and romantic than the glaring sort that
“And I'd dig a tank or reservoir for surface water as big as a lake,
and bore for artesian water—and get it, too, if I had to bore right
through to England; and I'd irrigate the ground and make it grow
horse-feed and fruit, and vegetables too, if I had to cart manure from
Bourke. And every teamster's bullock or horse, and every shearer's
hack, could burst itself free, but I'd make travelling stock pay—for
it belongs to the squatters and capitalists. All carriers could camp
for one night only. And I'd—no, I wouldn't have any flowers; they
might remind some heart-broken, new-chum black sheep of the house where
he was born, and the mother whose heart he broke—and the father whose
grey hairs he brought down in sorrow to the grave—and break him up
“But what about the old-fashioned windows and the vines?” I asked.
“Oh!” said Mitchell, “I forgot them. On second thought, I think I
would have some flowers; and maybe a bit of ivy-green. The new chum
might be trying to work out his own salvation, and the sight of the
roses and ivy would show him that he hadn't struck such a God-forgotten
country after all, and help strengthen the hope for something better
that's in the heart of every vagabond till he dies.”
Puff, puff, puff, slowly and reflectively.
“Until he dies,” repeated Mitchell. “And, maybe,” he said, rousing
himself, “I'd have a little room fixed up like a corner of a swell
restaurant, with silver and napkins on the table, and I'd fix up a
waiter, so that when a broken-down University wreck came along he might
feel, for an hour or so, something like the man he used to be. But I
suppose,” Mitchell reflected, “he wouldn't feel completely his old self
without a lady friend sitting opposite to him. I might fix up a black
gin for him, but I suppose he'd draw the colour line. But that's
“All teamsters and travellers could camp there for one night only.
I'd have shower-baths; but I wouldn't force any man to have a bath
against his will. They could sit down to a table and have a feed off a
table-cloth, and sleep in sheets, and feel like they did before their
old mothers died, or before they ran away from home.”
“Who? The mothers?” I asked.
“Yes, in some cases,” said Mitchell. “And I'd have a nice, cool
little summer-house down near the artificial lake, out of earshot of
the house, where the bullock-drivers could sit with their pipes after
tea, and tell yarns, and talk in their own language. And I'd have boats
on the lake, too, in case an old Oxford or Cambridge man, or an old
sailor came along—it might put years on to his life to have a pull at
the oars. You remember that old sailor we saw in charge of the engine
back there at the government tank? You saw how he had the
engine?—clean and bright as a new pin—everything spick-and-span and
shipshape, and his hut fixed up like a ship's cabin. I believe he
thinks he's at sea half his time, and shoving her through it, instead
of pumping muddy water out of a hole in the baking scrubs for starving
stock. Or maybe he reckons he's keeping her afloat.”
“And would you have fish in this lake of yours?” I asked.
“Oh, yes,” said Mitchell, “and any ratty old shepherd or sundowner,
that's gone mad of heat and loneliness—like the old codger we met back
yonder—he could sit by the lagoon in the cool of the evening and fish
to his heart's content with a string and a bent pin, and dream he's
playing truant from school and fishing in the brook near his native
village in England about fifty years ago. It would seem more real than
fishing in the dust as some mad old bushmen do.”
“But you'd draw the line somewhere?” I asked.
“No,” said Mitchell, “not even at poets. I'd try to cure them, too,
with good wholesome food and plenty of physical exercise. The Lost
Souls' Hotel would be a refuge for men who'd been jail-birds once as
well as men who were gentlemen once, and for physical wrecks and ruined
drunkards as well as healthy honest shearers. I'd sit down and talk to
the boozer or felon just as if I thought he was as good a man as
me—and he might be, for that matter—God knows.
“The sick man would be kept till he recovered, or died; and the
boozer, suffering from a recovery, I'd keep him till he was on his legs
“Then you'd have to have a doctor,” I said.
“Yes,” said Mitchell, “I'd fix that up all right. I wouldn't bother
much about a respectable medical practitioner from the city. I'd get a
medical wreck who had a brilliant career before him once in England and
got into disgrace, and cleared out to the colonies—a man who knows
what the d.t.'s is—a man who's been through it all and knows it all.”
“Then you'd want a manager, or a clerk or secretary,” I suggested.
“I suppose I would,” said Mitchell. “I've got no head for figures. I
suppose I'd have to advertise for him. If an applicant came with the
highest testimonials of character, and especially if one was signed by
a parson, I'd tell him to call again next week; and if a young man
could prove that he came of a good Christian family, and went to church
regularly, and sang in the choir, and taught Sunday-school, I'd tell
him that he needn't come again, that the vacancy was filled, for I
couldn't trust, him. The man who's been extra religious and honest and
hard-working in his young days is most likely to go wrong afterwards.
I'd sooner trust some poor old devil of a clerk who'd got into the
hands of a woman or racing men when he was young, and went wrong, and
served his time for embezzlement; anyway, I'd take him out and give him
“And what about woman's influence?” I asked.
“Oh, I suppose there'd have to be a woman, if only to keep the
doctor on the line. I'd get a woman with a past, one that hadn't been
any better than she should have been, they're generally the most
kind-hearted in the end. Say an actress who'd come down in the world,
or an old opera-singer who'd lost her voice but could still sing a
little. A woman who knows what trouble is. And I'd get a girl to keep
her company, a sort of housemaid, with a couple of black gins or
half-castes to help her. I'd get hold of some poor girl who'd been
deceived and deserted: and a baby or two wouldn't be an objection—the
kids would amuse the chaps and help humanize the place.”
“And what if the manageress fell in love with the doctor?” I asked.
“Well, I couldn't provide against love,” said Mitchell. “I fell in
love myself more than once—and I don't suppose I'd have been any worse
off if I'd have stayed in love. Ah, well! But suppose she did fall in
love with the doctor and marry him, or suppose she fell in love with
him and didn't marry him, for that matter—and suppose the girl fell in
love with the secretary? There wouldn't be any harm done; it would only
make them more contented with the home and bind them to it. They'd be a
happy family, and the Lost Souls' Hotel would be more cheerful and
homelike than ever.”
“But supposing they all fell in love with each other and cleared
out,” I said.
“I don't see what they'd have to clear out for,” said Mitchell. “But
suppose they did. There's more than one medical wreck in Australia, and
more than one woman with a past, and more than one broken old clerk who
went wrong and was found out, and who steadied down in jail, and
there's more than one poor girl that's been deceived. I could easily
replace 'em. And the Lost Souls' Hotel might be the means of patching
up many wrecked lives in that way—giving people with pasts the chance
of another future, so to speak.”
“I suppose you'd have music and books and pictures?” I said.
“Oh, yes,” said Mitchell. “But I wouldn't have any bitter or
sex-problem books. They do no good. Problems have been the curse of the
world ever since it started. I think one noble, kindly, cheerful
character in a book does more good than all the clever villains or
romantic adventurers ever invented. And I think a man ought to get rid
of his maudlin sentiment in private, or when he's drunk. It's a pity
that every writer couldn't put all his bitterness into one book and
then burn it.
“No; I'd have good cheerful books of the best and brightest sides of
human nature—Charles Dickens, and Mark Twain, and Bret Harte, and
those men. And I'd have all Australian pictures—showing the brightest
and best side of Australian life. And I'd have all Australian songs. I
wouldn't have `Swannie Ribber,' or `Home, Sweet Home,' or `Annie
Laurie,' or any of those old songs sung at the Lost Souls'
Hotel—they're the cause of more heartbreaks and drink and suicide in
the bush than anything else. And if a jackaroo got up to sing, `Just
before the battle, mother,' or, `Mother bit me in me sleep,' he'd find
it was just before the battle all right. He'd have to go out and sleep
in the scrub, where the mosquitoes and bulldog ants would bite him out
of his sleep. I hate the man who's always whining about his mother
through his nose, because, as a rule, he never cared a rap for his old
mother, nor for anyone else, except his own paltry, selfish little
“I'd have intellectual and elevating conversation for those that—-”
“Who'd take charge of that department?” I inquired hurriedly.
“Well,” reflected Mitchell, “I did have an idea of taking it on
myself for a while anyway; but, come to think of it, the doctor or the
woman with the past would have more experience; and I could look after
that part of the business at a pinch. Of course you're not in a
position to judge as to my ability in the intellectual line; you see,
I've had no one to practise on since I've been with you. But no
matter—-There'd be intellectual conversation for the benefit of
black-sheep new chums. And any broken-down actors that came along could
get up a play if they liked—it would brighten up things and help
elevate the bullock-drivers and sundowners. I'd have a stage fixed up
and a bit of scenery. I'd do all I could to attract shearers to the
place after shearing, and keep them from rushing to the next shanty
with their cheques, or down to Sydney, to be cleaned out by barmaids.
“And I'd have the hero squashed in the last act for a selfish sneak,
and marry the girl to the villain—he'd be more likely to make her
happy in the end.”
“And what about the farm?” I asked. “I suppose you'd get some expert
from the agricultural college to manage that?”
“No,” said Mitchell. “I'd get some poor drought-ruined selector and
put him in charge of the vegetation. Only, the worst of it is,” he
reflected, “if you take a selector who has bullocked all his life to
raise crops on dusty, stony patches in the scrubs, and put him on land
where there's plenty of water and manure, and where he's only got to
throw the seed on the ground and then light his pipe and watch it grow,
he's apt to get disheartened. But that's human nature.
“And, of course, I'd have to have a `character' about the place—a
sort of identity and joker to brighten up things. I wouldn't get a man
who'd been happy and comfortable all his life; I'd get hold of some old
codger whose wife had nagged him till she died, and who'd been sold off
many times, and run in for drowning his sorrows, and who started as an
undertaker and failed at that, and finally got a job pottering
round—gardener, or gatekeeper, or something—in a lunatic asylum. I'd
get him. He'd most likely be a humorist and a philosopher, and he'd
help cheer up the Lost Souls' Hotel. I reckon the lost souls would get
very fond of him.”
“And would you have drink at Lost Souls'?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Mitchell. “I'd have the best beer and spirits and wine
to be had. After tea I'd let every man have just enough to make him
feel comfortable and happy, and as good and clever, and innocent and
honest as any other man, but no more. But if a poor devil came along in
the horrors, with every inch of him jumping, and snakes, and green-eyed
yahoos, and flaming-nosed bunyips chasing him, we'd take him in and
give him soothing draughts, and nurse him, and watch him, and clear him
out with purgatives, and keep giving him nips of good whisky, and,
above all, we'd sympathize with him, and tell him that we were worse
than he was many a time. We wouldn't tell him what a weak, selfish man
he was, or harp on his ruined life. We'd try to make him out a good
deal better morally than he really was. It's remorse that hurries most
men to hell—especially in the Bush. When a man firmly believes he is a
hopeless case, then there's no hope for him: but let him have doubts
and there's a chance. Make him believe that there are far worse cases
than his. We wouldn't preach the sin of dissipation to him, no—but
we'd try to show him the folly of a wasted life. I ought to be
able to preach that, God knows.
“And, above all, we'd try to drive out of his head the cursed old
popular idea that it's hard to reform—that a man's got to fight a hard
battle with himself to get away from drink—pity drunkards can't
believe how easy it is. And we'd put it to him straight whether his few
hours' enjoyment were worth the days he had to suffer hell for it.”
“And, likely as not,” I said, “when you'd put him on his feet he'd
take the nearest track to the next shanty, and go on a howling spree,
and come back to Lost Souls' in a week, raving aid worse than ever.
What would you do then?”
“We'd take him in again, and build him up some more; and a third or
fourth time if necessary. I believe in going right on with a thing once
I take it in hand. And if he didn't turn up after the last spree we'd
look for him up the scrub and bring him in and let him die on a bed,
and make his death as comfortable as possible. I've seen one man die on
the ground, and found one dead in the bush. We'd bury him under a gum
and put `Sacred to the Memory of a Man who Died. (Let him R.I.P.)' over
him. I'd have a nice little graveyard, with gums for tombstones—and
I'd have some original epitaphs—I promise you.”
“And how much gratitude would you expect to get out of the Lost
Souls' Hotel?” I asked.
“None,” said Mitchell, promptly. “It wouldn't be a Gratitude
Discovery Syndicate. People might say that the Lost Souls' Hotel was a
den for kidnapping women and girls to be used as decoys for the purpose
of hocussing and robbing bushmen, and the law and retribution might
come after me—but I'd fight the thing out. Or they might want to make
a K.C.M.G., or a god of me, and worship me before they hung me. I
reckon a philanthropist or reformer is lucky if he escapes with a whole
skin in the end, let alone his character—-But there!—- Talking of
gratitude: it's the fear of ingratitude that keeps thousands from doing
good. It's just as paltry and selfish and cowardly as any other fear
that curses the world—it's rather more selfish than most fears, in
fact—take the fear of being thought a coward, or being considered
eccentric, or conceited, or affected, or too good, or too bad, for
instance. The man that's always canting about the world's ingratitude
has no gratitude owing to him as a rule—generally the reverse—he
ought to be grateful to the world for being let live. He broods over
the world's ingratitude until he gets to be a cynic. He sees the world
like the outside of a window, as it were, with the blind drawn and the
dead, cold moonlight shining on it, and he passes on with a sour face;
whereas, if he took the trouble to step inside he'd most likely find a
room full of ruddy firelight, and sympathy and cheerfulness, and
kindness, and love, and gratitude. Sometimes, when he's right down on
his uppers, and forced to go amongst people and hustle for bread, he
gets a lot of surprises at the amount of kindness he keeps running
against in the world—and in places where he'd never have expected to
find it. But—ah, well! I'm getting maudlin.”
“And you've forgot all about the Lost Souls' Hotel,” I said.
“No, I haven't,” said Mitchell; “I'd fix that up all right. As soon
as I'd got things going smoothly under a man I could trust, I'd tie up
every penny I had for the benefit of the concern; get some `white men'
for trustees, and take the track again. I'm getting too old to stay
long in one place—(I'm a lost soul that always got along better in
another place). I'm so used to the track that if I was shut up in a
house I'd get walking up and down in my room of nights and disturb the
folk; and, besides, I'd feel lost and light-shouldered without the
“So you'd put all your money in the concern?”
“Yes—except a pound or two to go on the track with—for, who knows,
I might come along there, dusty and tired, and ragged and hard up and
old, some day, and be very glad of a night's rest at the Lost Souls'
Hotel. But I wouldn't let on that I was old Mitchell, the millionaire,
who founded Lost Souls'. They might be too officious, and I hate fuss.
. . . But it's time to take the track, Harry.”
There came a cool breeze with sunset; we stood up stiffly,
shouldered our swags and tucker-bags, and pushed on, for we had to make
the next water before we camped. We were out of tobacco, so we borrowed
some from one of the bullock-drivers.
THE BOOZERS' HOME
“A dipsomaniac,” said Mitchell, “needs sympathy and commonsense
treatment. (Sympathy's a grand and glorious thing, taking it all round
and looking at it any way you will: a little of it makes a man think
that the world's a good world after all, and there's room and hope for
sinners, and that life's worth living; enough of it makes him sure of
it: and an overdose of sympathy makes a man feel weak and
ashamed of himself, and so moves him to stop whining—and wining—and
“Now, I'm not taking the case of a workman who goes on the spree on
pay night and sweats the drink out of himself at work next day, nor a
slum-bred brute who guzzles for the love of it; but a man with brains,
who drinks to drown his intellect or his memory. He's generally a man
under it all, and a sensitive, generous, gentle man with finer feelings
as often as not. The best and cleverest and whitest men in the world
seem to take to drink mostly. It's an awful pity. Perhaps it's because
they're straight and the world's crooked and they can see things too
plain. And I suppose in the bush the loneliness and the thoughts of the
girl-world they left behind help to sink 'em.
“Now a drunkard seldom reforms at home, because he's always
surrounded by the signs of the ruin and misery he has brought on the
home; and the sight and thought of it sets him off again before he's
had time to recover from the last spree. Then, again, the noblest wife
in the world mostly goes the wrong way to work with a drunken
husband—nearly everything she does is calculated to irritate him. If,
for instance, he brings a bottle home from the pub, it shows that he
wants to stay at home and not go back to the pub any more; but the
first thing the wife does is to get hold of the bottle and plant it, or
smash it before his eyes, and that maddens him in the state he is in
“No. A dipsomaniac needs to be taken away from home for a while. I
knew a man that got so bad that the way he acted at home one night
frightened him, and next morning he went into an inebriate home of his
own accord—to a place where his friends had been trying to get him for
a year past. For the first day or two he was nearly dead with remorse
and shame—mostly shame; and he didn't know what they were going to do
to him next—and he only wanted them to kill him quick and be done with
it. He reckons he felt as bad as if he was in jail. But there were ten
other patients there, and one or two were worse than he was, and that
comforted him a lot. They compared notes and sympathized and helped
each other. They discovered that all their wives were noble women. He
struck one or two surprises too—one of the patients was a doctor who'd
attended him one time, and another was an old boss of his, and they got
very chummy. And there was a man there who was standing for
Parliament—he was supposed to be having a rest down the coast. . . .
Yes, my old mate felt very bad for the first day or two; it was all
Yes, Nurse, and Thank you, Nurse, and Yes, Doctor, and No, Doctor, and
Thank you, Doctor. But, inside a week, he was calling the doctor 'Ol'
Pill-Box' behind his back, and making love to one of the nurses.
“But he said it was pitiful when women relatives came to visit
patients the first morning. It shook the patients up a lot, but I
reckon it did 'em good. There were well-bred old lady mothers in black,
and hard-working, haggard wives and loving daughters—and the
expressions of sympathy and faith and hope in those women's faces! My
old mate said it was enough in itself to make a man swear off drink for
ever. . . . Ah, God—what a world it is!
“Reminds me how I once went with the wife of another old mate of
mine to see him. He was in a lunatic asylum. It was about the worst
hour I ever had in my life, and I've had some bad ones. The way she
tried to coax him back to his old self. She thought she could do it
when all the doctors had failed. But I'll tell you about him some other
“The old mate said that the principal part of the treatment was
supposed to be injection of bi-chloride of gold or something, and it
was supposed to be a secret. It might have been water and sugar for all
he knew, and he thought it was. You see, when patients got better they
were allowed out, two by two, on their honour—one to watch the
other—and it worked. But it was necessary to have an extra hold on
them; so they were told that if they were a minute late for
`treatment,' or missed one injection, all the good would be undone.
This was dinged into their ears all the time. Same as many things are
done in the Catholic religion—to hold the people. My old mate said
that, as far as the medical treatment was concerned, he could do all
that was necessary himself. But it was the sympathy that counted,
especially the sympathy between the patients themselves. They always
got hold of a new patient and talked to him and cheered him up; he
nearly always came in thinking he was the most miserable wretch in this
world. And it comforts a man and strengthens him and makes him happier
to meet another man who's worse off or sicker, or has been worse
swindled than he has been. That's human nature. . . . And a man will
take draughts from a nurse and eat for her when he wouldn't do it for
his own wife—not even though she had been a trained nurse herself. And
if a patient took a bad turn in the night at the Boozers' Home and got
up to hunt the snakes out of his room, he wouldn't be sworn at, or
laughed at, or held down; no, they'd help him shoo the snakes out and
comfort him. My old mate said that, when he got better, one of the new
patients reckoned that he licked St Pathrick at managing snakes. And
when he came out he didn't feel a bit ashamed of his experience. The
institution didn't profess to cure anyone of drink, only to mend up
shattered nerves and build up wrecked constitutions; give them back
some will-power if they weren't too far gone. And they set my old mate
on his feet all right. When he went in his life seemed lost, he had the
horror of being sober, he couldn't start the day without a drink or do
any business without it. He couldn't live for more than two hours
without a drink; but when he came out he didn't feel as if he wanted
it. He reckoned that those six weeks in the institution were the
happiest he'd ever spent in his life, and he wished the time had been
longer; he says he'd never met with so much sympathy and genius, and
humour and human nature under one roof before. And he said it was nice
and novel to be looked after and watched and physicked and bossed by a
pretty nurse in uniform—but I don't suppose he told his wife that. And
when he came out he never took the trouble to hide the fact that he'd
been in. If any of his friends had a drunkard in the family, he'd
recommend the institution and do his best to get him into it. But when
he came out he firmly believed that if he took one drink he'd be a lost
man. He made a mania of that. One curious effect was that, for some
time after he left the institution, he'd sometimes feel suddenly in
high spirits—with nothing to account for it—something like he used to
feel when he had half a dozen whiskies in him; then suddenly he'd feel
depressed and sort of hopeless—with nothing to account for that
either—just as if he was suffering a recovery. But those moods never
lasted long and he soon grew out of them altogether. He didn't flee
temptation. He'd knock round the pubs on Saturday nights with his old
mates, but never drank anything but soft stuff—he was always careful
to smell his glass for fear of an accident or trick. He drank gallons
of ginger beer, milk-and-soda, and lemonade; and he got very fond of
sweets, too—he'd never liked them before. He said he enjoyed the
novelty of the whole thing and his mates amused him at first; but he
found he had to leave them early in the evening, and, after a while, he
dropped them altogether. They seemed such fools when they were drunk
(they'd never seemed fools to him before). And, besides, as they got
full, they'd get suspicious of him, and then mad at him, because he
couldn't see things as they could. That reminds me that it nearly
breaks a man's heart when his old drinking chum turns teetotaller—it's
worse than if he got married or died. When two mates meet and one is
drunk and the other sober there is only one of two things for them to
do if they want to hit it together—either the drunken mate must get
sober or the sober mate drunk. And that reminds me: Take the case of
two old mates who've been together all their lives, say they always had
their regular sprees together and went through the same stages of
drunkenness together, and suffered their recoveries and sobered up
together, and each could stand about the same quantity of drink and one
never got drunker than the other. Each, when he's boozing, reckons his
mate the cleverest man and the hardest case in the world—second to
himself. But one day it happens, by a most extraordinary combination of
circumstances, that Bill, being sober, meets Jim very drunk, and pretty
soon Bill is the most disgusted man in this world. He never would have
dreamed that his old mate could make such a fool and such a public
spectacle of himself. And Bill's disgust intensifies all the time he is
helping Jim home, and Jim arguing with him and wanting to fight him,
and slobbering over him and wanting to love him by turns, until Bill
swears he'll give Jim a hammering as soon as ever he's able to stand
steady on his feet.”
“I suppose your old boozing mate's wife was very happy when he
reformed,” I said to Mitchell.
“Well, no,” said Mitchell, rubbing his head rather ruefully. “I
suppose it was an exceptional case. But I knew her well, and the fact
is that she got more discontented and thinner, and complained and
nagged him worse than she'd ever done in his drinking days. And she'd
never been afraid of him. Perhaps it was this way: She loved and
married a careless, good-natured, drinking scamp, and when he reformed
and became a careful, hard-working man, and an honest and respected
fellow-townsman, she was disappointed in him. He wasn't the man that
won her heart when she was a girl. Or maybe he was only company for her
when he was half drunk. Or maybe lots of things. Perhaps he'd killed
the love in her before he reformed—and reformed too late. I wonder how
a man feels when he finds out for the first time that his wife doesn't
love him any longer? But my old mate wasn't the nature to find out that
sort of thing. Ah, well! If a woman caused all our trouble, my God!
women have suffered for it since—and they suffer like martyrs mostly
and with the patience of working bullocks. Anyway it goes, if I'm the
last man in the world, and the last woman is the worst, and there's
only room for one more in Heaven, I'll step down at once and take my
chances in Blazes.”
THE SEX PROBLEM AGAIN
It was Mitchell's habit to take an evening off now and then from
yarning or reflecting, and proceed, in a most methodical manner, to
wash his spare shirts and patch his pants. I was in the habit of
contributing to some Sydney papers, and every man is an editor at
heart, so, at other times, Mitchell would take another evening off, and
root out my swag, and go through my papers in the same methodical
manner, and make alterations and additions without comment or reference
to me; and sometimes he'd read a little thing of my own which didn't
meet his views, and accidentally drop it into the fire; and at other
times he'd get hold of some rhyme or sketch that was troubling me, and
wrap it up and give it to a passing mailman unbeknown to me. The
unexpected appearance of such articles in the paper, as well as the
effects of the involuntary collaboration in other pieces, gave me
several big surprises.
It was in camp on a fencing contract west of Bourke. We had a book
which we'd borrowed from a library at Bourke for a year or two—never
mind the name of it—it was in ninety-one or ninety-two, and the sex
problem was booming then. I had been surreptitiously tearing some
carefully-written slips of manuscript—leaves taken from an old
pocket-book—into small pieces; I dropped them, with apparent
carelessness, into the fire and stood with my back to it.
“I'll bet five pounds,” said Mitchell, suddenly, “that you've been
trying your hand on a sex-problem story.”
I shifted uneasily and brought my hands from behind me into my
pockets. “Well, to tell you the truth,” I admitted, “I have.”
“I thought so,” exclaimed Mitchell. “We'll be put to the expense of
sending you to Sydney for medical treatment yet. You've been having too
easy times lately, plenty of hard graft and no anxiety about tucker or
the future. What are the symptoms?”
“Well,” I said, taking a hand out to scratch the back of my head,
“the plot looked all right—at first sight.”
“So there's a plot, is there? Well, in the first place, a plot is a
problem. Well, what's the plot? . . . Come on, you needn't be
frightened to tell an old mate like me.”
“Well,” I said, “the yarn looked all right at first sight; that
article of `T's' in the Bulletin turned me off it; listen and
see what you think of it: There was a young fellow, a bit of a
“Just so, it's the geniuses that build the sex problems. It's an
autobiography. Go on.”
“Well, he married a girl.”
Mitchell (sotto voce): “God help her.”
“He loved her, and she loved him: but after they'd been married a
while he found out that, although he understood her, she didn't and
couldn't possibly ever understand him.”
“Yes,” commented Mitchell, “and if he hadn't caught the sex problem,
nor been reading about it, he would never have found that out.”
“It was a terrible disappointment,” I continued—I had got into the
habit of taking Mitchell's interruptions and comments as matters of
course—“He saw that his life would be a hell with her—-”
Mitchell: “Didn't strike him that her life would be a hell with
“They had no thought in common.”
Mitchell: “She was in her right mind then.”
“But he couldn't leave her because he loved her, and because he knew
that she loved him and would break her heart if he left her.”
“Must have been a pretty cocksure sort of a fellow,” remarked
Mitchell, “but all geniuses are.”
“When he was with her he saw all her obstinacy, unreason, and
selfishness; but when he was away he only saw her good points.”
Mitchell: “Pity such men don't stop away.”
“He thought and thought, and brooded over it till his life was a
Mitchell: “Jes-so: thanks to the problemaniacs.”
“He thought of killing her and himself, and so taking her with him”
“Where?” asked Mitchell. “He must have loved her a lot. . . . Good
Lord! That shows the awful effects of the sex problem on the mind of a
healthy young man like you;” and Mitchell stood up.
“He lay awake by her side at nights thinking and fighting the thing
“And you've been lying awake, thinking, with me and `the Oracle' by
your side. We'll have to plant the tommy-hawk, and watch you by turns
at night till you get over this.”
“One night he rested on his elbow, and watched her sleeping, and
tried to reconstruct his ideal out of her, and, just when he was
getting into a happier frame of mind, her mouth fell open, and she
snored. . . . I didn't get any further than the snore,” I said.
“No, of course you didn't,” said Mitchell, “and none of the sex
problemers ever will—unless they get as far as `blanky.' You might
have made the snore cure him; did it?”
“No, it was making things worse in my idea of the yarn. He fell back
and lay staring at the ceiling in a hopeless kind of a way.”
“Then he was a fit case for the lunatic asylum. . . . Now, look
here, Harry, you're a good-natured, soft old fool when you're in your
right mind; just you go on being a good-natured, soft old fool, and
don't try to make a problem out of yourself or anybody else, or you'll
come to a bad end. A pocket-book's to keep your accounts in, not to
take notes in (you take them in your head and use 'em in your arms),
not to write sex-problem rot in—that's spoilt many a good pocket-book,
and many a good man. You've got a girl you're talking about going back
to as soon as we've finished this contract. Don't you make a problem of
her; make a happy wife and mother of her. . . . I was very clever when
I was young”—and here Mitchell's voice took a tinge of bitterness, or
sadness. “I used to make problems out of things. . . . I ain't much to
boast of now. . . . Seems to me that a good many men want to make
angels of their wives without first taking trouble of making saints of
themselves. We want to make women's ways our ways—it would be just as
fair to make our ways theirs. Some men want to be considered gods in
their own homes; you'll generally find that sort of men very small
potatoes outside; if they weren't they wouldn't bother so much about
being cocks on their own little dunghills. . . . And again, old mates
seldom quarrel, because they understand each other's moods. Now, if you
went brooding round for any length of time I'd say to you. `Now then,
Harry, what have I been doing to you? Spit it out, old man.' And you'd
do the same by me; but how many men would take even that much trouble
with their wives?”
A breeze stirred the mulga and brought the sound of a good voice
singing in the surveyors' camp:
Should old acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to min'?
Should old acquaintance be forgot
And the days of Auld Lang Syne?
“That damned old tune will upset the Oracle for the rest of the
night,” I said.
“Now, there's the Oracle,” said Mitchell. “He was wronged by a woman
as few men are wronged; his life was ruined—but he isn't the man to
take any stock in sex problems on account of her. He thinks he's great
on problems, but he isn't. It all amounts to this—that he's sorry for
most men and all women and tries to act up to it to the best of his
ability; and if he ain't a Christian, God knows what is—I don't. No
matter what a woman does to you, or what you think she does to you,
there come times, sooner or later, when you feel sorry for her—deep
down in your heart—that is if you're a man. And, no matter what action
or course you might take against her, and no matter how right or
justified you might seem in doing it, there comes a time when, deep
down in your heart, you feel mean and doubtful about your own part. You
can take that as a general thing as regards men against women, and man
against man, I think. And I believe that deep-down feeling of being
doubtful, or mean, or sorry, that comes afterwards, when you are cooler
and know more about the world, is a right and natural thing, and we
ought to act more in accordance with it.”
Came the refrain from the surveyors' camp:
We twa hae run about the braes,
An' pu'd the gowans fine;
But we've wandered mony a weary foot
Sin' Auld Lang Syne.
“We feel sorry for our quarrels with our worst enemy when we see him
lying still and quiet—dead. Why can't we try and feel a bit sorry
For Auld Lang Syne.
We twa ha' padl't i' the burn,
Fra mornin' sun till dine;
But seas between us braid ha' roar'd
Sin' Auld Lang Syne.
“I used to feel blazing bitter against things one time but it never
hurt anybody but myself in the end. I argued and quarrelled with a girl
once—and made a problem of the thing and went away. She's married to a
brute now, and I'm what I am. I made a problem of a good home or the
world once, and went against the last man in God's world that I should
have gone against, and turned my back on his hand, and left him. His
hand was very cold the next time I took it in mine. We don't want
problems to make us more bitter against the world than we get
And here's a han' my trusty frien',
An' gie's a han' o' thine,
We'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet
For Auld Lang Syne.
“And that song's the answer of all problems,” said Mitchell. But it
was I who lay awake and thought that night.
[Children of the Bush by Henry Lawson II]
THE ROMANCE OF THE SWAG
The Australian swag fashion is the easiest way in the world of
carrying a load. I ought to know something about carrying loads: I've
carried babies, which are the heaviest and most awkward and
heartbreaking loads in this world for a boy or man to carry, I fancy.
God remember mothers who slave about the housework (and do sometimes a
man's work in addition in the bush) with a heavy, squalling kid on one
arm! I've humped logs on the selection, “burning-off,” with loads of
fencing-posts and rails and palings out of steep, rugged gullies (and
was happier then, perhaps); I've carried a shovel, crowbar, heavy
“rammer,” a dozen insulators on an average (strung round my shoulders
with raw flax)-to say nothing of soldiering kit, tucker-bag, billy and
climbing spurs—all day on a telegraph line in rough country in New
Zealand, and in places where a man had to manage his load with one hand
and help himself climb with the other; and I've helped hump and drag
telegraph-poles up cliffs and sidings where the horses couldn't go.
I've carried a portmanteau on the hot dusty roads in green old jackaroo
days. Ask any actor who's been stranded and had to count railway
sleepers from one town to another! he'll tell you what sort of an
awkward load a portmanteau is, especially if there's a broken-hearted
man underneath it. I've tried knapsack fashion—one of the least
healthy and most likely to give a man sores; I've carried my belongings
in a three-bushel sack slung over my shoulder—blankets, tucker, spare
boots and poetry all lumped together. I tried carrying a load on my
head, and got a crick in my neck and spine for days. I've carried a
load on my mind that should have been shared by editors and publishers.
I've helped hump luggage and furniture up to, and down from, a top flat
in London. And I've carried swag for months out back in Australia—and
it was life, in spite of its “squalidness” and meanness and
wretchedness and hardship, and in spite of the fact that the world
would have regarded us as “tramps”—and a free life amongst men
from all the world!
The Australian swag was born of Australia and no other land—of the
Great Lone Land of magnificent distances and bright heat; the land of
self-reliance, and never-give-in, and help-your-mate. The grave of many
of the world's tragedies and comedies—royal and otherwise. The land
where a man out of employment might shoulder his swag in Adelaide and
take the track, and years later walk into a hut on the Gulf, or never
be heard of any more, or a body be found in the bush and buried by the
mounted police, or never found and never buried—what does it matter?
The land I love above all others—not because it was kind to me, but
because I was born on Australian soil, and because of the foreign
father who died at his work in the ranks of Australian pioneers, and
because of many things. Australia! My country! Her very name is music
to me. God bless Australia! for the sake of the great hearts of the
heart of her! God keep her clear of the old-world shams and social lies
and mockery, and callous commercialism, and sordid shame! And heaven
send that, if ever in my time her sons are called upon to fight for her
young life and honour, I die with the first rank of them and be buried
in Australian ground.
But this will probably be called false, forced or “maudlin
sentiment” here in England, where the mawkish sentiment of the
music-halls, and the popular applause it receives, is enough to make a
healthy man sick, and is only equalled by music-hall vulgarity. So I'll
In the old digging days the knapsack, or straps-across-the chest
fashion, was tried, but the load pressed on a man's chest and impeded
his breathing, and a man needs to have his bellows free on long tracks
in hot, stirless weather. Then the “horse-collar,” or rolled military
overcoat style—swag over one shoulder and under the other arm—was
tried, but it was found to be too hot for the Australian climate, and
was discarded along with Wellington boots and leggings. Until recently,
Australian city artists and editors—who knew as much about the bush as
Downing Street knows about the British colonies in general—seemed to
think the horse-collar swag was still in existence; and some artists
gave the swagman a stick, as if he were a tramp of civilization with an
eye on the backyard and a fear of the dog. English artists, by the way,
seem firmly convinced that the Australian bushman is born in Wellington
boots with a polish on 'em you could shave yourself by.
The swag is usually composed of a tent “fly” or strip of calico (a
cover for the swag and a shelter in bad weather—in New Zealand it is
oilcloth or waterproof twill), a couple of blankets, blue by custom and
preference, as that colour shows the dirt less than any other (hence
the name “bluey” for swag), and the core is composed of spare clothing
and small personal effects. To make or “roll up” your swag: lay the fly
or strip of calico on the ground, blueys on top of it; across one end,
with eighteen inches or so to spare, lay your spare trousers and shirt,
folded, light boots tied together by the laces toe to heel, books,
bundle of old letters, portraits, or whatever little knick-knacks you
have or care to carry, bag of needles, thread, pen and ink, spare
patches for your pants, and bootlaces. Lay or arrange the pile so that
it will roll evenly with the swag (some pack the lot in an old
pillowslip or canvas bag), take a fold over of blanket and calico the
whole length on each side, so as to reduce the width of the swag to,
say, three feet, throw the spare end, with an inward fold, over the
little pile of belongings, and then roll the whole to the other end,
using your knees and judgment to make the swag tight, compact and
artistic; when within eighteen inches of the loose end take an inward
fold in that, and bring it up against the body of the swag. There is a
strong suggestion of a roley-poley in a rag about the business, only
the ends of the swag are folded in, in rings, and not 'tied. Fasten the
swag with three or four straps, according to judgment and the supply of
straps. To the top strap, for the swag is carried (and eased down in
shanty bars and against walls or veranda-posts when not on the track)
in a more or less vertical position—to the top strap, and lowest, or
lowest but one, fasten the ends of the shoulder strap (usually a towel
is preferred as being softer to the shoulder), your coat being carried
outside the swag at the back, under the straps. To the top strap fasten
the string of the nose-bag, a calico bag about the size of a
pillowslip, containing the tea, sugar and flour bags, bread, meat,
baking-powder and salt, and brought, when the swag is carried from the
left shoulder, over the right on to the chest, and so balancing the
swag behind. But a swagman can throw a heavy swag in a nearly vertical
position against his spine, slung from one shoulder only and without
any balance, and carry it as easily as you might wear your overcoat.
Some bushmen arrange their belongings so neatly and conveniently, with
swag straps in a sort of harness, that they can roll up the swag in
about a minute, and unbuckle it and throw it out as easily as a roll of
wall-paper, and there's the bed ready on the ground with the wardrobe
for a pillow. The swag is always used for a seat on the track; it is a
soft seat, so trousers last a long time. And, the dust being mostly
soft and silky on the long tracks out back, boots last marvellously.
Fifteen miles a day is the average with the swag, but you must travel
according to the water: if the next bore or tank is five miles on, and
the next twenty beyond, you camp at the five-mile water to-night and do
the twenty next day. But if it's thirty miles you have to do it.
Travelling with the swag in Australia is variously and picturesquely
described as “humping bluey,” “walking Matilda,” “humping Matilda,”
“humping your drum,” “being on the wallaby,” “jabbing trotters,” and
“tea and sugar burglaring,” but most travelling shearers now call
themselves trav'lers, and say simply “on the track,” or “carrying
And there you have the Australian swag. Men from all the world have
carried it—lords and low-class Chinamen, saints and world martyrs, and
felons, thieves, and murderers, educated gentlemen and boors who
couldn't sign their mark, gentlemen who fought for Poland and convicts
who fought the world, women, and more than one woman disguised as a
man. The Australian swag has held in its core letters and papers in all
languages, the honour of great houses, and more than one national
secret, papers that would send well-known and highly-respected men to
jail, and proofs of the innocence of men going mad in prisons, life
tragedies and comedies, fortunes and papers that secured titles and
fortunes, and the last pence of lost fortunes, life secrets, portraits
of mothers and dead loves, pictures of fair women, heart-breaking old
letters written long ago by vanished hands, and the pencilled
manuscript of more than one book which will be famous yet.
The weight of the swag varies from the light rouseabout's swag,
containing one blanket and a clean shirt, to the “royal Alfred,” with
tent and all complete, and weighing part of a ton. Some old sundowners
have a mania for gathering, from selectors' and shearers' huts, and
dust-heaps, heart-breaking loads of rubbish which can never be of any
possible use to them or anyone else. Here is an inventory of the
contents of the swag of an old tramp who was found dead on the track,
lying on his face on the sand, with his swag on top of him, and his
arms stretched straight out as if he were embracing the mother earth,
or had made, with his last movement, the sign of the cross to the
Rotten old tent in rags. Filthy blue blanket, patched with squares
of red and calico. Half of “white blanket” nearly black now, patched
with pieces of various material and sewn to half of red blanket.
Three-bushel sack slit open. Pieces of sacking. Part of a woman's
skirt. Two rotten old pairs of moleskin trousers. One leg of a pair of
trousers. Back of a shirt. Half a waistcoat. Two tweed coats, green,
old and rotting, and patched with calico. Blanket, etc. Large bundle of
assorted rags for patches, all rotten. Leaky billy-can, containing
fishing-line, papers, suet, needles and cotton, etc. Jam-tin, medicine
bottles, corks on strings, to hang to his hat to keep the flies off (a
sign of madness in the bush, for the corks would madden a sane man
sooner than the flies could). Three boots of different sizes, all
belonging to the right foot, and a left slipper. Coffee-pot, without
handle or spout, and quart-pot full of rubbish—broken knives and
forks, with the handles burnt off, spoons, etc., picked up on
rubbish-heaps; and many rusty nails, to be used as buttons, I suppose.
Broken saw blade, hammer, broken crockery, old pannikins, small
rusty frying-pan without a handle, children's old shoes, many bits of
old bootleather and greenhide, part of yellowback novel, mutilated
English dictionary, grammar and arithmetic book, a ready reckoner, a
cookery book, a bulgy anglo-foreign dictionary, part of a Shakespeare,
book in French and book in German, and a book on etiquette and
courtship. A heavy pair of blucher boots, with uppers parched and
cracked, and soles so patched (patch over patch) with leather, boot
protectors, hoop iron and hobnails that they were about two inches
thick, and the boots weighed over five pounds. (If you don't believe me
go into the Melbourne Museum, where, in a glass case in a place of
honour, you will see a similar, perhaps the same, pair of bluchers
labelled “An example of colonial industry.”) And in the core of the
swag was a sugar-bag tied tightly with a whip-lash, and containing
another old skirt, rolled very tight and fastened with many turns of a
length of clothes-line, which last, I suppose, he carried to hang
himself with if he felt that way. The skirt was rolled round a small
packet of old portraits and almost indecipherable letters—one from a
woman who had evidently been a sensible woman and a widow, and who
stated in the letter that she did not intend to get married again as
she had enough to do already, slavin' her finger-nails off to keep a
family, without having a second husband to keep. And her answer was
“final for good and all,” and it wasn't no use comin' “bungfoodlin'“
round her again. If he did she'd set Satan on to him. “Satan” was a
dog, I suppose.
The letter was addressed to “Dear Bill,” as were others. There were
no envelopes. The letters were addressed from no place in particular,
so there weren't any means of identifying the dead man. The police
buried him under a gum, and a young trooper cut on the tree the words:
SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF
BILL WHO DIED.
Old Abel Albury had a genius for getting the bull by the tail with a
tight grip, and holding on with both hands and an obstinacy born of
ignorance—and not necessarily for the sake of self-preservation or
selfishness—while all the time the bull might be, so to speak, rooting
up life-long friendships and neighbourly relations, and upsetting
domestic customs and traditions with his horns.
Yes, Uncle Abel was always grasping the wrong end of things, and
sticking to it with that human mulishness which is often stronger, and
more often wearies and breaks down the opposition than an intelligent
man's arguments. He was—-or professed to be, the family said—unable
for a long time to distinguish between his two grand-nephews, one of
whom was short and fat, while the other was tall and thin, the only
points of resemblance between them being that each possessed the old
family nose and eyes. When they were boys he used to lay the strap
about one in mistake for the other. They had a saying that Uncle Abel
saw with ten squinting eyes.
Also, he could never-or would not, as the family said—remember
names. He referred to Mrs Porter, a thin, haggard selector's wife, as
“Mrs Stout” and he balanced matters by calling Mrs Southwick “Mrs
Porterwicket”—when he didn't address her as “Mrs What's-the-woman's-name”—and he succeeded in deeply offending both ladies.
Uncle Abel was Mrs Carey's uncle.
Down at the lower end of Carey's selection at Rocky Rises, in the
extreme corner of the lower or outer paddock, were sliprails opening
into the main road, which ran down along the siding, round the foot of
a spur from ridge, and out west. These sliprails were called “The Lower
Sliprails” by the family, and it occurred to Uncle Abel to refer to
them as “Buckolts' Gate,” for no other reason apparently than that
Buckolts' farm lay in that direction. The farm was about a mile further
on, on the other side of the creek, and the gate leading to it from the
main road was round the spur, out of sight of Carey's selection. It is
quite possible that Uncle Abel reasoned the thing out for days, for of
such material are some human brains. Sliprails, or a slip-panel, is a
panel of fencing of which the rails are made to be slipped out of the
mortise holes in the posts so as to give passage to horses, vehicles
and cattle. I suppose Abel called it a gate, because he was always
going to hang a proper gate there some day. The family were unaware of
his new name for the Lower Sliprails, and after he had, on one or two
occasions, informed the boys that they would find a missing cow or
horse at the Buckolts' Gate, and they had found it calmly camped at the
Lower Sliprails, and after he had made several appointments to meet
parties at Buckolts' Gate, and had been found leaning obstinately on
the fence by the Lower Sliprails with no explanation to offer other
than that he was waiting at Buckolts' Gate, they began to fear
that he was becoming weak in his mind.
It was New Year's Eve at Rocky Rises. There was no need for
fireworks nor bonfires, for the bush-fires were out all along the
ranges to the east, and, as night came on, lines and curves of
lights—clear lights, white lights, and, in the nearer distance, red
lights and smoky lights—marked the sidings and ridges of a western
spur of the Blue Mountain Range, and seemed suspended against a dark
sky, for the stars and the loom of the hills were hidden by smoke and
There was a dance at Careys'. Old Carey was a cheerful, broad-minded
bushman, haunted at times by the memories of old days, when he was the
beau of the bush balls, and so when he built his new slab-and-bark barn
he had it properly floored with hard-wood, and the floor well-faced “to
give the young people a show when they wanted a dance,” he said. The
floor had a spring in it, and bush boys and girls often rode twenty
miles and more to dance on that floor. The girls said it was a lovely
On this occasion Carey had stacked his wheat outside until after the
New Year. Spring-carts, and men and girls on horseback came in from
miles round. “Sperm” candles had been cut up and thrown on the floor
during the afternoon, and rubbed over by feet cased tightly in
'lastic-sides; and hoops were hung horizontally from the tie-beams,
with candles stuck round them. There were fresh-faced girls, and sweet,
freckled-faced girls, and jolly girls, and shy girls—all sorts of
girls except sulky, “toney” girls—and lanky chaps, most of them
sawney, and weird, whiskered agriculturists, who watched the dancers
with old, old time-worn smiles, or stood, or sat on their heels
yarning, with their pipes, outside, where two boilers were slung over a
log-fire to boil water for tea; and there were leathery women, with
complexions like dried apples, who gossiped—for the first time in
months perhaps—and watched the young people, and thought at times, no
doubt, of other days—of other days when they were girls. (And not so
far distant either, in some cases, for women dry quickly in the bush.)
And there were one or two old soldiers and their wives, whose eyes
glistened when Jim Bullock played “The Girl I Left Behind Me.”
Jim Bullock was there with his concertina. He sat on a stool in
front of a bench, on which was a beer-keg, piles of teacups and
saucers, several big tin teapots, and plates of sandwiches,
sponge-cakes, and tarts. Jim sat in his shirt-sleeves, with his
flat-brimmed, wire-bound, “hard-hitter” hat on, slanting over his
weaker eye. He held one leg loosely and the other rigid, with the
concertina on his knee, and swanked away at the instrument by the hour,
staring straight in front of him with the expression of a cod-fish, and
never moving a muscle except the muscles of his great hairy arms and
big chapped and sun-blotched hands; while chaps in tight “larstins"
(elastic-side boots), slop suits of black, bound with braid, and with
coats too short in the neck and arms, and trousers bell-mouthed at the
bottoms, and some with paper collars, narrow red ribbon ties, or scarfs
through walnut shells, held their partners rigidly, and went round the
room with their eyes—most of them—cocked at the rafters in
But there was tall, graceful, pink-and-white Bertha Buckolt,
blue-eyed and blue-black-haired, and little Mary Carey with the kind,
grey eyes and red-gold hair; there was Mary's wild brother Jim, with
curly black hair and blue eyes and dimples of innocence; and there was
Harry Dale, the drover, Jim's shearing and droving mate, a tall,
good-looking, brown-eyed and brown-haired young fellow, a
“better-class” bushman and the best dancer in the district. Uncle Abel
usurped the position of M.C., and roared “Now then! take yer partners!”
and bawled instructions and interrupted and tangled up the dancers,
until they got used to taking no notice of his bull voice. Mary Carey
was too shy—because she loved him, and secretly and fondly hoped and
doubted that he cared for her—to be seen dancing more than once with
Harry Dale, so he shared Bertha Buckolt, the best girl dancer there,
with Jim Carey, who danced with his sister when Harry was dancing with
Bertha Buckolt, and who seemed, for some reason best known to himself,
to be perfectly satisfied with the arrangement. Poor little Mary began
to fret presently, and feel a little jealous of Bertha, her old
schoolmate. She was little and couldn't dance like Bertha, and she
couldn't help noticing how well Bertha looked to-night, and what a
well-matched pair she and Harry made; and so, when twelve o'clock came
and they all went outside to watch the Old Year out and the New Year
in—with a big bonfire on the distant ridge where the grass fires had
reached a stretch of dry scrub—and to join hands all round and sing
“Auld Lang Syne,” little Mary was not to be found, for she was sitting
on a log round behind the cow-yard, crying softly to herself.
And when about three o'clock they all started home, Mary gave Bertha
her cheek to kiss instead of her mouth, and that hurt Bertha, who had
her cry riding home, to the astonishment and irritation of her
brother Jack, who rode home with her. But when they were all gone Mary
was missing again and when her mother called her, and, after a pause,
the voice of Harry Dale said, respectfully, in the darkness, “She's
here, Mrs Carey, she's all right,” the two were discovered sitting on a
convenient log of the wood-heap, with an awkward and overacted interval
of log between them.
Old Carey liked Harry Dale, and seemed very well satisfied with the
way things appeared to be going. He pressed Harry to stay at the
selection overnight. “The missus will make you a shake-down on the
floor,” he said. Harry had no appointments, and stayed cheerfully, and
old Carey, having had a whisky or two, insisted on Mary making the
shake-down, and the old folks winked at each other behind the young
folks' backs to see how poor little Mary spread a spare mattress, with
redhot, averted face, and found an extra pillow and a spare pair of
ironed sheets for the shake-down.
At sunrise she stole out to milk the cows, which was her regular
duty; there was no other way out from her room than through the
dining-room, where Harry lay on his back, with his arms folded, resting
peacefully. He seemed sound asleep and safe for a good two hours, so
she ventured. As she passed out she paused a moment looking down on him
with all the lovelight in her eyes, and, obeying a sudden impulse, she
stooped softly and touched his forehead with her lips, then she slipped
out. Harry stretched, opened his eyes, winked solemnly at the ceiling,
and then, after a decent interval, he got up, dressed, and went out to
help her to milk.
Harry Dale and Jim Carey were going out to take charge of a mob of
bullocks going north-west, away up in Queensland. And as they had lost
a day and night to be at the dance, they decided to start in the cool
of the evening and travel all night. Mary walked from the homestead to
the Lower Sliprails between her brother, who rode—because he was her
brother—and led a packhorse on the other side, and Harry, who walked
and led his horse—because he was her sweetheart, avowed only since
There were thunderstorms about, and Mary had repented sufficiently
with regard to Bertha Buckolt to wear on her shoulders a cape which
Bertha had left behind her last night.
When they reached the Lower Sliprails Jim said he'd go on and that
Harry needn't hurry: he stooped over his horse's neck, kissed his
sister, promised to keep away from the drink, not to touch a card, and
to leave off fighting, and rode on. And when he rounded the Spur he saw
a tall, graceful figure slipping through the trees from the creek
towards Buckolts' Gate.
Then came the critical time at the Lower Sliprails. The shadows from
the setting sun lengthened quickly on the siding, and then the sun
slipped out of sight over a “saddle” in the ridges, and all was soon
dusk save the sunlit peaks of the Blue Mountains away to the east over
the sweeps of blue-grey bush.
“Ah, well! Mary,” said Harry, “I must make a start now.”
“You'll—you'll look after Jim, won't you, Harry?” said Mary.
“I will, Mary, for your sake.”
Her mouth began to twitch, her chin to tremble, and her eyes brimmed
“You must cheer up, Mary,” he said with her in his arms. “I'll be
back before you know where you are, and then we'll be married right off
at once and settle down for life.”
She smiled bravely.
He led his horse through the rails and lifted them, with trembling
hands, and shot them home. Another kiss across the top rail and he got
on his horse. She mounted the lower rail, and he brought his horse
close alongside the fence and stooped to kiss her again.
“Cheer up, Mary!” he said. “I'll tell you what I'll do—when I come
back I'll whistle when I reach the Spur and you be here to let the
sliprails down for me. I'll time myself to get here about sundown. I'll
whistle `Willie Riley,' so you'll know it's me. Good-bye, little girl!
I must go now. Don't fret—the time will soon go by.”
He turned, swung his horse, and rode slowly down the track, turning
now and again to wave his hand to her, with a farewell flourish of his
hat as he rounded the Spur. His track, five hundred miles, or perhaps a
thousand, into the great north-west; his time, six months, or perhaps a
year. Hers a hundred yards or so back to the dusty, dreary drudgery of
selection life. The daylight faded into starlight, the sidings grew
very dim, and a faint white figure blurred against the bars of the
It was the last day of the threshing—shortly after New Year—at
Rocky Rises. The green boughs, which had been lashed to the
veranda-posts on Christmas Eve, had withered and been used for
firewood. The travelling steamer had gone with its gang of men, and the
family sat down to tea, the men tired with hard work and heat, and with
prickly heat and irritating wheaten chaff and dust under their
clothes—and with smut (for the crop had been a smutty one) “up their
brains” as Uncle Abel said—the women worn out with cooking for a big
gang of shearers.
Good-humoured Aunt Emma—who was Uncle Abel's niece —recovered
first, and started the conversation. There were one or two neighbours'
wives who bad lent crockery and had come over to help with the cooking
in their turns. Jim Carey's name came up incidentally, but was quickly
dropped, for ill reports of Jim had come home. Then Aunt Emma mentioned
Harry Dale, and glanced meaningly at Mary, whose face flamed as she
bent over her plate.
“Never mind, Mary,” said Aunt Emma, “it's nothing to be ashamed of.
We were all girls once. There's many a girl would jump at Harry.”
“Who says I'm ashamed?” said Mary, straightening up indignantly.
“Don't tease her, Emma,” said Mrs Carey, mildly.
“I'll tell yer what,” said young Tom Carey, frankly, “Mary got a
letter from him to-day. I seen her reading it behind the house.”
Mary's face flamed again and went down over her plate.
“Mary,” said her mother, with sudden interest, “did Harry say
anything of Jim?”
“No, mother,” said Mary. “And that's why I didn't tell you about the
There was a pause. Then Tommy said, with that delightful tact which
usually characterizes young Tommies:
“Well, Mary needn't be so cocky about Harry Dale, anyhow. I seen him
New Year's Eve when we had the dance. I seen him after the dance
liftin' Bertha Buckolt onter her horse in the dark—as if she couldn't
get on herself—she's big enough. I seen him lift her on, an' he took
her right up an' lifted her right inter the saddle, 'stead of holdin'
his hand for her to tread on like that new-chum jackaroo we had. An',
what's more, I seen him hug her an' give her a kiss before he lifted
her on. He told her he was as good as her brother.”
“What did he mean by that, Tommy?” asked Mrs Porter, to break an
“How'm I ter know what he means?” said Tommy, politely.
“And, Tommy, I seen Harry Dale give young Tommy Carey a lick with a
strap the day before New Year's Eve for throwing his sister's cat into
the dam,” said Aunt Emma, coming to poor Mary's rescue. “Never mind,
Mary, my dear, he said goodbye to you last.”
“No, he didn't!” roared Uncle Abel.
They were used to Uncle Abel's sudden bellowing, but it startled
them this time.
“Why, Uncle Abel,” cried both Aunt Emma and Mrs Carey, “whatever do
“What I means is that I ain't a-goin' to have the feelin's of a
niece of mine trifled with. What I means is that I seen Harry Dale with
Bertha Buckolt on New Year's night after he left here. That's what I
“Don't speak so loud, Abel, we're not deaf,” interrupted Carey, as
Mary started up white-faced. “What do you want to always shout for?”
“I speak loud because I want people to hear me!” roared Uncle Abel,
turning on him.
“Go on, Uncle Abel,” said Mary, “tell me what you mean.”
“I mean,” said Uncle Abel, lowering his voice a little, “that I seen
Harry Dale and Bertha Buckolt at Buckolts' Gate that night—I seen it
“At Buckolts' Gate!” cried Mary.
“Yes! at Buckolts' Gate! Ain't I speakin' loud enough?”
“And where were you?”
“Never mind wheers I was. I was comin' home along the ridges, and I
seen them. I seen them say good-bye; I seen them hug an' kiss—”
“Uncle Abel!” exclaimed Aunt Emma.
“It's no use Uncle Abelin' me. What I sez I sez. I ain't a-goin' to
have a niece of mine bungfoodled—”
“Uncle Abel,” cried Mary, staring at him wild-eyed, “do be careful
what you say. You must have made a mistake. Are you sure it was Bertha
“Am I sure my head's on me neck?” roared Uncle Abel. “Would I see
'em if I didn't see 'em? I tell you—”
“Now wait a moment, Uncle Abel,” interrupted Mary, with dangerous
calmness. “Listen to me. Harry Dale and I are engaged to be married,
“Have you got the writings!” shouted Uncle Abel.
“The what?” said Mary.
“No, of course not.”
“Then that's where you are,” said Uncle Abel, triumphantly. “If you
had the writings you could sue him for breach of contract.”
Uncle Abel, who couldn't read, had no faith whatever in verbal
agreements (he wouldn't sign one, he said), all others he referred to
“Now, listen to me, Uncle Abel,” said Mary, trembling now. “Are you
sure you saw Harry Dale and Bertha Buckolt at Buckolts' Gate after he
left here that night?”
“Yes. An' what's more, I seen young Tommy there ridin' on his pony
along by the Spur a little while after, an' he muster seen them too, if
he's got a tongue.”
Mary turned quickly to her brother.
“Well, all I can say,” said Tommy, quietened now, “is that I seen
her at Buckolts' Gate that night. I was comin' home from Two-Mile
Flat, and I met Jim with his packhorse about a mile the other side of
Buckolts', and while we was talkin' Harry Dale caught up, so I jist
said 'So-long' an' left 'em. And when I got to Buckolt's Gate I seen
Bertha Buckolt. She was standin' under a tree, and she looked as if she
But Mary got her bonnet and started out.
“Where are you going to, Mary?” asked her mother, starting up
“I'm going across to Buckolts' to find out the truth,” said Mary,
and she went out.
“Better let her go, Lizzie,” said Aunt Emma, detaining her sister.
“You've done it now, Uncle Abel.”
“Well, why didn't she get the writings?” retorted Uncle Abel.
Half-way to Buckolts' Mary met Bertha Buckolt herself, coming over
to the selection for the first time since the night of the party.
Bertha started forward to kiss Mary, but stopped short as Mary stood
stock-still and faced her, with her hands behind her back.
“Why! whatever is the matter, Mary?” exclaimed Bertha.
“You know very well, Bertha.”
“Why! Whatever do you mean? What have I done?”
“What haven't you done? You've—you've broken my heart.”
“Good gracious me! Whatever are you talking about? Tell me what it
“You met him at your gate that night?”
“I know I did.”
“Oh, Bertha! How could you be so mean and deceitful?”
“Mean and deceitful! What do you mean by that? Whatever are you
talking about? I suppose I've got as good a right to meet him as anyone
“No, you haven't,” retorted Mary, “you're only stringing him on. You
only did it to spite me. You helped him to deceive me. You ought to be
ashamed to look me in the face.”
“Good gracious! Whatever are you talking about? Ain't I good enough
for him! I ought to be, God knows! I suppose he can marry who he likes,
and if I'm poor fool enough to love him and marry him, what then? Mary,
you ought to be the last to speak—speak to—to me like that.”
“Yes. He can marry all, the girls in the country for all I care. I
never want to see either him or you any more. You're a cruel,
deceitful, brazen-faced hussy, and he's a heartless, deceiving
“Mary! I believe you're mad,” said Bertha, firmly. “How dare you
speak to me like that! And as for him being a blackguard. Why, you
ought to be the last in the world to say such a thing; you ought to be
the last to say a word against him. Why, I don't believe you ever cared
a rap for him in spite of all your pretence. He could go to the devil
for all you cared.”
“That's enough, Bertha Buckolt!” cried Mary. “You—you! Why,
you're a barefaced girl, that's what you are! I don't want to see your
brazen face again.” With that she turned and stumbled blindly in the
direction of home.
“Send back my cape,” cried Bertha as she too turned away.
Mary walked wildly home and fled to her room and locked the door.
Bertha did likewise.
Mary let Aunt Emma in after a while, ceased sobbing and allowed
herself to be comforted a little. Next morning she was out milking at
the usual time, but there were dark hollows under her eyes, and her
little face was white and set. After breakfast she rolled the cape up
very tight in a brown-paper parcel, addressed it severely to
MISS BERTHA BUCKOLT,
and sent it home by one of the school-children. She wrote to Harry
Dale and told him that she knew all about it (not stating what), but
she forgave him and hoped he'd be happy. She never wanted to see his
face again, and enclosed his portrait.
Harry, who was as true and straight as a bushman could be, puzzled
it out and decided that some one of his old love affairs must have come
to Mary's ears, and wrote demanding an explanation.
She never answered that letter.
It was Christmas Day at Rocky Rises. The plum puddings had been
made, as usual, weeks beforehand, and hung in rags to the tie-beams and
taken down and boiled again. Poultry had been killed and plucked and
cooked, and all the toil had been gone through, and every preparation
made for a red-hot dinner on a blazing hot day—and for no other reason
than that our great-grandmothers used to do it in a cold climate at
Christmas-times that came in mid-winter. Merry men hadn't gone forth to
the wood to gather in the mistletoe (if they ever did in England, in
the olden days, instead of sending shivering, wretched vassals in rags
to do it); but Uncle Abel had gone gloomily up the ridge on Christmas
Eve, with an axe on his shoulder (and Tommy unwillingly in tow,
scowling and making faces behind his back), and had cut young pines and
dragged them home and lashed them firmly to the veranda-posts, which
was the custom out there.
There was little goodwill or peace between the three or four farms
round Rocky Rises that Christmas Day, and Uncle Abel had been the cause
of most of the ill-feeling, though they didn't know, and he was least
aware of it of any.
It all came about in this way.
Shortly after last New Year Ryan's bull had broken loose and gone
astray for two days and nights, breaking into neighbours' paddocks and
filling himself with hay and damaging other bulls, and making love by
night and hiding in the scrub all day. On the second night he broke
through and jumped over Reid's fences, and destroyed about an acre of
grape-vines and adulterated Reid's stock, besides interfering with
certain heifers which were not of a marriageable age. There was a L5
penalty on a stray bull. Reid impounded the bull and claimed heavy
damages. Ryan, a small selector of little account, was always pulling
some neighbour to court when he wasn't being “pulled” himself, so he
went to court over this case.
Now, it appears that the bull, on his holiday, had spent a part of
the first night in Carey's lower paddock, and Uncle Abel (who was out
mooching about the bush at all hours, “havin' a look at some timber” or
some “indercations” [of gold], or on some mysterious business or fad,
the mystery of which was of his own making)—Uncle Abel saw the bull in
the paddock at daylight and turned it out the sliprails, and talked
about it afterwards, referring to the sliprails as “Buckolts' Gate,” of
course, and spoke mysteriously of the case, and put on an appearance of
great importance, and allowed people to get an idea that he knew a lot
if he only liked to speak; and finally he got himself “brought up” as a
witness for Ryan.
He had a lot of beer in town before he went to the courthouse. All
he knew would have been of no use to either party, but he swore that he
had seen Ryan's bull inside Buckolts' Gate at daylight (on the day
which wasn't in question) and had turned him out. Uncle Abel mixed up
the court a good deal, and roared like the bull, and became more
obstinate the more he was cross-examined, and narrowly escaped being
committed for contempt of court.
Ryan, who had a high opinion of the breed of his bull, got an idea
that the Buckolts had enticed or driven the bull into their paddock for
stock-raising purposes, instead of borrowing it honestly or offering to
pay for the use of it. Then Ryan wanted to know why Abel had driven his
bull out of Buckolts' Gate, and the Buckolts wanted to know what
business Abel Albury had to drive Ryan's bull out of their paddock, if
the bull had really ever been there. And so it went on till Rocky Rises
was ripe for a tragedy.
The breach between the Careys and the Buckolts was widened, the
quarrel between Ryan and Reid intensified. Ryan got a down on the
Careys because he reckoned that Uncle Abel had deliberately spoilt his
case with his evidence; and the Reids and Careys were no longer on
speaking terms, because nothing would convince old Reid that Abel
hadn't tried to prove that Ryan's bull had never been in Reid's paddock
Well, it was Christmas Day, and the Carey family and Aunt Emma sat
down to dinner. Jim was present, having arrived overnight, with no
money, as usual, and suffering a recovery. The elder brother, Bob (who
had a selection up-country), and his wife were there. Mrs Carey moved
round with watchful eyes and jealous ears, lest there should be a word
or a look which might hurt the feelings of her wild son—for of such
Dinner went on very moodily, in spite of Aunt Emma, until at last
Jim spoke—almost for the first time, save for a long-whispered and, on
his part, repentant conversation with his mother.
“Look here, Mary!” said Jim. “What did you throw Harry Dale over
“Don't ask me, Jim.”
“Rot! What did he do to you? I'm your brother” (with a glance at
Bob), “and I ought to know.”
“Well, then, ask Bertha Buckolt. She saw him last.”
“What!” cried Jim.
“Hold your tongue, Jim! You'll make her cry,” said Aunt Emma.
“Well, what's it all about, anyway?” demanded Jim. “All I know is
that Mary wrote to Harry and threw him over, and he ain't been the same
man since. He swears he'll never come near the district again.”
“Tell Jim, Aunt Emma,” said Mary. And Aunt Emma started to tell the
story as far as she knew.
“Saw her at Buckolt's sliprails!” cried Jim, starting up. “Well, he
couldn't have had time to more than say good-bye to her, for I was with
her there myself, and Harry caught up to me within a mile of the
gate—and I rode pretty fast.”
“He had a jolly long good-bye with her,” shouted Uncle Abel. “Look
here, Jim! I ain't goin' to stand by and see a nephew of mine
bungfoodled by no girl; an', I tell you I seen 'em huggin' and kissin'
and canoodlin' for half an hour at Buckolts' Gate!”
“It's a—a—Look here, Uncle Abel, be careful what you say. You've
got the bull by the tail again, that's what it is!” Jim's face grew
whiter—and it had been white enough on account of the drink. “How did
you know it was them? You're always mistaking people. It might have
been someone else.”
“I know Harry Dale on horseback two miles off!” roared Uncle Abel.
“And I knowed her by her cape.”
It was Mary's turn to gasp and stare at Uncle Abel.
“Uncle Abel,” she managed to say, “Uncle Abel! Wasn't it at our
Lower Sliprails you saw them and not Buckolts' Gate?”
“Well!” bellowed Uncle Abel. “You might call 'em the `Lower
Sliprails,' but I calls 'em Buckolts' Gate! They lead to'r'ds
Buckolts', don't they? Hey? Them other sliprails”—jerking his arms in
the direction of the upper paddock “them theer other sliprails that
leads outer Reid's lane I calls Reid's Sliprails. I don't know nothing
about no upper or lower, or easter or wester, or any other la-di-dah
names you like to call 'em.”
“Oh, uncle,” cried Mary, trembling like a leaf, “why didn't you
explain this before? Why didn't you tell us?”
“What cause have I got to tell any of you everything I sez or does
or thinks? It 'ud take me all me time. Ain't you got any more brains
than Ryan's bull, any of you? Hey!—You've got heads, but so has
cabbages. Explain! Why, if the world wasn't stuffed so full of
jumped-up fools there'd be never no need for explainin'.”
Mary left the table.
“What is it, Mary?” cried Aunt Emma.
“I'm going across to Bertha,” said Mary, putting on her hat with
trembling hands. “It was me Uncle Abel saw. I had Bertha's cape on that
“Oh, Uncle Abel,” cried Aunt Emma, “whatever have you done?”
“Well,” said Uncle Abel, “why didn't she get the writin's as I told
her? It's to be hoped she won't make such a fool of herself next time.”
Half an hour later, or thereabouts, Mary sat on Bertha Buckolt's
bed, with Bertha beside her and Bertha's arm round her, and they were
crying and laughing by turns.
“But-but-why didn't you tell me it was Jim?” said Mary.
“Why didn't you tell me it was Harry, Mary?” asked Bertha. “It would
have saved all this year of misery.
“I didn't see Harry Dale at all that night,” said Bertha. “I was—I
was crying when Jim left me, and when Harry came along I slipped behind
a tree until he was past. And now, look here, Mary, I can't marry Jim
until he steadies down, but I'll give him another chance. But, Mary,
I'd sooner lose him than you.”
Bertha walked home with Mary, and during the afternoon she took Jim
aside and said:
“Look here, Jim, I'll give you another chance—for a year. Now I
want you to ride into town and send a telegram to Harry Dale. How long
would it take him to get here?”
“He couldn't get here before New Year,” said Jim.
“That will do,” said Bertha, and Jim went to catch his horse. Next
day Harry's reply came: “Coming”
New Year's Eve. The dance was at Buckolts' this year, but Bertha
didn't dance much; she was down by the gate most of the time with
little Mary Carey, waiting, and watching the long, white road, and
listening for horses' feet, and disappointed often as other horsemen
rode by or turned up to the farm.
And in the hot sunrise that morning, within a hundred 'miles of
Rocky Rises, a tired, dusty drover camped in the edge of a scrub,
boiled his quart-pot, broiled a piece of mutton on the coals, and lay
down on the sand to rest an hour or so before pushing on to a cattle
station he knew to try and borrow fresh horses. He had ridden all
Old Buckolt and Carey and Reid smoked socially under the
grape-vines, with bottles of whisky and glasses, and nudged each other
and coughed when they wanted to laugh at Old Abel Albury, who was, for
about the first time in his life, condescending to explain. He was
explaining to them what thund'rin' fools they had been.
Later on they sent a boy on horseback with a bottle of whisky and a
message to Ryan, who turned up in time to see the New Year in with them
and contradict certain slanders concerning the breed of his bull.
Meanwhile Bertha comforted Mary, and at last persuaded her to go
home. “He's sure to be here to-morrow, Mary,” she said, “and you need
to look fresh and happy.”
But Mary didn't sleep that night; she was up before daylight, had
the kettle on and some chops ready to fry, and at daybreak she was down
by the sliprails again. She was turning away for the second time when
she heard a clear whistle round the Spur—then the tune of “Willie
Riley,” and the hobble-chains and camp-ware on the packhorse jingling
to the tune.
She pulled out the rails with eager, trembling hands and leaned
against the tree. An hour later a tired drover lay on his back, in his
ragged, track-worn clothes and dusty leggings, on Mary's own little bed
in the skillion off the living-room, and rested. Mary bustled round
getting breakfast ready, and singing softly to herself; once she
slipped in, bent over Harry and kissed him gently on the lips, and ran
out as he stirred.
“Why, who's that?” exclaimed Uncle Abel, poking round early and
catching a glimpse of Harry through the open door.
“It's only Harry, Uncle Abel,” said Mary.
Uncle Abel peered in again to make sure.
“Well, be sure you git the writin's this time,” he said.
SQUATTER AND SELECTOR
Wall was a squatter and a hard man. There had been long years of
drought and loss, and then came the rabbit pest—the rabbits swarmed
like flies over his run, and cropped the ground bare where even the
poor grass might have saved thousands of sheep—and the rabbits cost
the squatter hundreds of pounds in “rabbit-proof” fences, trappers'
wages, etc., just to keep them down. Then came arrangements with the
bank. And then Wall's wife died. Wall started to brood over other days,
and the days that had gone between, and developed a temper which drove
his children from home one by one, till only Mary was left. She managed
the lonely home with the help of a half-caste. Then in good seasons
came the selectors.
Men remembered Wall as a grand boss and a good fellow, but that was
in the days before rabbits and banks, and syndicates and “pastoralists"
or pastoral companies instead of good squatters. Runs were mostly
pastoral leases for which the squatter paid the Government so much per
square mile (almost a nominal rent). Selections were small holdings
taken up by farmers under residential and other conditions and paid for
by instalments. If you were not ruined by the drought, and paid up long
enough, the land became freehold. The writer is heir to a dusty patch
of three hundred acres or so in the scrub which was taken up thirty
years ago and isn't freehold yet.
Selectors were allowed to take up land on runs or pastoral leases as
well as on unoccupied Crown lands, and as they secured the best bits of
land, and on water frontages if they could, and as, of course,
selections reduced the area of the run, the squatters loved selectors
like elder brothers. One man is allowed to select only a certain amount
of land, and required by law to live on it, so the squatters bought as
much freehold about the homestead as they could afford, selected as
much as they are allowed to by law, and sometimes employed “dummy"
selectors to take up choice bits about the runs and hold them for them.
They fought selectors in many various ways, and, in some cases, annoyed
and persecuted them with devilish ingenuity.
Ross was a selector, and a very hard man physically. He was a short,
nuggety man with black hair and frill beard (a little dusty), bushy
black eyebrows, piercing black eyes, horny knotted hands, and the
obstinacy or pluck of a dozen men to fight drought and the squatter.
Ross selected on Wall's run, in a bend of Sandy Creek, a nice bit of
land with a black soil, flat and red soil sidings from the ridges,
which no one had noticed before, and with the help of his boys he got
the land cleared and fenced in a year or two—taking bush contracts
about the district between whiles to make “tucker” for the family until
he got his first crop off.
Wall was never accused of employing dummies, or underhanded methods
in dealings with selectors, but he had been through so much and had
brooded so long that he had grown very hard and bitter and suspicious,
and the reverse of generous—as many men do who start out in life too
soft and goodhearted and with too much faith in human nature. He was a
tall, dark man. He ordered Ross's boys off the run, impounded Ross's
stock—before Ross had got his fencing finished, summoned Ross for
trespass, and Ross retaliated as well as he could, until at last it
mightn't have been safe for one of those men to have met the other with
a gun. The impounding of the selector's cattle led to the last bad
quarrel between Wall and his son Billy, who was a tall, good-natured
Cornstalk, and who reckoned that Australia was big enough for all of
us. One day in the drought, and in an extra bitter mood, Wall heard
that some of his sheep had been dogged in the vicinity of Ross's
selection, and he ordered Billy to take a station-hand and watch Ross's
place all night, and, if Ross's cattle put their noses over the
boundary, to drive them to the pound, fifteen miles away; also to lay
poisoned baits for the dogs all round the selection. And Billy flatly
“I know Ross and the boys,” he said, “and I don't believe they
dogged the sheep. Why, they've only got a Newfoundland pup, and an old
lame, one-eyed sheep-dog that couldn't hurt a flea. Now, father, this
sort of thing has been going on long enough. What difference does a few
paltry acres make to us? The country is big enough, God knows! Ross is
a straight man and—for God's sake, give the man a chance to get his
ground fenced in; he's doing it as fast as he can, and he can't watch
his cattle day and night.”
“Are you going to do as I tell you, or are you not?” shouted Wall.
“Well, if it comes to that, I'm not,” said Billy. “I'm not going to
sneak round a place all night and watch for a chance to pound a poor
It was an awful row, down behind the wool-shed, and things looked so
bad that old Peter, the station-hand, who was a witness, took off his
coat and rolled up his sleeves, ready, as he said afterwards, “to roll
into” either the father or the son if one raised a hand against the
“Father!” said Billy, though rather sobered by the sight of his
father's trembling, choking passion, “do you call yourself an
“Yes!” yelled Wall, furiously. “What the hell do you call yourself?”
“If it comes to that I'm an Australian,” said Billy, and he turned
away and went to catch his horse. He went up-country and knocked about
in the north-west for a year or two.
ROMEO AND JULIET
Mary Wall was twenty-five. She was an Australian bush girl, every
inch of her five-foot-nine; she had a pink-and-white complexion, dark
blue eyes, blue-black hair, and “the finest figure in the district,” on
horseback or afoot. She was the best girlrider too (saddle or
bare-back), and they say that when she was a tomboy she used to tuck
her petticoats under her and gallop man-fashion through the scrub after
horses or cattle. She said she was going to be an old maid.
There came a jackaroo on a visit to the station. He was related to
the bank with which Wall had relations. He was a dude, with an
expensive education and no brains. He was very vain of his education
and prospects. He regarded Mary with undisguised admiration, and her
father had secret hopes. One evening the jackaroo was down by the
homestead-gate when Mary came cantering home on her tall chestnut. The
gate was six feet or more, and the jackaroo raised his hat and hastened
to open it, but Mary reined her horse back a few yards and the “dood"
had barely time to jump aside when there was a scuffle of hoofs on the
road, a “Ha-ha-ha!” in mid-air, a landing thud, and the girl was away
up the home-track in a cloud of dust.
A few days later the jackaroo happened to be at Kelly's, a wayside
shanty, watching a fight between two bushmen, when Mary rode up. She
knew the men. She whipped her horse in between them and struck at first
one and then the other with her riding-whip.
“You ought to be ashamed of yourselves!” she said; “and both married
It evidently struck them that way, for after a bit they shook hands
and went home.
“And I wouldn't have married that girl for a thousand pounds,” said
the jackaroo, relating the incidents to some friends in Sydney.
Mary said she wanted a man, if she could get one.
There was no life at home nowadays, so Mary went to all the bush
dances in the district. She thought nothing of riding twenty or thirty
miles to a dance, dancing all night, and riding home again next
morning. At one of these dances she met young Robert Ross, a
clean-limbed, good-looking young fellow about her own age. She danced
with him and liked him, and danced with him again, and he rode part of
the way home with her. The subject of the quarrel between the two homes
came up gradually.
“The boss,” said Robert, meaning his father, “the boss is always
ready to let bygones be bygones. It's a pity it couldn't be fixed up.”
“Yes,” said Mary, looking at him (Bob looked very well on
horseback), “it is a pity.”
They met several times, and next Prince of Wales's birthday they
rode home from the races together. Both had good horses, and they
happened to be far ahead of the others on the wide, straight clear road
that ran between the walls of the scrub. Along, about dusk, they became
very confidential indeed—Mary had remarked what a sad and beautiful
sunset it was. The horses got confidential, too, and shouldered
together, and touched noses, and, after a long interval in the
conversation, during which Robert, for one, began to breathe quickly,
he suddenly leaned over, put his arm round her waist and made to kiss
her. She jerked her body away, threw up her whiphand, and Robert ducked
instinctively; but she brought her whip down on her horse's flank
instead, and raced ahead. Robert followed—or, rather, his horse did:
he thought it was a race, and took the bit in his teeth. Robert kept
“Wait a while, Mary! I want to explain! I want to apologize! For
God's sake listen to me, Mary!”
But Mary didn't hear him. Perhaps she misunderstood the reason of
the chase and gave him credit for a spice of the devil in his nature.
But Robert grew really desperate; he felt that the thing must be fixed
up now or never, and gave his horse a free rein. Her horse was the
fastest, and Robert galloped in the dust from his heels for about a
mile and a half; then at the foot of a rise Mary's horse stumbled and
nearly threw her over his head, and then he stopped like the good horse
Robert got down feeling instinctively that he might best make his
peace on foot, and approached Mary with a face of misery—she had
dropped her whip.
“Oh, Bob!” she said, “I'm knocked out;” and she slipped down into
his arms and stayed there a while.
They sat on a log and rested, while their horses made inquiries of
each other's noses, and compared notes.
And after a good while Mary said “No, Bob, it's no use talking of
marrying just yet. I like you, Bob, but I could never marry you while
things are as they are between your father and mine. Now, that'll do.
Let me get on my horse, Bob. I'll be safer there.”
“Why?” asked Bob.
“Come on, Bob, and don't be stupid.”
She met him often and “liked” him.
A TRAMP'S MATCH AND WHAT IT DID
It was Christmas Eve at Wall's, but there was no score or so of
buggies and horses and dozens of strange dogs round the place as of
old. The glasses and decanters were dusty on the heavy old-fashioned
sideboard in the dining-room; and there was only a sullen, brooding man
leaning over the hurdles and looking at his rams in the yard, and a
sullen, brooding half-caste at work in the kitchen. Mary had ridden
away that morning to visit a girl chum.
It was towards the end of a long drought, and the country was like
tinder for hundreds of miles round—the ground for miles and miles in
the broiling scrubs “as bare as your hand,” or covered with coarse, dry
tufts. There was feed grass in places, but you had to look close to see
Shearing had finished the day before, but there was a black boy and
a station-hand or two about the yards and six or eight shearers and
rouseabouts, and a teamster camped in the men's huts—they were staying
over the holidays to shear stragglers and clean up generally. Old Peter
and a jackaroo were out on the run watching a bush-fire across Sandy
A swagman had happened to call at the station that morning; he asked
for work and then for tucker. He irritated Wall, who told him to clear
out. It was the first time that a swagman had been turned away from the
station without tucker.
Swaggy went along the track some miles, brooding over his wrongs,
and crossed Sandy Creek. He struck a match and dropped it into a
convenient tuft of grass in a likely patch of tufts, with dead grass
running from it up into the scrubby ridges—then he hurried on.
Did you ever see a bush-fire? Not sheets of flame sweeping and
roaring from tree-top to tree-top, but the snaky, hissing grass-fire of
The whole country covered with thin blue smoke so that you never
know in what direction the fire is travelling. At night you see it like
the lighted streets of cities, in the distant ranges. It roars up the
hollows of dead trees and gives them the appearance of factory chimneys
in the dusk. It climbs, by shreds of bark, the trunks of old dead
white-box and blue-gums—solid and hard as cast-iron—and cuts off the
limbs. And where there's a piece of recently ringbarked country, with
the dead leaves still on the trees, the fire will roar from bough to
bough—a fair imitation of a softwood forest fire. The bush-fire
travels through the scrubs for hundreds of miles, taking the grass to
the roots, scorching the living bush but leaving it alive—for gumbush
is hardest of any to kill. Where there is no undergrowth, and the
country seems bare as a road for miles, the fire will cross, licking up
invisible straws of grass, dusty leaves, twigs and shreds of bark on
the hard ground already baking in the drought. You hear of a fire miles
away, and next day, riding across the head of a gully, you hear a
hissing and crackling and there is the fire running over the ground in
lines and curves of thin blue smoke, snakelike, with old logs blazing
on the blackened ground behind. Did you ever hear a fire where a
fire should not be? There is something hellish in the sound of it. When
the breeze is, say, from the east the fire runs round western spurs, up
sheltered gullies—helped by an “eddy” in the wind perhaps—and appears
along the top of the ridge, ready, with a change in the wind, to come
down on farms and fields of ripe wheat, with a “front” miles long.
A selector might be protected by a wide sandy creek in front and
wide cleared roads behind, and, any hour in the day or night, a shout
from the farther end of the wheat paddock, and—“Oh, my God! the
Wall didn't mind this fire much; most of his sheep were on their way
out back, to a back run where there was young grass; and the dry ridges
along the creek would be better for a burning-off—only he had to watch
But, about dusk, Mary came galloping home in her usual breakneck
“Father,” she cried, “turn out the men and send them at once. The
fire is all down by Ross's farm, and he has ten acres of wheat
standing, and no one at home but him and Bob.”
“How do you know?” growled Wall. Then suddenly and suspiciously,
“Have you been there?”
“I came home that way.”
“Well—let Ross look after his own,” snarled the father.
“But he can't, father. They're fighting the fire now, and they'll be
burnt out before the morning if they don't get help—for God's sake,
father, act like a Christian and send the men. Remember it is
Christmas-time, father. You're surely not going to see a neighbour
“Yes, I am,” shouted Wall. “I'd like to see every selector in the
country burnt out, hut and all! Get off that horse and go inside. If a
man leaves the station to-night he needn't come back.” (This last for
the benefit of the men's hut.)
“Get off that horse and go inside,” roared Wall.
“What!” He darted forward as though to drag her from the saddle, but
she swung her horse away.
“Stop! Where are you going?”
“To help Ross,” said Mary. “He had no one to send for help.”
“Then go the same way as your brother!” roared her father; “and if
you show your nose back again I'll horse-whip you off the run!”
“I'll go, father,” said Mary, and she was away.
THE FIRE AT ROSS'S FARM
Ross's farm was in a corner between the ridges and the creek. The
fire had come down from the creek, but the siding on that side was
fairly clear, and they had stopped the fire there. It went behind the
ridge and ran up and over. The ridge was covered thickly with scrub and
dead grass; the wheat-field went well up the siding, and along the top
was a bush face with only a narrow bridle-track between it and the long
dead grass. Everything depended on the wind. Mary saw Ross and Mrs Ross
and the daughter Jenny, well up the siding above the fence, working
desperately, running to and fro, and beating out the fire with green
boughs. Mary left her horse, ran into the hut, and looked hurriedly
round for something to wear in place of her riding-skirt. She only saw
a couple of light print dresses. She stepped into a skillion room,
which happened to be Bob's room, and there caught sight of a pair of
trousers and a coat hanging on the wall.
Bob Ross, beating desperately along a line of fire that curved
down-hill to his right, and half-choked and blinded with the smoke,
almost stumbled against a figure which was too tall to be his father.
“Why! who's that?” he gasped.
“It's only me, Bob,” said Mary, and she lifted her bough again.
Bob stared. He was so astonished that he almost forgot the fire and
the wheat. Bob was not thin—but—
“Don't look at me, Bob!” said Mary, hurriedly. “We're going to be
married, so it doesn't matter. Let us save the wheat.”
There was no time to waste; there was a breeze now from over the
ridges, light, but enough to bear the fire down on them. Once, when
they had breathing space, Mary ran to the creek for a billy of water.
They beat out the fire all along the siding to where a rib of granite
came down over the ridge to the fence, and then they thought the wheat
was safe. They came together here, and Ross had time to look and see
who the strange man was; then he stared at Mary from under his black,
bushy eyebrows. Mary, choking and getting her breath after her
exertions, suddenly became aware, said “Oh!” and fled round the track
beyond the point of granite. She felt a gust of wind and looked up the
ridge. The bush fence ended here in a corner, where it was met by a new
wire fence running up from the creek. It was a blind gully full of tall
dead grass, and, glancing up, Mary saw the flames coming down fast. She
“Come on!” she cried, “come on! The fire's the other side of the
Back at the station, Wall walked up and down till he cooled. He went
inside and sat down, but it was no use. He lifted his head and saw his
dead wife's portrait on the wall. Perhaps his whole life ran before him
in detail—but this is not a psychological study.
There were only two tracks open to him now: either to give in, or go
on as he was going—to shut himself out from human nature and become
known as “Mean Wall,” “Hungry Wall,” or “Mad Wall, the Squatter.” He
was a tall, dark man of strong imagination and more than ordinary
intelligence. And it was the great crisis of his ruined life. He walked
to the top of a knoll near the homestead and saw the fire on the ridges
above Ross's farm. As he turned back he saw a horseman ride up and
dismount by the yard.
“Is that you, Peter?”
“Yes, boss. The fences is all right.”
“Been near Ross's?”
“No. He's burnt out by this time.”
Wall walked to and fro for a few minutes longer. Then he suddenly
stopped and called, “Peter!”
“Ay, ay!” from the direction of the huts.
“Turn out the men!” and Wall went into a shed and came out with his
saddle on his arm.
The fire rushed down the blind gully. Showers of sparks fell on the
bush fence, it caught twice, and they put it out, but the third time it
blazed and roared and a fire-engine could not have stopped it.
“The wheat must go,” said Ross. “We've done our best,” and he threw
down the blackened bough and leaned against a tree, and covered his
eyes with a grimy hand.
The wheat was patchy in that corner—there were many old stumps of
trees, and there were bare strips where the plough had gone on each
side of them. Mary saw a chance, and climbed the fence.
“Come on, Bob,” she cried, “we might save it ye. Mr Ross, pull out
the fence along there,” and she indicated a point beyond the fire. They
tramped down and tore up the wheat where it ran between the stumps—the
fire was hissing and crackling round and through it, and just as it ran
past them in one place there was a shout, a clatter of horses' hoofs on
the stones, and Mary saw her father riding up the track with a dozen
men behind him. She gave a shriek and ran straight down, through the
middle of the wheat, towards the hut.
Wall and his men jumped to the ground, wrenched green boughs from
the saplings, and, after twenty minutes' hard fighting, the crop was
saved—save for a patchy acre or so. When it was all over Ross sat down
on a log and rested his head on his hands, and his shoulders shook.
Presently he felt a hand on his shoulder, looked up, and saw Wall.
“Shake hands, Ross,” he said.
And it was Christmas Day.
But in after years they used to nearly chaff the life out of Mary.
“You were in a great hurry to put on the breeches, weren't you, Mary?”
“Bob's best Sunday-go-meetin's, too, wasn't they, Mary?” “Rather tight
fit, wasn't they, Mary?” “Couldn't get 'em on now, could you, Mary?”
“But,” reflected old Peter apart to some cronies, “it ain't every
young chap as gits an idea of the shape of his wife afore he marries
her—is it? An' that's sayin' somethin"'
And old Peter was set down as being an innercent sort of ole cove.
THE HOUSE THAT WAS NEVER BUILT
There had been heavy rain and landslips all along the branch railway
which left the Great Western Line from Sydney just beyond the Blue
Mountains, and ran through thick bush and scrubby ridgy country and
along great alluvial sidings—were the hills on the opposite side of
the wide valleys (misty in depths) faded from deep blue into the pale
azure of the sky—and over the ends of western spurs to the little
farming, mining and pastoral town of Solong, situated in a circle of
blue hills on the banks of the willow-fringed Cudgegong River.
The line was hopelessly blocked, and some publicans at Solong had
put on the old coach-road a couple of buggies, a wagonette, and an old
mail coach—relic of the days of Cobb &Co., which had been resurrected
from some backyard and tinkered up—to bring the train passengers on
from the first break in the line over the remaining distance of forty
miles or so. Capertee Station (old time, “Capertee Camp”—a teamster's
camp) was the last station before the first washout, and there the
railway line and the old road parted company for the last time before
reaching Solong—the one to run round by the ends of the western spurs
that spread fanlike, and the other to go through and over, the rough
The train reached Capertee about midnight in broad moonlight that
was misty in the valleys and round the blue of Crown Ridge. I got a
“box-seat” beside the driver on the old coach. It was a grand old
road—one of the old main coach-roads of New South Wales—broad and
white, metalled nearly all the way, and in nearly as good condition as
on the day when the first passenger train ran into Solong and the
last-used section of the old road was abandoned. It dated back to the
bushranging days—right back to convict times: it ran through tall dark
bush, up over gaps or “saddles” in high ridges, down across deep dark
gullies, and here and there across grey, marshy, curlew-haunted flats.
Cobb &Co's coach-and-six, with “Royal Mail” gilded on the panels, had
dashed over it in ten and twelve-mile stages in the old days, the three
head-lamps flashing on the wild dark bush at night, and maybe
twenty-four passengers on board. The biggest rushes to richest
goldfields in the west had gone over this old road on coaches, on
carts, on drays, on horse and bullock wagons, on horseback, and on
foot; new chums from all the world and from all stations in life.
When many a step was on the mountains,
Marching west to the land of gold.
And a few came back rich—red, round-faced and jolly—on the
box-seat of Cobb &Co's, treating the driver and all hands, “going home"
to sweethearts or families. (Home people will never feel the meaning of
those two words, “going home,” as it is felt in a new land.) And many
came back broken men, tramping in rags, and carrying their swags
through the dusty heat of the drought in December or the bitter,
pelting rain in the mountains in June. Some came back grey who went as
boys; and there were many who never came back.
I remembered the old mile-trees, with a section of bark cut away and
the distances cut in Roman letters in the hardened sap—the distance
from Bowenfels, the railway terminus then. It was a ghostly old road,
and if it wasn't haunted it should have been. There was an old decaying
and nearly deserted coaching town or two; there were abandoned farms
and halfway inns, built of stone, with the roofs gone and nettles
growing high between the walls; the remains of an orchard here and
there—a few gnarled quince-trees—and the bush reclaiming its own
again. It was a haunted ride for me, because I had last ridden over
this old road long ago when I was young—going to see the city for the
first time—and because I was now on my way to attend the funeral of
one of my father's blood from whom t had parted in anger.
We slowly climbed, and almost as slowly descended, the steep siding
of a great hill called Aaron's Pass, and about a mile beyond the foot
of the hill I saw a spot I remembered passing on the last journey down,
long ago. Rising back from the road, and walled by heavy bush, was a
square clearing, and in the background I saw plainly, by the broad
moonlight, the stone foundations for a large house; from the front an
avenue of grown pines came down to the road.
“Why!” I exclaimed, turning to the driver, “was that house burnt
“No,” he said slowly. “That house was never built.”
I stared at the place again and caught sight of a ghostly-looking
light between the lines of the foundations, which I presently made out
to be a light in a tent.
“There's someone camping there,” I said.
“Yes,” said the driver, “some old swaggy or `hatter.' I seen him
comin' down. I don't know nothing about that there place.” (I hadn't
“shouted” for him yet.)
I thought and remembered. I remembered myself, as a boy, being sent
a coach journey along this road to visit some relatives in Sydney. We
passed this place, and the women in the coach began to talk of the fine
house that was going to be built there. The ground was being levelled
for the foundations, and young pines had been planted, with stakes
round them to protect them from the cattle. I remembered being mightily
interested in the place, for the women said that the house was to be a
two-storied one. I thought it would be a wonderful thing to see a
two-storied house there in the bush. The height of my ambition was to
live in a house with stairs in it. The women said that this house was
being built for young Brassington, the son of the biggest squatter then
in the district, who was going to marry the daughter of the next
biggest squatter. That was all I remember hearing the women say.
Three or four miles along the road was a public-house, with a post
office, general store, and blacksmith shop attached, as is usual in
such places—all that was left of the old pastoral and coaching town of
Ilford. I “shouted” for the driver at the shanty, but got nothing
further out of him concerning the fate of the house that was never
built. I wanted that house for a story.
However, while yarning with some old residents at Solong, I
mentioned the Brassingtons, and picked up a few first links in the
story. The young couple were married and went to Sydney for their
honeymoon. The story went that they intended to take a trip to the old
country and Paris, to be away a twelve-month, and the house was to be
finished and ready for them on their return. Young Brassington himself
had a big sheep-run round there. The railway wasn't thought of in those
days, or if it was, no Brassington could have dreamed that the line
could have been brought to Solong in any other direction than through
the property of the “Big Brassingtons,” as they were called. Well, the
young couple went to Sydney, but whether they went farther the old
residents did not know. All they knew was that within a few weeks, and
before the stone foundations for the brick walls of the house were
completed, the building contract was cancelled, the workmen were
dismissed, and the place was left as I last saw it; only the ornamental
pines had now grown to trees. The Brassingtons and the bride's people
were English families and reserved. They kept the story, if there was a
story, to themselves. The girl's people left the district and squatted
on new stations up-country. The Big Brassingtons came down in the world
and drifted to the city, as many smaller people do, more and more every
year. Neither young Brassington nor his wife was ever again seen or
heard of in the district.
I attended my relative's funeral, and next day started back for
Just as we reached Ilford, as it happened, the pin of the fore
under-carriage of the coach broke, and it took the blacksmith several
hours to set it right. The place was dull, the publican was not
communicative—or else he harped on the old local grievance of the
railway not having come that way—so about half an hour before I
thought the coach would be ready, I walked on along the road to stretch
by legs. I walked on and on until I came, almost unaware, to the site
of the house that was never built. The tent was still there, in fact,
it was a permanent camp, and I was rather surprised to see the man
working with a trowel on a corner of the unfinished foundations of the
house. At first I thought he was going to build a stone hut in the
corner, but when I got close to him I saw that he was working carefully
on the original plan of the building: he was building the unfinished
parts of the foundation walls up to the required height. He had
bricklayer's tools, a bag of lime, and a heap of sand, and had worked
up a considerable quantity of mortar. It was a rubble foundation: he
was knocking off the thin end of a piece of stone to make it fit, and
the clanging of the trowel prevented his hearing my footsteps.
“Good day, mate,” I said, close beside him.
I half expected he'd start when I spoke, but he didn't: he looked
round slowly, but with a haunted look in his eyes as if I might have
been one of his ghosts. He was a tall man, gaunt and haggard-eyed, as
many men are in the bush; he may have been but little past middle age,
and grey before his time.
“Good day,” he said, and he set the stone in its place, carefully
flush with the outer edge of the wall, before he spoke again. Then he
looked at the sun, which was low, laid down his trowel, and asked me to
come to the tent-fire. “It's turning chilly,” he said. It was a model
camp, everything clean and neat both inside the tent and out; he had
made a stone fireplace with a bark shelter over it, and a table and
bench under another little shed, with shelves for his tin cups and
plates and cooking utensils. He put a box in front of the fire and
folded a flour-bag on top of it for a seat for me, and hung the billy
over the fire. He sat on his heels and poked the burning sticks,
abstractedly I thought, or to keep his hands and thoughts steady.
“I see you're doing a bit of building,” I said.
“Yes,” he said, keeping his eyes on the fire; “I'm getting on with
I don't suppose he looked at me half a dozen times the whole while I
was in his camp. When he spoke he talked just as if he were sitting
yarning in a row of half a dozen of us. Presently he said suddenly, and
giving the fire a vicious dig with his poker:
“That house must be finished by Christmas.”
“Why?” I asked, taken by surprise. “What's the hurry?”
“Because,” he said, “I'm going to be married in the New Year—to the
best and dearest girl in the bush.”
There was an awkward pause on my part, but presently I pulled myself
“You'll never finish it by yourself,” I said. “Why don't you put on
“Because,” he said, “I can't trust them. Besides, how am I to get
bricklayers and carpenters in a place like this?”
I noticed all through that his madness or the past in his mind was
mixed up with the real and the present.
“Couldn't you postpone the marriage?” I asked.
“No!” he exclaimed, starting to his feet. “No!” and he looked round
wildly on the darkening bush. There was madness in his tone that time,
the last “No!” sounding as if from a man who was begging for his life.
“Couldn't you run up a shanty then, to live in until the house is
ready?” I suggested, to soothe him.
He gave his arm an impatient swing. “Do you think I'd ask that girl
to live in a hut?” he said. “She ought to live in a palace!”
There seemed no way out of it, so I said nothing: he turned his back
and stood looking away over the dark, low-lying sweep of bush towards
sunset. He folded his arms tight, and seemed to me to be holding
himself. After a while he let fall his arms and turned and blinked at
me and the fire like a man just woke from a doze or rousing himself out
of a deep reverie.
“Oh, I almost forgot the billy!” he said. “I'll make some tea—you
must be hungry.”
He made the tea and fried a couple of slices of ham; he laid the
biggest slice on a thick slice of white baker's bread on a tin plate,
and put it and a pint-pot full of tea on a box by my side. “Have it
here, by the fire,” he said; “it's warmer and more comfortable.”
I took the plate on my knee, and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed
that meal. The bracing mountain air and the walk had made me hungry.
The hatter had his meal standing up, cutting his ham on a slice of
bread with a clasp-knife. It was bush fashion, and set me thinking of
some old times. He ate very little, and, as far as I saw, he didn't
smoke. Non-smokers are very scarce in the bush.
I saw by the way his tent was pitched and his camp arranged
generally, and by the way he managed the cooking, that he must have
knocked about the bush for some years.
He put the plates and things away and came and sat down on the other
empty gin-case by my side, and fell to poking the fire again. He never
showed the least curiosity as to who I was, or where I came from, or
what I was doing on this deserted track: he seemed to take me as a
matter of course—but all this was in keeping with bush life in
Presently he got up and stood looking upwards over the place where
the house should have been.
“I think now,” he said slowly, “I made a mistake in not having the
verandas carried all round the house.”
“I—I beg pardon!”
“I should have had the balcony all round instead of on two sides
only, as the man who made the plan suggested; it would have looked
better and made the house cooler in summer.”
I thought as I listened, and presently I saw that it was a case of
madness within madness, so to speak: he was mad on the idea that he
could build the house himself, and then he had moods when he imagined
that the house had been built and he had been married and had reared a
“You could easily get the balcony carried round,” I said; “it
wouldn't cost much—you can get good carpenters at Solong.”
“Yes,” he said. “I'll have it done after Christmas.” Then he turned
from the house and blinked down at me. “I am sorry,” he said, “that
there's no one at home. I sent the wife and family to Sydney for a
change. I've got the two boys at the Sydney Grammar School. I think
I'll send the eldest to King's School at Parramatta. The girls will
have to get along with a governess at home and learn to help their
And so he went on talking away just as a man who has made money in
the bush, and is married and settled down, might yarn to an old
bachelor bush mate.
“I suppose I'll have to get a good piano,” he went on. “The girls
must have some amusement: there'll be no end of balls and parties. I
suppose the boys will soon be talking of getting `fivers' and `tenners'
out of the `guvner' or `old man.' It's the way of the world. And
they'll marry and leave us. It's the way of the world—”
It was awful to hear him go on like this, the more so because he
never smiled—just talked on as if he had said the same thing over and
over again. Presently he stopped, and his eyes and hands began to
wander: he sat down on his heel to the fire again and started poking
it. I began to feel uneasy; I didn't know what other sides there might
be to his madness, and wished the coach would come along.
“You've knocked about the bush a good deal?” I asked. I couldn't
think of anything else to say, and I thought he might break loose if I
let him brood too long.
“Yes,” he said, “I have.”
“Been in Queensland and the Gulf country, I suppose?”
His tone and manner seemed a bit more natural. He had knocked about
pretty well all over Australia, and had been in many places where I had
been. I had got him on the right track, and after a bit he started
telling bush yarns and experiences, some of them awful, some of them
very funny, and all of them short and good; and now and then, looking
at the side of his face, which was all he turned to me, I thought I
detected the ghost of a smile.
One thing I noticed about him; when he spoke as a madman, he talked
like a man who had been fairly well educated (or sometimes, I fancied,
like a young fellow who was studying to be a school-teacher); his
speech was deliberate and his grammar painfully correct—far more so
than I have made it; but when he spoke as an old bushman, he dropped
his g's and often turned his grammar back to front. But that reminds me
that I have met English college men who did the same thing after being
a few years in the bush; either they dropped their particular way of
speaking because it was mimicked, because they were laughed and chaffed
out of it, or they fell gradually into the habit of talking as rough
bushmen do (they learnt Australian), as clean-mouthed men fall, in
spite of themselves, into the habit of swearing in the heat and hurry
and rough life of a shearing-shed. And, coming back into civilized
life, these men, who had been well brought up, drop into their old
manner and style of speaking as readily as the foulest-mouthed man in a
shed or camp—who, amongst his fellows, cannot say three words without
an oath—can, when he finds himself in a decent home in the
woman-and-girl world, yarn by the hour without letting slip a solitary
The hatter warmed up the tea-billy again, got out some currant buns,
which he had baked himself in the camp-oven, and we were yarning
comfortably like two old bushmen, and I had almost forgotten that he
was “ratty,” when we heard the coach coming. I jumped up to hurry down
to the road. This seemed to shake him up. He gripped my hand hard and
glanced round in his frightened, haunted way. I never saw the eyes of a
man look so hopeless and helpless as his did just then.
“I'm sorry you're going,” he said, in a hurried way. “I'm sorry
you're going. But—but they all go. Come again, come again—we'll all
be glad to see you.”
I had to hurry off and leave him. “We all,” I suppose, meant himself
and his ghosts.
I ran down between the two rows of pines and reached the road just
as the coach came up. I found the publican from Ilford aboard—he was
taking a trip to Sydney. As the coach went on I looked up the clearing
and saw the hatter standing straight behind the fire, with his arms
folded and his face turned in our direction. He looked ghastly in the
firelight, and at that distance his face seemed to have an expression
of listening blindness. I looked round on the dark bush, with, away to
the left, the last glow of sunset fading from the bed of it, like a bed
of reddening coals, and I looked up at the black loom of Aaron's Pass,
and thought that never a man, sane or mad, was left in such a depth of
“I see you've been yarning with him yonder,” said the publican, who
seemed to have relaxed wonderfully.
“You know these parts, don't you?”
“Yes. I was about here as a boy.”
He asked me what my name might be. I told him it was Smith. He
blinked a while.
“I never heard of anyone by the name of Smith in the district,” he
Neither had I. I told him that we lived at Solong, and didn't stay
long. It saved time.
“Ever heard of the Big Brassingtons?”
“Ever heard the yarn of the house that wasn't built?”
I told him how much I had heard of it.
“And that's about all any on 'em knows. Have you any idea who that
man back yonder is?”
“Yes, I have.”
“Well, who do you think it is?”
“He is, or rather he was, young Brassington.”
“You've hit it!” said the publican. “I know—and a few others.”
“And do you know what became of his wife?” I asked.
“I do,” said the shanty-keeper, who had a generous supply of whisky
with him, and seemed to have begun to fill himself up for the trip.
He said no more for a while, and when I had remained silent long
enough, he went on, very deliberately and impressively:
“One yarn is that the girl wasn't any good; that when she was
married to Brassington, and as soon as they got to Sydney, she met a
chap she'd been carrying on with before she married Brassington (or
that she'd been married to in secret), an' she cleared off with him,
leaving her fortnight-old husband. That was one yarn.”
“Was it?” I said.
“Yes,” said the publican. “That yarn was a lie.” He opened a flask
of whisky and passed it round.
“There was madness in the family,” he said, after a nip.
“Whose?” I asked. “Brassington's?”
“No,” said the publican, in a tone that implied contempt at my
ignorance, in spite of its innocence, “the girl's. Her mother had been
in a 'sylum, and so had her grandmother. It was—it was heridited. Some
madnesses is heridited, an' some comes through worry and hard graft
(that's mine), an' some comes through drink, and some through worse,
and, but as far as I've heard, all madnesses is pretty much the same.
My old man was a warder in a 'sylum. They have their madnesses a bit
different, the same as boozers has their d.t.'s different; but, takin'
it by the lump, it's pretty much all the same. The difference is
accordin' to their natures when they're sane. All men are—”
“But about young Mrs Brassington,” I interrupted.
“Young Mrs Brassington? Rosy Webb she was, daughter of Webb the
squatter. Rosy was the brightest, best, good-heartedest, an' most
ladylike little girl in the district, an' the heriditry business come
on her in Sydney, about a week after she was married to young
Brassington. She was only twenty. Here—” He passed the flask round.
“And what happened?” I asked.
“What happened?” he repeated. Then he pulled himself together, as if
conscious that he had shown signs of whisky. “Everything was done, but
it was no use. She died in a year in a 'sylum.”
“How do you know that?”
“How do I know that?” he repeated in a tone of contempt. “How do I
know that? Well, I'll tell you how. My old wife was in service
at Brassington's station at the time—the oldest servant—an' young
Brassington wired to her from Sydney to come and help him in his
trouble. Old Mrs Brassington was bedridden, an' they kep' it from her.”
“And about young Brassington?”
“About young Brassington? He took a swag an' wandered through the
bush. We've had him at our place several times all these years, but he
always wandered off again. My old woman tried everything with him, but
it was all no use. Years ago she used to get him to talk of things as
they was, in hopes of bringin' his mind back, but he was always worse
after. She does all she can for him even now, but he's mighty
independent. The last five or six years he's been taken with the idea
of buildin' that cursed house. He'll stay there till he gets short of
money, an' then he'll go out back, shearin', stock-ridin', drovin',
cookin', fencin'—anything till he gets a few pounds. Then he'll settle
down and build away at that bloody house. He's knocked about so much
that he's a regular old bushman. While he's an old bushman he's all
right an' amusin' an' good company;—but when he's Brassington he's
mad—Don't you ever let on to my old woman that I told you. I allers
let my tongue run a bit when I get out of that hole we're living in.
We've kept the secret all these years, but what does it matter now?—I
“It doesn't matter much,” I said.
“Nothing matters much, it seems to me, nothing matters a damn. The
Big Brassingtons come down years ago; the old people's gone, and the
young scattered God knows where or how. The Webbs (the girl's people)
are away up in new country, an' the girls (they was mostly all girls)
are married an' settled down by this time. We kept the secret, an' the
Webbs kept the secret—even when the dirty yarns was goin' round—so's
not to spoil the chances of the other girls. What about the chances of
their husbands? Some on 'em might be in the same hell as Brassington
for all I know. The Brassingtons kept the secret because I suppose they
reckoned it didn't matter much. Nothing matters much in this world—”
But I was thinking of another young couple who had married long ago,
whose married life was twenty long years of shameful quarrels, of
useless brutal recrimination—not because either was bad, but because
their natures were too much alike; of the house that was built, of the
family that was reared, of the sons and daughters who “went wrong,” of
the father and mother separated after twenty years, of the mother dead
of a broken heart, of the father (in a lunatic asylum), whose mania was
not to build houses, but to obtain and secrete matches for the purpose
of burning houses down.
“BARNEY, TAKE ME HOME AGAIN”
This is a sketch of one of the many ways in which a young married
woman, who is naturally thick-skinned and selfish—as most women
are—and who thinks she loves her husband, can spoil his life because
he happens to be good-natured, generous, sensitive, weak or soft,
whichever you like to call it.
Johnson went out to Australia a good many years ago with his young
wife and two children, as assisted emigrants. He should have left his
wife and children with her mother, in a street off City Road, N., and
gone out by himself and got settled down comfortably and strengthened
in the glorious climate and democratic atmosphere of Australia, and in
the knowledge that he could worry along a while without his wife,
before sending for her. That bit of knowledge would have done her good
also, and it would have been better for both of them. But no man knows
the future, and few can prescribe for their own wives. If we saw our
married lives as others see them, half of us would get divorced. But
Johnson was sentimental, he could not bear to part from his wife for a
little while. Moreover, man is instinctively against leaving his wife
behind; it may be either a natural or a cowardly instinct-but we won't
argue that. I don't believe that Johnson was a coward in that
direction; I believe that he trusted his wife implicitly, or rather
that he never dreamed of such a thing—as is the way with most married
men. Sentiment is selfishness, perhaps, but we won't argue that, such
arguments come to nothing.
I heard from a fellow-passenger of Johnson's that he had “a hell of
a voyage” because of his young wife's ignorant selfishness and his own
sensitiveness; he bribed stewards for better food and accommodation for
his wife and children, paid the stewardess to help with the children,
got neither rest, nor peace, nor thanks for himself, and landed in
Sydney a nervous wreck, with five pounds out of the ten he started
Johnson was a carpenter. He got work from a firm of contractors in
Sydney, who, after giving him a fortnight's trial, sent him up-country
to work on the railway station buildings, at the little pastoral mining
and farming town of Solong. The railway having come to Solong, things
were busy in the building line, and Johnson settled there.
Johnson was thin when he came to Solong; he had landed a living
skeleton, he said, but he filled out later on. The democratic
atmosphere soothed his mind and he soon loved the place for its
unconventional hospitality. He worked hard and seemed to have plenty of
energy—he said he got it in Australia. He said that another year of
the struggle in London would have driven him mad. He fished in the
river on Saturday afternoons and Sundays, and, perhaps for the first
month or so, he thought that he had found peace. Johnson's wife was a
rather stout, unsympathetic-looking young woman, with the knit of
obstinacy in her forehead; she had that stamp of “hardness” on her face
which is the rule amongst English and the exception amongst Australian
women. We of Solong thought her hard, selfish and narrow-minded, and
paltry; later on we thought she was a “bit touched;” but local people
often think that of strangers.
By her voice and her habit of whining she should have been a thin,
sharp-faced, untidy, draggled-tailed woman in a back street in London,
or a worn-out selector's wife in the bush. She whined about the
climate. “It will kill the children! It will kill the children! We'll
never rear them here!” She whined about the “wretched hole in the bush"
that her husband had brought her to; and to the women whom she
condescended to visit—because a woman must have a woman to talk
to—she exaggerated the miseries of the voyage until the thing became a
sing-song from repetition. Later on she settled down to endless
accounts of her home in London, of her mother and sisters, of the way
they lived. “And I'll never see it any more. I'll never see them any
The Solong climate was reckoned the best in Australia; the “wretched
hole” was a pretty little town on the banks of a clear, willow-bordered
river, with vineyards on the slopes, and surrounded by a circle of blue
hills and peaks. We knew nothing of London, so she had her own way
“She'll feel a bit lonely at first, but she'll soon get used to
Australia,” said Johnson. He seemed to me to go out of his way to
excuse his wife.
Johnson had had a few contracts in England at one time; they had
been in “better circumstances”—that was the time she looked back to in
England; the last two years of bitter, black struggle at “home” seemed
a blank in her mind—but that's how women jump over facts when they
have a selfish fad.
Johnson rented a cottage and garden on the bank of the sunny river.
He said he took the place because there was ivy growing on the cottage,
and it might cheer his wife; but he had lost sight of the fact that,
while he had been born in an English village, his wife had been born
and bred in London, and had probably never noticed ivy. She said it was
worse than living in a slum.
Johnson was clever at his trade, and at many other things, but his
wife didn't seem aware of it. He was well liked, he grew to be popular,
but she didn't seem proud of the fact; she never seemed interested in
him or his prospects. She only wanted him to take her home again. We
mustn't forget that while he had a rush of work to occupy his mind she
But Johnson grew stouter and prospered in spite of his wife—for a
year or so. New schools were being built in the district and the town
was practically re-built. Johnson took contracts for brickwork,
plumbing and house-painting, as well as carpentering, and had at one
time as many as ten men in his employ. He was making money.
I was working at my trade then, house-painting, and worked for
Johnson. I lodged at his cottage for a while, but soon got tired of
hearing about London, and Mrs Johnson's mother and sisters, and the
house they lived in, and the street it was in, and the parks where they
used to take their babies, and the shopping on Saturday afternoon. That
woman was terrible. She was at Johnson all the time about taking her
home. “We'll surely be able to go home this year, Will.” “You promised
to take me home by the end of the year.” “Mother says in her last
letter, that Jack says there's more building going on about London than
ever.” “You'll do just as well in London as you'll do here.” “What
chance have the children got in a hole like this?” And the rest of
it—every night. When he took a new contract, it would be, “What did
you want to take that new contract for, Will, when we're going home?
You know you promised me you wouldn't take any more contracts.” First
he'd try to cheer her, then he'd argue; but she'd only sit with the
knit in her forehead deep, looking as obstinate as a mule. Then she'd
sit down to a little harmonium he'd bought her and play and sing
“Barney, take me Home again,” and “The Old Folks at Home,” and “Swannie
Ribber,” till I felt like hanging myself—and I wasn't an exile.
Sometimes Johnson would flare up and there'd be a row and he'd go to
the pub. Gentle persuasion, argument, or swearing, it was all the same
Bosses and men were different towards each other in Solong to what
they are in London; besides, when I wasn't Johnson's sub-contractor I
was his foreman—so we often had a few drinks together; and one night
over a beer (and after a breeze at home, I think) he said to me:
“I can't make it out, Harry; there was nothing but struggle and
worry and misery for us in England, and London was smothering me, my
chest was bad and the wife was always in ill-health; but I suppose I'll
have to take her home in the end or else she'll go melancholy mad!” And
he drew a breath that was more like a gasp than a sigh.
“Why not send her home for a trip, or a year or so, boss?” I asked.
“As likely as not she'll be just as eager to get back; and that will be
the end of it.”
“I couldn't do that, Harry,” said Johnson. “I couldn't stay here and
work alone. It would be like beginning life again; I've started twice
and couldn't start the third time. You'll understand when you're
Well, in the end, she wore Johnson out—or wore into him rather. He
drank more, and once or twice I saw him drinking alone. Sometimes he'd
“round on us” at work for nothing at all, and at other times he'd take
no interest in the jobs—he'd let the work go on anyhow. Some thought
that Johnson was getting too big for his boots, that's how men are
misjudged. He grew moody and melancholy and thin again. Johnson was
homesick himself. No doubt it was the misery of his domestic life in
Australia that made him so.
Towards the end of the third or fourth year Johnson threw up a
couple of contracts he had on hand, sacrificed a piece of land which he
had bought and on which he had built a cottage in the short time he had
been in Solong, and, one lovely day in June, when the skies were their
fairest, the hills their bluest, the river its widest and clearest, and
the grass was waving waist high after rain—one blue and green and
golden day the Johnsons left Solong, with the trunks they had brought
out with them, for Sydney, en route for smoky London.
Mrs Johnson was a woman transformed—she was happy and looked it.
The last few weeks she had seemed in every way the opposite of the
woman we had known: cheerful, kind to neighbours in sickness and
trouble, even generous; she made many small presents in the way of
mantelshelf ornaments, pictures, and house-linen. But then it was
Johnson who had to pay for that in the end.
He looked worn and worried at the railway station—more like himself
as he was when he first came to Solong—and as the train moved off I
thought he looked—well, frightened.
That must have been nearly twenty years ago.
London last winter. It was one of those days when London's lurid sun
shows up for a little while like a smoky danger signal. The snow had
melted from the house-tops and the streets were as London streets are
after the first fall of snow of the season. But I could stand the flat
no longer, I had to go out and walk. I was sun-sick—I was heart-sick
for the sun, for the sunny South—for grassy plains, blue mountains,
sweeps of mountain bush and sunny ocean beaches. I walked hard; I
walked till I was mud-splashed to the shoulders; I walked through the
squalid, maddening sameness of miles of dingy, grimy-walled blocks and
rows of four-storied houses till I felt smothered—jailed, hopelessly.
“Best get home and in, and draw the blinds on it,” I said, “or my brain
I was about to ask a policeman where I was when I saw, by the name
on a corner of the buildings, that I was in City Road, North. All the
willow-fringed rivers and the sunny hills of Solong flashed before me
at the sight of the name of that street. I had not been able to recall
the name of the street off City Road in which the Johnsons lived,
though I had heard it often enough in the old days from the tongue of
I felt it would be a relief to see anyone who had been in Australia.
“Now,” I thought, “if I walk along City Road and see the name of that
street I'll remember it”—and I did. It was a blind street, like the
long, narrow yard of a jail, walled by dark houses, all alike. The next
door but one to that at which I knocked to inquire was where the
Johnsons lived; they lived in a four-storied house, or rather a narrow
section of a four-storied terrace. I found later on that they paid the
land-lord, or nearly paid him, by letting lodgings. They lived in one
room with the use of the parlour and the kitchen when the lodgers
weren't using them, and the son shared a room with a lodger. The back
windows looked out on the dead wall of a poorhouse of some kind, the
front on rows of similar windows opposite—rows of the same sort of
windows that run for miles and miles in London. In one a man sat
smoking in his shirtsleeves, from another a slavey leaned out watching
a fourwheeler that had stopped next door, in a third a woman sat
sewing, and in a fourth a woman was ironing, with a glimpse of a
bedstead behind her. And all outside was gloom and soot and slush.
I would never have recognized the Johnsons. I have visited them
several times since and their faces are familiar to me now, but I don't
know whether any traces of the old likenesses worked up in my memory. I
found Johnson an old man—old and grey before his time. He had a
grizzly stubble round his chin and cheeks towards the end of the week,
because he could only afford a shave on Saturday afternoon. He was
working at some branch of his trade “in the shop” I understood, but he
said he felt the work come heavier on him every winter. “I've felt very
poorly this last winter or two,” he said, “very poorly indeed.” He was
very sad and gentle.
Mrs Johnson was old and thin-looking, but seemed cheerful and
energetic. Some chest trouble kept her within doors most of the winter.
“I don't mind so long as I can manage,” she said, “but Johnson gets
They seemed very kind towards each other; they spoke little of
Australia, and then only as an incident in their lives which was not of
any importance—had long been past and done with. It was all “before we
went to Australia” or “after we came back from Australia,” with Mrs
The son, whom I remembered as a bright, robust little fellow, was
now a tall, white-faced, clean-shaven young man, a clerk on thirty
shillings a week. He wore, on Saturday afternoons and Sundays, a tall
hat and a frock coat and overcoat made cheaply in the latest fashion,
so he couldn't afford to help the old folk much.
“David is very extravagant,” said the old man, gently. “He won't
wear anything when once the gloss is off it. But,” with a sad smile, “I
get the left-off overcoats.”
He took me across to see his daughter. She had married a tradesman
and they were having a hard struggle in three rooms in a workman's
dwelling. She was twenty-five, thin, yellow, and looking ten years
There were other children who had died. “I think we might have done
better for the children in Australia,” said the old man to me, sadly,
when we got outside, “but we did our best.”
We went into a hotel and had a drink. Johnson had treated last
time—twenty years before. We call treating “shouting” in Australia.
Presently Johnson let fall a word or two of Australian slang, and
brightened up wonderfully; we got back out into Australia at once and
stayed there an hour or so. Being an old man, Johnson's memory for the
long ago was better than mine, and I picked up links; and, in return, I
told him what Solong was like now, and how some men he knew, who were
going up, had gone down, and others, who were going to the dogs in his
time, had gone up—and we philosophized. About one he'd say, “Ah, well!
who'd have thought it! I never thought that boy would come to any
good;” about another, “Ah, well! and he might have been an independent
man.” How familiar that expression sounded!—I think it is used more
often in Australia than in any other country: “He might have been an
When I left Johnson I felt less lonely in London, and rather humbled
in spirit. He seemed so resigned—I had never seen such gentle sadness
in a man's eyes, nor heard it in a man's voice. I could get back to
Australia somehow and start life again, but Johnson's day had been dead
for many years. “Besides, assisted emigration's done away with now,” he
said, with his sad, sad smile.
I saw the Johnsons again later on. “Things have been going very
sadly with us, very sadly indeed,” said the old man, when we'd settled
down. He had broken down at the beginning of the winter, he had dragged
himself out of bed and to work and back again until he could do so no
longer; he had been laid up most of the winter. Mrs Johnson had not
been outside the door for months.
“It comes very hard on us,” she said, “and I'm so poorly, and David
out of work, too. I wouldn't mind if I could get about. But,” she went
on in her energetic manner, “we've had the house full all the winter;
we've had very good luck with the lodgers, all respectable people, and
one of them answers the door and that keeps me away from the
draught—so it might be worse, mightn't it? But Johnson doesn't seem to
mend at all, and he gets so terribly depressed. But the warm weather
coming on, etc.”
They and the Lord only knew how they managed to live, for they are
honest people and the lodgers scarcely pay the rent of the house. There
was only David between them and the poorhouse, as far as I could see.
Johnson came out with me a piece and we had a drink or two
together—his was gin hot. He talked a good deal about Australia, but
sadly and regretfully on this occasion.
“We could have done well in Australia,” he said, “very well indeed.
I might have been independent and the children well started in life.
But we did things for the best. Mrs Johnson didn't like Australia, you
know. It was a pity we didn't stay there, a great pity. We would have
done far better than in England. I'd go out again now if I had the
money, but I'm getting too old.”
“Would Mrs Johnson go out?” I asked.
“Oh, yes. But I'm afraid she wouldn't stand the voyage. . . . Things
have been very sad with us ever since we came back to England, very sad
indeed.” And after a while he suddenly caught his breath.
“It takes me that way sometimes,” he said. “I catch my breath just
as if I was going to lose it.”
A DROVING YARN
Andy Maculloch had heard that old Bill Barker, the well-known
overland drover, had died over on the Westralian side, and Dave Regan
told a yarn about Bill.
“Bill Barker,” said Dave, talking round his pipe stem, “was the
quintessence of a drover—”
“The whatter, Dave?” came the voice of Jim Bentley, in startled
tones, from the gloom on the far end of the veranda.
“The quintessence,” said Dave, taking his pipe out of his mouth.
“You shut up, Jim. As I said, Bill Barker was the quintessence of a
drover. He'd been at the game ever since he was a nipper. He run away
from home when he was fourteen and went up into Queensland. He's been
all over Queensland and New South Wales and most of South Australia,
and a good deal of the Western, too: over the great stock routes from
one end to the other, Lord knows how many times. No man could keep up
with him riding out, and no one could bring a mob of cattle or a flock
of sheep through like him. He knew every trick of the game; if there
was grass to be had Bill'd get it, no matter whose run it was on. One
of his games in a dry season was to let his mob get boxed with the
station stock on a run where there was grass, and before Bill's men and
the station-hands could cut 'em out, the travelling stock would have a
good bellyful to carry them on the track. Billy was the daddy of the
drovers. Some said that he could ride in his sleep, and that he had one
old horse that could jog along in his sleep too, and that—travelling
out from home to take charge of a mob of bullocks or a flock of
sheep—Bill and his horse would often wake up at daylight and blink
round to see where they were and how far they'd got. Then Bill would
make a fire and boil his quart-pot, and roast a bit of mutton, while
his horse had a mouthful of grass and a spell.
“You remember Bill, Andy? Big dark man, and a joker of the loud
sort. Never slept with a blanket over him—always folded under him on
the sand or grass. Seldom wore a coat on the route—though he always
carried one with him, in case he came across a bush ball or a funeral.
Moleskins, flannel waistcoat, cabbage-tree hat and 'lastic-side boots.
When it was roasting hot on the plains and the men swore at the heat,
Jim would yell, `Call this hot? Why, you blanks, I'm freezin'! Where's
me overcoat?' When it was raining and hailing and freezing on Bell's
Line in the Blue Mountains in winter, and someone shivered and asked,
`Is it cold enough for yer now, Bill?' `Cold!' Bill would bellow, `I'm
“I remember it well. I was little more than a youngster then—Bill
Barker came past our place with about a thousand fat sheep for the
Homebush sale-yards at Sydney, and he gave me a job to help him down
with them on Bell's Line over the mountains, and mighty proud I was to
go with him, I can tell you. One night we camped on the Cudgegong
River. The country was dry and pretty close cropped and we'd been
“sweating” the paddocks all along there for our horses. You see, where
there weren't sliprails handy we'd just take the tomahawk and nick the
top of a straight-grained fence-post, just above the mortise, knock out
the wood there, lift the top rail out and down, and jump the horses in
over the lower one—it was all two-rail fences around there with sheep
wires under the lower rail. And about daylight we'd have the horses
out, lift back the rail, and fit in the chock that we'd knocked out.
Simple as striking matches, wasn't it?
“Well, the horses were getting a good bellyful in the police horse
paddock at night, and Bill took the first watch with the sheep. It was
very cold and frosty on the flat and he thought the sheep might make
back for the ridges, it's always warmer up in the ridges in winter out
of the frost. Bill roused me out about midnight. `There's the sheep,'
he says, pointing to a white blur. `They've settled down. I think
they'll be quiet till daylight. Don't go round them; there's no
occasion to go near 'em. You can stop by the fire and keep an eye on
“The night seemed very long. I watched and smoked and toasted my
shins, and warmed the billy now and then, and thought up pretty much
the same sort of old things that fellers on night watch think over all
over the world. Bill lay on his blanket, with his back to the fire and
his arm under his head—freezing on one side and roasting on the other.
He never moved. I itched once or twice to turn him over and bake the
front of him—I reckoned he was about done behind.
“At last daylight showed. I took the billy and started down to the
river to get some water to make coffee; but half-way down, near the
sheep camp, I stopped and stared, I was never so surprised in my life.
The white blur of sheep had developed into a couple of acres of long
dead silver grass!
“I woke Bill, and he swore as I never heard a man swear before—nor
since. He swore at the sheep, and the grass, and at me; but it would
have wasted time, and besides I was too sleepy and tired to fight. But
we found those sheep scattered over a scrubby ridge about seven miles
back, so they must have slipped away back of the grass and started
early in Bill's watch, and Bill must have watched that blessed grass
for the first half of the night and then set me to watch it. He
couldn't get away from that.
“I wondered what the chaps would say if it got round that Bill
Barker, the boss overland drover, had lost a thousand sheep in clear
country with fences all round; and I suppose he thought that way too,
for he kept me with him right down to Homebush, and when he paid me off
he threw in an extra quid, and he said:
“`Now, listen here, Dave! If I ever hear a word from anyone about
watching that gory grass, I'll find you, Dave, and murder you, if
you're in wide Australia. I'll screw your neck, so look out.'
“But he's dead now, so it doesn't matter.”
There was silence for some time after Dave had finished. The chaps
made no comment on the yarn, either one way or the other, but sat
smoking thoughtfully, and in a vague atmosphere as of sadness—as if
they'd just heard of their mother's death and had not been listening to
an allegedly humorous yarn.
Then the voice of old Peter, the station-hand, was heard to growl
from the darkness at the end of the hut, where he sat on a three-bushel
bag on the ground with his back to the slabs.
“What's old Peter growlin' about?” someone asked.
“He wants to know where Dave got that word,” someone else replied.
There was a chuckle.
“He got it out back, Peter,” said Mitchell, the shearer. “He got it
from a new chum.”
“How much did yer give for it, Dave?” growled Peter.
“Five shillings, Peter,” said Dave, round his pipe stem. “And stick
of tobacco thrown in.”
Peter seemed satisfied, for he was heard no more that evening.
GETTIN' BACK ON DAVE REGAN
A RATHER FISHY YARN FROM THE BUSH
(AS TOLD BY JAMES NOWLETT, BULLOCK-DRIVER)
You might work this yarn up. I've often thought of doin' it meself,
but I ain't got the words. I knowed a lot of funny an' rum yarns about
the bush, an' I often wished I had the gift o' writin'. I could tell a
lot better yarns than the rot they put in books sometimes, but I never
had no eddication. But you might be able to work this yarn up—as yer
There useter be a teamster's camp six or seven miles out of Mudgee,
at a place called th' Old Pipeclay, in the days before the railroad
went round to Dubbo, an' most of us bullickies useter camp there for
the night. There was always good water in the crick, an' sometimes we'd
turn the bullicks up in the ridge, an' gullies behind for grass, an'
camp there for a few days, and do our washin' an' mendin', and make new
yokes perhaps, an tinker up the wagons.
There was a woman livin' on a farm there named Mrs Hardwick—an' she
was a hard wick. Her husban', Jimmy Hardwick was throwed from his
horse agenst a stump one day when he was sober, an' he was killed—an'
she was a widder. She had a tidy bit o' land, an' a nice bit of a
orchard an' vineyard, an some cattle, an' they say she had a tidy bit
o' money in the bank. She had the worst tongue in the district, no
one's character was safe with her; but she wasn't old, an' she wasn't
bad-lookin'—only hard—so there was some fellers hangin' round arter
her. An' Dave Regan's horse was hangin' up outside her place as often
as anybody else's. Dave was a native an' a bushy, an' drover an' a
digger, an' he was a bit soft in them days—he got hard enough
Mrs Hardwick hated bullick-drivers—she had a awful down on
bullickies—I dunno why. We never interfered with her fowls, an' as for
swearin'! why, she could swear herself. Jimmy Hardwick was a
bullick-driver when she married him, an' p'r'aps that helped to account
for it. She wouldn't let us boil our billies at her kitchen fire, same
as any other bushwoman, an' if one of our bullicks put his nose under
her fence for a mouthful of grass, she'd set her dogs onter him. An'
one of her dogs got something what disagreed with him one day, an' she
accused us of layin' poisoned baits. An', arter that, she 'pounded some
of our bullicks that got into her lucerne paddick one night when we was
on the spree in Mudgee, an' put heavy damages on 'em. She'd left the
sliprails down on purpose, I believe. She talked of puttin' the police
onter us, jest as if we was a sly-grog shop. (If she'd kept a
sly-grog shop she'd have had a different opinion about
bullick-drivers.) An' all the bullick-drivers hated her because she
Well, one wet season half a dozen of us chaps was camped there for a
fortnight, because the roads was too boggy to travel, an' one night
they got up a darnce at Peter Anderson's shanty acrost the ridges, an'
a lot of gals an' fellers turned up from all round about in spite of
the pourin' rain. Someone had kidded Dave Regan that Mother Hardwick
was comin', an' he turned up, of course, in spite of a ragin' toothache
he had. He was always ridin' the high horse over us bullickies. It was
a very cold night, enough to cut the face an' hands off yer, so we had
a roarin' fire in the big bark-an'-slab kitchen where the darncin' was.
It was one of them big, old-fashioned, clay-lined fire-places that goes
right acrost the end of the room, with a twenty-five foot slab-an'-tin
Dave Regan was pretty wild about being had, an' we copped all the
gals for darncin'; he couldn't get one that night, an' when he wasn't
proddin' out his tooth with a red-hot wire some one was chaffin' him
about Mrs Hardwick. So at last he got disgusted an' left; but before he
went he got a wet three-bushel flour-bag an' climbed up very quietly
onter the roof by the battens an' log weights an' riders, an' laid the
wet bag very carefully acrost the top of the chimbly flue.
An' we was a mortal hour tryin' to find out what was the matter with
that infernal chimbly, and tackin' bits o' tin an' baggin' acrost the
top of the fire-place under the mantelshelf to try an' stop it from
smokin', an' all the while the gals set there with the water runnin'
out of their eyes. We took the green back log out an' fetched in a dry
one, but that chimbly smoked worse than ever, an' we had to put the
fire out altogether, an' the gals set there shiverin' till the rain
held up a bit an' the sky cleared, an' then someone goes out an' looks
up an' sings out, “Why, there's somethin' acrost the top of the blazin'
chimbly!” an' someone else climbs up an' fetches down the bag. But the
darnce was spoilt, an' the gals was so disgusted that they went off
with their fellers while the weather held up. They reckoned some of us
bullickies did it for a lark.
An' arter that Dave'd come ridin' past, an' sing out to know if we
knew of a good cure for a smokin' chimbly, an' them sorter things. But
he always got away before we could pull him off of his horse. Three of
us chased him on horseback one day, but we didn't ketch him.
So we made up our minds to git back on Dave some way or other, an'
it come about this way.
About six months arter the smoked-out darnce, four or five of us
same fellers was campin' on th' Pipeclay agen, an' it was a dry season.
It was dryer an' hotter than it was cold 'n' wet the larst time. Dave
was still hangin' round Mrs Hardwick's an' doin' odd jobs for her.
Well, one very hot day we seen Dave ridin' past into Mudgee, an' we
knowed he'd have a spree in town that night, an' call at Mrs Hardwick's
for sympathy comin' out next day; an' arter he'd been gone an hour or
two, Tom Tarrant comes drivin' past on his mail-coach, an' drops some
letters an' papers an' a bag o' groceries at our camp.
Tom was a hard case. I remember wonst I was drivin' along a lonely
bit o' track, an' it was a grand mornin', an' I felt great, an' I got
singin' an' practisin' a recitation that I allers meant to give at a
bush darnce some night. (I never sung or spouted poetry unless I was
sure I was miles away from anyone.) An' I got worked up, an' was wavin'
me arms about an' throwin' it off of me chest, when Tom's coach comes
up behind, round a bend in the road, an' took me by surprise. An' Tom
looked at me very hard an' he says, “What are yer shoutin' an' swearin'
an' darncin' an' goin' on at the bullicks like that for, Jimmy? They
seem to be workin' all right.” It took me back, I can tell yer. The
coach was full of grinnin' passengers, an' the worst of it was that I
didn't know how long Tom had been drivin' slow behind me an' takin' me
out of windin'. There's nothin' upsets a cove as can't sing so much as
to be caught singin' or spoutin' poetry when he thinks he's privit'.
An' another time I remember Tom's coach broke down on the track, an'
he had to ride inter town with the mails on horseback; an' he left a
couple of greenhides, for Skinner the tanner at Mudgee, for me to take
on in the wagon, an' a bag of potatoes for Murphy the storekeeper at
Home Rule, an' a note that said: “Render unto Murphy the things which
is murphies, and unto Skinner them things which is skins.” Tom was a
Well, this day, when Tom handed down the tucker an' letters, he got
down to stretch his legs and give the horses a breathe. The coach was
full of passengers, an' I noticed they all looked extra glum and sulky,
but I reckoned it was the heat an' dust. Tom looked extra solemn, too,
an' no one was talkin'. Then I suddenly began to notice something in
the atmosphere, as if there was a dead beast not far away, an' my mates
started sniffin' too. An' that reminds me, it's funny why some people
allers sniff hard instead of keepin' their noses shut when there's a
stink; the more it stinks the more they sniff. Tom spit in the dust an'
thought a while; then he took a parcel out of the boot an' put it on
the corner post of the fence. “There,” he said, “There's some fresh
fish that come up from Sydney by train an' Cobb &Co's coach larst
night. They're meant for White the publican at Gulgong, but they won't
keep this weather till I git out there. Pity to waste them! you chaps
might as well have a feed of 'em. I'll tell White they went bad an' I
had to throw them out,” says Tom. Then he got on to the coach agen an'
drove off in a cloud of dust. We undone the brown paper, an' the fish
was in a small deal box, with a lid fastened by a catch. We nicked back
the catch an' the lid flew open, an' then we knowed where the smell
comed from all right. There wasn't any doubt about that! We didn't have
to put our noses in the box to see if the fish was bad. They was packed
in salt, but that made no difference.
You know how a smell will start sudden in the bush on a hot, still
day, an' then seem to take a spell, an' then get to work agen stronger
than ever. You might be clost alongside of a horse that has been dead a
fortnight an' smell nothin' particular till you start to walk away, an'
the further you go the worse it stinks. It seems to smell most round in
a circle of a hundred yards or so. But these fish smelt from the centre
right out. Tom Tarrant told us arterwards that them fish started to
smell as soon as he left Mudgee. At first they reckoned it was a dead
horse by the road; but arter a while the passengers commenced squintin'
at each other suspicious like, an' the conversation petered out, an'
Tom thought he felt all their eyes on his back, an' it was very
uncomfortable; an' he sat tight an' tried to make out where the smell
come from; an' it got worse every hundred yards—like as if the track
was lined with dead horses, an' every one dead longer than the
last—till it was like drivin' a funeral. An' Tom never thought of the
fish till he got down to stretch his legs and fetched his nose on a
level with the boot.
Well, we shut down the lid of that box quick an' took it an' throwed
it in the bushes a good way away from the camp, but next mornin', while
we was havin' breakfast, Billy Grimshaw got an idea, an' arter
breakfast he wetted a canvas bag he had an' lit up his pipe, an' went
an' got that there box o' fish, an' put it in the wet bag, an' wrapped
it tight round it an' tied it up tight with string. Billy had a nipper
of a nephew with him, about fourteen, named Tommy, an' he was a sharp
kid if ever there was one. So Billy says, “Look here, Tommy, you take
this fish up to Mrs Hardwick's an' tell her that Dave Regan sent 'em
with his compliments, an' he hopes she'll enjoy 'em. Tell her that Dave
fetched 'em from Mudgee, but he's gone back to look for a pound note
that he dropped out of a hole in his pocket somewheers along the road,
an' he asked you to take the fish up.” So Tommy takes the fish an' goes
up to the house with 'em. When he come back he says that Mrs Hardwick
smiled like a parson an' give him a shillin'—an' he didn't wait. We
watched the house, an' about half an hour arterwards we seen her run
out of the kitchen with the open box in her hand, an' run a good way
away from the house an' throw the fish inter the bushes, an' then go
back quick, holdin' her nose.
An' jest then, as luck would have it, we seen Dave Regan ridin' up
from the creek towards the house. He got down an' went into the
kitchen, an' then come backin' out agen in a hurry with her in front of
him. We could hear her voice from where we was, but we couldn't hear
what she said. But we could see her arms wavin' as if she was drivin'
fowls, an' Dave backed all the way to his horse and gets on an' comes
ridin' away quick, she screamin' arter him all the time. When he got
down opposite the camp we sung out to know what was the matter. “What
have you been doin' to Mrs Hardwick, Dave?” we says. “We heerd her
goin' for yer proper jest now.” “Damned if I know,” says Dave. “I ain't
done nothin' to her that I knows of. She's called me everything she can
lay her tongue to, an' she's ravin' about my stinkin' fish, or
somethin'. I can't make it out at all. I believe she's gone ratty.”
“But you must have been doin' somethin' to the woman,” we
says, “or else she wouldn't have gone on at yer like that.”
But Dave swore he hadn't, an' we talked it over for a while an'
couldn't make head nor tail of it, an' we come to the conclusion that
it was only a touch o' the sun.
“Never mind, Dave,” we says. “Go up agen in a day or two, when she's
cooled down, an' find out what the matter is. Or write to her. It might
only have been someone makin' mischief. That's what it is.”
But Dave only sat an' rubbed his head, an' presently he started home
to wherever he was hangin' out. He wanted a quiet week to think.
“Her chimbly might have been smokin', Dave,” we shouted arter him,
but he was too dazed like to ketch on.
Well, in a month or two we was campin' there agen, an' we found
she'd fenced in a lane to the crick she had no right to, an' we had to
take the bullicks a couple o' miles round to grass an' water. Well, the
first mornin' we seen her down in the corner of her paddick near the
camp drivin' some heifers, an' Billy Grimshaw went up to the fence an'
spoke to her. Billy was the only one of us that dared face her and he
was the only one she was ever civil to—p'r'aps because Billy had a
squint an' a wall eye and that put her out of countenance.
Billy took off his hat very respectful an' sings out, “Mrs
Hardwick.” (It was Billy's bullicks she'd “pounded,” by the way.)
“What is it?” she says.
“I want to speak to you, Mrs Hardwick,” says Billy.
“Well, speak,” she says. “I've got no time to waste talkin' to
“Well, the fact is, Mrs Hardwick,” says Billy, “that I want to
explain somethin', an' apologize for that young scamp of a nephew o'
mine, young Tommy. He ain't here or I'd make him beg your pardon
hisself, or I'd cut him to pieces with the bullick-whip. I heard all
about Dave Regan sendin' you that stinkin' fish, an' I think it was a
damned mean, dirty thing to do—to send stinkin' fish to a woman, an'
especially to a widder an' an unprotected woman like you, Mrs Hardwick.
I've had mothers an' sisters of me own. An' I want to tell you that I'm
sorry a relation o' mine ever had anythin' to do with it. As soon as I
heerd of it I give young Tommy a lambastin' he won't forgot in a
“Did Tommy know the fish was bad?” she says.
“It doesn't matter a rap,” says Billy; “he had no right to go takin'
messages from nobody to nobody.”
Mrs Hardwick thought a while. Then she says: “P'r'aps arter all Dave
Regan didn't know the fish was bad. I've often thought I might have
been in too much of a hurry. Things goes bad so quick out here in this
weather. An' Dave was always very friendly. I can't understand why he'd
do a dirty thing on me like that. I never done anything to Dave.”
Now I forgot to tell you that Billy had a notion that Dave helped
drive his bullicks to pound that time, though I didn't believe it. So
“Don't you believe that for a minute, Mrs Hardwick. Dave knew what
he was a-doin' of all right; an' if I ketch him I'll give him a
beltin' for it if no one else is man enough to stand up for a woman!”
“How d'yer know Dave knew?” says Mrs Hardwick.
“Know!” says Billy. “Why, he talked about it all over the district.”
“What!” she screamed out, an' I moved away from that there fence,
for she had a stick to drive them heifers with. But Billy stood his
ground. “Is that the truth, Billy Grimshaw?” she screams.
“Yes;” he says. “I'll-take me oath on it. He blowed about it all
over the district, as if it was very funny, an' he says—” An' Billy
“What did he say?” she shouted.
“Well, the fact is,” says Billy, “that I hardly like to tell it to a
lady. I wouldn't like to tell yer, Mrs Hardwick.”
“But you'll have to tell me, Billy Grimshaw,” she screams. “I have a
right to know. If you don't tell me I'll pull him next week an' have it
dragged out of you in the witness-box!” she says. “An' I'll have
satisfaction out of him in the felon's dock of a court of law!” she
says. “What did the villain say?” she screams.
“Well,” says Billy, “if yer must have it—an', anyway, I'm hanged if
I'm goin' to stand by an' see a woman scandalized behind her back—if
yer must have it I'll tell yer. Dave said that the fish didn't smell no
worse than your place anyway.”
We got away from there then. She cut up too rough altogether. I
can't tell you what she said—I ain't got the words. She went up to the
house, an' we seen the farm-hand harnessin' up the horse, an' we
reckoned she was goin' to drive into town straight away an' take out a
summons agenst Dave Regan. An' jest then Dave hisself comes ridin'
past—jest when he was most wanted, as usual. He always rode fast past
Mrs Hardwick's nowadays, an' never stopped there, but Billy shouted
“Hullo, Dave! I want to speak to yer,” shouts Billy. An' Dave yanks
his horse round.
“What is it, Billy?” he says.
“Look here, Dave,” says Billy. “You had your little joke about the
chimbly, an' we had our little joke about the fish an' Mrs Hardwick, so
now we'll call it quits. A joke's a joke, but it can go too far, an'
this one's gettin' too red-hot altogether. So we've fixed it up with
“What fish an' what joke?” says Dave, rubbin' his head. “An' what
have yer fixed up with Mrs Hardwick? Whatever are yer talkin' about,
So Billy told him all about us sendin' the stinkin' fish to Mrs
Hardwick by Tommy, an' sayin' Dave sent 'em—Dave rubbin' the back of
his neck an' starin' at Billy all the time. “An' now,” says Billy, “I
won't say anything about them bullicks; but I went up and seen Mrs
Hardwick this mornin', an' told her the whole truth about them fish,
an' how you knowed nothin' about it, an' I apologized an' told her we
was very sorry; an' she says she was very sorry too on your account,
an' wanted to see yer. I promised to tell yer as soon as I seen yer. It
ought to be fixed up. You ought to go right up to the house an' see her
now. She's awfully cut up about it.”
“All right,” says Dave, brightenin' up. “It was a dirty, mean trick
anyway to play on a cove; but I'll go up an' see her.” An' he went
there 'n' then.
An' about fifteen minutes arterwards he comes boltin' back from the
house one way an' his horse the other. The horse acted as if it had a
big scare, an' so did Dave. Billy went an' ketched Dave's horse for
him, an' I got Dave a towel to wipe the dirty dish-water off of his
face an' out of his hair an' collar, an' I give him a piece of soap to
rub on the places where he'd been scalded.
“Why, the woman must be ravin' mad,” I says. “Whatever did yer say
to her this time, Dave? Yer allers gettin' inter hot water with her.”
“I didn't say nothin',” says Dave. “I jest went up laughin' like,
an' says, `How are yer, Mrs Hardwick?' an' she ups an' lets me have a
dish of dirty wash-up water, an' then on top of that she let fly with a
dipper of scaldin'-hot, greasy water outer the boiler. She's gone clean
ravin' mad, I think.”
“She's as mad as a hatter, right enough, Dave,” says Billy Grimshaw.
“Don't you go there no more, Dave, it ain't safe.” An' we lent Dave a
hat an' a clean shirt, an' he went on inter town. “You ought to have
humoured her,” says Billy, as Dave rode away. “You ought to have told
her to put a wet bag over her chimbly an' hang the fish inside to
smoke.” But Dave was too stunned to ketch on. He went on inter the town
an' got on a howlin' spree. An' while he was soberin' up the thing
began to dawn on him. An' the nex' time he met Billy they had a fight.
An' Dave got another woman to speak to Mrs Hardwick, an' Mrs Hardwick
ketched young Tommy goin' past her place one day an' bailed him up an'
scared the truth out of him.
“Look here!” she says to him, “I want the truth, the whole truth,
an' nothin' but the truth about them fish, an' if I don't get it outer
you I'll wring yer young neck for tryin' to poison me, an' save yer
from the gallust!” she says to Tommy.
So he told her the whole truth, swelp him, an' got away; an' he
respected Mrs Hardwick arter that.
An' next time we come past with the teams we seen Dave's horse
hangin' up outside Mrs Hardwick's, an' we went some miles further along
the road an' camped in a new place where we'd be more comfortable. An'
ever arter that we used to always whip up an' drive past her place as
if we didn't know her.
“SHALL WE GATHER AT THE RIVER?”
God's preacher, of churches unheeded,
God's vineyard, though barren the sod,
Plain spokesman where spokesman is needed,
Rough link 'twixt the Bushman and God.
The Christ of the Never.
TOLD BY JOE WILSON
I never told you about Peter M'Laughlan. He was a sort of bush
missionary up-country and out back in Australia, and before he died he
was known from Riverina down south in New South Wales to away up
through the Never-Never country in western Queensland.
His past was a mystery, so, of course, there were all sorts of yarns
about him. He was supposed to be a Scotchman from London, and some said
that he had got into trouble in his young days and had had to clear out
of the old country; or, at least, that he had been a ne'e-er-do-well
and had been sent out to Australia on the remittance system. Some said
he'd studied for the law, some said he'd studied for a doctor, while
others believed that he was, or had been, an ordained minister. I
remember one man who swore (when he was drinking) that he had known
Peter M'Laughlan as a medical student in a big London hospital, and
that he had started in practice for himself somewhere near Gray's Inn
Road in London. Anyway, as I got to know him he struck me as being a
man who had looked into the eyes of so much misery in his life that
some of it had got into his own.
He was a tall man, straight and well built, and about forty or
forty-five, when I first saw him. He had wavy dark hair, and a close,
curly beard. I once heard a woman say that he had a beard like you see
in some Bible pictures of Christ. Peter M'Laughlan seldom smiled; there
was something in his big dark brown eyes that was scarcely misery, nor
yet sadness—a sort of haunted sympathy.
He must have had money, or else he got remittances from home, for he
paid his way and helped many a poor devil. They said that he gave away
most of his money. Sometimes he worked for a while himself as
bookkeeper at a shearing-shed, wool-sorter, shearer, even rouseabout;
he'd work at anything a bushman could get to do. Then he'd go out back
to God-forgotten districts and preach to bushmen in one place, and get
a few children together in another and teach them to read. He could
take his drink, and swear a little when he thought it necessary. On one
occasion, at a rough shearing-shed, he called his beloved brethren
“damned fools” for drinking their cheques.
Towards the end of his life if he went into a “rough” shed or shanty
west of the Darling River—and some of them were rough—there
would be a rest in the language and drinking, even a fight would be
interrupted, and there would be more than one who would lift their hats
to Peter M'Laughlan. A bushman very rarely lifts his hat to a man, yet
the worst characters of the West have listened bareheaded to Peter when
It was said in our district that Peter only needed to hint to the
squatter that he wanted fifty or a hundred pounds to help someone or
something, and the squatter would give it to him without question or
He'd nurse sick boundary-riders, shearers, and station-hands, often
sitting in the desolate hut by the bedside of a sick man night after
night. And, if he had time, he'd look up the local blacks and see how
they were getting on. Once, on a far outback sheep station, he sat for
three nights running, by the bedside of a young Englishman, a B.A. they
said he was, who'd been employed as tutor at the homestead and who died
a wreck, the result of five years of life in London and Paris. The poor
fellow was only thirty. And the last few hours of his life he talked to
Peter in French, nothing but French. Peter understood French and one or
two other languages, besides English and Australian; but whether the
young wreck was raving or telling the story of a love, or his life,
none of us ever knew, for Peter never spoke of it. But they said that
at the funeral Peter's eyes seemed haunted more than usual.
There's the yarn about Peter and the dying cattle at Piora Station
one terrible drought, when the surface was as bare as your hand for
hundreds of miles, and the heat like the breath of a furnace, and the
sheep and cattle were perishing by thousands. Peter M'Laughlan was out
on the run helping the station-hands to pull out cattle that had got
bogged in the muddy waterholes and were too weak to drag themselves
out, when, about dusk, a gentlemanly “piano-fingered” parson, who had
come to the station from the next town, drove out in his buggy to see
the men. He spoke to Peter M'Laughlan.
“Brother,” he said, “do you not think we should offer up a prayer?”
“What for?” asked Peter, standing in his shirt sleeves, a rope in
his hands and mud from head to foot.
“For? Why, for rain, brother,” replied the parson, a bit surprised.
Peter held up his finger and said “Listen!”
Now, with a big mob of travelling stock camped on the plain at
night, there is always a lowing, soughing or moaning sound, a sound
like that of the sea on the shore at a little distance; and,
altogether, it might be called the sigh or yawn of a big mob in camp.
But the long, low moaning of cattle dying of hunger and thirst on the
hot barren plain in a drought is altogether different, and, at night
there is something awful about it—you couldn't describe it. This is
what Peter M'Laughlan heard.
“Do you hear that?” he asked the other preacher.
The little parson said he did. Perhaps he only heard the weak
lowing of cattle.
“Do you think that God will hear us when He does not hear that
?” asked Peter.
The parson stared at him for a moment and then got into his buggy
and drove away, greatly shocked and deeply offended. But, later on,
over tea at the homestead, he said that he felt sure that that
“unfortunate man,” Peter M'Laughlan, was not in his right mind; that
his wandering, irregular life, or the heat, must have affected him.
I well remember the day when I first heard Peter M'Laughlan preach.
I was about seventeen then. We used sometimes to attend service held on
Sunday afternoon, about once a month, in a little slab-and-bark
school-house in the scrub off the main road, three miles or so from our
selection, in a barren hole amongst the western ridges of the Great
Dividing Range. School was held in this hut for a few weeks or a few
months now and again, when a teacher could be got to stay there and
teach, and cook for himself, for a pound a week, more or less
contributed by the parents. A parson from the farming town to the east,
or the pastoral town over the ridges to the west, used to come in his
buggy when it didn't rain and wasn't too hot to hold the service.
I remember this Sunday. It was a blazing hot day towards the end of
a long and fearful drought which ruined many round there. The parson
was expected, and a good few had come to “chapel” in spring-carts, on
horseback, and on foot; farmers and their wives and sons and daughters.
The children had been brought here to Sunday-school, taught by some of
the girls, in the morning. I can see it all now quite plain: The
one-roomed hut, for it was no more, with the stunted blue-grey gum,
scrub all round. The white, dusty road, so hot that you could cook eggs
in the dust. The horses tied up, across the road, in the supposed shade
under clumps of scraggy saplings along by the fence of a cattle-run.
The little crowd outside the hut: selectors in washed and mended
tweeds, some with paper collars, some wearing starched and ironed white
coats, and in blucher boots, greased or blackened, or the young men
wearing “larstins” (elastic-side boots). The women and girls in prints
and cottons (or cheap “alpaca,” etc.), and a bright bit of ribbon here
and there amongst the girls. The white heat blazed everywhere, and
“dazzled” across light-coloured surfaces—dead white trees,
fence-posts, and sand-heaps, like an endless swarm of bees passing in
the sun's glare. And over above the dry boxscrub-covered ridges, the
great Granite Peak, glaring like a molten mass.
The people didn't like to go inside out of the heat and sit down
before the minister came. The wretched hut was a rough school,
sometimes with a clay fire-place where the teacher cooked, and a corner
screened off with sacking where he had his bunk; it was a camp for
tramps at other times, or lizards and possums, but to-day it was a
house of God, and as such the people respected it.
The town parson didn't turn up. Perhaps he was unwell, or maybe the
hot, dusty ten-mile drive was too much for him to face. One of the
farmers, who had tried to conduct service on a previous occasion on
which the ordained minister had failed us, had broken down in the
middle of it, so he was out of the question. We waited for about an
hour, and then who should happen to ride along but Peter M'Laughlan,
and one or two of the elder men asked him to hold service. He was on
his way to see a sick friend at a sheep station over the ridges, but he
said that he could spare an hour or two. (Nearly every man who was
sick, either in stomach or pocket, was a friend of Peter M'Laughlan.)
Peter tied up his horse under a bush shed at the back of the hut, and
we followed him in.
The “school” had been furnished with a rough deal table and a wooden
chair for “the teacher,” and with a few rickety desks and stools cadged
from an old “provisional” school in town when the new public school was
built; and the desks and stools had been fastened to the floor to
strengthen them; they had been made for “infant” classes, and youth out
our way ran to length. But when grown men over six feet high squeezed
in behind the desks and sat down on the stools the effect struck me as
being ridiculous. In fact, I am afraid that on the first occasion it
rather took my attention from the sermon, and I remember being made
very uncomfortable by a school chum, Jack Barnes, who took a delight in
catching my eye and winking or grinning. He could wink without changing
a solemn line in his face and grin without exploding, and I couldn't.
The boys usually sat on seats, slabs on blocks of wood, along the wall
at the far end of the room, which was comfortable, for they had a rest
for their backs. One or two of the boys were nearing six feet high, so
they could almost rest their chins on their knees as they sat. But I
squatted with some of my tribe on a stool along the wall by the
teacher's table, and so could see most of the congregation.
Above us bare tie-beams and the round sapling rafters (with the bark
still on), and the inner sides of the sheets of stringybark that formed
the roof. The slabs had been lined with sacking at one time, but most
of it had fallen or dry-rotted away; there were wide cracks between the
slabs and we could see the white glare of sunlight outside, with a
strip of dark shade, like a deep trench in the white ground, by the
back wall. Someone had brought a canvas water-bag and hung it to the
beam on the other side of the minister's table, with a pint-pot over
the tap, and the drip, drip from the bag made the whole place seem
I studied Peter M`Laughlan first. He was dressed in washed and
mended tweed vest and trousers, and had on a long, lightcoloured coat
of a material which we called “Chinese silk.” He wore a “soft” cotton
shirt with collar attached, and blucher boots. He gave out a hymn in
his quiet, natural way, said a prayer, gave out another hymn, read a
chapter from the Bible, and then gave out another hymn. They liked to
sing, out in those places. The Southwicks used to bring a cranky little
harmonium in the back of their old dog-cart, and Clara Southwick used
to accompany the hymns. She was a very pretty girl, fair, and could
play and sing well. I used to think she had the sweetest voice I ever
heard. But—ah, well—-
Peter didn't sing himself, at first. I got an idea that he couldn't.
While they were singing he stood loosely, with one hand in his
trouser-pocket, scratching his beard with his hymn-book, and looking as
if he were thinking things over, and only rousing himself to give
another verse. He forgot to give it once or twice, but we got through
all right. I noticed the wife of one of the men who had asked Peter to
preach looking rather black at her husband, and I reckoned that he'd
get it hotter than the weather on the way home.
Then Peter stood up and commenced to preach. He stood with both
hands in his pockets, at first, his coat ruffled back, and there was
the stem of a clay pipe sticking out of his waistcoat pocket. The pipe
fascinated me for a while, but after that I forgot the pipe and was
fascinated by the man. Peter's face was one that didn't strike you at
first with its full strength, it grew on you; it grew on me, and before
he had done preaching I thought it was the noblest face I had ever
He didn't preach much of hope in this world. How could he? The
drought had been blazing over these districts for nearly a year, with
only a shower now and again, which was a mockery—scarcely darkening
the baked ground. Wheat crops came up a few inches and were parched by
the sun or mown for hay, or the cattle turned on them; and last year
there had been rust and smut in the wheat. And, on top of it all, the
dreadful cattle plague, pleuro-pneumonia, had somehow been introduced
into the district. One big farmer had lost fifty milkers in a week.
Peter M'Laughlan didn't preach much of hope in this world; how could
he? There were men there who had slaved for twenty, thirty, forty
years; worked as farmers have to work in few other lands—first to
clear the stubborn bush from the barren soil, then to fence the ground,
and manure it, and force crops from it—and for what? There was Cox,
the farmer, starved off his selection after thirty years and going out
back with his drays to work at tank-sinking for a squatter. There was
his eldest son going shearing or droving—anything he could get to
do—a stoop-shouldered, young-old man of thirty. And behind them, in
the end, would be a dusty patch in the scrub, a fencepost here and
there, and a pile of chimney-stones and a hardwood slab or two where
the but was—for thirty hard years of the father's life and twenty of
I forget Peter's text, if he had a text; but the gist of his sermon
was that there was a God—there was a heaven! And there were men there
listening who needed to believe these things. There was old Ross from
across the creek, old, but not sixty, a hard man. Only last week he had
broken down and fallen on his knees on the baked sods in the middle of
his ploughed ground and prayed for rain. His frightened boys had taken
him home, and later on, the same afternoon, when they brought news of
four more cows down with “the pleuro” in an outer paddock, he had stood
up outside his own door and shaken his fist at the brassy sky and
cursed high heaven to the terror of his family, till his brave,
sun-browned wife dragged him inside and soothed him. And Peter
M'Laughlan knew all about this.
Ross's family had the doctor out to him, and persuaded him to come
to church this Sunday. The old man sat on the front seat, stooping
forward, with his elbow resting on the desk and his chin on his hand,
bunching up his beard over his mouth with his fingers and staring
gloomily at Peter with dark, piercing eyes from under bushy eyebrows,
just as I've since seen a Scotchman stare at Max O'Rell all through a
humorous lecture called “A nicht wi' Sandy.”
Ross's right hand resting on the desk was very eloquent: horny,
scarred and knotted at every joint, with broken, twisted nails, and
nearly closed, as though fitted to the handle of an axe or a spade.
Ross was an educated man (he had a regular library of books at home),
and perhaps that's why he suffered so much.
Peter preached as if he were speaking quietly to one person only,
but every word was plain and every sentence went straight to someone. I
believe he looked every soul in the eyes before he had done. Once he
said something and caught my eye, and I felt a sudden lump in my
throat. There was a boy there, a pale, thin, sensitive boy who was
eating his heart out because of things he didn't understand. He was
ambitious and longed for something different from this life; he'd
written a story or two and some rhymes for the local paper; his
companions considered him a “bit ratty” and the grown-up people thought
him a “bit wrong in his head,” idiotic, or at least “queer.” And during
his sermon Peter spoke of “unsatisfied longings,” of the hope of
something better, and said that one had to suffer much and for long
years before he could preach or write; and then he looked at that boy.
I knew the boy very well; he has risen in the world since then.
Peter spoke of the life we lived, of the things we knew, and used
names and terms that we used. “I don't know whether it was a blanky
sermon or a blanky lecture,” said long swanky Jim Bullock afterwards,
“but it was straight and hit some of us hard. It hit me once or twice,
I can tell yer.” Peter spoke of our lives: “And there is beauty—even
in this life and in this place,” he said. “Nothing is wasted—nothing
is without reason. There is beauty even in this place—-”
I noticed something like a hint of a hard smile on Ross's face; he
moved the hand on the desk and tightened it.
“Yes,” said Peter, as if in answer to Ross's expression and the
movement of his hand, “there is beauty in this life here. After a good
season, and when the bush is tall and dry, when the bush-fires threaten
a man's crop of ripened wheat, there are tired men who run and ride
from miles round to help that man, and who fight the fire all night to
save his wheat—and some of them may have been wrangling with him for
years. And in the morning, when the wheat is saved and the danger is
past, when the fire is beaten out or turned, there are blackened, grimy
hands that come together and grip-hands that have not joined for many a
Old Palmer, Ross's neighbour, moved uneasily. He had once helped
Ross to put a fire out, but they had quarrelled again since. Ross still
sat in the same position, looking the hard man he was. Peter glanced at
Ross, looked down and thought a while, and then went on again:
“There is beauty even in this life and in this place. When a man
loses his farm, or his stock, or his crop, through no fault of his own,
there are poor men who put their hands into their pockets to help him.”
Old Kurtz, over the ridge, had had his stacked crop of wheat in
sheaf burned—some scoundrel had put a match to it at night—and the
farmers round had collected nearly fifty pounds for him.
“There is beauty even in this life and in this place. In the blazing
drought, when the cattle lie down and cannot rise from weakness,
neighbours help neighbours to lift them. When one man has hay or chaff
and no stock, he gives it or sells it cheaply to the poor man who has
starving cattle and no fodder.”
I only knew one or two instances of this kind; but Peter was
preaching of what man should do as well as what they did.
“When a man meets with an accident, or dies, there are young men who
go with their ploughs and horses and plough the ground for him or his
widow and put in the crop.”
Jim Bullock and one or two other young men squirmed. They had
ploughed old Leonard's land for him when he met with an accident in the
shape of a broken leg got by a kick from a horse. They had also
ploughed the ground for Mrs Phipps when her husband died, working, by
the way, all Saturday afternoon and Sunday, for they were very busy at
home at that time.
“There is beauty even in this life and in this place. There are
women who were friends in girlhood and who quarrelled bitterly over a
careless word, an idle tale, or some paltry thing, who live within a
mile of each other and have not spoken for years; yet let one fall ill,
or lose husband or child, and the other will hurry across to her place
and take off her bonnet and tuck up her sleeves, and set to work to
help straighten things, and they will kiss, and cry in each other's
arms, and be sisters again.”
I saw tears in the eyes of two hard and hard-faced women I knew; but
they were smiling to each other through their tears.
“And now,” said Peter, “I want to talk to you about some other
things. I am not preaching as a man who has been taught to preach
comfortably, but as a man who has learned in the world's school. I know
what trouble is. Men,” he said, still speaking quietly, “and women too!
I have been through trouble as deep as any of yours—perhaps deeper. I
know how you toil and suffer, I know what battles you fight, I know. I
too fought a battle, perhaps as hard as any you fight. I carry a load
and am fighting a battle still.” His eyes were very haggard just them.
“But this is not what I wanted to talk to you about. I have nothing to
say against a young man going away from this place to better himself,
but there are young men who go out back shearing or droving, young men
who are goodhearted but careless, who make cheques, and spend their
money gambling or drinking and never think of the old folk at home
until it is too late. They never think of the old people, alone,
perhaps, in a desolate but on a worked-out farm in the scrub.”
Jim Bullock squirmed again. He had gone out back last season and
made a cheque, and lost most of it on horse-racing and cards.
“They never think—they cannot think how, perhaps, long years agone
in the old days, the old father, as a young man, and his brave young
wife, came out here and buried themselves in the lonely bush and toiled
for many years, trying—it does not matter whether they failed or
not—trying to make homes for their children; toiled till the young man
was bowed and grey, and the young wife brown and wrinkled and worn out.
Exiles they were in the early days—boy-husbands and girl-wives some of
them, who left their native lands, who left all that was dear, that
seemed beautiful, that seemed to make life worth living, and sacrificed
their young lives in drought and utter loneliness to make homes for
their children. I want you young men to think of this. Some of them
came from England, Ireland, Bonnie Scotland.” Ross straightened up and
let his hands fall loosely on his knees. “Some from Europe—your
foreign fathers—some from across the Rhine in Germany.” We looked at
old Kurtz. He seemed affected.
Then Peter paused for a moment and blinked thoughtfully at Ross,
then he took a drink of water. I can see now that the whole thing was a
battle between Peter M'Laughlan and Robert Ross—Scot met Scot. “It
seemed to me,” Jim Bullock said afterwards, “that Peter was only tryin'
to make some of us blanky well blubber.”
“And there are men,” Peter went on, “who have struggled and suffered
and failed, and who have fought and failed again till their tempers are
spoiled, until they grow bitter. They go in for self-pity, and
self-pity leads to moping and brooding and madness; self-pity is the
most selfish and useless thing on the face of God's earth. It is cruel,
it is deadly, both to the man and to those who love him, and whom he
ought to love. His load grows heavier daily in his imagination, and he
sinks down until it is in him to curse God and die. He ceases to care
for or to think of his children who are working to help him.” (Ross's
sons were good, steady, hard-working boys.) “Or the brave wife who has
been so true to him for many hard years, who left home and friends and
country for his sake. Who bears up in the blackest of times, and
persists in looking at the bright side of things for his sake; who has
suffered more than he if he only knew it, and suffers now, through him
and because of him, but who is patient and bright and cheerful while
her heart is breaking. He thinks she does not suffer, that she cannot
suffer as a man does. My God! he doesn't know. He has forgotten in her
the bright, fresh-faced, loving lassie he loved and won long years
agone—long years agone—-”
There was a sob, like the sob of an over-ridden horse as it sinks
down broken-hearted, and Ross's arms went out on the desk in front of
him, and his head went down on them. He was beaten.
He was steered out gently with his wife on one side of him and his
eldest son on the other.
“Don't be alarmed, my friends,” said Peter, standing by the
water-bag with one hand on the tap and the pannikin in the other. “Mr
Ross has not been well lately, and the heat has been too much for him.”
And he went out after Ross. They took him round under the bush shed
behind the hut, where it was cooler.
When Peter came back to his place he seemed to have changed his
whole manner and tone. “Our friend, Mr Ross, is much better,” he said.
“We will now sing”—he glanced at Clara Southwick at the harmonium—“we
will now sing `Shall We Gather at the River?'“ We all knew that hymn;
it was an old favourite round there, and Clara Southwick played it well
in spite of the harmonium.
And Peter sang—the first and last time I ever heard him sing. I
never had an ear for music; but I never before nor since heard a man's
voice that stirred me as Peter M'Laughlan's. We stood like emus,
listening to him all through one verse, then we pulled ourselves
Shall we gather at the River,
Where bright angels' feet have trod—
The only rivers round there were barren creeks, the best of them
only strings of muddy waterholes, and across the ridge, on the
sheep-runs, the creeks were dry gutters, with baked banks and beds, and
perhaps a mudhole every mile or so, and dead beasts rotting and
stinking every few yards.
Gather with the saints at the River,
That flows by the throne of God.
Peter's voice trembled and broke. He caught his breath, and his eyes
filled. But he smiled then—he stood smiling at us through his tears.
The beautiful, the beautiful River,
That flows by the throne of God.
Outside I saw women kiss each other who had been at daggers drawn
ever since I could remember, and men shake hands silently who had hated
each other for years. Every family wanted Peter to come home to tea,
but he went across to Ross's, and afterwards down to Kurtz's place, and
bled and inoculated six cows or so in a new way, and after tea he rode
off over the gap to see his friend.
HIS BROTHER'S KEEPER
By his paths through the parched desolation,
Hot rides and the terrible tramps;
By the hunger, the thirst, the privation
Of his work in the furthermost camps;
By his worth in the light that shall search men
And prove—ay! and justify each—
I place him in front of all Churchmen
Who feel not, who know not—but preach!
—The Christ of the Never.
I told you about Peter M'Laughlan, the bush missionary, and how he
preached in the little slab-and-bark school-house in the scrub on
Ross's Creek that blazing hot Sunday afternoon long ago, when the
drought was ruining the brave farmers all round there and breaking
their hearts. And how hard old Ross, the selector, broke down at the
end of the sermon, and blubbered, and had to be taken out of church.
I left home and drifted to Sydney, and “back into the Great
North-West where all the rovers go,” and knocked about the country for
six or seven years before I met Peter M'Laughlan again. I was young
yet, but felt old at times, and there were times, in the hot, rough,
greasy shearing-shed on blazing days, or in the bare “men's hut” by the
flicker of the stinking slush-lamp at night, or the wretched wayside
shanty with its drink-madness and blasphemy, or tramping along the
dusty, endless track—there were times when I wished I could fall back
with all the experience I'd got, and sit once more in the little
slab-and-bark “chapel” on Ross's Creek and hear Peter M'Laughlan and
the poor, struggling selectors sing “Shall We Gather at the River?” and
then go out and start life afresh.
My old school chum and bush mate, Jack Barnes, had married pretty
little Clara Southwick, who used to play the portable harmonium in
chapel. I nearly broke my heart when they were married, but then I was
a young fool. Clara was a year or so older than I, and I could never
get away from a boyish feeling of reverence for her, as if she were
something above and out of my world. And so, while I was worshipping
her in chapel once a month, and at picnics and parties in between, and
always at a distance, Jack used to ride up to Southwick's place on
Saturday and Sunday afternoons, and on other days, and hang his horse
up outside, or turn it in the paddock, and argue with old Southwick,
and agree with the old woman, and court Clara on the sly. And he got
It was at their wedding that I first got the worse for drink.
Jack was a blue-eyed, curly black-haired, careless, popular young
scamp; as good-hearted as he was careless. He could ride like a circus
monkey, do all kinds of bush work, add two columns of figures at once,
and write like copper-plate.
Jack was given to drinking, gambling and roving. He steadied up when
he got married and started on a small selection of his own; but within
the year Clara was living in a back skillion of her father's house and
Jack was up-country shearing. He was “ringer” of the shed at Piora
Station one season and made a decent cheque; and within a fortnight
after the shed “cut out” he turned up at home in a very bad state from
drink and with about thirty shillings in his pockets. He had fallen
from his horse in the creek near Southwick's, and altogether he was a
nice sort of young husband to go home to poor, heart-broken Clara.
I remember that time well. She stopped me one day as I was riding
past to ask me if I'd seen Jack, and I got off my horse. Her chin and
mouth began to twitch and tremble and I saw her eyes filling with
tears. She laid her hand on my arm and asked me to promise not to drink
with Jack if I met him, but to try and persuade him to come home.
And—well, have you, as a man, ever, with the one woman that you can't
have, and no matter at what time or place, felt a sudden mad longing to
take her in your arms and kiss her—and damn the world? I got on my
horse again. She must have thought me an ignorant brute, but I felt
safer there. And when I thought how I had nearly made a fool of myself,
and been a cowardly brute, and a rotten mate to my mate, I rode ten
miles to find Jack and get him home.
He straightened up again after a bit and went out and got another
shed, and they say that Peter M'Laughlan got hold of him there. I don't
know what Peter did to him then—Jack never spoke of it, even to me,
his old mate; but, anyway, at the end of the shearing season Jack's
cheque came home to Clara in a registered envelope, addressed in
Peter's hand-writing, and about a week later Jack turned up a changed
He got work as a temporary clerk in the branch government land
office at Solong, a pretty little farming town in a circle of blue
hills on the banks of a clear, willow-fringed river, where there were
rich, black-soil, river-flat farms, and vineyards on the red soil
slopes, and blue peaks in the distance. It was a great contrast to
Ross's Creek. Jack paid a deposit on an allotment of land, a bit out of
town, on the river bank, and built a little weather-board box of a
cottage in spare times, and planted roses and grape-vines to hide its
ugliness by and by. It wasn't much of a place, but Clara was mighty
proud of it because it was “our house.” They were very happy, and she
was beginning to feel sure of Jack. She seemed to believe that the
miserable old time was all past and gone.
When the work at the land's office gave out, Jack did all sorts of
jobs about town, and at last, one shearing season, when there was a
heavy clip of wool, and shearers were getting L1 a hundred, he decided
to go out back. I know that Clara was against it, but he argued that it
was the only chance for him, and she persuaded herself that she could
trust him. I was knocking about Solong at the time, and Jack and I
decided to go out together and share his packhorse between us. He wrote
to Beenaway Shed, about three hundred: miles north-west in the Great
Scrubs, and got pens for both of us.
It was a fine fresh morning when we started; it was in a good season
and the country looked grand. When I rode up to Jack's place I saw his
horse and packhorse tied up outside the gate. He had wanted me to come
up the evening before and have tea with them and camp at his place for
the night. “Come up! man alive!” he said. “We'll make you a
shake-down!” But I wouldn't; I said I had to meet a chap. Jack wouldn't
have understood. I had been up before, but when I saw him and Clara so
happy and comfortable, and thought of the past and my secret, and
thought of myself, a useless, purposeless, restless, homeless sort of
fellow, hanging out at a boarding-house, it nearly broke me up, and I
had to have a drink or two afterwards. I often wonder if Clara guessed
and understood. You never know how much a woman knows; but—ah, well!
Jack had taken my things home with him and he and Clara had packed
them. I found afterwards that she had washed, dried and ironed some
collars and handkerchiefs of mine during the night. Clara and Jack came
out to the gate, and as I wouldn't go in to have a cup of tea there was
nothing for it but to say good-bye. She was dressed in a fresh-looking
print blouse and dark skirt, and wore a white hood that fell back from
her head; she was a little girl, with sweet, small, freckled features,
and red-gold hair, and kind, sympathetic grey eyes. I thought her the
freshest, and fairest, and daintiest little woman in the district.
I was Jack's mate, so she always treated me as a sort of
brother-in-law, and called me by my Christian name. Mates are closer
than brothers in the bush.
I turned my back and pretended to tighten the straps and girths on
the packhorse while she said good-bye to Jack. I heard her speaking
earnestly to him, and once I heard her mention Peter M`Laughlan's name.
I thought Jack answered rather impatiently. “Oh, that's all right,
Clara,” he said, “that's all over—past and gone. I wish you would
believe it. You promised never to speak of that any more.”
I know how it was. Jack never cared to hear about Peter; he was too
ashamed of the past, perhaps; besides, deep down, we feel a sort of
resentment towards any reference to a man who has helped or saved us in
the past. It's human nature.
Then they spoke in low tones for a while, and then Jack laughed, and
kissed her, and said, “Oh, I'll be back before the time's up.” Then he
ran into the house to say good-bye to Mary's sister, who was staying
with her, and who was laid up with a sprained ankle.
Then Clara stepped up to me and laid her fingers on my shoulder. I
trembled from head to foot and hoped she didn't notice it.
“Joe,” she said, looking at me with her big, searching grey eyes, “I
believe I can trust you. I want you to look after Jack. You know why.
Never let him have one drink if you can help it. One drink—the first
drink will do it. I want you to promise me that you will never have a
drink with Jack, no matter what happens or what he says.”
“I never will,” I said, and I meant it.
“It's the first time he's been away from me since he gave up
drinking, and if he comes back all right this time I will be sure of
him and contented. But, Joe, if he comes back wrong it will kill me; it
will break my heart. I want you to promise that if anything happens you
will ride or wire for Peter M'Laughlan. I hear he's wool-sorting this
year at Beenaway Station. Promise me that if anything happens you will
ride for Peter M'Laughlan and tell him, no matter what Jack says.”
“I promise,” I said.
She half-held out her hand to me, but I kept both mine behind my
back. I suppose she thought I didn't notice that she wanted to shake
hands on the bargain; but the truth was that my hands shook so, and I
didn't want her to notice that.
I got on my horse and felt steadier. Then, “Good-bye,
Clara”—“Good-bye, Jack.” She bore up bravely, but I saw her eyes
brimming. Jack got on his horse, and I bent over and shook hands with
her. Jack bent down and kissed her while she stood on tiptoe.
“Good-bye, little woman,” he said. “Cheer up, and I'll be back before
you know where you are! You mustn't fret—you know why.”
“Good-bye, Jack!”—she was breaking down.
“Come on, Jack!” I said, and we rode off, turning and waving our
hats to her as she stood by the gate, looking a desolate little thing,
I thought, till we turned down a bend of the road into the river.
As we jogged along with the packhorse trotting behind us, and the
quart-pots and hobble-chains jingling on the packsaddle, I pictured
Clara running inside, to cry a while in her sister's arms, and then to
bustle round and cheer up, for Jack's sake—and for the sake of
“I'll christen him after you, Joe,” said Jack, later on, when we'd
got confidential over our pipes after tea in our first camp. It never
seemed to enter his head that there was the ghost of a chance that it
might be a girl. “I'm glad he didn't come along when I was drinking,”
And as we lay rolled in our blankets under the stars I swore a big
oath to myself.
We got along comfortably and reached Beenaway Station in about a
week, the day before the shearers' roll-call. Jack never showed the
slightest inclination to go into a shanty; and several times we talked
about old times and what damned fools we'd been throwing away our money
over shanty bars shouting for loafers and cadgers. “Isn't this ever
so-much better, Joe!” said Jack, as we lay on our blankets smoking one
moonlight night. “There's nothing in boozing, Joe, you can take it from
me. Just you sling it for a year and then look back; you won't want to
touch it again. You've been straight for a couple of months. Sling it
for good, Joe, before it gets a hold on you, like it did on me.”
It was the morning after cut-out at Beenaway Shed, and we were glad.
We were tired of the rush and roar and rattle and heat and grease and
blasphemy of the big, hot, iron machine shed in that dusty patch in the
barren scrubs. Swags were rolled up, saddle-bags packed, horses had
been rounded up and driven in, the shearers' cook and his mate had had
their fight, and about a hundred men—shearers, rouseabouts, and
wool-washers—were waiting round the little iron office to get their
We were about half through when one bushman said to another: “Stop
your damned swearin', Jim. Here's Peter M'Laughlan!” Peter walked up
and the men made way for him and he went into the office. There was
always considerably less swearing for a few feet round about where
Peter M'Laughlan happened to be working in a shearing-shed. It seemed
to be an understood thing with the men. He took no advantages, never
volunteered to preach at a shed where he was working, and only spoke on
union subjects when the men asked him to. He was “rep.” (Shearers'
Union representative) at this shed, but squatters and station managers
respected him as much as the men did.
He seemed much greyer now, but still stood square and straight. And
his eyes still looked one through.
When Peter came out and the crowd had cleared away he took Jack
aside and spoke to him in a low voice for a few minutes. I heard Jack
say, “Oh, that's all right, Peter! You have my word for it,” and he got
on his horse. I heard Peter say the one word, “Remember!” “Oh, that's
all right,” said Jack, and he shook hands with Peter, shouted, “Come
on, Joe!” and started off with the packhorse after him.
“I wish I were going down with you, Joe,” said Peter to me, “but I
can't get away till to-morrow. I've got that sick rouseabout on my
hands, and I'll have to see him fixed up somehow and started off to the
hospital” (the nearest was a hundred miles away). “And, by the way,
I've taken up a collection for him; I want a few shillings from you,
Joe. I nearly forgot you. The poor fellow only got in about a
fortnight's work, and there's a wife and youngsters in Sydney. I'll be
down after you to-morrow. I promised to go to Comesomehow* and get the
people together and start an agitation for a half-time school there.
Anyway, I'll be there by the end of the week. Good-bye, Joe. I must get
some more money for the rouser from some of those chaps before they
[ * There is a postal district in new South Wales called
Comesomehow was a wretched cockatoo settlement, a bit off the track,
about one hundred and fifty miles on our road home, where the settlers
lived like savages and the children ran wild. I reckoned that Peter
would have his work cut out to start a craving for education in that
By saying he'd be there I think he intended to give me a hint, in
case anything happened. I believe now that Jack's wife had got anxious
and had written to him.
We jogged along comfortably and happily for three or four days, and
as we passed shanty after shanty, and town after town, without Jack
showing the slightest inclination to pull up at any of them, I began to
feel safe about him.
Then it happened, in the simplest way, as most things of this sort
happen if you don't watch close.
The third night it rained, rained heavens-hard, and rainy nights can
be mighty cold out on those plains, even in midsummer. Jack and I
rigged up a strip of waterproof stuff we had to cover the swags on the
packhorse, but the rain drove in, almost horizontally, and we got wet
through, blankets, clothes and all. Jack got a bad cold and coughed fit
to break himself; so about daylight, when the rain held up a bit, we
packed up and rode on to the next pub, a wretched little weather-board
place in the scrub.
Jack reckoned he'd get some stuff for his cold there. I didn't like
to speak, but before we reached the place I said, “You won't touch a
“Do you think I'm a blanky fool?” said Jack, and I shut up.
The shanty was kept by a man who went by the name of Thomas, a
notorious lamber-down,* as I found out afterwards. He was a big,
awkward bullock of a man, a selfish, ignorant brute, as anyone might
have seen by his face; but he had a loud voice, and adopted a careless,
rollicking, hail-fellow-well-met! come-in-and-sit-down-man-alive!
clap-you-on-the-back style, which deceived a good many, or which a good
many pretended to believe in. His “missus” was an animal of his own
species, but she was duller and didn't bellow.
[ * “Lamber-down,” a shanty keeper who entices cheque-men to drink.
He had a rather good-looking girl there—I don't know whether she
was his daughter or not. They said that when he saw the shearers coming
he'd say, “Run and titivate yourself, Mary; here comes the shearers!”
But what surprised me was that Jack Barnes didn't seem able to see
through Thomas; he thought that he was all right, “a bit of a rough
diamond.” There are any amount of scoundrels and swindlers knocking
about the world disguised as rough diamonds.
Jack had a fit of coughing when we came in.
“Why, Jack!” bellowed Thomas, “that's a regular churchyarder you've
got. Go in to the kitchen fire and I'll mix you a stiff toddy.”
“No, thank you, Thomas,” said Jack, glancing at me rather
sheepishly, I thought. “I'll have a hot cup of coffee presently,
that'll do me more good.”
“Why, man alive, one drink won't hurt you!” said Thomas. “I know
you're on the straight, and you know I'm the last man that 'ud try to
get you off it. But you want something for that cold. You don't want to
die on the track, do you? What would your missus say? That cough of
yours is enough to bust a bullock.”
“Jack isn't drinking, Thomas,” I said rather shortly, “and neither
“I'll have a cup of coffee at breakfast,” said Jack; “thank you all
the same, Thomas.”
“Right you are, Jack!” said Thomas. “Mary!” he roared at the girl,
“chuck yerself about and get breakfast, and make a strong cup of
coffee; and I say, missus” (to his wife), “git some honey and vinegar
in a cup, will yer? or see if there's any of that cough stuff left in
the bottle. Go into the kitchen, you chaps, and dry yourselves at the
fire, you're wringing wet.”
Jack went through into the kitchen. I stepped out to see if the
horses were all right, and as I came in again through the bar, Thomas,
who had slipped behind the counter, crooked his finger at me and poured
out a stiff whisky. “I thought you might like to have it on the quiet,”
he whispered, with a wink.
Now, there was this difference between Jack and me. When I was on
the track, and healthy and contented, I could take a drink, or two
drinks, and then leave it; or at other times I could drink all day, or
all night, and be as happy as a lord, and be mighty sick and repentant
all next day, and then not touch drink for a week; but if Jack once
started, he was a lost man for days, for weeks, for, months—as long as
his cash or credit lasted. I felt a cold coming on me this morning, and
wanted a whisky, so I had a drink with Thomas. Then, of course, I
shouted in my turn, keeping an eye out in case Jack should come in. I
went into the kitchen and steamed with Jack for a while in front of a
big log fire, taking care to keep my breath away from him. Then we went
in to breakfast. Those two drinks were all I meant to have, and we were
going right on after breakfast.
It was a good breakfast, ham and eggs, and we enjoyed it. The two
whiskies had got to work. I hadn't touched drink for a long time. I
shouldn't like to say that Thomas put anything in the drink he gave me.
Before we started breakfast he put a glass down in front of me and
“There's a good ginger-ale, it will warm you up.”
I tasted it; it was rum, hot. I said nothing. What could I say?
There was some joke about Jack being married and settled and
steadied down, and me, his old mate, still on the wallaby; and Mrs
Thomas said that I ought to follow Jack's example. And just then I felt
a touch of that loneliness that some men feel when an old drinking mate
Jack started coughing again, like an old cow with the pleuro.
“That cough will kill you, Jack,” said Thomas. “Let's put a drop of
brandy in your coffee, that won't start you, anyhow; it's real `Three
Star.'“ And he reached a bottle from the side-table.
I should have stood up then, for my manhood, for my mate, and for
little Clara, but I half rose from my chair, and Jack laughed and said,
“Sit down, Joe, you old fool, you're tanked. I know all about your
seeing about the horses and your ginger-ales. It's all right, old man.
Do you think I'm going on the booze? Why, I'll have to hold you on the
horse all day.”
“Here's luck, Joe!” said Jack, laughing, and lifting up his cup of
coffee with the brandy in it. “Here's luck, Joe.”
Then suddenly, and as clearly as I ever heard it, came Clara's voice
to my ear: “Promise me, whatever you do, that you will never have a
drink with Jack.” And I felt cold and sick to the stomach.
I got up and went out. They thought that the drink had made me sick,
but if I'd stayed there another minute I would have tackled Thomas; and
I knew that I needed a clear head to tackle a bullock like him. I
walked about a bit, and when I came in again Jack and Thomas were in
the bar, and Jack had a glass before him.
“Come on, Joe, you old bounder,” said Jack, “come and have a
whisky-and-soda; it will straighten you up.”
“What's that you're drinking, Jack?” I asked.
“Oh, don't be a fool!” said Jack. “One drink won't hurt me. Do you
think I'm going on the booze? Have a soda and straighten up; we must
make a start directly.”
I remember we had two or three whiskies, and then suddenly I tackled
Thomas, and Jack was holding me back, and laughing and swearing at me
at the same time, and I had a tussle with him; and then I was suddenly
calmer and sensible, and we were shaking hands all round, and Jack was
talking about just one more spree for the sake of old times.
“A bit of a booze won't hurt me, Joe, you old fool,” he said. “We'll
have one more night of it, for the sake of Auld Lang Syne, and start at
daylight in the morning. You go and see to the horses, it will
straighten you up. Take the saddle off and hobble 'em out.”
But I insisted on starting at once, and Jack promised he would. We
were gloriously happy for an hour or so, and then I went to sleep.
When I woke it was late in the afternoon. I was very giddy and
shaky; the girl brought me a whisky-and-soda, and that steadied me.
Some more shearers had arrived, and Jack was playing cards with two of
them on top of a cask in the bar. Thomas was dead drunk on the floor,
or pretending to be so, and his wife was behind the bar. I went out to
see to the horses; I found them in a bush yard at the back. The
packhorse was rolling in the mud with the pack-saddle and saddlebags
on. One of the chaps helped me take off the saddles and put them in the
harness-room behind the kitchen.
I'll pass over that night. It wouldn't be very edifying to the
great, steady-living, sober majority, and the others, the
never-do-wells, the rovers, wrecks and failures, will understand only
too well without being told—only too well, God help them!
When I woke in the morning I couldn't have touched a drink to save
my life. I was fearfully shaky, and swimming about the head, but I put
my head over a tub under the pump and got the girl to pump for a while,
and then I drank a pint of tea and managed to keep it down, and felt
All through the last half of the night I'd kept saying, in a sort of
drink nightmare, “I'll go for Peter M'Laughlan in the morning. I'll go
for Peter as soon as I can stand!” and repeating Clara Barnes's words,
“Ride for Peter if anything happens. Ride for Peter M'Laughlan.”
There were drunken shearers, horsemen and swagmen sleeping all over
the place, and in all sorts of odd positions; some on the veranda with
their heads on their swags, one sitting back against the wall, and one
on the broad of his back with his head on the bare boards and his mouth
open. There was another horse rolling in its saddle, and I took the
saddle off. The horse belonged to an English University man.
I went in to see how Jack was. He was lying in the parlour on a
little, worn-out, horse-hair sofa, that might have seen better days in
some clean home in the woman-and-girl world. He had been drinking and
playing cards till early that morning, and he looked awful—he looked
as if he'd been boozing for a month.
“See what you've done!” he said, sitting up and glaring at me; then
he said, “Bring me a whisky-and-soda, Joe, for God's sake!”
I got a whisky-and-soda from the girl and took it to him.
I talked to him for a while, and at last he said, “Well, go and get
the horses and we'll start.”
I got the horses ready and brought them round to the front, but by
that time he'd had more drink, and he said he wanted to sleep before he
started. Next he was playing cards with one of the chaps, and asked me
to wait till he'd finished that game. I knew he'd keep promising and
humbugging me till there was a row, so at last I got him aside and
“Look here, Jack, I'm going for Peter M'Laughlan—-”
“Go to hell!” said Jack.
I put the other horses back in the yard, the saddles in the
skillion, got on my horse and rode off. Thomas and the others asked me
no questions, they took no notice. In a place like that a man could
almost do anything, short of hanging himself, without anyone
interfering or being surprised. And probably, if he did hang himself,
they'd let him swing for a while to get a taste of it.
Comesomehow was about fifteen miles back on a track off the main
road. I reckoned that I could find Peter and bring him on by the
afternoon, and I rode hard, sick as I was. I was too sick to smoke.
As it happened, Peter had started early from his last camp and I
caught him just as he was turning off into Comesomehow track.
“What's up, Joe?” he asked as I rode up to him—but he could see.
“Jack Barnes is on the booze at Thomas's,” I said.
Peter just looked right through me. Then he turned his horse's head
without a word, and rode back with me. And, after a while, he said, as
if to himself:
“Poor Clara! Poor little lassie!”
By the time we reached the shanty it was well on in the afternoon. A
fight was stopped in the first round and voices lowered when the chaps
caught sight of us. As Peter walked into the bar one or two drunks
straightened themselves and took off their hats with drunken sentiment.
“Where is Jack Barnes, Thomas?” asked Peter, quietly.
“He's in there if you want to see him,” said Thomas, jerking his
head towards the parlour.
We went in, and when Peter saw Jack lying there I noticed that
swift, haunted look came into his eyes, as if he'd seen a ghost of the
past. He sat down by the sofa to wait until Jack woke. I thought as he
sat there that his eyes were like a woman's for sympathy and like a
dog's for faithfulness. I was very shaky.
Presently Thomas looked in. “Is there anything I can do for you,
M'Laughlan?” he asked in as civil a tone as he could get to.
“Yes,” said Peter, “bring me a flask of your best whisky—your own,
mind—and a glass.
“We shall need the whisky for him on the track, Joe,” said Peter,
when the flask came. “Get another glass and a bottle of soda; you want
a nip.” He poured out a drink for himself.
“The first thing we've got to do is to get him away; then I'll soon
put him on his feet. But we'll let him sleep a while longer. I find
I've got business near Solong, and I'm going down with you.”
By and by Jack woke up and glared round, and when he caught sight of
Peter he just reached for his hands and said, “Peter! Thank God you've
come!” Then he said, “But I must have a drink first, Peter.”
“All right, Jack, you shall have a drink,” said Peter; and he gave
him a stiff nobblerq. It steadied Jack a bit.
“Now listen to me, Jack,” said Peter. “How much money have you got
“I—I can't think,” said Jack. “I've got a cheque for twenty pounds
here, sewn inside my shirt.”
“Yes; but you drew thirty-six in three cheques. Where's the rest?”
“Thomas has ten,” said Jack, “and the six—well, the six is gone. I
was playing cards last night.”
Peter stepped out into the bar.
“Look here, Thomas,” he said quietly, “you've got a ten-pound cheque
“I know I have.”
“Well, how much of it does he owe you?”
“The whole, and more.”
“Do you mean to tell me that? He has only been here since yesterday
“Yes; but he's been shoutin' all round. Look at all these chaps
“They only came yesterday afternoon,” said Peter. “Here, you had
best take this and give me the cheque;” and Peter laid a five-pound
note on the bar. Thomas bucked at first, but in the end he handed over
the cheque—he had had several warnings from the police. Then he
suddenly lost all control over himself; he came round from behind the
bar and faced Peter.
“Now, look here, you mongrel parson!” he said. “What the —-do you
mean by coming into my bar and, interfering with me. Who the —- are
you anyway? A —-!” He used the worst oaths that were used in the bush.
“Take off your —-coat!” he roared at last, shaping up to Peter.
Peter stepped back a pace and buttoned his coat and threw back his
“No need to take off my coat, Thomas,” he said, “I am ready.”
He said it very quietly, but there was a danger-signal—a red light
in his eyes. He was quiet-voiced but hard-knuckled, as some had reason
Thomas balked like a bull at a spread umbrella. Jack lurched past me
as I stood in the parlour door, but I caught him and held him back; and
almost at the same moment a wretched old boozer that we called “Awful
Example,” who had been sitting huddled, a dirty bundle of rags and
beard and hair, in the corner of the bar, struggled to his feet,
staggered forward and faced Thomas, looking once again like something
that might have been a man. He snatched a thick glass bottle from the
counter and held it by the neck in his right hand.
“Stand back, Thomas!” he shouted. “Lay a hand—lay a finger on Peter
M'Laughlan, and I'll smash your head, as sure as there's a God above us
and I'm a ruined man!”
Peter took “Awful” gently by the shoulders and sat him down. “You
keep quiet, old man,” he said; “nothing is going to happen.” Thomas
went round behind the bar muttering something about it not being worth
his while to, etc.
“You go and get the horses ready, Joe,” said Peter to me; “and you
sit down, Jack, and keep quiet.”
“He can get the horses,” growled Thomas, from behind the bar, “but
I'm damned if he gets the saddles. I've got them locked up, and I'll
something well keep them till Barnes is sober enough to pay me what he
Just then a tall, good-looking chap, with dark-blue eyes and a long,
light-coloured moustache, stepped into the bar from the crowd on the
“What's all this, Thomas?” he asked.
“What's that got to do with you, Gentleman Once?” shouted Thomas.
“I think it's got something to do with me,” said Gentleman Once.
“Now, look here, Thomas; you can do pretty well what you like with us
poor devils, and you know it, but we draw the line at Peter M'Laughlan.
If you really itch for the thrashing, you deserve you must tempt
someone else to give it to you.”
“What the —-are you talking about?” snorted Thomas. “You're drunk
“What's the trouble, M'Laughlan?” asked Gentleman Once, turning to
Peter. “No trouble at all, Gentleman Once,” said Peter; “thank you all
the same. I've managed worse men than our friend Thomas. Now, Thomas,
don't you think it would pay you best to hand over the key of the
harness-room and have done with this nonsense? I'm a patient man—a
very patient man—but I've not always been so, and the old blood comes
up sometimes, you know.”
Thomas couldn't stand this sort of language, because he couldn't
understand it. He threw the key on the bar and told us to clear out.
We were all three very quiet riding along the track that evening.
Peter gave Jack a nip now and again from the flask, and before we
turned in in camp he gave him what he called a soothing draught from a
little medicine chest that he carried in his saddle-bag. Jack seemed to
have got rid of his cough; he slept all night, and in the morning,
after he'd drunk a pint of mutton-broth that Peter had made in one of
the billies, he was all right—except that he was quiet and ashamed. I
had never known him to be so quiet, and for such a length of time,
since we were boys together. He had learned his own weakness; he'd lost
all his cocksureness. I know now just exactly how he felt. He felt as
if his sober year had been lost and he would have to live it all over
Peter didn't preach. He just jogged along and camped with us as if
he were an ordinary, every-day mate. He yarned about all sorts of
things. He could tell good yarns, and when he was fairly on you could
listen to him all night. He seemed to have been nearly all over the
world. Peter never preached except when he was asked to hold service in
some bush pub, station-homestead or bush church. But in a case like
ours he had a way of telling a little life story, with something in it
that hit the young man he wanted to reform, and hit him hard. He'd
generally begin quietly, when we were comfortable with our pipes in
camp after tea, with “I once knew a young man—” or “That reminds me of
a young fellow I knew—” and so on. You never knew when he was going to
begin; or when he was going to hit you. In our last camp, before we
reached Solong, he told two of his time-fuse yarns. I haven't time to
tell them now, but one stuffed up my pipe for a while, and made Jack's
hand tremble when he tried to light his. I'm glad it was too dark to
see our faces. We lay a good while afterwards, rolled in our blankets,
and couldn't get to sleep for thinking; but Peter seemed to fall asleep
as soon as he turned in.
Next day he told Jack not to tell Clara that he'd come down with us.
He said he wouldn't go right into Solong with us; he was going back
along another road to stay a day or two with an old friend of his.
When we reached Solong we stopped on the river-bank just out of
sight of Jack's house. Peter took the ten-pound cheque from his pocket
and gave it to Jack. Jack hadn't seen Peter give the shanty-keeper the
“But I owed Thomas something,” said Jack, staring. “However did you
manage to get the cheque out of him?”
“Never mind, Jack, I managed,” said Peter.
Jack sat silent for a while, then he began to breathe hard.
“I don't know what to say, Peter.”
“Say nothing, Jack. Only promise me that you will give Clara the
cheques as soon as you go home, and let her take care of the cash for a
“I will,” said Jack.
Jack looked down at the ground for a while, then he lifted his head
and looked Peter in the eyes.
“Peter,” he said, “I can't speak. I'm ashamed to make a promise;
I've broken so many. I'll try to thank you in a year's time from now.”
“I ask for no promises,” said Peter, and he held out his hand. Jack
“Aren't you coming home with me, Joe?” he asked.
“No,” I said; “I'll go into town. See you in the morning.”
Jack rode on. When he got along a piece Peter left his horse and
moved up to the head of the lane to watch Jack, and I followed. As Jack
neared the cottage we saw a little figure in a cloak run out to the
front gate. She had heard the horses and the jingle of the camp-ware on
the pack-saddle. We saw Jack jump down and take her in his arms. I
looked at Peter, and as he watched them, something, that might have
been a strange look of the old days, came into his eyes.
He shook hands with me. “Good-bye, Joe.”
He rode across the river again. He took the track that ran along the
foot of the spurs by the river, and up over a gap in the curve of blue
hills, and down and out west towards the Big Scrubs. And as he rounded
the last spur, with his packhorse trotting after him, I thought he must
have felt very lonely. And I felt lonely too.
THE STORY OF “GENTLEMAN ONCE”
They learn the world from black-sheep,
Who know it all too well.
Peter M'Laughlan, bush missionary, Joe Wilson and his mate, Jack
Barnes, shearers for the present, and a casual swagman named Jack
Mitchell, were camped at Cox's Crossing in a bend of Eurunderee Creek.
It was a grassy little flat with gum-trees standing clear and clean
like a park. At the back was the steep grassy siding of a ridge, and
far away across the creek to the south a spur from the Blue Mountain
range ran west, with a tall, blue granite peak showing clear in the
broad moonlight, yet dream-like and distant over the sweeps of dark
There was the jingle of hobble-chains and a crunching at the grass
where the horses moved in the soft shadows amongst the trees. Up the
creek on the other side was a surveyors' camp, and from there now and
again came the sound of a good voice singing verses of old songs; and
later on the sound of a violin and a cornet being played, sometimes
together and sometimes each on its own.
Wilson and Barnes were on their way home from shearing out back in
the great scrubs at Beenaway Shed. They had been rescued by Peter
M`Laughlan from a wayside shanty where they had fallen, in spite of
mutual oaths and past promises, sacred and profane, because they had
got wringing wet in a storm on the track and caught colds, and had been
tempted to take just one drink.
They were in a bad way, and were knocking down their cheques
beautifully when Peter M'Laughlan came along. He rescued them and some
of their cash from the soulless shanty keeper, and was riding home with
them, on some pretence, because he had known them as boys, because Joe
Wilson had a vein of poetry in him—a something in sympathy with
something in Peter; because Jack Barnes had a dear little girl-wife who
was much too good for him, and who was now anxiously waiting for him in
the pretty little farming town of Solong amongst the western spurs.
Because, perhaps, of something in Peter's early past which was a
mystery. Simply and plainly because Peter M'Laughlan was the kindest,
straightest and truest man in the West— a “white man.”
They all knew Mitchell and welcomed him heartily when he turned up
in their camp, because he was a pathetic humorist and a kindly cynic—a
“joker” or “hard case” as the bushmen say.
Peter was about fifty and the other three were young men.
There was another man in camp who didn't count and was supposed to
be dead. Old Danny Quinn, champion “beer-chewer” of the district, was
on his way out, after a spree, to one of Rouse's stations, where, for
the sake of past services—long past—and because of old times, he was
supposed to be working. He had spent his last penny a week before and
had clung to his last-hope hotel until the landlord had taken him in
one hand and his swag in the other and lifted them clear of the
veranda. Danny had blundered on, this far, somehow; he was the last in
the world who could have told how, and had managed to light a fire;
then he lay with his head on his swag and enjoyed nips of whisky in
judicious doses and at reasonable intervals, and later on a tot of
mutton-broth, which he made in one of the billies.
It was after tea. Peter sat on a log by the fire with Joe and Jack
Mitchell on one side and Jack Barnes on the other. Jack Mitchell sat on
the grass with his back to the log, his knees drawn up, and his arms
abroad on them: his most comfortable position and one which seemed to
favour the flow of his philosophy. They talked of bush things or
reflected, sometimes all three together, sometimes by turns.
From the surveyors' camp:
I remember, I remember,
The house where I was born,
The little window where the sun
Came peeping in at morn—-
The breeze from the west strengthened and the voice was blown away.
“That chap seems a bit sentimental but he's got a good voice,” said
Mitchell. Then presently he remarked, round his pipe:
“I wonder if old Danny remembers?” And presently Peter said quietly,
as if the thought had just occurred to him:
“By the way, Mitchell, I forgot to ask after your old folk. I knew
your father, you know.”
“Oh, they're all right, Peter, thank you.”
“Heard from them lately?” asked Peter, presently, in a lazy tone.
Mitchell straightened himself up. “N—no. To tell the truth, Peter,
I haven't written for—I don't know how long.”
Peter smoked reflectively.
“I remember your father well, Jack,” he said. “He was a big-hearted
Old Danny was heard remonstrating loudly with spirits from a warmer
clime than Australia, and Peter stepped over to soothe him.
“I thought I'd get it, directly after I opened my mouth,” said
Mitchell. “I suppose it will be your turn next, Joe.”
“I suppose so,” said Joe, resignedly.
The wind fell.
I remember, I remember,
And it gives me little joy,
To think I'm further off from heaven,
Than when I was a boy!
When Peter came back another thought seemed to have occurred to him.
“How's your mother getting on, Joe?” he asked. “She shifted to
Sydney after your father died, didn't she?”
“Oh, she's getting on all right!” said Joe, without elaboration.
“Keeping a boarding-house, isn't she?”
“Yes,” said Joe.
“Hard to make ends meet, I suppose?” said Peter. “It's almost a
harder life than it could have been on the old selection, and there's
none of the old independence about it. A woman like your mother must
feel it, Joe.”
“Oh, she's all right,” said Joe. “She's used to it by this time. I
manage to send her a few pounds now and again. I send her all I can,”
he added resentfully.
Peter sat corrected for a few moments. Then he seemed to change the
“It's some time since you were in Sydney last, isn't it, Joe?'
“Yes, Peter,” said Joe. “I haven't been there for two years. I never
did any good there. I'm far better knocking about out back.”
There was a pause.
“Some men seem to get on better in one place, some in another,”
reflected Mitchell, lazily. “For my part, I seem to get on better in
Peter blinked, relit his pipe with a stick from the fire and
The surveyor's song had been encored:
I remember, I remember—-
Perhaps Peter remembered. Joe did, but there were no vines round the
house where he was born, only drought and dust, and raspy voices raised
in recrimination, and hardship most times.
“I remember,” said Peter, quietly, “I remember a young fellow at
home in the old country. He had every advantage. He had a first-class
education, a great deal more money than he needed—almost as much as he
asked for, and nearly as much freedom as he wanted. His father was an
English gentleman and his mother an English lady. They were titled
people, if I remember rightly. The old man was proud, but fond of his
son; he only asked him to pay a little duty or respect now and again.
We don't understand these things in Australia—they seem formal and
cold to us. The son paid his respects to his father occasionally—a
week or so before he'd be wanting money, as a rule. The mother was a
dear lady. She idolized her son. She only asked for a little show of
affection from him, a few days or a week of his society at home now and
then—say once in three months. But he couldn't spare her even
that—his time was taken up so much in fashionable London and Paris and
other places. He would give the world to be able to take his proud,
soft old father's hand now and look into his eyes as one man who
understands another. He would be glad and eager to give his mother
twelve months out of the year if he thought it would make her happier.
It has been too late for more than twenty years.”
Old Danny called for Peter.
Mitchell jerked his head approvingly and gave a sound like a sigh
and chuckle conjoined, the one qualifying the other.
“I told you you'd get it, Joe,” he said.
“I don't see how it hits me,” said Joe.
“But it hit all the same, Joe.”
“Well, I suppose it did,” said Joe, after a short pause.
“He wouldn't have hit you so hard if you hadn't tried to parry,”
reflected Mitchell. “It's your turn now, Jack.”
Jack Barnes said nothing.
“Now I know that Peter would do anything for a woman or child, or an
honest, straight, hard-up chap,” said Mitchell, straightening out his
legs and folding his arms, “but I can't quite understand his being so
partial to drunken scamps and vagabonds, black sheep and
never-do-wells. He's got a tremendous sympathy for drunks. He'd do
anything to help a drunken man. Ain't it marvellous? It's my private
opinion that Peter must have been an awful boozer and scamp in his
The other two only thought. Mitchell was privileged. He was a young
man of freckled, sandy complexion, and quizzical grey eyes. “Sly Joker"
“could take a rise out of anyone on the quiet;” “You could never tell
when he was getting at you;” “Face of a born comedian,” as bushmen said
of Mitchell. But he would probably have been a dead and dismal failure
on any other stage than that of wide Australia.
Peter came back and they sat and smoked, and maybe they reflected
along four very different back-tracks for a while.
The surveyor started to sing again:
I have heard the mavis singing
Her love-song to the morn.
I have seen the dew-drop clinging
To the rose just newly born.
They smoked and listened in silence all through to the end. It was
very still. The full moon was high. The long white slender branches of
a box-tree stirred gently overhead; the she-oaks in the creek sighed as
they are always sighing, and the southern peak seemed ever so far away.
That has made me thine for ever!
Bonny Mary of Argyle.
“Blarst my pipe!” exclaimed Mitchell, suddenly. “I beg your pardon,
Peter. My pipe's always getting stuffed up,” and he proceeded to shell
out and clear his pipe.
The breeze had changed and strengthened. They heard the violin
playing “Annie Laurie.”
“They must be having a Scotch night in that camp tonight,” said
Mitchell. The voice came again:
Maxwelton Braes are bonny—
Where early fa's the dew,
For 'twas there that Annie Laurie
Gie me her promise true—-
Mitchell threw out his arm impatiently. “I wish they wouldn't play
and sing those old songs,” he said. “They make you think of damned old
things. I beg your pardon, Peter.”
Peter sat leaning forward, his elbows resting on his knees and his
hands fingering his cold pipe nervously. His sad eyes had grown haggard
and haunted. It is in the hearts of exiles in new lands that the old
songs are felt.
“Take no thought of the morrow, Mitchell,” said Peter, abstractedly.
“I beg your pardon, Mitchell. I mean—-”
“That's all right, Peter,” said Mitchell. “You're right; to-morrow
is the past, as far as I'm concerned.”
Peter blinked down at him as if he were a new species.
“You're an odd young man, Mitchell,” he said. “You'll have to take
care of that head of yours or you'll be found hanging by a saddle-strap
to a leaning tree on a lonely track, or find yourself in a lunatic
asylum before you're forty-five.”
“Or else I'll be a great man,” said Mitchell. “But—ah, well!”
Peter turned his eyes to the fire and smiled sadly. “Not enjoyment
and not sorrow, is our destined end or way,” he repeated to the fire.
“But we get there just the same,” said Mitchell, “destined or not.”
But to live, that each to-morrow,
Finds us further than to-day!
“Why, that just fits my life, Peter,” said Mitchell. “I might have
to tramp two or three hundred miles before I get a cut* or a job, and
if to-morrow didn't find me nearer than to-day I'd starve or die of
thirst on a dry stretch.”
[ * Cut—a pen or “stand” in a shearing shed ]
“Why don't you get married and settle down, Mitchell?” asked Peter,
a little tired. “You're a teetotaller.”
“If I got married I couldn't settle down,” said Mitchell. “I reckon
I'd be the loneliest man in Australia.” Peter gave him a swift glance.
“I reckon I'd be single no matter how much married I might be. I
couldn't get the girl I wanted, and—ah, well!”
Mitchell's expression was still quaintly humorous round the lower
part of his face, but there was a sad light in his eyes. The strange
light as of the old dead days, and he was still young.
The cornet had started in the surveyors' camp.
“Their blooming tunes seem to fit in just as if they knew what we
were talking about,” remarked Mitchell.
You'll break my heart, you little bird,
That sings upon the flowering thorn
Thou mind'st me of departed joys,
Departed never to return.
“Damn it all,” said Mitchell, sitting up, “I'm getting sentimental.”
Then, as if voicing something that was troubling him, “Don't you think
a woman pulls a man down as often as she lifts him up, Peter?”
“Some say so,” said Peter.
“Some say so, and they write it, too,” said Mitchell.
“Sometimes it seems to me as if women were fated to drag a man down
ever since Adam's time. If Adam hadn't taken his wife's advice—but
there, perhaps he took her advice a good many times and found it good,
and, just because she happened to be wrong this time, and to get him
into a hole, the sons of Adam have never let the daughters of Eve hear
the last of it. That's human nature.”
Jack Barnes, the young husband, who was suffering a recovery, had
been very silent all the evening. “I think a man's a fool to always
listen to his wife's advice,” he said, with the unreasonable impatience
of a man who wants to think while others are talking. “She only messes
him up, and drives him to the devil as likely as not, and gets a
contempt for him in the end.”
Peter gave him a surprised, reproachful look, and stood up. He paced
backwards and forwards on the other side of the fire, with his hands
behind his back for a while; then he came and settled himself on the
log again and filled his pipe.
“Yes,” he said, “a man can always find excuses for himself when his
conscience stings him. He puts mud on the sting. Man at large is
beginning all over the world to rake up excuses for himself; he
disguises them as `Psychological studies,' and thinks he is clean and
clever and cultured, or he calls 'em problems—the sex problem, for
instance, and thinks he is brave and fearless.”
Danny was in trouble again, and Peter went to him. He complained
that when he lay down he saw the faces worse, and he wanted to be
propped up somehow, so Peter got a pack-saddle and propped the old
man's shoulders up with that.
“I remember,” Peter began, when he came back to the fire, “I
remember a young man who got married—-”
Mitchell hugged himself. He knew Jack Barnes. He knew that Jack had
a girl-wife who was many times too good for him; that Jack had been
wild, and had nearly broken her heart, and he had guessed at once that
Jack had broken out again, and that Peter M'Laughlan was shepherding
him home. Mitchell had worked as mates with Jack, and liked him because
of the good heart that was in him in spite of all; and, because he
liked him, he was glad that Jack was going to get a kicking, so to
speak, which might do him good. Mitchell saw it coming, as he said
afterwards, and filled his pipe, and settled himself comfortably to
“I remember the case of a naturally selfish young man who got
married” said Peter. “He didn't know he was selfish; in fact, he
thought he was too much the other way—but that doesn't matter now. His
name was—well, we'll call him—we'll call him, `Gentleman Once.'“
“Do you mean Gentleman Once that we saw drinking back at Thomas's
shanty?” asked Joe.
“No,” said Peter, “not him. There have been more than one in the
bush who went by the nickname of `Gentleman Once.' I knew one or two.
It's a big clan, the clan of Gentleman Once, and scattered all over the
“By the way,” said Mitchell—“excuse me for interrupting, Peter—but
wasn't old Danny, there, a gentleman once? I've heard chaps say he
“I know he was,” said Peter.
“Gentleman Once! Who's talking about Gentleman Once?” said an awful
voice, suddenly and quickly. “About twenty or thirty years ago I was
called Gentleman Once or Gentleman Jack, I don't know which—Get out!
Get out, I say! It's all lies, and you're the devil. There's four
devils sitting by the fire. I see them.”
Two of the four devils by the fire looked round, rather startled.
Danny was sitting up, his awful bloodshot eyes glaring in the
firelight, and his ruined head looking like the bloated head of a hairy
poodle that had been drowned and dried. Peter went to the old man and
soothed him by waving off the snakes and devils with his hands, and
telling them to go.
“I've heard Danny on the Gentleman Once racket before,” remarked
“Seems funny, doesn't it, for a man to be proud of the fact that he
was called `Gentleman Once' about twenty years ago?”
“Seems more awful than funny to me,” said Joe.
“You're right, Joe,” said Mitchell. “But the saddest things are
When Peter came back he went on with his story, and was only
interrupted once or twice by Danny waking up and calling him to drive
off the snakes, and green and crimson dogs with crocodile heads, and
devils with flaming tails, and those unpleasant sorts of things that
force their company on boozers and madmen.
“Gentleman Once,” said Peter, “he came from the old country with a
good education and no character. He disgraced himself and family once
too often and came, or was sent, out to Australia to reform. It's a
great mistake. If a man is too far gone, or hasn't the strength to live
the past down and reform at home, he won't do it in a new country,
unless a combination of circumstances compels him to it. A man rises by
chance; just as often he falls by chance. Some men fall into the habit
of keeping steady and stick to it, for the novelty of it, until they
are on their feet and in their sane minds and can look at the past,
present and future sensibly. I knew one case—But that's got nothing to
do with the story.
“Gentleman Once came out on the remittance system. That system is
fatal in nine cases out of ten. The remittance system is an insult to
any manhood that may be left in the black sheep, and an insult to the
land he is sent to. The cursed quarterly allowance is a stone round his
neck which will drag him down deeper in a new land than he would have
fallen at home. You know that remittance men are regarded with such
contempt in the bush that a man seldom admits he is one, save when he's
drunk and reckless and wants money or credit. When a ne'er-do-well
lands in Melbourne or Sydney without a penny he will probably buck-up
and do something for himself. When he lands with money he will probably
spend it all in the first few months and then straighten up, because he
has to. But when he lands on the remittance system he drinks, first to
drown homesickness. He decides that he'll wait till he gets his next
quarter's allowance and then look round. He persuades himself that it's
no use trying to do anything: that, in fact, he can't do anything until
he gets his money. When he gets it he drifts into one `last' night with
chums he has picked up in second and third-rate hotels. He drinks from
pure selfishness. No matter what precautions his friends at home take,
he finds means of getting credit or drawing on his allowance before it
is due—until he is two or three quarters behind. He drinks because he
feels happy and jolly and clever and good-natured and brave and honest
while he is drinking. Later on he drinks because he feels the reverse
of all these things when he is sober. He drinks to drown the past and
repentance. He doesn't know that a healthy-minded man doesn't waste
time in repenting. He doesn't know how easy it is to reform, and is too
weak-willed to try. He gets a muddled idea that the past can't be
mended. He finds it easy to get drink and borrow money on the strength
of his next quarter's allowance, so he soon gets a quarter or two
behind, and sometimes gets into trouble connected with borrowed money.
He drifts to the bush and drinks, to drown the past only. The past
grows blacker and blacker until it is a hell without repentance; and
often the black sheep gets to that state when a man dreads his sober
hours. And the end? Well, you see old Danny there, and you saw old
Awful Example back at Thomas's shanty—he's worse than Danny, if
anything. Sometimes the end comes sooner. I saw a young
new-land-new-leaf man dying in a cheap lodging-house in Sydney. He was
a schoolmate of mine, by the way. For six weeks he lay on his back and
suffered as I never saw a man suffer in this world; and I've seen some
bad cases. They had to chloroform him every time they wanted to move
him. He had affected to be hard and cynical, and I must say that he
played it out to the end. It was a strong character, a strong mind
sodden and diseased with drink. He never spoke of home and his people
except when he was delirious. He never spoke, even to me, of his mental
agony. That was English home training. You young Australians wouldn't
understand it; most bushmen are poets and emotional.
“My old schoolmate was shifted to the Sydney Hospital at last, and
consented to the amputation of one leg. But it was too late. He was
gone from the hips down. Drink—third-rate hotel and bush shanty
drink—and low debauchery.”
Jack Barnes drew up his leg and rubbed it surreptitiously. He had
“pins and needles.” Mitchell noticed and turned a chuckle into a grunt.
“Gentleman Once was a remittance man,” continued Peter. “But before
he got very far he met an Australian girl in a boarding-house. Her
mother was the landlady. They were bush people who had drifted to the
city. The girl was pretty, intelligent and impulsive. She pitied him
and nursed him. He wasn't known as Gentleman Once then, he hadn't got
far enough to merit the nickname.”
Peter paused. Presently he jerked his head, as if he felt a spasm of
pain, and leaned forward to get a stick from the fire to light his
“Now, there's the girl who marries a man to reform him, and when she
has reformed him never lets him hear the last of it. Sometimes, as a
woman, she drives him back again. But this was not one of that sort of
girls. I once held a theory that sometimes a girl who has married a man
and reformed him misses in the reformed man the something which
attracted her in the careless scamp, the something which made her love
him—and so she ceases to love him, and their married life is a far
more miserable one than it would have been had he continued drinking. I
hold no theory of that kind now. Such theories ruin many married
Peter jerked his head again as if impatient with a thought, and
reached for a fire-stick.
“But that's got nothing to do with the story. When Gentleman Once
reformed his natural selfishness came back. He saw that he had made a
mistake. It's a terrible thing for a young man, a few months, perhaps a
few weeks after his marriage, to ask himself the question, `Have I made
a mistake?' But Gentleman Once wasn't to be pitied. He discovered that
he had married beneath him in intellect and education. Home training
again. He couldn't have discovered that he had married beneath him as
far as birth was concerned, for his wife's father had been a younger
son of an older and greater family than his own—But Gentleman Once
wouldn't have been cad enough to bother about birth. I'll do him that
much justice. He discovered, or thought he did, that he and his wife
could never have one thought in common; that she couldn't possibly
understand him. I'll tell you later on whether he was mistaken or not.
He was gloomy most times, and she was a bright, sociable, busy little
body. When she tried to draw him out of himself he grew irritable.
Besides, having found that they couldn't have a thought in common he
ceased to bother to talk to her. There are many men who don't bother
talking to their wives; they don't think their wives feel it—because
the wives cease to complain after a while; they grow tired of trying to
make the man realize how they suffer. Gentleman Once tried his
best—according to his lights—and weakness. Then he went in for
self-pity and all the problems. He liked to brood, and his poor little
wife's energy and cheerfulness were wearying to him. He wanted to be
left alone. They were both high-spirited, in different ways; she was
highly strung and so was he—because of his past life mostly. They
quarrelled badly sometimes. Then he drank again and she stuck to him.
Perhaps the only time he seemed cheerful and affectionate was when he
had a few drinks in him. It was a miserable existence—a furnished room
in a cheap lodging-house, and the use of the kitchen.
“He drank alone.
“Now a dipsomaniac mostly thinks he is in the right—except,
perhaps, after he has been forced to be sober for a week. The noblest
woman in the world couldn't save him—everything she does to reform him
irritates him; but a strong friend can save him sometimes—a man who
has been through it himself. The poor little wife of Gentleman Once
went through it all. And she stuck to him. She went into low pubs after
Peter shuddered again. “She went through it all. He swore promises.
He'd come home sober and fill her with hope of future happiness, and
swear that he'd never take another glass. `And we'll be happy yet, my
poor boy,' she'd say, `we'll be happy yet. I believe you, I trust you'
(she used to call him her `bonny boy' when they were first married).
And next night he'd come home worse than ever. And one day he—he
Peter shuddered, head and shoulders, like a man who had accidentally
smashed his finger.
“And one day he struck her. He was sober when he did it—anyhow he
had not taken drink for a week. A man is never sober who gets drunk
more than once a week, though he might think he is. I don't know how it
happened, but anyway he struck her, and that frightened him. He got a
billet in the Civil Service up-country. No matter in what town it was.
The little wife hoped for six months.
“I think it's a cruel thing that a carelessly selfish young man
cannot realize how a sensitive young wife suffers for months after he
has reformed. How she hopes and fears, how she dreads the moment he has
to leave her, and frets every hour he is away from home—and suffers
mental agony when he is late. How the horror of the wretched old past
time grows upon her until she dares not think of it. How she listens to
his step and voice and watches his face, when he comes home, for a sign
of drink. A young man, a mate of mine, who drank hard and reformed,
used to take a delight in pretending for a few minutes to be drunk when
he came home. He was good-hearted, but dense. He said he only did it to
give his wife a pleasant surprise afterwards. I thought it one of the
most cruel things I had ever seen.
“Gentleman Once found that he could not stand the routine of office
work and the dull life in that place. He commenced to drink again, and
went on till he lost his billet. They had a little boy, a bright little
boy, yet the father drank.
“The last spree was a terrible one. He was away from home a
fortnight, and in that fortnight he got down as deep as a man could
get. Then another man got hold of him and set him on his feet, and
straightened him up. The other man was a ruined doctor, a wreck whose
devil was morphia. I don't hold that a man's salvation is always in his
own hands; I've seen mates pull mates out of hell too often to think
“Then Gentleman Once saw the past as he had never seen it before—he
saw hope for the future with it. And he swore an oath that he felt he
“He suffered from reaction on his way home, and, as he neared the
town, a sudden fear, born of his nervous state, no doubt, sent a cold,
sick emptiness through him: `Was it too late?'
“As he turned into the street where he lived, he noticed a little
group of bush larrikins standing at the corner. And they moved uneasily
when they caught sight of him, and, as he passed, they touched and
lifted their hats to him. Now he knew that he had lost the respect even
of bush larrikins; and he knew enough of the bush to know that a
bushman never lifts his hat to a man—only to death, and a woman
sometimes. He hurried home and read the truth in his wife's eyes. His
little boy was dead. He went down under the blow, and she held his head
to her breast and kept saying. `My poor boy, my poor boy!'
“It was he that she meant, not the boy she had lost. She knew him,
she understood him better than he did himself, and, heart-broken as she
was, she knew how he was going to suffer, and comforted him. `My poor
boy, my poor, foolish boy!'
“He mended the past, as far as he could, during the next two years,
and she seemed happy. He was very gentle, he was very kind to her. He
was happy, too, in a new, strange way. But he had learned what it was
to suffer through his own fault, and now he was to learn what it was to
suffer through no fault of his own, and without the consolation of
saying `I was wrong! I was to blame!' At the end of the two years there
was another child, and his wife died.”
The four sat silently smoking until Jack Barnes asked:
“And what did he do then, Peter?”
“Who?” said Peter, abstractedly.
“Why, Gentleman Once.”
Peter roused himself.
“Well, I've told the story, and it is about time to turn in,” he
said. “I can't say exactly what Gentleman Once did when his wife died.
He might have gone down to a deeper depth than Danny's. He might have
risen higher than he had ever been before. From what I knew of his
character he would never have gone down an easy slope as Danny has
done. He might have dropped plump at first and then climbed up. Anyway,
he had the memory of the last two years to help him.
“Then there's the reformed drunkard who has trained himself to take
a drink when he needs it, to drink in moderation—he's the strongest
character of all, I think—but it's time to turn in.”
The cornet up the creek was playing a march.
Peter walked across and looked at Danny, who seemed to be sleeping
as peacefully as could be expected of him.
Jack Barnes got up and walked slowly down the creek in the
moonlight. He wanted to think.
Peter rolled out his blankets on the grass and arranged his
saddle-bags for a pillow. Before he turned in Mitchell shook hands with
him, a most unusual and unnecessary proceeding in camp. But there's
something in the bush grip which means “I know,” or “I understand.”
Joe Wilson rolled out his blankets close to Mitchell's camp; he
wanted to enjoy some of Mitchell's quiet humour before he went to
sleep, but Mitchell wasn't in a philosophical mood. He wanted to
“I wonder who Gentleman Once was?” said Joe to Mitchell. “Could he
have been Danny, or old Awful Example back there at the shanty?”
“Dunno,” said Mitchell. He puffed three long puffs at his pipe, and
then said, reflectively:
“I've heard men tell their own stories before to-night Joe.”
It was Joe who wanted to think now.
About four o'clock Mitchell woke and stood up. Peter was lying
rolled in his blanket with his face turned to the west. The moon was
low, the shadows had shifted back, and the light was on Peter's face.
Mitchell stood looking at him reverently, as a grown son might who sees
his father asleep for the first time. Then Mitchell quietly got some
boughs and stuck them in the ground at a little distance from Peter's
head, to shade his face from the bright moonlight; and then he turned
in again to sleep till the sun woke him.
THE GHOSTS OF MANY CHRISTMASES
Did you ever trace back your Christmas days?—right back to the days
when you were innocent and Santa Claus was real. At times you thought
you were very wicked, but you never realize how innocent you were until
you've grown up and knocked about the world.
Let me think!
Christmas in an English village, with bare hedges and trees, and
leaden skies that lie heavy on our souls as we walk, with overcoat and
umbrella, sons of English exiles and exiles in England, and think of
bright skies and suns overhead, and sweeps of country disappearing into
the haze, and blue mountain ranges melting into the azure of distant
lower skies, and curves of white and yellow sand beaches, and runs of
shelving yellow sandstone sea-walls—and the glorious Pacific! Sydney
Harbour at sunrise, and the girls we took to Manly Beach.
Christmas in a London flat. Gloom and slush and soot. It is not the
cold that affects us Australians so much, but the horrible gloom. We
get heart-sick for the sun.
Christmas at sea—three Christmases, in fact—one going saloon from
Sydney to Westralia early in the Golden Nineties with funds; and one,
the Christmas after next, coming back steerage with nothing but the
clothes we'd slept in. All of which was bad judgment on our part—the
order and manner of our going and coming should have been reversed.
Christmas in a hessian tent in “th' Westren,” with so many old mates
from the East that it was just old times over again. We had five pounds
of corned beef and a kerosene-tin to boil it in; and while we were
talking of old things the skeleton of a kangaroo-dog grabbed the beef
out of the boiling water and disappeared into the scrub—which made it
seem more like old times than ever.
Christmas going to New Zealand, with experience, by the s.s.
Tasmania. We had plum duff, but it was too “soggy” for us to eat.
We dropped it overboard, lest it should swamp the boat—and it sank to
the ooze. The Tasmania was saved on that occasion, but she foundered
next year outside Gisborne. Perhaps the cook had made more duff. There
was a letter from a sweetheart of mine amongst her mails when she went
down; but that's got nothing to do with it, though it made some
difference in my life.
Christmas on a new telegraph line with a party of lining gangmen in
New Zealand. There was no duff nor roast because there was no firewood
within twenty miles. The cook used to pile armfuls of flax-sticks under
the billies, and set light to them when the last man arrived in camp.
Christmas in Sydney, with a dozen invitations out to dinner. The one
we accepted was to a sensible Australian Christmas dinner; a typical
one, as it should be, and will be before the Commonwealth is many years
old. Everything cold except the vegetables, the hose playing on the
veranda and vines outside, the men dressed in sensible pyjama-like
suits, and the women and girls fresh and cool and jolly, instead of
being hot and cross and looking like boiled carrots, and feeling like
boiled rags, and having headaches after dinner, as would have been the
case had they broiled over the fire in a hot kitchen all the blazing
forenoon to cook a scalding, indigestible dinner, as many Australian
women do, and for no other reason than that it was the fashion in
England. One of those girls was very pretty and—ah, well!—
Christmas dinner in a greasy Sydney sixpenny restaurant, that opened
a few days before with brass band going at full blast at the door by
way of advertisement. “Roast-beef, one! Cabbage and potatoes, one! Plum
pudding, two!” (That was the first time I dined to music.) The
Christmas dinner was a good one, but my appetite was spoilt by the
expression of the restaurant keeper, a big man with a heavy jowl, who
sat by the door with a cold eye on the sixpences, and didn't seem to
have much confidence in human nature.
Christmas—no, that was New Year—on the Warrego River, out back (an
alleged river with a sickly stream that looked like bad milk). We spent
most of that night hunting round in the dark and feeling on the ground
for camel and horse droppings with which to build fires and make smoke
round our camp to keep off the mosquitoes. The mosquitoes started at
sunset and left off at daybreak, when the flies got to work again.
Christmas dinner under a brush shearing-shed. Mutton and plum
pudding—and fifty miles from beer!
An old bush friend of mine, one Jimmy Nowlett, who ranked as a
bullock-driver, told me of a Christmas time he had. He was cut off by
the floods with his team, and had nothing to eat for four days but
potatoes and honey. He said potatoes dipped in honey weren't so bad;
but he had to sleep on bullock yokes laid on the ground to keep him out
of the water, and he got a toothache that paralysed him all down one
And speaking of plum pudding, I consider it one of the most
barbarous institutions of the British. It is a childish, silly, savage
superstition; it must have been a savage inspiration, looking at it all
round—but then it isn't so long since the British were savages.
I got a letter last year from a mate of mine in Western
Australia—prospecting the awful desert out beyond White
Feather—telling me all about a “perish” he did on plum pudding. He and
his mates were camped at the Boulder Soak with some three or four
hundred miles—mostly sand and dust—between them and the nearest
grocer's shop. They ordered a case of mixed canned provisions from
Perth to reach them about Christmas. They didn't believe in plum
pudding—there are a good many British institutions that bushmen don't
believe in but the cook was a new chum, and he said he'd go home to his
mother if he didn't have plum pudding for Christmas, so they ordered a
can for him. Meanwhile, they hung out on kangaroo and damper and the
knowledge that it couldn't last for ever. It was in a terrible drought,
and the kangaroos used to come into the “Soak” for water, and they were
too weak to run. Later on, when wells were dug, the kangaroos used to
commit suicide in them—there was generally a kangaroo in the well in
The storekeeper packed the case of tinned dog, etc., but by some
blunder he or his man put the label on the wrong box, and it went per
rail, per coach, per camel, and the last stage per boot, and reached my
friends' camp on Christmas Eve, to their great joy. My friend broke the
case open by the light of the camp-fire.
“Here, Jack!” he said, tossing out a can, “here's your plum
He held the next can in his hand a moment longer and read the label
“Why! he's sent two,” he said, “and I'm sure I only ordered one.
Never mind—Jack'll have a tuck-out.”
He held the next can close to the fire and blinked at it hard. “I'm
damned if he hasn't sent three tins of plum pudding. Never mind, we'll
manage to scoff some of it between us. You're in luck's way this trip,
Jack, and no mistake.”
He looked harder still at the fourth can; then he read the labels on
the other tins again to see if he'd made a mistake.
He didn't tell me what he said then, but a milder mate suggested
that the storekeeper had sent half a dozen tins by mistake. But when
they reached the seventh can the language was not even fit to be
written down on a piece of paper and handed up to the magistrate. The
storekeeper had sent them an unbroken case of canned plum pudding, and
probably by this time he was wondering what had become of that blanky
case of duff.
The kangaroos disappeared about this time and my friend tells me
that he and his mates had to live for a mortal fortnight on canned plum
pudding. They tried it cold and they tried it boiled, they tried it
baked, they had it fried, and they had it toasted, they had it for
breakfast, dinner and tea. They had nothing else to think, or talk, or
argue and quarrel about; and they dreamed about it every night, my
friend says. It wasn't a joke—it gave them the nightmare and
They tried it with salt. They picked as many of the raisins out as
they could and boiled it with salt kangaroo. They tried to make
Yorkshire pudding out of it; but it was too rich.
My friend was experimenting and trying to discover a simple process
for separating the ingredients of plum pudding when a fresh supply of
provisions came along. He says he was never so sick of anything in his
life, and he has had occasion to be sick of a good many things.
The new-chum jackaroo is still alive, but he won't ever eat plum
pudding any more, he says. It cured him of homesickness. He wouldn't
eat it even if his bride made it.
Christmas on the goldfields in the last of the roaring days, in the
palmy days of Gulgong and those fields. Let's see! it must be nearly
thirty years ago! Oh, how the time goes by!
Santa Claus, young, fresh-faced and eager; Santa Claus, blonde and
flaxen; Santa Claus, dark; Santa Claus with a brogue and Santa Claus
speaking broken English; Santa Claus as a Chinaman (Sun Tong Lee & Co.
storekeepers), with strange, delicious sweets that melted in our
mouths, and rum toys and Chinese dolls for the children.
Lucky diggers who were with difficulty restrained from putting pound
notes and nuggets and expensive lockets and things into the little
ones' stockings. Santa Claus in flannel shirt and clay-covered
moleskins. Diggers who bought lollies by the pound and sent the little
ones home with as much as they could carry.
Diggers who gave a guinea or more for a toy for a child that
reminded them of some other child at home. Diggers who took as many
children as they could gather on short notice into a store, slapped a
five-pound note down on the counter and told the little ones to call
for whatever they wanted. Who set a family of poor children side by
side on the counter and called for a box of mixed children's boots—the
best—and fitted them on with great care and anxiety and frequent
inquiries as to whether they pinched. Who stood little girls and boys
on the counter and called for the most expensive frocks, the latest and
best in sailor suits, and the brightest ribbons; and things came long
distances by bullock dray and were expensive in those days.
Impressionable diggers—and most of them were—who threw nuggets to
singers, and who, sometimes, slipped a parcel into the hands of a
little boy or girl, with instructions to give it to an elder sister (or
young mother, perhaps) whom the digger had never spoken to, only
worshipped from afar off. And the elder sister or young mother, opening
the parcel, would find a piece of jewellery or a costly article of
dress, and wonder who sent it.
Ah, the wild generosity of luck-intoxicated diggers of those days!
and the reckless generosity of the drinkers. “We thought it was going
to last for ever!”
“If I don't spend it on the bairns I'll spend it on the drink,”
Sandy Burns used to say. “I ha' nane o' me own, an' the lass who was to
gi' me bairns, she couldn't wait.”
Sandy had kept steady and travelled from one end of the world to the
other, and roughed it and toiled for five years, and the very day he
bottomed his golden hole on the Brown Snake Lead at Happy Valley he got
a letter from his girl in Scotland to say she had grown tired of
waiting and was married. Then he drank, and drink and luck went
Gulgong on New Year's Eve! Rows and rows of lighted tents and
camp-fires, with a clear glow over it all. Bonfires on the hills and
diggers romping round them like big boys. Tin kettling—gold dishes and
spoons, and fiddles, and hammers on pointing anvils, and sticks and
empty kerosene-tins (they made a row); concertinas and cornets,
shot-guns, pistols and crackers, all sorts of instruments, and “Auld
Lang Syne” in one mighty chorus. And now—a wretched little pastoral
town; a collection of glaring corrugated-iron hip-roofs, and maybe a
rotting propped-up bark or weather-board humpy or two—relics of the
roaring days; a dried-up storekeeper and some withered hags; a waste of
caved-in holes with rain-washed mullock heaps and quartz and gravel
glaring in the sun; thistles and burrs where old bars were; drought,
dryness, desolation and goats.
Lonely graves in the bush and grey old diggers here and there,
anywhere in the world, doing anything for a living, lonely yet because
of the girls who couldn't wait, but prospecting and fossicking here and
there, and dreaming still.
They thought it was going to last for ever.
Christmas at Eurunderee Creek, amongst the old selection farms in
the western spurs of the Blue Mountains. They used to call it “Th'
Pipeclay” thirty years ago, but the old black names have been restored.
They make plum puddings yet, weeks beforehand, and boil them for hours
and hang them in cloths to the rafters to petrify; then they take them
down and boil them again. On Christmas Eve the boys cut boughs or young
pines on the hills, and drag them home and lash them to the
Ted has turned up with his wife and children from his selection out
back. The wheat is in and shearing is over on the big stations.
Tom—steady-going old Tom—clearing or fencing or dam-sinking
up-country, hides his tools in the scrub and gets his horse and rides
home. Aunt Emma (to everyone's joy) has arrived from Sydney with
presents (astonishing bargains in frocks, etc.) and marvellous
descriptions of town life.
Joe, “poor” Mary's husband, who has been droving in Queensland since
the Christmas before last—while poor Mary, who is afraid to live
alone, shared a skillion and the family quarrels at home—Joe rides day
and night and reaches home at sunrise on Christmas morning, tired and
dusty, gaunt and haggard, but with his last cheque intact. He kisses
his wife and child and throws himself on the bed to sleep till
dinner-time, while Mary moves round softly, hushes the baby, dresses it
and herself, lays out Joe's clean things, and bends over him now and
then, and kisses him, perhaps, as he sleeps.
In the morning the boys and some of the men go down to the creek for
a swim in the big shady pool, under the she-oaks and take their Sunday
clothes with them and dress there.
Some of them ride into town to church, and some of the women and
children drive in in spring-carts—the children to go to Sunday school,
leaving mother and the eldest daughter—usually a hard-worked,
disappointed, short-tempered girl—at home to look after the cooking.
There is some anxiety (mostly on mother's part) about Jim, who is
“wild,” and is supposed to be somewhere out back. There was “a piece of
blue paper” out for Jim on account of sweating (illegally using) a
horse, but his mother or father has got a hint—given in a kindly way
by the police-sergeant—that Jim is free to come home and stay at home
if he behaves himself. (There is usually a horse missing when Jim goes
Jim turns up all right—save that he has no money—and is welcomed
with tearful affection by his favourite sister Mary, shakes hands
silently with his father, and has a long whispered conversation with
his mother, which leaves him very subdued. His brothers forbear to
sneer at him, partly because it is Christmas, partly on mother's
account, and thirdly, because Jim can use his hands. Aunt Emma, who is
fond of him, cheers him up wonderfully.
The family sit down to dinner. “An old mate of your father's”—a
bearded old digger—has arrived and takes the place of honour. (“I
knowed yer father, sonny, on the diggings long afore any of you was
ever thought on.”)
The family have only been a few hours together, yet there is an
undercurrent of growling, that, to the stranger, mysterious yet evident
undercurrent of nastiness and resentment which goes on in all families
and drags many a promising young life down. But Aunt Emma and the old
mate make things brighter, and so the dinner—of hot roast and red-hot
plum pudding—passes off fairly well.
The men sleep the afternoon away and wake up bathed in perspiration
and helpless; some of the women have headaches. After tea they gather
on the veranda in the cool of the evening, and that's the time when the
best sides of their natures and the best parts of the past have a
chance of coming uppermost, and perhaps they begin to feel a bit sorry
that they are going to part again.
The local races or “sports” on Boxing Day. There is nothing to keep
the boys home over New Year. Ted and his wife go back to their lonely
life on their selection; Tom returns to his fencing or tank-sinking
contract; Jim, who has borrowed “a couple of quid” from Tom, goes out
back with strong resolutions for the New Year, and shears “stragglers,”
breaks in horses, cooks and clerks for survey parties, and gambles and
drinks, and gets into trouble again. Maybe Joe “knocks about” the farm
a bit before going into the Great North-West with another mob of
The last time I saw the Old Year out at Eurunderee the bushfires
were burning all over the ranges, and looked like great cities lighted
up. No need for bonfires then. Christmas in Bourke, the metropolis of
the great pastoral scrubs and plains, five hundred miles west, with the
thermometer one-hundred-and-something-scarey in the shade. The rough,
careless shearers come in from stations many dusty miles out in the
scrubs to have their Christmas sprees, to drink and “shout” and
fight—and have the horrors some of them—and be run in and locked up
with difficulty, within sound of a church-going bell.
The Bourke Christmas is a very beery and exciting one. The hotels
shut up in front on Christmas Day to satisfy the law (or out of
consideration for the feelings of the sergeant in charge of the police
station), and open behind to satisfy the public, who are supposed to
have made the law.
Sensible cold dinners are the fashion in Bourke, I think, with the
hose going, and free-and-easy costumes.
The free males take their blankets and sleep in the “park;” the
women sleep with doors and windows open, and the married men on
mattresses on the verandas across the open doors—in case of accidents.
Christmas in Sydney, though Christmas holidays are not so popular as
Easter, or even Anniversary Day, in the Queen city of the South. Buses,
electric, cable and the old steam trams crowded with holiday-makers
with baskets. Harbour boats loaded down to the water's edge with
harbour picnic-parties. “A trip round the harbour and to the head of
Middle Harbour one shilling return!” Strings of tourist trains running
over the Blue Mountains and the Great Zigzag, and up the coast to
Gosford and Brisbane Water, and down the south coast to beautiful
Illawarra, until after New Year. Hundreds of young fellows going out
with tents to fish in lonely bays or shoot in the mountains, and rough
it properly like bushmen—not with deck chairs, crockery, a piano and
servants. For you can camp in the grand and rugged solitude of the bush
within a stone's throw of the city, so to speak.
Jolly camps and holiday parties all round the beautiful bays of the
harbour, and up and down the coast, and all close to home. Camps in the
moonlight on sandy beaches under great dark bluffs and headlands, where
yellow, shelving, sandstone cliffs run, broken only by sandy-beached
bays, and where the silver-white breakers leap and roar.
And Manly Beach on a holiday! Thousands of people in fresh summer
dress, hundreds of bare-legged, happy children running where the “blue
sea over the white sand rolls,” racing in and out with the rollers,
playing with the glorious Pacific. Manly—“Our Village” —Manly Beach,
where we used to take our girls, with the most beautiful harbour in the
world on one side, and the width of the grandest ocean on the other.
Ferny gullies and “fairy dells” to north and south, and every shady
nook its merry party or happy couple.
Manly Beach—I remember five years ago (oh, how the time goes
by!)—and two names that were written together in the sand when the
tide was coming in. And the boat home in the moonlight, past the Heads,
where we felt the roll of the ocean, and the moonlit harbour—and the
harbour lights of Sydney—the grandest of them all.
Henry Lawson 17th June 1867—2nd September 1922.
These stories were first published as a collection in 1902.
Republished as “Send Round the Hat” and “The Romance of the Swag” in
Notes on Australianisms. Based on my own speech over the years, with
some checking in the dictionaries, e.g. “Macquarie Book of Slang"
(2000), Oxford English Dictionary. Not all of these are peculiar to
Australian slang, but are important in Lawson's stories, and carry
anabranch: A bend in a river that has been cut through by the
The main current now runs straight, the anabranch diverges and
rejoins. See billabong.
Barcoo-rot. “Persistent ulceration of the skin, chiefly on the
and often originating in abrasions”. (Morris, Australian
English). Barcoo is a river in Queensland.
billabong. Based on an aboriginal word. Sometimes used for an
anabranch, but more often used for one that, in dry season or
especially, is cut off at either or both ends from the main
It is often just a muddy pool, and may indeed dry up completely.
blackfellow: condescending for Australian Aboriginal
blackleg: someone who is employed to cross a union picket line to
break a workers' strike. As Molly Ivins said, she was brought up
on the three great commandments: do not lie; do not steal; never
cross a picket line. Also scab.
blanky or —-: Fill in your own favourite word. Usually however
for “bloody”—see crimson/gory.
blooming: actually used in speech instead of “bloody” (see
bluey: swag. Explanation in Lawson's “The romance of the Swag"
bob: one shilling
bullocky: Bullock driver. A man who drove teams of bullocks yoked
wagons carrying e.g. wool bales or provisions. Proverbially
bummer: A cadger or bludger. Someone who begs for food.
Americanism already. Also, tramp. (Different meaning today)
bush: originally referred to the low tangled scrubs of the
regions (cf. `mulga' and `mallee'), and hence equivalent to
“outback”. Now used generally for remote rural areas (“the
bush") and scrubby forest.
bushfire: wild fires: whether forest fires or grass fires.
bushman/bushwoman: someone who lives an isolated existence, far
cities, “in the bush”. (today: a “bushy")
bushranger: an Australian “highwayman", who lived in the `bush'—
scrub—and attacked especially gold carrying coaches and banks.
Romanticised as anti-authoritarian Robin Hood figures—cf. Ned
Kelly—but usually very violent.
bunyip: Aboriginal monster, inhabiting waterholes, billabongs
particularly. Adopted into European legends.
caser: Five shillings (12 pence to the shilling, 20 shillings to
pound (“quid")). As a coin, a crown piece.
chaffing: teasing, mocking good-humouredly
churchyarder: Sounding as if dying—ready for the churchyard =
crimson = gory: literary substitutes for “bloody”—the “colonial
unacceptable in polite company. Why, is a complete mystery.
Popularly explained as contraction of “by Our Lady”. Unproved.
In reproducing (badly) a German's pronunciation of Australian,
Lawson retains the word, but spells it “pluddy”.
dood: Dude. A classy/cool dresser.
drover: one who “droves"
droving: driving on horseback cattle or sheep from where they were
fattened to a a city, or later, a rail-head.
fiver: a five pound note
gory, see crimson
Homebush: Saleyard, market area in Sydney
humpy: rough shack
half-caser: Two shillings and sixpence. As a coin, a half-crown.
jackaroo: (Jack + kangaroo; sometimes jackeroo)—someone, in early
days a new immigrant from England, learning to work on a
sheep/cattle station (U.S. “ranch”.)
jim-jams: the horrors, d.t.'s
jumbuck: a sheep (best known from Waltzing Matilda: “where's that
jolly jumbuck, you've got in your tucker bag”.)
larrikin: anything from a disrespectful young man to a violent
of a gang (“push"). Was considered a major social problem in
Sydney of the 1880's to 1900. The Bulletin, a magazine in
which much of Lawson was published, spoke of the “aggressive,
soft-hatted stoush brigade”. Anyone today who is disrespectful
authority or convention is said to show the larrikin element in
lucerne: Alfalfa in US
mallee: dwarfed eucalyptus trees growing in very poor soil and
harsh rainfall conditions. Usually many stems emerging from the
ground, creating a low thicket.
mateship: See Lawson story, “Mateship”. A heavily romanticised,
but nevertheless very practical form of (male) loyalty to a
companion who travels with/works with him. A “mate” provides not
only companionship, but help in emergencies. Typical of an
Australian in the “outback”—or “Never-Never", or under war
conditions. A man without a mate was a “hatter”—“his hat
covers his family”. Such a person might go “ratty” (see further
in The romance of the Swag.
Equivalent to the “buddy system” in SCUBA diving.
metalled: of a road, covered in crushed rock (e.g. “blue metal")
mulga: Acacia sp. (“wattle” in Australian) especially Acacia
growing in semi-desert conditions. Used as a description of such
a harsh region.
mullock: the tailings left after gold has been removed. In Lawson
generally mud (alluvial) rather than rock
myall: aboriginal living in a traditional—pre-conquest—manner
nobbler: a drink
nuggety: compact but strong physique; small but well-muscled
pastoralist: OED sees it a equivalent to “squatter", but in
Lawson someone often someone managing a large cattle/sheep
“station” for a “pastoral company” rather than an individual.
Seen as ultimate capitalist oppression.
pluddy: see crimson
quid: monetary unit; one pound
ratty: insane—or, very eccentric, “cranky”.
ringer: the champion sheep shearer in a shed that season
rouseabout: Labourer in a (sheep) shearing shed. Considered to be,
as far as any work is, unskilled labour.
sawney: silly, gormless
scab: see blackleg
shout: In a group; to stand (pay for) a round of drinks. Bad form
to leave before your turn comes around. Much peer pressure to
drink more than one wished. One can also “shout” for everyone
in the pub.
skillion(-room): A “lean-to", a room built up against the back of
some other building, with separate roof.
spifflicated: punished, thrashed without mercy.
spree: prolonged drinking bout—days, weeks.
squatter: Someone who took up large areas of land, originally
official permission (“squatted"), for sheep especially. Became
the “landed aristocracy” of Australia.
(“Up rode the squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred")
steever: Originally a Dutch coin. Used here like “penny”—or brass
sundowner: a swagman (see) who is NOT looking for work, but a
“handout”. Lawson explains the term as referring to someone who
turns up at a station at sundown, just in time for “tea” i.e.
evening meal. Line (2494) of actual text
swagman (swaggy): Generally, anyone who is walking in the
with a swag. (See “The Romance of the Swag”.) Lawson also
restricts it at times to those whom he considers to be tramps,
not looking for work but for “handouts”. In view of the Great
Depression (1890->. In 1892 it was reckoned 1/3 men were out of
work) perhaps unfairly. Perhaps because he was there.
Tattersalls: The earliest public lottery in Australia. (1881)
tenner: a ten pound note.
tin-kettling: making noise by striking metal pots/pans. May be
celebratory (weddings—in this collection, New Year's Eve), or
indicate extreme social disapproval of someone.
travellers: “shearers and rouseabouts travelling for work"