Waiting For Water

’TWAS old Flynn, the identity, told us
That the creek always ran pretty high,
But that fossicking veteran sold us,
And he lied as his quality lie.
Through a tangle of ranges and ridges,
Down a track that is blazed with our hide,
Over creeks minus crossings and bridges,
High and low, mere impertinent midges
Trying falls with the mighty Divide,

We came, hauling the boxes and stampers,
Or just nipping them in with a winch;
Now and then in unfortunate scampers
Missing smash by the eighth of an inch;
Round the spurs very daintily crawling,
With one team pulling out in a row,
And another lot heavenward hauling,
Lest the whole bag-of-tricks should go sprawling
Into regions unheard of below,

We came through with the shanks and the shafting,
And the frames, and the wonderful wheel;
Then we put in a month of hard grafting
Ere we nailed down the last scrap of deal.
She beat true, and with scarce a vibration,
And we voted her queen of the mills,
And a push from the wide desolation
Drifted in to our jollification
When her drumming was heard in the hills.

Now the discs by the cam-shaft are rusting,
And the stamps in the boxes are still,
And a silence that’s deep and disgusting
Seems to hang like a pall on the mill.
Just a fortnight she ran—then she rested,
And we’ve little to do but complain;
For a bird in the feed-pipe has nested,
And we’ve spent every stiver invested,
And are praying for tucker and rain.

Billy’s Creek—theme of eloquent fables—
Drips like sweat on the breast of the wheel,
And the blankets are dry on the tables,
And the sluice-box is warped like an eel;
Sudden dust-clouds run lunatic races
In the red, rocky bed down below,
And the porcupine scrambles in places
Where Flinn swears by the faith he embraces,
Fourteen inches of water should flow.

For a time we were proof against sorrow,
And we harboured a cheerful belief
In the plenteous rains of to-morrow
As we belted away at the reef.
We piled quartz in the paddocks and hopper,
And the pack-horse came in once a week:
Now our credit is not worth a copper
At the township, and highly improper
Is the language the storekeepers speak.

We no longer talk brightly, or snivel
Of our luck, but we loaf very hard,
Too disgusted to care to be civil,
And too lazy to look at a card.
Only George finds some slight consolation
Crushing prospects—a couple a day—
And then proving by multiplication
How much metal is in the formation,
And the ‘divvies’ she’ll probably pay.

But our leisure is qualified slightly
By the cattle from over the Fly—
Who have taken to pegging out nightly
In our limited water supply.
And the snakes have assisted in keeping
Things alive, for the man, you’ll agree,
Will be spry who may find he’s been sleeping
With a tiger—or chance on one creeping
In the water he wanted for tea.

Though our sweltering sky never changes,
Squatter Clark, up at Crowfoot, complains
That prospectors out over the ranges
Have been chased out of camp by the rains.
Veal, the Methodist preacher at Spence’s,
Who the Cousin Jacks say is ‘some tuss’
As a rain-making parson commences
To enlarge on our sins and offences,
And to blame all his failures on us.

We don’t go to his church down the mountain:
Seven miles is a wearisome trot,
With the glass playing up like a fountain,
And the prayers correspondingly hot.
So on Sunday each suffering sinner
Has a simple, convivial spree,—
A roast porcupine, maybe, for dinner;
For we daily grow thinner and thinner
On the week’s bread and treacle and tea.

We’ve been scared, too, of late by Golightly,
Him who kept up his chin best of all,
And predicted with confidence nightly
Heavy rains that neglected to fall,
And enlarged on the sure indications
(While we listened, and wearily groaned)
Of tremendous climatic sensations,
Fearful tempests, and great inundations,
That, it happened, were always postponed.

He’s gone daft through our many reverses,
Or the sun has got on to his brain,
For he cowers all day, and he curses
To a fretful and wearing refrain;
And at midnight he dolefully screeches
In the gloom of the desolate mill;
Or he goes in his shirt, making speeches
To the man in the moon, whom he reaches
From the summit of Poverty Hill.

So we’re waiting, and watching, and longing
With an impotent, bitter desire,
And new troubles and old ones come thronging,
Drought, and fever, and famine, and fire;
And we know—our misfortunes reviewing—
All the pangs that in Hades betide,
Where the damned sit eternally stewing,
And, through days never ending, are suing
For the water that’s ever denied.

The Emu Of Whroo

WE’VE a tale to tell you of a spavined emit,
A bird with a smile like a crack in a hat,
Who was owned by M‘Cue, of the township of Whroo,
The county of Rodney—his front name was Pat.
The bird was a dandy, although a bit bandy,
Her knees, too, were queer and her neck out of gauge—
She’d eat what was handy, from crowbars to candy,
Was tall, too, and tough for a chick of her age.
But her taste and her height, and her figure and smile,
Were the smallest potatoes compared with her guile.

M‘Cue’s bird had a name, Arabella that same—
A name that was given by Pat, we may say,
To the memory and fame of a red-headed flame,
Because, as he said, ‘she wuz builded that way.’
The bird Arabella let nothing compel her,
Her temper was bad when disturbed, as a rule.
She’d rupture the smeller of any young ‘feller’
Who teased, with a kick that would honor a mule.
And the boys and the girls who were then living near
Were all minus an eye—those with luck had one ear.

The emu with her smile would the new-chum beguile
To step up and study the great, gawky bird,
And then let out in style, and she’d hoist him a mile—
The sound of his wailing would never be heard.
At which she’d look stately, and mild, and sedately,
And seem to be steeped in some deep inward woe,
Or wondering greatly what happened there lately
That people found need to go tearing round so.
P. M‘Cue overlooked his long bird’s little craze,
He declared it was only her emusing ways.

Is it strange that in time these outrages should prime
The neighbours with ire and profanity dread?
And at every crime, with good reason and rhyme,
They’d bombard the bird with old iron and lead;
Their weapons would whistle by Bella and hiss ill,
The bird only smiled as they yearned for her gore;
They wasted their gristle, she ate up each missile,
And placidly looked on and waited for more,
Her digestion not stones nor old nails could upset,
So it’s strange that the men disagreed with the pet.

The late Mr. M‘Cue, of the township of Whroo,
Would hear no complaints of his biped absurd,
And with little ado put the biggest man through
Who’d lay ’e’er a finger on Bella, the bird.
If father or teacher came flaunting a feature
Removed from a boy, say, an eyelid or ear,
He sooled on the preacher his feathery creature,
Or offered to fight him for money or beer.
And to shoot at this bird was but labour in vain,
She digested their slugs and she faced them again.

But M‘Cue for his care and and anxiety rare
Got meagre rewards from his camel-shanked fowl.
For when on a tear she’d uproot his back hair
And peck at his ear and snatch scraps off his jowl.
A kick from the shoulder, a shock like a boulder
That weighed half-a-ton being twisted in quick,
And Patrick was older and very near cold ere
The time he recovered that feathered mule’s kick.
At the worst he but sighed, and regretfully said
It reminded him so of his wife who was dead,

But the time came at last when anxiety cast
Its spell o’er the bird, she grew dull and deprest—
She felt glum, and she passed to hysterics as fast—
All day she sought round in sore mental unrest.
She acted like moody, hysterical Judy,
When Punch is inspired for a villainous lark;
But Paddy was shrewd—he could see she was broody
And yearned in the chick-rearing biz to embark.
The momentous importance and stress of her case.
Were quite plain in her actions and seen in her face.

She tried sitting on stones, and on brickbats and bones,
But moped all the time and supped grief to the dregs—
There was nothing in cones, and in harrowing tones
She spoke her great yearning to cultivate eggs.
One morning, day-dreaming, all glossy and gleaming
She saw the bald head of the neighbour next door;
Its round, egg-like seeming, set Bell wildly scheming
To sit on that skull or be happy no more;
And she laid for the man by the dark and the day,
And he cursed and he kicked in a terrible way.

From that day, it is said, Arabella she led
The bald-headed men who lived near a hard life;
They all held her in dread—for her manners ill-bred
M‘Cue spent his time in tempestuous strife.
With eye speculative, she cornered each native
To find if his skull would just suit her complaint;
The man’s strength was great if he saved all his pate, if
She failed to secure half his scalp in distraint.
And her owner indulged in Satanic delights,
And he egged on his bird to more furious fights.

But the downfall of spite and the triumph of right
Are bound to come round, fight we ever so hard;
On one March morning bright, Old M‘Cue very tight,
Returned to his home and dossed down in the yard.
He’d not long been sleeping when Bella came peeping
And viewed with delight his bare head, like a cast,
And into her keeping she raked it, and heaping
Her ribs on the skull she was happy at last.
And she sat till the day and the night both were gone,
And the next day and next was she still sitting on.

It was thought Pat had fled, and a week or more sped
E’er folks came to search, and they found for their pains
P. M‘Cue lying dead with the bird on his head
Still stolidly striving to hatch out some brains.
No priest at Pat’s croaking, by blessings invoking,
Had served to make easy the poor sinner’s death.
Some folks blamed his soaking, the jury said ‘choking’?
The bird was found guilty of stopping his breath,
And for peace, and for quiet, and morality’s sake
She was killed with a slab from a Cousin Jack's cake.

OUT OF LUCK, mate? Have a liquor. Hang it, where’s the use complaining?
Take your fancy, I’m in funds now—I can stand the racket, Dan.
Dump your bluey in the corner; camp here for the night, it’s raining;
Bet your life I’m glad to see you—glad to see a Daylesford man.
Swell? Correct, Dan. Spot the get up; and I own this blooming shanty,
Me the fellows christened ‘Jonah’ at Jim Crow and Blanket Flat,
’Cause my luck was so infernal—you remember me and Canty?
Rough times, those—the very memory keeps a chap from getting fat.

Where’d I strike it? That’s a yarn. The fire’s a comfort—sit up nearer.
Hoist your heels, man; take it easy till Kate’s ready with the stew.
Yes, I’ll tell my little story; ’tain’t a long one, but it’s queerer
Than those lies that Tullock pitched us on The Flat in ’52.
Fancy Phil a parson now! He’s smug as grease, the Reverend Tullock.
Yes, he’s big—his wife and fam’ly are a high and mighty lot.
Didn’t I say his jaw would keep him when he tired of punching mullock?
Well, it has—he’s made his pile here. How d’you like your whisky—hot?

Luck! Well, now, I like your cheek, Dan. You had luck, there’s no denying.
I in thirty years had averaged just a wage of twenty bob—
Why, at Alma there I saw men making fortunes without trying,
While for days I lived on ’possums, and then had to take a job.
Bah! you talk about misfortune—my ill-luck was always thorough:
Gold once ran away before me if I chased it for a week.
I was starved at Tarrangower—lived on tick at Maryborough—
And I fell and broke my thigh-bone at the start of Fiery Creek.

At Avoca Canty left me. Jim, you know, was not a croaker,
But he jacked the whole arrangement—found we couldn’t make a do:
Said he loved me like a brother, but ’twas rough upon a joker
When he’d got to fight the devil, and find luck enough for two.
Jim was off. I didn’t blame him, seeing what he’d had to suffer
When Maginnis, just beside us, panned out fifty to the tub.
‘We had pegged out hours before him, and had struck another duffer,
And each store upon the lead, my lad, had laid us up for grub.

After that I picked up Barlow, but we parted at Dunolly
When we’d struggled through at Alma, Adelaide Lead, and Ararat.
See, my luck was hard upon him; he contracted melancholy,
And he hung himself one morning in the shaft at Parrot Flat.
Ding it? No. Where gold was getting I was on the job, and early,—
Struck some tucker dirt at Armstrong’s, and just lived at Pleasant Creek,
Always grafting like a good ’un, never hopeless-like or surly,
Living partly on my earnings, Dan, but largely on my cheek.

Good old days, they like to call them—they were tough old days to many:
I was through them, and they left me still the choice to graft or beg—
Left me gray, and worn, and wrinkled, aged and stumped—without a penny—
With a chronic rheumatism and this darned old twisted leg.
Other work? That’s true—in plenty. But you know the real old stager
Who has followed up the diggings, how he hangs on to the pan,
How he hates to leave the pipeclay. Though you mention it I’ll wager
That you never worked on top until you couldn’t help it, Dan.

Years went by. On many fields I worked, and often missed a meal, and
Then I found Victoria played out, and the yields were very slack,
So I took a turn up Northward, tried Tasmania and New Zealand,—
Dan, I worked my passage over, and I sneaked the journey back.
Times were worse. I made a cradle, and went fossicking old places;
But the Chows had been before me, and had scraped the country bare;
There was talk of splendid patches ’mongst the creeks and round the races,
But ’twas not my luck to strike them, and I think I lived on air.

Rough? That’s not the word. So help me, Dan, I hadn’t got a stiver
‘When I caved in one fine Sunday—found I couldn’t lift my head.
They removed me, and the doctor said I’d got rheumatic fever,
And for seven months I lingered in a ward upon a bed.
Came out crippled, feeling done-up, hopeless-like and very lonely,
And dead-beat right down to bed rock as I’d never felt before.
Bitter? Just! Those hopeful years of honest graft had left me only
This bent leg; and some asylum was the prospect I’d in store.

You’ll be knowing how I felt then—cleaned-out, lame, completely gravelled—
All the friends I’d known were scattered widely north, and east, and west:
There seemed nothing there for my sort, and no chances if I travelled;
No, my digging days were over, and I had to give it best.
Though ’twas hard, I tried to meet it like a man in digger fashion:
’Twasn’t good enough—I funked it; I was fairly on the shelf,
Cursed my bitter fortune daily, and was always in a passion
With the Lord, sir, and with everyone, but mostly with myself.

I was older twenty years then than I am this blessed minute,
But I got a job one morning, knapping rock at Ballarat;
Two-and-three for two-inch metal. You may say there’s nothing in it,
To the man who’s been through Eaglehawk and mined at Blanket Flat.
Wait—you’d better let me finish. We and ill, I bucked in gladly,
But to get the tools I needed I was forced to pawn my swag.
I’d no hope of golden patches, but I needed tucker badly,
And this job, I think, just saved me being lumbered on the vag.

Fortune is a fickle party, but in spite of all her failings,
Don’t revile her, Dan, as I did, while you’ve still a little rope.
Well, the heap that I was put on was some heavy quartz and tailings,
That was carted from a local mine, I think the Band of Hope.
Take the lesson that is coming to your heart, old man, and hug it:
For I started on the heap with scarce a soul to call my own,
And in less than twenty minutes I’d raked out a bouncing nugget
Scaling close on ninety ounces, and just frosted round with stone.

How is that for high, my hearty? Miracle! It was, by thunder!
After forty years of following the rushes up and down,
Getting old, and past all prospect, and about to knuckle under,
Struck it lucky knapping metal in the middle of a town!
Pass the bottle! Have another! Soon we’ll get the word from Kitty—
She’s a daisy cook, I tell you. Yes, the public business pays
But my pile was made beforehand—made it ‘broking’ in the city.
That’s the yarn I pitch the neighbours. Here’s to good old now-a-days.

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