The boarder in the bar-room rose,
A pale gaunt man who lodged with Hann,
“I bear,” he said, “the worst of woes,
And suffer torments no one knows,
For do my best I never can
Have sleep like any other man.
“I have insomnia,” said he.
“At times it drives me mad outright.
Whate’er I do, where’er I be,
Its just the same – so sleep for me.
You won’t believe for three years quite
I haven’t slept two hours a night.”
Boss-cocky Billson softly swore,
And turning from his chestnut cob.
“What’s that?” he questioned from the door.
“You say that you don’t sleep no more
Than two hours? I pay thirty bob.
Now, mister, do you want a job?”
‘HELLO! that’s the whistle, be moving.
Wake up! don’t lie muttering there.
What language! your style is improving—
It’s pleasant to hear you at prayer.
Turn out, man, and spare us the blessing.
Crib’s cut, and the tea’s on the brew.
You’ll have to look slippy in dressing
For that was the half-hour that blew.’
‘Half-past! and the night’s simply awful,
The hut fairly shakes in the storm.
Hang night-shifts! They shouldn’t be lawful;
I’ve only had time to get warm.
I notice the hut’s rarely bright, and
The bunk’s always cold as a stone,
Except when I go on at night, and
The half-after whistles have blown.
‘Bob built up that fire just to spite me,
The conscienceless son of a swab!
By Jove! it would fairly delight me
To let Hogan be hanged with his job.
Oh! it’s easy to preach of contentment;
You’re eloquent all on the flute.
Old Nick’s everlasting resentment
Plague Dick if he’s taken my boot!
‘Great Cæsar! you roasted the liquor,
Whoever it was made the tea;
It’s hotter than hell-broth and thicker!
Fried bacon again. Not for me!
Good night, and be hanged! Stir up, Stumpy,
You look very happy and warm;
I’ll hoist half the bark off the humpy
And give you a taste of the storm.’
We laughed as he went away growling:
But down where the wind whipped the creek
The storm like old fury was howling,
And Fred was on top for the week.
‘A devil’s own night for the braceman,’
Muttered Con. ‘It’s a comfort to know
All weathers are one to the faceman,
All shifts are alike down below.’
We slept, and the storm was receding,
The wind moaned a dirge overhead,
When men brought him, broken and bleeding,
And laid him again on the bed.
We saw by the flame burning dimly
The gray hue of death on his face.
The stoker enlightened us grimly:
‘No hope. He was blown from the brace.’
In The Benevolent
‘I’M OFF on the wallaby!’ cries Old Ben,
And his pipe is lit, and his swag is rolled;
‘There is nothing here for us old-time men,
But up north, I hear, they are on the gold.’
And he shuffles off with a feeble stride,
With his ragged swag and his billy black.
He is making tracks for the other side,
O’er the river deep, or the Great Divide;
But at night, dead beat, he travels back.
Then at morn next day he is off again,
With an eager light in his aged eyes,
Tramping away on his journey vain
For the land of promise beyond the rise.
Over the range there is work to do,
There is roaring life at the shanty bars.
He will tramp the plains whilst the skies are blue,
And will wander the great wide bushland through,
And be soothed to sleep by the blinking stars.
In the garden gay where the old man roams
Pied poppies sway on their supple stalks,
And the fair white rose on the soft breeze foams,
And the pansies peep by the gravelled walks;
But his brow by the breeze of the hills is fanned,
And the clink of bells to his quick ear comes.
When he shades his eyes with a withered hand,
He sees silent rivers and ranges grand,
Or a still lagoon under silver gums.
‘Are you bound out back, Dan?’ the children cry,
And they peer at him through the fence, and shout
‘Well, it’s so long, Dan,’ as he hobbles by,
With his ‘Ay, ay, sonny lad—tramping out!’
On his back he’s bearing his house and bed,
As he bore them both in his manhood’s pride,
Pressing on each day till his strength has fled
By the force of a dauntless spirit led—
There’s a rush somewhere on the Sydney side.
Though his sight may fail and his limbs give way,
Yet no weakness touches his brave old heart,
And he cries each night: ‘At the break of day
I must strap up bluey and make a start!’
And they humour him; for the time is near
When he’ll tramp no more under changeful skies,
But will leave his travels and troubles here,
Take the track God blazed with His stars, and steer
To the Never Land just across the rise.
William And Bill
Our Mr. Jiggs was certainly an estimable youth,
A pillar of propriety, a champion of truth;
He had a good position in a warehouse in the town;
A staunch church-worker, he became a layman of renown.
Jiggs owned a bijou villa in a little suburb here;
His wife was small but precious, and their baby was a dear;
But a fly in William’s ointment (and intrude such creatures will)
Was his father, known about the neighborhood as “Bill.”
Now if you’re a serious soul, and known as “William” still,
It’s unpleasant to have hanging round a father who is “Bill.”
So William had discovered, for at sixty-two his dad
Behaved with great exuberance, aspired to be “a lad”;
Got shicker on occasion, and came home with the milk
(Which also means the whisky) and with fellows of the ilk
Would sing a ribald ditty, and he’d dance upon his hat,
Then curl hard down, and slumber on the goodly William’s mat.
If you’re a worker at the church, abhorring wicked fun,
An old man sleeping on your mat in full light of the sun
Is very detrimental; so William had to steal
From bed full oft his roystering pa to drag in by the heel.
And Bill went giddy with the girls, and made excessive love
To the wives of William’s neighbors. There was one two doors above
Who said he was a nice old man, so very clean and gay –
She let him buy her suppers, and went with him to the play.
Her husband was a travelling man. One day he spoke to Bill.
Bill pointed out where on the lawn toiled unsuspecting Will.
That ma he struck at Will with his fist, a thing of fear –
He knocked him down, he kicked him, and he trod upon his ear.
He beat him with a rake, and with the hose he washed him round,
Till William, stunned and helpless now, was presently half-downed.
Then said the fellow: “Billy Jiggs, I hope from this time out
You’ll kindly let my wife alone when I am not about.”
Will sadly looked upon his dad, reproachment in his eye.
Bills raised him up, and to his glance made reverent reply:
“Sins of the fathers fall upon the children. Be resigned.
It’s according to the gospel, so I thought you wouldn’t mind.”
Now William hides at Cooktown, and old Bill resides at hay.
Responsible for all his venal actions, so to say.
Of William Jiggs, whose “gorn all wrong,” a touching tale he’ll tell –
“A-renouncin’ of the Scriptures. And I brought him up so well!”
I'm lyin' in a narrow bed,
'N' starin' at a wall.
Where all is white my plastered head
Is whitest of it all.
My life is jist a whitewashed blank,
With flamin' spurts of pain.
I dunno who I've got to thank,
I've p'raps been trod on by a tank,
Or caught out in the rain
When skies were peltin' fish-plates, bricks
'n' lengths of bullock-chain.
I'm lyin' here, a sulky swine,
'N' hatin' of the bloke
Who's in the doss right next to mine
With 'arf his girders broke.
He never done no 'arm t me,
'N' he's pertickler ill;
But I have got him snouted, see,
'N' all old earth beside but she
Come with the chemist's swill,
'N' puts a kind, soft 'and on mine, 'n' all
my nark is still.
She ain't a beaut, she's thirty two,
She scales eleven stone;
But, 'struth, I didn't think it true
There was such women grown!
She's nurse 'n' sister, mum 'n' dad,
'N' all that straight 'n' fine
In every girl I ever had.
When Gabr'el comes, 'n' all the glad
Young saints are tipped the sign,
You'll see this donah take her place, first
angel in the line!
She's sweet 'n' cool, her touch is dew—
Wet lilies on yer brow.
(Jist 'ark et me what never knew
Of lilies up to now).
She fits your case in 'arf a wink,
'N' knows how, why, 'n' where.
If you are five days gone in drink,
N' hoverin' on perdition's brink,
It is her brother there.
God how pain will take a man, and
He has spoke with her!
I dunno if she ever sleeps
Ten minutes at a stretch.
A dozen times a night she creeps
To soothe a screamin' wretch
Who has a tiger-headed Hun
A-gnawin' at his chest.
'N' when the long, 'ard flght is won,
'N' he is still 'n' nearly done,
She smiles down on his rest,
'N' minds me of a mother with a baby at her
The curly kid we cuddled when
There was no splendid row
(It seemed a little matter then,
But feels so wondrous now).
It's part of her. She's Joan iv Ark,
Flo Nightingale, all fair
'N' dinkum dames who've made their mark
If she comes tip-toe in the dark,
We blighters feel her there.
The whole pack perks up like a bird, 'n'
sorter takes the air.
She chats you in a 'Ighland botch;
But if our Sis saw fit
To pitch Hindoo instead of Scotch
I'd get the hang of it,
Because her heart it is that talks
What now is plain to me.
At war where bloody murder stalks,
'N' Nick his hottest samples hawks.
I have been given to see
What simple human kindness is, what
brotherhood may be.
The Tin-Pot Mill
QUITE a proud and happy man is Finn the Packer
Since he built his crazy mill upon the rise,
And he stands there in the gully, chewing ‘backer,’
With a sleepy sort of comfort in his eyes,
Gazin’ up to where the antiquated jigger
Is a-wheezing and a-hopping on the hill,
For up here my lord the Gov’nor isn’t bigger
Than the owner of the Federation Mill.
She goes biff, puff, bang, bump, cutter-clatter, smash,
And she rattles on for half a shift, and lets up with a crash;
And then silence reigns a little while, and all the land is still
While they’re tinkering awkward patches on the tin-pot mill.
It’s a five-head plant, and mostly built of lumber,
’Twas erected by a man that didn’t know,
And we’ve never had a decent spell of slumber
Since that battery of Finn’s was got to go;
For she raises just the most infernal clatter,
And we guessed the Day of Judgment had come down
When the tin-pot mill began to bang and batter
Like an earthquake in a boiler-metal town.
All the heads are different sizes, and the horses
Are so crazy that the whole caboodle rocks,
And each time a stamper thunders down it forces
Little spirtings through the crannies in the box.
Then the feed pipe’s mostly plugged and aggravating,
And the pump it suffers badly from a cough;
Every hour or so they burst a blooming grating,
And the shoes are nearly always coming off.
Mickey drives her with a portable, a ruin
That they used for donkeying cargo in the Ark.
When she’s got a little way on, and is doing,
You should hear that spavined coffee-grinder bark.
She is loose in all her joints, and, through corrosion,
Half her plates are not a sixteenth in the thick.
We’re expecting a sensational explosion,
And a subsequent excursion after Mick.
From the feed—which chokes—to quite the smallest ripple,
From the bed-logs to the guides, she’s mighty queer,
And she joggles like an agitated cripple
With St. Vitus dance intensified by beer.
She stops short; and starts with most unearthly rumbles,
And, distracted by the silence and the din,
Through the sleepless night the weary miner grumbles,
And heaps curses on the family of Finn.
But the owner’s much too cute a man to wrangle.
He is crushing for the public, understand,
And each ton of stuff that’s hammered through the mangle
Adds its tribute to the value of his land.
For she leaks the raw amalgam, and he’s able
To see daylight ’twixt the ripples an’ the plates,
And below the box and ’neath the shaking table
There are nest-eggs ’cumulating while he waits.
She goes biff, puff, bang, bump, clitter-clatter, smash,
And she rattles on for half a shift, and lets with a crash;
Then silence reigns a little while, and the land is still
While they’re tinkering awkward patches on the tin-pot mill.
This war's a waste of slurry, and its at-
mosphere is mud,
All is bog from here to sunset. Wadin'
We're the victims of a thicker sort of universal
With discomforts that old Noah never knew.
We have dubbed our trench The Cecil.
There's a brass-plate and a dome,
And a quagmire where the doormat used
If you're calling, second Tuesday is our reg'-
lar day at home,
So delighted if you'll toddle in to tea!
There is mud along the corridors enough to
bog a cow;
In the air there hangs a musty kind of
There's a frog-pond in the parlour, and the
kitchen is a slough.
She has neither doors nor windows, nor a
When they post our bald somnambulist as
missing from his flat
We take soundings for the digger with a
By the day the board is gratis, by the week
it's half of that;
For the season there's a corresponding drop.
Opening off the spacious hallway is my natty
A commodious and accessible abode.
By judicious disposition, with exclusion of
There is sleeping room for Oliver the toad.
Though the ventilation's gusty, and in gobs
the ceiling falls—
Which with oral respiration disagrees—
Though there comes a certain quantity of
seepage from the walls,
There are some I knew in diggings worse
On my right is Cobber Carkeek. There's a
spring above his head,
And his mattress is a special kind of clay.
He's a most punctilious bloke about the
fashion of his bed,
And he makes it with a shovel every day.
Man is dust. If so, the Cobber has been
puddled up a treat.
On domestic sanitation he's a toff,
For he lights a fire on Sunday, bakes his sur-
face in the heat,
Then he takes a little maul, and cracks it
After hanging out a winter in this Cimmerian
We're forgetting sheets, and baths, and
In the dark and deadly calm last night they
took us on patrol.
Seven, little fellows, thinking of their sins.
It was ours like blinded snails to prowl the
soggy, slimy night,
With a feeler pricking out at every pore
For the death that stalks in darkness, or the
blinking stab of light,
And the other trifling matters that are war.
That's the stuff to get your liver, that's the
acid on a man,
For it tries his hones, and seeks his marrow
You have got the thought to comfort you that
life is but a span,
If Fritz squirts his loathly limelight over
We got back again at daybreak. Cobber
ducked to doss and said,
From the soft, embracing mud: “No more
“Oh, thank Heaven, blokes,” he murmured,
“for the comforts of a bed!
Gorstruth, but ain't it good to have a
THERE’S a sudden, fierce clang of the knocker, then the sound of a voice in the shaft,
Shrieking words that drum hard on the centres, and the braceman goes suddenly daft:
‘Set the whistle a-blowing like blazes! Billy, run, give old Mackie a call—
Run, you fool! Number Two’s gone to pieces, and Fred Baker is caught in the fall!
Say, hello! there below—any hope, boys, any chances of saving his life?
‘Heave away!’ says the knocker. ‘They’ve started. God be praised, he’s no youngsters or wife!’
Screams the whistle in fearful entreaty, and the wild echo raves on the spur,
And the night, that was still as a sleeper in soft, charmed sleep, is astir
With the fluttering of wings in the wattles, and the vague frightened murmur of birds,
With far cooeys that carry the warning, running feet, inarticulate words.
From the black belt of bush come the miners, and they gather by Mack on the brace,
Out of breath, barely clad, and half-wakened, with a question in every face.
‘Who’s below?’ ‘Where’s the fall?’ Didn’t I tell you?—Didn’t I say that them sets wasn’t sound?’
‘Is it Fred? He was reckless was Baker; now he’s seen his last shift underground.’
‘And his mate? Where is Sandy M‘Fadyn?’ ’Sandy’s snoring at home on his bunk.’
‘Not at work! Name o’ God! a foreboding?’ ‘A foreboding be hanged! He is drunk!’
Take it steady there, lads!’ the boss orders. He is white to the roots of his hair.
We may get him alive before daybreak if he’s close to the face and has air.’
In the dim drive with ardour heroic two facemen are pegging away.
Long and Coots in the rise heard her thunder, and they fled without word or delay
Down the drive, and they rushed for the ladders, and they went up the shaft with a run,
For they knew the weak spot in the workings, and they guessed there was graft to be done.
Number Two was pitch dark, and they scrambled to the plat and they made for the face,
But the roof bad come down fifty yards in, and the reef was all over the place.
Fresher men from the surface replace them, and they’re hauled up on top for a blow;
When a life and death job is in doing there’s room only for workers below.
Bare-armed, and bare-chested, and brawny, with a grim, meaning set of the jaw,
The relay hurries in to the rescue, caring not for the danger a straw;
’Tis not toil, but a battle, they’re called to, and like Trojans the miners respond,
For a dead man lies crushed ’neath the timbers, or a live man is choking beyond.
By the faint, yellow glow of the candles, where the dank drive is hot with their breath,
On the verge of the Land of the Shadow, waging war breast to bosom with Death,
How they struggle, these giants! and slowly, as the trucks rattle into the gloom,
Inch by inch they advance to the conquest of a prison—or is it a tomb?
And the working’s re-echo a volley as the timbers are driven in place;
Then a whisper is borne to the toilers ‘Boys, his mother is there on the brace!’
Like veterans late into action, fierce with longing to hew and to hack,
Riordan’s shift rushes in to relieve them, and the toil-stricken men stagger back.
‘Stow the stuff, mates, wherever there’s stowage! Run the man on the brace till he drops!
There’s no time to think on this billet! Bark the heels of the trucker who stops!
Keep the props well in front, and be careful. He’s in there, and alive, never fret.’
But the grey dawn is softening the ridges, and the word has not come to us yet.
Still the knocker rings out, and the engine shrieks and strains like a creature in pain
As the cage rushes up to the surface and drops back into darkness again.
By the capstan a woman is crouching. In her eyes neither hope nor despair;
But a yearning that glowers like frenzy bids those who’d speak pity forbear.
Like a figure in stone she is seated till the labour of rescue be done.
For the father was killed in the Phoenix, and the son—Lord of pity! the son?
‘Hello! there on top!’ they are calling. ‘They are through! He is seen in the drive!’
‘They have got him—thank Heaven! they’ve got him, and oh, blessed be God, he’s alive!’
‘Man on! heave away!’ ‘Step aside, lads; let his mother be first when he lands.’
She was silent and strong in her anguish; now she babbles and weeps where she stands,
And the stern men, grown gentle, support her at the mouth of the shaft, till at last
With a rush the cage springs to the landing, and her son’s arms encircle her fast.
She has cursed the old mine for its murders, for the victims its drives have ensnared,
Now she cries a great blessing upon it for the one precious life it has spared.
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.