On Looking Through An Old Punishment Book [at Eurunderee School]

I took the book of punishment,
And ran its columns down;
I started with an open brow
And ended with a frown;
I noted long-forgotten names –
They took me unaware;
I noted old familiar names.
But my names wasn’t there!

I thought of what I might have been,
And Oh! My heart was pained
To find, of all the scholars there,
That I was never caned!
I thought of wasted childhood hours,
And a tear rolled down my cheek –
I must have been a model boy,
Which means a little sneak!

“Oh, give me back my youth again!”
Doc Faustus used to say –
I only wish the Powers could give
My boyhood for a day,
A model boy! Beloved of girls!
Despised by boys and men!
But it comforts me to think that I’ve
Made up for it since then.

The Old Bark School

It was built of bark and poles, and the floor was full of holes
Where each leak in rainy weather made a pool;
And the walls were mostly cracks lined with calico and sacks –
There was little need for windows in the school.

Then we rode to school and back by the rugged gully-track,
On the old grey horse that carried three or four;
And he looked so very wise that he lit the master's eyes
Every time he put his head in at the door.

He had run with Cobb and Co. – "that grey leader, let him go!"
There were men "as knowed the brand upon his hide",
And "as knowed it on the course". Funeral service: "Good old horse!"
When we burnt him in the gully where he died.

And the master thought the same. 'Twas from Ireland that he came,
Where the tanks are full all summer, and the feed is simply grand;
And the joker then in vogue said his lessons wid a brogue –
'Twas unconscious imitation, let the reader understand.

And we learnt the world in scraps from some ancient dingy maps
Long discarded by the public-schools in town;
And as nearly every book dated back to Captain Cook
Our geography was somewhat upside-down.

It was "in the book" and so – well, at that we'd let it go,
For we never would believe that print could lie;
And we all learnt pretty soon that when we came out at noon
"The sun is in the south part of the sky."

And Ireland! that was known from the coast-line to Athlone:
We got little information re the land that gave us birth;
Save that Captain Cook was killed (and was very likely grilled)
And "the natives of New Holland are the lowest race on earth".

And a woodcut, in its place, of the same degraded race
Seemed a lot more like a camel than the blackfellows that we knew;
Jimmy Bullock, with the rest, scratched his head and gave it best;
But his faith was sadly shaken by a bobtailed kangaroo.

But the old bark school is gone, and the spot it stood upon
Is a cattle-camp in winter where the curlew's cry is heard;
There's a brick school on the flat, but a schoolmate teaches that,
For, about the time they built it, our old master was "transferred".

But the bark school comes again with exchanges 'cross the plain –
With the Out-Back Advertiser; and my fancy roams at large
When I read of passing stock, of a western mob or flock,
With "James Bullock", "Grey", or "Henry Dale" in charge.

And I think how Jimmy went from the old bark school content,
With his "eddication" finished, with his pack-horse after him;
And perhaps if I were back I would take the self-same track,
For I wish my learning ended when the Master "finished" Jim.

Down the street as I was drifting with the city's human tide,
Came a ghost, and for a moment walked in silence by my side --
Now my heart was hard and bitter, and a bitter spirit he,
So I felt no great aversion to his ghostly company.
Said the Shade: `At finer feelings let your lip in scorn be curled,
`Self and Pelf', my friend, has ever been the motto for the world.'

And he said: `If you'd be happy, you must clip your fancy's wings,
Stretch your conscience at the edges to the size of earthly things;
Never fight another's battle, for a friend can never know
When he'll gladly fly for succour to the bosom of the foe.
At the power of truth and friendship let your lip in scorn be curled --
`Self and Pelf', my friend, remember, is the motto of the world.

`Where Society is mighty, always truckle to her rule;
Never send an `i' undotted to the teacher of a school;
Only fight a wrong or falsehood when the crowd is at your back,
And, till Charity repay you, shut the purse, and let her pack;
At the fools who would do other let your lip in scorn be curled,
`Self and Pelf', my friend, remember, that's the motto of the world.

`Ne'er assail the shaky ladders Fame has from her niches hung,
Lest unfriendly heels above you grind your fingers from the rung;
Or the fools who idle under, envious of your fair renown,
Heedless of the pain you suffer, do their worst to shake you down.
At the praise of men, or censure, let your lip in scorn be curled,
`Self and Pelf', my friend, remember, is the motto of the world.

`Flowing founts of inspiration leave their sources parched and dry,
Scalding tears of indignation sear the hearts that beat too high;
Chilly waters thrown upon it drown the fire that's in the bard;
And the banter of the critic hurts his heart till it grows hard.
At the fame your muse may offer let your lip in scorn be curled,
`Self and Pelf', my friend, remember, that's the motto of the world.

`Shun the fields of love, where lightly, to a low and mocking tune,
Strong and useful lives are ruined, and the broken hearts are strewn.
Not a farthing is the value of the honest love you hold;
Call it lust, and make it serve you! Set your heart on nought but gold.
At the bliss of purer passions let your lip in scorn be curled --
`Self and Pelf', my friend, shall ever be the motto of the world.'

Then he ceased and looked intently in my face, and nearer drew;
But a sudden deep repugnance to his presence thrilled me through;
Then I saw his face was cruel, by the look that o'er it stole,
Then I felt his breath was poison, by the shuddering of my soul,
Then I guessed his purpose evil, by his lip in sneering curled,
And I knew he slandered mankind, by my knowledge of the world.

But he vanished as a purer brighter presence gained my side --
`Heed him not! there's truth and friendship
in this wondrous world,' she cried,
And of those who cleave to virtue in their climbing for renown,
Only they who faint or falter from the height are shaken down.
At a cynic's baneful teaching let your lip in scorn be curled!
`Brotherhood and Love and Honour!' is the motto for the world.'

A dusty clearing in the scrubs
Of barren, western lands—
Where, out of sight, or sign of hope
The wretched school-house stands;
A roof that glares at glaring days,
A bare, unshaded wall,
A fence that guards no blade of green—
A dust-storm over all.
The books and slates are packed away,
The maps are rolled and tied,
And for an hour I breathe, and lay
My ghastly mask aside;
I linger here to save my head
From voices shrill and thin,
That rasp for ever in the shed,
The ‘home’ I’m boarding in.

The heat and dirt and wretchedness
With which their lives began—
Bush mother nagging day and night,
And sullen, brooding man;
The minds that harp on single strings,
And never bright by chance,
The rasping voice of paltry things,
The hopeless ignorance.

I had ideals when I came here,
A noble purpose had,
But all that they can understand
Is ‘axe to grind’ or ‘mad.’
I brood at times till comes a fear
That sets my brain awhirl—
I fight a strong man’s battle here,
And I am but a girl.

I hated paltriness and deemed
A breach of faith a crime;
I listen now to scandal’s voice
In sewing-lesson time.
There is a thought that haunts me so,
And gathers strength each day—
Shall I as narrow-minded grow,
As mean of soul as they?

The feuds that rise from paltry spite,
Or from no cause at all;
The brooding, dark, suspicious minds—
I suffer for it all.
They do not dream the ‘Teacher’ knows,
What brutal thoughts are said;
The children call me ‘Pigeon Toes,’
‘Green Eyes’ and ‘Carrot Head.’

On phantom seas of endless change
My thoughts to madness roam—
The only thing that keeps me here,
The thoughts of those at home—
The hearts that love and cling to me,
That I love best on earth,
My mother left in poverty,
My brother blind from birth.

On burning West Australian fields
In that great dreadful land,
Where all day long the heat waves flow
O’er the seas of glowing sand.
My elder brother toils and breaks
That great true heart of his
To rescue us from poverty—
To rescue me from this.

And one is with him where he goes,
My brother’s mate and mine;
He never called me Pigeon Toes—
He said my eyes were ‘fine’;
And his face comes before me now,
And hope and courage rise,
The lines of life—the troubled brow,
Firm mouth and kind grey eyes.

I preach content and gentleness,
And mock example give;
They little think the Teacher hates
And loathes the life they live.
I told the infants fairy tales
But half an hour since—
They little dream how Pigeon Toes
Prays for a fairy Prince.

I have one prayer (and God forgive
A selfish prayer and wild);
I kneel down by the infants’ stool
(For I am but a child),
And pray as I’ve prayed times untold
That Heaven will set a sign,
To guide my brother to the gold,
For mother’s sake and mine.

A dust cloud on the lonely road,
And I am here alone;
I lock the door till it be past,
For I have nervous grown.

God spare me disappointment’s blow.
He stops beside the gate;
A voice, thrill-feeling that I know.
My brother! No! His mate!

His eyes—a proud, triumphant smile,
His arms outstretched, and ‘Come,
‘For Jack and I have made our pile,
‘And I’m here to take you home’!

The Soldier Birds

I mind the river from Mount Frome
To Ballanshantie’s Bridge,
The Mudgee Hills, and Buckaroo,
Lowe’s Peak, and Granite Ridge.
The “tailers” in the creek beneath,
The rugged she-oak boles,
The river cod where shallows linked,
The willowed water-holes.
I mind the blacksoil river flats,
The red soil levels, too,
The sidings where below the scrub
The golden wattles grew;
The track that ran by Tierney’s Gap,
The dusk and ghost alarms,
The glorious morning on the hills,
And all the German farms.

I mind the blue-grey gully bush,
The slab-and-shingle school,
The “soldier birds” that picked the crumbs
Beneath the infants’ stool.
(Ah! did those little soldier birds,
That whispered, ever know
That one of us should rise so high
And sadly sink so low?)

I mind the lessons that we droned
In books from Irish schools,
The canings and the keepings-in
For breaking bounds and rules.
Ah! little did the teacher dream
That one of us, perchance,
Might write in London to be read
In Germany and France.

I mind the days we played at camp
With billy-can and swag,
I mind the notes sent home by girls
When someone “played the wag.”
Ah! little did the master think
(Who’d lost the roving star)
What truants in their after years
Would play the wag so far.

I mind when first he gave to me
A pen and ink to write,
And, last, the “Fourth Class Forms” he made
I shared with Lucy White.
The other boys were other boys,
With cricket ball and bat,
They had a fine contempt for girls,
But they got over that.

The “rounders” where the girls came in—
The Tomboy and the rest—
The earnest game of Pris’ners’ Base—
The game that I liked best.
The kangarooing on the ridge,
And in the brown moonlight,
The “possuming” across the flats,
With dogs and gun at night.

The “specking” in old diggers’ heaps
For “colours” after rain,
The horse-shoes saved against the time
The circus came again,
And sold to Jimmy Siver-right—
The blacksmith on the flat;
The five-corners, the swimming hole—
Oh! I remember that!

I mind the holland “dinner bags”—
A book bag of green baize—
The bread and dripping, bread and meat,
And bread and treacle days.
The bread and butter swopped for meat,
The crumb we swopped for crust—
We’ve married—and divorced—since then,
And most old homes are dust.

It was the time, it was the place—
Australia’s hardest page—
When boys were cast for farming work
At fourteen years of age.
It was the time, it was the place,
The latter “Early Day,”
When boys ride home from old bark schools
And to the world away.

I’ve drifted through Port Said since then,
Naples and Leicester Square,
And Collins and Macquarie Streets—
I know the secrets there.
Ah me! The country boy and girl,
The country lass and lad,
As innocent as soldier birds,
Though we thought we were bad!

But, spite of all their daring truth,
And some work that shall last,
The bitter years of my brave youth
Are better in the past.
This does not call for bitterness,
Nor does it call for tears,
The purest little thing perhaps
I’ve printed here for years.

The railway runs by Mudgee Hills,
Old farms are lost or lone,
And children’s children sadly go
To schools of brick and stone.
Yet are the same. The Mudgee Hills
And Mudgee skies as fair—
And the little grey-clad soldier birds
Are just as busy there.

Brighten’s Sister-In-Law [or The Carrier's Story]

AT A POINT where the old road crosses
The river, and turns to the right,
I’d camped with the team; and the hosses
Was all fixed up for the night.
I’d been to the town to carry
A load to the Cudgegong;
And I’d taken the youngster, Harry,
On a trip as I’d promis’d him long.

I had seven more, and another
That died at the age of three;
But they all took arter the mother,
And Harry took arter me.
And from the tiniest laddie
’Twas always his fondest dream
To go on the roads with his daddy,
And help him to drive the team.

He was bright at the school and clever,
The best of the youngsters there;
And the teacher said there was never
A lad that promised so fair.
And I half forgot life’s battle,
An’ its long, hard-beaten road,
In the sound of the youngster’s prattle
From his perch on top o’ the load.

An’ when he was tired o’ ridin’
I’d lift him down for a walk,
And he’d say, at my silence chidin’,
“Now, daddy tell me some talk.”
And oft by the camp-fire sittin’,
When the bush was round us wild,
I’d yarn by the hour, forgittin’
That Harry was only a child.

But to-day he’d been strange and quiet,
An’ lay on the chaff-bags still;
An’ though he’d bravely deny it,
I know’d as the boy was ill.
He said he was “only dosey”,
In his queer old-fashioned way;
And I fixed him up warm an’ cosey
In the hammock under the dray.

I fried him some eggs and some bakin’
Which I couldn’t git him to touch;
And it set my heart a-achin
For he’d always eaten so much.
I wandered about half silly,
And thought that my heart would stop;
And the tea got cold in the billy,
For I couldn’t ’a’ tasted a drop.

I’d seen the same sickness of’en;
An’ my spirits began to droop,
For as soon as he started coughin’
I know’d as he’d got the croup.
’Twas fifteen mile to the river;
An’ Gulgong was twenty-five;
An’ I thought ’twas a chance if ever
I got him back home alive.

The thought of the loss was horrid
If the young ’un was taken away;
And I went and leaned my forehead
Against the tire o’ the dray.
And sudden I started cryin’,
And sobbed like a woman too;
For I felt that the boy was dyin’,
And I didn’t know what to do.

All helpless I was, and lonely;
But I thought ’twas a coward’s cry
To call on the Saviour only
When trouble or death was nigh.
But after a while I lifted
My eyes to the steely blue
Of the sky where somethin’ drifted
Like a great white cockatoo.

An’ nearer it came, and nearer,
Right down to the branch of the tree;
And it seemed when its shape grew clearer,
Like the form of a woman to me.
For a moment it seemed to tarry,
An’ p’int away up the road,
An’ then seemed pintin’ at Harry,
A-coughin’ beneath the load.

I don’t want ter arger; there’s chances
The vision was only the sky,
Or the smoke outlin’d on the branches,
Or a lonely cloud on high.
But I says ’twas a message from glory;
I sees as yer goin’ to chaff;
Just wait till I done my story,
An’ laugh if yer want to laugh.

Away went the vision flyin’;
Up into the blue it went;
And I stood for a minute tryin’
To think what its comin’ meant.
When it flashed on my brain like lightnin’;
An’ arter I thought it strange
I’d almost forgotten old Brighten
Who lived on the top of the range.

He lived on a small selection,
Or used ter live there I know’d;
An’ it lay in a west direction,
’Bout five miles back from the road.
I harnessed the horses quicker
Than ever I’d taken ’em out;
An’ they must ’a’ thought me in liquor,
For the way as I shov’d ’em about.

I’d allers bin fond o’ sneerin’
An’ laughin’ at women’s ways;
I could see in their lives, I’m fearin’,
But little as called for praise;
But now when I thought he’d smother
With croup in the lonely wild,
Good God, how I longed for a mother
To save the life of my child!

I seed in a vision each minit
The youngster nursed back into life;
An’ the hand of a woman was in it;
An’ the woman was Brighten’s wife.
There’s times when not knowin’ a bliss is,
As Harry’s school-teacher ’ud say:
And I didn’t know Brighten’s missis
Had gone to the town that day.

In a moment I’d lifted Harry
To the bags on top of the load;
And I flogged the weary horses
Along on the dusty road.
But ev’rything seem’d to hinder
My hopes when I reached the hut;
For there wasn’t a light in the winder;
And both o’ the doors was shut.

That moment my heart got hurted;
An’ I felt it for many a day;
For I thought that the place was deserted,
An’ Brighten had gone away.
But I called; and the door was opened,
An’ I saw that the hut was alight;
It hadn’t shone in the winders;
For the moon was shinin’ bright.

An’ there in the door, with a candle,
I saw old Brighten stand,
With his fingers grasping the handle
Of a pistol he held in his hand.
“If any one moves,” he shouted,
“I’ll fire if I’ve got to hang!”
For the moment he never doubted
’Twas a visit from Gard’ner’s gang.

I didn’t move in a hurry;
For a man in a fright shoots quick.
But I told him he needn’t flurry,
’Twas only a youngster sick.
“Stan’ back,” said old Brighten, snatchin’
An’ shuttin’ the door in his fright;
“It’s typhoid, maybe, he’s catchin’:
An’ I can’t have him here to-night.”

But a woman’s voice shouted, “What is it?”
I’d never seen her before;
She was only there on a visit;
’Twas Brighten’s sister-in-law.
An’ nothin’ seemed able to frighten
This woman so pale an’ thin;
She pushed from the door old Brighten,
An’ carried the youngster in.

She’d bin hospital nurse in the city,
I heard, and had got the sack
For havin’ a little pity,
An’ exposin’ a doctor quack;
Some trumped-up stories agin her
All over the town was belled;
An’ in spite of the fightin’ in her
They got her at last expelled.

An’, talkin’ o’ fight, I’m fearin‘
There’s sudden fightin’ in store
For the first as speaks in my hearin’
’Gin Brighten’s sister-in-law;
For, in spite of old Brighten’s cussin’,
She got the youngster to bed;
And arter a week’s good nussin’
She won him back from the dead.

And then I began to hanker
For a speech to tell her the joy
I felt in my heart, and to thank her
For givin’ me back my boy.
The mornin’ I left old Brighten’s,
While puttin’ the horses to,
I puzzled my brains to make up
A speech as I thought would do.

She lifted the youngster and kissed him,
And helped him into the dray;
An’ I thought of how I’d ’a’ missed him,
If he’d only been taken away.
An’, “Mum,” I sez; “I oughter—”
An’ to finish the speech I tries;
But all on a sudden the water
Kem bubblin’ up to my eyes.

An’ down’ard, like water-courses,
The tears began to tear;
An’ I had to swear at the horses
To hide my weakness from her.
But the tears was only human
An’ they seem’d to ha’ done some good;
For she pressed my hand like a woman,
An’ said that she understood.