Part 3 out of 3
We don't exist individually. Off the board, away from the shed
(and each other) we are quiet -- even gentle.
"A great-horned ram, in poor condition, but shorn of a heavy fleece,
picks himself up at the foot of the `shoot', and hesitates,
as if ashamed to go down to the other end where the ewes are.
The most ridiculous object under Heaven.
"A tar-boy of fifteen, of the bush, with a mouth so vile that a street-boy,
same age (up with a shearing uncle), kicks him behind --
having proved his superiority with his fists before the shed started.
Of which unspeakable little fiend the roughest shearer of a rough shed
was heard to say, in effect, that if he thought there was
the slightest possibility of his becoming the father of such a boy
he'd ---- take drastic measures to prevent the possibility of his becoming
a proud parent at all.
"Twice a day the cooks and their familiars carry buckets
of oatmeal-water and tea to the shed, two each on a yoke.
We cry, `Where are you coming to, my pretty maids?'
"In ten minutes the surfaces of the buckets are black with flies.
We have given over trying to keep them clear. We stir the living cream aside
with the bottoms of the pints, and guzzle gallons, and sweat it out again.
Occasionally a shearer pauses and throws the perspiration from his forehead
in a rain.
"Shearers live in such a greedy rush of excitement that often
a strong man will, at a prick of the shears, fall in a death-like faint
on the board.
"We hate the Boss-of-the-Board as the shearers' `slushy' hates
the shearers' cook. I don't know why. He's a very fair boss.
"He refused to put on a traveller yesterday, and the traveller
knocked him down. He walked into the shed this morning
with his hat back and thumbs in waistcoat -- a tribute to man's weakness.
He threatened to dismiss the traveller's mate, a bigger man,
for rough shearing -- a tribute to man's strength. The shearer said nothing.
We hate the boss because he IS boss, but we respect him
because he is a strong man. He is as hard up as any of us, I hear,
and has a sick wife and a large, small family in Melbourne. God judge us all!
"There is a gambling-school here, headed by the shearers' cook.
After tea they head-'em, and advance cheques are passed from hand to hand,
and thrown in the dust until they are black. When it's too dark to see
with nose to the ground, they go inside and gamble with cards.
Sometimes they start on Saturday afternoon, heading 'em till dark,
play cards all night, start again heading 'em Sunday afternoon,
play cards all Sunday night, and sleep themselves sane on Monday,
or go to work ghastly -- like dead men.
"Cry of `Fight'; we all rush out. But there isn't much fighting.
Afraid of murdering each other. I'm beginning to think that most bush crime
is due to irritation born of dust, heat, and flies.
"The smothering atmosphere shudders when the sun goes down.
We call it the sunset breeze.
"Saturday night or Sunday we're invited into the shearers' hut.
There are songs that are not hymns and recitations and speeches
that are not prayers.
"Last Sunday night: Slush lamps at long intervals on table.
Men playing cards, sewing on patches -- (nearly all smoking) --
some writing, and the rest reading Deadwood Dick. At one end of the table
a Christian Endeavourer endeavouring; at the other a cockney Jew,
from the hawker's boat, trying to sell rotten clothes.
In response to complaints, direct and not chosen generally for Sunday,
the shearers' rep. requests both apostles to shut up or leave.
"He couldn't be expected to take the Christian and leave the Jew,
any more than he could take the Jew and leave the Christian.
We are just amongst ourselves in our hell.
. . . . .
"Fiddle at the end of rouseabouts' hut. Voice of Jackeroo,
from upper bunk with apologetic oaths: `For God's sake chuck that up;
it makes a man think of blanky old things!'
"A lost soul laughs (mine) and dreadful night smothers us."
Among the crowds who left the Victorian side for New South Wales
about the time Gulgong broke out was an old Ballarat digger
named Peter McKenzie. He had married and retired from the mining
some years previously and had made a home for himself and family
at the village of St. Kilda, near Melbourne; but, as was often
the case with old diggers, the gold fever never left him,
and when the fields of New South Wales began to blaze he mortgaged
his little property in order to raise funds for another campaign,
leaving sufficient behind him to keep his wife and family in comfort
for a year or so.
As he often remarked, his position was now very different
from what it had been in the old days when he first arrived from Scotland,
in the height of the excitement following on the great discovery.
He was a young man then with only himself to look out for,
but now that he was getting old and had a family to provide for
he had staked too much on this venture to lose. His position
did certainly look like a forlorn hope, but he never seemed to think so.
Peter must have been very lonely and low-spirited at times.
A young or unmarried man can form new ties, and even make new sweethearts
if necessary, but Peter's heart was with his wife and little ones at home,
and they were mortgaged, as it were, to Dame Fortune.
Peter had to lift this mortgage off.
Nevertheless he was always cheerful, even at the worst of times,
and his straight grey beard and scrubby brown hair encircled a smile
which appeared to be a fixture. He had to make an effort
in order to look grave, such as some men do when they want to force a smile.
It was rumoured that Peter had made a vow never to return home until
he could take sufficient wealth to make his all-important family comfortable,
or, at least, to raise the mortgage from the property,
for the sacrifice of which to his mad gold fever he never forgave himself.
But this was one of the few things which Peter kept to himself.
The fact that he had a wife and children at St. Kilda was well known
to all the diggers. They had to know it, and if they did not know the age,
complexion, history and peculiarities of every child and of the "old woman"
it was not Peter's fault.
He would cross over to our place and talk to the mother for hours
about his wife and children. And nothing pleased him better
than to discover peculiarities in us children wherein we resembled his own.
It pleased us also for mercenary reasons. "It's just the same
with my old woman," or "It's just the same with my youngsters,"
Peter would exclaim boisterously, for he looked upon any little similarity
between the two families as a remarkable coincidence. He liked us all,
and was always very kind to us, often standing between our backs
and the rod that spoils the child -- that is, I mean, if it isn't used.
I was very short-tempered, but this failing was more than condoned
by the fact that Peter's "eldest" was given that way also.
Mother's second son was very good-natured; so was Peter's third.
Her "third" had a great aversion for any duty that threatened
to increase his muscles; so had Peter's "second". Our baby
was very fat and heavy and was given to sucking her own thumb vigorously,
and, according to the latest bulletins from home, it was just the same
with Peter's "last".
I think we knew more about Peter's family than we did about our own.
Although we had never seen them, we were as familiar with their features
as the photographer's art could make us, and always knew
their domestic history up to the date of the last mail.
We became interested in the McKenzie family. Instead of getting bored by them
as some people were, we were always as much pleased when Peter got
a letter from home as he was himself, and if a mail were missed,
which seldom happened -- we almost shared his disappointment and anxiety.
Should one of the youngsters be ill, we would be quite uneasy,
on Peter's account, until the arrival of a later bulletin removed his anxiety,
It must have been the glorious power of a big true heart that gained for Peter
the goodwill and sympathy of all who knew him.
Peter's smile had a peculiar fascination for us children.
We would stand by his pointing forge when he'd be sharpening picks
in the early morning, and watch his face for five minutes at a time,
wondering sometimes whether he was always SMILING INSIDE,
or whether the smile went on externally irrespective of any variation
in Peter's condition of mind.
I think it was the latter case, for often when he had received
bad news from home we have heard his voice quaver with anxiety,
while the old smile played on his round, brown features just the same.
Little Nelse (one of those queer old-man children who seem
to come into the world by mistake, and who seldom stay long) used to say
that Peter "cried inside".
Once, on Gulgong, when he attended the funeral of an old Ballarat mate,
a stranger who had been watching his face curiously remarked
that McKenzie seemed as pleased as though the dead digger
had bequeathed him a fortune. But the stranger had soon reason
to alter his opinion, for when another old mate began in a tremulous voice
to repeat the words "Ashes to ashes, an' dust to dust," two big tears
suddenly burst from Peter's eyes, and hurried down to get entrapped
in his beard.
Peter's goldmining ventures were not successful. He sank
three duffers in succession on Gulgong, and the fourth shaft,
after paying expenses, left a little over a hundred to each party,
and Peter had to send the bulk of his share home. He lived in a tent
(or in a hut when he could get one) after the manner of diggers,
and he "did for himself", even to washing his own clothes.
He never drank nor "played", and he took little enjoyment of any kind,
yet there was not a digger on the field who would dream of calling
old Peter McKenzie "a mean man". He lived, as we know
from our own observations, in a most frugal manner. He always tried
to hide this, and took care to have plenty of good things for us
when he invited us to his hut; but children's eyes are sharp.
Some said that Peter half-starved himself, but I don't think his family
ever knew, unless he told them so afterwards.
Ah, well! the years go over. Peter was now three years from home,
and he and Fortune were enemies still. Letters came by the mail,
full of little home troubles and prayers for Peter's return,
and letters went back by the mail, always hopeful, always cheerful.
Peter never gave up. When everything else failed he would work by the day
(a sad thing for a digger), and he was even known to do a job of fencing
until such time as he could get a few pounds and a small party together
to sink another shaft.
Talk about the heroic struggles of early explorers in a hostile country;
but for dogged determination and courage in the face of poverty, illness,
and distance, commend me to the old-time digger -- the truest soldier
Hope ever had!
In the fourth year of his struggle Peter met with a terrible disappointment.
His party put down a shaft called the Forlorn Hope near Happy Valley,
and after a few weeks' fruitless driving his mates jibbed on it.
Peter had his own opinion about the ground -- an old digger's opinion,
and he used every argument in his power to induce his mates
to put a few days' more work in the claim. In vain he pointed out
that the quality of the wash and the dip of the bottom
exactly resembled that of the "Brown Snake", a rich Victorian claim.
In vain he argued that in the case of the abovementioned claim,
not a colour could be got until the payable gold was actually reached.
Home Rule and The Canadian and that cluster of fields were going ahead,
and his party were eager to shift. They remained obstinate,
and at last, half-convinced against his opinion, Peter left with them
to sink the "Iawatha", in Log Paddock, which turned out a rank duffer --
not even paying its own expenses.
A party of Italians entered the old claim and, after driving it
a few feet further, made their fortune.
. . . . .
We all noticed the change in Peter McKenzie when he came to "Log Paddock",
whither we had shifted before him. The old smile still flickered,
but he had learned to "look" grave for an hour at a time without much effort.
He was never quite the same after the affair of Forlorn Hope,
and I often think how he must have "cried" sometimes "inside".
However, he still read us letters from home, and came and smoked
in the evening by our kitchen-fire. He showed us some
new portraits of his family which he had received by a late mail,
but something gave me the impression that the portraits made him uneasy.
He had them in his possession for nearly a week before showing them to us,
and to the best of our knowledge he never showed them to anybody else.
Perhaps they reminded him of the flight of time -- perhaps he would
have preferred his children to remain just as he left them until he returned.
But stay! there was one portrait that seemed to give Peter infinite pleasure.
It was the picture of a chubby infant of about three years or more.
It was a fine-looking child taken in a sitting position on a cushion,
and arrayed in a very short shirt. On its fat, soft, white face,
which was only a few inches above the ten very podgy toes, was a smile
something like Peter's. Peter was never tired of looking at and showing
the picture of his child -- the child he had never seen.
Perhaps he cherished a wild dream of making his fortune and returning home
before THAT child grew up.
. . . . .
McKenzie and party were sinking a shaft at the upper end of Log Paddock,
generally called "The other end". We were at the lower end.
One day Peter came down from "the other end" and told us
that his party expected to "bottom" during the following week,
and if they got no encouragement from the wash they intended to go prospecting
at the "Happy Thought", near Specimen Flat.
The shaft in Log Paddock was christened "Nil Desperandum".
Towards the end of the week we heard that the wash in the "Nil"
was showing good colours.
Later came the news that "McKenzie and party" had bottomed on payable gold,
and the red flag floated over the shaft. Long before the first load of dirt
reached the puddling machine on the creek, the news was all round
the diggings. The "Nil Desperandum" was a "Golden Hole"!
. . . . .
We will not forget the day when Peter went home. He hurried down
in the morning to have an hour or so with us before Cobb and Co. went by.
He told us all about his little cottage by the bay at St. Kilda.
He had never spoken of it before, probably because of the mortgage.
He told us how it faced the bay -- how many rooms it had,
how much flower garden, and how on a clear day he could see from the window
all the ships that came up to the Yarra, and how with a good telescope
he could even distinguish the faces of the passengers on the big ocean liners.
And then, when the mother's back was turned, he hustled us children
round the corner, and surreptitiously slipped a sovereign
into each of our dirty hands, making great pantomimic show for silence,
for the mother was very independent.
And when we saw the last of Peter's face setting like a good-humoured sun
on the top of Cobb and Co.'s, a great feeling of discontent and loneliness
came over all our hearts. Little Nelse, who had been Peter's favourite,
went round behind the pig-stye, where none might disturb him,
and sat down on the projecting end of a trough to "have a cry",
in his usual methodical manner. But old "Alligator Desolation", the dog,
had suspicions of what was up, and, hearing the sobs,
went round to offer whatever consolation appertained
to a damp and dirty nose and a pair of ludicrously doleful yellow eyes.
An Oversight of Steelman's
Steelman and Smith -- professional wanderers -- were making back
for Wellington, down through the wide and rather dreary-looking Hutt Valley.
They were broke. They carried their few remaining belongings
in two skimpy, amateurish-looking swags. Steelman had fourpence left.
They were very tired and very thirsty -- at least Steelman was,
and he answered for both. It was Smith's policy to feel and think
just exactly as Steelman did. Said Steelman:
"The landlord of the next pub. is not a bad sort. I won't go in --
he might remember me. You'd best go in. You've been tramping round
in the Wairarapa district for the last six months, looking for work.
You're going back to Wellington now, to try and get on
the new corporation works just being started there -- the sewage works.
You think you've got a show. You've got some mates in Wellington,
and they're looking out for a chance for you. You did get a job last week
on a sawmill at Silverstream, and the boss sacked you after three days
and wouldn't pay you a penny. That's just his way. I know him --
at least a mate of mine does. I've heard of him often enough.
His name's Cowman. Don't forget the name, whatever you do.
The landlord here hates him like poison; he'll sympathize with you.
Tell him you've got a mate with you; he's gone ahead -- took a short cut
across the paddocks. Tell him you've got only fourpence left,
and see if he'll give you a drop in a bottle. Says you: `Well, boss,
the fact is we've only got fourpence, but you might let us have a drop
in a bottle'; and very likely he'll stand you a couple of pints
in a gin-bottle. You can fling the coppers on the counter,
but the chances are he won't take them. He's not a bad sort.
Beer's fourpence a pint out here, same's in Wellington. See that gin-bottle
lying there by the stump; get it and we'll take it down to the river with us
and rinse it out."
They reached the river bank.
"You'd better take my swag -- it looks more decent," said Steelman.
"No, I'll tell you what we'll do: we'll undo both swags and make them
into one -- one decent swag, and I'll cut round through the lanes
and wait for you on the road ahead of the pub."
He rolled up the swag with much care and deliberation
and considerable judgment. He fastened Smith's belt round one end of it,
and the handkerchiefs round the other, and made a towel
serve as a shoulder-strap.
"I wish we had a canvas bag to put it in," he said, "or a cover of some sort.
But never mind. The landlord's an old Australian bushman,
now I come to think of it; the swag looks Australian enough,
and it might appeal to his feelings, you know -- bring up old recollections.
But you'd best not say you come from Australia, because he's been there,
and he'd soon trip you up. He might have been where you've been, you know,
so don't try to do too much. You always do mug-up the business
when you try to do more than I tell you. You might tell him
your mate came from Australia -- but no, he might want you to bring me in.
Better stick to Maoriland. I don't believe in too much ornamentation.
Plain lies are the best."
"What's the landlord's name?" asked Smith.
"Never mind that. You don't want to know that. You are not supposed
to know him at all. It might look suspicious if you called him by his name,
and lead to awkward questions; then you'd be sure to put your foot into it."
"I could say I read it over the door."
"Bosh. Travellers don't read the names over the doors,
when they go into pubs. You're an entire stranger to him.
Call him `Boss'. Say `Good-day, Boss,' when you go in,
and swing down your swag as if you're used to it. Ease it down like this.
Then straighten yourself up, stick your hat back, and wipe your forehead,
and try to look as hearty and independent and cheerful as you possibly can.
Curse the Government, and say the country's done. It don't matter
what Government it is, for he's always against it. I never knew
a real Australian that wasn't. Say that you're thinking about
trying to get over to Australia, and then listen to him talking about it --
and try to look interested, too! Get that damned stone-deaf expression
off your face! . . . He'll run Australia down most likely
(I never knew an Other-sider that had settled down over here who didn't).
But don't you make any mistake and agree with him, because,
although successful Australians over here like to run their own country down,
there's very few of them that care to hear anybody else do it. . . .
Don't come away as soon as you get your beer. Stay and listen to him
for a while, as if you're interested in his yarning, and give him time
to put you on to a job, or offer you one. Give him a chance
to ask how you and your mate are off for tobacco or tucker.
Like as not he'll sling you half a crown when you come away -- that is,
if you work it all right. Now try to think of something to say to him,
and make yourself a bit interesting -- if you possibly can.
Tell him about the fight we saw back at the pub. the other day.
He might know some of the chaps. This is a sleepy hole,
and there ain't much news knocking round. . . . I wish I could go in myself,
but he's sure to remember ME. I'm afraid he got left
the last time I stayed there (so did one or two others); and, besides,
I came away without saying good-bye to him, and he might feel
a bit sore about it. That's the worst of travelling on the old road.
Come on now, wake up!"
"Bet I'll get a quart," said Smith, brightening up, "and some tucker
for it to wash down."
"If you don't," said Steelman, "I'll stoush you. Never mind the bottle;
fling it away. It doesn't look well for a traveller to go into a pub.
with an empty bottle in his hand. A real swagman never does.
It looks much better to come out with a couple of full ones.
That's what you've got to do. Now, come along."
Steelman turned off into a lane, cut across the paddocks to the road again,
and waited for Smith. He hadn't long to wait.
Smith went on towards the public-house, rehearsing his part as he walked --
repeating his "lines" to himself, so as to be sure of remembering
all that Steelman had told him to say to the landlord, and adding,
with what he considered appropriate gestures, some fancy touches of his own,
which he determined to throw in in spite of Steelman's advice and warning.
"I'll tell him (this) -- I'll tell him (that). Well, look here, boss,
I'll say you're pretty right and I quite agree with you as far
as that's concerned, but," &c. And so, murmuring and mumbling to himself,
Smith reached the hotel. The day was late, and the bar was small,
and low, and dark. Smith walked in with all the assurance he could muster,
eased down his swag in a corner in what he no doubt considered
the true professional style, and, swinging round to the bar,
said in a loud voice which he intended to be cheerful, independent,
But it wasn't a "boss". It was about the hardest-faced old woman
that Smith had ever seen. The pub. had changed hands.
"I -- I beg your pardon, missus," stammered poor Smith.
It was a knock-down blow for Smith. He couldn't come to time.
He and Steelman had had a landlord in their minds all the time,
and laid their plans accordingly; the possibility of having a she
-- and one like this -- to deal with never entered into their calculations.
Smith had no time to reorganise, even if he had had the brains to do so,
without the assistance of his mate's knowledge of human nature.
"I -- I beg your pardon, missus," he stammered.
Painful pause. She sized him up.
"Well, what do you want?"
"Well, missus -- I -- the fact is -- will you give me a bottle of beer
"I mean ----. The fact is, we've only got fourpence left,
and -- I've got a mate outside, and you might let us have a quart or so,
in a bottle, for that. I mean -- anyway, you might let us have a pint.
I'm very sorry to bother you, missus."
But she couldn't do it. No. Certainly not. Decidedly not!
All her drinks were sixpence. She had her license to pay, and the rent,
and a family to keep. It wouldn't pay out there -- it wasn't worth her while.
It wouldn't pay the cost of carting the liquor out, &c., &c.
"Well, missus," poor Smith blurted out at last, in sheer desperation,
"give me what you can in a bottle for this. I've -- I've got a mate outside."
And he put the four coppers on the bar.
"Have you got a bottle?"
"No -- but ----"
"If I give you one, will you bring it back? You can't expect me
to give you a bottle as well as a drink."
"Yes, mum; I'll bring it back directly."
She reached out a bottle from under the bar, and very deliberately
measured out a little over a pint and poured it into the bottle,
which she handed to Smith without a cork.
Smith went his way without rejoicing. It struck him forcibly
that he should have saved the money until they reached Petone, or the city,
where Steelman would be sure to get a decent drink. But how was he to know?
He had chanced it, and lost; Steelman might have done the same.
What troubled Smith most was the thought of what Steelman would say;
he already heard him, in imagination, saying: "You're a mug, Smith --
Smith, you ARE a mug."
But Steelman didn't say much. He was prepared for the worst
by seeing Smith come along so soon. He listened to his story
with an air of gentle sadness, even as a stern father
might listen to the voluntary confession of a wayward child;
then he held the bottle up to the fading light of departing day,
looked through it (the bottle), and said:
"Well -- it ain't worth while dividing it."
Smith's heart shot right down through a hole in the sole of his left boot
into the hard road.
"Here, Smith," said Steelman, handing him the bottle, "drink it, old man;
you want it. It wasn't altogether your fault; it was an oversight of mine.
I didn't bargain for a woman of that kind, and, of course,
YOU couldn't be expected to think of it. Drink it! Drink it down, Smith.
I'll manage to work the oracle before this night is out."
Smith was forced to believe his ears, and, recovering from
his surprise, drank.
"I promised to take back the bottle," he said, with the ghost of a smile.
Steelman took the bottle by the neck and broke it on the fence.
"Come on, Smith; I'll carry the swag for a while."
And they tramped on in the gathering starlight.
How Steelman told his Story
It was Steelman's humour, in some of his moods, to take Smith
into his confidence, as some old bushmen do their dogs.
"You're nearly as good as an intelligent sheep-dog to talk to, Smith --
when a man gets tired of thinking to himself and wants a relief.
You're a bit of a mug and a good deal of an idiot, and the chances are
that you don't know what I'm driving at half the time --
that's the main reason why I don't mind talking to you.
You ought to consider yourself honoured; it ain't every man
I take into my confidence, even that far."
Smith rubbed his head.
"I'd sooner talk to you -- or a stump -- any day than to one of those silent,
suspicious, self-contained, worldly-wise chaps that listen
to everything you say -- sense and rubbish alike -- as if you were trying
to get them to take shares in a mine. I drop the man
who listens to me all the time and doesn't seem to get bored. He isn't safe.
He isn't to be trusted. He mostly wants to grind his axe against yours,
and there's too little profit for me where there are two axes to grind,
and no stone -- though I'd manage it once, anyhow."
"How'd you do it?" asked Smith.
"There are several ways. Either you join forces, for instance,
and find a grindstone -- or make one of the other man's axe.
But the last way is too slow, and, as I said, takes too much brain-work --
besides, it doesn't pay. It might satisfy your vanity or pride,
but I've got none. I had once, when I was younger, but it -- well,
it nearly killed me, so I dropped it.
"You can mostly trust the man who wants to talk more than you do;
he'll make a safe mate -- or a good grindstone."
Smith scratched the nape of his neck and sat blinking at the fire,
with the puzzled expression of a woman pondering over a life-question
or the trimming of a hat. Steelman took his chin in his hand
and watched Smith thoughtfully.
"I -- I say, Steely," exclaimed Smith, suddenly, sitting up
and scratching his head and blinking harder than ever -- "wha--what am I?"
"How do you mean?"
"Am I the axe or the grindstone?"
"Oh! your brain seems in extra good working order to-night, Smith.
Well, you turn the grindstone and I grind." Smith settled.
"If you could grind better than I, I'd turn the stone and let YOU grind,
I'd never go against the interests of the firm -- that's fair enough,
"Ye-es," admitted Smith; "I suppose so."
"So do I. Now, Smith, we've got along all right together for years,
off and on, but you never know what might happen. I might stop breathing,
for instance -- and so might you."
Smith began to look alarmed.
"Poetical justice might overtake one or both of us -- such things
have happened before, though not often. Or, say, misfortune or death
might mistake us for honest, hard-working mugs with big families to keep,
and cut us off in the bloom of all our wisdom. You might get into trouble,
and, in that case, I'd be bound to leave you there, on principle;
or I might get into trouble, and you wouldn't have the brains to get me out --
though I know you'd be mug enough to try. I might make a rise and cut you,
or you might be misled into showing some spirit, and clear out
after I'd stoushed you for it. You might get tired of me calling you a mug,
and bossing you and making a tool or convenience of you, you know.
You might go in for honest graft (you were always a bit weak-minded)
and then I'd have to wash my hands of you (unless you agreed to keep me)
for an irreclaimable mug. Or it might suit me to become
a respected and worthy fellow townsman, and then, if you came
within ten miles of me or hinted that you ever knew me, I'd have you up
for vagrancy, or soliciting alms, or attempting to levy blackmail.
I'd have to fix you -- so I give you fair warning. Or we might get
into some desperate fix (and it needn't be very desperate, either)
when I'd be obliged to sacrifice you for my own personal safety, comfort,
and convenience. Hundreds of things might happen.
"Well, as I said, we've been at large together for some years,
and I've found you sober, trustworthy, and honest; so, in case we do part
-- as we will sooner or later -- and you survive, I'll give you some advice
from my own experience.
"In the first place: If you ever happen to get born again
-- and it wouldn't do you much harm -- get born with the strength of a bullock
and the hide of one as well, and a swelled head, and no brains --
at least no more brains than you've got now. I was born with a skin
like tissue-paper, and brains; also a heart.
"Get born without relatives, if you can: if you can't help it,
clear out on your own just as soon after you're born as you possibly can.
I hung on.
"If you have relations, and feel inclined to help them any time
when you're flush (and there's no telling what a weak-minded man like you
might take it into his head to do) -- don't do it. They'll get a down on you
if you do. It only causes family troubles and bitterness. There's no dislike
like that of a dependant. You'll get neither gratitude nor civility
in the end, and be lucky if you escape with a character.
(You've got NO character, Smith; I'm only just supposing you have.)
There's no hatred too bitter for, and nothing too bad to be said of,
the mug who turns. The worst yarns about a man are generally started
by his own tribe, and the world believes them at once on that very account.
Well, the first thing to do in life is to escape from your friends.
"If you ever go to work -- and miracles have happened before --
no matter what your wages are, or how you are treated,
you can take it for granted that you're sweated; act on that
to the best of your ability, or you'll never rise in the world.
If you go to see a show on the nod you'll be found a comfortable seat
in a good place; but if you pay the chances are the ticket clerk
will tell you a lie, and you'll have to hustle for standing room.
The man that doesn't ante gets the best of this world;
anything he'll stand is good enough for the man that pays.
If you try to be too sharp you'll get into gaol sooner or later;
if you try to be too honest the chances are that the bailiff
will get into your house -- if you have one -- and make a holy show of you
before the neighbours. The honest softy is more often
mistaken for a swindler, and accused of being one, than the out-and-out scamp;
and the man that tells the truth too much is set down
as an irreclaimable liar. But most of the time crow low and roost high,
for it's a funny world, and you never know what might happen.
"And if you get married (and there's no accounting for a woman's taste)
be as bad as you like, and then moderately good, and your wife will love you.
If you're bad all the time she can't stand it for ever,
and if you're good all the time she'll naturally treat you with contempt.
Never explain what you're going to do, and don't explain afterwards,
if you can help it. If you find yourself between two stools, strike hard
for your own self, Smith -- strike hard, and you'll be respected more
than if you fought for all the world. Generosity isn't understood nowadays,
and what the people don't understand is either `mad' or `cronk'.
Failure has no case, and you can't build one for it. . . .
I started out in life very young -- and very soft."
. . . . .
"I thought you were going to tell me your story, Steely," remarked Smith.
Steelman smiled sadly.
[End of original text.]
About the author:
Henry Lawson was born near Grenfell, New South Wales, Australia
on 17 June 1867. Although he has since become Australia's
most acclaimed writer, in his own lifetime his writing was often
"on the side" -- his "real" work being whatever he could find.
His writing was frequently taken from memories of his childhood,
especially at Pipeclay/Eurunderee. In his autobiography,
he states that many of his characters were taken from
the better class of diggers and bushmen he knew there.
His experiences at this time deeply influenced his work,
for it is interesting to note a number of descriptions and phrases
that are identical in his autobiography and in his stories and poems.
He died at Sydney, 2 September 1922. He is most famous for his short stories.
"On the Track" and "Over the Sliprails" were both published at Sydney in 1900,
the prefaces being dated March and June respectively -- and so,
though printed separately, a combined edition was printed the same year
(the two separate, complete works were simply put together in one binding);
hence they are sometimes referred to as "On the Track and Over the Sliprails".
. . . . .
An incomplete Glossary of Australian terms and concepts
which may prove helpful to understanding this book:
Anniversary Day: Alluded to in the text, is now known as Australia Day.
It commemorates the establishment of the first English settlement
in Australia, at Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour), on 26 January 1788.
Billy: A kettle used for camp cooking, especially to boil water for tea.
Cabbage-tree/Cabbage-tree hat: A wide-brimmed hat made with the leaves
of the cabbage tree palm (Livistona australis). It was a common hat
in early colonial days, and later became associated with patriotism.
Gin: An aboriginal woman; use of the term is analogous to "squaw"
in N. America. May be considered derogatory in modern usage.
Graft: Work; hard work.
Humpy: (Aboriginal) A rough or temporary hut or shelter in the bush,
especially one built from bark, branches, and the like.
A gunyah, wurley, or mia-mia.
Jackeroo/Jackaroo: At the time Lawson wrote, a Jackeroo was a "new chum"
or newcomer to Australia, who sought work on a station to gain experience.
The term now applies to any young man working as a station hand.
A female station hand is a Jillaroo.
Jumbuck: A sheep.
Larrikin: A hoodlum.
Lollies: Candy, sweets.
'Possum/Possum: In Australia, a class of marsupials that were
originally mistaken for the American animal of the same name.
They are not especially related to the possums of North and South America,
other than being marsupials.
Public/Pub.: The traditional pub. in Australia was a hotel
with a "public" bar -- hence the name. The modern pub has often
(not always) dispensed with the lodging, and concentrated on the bar.
Push: A group of people sharing something in common; Lawson uses the word
in an older and more particular sense, as a gang of violent city hoodlums.
Ratty: Shabby, dilapidated; somewhat eccentric, perhaps even slightly mad.
Selector: A free selector, a farmer who selected and settled land
by lease or license from the government.
Shout: To buy a round of drinks.
Sliprails/slip-rails: movable rails, forming a section of fence,
which can be taken down in lieu of a gate.
Sly grog shop or shanty: An unlicensed bar or liquor-store,
especially one selling cheap or poor-quality liquor.
Squatter: A person who first settled on land without government permission,
and later continued by lease or license, generally to raise stock;
a wealthy rural landowner.
Station: A farm or ranch, especially one devoted to cattle or sheep.
Stoush: Violence; to do violence to.
Tea: In addition to the regular meaning, Tea can also mean
a light snack or a meal (i.e., where Tea is served).
In particular, Morning Tea (about 10 AM) and Afternoon Tea (about 3 PM)
are nothing more than a snack, but Evening Tea (about 6 PM) is a meal.
When just "Tea" is used, it usually means the evening meal.
Also: a hint with the seasons -- remember that the seasons are reversed
from those in the northern hemisphere, hence June may be hot,
but December is even hotter. Australia is at a lower latitude
than the United States, so the winters are not harsh by US standards,
and are not even mild in the north. In fact, large parts of Australia
are governed more by "dry" versus "wet" than by Spring-Summer-Fall-Winter.
(Alan Light, Monroe, North Carolina, March 1998.)
A few obvious errors in the original text were corrected,
after being confirmed against other editions.