A Back Country Race Meeting [poem by Kenneth Mackay]

[Editor: This poem by Kenneth Mackay was published in Stirrup Jingles from the Bush and the Turf and Other Rhymes (1887).]

A Back Country Race Meeting.

So you’re tired of our civilised racing,
And sick of the din of the ring, —
I suppose you’ve been playing at placing,
And got a hit under the wing?
’Tis surprising how moral it makes us
When a “pot” gets lost in the ruck,
Or the rush of an outsider wakes us
To the fact that pockets are struck.
Or, perchance, you’ve been backing a double —
(Hot goods at a thousand to five)
To discover to-day for your trouble
That only one “leg” is alive.

Do you really suppose men are laying
Such odds to give you a show? —
When the fact that you’re generally “paying”
Should answer decidedly — “No!
There is little in plunging on horses,
Or — how would the bookmakers live?
Taking doubles — of all our strange courses —
Just means tossing sand in a sieve.
But I know well, old man, you are thinking
That I have as much right to teach
As a toper who cannot help drinking
May have on intemp’rance to preach.

And, as both our cigars are still lighted,
I’ll give moralizing the “go,”
For small talking great wrongs never righted,
And rubbing a raw spot is low.
So I’ll give you, as well as I’m able,
The yarn of a meeting “out back,”
Where I rode for Pat Cox’s stable,
And was done by Hawkins’ old hack.

It was held at a pub near the station —
A place where a man brought his cheque,
And promoted his liver’s damnation
By aid of his mouth and his neck.
Still I must say this much for old Polly
As soon as she’d got all his stuff,
She well lectured the man on his folly,
In language as pointed as rough.
If the crowd was more mixed than extensive,
Still its clothes had unstudied ease —
Much less pandering to the expensive,
Than savouring of “go as you please.”
While the men who had just finished shearing
Had all come possessing a thirst
To old Polly both grateful and cheering,
As betokening a lengthen’d “burst.”

The race-track had been cut through the Yarran,
And each post was a pine-stick pole,
Grown in scrub-land as hard and as barren
As an average rich man’s soul;
While the judge had to issue his fiat
From the door in front of the bar,
’Mid the oaths and the wrestling and riot
Of the sons of sheepshears and tar.
They began with a three-quarters scurry
For a saddle of wondrous build,
And they made up for science by hurry,
For with them ’twas the pace that killed;
Then an hour was devoted to blowing
And drinking and handling the “kip,”
For at “heading” these shearers were knowing,
And at talk creation could whip.

But at last firmly fixed was each hurdle
Of saplings that gave when you struck, —
To spring back in a way apt to curdle
The blood of the men in the ruck.
We had just about finished our canter
On mounts that were grass-fed and plain,
Amid volleys of back-country banter,
When — down in a sheet came the rain.
And away like a shot went old Carter,
While his voice from a shelter came,
In thick tones which remarked, that, as starter,
He must “pass” on this sort of game.
So we sat till the nigger grew whiter,
And water was deep in our boots,
While our breeches grew colder and tighter
Than swelliest summer-cut suits.
But at length when we’d almost decided
To scatter — the storm ’gan to fag,
And old Carter, whose dryness derided
Our dampness — stept out with the flag.

Freddy O’Cock was riding a bay one —
As a fencer far from a “dab,”
While the black boy was up on a grey one,
As thin and as tall as a slab;
Tommy Cox had the mount on the Colonel —
A horse somewhat aged and calm,
And full strange as it tells, an infernal
Mail driver was up on Alarm;
Poor old Stockwell, the horse I was steering,
Was given his fences to brush —
An accomplishment not over cheering,
In face of the mud and the slush.
For a mile we were all in a cluster,
Till Colonel slipped under the rails —
Treating Tom to a deuce of a buster;—
Then the man who carried the mails
Took Alarm to the front — or was taken,
I never could rightly tell which,
For my notions of things had got shaken
When my mount slipped into the ditch.
Freddy O’Cock was first to go at him,
Though the bay struck fence after fence,
But the way that old amateur sat him
Was, speaking with mildness, immense.

Thus we raced till we came to the running,
Where backers indignantly asked
If I thought I was out for a sunning —
For Stockwell was lying long last.
At the hurdle which stood at the turning
The bay made the upper pole snap,
And, the rule about horse-lining spurning,
I sent my old chap through the gap, —
For “Adventurer” quickly was tiring,
And Alarm was racing at ease,
While the black boy was hot and perspiring
With holding The Slab off his knees.
As I raced by the nigger he shouted,
“Baal gammon, that fellow for pace!”
When the moment we rose the bay clouted,
And left me the postman to chase.
In the run home I thought I had caught him,
For I saw him draw out his whip,
But in spite of himself — the horse brought him
Clean through — and I lost by a pip.

It was bad to be beaten, and spattered
With mud till one looked like a black;
Still, at worst, neither much to me mattered,
It was this that took me aback;—
When a brawny and hard handed loser —
A man who could fight for an hour,
Shouted out to a tall brother booser,
“That chap rode like a bag of flour!”
I was then but a boy, Jack, old fellow,
Easily hurt by what they said. —
But it strikes me we’re both growing mellow,
So old comrade let’s get to bed!

Kenneth Mackay, Stirrup Jingles from the Bush and the Turf and Other Rhymes, Sydney: Edwards, Dunlop & Co., 1887, pages 56-60

Editor’s notes:
backer = someone who places a bet on a competitor in a race or contest, e.g. someone who “backs” a horse to win a race

bay = a reddish-brown colour; particularly used to refer to a reddish-brown horse (especially with a black mane and black tail); a reddish-brown animal

blow = boast

booser = (also spelt “boozer”) a heavy drinker, someone who consumes a lot of alcoholic drinks

fag = end; the last or extreme end of something (e.g. the fag end of a rope, the fag end of a civilisation)

gammon = misleading, deceptive, or nonsensical talk, humbug (can also refer to a cured or smoked ham)

out back = remote rural areas; sparsely-inhabited back country; often given as one word and capitalized, “Outback” (variations: out back, outback, out-back, Out Back, Outback)

stept = stepped

tar = antiseptic tar, which was applied to the skin of sheep that had been inadvertently cut by shears; in later years, when tar was replaced by antiseptic creams, the term “tar” was still used

Yarran = a small hardy Australian tree, Acacia homalophylla, useful as a source for fodder, firewood, and fence posts

Vernacular spelling in the original text:
’gan (began)

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