A Fossicker’s Yarn [poem by Dryblower, 17 March 1894]

[Editor: This poem by “Dryblower” Murphy was published in “The Wild Cat Column” in The Bulletin (Sydney, NSW), 17 March 1894.]

A Fossicker’s Yarn.

(For The Bulletin.)

No, it’s not the price of water nor the scarcity of grub
That the fossicker discusses of an evening at the pub.,
Or underneath “the Salmons” where on sultry nights we sit,
When the ivories are clicking and the billiard-lamps are lit.
We never think of growling, we’re contented with our lot
Though with water “bob” a gallon, mind, it’s coming pretty hot.
But it riles us when we read the weep that comes by every mail
Of some jackaroo’s adventures and the agonising tale
That he’s written for his mother, and, being in the clique,
She’s had his yarn inserted in the Evening Penny Shriek.
How he travelled to “Siberia” and had to shoot his nag,
And a half-a-column drivel on the empty water-bag;
How he slowly staggered onwards and circled in his tracks,
And grasped the cheap revolver scenting danger from the blacks.
And he shovels in the horror of an arid, burning plain,
With the salt-bush, dry and withered, craving hungrily for rain;
Where he found some dying diggers, though they hadn’t strength to ask,
Yet he gave them all the swankey that he carried in his flask.
Then he walked the usual sixty miles without another sup,
And led an expedition out to pick the others up.
Then he finishes his letter with the never-failing moan
How his wand’rings in the wilderness have made him skin and bone;
Then his mother sends a Bible, and his father sends a cheque,
Bringing joy and consolation to the worn and battered wreck —
Well, the truth about the matter is, these mothers’ darling pets
Would swear they did a perish if deprived of cigarettes.
And you’ll never see these dandies leave a comfortable job,
For they’re all of ’em connected in a manner to a nob,
Who’s got them easy billets not requiring any skill,
Though they often bang the miner when they’re beating at the drill,
And the speculating visitor who drives a four-in-hand,
And who’s got a son or nephew in the cuff-and-collar band,
Hysterically babbles that he’s glad to see a line
Is drawn between the gentleman and workman at the mine,
For the reconstructed nobleman with fashionable yawn
Mustn’t tolerate advances from the lab’rer lowly born;
So it’s when we read the papers that we get a kinder narked
To think that by the “Jackaroo” the miner’s billet’s sharked.
And when they’re playing billiards in their flannel tennis suits
We feel like heaving something at these “silver-tail” galoots;
But the thing that makes us giggle and our temper often cool
Is to see ’em get the “black ’un” when they’re playing devil’s pool.
Entertainments may be scanty and our pleasures may be few,
But we have a mild excitement in the mining “Jackeroo,”
So we gather and discuss him, and for hours we often sit
When the ivories are clicking and the billiard lamps are lit.


The Bulletin (Sydney, NSW), 17 March 1894, p. 9

Also published in:
The Macleay Argus (Kempsey, NSW), 21 March 1894, p. 3 [entitled as “The Mining Jackaroo”; with some differences in the poem; it is described as “the Coolgardie National Anthem”]
Eastern Districts Chronicle (York, WA), 7 April 1894, p. 7
The W.A. Record (Perth, WA), 26 April 1894, p. 4
The Coolgardie Miner (Coolgardie, WA), 28 April 1894, p. 3 [entitled as “The Fossicker’s Yarn” (i.e. “The”, not “A”); with some differences in the text]
The Geelong Advertiser (Geelong, Vic.), 2 March 1895, p. 1 of the supplement

Editor’s notes:
At the end of the poem in The Coolgardie Miner (28 April 1894, p. 3), the editor printed the following notation:

“[In an issue of the “Bulletin,” of a recent date, there appeared in the “Wild Cat” column a piece of verse entitled “The Fossicker’s Yarn.” The verses were originally sent to us by their author, a resident of Coolgardie, and we had them in type awaiting issue, when their publication appeared in the “Bulletin,” they having been sent over by a friend of the “Poet.” As the verses have much local color, and there may be many of our readers who have not perused them, we have reset them for publication in this issue.]”

bob = a shilling (equivalent to twelve pence); after the decimalisation of the Australian currency in 1966, the monetary equivalent of a shilling was ten cents; the phrase “a couple of bob” could specifically refer to two shillings (and, later on, to twenty cents), but it was generally a common reference to a small amount of money, as in “can you lend me a couple of bob?”

cuff-and-collar = well-to-do or rich people (e.g. “cuff-and-collar band”, “cuff-and-collar mob”), being those who could afford to have nice cuffs and collars with their clothes

dandies = plural of “dandy”: a man who places a lot of emphasis on being fashionable and stylish in clothes and manners; a fop

’em = (vernacular) them

four-in-hand = a carriage drawn by four horses, controlled by a single driver (also known as a “coach and four”)

galoot = someone (usually a male) who is foolish, stupid, awkward, or clumsy; can be used in an affectionate manner, such as “ya daft galoot”

grub = (slang) food

ivories = piano keys (regarding the usage of ivory as a veneer for piano keys; used in the phrase “tickle the ivories”, i.e. to play the piano)

jackaroo = (also spelt “jackeroo”) a young man from a well-to-do background who works on a station to get experience in cattle or sheep farming, working with the farm hands even though he is nominally above them in social status (initially, he may work in a manner similar to that of an apprentice); in modern times, the term refers to an apprentice station hand (female station hands are known as “Jillaroos”)

kinder = (vernacular) kind of

lab’rer = (vernacular) laborer, labourer

nag = (slang) horse; can also have a negative meaning, referring to a horse which is regarded as inferior or worthless

nark = annoy, irritate, upset (can also refer to: an informer, especially a police informer; stool pigeon, spy; an annoying person; to thwart or upset someone’s plans)

narked = annoyed

nob = (slang) someone of social importance; a person in charge; someone who is wealthy

Siberia = a wild place far away (derived from Siberia in Russia, considered to be a wild area which is distant from the comforts of civilisation)

silver-tail = someone who is socially prominent or privileged (or who aspires to such a status); someone who has affluence or influence; rich, swanky (can be spelt as one word: silvertail)

sup = to eat or drink; imbibe drink or food by drinking or eating in small amounts (small mouthfuls, sips, or spoonfuls), especially liquid foods (such as soup); drink; have supper, eat an evening meal

swankey = poor quality beer; a drink brewed from with sugar, hops, ginger, wheat, malt, and yeast; any weak fermented drink; sweetened water and vinegar (also spelt “swanky”)

’un = (vernacular) one (plural: ’uns) (may be spelt with or without an apostrophe)

wand’rings = (vernacular) wanderings

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