A Queensland back block story in verse [“Lambing Down His Cheque” poem, 15 March 1893]

[Editor: This poem was published in The Shearers’ and General Laborers’ Record (Newport, Vic.), 15 March 1893.]

A Queensland back block story in verse.

No resident of Australian towns or cities for any length of time, however ignorant of the customs of the Australian bush, but what has heard the phrase “lambing down.” He understands vaguely by it that the victim of the process spends what money he has in liquor. In the verses below some insight of the modus operandi is given by one who has travelled over something like 10,000 or 15,000 miles of the interior of New South Wales and Queensland. The incident on which the lines are drawn is a true case, which occurred on the back blocks of the River Warrego not a very long time ago, and which — luckily with the fatal ending left out in the majority of instances — happens about Australian bush grog-shanties frequently — more particularly at the close of the shearing season. The various stages from health and means to want, madness and death is sought to be depicted. The writer has retained to some extent the vernacular of the bush, and has dubbed the roughly strung lines:

“Lambing Down” His Cheque.

Tom receives his “blanket.”

The shearing is over — shear-blades cease their click —
And each “tomahawker” — Bob, Bill, Ike and Mick,
Repair to the office (rather outside till called)
And there patiently wait till his name be out-bawled:
Or the station’s “quill-hack” notifies by a beck
That that pastoral tender (the squatter’s sign’d cheque)
Requires confirmation — not past’ral, scarce lay —
But simply assent to what ledger-leaves say,
Of “Ginger” Tom, shearer, his Credit, Dr.,
The “tallies” he’d made, and the total he’d shore:
Of his pipes and tobacco, sheepshears, oil and stone,
Of fining for “snicking that ewe to the bone;”
One pair moleskin trousers, three shillings to Pat
Tierney, the tar-boy; Epsom salts, soap, a hat —
Forty-two pounds ten shillings the balance-sheet shows,
And the newly signed “stiff” in his pouch Tom safe stows.

“Strikes” the travellers’ rest.

Now Tom had no home, with no wife had he matched,
When his hat topped his head his house was thatched;
So, mounting his horse, took the first road that came
(Led it down to Perdition or upwards to Fame
Never cast him a thought) and as even-tide fell
Pulled a roadside grog-shanty — poor bushman’s hell.
This “Travellers’ Rest” (as its grotesque sign ran)
Was kept by a jaunty, brusque, florid-faced man:
First name Aristides, his surname was Brown —
A widely-known adept at “lambin’ ’em down.”
The decoctions he sold he vouchsafed were most prime —
Not bluestone, tobacco, or spirits of wine,
But the real nonpariel — red heart brand and three star —
Had crossed o’er the seas and had travelled by car,
Still they made men drunk, fight hard, and grow mad —
Though he vowed they were good I’m afraid they were bad —
As the sequence will prove by our friend “Ginger” Tom —
But I’ll tell the yarn straight how our said friend got on.


He hitched up his nag, bid the landlord “good day!”
“Good day” echoed landlord, “intend you to stay?
If so unstrap ‘bluey,’ unsaddle yer ‘prad’ —
My paddock for grass, better ne’er could be had!”
Old Sol fast going down, Tom concluded to stop,
Though he muttered, “’Tis rather a rough-looking ‘shop’;”
Next he mentally swore he’d take naught would do harm —
In fact his first nobbler was “raspberry barm” —
But just at the juncture of going in to sup
Another cheque-man, an old shepherd, rolled up.

The newcomer.

The arrival was grizzly, humpbacked and threescore,
And his toothless lame dog looked as much, if not more.
“Hullo!” quoth the landlord, “my old friend, Joe Lownes,
S’pose yer just done a twel’ month at Warwickshire Downs,
An’ har heartily glad yer agreement’s run out” ——
“I har,” returned Joe, “come on chaps and I’ll shout.”

Succumbs to temptation.

The shearer, frail human, was pervious to chaff,
Though he’d lately sworn hard, no more “harm” did he quaff,
For when asked what he’d take, ’twixt a haw and a hum,
Waived his good resolution, and softly said “Rum.”
The bar-keep, kind fellow, to keep the ball going,
Replenished the glasses with a “This shout is mine;”
And these last imbibed our “Ginger” Tom Penn
With his voice slightly thick-like, said “Fill ’em agen.”
How many the vows we poor mortals oft take
And no sooner taken than passion will break —
This example’s but one of the many we see
Where temptation triumphs o’er good intent’s plea.
But forgive me this digressive homily pray
And turn to our friends at the bar we left stay —
Their bacchanal potions have now stirred them quite,
(Reader, pardon my slang) they were both nearly “tight.”
The wool-cutter’s converse with choice phrases bore
On shearing sheep centum and not by the score,
While old shepherd Joe hiccoughed hard to propound
His skill among “monkeys” ’gainst any man round.

The decoy duck and the “broads.”

The landlady Brown now appeared on the scene —
A short, fat, squat body, enshrouded in green,
Who with saturnine face and a greed-loving leer,
Addressed thus her lord with a prefaced “My dear,
I think these fine fellows are going it too fast,
If they swill their grog you know they can’t last,
Let’s play with the “broads” at the game I’ve just learned” —
Each one acquiesced and the party adjourned.
Aristides and Joe agreed partners to be,
Leaving Tom and the mistress to sit vis-a-vis;
The cards are soon shuffled, then dealt, trumps are made, —
’Twas four-handed euchre the party essayed.
Each side played with zest, flanked by varying luck,
The cheque men “playing off” being the more often “stuck:”
At length as the fumes to their brains slowly mount
’Tis plain to be seen euchre’s at a discount:
Joe nods, sips his rum, spills it out, calls for more,
Then suddenly stretches his length on the floor:
His mate with the landlady strives to make love,
The latter right well apes the fond turtle dove,
Till Tom’s failing silver having now ceased to jink,
His partner arises and says with a wink,
“You darling old ‘Ginger,’ now I’m off, so good night” —
He hears not, oblivion surrounds him aright.

Completely in the toils.

Thus our friend waived the vow he had sworn to obey,
And repeats oft his weakness as day succeeds day;
Both drank, sang and played till the fifth morn had passed,
When Joe, with an oath said, “I’m ‘flyblown’ at last.”

“Lambed down.”

The shearer’s cheque, too, was now well melted down,
For the forty odd valued but four, plus a crown;
And ’fore the night closed things had got below par,
As the “boco-eyed” piebald was “jumped o’er the bar.”
Our worthies were now soon of money bereft,
And the shepherd limped back to the station he’d left,
While Tom sits and curses the day that he saw
The Travellers’ Rest, its landlord and his squaw:
“What an idiot I’ve been? I’m the maddest of men —
Prad and saddle all gone and my forty-two ten!”

The good, good publican.

To give rest to his down-stricken frame he hard tries,
But no sleep softly closes those blear blood-shot eyes:
And as daylight breaks listens with bated breath
To the landlord arising — “Good, good man!” he saith.
“Ginger” gave him “ Good morn,” but from this heart of stone
The answering greet came “Yer money’s all done,
So rouse yerself up: What! give yer a nip?
If you got no ‘greed’ left I’d not part with a sip —
The wretch begged for a glass as he would for to live,
But “no hair of the dog which had bit him” he’d give;
Not a pint, not a drop, on the journey to cheer,
But in vig’rous vernacular told him “to clear.”

The beginning of the end.

“Ginger” shouldered his swag and tramped on a short way —
The sun was blood-red, ’twas a broiling hot day;
His weak tott’ring form, with no food to revive
Soon succumbs to the heat — he sinks down half alive
By the creek’s marshy bank, raging thirst to appease:
His nerves are unstrung — “What’s that? the D. T’s. —
I know I’ve got ’em — did I hear some one shout?
My God! I’m quite sure them’s blue devils about.”

Reason flies and death enters.

Just then, with a screech and a soul-piercing yell
He sprang to his feet and rushed forth pell-mell
Into the dense scrub, without marked tree or track,
And as he proceeds tears his clothes from his back.

* * * * *

The police go in search — after some days they found
A stark, bleached, dead maniac prone on the ground.

J. J. L.

The Shearers’ and General Laborers’ Record (Newport, Vic.), 15 March 1893, p. 4 (columns 3-4)

Editor’s notes:
agen = (vernacular) again

an’ = (vernacular) and

aright = in the correct way; correctly, properly, rightly

bacchanal = pertaining to wild parties and the drinking of alcohol; a wild and drunken party or celebration; a reveller; a worshipper or priest of Bacchus; pertaining to Bacchus (also known as Dionysos): in Greek mythology, the god of wine and of the grape harvest

back blocks = an area that is far from the city, or far from town; a remote sparsely-settled area out in the country; a reference to a far-flung rural area (the phrase “out in the back blocks” is similar to “out in the boondocks” or “out in the sticks”) (may be spelt with or without a hyphen, or as one word; usually used as a plural)

beck = (vernacular) beckon

bluey = bluey = a blanket; also may refer to a swagman’s bundle (a “swag”, being a number of items rolled up in a blanket, such blankets often being blue in colour)

broil = to cook by using direct exposure to radiant heat; grill; to be subjected to great or oppressive heat

car = an abbreviation of “carriage”

centum = (Latin) hundred; a hundred items

chaff = tease; banter; joking about or teasing in a good-natured or light-hearted fashion

cheque-man = a rural worker (especially a shearer) who was paid (by a farmer or squatter) with a cheque at the end of the work season, or at the finish of his employment (cheque-men were well-known for taking their cheque to the nearest town to celebrate the end of their work by having a few drinks; however, stories abound of publicans getting chequemen so drunk that they would end up spending the bulk of their cheque on alcohol) (also spelt “cheque man” and “chequeman”)

cheque men = plural of “cheque-man”

clear = clear out (depart, leave, move); clear off, go away

crown = a coin equivalent to five shillings

Dr. = an abbreviation of “debtor”

D. T’s. = abbreviation of “delirium tremens”, being a violent delirium with tremors that can occur, as withdrawal symptoms, when someone ceases a prolonged period of excessively imbibing alcohol drinks

’em = (vernacular) a contraction of “them”

euchre = a card game for (usually) four players, which is played with a deck of 24, 28, or 32 cards (especially popular in the 19th century)

’fore = (vernacular) before

’gainst = (vernacular) against

grog = alcoholic beverages

grog-shanty = a pub, especially an unlicensed pub; a small roughly-built cabin in which grog (alcoholic beverages) are sold

har = (vernacular) are

jumped o’er the bar = a reference to items which have to be sold (or handed over, in lieu of cash) to pay for someone’s drinking spree; to give payment (over the bar of a pub) of a large drinking debt [see also: lambing down]

lambin’ = (vernacular) lambing

lambing down = spending a lot of money on alcoholic drinks, on a drinking spree; a “lambing-down shanty” (or “lambing-down shop”) is a rural pub where the owners or staff encourage heavy drinkers (taking advantage of their drunkenness) to spend all of their money

ledger-leaves = the pages of a ledger

morn = morning

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

ne’er = never

nip = a small mouthful, or a sip, of a drink, especially an alcoholic drink; a small amount of an alcohol drink

nobbler = a drink of beer or spirits; a dram of spirits

nonpareil = having no match, having no equal, unrivalled in quality; an individual of unequaled excellence; better than any other; without parallel

nonpariel = a common misspelling of “nonpareil” [see: nonpareil]

o’er = (archaic) over (pronounced the same as “oar”, “or”, and “ore”)

oft = (vernacular) often

past’ral = (vernacular) pastoral

pell-mell = to move fast in a confused or disorderly manner; disorganised; a disorderly place or situation

piebald = an animal (especially a horse) which has irregular patches of two colours, typically coloured with large patches of black and white

prad = (slang) horse (from the Dutch “paard”, meaning “horse”)

pray = please; in older times “pray” was used to accompany a polite request (similar to how the word “please” is used in modern times), e.g. “pray, tell me why…”, “Do not serve me so, I pray”

quaff = to heartily drink a beverage (usually an alcoholic drink), especially to drink a copious amount in a short time; (archaic) an alcoholic drink

quill-hack = a derogatory term for a book-keeper, accountant, clerk; a reference to someone whose work involves a lot of writing, especially of a tedious nature (also known as a “quill-driver”); derived from “quill”, a old-time pen made from a bird’s feather, and “hack”, referring to a mediocre writer or a writer who works on demand

quoth = (archaic) said

red heart = the name of a rum (alcoholic drink), being Henry White and Co.’s Red Heart, Old Jamaica Rum

repair = go; retire; retreat; return (usually followed by “to”, e.g. “he repaired to his country abode”)

saith = (archaic) says; third person singular present of “say”

saturnine = gloomy, melancholic, sullen, surly; dark in colour; mysterious; slow, sluggish (a reference to the supposed effects of being under influence the influence of the planet Saturn, which was regarded in earlier times as the planet furthest from the Sun and therefore cold in temperature and slow in its planetary revolutions

score = twenty (sometimes used in conjunction with a cardinal number, e.g. “threescore”, “fourscore”) (may also refer to an undefined large number)

shanties = plural of “shanty”: a pub, especially an unlicensed pub; may also refer to a small roughly-built cabin or hut

shout = to buy drinks for others; to buy a round of drinks, especially in a pub

sign’d = (vernacular) signed

Sol = the Sun; in Roman mythology, Sol was god of the Sun; in Norse mythology, Sól was goddess of the Sun

s’pose = (vernacular) suppose

squaw = (American Indian) woman; wife; a Native American woman (in modern times the word may be considered offensive)

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

tallies = amounts tallied up; in a shearing context, the tally (number) of sheep shorn

tar-boy = in a shearing shed, this was the person who had the job of dabbing antiseptic Stockholm Tar on any sheep which had been inadvertently cut by the shears; in later years, when tar was replaced by antiseptic creams, the term “tar” was still used; the “tar boy” was often a young lad, but the role was also filled by adult men (a broad phraseology regarding age, similar to that of the position of “best boy” in the movie industry)

them’s = (vernacular) them is

threescore = sixty; three times twenty; based upon the word “score” meaning “twenty” (sometimes used in conjunction with a cardinal number, e.g. “threescore”, “fourscore”)

three star = the name of a brandy (alcoholic drink), being either Martell’s Three Star Brandy or Hennessy’s Three Star Brandy

tight = (slang) drunk

’tis = (archaic) a contraction of “it is”

tott’ring = (vernacular) tottering

’twas = (archaic) a contraction of “it was”

twel’ = (vernacular) twelve

’twixt = (vernacular) a contraction of “betwixt” (i.e. between) (may be spelt with or without an apostrophe)

vernacular = the ordinary spoken form of a language and expressions that people naturally use, especially the normal mode of expression used by a particular group or class, particularly in informal situations (distinct from cultured, literary, well-spoken or formal speech or writing); of or pertaining to a nonstandard language or dialect of an area, region, or country; the language and terminology normally used by those who belong to a particular group or who engage in a specialised activity, hobby, interest, or trade

vig’rous = (vernacular) vigorous

vis-a-vis = with regards to, in relation to; compared with, in comparison with; in company, together; a counterpart, an opposite; sitting, standing, or situated opposite another; face-to-face with, a face-to-face meeting (from the French expression “vis-à-vis”, meaning “face-to-face”)

yarn = a tale, a story; especially a long story, with adventurous and interesting components, particularly with parts that are not believable

yer = (vernacular) your

yerself = (vernacular) yourself

[Editor: Changed “strung lines” to “strung lines:” (added a colon).]


  1. Raymond says:

    Dear Ed. Well, here I am back again with a thought on another of your great glosses.
    Here are the relevant lines — line numbers 9 & 10 of the poem:

    Of “Ginger” Tom, shearer, his Credit, Dr.,
    The “tallies” he’d made, and the total he’d shore:

    You give a gloss for “Dr.” as an abbreviation of doctor — which indeed most of us would know.

    However, in the context here, I feel that the Dr. is an accountant’s shorthand term for Debit, or Debitor. The context is the payment of his cheque; the term Credit (often similarly abbreviated by accountants as Cr. — Credit or Creditor — and in a double-entry accounting form of book-keeping, one Debits the ‘receiver’ of the amount; and Credits the ‘giver’ of the amount — in the account books.
    In this case the ‘receiver’ is the shearer, and the ‘giver’ is the station/owner etc.

    Once again looking for a rhyme in the two verses, it seems to me that the line ending with ‘shore’, needs a rhyming word to end the preceding line, which I am guessing might be the Dr. pronounced possibly as ‘Debitor’.

    Apologies that this one is so long. Hoping as always that it might be helpful.

    • Thanks Raymond. Thank heaven that you’re on the ball.
      That should have been picked up before posting (just goes to show what happens when something is done in too much of a rush).

      Although the usage of the abbreviation “Dr.” for “Debtor” is rare, compared to “Dr.” being used for “Doctor”, it certainly appears on the net.
      The note has now been changed.
      Thank you very much for your input (and your keen eyes/mind).

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