Bells and Hobbles [poem by E. J. Brady]

[Editor: This poem by E. J. Brady was published in Bells and Hobbles (1911).]

Bells and Hobbles.

When our feet are in the stirrups,
And our hands are to the reins,
When the cities lie behind us
And before us spread the plains,
There’s a song of night and morning
That in minor music swells,
’Tis the jangle of the hobbles
And the jingle of the bells —
Bells and hobbles,
Hobbles and bells.

With a dull, metallic tinkle
Of the muffled hobble-chain;
And an echo, as we canter,
Of the horse-bells in refrain,
Weaves the wizard of the Westland
Round our willing hearts his spells;
Makes us helots of the hobbles;
Makes us vassals of the bells.
Bells and hobbles,
Hobbles and bells.

Will you miss me, miss me, Mary,
In your suburb by the sea?
Will you kiss me, kiss me, Katie
When we meet at old Moree?

Sing the frail, unfaithful hobbles,
And with cynic voice outswells
From the Mitchell grass the answer
Of the frail and faithless bells,
Bells and hobbles,
Hobbles and bells:

Oh Love it is a funny thing;
It makes a man a fool
And teaches maids a lesson that
They never learnt at school.

Thus the brazen tongue in chorus
With the iron link dispels,
In a rhythm gay, the gossip
Of the hobbles and the bells,
Bells and hobbles,
Hobbles and bells.

With a bush brunette awaiting
Who may fickle be, or fond,
And the picture yet before him
Of a plaintive city blonde,
In a cynic cachinnation,
So the sinful minor swells.
Of the optimistic hobbles
And the pessimistic bells,
Bells and hobbles,
Hobbles and bells.

But the good tobacco burneth,
And a silver saltbush gleams,
And ’tis cool beneath the shadows
By the sluggish western streams;
And the sunlit ridges echo
From their stony citadels
To the jingle of the hobbles
And the tinkle of the bells,
Bells and hobbles,
Hobbles and bells.

Let the farmer to his tillage
All his skill and effort bring;
Let the blacksmith in the village
Make his homely anvil ring;
Let the sounds of labor thunder
Where the city worker dwells,
But our songs are of the Bushland
And the hobbles and the bells,
Bells and hobbles,
Hobbles and bells.

And our blankets shall be spreaded
Over grasses dry and brown,
By the yellow western waters
When the sun is going down;
By the lonely soaks and gilgas
And the clear artesian wells,
And we’ll listen in the gloaming
To the hobbles and the bells.
Bells and hobbles,
Hobbles and bells.

Oh, the Sun shall rouse us early,
As he swings into the blue;
And we’ll boil the old black billy
While our world is wet with dew,
While the working world a-hurry
Seeks its stuffy office cells,
We’ll be slipping off the hobbles,
And be strapping up the bells,
Bells and hobbles,
Hobbles and bells.

And the breezy tracks we travel
From the sunrise to his set,
They will aid us to remember,
They will help us to forget;
For the song of Night and Morning
Shall be with us as it knells
In the message of the hobbles
And the answer of the bells.
Bells and hobbles,
Hobbles and bells.

E. J. Brady, Bells and Hobbles, Melbourne: George Robertson & Co., 1911, pp. 9-12

Editor’s notes:
billy = a metal pot or tin (usually with a wire or steel handle), used for boiling water over a camp fire (also known as a “billy can”)

blue = the phrase “the blue” is a reference to the sky

cachinnation = an outburst or expression of loud, immoderate, or raucous laughter (to cachinnate is to laugh in a loud, immoderate, raucous, or unrestrained manner; usually laughing at length, in a continuous outburst); (in psychiatry) inappropriate or inordinate laughter, especially without any obvious reason for it, often associated with some types of schizophrenia
See: 1) cachinnate, Fine Dictionary
2) cachinnate, Wiktionary
3) cachinnation (n.), Online Etymology Dictionary
4) Robert J. Campbell, Campbell’s Psychiatric Dictionary, 8th edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 101
5) Raymond J. Corsini, The Dictionary of Psychology, London: Brunner-Routledge, 2002, p. 135

burneth = (archaic) burns

gay = happy, joyous, carefree (may also mean well-decorated, bright, attractive) (in modern times it may especially refer to a homosexual, especially a male homosexual; may also refer to something which is no good, pathetic, useless)

gilga = (also spelt: ghilgai, gilgaay, gilgai, gilgay, gilgi, gilgie) a type of waterhole; “a saucer-shaped depression in the ground which forms a natural reservoir for rainwater … Ghilgais vary from 20 to 100 yards in diameter, and are from five to ten feet deep … regular in outline and deeper towards the centre … their formation is probably due to subsidence” [Morris]; (gilga country; in the gilgas) generally low-lying terrain which includes a lot of weather-caused depressions and hollows (along with deep cracking of the earth during dry periods); (usually spelt “gilgie”, although also spelt “gilga”) a type of freshwater crayfish which can be found in rivers and gilga holes; the town of Gilgai (historically, also spelt Gilga), in New South Wales, located south of Inverell
See: 1) “Meanings and origins of Australian words and idioms: G”, School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics, Australian National University (entry: “gilgai”)
2) G. A. Wilkes, A Dictionary of Australian Colloquialisms, Sydney: Sydney University Press, 1978, p. 155 (entry: “gilgai, gilgie”)
3) Edward E. Morris, Morris’s Dictionary of Australian Words, Names and Phrases, South Yarra (Vic.): Currey O’Neil Ross, 1983 (first published 1898), p. 160 (entry: “ghilgai”)
4) “Life and lore of the bush”, Sunday Times (Perth, WA), 28 April 1935, p. 18 (First Section)
5) “word “gilga””, Institute of Australian Culture (list on Trove website, National Library of Australia)

gloaming = dusk, twilight

knell = the sound of a bell which has been rung slowly (i.e. in a solemn manner), especially for a funeral, or to announce or mark a death; a sound or sign which announces, indicates, foretells, or warns of the death, end, extinction, or failure, of a person, group, movement, civilisation, etc.; a mournful, ominous, or warning sound

Mitchell grass = any of several types of Australian grass belonging to the genus Astrebla
See: Astrebla, Wikipedia

Moree = a town in northern New South Wales, located relatively near to the Queensland border

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


  1. Hi again Ed. Compliments of the Season to you and all.
    In the 5th verse, a new word to me is “cachinnation”. An internet search informs that it is “to laugh hard, loudly, or convulsively; guffaw”. Another result gives: “to laugh loudly, immoderately, or too often”. Another says “compulsive laughter without apparent cause”.

    I have written before that I know nothing of poetry, so the line which immediately follows this:
    “So the sinful minor swells” — in its context — is obscure in meaning to me — unless my filthy mind is operating well and referring to a junior drover perhaps.
    However, a family story of a great-uncle who was a drover all his life, who had one family in NSW and a completely different family in Victoria — who knew nothing of each other — inspires me to think that not only the “minor” was sinful. ha ha.
    Completely separately, in verse 8, “gilgas” is a new word to me, and an internet search provides no assistance. This seems from its context to perhaps be an Oz aboriginal word, perhaps connected with something containing water, like a pond or pool or creek etc.
    My thanks to you as always for the interesting postings.

    • Hi Raymond,
      Thank you for your comments.
      Have added some notes re. “cachinnation” and “gilga”.

      Re. “So the sinful minor swells” – my assumption is that it is about music, or the music of nature (so to speak), as per the first stanza, which says “There’s a song of night and morning That in minor music swells”.

      A Happy New Year to you, and I hope you had a good Christmas!

      • Raymond says:

        Thank you again Ed., for your considered responses. Much appreciated as always.
        “gilga”: I have several copies of Wilkes, and never thought to check in there; relying lazily on a simple internet search. A good lesson again that not all is on the net. ha ha.

        “So the sinful minor swells”: yes indeed, your interpretation sounds very correct.

        Thanks for the seasonal wishes. All the best. Raymond.

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