Billy Vickers [poem by Henry Kendall]

[Editor: This poem by Henry Kendall was published in Songs from the Mountains (1880).]

Billy Vickers.

No song is this of leaf and bird
And gracious waters flowing —
I’m sick at heart, for I have heard
Big Billy Vickers “blowing.”

He’d never take a leading place
In chambers legislative:
This booby with the vacant face —
This hoddy-doddy native!

Indeed, I’m forced to say aside
To you, O reader, solely,
He only wants the horns and hide
To be a bullock wholly.

But, like all noodles, he is vain;
And, when his tongue is wagging,
I feel inclined to copy Cain,
And drop him for his bragging.

He, being bush bred, stands of course
Six feet his dirty socks in.
His lingo is confined to horse,
And plough, and pig, and oxen.

Two years ago, he’d less to say
Within his little circuit;
But now he has, besides a dray
A team of twelve to work it.

No wonder is it that he feels
Inclined to clack and rattle
About his bullocks and his wheels —
He owns a dozen cattle.

In short, to be exact and blunt,
In his own estimation
He’s “out-and-out” the head and front
Top-sawyer of creation!

For, mark me, he can “sit a buck”
For hours and hours together;
And never horse has had the luck
To pitch him from the leather.

If ever he should have a “spill”
Upon the grass or gravel,
Be sure of this, the saddle will
With Billy Vickers travel.

At punching oxen, you may guess
There’s nothing out can “camp” him:
He has, in fact, the slouch and dress
Which bullock-driver stamp him.

I do not mean to give offence,
But I have vainly striven
To ferret out the difference
’Twixt driver and the driven.

Of course, the statements herein made
In every other stanza
Are Billy’s own; and I’m afraid
They’re stark extravaganza.

I feel constrained to treat as trash
His noisy fiddle-faddle
About his doings with the lash —
His feats upon the saddle.

But grant he “knows his way about,”
Or grant that he is silly,
There cannot be the slightest doubt
Of Billy’s faith in Billy.

Of all the doings of the day
His ignorance is utter;
But he can quote the price of hay —
The current rate of butter.

His notions of our leading men
Are mixed and misty very:
He knows a Cochin-China hen —
He never speaks of Berry.

As you’ll assume, he hasn’t heard
Of Madame Patti’s singing;
But, I will stake my solemn word,
He knows what maize is bringing.

Surrounded by majestic peaks —
By lordly mountain ranges,
Where highest voice of thunder speaks —
His aspect never changes.

The grand Pacific there beyond
His dirty hut is glowing:
He only sees a big salt pond,
O’er which his grain is going.

The sea that covers half the sphere,
With all its stately speeches,
Is held by Bill to be a mere
Broad highway for his peaches.

Through Nature’s splendid temples he
Plods, under mountains hoary;
But he has not the eyes to see
Their grandeur and their glory.

A bullock in a biped’s boot,
I iterate, is Billy!
He crushes with a careless foot
The touching water-lily.

I’ve said enough — I’ll let him go!
If he could read these verses,
He’d pepper me for hours, I know,
With his peculiar curses.

But this is sure, he’ll never change
His manners loud and “flashy;”
Nor learn with neatness to arrange
His clothing cheap and trashy.

Like other louts, he’ll jog along,
And swig at shanty liquors,
And chew and spit. Here ends the song
Of Mr. Billy Vickers.

Henry Kendall, Songs from the Mountains, Sydney: William Maddock, 1880, pages 80-86

Editor’s notes:
Berry = Graham Berry (1822-1904) English-born Victorian politician; Premier of Victoria (1875, 1877-1880, 1880-1881)

biped = a two-footed animal; an animal that walks on two feet (from “bi”, meaning twice or double, and “pedis”, meaning “foot”); in the context of people, a reference to a human

blow = boast

Cain = the oldest of the two sons of Adam and Eve (according to the Bible, in the Book of Genesis, Cain murdered Abel, and thus the word Cain became associated with murder)

flash = showy, vulgar; fashionable or showy, but often in a way that shows a lack of taste

hoary = a descriptive term for someone or something which is old or ancient; someone with grey or white hair; something grey or white in colour

leather = in the context of horse-riding, a leather saddle

maize = a cereal plant (Zea mays), also known as “corn”

Mr. = an abbreviation of “Mister”

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

Pacific = the Pacific Ocean

shanty = a pub, especially an unlicensed pub; may also refer to a small roughly-built cabin or hut

[Editor: Changed “salt pond.” to “salt pond,” (replaced full stop with a comma).]

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