Carry on: The tale of a citizen [short story by Jack Moses]

[Editor: This is a short story from Beyond the City Gates: Australian Story & Verse (1923) by Jack Moses.]

Carry on

The tale of a citizen.

The man who is a citizen in his own town is a citizen in the truest sense of the word, for he is a citizen of his State, reflected through his “home town”; a citizen of the Commonwealth, reflected through the State, and a citizen of the Empire, reflected through the Commonwealth. The “knocker” of his home town is, on this line of deduction, a “knocker”of his Empire; a destroyer of thought, labour, and enterprise. So soon as we can “squat” the principle of decrying the glories of our particular bit of Australia, the sooner will Australia move onwards towards that great goal of glory which, if the people only will it, shall be hers.

* * * * * * *

I.

George Cummings, was not of that class of man born to life merely to enjoy what he could of the good things without rendering, or, at all events, endeavouring to render, any service to the community. No; George Cummings was a citizen of the “pure merino” type, and was out to assist everything, and anything, aimed for the further advancement of his town. His never-ceasing energies and untiring activities were ever directed towards those things which, in his opinion, would create some benefit for the community as a whole. Most of “self” was effaced from the characteristics of this man, and, maybe, therein lay the reason that George was most times misunderstood.

George Cummings first saw the light of the sun, sparkling the blue Pacific, in a pacific little hamlet on the South Coast, where, around the magnificent hills, the home of the great forest giants, the Messmate, the Blackbutt, the Ironbark, and the good old Stringy, peering down on the golden sands of the beaches, washed by the big rollers of the ocean, one could pluck, in the cuttings, the Christmas Bell and scent the invigorating aroma of the boronia; and what is more delightful than the whiff of this wildflower of the Australian bush? There are some, maybe, who do not know of the fragrance of the flowers of our great bushland; some who have never known the scent permeating the hillsides and valleys when the sunbeams kiss the wattle trees. Cummings was certainly not one of these, for he realised, and appreciated to the full, the glory and the splendour of his “ain countree,” as his old Scotch mother had taught him Australia was to him, from his association with those great hills of the South.

This great Coast is made up of long golden stretches of ocean beaches, of charming bays and picturesque inlets. The shady, drooping old willows, that gracefully bend their branches by the river bank, invite to rest, and when Cummings rested he fully endorsed the opinions of the tourist who wrote “that to some the South Coast means one of the most glorious spots on God’s earth.” To thousands its chief charm might be its dairy wealth, or its rich pastoral lands, but the glorious mountains and valleys, the lovely free ferns and shrubs, through which the sun can never penetrate, the birds with their brilliant plumage and sweet song, are factors which appeal to the average man.

* * * * * * *

Away beneath, on the slopes and the flats, browsed the “Illawarras,” representatives of the dairy herds of the great, rich district, and running on the pastures of men who were descendants of those sturdy pioneers who had blazed the trail, and who had let the sunlight into those valleys of wondrous wealth.

That great pioneering spirit had transcended, and many of the spirit had gone North, taking with them their “Illawarras,” and planting the strains on the rich lands further north along the Coast.

But these men of the dairy were not of the only class that Cummings had come to know and respect. There were those “browned” men who went down to sea in fishing craft, and back from the bosom of their beloved Pacific — the mistress of their nights — in the first blush of damn, bearing the rewards of their industry and vigil out yonder.

There were others, too. In those hills were great seams of coal, which gave to the country a wealth untold, and provided remunerative employment for the “free and easy” population of this great South Coast.

As Cummings grew from boyhood to manhood he was fully taught, by association, the worth and heroism of those men who delved for the black diamond, who took their lives in their hands, day in and day out, as below they hewed for the “ebon jewel” which finds place in the crown of Australia’s wealth. He had seen those South Coasters descend to the bowels of the earth with a “cheerio,” counting nought for the grim spectre which lurked in the vaults below. He had seen them lower from the mouth of the mine, with jest and jibe, on days when the land was a land of peace above; when the bell-bird sang his song gloriously in the sunshine among the ranges; when the bee was on the “honey-moon”; when the blue sky, flecked with snowy cloudlets, made the day real Australian, full of sunbeams and content. Some hours later, the sunbeams seemed to have presaged trouble and had crept away; a buster whipped the white sea horses, and the Pacific crooned a dirge. Then a terrific and awe-striking explosion; the tremble of the earth told of tragedy.

Cummings had seen the maddened rush of terrified, panic-stricken womanhood — wives, mothers, and daughters — to the pit’s mouth; a mouth now, to imagination, hideous in its yawning. He had felt some of the agony he saw depicted on the blanched and ashen faces; he had felt the an anxious quiver of the lips of those anxious women as the rescuing party brought the victims one — sometimes two — at a time to the surface. He realised, too, the cloud that had darkened the sunshine of the lives of those women. These things he had seen, and thereby had he recognised, to the full, the splendid manhood of the rugged miner and the danger of his avocation.

* * * * * * *

When George Cummings left the invigorating breeze of the South the City called him, not because of her gaiety, her trappings, or her many other lures, but of the fact that circumstances pushed him. Yet this did not handcuff him to the posts of Babylon, because the wider and bigger Australia beckoned him — the Australia beyond the city gates called. He dreamed of the kangaroo, the emu, the brolga, the billabong, the back rivers which sweep through plain and valley; he heard the click of the woolshed, the song of the drover, and he pictured the broad stretches of waving wheat in the crimson close of day. Then he felt that, in truth, he was the child of a great continent, and his home and destiny were out among big men who were sowing and reaping in those far-flung miles, and — he went.

II.

Securing a job as ledger-keeper in the Wattle Flat Sunlight Flour Milling Company, Cummings made good with every section of the community, but soon left the mills for a farm of his own, and, possessing more than ordinary organising capabilities, he was prevailed upon to fill the honorary position of secretary of sundry public organisations. In the carrying out of the many, not to say varied, duties pertaining to these offices there became implanted in the mind of Cummings a big “boost” idea for the country interests, and surely he evolved a scheme calculated to awaken, in the people of the whole State, a new interest in rural life and pursuits. He had, in his own way, often stressed the fact that Australia was confronted with the need for greater production, and that the land desired a more rapid increase in her population, compatible with her national safety. He argued, at every opportunity which presented itself, that the country districts suffered from a neglect from every standpoint, in order that the city might be boomed, and that, dominating the whole of the State’s business activities, the city was automatically working towards a highly dangerous “centralisation,” creating discontent and disunity.

Cummings planned his scheme, and told the City his intention. “A dreamer’s dream” most of the city press designated the proposal, but in one instance it was hailed with enthusiasm, and The Morning Clarion opined that if some of the energy and descriptive ability devoted to floods, fire, and drought were used to paint true pictures of our country, with its healthy conditions, its many chances of big profits, and its freedom from the petty cares and tyrannies of existence in the city, there would be fewer ignorant people to shudder when the slogan, “Back to the Land,” was raised.

* * * * * * *

Cummings went to work at Wattle Flat with a fixed idea of bringing the Country to the City, in order to set forth the glories which he realised, in regard to the benevolence and big-heartedness of the great Mother Bush.

With the aid of local kindred spirits, a fund was created to finance the scheme of placing Wattle Flat and other country centres right “in the heart of the city.” So it was that one day the great wide thoroughfare skirting the big Post Office of the City assumed a greater importance than being merely the rendezvous of luncheon hour idlers, seeking some diversion before afternoon resumption; this big open Martin Place became the medium of a huge publicity punch, and the City awoke to find the avenue of “time killers” transformed to a wonderful presentment of rural New South Wales

From the forum, in the centre of this great reflex of Primary Production, came the voice of the districts, interested, impressing the chances to make the good “out yonder,” and preaching the gospel of increased production. For the first time in its history the City was being educated to the glories and opportunities of its hinterland, and Wattle Flat became as well known in the city as that “outlandish” district in the wilds of South Africa, which, hitherto, had been more prominently associated with the average city man’s geographical knowledge than the great fertile and wealth-producing centres of their own State. Home Town boosters stood at the door of each district “hut,” reflecting samples of primary products, and the story of that district.

At every street corner was exhibited the splendour of the countryside — including, of course, Wattle Flat. Huge and well-marked “barometers” depicted the rise of each centre’s production and prosperity; the windows of the big retail houses reflected the products of every district of the State; in the byways and the lanes of the city big men, bronzed and brown, spoke of the great green fields of the countryside, which called for the attention of the city man; they chanted the song of “The man behind the plough”; they preached the gospel of Decentralisation and More Production, and they strongly impressed a State slogan, “Back to the plough for peace and plenty.”

Sturdy Australian schoolboys and winsome Australian schoolgirls trooped, in big squads and little squads, and saw the glory of their great Australia reflected through the city windows, for the city business man, who had never given a second thought to the necessity of playing his part towards the assistance of increasethe great primary production of the State, awoke to the necessity of helping towards the development of the great country centres by aiding a scheme, which sought to reflect the wealth and opportunities of the country — and so it was that the big city houses became the Mirror of Production, and where, at ordinary times, was exhibited the latest creation of frockings and hats, patriotism was exhibited through the display of the finest products of the soil.

* * * * * * *

Out at Centennial Park, in that area dedicated to the people by the wisdom and foresight of a dead statesman, the multitude gathered, for here was extension of the great “Production Week” proposition. Here were experimental plots of grain; here, too, ingenious methods showed the city people the “art” of hay growing and hay making; here was erected a great Industrial Hall, where the youth of the metropolis was educated to the work of the farm: the fitting of machinery, the shoeing of the horse, the process of milking, the churning operations and the butter making; shearing, too, was carried out and general farm work indulged in.

A large entertainment hall had been erected in the centre of the Park, overlooking the miniature lakes and picturesque drives, and here were reflected from the “cinema screen” moving pictures of districts “at work.” All things pertaining to primary production, the scenic glory of the countryside, the conditions of living, the flora and the fauna, were shown. The University of the Mother State, entering with enthusiasm into the scheme, was represented by her learned sons, who spoke of the wonders and possibilities of the land.

This great “out-in-the-open” centre of instruction and activity drew the people, all eager to obtain knowledge of their country. Daily the crowds increased, and daily the interest intensified till Sunday, the closing day of a great week, when the Park represented a human ant-hill, and along all roads leading to the people’s great playground the masses poured. The day had been set apart as a day of thanksgiving — a day whereon every person, irrespective of creed, could assemble, as one united body, to render thanks for the bounteous gifts of the Almighty bestowed upon their land. Up on a central dais gathered ministers, representative of every denomination — none were absent — to conduct the “mass” service of the day. During the week the people of the city had been afforded ample opportunity of realising and appreciating the gifts bestowed upon them as a people, through the medium of the magnificent displays which had been created by the energies of Cummings. To-day was their day of Thanksgiving for these things.

The vast concourse stood silent as the prayer for Plenty came from the heart and through the lips of the officiating clergyman. “We give Thee humble thanks for this Thy special bounty, beseeching Thee to continue Thy loving kindness unto us and our land,” and there came the voice of a loud Amen, for the people had begun to realise the wonderful fruits given to their country.

The text of the sermon for the day was taken from the Psalms, and there was a hush among the people as the preacher lifted up his voice and said, “He watered the hills from above; the earth is lulled with the fruits of Thy work. He bringeth forth grass for the cattle, and green herb for the service of men; that He may bring food out of the earth, and wine that maketh glad the heart of man.”

To-day the Church, true to its teachings, instilled the lesson of love of Country, and as the sun dipped behind Botany, the voices of the great multitude were uplifted in the words of the grand old hymn:—

“We plough the fields and scatter
The good seed on the land;
But it is fed and watered
By God’s Almighty Hand.
He sends the snow in winter,
The warmth to swell the grain;
The breezes and the sunshine,
And soft, refreshing rain.
All good gifts around us
Are sent from Heaven above;
Then thank the Lord; oh, thank the Lord!
For all his love.”

Amid all this movement and reflection came George Cummings, who surveyed the moving mass of humanity through the city streets, awed at the wealth of its own land, from the “box” seat of a big farm tabletop wagon, drawn by four greys, and driven by a girl. Maggie Sloman was a typical daughter of the Bush, and handled her team as only an Australian farm girl can. Adown from the gates of the city, where the men o’ the land had been welcomed by the Lord Mayor, the Aussie girl drove her magnificent quartette, drawing the trophy of cereals, fruit, and vines, the products of her home town. There were great sheaves of wheat, stooks of oats, fleeces of the glorious flocks, corn cobs, mammoth cabbages, and even pumpkins, reflecting the wealth of a district that Maggie Sloman drove to admiration and plaudits.

This day indeed was a day of achievement in the life of Cummings, and he could go back to Wattle Flat, realising that something had been attempted and something done to create a bigger and more interested outlook on country conditions and affairs than had, hitherto, existed among the busy folk of the city.

The scheme had interested a mass of people in country life generally; had impressed them, not only of the magnificent potentialities of their country, but had convinced that the comfort and happiness of the individual could be most readily secured — with a fair amount of proper attention — under rural conditions.

There was another result to Cummings’s big “boost” undertaking, and that was the desire it awakened in the heart of the city boy to get out among those towering gums; out where the golden wheat grew and the wool was raised, and among the thousands from the city and suburban schools who trooped to the city shop windows and gloried in the production of their great bushland was Billy McMahon, from Balmain.

Now Billy had seen Cummings distribute the literature which told all about Wattle Flat, and Billy was attracted to this man, who appeared to know so much of the country.

“I’d like to be a farmer, mister,” the Balmain boy had confided to Cummings, during a lull in the explanatory session.

“Like to go on the land?” questioned Cummings.

“Betcher life,” answered Bill. “Mother’s grandfather used to own a big farm somewhere up New England way when mother was a kid. She says the country’s the best place for a boy. Could you get me a job, mister?” concluded Billy, breathlessly.

“Think I could,” said Cummings, smiling at the youngster’s enthusiasm. “Tell your dad to come along and see me here to-morrow.”

“Ain’t got a dad,” said Bill, regretfully; “he was killed in a coal mine down at Bulli when I was a little kid.”

Cummings remembered. The tragedy swept back to him.

“Tell your mum to bring you over to-morrow,” he said, as he turned to satisfy the enquiries of a newcomer.

They came next day, the boy and a little woman with lines around her light blue eyes; and that is how Billy McMahon, of Balmain, became associated with Cummings, down on the farm at Wattle Flat.

There was another woman who came to the big windows in George Street. She was a frail creature, with silver hair; her eyes were soft and grey; her dress was black. She looked wistfully at the big collection of farm products. She read the slogan, “Get nearer Nowra.” Then into those soft grey eyes there came a blurr, but she saw distinctly the big photographic reproduction of Mount Cambewarra. It was that picture that took her back, back nearer Nowra; took her back along the paths to the yesteryears, back to the little farm down Shoalhaven way; the little farm fringing the riverside; the little slab homestead, with the rose garden in the front, the box beehive in the corner, the honeysuckle climbing up the side of the verandah, that ran around towards the skillion kitchen; she saw again the home paddock, with the poddies, the pigs, and the pony; the fifty-acre paddock, with its green lucerne; the shed stacked with the sweet smelling hay. She seemed to hear again the whinny of the old Clydesdale mare, the songs of the birds. She looked once again upon the little red road winding its way to the schoolhouse, a mile across the rise, where Jack and Walter went barefooted daily. Jack and Walter had long since left the old home. Walter had gone further south; Jack had donned the colours of his country, and to-day slept somewhere on the Fields of Flanders. As the little white-haired woman looked upon the products of the old home town she sobbed. She looked again at Cambewarra, then she whispered to her companion, “That’s where Jack was born.”

There were others, too, who gathered in front of the big window displays, who were shot back, in memory, to the long ago, and here friendships of other days, begun in some old home town, were renewed — so there was another side to this big boosting scheme with which Cummings had stirred the city.

* * * * * * *

III.

Over in the little cottage at Balmain Mrs. McMahon awaited with a full degree of pleasure the postman’s whistle every Monday morning. Billy’s correspondence was not at first of a bulky nature, but gradually his letters reflected a great interest in his new life. Then one day came a big budget for the little widow.

“Dear Mum,” it ran, “no doubt Wattle Flat’s a bosker place. I wish you could see this farm just now; see the country. Oh! Mum, how you’d love it. It’s the country that makes the man, Mum. The parson who comes along here is a great bloke, and he had a letter in the Banner — that’s our paper, Mum — yesterday, and I cut a bit out. It says: ‘The country may not be all sweetness, she may not be all graciousness; she can be fierce and hard and bitter, and even cruel, but (this is the part, Mum) she is a maker of men, and because she is ruthless in her demand for all the finest traits of character, she is the matrix of our Australian nation.’ That’s why so many bosker soldiers came from the bush, Mum.

I wish I could write as I feel when I get up just about sunrise to help with the cows; just when the maggies are beginning their morning song; I didn’t know maggies could sing, Mum, till I came to Wattle Flat. By jove, it’s bosker. There’s blossoms on the big peach trees down in the orchard now, and Mr. Cummings says he’ll have a record crop this year. He says everything’s come on wonderful for him since he got this farm — he used to be in the butter factory once, but as soon as he saved enough money he chucked that job and went farming. The quinces are doing just as well as the peaches, and Mrs. Cummings and Maggie intend to make a terrible lot of quince jam. Maggie says I’ll have to send a little down to Balmain when it’s ready. It was Mag’s birthday yesterday; she is 16, just a year younger than me, and I gave her a silk pin cushion I bought at the stationer’s shop in town. To-morrow is market day and because of Maggie’s birthday we are all going into town, and at night the boss is taking us to Berdindie’s Circus. They say it is a great show and comes to the Flat every year. Maggie said they had lions advertised one year but something happened and they couldn’t bring ’em along. I told Maggie that was a gag, but Maggie said they must have had ’em because there were big pictures of lions pasted on the blacksmith’s shop. I told Maggie lots of people did that kind of thing, showed you pictures but not the dinkum stuff. Anyhow, I didn’t want Maggie to be had by bluff, because she’s a great girl, Mum. She can ride any horse on the farm, can milk two cows to my one, bakes damper and scones and every night plays the piano for the boss and the missus. It’s funny, Mum, how the country girl can do almost anything, without much trouble.

“Last night Maggie was playing a song, ‘What is home without a mother,’ an she turns to me and says ‘Billy, I expect you miss your mother?’

“‘Well, of course I do,’ I told her, ‘but I hoped to have a farm of my own some day and my mother would live with me.’ Then the boss, who was smoking and reading the Bully, looks round and says, ‘that’s the way to talk Billy,’ and blow me if he didn’t turn to the missus and say, ‘What about asking Billy’s mother up for Christmas, Mum,’ and the missus just smiled one of her lovely old smiles and said, ‘Of course, George — that’s if Billy’s mother cares to.’

“So you see, Mum, you are to come away from the stuffy city at Christmas time. You are to come and help in the harvest and in the eating of the big fat turkey, the sucking pig and the plum pudding. Isn’t that good oh!”

* * * * * * *

The widow at Balmain, as she stitched, dreamed of a happy Christmas. Her recent years had not been too full of sunshine and she was one of the many who knew the meaning of hard work to make ends meet. She would often sit at her little window opening on to a Balmain side-street and watch the six o’clock flow from the hives of industry. These pictures of the night impressed her with sympathy for the toilers of the city, who knew nothing or, comparatively speaking, nothing of the great freedom beyond the city gates. Sometimes, being a good Australian, she would turn to the lines of Edwin J. Brady, Pictures of the Night, for she felt that these expressed her own sentiment, and often as the tramp of “homeward” citizens fell upon her ears she would chant the lines:

“If you study human nature with a philosophic eye;
If you ever pause to ponder on the whether and the why;
If existence is a problem which your reason cannot fix,
Come and sit beside my window when the clock is striking six.
You will see the people passing in the misty, yellow light;
And perhaps you’ll learn a lesson from these pictures of the night.
You will see them pouring homeward in a white-face weary throng;
In their eyes no cherished purpose, on their lips no merry song.
Boys with sallow, sunken features, stooping maidens in their teens,
Bearing each the one expression — they are only mere machines.
And the force that drives them onward is the law of bread and meat;
They themselves alive are eaten just because they have to eat.”

* * * * * * *

Mrs. McMahon did go up to Wattle Flat that Christmas and her happy month with Billy, the boss, and the family of the boss, made the season a red letter one in the calendar of her yuletides.

When she fully appreciated, as she did by that visit, the new environment of her son, she was grateful to the man who had given Billy the chance to make good in the great countryside and she realised how narrow were the opportunities of the city boys in regard to winning out in the big race. Some, maybe, would succeed from an industrial standpoint; others would secure a certain amount of success in the commercial world, but the big chances lay out “beyond the city gates.”

“It’s all so peaceful to me this country life,” remarked Mrs. McMahon to Mrs. Cummings, as she stood by the gate, mauve with its blossoms of Jacaranda, and awaited Billy’s coming with the sulky, which was to convey mother, bag and parcels, to the railway station.

“Away from the sordidness and the smoke of my little suburban home, I realise how near you are to nature and to peace at Wattle Flat, and my one big hope is that Billy will always make good.”

* * * * * * *

Billy did make good. When he had put in four years with the “boss” at Wattle Flat, Cummings stopped one morning by the big clump of myalls.

“I got that paddock across the creek yesterday, Billy.” he said.

“Good-oh, boss,” replied Billy, as he threw the ropen reins across the back of Judy, the big brown mare and offsider of the team. “Something doing next ploughtime?”

“Yes,” replied Cummings, “and I’m going to give you the land to work on the share system. We’ll fallow it, put it under crop, and all that comes off it will be half yours, Bill.”

Billy fully realised his good fortune, but merely smiled and said, “That’s a dinkum go to start, boss, and I’m yours.”

That was all; that’s how the agreement was made and that is how, two years later, Billy McMahon found he had standing to his credit “six hundred lovely quid,” and that’s really how Billy plucked up courage to ask a dinkum Aussie girl to be his life-long mate. The day that Billy McMahon took unto himself as wife Maggie Cummings was a day of rejoicing, feasting, dancing and laughter down on the old farm.

* * * * * * *

IV.

“Billy,” said George Cummings one morning, as he alighted from the sulky in which he had driven over to The Wilgas, the name of the McMahon homestead, “I see that the Country Promotion League is about to extend the system of Home Town Boost, and has decided to reflect as many districts as possible through the rural parts of the United Kingdom, in order to bring our country in direct touch with those chaps overseas who have a bit of dough and grit and want to get out here.”

“Plenty of chances for ’em, boss, isn’t there? Plenty of chances for every bloke in this country. I reckon our own chaps in billets in the city don’t know what they are missing.”

Cummings laughed, “they can’t all make good like you, Bill.”

“My oath they can, boss, if they only try. Anyhow, what about this stunt oversea?”

“Well, I’m going to make full preparations to have The Flat represented,” said Cummings “and I want you to help me. It’ll be a good thing for the district, Bill.”

“It will be a big thing for Aussie, Dad.”

“Yes,” agreed Cummings, “but for this district especially. Just look at that wheat out there; glorious sight, isn’t it?”

Suddenly the brown eyes of Maggie were twinkling through the doorway; suddenly from the cherry lips came the song:

“Green and amber and gold it grows,
When the sun sinks late in the west,
And the breeze sweeps ever the rippling rows
Where the quail and the skylark nest.
Mountain or river, a shining star,
There’s never a sight can beat,
Away to the skyline, stretching far,
A sea of Wattle Flat wheat.”

Maggie laughed, as she finished her song, and said, “I hope Banjo Patterson will forgive me for altering his beautiful lines. Anyhow, I think he will, because he must be a dinkum Aussie to write as he did. Come and have a cup of morning tea, Dad.”

* * * * * * *

Bill McMahon was satisfied that there was full scope to advertise Wattle Flat overseas; the district was adapted for mixed blurring of a most diverse and profitable nature. Though the main crop was “Federation” wheat, oats and maize could be most profitably produced. Portion of the country, too, was suitable for lucerne and sorghum. Where such crops were grown, dairying and pig-raising, both good money-makers, were followed with success, and Bill knew there was room for development, on comparatively small holdings, in this direction. Wool growing, bee farming and poultry raising were bringing Bill a big return, so here, too, were opportunities for the small man to make good.

“Yes,” said Bill to Maggie that night, “Dad is right to give the district another shove along, and bring it to the notice of those chaps with a bit of cash in the ‘Old Dart’ who want to get out and grow.”

So it was that Wattle Flat entered into the big scheme which aimed for district exhibits from Australia in the big windows of London and the country capitals.

* * * * * * *

George Cummings lost no time in organising the farmers and settlers and spent many days in visiting the holdings of the district.

* * * * * * *

Then resulted the second tragedy in the life of George Cummings.

* * * * * * *

December came in and with it a continuation of hot dry weather. For more than a week a fire had ravaged the country on the south side of The Flat. Day and night men battled with the flames while the womenfolk kept up supplies of food and drink.

Cummings and Bill went out to fight for the property of a neighbour, and a band of heroic workers beat back the fire from the outbuildings. Suddenly a flame shot up from the roof of the shed, a dozen yards from the main building.

“There’s a ladder there,” shouted Cummings, “prop her against the wall and hand up the buckets.”

Cummings climbed the ladder to the roof. He fought the outbreak, prompted by the thought that victory would mean the saving of a little home that had been acquired by toil, grit and enterprise, and which had just put the owner “on his feet” Cummings knew Harry Johnson was a man, and, no matter what his losses might be, he could and would “come back,” but Cummings had seen again the look of fear in the eyes, seen the quivering lips as he had seen them adown the South Coast years ago. He wanted to save that home for the woman’s sake, and so he fought with bucket after bucket handed up by Bill.

Suddenly there was a crash; a cry of warning by Bill and Cummings jumped from the roof. No one saw how with he fell, but when they reached him he was lying with a broken spine.

He tried to assure them that everything was alright, as they lifted him up and bore him to the sitting room, while Bill McMahon rode the little chestnut mare as she had never been ridden before to obtain the services of the township’s doctor.

“We beat the flames, didn’t we?” asked George Cummings, a few hours later.

“Yes,” he was assured.

“Thank God, for the sake of the woman,” he said, as he moved and twitched a little in the agonies of his pain.

* * * * * * *

Bill McMahon was late home; Maggie met him at the door, but Maggie was brave.

“Is it all over, Bill?”

“Not yet, Mag, but I think you must be ready to hear of it at any old time.”

Maggie nodded.

“He’s white all through Mag.”

“I know that Bill. I will always know him as a big man.”

* * * * * * *

The sun crept through the white muslin curtain of the “spare” room where Cummings now lay. The man on the bed could see the wheat fields beyond.

Bill McMahon came quietly in and Cummings smiled, then stretched out his hand for him to clasp. The dying man looked again to the window, smiled again then whispered:

“Green and amber and gold it grows.”

The shadows lengthened in the room. Bill McMahon still gripped the hand of the man on the bed.

“You’ll — fix — up those exhibits, Bill,” Cummings spoke slowly and with difficulty; “You’ll carry on?”

Bill squeezed the hardened hand a bit lighter and nodded his head.

* * * * * * *

Outside a magpie warbled; from inside the soul of a citizen and a white man crept out.

The man at the bedside knew that the future slogan of his life must be, “Carry on.”



Source:
Jack Moses, Beyond the City Gates: Australian Story & Verse, Sydney: Austral Publishing Co., 1923, pages 154-172

Editor’s notes:
Aussie = [1] an Australian

Aussie = [2] Australia

blow me = an exclamation which expresses surprise, used in the phrase “blow me down” (similar to the phrase “I was so surprised, you could have knocked me down with a feather”)

bosker = (Australian slang) excellent, very good

Botany = in a geographic context regarding Sydney, Botany Bay

Bully = The Bulletin newspaper/magazine (published in Sydney, NSW), which was known colloquially as “The Bully”

dinkum = genuine, authentic, on the level

dirge = a song, chant, or music, especially of a mournful nature and slow, used for a funeral, memorial, or commemoration; a lamentation for the dead

Jove = an alternate name for Jupiter; in Roman mythology, Jupiter was king of the gods, as well as the god of sky and thunder (“by Jove” is an exclamatory phrase, denoting excitement or surprise; the phrase was a way of saying “by God” without blaspheming)

maggie = the Australian magpie (Cracticus tibicen, a bird native to Australia and a small area of southern New Guinea)

missus = wife

Mother State = in an Australian context, New South Wales (the first British colony in Australia)

Old Dart = England specifically, or Great Britain in general (earlier usage of the term was in connection with Ireland)

poddies = plural of “poddy” (a poddy calf, a hand-fed calf; can also refer to an unbranded calf)

pure merino = someone who came to Australia as a free settler (i.e. not as a convict); someone from a free settler’s family; someone from a socially prominent family; a wealthy person; someone of good character

red letter = an important or significant day, event, season, or time (from the practice of marking feast days and other holy days in red on church calendars; however, the stylization of using red to mark important days was used as far back as ancient Rome)

stook = a group of sheaves of grain which have been placed in a field standing upright so as to enable the heads to dry

Stringy = stringybark trees, which have thick and fibrous bark (there are several species of stringybark, all of which belong to the genus Eucalyptus)

sulky = a light two-wheeled open cart, designed for use by one person and drawn by one horse; however, the term was also applied to similar carts which were able to seat two people

white = a good person, someone who is honourable or generous; in the glossary for The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke, C.J. Dennis gives the following definition, “White (white man). — A true, sterling fellow”

Vernacular spelling in the original text:
ain countree (own country) [Scottish]
betcher (bet your)
’em (them)
o’ (of)

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