Fifty-Six and Eighty-Six [poem, The Bulletin, 21 August 1886]

[Editor: This poem appeared in the “Pepper and salt” column published in The Bulletin (Sydney, NSW), 21 August 1886.]

[Fifty-Six and Eighty-Six]

The “social purity” maggot is eating away the heart of Ballarat. The local Crookses and Walkers have discovered that gambling is carried on in private houses. A parson has been writing to the papers on that congenial clerical topic — immorality. Two old maids, talking scandal at a street corner, distinctly heard a young man make use of a gigantic D. As the result of all this, the worthy city mayor was reluctantly compelled to call a public meeting “to see what was best to be done.” Ye gods! If spirits were permitted to walk this earth, there must certainly have been ructions at that Ballarat meeting. Shades of indignant dead “identities” would have carried the platform by assault and pelted the speakers with tombstones. Wethinks they are hovering around us as we sing:—

FIFTY-SIX AND EIGHTY-SIX.

In the Ballarat of old,
When the diggers, strong and bold,
Threw up shining chunks of gold
Out of holes,
With pick and spade they wrought
All the day, as Britons ought —
But they never gave a thought
To their souls.

They’d a code of morals then,
Had those sturdy digger men —
Dick, Jack, and Bill, and Ben —
Of a kind;
A ready code, and rough,
But it did ’em well enough
(They were made of sterling stuff,
Bear in mind).

Deuce a bit did diggers care
For the incidental “swear,”
Of a comrade who was “square” in his deals;
And they deemed it out of place
If a fellow had the face
To interpolate a “grace”
At his meals.

Ben, Dick, and Bill, and Jack
Shuffled each a euchre pack
(Somewhat greasy at the back),
Every night;
And, if fortune proved unkind,
Well, they really didn’t mind,
For another lucky find
Put ’em right.

No distinctions then of rank,
As they played, and swore, and drank
In a manner free and frank,
To be sure;
Ah! a happy, cheery lot,
Never caring, e’er a jot,
If their fellow-man was not
Very “pure.”

* * * * * * *

But the modern Ballarat,
It is different to that,
Many parsons smug and fat
There abound;
While the diggers, strong and bold,
Of the roaring days of old —
A lot of them lie cold
In the ground.

There is humbug in the air;
Chadband offers up a prayer
For the naughty boys who swear,
Drink, and dice;
It isn’t safe to “shout”
A whisky or a stout —
Someone’s foxing round about
After vice.

Oh! the jolly days of yore,
And the diggers gone before,
We shall never see them more —
No, bedad! They have gone and given place
To another time and race,
Which are (pardon our grimace)
Twice as bad.



Source:
The Bulletin (Sydney, NSW), 21 August 1886, p. 15 (column 2)

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