Ginger’s Cobber [poem by C. J. Dennis]

[Editor: This poem by C. J. Dennis was published in The Moods of Ginger Mick (1916).]

Ginger’s Cobber

’E wears perjarmer soots an’ cleans ’is teeth,”
That’s wot I reads. It fairly knocked me flat,
Me soljer cobber, be the name o’ Keith.”
Well, if that ain’t the limit, strike me fat!
The sort that Ginger Mick would think beneath
’Is notice once. Perjarmers! Cleans ’is teeth!

Ole Ginger Mick ’as sent a billy-doo
Frum somew’ere on the earth where fightin’s thick.
The Censor wus a sport to let it thro’,
Considerin’ the choice remarks o’ Mick.
It wus that ’ot, I’m wond’rin’ since it came
It didn’t set the bloomin’ mail aflame.

I’d love to let yeh ’ave it word fer word;
But, strickly, it’s a bit above the odds;
An’ there’s remarks that’s ’ardly ever ’eard
Amongst the company to w’ich we nods.
It seems they use the style in Ginger’s trench
Wot’s written out an’ ’anded to the Bench.

I tones the langwidge down to soot the ears
Of sich as me an’ you resorts wiv now.
If I should give it jist as it appears
Pertic’lar folk might want ter make a row.
But say, yeh’d think ole Ginger wus a pote
If yeh could read some juicy bits ’e’s wrote.

It’s this noo pal uv ’is that tickles me;
’E’s got a mumma, an’ ’is name is Keith.
A knut upon the Block ’e used to be,
’Ome ’ere; the sort that flashes golden teeth,
An’ wears ’ot socks, an’ torks a lot o’ guff;
But Ginger sez they’re cobbers till they snuff.

It come about like this: Mick spragged ’im first
Fer swankin’ it too much aboard the ship.
’E ’ad nice manners an’ ’e never cursed;
Which set Mick’s teeth on edge, as you may tip.
Likewise, ’e ’ad two silver brushes, w’ich
’Is mumma give ’im, ’cos ’e fancied sich.

Mick pinched ’em. Not, as you will understand,
Becos uv any base desire fer loot,
But jist becos, in that rough soljer band,
Them silver-backed arrangements didn’t soot;
An’ etiket must be observed always.
(They fetched ten drinks in Cairo, Ginger says.)

That satisfied Mick’s honour fer a bit,
But still ’e picks at Keith fer exercise,
An’ all the other blokes near ’as a fit
To see Mick squirm at Keith’s perlite replies,
Till one day Keith ’owls back “You flamin’ cow!”
Then Mick permotes ’im, an’ they ’as a row.

I sez “permotes ’im,” fer, yeh’ll understand,
Ole Ginger ‘as ’is pride o’ class orl right;
’E’s not the bloke to go an’ soil ’is ’and
Be stoushin’ any coot that wants to fight.
’Im, that ’as ’ad ’is chances more’n once
Up at the Stajum, ain’t no bloomin’ dunce.

Yeh’ll ’ave to guess wot sort o’ fight took place.
Keith learnt ’is boxin’ at a “culcher” school.
The first three rounds, to save ’im frum disgrace,
Mick kids ’im on an’ plays the gentle fool.
An’ then ’e outs ’im wiv a little tap,
An’ tells ’im, ’e’s a reg’lar plucky chap.

They likes each other better after that,
Fer Ginger alwiz ’ad a reel soft spot
Fer blokes ’oo ’ad some man beneath their ’at,
An’ never whined about the jolts they got.
Still, pride o’ class kept ’em frum gettin’ thick.
It’s ’ard to git right next to Ginger Mick.

Then comes Gallipoli an’ wot Mick calls
“An orl-in push fight multerplied be ten;”
An’ one be one the orfficers they falls,
Until there’s no one left to lead the men.
Fer ’arf a mo’ they ’esitates stock still;
Fer ’oo’s to lead ’em up the flamin’ ’ill?

’Oo is to lead ’em if it ain’t the bloke
’Oo’s ’eaded pushes down in Spadger’s Lane,
Since ’e first learnt to walk an’ swear an’ smoke,
An’ mixed it willin’ both fer fun an’ gain —
That narsty, ugly, vi’lent man, ’oo’s got
Grip on the minds uv men when blood runs ’ot?

Mick led ’em; an’ be’ind ’im up the rise,
’Owlin’ an’ cursin’, comes that mumma’s boy,
’Is cobber, Keith, with that look in ’is eyes
To give the ’eart uv any leader joy.
An’ langwidge! If ’is mar at ’ome ’ad ’eard
She would ’a’ threw a fit at ev’ry word.

Mick dunno much about wot ’appened then,
Excep’ ’e felt ’is Dream uv Stoush come true;
Fer ’im an’ Keith they fought like fifty men,
An’ felt like gawds wiv ev’ry breath they drew.
Then Ginger gits it solid in the neck,
An’ flops; an’ counts on passin’ in ’is check.

When ’e come to, the light wus gettin’ dim,
The ground wus cold an’ sodden underneath,
Someone is lyin’ right ’longside uv ’im.
Groanin’ wiv pain, ’e turns, an’ sees it’s Keith —
Keith, wiv ’is rifle cocked, an’ starin’ ’ard
Ahead. An’ now ’e sez “’Ow is it, pard?”

Mick gently lifts ’is ’ead an’ looks around.
There ain’t another flamin’ soul in sight,
They’re covered be a bit o’ risin’ ground,
An’ rifle-fire is cracklin’ to the right.
“Down!” sez the mumma’s joy. “Don’t show yer ’ead!
Unless yeh want it loaded full o’ lead.”

Then, bit be bit, Mick gits the strength uv it.
They wus so occupied wiv privit scraps,
They never noticed ’ow they come to git
Right out ahead uv orl the other chaps.
They’ve bin cut orf, wiv jist one little chance
Uv gittin’ back. Mick seen it at a glance.

“’Ere, Kid,” ’e sez, “you sneak around that ’ill.
I’m down an’ out; an’ you kin tell the boys;”
Keith don’t reply to ’im but jist lies still,
An’ signs to Ginger not to make a noise.
“’Ere, you!” sez Mick, “I ain’t the man to funk —
I won’t feel ’ome-sick. Imshee! Do a bunk!”

Keith bites ’is lips; ’e never turns ’is ’ead.
“Wot in the ’ell;” sez Mick, “’ere, wot’s yer game?”
“I’m an Australian,” that wus all ’e said,
An’ pride took ’old o’ Mick to ’ear that name —
A noo, glad pride that ain’t the pride o’ class —
An’ Mick’s contempt, it took the count at lars’!

All night they stayed there, Mick near mad wiv pain,
An’ Keith jist lettin’ up ’is watchful eye
To ease Mick’s wounds an’ bind ’em up again,
An’ give ’im water, w’ile ’imself went dry.
Brothers they wus, ’oo found their brother’ood
That night on Sari Bair, an’ found it good.

Brothers they wus. I’m wond’rin’, as I read
This scrawl uv Mick’s, an’ git its meanin’ plain,
If you, ’oo never give these things no ’eed,
Ain’t got some brothers down in Spadger’s Lane —
Brothers you never ’ad the chance to meet
Becos they got no time fer Collins Street.

“I’m an Australian.” Well, it takes the bun!
It’s got that soft spot in the ’eart o’ Mick.
But don’t make no mistake; ’e don’t gush none,
Or come them “brother’ood” remarks too thick.
’E only writes, “This Keith’s a decent coot,
Cobber o’ mine, an’ white from cap to boot.”

“’E wears perjarmers an’ ’e cleans ’is teeth,”
The sort o’ bloke that Ginger once dispised!
But once a man shows metal underneath,
Cobbers is found, an’ brothers reckernised.
Fer, when a bloke’s soul-clobber’s shed in war,
’E looks the sort o’ man Gawd meant ’im for.



Source:
C. J. Dennis, The Moods of Ginger Mick, Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1916, pages 51-57

Editor’s notes:
clobber = clothes; accessories, equipment, personal belongings, or supplies (can also mean to strike someone severely; beat, criticize, defeat, or treat harshly)

cobber = friend, mate

Collins Street = a street in Melbourne, Victoria (renowned as a location for the offices of professionals, especially doctors)

funk = a state of fear or panic (may also refer to a coward; may also refer to a state of depression, including the phrase “in a blue funk”)

imshee = (World War One Australian military slang, from colloquial Arabic) go away; retreat; scram; to go

push = a gang; historically, the term refers to a street gang; may also be used to refer to a group

snuff = die (especially used in the phrases “snuff it”, meaning “to die”, or “snuffed it”, meaning “died”)

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”

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