Jim the Splitter [poem by Henry Kendall]

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

Jim the Splitter.

The bard who is singing of Wollombi Jim
Is hardly just now in the requisite trim
To sit on his Pegasus fairly;
Besides, he is bluntly informed by the Muse
That Jim is a subject no singer should choose;
For Jim is poetical rarely.

But being full up of the myths that are Greek —
Of the classic and “noble and nude and antique,”
Which means, not a rag but the pelt on,
This poet intends to give Daphne the slip,
For the sake of a hero in moleskin and kip
With a jumper and snake-buckle belt on.

No party is Jim of the Pericles type:
He is modern right up from the toe to the pipe;
And, being no reader or roamer,
He hasn’t Euripides much in the head;
And, let it be carefully, tenderly said,
He never has analysed Homer.

He can roar out a song of the twopenny kind;
But, knowing the beggar so well, I’m inclined
To believe that a “par” about Kelly,
The rascal who skulked under shadow of curse,
Is more in his line than the happiest verse
On the glittering pages of Shelley.

You mustn’t, however, adjudge him in haste,
Because a red robber is more to his taste
Than Ruskin, Rossetti, or Dante!
You see he was bred in a bangalow wood,
And bangalow pith was the principal food
His mother served out in her shanty.

His knowledge is this — he can tell in the dark
What timber will split, by the feel of the bark;
And, rough as his manner of speech is,
His wits to the fore he can readily bring
In passing off ash as the genuine thing,
When scarce in the forest the beech is.

In “girthing” a tree that he sells “in the round,”
He assumes as a rule that its body is sound,
And measures — forgetting to bark it!
He may be a ninny; but still the old dog
Can plug to perfection the pipe of a log
And “palm it” away on the market.

He splits a fair shingle; but holds to the rule
Of his father’s, and haply his grandfather’s, school —
Which means that he never has blundered,
When tying his shingles, by slinging in more
Than the recognized number of ninety and four
To the bundle he sells for a hundred!

When asked by the market for ironbark red,
It always occurs to the Wollombi head
To do a “mahogany” swindle.
In forests where never the ironbark grew,
When Jim is at work, it would flabbergast you
To see how the “ironbarks” dwindle!

He can stick to the saddle, can Wollombi Jim;
And when a buckjumper dispenses with him
The leather goes off with the rider.
And, as to a team, over gully and hill
He can travel with twelve on the breadth of a quill,
And boss the unlucky “offsider.”

He shines at his best at the tiller of saw,
On the top of the pit, where his whisper is law
To the gentleman working below him.
When the pair of them pause in a circle of dust,
Like a monarch he poses exalted, august —
There’s nothing this planet can show him!

For a man is a man who can “sharpen” and “set;”
And he is the only thing masculine yet,
According to sawyer and splitter;
Or rather according to Wollombi Jim!
And nothing will tempt me to differ from him,
For Jim is a bit of a hitter.

But, being full up, we’ll allow him to rip,
Along with his lingo, his saw, and his whip —
He isn’t the classical “notion;”
And, after a night in his “humpy,” you see,
A person of orthodox habits would be
Refreshed by a dip in the ocean.

To tot him right up from the heel to the head,
He isn’t the Grecian of whom we have read:
His face is a trifle too shady.
The nymph in green valleys of Thessaly dim
Would never “jack up” her old lover for him,
For she has the tastes of a lady.

So much for our hero! A statuesque foot
Would suffer by wearing that heavy-nailed boot:
Its owner is hardly Achilles!
However, he’s happy. He cuts a great “fig” —
In the land where a coat is no part of the “rig” —
In the country of damper and “billies.”

Henry Kendall, Songs from the Mountains, Sydney: William Maddock, 1880, pages 38-43

Editor’s notes:
Achilles = in Greek mythology, Achilles was a Greek hero who fought in the Trojan War

ash = ash tree (genus Fraxinus)

billies = plural of “billy”; a billy was 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”)

Dante = Durante degli Alighieri (circa 1265 – 1321), known as Dante, was an Italian poet (best known for his epic poem “Divine Comedy”)

fig = an abbreviation of “figure” (poetic license)

haply = by accident, by chance, or by luck

humpy = an Aboriginal shelter, made from tree branches, bark, and leaves; also known as a “wurly” (which is also spelt as “wurley” or “wurlie”); in a general (or non-Aboriginal) context, may also refer to a roughly-made hut or shelter, particularly one built as a temporary structure (plural: humpies)

Kelly = Edward “Ned” Kelly (1854-1880), Australian bushranger

Muse = a source of artistic inspiration; a person, especially a woman, or a force personified as a woman, who is the source of inspiration for an artist (derived from the Muses of Greek and Roman mythology, who were said to provide inspiration for artists and writers)

nymph = in Greek and Roman mythology, nymphs were young beautiful nubile women, with a propensity to dance, sing, and frolic; they were a class of deity who were not immortal but had very long lives; the dwelling places of most nymphs were generally depicted as being forests, groves, and mountains, and in or nearby lakes, springs, and streams, although there were also sea nymphs

offsider = an assistant; whilst “off-sider” (also spelt “offsider”) refers to any assistant in general, it was originally used to refer to a bullock-driver’s assistant, who would walk on the off-side of a bullock team and whip the bullocks on that side when such action was required

par = an abbreviation of “paragraph” (may also refer to a level or standard, from the Latin “par” meaning “equal” or “equality”)

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

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