O’Meara’s Well [poem by E. J. Brady]

[Editor: This poem by E. J. Brady was published in Bells and Hobbles (1911).]

O’Meara’s Well.

Twenty miles from any township, twenty miles on either track,
Lay the holding of O’Meara, in the myall, ’way out back;
Five and fifty hundred acres “dogleg” fenced and partly rung,
With a blazing sun above it in it’s cloudless Heaven hung.

Fighting Fate lived Con O’Meara, fighting drought and pests, and so
Cursed his luck; and ofttimes threatened that he’d “shling it up and go.”
Gave the place another trial; tried to mortgage, tried to sell;
Laid his blessings on the country, cursed the Government as well.

Ye who know but pleasant places where the winding waters be,
Know not ye their pining stintage when the earth gapes thirstily.
Year on year the lean selector saw his shallow dams go dry,
Saw his stock fall poor and perish, saw his ewes and wethers die.

Long he puzzled, prayed, and reasoned — Con was thoughtful and devout —
And at last from seas of problems fished one firm conclusion out:—
“God,” he cried, “is full of mercy; ne’er He sint a curse on earth
But he sint a cure beside it, since the world of Man had birth.

“Rain enough of Hivin’s mercy falls to wet the Western land,
“Wor it not for waste and soakage, waste and soakage in the sand.”
In his hut of pine and shingle Con O’Meara reasoned so;
Thumped his knee with this conundrum, “Where the dickins does it go?”

Thinking deep, and thinking deeper, drew analogy from sheath,
Waved the sword of Sense and Logic, found it must go underneath!
“I will dig!” cried then O’Meara; “I will start and sink a shaft,
“And I’ll thrack and find that wather if I thrack till I am daft!”

Took he straightway pick and shovel, bucket, windlass, length of rope;
Found a spot of pleasing promise, dug with courage, strength and hope.
And when failure faced him leering, he’d re-elevate his pick,
Swear to find the hidden water if he burrowed to Old Nick.

“There’s a ‘rayseevoyer’ for sartin,” he would mumble, delving deep,
“I must strike the same this winther, if I mane to save me sheep.
“Sick am I of shallow sinking, ’tis a fact beyant a doubt
“That this ‘rayseevoyer’ lies deeper, and I’ve got to find it out.”

Down he went in treble figures, dug and picked and wound away,
Till his back was bent from labor, till his beard was streaked with grey.
Then, his spirit all but broken, then, his last dam all but done,
Con O’Meara came to water one hot eve at setting sun!

Up it flowed in joyous bubbles, warm and sparkling, white and clear;
And O’Meara, at the bottom, rose a hoarse and thankful cheer;
Bade young Con to man the windlass, filled his billy to the brim —
He had struck the rock like Moses, and the rock had answered him.

Oh! the red head of O’Meara rose the excavation o’er;
And, in pride, his brimming billy towards the hut aloft he bore
“From the ‘rayseevoyer!’ he shouted, “and ’tis risin’ fresh and free —
Glory to the Western Country; Judy darlint, come and see!”

Faithful Judy, patient partner, mother of O’Meara’s boys,
Sharer of his toil and sorrow, shure she rushed to share his joys;
And the sprigs of Con O’Meara mustered up in eager haste
Round their sire, the law announcing, “She must be the first to taste!”

Hither now Australian painters, students of the wondrous bush,
Here is light and color fitting, here is subject for the brush;
See the sunset in the distance; see the spreading plain and sere;
Group your figures in the foreground, with the windlass standing near!

“Drink deep health to Ballyvannan,” proud O’Meara filled the lid,
And with hand that shook and trembled shure the craythur tuk and did! ———
(Here some dashes, kind Sir Printer, for the Muse in sorrow halts.)
“Howly Saints!” poor Judy spluttered, “Howly Saints, it’s Ipsom salts!

Fell the head of Con O’Meara, and the sprigs in grief withdrew,
As they sampled each the water, as they sampled, spat, and knew;
And that night on Ballyvannan rose no laugh or joyous sound,
Rose no song of Celtic triumph the exultant welkin round.

Grief lay heavy on O’Meara, stern and set his furrowed face,
Nor a-seeking ‘rayseevoyers’ sank he shafts about the place.
One by one the ribbed stock perished; ten by ten the ewes went down;
Day by day the hot sun glinted on the dried-up grass and brown.

Autumn fell, and with it biding came a kinsman overseas,
Full of Dublin wit and larnin’; full of wisdom and degrees,
He had sped a-seeking knowledge, and mayhap to gather gold,
Wooing wealth in foreign places, as our fathers did of old.

Blood it thicker is than water, though the water West away
It was thick as glue that summer, as unwritten records say;
So he sought his Irish kinsfolk, found them, yea, in evil case,
Where the hand of Drought had written DESOLATION on the place.

“Welcome to my sisther’s first-born,” spake O’Meara at the rails.
“Welcome, welcome, Dinny darlint, to the land of New South Wales.
Poor the fare we have to offer, poor the cover, poor the bed,
But the Irish heart is open, and the Irish blood is red.”

* * * * * * *

They foregathered, they foregathered, in their eyes were smiles and tears,
As they spake beneath the rafters, as they talked beyant the years,
This and that one, Pat and Mary, stream and mountain, bog and hill;
Rest the dead! Their sowls to glory. God be wid ould Ireland still.

In the morn they walked together, and O’Meara told his grief,
How his faith had turned to ashes, how his fortune proved a thief.
By the fatal shaft they lingered, where the rotting rope was wound,
Where the earth hard-heaved and lifted lay in mullock heaps around.

By the shaft was still the billy — long discarded, red with rust —
Where the grieved selector hurled it, with his curses, in the dust,
On the hook O’Meara hung it, careless, listless, let it drop,
Wound it up to prove his statements, leaking slowly, to the top.

“Taste it for yerself, alannah, ye have thravelled here an’ there,
But ye niver dhrank say wather up the counthry, that I’ll swear.”
Dinny took and Dinny tasted, he had journeyed near and far,
As my Lord of Cashel’s tutor he had onetime been to Spa.

“By my sowl! my honest uncle!” cried this youth of books and wit,
“’Tis a first-class min’ral water — there should be a call for it,
Salts, magnesia, yes, and iron. Why I should not be surprised,
But the Faculty would boom it if you had it analysed!”

Loud and hearty laughed O’Meara: “Shure ’tis larning drives ye mad,
Ye are but a new chum, Dinny, that ye are my honest lad.
Ye are welcome to the wather, take an dhrink it if ye can,
An’ I wish ye joy an’ pleasure of your physic, Nephew Dan.”

“Done!” said Dan. “We’ll strike a bargain. Bring the bottle. Patrick’s Day
Shall not pass without rejoicing in Australia far away.”
It was good potheen my brothers. Where it came from know not I,
But I know no Celtic homestead on this day of days goes dry.

And I swear that Irish whisky and Australian Spa — (with Dan)
Taken — well, in moderation, never hurt an Irishman.
E’en O’Meara scorning, tasted, and he turned and said, “Bedad,
When ye thrate it with the liquor, be me sowl it isn’t bad.”

They signed a pledge, a contract pledge, and deeply washed it down,
That they should stand in equal shares. Next day into the town,
Some samples at his saddle bow, the hopeful Daniel went
To see the Chemist of the place, with business-like intent.

The Chemist and the Doctor both considered and agreed,
Dan’s specimens of min’ral wealth were very rich indeed.
Then Daniel (who had two degrees), he tipped the Doc. the wink,
And took the “paper man” across to Cleary’s for a drink.

They made him try the waters too. Enlisted his support
(The Press is mighty, and ’tis wise to have a friend at Court).
A month went by, young Dan worked hard, a man of parts was he,
And with the Doctor and the Priest, he formed a Company.

They asked the local magnates out. And with a case or two,
A barrel, and O’Meara’s well, they made a special brew,
The picnic proved a huge success. The district to a man
Soon swore by Con O’Meara’s Well, and by his nephew Dan.

And, by the post! before a year from when the “Co.” was floated
The shares in Con. O’Meara’s Well were at a premium quoted.
Ere eighteen month, two stories high, beside the Min’ral Well,
All in its painted glory stood “O’Meara’s Grand Hotel.”

Now at the door stands honest Con, whilst Judy minds the bar,
And custom comes in buggy loads to drink the Famous Spa.
Promoting appetite and health, enriching Con and Dan;
The first is now a live Jay Pee, the last an Alderman!

And waggons piled with bottled Spa go to the Railway down,
Promoting appetite and health as far as Sydney town.
But when St. Patrick’s Day comes round O’Meara from the shelf
A rusty billy taketh down and fills the same himself.

And round the grand piano stands O’Meara’s household all,
While Con for “Soilence in the coort!” in legal voice doth call.
They stand and toast O’Meara’s Well, an Irish cheer between,
While little Judy thumps and bangs “The Wearing of the Green.”

E. J. Brady, Bells and Hobbles, Melbourne: George Robertson & Co., 1911, pp. 102-111

Previously published in:
The Sydney Mail [and] New South Wales Advertiser (Sydney, NSW), 15 December 1900, p. 1417

Editor’s notes:
alannah = my child; also spelt as “alanna”, from the Irish “leanbh” (lannav) for child

an’ = (vernacular) and

be = (Irish vernacular) by

bedad = an Irish exclamatory oath, a euphemism for “By God”; from the tradition of avoiding blasphemy and the misuse of sacred words, by substituting words with the same initial letter (exclamatory oaths that use such a substitution for “God” include “by George”, “good golly”, “oh my gosh”, “good gracious me”, and “good grief”)

beyant = (Irish vernacular) beyond

billy = 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”)

Co. = an abbreviation of “Company”

coort = (Irish vernacular) court

counthry = (Irish vernacular) country

daft = foolish, silly, stupid (can also mean: crazy, insane, mad; madly in love with, very fond of)

darlint = (Irish vernacular) darling

dhrank = (Irish vernacular) drank

dickins = a replacement for the word “devil” (considered to be a polite substitution, or euphemism, for the word “devil”), e.g. as used in the phrase “What the dickins?” (similar to “What the deuce?”) (usually spelt: dickens)

Dinny = (Irish vernacular) Danny

Doc. = an abbreviation of “Doctor”

doth = (archaic) does

e’en = (archaic) a contraction of “even”

ere = (archaic) before (from the Middle English “er”, itself from the Old English “aer”, meaning early or soon)

eve = evening (can also mean: the day preceding or a period of time immediately before an event or an occasion)

Hivin = (Irish vernacular) Heaven

howly = (Irish vernacular) holy

Ipsom salts = a vernacular rendering of “Epsom salts”: (also called “bitter salts”) hydrated magnesium sulfate, used as a purgative (laxative), although also used in some industrial applications

Jay Pee = a vernacular rendering of “J.P.”: Justice of the Peace

larnin’ = (Irish vernacular) learning

mane = (Irish vernacular) mean

me = (vernacular) my

min’ral = (vernacular) mineral

morn = morning

Moses = religious prophet, lawgiver, and leader of the Israelites, believed to be the author of the first five books of the Bible (his story is given in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy)

mullock = mining refuse, rubbish; dirt and stone which remains after the ore has been separated (often placed in a big pile outside of a mine, a mullock heap)

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)

myall = Australian backblocks; a remote, isolated, or wild area in the country; country areas typically populated with myall trees (acacia trees, i.e. wattle trees, e.g. bastard myall, coast myall, northern myall, weeping myall, western myall, yarran)

ne’er = (vernacular) never

new chum = a newly-arrived immigrant, especially a British immigrant (also spelt with a hyphen: new-chum)

niver = (Irish vernacular) never

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

Old Nick = a nickname for the Devil (also known as: Lucifer, Satan)

ould = (Irish vernacular) old

paper = newspaper

paper man = newspaper man (newspaper journalist, newspaper editor)

potheen = an alternative spelling of “poteen”: whiskey in Ireland which has been illegally distilled, usually made from potatoes (derived from the Irish word “poitín”, meaning “small pot”) (can also refer to: an unlicensed drinking establishment which sells illegally distilled whiskey)

rayseevoyer = (Irish vernacular) reservoir

risin’ = (vernacular) rising

sartin = (Irish vernacular) certain

say = (Irish vernacular) sea

selector = the purchaser of an area of land obtained by free-selection; land legislation in Australia in the1860s was passed by several colonies which enabled people to obtain land for farming, whereby they could nominate a limited area of land to rent or buy, being able to select land which had not yet been surveyed (hence the phrase “free selection before survey”) and even obtain land previously leased by squatters (although squatters were able to buy sections of their land, up to a designated limit; with many of them buying up further sections under the names of family members, friends, and employees)

sere = dried up or withered

shling = (Irish vernacular) sling

shure = (Irish vernacular) sure

sint = (Irish vernacular) sent

sire = father (may also refer to a forefather, i.e. a male ancestor; may also be used as a form of address to someone of high rank, such as a Lord or a King)

sisther = (Irish vernacular) sister

sling = throw, fling; throw away, get rid of, be done with

soilence = (Irish vernacular) silence

sowl = (Irish vernacular) soul

Spa = [1] a town in Belgium, renowned for its natural mineral springs and production of “Spa” mineral water; the name of the town was the origin of the terms “spa water” (for drinking) and “spas” (hydrotherapy water pools, hot tubs); can also refer to: a mineral spring with water which is believed to have medicinal properties; a place, resort, or town with a mineral spring; a hot tub, a hydrotherapy water pool, a spa bath

Spa = [2] spa water (natural mineral waters taken from a “Spa”, i.e. a natural mineral spring, or from a spa well)

spake = (archaic) spoke

sprig = a child, a youth; a boy, lad, young man; a descendant, offspring; the heir of a family (can also refer to: a small stem of a plant bearing leaves or flowers; a cutting, a shoot, a twig, a small branch)

taketh = (archaic) takes

thrack = (Irish vernacular) track

thrate = (Irish vernacular) treat

thravelled = (Irish vernacular) travelled

’tis = (archaic) a contraction of “it is”

tuk = (Irish vernacular) took

wather = (Irish vernacular) water

’way = (vernacular) away

The Wearing of the Green = an Irish ballad regarding the oppression of supporters of Irish independence, whereby the wearing of symbols of Irish Republicanism was forbidden in Ireland, in response to which many Irish wore shamrocks, and/or green clothing, to show their support for an Ireland independent of the British Crown

welkin = the sky

wether = a castrated ram

wid = (Irish vernacular) with

winther = (Irish vernacular) winter

wor = (Irish vernacular) were

ye = (archaic) you

yea = yes; indeed; truly; an affirmation (especially an affirmative vote), an indication of assent

yerself = (vernacular) yourself

[Editor: Changed “Aud custom comes” to “And custom comes”.]

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