Randwick [poem by Kenneth Mackay]

[Editor: This poem by Kenneth Mackay was published in Stirrup Jingles from the Bush and the Turf and Other Rhymes (1887).]


Grand National Steeplechase Meeting,
12th June, 1887.

There is dust in the air, and a grinding
Of tires on the wheel-weary way ,
As, all swaying, and swerving, and winding,
Speed crowds of the grave and the gay
Past the balconies teeming with faces,
And pathways alive with the feet
Of the dwellers in dank noisome places —
The growth of the alley and street.
Loaded ’buses are groaning and creaking
Under sons of pleasure and toil,
And the vans and the buggies are reeking
With vultures that haste to the spoil.
Here the hoodlum in wondrous made vesture,
That mocks at the pipe ’tween his lips,
Looks aloft with an insolent gesture,
To sneer at the four-in-hand “whips,” —
Steering drags crowned with fashion and brightness,
Where out from the folds of rich lace
(Made still fairer by frames of frail whiteness)
Shines many a beautiful face.
Stand aside! all a-glitter with mounting
Comes a carriage whose panels are rich
With the crest and quart’rings past counting,
Of one who was reared in a ditch;
Gleams a ring on each short stumpy finger,
On which, when out purchasing gold,
’Tis averred that more dust used to linger,
Than ever by diggers was sold.

Hip hurrah! past the trees that are drooping
With dust that has gathered again,
On they go to a carnival trooping,
Where succulent pigeons are slain.
But the fun of the thing, O! my masters!
Is that the pigeons still try,
In the face of a thousand disasters,
With the hawks and eagles to fly.
On they sweep — a wild mingling of laughter,
Of hoof-beats, and champing of bits;
While yet faster and faster comes after,
The car in which Nemesis sits.
So they pass through the gates open swinging —
The gentle, the simple, the rooks,
As afar on the hot air is ringing
The hoarse-noted roar of the “Books.”

In the Leger the “Monties” are shouting;
And “Buttoners” capture the pea,
To show ’Arry — here for an outing,
That all such amusements are free
From the guile which they tell him disgraces
The sports that are played by the “nobs;”
While the confidence which he misplaces
Is causing a dearth of his “bobs.”
From their boxes the “Rats” are proclaiming
The odds at a price which should tell
To all save the novice in gaming,
That to win is to bid farewell
To the “sov” which the favourite carries —
Should that animal chance to win,
For ’tis seldom indeed the “Rat” tarries
When the luck of the ‘backer’ is in.

On the lawn, which each oath nearly reaches,
Two gorgeous robed plutocrats stand,
With the bloom on their cheeks as on peaches —
Their rouge is the very best brand.
See, they carry their plumage right bravely —
If grammar be somewhat astray,
One was born — and I’m now speaking gravely,
In a hammock swung under a dray.
And the other when poorer and younger,
Is said to have juggled with life,
While engaged in appeasing her hunger,
By eating new peas with a knife.
But no matter, she gives us good dinners,
And the past is hallowed by gold,
For at best we are dainty-toothed sinners —
By a chef to be bought or sold.
’Mid the rustle of richly-wrought dresses
A sprig of nobility strolls,
While the women he languid addresses
Know well in their innermost souls,
That for love they will never be taken —
No matter how fair to his eye —
By a man who has seldom mistaken
The paths where his interests lie.
Stay, however, he has not a shilling —
His title is all he is worth,
And, perchance, as a spec he’ll be willing
For their gold to barter his birth;
So the daughters of Croesus are sighing
For the time this idler may deign
(“If by Jove, the old man’s not too trying!”)
To sell them his thorough-bred name.
Arm in arm with a squatter patrolling,
The member for Blowhole comes now,
Seeking respite awhile from log-rolling —
The care of the state off his brow.
He can pose as the hope of a nation,
And is pained at the thought of pay,
But a hundred might buy his salvation,
If put in a delicate way.
Through the crushing and hum of arriving
Sound strains of the National air,
As, his bright-coated four-in-hand driving,
The Governor stops at the stair.
Ah, though chased by addresses and .speeches,
And bound to the vice regal mill,
He at least has — what man seldom reaches —
The whole of a Country’s good-will.

All the course fast is filling with people,
And the paddock ringing with noise,
For the “Books” in the Hurdle and Steeple
Have opened with Goodwood for choice;
And the Knights whose descent goes no farther,
Than a sire they don’t care to know,
And Companions of Orders who rather
Consider calligraphy low,
Are “chumming” and talking with fellows
Professedly up in such things
As ‘stiff’uns,’ and “shorts in the bellows,”
When sharply the warning-bell rings.

In the jockeys’ room trainers are fixing
Their leads, getting ready to weigh;
In the paddock the public are mixing
Bets, fast as the “Bookies” will lay;
While the man who is looked on as cunning
Is followed by fools who request,
With a constant and wearisome dunning,
“Just tell us, old man, what’s the best?”
But the horses are marshalled, and Dargin
Stands ready to open the play;
Then there sounds o’er the turmoil and jargon,
The many voiced roar, “They’re away!”
Even now as they sweep round the corner,
Invictus is seen in the front,
While, the pace growing warmer and warmer,
Glenduart is out of the hunt.
Round the bend they have dashed, and their faces
Are turned for the hurdle that stands
In the straight, and, I tell you, the pace is
A trial for hearts and for hands;
There’s a crash as the hurdle is shattered,
A mass which lies prone on the course,
For a rider, all bleeding and battered,
Is crushed ’neath the weight of his horse.
Brave old Bullion’s racing is ended,
But ’tis little the public care,
“What is broken can never be mended,”
And the nags that their guineas bear
Are all in the hunt, save the grey horse
Whose nostrils are wet with distress;
And the passions that burn on a racecourse
Count as little one jockey the less.
Still Invictus the running is forcing,
See, he holds the field in command,
As, the turf from their flying hoofs tossing,
They race past the long Leger stand;
But Balmoral is close on his quarters,
As striking the hurdle he slips,
And then, as he stumbles and falters,
’Mid a shouting, and whistling of whips,
Balmoral — the hope of the double —
Runs up like a racehorse to win,
While the backers forget all their trouble
In the clang of the many-tongued din;
But stay! on the outside is flashing
The silk of a rider in green,
And, out from the ruck swiftly dashing,
The colours of Yeomans are seen,
As Corrigan chasing the ‘moral’
Comes forth like a shot from a gun,
And catching and beating Balmoral,
The Hurdle is lost and is won.

The jockeys are weighed, and the people,
’Mid clatter of chatter and munch,
Are picking the horse for the Steeple,
Through fumes of a five-shilling lunch.
But time that for ever is fleeting,
Rings up for another event,
And the men who have lost on the Meeting
Pour out — on recovery bent.
Here a gentleman lengthy of collar
Has W. Kelso in tow,
You may stake to your uttermost dollar
On the little that party will know,
When, smiling a smile that is child-like,
Bill tells him of wonderful spins
By a horse that, if speedy, is wild-like,
And of numerous by-gone wins;
For Bill is a scorner of cunning
When fast in the claws of a bore,
Never given to rigging or running,
Still he leaves him wise as before.

Here two races are run, and the horses
That carry the violet-and-gold
Have won, which a matter of course is,
At least so by winners you’re told;
They swear that they knew all about it,
That Oxenham told them, in fact,
While a man is a fool who could doubt it,
When by such a deity backed.
And now comes the race of all races,
The sight that seems dear to us all.
Though death sits at dangerous places,
And life may be dropped at a fall.
They are off! And the people are crowding
Like grains of the wind-hurried sand,
While fair ones their faces are shrouding,
As the horses steam down to the Stand,
With wild-hearted Omeo leading
The field that race on in his rear,
As rider or reins hardly heeding
He races the treble to clear;
On they charge with a rush and a rattle
Of panels by flying hoofs struck,
Brave riders and stout-hearted cattle,
From leader to last in the ruck;
Ah! there at the fence near the railing,
The favourite Wymlet runs round,
See, after the others he’s sailing,
With Corrigan dragged on the ground;
Now Omeo’s tender spots find him,
And Scobeloff jumps in the van,
While the others are racing behind him
As only bold-hearted ones can;
But the pace is a cracker, and pounded,
Old Trickett ‘turns turtle’ at last,
While just as his doom has been sounded,
The die of St. Dunstan is cast,
And Scobeloff leads to the paling,
Where Studley swerves, lingers, and reels
While the public are shouting, “he’s failing!”
“Old Goodwood will show him his heels!”
For King on the favourite is riding
A gallant and desperate race,
And they fancy his turn he was biding,
To smother the others by pace;
But Watson has set Studley going,
And Threadgate has plenty in hand,
And Goodwood the foam back is throwing,
As they race past the roar of the Stand
Of “Goodwood can never get near him!”
“Old Scobeloff wins all the way!”
As loudly the bookmakers cheer him,
For, have not the ‘backers’ to pay!

There is woe in the hearts of the many,
And coin in the fobs of the few,
While those who have “lost every penny,”
Are looking uncommonly blue;
But no matter, with Fig Tree a starter —
An animal voted ‘real jam,’
From squatter to cabman and carter,
Once more down their dollars they ram,
Though young Fielder is up on a black one —
A demon ’tis whispered for pace,
And Gorry is walking a hack, one
Would sooner see out of the race,
And Phaon is fighting with Harris,
While Oxenham’s pages are thick
With figures I fear will embarrass
Those gentlemen working on ‘tick.’

By the men who hold glasses unsteady
With doubting, the start is proclaimed,
And, up from the Grand-stand already
A dozen of winners are named,
As the fears and the wishes make fathers
To hundreds of agonized hopes,
That the demon of gambling gathers
To rage on the feet-trampled slopes.
Round the turn they have swung, and the flashing
Of colours is bright in the sun,
As young Fielder Invader is dashing
To the front, and Figtree is done,
While hands to the palings are clinging,
And lips are all parched with desire,
As Harris the chestnut is bringing
Through horses that falter and tire;
On, on past the Stand which is swaying
With billows of hope and of fear,
On, on, mid a whirl of hurrahing,
On, on till the post is so near
That the backers declare he has won it,
That Oxenham’s luck never fails,
“With that weight how could Honeydew run it?” —
When Gorry appears on the rails
Like a flash from the masses that thunder,
Or a stone from Vesuvius tost,
And ere men can question or wonder,
The top-weight is first past the post.

All is over, and cabmen are cursing
The fares they are never to find,
While the ‘brokers’ full sadly are nursing
The debts they would fain leave behind,
And the winners are fondly caressing
The thoughts of their judgment and pluck,
When, forsooth, they should only be blessing
The length and the run of their luck.
So, smirched with the dust that is whirling
From wheels through the voice-laden air,
Where the hoofs of the horses are hurling
Dirt back in the face of despair,
All are hurrying in to the city —
The shearers and those that are shorn,
Fitting subjects for dread and for pity —
Of guile and extravagance born;
Still, boil them, and stir them together,
And I fancy with me you’ll agree
’Twould be awkward indeed to tell whether
From roguery fleeced ones are free;
I t would strike you, in watching them boiling,
That most of the public are rooks,
Who are secretly stupidly toiling
To hoodwink and ‘get at’ the ‘Books,’
While the layers are eagles we know of,
The backers are kites we despise,
With seldom much cuteness to blow of,
And that’s where the difference lies.

Kenneth Mackay, Stirrup Jingles from the Bush and the Turf and Other Rhymes, Sydney: Edwards, Dunlop & Co., 1887, pages 5-15

Editor’s notes:
air = melody, short melodious song, tune

backer = someone who places a bet on a competitor in a race or contest, e.g. someone who “backs” a horse to win a race

Bill = [see: W. Kelso]

blue = depressed, sad; to have “the blues” is to feel very down or low in spirit

bob = a shilling (equivalent to twelve pence); after the decimalisation of the Australian currency in 1966, the monetary equivalent of a shilling was ten cents; the phrase “a couple of bob” could specifically refer to two shillings (and, later on, to twenty cents), but it was generally a common reference to a small amount of money, as in “can you lend me a couple of bob?”

bookie = bookmaker; bookies are professional betting men who accept bets at racetracks

book = bookmaker (bookie); bookmakers are professional betting men who accept bets at racetracks

’bus = omnibus; a long enclosed vehicle, used for public transport; unlike modern buses, omnibuses were horse-drawn contraptions

chumming = being friendly with; acting as a “chum” (friend)

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

fain = happily or gladly; ready or willing; obliged or compelled

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)

nob = (slang) someone of social importance, a person in change, or someone who is wealthy

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

reek = a strong unpleasant smell (may also refer to fog, fumes, smoke, steam, or vapor)

shilling = a coin equivalent to twelve pence (colloquially known as a “bob”); a unit of British-style currency used in Australia, until the decimalisation of the currency in 1966 (the decimal monetary equivalent of a shilling was ten cents)

sov = a sovereign, i.e. a gold sovereign coin, equivalent to £1 (one pound)

spec = speculation; in a monetary context, refers to financial speculation

squatter = in the context of Australian history, a squatter was originally someone who kept their livestock (mostly cattle and sheep) upon Crown land without permission to do so (thus illegally occupying land, or “squatting”); however, the practice became so widespread that eventually the authorities decided to formalise it by granting leases or licenses to occupy or use the land; and, with the growth of the Australian economy, many of the squatters became quite rich, and the term “squatter” came to refer to someone with a large amount of farm land (they were often regarded as rich and powerful)

tick = credit; often expressed as to buy something “on tick” (from the term “ticket”, used for a written acknowledgment of a debt)

tost = an archaic spelling of “tossed”

van = an abbreviation of “vanguard”: in the lead, at the front; the advance unit of a military force; the forefront in an area, field, movement, profession, or science; the leaders of a cultural, intellectual, political, or social movement

W. Kelso = William Kelso (1870?-1945), known as Bill Kelso, a well-known jockey, who became one of Sydney’s leading horse trainers

Vernacular spelling in the original text:
’Arry (Harry)
’neath (beneath)

[Editor: Corrected “caligraphy” to “calligraphy”.]

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