Saffron Thistles [poem by John O’Brien, 1954]

[Editor: This poem by John O’Brien was published in The Parish of St Mel’s and Other Verses, 1954.]

Saffron Thistles

They took possession one by one
Of every paddock on the run;
And round the fire when tea was done —
Our potent views expressing —
We smoked our pipes and argufied,
But never could the point decide,
If they were just an outright curse,
A flamin’, blinkin’, — yes, and worse —
Or if they were the full reverse,
A sort of doubtful blessin’.

Which brought another point in doubt:
Was ploughin’ in or diggin’ out
The surest way to bring about
Their permanent dismissal?
But one thing we agreed upon:
We reckoned — whether pro or con —
That not a man the country through,
No squatter, no, nor cockatoo,
Could give us any viewpoint new
Concerning saffron thistles.

A summer day was closing down
On purple hills and paddocks brown,
When sped upon their way to town
Big Ned and Charlie Carter;
Our next-door neighbours, so to say,
Their home was twenty miles away;
They stopped their motor at the gate,
A friendly gesture, just to state,
“It’s keepin’ dry,” then made to go —
“We got some umpteen miles, you know.”
“So long,” said Charlie, “Cheerio,”
And stepped upon the starter.

“’Old ’ard,” said Ned, “I see you got
A handy little healthy lot
Of them there saffron thistles, what!”
And here he paused to whistle
To indicate the seriousness
Mere words were hopeless to express.
“Come on,” said Charlie, “stone the crows.”
“’Old ’ard,” said Ned, “just half a mo,
Here’s something that you mightn’t know
About this saffron thistle.”

Whereat he strove to extricate
His solid twenty stone live-weight
From out the car, and illustrate
His lack of all the graces.
“They make these cars too flamin’ small . . .
Them thistles . . . ’struth, no room at all! . . .
The Gov’mint oughter . . . flamin’ ’earse . . .
They oughter —” Gets out in reverse:
A hefty grunt, an earnest curse —
“That’s done me flamin’ braces.

“They’re gorn, be cripes! Well, anyway,
What was it I was goin’ to say?
Yes. Met a cove the other day
Who has ’em in his barley,
And after every show’rer rain —
Now, what was that cove’s name again?
Not McIlray, not McIlroon;
Gee, I’ll forget my own name soon;
Not Curphy, Murphy, not Muldoon—”
“C’mon,” said Brother Charlie.

“Well, this cove seems to know the game;
He says he puts the blinkin’ blame —
Now, what the blazes was his name?
Not Ferguson, not Farley. . . .”
“What does it matter, anyhow?”
Said Charlie, “Call him Smith, the cow.”
“Nar, ’twasn’t Smith, it wasn’t Young;
Got it right’n the tip’ me tongue,
McLay, McLean, McClure, McClung —”
“Kermon,” said Brother Charlie.

“Well, gorn, what did the blighter say?
Don’t keep us waiting here all day!”
“He says you see them thistles, eh,
What’s comin’ through the barley?
Well, this is what the experts claim —
Cripes, nearly had that joker’s name;
Branigan, Hanigan, Flanigan —”
A sharp thrust on the starter pin,
“Come on, comeorn, kermon — get in,
Ker-morn,” said Brother Charlie.

The motor’s thundering revs announce
The throttle’s feeding every ounce;
The cushions caught him on the bounce,
The intake’s whines and whistles
Were heard far down the dusty track,
From where a voice came shouting back
Triumphant o’er the outfit’s whir,
“Now, don’t forget about the burr,”
As Charlie doing forty per
Went through the saffron thistles.

Published in:
John O’Brien. The Parish of St Mel’s and Other Verses, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1954

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