Snifter the outlaw [short story by Jack Moses]

[Editor: This is a short story from Beyond the City Gates: Australian Story & Verse (1923) by Jack Moses.]

Snifter the outlaw

Queensland bred Snifter, and Queensland was proud of Snifter. Snifter was a good upstanding neddy, and could buck a treat; that’s when Clinker gave him his head and the office.

Few, if any, could ride Snifter. The horse became so used to showman’s tactics that a fine artful bucking display could be given with a fair rider, as Clinker would say, “to satisfy any audience with a desire to see a grand bucking bout.”

There was something, too, about Snifter that seemed to dominate other “prads”; he was the star performer of Clinker’s turn out.

I met Clinker and Snifter in the West, fifteen years ago, when Cobar was giving to the world a wealth of gold, copper and silver; when the old town was agog with excitement and life; when the great mines were in full blast, and the shrill whistle of “the shifts” called thousands of sturdy miners to the pits; when the night was red with a glow from the roaring furnaces, the molten slag that wheelers toppled over the tips, and the stacks belched forth a volume of smoke, which hung as a curtain over the face of the setting sun, at the close of a hot and long Western day.

The picture of that far-off mining town is indelibly printed on my mind to-day. It was here that Clinker and Snifter first became acquainted. Cobar was gladdened by a display of a “Wild West Round Up,” comprising the antics of brumbies, mules, donkeys and steers, axe-men, including Harry Day, that willowy straight-legged Aussie, who could make the chips fly like sparks from the anvil under the direction of the village blacksmith. Every time the axe hit the wood a chunk would jump, and I tell you that each of those chips would make a warm block in many a city grate. There was another feature of Clinker’s show, purely Australian, and that was Nuggety Jim Doyle, the chap who could crack an eighteen foot whip, making the hair fly from a bullock’s hide with his right, or with his left.

The biggest night in the history of Clinker was the final of a successful season in Cobar; a night set apart as a benefit in aid of the local hospital. Clinker was a big-hearted chap, always had a thought of suffering humanity, and, like his Bohemian cobbers, never had he turned his deaf ear, an infirmity unfortunately possessed by him, to an appeal on behalf of his fellow man.

There is no one quicker to appreciate a big heart than the Australian, be he miner, shearer, drover, or the boss himself, and these men appreciated to the full the helping hand Clinker extended during his Cobar season.

On this night a wonderful audience had assembled; tiers of humanity, with its wives and families — but without its coats — exhibiting great sinewy arms, bared to the elbow, awaited the excitement and thrills of the “Wild Australia.”

The local brass hand had completed its selected programme, on the square in front of the show; the town bellman had wiped the perspiration from his face, folded up the bill of his speech and the “show” was ready to begin.

The members of the band hall taken up their position, near the entrance, in order to render the National Anthem, on the arrival of His Excellency the State Governor, who was on his way to Sydney, from Broken Hill, and who had reached Cobar at a time which provided the Mayor with an opportunity, on behalf of the citizens, to arrange for the Vice-regal representative to witness a Wild Australia Show.

“God Save the King” was played, and then Cobar rose and cheered His Excellency.

What a night it was. Here was one of the greatest horse tamers and rough riders Australia had produced, with a string of the wildest equine outlaws the bush could deliver — and the night promised good. The yard was built out in the open, enclosed within canvas walls, constructed of good old stringy bark saplings, between four and five feet high; from right above the man in the moon looked down upon the show; the stars seemed to race to the centre, then cluster above the arena, mild and beautiful.

Yes, what a night it was, as the nights ever are on the broad Australian plains.

The mule was first to kick his way to the sawdust arena and a great roar of hilarity was created as boy after boy was rushed to the ring, rushed to the mule’s back and slung over the mule’s head in quick succession. Then came the serious matter, —the untameable, shoeless brumby; a blazed-faced chestnut with a wall-eye, — his rough rugged coat, his unkempt mane, his long and brushy tail matted with twigs and leaves, with splotches of the red soil of the West around the fetlocks, that he looked truly what he was, a son of the scrub.

The brumby is hauled in at the end of a rope; now the bag is over his head; the chestnut is back on his haunches; there is a lunge forward with a strong hold of Clinker’s iron hands on the beast’s ears and nose. The head is thrown in the air, the maddened brumby swings Clinker round and round, but the man hangs with the tenacity of the bulldog, until the horse is under command. The saddle is carefully placed on the outlaw’s back; with tender hands the crupper is adjusted and the girths are buckler, then, as in a flash, the black boy is on.

“Let her go,” and the battle has begun.

Round and down and up, then up and down and round, the battle continues. The squeal of a fighting horse stimulates the crowd, including the Governor.

“Jab him, Jacky; stick to him, Jacky; ain’t he a bobby-dazzer!”

The Governor looked enthralled; the crowd cheered again and again, and so the Wild Australia sport went on to the end.

There was a greater excitement yet in store; there was to be another equine act. It was the introduction of the wildest outlaw of the district, a horse that had laid low the reputation of many a crack rider of the West, and there were many who wondered that night how Clinker, the daddy of all horsemen, would come out of the battle, for this was the star act and the draw of the night.

What a horse!

His owner — a local man — had long since given up hope that the animal should be tamed as a lady’s gentle hack, and now possessed the desire to dispose of him. This Wild West Show of Clinker’s presented an opportunity to convince really what class of an animal he was under the master hand.

Clinker entered the ring and made the announcement that he would endeavour to conquer a horse that had, up to the present, not met his master, “but to-night, gentlemen,” added Clinker modestly, “he will meet his Waterloo,” and judging by the straight-legged twelve stone mass of muscle and sinew, backed up with a will of iron which characterised the man, the horse would find his master.

“Good boy, Clinker, that’s the way to talk,” came the cry.

“Shut up, Bally,” demanded another.

Bally, a western veteran of the stockyard, stood up and announced, “I’ll ride him.”

“Sit down, the Governor ain’t come here to see you ride. This is Clinker’s funeral.”

Clinker raised his hands and order was restored.

“Bring in the horse,” was the command, and — enter the horse.

No wonder the comments were laudatory, for Snifter was made up of 16 hands of magnificent horseflesh; a beautiful bay with dark points. The aristocrat was stamped in his form. In fact, as Gordon once described, he was —

“Lean head and fiery,
Strong quarters and wiry,
A loin rather light
But a shoulder superb.”

The horse snorted, sniffed, pawed round the arena, and actually whinnied.

“He’s a snifter,” yelled someone, and thus Snifter was christened by the crowd.

The hand of Clinker is placed on the neck of the outlaw, and in firm tones the man spoke to the horse and it seemed as if the horse understood the man.

Clinker and Snifter eyed one another. Who would dominate?

The excitement is tense, The horse switches his long tail to and fro, which means business. They were about to place the bag on the outlaw’s head.

“No!” commanded Clinker, as he took the paraphernalia from the black boy. “I want no bag to blind his eyes, I’ll give him his head and all in. This horse must have a fair go, it will be Clinker or —”

“Snifter,” shouted a voice.

The applause when the blindfold was discarded was terrific.

The saddle is on, not even a stirrup would he use, and like lightening Clinker is in his seat and firmly set.

A lunge forward, the, a great rear in the air; a leap from his hind quarters, down almost on his knees. His head quick between his legs. Buck, buck, then buck and prop; squeels and wheels and grunts; then one more tremendous lunge forward and down they come, horse and rider, to the ground. As quick as lightening Clinker leaps back to the saddle, and as the horse is rising Clinker is in it. Up again rears the horse and a further tussle. Thus the fight continues till again the horse, after a mighty rear, is down once more. Now Clinker, with the agility of an acrobat, springs to the horse’s head and holds him there. Quickly turning to the audience, he calls, “Where’s his owner?”

“Here he is,” came the response.

“How much do you want for him?”

“A tenner,” came the answer, and while Clinker sat on the head of the partly defeated outlaw, his hand went to his hip pocket and drawing forth a wad of notes, threw it in the centre of the ring.

“There you are, take it out of that — he’s a Snifter.”

Never in old Cobar did the night resound with cheers as it did then.

And as I realised the mastery of the man over the horse, my thoughts went back to the old school. I recalled the riders of the past from which he had sprung, and whose tracks he followed to-day. I visioned the pioneers of the West, the strong wiry men who first settled at the back of Bourke or thereabouts, and I realised the strength of those early pioneers.

Fun in the stockyard concluded a great night, and then the Vice-regal act was staged.

On the arrival of the Governor’s party and prior to the opening of Clinker’s show, His Worship the Mayor had requested His Excellency, on behalf of the townspeople, to present Clinker with a gold medal, as an appreciation of his many acts of charity performed in Cobar during his stay, more especially in connection with the local hospital.

So it was that when the last coo-ee had died away, and the last mule had kicked himself out of the stockyard and faded through the exit, the Governor, his Private Secretary, the District Representative, the Mayor, and the members of the Hospital Committee, entered the ring.

“Hullo, Billy Watkins,” shouted a supporter of the local member, “I suppose you’re goin’ to ride the political hack. Well, mind it ain’t the ’igh ’orse.”

“Sit down, Bally, this ain’t no political meetin’.”

“Don’t take no notice of Bally, he got in for nothin’, and them coves always make the most noise.”

“Horder, horder,” shouted another, “this is a horsepital meeting, so lets give the Governor a show.”

Position by the new actors was then taken up in the centre of the ring, and Clinker was requested to stand at the side of His Excellency.

The Mayor, haying introduced Sir Rupert Rutledge, K.C.M.G., and the first Naval Governor for many years, His Excellency acknowledged the plaudits, and then proceeded on behalf of the townspeople to pay tribute to the generosity of Clinker.

“Ah,” he began, “it is with — ah — feelings of the greatest pleasurah that I am heah to-night to witness the wonderful, I might say — ah — extraordinary, round-up performed by this marvellous Australian horseman.”

Loud cheers greeted this announcement.

The Governor had struck the right note and he knew it.

“It is a — ah — pleasurah to see the masterly way in which Mr. Clinkah handled that untamed animal, and this by an exhibition of tenderness free from all brutality together with kindness supreme, completely taming to docility, which has been quite an education to me and to all present. It has been a magnificent object lesson of man’s mind over wild animals.

“It is no doubt due to the wonderful spirit of the country, to those miles of broad lands which enacted the people to grow and develop to sturdy settlers and citizens and defenders of a great Empah, upon which the sun never sets —”

“It never seems to set in Cobah,” reminded a squeaky voice.

“Order! Order!” demanded the Mayor.

“These great horsemen,” continued His Excellency, “will someday be called upon to play their part for the protection of their homeland, and while Britain has such giants in the outposts, the Empah is safe. To-night this magnificent exhibition of horsemanship bas been an eye-opener — indeed, a rare educational treat.

“I am, of course, a sailor. I have ridden the raging main in the midst of a raging gale, I have often ridden in a bucking dinghy, but I have never ridden on the bucking brumby. (Loud laughter.) I am sure I would grasp the flowing mane all the time.” Ha! Ha!

More loud laughter and cheers. His Excellency was a sport, and Cobar relished a sport.

His Excellency now turned to Clinker.

Mister Clinkah, I have great — ah — pleasurah indeed in asking you, on behalf of the citizens of Cobah, to accept this small appreciation of the many acts of kindness performed by you during your visit to this town.”

The crowd cheered, hoorayed, and coo-eed as the Governor handed the medal to the horseman. Clinker modestly took the insignia of Cobar’s appreciation and pinned it to the blouse of Mrs. Clinker, who stood at his side.

The little woman had been the sharer of his trials, his troubles, his joys and his successes for twenty years, and Clinker knew that his success in life was only achieved through the palship of this little woman.

The crowd in the meantime had kept up a continuous shouting of approval, and then Clinker turned to His Excellency, smiled, and said:

“They are very pleased, ain’t they. You must have made a great speech; but I never heard a word you said.”

* * * *

Many seasons have come and gone since that Cobar season, but there is one big “round up” I would like to refer to, and that associated with Clinker’s season which drew 100,000 Australians, on one afternoon, to the spacious grounds of the Royal Agricultural Society to witness Clinker’s programme of “Wild Australia.”

Clinker had Snifter then, but Snifter is no more the idol of the bucking arena.

* * * *

Just after Snifter died I met Clinker in the North. He looked to have aged, and you would have thought he had lost “his world.”

“Suppose you heard the news?” he asked, in that soft voice of his.

I shook my head.

“Snifter’s dead,” he whispered; and I realised the reason of his dejection.

“I can’t get. over it; he’s dead a week — the emptiest week of my life. I remember nothing but Snifter. What a pal he was of mine from that first night at Cobar.”

Clinker paused a bit, then continued: “He seemed to know me as I knew him. However, I suppose we must forget, but if there’s any place for grind horses to go to when they die, I reckon Snifter’s got there. I tried to sleep last night; I bought a book and read a bit, then I blew the candle out in the pub where I am staying, then I lit it again and blew it out. I couldn’t sleep. Had to get up and walk about. Felt as if I’d lost me father or mother.”

Clinker looked away from me absently, then suddenly exclaimed:

“Now we’ll walk past the Bank of Queensland.”

I wondered what his object was, but I accompanied him.

When we pulled up a few minutes later in front of the branch of the Bank of Queensland, Clinker raised his hat.

I guessed the action, and he turned to me.

“I’ll always lift my hat to the name of Queensland,” he said, “for that’s where Snifter was bred”

Jack Moses, Beyond the City Gates: Australian Story & Verse, Sydney: Austral Publishing Co., 1923, pages 102-110

Editor’s notes:
cobber = friend, mate

cove = man, chap, fellow

Gordon = Adam Lindsay Gordon, a poet born in the Azores (to a British couple), who spent most of his working and literary life in Australia

hack = horse; a horse for general hire; a horse used for general work purposes; a worn-out horse

Jacky = (also spelt “Jackie”) an Aboriginal man

main = the high sea, the open ocean

neddy = slang term for a horse (e.g. to have “a flutter on the neddies” is to have a bet on a horse race)

prad = horse

sport = a good sport, someone who acts in a good or forbearing fashion in response to a trying situation or a setback; someone who adheres to high standards of sportsmanship; someone who is a good companion

tenner = a ten pound note

Vernacular spelling in the original text:
ain’t (aren’t)
ain’t (hasn’t)
ain’t (isn’t)
Empah (Empire) [English]
heah (here) [English]
horder (order) [English]
horsepital (hospital) [English]
me (my)
pleasurah (pleasure) [English]

[Editor: Corrected “bleched forth” to “belched forth”. Replaced single quotation mark with a double quotation mark, after “Snifter’s dead,”.]

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