Ten-Twelve Shebang [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.]

Ten-Twelve Shebang

She never had no side-doors, and she never had no screen,
Such things were not invented when they built that old machine;
The paint is none too clever, and her lines is none too flash,
She’s ugly as a bag of mice with that four-cornered dash;
Her back seat’s like a pulpit, and her hood’s no masterpiece,
She’s knock-kneed in the hind wheels, and her diff. is leakin’ grease;
And every dead-beat motor yarn, as fur as I can see,
Is trotted out by some durned goat, and tacked on her and me.
The cove that drives the limousine that’s standin’ by the kerb
(A “thirty” job with wire wheels and finishin’s superb),
He wears a cute, sarcastic sort of damned annoyin’ smile
To hear me chug along on three, misfirin’ all the while;
But, ’struth, he’ll be a hen-roost lookin’ silly in the sun
Before he notches up the miles that this ’ere car has done.
We’ve scoured the bush from end to end, together, her and me,
And sampled every sort of road from Hillston to the sea.
I’ve filled her up with mountain snow to keep her rady cool,
And boiled her dry in black-soil mud along be Carrathool.
From Bega out to Broken Hill, from Forbes to Dederang,
They’ve heard of Lightnin’ Charlie and the Old Ten-Twelve Shebang.

“Lightnin’ Charlie”! Spare me days, but give a bloke his due,
For Charlie earned the monniker when that old truck was new.
The first car in the district, lad! You should have seen the fuss
The evenin’ Charlie hit the town a-drivin’ that there bus!
You should have seen the mob go mad! You should have heard the noise:
The tootin’ horn, the wild delight of all the dogs and boys!
At every window in the street you’d see a head appear,
The thirsty blokes at Mrs Flynn’s ran out and left their beer.
This joker in the limousine, with all his swank and power —
He don’t know what it’s like to be the hero of the hour.
To leave the crowd cafoodlin’ round dumbfounded at the show,
And cockies gawkin’ underneath to see what makes her go,
He don’t know what it’s like, he don’t, to take the girls for drives,
And get them in a motor for the first time in their lives;
To open out and let them have the thrill that beats the band,
And hear them do their heads and say, “Ah, Charlie, ain’t it grand!”
He never drove a governor, but this old gasophone
It held his Nibship ’fore he had a motor of his own.
It’s dinkum what I’m tellin’ you: you recollect the year
They opened up the ’orspital, and all the nobs was here.
The squatters with their spankin’ pairs were four and five abreast,
And all of them were at the train hoping for the best.
No charnce! They slipped a cog that day — the blinkin’ head serang
He drove with Lightnin’ Charlie in that Old Ten-Twelve Shebang.

She’s noisy in the timin’, and she’s wobbly in the wings,
She’s got a knock in every joint and songbirds in the springs;
There’s no one wants to hire us now — them good old times are dead
When every hour was paid in cash, booked up a week ahead.
To picnics at the river bend, to dances done in style,
I’d take ’em out and bring ’em home at one-and-three a mile.
They’d start the echoes with their songs, their jokes, their gags and such,
And here’s me fig’rin’ out the while a rattlin’ in the clutch.
But when the bus was pullin’ sweet and jugglin’ with the load,
The headlights larkin’ with the moon, and pickin’ out the road,
The tree-trunks swishin’ as we went, the song of steel to steel,
A sporty, rorty party up, and Charlie at the wheel,
’Twas great to hear them rise them tunes I knew when I was young —
The sort that get you all the more the more you hear ’em sung.
I’d listen like a bloke entranced, and feel me spirit soar,
The engine revvin’ like a top, and firin’ on the four,
And all the outfit joinin’ in and helpin’ things along,
The tappets keepin’ bonzer time and vampin’ to the song.
They’d start the feelin’s in me hair, and race ’em past control,
They’d send ’em tremblin’ through me blood, and sparkin’ in me soul;
And meltin’, too, the hearts of them that let the world go hang
When ridin’ out with Charlie in the Old Ten-Twelve Shebang.

The first car in the district, yes! and still left in the hunt,
Three figures on her number-plate and bucket-seats in front;
She rattles like a tin of bolts, but yet when all is said,
’Twas her and me that done the bit to shove the game ahead:
We paved the way for slap-up jobs like this ’ere limousine,
With gadgets round her dashboard like a blinkin’ submarine.
Fool-proof, with sweet-engagin’ clutch, the ladies drive ’em now,
But stuck, and findin’ out mistakes, ’twas Charlie showed ’em how.
And when, at swell club-dinners met, the big guns of the trade
Puff out their chests and speechify about the progress made,
Because some mad, well-meanin’ bloke has stonked the fast express,
And chopped the standin’ record down by half a shake or less,
They drink his health and pull his leg, and skite of what he done
(On metal roads, with engine faked, and gearin’ three to one).
But if they got the figures right, they’d handy them bookays
To blokes who pulled the mot’rin’ on in pioneerin’ days,
Before the service station came with stock of parts complete,
When George the blacksmith helped you with the job that had you beat —
The blokes who gave to later blokes the comforts they enjoy,
And proved the car was somethin’ more than just a rich man’s toy;
Then when they tumbled to themselves, they’d stow the wild harangue,
And sling a cheer for Charlie and the Old Ten-Twelve Shebang.



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

Editor’s notes:
bonzer = excellent
cockies = farmers (used to refer to poor bush farmers, from having land so poor that they were jokingly said to only be able to farm cockies, i.e. cockatoos, a type of bird; however, it is was then used to refer to farmers in general)
cafoodlin’ = (unknown; possibly to wander aimlessly)
serang = the skipper of a small boat; a native Indian boatswain (petty officer)
stonked = defeated decisively (also can mean: hit hard, knocked unconscious; baffled; bombarded with artillery)
vampin’ = in musical terms, to improvise (such as for an accompaniment)

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