The Gold Digger’s Yarn [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).]

The Gold Digger’s Yarn.

“What, turning in? why have another fill man! —
Joe, pitch that bit of box upon the fire,
I’ll trouble you this way to pass the swill-can, —
Come, spin a yarn while I fill up my briar!”
So, sitting at a camp fire one September,
I asked a digger old and worn and gray
To tell his life — and this, if I remember,
Is something like the style he fired away.

“Well, as you will, but it must be an old one, —
I knows no cuffers of these crooked days
When first prospectors very seldom “hold one”
Well knowin’ selling is the game as pays.
’Twas, let me see, say sixteen years or over,
Since I had for a mate a chap named Bill,
While life was hardly what is termed in clover
When we was sinkin’ up on Sandy Hill.

Well, boys, one day when it was near on dinner,
I heerd long Bill send up a dismal groan,
Adding, with reckless oaths, “As I’m a sinner
I’ve struck upon a damned great chunk of stone!”
At first I scarcely did more than half believe him,
For not a sign of stone was there about,
But later on when goin’ to relieve him —
There stuck the cussed thing without a doubt.

That we struck work I guess goes without saying,
We didn’t drink, because — we had no “stuff,”
For Providence had lately started playing
The kerds on us particularly rough;
’Cause Bendigo was not a place to live in,
For those as came their capital to nurse,
When diggers forty pounds a bag was givin’
For flour as wasn’t worth a tinker’s curse.

You see the drays was stuck up with their loadin’
In scrub where teams could pull until they burst,
Through which there ran I guess the wildest road in
A country noted for about the worst.
While, if you’ll pardon here a slight digression,
I would remark that morals too was lax,
And, meanin’ no offence by the expression,
Observe that whites can steal as well as blacks;

For one night, just before I went a broker,
As I was lyin’ smokin’ in my tent,
A thinkin’ out a small idea at poker,
I seen the canvas near me slightly rent,
And, presently a fairish large incision
Allowed a hand and arm to enter in,
Which same was placed with masterly precision
Upon the lid as covered up my “tin.”

But, it so happened, yieldin’ to a notion,
I’d put a tommyhawk aside my bunk,
Which now I raised — a prey to strong emotion,
Intendin’ for to ‘trump’ the cussed skunk;
So, just as he had got each thievin’ finger
Around the little bag which held my all,
I didn’t give him time or chance to linger,
But, promptly let the trusty tommy fall.

He seemed to be in kinder of a flurry,
Leastways he didn’t wait to take his hand,
While jumpin’ up, in somewhat of a hurry,
I found “my noble” by the diggers manned:
We bound his stump, and then we tied him double, —
Intendin’ for to lynch him without fail,
When blow me! arter all our care and trouble
The bobbies came and marched him off to jail.

And, here, if so be that the crowd is willin’,
I’ll tell a yarn of one as I knew there,
Who found a ton of gold, — lost every shillin’,
And starving, kicked the bucket in despair.
He made his pile through bein’ lucky reefin’,
And lost his head through fondness for a gal —
That sort of claim will bring a man to grief in
The quickest time on record, eh old pal?

I happened to be workin’ for this joker,
Who liquored in the name of Tom McKoy,
And either as a millionaire or ‘broker,’
He was about the warmest kind of boy;
His reef was just a mile from where we boarded,
And every time we went to have some grub,
A band of coves with instruments was ordered,
To play us to and from the blessed pub. —

The band went first, while Tom hisself came second
Upon a hoss whose only saddle gear
A scarlet blanket was, and this he reckoned
Tip top for style, — and we brought up the rear.
Arrivin’ at the pub it was his custom
To have the champagne poured into a pail;
For men could drink enough of his to bust ’em,
When nuggets were a-comin’ thick as hail.

There was no reason that I know to hinder
His using doors for goin’ in and out,
But, that to go to meals he used the winder,
There cannot be a shadder of a doubt;
While, all the time he fed the band kept braying,
And that there bar was full of oaths and swill,
Till, ’mid a chorus hoarse of roars and playing.
He joined his miners ’cross the winder-sill.

Then off we started in the same procession,
The band a-tooting, Tom upon his moke;—
Till eighty thousand slipped from his possession,
And hunger killed him close to where he “broke.”
But Lord I’m endin’ where I should be startin’,
So, just to retregress to that there stone,
It ended with the same and us a partin’ —
Clean bested by the hand it “went alone;”

While we took diggin’ on the weekly system —
A thing for oldish miners rather rough;
But then it was a game you hit or missed em’;
And that same rock scored heavy on the “bluff:”
Well, let me see, I s’pose a month had ended,
When Bill one evenin’ came up feelin’ sick;
And as, though dosed with pills, he never mended,
I guessed as how he meant to “cut his stick.”

And one night as I listened to his chatter
Of home and kerds and scenes across the sea,
(For fever’d made him mad as any hatter),
He sudden turned and said this ’ere to me:—
“The gold’s below the stone in our old “duffer,”
I’ll go and get the powder while you drill;”
When, as he pointed, death prodooced his snuffer,
And on his bunk Bill sank quite dead and still.

I buried him — and, though they said I’d “got ’em,”
Went down and drilled a hole in that old chunk,
And raised the same by powder from its bottom —
Which act gained me the name of bein’ drunk;
Still, down I goes, when lyin’ in a basin,
(To prove my dyin’ mate no lies had told)
As though sealed up by some almighty mason,
I found a solid mass of yellow gold.

Kenneth Mackay, Stirrup Jingles from the Bush and the Turf and Other Rhymes, Sydney: Edwards, Dunlop & Co., 1887, pages 51-56

Editor’s notes:
arter = vernacular variation of “after” (from a British dialect pronunciation)

blow me = an exclamation which expresses surprise, used in the phrase “blow me down” (similar to the phrase “I was so surprised, you could have knocked me down with a feather”)

bobbies = policemen (the singular form is “bobby”); a reference to Sir Robert Peel, 1788-1850, former British Prime Minister who, when he was Home Secretary, laid the foundations for the modern police force in Britain (the police were nicknamed “Bobbies” after him, as “Bob” is a nickname for “Robert”)

clover = [see: in clover]

cuffer = an unlikely or preposterous story, a tall tale

duffer = a non-paying or unproductive mine

got ’em = “got rats”, i.e. was mad, crazy, insane

hatter = the phrase “mad as a hatter”, or similar, referring to someone who is crazy or mad, derives from the unfortunate circumstance of a significant numbers of hatters in the 1800s becoming mentally deranged (actually, they developed dementia), because of mercury poisoning, due to mercury being used in the treatment of felt hats

in clover = affluent, rich, wealthy; to be in a financially well-off situation (used in the phrase “live my life in clover”)

moke = an inferior horse (originally, it was a term for a donkey)

reef = a gold reef

reefing = mining gold reefs

tinker’s curse = the phrase “not worth a tinker’s curse”, or similar, refers to something that is worth very little, or not worth anything at all

Vernacular spelling in the original text:
arter (after)
’cross (across)
’em (them)
’ere (here)
gal (girl)
heerd (heard)
hisself (himself)
hoss (horse)
kinder (kind of)
prodooced (produced)
retregress (retrogress)
shadder (shadow)
shillin’ (shilling)
s’pose (suppose)
winder (window)

[Editor: Added a closing quotation mark after “duffer,” (placing the quotation mark after the comma, in the style used in the rest of the book).]

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