The Muster [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 Muster.

The Stockyard posts are rotten,
And weeds the panels fill;
The stockmen are forgotten,
Their whips for ever still.
Gone is the rush and rattle
Of pikers on the rails,
When wings were full of cattle,
And thongs came down like flails.

No more the hoofs of horses
May sound across the plain,
Like roar of mountain courses
When mad with winter rain.
For those they owned as masters
Have other Master now;
The lands that were their pastures
Are given to the plough.

It may be for the better,
I neither know nor care;
They could not write a letter,
But could both do and dare.
While horsemen who are growing
Appear to me hand fed,
Much less for work than blowing —
Less sterling than the dead.

They talk about their hunting —
Three fences and a log;
Where sport means panel shunting,
And pace a decent jog.
It may be all they boast of,
This sport for gods and kings,
Where gaps are made the most of,
By queer high-collared things.

But to the men who sought out,
And rode at nobler game,
Where battles grim were fought out,
Say I, if some remain,
Why court a second childhood
Mid scenes of talk and brag?
Why mock the distant wildwood
By following a drag?

Full many suns have yellowed
The bloom on wattle trees,
And many years have mellowed
My life by sure degrees,
Since last I heard the neighing
On hills where horses browse,
Or felt my body swaying
To miss the hanging boughs;

As through the scrub-lands rushing,
O’er stones and fallen trees,
The lighter timber brushing
With shoulders and with knees,
We followed them a cracker
Ten miles without a check,
Where even going slacker
Was rough on limbs and neck.

’Twas in the One-tree Gully,
Dan Godfrey cried a go,
And Prince came down with Tully
Above the Overflow.
I saw the stallion dashing
Ten lengths in front of King,
When through the timber crashing,
Brown took the other wing.

I heard the hoofs’ loud thunder,
As, riding like a trump,
Without a miss or blunder
He wheeled and shot them plump —
Among the mob of “tailers,”
Where, riled and cursing we
Saw all the loafing “whalers”
At grass and swilling tea.

And ere their girths were tightened
And legs were thrown across,
We found that we were lightened
Of every hard-won horse.
There was no time for swearing
Such as the case deserved,
As through the timber tearing,
We neither swayed nor swerved.

While horse had wind to follow,
Or man had luck to pass
Soft patches in the hollow,
Or stump holes in the grass,
We met them in the gullies,
And pressed them on the plains,
Till sweat, that stains and sullies,
Made slippery our reins;

While outlaws back were flinging
Foam-flecks from weary lips,
And all the air was ringing
With shouts and cracking whips.
I think I’m right in saying,
’Twas on the cattle run,
I felt my old horse swaying —
Sure sign that he was done;

But four men still were riding
Like demons on their tails,
With whips and voices guiding
Each hoof between the rails.
Thus of three and twenty horsemen,
Who started on their track —
(Though might be found far worse then)
But four had brought them back.

Kenneth Mackay, Stirrup Jingles from the Bush and the Turf and Other Rhymes, Sydney: Edwards, Dunlop & Co., 1887, pages 16-19

Editor’s notes:
This poem by Kenneth Mackay includes an early mention of The Overflow; as Stirrup Jingles from the Bush and the Turf and Other Rhymes was published in 1887, it therefore predates the well-known poem “Clancy of The Overflow”, by Banjo Paterson, which was first published in The Bulletin on 21 December 1889.

blow = boast

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

hoofs = an alternative spelling of “hooves”

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

The Overflow = the name of a rural station, “The Overflow” was referred to in several of Banjo Paterson’s poems (“Clancy of The Overflow”, “The Man from Snowy River”, “Old Australian ways”, “The Silent Shearer” and “The Travelling Post Office”); Paterson, in an annotation to a letter from Angus & Robertson (18 January 1913, in the George Robertson papers at the Mitchell Library) wrote: “‘Overflow’ is not intended to refer to any particular run. It is just used as a typical name”; however, it is believed by some to refer to a station named “The Overflow” situated about 32 kilometers (20 miles) to the south-east of the town of Nymagee in New South Wales

piker = a wild bullock (may also refer to a lazy or useless person, a shirker)

whaler = a swagman who survives without working (may also refer to a whaling ship, or someone who works on a whaling ship)

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