The Shearer Shorn [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 Shearer Shorn.

The fire’s a bit low; put those pine sticks
Round the billy, while I turn the cakes! —
The damper we had at the “salt licks,”
Was, I reckon, a caution to snakes.
It’s been a hard day at the muster,
And my throat’s just as dry as a board, —
By the way, Tim! Had Bruce a buster
At the fence near the Cattle-camp ford?

That bottle looks summat suspicious,
Sticking out of the tail of Jack’s coat,
’Tis “Red Heart” by all that’s delicious!
And a rattling good cure for sore throat.
As Jack’s gone the horses to water,
We had better I think take French leave;
The way his liquor we’ll slaughter,
Boys, would make a Blue Ribboner grieve.

Will I make a fourth to play poker?
Well, to-night, chaps, I guess that’s not me;
Since I played with a mealy-faced joker,
It’s a game that with me don’t agree.
And, as I can’t sing you a ditty,
I may just as well spin you the yarn,
Which will show how a youth from the city
Walked through me in this very barn.

It sticks summat still in my gizzard
For to be, so to put it, done brown
By him what came up with Bill Izzard
The last time he tramped it from town.
Yes, boys, it was during last shearing
That the boss gave a penner the go,
The cause being — fondness for beering,
While the means was — the boss’s great toe.

A youth, with such excessive mildness,
That the ord’nary ways of a saint
By contrast would seem full of wildness,
With a manner, too, polished as paint,
Turned up, and said he was willin’
For to pen up and tar now and then,
Receiving per week twenty shillin’,
And taking his grub with the men.

Well, at night, as you know, after grubbing,
While some on us a ’baccy cloud blew,
And others their scissors were rubbing,
We staked it at poker and loo.
This night I had luck, and was raking
From the crowd to a largish extent,
When I saw the new penner taking
Great interest in every event.

Then he said he wouldn’t mind playing,
If we only would show him the way,
And finished us all up by saying
’Twas his custom each night for to pray.
Well I up and I made myself teacher,
In the hope that his cheque I would win,
And reckoned to lead that there teacher
Such a dance down the roadway of sin.

Now, just as the shearing was closing,
My new pupil had picked up enough
To help him, with my aid, in losing
Somewhere near to the half of his “stuff.”
We were paid, if I can remember,
Right close on to the end of the week;
The time was well on in December,
And as hot as if hell’d sprung a leak.

Well, the penner, me, and another —
Seems I’ve somehow forgotten his name,
I think it was Jack Sheedy’s brother —
Stayed around just to have a last game.
I felt conscience prick me a trifle,
As I spotted the penner’s soft face,
And thought, “Poor young devil to rifle
All your cheque is a shame and disgrace.”

So lads we played on until morning,
And then somehow the luck took a change,
(It must have been near about dawning)
In a manner alarming and strange.
The cards that youth held were surprising,
Good enough for the “Heathen Chinee,”
While the way he kept it on rising,
Was far better to hear of than see.

It ended in us being brokers,
While the innocent’s pockets were packed
With notes won from us clever jokers,
By the cards, as, I now know, were stacked.
For, cuss me, as he tramped it away,
At us all a fair lunar he took,
And remarked, “Well, I wish you good day,
Chaps! I’m not quite so green as I look.”

And that’s why I can’t play at poker,
’Cause the thought of it makes me near mad,
When I think of that mealy-faced joker,
And the soft way in which we was had.

Kenneth Mackay, Stirrup Jingles from the Bush and the Turf and Other Rhymes, Sydney: Edwards, Dunlop & Co., 1887, pages 45-48

Editor’s notes:
’baccy = tobacco

billy = a metal pot or tin (usually with a wire or steel handle), used for boiling water over a camp fire (also known as a “billy can”)

Blue Ribboner = slang for someone involved in the Blue Ribbon Movement, which was a temperance organization that originated in the USA and spread to other countries, including Australia; therefore, “blue-ribboner” was also used to refer to teetotalers in general (i.e. non-drinkers of alcoholic beverages)

brokers = broke; to have little money

caution to snakes = someone or something which is odd, eccentric, peculiar, uncommon, unusual, or surprising (the phrase was later shortened to simply “caution”, e.g. “you’re a caution”)

Chinee = (slang) Chinese; a Chinese person; something that is Chinese in origin or style (e.g. a “Chinee restaurant”)

damper = a flat round cake which is made from flour and water (without yeast or any raising agent), which is baked in the coals and ashes of a campfire; the dough for damper cakes

done brown = cheated, deceived, fooled, taken advantage of

French leave = taking leave without permission; a departure taken without notification; taking an unannounced absence (said to be derived from a mid-1700s French custom of leaving a function without saying goodbye to the host or hostess)

the go = terminate someone’s employment; dismiss someone from a job; give someone the sack; to inform someone that their employment is no longer required (possibly from the phrase “give someone the go-by”, meaning to give someone a miss, to go by them, to reject someone, especially to reject a suitor)

green = someone new to a particular job, task or work; someone lacking experience, knowledge, and/or training; someone who is innocent, unaware of the ways of the world

grub = food

grubbing = eating

loo = a card game, popular in the 1600s to 1800s, wherein players who do not win a trick are required to put in a contribution to the pot

penner = someone who pens the sheep, in readiness for them going into a shearing shed (also called a penner-up); also refers to someone who pens cattle (may also refer to a writer; someone who uses a pen)

pen up = put animals into pens

tar = (as an adverb) to work in a shearing shed applying antiseptic tar to the skin of sheep that had been inadvertently cut by shears

Old spelling in the original text:
’twas (it was)

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