The Smoko [short story by Jack Moses]

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

The Smoko

The “Smoko,” held annually in connection with the Wattle Flat Exhibition, is invariably described, year in and year out, as the great social gathering of the season. It certainly is Wattle Flat’s opportunity to indulge to untrammelled verbosity, and it does provide the chance for the silver-tongued orators of the district to exercise their eloquence. I sometimes think that most of our political gentry must have been schooled in the Wattle Flat Academy of Speechmaking. However, apart from the slabs of talk, I certainly hold happy memories of the Wattle Flat Smokos.

The more important and impressive visitors to the Wattle Flat Show — by that I mean, of course, the Judges and the invited visitors, to say nothing of the com-mat-tay and the Press — would feel the pangs of a bitter disappointment if the Annual Smoko had, by some remarkable cataclysm, been expunged from the fixed programme of the Flat Carnival.

The Smoko not only brought together the good sports of the community, but kindred good sports, who had visited the district to participate in the success of the Show,

Most times the Smoko was held on the second night of the show, and the sub-committee. controlling the fixture, left no stone unturned to make the gathering what the rural Press called a huge social and vocal success.

One of the most pertinent questions put to an honoured visitor to the Wattle Flat Exhibition by the popular President of the Association, as he was being escorted with great ceremony to the little tin room behind the Secretary’s sanctum to drink success to the Show, was: “Have you got your ticket for the Smoko to-night?” Without awaiting affirmative or negative, the President went on: “It’s going to be a big affair. His Excellency have announced his intention of being present. Come as ye are.”

Just at that moment the Editor of the local Despatch took a hand in the conversation and the President’s bottle, and indulged in quasi-poetic expression on the spur of the moment:

We are out for a jolly good time to-night,
So let us be happy and free,
And chuckle as glad as the ’burra will do,
Away in the old gum tree.

* * * *

The great night of the Carnival has arrived. The local hall is, for the big event, transformed to an “Arcadian Scene” (see Press reports), and, of course, the beautiful native trees, flowers, and shrubs of Australia can materially assist in such transformations anywhere, as they did at Wattle Flat.

The tables were arranged at right angles, and were composed of long pine boards placed upon trestles, and, save for the three Austrian chairs at the head of the table, where the Chairman and the most important guests of honour rested, the seating accommodation was made up of forms usually utilised as seats of the gods, when the hall was given over for the presentation of the “Great Metropolitan Dramatic Success ‘When the Gaslight Flickers,’” or when the Minister for Works visited the district to renew the annual promise of a water-supply for Wattle Flat — or maybe a railway — if his party remained in power long enough.

Although it was called a Smoke Concert, the Wattle Flat function took the form of a miniature banquet, and the tables — to use art expression that expresses — fairly groaned with good things and dainty edibles.

After these good things had been disposed of, the Chairman, bulging with importance, rose and bowed to the right, where His Excellency the State Governor sat, and to the left, where the “member” was located. Then with hand uplifted, and in stentorian voice he called: “Gentlemen, The King!” Every man raised his voice in weirdly mixed melody, as the anthem was struck on the hall piano — vamped by the local Stock and Station Agent — and the toast was honoured in the orthodox Australian manner, terminating with a long-drawn Coo-ee, which foretold a hot time ahead.

The President rose again — with yet more dignity — and gave the toast of “Our Guests, coupled with the name of the Right Honorable Sir Rupert Richard Reneky, K.C., O.C, C.M.G., C.B.D., etc.”

In an address ringing with fervour, he trusted that the visit of the King’s representative to Wattle Flat would assist to strengthen the crimson threads of kinship.

“Yah, yah!” carne the voice of an ultra-Imperialist, recently from the Old Country, and now attached to the retinue of His Excellency.

Just here someone down the table gave his kooka chuckle, and then the toast was honoured in true Australian fashion and drunk with enthusiasm in honest Australian sparkling wine.

His Excellency having suitably, if very briefly, responded, the Chairman called for the first item on the programme (meaning, of course, the concert programme), and Mr. Wallace Smith, of the local branch of the Post Office, obliged with “The Lubra and the Old Gum Tree,” with a catchy chorus which every Wattle Flattite seemed to know. In response to a vociferous encore of calls and cackles, Mr. Smith sang “Heigho for Kosciusko!” and got more calls and cackles. Happily, here another toast was called, and the President grasped the opportunity of announcing that in consequence of the lengthy toast list, encores would not be permitted by the Chair. To emphasise this statement, he rapped on the table with an empty bottle, the first of all the empties.

“Charge your glasses to the brim, gentlemen!”

Most of the guests acceded to the request with alacrity.

“I give you the toast of the ‘State Parliament,’” proudly announced the President “coupled with the name of our — er — respected local member, who, I feel I should say, has come here to-night, as I may say, with no small amount of inconvenience to himself, and such actions as these show how — how — deeply the honorable member — my esteemed friend — has, as I said just now, the interests of the people at heart. And I —”

“Parliament’s struck!” called out someone at the head of the table; but the President was still determined to do the honours.

“Order! Order!” he shouted, and then went on with dignity: “The toast that has fallen to my lot to propose is, if I may say so, most important — most important, gentlemen. Parliament is the Constitutional House where all those laws so essential to the welfare of the community are — er — created.”

“And some pretty rotten laws they are!” roared someone dawn the table, between drinks.

The President hit the table with the wrong end of the bottle and called for order again, after which he vented a fulsome dissertation upon the outstanding statesmanship of the local member, statesmanship made more pronounced by his attendance that evening.

The toast was received with musical honours, and responded to in a frothy speech, by the honourable member and the Chairman’s esteemed friend.

“The next item,” announced the Chairman, “will be a recitation entitled ‘Booligal Bill,’ by Mr. Benny Bates.” Benny was a well-known local elocutionist, and on his watch-chain sported a medal won in his boyhood days for a splendid interpretation of “The Battle of Blenheim.”

“Booligal Bill” was received with tumultuous applause. The crowd, which had not warmed up at all to the member’s speech, designated the contribution as “bosker,” and wanted “some more of Booligal.”

By a system of elimination the toast list was gradually reduced, and as the Special was timed to leave the Flat at 10.15 p.m., the President, anxious to get down to “tin-tacks,” hurried on in order to have the “Donors of Special Prizes” and “The Judges” floated into talk.

Now the toast of “The Judges” at Wattle Flat is looked upon as the toast beyond all and above all — even that of the State Parliament — and is always assigned to the Committeeman possessing the greatest oratorical powers, whose flow of eloquence generally has the effect of convincing those honoured by the toast that they stand in the State facile princeps as Judges.

The Judge of the Horse Section, by virtue of his knowledge of horseflesh, takes precedence in response at Wattle Flat, and so Mr. William McLoughlin rose, fingered proudly the bit of blue ribbon on his coat bearing the insignia of Judge in gold lettering, took a sip from his glass, and said : “Well, gentlemen, I have to thank you for the hearty manner in which you have responded to the toast of the Judges.”

“Good old Mac!” called someone thickly from the end of the table.

Mac was not perturbed by this blithery reception.

“As far as the blood-horse section is concerned,” proceeded Mac, with the decorous manner becoming a judge of bloods, “I will say that you undoubtedly have made a very fine show — that is, gentlemen, as far as my judgment goes.”

“Year, hear!” jerked someone else from the other end of the table.

“Of course, I reckon,” admitted Mac, “that no judge is infallible. To err is human.”

Thunderous applause greeted this admission, and Mac, encouraged by the plaudits, continued:

“We are all liable to make mistakes. but I always aim to give universal satisfaction. and extend favour to no man.” (Loud cheers.)

“When I go about my work the only individual I seek to satisfy, and to please, is myself, and if I have erred in my judgment — well, you are all sports enough to recognise that it is purely a mis-judgment. If there is anybody here who exhibited to-day, in my section, and is not satisfied with my decision, if he will meet me to-morrow morning I will show him where I think he has lost.”

“Most generous!” called the same old voice.

“You have an excellent district,” continued the Judge of bloods, “for breeding stock; you only want to keep of the best, and the results, in such a climate and country, can only culminate in one thing — and that is, an excellent horse.”

Again the outburst of applause.

“Gentlemen, with these few remarks I have again to thank you for the generous treatment accorded me by the Wattle Flat Society, and especially do I desire to extend my thanks to the Stewards for their splendid work; nor must I forget the Ringmaster, who ever has an onerous duty to perform in bringing the entrants for my inspection without undue delay. If you have Good Judges, Good Stewards, a Good Ringmaster and Good Ground Committee, it doesn’t matter, very much, whether you have good horses or not, as far as the Show is concerned.”

“Hear, hear!” came the endorsement from down the table.

“In conclusion ——”

“Hear, hear!” This was apparently a continuation of the hiccoughed “hear hear” of a moment earlier.

“I would like to say more if time permitted. but I will say that the Show this year was a worthy reflex of a great and prosperous district.”

Vociferous and even tumultuous applause, and the Horse Judge resumes his seat, impressed with the idea that he has made the speech of his life.

When the echoes of the applause and the last notes of clinking glasses had died away, all eyes were turned on Mr. Patrick Dingle, the Judge in the Cattle Section.

“Your turn next, Paddy,” came the command. And in response to a signal by the Chairman, Mr. Dingle blew his nose and became upstanding.

That Dingle had many admirers was demonstrated in a manner most marked.

“Well, gentlemen,” he began, “I am very proud of the honour conferred upon me to judge the cattle. You’ve got the beef and blood in this district, and you ought to be proud of them pens of roans and strawberries that graced your Show to-day.”

Dingle coughed when he got the last sentence off. A few minutes earlier, as he rehearsed his speech, he wasn’t quite certain of his capabilities to put it over, but it was all right and he proceeded with confidence. “Of late years Wattle Flat has been coming more and more into prominence as a cattle centre. Undoubtedly this great district is undergoing a transformation in regard to its cattle to a marked extent, and with all due respect to the Government Dairy Expert — whom I am glad to see here to-night — I say, without fear of contradiction, and from the bottom of my heart ——”

“’Tis a beautiful spache ye are makin’,” encouraged Clancy, from the local “Royal.”

Dingle, maybe, was flattered, but his line of thought was not disturbed.

“The exhibits to-day showed fine quality, and, without prejudice, but in strict confidence, I can say that they are equal to anything I have judged at any Show, and I have judged at a good many. You have beasts that would take a prize in any show-ring in Australia, and the owners deserve the best thanks of the country and the Society for producing such excellent types of the breed.”

Dingle was out-of-breath, and paused to take on a duplication and a drink.

“The owners have no doubt spent a lot of time and money in producing these breeds. My remarks, of course, apply solely to your beef cattle. As for your dairy cattle, you have some it magnificent quality, but it is not for me to advise you in regard to the cows that pay and the cows that don’t pay. People of the district know that.”

“I can tell yon a lot about the cows that don’t pay,” gurgled the Editor of the local paper, “and, what’s more, there is a lot of ’em here to-night.”

“Order! Order!” cried the Chairman; but Dingle’s speech had finished — not that he was a subscriber to the Wattle Flat Banner — and he resumed his seat.

Then followed words of wisdom from the Sheep Judge, who had spent a most trying day in the pens, in overalls. This gentleman didn’t care a continental cuss about other industries; sheep were to him the Alpha and Omega of all things, and he proceeded to show it.

“Mr. Chairman and gentlemen, it’s a very great industry, — the wool industry in this country; it’s the greatest wealth-producing factor of the State.”

“What about another song?” shouted the bibulous person from the end of the table.

“Order! Order! Gentlemen, we are dealing with sheep.”

“Baa! Baa! Black Sheep,” returned the moist one.

“What do we owe to our old flockmaster?” asked the Judge.

“Wool,” shouted someone.

“We owe the foundation of this country’s greatness. Look you, gentlemen, do poll know our great flockmasters have brought our wool-industry to-day to the world’s best?”

“Good old bonzer growers!” was the approval.

“Do you realise that the weight of the fleece has been increased from 3½ lbs. to 8½ lbs.? — a wonderful increase!”

“What about the price of mutton?” asked the local butcher.

“Gentlemen,” concluded the judge in a great outburst, “our sheep are empire-builders!”

“Heah! Heah!” came the voice of Imperialism.

“I feel,” added the Judge, “that it is always a serious task to undertake the judging of sheep in an important sheep-district such as this. The qualities ran very close indeed to-day and the final awards caused me a good deal of anxiety.”

“You took an ’ell of a time to judge ’em,” ventured an exhibitor not placed.

“Be that as it may,” retorted the Judge, unperturbed by the drastic criticism, “the district is to be congratulated on exhibiting sush a magnificent collection of merino, crossbreds, longwools, shortwools, ’oused, and un’oused and ——”

“And what about Mary’s little lamb?” asked the thick voice.

“Order! Order! I will have order!” shouted the Chairman.

“Keep your wool on!” the thick voice advised him.

“The pens,” continued the Sheep Judge, “truly reflected the wealth of a great district.”

At this juncture Wattle Flat excelled itself by way of appreciation, and cock-crows, whinnies, kooka calls, made good while knives and plates rattled in approval.

It was then that the Governor and his party rose to retire, and once again the cock crew, and then the strains of “Rule Britannia” flooded the hall.

When the Chairman had once again succeeded in restoring order, and the Judge of the Cookery Section had expounded with eloquence in reply to the toast emphasising the fact that while the ladies of Wattle Flat contributed cakes and puddings, the success of the Show was assured, the “Fowl Man” had his crow.

This official was a weeny man with black, beady eyes, but he possessed a big voice and constantly stroked a short and black beard that looked “sheeny” at night.

“When I came here, gentlemen, to-night, I had a bellyfull of something to digest about your Exhibtion, but I reckon that the cock-crowing signifies that Wattle Flat knows too much, and the flutter of the other roosters down the table has not left me a feather to fly with in regard to hen — and rooster — cackle.”

“You’re no chicken,” suggested the thick voice down the table.

“No,” returned the Judge, ‘“but I suppose I can flap a wing and scratch a bit and say something of the poultry industry.”

As if to deny the Judge of Hens, the chap with the cackle crew loudly thrice.

“If you don’t know it already,” said the Judge, “let me inform you that Poultry is the greatest industry in the State.”

“Yon mean ‘hendustry’,” roared the happy representative of the Banner.

The speaker treated the interjection with contempt and warned them, “You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket at Wattle Flat. The bullock yoke is not the only yolk and I prognosticate, gentlemen, that Australia will create a sniff of eggs-and-bacon from border to border.”

“The boarders don’t get the sniff at our ’ouse at present,” intervened a quiet-looking chap, dipping his hand into the bowl in front of him, which contained a few caramels.

Suddenly the Poultry Judge lashed out.

“What a place like this expects to do in regard to promulgating the Poultry Industry, with only four or five bob-tailed hens and a warty-eyed old rooster, I fail to understand, when you possess such a magnificent climate and magnificent limestone country, so ideal for breeding poultry. I can’t understand that it is not being done. I didn’t come up here to tell you that you present the finest show of birds I’ve ever seen.”

“What the blazes did you come for?” demanded a wrathful owner of one of the coops in evidence at the Show.

“I came to judge,” answered the Judge, emphatically “and I tell you straight that if I’ve seen a sample of the district’s fowlyards, then all I can say is that it’s time you did something in regard to your poultry instead of cackling about it.”

“Good-oh! That’s the stuff to give ’em! Pour it into ’em! We never see a hegg up here; they all come from Sydney,” interrupted the good-looking chap.

“You’re out of order! Keep in order!” yelled the Chairman.

“I know I’m out of order. I’ve had ham-and-eggs at the Dago’s — all up from the city fowlyards.”

“Good old Plymouth Rock!” shouted another.

“Cock-a-doodle-do!” was yet another comment.

The Poultry Expert appreciated the enthusiasm evoked in regard to the fowls, then branched off to the dogs.

“As for the dogs,” he remarked, “well — the less said about them the better.”

“Bow! Wow!” someone interjected.

“Your’ right — they were just barks, and that’s all. I saw better dogs in the street this morning; but, nevertheless, on behalf of the dogs, I thank you.”

The Poultry Expert’s collar was very limp as he resumed his seat.

The next toast was, from the Honorary Treasurer’s viewpoint, one of the most important of the night. In very truth, the honoring, per medium, of the glass, of the spirit of the donors of the Special Prizes is essential in the interests of Shows-to-Be. It is the initial effort to secure the powder to make the big been, of next year.

Mr. Gibson, who this year acted in the capacity of Wattle Flat Society’s Treasurer, in purely an honorary capacity, delivered his Budget in true parliamentary style.

He pointed out that, in consequence of the splendid success achieved by the Society, the time had come for the Committee of Management to enter upon a policy of improvement by way of adding to the comfort and convenience of the exhibitors. An enlarged ground, of necessity, meant an extended schedule and, following this line of argument, en extended schedule demanded increased donations. So it would be seen how important it was that the donors of special prizes should be toasted.

“Put me firm down fer half a guinea for the best spring cart-horse, best fitted for the district,” said the local grocer, who had drunk generously.

“Five guineas from Mr. Plunkett for next Show,” announced the Treasurer.

“Five guineas be damned, half a quid, I said. And in order to stimulate interest I’ll compete myself on the understanding that should I win my own prize, I will not accept the full money, which I think will go to show that in offering a Special I am only actuated by motives that I deem will be of assistance to the Society.”

“I’ll give twelve months’ subscription to the Banner for any object the Committee pleases,” intimated the local Editor.

“I’d give it for the biggest pound of sausages,” humourously suggested the boss of the local Butchery.

“Order! Order!” demanded the President. “Let the Treasurer continue his appeal.”

Mr. Gibson did continue, and informed the gathering that it was not a matter of sausages; it was dough he was after, dough which was so necessary to make the plum-cake of success of every Society. He feared that without the donors of Special Prizes there would be no plums, and it would be a horrible thing just to serve up a plum-cake without plums.

The Society, he continued, had already lost one of its biggest plums by the cutting off of the subsidy, and so far as he was concerned, he would say most emphatically that the Government responsible for using a pruning knife to dig out plums in this manner, was unworthy the name of a Government and showed that it had not the interest of our great primary industries at heart.

It was at this hour that Wattle Flat possessed the desire to let itself go. It realised that the Annual Function had provided a bonzer time for all, and it would enable Wattle Flat to be on the map for another twelve months.

The Committee — as all good committees will — looked upon a successful Smoko as the sine qua non of a successful Show; to-morrow the Smoko world be as universally discussed on the ground as the fat bullock for the guessing competition. And so, in order to let itself go, Wattle Flat cheered the Treasurer again and again, until the cheering capabilities of the banqueters were almost exhausted.

Then someone shouted, “What about the toast of the ladies?” and forthwith the chap at the end of the table stood upon his portion of the form and bawled:

“Sweethearts and wives!
Sweethearts and wives!
Girls are the joy
Of all our lives”

Then came the voices mingling in unity to the toast.

“The Ladies! God bless ’em!”

And so the last bottle is drained and the vocal capabilities of Wattle Flat become exhausted as well as the cheering propensities. Then “Auld Lang Syne” is thumped from the piano, and Wattle Flat, its judges and its visitors cross hands and breathe into each other’s ears the fact that a hand is offered to a trusty friend. As the notes of “Auld Lang Syne,” which wake the tired travellers in the pub. next door, and there are nine in one room, float away, once again the Loyalty of Wattle Flat bursts forth in a thick rendition of the Anthem; then more cheers, and then some more cheers, and the Smoko ends.

It was truly a red letter night that will linger long in the memory of Wattle Flat.

Jack Moses, Beyond the City Gates: Australian Story & Verse, Sydney: Austral Publishing Co., 1923, pages 71-83

Editor’s notes:
Alpha and Omega = the beginning and the end, the first and the last; the whole extent or the essential elements of a matter or a subject (a phrase derived from the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet)

Auld Lang Syne = (Scottish) “times long past” (literally, “old long since”), similar to “the good old days”; commonly known in relation to the song “Auld Lang Syne”, being the poem written by Robert Burns (and later set to music) which was based upon an old Scottish song

bonzer = (Australian slang) excellent (also spelt as “bonza”)

bosker = (Australian slang) excellent, very good

facile princeps = (Latin) “easily first” or “easily the best”, someone or something that is the best; the acknowledged leader in a particular field or subject

kooka = an abbreviation of “kookaburra”

member = (in the context of parliament or parliamentarians) Member of Parliament

Old Country = a reference to the country from where one came or from where one’s family originated; in an Australian context, “the old country” also has a meaning regarding the nation which settled Australia, and thus the phrase commonly refers to the United Kingdom (or to England specifically)

pub. = hotel; an establishment where the main line of business is to sell alcoholic drinks for customers to consume on the premises (“pub” comes from the abbreviation of “public house”)

quid = a pound or a dollar; originally “quid” referred to a pound, a unit of British-style currency used in Australia (until it was replaced by the dollar in 1966, when decimal currency was introduced); after the decimalisation of Australia’s currency, it referred to a dollar

red letter = an important or significant day, event, season, or time (from the practice of marking feast days and other holy days in red on church calendars; however, the stylization of using red to mark important days was used as far back as ancient Rome)

Special = a special train (not one on the regular train schedule), a train arranged for a special purpose

stentorian = a very loud or powerful voice (from Stentor, who was a Greek herald in the Trojan War, and who was noted for his loud voice)

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

tin-tacks = commonly used in the phrase “get down to tin tacks” (used in the same fashion as “get down to brass tacks” and “get down to business”), to get to the heart of a matter; to have discussion on a central issue, whilst dispensing with the usual social pleasantries and ignoring extraneous matters; to get to the details of a matter

traveller = a commercial traveller, a travelling salesman

weeny = tiny, very small

Vernacular spelling in the original text:
com-mat-tay (committee)
’ell (hell)
’em (them)
fer (for)
heah (hear) [English]
hegg (egg) [English]
’ouse (house)
’oused (housed)
spache (speech) [Irish]
yah (yes) [English]
(ye) [Irish; also archaic]

[Editor: Corrected “visitor to Wattle” to “visitor to the Wattle”. Changed the single quotation mark to a double quotation mark before “Smoko” in the first sentence. Added a full stop after “another comment”.]

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