The Stockman’s Offering [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 Stockman’s Offering.

Alright, boss! If a yarn I must spin,
Leastways it won’t be a cuffer,
Although, how this here pitch to begin
I don’t know, as I’m a duffer.
So, a-blowing the froth off the beer,
I’ll give you the strength of the stuff,
For, you bet, if my language be queer,
At least it is truthful as rough.

Near twenty years come next October
I hired with a squatter out back,
At a pound a week and my dover,
Along of a joker named Jack.
We dossed in a hut on the station,
Did this covee called Jack and me,
And over our jolly tough ration,
Got chummy as chummy could be.

We were stockmen when running cattle
Meant saving your neck by your nerve;
When life was a rush and a rattle,
With death in a falter or swerve;
When pikers was ready and willing
A man or a fence to attack,
And the odds a pound to a shilling
’Gin the chap who got in their track.

When you slept your head in a saddle,
Your feet in the ashes at night,
And had to be ready to straddle
A brumbie or outlaw at sight.
But, where is the use of my talking
Of brumbies and pikers and sich,
So, early remembrances corking,
I’ll canter along with my pitch.

The squatter himself was a joker,
Who considered it only right
To miss being landed a broker
By working us both day and night.
But, somehow, he’d come by a daughter, —
Well, boss; I’m not good at romance,
But I guess the angels had brought her
To give us poor devils a chance

Out there in the scrub and the mallee —
Just to alter and mend our ways,
For, I swear, in the golden valley,
They’ll never a better one raise.
Now Jack, though he rode like a demon,
And branded a beast with the best,
Would sit in the evening and dream on,
A-resting his hand on his chest.

And so, when we got pretty chummy,
One night in the midst of a smoke,
First making me swear to be mum, he
Just told me as how he got broke
Through racing and women and gaming,
And how he had once been a toff,
But never a word, said he, blaming
The old man that shunted him off.

His breeding I always suspected,
For Jack had a thoroughbred face,
And, dull as I was, I detected
He came of a clean-timbered race.
I fancy as how the young lady
Guessed more than she offered to tell,
When she saw Jack lifting his cady
With the ease and the air of a swell.

But I’m near the end of my tether,
(Well thank you I don’t mind a swill),
’Twas right in the worst of the weather
The pet of the station, fell ill, —
And kept getting weaker and weaker,
Till Jack said one evening to me, —
“I’m afraid, Bill, the angels seek her, —
The angels from over the sea

That rolls ’twixt this life and a purer;
And weary for sight of her face,
They have come with white wings to lure her
Away to that beautiful place.”
Any way, as we watched her that evening,
(Just to give the others a spell,)
In dreams she appeared to be weaving
A chain of the flowers she loved well, —

While from white wan lips came a murmur,
For a lily to place with the rest, —
Then, — an echo, in tones scarce firmer,
“Ah! God! ’tis the flower she loves best!”
As Jack, with his eyes wet and saddened,
Turned round till we stood face to face,
Saying, “Bill, by it she’ll be gladdened,
The flower on her bosom I’ll place;—

Alongside the lake there’s a garden,
It’s not thirty-five miles away,
By riding old Junius hard, one
Might be back ere breaking of day;
You watch by her side, Bill, old fellow,
And lad! If I should be missed,
I think you may venture to tell her,
I’m bringing the flower that she wished.”

He was gone. And I watched till starlight
Was fading away from the dawn,
When I saw in her eyes the far light,
That lately had burned there was gone.
While she asked with questioning wonder,
For what had become of poor Jack,
I heard in the distance the thunder
Of hoofs that were bringing him back.

I answered: “The lilies he’s bringing, —
The lilies you asked for last night.”
Then, — the door on its hinge soft swinging,
Jack stood in the gloom — ghastly white —
And on up the room swiftly reeling,
One hand tightly pressed to his side.
O’er that hand the life-blood was stealing,
He vainly attempted to hide.

The leaves of the lilies were blotted,
That he laid on her quiv’ring breast,
The ribbon that bound them was clotted,
With his life that loved her the best.
“I have brought the lilies you spoke of
Last eve.” That was all that he said, —
When the cord of his brave life broke off —
Snapt short at the side of the bed.

What had happened? Well this is the story;—
(So far I was able to know)
From the wound it seemed that before he
Had passed where the mallee scrubs grow,
He thought he’d be late, and so, daring
The dangers that lurk in that waste,
Raced on, neither heeding, nor caring
For aught in his desperate haste;—

Till some mallee shoot, — sharp and blackened,
Had found out and entered his side;
Still, he never steadied nor slackened
The pace of his desperate ride,
But, staunching the blood that was flowing
Apace with the hand that was free,
Rode eight miles ’cross fences, well knowing
What the price of such riding must be.

His father, — a Duke or a something,
Wrote out, when he heard how he died, —
(And I guess the same was a rum thing,
Considering his birth and his pride)
To say that he felt very sorry,
And what would they look on as fair
Repayment for trouble and worry
Thus caused by his son and his heir.

If sich be the grief of good breeding,
To h—— with such sorrow, say I,
Who witnessed, all shattered and bleeding,
A brave-hearted ne’er-do-well die.
For I hold so gallant an ending
Was worth all that useless remorse,
Which the world may reckon as mending
The holes of a sin-rutted course.

Kenneth Mackay, Stirrup Jingles from the Bush and the Turf and Other Rhymes, Sydney: Edwards, Dunlop & Co., 1887, pp. 40-45

Also published in:
Launceston Examiner (Launceston, Tas.), 16 September 1893, p. 9
The Tasmanian (Launceston, Tas.), 23 September 1893, p. 3

Editor’s notes:
aught = anything; anything at all, anything whatsoever

cork = end, stop; to put a stop to (as in the phrase “put a cork in it”, pertaining to the practice of using a cork to stop the flow of liquid from a bottle)

cady = hat, cap (the word rhymes with “lady”, which is evidenced by “Charlie Brady” being a rhyming slang phrase for “hat”)
See: 1) Julian Franklyn, A Dictionary of Rhyming Slang, London: Routledge, 2004 (first published 1960), [p. 46]
2) Eric Partridge, A Dictionary of the Underworld: British and American, Routledge: Abingdon (Oxfordshire), 2015 (first published 1949), p. 115
3) “cady (n.)”, Online Etymology Dictionary
4) “word “cady” (meaning “hat”)”, Institute of Australian Culture (list on Trove website, National Library of Australia)

covee = a diminutive version of “cove”
See: Eric Partridge, A Dictionary of the Underworld: British and American, Routledge: Abingdon (Oxfordshire), 2015 (first published 1949), p. 154

cuffer = an unlikely or preposterous story, a tall tale

duffer = a dull-witted or stupid person; someone who is slow to learn; someone who has made a silly mistake; someone who is incompetent; someone who lacks skill

doss = to lie down or sleep; especially to “doss down” in a location that is close at hand, convenient, or readily available (e.g. to doss on a couch, under a bridge, or at someone else’s place)

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

eve = evening

’gin = a vernacular abbreviation of “against”

h—— = hell (censored, as it is considered a swear word when used aside from its context as the underworld home of the dead) (often capitalized, “Hell”)

mallee = one of various low-growing shrubby Australian trees, of the genus Eucalyptus

mum = keep a secret, keep information to oneself; as in the phrase “keep mum” (to keep quiet about information received; to tell no-one)

ne’er-do-well = someone who is irresponsible, improvident, lazy or worthless; a contraction of “never do well”

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

out back = remote rural areas; sparsely-inhabited back country; often given as one word and capitalized, “Outback” (variations: out back, outback, out-back, Out Back, Outback)

race = family (distinct from the usual usage of “race” referring to a sub-species of humans, or the historical usage of “race” referring to a nation)

rum = odd, peculiar, queer, strange (may also mean dangerous, difficult, problematic)

spell = rest, or a period of rest (“spell” refers to a period of time, but was also used to refer to a period of rest, due to the common phrase “to rest for a spell” and variations thereof)

squatter = in the context of Australian history, a squatter was originally someone who kept their livestock (mostly cattle and sheep) upon Crown land without permission to do so (thus illegally occupying land, or “squatting”); however, the practice became so widespread that eventually the authorities decided to formalise it by granting leases or licenses to occupy or use the land; and, with the growth of the Australian economy, many of the squatters became quite rich, and the term “squatter” came to refer to someone with a large amount of farm land (they were often regarded as rich and powerful)

station = a large rural holding for raising sheep or cattle; the term “property” is used for smaller holdings

swell = a “swell” is someone who is fashionably dressed or socially prominent; a toff, a dandy

toff = someone who is rich or upper-class, a term usually used in a somewhat derogatory manner

’twixt = between (can be given either with or without an apostrophe)

wan = having a sickly or pale appearance; a poorly appearance suggestive of unhappiness or grief; a lack of energy or feeling (e.g. a smile or laugh, displaying little effort, energy, or enthusiasm); lacking good health or vitality (may also refer to something which is dim or faint, e.g. light, stars, sun)

Old spelling in the original text:
snapt (snapped)

Vernacular spelling in the original text:
’gin (against)
sich (such)

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