The strange mystery of Mr. Henry P. McRobinson [21 December 1922]

[Editor: A short story, by A. G. Stephens, published in The Worker, 21 December 1922.]

The strange mystery

of Mr. Henry P. McRobinson

[For the Queensland “Worker.”]

(By A. G. Stephens.)

The little swagman boiled his billy near the main boundary gate of Warregomoona — Sheepshanks’ biggest station — which is rather nearer the Warrego than it is near the Queensland border, and has the reputation of collecting more rabbits, blowflies, and sand than any other station in North-west New South Wales.

It was a substantial gate, erected in a proud moment, and the squared posts had been carted a trifle over forty miles, as the station only provided low scrub and an occasional rotten belar. The swaggy hacked a few chips off the posts with his knife to start the fire and for luck.

The bush is full of eyes at shearing time, and Henry had a curious observer of his proceedings in the shape of a man who was riding in from the Nine-mile. He reported what he could see; and I have inferred the rest of Henry’s proceedings at this stage.

No hungrier swagman ever travelled west of Bourke — which is saying a good deal. His shirt and trousers seemed as if they had been picked off a rubbish heap before being slept in for weeks. His swag was very thin — it looked like one miserable blanket and some rags where the bulge came. His boots flapped on his feet, and his leaking billy was near its last gasp. As he wore something on his head, it must have been a hat. Plainly he was a mug at the game.

He kept on talking to himself, as if he had a touch of the heat. His body seemed on the weak side, though wiry; his assortment of features was quite undistinguished with one exception — his eyes. They were jet black, and the irises seemed about double the natural size. Unusual eyes, they gave you a queer feeling when he looked at you, as if all his vitality was concentrated behind them.

Of course I am giving you the strength of what the storekeeper said, and the manager said, and the men said when I came along later and collected their yarns. I never saw Henry myself, but what I heard about him would fill a volume. Go up to Warregomoona now, and you’ll find that the chief topic of conversation when the men get together is still Henry. They dreamed of him every night when I was there.

His name was Henry P. McRobinson. They never found out what the P. stood for, if it stood for anything. After the first day, everyone called him Mr. McRobinson. They couldn’t say why, except that he was that kind of man.

He shouldered his swag and started off. He still had three miles to go before reaching the station. Three miles isn’t much, but Henry had done a good bit already. He seemed to have picked out Warrogomoonn long before, for some reason or another; anyway, he had the station in his mind at Bourke, because word drifted back that a publican there had met a bloke with funny eyes asking about it.

Mr. McRobinson trudged on as well as his sore feet would permit, probably revolving ointment and other things in his mind. The sun had nearly two hours to go when he limped up to the huts and past them to the store. Warregomoona has a good pile of buildings to its name; it shears 30,000 in a lucky year.

The storekeeper’s account is that he had his place full, as shearing was starting next week — this was on a Friday — and he was checking over a lot of stuff that the drays had just brought in from Bourke. Suddenly he felt as if somebody was watching him, and he looked up and saw Henry, with his miserable swag on the counter and his arms resting easily behind it.

That narked the storekeeper straight away — Henry’s putting his swag on the counter. It was like his blanky cheek! A nice state of things the country was coming to! And so on, and so on, not said, but thought.

The storekeeper at Warregomoona seemed to me a good enough average man, but rather cantankerous and a trifle blasphemous. The men didn’t like him; there were complaints of unfair dealing, and so on. I daresay Henry heard the complaints while he was there.

On this particular day the weather had been trying — it was blazing hot; and there had been a lot of interruptions; and it looked as if a case of the boss’s whisky was missing, though it might have been left behind with the goods coming next trip. But according to the documents in his hands the storekeeper believed otherwise, and he knew whom the boss would blame for the shortage, if it was a shortage. By the time the next drays came in the real culprit would be out of reach. Mick and Pete had been altogether too lively when they turned in their loads.

Consequently, when Henry said “Good evening” in a tired but pleasant voice, the storekeeper, with that dirty swag visible on his counter and all his grievances bubbling inside him, retorted simply: “What the —— do you want?”

The little swagman looked at him and said, “My name is Mr. Henry P. McRobinson.”

The storekeeper regarded Henry in a fascinated way, as if he did not feel quite well, and very much to his own surprise he found himself saying civilly, “And what can I do for you, Mr. McRobinson?”

“It is a nice evening,” said Henry, still looking intently at the storekeeper.

“It’s a nice evening,” said the storekeeper mechanically. He tried to shift his eyes from Henry’s, but he could not.

“And very seasonable weather for the time of year,” urged Henry politely.

“And very seasonable weather for the time of year,” repeated the storekeeper, as if the words were drawn out of him by some force beyond his control.

“I should like you to give me a complete fit-out,” proceeded Henry in his mild voice. “The best suit of clothes you have handy, and a neat pair of boots — size 6, a good hat, and a couple of shirts and collars, socks, and some underlinen, and a razor, hair-brush and comb, a really good tooth-brush, some dentifrice, a few handkerchiefs, and any other little things you have handy.”

“I haven’t any collars,” said the storekeeper; “and look here ——”

Henry checked him with a glance. “We will dispense with the collars,” he remarked agreeably, “and will you kindly give me the rest as quickly as you can?”

“Yes,” said the storekeeper — both unwillingly and willingly. “Yes, Mr. McRobinson; certainly. Mr. McRobinson.”

By this time the storekeeper was so thoroughly under the influence, or whatever it was, that he made no difficulty about giving Henry a note to the cook at the men’s hut, telling him to supply rations, or about supplementing the cook’s tucker with a tin of salmon and a tin of fruit, and adding a suit of pyjamas, a couple of towels, a cake of soup, a pot of healing ointment, a, ten-and-sixpenny pipe, a pound of No. 1 tobacco, matches, a few sundries, and the last Sydney newspaper available.

He did boggle at the loan of an old but serviceable portmanteau to carry the lot; but Henry gave him one of his peculiar looks and he stopped boggling. Henry’s bright eye had spotted the portmanteau, and the information that it belonged to the boss made no difference.

Mr. McRobinson thanked him kindly, asked him to put the swag on a top shelf till required, and departed with his winnings.

The storekeeper came round the counter and watched Henry off in a dazed way and returned scratching his head. He knew very well that he ought to have broken loose and assaulted Henry, and what puzzled him was why he didn’t do it. Until lock-up time the storekeeper might be seen suddenly pausing in the middle of his occupation and scratching his head in amazement. The puzzle persisted.

Mr. McRobinson strolled round to the men’s hut, handed in his note to the cook, left his portmanteau of treasures in an unoccupied bunk, changed into his new shirt and pants and boots, and marched down to the second bore tank for a swim.

I forget the name of the station mechanic and handy man at that time — they called him Dan — I believe he has left now. “Oi till yez,” he said, “whin Oi cot soight av ’m shtripping to shtep into th’ tank, for ahl th’ wurruld as if ’twas a gintlemin’s shwimming-bath, Oi was thot fhlabhergasted Oi nearly dhropped. An Oi sang out to ’im, Oi did, not being wishful t’ see th’ mann in trouble. ‘Hi! You!’ I sang out; ‘don’t ye know th’ boss will murrrder ye and me for lettin’ yez do ut?’”

Henry paused, naked as he was, and confronted the angry figure approaching him.

“You were saying ——?” he questioned gently.

“At thot,” said Dan, “he give me the oye, an’ Oi was dead to th’ wurruld, Oi was. ‘Howly Mother av Melchisidik,’ Oi said to meself, crossing meself, ‘is ut a witch ye are?’ And shure a witch he was, or there’s no thruth in th’ fairies.”

Then Henry dived in and stayed in, while Dan watched, from the bank in three minds, as he explained, whether to arrest the invader, or to run and report to the manager, or to do nothing. His third mind won, and Dan did nothing. He watched Henry splash about with much the same perplexity as the storekeeper had watched him walk off with the portmanteau, and looked at him as he came out. Henry seemed a good-looking, well-made little man when he was clean — a bit on the thin side, naturally.

“An evening bath is most refreshing — do you not think so — er ——?”

Dan gave his name.

Henry went on briskly towelling himself and making conversation.

“The sunset is scarcely satisfactory, Dan; the hues are rather monotonous; I have seen much better sunsets.”

Dan gaped. “An’ by this and by thot,” he confided to me, “’twas ahl Oi cud do to kape meself from tilling ‘im Oi’d chase round an’ see ‘f Oi cud foind a betther sunsit t’ plaze ’im. But Oi hild mesilf in, as Oi can do, loike this” — and Dan, gave me a vivid imitation of himself holding himself in.

By this time Henry was thoughtfully spreading healing ointment over his sore heel. Not to be unfair, he spread it also over his heel that was not so sore, and over both feet. The eighteen-penny pot of ointment vanished before Dan’s staring eyes. Henry left the pot on the ground, finished dressing himself, and walked off with a kind “Good evening” to Dan — “lift shtandin’ there ahl shtruck av a hape and a-thrimblin’.”

The next person to come under Henry’s unobtrusive sway was the cook’s mate. At Warregomoona the cook was simply Cookey and his mate was Matey. Matey was a hard-bitten veteran of the bush, who carried the scars of a hundred fights that had made him what he was — the tyrant of the shed and hut.

Not many shearers cared to dispute a point with him. His first argument was a pair of long, sinewy arms with bony fists at the ends of them. His second was the boast that a dray had rolled over him when he was drunk without hurting him. He could give a lot of punishment and take a lot more; and fighting was meat to him — drink being otherwise provided.

When Henry sidled in and took his place quietly at the board, with a splendid appetite for tea, his salmon and peaches drew all eyes and Matey’s loud oath — “What the so-and-so such-and-such have we struck now?”

The harsh voice attracted Henry’s attention, and he answered mildly, “Could you oblige me with a tin-opener?”

“A tin-opener! Hell!” remarked Matey briefly, and went out with his buckets. When he came in again he walked right up to Henry, and said in a menacing voice, “Here’s the blanky Earl of Woolloomooloo wants a blanky tin-opener!” — scowling at Henry with the cordial way he had of greeting strangers. He nipped Henry’s right ear with a coarse finger and dirty thumb, and gave it the gentle twist that a gorilla might have given it; and he commenced: “See here, me lad; you and me is going to have this out now and get started right.”

I daresay Henry was a trifle vexed. You see, he was uncommonly hungry, and he had spoken like a gentleman, and besides, it is probable that he did not like his ear being twisted. He half turned his head and fixed Matey with his glittering eyes. They were shining like coach-lamps, one of the rouseabouts said.

Matey’s hand fell away from Henry’s ear; his face shrank together in a funny kind of way, and he stiffened as if he had seen a crocodile close up with its jaws open.

Henry kept his eyes on him, raised his own hand a trifle, and gradually lowered it. As Henry’s hand descended so Matey descended, lower and lower, till his knees bent and he flopped on them. The men around the board stared as if they were seeing ghosts — and perhaps they were.

Henry made a soft motion, and Matey’s arms came up and stretched out level with his head, with the palms pressed together as if he were praying. It took Henry two or three passes before he got the attitude quite right. Then he spoke calmly: “You were saying?”

“I was saying,” muttered Matey — “Christ, lemme up!” He made an agonised effort to rise, but Henry controlled him with a powerful gesture. Matey’s eyes were fixed on Henry’s; the big arteries in his throat were jumping up and down; he was sweating profusely. The other men watched in a kind of fascinated awe. Their jaws stopped working; one chap had his fork-hand halfway to his mouth, and it waited there with a junk of meat on it, as if he was paralysed.

Henry proceeded in his unimpassioned way; “You are an unpleasant specimen of bush bully.”

“I am,” repeated Matey, and choked over it; “I am an unpleasant specimen of bush bully.”

“You would be kicked out of any decent company.”

“I would be kicked out of any decent company,” said Matey, with his imploring hands giving point to the statement.

“But as you apologise for your foul mouth and your beastly manners ——”

“I apologise for my foul mouth and beastly manners,” chanted Matey.

“You can go and get me a tin-opener.”

“I can go and get you a tin-opener.”

“Then go!” said Henry, and threw his arms out widely.

Matey staggered up, put his hand to his head, as if he had forgotten something, and went away without a word. He was back the next minute with a tin-opener, which he handed respectfully to Henry, then he went out again and was seen no more that night.

“A necessary lesson, gentlemen,” said Henry, opening his salmon and looking round benevolently at the company.

Tea was finished quickly that evening. You may suppose that the men were eager to get away by themselves and talk this astonishing thing over. Henry smoked his pipe quietly after tea and turned in early in his new pyjamas, watched by many curious eyes.

Tim O’Hagan took his blankets and slept out that night. He said he did not feel “aisy in the moind with such goings on in th’ hut.” The others agreed that Matey had got what was coming to him, and it seems that they rather liked Henry, though there is no denying that he made them feel queer.

Next day another half-dozen shearers came in — decent chaps — and the matter was duly reported to them with plenty of embroidery, and they looked wonderingly at Henry, who seemed just like anybody else, barring his eyes. The evidence was too strong to disbelieve altogether; besides, there was Matey going about his work in a peculiarly chastened way — “like a dog that had been blanky well thrashed,” as one of the newcomers put it. Henry took no further notice of him.

Now we come to Mr. Souterson.

The manager told me that neither the storekeeper nor Dan said a word to him, and when Henry came and asked for a stand the manager regarded him impartially, and only noticed that Henry looked unusually clean and well dressed. But he was short-handed and glad to get any man who could shear, and Henry told him he had shorn three seasons in Queensland, so he merely cautioned Henry to be careful of his sheep and trim close, and signed him on.

Sunday passed uneventfully, except that Henry produced a box of the boss’s cigars which he had got from the storekeeper and offered them all round. He declined an invitation to cards, and spent the day reading and smoking. In the evening he had another dip in the tank. Dan was busy with the cutters and did not see him, but he was told about it later. And Henry used another pot of ointment which he got from the storekeeper, who was completely under control and could refuse him nothing.

On the Monday shearing started with the usual hullabaloo, but still short-handed, though a couple more men had come in. Henry lined up with the others, but it was easily seen that he had not much experience at the game. His first sheep took him nearly ten minutes, though he finished it off quite passably. Still he worked on till first smoke-ho, by which time he had managed — I think it was fourteen light-woolled they told me.

When they turned to again Henry did not start with the others. He seemed to be getting the kinks out of himself and looking at his hands and revolving things in his mind.

Then he took himself off and went in search of the manager, who had returned to his office after seeing the shearing well started. This time the manager really met Henry.

According to Mr. Souterson’s account, Henry approached him in a deprecating way, and asked, “May I speak to you a moment?” As we get now a first-hand impression of Henry by a competent Scottish observer, I give it in the manager’s own words:

“Ah asked him what he wanted, and he said he thocht his hands were unco soft for the shearing, and he was no parteecularly fond o’ yon job, but he really had seen a gude lick o’ shearing, and he thocht if Ah wad gi’e him the job of shed overseer he wad like thot well, and he thocht he could warrant that the warrk wad be well done.

“Weel, ye may ken that yon was a fair stiffener for’ me, and Ah looked at this Meester McRobinson for a wee, and Ah said to him, in the way Ah have, ‘Wad ye’ no prefair to tak’ my job?” — me intending to lash out and blast the mon to Jericho the next minute.

“And wi’ that the deevil looked back at me and ’s true as Ah’m sitting here. Ah felt cold watter rinnin’ doon ma back as if Ah were droonin’. Ah dinna remember feeling so queer since Ah got the toss from thot black horrse at Condobolin — me landing on ma heid and being laid up for a fortnight, no less, with concoosion of ma brains. And ’s true as Ah’m telling ye, if the deevil had taken me at ma word Ah do believe Ah’d have given him ma job — it was maist peculiar.

“But he said, with great civility, ‘No, he felt greatly flattered by the offer, but he dinna think he could meet the responsibeelity, and indeed Ah knew thot better than he did. And he glowered at me with the maist remarkable e’en Ah ever saw in ony man’s heid — they were black as tar and as big as a shullin’ — er a saxpense, onyway — and they seemed to bore straight intil yane, and Ah felt the cold watter rinnin’ up ma back into ma heid, and Ah was a lost mon.

“Meetaphorrically speaking, Ah juist lay doon and waggled ma paws at the deevil and gave him all he wanted. Ah argued with mahself whether to take him doon to the shed or to bring Neish, that was in charge, up; and Ah decided to have Neish up, and Ah did. Ah was compos mentis, ye understand, and knew weel what Ah was doing, but Ah was in a dream. And in the dream Ah stayed till that deevil drove off from the station. Mind ye, he carried a good name, but to ma understanding he was no the reel Scawtch, though Ah’m no denying he had the elements, or he wudna have speired at me the way he did.

“Weel, Ah heard mahself speaking to Neish, who is a verra guid mann from Lanarkshire — me being from Ayrshire mahself — and Ah juist had pairrsonality enough left to be surprised at mahself, and then Ah went on doing the bidding of the deevil. Neish asked me to pay him aff, he was for leaving then and there, but the deevil juist give him one glint of his e’en and the next thing they were aff together to the shed, chattering like twa magpies.

“Ah followed after to see what wad happen, and there was Neish stooping at a sheep, as he was well able, him being ringer of Warregomoona for twa seasons gone; and yon Mr. McRobinson walking round overseeing and directing. And whether he did it with his wits or his e’en, he did it weel, A’ll say thot for him. The men stuck to their warrk, there was no complaint, and the day’s tally, mon for mon, was only a wee below our best for a starting day on Warregomoona. Ye asked me what Ah thocht of it. Noo ye know. Yon Mr. McRobinson was juist a deevil in league with the big muckle De’il himsel. He was no canny. Thot awa, I liked him weel eneuch.”

However, the next day Neish was back in his own place, and Henry did not go to work at all. He spent the day quietly with some books he had borrowed and his cigars, turning up to Cookey’s meals with a good appetite and a new bottle of pickles, which he offered round hospitably.

They did not like to refuse his pickles, nevertheless all hands gave him a wide berth, and Matey, in particular, kept very quiet. By this time all kinds of yarns were afloat as to Mr. McRobinson’s prowess, and if he had started working real miracles most of the men would not have been a bit surprised.

That was the day the big boss came to the station, driving his own buggy and pair. Henry watched him come in.

Another day passed quietly, except for the remarks made by the boss, who was used to soft living in a Sydney club and had got prickly heat on the way out. Henry had a little difficulty with one of the musterers, who used gross language in his hearing, but it soon blew over, with Henry the winner, as usual, and the musterer kow-towing to Mr. McRobinson with the worst of them.

The next day was Thursday. Henry rose early and took his bath, and he was round at the store soon after breakfast, getting another outfit of clothing, a bagful of tinned provisions, and another pipe and more tobacco and cigars. He told the storekeeper to duplicate everything. First and last, Henry cost the storekeeper about three months’ wages, for later on the manager charged him with everything Henry took. Of course the storekeeper had the benefit of the experience to set against that.

At nine o’clock the big boss stepped out on his verandah, and it was easily to be seen that, between liver and prickly heat and ordinary heat, he was in a devil of a temper. He found the manager waiting for him, also Henry, and Henry stepped in first. The fascinated manager saw the boss start to prance and tear round and use language; but in half a minute Henry had him quiet, and in a couple of minutes they were confabbing together as thick as thieves. Henry even had the politeness to offer the boss one of his own cigars out of the new box he had got from the storekeeper, and the boss took it and thanked him kindly.

The next thing Mr. Souterson heard was the boss’s order: “Call Charlie to harness up and bring the buggy round,” and he walked off and told Charlie, though he wasn’t feeling pleased with himself, having his full share of national spirit. Besides, he had managed to dodge Henry’s eye pretty well while they were waiting and, consequently, had kept some remnants of what he called his “pairrsonality.” Charlie had the horses round in about ten minutes. During that time the boss and Henry sat in two of those long squatters’ chairs on the verandah, the boss laughing loudly, as no man on the station had ever seen him laugh before, at some yarn Henry was telling him.

Henry rose and shook hands with the boss, came down the steps, put his bags and portmanteau into the buggy, and said: “I think I shall want your water-bag, Mr. Sheepshanks, and a bag of good mixed feed, and have you such a thing as a flask?”

The manager and Charlie watched the boss writhing in a funny way, as if he had been bitten by something, then he said in a thick voice, “Certainly, Mr. McRobinson. Charlie, go round to the back and ask for my flask and water-bag.”

“And please bring a good rug, Charlie,” said Henry.

“Bring a good rug, Charlie,” the boss corroborated.

Mr. Souterson stood at the horses’ heads while Charlie went on his errand. When Charlie came back and everything was stowed to Henry’s satisfaction, he took the reins, climbed into the buggy, and said in his gentle voice:

“It has been a great pleasure to work for you, Mr. Sheepshanks, and I shall never forget your very liberal recognition of my trifling services. But I wish to be quite clear. You are good enough, Mr. Sheepshanks, to offer me this buggy, horses and harness, and lamps and whip, and all the goods I have obtained from the store, in payment for my small labors?”

Old Sheepshanks had another spasm — the manager thought he was going to have a fit — but he came through with a purple face, and gasped out, “Yes, Mr. McRobinson.”

“I scarcely like taking advantage of your generosity, Mr. Sheepshanks,” said Henry, and his eyes seemed to shoot living light at the big boss; “but you assure me that I have fully earned this buggy and pair and all the rest of the things, or otherwise they are your free gift to me.”

The boss’s spasm was so weak this time that the manager and the groom might have missed it if they hadn’t been holding their breath to take in everything.

“Yes, Mr. McRobinson, said old Sheepshanks distinctly.

“The Lord loveth a cheerful giver,” quoted Henry reverently. “Thank you again and again. But perhaps I had better have a little sale note to show in case of accident. I have one drawn up here — dated to-day and covering every thing — and if you will kindly sign it ——”

He held out the sale note to Charlie, together with a new fountain pen he had got from the storekeeper, and Charlie passed them to Sheepshanks, and Sheepshanks signed without a word.

Then, at Henry’s request, Mr. Souterson signed as witness. “What was gude eneuch for the boss,” he said, “was gude eneuch for me. Forbye it was no my ain siller Ah was helping to throw away.”

Henry took the sale note and the pen, and made his farewells:

“Good-bye, Mr. Sheepshanks! Good-bye, Mr. Souterson! Good-bye, Charlie! Please say good-bye for me to all the men, and especially to the storekeeper.”

He arranged the rug over his knees, clicked to the horses, and drove off. Old Sheepshanks immediately lay down in his chair and went to sleep, before his astonished manager’s eyes. They carried him into the coolest room, loosened his collar, took his boots off, and let him have his sleep out. It was no doubt the best thing they could have done.

Mr. Souterson went about his work and came up in an hour or so to have a look at the boss. He was breathing peacefully and smiling in his sleep. The manager’s thoughts were too deep for words; he let him sleep.

About four o’clock old Sheepshanks woke up. He seemed in a first-rate temper, and the manager had no trouble with him. He had thought things over, and decided that the first word regarding Mr. McRobinson should come from the boss. But the boss never said a word. He appeared to have forgotten the morning’s proceedings entirely, and for two days — that is, till Saturday afternoon — he kept in the best of tempers with everybody and everything.

On Saturday morning they noticed a change, and on Saturday afternoon, when he ordered the buggy and found it wasn’t there, Mr. Souterson was sent for in hot haste, and found the boss raving. It took a good hour, with Charlie called in as second witness to persuade the boss that he had done what he had done, and then he didn’t believe it. The first thing he did was to send a messenger to the police, and a trooper rode out from Bourke and heard the yarn. Then he rode back and reported, and a week later the boss got a letter to say the police couldn’t do anything. How can the police do anything?

Naturally, the cat jumped out of the bag, and I daresay the yarn is all over the North-west now, but very few people know the real strength of it. In fact, I believe this is the first time that the real strength of it has been told.

The cloud of magic, or whatever it was, that had covered Warregomoona during Henry’s visit gradually lifted, and things went on as usual. Only old Sheepshanks was noticed to be unusually moody; sometimes he was so quiet that he made them almost anxious, and then again he would fly into frightful rages, even beating his own record, and, apparently without any reason — not that the boss ever wanted a reason for getting in a passion.

I think that is about all. The manager did set on foot a quiet inquiry what had become of Henry, but, after he had passed through Walgett, they never heard another word of him.

Only the storekeeper, happening to lift his eyes to a top shelf a few days later, caught sight of Henry’s swag and pulled it down and unrolled it. It was just what it looked like — one thin blanket, a, singlet, a toothbrush, and a bunch of toe-rags. There was also one of those cheap shilling books — popular manuals, I believe they are called. The cover was a bit soiled, but all the pages were there, though every single leaf was loose from the cover, as if the book had been read over and over till the leaves dropped apart.

The title of the book was “Hypnotism Made Easy.”



Source:
The Worker (Brisbane, Qld.), 21 December 1922, pages 15-16

Editor’s notes:
belar = (also spelt “belah”) a casuarina tree (Casuarina glauca) native to the east coast of Australia, also known as a bull oak
See: 1) “New South Wales Plants and Grasses. No. 77. — Belar or Bull Oak. Casuarina Glauca, Sieb.”, The Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW), 26 July 1890, p. 23
2) “Casuarina glauca”, Florabank (accessed 15 January 2014)

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”)

blanky = substitution for a swear word (such as “bloody”)

compos mentis = (Latin) having mastery of one’s mind; able to think clearly, of sound mind, sane

confabbing = to confabulate, to chat, to talk in a casual manner

dentifrice = tooth powder; a powder which, when mixed with water, and made into a paste (creating an early form of toothpaste), was used to clean teeth

e’en = (or “een”) eyes
See: 1) John Jamieson and John Johnstone (editors), A Dictionary of the Scottish Language, William Tate, Edinburgh, 1846, page 222
2) Samuel Johnson (editor), A Dictionary of the English Language, vol. II, Joseph Engelmann, Heidelberg, 1828, page 24 of the section “A glossary of Scottish words and phrases”
3) John Ogilvie (editor), A Supplement to the Imperial Dictionary, English, Technological, and Scientific, Blackie and Son, Glasgow, 1856, page 148

mug = a fool, someone who is gullible

nark = annoy, irritate, upset (can also refer to an informer, stool pigeon, or spy)

portmanteau = a large suitcase that opens into two compartments; from the French “porter”, to carry, and “manteau”, cloak or coat (can also refer to the combining of several items or qualities, especially to the combining of two existing words to form a new word)

[Editor: Corrected “watter rinin’ up” to “watter rinnin’ up” (in line with the spelling of the same word earlier in the story, “watter rinnin’ doon”).]

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