The “Sundowner” [by Gladys Johns, 4 April 1935]

[Editor: Published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 April 1935.]

The “Sundowner.”

When I first saw him he was loitering in the shade of an old gum tree — his swag, his billy, and his dog.

As I passed, I nodded in the friendly bush fashion.

“Good-day,” he said. “Kind o’ hot, ain’t it?”

I wiped the perspiration from my forehead. Oh, yes! I knew all about the heat!

“A billy o’ tea is the best thing for all the heat,” he continued. “I don’t mind it so much myself — it’s the dog.” He wiped something he evidently called a handkerchief across his sun-tanned face, then patted the dog tenderly on its little, loving, shaggy head.

“Great little fellow,” he said. “Him and the billy’s the best companions I’ve got.” Then he smiled at his little dumb friend, who sat in a pleasing attitude thumping his short, stumpy tail on the ground.

The last time I saw him was one evening at sunset, when the sky was splashed with crimson. The dog was tucked carefully under his protecting arm. This time he did not notice me — there are times when the beauty and stillness of the bush are appreciated by the lowliest kind of person.

Suddenly he turned a corner, and the last I saw of him was his tattered clothes and his black form silhouetted against the crimson sky.

For a moment I paused and listened to the beautiful laughter of a kookaburra. Then I thought again of the “sundowner” — not of his tattered clothes and ugly beard, but of his love for the blackened billy, and his consideration for the shaggy-haired terrier.

Gladys Johns (17).

The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), 4 April 1935, p. 23 of the Women’s Supplement

Editor’s notes:
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”)

sundowner = a swagman, or tramp, who walked from station to station, ostensibly to look for work, but with no intention of doing any, who would deliberately time his arrival at a farm or station late enough in the evening, or at sundown, so that they could ask for food and lodging, but with little to no risk of being asked to perform some work in exchange

Vernacular spelling in the original text:
ain’t (isn’t)
o’ (of)

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