[Editor: This poem by “Dryblower” Murphy was published in The Sunday Times (Perth, WA), 21 August 1938.]
A Rhyme of the Ragged Thirteen
A Back-to-the-Goldfields Ballad
The cases of fizz are on the ice, the table turkey’s trussed
(Hang the bother and hang the price when it’s vintage versus dust).
There’s crooners to croon and a band to play, speeches and toasts in turn,
And all will be in the garden gay where a damper we used to burn.
For it’s Back to Old Hannans once again, Back to the Golden Mile,
Where the metal still lurks in its diorite den and tailing pyramids pile.
But this is the song of a splendid band who came in the long ago,
When Bayley and Ford rocked Groperland with the news of the Golden Blow.
This is the rhyme of the Ragged Thirteen, a baker’s dozen of braves;
Who each lies cold in his lone costean, the best of Outback graves.
The Ragged Thirteen who cut the tracks from Cue to Bayley’s Find
The Curse of Thirst upon their backs, a dozen duffers behind.
Aussie and Englishman, Irish and Scotch, Welsh and Squarehead too,
With never a compass, map or watch, to bring their brogans through.
Never a pocket that held a bob — the last spree cleared them clean,
A dozen dialects in the mob and the leader was Larrikin Green.
There was Larrikin Green and Paddy the Flat and mighty Mick O’Burn,
Whose fists could beat a rat-tat-tat on a dozen cops in turn;
Wild-Horse Woods and Charlie-the-Goose, Slippery-Dick and Coyle,
Who for forty annuals had a use for a bed above the soil.
Pigweed-Harry and Dry-Soak Sam, Combo Kelly and Sport,
And Scotty, who shot the station ram when the mutton bag ran short.
The thirteenth was a nondescript, long and lousy and lean,
But the gamest man to a singlet stripped was leader Larrikin Green!
It was Green who saved the Warden’s life when the Afghan ran amuck;
When the fight was a razor-bladed knife versus Larrikin’s pluck.
Green it was who went below when the dynamite was bad
And sent to the brace dead Dan McCrow and Alec Lander’s lad.
There may have been a few mishaps when alluvial times were hard,
A few sheep went a-missing, p’r’aps, from Sullivan’s slaughter yard.
But when the camp was stiff and cold and the hospital hadn’t a bean
The first to chuck in an ounce of gold was always Larrikin Green.
* * * *
So they’re holding a Celebration now and fluency’s torch will flame,
But none who’ll sit at the great pow-wow may recollect his name.
But somehow out in the silent scrub, long leagues from you and me,
Afar from the big palatial pub their bones may restless be.
So here’s to the dog-and-damper days, the days of the dungarees,
When still there was many a track to blaze through slender salmon trees,
When the gay dress suit and motor car were not upon the scene
And the men who steered by a sturdy star were such as Larrikin Green!
The Sunday Times (Perth, WA), 21 August 1938, p. 29 (Sporting Section)
alluvial = of or relating to alluvium containing heavy minerals (in an Australian context, specifically regarding alluvium containing gold); of or relating to alluvium: loose or unconsolidated sediment or soil (consisting of clay, dirt, gravel, sand, silt, etc.) left behind by the movement of water (creeks, rivers, floods, streams, etc.)
baker’s dozen = thirteen (i.e. one more than a dozen)
Bayley = Arthur Bayley (1865-1896) was a gold prospector who discovered gold at Fly Flat (also known as Bayley’s Find), Western Australia on 17 September 1892, sparking a gold rush to the area, which led to the establishment of the town of Coolgardie
Bayley’s Find = an area now known as Coolgardie (a large find of gold by Arthur Bayley and William Ford in 1892 triggered a gold rush to the area)
bean = money, often used regarding lack of money or regarding something of little or no worth (e.g. “hasn’t a bean”, “not worth a bean”); the phrase “bean counter” refers to an accountant, boss, or someone in charge of financial matters (often someone dealing in large amounts; sometimes used in the context of miserly or stingy financial decisions)
bob = a shilling (equivalent to twelve pence); after the decimalisation of the Australian currency in 1966, the monetary equivalent of a shilling was ten cents; the phrase “a couple of bob” could specifically refer to two shillings (and, later on, to twenty cents), but it was generally a common reference to a small amount of money, as in “can you lend me a couple of bob?”
brace = (in a mining context) the mouth of a mine shaft
brogan = a heavy and sturdy working shoe, usually ankle-high
costean = (also spelt “costeen”) a pit or trench dug through surface soil to the underlying rock so as to locate and examine an outcrop or vein of ore and determine its extent or course; to dig such a pit or trench
crooner = someone who sings songs in a soft and sentimental manner, especially regarding male singers of sentimental songs in the 1930s and 1940s, although the style was also continued in the 1950s and 1960s (some famous crooners were Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Perry Como, and Tony Bennett)
Cue = a town in Western Australia, about 650 km. north-east of Perth, known for gold mining
diorite = a granitoid rock, principally composed of hornblende and feldspar, with biotite and/or augite (when quartz is present in a sizable quantity, it is called quartz diorite)
dog-and-damper = “tinned dog” (tinned meat) and 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 fire, especially a campfire)
duffer = a non-paying or unproductive mine
Ford = William Ford (1852-1932), a gold prospector who, with Arthur Bayley (1865-1896), discovered gold at Fly Flat (also known as Bayley’s Find), Western Australia on 17 September 1892, sparking a gold rush to the area, which led to the establishment of the town of Coolgardie
gay = happy, joyous, carefree; well-decorated, bright, attractive (in modern times it may especially refer to a homosexual, especially a male homosexual; may also refer to something which is no good, pathetic, useless)
Golden Mile = an area rich in gold, located to the east of Kalgoorlie and Boulder, in Western Australia; the first gold find in the area was made by Paddy Hannan in 1893, and the area soon became the site of a major gold rush; most of the gold field is now part of the Fimiston Open Pit (also known as the Super Pit)
Groperland = a reference to Western Australia, from the slang term for Western Australians as “sandgropers” (a term arising from the vast sandy deserts of Western Australia; also, “sandgroper” is the name of a burrowing insect found in Western Australia, belonging to the Cylindrachetidae family)
Hannans = the original name of Kalgoorlie, derived from “Hannan’s Camp”, named after Paddy Hannan (1840-1925), the discoverer of the Golden Mile goldfield, which became the site of a major gold rush and led to the establishment of Kalgoorlie (there is now a northern suburb of Kalgoorlie called Hannans)
larrikin = in earlier times “larrikin” referred to a young male urban hoodlum, lout, or roughneck, or someone who was loud, mischievous and rowdy; in modern times “larrikin” refers to someone who behaves rowdily and noisily in public, or who has a disregard for cultural, social, or political conventions
mob = generally “mob” refers to a large group of animals, commonly used when referring to cattle, horses, kangaroos, or sheep; also used to refer to a group of people, sometimes – although definitely not always – used in a negative or derogatory sense (possibly as an allusion to a group of dumb or wild animals), but also used in a positive sense (e.g. “they’re my mob”), especially amongst Aborigines
mutton = the meat of an adult sheep (as used for food)
Outback = remote rural areas; sparsely-inhabited back country; often given as one word and capitalized, “Outback” (variations: out back, outback, out-back, Out Back, Outback)
pluck = bravery, courage, fighting spirit, a strong determination to succeed (especially in a dangerous, difficult, or against-the-odds situation)
pow-wow = a conference or meeting (derived from the name of the American Indian ceremony)
p’r’aps = a contraction of “perhaps”
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”)
Ragged Thirteen = a group of thirteen men who travelled from Queensland to the Western Australian goldfields in the early 1880s, allegedly stealing whatever they needed (or wanted) along the way, as well as stealing large numbers of cattle and horses (the name “Ragged Thirteen” comes from a Cribbage term, referring to the card combination of 6, 7, 8 and two Aces)
spree = a drinking spree; in general terms, a “spree” refers to an outburst of, or period of, an activity or indulgence (e.g. a crime spree, a drinking spree, a spending spree)
Squarehead = a person of German ethnic background, considered to be a derogatory term