A tale of Wattle Flat.
Sometimes the train does not run to schedule time at Wattle Flat; most times it runs late — especially at show time, and show time is the only time at Wattle Flat.
It was at show time at “The Flat,” in years gone by, that I met a bagful of trouble, caused by the usual delay in the arrival of the iron horse that, three days a week, snorted its way to the otherwise restful community. Instead of reaching The Flat on the eve of the Annual Exhibition — a circumstance which would have enabled me to make all my arrangements in regard to “mimbers” and entry tickets, being classed by the far-stretching terms of the Society’s By-laws as an exhibitor, it was too late to do so, and, further being unable to buttonhole the energetic and courteous Secretary — terms synonymous with country secretaries of all shows, I might add in parenthesis — before his departure to the ground to begin his thousand and one duties of the day — it became necessary for me to trust to the good graces of the sentinel guarding the gates of the Annual Show, and this gentleman I knew as a rule to incline towards despotism.
Arriving at the gates, with another belated exhibitor to The Flat, hot and dusty, for it was a typical Western day, with a slight sniff of a Darling shower in evidence, my friend breezily approached the Honorary Treasurer, who was there to “putty the leaks” from a financial aspect.
“Good mornin’,” he opened, as my friend proceeded to force entry.
“Good morning,” was the cheery response of my companion as he moved to pass the sentinel.
“Hould on, me good man,” was the command of the Honorary Treasurer.
“I’m not mud,” and a defiant look accompanied this assertion. My companion, whose chief characteristic was not aggressiveness, pulled up with a jolt.
“I did not surmise for one moment you were, although my friend and myself are nine-tenths dust at this moment,” came the gentle response.
“Oh, no! Me name’s not ‘mud,’ is it? But ye are tratin’ me like mud.”
Our actions spoke louder than words, but still the sentinel was adamant.
“I’m here by the order of the com-mat-ay to stop any laykage through these gates.”
“But,” explained friend Dwyer, “I’m an exhibitor.”
“Oh, are ye, now?” and then, defiantly, If ye are — projooce yer ticket.”
“The train arrived late last night,” explained Dwyer, “and I couldn’t get my ticket.”
“Well, where’s yer cer-ter-fitick?” hissed the Honorary Treasurer between his teeth. “I’m here by the order of the com-mat-ay. Anyhow, phwat’s yer name?”
“My name is Dwyer,” blandly notified my friend. Immediately the soul of the Honorary Treasurer was stirred to brotherhood.
“Oh, Hell, a’coorse. O’Dwyer — O’Dwyer. Why the divil didn’t ye say so at first? You may go right through Mr. O’Dwyer,” and then, in stage whisper, he added “Whin ye come back I’ll have a ticket for the official luncheon.”
In passed “O’Dwyer,” and I was about to follow.
Suddenly I felt the grip of “Peter” on my shoulder. “Here, me little man,” he demanded, “where are ye lapin’ to? — your name’s not O’ Dwyer, I’m thinkin’.”
“No,” I replied meekly, “but I’m an exhibitor, too.”
“Oh! Oh!” he chuckled, as only an “Honorary” Treasurer at the gates can, “and did the train bring ye late, too? Have you got a ticket of intry?”
I merely shook my head.
“Oh,” he returned in manner most sarcastic, “we’re livin’ on the air here, for people to lape in and lape out like a mob of wild cattle. Where yer cer-ter-fitick?”
“I don’t know anything about ‘tick’” I humorously replied.
“Have you got any cer-ter-fitick?” he demanded.
“Phwat’s yer name?”
“Moses,” I modestly informed him.
“Oh, Hell!” he rejoined. “You’ll have to pay!”
“But,” I explained, “my name is O’Moses.”
“Oh Moses, is it? Well I’m here to putty the fenancial laykage, and you might owe Moses something, but you don’t owe me.”
There was no help for it. I had to pay, and just as I staked my coin of the realm along came a showman with his waggon, and attempted to pass the barrier.
“Hould on!” yelled the sentry, rushing to the heads of the horses and shoving them back. “You’ll go over me mangled corpse before ye lape in here and trate me with indignity. Lay hould of ’em — lay hould of ’em!” he commanded an assistant.
Having laid “hould” of ’em, irrespective of the clamor at the gates by a gathering crowd for admission, he furiously demanded, “What’s all this?”
“I’m an exhibitor,” came the notification from the man behind the reins.
“Well, but you didn’t come by train, did ye?”
“No — but I’m an exhibitor.”
“Oh, yes, I know — another wan. We ought to have a very successful ex-e-bishun. I’m thinking it’ll be an ex-e-bishun of dead heads.” Suddenly he repeated the familiar query, “Where’s yer cer-ter-fitick?”
‘‘I haven’t got one — I’m just going to see the Ground Committee about space,” explained the man in the waggon. “Well, me man, ye’ll have to pay,” was the edict of the Treasurer, who was out to stop “laykages.” “Phwat’s your exhibit?”
“It’s a phonongraph,” came the information.
“Well, I don’t care whether it’s a pony-draft or light harness. Ye’ll have to part up a coin of the realm before ye can pass in.” And “part up” he did.
I hope that at the big show gates on the other side Peter will not be so emphatic in his demand for a “cer-ter-fitick” from me.
Jack Moses, Beyond the City Gates: Australian Story & Verse, Sydney: Austral Publishing Co., 1923, pages 66-70
dead head = a non-paying passenger or spectator, especially someone with a free pass; a ship, train, or other commercial vehicle without any freight or passengers; may also refer to someone who is dull or stupid
iron horse = a train, a locomotive, especially one powered by steam
Peter = in a religious context, Saint Peter, traditionally regarded as the Saint who stands at the Gates of Heaven, determining whether or not those who present themselves should be allowed to enter
Vernacular spelling in the original text:
a’coorse (of course) [Irish]
divil (devil) [Irish]
hould (hold) [Irish]
intry (entry) [Irish]
lape (leap) [Irish]
lapin’ (leaping) [Irish]
laykage (leakage) [Irish]
mimbers (members) [Irish]
phwat (what) [Irish]
trate (treat) [Irish]
tratin’ (treating) [Irish]
ye (you) [Irish; also archaic]