Six Brown Boxer Hats
The hawker with his tilted cart pulled up beside the fence,
And opened out his wondrous mart with startling eloquence;
All sorts of toys for girls and boys upon the grass he spread,
And dolls, dirt-cheap, that went to sleep when stood upon their head;
But our male hearts were beating high for balls and cricket-bats
When mother, with the business eye, bought six brown boxer hats.
Six out-of-date extinguishers that fitted us too soon —
Six ugly, upturned canisters — but through the afternoon
Our rage and scorn were overborne to see swift fingers flit
With pad and trim, around the rim, to make the stove-pipes fit.
So Monday morning came, and six “ungrateful young kanats”
Went off to school like lunatics in six brown boxer hats.
Then friends at every meeting showed an interest all too rare
Or chilled our faltered greetings with the silence of a stare;
And comrades who, we thought, were true indulged in vulgar jeers,
While willing fists of humorists slambanged them round our ears
But worst of all the social smart from taunting plutocrats —
“Yez pinched them from the hawker’s cart, them six brown boxer hats.”
(Dress how we will, we feel it still, when friends will stop to chat,
To see a broad good-humoured smile is trained upon the hat.)
We could not fight with wonted might, for bitter black distress
Was in our souls, and on our polls the hateful ugliness.
We faced a fine barrage of sticks; and six “broke-up” kanats
Went home to meet the storm in six brown battered boxer hats.
John O’Brien. Around the Boree Log and Other Verses, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1921
kanats = in “The Old Bush School”, John O’Brien defines kanat: “The essential kanat (possibly a corruption of gnat) is undersized, mischievous, useless and perky”; not to be confused with kanats as canvas enclosures (India) or kanats as underground canals (Middle East)