The home town booster
It’s not always frivolous talk in the barber’s shop; and it’s not always a fact that the chap who scrapes your chin talks nothing else but “good things” for to-day’s races.
The lad who lathered up at Wattle Flat was a bright youngster, a freckled Rufus of fifteen. True to the traditions of tonsorialism he engaged me in conversation right away.
The Flat and Stumpy Tail Creek were playing footer on Saturday, he told me. Was I going? “There’ll be a hot time there,” he said.
“Will there?” I queried.
“My oath! There’s some sports around here!” He hesitated a moment in his talk, but not in the rubbing process. Then he continued. “We’ve got the champion high-jump horse of Australia. I think he’s the best in the world. That’s his picture over there,” nodding his head backwards, “and that’s Carrie Watson who always rides hint. Cripes! she’s a bosker rider.”
He stopped rubbing at this point, and looked across at an enlarged photograph on the wall, depicting a typical Australian girl fondling the tan muzzle of a fine upstanding bay.
I wiped a stray fleck of soap from my eye, and then asked the name of the horse.
“Lightning,” he responded. “Did you like our show, mister?”
I said I did; indeed I did.
“It’s not the best one we’ve had, because drought’s been bad,” he informed me as he rubbed my chin. I said that I had seen better.
“So you were here before, mister? We’ve got some good exhibitors round here.”
“Yes,” I said.
“You bet we have!” he replied. “Did you see all those preserves in the pavilion?”
I told him that I had been greatly struck with that particular display.
“Well,” he said, “that fruit’s all grown at the Flat. Mr. and Mrs. Clarke stayed up all night making them jams, just for the show.” Then he added most emphatically, “Struth! they’re bosker people.”
“Go on,” I said.
“Oh, yes. We do more than that though, mister. We go to Sydney, too, with all our produce, and put it in the windows in George Street every year. They call it Bush Week, mister.”
“I’ve heard about it, sonny,” I said. “It’s a good thing to show outside your own district.”
“Yes,” he agreed enthusiastically, rubbing my ears well with lather; “it advertises us, don’t it? We had a motor-car decorated with wheat and wool in the procession. We got first prize for that, and then on the top of the windows where our stuff was showing we had a bonzer sign lit up with electricity in all colours, tellin’ all about the Flat.”
“Oh,” I said, “that must have been beautiful. By Jove! Wattle Flat knows how to boost itself.”
“My word it does, mister, and I tell you it makes a boy proud of his own town.”
“Steady with the razor, son,” I said.
This little episode shows that good acts of citizenship do not always fall on barren ground, and the spirit of the barber’s boy might well be emulated.
Jack Moses, Beyond the City Gates: Australian Story & Verse, Sydney: Austral Publishing Co., 1923, pages 56-57
bay = a reddish-brown colour; particularly used to refer to a reddish-brown horse (especially with a black mane and black tail); a reddish-brown animal
bosker = (Australian slang) excellent, very good
footer = (slang) football
Jove = an alternate name for Jupiter; in Roman mythology, Jupiter was king of the gods, as well as the god of sky and thunder (“by Jove” is an exclamatory phrase, denoting excitement or surprise; the phrase was a way of saying “by God” without blaspheming)
struth = an oath, a contraction of “God’s truth”, also rendered as “Gawstruth” or “Gorstruth”