A Story of Early Coolgardie.
We had many problems set us when Coolgardie was a camp,
When a journey to the goldfields meant a coach-fare or a tramp;
We had water questions, tucker ditto, also that of gold,
How to clothe ourselves in summer, how to dress to dodge the cold.
We marvelled how the reefs occurred in most unlikely spots,
For the topsy-turvy strata tied geologists in knots;
But though we plumbed the depths of many mysteries and myths,
The worst we had to fathom was the prevalence of Smiths.
To say they swarmed Coolgardie was to say the very least,
For they over-ran the district like the rabbits in the East;
The name predominated in the underlay and drive,
The open-cut and costeen seemed to be with Smiths alive;
Where the dishes tossed the gravel they had gathered from afar,
They clustered at the two-up school and at the shanty bar;
And while Jones and Brown were just as thick as herrings in a frith,
If you threw a stone at random you were sure to hit a Smith.
There were Smiths from every region where the Smiths were known to grow,
There were cornstalk Smiths, Victorian Smiths, and Smiths who eat the crow,
There were Maori Smiths, Tasmanian Smiths, and parched-up Smiths from Cairns;
Batchelor Smiths and widower Smiths and Smiths with wives and bairns,
Some assumed the name for reasons that to them were known the best
When silently they packed their ‘ports’ and flitted to the West,
Till every second man you met to yarn or argue with
Was either a legitimate or else a bogus Smith.
It really mattered little till the days the big mails came,
And then began the troubles with that far too frequent name;
For the Smiths rolled up in regiments when the letter ‘S’ was called,
And the post-officials senile grew and prematurely bald.
Shoals of Smiths demanded letters that were never to them sent,
Wrong Smiths got correspondence which for them was never meant;
And many a Smith, whose facial calm shamed Egypt’s monolith,
Bought jim-jams with the boodle sent to quite a different Smith.
The climax came one Christmas Eve, the mail was on its way,
And the post-officials yearned to block the Smiths on Christmas Day;
So they faked an Eastern telegram by methods justified,
Upon it put no Christian name and tacked it up outside;
It was from a Melbourne lawyer, and addressed to “Smith, Esquire,”
It was stamped “pre-paid and urgent,” so ’twould confidence inspire,
And when Coolgardie sighted it and marked its pungent pith,
There was pallid consternation in the habitat of Smith.
“Our client has informed us that you are over in the West,”
Ran the message, “and she threatens your immediate arrest;
She hears you’re known as Smith, but says you needn’t be afraid
If you come and face the music and redeem the promise made.”
The population read it, and before the daylight came
A swarm of Smiths rolled up their swags and took a different name,
The declined to “face the music” and return to kin and kith,
And the maidens who were promised still await the absent Smith.
Edwin Greenslade Murphy, Dryblower’s Verses, Perth, W.A.: E. G. Murphy, 1926, pages 79-80
Previously published (with some differences) in:
Dryblower, Jarrahland Jingles: A Volume of Westralian Verse, Perth (W.A.): R.S. Sampson for Sunday Times, 1908, pages 81-84
The Sunday Times (Perth, WA), 28 June 1925, p. 38
[Editor: Corrected “seem to be” to “seemed to be” and “it marked” to “it and marked” (in line with the poem as published in The Sunday Times, 28 June 1925, p. 38).]
bairn = (Scottish) child
eat the crow = a reference to “crow-eaters”, a nickname for South Australians
port = an abbreviation of “portmanteau”, a large suitcase that opens into two compartments (from the French “porter”, to carry, and “manteau”, cloak or coat)
tucker = food