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The Camp Fire

(Written by a Queensland Drover.)

The stockman's tea was over, the damper stowed away,
And to stretch our weary limbs around tihe fire we lay;
Put on another log my boys--a good big one--that's right,
Make up a galley fire, for I fear we'll have it cold to-night;
And before you light that pipe of yours, just feel in my valise,
You'll find a flask of good three star, there's just a nip apiece.
No thank you boss --I'd rather not, no brandy, sir, for me.
Why, Ned, how's this--you never drink? I've seen you tempted oft,
And when you chance to take a drink, it's always something soft,
I once was wild, the stockman said, as any man could be,
And many a hard earn't cheque knocked down, just in a drunkeon spree;
But things have changed and now I look on drink with dread and fear.
Were I my story to relate, 'twould move you to a tear.
To tell us someihing of his life, we on him did prevail,
And gather close around the fire to hear the stookman's tale,
The hardy stockman heaved a sigh,--his face was sad and wan ;
He knocked the ashes from his pipe, and then the tale began ;
Three years ago or nearly so--how fast the lime rolls by !--
We wenit across the Western plain, my brother Ben and I;
My brother Ben--it is of him I mean to speak the most.
He was a fine and manly lad, as the country round could boast
But with his manly virtues he one great failing had ;
Now that was drinking--the cursed drink, I've seen him raging mad.
But after that he'd sober down a steady chap was he ;
He earned his cheque and sent it home-- not knocked it down like me,
We'd charge of a snob of cattle with other stockmen--three,
And trav'ling in the summer time--right jolly times had we.
One night we camp'd the cattle upon some rinsing ground,
We had them steadied for the night and lit the fire around ;
Then to have a merrry time, I for the grog did call ;
And I was myself I found, the worst amongst them all ;
My brother too join'd in the fun, and many a song he sang.
We made the screaming curlews fly, while thus our voices rang;
But Ben, he would not drink, altho' we press'd him hard,
To all our soft entreaties he paid not the least regard,
Come Ben, said I, don't be so mean--to stand the odd man out;
I've often seen you drink your whack when the liquor's been about,
But Ned you know I've tasted none these three long years, he said,
And will you know how crazed I go when it gets into my head.
Pooh ! Nonsense, man, the night is cold-- only take one glass ;
One, only one, the chorus chimed, while round the grog they pass'd.
He yielded to that fatal hour, which makes me sad to think,
For none in this wide world but I, could make my brother drink ;
Glass alter glass--for each of us we drank
Till weary with the night's carcourse--in a drunken sleep I sank ;
How long ! slept I cannot tell, but I woke to sleep no more,
The distant thunder broke my rest--a storm was gathering o'er ;
I rose and stirred the dying fre, and tried to rouse the men,
And looking round with beating heart--I missed my brother Ben,
I snatched my whip up from the ground --my horse was standing near,
And as I to the saddle sprang, my heart stood still with fear ;
Just then the vivid lightning's flash lit up the gloomy plain,
I saw Ben riding madly there, and all was dark again,
I called aloud, hold hard awhile--my volce was deep and hollow,
Ha ! ha ! he cried, to death I ride--come on, you dare not follow !
He then rode for some timbered land with darksome gloom o'er head ;
And as I spurr'd with rapid stride my gallant stock horse sped,
I tried to grasp Ben's bridle-rein, the horse swerv'd from the track,
Went flyiing away like a fawn at play, with a madman on his back.
Alas ! the horse with jerking rein he tried his head to free,
And rearing back his rider threw against a fallen' tree ;
Dismounting I was by his side--I raised his drooping head,
And gazed into his face,--I could not thihk him dead ;
But the dawning of the coming day what a sight to me revealed !
Those blue eyes were forever closed, with blood the lips were seal'd,
Oh ! will hear this message to my poor aged mother,
The death of her beloved son, my dear and only brother !
it was I his murderer--Oh, from the thought I shrink !
Struck down bereft ot intellect, by that coursed drink.
On yonder mountain's sloping side, a lonely grane you'll see,
O'erhung with grass and drooping moss, beneath a cedar tree ;
No mantle cross, no monument, his lonely grave does mark--
We rudely cut that precious name Deep in the growing bark.

Warroo, Queensland,
May 1st, 1881,


From the NSW paper the Kiama Independent, and Shoalhaven Advertiser Tuesday 14 June 1887 p. 4.


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory