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The Ballad of the Drover (1897)

By G. Spencer Briggs

'Twas on the road that from the coast
To western districts ran,
Humping his swag with a slouching step
I met a poor old man.

His billy was grimy and battered and black,
And grimy and battered was he ;
His coat it was torn and his blanket was worn
As threadbare as blanket could be.

His hair it was gray and his beard it was long,
And he carried a stick 'neath his arm ;
While a dog at his side did solemnly stride
As if naught could amuse or alarm.

His joints they were stiff, and his dog seemed as if
His legs could but be little fleeter ;
As they jogged along he was singing this song
In a very peculiar metre :

"Oh, I am the Boss, and the shepherds three,
And the cook, and reporter as well,
And the man that was sacked, and the home that was packed
With the swags and the hobbles and bell."

Then I opened my eyes in a little surprise--
I was really the least bit afraid ;
For I had an idea that the man's head was queer,
And to him I tremblingly said:

Oh, elderly man, it is little I know
Of the ways of the west countree ;
But I'll eat my hand it I understand
How you can possibly be

At once both the Boss, and the the shepherds three,
And the cook, and reporter as well,
And the man that was sacked, and the horse that was packed
With the swags and the hobbies and bell."

We happened to pass by a tree in the grass,
And the bluey that he did bump
He laid on the log, while he and his dog
Sat down to rest on the stump.

A pipe of baccy he cut up on his thumb--
A trick that all bushmen know--
Then he lit his pipe, and his mouth did wipe,
And thus he began to blow:

Twas in the big drought, 'bout the year sixty-three,
Likewise in a northerly town,
A big spree I'd put in, and spent all my tin,
And parted with my last half-crown.

But though times were bad I very soon had,
One day when I came to look round,
A fair longish job, and thirty-two bob
A week was my pay--also found.

The wages was fair, and the job pretty good,
And suited exact to my mind ;
For it was to be droving, and I ever to roving
Have been very closely inclined.

We were hired to take three flocks of Sheep--
A thousand and odd in each flock--
Some few months to pass in looking tor grass
On runs not much burdened with stock.

"In less than a week we had crossed the first creek ;
My mates were all I could desire--
Seven mates as grand as ever did stand
At night round a smoky camp fire.

There was me, and the Boss, and the shepherds three,
And the cook, and reporter as well,
And the man that was sacked, and the horse that was packed
With the swags and the hobbles and bell.

The first week out we were merry, no doubt ;
Of tucker we'd any amount,
And the hardest work, which we never did shirk,
Was each morning the sheep to count.

But the grass grew scarce and dryer each day,
And the sun blazed away in the sky ;
And soon, too, the water began to get shorter,
For most of the creeks were quite dry.

Then it grew weary work at which one man did birk,
And stuck up the Boss for a drink ;
But be gave him the sack, and sent him right back--
A Journey from which he did shrink.

So he got on again, and in heat, thirst, and pain
For five bob a week led the horse;
In a week he pegged out, from the dust and the drought,
And to me 'twas a serious loss.

For I had to fill his billet as well
As the Job I'd already in hand.
Then shepherd number one got a touch of the sun,
And he went to a less droughty land.

And next day the Boss said, 'Ned, that old hoss
You mast tail at the flock of deceased.
Then for three weary weeks weall ran down dry creeks,
And my duties had been much increased

"By the charge of the flocks of the other two men,
Who both died the very same day;
They'd not had a drink for ten days, I think,
And we dibbled them down where they lay.

"And then the reporter, in hunting for water,
Got faint and lay dowji in his traoks ;
These last words he cried as I stood by his side,
With my job you'll all have to go whacks.'

"We agreed to do this, when the cook said we'd miss
His services after that night,
And, turning to me, be said, 'Ned, you will be
A cook in my place ?' I said 'Right.'

"To take charge I began of eaoh pot and each pan,
As the old cook had gone off the hooks,
When the Boss said that live he could not, but would give
Me charge of the camp and the books.

"I'll no longer be blowing,' he said; 'I am going ;
On your duties I'll not now enlarge.
Keep the time of each man as correct as you can;
Good-bye, now, old man--you've full charge.'

"Then only myself and the old hoss was left,
And for some weary days we did tramp
At the tail of the sheep, and when night came did keep
A long weary watch in the camp.

"I loved that old hoss like a brother, I did,
And the hoss pretty nigh adored me ;
And which would go first was a question of thirst ;
Otherwise we were well as could be.

But there came a sad day when my old comrade lay
Alongside a gum tree quite dead ;
And I was alone, and I really must own
Not few were the tears that I shed.

Then my brain it grew weary, my heart it was sick,
And at times I believe I was mad,
For I fled through the bush as if chased by old Nick,
And then I'd lie down and feel bad.

"And then I'd remember my duties was such
That I could not be idle no more,
And I'd Boss, shepherd, and cook, and report quite as much
As if 'stead of one man I'd been four.

"But at last came a day when right down I lay--
I could no longer give death the slip--
When I woke with a shout, and jumped all about,
For I heard the the crack of a whip

"And 'Coo-ee !' I cried as with joy I espied
A stockman come up in a crack ;
Who, advancing to me, said, 'Old man, I can see
That you've plainly got off of your track.

"But where is the Boss, and the shepherds three,
And the cook, and reporter as well,
And the man that was sacked, and the horse that was
packed with the swags and the hobbles and bell?"

Then I said ,'You most know it's a long time ago
Since we started to travel, you see ;
But you'll find it is true what I now tell to you--
They are all represented in me."

The old man here rose, and he said, "! suppose,
Mate, this is the road to the bridge?"
Then he hobbled along, still singing his song
As he slowly descended the ridge.


From the Queensland newspaper The Queenslander 3 Apr 1897 p. 736.


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory