THE MAKING OF A MATE
I’d set up camp beneath the bridge that spans the Castlereagh,
at good old Coonabarabran, where I’d spent my early days.
This trip I was embarking on I knew would be my last,
Had to face the cold hard facts, my body’s best was past.
If I could complete the circuit and one last time do all I’d planned,
I’d be content to camp and wait for that trip to the promised land.
While tending to my fire I gazed towards the railway track
and saw a fair-skinned chap with a swag upon his back.
I called ‘Come in and drop your swag, I’ve got the billy on,
I’ll liven up the fire so you’ve some heat to warm upon.’
He expressed appreciation in a rather long and toffy way,
I restrained myself from laughing and thought I might enjoy his stay.
We’d both unrolled our swags and were settling for the night,
when he turned and spoke to me across the firelight.
‘I thank you for your kindness and hospitality too,
would you mind, my friend, if I told the troubles of my life to you?’
I’d had my share of whinging Poms and thought, here we go again,
but sensed he may be different and perhaps should share his pain.
He said, “he liked Australia, the countryside’s a treat,
and didn’t mind the swaggie’s life amongst the dust and heat.
He’d like to travel up the country to the far-out western runs,
And see those famous shearer’s work, the ones renowned as guns.
Trouble was, though he’d tried, he couldn’t find a mate,
every Aussie that he met it seemed all Poms they hate.
I explained to him the reason for my last trip down memory lane,
And that time was running out for me I was no longer fit or fully sane.
The lad expressed his sympathy; he said, ‘he’d like to help me out,”
He seemed a decent sort of bloke and there’s so few of them about.
I invited him, if game and willing, to throw in his lot with me,
but warned with certainty of work and pay, I could not guarantee’.
Next day he made the billy tea; I said, ‘there are two things you must do,
Lose your pommie accent and learn to make a decent bloody brew.
Oh, and just one other thing, old mate, about your blasted fancy name,
we’d better call you ‘Blue,’ as ‘Fortescue’ is likely to inflame.
So, Blue became my mate, as we tramped off up the track,
With passing days our friendship never did look back.
We met up with the Shearing Boss, Tom Gray, as was agreed,
in Bugden’s pub, where we’d drank, slept and had a darn good feed.
Tom said, ‘Our first shed’s at Collymungle, we start tomorrow morn,
Blue can start off sweeping, for there’s a big mob to be shorn.
Blue marvelled at the peeling fleece, the sheep left white as snow,
he said, ‘Old mate, at shearing, one day I’d like to have a go.’
It was just a few sheds later, Blue received a chance to see,
if he could show some skills and a shearer one day be.
He struggled in his first few days, but I was always by his side,
to give hints and encouragement, then he began to find his stride.
Next, we did Gundabloui, Coolabah, Dunumbral and Lorne runs,
Blue’s tallies began to mount and Tom said, ‘I’m pleased the lad did come’.
Then we cleaned up the Mehi mobs and crossed the Queensland border,
where a six day spree at the Hebel pub, was considered quite in order.
Currawillinga and Dungalear were the last sheds on the run,
when they were done, I told Blue, I’m off to where we both begun.
My body was now breaking down, aching bones and eyesight dim,
I thanked the Lord for my mate Blue and the trust I had in him.
At Coonabarabran, I showed Blue where my parents grave did lay,
and Said, ‘there’s the plot reserved for me, I’ll be there any day.’
Blue stayed close beside me, for about two weeks or so,
I’m sure it was his mateship – that helped me not let go.
When I knew my time was all but up, I called out to my mate,
in a flash he was beside me, with Blue, you never had to wait.
I reached into a sugar bag that held my tools of trade,
‘Blue,” I said, as a shearer, one day you’ll make the grade.’
He replied, ‘well, if I ever do, there’s only one man I must thank,
That, of course, is you, old mate; I’ll stay with you by this river bank.
I handed him my bag of shearing gear, like the passing of a flame,
and Said, ‘Keep this Blue, stick at it, you’re cut out for the game.’
When I first spoke to Saint Peter, as I reached the boundary gate,
he said, ‘You earned a place in Heaven when you took that Pommy as a mate.’
Well, life is nice and easy now, all my aches and pains are gone,
I know that I should not complain, but flaming hell the grog’s light on.
But I’ve just gained satisfaction, as I looked down from above,
for Blue’s just rung a shed, in this new work, and land, he’s come to love.
© 2019 Aussie Bush Writer
© 2019, Aussie Bush Writer. All rights reserved.
My biggest stroke of luck was that in Sixth Class, our Australian History teacher, Mr Beasley, had a liking for Bush (Rhyming Verse) Poetry written by the old masters; A.B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson and Henry Lawson. Mr Beasley was a very good reader of what he also called ‘Bush Verse’. As such he would have the entire class, including several incorrigible boys, ‘in the palm of his hand’ while reading the likes of; The Man from Snowy River, Mulga Bill’s Bicycle, or The Man from Ironbark, to mention just a few of ‘Banjo’ Paterson’s most popular poems.
Later in High School (now called Secondary College) we were ‘treated’ to some English poetry, such as, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, by William Wordsworth. Even most of the girls thought this was rather tame compared to Australian poetry. However, lengthy periods studying with various willing members of the class reciting The Highwayman, by Alfred Noyes, that poem was well received by all. Thus I had received a grounding in rhyming verse.