Sunday, December 6, 2020

Australian Folk Songs: Stir the Wallaby Stew


Most Australian folk songs tell of hardship, injustice, difficult times and heartbreak. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of one Oz folk song that is happy or joyous. The following Stir the Wallaby Stew is no exception . . ,


Audio clip: 


About:
First published in the Bulletin in 1897. 
Written by Cecil Poole, original title When Dad Comes Out of Gaol. 
Printed in Stewart and Keesing, Old Bush Songs and Rhymes of Colonial Times with the note “Sung sixty years ago by a Mr Hulbert. Mrs E. Joan Bowran, Tallangatta.” 
A.L. Lloyd sang Wallaby Stew in 1958 on his Wattle LP Across the Western Plains. He noted: 

Two young fellows who had been working on the Darling Downs were walking back home to Port Adelaide. Following the Lachlan River, they called in at a station for rations. The boss didn't like their looks and wanted them to move on, but the boy who did the butchering skinned a hamstrung lamb for them, and they rewarded him with a song about Wallaby Stew. Their song was tangled up with another called Country Gaol, and it didn't make much sense. When they'd gone, the boy missed his good skinning knife, but he did recover the Wallaby Stew song, nearly thirty years later and twelve thousand miles away, when Edgar Waters of Sydney, on a visit to England, showed him a coherent set of words, probably from the collection of Percy Jones. The tune is widely known among seaman to the words of According to the Act (the influence of sailor tunes on Australian folk songs is worth studying). Perhaps the tune gained a readier foothold because it is related to the older and more handsome melody used for The Cockies of Bungaree. 

Lyrics: 

Wallaby Stew 

Poor Dad he got five years or more as everybody knows 
And now he lives in Boggo Road with broad arrows on his clothes 
He branded all of Brown's clean skins and never left a tail 
So I'll relate the family's woes since Dad got put in jail 

Chorus 
So stir the wallaby stew 
Make soup of the kangaroo tail 
I tell you things is pretty tough 
Since Dad got put in jail 

Our sheep were dead a month ago not rot but blooming fluke 
Our cow was boozed last Christmas Day by my big brother Luke 
And Mother has a shearer cove for ever within hail 
The family will have grown a bit since Dad got put in jail 

Our Bess got shook upon a bloke he's gone we don't know where 
He used to act around the shed but he ain’t acted square 
I've sold the buggy on my own the place is up for sale 
That won’t be all that has been junked when Dad comes out of jail 

They let Dad out before his time to give us a surprise 
He came and slowly looked around and gently blessed our eyes 
He shook hands with the shearer cove and said he thought things stale 
So he left him here to shepherd us and battled back to jail 


Alternative lyrics: 

Poor Dad he got five years or more as everybody knows 
And now he's stuck in Maitland Jail broad arrows on his clothes 
He branded old Brown's clean skins and he never left a tail 
Now I'll relate the family's fate since Dad got put in jail 

So stir the wallaby stew, make soup of the kangaroo tail, 
I'll tell you things is pretty crook since Dad got put in jail. 

Our sheep all died last springtime, from footrot and the fluke 
Our cow got shot last Christmas by my drunken brother Luke 
The buggy's bust, the wheat has rust and the place is up for sale 
And that ain't all that's up the spout since Dad got put in jail 

Our Bess got stuck on some young bloke but he's gone we don't know where 
He worked around the shearing shed and he certainly worked on her 
And Mother has a shearer cove for ever within hail 
The family will have grown a bit since Dad got put in jail 

They let Dad out before his time to give us a surprise 
He came and took a look around and gently cursed our eyes 
He shook hands with the shearer cove and reckoned things looked stale 
Then he slowly spat on the old dirt floor and battled back into jail 


Glossary: 

Boggo Road:  

Boggo Road Gaol in Brisbane, Australia, was Queensland’s main jail from the 1880s to the 1980s, by which time it had become notorious for poor conditions and rioting.



Broad arrows: 

Broad arrow insignia, also referred to as crows feet, was used on prison dress from about 1830. 



Clean skins: 

Unbranded cattle, not to be confused with: 

- cleanskin wines where the winery is not shown on the label, only the variety of grapes used; 

- persons with no criminal record; 

- people without tattoos. 

The use of the term for wine actually comes from the term for unbranded cattle. 

Never left a tail: 

My take on this is that Dad killed and either ate or sold the carcasses. 

Wallaby: 

Although species on its own, essentially a smaller form of kangaroo. 

Blooming: 

A euphemism for bloody. The Oxford English Dictionary explains that the use of :bloody” as an intensifier and thereafter becoming unacceptable arose from aristocratic rowdies known as "bloods", hence "bloody drunk" means "drunk as a blood". It may also be a direct loan of Dutch bloote, (modern spelling blote) meaning entire, complete or pure which, it has been suggested, was transformed into bloody where it implies completely, entirely, purely, very, truly. The word "blood" in Dutch and German is used as part of minced oaths, in abbreviation of expressions referring to "God's blood". 

Fluke: 

Liver fluke is a parasitic worm which can infect cattle, sheep and goats, as well humans. 

Our cow was boozed: 

The cow was sold and the proceeds used to buy booze. 

Cove: 

In Australian slang, a manager, especially of a sheep station. 

The family will have grown a bit . . . 

Mum is pregnant, Or sis, Or both.

Shook upon: 

Intensely moved, as in Elvis Presley’s “All shook up” 

Junked: 

Discarded

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