Tuesday, December 8, 2020

POETRY SPOT: ON THE WALLABY


A few days ago I posted an item about an Australian folk song Stir the Wallaby Stew. In looking up some background on that song I came across a poem which is similar and worth an airing. It is called On the Wallaby

Some preliminary notes: 

It was published in 1887 by someone using the nickname The Scout, much like Andrew Paterson used the name The Banjo. 

The publication was in the NSW newspaper the Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser. 

See the original publication by clicking on: 

The expression “on the wallaby” is an abbreviation of the longer “on the wallaby track”. 

As already explained in the previous post, a wallaby is an animal similar to a kangaroo but smaller. The word itself is a borrowing into English from the Sydney Aboriginal language. It first appears in written form in 1793. 

“Wallaby track” was a term used to describe the path made by wallabies in the bush, as in J.L. Stokes’ 1846 book Discoveries in Australia: “In some parts of the tall scrub were wallaby tracks.” 

By the late 1840s the terms "on the wallaby track” and the shortened form “on the wallaby" had come to mean someone travelling through the country, especially a person in search of seasonal work. 




On the Wallaby (1887) 

BY THE SCOUT. 

Yes--I'm on the wallaby, Mister. You're right, 
I sleep in these blankets a'most every night. 
Don't I sometimes catch cold? Well, maybe I do, 
But, I don't think as often as folks who're like you. 

Don't I like steady work? Well, yes, for a while, 
\Until I can knock up some sort of a pile. 
If I gets too much bossing I aske for my whack, 
And I ups with my swag and takes to the track. 

Yes, I gets work a-shearing--a-harvestmg, too-- 
It don't matter much what a fellow does do ; 
I wants baccy and tucker--well, yes, and some-beer-- 
I aint got no missus, nor childer to rear. 

Oh, yes--it's fair country--'taint bad scen-er-y, 
But a good level road and a pub.'s what suits me. 
A man's allus welcome whose plenty o' tin, 
But without it--it's no go, most places I've bin. 

But tbe bushees ain't bad, there's plenty as will 
Soon as look give a swagsman a drop and a fill ; 
You see a'most all of 'em has been hard up, 
And they'll find you a shelter, a bit and a sup. 

In general, I camps, lights my fire where I be, 
And puts on the billy and boils me some tea ; 
Well--maybe if it's lonesome--that don't signify ; 
You gets used to most things, it's no odds to I. 

Oh, yes, I've bin digging, but hadn't much luck ; 
There's them as done better ; I might if I stuck. 
There's plenty besides, though, of them as did stop, 
As hardly earned rations--so that ain't much chop. 

Then sometimes I'm clearing or fencing a bit ; 
Or I works on the roads ; or perhaps takes a fit, 
And goes off to Sydney, and works on the Quay 
Along with a stevedore--they all knows me. 

I've got jobs on the new lines a'most everywhere 
I've bin on the waterworks till they struck there, 
Bin woolwashing, shepherding, dam-making, too ; 
And once on a coaster as one of the crew. 

I've bin ringbarking, droving--that's a pretty rough-- 
From Queensland to Adelaide, that was enough ; 
I've bin groom in a pub. ; I've driven a team, 
But bullocking's slow work--bit slower than steam. 

I've bin unemployed, and I got sent away 
Just where I'd a job-- yes, that was my lay, 
I've bin a-surveying, I've loaded a truck, 
But most what I've bin--has bin down on my luck. 

Oh, yes, there's lots like me--we're most anywheres 
There aint much as troubles us--cuz we don't care. 
You're right, the next pub.'s round the corner, I think, 
So we'll pull up a minute--come, let's have a drink.









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