Backblock Ballads and Later Verses


C.J. Dennis

HE was tall and tough and stringy, with the shoulders of an axe-man,
    Broad and loose, with greenhide muscles; and a hand shaped to the reins;
He was slow of speech and prudent, something of a Nature student,
    With the eye of one who gazes long across the saltbush plains.

Smith by name, but long forgotten was his legal patronymic
    In a land where every bushman wears some unbaptismal tag;
And, through frequent repetition of a well-worn requisition,
    “Smith” had long retired in favor of the title, “Got-a-Fag.”

Not until the war was waging for a month, or may be longer,
    Did the tidings reach the station, blest with quite unfrequent mails;
And, though still a steady grafter, he grew restless ever after,
    And he pondered long of evenings, seated on the stockyard rails.

Primed with sudden resolution, he arose one summer morning,
    Casually mentioned fighting as he deftly rolled his swag;
Then, in accents almost hearty, bade his mate, “So long, old Party!
    Goin’ to do some Square-head huntin’.    See you later.    Got a fag?”

Ten long, sunburned days in saddle, down through spinifex and saltbush,
    Then a two-days’ railroad journey landed him at last in town,
Charged with an aggressive feeling, heightened by his forthright dealing
    With a shrewd but chastened spieler who had sought to take him down.

“Smart and stern” describes the war-lord who presided at recruiting.
    To him slouched an apparition, drawling, “Boss, I’ve got a nag;
Risin’ four—good prad he’s counted.    Better shove me in the mounted.
    Done a little bit o’ shootin’—gun an’ rifle.    Got a fag?”

Two months later, drilled and kneaded to a shape approaching martial,
    Yet with hints of that lithe looseness discipline can never kill,
With that keen eye grown yet shrewder, and example to the cruder,
    Private Smith (and, later, Sergeant) stinted speech and studied drill.

“Smith,” indeed, but briefly served him; for his former appellation
    In its aptness seized the fancy of the regimental wag,
When an apoplectic colonel gasped, “Of all the dashed infernal”. . . . 
    As this Private Smith saluted, with “Ribuck, boss!    Got a fag?”

What he thought, or how he marvelled at the familiar customs
    Of those ancient and historic lands that later met his eyes,
He was never heard to mention; though he voiced one bold contention,
    That the absence of wire fences marked a lack of enterprise.

Soon his shrewd resourse, his deftness, won him fame in many places;
    Things he did with wire and whipcord moved his company to brag.
And when aught concerning horses called for knowledge in the forces
    Came a hurred, anxious message:    “Hang the Vet!    Send Got-a-Fag!”

Then, one morning, he was missing, and a soldier who had seen him
    Riding for the foe’s entrenchments bade his mates abandon hope.
Calm he seemed, but strangely daring: some weird weapons he was bearing
    Built of twisted wire and iron, and a dozen yards of rope.

At the dawn a startled sentry, through the early morn-mists peering,
    Saw a dozen shackled foemen down the sand dunes slowly drag.
Sore they seemed, and quite dejected, while behind them, cool, collected,
    Swearing at a busy sheep-dog, rode their drover, Got-a-Fag.

To the Colonel’s tent he drove them, bransishing a stockwhip featly,
    Bristly calling, “Heel ’em, Laddie!”    While the warrior of rank
Sniffed, and then exclaimed with loathing: “What’s this smell of clothing burning?”
    Said the drover: “Got ’em branded: ‘A—Broad Arrow,’ off-side flank.”

“A,” he drawled, “stan’s for Australia, an’ the Gov’ment brand’s in order.
    ‘Crown—G.R.’ upon the shoulder marks ’em for the King an’ flag.
Roped the blighters same as how we fix the calves on Kinchacowie.
    But it’s dead slow sorter must’rin’,” he concluded.    “Got a fag?”

When the weary war is over, back to his old cattle station,
    If luck holds, he’ll one day journey, casually drop his swag,
Drawling, “Been up yonder—fightin’. . . . Not much doin’ mostly skitin’. . . . 
    Gimme drovin’ for excitement. . . . Rain seems wantin’. . . . Got a fag?”

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