Saltbush Bill and other Verses

Saltbush Bill, J.P.

Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson

BEYOND the land where Leichhardt went,
    Beyond Sturt’s Western track,
The rolling tide of change has sent
    Some strange J.P.’s out back.

And Saltbush Bill, grown old and grey,
    And worn with want of sleep,
Received the news in camp one day
    Behind the travelling sheep

That Edward Rex, confiding in
    His known integrity,
By hand and seal on parchment skin
    Had made him a J.P.

He read the news with eager face
    But found no word of pay.
“I’d like to see my sister’s place
    And kids on Christmas day.

“I’d like to see green grass again,
    And watch clear water run,
Away from this unholy plain,
    And flies, and dust, and sun.”

At last one little clause he found
    That might some hope inspire,
“A magistrate may charge a pound
    For inquest on a fire.”

A big blacks’ camp was built close by,
    And Saltbush Bill, says he,
“I think that camp might well supply
    A job for a J.P.”

That night, by strange coincidence,
    A most disastrous fire
Destroyed the country residence
    Of Jacky Jack, Esquire.

’Twas mostly leaves, and bark, and dirt;
    The party most concerned
Appeared to think it wouldn’t hurt
    If forty such were burned.

Quite otherwise thought Saltbush Bill,
    Who watched the leaping flame.
“The home is small,” said he, “but still
    The principle’s the same.

“Midst palaces though you should roam,
    Or follow pleasure’s tracks,
You’ll find,” he said, “no place like home,
    At least like Jacky Jack’s.

“Tell every man in camp ‘Come quick,’
    Tell every black Maria
I give tobacco half a stick—
    Hold inquest long-a fire.”

Each juryman received a name
    Well suited to a Court.
“Long Jack” and “Stumpy Bill” became
    ”John Long” and “William Short”.

While such as “Tarpot”, “Bullock Dray”,
    And “Tommy Wait-a-While”,
Became, for ever and a day,
    ”Scott”, “Dickens”, and “Carlyle”.

And twelve good sable men and true
    Were soon engaged upon
The conflagration that o’erthrew
    The home of John A. John.

Their verdict, “Burnt by act of Fate”,
    They scarcely had returned
When, just behind the magistrate,
    Another humpy burned!

The jury sat again and drew
    Another stick of plug.
Said Saltbush Bill, “It’s up to you
    Put some one long-a Jug.”

“I’ll camp the sheep,” he said, “and sift
    The evidence about.”
For quite a week he couldn’t shift,
    The way the fires broke out.

The jury thought the whole concern
    As good as any play.
They used to “take him oath” and earn
    Three sticks of plug a day.

At last the tribe lay down to sleep
    Homeless, beneath a tree;
And onward with his travelling sheep
    Went Saltbush Bill, J.P.

The sheep delivered, safe and sound,
    His horse to town he turned,
And drew some five-and-twenty pound
    For fees that he had earned.

And where Monaro’s ranges hide
    Their little farms away—
His sister’s children by his side—
    He spent his Christmas Day.

The next J.P. that went out back
    Was shocked, or pained, or both,
At hearing every pagan black
    Repeat the juror’s oath.

No matter though he turned and fled
    They followed faster still;
“You make it inkwich, boss,” they said,
    “All same like Saltbush Bill.”

They even said they’d let him see
    The fires originate.
When he refused they said that he
    Was “No good magistrate.”

And out beyond Sturt’s Western track,
    And Leichhardt’s farthest tree,
They wait till fate shall send them back
    Their Saltbush Bill, J.P.

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