A Bush Publican's Lament by Henry Lawson
. . . For thirst is long and throats is short
Among the sons o' men.
M. J. C.
I Wish I was spifflicated before I ever seen a pub!
You see, it's this way. Suppose a cove comes along on a blazin' hot
day in the drought—an' you ought to know how hell-hot it can be
out here—an' he dumps his swag in the corner of the bar; an' he turns
round an' he ses ter me, “Look here boss, I ain't got a lonely steever
on me, an' God knows when I'll git one. I've tramped ten mile this
mornin', an' I'll have ter tramp another ten afore to-night. I'm
expectin' ter git on shearin' with of Baldy Thompson at West-o'-Sunday
nex' week. I got a thirst on me like a sun-struck bone, an', for God
sake, put up a couple o' beers for me an' my mate, an' I'll fix it up
with yer when I come back after shearin'.”
An' what's a feller ter do? I bin there meself, an—I put it to you!
I've known what it is to have a thirst on me.
An' suppose a poor devil comes along in the jim-jams, with every
inch on him jumpin' an' a look in his eyes like a man bein' murdered
an' sent ter hell, an' a whine in his voice like a whipped cur, an' the
snakes a-chasing of him; an' he hooks me with his finger ter the far
end o' the bar—as if he was goin' ter tell me that the world was
ended—an' he hangs over the bar an' chews me lug, an' tries to speak,
an' breaks off inter a sort o' low shriek, like a terrified woman, an'
he says, “For Mother o' Christ's sake, giv' me a drink!” An' what am I
to do? I bin there meself. I knows what the horrors is. He mighter
blued his cheque at the last shanty. But what am I ter do? I put it ter
you. If I let him go he might hang hisself ter the nex' leanin' tree.
What's a drink? yer might arst—I don't mind a drink or two; but
when it comes to half a dozen in a day it mounts up, I can tell yer.
Drinks is sixpence here—I have to pay for it, an' pay carriage on it.
It's all up ter me in the end. I used sometimes ter think it was lucky
I wasn't west o' the sixpenny line, where I'd lose a shillin' on every
drink I give away.
An' supposen a sundowner comes along smokin' tea-leaves, an' ses ter
me, “Look her, boss! me an' my mate ain't had a smoke for three days!”
What's a man ter do? I put it ter you! I'm a heavy smoker meself, an'
I've known what it is to be without a smoke on the track. But
“nail-rod” is ninepence a stick out here, an' I have ter pay carriage.
It all mounts up, I can tell yer.
An' supposen Ole King Billy an' his ole black gin comes round at
holiday time and squats on the verander, an' blarneys an' wheedles and
whines and argues like a hundred Jews an' ole Irishwomen put tergether,
an' accuses me o' takin' his blarsted country from him, an' makes me
an' the missus laugh; an' we gives him a bottl'er rum an' a bag of grub
ter get rid of him an' his rotten ole scarecrow tribe—It all tells up.
I was allers soft on the blacks, an', beside, a ole gin nursed me an'
me mother when I was born, an' saved me blessed life—not that that
mounts to much. But it all tells up, an' I got me licence ter pay. An'
some bloody skunk goes an' informs on me for supplyin' the
haboriginalls with intossicatin' liquor, an' I have ter pay a fine an'
risk me licence. But what's a man ter do?
An' three or four herrin'-gutted jackaroos comes along about
dinner-time, when the table's set and the cookin' smellin' from the
kichen, with their belts done up three holes, an' not the price of a
feed on 'em. What's a man ter do? I've known what it is ter do a perish
on the track meself. It's not the tucker I think on. I don't care a
damn for that. When the shearers come every one is free to go inter the
kitchin an' forage for hisself when he feels hungry—so long as he pays
for his drink. But the jackaroos can't pay for drinks, an' I have ter
pay carriage on the flour an' tea an' sugar an' groceries—an' it all
tells up by the end o' the year.
An' a straight chap that knows me gets a job to take a flock o'
sheep or a mob o' cattle ter the bloomin' Gulf, or South Australia, or
somewheers—an' loses one of his horses goin' out ter take charge, an'
borrers eight quid from me ter buy another. He'll turn up agen in a
year or two an' most likely want ter make me take twenty quid for that
eight—an' make everybody about the place blind drunk—but I've got ter
wait, an' the wine an' sperit merchants an' the brewery won't. They
know I can't do without liquor in the place.
An' lars' rains Jimmy Nowlett, the bullick-driver, gets bogged over
his axle-trees back there on the Blacksoil Plains between two flooded
billerbongs, an' prays till the country steams an' his soul's busted,
an' his throat like a lime-kiln. He taps a keg o' rum or beer ter keep
his throat in workin' order. I don't mind that at all, but him an' his
mates git flood-bound for near a week, an' broach more kegs, an' go on
a howlin' spree in ther mud, an' spill mor'n they swipe, an' leave a
tarpaulin off a load, an' the flour gets wet, an' the sugar runs out of
the bags like syrup, an'—What's a feller ter do? Do yer expect me to
set the law onter Jimmy? I've knowed him all my life, an' he knowed my
father afore I was born. He's been on the roads this forty year, till
he's as thin as a rat, and as poor as a myall black; an' he's got a
family ter keep back there in Bourke. No, I have ter pay for it in the
end, an' it all mounts up, I can tell yer.
An' suppose some poor devil of a new-chum black sheep comes along,
staggerin' from one side of the track to the other, and spoutin'
poetry; dyin' o' heat or fever, or heartbreak an' home-sickness, or a
life o' disserpation he'd led in England, an' without a sprat on him,
an' no claim on the bush; an' I ketches: him in me arms as he stumbles
inter the bar, an' he wants me ter hold him up while he turns English
inter Greek for me. An' I put him ter bed, an' he gits worse, an' I
have ter send the buggy twenty mile for a doctor—an' pay him. An' the
jackaroo gits worse, an' has ter be watched an' nursed an' held down
sometimes; an' he raves about his home an' mother in England, an' the
blarsted University that he was eddicated at—an' a woman—an'
somethin' that sounds like poetry in French; an' he upsets my missus a
lot, an' makes her blubber. An' he dies, an' I have ter pay a man ter
bury him (an' knock up a sort o' fence round the grave arterwards ter
keep the stock out), an' send the buggy agen for a parson, an'—Well,
what's a man ter do? I couldn't let him wander away an' die like a dog
in the scrub, an' be shoved underground like a dog, too, if his body
was ever found. The Government might pay ter bury him, but there ain't
never been a pauper funeral from my house yet, an' there won't be one
if I can help it—except it be meself.
An' then there's the bother goin' through his papers to try an' find
out who he was an' where his friends is. An' I have ter get the missus
to write a letter to his people, an' we have ter make up lies about how
he died ter make it easier for 'em. An' goin' through his letters, the
missus comes across a portrait an' a locket of hair, an' letters from
his mother an' sisters an' girl; an' they upset her, an' she blubbers
agin, an' gits sentimental—like she useter long ago when we was first
There was one bit of poetry—I forgit it now—that that there
jackaroo kep' sayin' over an' over agen till it buzzed in me head; an',
weeks after, I'd ketch the missus mutterin' it to herself in the
kitchen till I thought she was goin' ratty.
An' we gets a letter from the jackaroo's friends that puts us to a
lot more bother. I hate havin' anythin' to do with letters. An'
someone's sure to say he was lambed down an' cleaned out an' poisoned
with bad bush liquor at my place. It's almost enough ter make a man
wish there was a recorin' angel.
An' what's the end of it? I got the blazin' bailiff in the place
now! I can't shot him out because he's a decent, hard-up, poor devil
from Bourke, with consumption or somethin', an' he's been talkin' to
the missus about his missus an' kids; an' I see no chance of gittin'
rid of him, unless the shearers come along with their cheques from
West-o'-Sunday nex' week and act straight by me. Like as not I'll have
ter roll up me swag an' take the track meself in the end. They say
publicans are damned, an' I think so, too; an' I wish I'd bin operated
on before ever I seen a pub.