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"Bill McGrath" - a Beerburrum poem by John McCarthy

BILL McGRATH, by John McCarthy C.1930.

I’d like to be a farmer,

I’m sick of this tramp all day,

But if I had me a Soldier’s block,

I bet I’d make it pay.


The cash they get to help them,

Six hundred pounds – Oh Lord!

I’d feel like Jimmy Tyson,

And I’d carry a swag no more.


They talk of bloomin’ hardships,

When they’ve never seen a drought,

If they’d only seen what I have seen,

They’d have something to talk about.


I’ve heard that in the Army,

They carried a pack, right smart,

Now they won’t walk ten yards, no fear,

They just ride in a horse and cart.


If they ride out in the morning,

Then there’s no more work that day,

It gives them a burstin’ headache,

That’s what I’ve heard them say.


A fellow told me this morning,

There’s a lot of them on the rocks,

Some had to go away for work,

And there’s lots of vacant blocks.


He said that I could get one,

Well he saw no reason why,

As any half-wit hobo,

Need only just apply.


I couldn’t lose a penny,

Pines have no disease or pest,

A child can do the chipping,

And a horse can do the rest,


A fine big house they live in,

And it’s all brought to your door,

Dash you McGrath, how could it be,

That you never came here before.


I’ll go and see the Foreman,

Just to get some sound advice,

They say that old Dick Bromley’s place,

Would be cheap at any price.


Well I saw this Mr Shephard,

And he told me I could start,

He seems a jolly decent chap,

And he gave me a horse and cart.


I said, “I’m very thankful”,

And now must get along,

I promised him I’d bring it back,

If anything went wrong.


I borrowed a plough and harness,

For the weeds were ten feet high,

They told me I should get it done,

With the weather nice and dry.


I’ll never forget that morning,

It was jolly near done for me,

I broke three ribs when I struck the roots,

Of that damn old Tallow Wood tree.


And then I started chipping,

In that hungry sand and clay,

When a neighbour came and told me,

He could do it in a day.


And it’s always had me puzzled,

Why Old Goozle should have died,

I had lots of lovely swamp grass there,

To fill his dashed old hide.


The cow did well on swamp grass,

She didn’t seem to mind,

Though the milk was always twangy,

But blowed if she don’t go blind.


Well I’ve come to this conclusion,

That so far as I could see,

If that loan was sixty-thousand pounds,

It’d be no good for me.


I was nearly driven crazy,

With mozzies day and night,

With crooked-necks and bandicoots,

Things didn’t seem too bright.


I couldn’t go on working,

And was standing on the rail,

When the postman passed and gave me,

Some important looking mail.


There were bills for compound interest,

Dating back to bygone days,

With a ten-percentum penalty,

Or some such legal phrase.


For Rent, Rates and Redemption,

Amounts I quite forget,

I shoved ‘em in my pocket,

And there’re sitting in there yet.


No doubt they’ll come in handy,

To start the old camp fire,

So hoisting up Matilda,

I stooped for a Black Maria.


On getting to the station,

To follow the line once more,

So many carts and waggons,

Like I’d never seen before.


They all seemed very busy,

Getting in each others way,

And some were very angry,

For no pines could go that day.


And one young fellow told me,

He looked hungry, worn and thin,

No pines could go until next week,

T’was useless to bring them in.


He’d left his home at daybreak,

With three more trips to do,

And said “I’d take that swag old man,

And get if I were you”


I think you’re mighty lucky,

And I’d go with you today,

But I have a wife and kiddy,

So of course I have to stay”.


We like our little home,

We’d hate to throw it in,

It’s been a fearful battle,

But one we hope we’ll win”.


Now I’m feeling rather pensive,

And it’s really hard to say,

Why I don’t just bid goodbye,

And journey on my way.


He’s made me feel I’ve squibbed it,

For so earnestly he spoke,

He’d die before he’d run away,

A real fair dinkum bloke.


Now if that’s the Anzac spirit,

That I’ve heard so much about,

A man’s no man without it,

So I’ll stay and fight it out.


The secret to this thing they say,

Is really hanging on,

If you can stick the first ten years,

A lot less can go wrong.


I’ve nothing much to live for,

I think I’ve had my fling,

To sacrifice a life in vain,

Could be a noble thing.


The odds are stacked against me,

But I don’t care what they are,

For there’s none can stick it better than,

That damned old Bill McGrath.


Courtesy of Andy McCarthy