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On the Track   By: (1867-1922)

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by Henry Lawson

Author of "While the Billy Boils", and "When the World was Wide"

[Note on text: Italicized words or phrases are CAPITALISED. Some obvious errors have been corrected after being confirmed.]


Of the stories in this volume many have already appeared in (various periodicals), while several now appear in print for the first time.

H. L. Sydney, March 17th, 1900.


The Songs They used to Sing A Vision of Sandy Blight Andy Page's Rival The Iron Bark Chip "Middleton's Peter" The Mystery of Dave Regan Mitchell on Matrimony Mitchell on Women No Place for a Woman Mitchell's Jobs Bill, the Ventriloquial Rooster Bush Cats Meeting Old Mates Two Larrikins Mr. Smellingscheck "A Rough Shed" Payable Gold An Oversight of Steelman's How Steelman told his Story


The Songs They used to Sing

On the diggings up to twenty odd years ago and as far back as I can remember on Lambing Flat, the Pipe Clays, Gulgong, Home Rule, and so through the roaring list; in bark huts, tents, public houses, sly grog shanties, and well, the most glorious voice of all belonged to a bad girl. We were only children and didn't know why she was bad, but we weren't allowed to play near or go near the hut she lived in, and we were trained to believe firmly that something awful would happen to us if we stayed to answer a word, and didn't run away as fast as our legs could carry us, if she attempted to speak to us. We had before us the dread example of one urchin, who got an awful hiding and went on bread and water for twenty four hours for allowing her to kiss him and give him lollies. She didn't look bad she looked to us like a grand and beautiful lady girl but we got instilled into us the idea that she was an awful bad woman, something more terrible even than a drunken man, and one whose presence was to be feared and fled from. There were two other girls in the hut with her, also a pretty little girl, who called her "Auntie", and with whom we were not allowed to play for they were all bad; which puzzled us as much as child minds can be puzzled. We couldn't make out how everybody in one house could be bad. We used to wonder why these bad people weren't hunted away or put in gaol if they were so bad. And another thing puzzled us. Slipping out after dark, when the bad girls happened to be singing in their house, we'd sometimes run against men hanging round the hut by ones and twos and threes, listening. They seemed mysterious. They were mostly good men, and we concluded they were listening and watching the bad women's house to see that they didn't kill anyone, or steal and run away with any bad little boys ourselves, for instance who ran out after dark; which, as we were informed, those bad people were always on the lookout for a chance to do.

We were told in after years that old Peter McKenzie (a respectable, married, hard working digger) would sometimes steal up opposite the bad door in the dark, and throw in money done up in a piece of paper, and listen round until the bad girl had sung the "Bonnie Hills of Scotland" two or three times. Then he'd go and get drunk, and stay drunk two or three days at a time. And his wife caught him throwing the money in one night, and there was a terrible row, and she left him; and people always said it was all a mistake. But we couldn't see the mistake then.

But I can hear that girl's voice through the night, twenty years ago:

Oh! the bloomin' heath, and the pale blue bell, In my bonnet then I wore; And memory knows no brighter theme Than those happy days of yore. Scotland! Land of chief and song! Oh, what charms to thee belong!

And I am old enough to understand why poor Peter McKenzie who was married to a Saxon, and a Tartar went and got drunk when the bad girl sang "The Bonnie Hills of Scotland."

His anxious eye might look in vain For some loved form it knew!

... Continue reading book >>

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