Rivers, creeks, and billabongs, they have a way of drawing you in, somewhat like a divining rod in search of water.
Australia has a wonderful maze of inland river systems, which, at times dry up leaving waterholes, or billabongs, as we know them…
They feature heavily in stories and poems, songs and prose, of the Australian Outback.
Recently we camped beside a billabong, nearby to the Darling River, one of Australia’s largest, which slowly meanders its way towards a confluence with the mighty Murray River at Wentworth.
Steamboats plied their trade along the river as far north as Bourke, carrying supplies to the towns that dotted the Darling, transporting wool bales back to the cities on the return trip. Of course, drought, of which there were many, could see the boats stranded for long periods of time.
This land attracted many writers, inspired by the wide open spaces of the Australian Outback, and included Henry Lawson, whom I wrote about recently, and Banjo Paterson.
They are two of my favourite Australian writers.
Simply, their writings are timeless, despite both passing long-ago, you can sit by a billabong or a river and hear the echo of the men, and women, they wrote about, the friendly banter, the sorrow, the laughs, the tears, the highs and the lows.
Both men travelled extensively in some of my favourite parts of the Australian Outback.
One such place is the Barcoo River, nearby to the town of Jundah and the Welford National Park in far western-Queensland. A small town of not too many people, where the pub, owned and operated by Monica, is the go to place to hear news, a social epicentre for the area.
Lawson and Paterson, parched from travelling the dusty land, would have quenched their thirst at establishments just like the Jundah Pub!
Banjo Paterson was especially inspired by the Barcoo and surrounding area.
We travelled to this area to visit the site of Maggee’s Shanty and Richard Magoffin’s Grave which were not too far from Jundah and the Welford National Park. Those familiar with the writing’s of Banjo Paterson will recognise this is the place immortalised in his poem A Bush Christening.
The grave of Richard Magoffin, who perished in 1885, is nearby.
Magoffin came to Australia from County Down in Ireland in 1853, digging for gold in Victoria and fighting at Eureka. Later he settled with a brother at Chiltern, Victoria, before moving to Bourke, where they sank dams and ran a carting business before tough times sent them further north, to Queensland.
There was very little to see of Maggee’s Shanty, although a plaque indicated its site, but Magoffin’s Grave was very well kept.
And under darkened skies, with the threat of rain present, we huddled together at the site of Maggee’s Shanty, and read…
The Bush Christening – By AB ‘Banjo’ Paterson
On the outer Barcoo where the churches are few,
And men of religion are scanty,
On a road never cross’d ‘cept by folk that are lost,
One Michael Magee had a shanty.
Now this Mike was the dad of a ten-year-old lad,
Plump, healthy, and stoutly conditioned;
He was strong as the best, but poor Mike had no rest
For the youngster had never been christened,
And his wife used to cry, “If the darlin’ should die
Saint Peter would not recognise him.”
But by luck he survived till a preacher arrived,
Who agreed straightaway to baptise him.
Now the artful young rogue, while they held their collogue,
With his ear to the keyhole was listenin’,
And he muttered in fright while his features turned white,
“What the divil and all is this christenin’?”
He was none of your dolts, he had seen them brand colts,
And it seemed to his small understanding,
If the man in the frock made him one of the flock,
It must mean something very like branding.
So away with a rush he set off for the bush,
While the tears in his eyelids they glistened-
“‘Tis outrageous,” says he, “to brand youngsters like me,
I’ll be dashed if I’ll stop to be christened!”
Like a young native dog he ran into a log,
And his father with language uncivil,
Never heeding the “praste” cried aloud in his haste,
“Come out and be christened, you divil!”
But he lay there as snug as a bug in a rug,
And his parents in vain might reprove him,
Till his reverence spoke (he was fond of a joke)
“I’ve a notion,” says he, “that’ll move him.”
“Poke a stick up the log, give the spalpeen a prog;
Poke him aisy-don’t hurt him or maim him,
‘Tis not long that he’ll stand, I’ve the water at hand,
As he rushes out this end I’ll name him.
“Here he comes, and for shame! ye’ve forgotten the name-
Is it Patsy or Michael or Dinnis?”
Here the youngster ran out, and the priest gave a shout-
“Take your chance, anyhow, wid ‘Maginnis’!”
As the howling young cub ran away to the scrub
Where he knew that pursuit would be risky,
The priest, as he fled, flung a flask at his head
That was labelled “Maginnis’s Whisky!”
And Maginnis Magee has been made a J.P.,
And the one thing he hates more than sin is
To be asked by the folk who have heard of the joke,
How he came to be christened “Maginnis”!
The Bulletin, 16 December 1893.
As a footnote, the heavens opened up as we walked back to the vehicle bringing much needed rain to the area, but turning the roads into a slippery brown sludge.
The Landy, with Tvan in tow, arrived in Quilpie a few hours later covered in mud!
Such is life, but what a great day with my two favourite people…