Monday, October 29, 2012


diane b at Adventure Before Dementia has inspired me with her post about two Banjos; Banjo Patterson, and her much cuter grandson Banjo.

Back in the pioneer days, when Australia was “white” and men outnumbered women – no, that’s not where the idea of mate-ship between men took hold – Australian literature consisted mainly of short stories, and poems.

Perhaps the two most well known poets were Banjo Patterson, and Henry Lawson. 
Both men have featured on our $10 notes, with The Queen herself never worth more than a fiver.
My own all time favourite Australian poet has got to be Thos E Spencer [1845-1911].

The picture above is a picture of a completely different Thos E Spencer. I couldn't find a picture of my poet Spencer, but put this picture here anyway, to break up the visual monotony of this post.

Spencer arrived on the literary scene a year or two later than Banjo and Henry, many of his short stories ‘taking the Micky’ out of Irish and also German settlers. [His witty stereotyping of these groups was nothing compared to the accepted culture of patronising women on the rare occasions they rated a mention at all.]

My favourite poem / performance-piece by Thomas E. Spencer deals with the very important matter of alcohol.

Picture of one of the five main food groups

To help set the scene, above is an 1890 painting by Tom Roberts called The Shearing of the Rams. This should not be confused with Leunig’s Ramming the Shears.

The anti-hero of this story is a shearer, who worked on a remote station* in an area such as this:

The hero is an itinerant preacher, of the shouting, fire and brimstone variety.

*[a sheep ‘station’ = a sheep ranch]

Rum and Water

Stifling was the air, and heavy; blowflies buzzed and held a levee,
And the mid-day sun shone hot upon the plains of Bungaroo,
As Tobias Mathew Carey, a devout bush missionary,
Urged his broken-winded horse towards the township of Warhoo.

He was visiting the stations and delivering orations
About everlasting torture and the land of Kingdom Come,
And astounding all his hearers, both the rouseabouts and shearers,
When descanting on the horrors that result from drinking rum.

As Tobias Mathew Carey, lost in visions bright and airy,
Tried to goad his lean Pegasus to a canter from a jog,
All his visions were sent flying as his horse abruptly shying
At a newly wakened-something that was camped beside a log.

It was bearded, bronzed and hairy, and Tobias Mathew Carey
Had a very shrewd suspicion as the object he espied,
And observed its bleary winking, that the object had been drinking,
A suspicion which was strengthened by a bottle at its side.

It was Jacob William Wheeler, better known as "Jake the Spieler,"
Just returning from a sojourn in the township of Warhoo,
Where, by fast-repeated stages, he had swamped his cheque for wages,
And for language made a record for the plains of Bungaroo.

Then the earnest missionary, Mr. Toby Mathew Carey,
Like a busy bee desiring to improve each shining hour,
Gave his horse a spell much needed, and immediately proceeded
To pour down on Jake the Spieler, an admonitory shower.

He commenced his exhortation with a striking illustration
Of the physical and moral degradation that must come
To the unrepentant sinner who takes whisky with his dinner,
And converts his stomach into a receptacle for rum.

"Give attention to my query," said the ardent missionary:
"Do you not perceive that Satan is this moment calling you?
He is shouting! He is calling in a voice that is appalling:
Do you hear him? And the Spieler answered sadly - "Yes! I do."

"I can prove it is impious" said the eloquent Tobias,
"To drink stuff containing alcohol, and liquors that are strong,
And I'll prove to demonstration that your guzzling inclination
Is quite morally, and socially, and physically wrong.

When about to drain a bottle, or pour whisky down your throttle,
You should think about the thousands who have perished for its sake.
Gone! To the Davey Jones's locker, through the wine that is a mocker,
And which biteth like a serpent's tooth and stingeth like a snake."

Toby paused, and Jake replying said, "It ain't no use denying
That your logic is convincing, and your arguments are sound.
I have heard with admiration your remarks and peroration,
And your knowledge of the subject seems extensive and profound.

Yet, in spite of all your spouting, there is just one thing I'm doubting,
But I'm open to conviction, so convince me if you can.
As the iron's hot now strike it, just convince me I don't like it,
And I'll chuck the grog, and sign the pledge, and keep it like a man."

Then Tobias Mathew Carey eyed the Spieler bronzed and hairy,
But his tongue no word could utter, and the silence was intense,
As the Spieler, slowly rising, in a style quite patronising 
Blandly smiled upon Tobias, and continued his defence.

"In your arguments I noticed that the scriptures you misquoted,
But you know, Old Nick proved long ago that two could play at that.
Which has caused the greatest slaughter? Was it rum or was it water?
If you say it was the former then I'll contradict it flat.

"When Old Noah in the deluge, in the Ark was taking refuge,
All the other people in the world by water met their fate.
And King Pharaoh's countless army! - Did they drink and all go balmy?
No! You'll find they died by water if you'll just investigate.

All the records of the ages, mentioned in the sacred pages,
Only tell of one example, and the fact you know well,
Where a cove a drink was craving and for water started raving,
And that beggar was located - where he ought to be - in Hell!"

Jake then dropped the tone effusive, and began to be abusive,
Swore he'd "pick the missionary up and drop him in the dirt,"
Vowed he'd "twist his blooming nose up, make him turn his blinded toes up,
Sing him for a dusty fiver, or else fight him for his shirt."

And the air was hot and heavy, and the blowflies held their levee,
And the evening sun shone red upon the plains of Bungaroo:
As Tobias Mathew Carey, a disgusted missionary,
Spurred his broken-winded steed towards the township of Warhoo.


  1. It is said that non drinking miners in Australia died prematurely because of germs in water, whereas the drinkers of spirits lasted much longer.

    Now, it is near enough to six. Must pour myself a glass.

    1. A bloody mary, perhaps?

      I've also heard it said the English middle classes only survived their shift in taste from beer to tea because the water they drank was boiled.

  2. Thanks for the plug and I'm chuffed to think I inspired anyone. I don't recall reading any of Thos' poems but this one is a corker. We came across another town who claims Henry Lawson grew up there so he might feature in a future post.

    1. It's always nice when people invite me along to share some of their journey.
      [He is cute.]