Jack Corrigan

A poem by Barcroft Henry Boake

“It’s my shout this time, boys, so come along and breast the bar,
And kindly mention what you’re going to take;
I don’t feel extra thirsty, so I’ll sample that “three-star”,
Now, lad! come, look alive, for goodness sake.”
So spake he, as he raised the brimming glass towards the light;
So spake “Long Jack,” the boldest mountaineer
Who ever down from Nungar raced a “brumby” mob in flight,
Or laid a stockwhip on a stubborn steer.
From Jindabyne to Providence along the Eucumbene
The kindest-hearted fellow to be found;
And when he crossed the saddle not a horse was ever seen
That could make Jack quit his hold to seek the ground.
The women smiled with pleasure, the children laughed aloud,
The very dogs came barking at his feet,
While outside the “Squatter’s Arms” the men came forward in a crowd
To welcome Jack when he rode up the street.

But though the boldest horseman who by midnight or by day
E’er held a mob of cattle on a camp,
There were squatters on Monaro, who had yet been known to say
That Jack was an unmitigated scamp.
And true it is Jack Corrigan possessed a serious fault
Which caused his gentle, blue-eyed wife much grief,
And many were the bitter tears she mingled with the salt
With which she cured their neighbours’ tend’rest beef.
And often would she tearful take her smiling spouse to task,
Who’d answer, as her pretty face he kissed,
That a beast lost all identity when pickled in the cask,
And a bullock more or less would ne’er be missed.

But now as Jack stood all prepared to toss his nobbler down,
A softly-murmured whisper met his ear,
“I just saw Trooper Fraser get a warrant up the town,
He’s after you, old man: you’d better clear!”
Jack never thanked the donor of this excellent advice,
As the glass fell through his fingers with a crash.
With a bound across the footpath, he was mounted in a trice
And speeding down the roadway like a flash,
While Trooper William Fraser wore a very gloomy face,
As he watched his prey go flying down the road.
But he settled in the saddle and prepared to give him chase,
As Jack struck out a line for his abode.

On the road toward the Show Ground, then, there hung a big swing-gate,
Jack’s filly cleared its bars in glorious style,
But he held her well together, for he knew the trooper’s weight
Would give him distance in each mile;
For Jack rode twelve stone fully, while Bill Fraser rode but nine,
Sweetbriar’s strength must surely soon be spent,
Being grass-fed, while the trooper’s chestnut horse could always dine
Off oats and barley to his heart’s content.
And all aloud Jack cursed the day he’d ever killed a beast
Or branded calf he couldn’t call his own,
While the hoof-strokes on the road beat out a song that never ceased
To echo in his ears with mocking tone.

“Three years in gaol, in gaol three years,” the jeering echoes sang;
The granite boulders caught the wild refrain.
“A broken life, a weeping wife,” ’Twas thus the rhythm rang,
“And a baby boy you’ll never see again”,

He groaned, and then, to dull the sound, spoke loudly to the mare,
And bade her never slacken in her speed.
“For God’s sake take me home, lass, with a little time to spare;
Five minutes, at the most, is all I need,
Just time to catch old Dandy, where he’s munching second growth
Of hay; just time to leap upon his back,
And then the smartest trap who ever swore a lying oath
Could never foot me down the River track.”

Sweetbriar pricked her ears, and shook a foam flake from her bit,
As she heard his words, and doubtless caught their sense,
And the rotten granite pebbles rattled round her as she lit
On the homeward side the Rosedale bound’ry fence,

As they scrambled round by Locker’s-Hill, Jack Corrigan looked round,
And as he looked was filled with stern delight,
For he saw the baldfaced chestnut struggling fiercely on the ground,
Though the hill shut out the sequel from his sight;
His triumph was but short, for, as he stemmed the wide morass,
Where floods had muddied waters once so clear,
And left the giant tussocks tangled tightly in a mass,
The trooper still kept drawing on his rear;

The Murrumbidgee’s icy stream was widened out by flood;
They swam it at the willow-shaded ford,
As they passed the station buildings his long spurs were red with blood,
Sweetbriar’s heaving flanks were deeply scored.
Her stride grew more uneven, though she answered every call,
No jockey rode a better race than Jack
As he eased her up the hills and pressed her onward down the fall,
Round the sidlings of the Billylingra track.

They left O’Rourke’s behind them, where it fronts the big bald hill,
At the Flat Rock Jack was riding all he knew,
With all the dash and judgement of the famed Monaro skill,
Yet he couldn’t keep the trooper out of view;
He spied his tiny homestead as Bill Fraser gained apace
And loudly warned the fugitive to yield,
Who turned half round but saw no sign of pity in his face
As they swept across the cultivation field;

Their hoofs’ dull thunder brought the wife in wonder to the gate,
She waved her hand in answer to his shout;
While Dandy from his paddock whinnied loudly to his mate,
To know what all the trouble was about.

“God help us now, the end has come!” the wretched woman cried,
And leant against the gate to catch her breath;
While the tiny, blue-eyed toddler cheered his father on his ride
Towards the ghastly winning-post of Death.

“The filly’s failing fast,” thought Jack; “she’s nothing but a weed,
It’s a certainty she can’t keep long in front.
I’ll make a splendid target, if he likes to draw a bead,
As I try to cross the river on the punt.”

He left the mare and scrambled through the ti-tree growing rank,
Deep rooted in its bed of yellow clay,
But when he reached the river, stood and trembled on the bank,
“My God!” he hoarsely said, “it’s swept away!”
The punt was gone, the rope of wire still stretched from shore to shore,
Jack paused but half a moment to decide,

And as he scrambled down the bank the wond’ring trooper saw
Him struggling half across the rushing tide,
The angry waters swept him down, and every nerve was strained
To keep his hold upon the frail support,
Though icy numbness seized him, yet his courage never waned,
The hope of freedom filled his every thought.

The rope swayed low beneath his weight and bellied to the stream,
Around his head the flying ripples curled,
While high above the river’s roar rang out the awful scream
Of a soul that flies in terror from the world.
A mighty log, borne swiftly on the bosom of the flood,
Resistless swept him ’neath the eager wave,
And sucked him down to river depths, and there beneath the foam,
Jack Corrigan sought out a nameless grave,
“Good-bye to life, good-bye to life,” the mocking wavelets sang,
The towering cliffs took up the wild refrain,
“A broken life, a weeping wife,” ’Twas thus the rhythm rang,
“And a baby boy he’ll never see again.”

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