Jonah’s Luck

A poem by Edward Dyson

Out of luck, mate? Have a liquor. Hang it, where’s the use complaining?
Take your fancy, I’m in funds now, I can stand the racket, Dan.
Dump your bluey in the corner; camp here for the night, it’s raining;
Bet your life I’m glad to see you,glad to see a Daylesford man.
Swell? Correct, Dan. Spot the get up; and I own this blooming shanty,
Me the fellows christened ‘Jonah’ at Jim Crow and Blanket Flat,
’Cause my luck was so infernal,you remember me and Canty?
Rough times, those,the very memory keeps a chap from getting fat.

Where’d I strike it? That’s a yarn. The fire’s a comfort,sit up nearer.
Hoist your heels, man; take it easy till Kate’s ready with the stew.
Yes, I’ll tell my little story; ’tain’t a long one, but it’s queerer
Than those lies that Tullock pitched us on The Flat in ’52.
Fancy Phil a parson now! He’s smug as grease, the Reverend Tullock.
Yes, he’s big,his wife and fam’ly are a high and mighty lot.
Didn’t I say his jaw would keep him when he tired of punching mullock?
Well, it has,he’s made his pile here. How d’you like your whiskey, hot?

Luck! Well, now, I like your cheek, Dan. You had luck, there’s no denying.
I in thirty years had averaged just a wage of twenty bob,
Why, at Alma there I saw men making fortunes without trying,
While for days I lived on ’possums, and then had to take a job.
Bah! you talk about misfortune,my ill-luck was always thorough:
Gold once ran away before me if I chased it for a week.
I was starved at Tarrangower, lived on tick at Maryborough,
And I fell and broke my thigh-bone at the start of Fiery Creek.

At Avoca Canty left me. Jim, you know, was not a croaker,
But he jacked the whole arrangement,found we couldn’t make a do:
Said he loved me like a brother, but ’twas rough upon a joker
When he’d got to fight the devil, and find luck enough for two.
Jim was off. I didn’t blame him, seeing what he’d had to suffer
When Maginnis, just beside us, panned out fifty to the tub.
‘We had pegged out hours before him, and had struck another duffer,
And each store upon the lead, my lad, had laid us up for grub.

After that I picked up Barlow, but we parted at Dunolly
When we’d struggled through at Alma, Adelaide Lead, and Ararat.
See, my luck was hard upon him; he contracted melancholy,
And he hung himself one morning in the shaft at Parrot Flat.
Ding it? No. Where gold was getting I was on the job, and early,
Struck some tucker dirt at Armstrong’s, and just lived at Pleasant Creek,
Always grafting like a good ’un, never hopeless-like or surly,
Living partly on my earnings, Dan, but largely on my cheek.

Good old days, they like to call them,they were tough old days to many:
I was through them, and they left me still the choice to graft or beg,
Left me gray, and worn, and wrinkled, aged and stumped,without a penny,
With a chronic rheumatism and this darned old twisted leg.
Other work? That’s true,in plenty. But you know the real old stager
Who has followed up the diggings, how he hangs on to the pan,
How he hates to leave the pipeclay. Though you mention it I’ll wager
That you never worked on top until you couldn’t help it, Dan.

Years went by. On many fields I worked, and often missed a meal, and
Then I found Victoria played out, and the yields were very slack,
So I took a turn up Northward, tried Tasmania and New Zealand,
Dan, I worked my passage over, and I sneaked the journey back.
Times were worse. I made a cradle, and went fossicking old places;
But the Chows had been before me, and had scraped the country bare;
There was talk of splendid patches ’mongst the creeks and round the races,
But ’twas not my luck to strike them, and I think I lived on air.

Rough? That’s not the word. So help me, Dan, I hadn’t got a stiver
‘When I caved in one fine Sunday,found I couldn’t lift my head.
They removed me, and the doctor said I’d got rheumatic fever,
And for seven months I lingered in a ward upon a bed.
Came out crippled, feeling done-up, hopeless-like and very lonely,
And dead-beat right down to bed rock as I’d never felt before.
Bitter? Just! Those hopeful years of honest graft had left me only
This bent leg; and some asylum was the prospect I’d in store.

You’ll be knowing how I felt then,cleaned-out, lame, completely gravelled,
All the friends I’d known were scattered widely north, and east, and west:
There seemed nothing there for my sort, and no chances if I travelled;
No, my digging days were over, and I had to give it best.
Though ’twas hard, I tried to meet it like a man in digger fashion:
’Twasn’t good enough,I funked it; I was fairly on the shelf,
Cursed my bitter fortune daily, and was always in a passion
With the Lord, sir, and with everyone, but mostly with myself.

I was older twenty years then than I am this blessed minute,
But I got a job one morning, knapping rock at Ballarat;
Two-and-three for two-inch metal. You may say there’s nothing in it,
To the man who’s been through Eaglehawk and mined at Blanket Flat.
Wait,you’d better let me finish. We and ill, I bucked in gladly,
But to get the tools I needed I was forced to pawn my swag.
I’d no hope of golden patches, but I needed tucker badly,
And this job, I think, just saved me being lumbered on the vag.

Fortune is a fickle party, but in spite of all her failings,
Don’t revile her, Dan, as I did, while you’ve still a little rope.
Well, the heap that I was put on was some heavy quartz and tailings,
That was carted from a local mine, I think the Band of Hope.
Take the lesson that is coming to your heart, old man, and hug it:
For I started on the heap with scarce a soul to call my own,
And in less than twenty minutes I’d raked out a bouncing nugget
Scaling close on ninety ounces, and just frosted round with stone.

How is that for high, my hearty? Miracle! It was, by thunder!
After forty years of following the rushes up and down,
Getting old, and past all prospect, and about to knuckle under,
Struck it lucky knapping metal in the middle of a town!
Pass the bottle! Have another! Soon we’ll get the word from Kitty,
She’s a daisy cook, I tell you. Yes, the public business pays
But my pile was made beforehand,made it ‘broking’ in the city.
That’s the yarn I pitch the neighbours. Here’s to good old now-a-days.

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