Vonda Stanley's collection of early Australian bush poems
The Phantom Mob
Yes; I'm Harry Black - Mad Harry - and I often hear 'em say:
"Oh! he's off, poor chap; don't heed him - he has seen a better day.
He was king of all the drovers on a dry and dusty track;
He tried it once too often; it's Mad Harry - Harry Black."
I had got a mob of cattle out beyond the back Paroo,
When stock-routes were the paddocks and fences far and few,
And the track was dry as wisdom, and the days were scorching hot,
The beasts were dropping off like flies - I thought we'd lose the lot.
And my mates were turning cranky - day and night without a drink -
But I kept 'em to the music, and I never slept a wink.
I had to keep 'em goin', or the beggars, beast and man,
Would have perished like a beetle in an empty billy-can.
I woke and found, one mornin', there was not a hoof alive!
But I rode around the bodies and started on to drive -
They were bloomin' hard to manage, but I kept 'em all the same,
For whoever knows Mad Harry will admit that he is game.
And I took 'em on my lonely, kept 'em movin' on the track,
Till the fellows who had left me one by one came sneakin' back,
And I never swore or cursed 'em - simply let'em take a hand,
Till the curious way they watched me brought me round to under-stand.
I was drivin' ghosts o' cattle - not a live hoof in the lot! -
And they'd never camp a moment, though the day was blazin' hot,
And at night they never rested, always movin' movin' round,
With a restless sort o' movin' and a moanin' sort of sound.
Till at last I swore at Murphy, cursed Joe Cowly to his teeth,
And I saw their lips a-grinnin' and a skeleton beneath!
I cursed 'em both as useless, and then all at once I saw
They had travelled with the cattle, and were livin' men no more!
Ghosts o' men and ghosts o' cattle, I could see 'em through the day
In a strange and curious fashion and a hazy sort o' way;
And at night they gathered round me till my flesh was all a-creep,
And at last - I couldn't help it - while they watched I fell asleep.
Then they went and left me sleepin' - went and left me where I lay,
And I swore an oath I'd find 'em if I looked till Judgment Day!
Yes, I'm Harry Black - Mad Harry - and I never can forget
Those pikers from the back Paroo - I'm looking for 'em yet!
W M Flemming "The Page"
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