CATCHING THE COACH by Alfred T. Chandler ('Spinifex')

At Kangaroo Gully in 'Fifty-two
The rush and the scramble was reckless and rough;
'Three ounces a dish and the lead running true!'
Was whispered around concerning the stuff.

Next morning a thousand of fellows or more
Appeared for invasion along the brown rise,
Some Yankees, and Cockneys, and Cantabs of yore
And B.As from Oxford in blue-shirt disguise.

And two mornings later the Nugget saloon,
With billiards and skittles, was glaring with signs,
A blind fiddler, Jim, worked out a weak tune,
Beguiling the boys and collecting the fines.

Then tents started up like the freaks of a dream
While heaps of white pipeclay dotted the slope,
To 'Dern her -- a duffer!' or 'Creme de la creme!'
That settled the verdict of languishing hope.

And bustle and jollity rang through the trees
In strange combination of humankind traits;
With feverish searchings and gay levities
The fires of excitement were fully ablaze.

Well, three mornings after, the stringybark gums
All rustled their leaves with further surprise;
They'd seen old stagers and limey new-chums,
But here were galoots in peculiar guise:

With nondescript uniform, booted and spurred,
A fierce-looking strap on the underneath lip,
An ominous shooter, a dangling sword,
A grim leather pouch about the right hip!

And maybe a dozen came cantering so,
All clanking and jaunty --- authority vain --
When down through the gully rang out the word 'Joe',
And 'Joe' was sent on with a sneering refrain.

There was hunting for 'rights', and producing the same,
Or passing them on to a paperless mate,
Or hiding in bushes or down in the claim --
Such various expedients to baffle the State.

Then 'Who put him on?' -- 'Twig his illigant seat!'
'Cuss me, but he's purty!' -- 'The thing on the horse!'
'His first dacent clothes!' -- 'What surprise for his feet!'
Such volleys as these were soon fired at the Force.

But duty was duty. Just then through the scrub
A digger made off -- he a culprit no doubt!
'Dismount you then, Wilson!' roared Sergeant Hubbub;
'Quick! follow the rascal and ferret him out.'

The sapling cadet, with budding moustache,
Then sprang to the ground in dauntless pursuit
And, filled up with zeal and a soldier-like dash,
He felt a true hero of saddle and boot.

The gully quick echoed with taints that were real,
Keen chaff of defiance allied to revolt,
Such sharp wordy weapons as might have been steel
From skirmishers laughing on hillock and holt.

Away went the fugitive, spurred on by haste,
Escaping the undergrowth, leaping the logs,
Yet ne'er looking back -- did he know he was chased?
Said Wilson, "He's one of the worst of the dogs!

"Some greater misdeed must have blackened his hand;
I'll have him -- promotion! Stop there, or I'll shoot!"
the other ahead didn't hear the command
But sprang on unheeding o'er dry branch and root.

The chase settled down to a heavy set-to;
They ran o'er the hill and across the clear flat;
And Wilson was chuckling -- the villian he knew
Was making a bee-line for jail -- Ballarat!

"I'll follow the rogue safely into the trap --
Confound him, he's speedy; I can't run him down;
But there, quite unconscious of any mishap,
I'll fix him up neatly in gay Canvas Town!"

Then over a creek where a line of sage-gums
All flourishing grew, then away to the right;
Their loud breathings mingled with strange forest hums,
And wallabies scampered with terror and fright.

And cockatoos screeched from the loftiest trees,
The minahs and magpies all fluttered and flew,
The drowsy old possums were roused from their ease,
The locusts and lizards quick stepped out of view.

But on went the pair, never noticing this,
For both had a serious business in hand.
With one there were feelings that prophesied bliss,
The other saw capture and glory so grand.

O'er the hillside and creek, beyond hollow and spur,
Through brief strips of woodland, they hurried on still;
The trooper lost ground, but he wasn't a cur;
Besides, they were nearing on Bakery Hill.

Then suddenly broke on each sweltering sight
The thousand of tents in the city of gold;
And straight to the thick of them ran with delight
The chased and the chaser -- what luck for the bold!

The coach was just starting for Melbourne that day
As Wilson rushed eagerly on to his man.
"I'll put you with care where you won't be so gay,"
The trooper in triumph already began.

"You've led me a dance in a lively hour's sun;
Now trip out your licence, or waltz off to jail!
What! got one? Oh, ho! Why the ____ did you run?"
"To post this here letter for Nell by the mail."

A Bush Idyll and Other Poems by Alfred T. Chandler, 1886