On the Prevalence of "Bill," Etc., in Australian Literature by Ironbark (G. Herbert Gibson)

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How we wish the clever writers
   Of our prose and of our verse
For their characters would take a wider range!
There are some which keep recurring
   Like a decimal -- we curse
Their recurrence, and we're aching for a change.

We are weary of the legend
   Where the sergeant of police
Loves the fascinating sister of a "crook,"
And condones a lot of felonies
   And breaches of the peace,
And won't prosecute when cattle have been "shook."

People say, "It's so Australian!"
   And some similar event
May have happened long ago as in the tale,
But police are not romantic
   Now - at least to that extent -
And the "crooks" they cop are handed to the gaol.

There's the big, gum-booted digger --
   Crimson-shirted, with the sash
Which he wore when Ballarat first played the game.
And he's nearly always doing
   Something venturesome and rash
When he isn't "slinging mullock" in his claim.

All the writers since the "'fifties"
   Have delighted in this type,
Who is always big and masterful and flash.
And, whatever he is doing --
   Diggin' - dancin' - stewin' tripe -
Why, he always wears the shirt and boots and sash.

There's the beauteous bush maiden --
   Though her father keeps a pub,
In the local estimation she is IT! --
And she rides unbroken "brumbies"
   Through impenetrable scrub,
An exasperating female, you'll admit.

She is cultured and accomplished,
   And with virtue she's supplied
In accordance with a lavish kind of scale.
So, when tempted by the squatter,
   She prefers to be the bride
Of a humble chap who runs the local mail.

Ah! these types are too familiar,
   They disturb our peace of mind;
But the one which makes us actually ill,
Is that weird, elusive bushman --
   He's in every tale you'll find
And he bears the simple sobriquet of "Bill."

The great prevalence of William
   Makes our indignation boil --
Every reader of Australian fiction knows
How he praces through the poems
   Which are "racy of the soil,"
While he positively permeates our prose.

He's a shepherd, he's a shearer,
   He's a breaker-in of nags,
And he always swims some river in a flood.
But he wrecks our nervous system,
   And reduces it to rags,
'Till we really feel we want to have his blood.

He's a stockman, he's a drover --
   He's on any kind of "lay"
Which may chance to suit the man who slings the ink --
But he always plays the hero
   In an offhand kind of way --
That's enough to make a reader take to drink.

There is game and there is glory
   To be gathered by the bard,
Or the fiction manufacturer who will
Write a stirring backblock story
   (Oh! we know it will be hard!)
Or a poem that is innocent of Bill.

First published in The Bulletin, 22 January 1914;
and later in
The Macmillan Anthology of Australian Literature edited by Ken L. Goodwin and Alan Lawson, 1990.

Author: George Herbert Gibson (1846-1921) was born in Plymouth, England, in 1846 and emigrated, first to New Zealand in 1869, and then to Sydney, New South Wales, in 1874.  He was well-known for his humorous poetry in The Bulletin and published four collections of that poetry during his lifetime.  He died in Lindfield, NSW, in 1921.

Author reference site: Austlit

See also.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on January 22, 2011 7:30 AM.

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