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The Death of Ben Hall by Will H. Ogilvie

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Ben Hall was out on Lachlan side
With a thousand pounds on his head;
A score of troopers were scattered wide
And a hundred more were ready to ride
Wherever a rumour led.

They had followed his track from the Weddin Heights
And north by the Weelong yards;
Through dazzling days and moonlit nights
They had sought him over their rifle-sights,
With their hands on their trigger guards.

The outlaw stole like a hunted fox
Through the scrub and stunted heath,
And peered like a hawk from his eyrie rocks
Through the waving boughs of the sapling box
On the troopers riding beneath.

His clothes were rent by the clutching thorn
And his blistered feet were bare;
Ragged and torn, with his beard unshorn,
He hid like a beast forlorn,
With a padded path to his lair.

But every night when the white stars rose
He crossed by the Gunning Plain
To a stockman's hut where the Gunning flows,
And struck on the door three swift light blows,
And a hand unhooked the chain --

And the outlaw followed the lone path back
With food for another day;
And the kindly darkness covered his track
And the shadows swallowed him deep and black
Where the starlight melted away.

But his friend had read of the big reward,
And his soul was stirred with greed;
He fastened his door and window board,
He saddled his horse and crossed the ford,
And spurred to the town at speed.

You may ride at a man's or maid's behest
When honour or true love call
And steel your heart to the worst or the best,
But the ride that is ta'en on a traitor's quest
Is the bitterest ride of all.

A hot wind blew from the Lachlan bank
And a curse on its shoulder came;
The pine-trees frowned at him, rank on rank,
The sun on a gathering storm-cloud sank
And flushed his cheek with shame.

He reigned at the Court; and the tale began
That the rifles alone should end;
Sergeant and trooper laid their plan
To draw the net on a hunted man
At the treacherous word of a friend.

False was the hand that raised the chain
And false was the whispered word:
'The troopers have turned to the south again,
You may dare to camp on the Gunning Plain.'
And the weary outlaw heard.

He walked from the hut but a quarter mile
Where a clump of saplings stood
In a sea of grass like a lonely isle;
And the moon came up in a little while
Like silver steeped in blood.

Ben Hall lay down on the dew-wet ground
By the side of his tiny fire;
And a night breeze woke, and he heard no sound
As the troopers drew their cordon round --
And the traitor earned his hire.

And nothing they saw in the dim grey light,
But the little glow in the trees;
And they crouched in the tall cold grass all night,
Each one ready to shoot at sight,
With his rifle cocked on his knees.

When the shadows broke and the dawn's white sword
Swung over the mountain wall,
And a little wind blew over the ford,
A sergeant sprang to his feet and roared:
'In the name of the Queen, Ben Hall!'

Haggard, the outlaw leapt from his bed
With his lean arms held on high,
'Fire!' And the word was scarcely said
When the mountains rang to rain of lead --
And the dawn went drifting by.

They kept their word and they paid his pay
Where a clean man's hand would shrink;
And that was the traitor's master day
As he stood by the bar on his homeward way
And called on the crowd to drink.

He banned no creed and he barred no class,
And he called to his friends by name;
But the worst would shake his head and pass
And none would drink from the bloodstained glass
And the goblet red with shame.

And I know when I hear the last grim call
And my mortal hour is spent,
When the light is hid and the curtains fall
I would rather sleep with the dead Ben Hall
Than go where that traitor went.

First published
in Smith's Weekly, 27 September 1924;
and later in
Favourite Australian Poems edited by Ian Mudie, 1963;
From the Ballads to Brennan edited by T. Inglis Moore, 1964;
Old Australian Ballads: An Anthology edited by W.N. Walker, 1967;
This Land : An Anthology of Australian Poetry for Young People edited by M.M. Flynn and J. Groom, 1968;
Complete Book of Australian Folk Lore edited by Bill Scott, 1976;
The Illustrated Treasury of Australian Verse edited by Beatrice Davis, 1984;
My Country: Australian Poetry and Short Stories, Two Hundred Years edited by Leonie Kramer, 1985;
Old Ballads from the Bush edited by Bill Scott, 1987;
On the Track with Bill Bowyang : With Australian Bush Recitations edited by Dawn Anderson, 1991-92;
Breaker's Mate : Will Ogilvie in Australia by Will H. Ogilvie, 1996;
Classic Australian Verse edited by Maggie Pinkney, 2001;
Two Centuries of Australian Poetry edited by Kathrine Bell, 2007; and
100 Australian Poems You Need to Know edited by Jamie Grant, 2008.

Author reference sites: Austlit, Australian Dictionary of Biography

See also.

Taking His Chance by Henry Lawson

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They stood by the door of the Inn on the Rise;
May Carney looked up in the bushranger's eyes:
"Oh! why did you come? -- it was mad of you, Jack;
You know that the troopers are out on your track."
A laugh and a shake of his obstinate head --
"I wanted a dance, and I'll chance it," he said.

Some twenty-odd bushmen had come to the "ball",
But Jack from his youth had been known to them all,
And bushmen are soft where a woman is fair,
So the love of May Carney protected him there;
And all the short evening -- it seems like romance --
She danced with a bushranger taking his chance.

`Twas midnight -- the dancers stood suddenly still,
For hoofs had been heard on the side of the hill!
Ben Duggan, the drover, along the hillside
Came riding as only a bushman can ride.
He sprang from his horse, to the shanty he sped --
"The troopers are down in the gully!" he said.

Quite close to the homestead the troopers were seen.
"Clear out and ride hard for the ranges, Jack Dean!
Be quick!" said May Carney -- her hand on her heart --
"We'll bluff them awhile, and 'twill give you a start."
He lingered a moment -- to kiss her, of course --
Then ran to the trees where he'd hobbled his horse.

She ran to the gate, and the troopers were there --
The jingle of hobbles came faint on the air --
Then loudly she screamed:  it was only to drown
The treacherous clatter of slip-rails let down.
But troopers are sharp, and she saw at a glance
That someone was taking a desperate chance.

They chased, and they shouted, "Surrender, Jack Dean!"
They called him three times in the name of the Queen.
Then came from the darkness the clicking of locks;
The crack of the rifles was heard in the rocks!
A shriek and a shout, and a rush of pale men --
And there lay the bushranger, chancing it then.

The sergeant dismounted and knelt on the sod --
"Your bushranging's over -- make peace, Jack, with God!"
The bushranger laughed -- not a word he replied,
But turned to the girl who knelt down by his side.
He gazed in her eyes as she lifted his head:
"Just kiss me -- my girl -- and -- I'll -- chance it," he said.

First published in The Bulletin, 25 June 1892;
and later in
In the Days When the World Was Wide and Other Verses by Henry Lawson, 1900;
Songs from Lawson by Henry Lawson, 1957;
Poems of Henry Lawson edited by Walter Stone, 1973;
The World of Henry Lawson edited by Walter Stone, 1974;
A Camp-Fire Yarn: Henry Lawson Complete Works 1885-1900 edited by Leonard Cronin, 1984;
Anthology of Australian Religious Poetry edited by Les Murray, 1986;
A Collection of Australian Bush Verse, 1989; and
The Oxford Book of Australian Love Poems edited by Jennifer Strauss, 1993.

Author reference sites: Austlit, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Australian Poetry Library, The Poetry of Henry Lawson website

See also.

How Gilbert Died by A. B. "Banjo" Paterson

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There's never a stone at the sleeper's head,
   There's never a fence beside,
And the wandering stock on the grave may tread
   Unnoticed and undenied,
But the smallest child on the Watershed
   Can tell you how Gilbert died.

For he rode at dusk, with his comrade Dunn
   To the hut at the Stockman's Ford,
In the waning light of the sinking sun
   They peered with a fierce accord.
They were outlaws both -- and on each man's head
   Was a thousand pounds reward.

They had taken toll of the country round,
   And the troopers came behind
With a black that tracked like a human hound
   In the scrub and the ranges blind:
He could run the trail where a white man's eye
   No sign of a track could find.

He had hunted them out of the One Tree Hill
   And over the Old Man Plain,
But they wheeled their tracks with a wild beast's skill,
   And they made for the range again.
Then away to the hut where their grandsire dwelt,
   They rode with a loosened rein.

And their grandsire gave them a greeting bold:
   "Come in and rest in peace,
No safer place does the country hold --
   With the night pursuit must cease,
And we'll drink success to the roving boys,
   And to hell with the black police."

But they went to death when they entered there,
   In the hut at the Stockman's Ford,
For their grandsire's words were as false as fair --
   They were doomed to the hangman's cord.
He had sold them both to the black police
   For the sake of the big reward.

In the depth of night there are forms that glide
   As stealthy as serpents creep,
And around the hut where the outlaws hide
   They plant in the shadows deep,
And they wait till the first faint flush of dawn
   Shall waken their prey from sleep.

But Gilbert wakes while the night is dark --
   A restless sleeper, aye,
He has heard the sound of a sheep-dog's bark,
   And his horse's warning neigh,
And he says to his mate, "There are hawks abroad,
   And it's time that we went away."

Their rifles stood at the stretcher head,
   Their bridles lay to hand,
They wakened the old man out of his bed,
   When they heard the sharp command:
"In the name of the Queen lay down your arms,
   Now, Dunn and Gilbert, stand!"

Then Gilbert reached for his rifle true
   That close at his hand he kept,
He pointed it straight at the voice and drew,
   But never a flash outleapt,
For the water ran from the rifle breech --
   It was drenched while the outlaws slept.

Then he dropped the piece with a bitter oath,
   And he turned to his comrade Dunn:
"We are sold," he said, "we are dead men both,
   But there may be a chance for one;
I'll stop and I'll fight with the pistol here,
   You take to your heels and run."

So Dunn crept out on his hands and knees
   In the dim, half-dawning light,
And he made his way to a patch of trees,
   And vanished among the night,
And the trackers hunted his tracks all day,
   But they never could trace his flight.

But Gilbert walked from the open door
   In a confident style and rash;
He heard at his side the rifles roar,
   And he heard the bullets crash.
But he laughed as he lifted his pistol-hand,
   And he fired at the rifle flash.

Then out of the shadows the troopers aimed
   At his voice and the pistol sound,
With the rifle flashes the darkness flamed,
   He staggered and spun around,
And they riddled his body with rifle balls
   As it lay on the blood-soaked ground.

There's never a stone at the sleeper's head,
   There's never a fence beside,
And the wandering stock on the grave may tread
   Unnoticed and undenied,
But the smallest child on the Watershed
   Can tell you how Gilbert died.

First published in The Bulletin, 2 June 1894, and again in the same magazine on 23-30 December 1980;
and later in
The Man From Snowy River and Other Verses by A.B. Paterson, 1895;
Favourite Australian Poems edited by Ian Mudie, 1963;
The Collected Verse of A.B. Paterson by A.B. Paterson, 1982;
A Treasury of Colonial Poetry, 1982;
Singer of the Bush, A.B. (Banjo) Paterson: Complete Works 1885-1900 compiled by Rosamund Campbell and Philippa Harvie, 1983;
A Vision Splendid: The Complete Poetry of A.B. 'Banjo' Paterson by A.B. Paterson, 1990;
Selected Poems: A. B. Paterson compiled by Les Murray, 1992;
A.B. 'Banjo' Paterson: Bush Ballads, Poems, Stories and Journalism edited by Clement Semmler, 1992;
The Collected Verse of Banjo Paterson edited by Clement Semmler, 1993;
Banjo Paterson: His Poetry and Prose compiled by Richard Hall, 1993;
The Penguin Book of Australian Ballads edited by Elizabeth Webby and Philip Butterrs, 1993; and
Classic Australian Verse edited by Maggie Pinkney, 2001.

Author reference sites: Austlit, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Australian Poetry Library

See also.

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