The news came down on the Castlereagh, and went to the world at large,
That twenty thousand travelling sheep, with Saltbush Bill in charge,
Were drifting down from a dried-out run to ravage the Castlereagh;
And the squatters swore when they heard the news, and wished they were well away:
For the name and the fame of Saltbush Bill were over the country-side
For the wonderful way that he fed his sheep, and the dodges and tricks he tried.
He would lose his way on a Main Stock Route, and stray to the squatters’ grass;
He would come to a run with the boss away, and swear he had leave to pass;
And back of all and behind it all, as well the squatters knew,
If he had to fight, he would fight all day, so long as his sheep got through:
But this is the story of Stingy Smith, the owner of Hard Times Hill,
And the way that he chanced on a fighting man to reckon with Saltbush Bill.
‘Twas Stingy Smith on his stockyard sat, and prayed for an early Spring,
When he started at sight of a clean-shaved tramp, who walked with a jaunty swing;
For a clean-shaved tramp with a jaunty walk a-swinging along the track
Is as rare a thing as a feathered frog on the desolate roads out back.
So the tramp he made for the travellers’ hut, to ask could he camp the night;
But Stingy Smith had a bright idea, and called to him, “Can you fight?”
“Why, what’s the game?” said the clean-shaved tramp, as he looked at him up and down;
“If you want a battle, get off that fence, and I’ll kill you for half-a-crown!
But, Boss, you’d better not fight with me — it wouldn’t be fair nor right;
I’m Stiffener Joe, from the Rocks Brigade, and I killed a man in a fight:
I served two years for it, fair and square, and now I’m trampin’ back,
To look for a peaceful quiet life away on the outside track.”
“Oh, it’s not myself, but a drover chap,” said Stingy Smith with glee,
“A bullying fellow called Saltbush Bill, and you are the man for me.
He’s on the road with his hungry sheep, and he’s certain to raise a row,
For he’s bullied the whole of the Castlereagh till he’s got them under cow —
Just pick a quarrel and raise a fight, and leather him good and hard,
And I’ll take good care that his wretched sheep don’t wander a half a yard.
It’s a five-pound job if you belt him well — do anything short of kill,
For there isn’t a beak on the Castlereagh will fine you for Saltbush Bill.”
“I’ll take the job,” said the fighting man; “and, hot as this cove appears,
He’ll stand no chance with a bloke like me, what’s lived on the game for years;
For he’s maybe learnt in a boxing school, and sparred for a round or so,
But I’ve fought all hands in a ten-foot ring each night in a travelling show;
They earned a pound if they stayed three rounds, and they tried for it every night.
In a ten-foot ring! Oh, that’s the game that teaches a bloke to fight,
For they’d rush and clinch — it was Dublin Rules, and we drew no colour line;
And they all tried hard for to earn the pound, but they got no pound of mine.
If I saw no chance in the opening round I’d slog at their wind, and wait
Till an opening came — and it always came — and I settled ’em, sure as fate;
Left on the ribs and right on the jaw — and, when the chance comes, make sure!
And it’s there a professional bloke like me gets home on an amateur:
For it’s my experience every day, and I make no doubt it’s yours,
That a third-class pro is an over-match for the best of the amateurs –”
“Oh, take your swag to the travellers’ hut,” said Smith, “for you waste your breath;
You’ve a first-class chance, if you lose the fight, of talking your man to death.
I’ll tell the cook you’re to have your grub, and see that you eat your fill,
And come to the scratch all fit and well to leather this Saltbush Bill.”
‘Twas Saltbush Bill, and his travelling sheep were wending their weary way
On the Main Stock Route, through the Hard Times Run, on their six-mile stage a day;
And he strayed a mile from the Main Stock Route, and started to feed along,
And when Stingy Smith came up Bill said that the Route was surveyed wrong;
And he tried to prove that the sheep had rushed and strayed from their camp at night,
But the fighting man he kicked Bill’s dog, and of course that meant a fight.
So they sparred and fought, and they shifted ground, and never a sound was heard
But the thudding fists on their brawny ribs, and the seconds’ muttered word,
Till the fighting man shot home his left on the ribs with a mighty clout,
And his right flashed up with a half-arm blow — and Saltbush Bill “went out”.
He fell face down, and towards the blow; and their hearts with fear were filled,
For he lay as still as a fallen tree, and they thought that he must be killed.
So Stingy Smith and the fighting man, they lifted him from the ground,
And sent back home for a brandy-flask, and they slowly fetched him round;
But his head was bad, and his jaw was hurt — in fact, he could scarcely speak —
So they let him spell till he got his wits; and he camped on the run a week,
While the travelling sheep went here and there, wherever they liked to stray,
Till Saltbush Bill was fit once more for the track to the Castlereagh.
Then Stingy Smith he wrote a note, and gave to the fighting man:
‘Twas writ to the boss of the neighbouring run, and thus the missive ran:
“The man with this is a fighting man, one Stiffener Joe by name;
He came near murdering Saltbush Bill, and I found it a costly game:
But it’s worth your while to employ the chap, for there isn’t the slightest doubt
You’ll have no trouble from Saltbush Bill while this man hangs about.”
But an answer came by the next week’s mail, with news that might well appal:
“The man you sent with a note is not a fighting man at all!
He has shaved his beard, and has cut his hair, but I spotted him at a look;
He is Tom Devine, who has worked for years for Saltbush Bill as cook.
Bill coached him up in the fighting yard, and taught him the tale by rote,
And they shammed to fight, and they got your grass, and divided your five-pound note.
‘Twas a clean take-in; and you’ll find it wise — ’twill save you a lot of pelf —
When next you’re hiring a fighting man, just fight him a round yourself.”
And the teamsters out on the Castlereagh, when they meet with a week of rain,
And the waggon sinks to its axle-tree, deep down in the black-soil plain,
When the bullocks wade in a sea of mud, and strain at the load of wool,
And the cattle-dogs at the bullocks’ heels are biting to make them pull,
When the off-side driver flays the team, and curses tham while he flogs,
And the air is thick with the language used, and the clamour of men and dogs —
The teamsters say, as they pause to rest and moisten each hairy throat,
They wish they could swear like Stingy Smith when he read that neighbour’s note.