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Saltbush Bill, J.P.

Andrew Barton Paterson 1864 (Orange, New South Wales) – 1941 (Sydney, New South Wales)

Beyond the land where Leichhardt went,
Beyond Sturt's Western track,
The rolling tide of change has sent
Some strange J.P.'s out back.
And Saltbush Bill, grown old and grey,
And worn for want of sleep,
Received the news in camp one day
Behind the travelling sheep

That Edward Rex, confiding in
His known integrity,
By hand and seal on parchment skin
Had made hiim a J.P.

He read the news with eager face
But found no word of pay.
"I'd like to see my sister's place
And kids on Christmas Day.

"I'd like to see green grass again,
And watch clear water run,
Away from this unholy plain,
And flies, and dust, and sun."

At last one little clause he found
That might some hope inspire,
"A magistrate may charge a pound
For inquest on a fire."

A big blacks' camp was built close by,
And Saltbush Bill, says he,
"I think that camp might well supply
A job for a J.P."

That night, by strange coincidence,
A most disastrous fire
Destroyed the country residence
Of Jacky Jack, Esquire.

'Twas mostly leaves, and bark, and dirt;
The party most concerned
Appeared to think it wouldn't hurt
If forty such were burned.

Quite otherwise thought Saltbush Bill,
Who watched the leaping flame.
"The home is small," said he, "but still
The principle's the same.

"Midst palaces though you should roam,
Or follow pleasure's tracks,
You'll find," he said, "no place like home --
At least like Jacky Jack's.

"Tell every man in camp, 'Come quick,'
Tell every black Maria
I give tobacco, half a stick --
Hold inquest long-a fire."

Each juryman received a name
Well suited to a Court.
"Long Jack" and "Stumpy Bill" became
"John Long" and "William Short".

While such as "Tarpot", "Bullock Dray",
And "Tommy Wait-a-While",
Became, for ever and a day,
"Scot", "Dickens", and "Carlyle".

And twelve good sable men and true
Were soon engaged upon
The conflagration that o'erthrew
The home of John A. John.

Their verdict, "Burnt by act of Fate",
They scarcely had returned
When, just behind the magistrate,
Another humpy burned!

The jury sat again and drew
Another stick of plug.
Said Saltbush Bill, "It's up to you
Put some one long-a Jug."

"I'll camp the sheep," he said, "and sift
The evidence about."
For quite a week he couldn't shift,
The way the fires broke out.

The jury thought the whole concern
As good as any play.
They used to "take him oath" and earn
Three sticks of plug a day.

At last the tribe lay down to sleep
Homeless, beneath a tree;
And onward with his travelling sheep
Went Saltbush bill, J.P.

His sheep delivered, safe and sound,
His horse to town he turned,
And drew some five-and-twenty pound
For fees that he had earned.

And where Monaro's ranges hide
Their little farms away --
His sister's children by his side --
He spent his Christmas Day.

The next J.P. that went out back
Was shocked, or pained, or both,
At hearing every pagan black
Repeat the juror's oath.

No matter how he turned and fled
They followed faster still;
"You make it inkwich, boss," they said,
"All same like Saltbush Bill."

They even said they'd let him see
The fires originate.
When he refused they said that he
Was "No good magistrate".

And out beyond Sturt's western track,
And Leichhardt's farthest tree,
They wait till fate shall send them back
Their Saltbush Bill, J.P.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

3:01 min read

Andrew Barton Paterson

Andrew Barton "Banjo" Paterson, was an Australian bush poet, journalist and author. He wrote many ballads and poems about Australian life, focusing particularly on the rural and outback areas, including the district around Binalong, New South Wales, where he spent much of his childhood. Paterson's more notable poems include "Clancy of the Overflow" (1889), "The Man from Snowy River" (1890) and "Waltzing Matilda" (1895), regarded widely as Australia's unofficial national anthem. more…

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