Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson (1864-1941) was Australia's favorite poet for much of his life. He captured details about the way real people in Australia lived, the farmers, the vagabonds, the horsemen, and many more. The song "Waltzing Matilda" and the movie The Man from Snowy River are both based on Paterson poems. In this poem, an incredulous wife's stinginess keeps her from recognizing an important yuletide visitor.
The "bush" or "out back" is Australia's huge, harsh wilderness where thousands of pioneers struggled to scratch out a living. Many of those pioneers were descendants of British prisoners, including a disproportionate number of Scots - this explains the Scottish brogue in the characters' dialogue.
Santa Claus In The Bush
by Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson
It chanced out back at the Christmas time,
When the wheat was ripe and tall,
A stranger rode to the farmer’s gate—
A sturdy man and a small.
“Rin doon, rin doon, my little son Jack,
And bid the stranger stay;
And we’ll hae a crack for Auld Lang Syne,
For the morn is Christmas Day.”
“Nay noo, nay noo,” said the dour guidwife,
“But ye should let him be;
He’s maybe only a drover chap
Frae the land o’ the Darling Pea.
“Wi’ a drover’s tales, and a drover’s thirst
To swiggle the hail nicht through;
Or he’s maybe a life assurance carle
To talk ye black and blue,”
“Guidwife, he’s never a drover chap,
For their swags are neat and thin;
And he’s never a life assurance carle,
Wi’ the brick-dust burnt in his skin.
“Guidwife, guidwife, be nae sae dour,
For the wheat stands ripe and tall,
And we shore a seven-pound fleece this year,
Ewes and weaners and all.
“There is grass tae spare, and the stock are fat.
Where they whiles are gaunt and thin,
And we owe a tithe to the travelling poor,
So we maun ask him in.
“Ye can set him a chair tae the table side,
And gi’ him a bite tae eat;
An omelette made of a new-laid egg,
Or a tasty bit of meat.”
“But the native cats have taen the fowls,
They havena left a leg;
And he’ll get nae omelette at a’
Till the emu lays an egg!”
“Rin doon, rin doon, my little son Jack,
To whaur the emus bide,
Ye shall find the auld hen on the nest,
While the auld cock sits beside.
“But speak them fair, and speak them saft,
Lest they kick ye a fearsome jolt.
Ye can gi’ them a feed of thae half-inch nails
Or a rusty carriage bolt.”
So little son Jack ran blithely down
With the rusty nails in hand,
Till he came where the emus fluffed and scratched
By their nest in the open sand.
And there he has gathered the new-laid egg—
’Twould feed three men or four—
And the emus came for the half-inch nails
Right up to the settler’s door.
“A waste o’ food,” said the dour guidwife,
As she took the egg, with a frown,
“But he gets nae meat, unless ye rin
A paddy-melon* down.”
“Gang oot, gang oot, my little son Jack,
Wi’ your twa-three doggies sma’;
Gin ye come nae back wi’ a paddy-melon,
Then come nae back at a’.”
So little son Jack he raced and he ran,
And he was bare o’ the feet,
And soon he captured a paddy-melon,
Was gorged with the stolen wheat.
“Sit doon, sit doon, my bonny wee man,
To the best that the hoose can do—
An omelette made of the emu egg
And a paddy-melon stew.”
“’Tis well, ’tis well,” said the bonny wee man;
“I have eaten the wide world’s meat,
And the food that is given with right good-will
Is the sweetest food to eat.
“But the night draws on to the Christmas Day
And I must rise and go,
For I have a mighty way to ride
To the land of the Esquimaux.
“And it’s there I must load my sledges up,
With the reindeers four-in-hand,
That go to the North, South, East, and West,
To every Christian land.”
“Tae the Esquimaux,” said the dour guidwife,
“Ye suit my husband well!”
For when he gets up on his journey horse
He’s a bit of a liar himsel’.”
Then out with a laugh went the bonny wee man
To his old horse grazing nigh,
And away like a meteor flash they went
Far off to the Northern sky.
When the children woke on the Christmas morn
They chattered with might and main—
For a sword and gun had little son Jack,
And a braw new doll had Jane,
And a packet o’ screws had the twa emus;
But the dour guidwife gat nane.
* In this context, a 'paddy-melon" is a very small kangaroo that was considered a pest by the Australian grain farmers - killing a paddy-melon for meat to serve a visitor would be analagous to hunting a raccoon or 'possum for Christmas dinner in North America.
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