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An Echo From The Old Bark School
by [?]

It was the first Monday after the holidays. The children had taken their seats in the Old Bark School, and the master called out the roll as usual:

“Arvie Aspinall.”…”‘Es, sir.”

“David Cooper.”…”Yes, sir.”

“John Heegard.”…”Yezzer.”

“Joseph Swallow.”…”Yesser.”

“James Bullock.”…”Present.”

“Frederick Swallow.”…”Y’sir.”

“James Nowlett.”….(Chorus of “Absent.”)

“William Atkins.”…(Chorus of “Absent.”)

“Daniel Lyons.”…”Perresent, sor-r-r.”

Dan was a young immigrant, just out from the sod, and rolled his “r’s” like a cock-dove. His brogue was rich enough to make an Irishman laugh.

Bill was “wagging it.” His own especial chum was of the opinion that Bill was sick. The master’s opinion did not coincide, so he penned a note to William’s parents, to be delivered by the model boy of the school.

“Bertha Lambert.”…”Yes, ‘air.”

“May Carey.”…”Pesin’, sair.”

“Rose Cooper.”…”Yes, sir.”

“Janet Wild.”…”Y-y-yes, s-sir.”

“Mary Wild.”…

A solemn hush fell upon the school, and presently Janet Wild threw her arms out on the desk before her, let her face fall on them, and sobbed heart-brokenly. The master saw his mistake too late; he gave his head a little half-affirmative, half-negative movement, in that pathetic old way of his; rested his head on one hand, gazed sadly at the name, and sighed.

But the galoot of the school spoilt the pathos of it all, for, during the awed silence which followed the calling of the girl’s name, he suddenly brightened up–the first time he was ever observed to do so during school hours–and said, briskly and cheerfully “Dead–sir!”

He hadn’t been able to answer a question correctly for several days.

“Children,” said the master gravely and sadly, “children, this is the first time I ever had to put ‘D’ to the name of one of my scholars. Poor Mary! she was one of my first pupils–came the first morning the school was opened. Children, I want you to be a little quieter to-day during play-hour, out of respect for the name of your dead schoolmate whom it has pleased the Almighty to take in her youth.”

“Please, sir,” asked the galoot, evidently encouraged by his fancied success, “please, sir, what does ‘D’ stand for?”

“Damn you for a hass!” snarled Jim Bullock between his teeth, giving the galoot a vicious dig in the side with his elbow.


Notes on Australianisms

Based on my own speech over the years, with some checking in the dictionaries. Not all of these are peculiar to Australian slang, but are important in Lawson’s stories, and carry overtones.

bagman: commercial traveller

Bananaland: Queensland

billabong. Based on an aboriginal word. Sometimes used for an anabranch (a bend in a river cut off by a new channel, but more often used for one that, in dry season or droughts especially, is cut off at either or both ends from the main stream. It is often just a muddy pool, and may indeed dry up completely.

billy: quintessentially Australian. It is like (or may even be made out of) a medium-sized can, with wire handles and a lid. Used to boil water. If for tea, the leaves are added into the billy itself; the billy may be swung (‘to make the leaves settle’) or a eucalyptus twig place across the top, more ritual than pragmatic. These stories are supposedly told while the billy is suspended over the fire at night, at the end of a tramp. (Also used in want of other things, for cooking)

blackfellow (also, blackman): condescending for Australian Aboriginal

blackleg: someone who is employed to cross a union picket line to break a workers’ strike. As Molly Ivins said, she was brought up on the three great commandments: do not lie; do not steal; never cross a picket line. Also scab.

blanky or — : Fill in your own favourite word. Usually however used for “bloody”

blucher: a kind of half-boot (named after Austrian general)

blued: of a wages cheque: all spent extravagantly–and rapidly.

bluey: swag. Supposedly because blankets were mostly blue (so Lawson)

boggabri: never heard of it. It is a town in NSW: the dictionaries seem to suggest that it is a plant, which fits context. What then is a ‘tater-marrer’ (potato-marrow?). Any help?