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Brummy Usen
by [?]

We caught up with an old swagman crossing the plain, and tramped along with him till we came to good shade to have a smoke in. We had got yarning about men getting lost in the bush or going away and being reported dead.

“Yes,” said the old ‘whaler’, as he dropped his swag in the shade, sat down on it, and felt for his smoking tackle, “there’s scarcely an old bushman alive–or dead, for the matter of that–who hasn’t been dead a few times in his life–or reported dead, which amounts to the same thing for a while. In my time there was as many live men in the bush who was supposed to be dead as there was dead men who was supposed to be alive–though it’s the other way about now–what with so many jackaroos tramping about out back and getting lost in the dry country that they don’t know anything about, and dying within a few yards of water sometimes. But even now, whenever I hear that an old bush mate of mine is dead, I don’t fret about it or put a black band round my hat, because I know he’ll be pretty sure to turn up sometimes, pretty bad with the booze, and want to borrow half a crown.

“I’ve been dead a few times myself, and found out afterwards that my friends was so sorry about it, and that I was such a good sort of a chap after all, when I was dead that–that I was sorry I didn’t stop dead. You see, I was one of them chaps that’s better treated by their friends and better thought of when–when they’re dead.

“Ah, well! Never mind….Talking of killing bushmen before their time reminds me of some cases I knew. They mostly happened among the western spurs of the ranges. There was a bullock-driver named Billy Nowlett. He had a small selection, where he kept his family, and used to carry from the railway terminus to the stations up-country. One time he went up with a load and was not heard of for such a long time that his missus got mighty uneasy; and then she got a letter from a publican up Coonamble way to say that Billy was dead. Someone wrote, for the widow, to ask about the wagon and the bullocks, but the shanty-keeper wrote that Billy had drunk them before he died, and that he’d also to say that he’d drunk the money he got for the carrying; and the publican enclosed a five-pound note for the widow–which was considered very kind of him.

“Well, the widow struggled along and managed without her husband just the same as she had always struggled along and managed with him–a little better, perhaps. An old digger used to drop in of evenings and sit by the widow’s fire, and yarn, and sympathize, and smoke, and think; and just as he began to yarn a lot less, and smoke and think a lot more, Billy Nowlett himself turned up with a load of rations for a sheep station. He’d been down by the other road, and the letter he’d wrote to his missus had gone astray. Billy wasn’t surprised to hear that he was dead–he’d been killed before–but he was surprised about the five quid.

“You see, it must have been another bullock-driver that died. There was an old shanty-keeper up Coonamble way, so Billy said, that used to always mistake him for another bullocky and mistake the other bullocky for him–couldn’t tell the one from the other no way–and he used to have bills against Billy that the other bullock-driver’d run up, and bills against the other that Billy’d run up, and generally got things mixed up in various ways, till Billy wished that one of ’em was dead. And the funniest part of the business was that Billy wasn’t no more like the other man than chalk is like cheese. You’ll often drop across some colour-blind old codger that can’t tell the difference between two people that ain’t got a bit of likeness between ’em.