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His Colonial Oath
by [?]

I lately met an old schoolmate of mine up-country. He was much changed. He was tall and lank, and had the most hideous bristly red beard I ever saw. He was working on his father’s farm. He shook hands, looked anywhere but in my face–and said nothing. Presently I remarked at a venture “So poor old Mr B., the schoolmaster, is dead.”

“My oath!” he replied.

“He was a good old sort.”

“My oath!”

“Time goes by pretty quick, doesn’t it?”

His oath (colonial).

“Poor old Mr B. died awfully sudden, didn’t he?”

He looked up the hill, and said: “My oath!”

Then he added: “My blooming oath!”

I thought, perhaps, my city rig or manner embarrassed him, so I stuck my hands in my pockets, spat, and said, to set him at his ease: “It’s blanky hot to-day. I don’t know how you blanky blanks stand such blank weather! It’s blanky well hot enough to roast a crimson carnal bullock; ain’t it?” Then I took out a cake of tobacco, bit off a quarter, and pretended to chew. He replied:

“My oath!”

The conversation flagged here. But presently, to my great surprise, he came to the rescue with:

“He finished me, yer know.”

“Finished? How? Who?”

He looked down towards the river, thought (if he did think) and said: “Finished me edyercation, yer know.”

“Oh! you mean Mr B.?”

“My oath–he finished me first-rate.”

“He turned out a good many scholars, didn’t he?”

“My oath! I’m thinkin’ about going down to the trainin’ school.”‘

“You ought to–I would if I were you.”

“My oath!”

“Those were good old times,” I hazarded, “you remember the old bark school?”

He looked away across the sidling, and was evidently getting uneasy. He shifted about, and said:

“Well, I must be goin’.”

“I suppose you’re pretty busy now?”

“My oath! So long.”

“Well, good-bye. We must have a yarn some day.”

“My oath!”

He got away as quickly as he could.

I wonder whether he was changed after all–or, was it I? A man does seem to get out of touch with the bush after living in cities for eight or ten years.

[THE END]

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?

bowyangs: ties (cord, rope, cloth) put around trouser legs below knee