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Mitchell: A Character Sketch
by [?]

It was a very mean station, and Mitchell thought he had better go himself and beard the overseer for tucker. His mates were for waiting till the overseer went out on the run, and then trying their luck with the cook; but the self-assertive and diplomatic Mitchell decided to go.

“Good day,” said Mitchell.

“Good day,” said the manager.

“It’s hot,” said Mitchell.

“Yes, it’s hot.”

“I don’t suppose,” said Mitchell; “I don’t suppose it’s any use asking you for a job?”

“Naw.”

“Well, I won’t ask you,” said Mitchell, “but I don’t suppose you want any fencing done?”

“Naw.”

“Nor boundary-riding’?”

“Naw.”

“You ain’t likely to want a man to knock round?”

“Naw.”

“I thought not. Things are pretty bad just now.”

“Na–yes–they are.”

“Ah, well; there’s a lot to be said on the squatter’s side as well as the men’s. I suppose I can get a bit of rations?”

“Ye-yes.” (Shortly)–“Wot d’yer want?”

“Well, let’s see; we want a bit of meat and flour–I think that’s all. Got enough tea and sugar to carry us on.”

“All right. Cook! have you got any meat?”

“No!”

To Mitchell: “Can you kill a sheep?”

“Rather!”

To the cook: “Give this man a cloth and knife and steel, and let him go up to the yard and kill a sheep.” (To Mitchell) “You can take a fore-quarter and get a bit of flour.”

Half an hour later Mitchell came back with the carcass wrapped in the cloth.

“Here yer are; here’s your sheep,” he said to the cook. “That’s all right; hang it in there. Did you take a forequarter?”‘

“No.”

“Well, why didn’t you? The boss told you to.”

“I didn’t want a fore-quarter. I don’t like it. I took a hind-quarter.”

So he had.

The cook scratched his head; he seemed to have nothing to say. He thought about trying to think, perhaps, but gave it best. It was too hot and he was out of practice.

“Here, fill these up, will you?” said Mitchell. “That’s the tea-bag, and that’s the sugar-bag, and that’s the flour-bag.” He had taken them from the front of his shirt.

“Don’t be frightened to stretch ’em a little, old man. I’ve got two mates to feed.”

The cook took the bags mechanically and filled them well before he knew what he was doing. Mitchell talked all the time.

“Thank you,” said he–“got a bit of baking-powder?”

“Ye-yes, here you are.”

“Thank you. Find it dull here, don’t you?”

“Well, yes, pretty dull. There’s a bit of cooked beef and some bread and cake there, if you want it!”

“Thanks,” said Mitchell, sweeping the broken victuals into an old pillow-slip which he carried on his person for such an emergency. “I s’pose you find it dull round here.”

“Yes, pretty dull.”

“No one to talk to much?” “No, not many.”

“Tongue gets rusty?”

“Ye–es, sometimes.”

“Well, so long, and thank yer.”

“So long,” said the cook (he nearly added “thank yer”).

“Well, good day; I’ll see you again.”

“Good day.”

Mitchell shouldered his spoil and left.

The cook scratched his head; he had a chat with the overseer afterwards, and they agreed that the traveller was a bit gone.

But Mitchell’s head wasn’t gone–not much: he had been round a bit–that was all.

[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)