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The Bath
by [?]

Going down with pyjamas, towel, and soap, it struck me to have a kettle and a saucepan full of water on the stove to use as the water from the copper cooled.

I took a roomy, hard-bottomed kitchen chair into the bathroom; on it I placed a carefully scraped, cleared, and filled pipe, matches, more tobacco, tooth-brush, saucer with a lump of whiting and salt, piece of looking-glass–to see progress of the teeth–and knife for finger and toe nails. And I knocked up a few three-inch iron nails in the wall to hang things on. I placed a clean suit of pyjamas over the back of the chair, and over them the towels.

I arranged with the landlady to have a good cup of coffee made, as she knows how to make it, ready to hand in round the edge of the door when I should be in the bath. There’s nothing in that. I’ve been with her for years, and on account of the canvas it would be just the same as if I were in bed. On second thought I asked her to hand in some toast –or bread and butter and bloater paste–at the same time. I fed the fire with judgment, and the copper boiled just as the last blaze died down. I got a pail and carried the water to the bath, pouring it in through the opening at the head. The last few pints I dipped into the pail with a cup. I covered the opening with a towel to keep the steam and heat in until I was ready. I got the boiling water from the kitchen into the bucket, covered it with another towel, and stood it in a handy corner in the bathroom.

I made an opening, turned on the cold water, and commenced to undress. I hung my clothes on the wall, till morning, for I intended to go straight from the bath to bed in my pyjamas and to lie there reading.

I turned off the cold water tap to be sure, lifted the towel off, and put my good right foot in to feel the temperature–into about three inches of cold water, and that was vanishing.

I’d forgotten to put in the plug.

I’m deaf, you know, and the landlady, hearing the water run, thought I was flushing out the bath (we were new tenants) and wondered vaguely why I was so long at it.

I dressed rather hurriedly in my working clothes, went inside, and spread myself dramatically on the old cane lounge and covered my face with my oldest hat, to show that it was comic and I took it that way. But my landlady was so full of sympathy, condolence, and self-reproach (because she failed to draw my attention to the gurgling) that she let the coffee and toast burn.

I went up and lay on my bed, and was so tired and misty and far away that I went to sleep without undressing, or even washing my face and hands.

How many, in this life, forget the plug!

And how many, ah! how many, who passed through, and are passing through Skull Terrace, commenced life as confidently, carefree, and clear headed, and with such easily exercised, careful, intelligent, practised, and methodical attention to details as I did the bath business arrangements–and forgot to put in the plug.

And many because they were handicapped physically.


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.

barrackers: people who cheer for a sporting team, etc. boko: crazy.

bushman/bushwoman: someone who lives an isolated existence, far from cities, “in the bush”, “outback”. (today: “bushy”. In New Zealand it is a timber getter. Lawson was sacked from a forestry job in New Zealand, “because he wasn’t a bushman” 🙂

bushranger: an Australian “highwayman”, who lived in the ‘bush’– scrub–and attacked and robbed, especially gold carrying coaches and banks. Romanticised as anti-authoritarian Robin Hood figures– cf. Ned Kelly–but usually very violent. US use was very different (more = explorer), though some lexicographers think the word (along with “bush” in this sense) was borrowed from the US…

churchyarder: Sounding as if dying–ready for the churchyard = cemetery

cobber: mate, friend. Used to be derived from Hebrew chaver via Yiddish. General opinion now seems to be that it entered the language too early for that–and an English etymology is preferred.

fiver: a five pound (sterling) note (or “bill”)

fossick: pick out gold, in a fairly desultory fashion. In old “mullock” heaps or crvices in rocks.

jackaroo: (Jack + kangaroo; sometimes jackeroo)–someone, in early days a new immigrant from England, learning to work on a sheep/cattle station (U.S. “ranch”.)

kiddy: young child. “kid” plus ubiquitous Australia “-y” or “-ie” nobbler: a drink, esp. of spirits overlanding: driving (or, “droving”, cattle from pasture to market or railhead.

pannikin: a metal mug.

Pipeclay: or Eurunderee, Where Lawson spent much of his early life (including his three years of school…

Poley: name for s hornless (or dehorned) cow.

skillion(-room): A “lean-to”, a room built up against the back of some other building, with separate roof.

sliprails: portion of a fence where the rails are lossely fitted so that they may be removed from one side and animal let through.

smoke-ho: a short break from, esp., heavy physical work, and those who wish to can smoke.

sov.: sovereign, gold coin worth one pound sterling

splosh: money

Sqinny: nickname for someone with a squint.

Stousher: nickname for someone often in a fight (or “stoush”)

swagman (swaggy): Generally, anyone who is walking in the “outback” with a swag. (See “The Romance of the Swag”.) Lawson also restricts it at times to those whom he considers to be tramps, not looking for work but for “handouts” (i.e., “bums” in US. In view of the Great Depression, 1890->, perhaps unfairly. In 1892 it was reckoned 1/3 men were out of work)