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His Masterpiece
by [?]

GREENHIDE BILLY was a stockman on a Clarence River cattle-station, and admittedly the biggest liar in the district. He had been for many years pioneering in the Northern Territory, the other side of the sun-down—a regular “furthest-out man”—and this assured his reputation among station-hands who award rank according to amount of experience.

Young men who have always hung around the home districts, doing a job of shearing here or a turn at horse-breaking there, look with reverence on Riverine or Macquarie-River shearers who come in with tales of runs where they have 300,000 acres of freehold land and shear 250,000 sheep; these again pale their ineffectual fires before the glory of the Northern Territory man who has all-comers on toast, because no one can contradict him or check his figures. When two of them meet, however, they are not fools enough to cut down quotations and spoil the market; they lie in support of each other, and make all other bushmen feel mean and pitiful and inexperienced.

Sometimes a youngster would timidly ask Greenhide Billy about the ‘terra incognita’:“What sort of a place is it, Billy—how big are the properties?How many acres had you in the place you were on?”

“Acres be d——d!” Billy would scornfully reply; “hear him talking about acres!D’ye think we were blanked cockatoo selectors! Out there we reckon country by the hundred miles. You orter say, ‘How many thousand miles of country?’ and then I’d understand you. ”

Furthermore, according to Billy, they reckoned the rainfall in the Territory by yards, not inches. He had seen blackfellows who could jump at least three inches higher than anyone else had ever seen a blackfellow jump, and every bushman has seen or personally known a blackfellow who could jump over six feet. Billy had seen bigger droughts, better country, fatter cattle, faster horses, and cleverer dogs, than any other man on the Clarence River. But one night when the rain was on the roof, and the river was rising with a moaning sound, and the men were gathered round the fire in the hut smoking and staring at the coals, Billy turned himself loose and gave us his masterpiece.

“I was drovin’ with cattle from Mungrybanbone to old Corlett’s station on the Buckadowntown River” (Billy always started his stories with some paralysing bush names). “We had a thousand head of store-cattle, wild, mountain-bred wretches that’d charge you on sight; they were that handy with their horns they could skewer a mosquito. There was one or two one-eyed cattle among ’em—and you know how a one-eyed beast always keeps movin’ away from the mob, pokin’ away out to the edge of them so as they won’t git on his blind side, so that by stirrin’ about he keeps the others restless.

“They had been scared once or twice, and stampeded and gave us all we could do to keep them together; and it was wet and dark and thundering, and it looked like a real bad night for us. It was my watch. I was on one side of the cattle, like it might be here, with a small bit of a fire; and my mate, Barcoo Jim, he was right opposite on the other side of the cattle, and had gone to sleep under a log. The rest of the men were in the camp fast asleep. Every now and again I’d get on my horse and prowl round the cattle quiet like, and they seemed to be settled down all right, and I was sitting by my fire holding my horse and drowsing, when all of a sudden a blessed ’possum ran out from some saplings and scratched up a tree right alongside me. I was half-asleep, I suppose, and was startled; anyhow, never thinking what I was doing, I picked up a firestick out of the fire and flung it at the ’possum.