P J Hartigan (John O'Brien) - Australian Bush Poetry

Said Hanrahan
PJ Hartigan by John O'Brien

"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan in accents most forlorn,
Outside the church, ere Mass began one frosty Sunday morn.
The congregation stood about coat-collars to the ears,
And talked of stock, and crops, and drought as it had done for years.
"It's looking crook," said Daniel Croke; "Bedad, it's cruke, me lad,
For never since the banks went broke has seasons been so bad."

"It's dry, all right," said young O'Neil, with which astute remark
He squatted down upon his heel and chewed a piece of bark.
And so around the chorus ran, "It's keepin' dry, no doubt."
"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan, "Before the year is out."
"The crops are done; ye'll have your work to save one bag of grain;
From here way out to Back-o'-Bourke they're singin' out for rain.

"They're singin' out for rain," he said, "And all the tanks are dry."
The congregation scratched its head, and gazed around the sky.
"There won't be grass, in any case, enough to feed an ass;
There's not a blade on Casey's place as I came down to Mass."
"If rain don't come this month," said Dan, and cleared his throat to speak -
"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan, "If rain don't come this week."

A heavy silence seemed to steal on all at this remark;
And each man squatted on his heel, and chewed a piece of bark.
"We want an inch of rain, we do, "O'Neil observed at last;
But Croke "maintained" we wanted two, to put the danger past.
"If we don't get three inches, man, or four to break this drought,
We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan, "Before the year is out."

In God's good time down came the rain; and all the afternoon
On iron roof and window-pane it drummed a homely tune.
And through the night it pattered still, and lightsome, gladsome elves
On dripping spout and window-sill kept talking to themselves.
It pelted, pelted all day long, a-singing at its work,
Till every heart took up the song way out to Back-o'-Bourke.

And every creek a banker ran, and dams filled overtop;
"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan, "If this rain doesn't stop."
And stop it did, in God's good time; and spring came in to fold
A mantle o'er the hills sublime of green and pink and gold.
And days went by on dancing feet, with harvest-hopes immense,
And laughing eyes beheld the wheat nid-nodding o'er the fence.

And, oh, the smiles on every face, as happy lad and lass
Through grass knee-deep on Casey's place went riding down to Mass.
While round the church in clothes genteel discoursed the men of mark,
And each man squatted on his heel, and chewed his piece of bark.
"There'll be bush-fires for sure, me man, there will, without a doubt;
We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan, "Before the year is out."

Notes: (Borrowed from William Grey: http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/poems/1573.html)

John O'Brien was the nom de plume of Patrick Joseph Hartigan (1878-1952), born in Yass, New South Wales. He was a Roman Catholic priest in the Goulburn diocese and later parish priest at Narrandera -- also rural towns in New South Wales.

Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson are better (indeed the best) known names in the Australian bush ballad tradition. Paterson ('Clancy of the Overflow', and 'The Man from Snowy River') and Lawson ('The Great Grey Plain', and 'Sweeney') however celebrate, or in Lawson's case lament, the Australian bush in a very different vein. Paterson and Lawson are city voices dreaming about, or meditating on, the bush while detached from it living in the city. O'Brien, in comparison, is gentler and indeed tenderly affectionate toward Australia's harsh brown land and its seasonal cycles. O'Brien's poems are deeply and lovingly embedded in the farming life of the Irish community in rural Australia, of which he was a part.

'Said Hanrahan' paints a wonderful portrait of Australian-Irish bush culture, together with its church, the land, the climate and the seasons which constitute its core. Hanrahan (a quintessentially Irish name) expresses unconquerable Irish pessimism about the prospects down on the farm. Hanrahan has a point however: the lush growth from spring rain can indeed dry out into fuel which poses a serious fire risk in summer.

'Said Hanrahan', I think, is readily accessible to non-Australians but here are a couple of notes: 'rooned' is Australian-Irish pronunciation of 'ruined'; 'never since the banks went broke' refers to the turbulent 1890s which were bad drought years and also when, in the absence of a central bank, nearly all the land banks and building societies, and 12 of the 22 trading banks went broke, following the collapse of an intense property boom. 'Back-o'-Bourke' is an Australian colloquialism for being just about anywhere in the vast and sparsely populated heartland of bush Australia; 'every creek a banker ran' means that the rivers overflowed.

'Said Hanrahan' was published in Around the Boree Log and Other Verses (1921).

William Grey

 This and other Australian bush poetry can be found on the following web site: http://abpa.org.au/index.html
 You found this poem on http://www.cattlefacts.com.au/MoneyCattle.asp