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Title: Marsupial Bill
Author: J. Brunton Stephens
eBook No.: 2100421h.html
Language: English
Date first posted: 2021
Most recent update: 2021

This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore

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Marsupial Bill
The Bad Boy, The Good Dog, And The Old Man Kangaroo

J. Brunton Stephens

Illustrated by J. A. Clarke


Part One
Part Two

Part One


IT was the time when geese despond,
    And turkeys make their wills;
The time when Christians, to a man
    Forgive each other’s bills;
It was the time when Christmas glee
    The heart of childhood fills.


Alas! that, when the changing year
    Brings round the blessed day,
The hearts of little Queensland boys
    Wax keen to hunt and slay,—
As if the chime of Christmas time
    Were but a call to prey.


Alas! that when our dwellings teem
    With comfits and with toys—
When bat and ball and wicket call
    To yet sublimer joys—
Whatever can’t be caught and killed
    Is stale to certain boys.


Strange that, with such instructive things
    From which to pick and choose,
With moral books and puzzle maps
    That “teach while they amuse,”
Some boys can find no pleasure save
    In killing kangaroos.


Where Quart Pot creek to Severn’s stream
    Its mighty tribute rolls,
There stands a town—the happiest town,
    I think, betwixt the poles;
And all around is holy ground;
    In fact, it’s full of holes.


And there, or thereabouts, there dwelt,
    (Still dwells, for aught I know),
A little boy, whose moral tone
    Was lamentably low;
A shocking scamp, with just a speck
    Of good in embryo.


His name was Bill; to wallabies
    He bore an evil will;
All things that hop on hinder legs
    His function was to kill,
And from his show of scalps he won
    The name, Marsupial Bill.


His face and form were pinched and lean,
    And dim his youthful eye:
Tis well that growing Queensland boys
    Should know the reason why;—
My little lads, ’twas all along
    Of smoking on the sly.


Through this was William small and lean,
    Through this his eye was dim,
Nor biceps rose on nerveless arm,
    Nor calf on nether limb;—
Ye growing boys and hobbledehoys,
    Be warned by me—and him.


His elevated shoulders stood
    But little way apart;
His elbow joints—but why rely
    On mere descriptive art?
Come hither, hither, artist man,
    And show them William’s “carte!”


There. That’s the moral of himself;
    And if from it you guess
That Bill had thirteen summers seen,
    I beg to acquiesce,
And further state his fighting weight
    As five stun more or less.


And should you ask how such a one
    A mighty hunter grew,
So many flying does outsped,
    So many boomers slew—
Bill owned a canine mate, to which
    His victories were due.


A brute so complex that he set
    “The fancy” all agog;
Of breed that ne’er found name in
    Exhibition catalogue!
Come hither, hither artist man,
    And show them William’s dog!


On Christmas-eve, at set of sun,
    A hollow tree he sought;
A match, a scratch, a puff, and Bill
    Was lost in smoke and thought,
And “all his battles o’er again”
    In fervid fancy fought.


No ha’penny thing, no penny thing,
    No thing of common clay
Such brilliant memories evoked,
    With hopes as bright as they—
It was his father’s Sunday pipe
    That Bill had stolen away.


For many a time and oft had he
    Admired the wondrous bowl,
The stem, the mouthpiece, and the tout
    Ensemble of the whole,
Until desire of it had grown
    A portion of his soul—


Until desire o’ergrew the fear
    Of kick, or cuff, or stripe.
That eve, when Bill stepped forth from home
    The guilty scheme was ripe—
His right-hand trouser-leg concealed
    His father’s Sunday pipe.


And now within a heaven of smoke
    Against the tree he leant,
The while the mellow influence
    Through all his vitals went,
And for the first time in his life
    He knew what meerschaum meant.


So subtly stole the influence
    His inmost being through,
He did not mark the sudden bark
    That signalled kangaroo,
Nor noted that his constant mate
    Had vanished from his view.


His mind and eye were on the pipe,
    And he had just begun
To count how many scalps would go
    To purchase such a one,—
When turning round his head, he saw,
    Against the setting sun,


A Boomer! . . . and, as when the waves
    Close o’er a drowning head,
Sudden the whole forgotten past
    Before the soul lies spread,
And all the charge-sheet of a life
    In one brief glance is read—


Ev’n so in instant tumult thronged,
    About his wildered mind,
A thousand shapes of wounded things,
    Of every size and kind;
And some were scalped, and some were maimed,
    And some were docked behind.


The kangaroo, the wallaroo,
    The wallaby was there;
The ’possum jabbered in its fright,
    Sore wept the native bear;
The stricken paddamelon moaned
    Its ineffectual prayer;
The battered ’guana fixed on him
    Its dull remonstrant stare;
While tail-less lizards swarmed and crawled
    About him everywhere;
And limbless frogs denounced him with
    The croaking of despair;
And tortured bats with ghostly wings
    Clung to his stiffened hair;—
But suddenly the vision passed,
    And Bill became aware
That he was in the Boomer’s arms,
    And bounding through the air.


Hop, hop, they went o’er broken wilds,
    Where, stacked in many a mound,
The hoards of clay-embedded ore
    Rose grimly all around:—
Unheeding miners’ rights, they jumped
    A claim at every bound.


Then on o’er wastes so very bare
    That even “stripping” ceased;
And as they neared the hill countrie,
    The frightful pace increased;
Nor granite slope nor timbered ridge
    Told on the tireless beast.
The sun went down, the full-orbed moon
    Came swimming up the East,
Nor yet the “old man” slackened speed,
    Nor yet his prey released.


Still on and on, till from a cliff
    A sentry challenged near,—
Though what the challenge or reply
    No mortal man may hear;
We only know that for a sign
    Each drooped his dexter ear.


Whate’er it meant, the “old man” checked
    His onward course thereat,
Dropped Bill, and dragged him by the wrists
    Across a wooded flat,
    In full assembly sat.


Ringed by the fathers of the tribe,
    Surrounded yet alone,
The Bossaroo superbly posed
    Upon a granite throne—
A very old “old man” who had
    Four generations known.


Upon his mournful eye the woes
    Of all his race were writ;
Yet age and sorrow had not dimmed
    His majesty a whit;—
And, oh, his metatarsal bones
    Displayed the real grit!


Nor unattended sat the sires;
    Behind them crouched their mates;
Nor kangaroos alone composed
    The Congress of the States,
But all proscribed marsupial breeds
    Had sent their delegates.


Lo, at a signal from the boss
    The serried ring gave way,
And through an opening in the throng
    The captor dragged his prey,
Bowed to the chair, then called to aid
    A strapping M.L.A.


And thus, betwixt a double guard,
    The prisoner found his place;
And all around were wrathful eyes
    Without a gleam of grace;—
One wide concatenated scowl
    Was focussed on his face.


Now hitherto poor Bill had been
    As dumb as dumb could be,
But at that pandomoniac scowl
    His struggling tongue got free;
He lifted up his voice and cried,
    “Oh, please, it wasn’t me;”


A tumult rose; but with a sign
    The boss the riot checked,
Then cleared his throat, and bade the guard
    The prisoner’s clothes inspect:—
“Ay, ay, Sir!” came the prompt reply,
    Or words to that effect.


They spake the language that was heard
    While yet the world was young;
And he who knows it knows all speech
    That out of it hath sprung:—
(With compliments to Doctor Hearn,
    It was the Aryan tongue).


And should you ask how Bill was up
    To every word they said,
And how such antiquated lore
    Had got into his head—
’Twas his pre-natal memory
    That served him in such stead.


They searched the prisoner’s clothes, and first
    They brought the pipe to view,—
For, though it is a mystery
    To me as well as you,
It is a solemn fact that Bill
    Had stuck to it all through.


Then one by one his poor effects
    Were collared by his guards,—
Peach-stones, fig-chew, a catapult,
    A greasy pack of cards,
A half-cut cake of cavendish,
    (Prime quality—Gaujard’s);


But when from out a leathern sheath
    A bloodstained knife they drew,
All round the court, from hand to hand,
    They passed it in review;
Each sniffed the blade in turn, and each
    In turn said—“Kangaroo.”


And last, a printed document
    Their simple souls perplexed;
Each eyed the paper learnedly,
    And passed it to the next;
But not an Aryan of them all
    Could even guess the text.


At length they summoned to their aid
    An old and learned clerk,
Who, as tradition told, had been
    With Noah in the ark—
Though possibly tradition here
    Had overshot the mark.


And while a murmur of applause
    Through all the Congress ran,
Bowed with the weight of many years
    Hopped forth that gray “old man,”
Mounted his moonlight barnacles
    Sneezed thrice, and thus began:—


“Whereas it is expedient to
    Encourage the destruc-
-tion of marsupial animals—
    (Sensation, and a ruc-
-tion in the court, with groans and cries
    From joey, doe, and buck)—


“Be it enacted therefore by
    The Queen’s most Excellent
—er—Majesty—er—by and with
    The advice and the consent
Of Council and Assembly of
    Queensland in Parliament—


“In the construction of this Act—”
    But here arose a sort
Of interruption from the Right,
    Betwixt a cough and snort,
While from the less fastidious Left
    Came cries of “Cut it short!”


Then clause on clause with careless haste
    The learned clerk despatched;
But when he read, “The scalps when shown
    Must have the ears attached,”
The whole assembly rushed the guard,
    And at the prisoner snatched.


But when the reader raised his voice,
    And thus gave forth the sense,
“For kangaroo scalps ninepence each,
    For wallabies’ three pence,”
Division rose amongst his foes,
    And stayed their violence.


For those at ninepence each, elate
    At such a mark of fame,
Drew back, and left the threepenny mob
    To do the deed of shame;
But the low-quoted wallabies,
    Disgusted, dropped the game.


Bill strove to speak; his voice was drowned
    With catcall, groan, and hiss,
Until the Bossaroo, with slow
    Judicial emphasis,
Said, “Capias-nisi-prius—Boy,
    What say you to all this?”


Then silence fell upon the peers,
    And on the threepenny mob,
The while this wicked little boy
    Said, snivelling through a sob,
“Oh please, I never done it, Sir—
    No, never; sepmebob!


“I am a gentle orphan boy,
    Nor never jines no row:
My father is a tributer,
    My mother keeps a cow:
We always lives respectable:
    We tries it, anyhow:
The bill as that old bloke has read
    I never seen till now;
And that ’ere blood’s on that ’ere knife
    Since father killed the sow.


Then spake the Boss:—“The quality
    Of mercy is not strained;
Yet there is still a point or two
    We’d like to have explained,
Ere we absolve you from the charge
    Whereon you stand arraigned.


“But since the law is merciful,
    And hastes not to condemn,
If witnesses to character
    Exist, go, fetch us them:
The court will sit to-morrow night
    At nine fifteen, p.m.


And since without your father’s pipe
    You dare not home return,—
(Our ancient brother with the specs
    Has twigged the whole concern;
And, truly, what he doesn’t know
    Ain’t worth your while to learn):—


And further, since the oath of man
    Is but of scant avail,
And few like Regulus return
    Spontaneously to jail—
(My fit is coming on; I feel
    The symptoms in my tail)—
We will dispense with oaths, and keep
    The meerschaum as your bail.


“To-morrow—(oh my vertebra!)—
    To-morrow night at eight,
At the Wheal Edith, by the flume,
    A corp’ral’s guard will wait;
These shall escort your witnesses,
    Blindfolded. Don’t be late.


“And this remember—(oh my joints!)—
    Not one of all the race
Whose leaders boss this scalping job
    May stand before my face;
The witness of a Britisher
    Will prejudice your case


Now he who brought you will reverse
    The process—(oh my toe!)—
Your downward path is up above,
    Your upward down below:
Stand not upon the order of
    Your going, sir; but go.


“And take this for thy dowry, boy,
    ‘Existence is a sell,’
I once was bitten by a dog,
    Since which I am not well.
Methinks my speech already shows
    Symptoms of doggerel.”

Part Two


Fast flew the hours. We may not tell
    Of William’s weary quest,
How round the outskirts of the town
    He roamed like one possessed—
Nor with what guileful arts he plied
    The foreign interest.


Enough that at the appointed hour,
    With backers at his back,
He faced the noble Bossaroo,
    (Still hypochondriac)—
And introduced his witnesses,
    A yellow and a black;


A placid-eyed Mongolian
    From sandy Pechelee,
Who’d stimulate an inch of soil
    To do the work of three,
Or make a metamorphic rock
    Sprout into cabbagee;


“A big buck nigger” next; who once
    Bowed down to stocks and stones,
(For years digested captives formed
    The tissue of his bones),
But now he is an Anglican,
    Who a live “Bissop” owns,
Besides a gorgeous suit of slops,
    And the proud name of Jones.


Slow rose the lordly Bossaroo,
    And bade unveil their eyes;
And, when those aliens gazed around
    On all that dread assize,
They howled in unison and made
    Night hideous with their cries.


For Bill had lured them lyingly—
    But why should we explain;
The whole thing was exceptional,
    And can’t occur again.
Besides, to poke at mysteries
    Is wanton and profane.


With single will they turned on Bill,
    And blazed his evil name;
With double tongue their charge they flung,
    And swore unto the same;
With treble spite did both unite
    To spoil his little game.


“Me see him catchce kangaloo,”
    Deponed on oath Ah Chee;
“Me see him—hi! hst!—soolem dog,
    No mind my cabbagee—
Me lose hap clown, him knockee down
    Ten twenty lettucee!”


“Massoopy Bill, him wicked boy,”
    Deponed the South Sea swell;
“Two moon, come Bissop preach in chuch,
    Him loaf outside an’ yell;
Me run—him run—me catch—him say
    Tree scalp if you no tell.”


So, when the learned clerk had both
    Their depositions read,
The judge drew forth his judgment cap,
    And put it on his head,
And sentenced poor Marsupial Bill
    To hang till he was dead.


“But since”—so spake the Bossaroo—
    “From evidence we know
That many a scalped and gory head
    This night through him lies low,
We’ll scalp him first!”—and all the house,
    Nem. con., cried “Be it so!”
And as a sign and seal of doom,
    Turned down the right thumb-toe.


“With his own knife,” the Boss resumed,
    “Ah Chee shall do the deed.
The gods are just (oh, my poor back!)
    And make the assassin bleed
By his own proper instrument.
    Mongolian, proceed.”


What followed next, who gave the word
    For mate to link with mate,
Nor Bill, nor Jones, nor yet Ah Chee
    Can very clearly state;
But that ’twas a corroboree
    All three corroborate.


In vain poor William prayed—in vain
    His suppliant knees he bowed,
And by a pile of sacred names
    For mercy cried aloud—
The point was at his occiput,
    When, lo! from out the crowd


Stepped forth a rare and radiant dame,
    The Boss’s pride and stay,
(The dam of the Bossárovitch,
    Still young, though somewhat gray,
An elegant marsupial,
    Well-mannered, bien née)—
Stepped forth before them, and remarked
    Seductively, “Belay!”
Then, kneeling by the judgment seat,
    Thus sweetly said her say:—
“Most Noble Grand, have you forgot
    That this is Christmas Day?


“Beseech you, bid that heathen hand
    Withhold the bloody knife!
Recall your fearful words of doom—
    Nay turn not from your wife,
But give me as a Christmas Box
    The little captive’s life.”


Then quickly from his granite throne
    Down leaped the Noble Grand,
And, kneeling, kissed right courteously
    His royal lady’s hand;
Then, as he raised her up, pronounced
    The joyful countermand;
Whereat the rest turned up their toes,
    That Bill might understand
The Congress willed his days should yet
    Be long upon the land.


Then raged, the revelry anew,
    With sound of drum and fife;
The Boss himself forgot his woes,
    And danced as if for life;
While the old clerk forgot himself.
    And kissed the Boss’s wife.


And when there fell a weariness
    On all the panting throng,
And Bossaroo and ancient clerk
    Alike had nigh “gone bong,”—
Amid a jaded pause was heard
    A call for “Joey’s Song!”


And presently a little head,
    As from a little nest,
Peeped o’er a snug maternal pouch,
    And sang its little best;
(The song is very rare, and full
    Of antique interest)


He ceased; the pre-diluvian clerk
    Rose on his quivering shanks,
And with a well-turned compliment
    Proposed a vote of thanks—
Just then a breathless picket broke
    All gory through the ranks!


But ere his trembling tongue had time
    To tell his tale of woe,
And why thus grimly he disturbed
    The happy status quo,—
With giant bound, Bill’s faithful hound
    Leaped madly on the foe!


Ah, then and there was sudden scare
    The swiftest took the lead;
Ah, there and then—but oh, the pen
    Is impotent indeed!
Come hither, hither, artist man,
    And show the Great Stampede!


What next befel may somewhat strain
    The limits of belief;
But where so many marvels are,
    Why boggle at the chief?
’Twere shame if lack of faith should cause
    Our moral come to grief.


From all the flying ruck the dog
    Had singled out the queen;
Another instant, and the Boss
    A widower had been,
When—(that’s a pithy saw that bids
    Expect the unforeseen)—


Bill CALLED HIM OFF! The dog drew back,
    And on a boulder leant.
’Twas months ago, and still that dog
    Is pondering the event,
And even to this very hour
    Can’t fathom what it meant;
It was a thing so utterly
    Without a precedent.


But Bill, the Chinaman, and Jones,
    The queen, and you, and I,
We know the secret of the change,
    We know the reason why;
And—may I be allowed to add?—
    The moral hangs thereby.


But since nor boy nor man receives
    Advice without a pang,
And this narrator’s muse hath failed
    To catch the proper twang,—
The moral hanging plainly there,
    Suppose we let it—hang.


“Marsupial Bill” was preceded in the Queenslander by the following paragraph, which is here quoted, in order to show that the story is not altogether without foundation in fact:—

We (Stannum Miner) are indebted to Mr. James Warrell, of Sugarloaf, a gentleman on whose veracity we place the best reliance, for the following account of a most extraordinary occurrence. We give the statement as nearly as possible in Mr. Warrell’s own words:—“I give you the details of a very rare occurrence. A boy of mine, about 11 years old, was sent a message last Saturday week, about 1 o’clock, p.m. About half-way between my place and Connolly’s, on a well used road, a kangaroo came from behind, took him up, and carried him, without stopping, to the Maryland Company’s ground—about a mile and a-half—over some very rough country. The lad got back home about dusk, his face bloody, and seemingly half mad. He soon became sensible, however, and by the time I got home—an hour afterwards—he was sufficiently recovered to be interviewed.”  “Well, Willie, did you not see the kangaroo before he caught you?”  “ No, he was just on to me before I knew.”  “Were there any more kangaroos ?”  “Not then, but about half-way there was a big mob of kangaroos, and we all went together.”  “I suppose you were crying?”  “ Yes, all the way.”  “When he dropped you, what did he do?”  “Nothing; stood and looked at me for a minute, and then went off with the mob.”  “What did you do then?”  “I don’t remember anything after that. After sundown I found myself at the Lincolnshire mine, near where the engine was, and then I made for home.” I think the lad must have been crazy for awhile; his coat was split open down the back, but, although his face was covered with blood when he got home, there was not a scratch on him. The kangaroo must have been a good sized one to carry him (about 65lbs. weight) so far, and without a spell; and it seems strange that in the act of jumping he did not strike the boy with his foot. I have not the slightest reason to doubt the truth of the boy’s statement. What was the motive that prompted the action? Some say that if there had been any water convenient he would have drowned the boy. I have a notion that the kangaroo was one that had lost its joey, and was making an attempt to adopt one. Moral: When a child of tender years goes alone where kangaroos may be, a dog, large or small, is very good company.

To NEWSPAPER PROPRIETORS.—If you notice PUNCH, please send a copy of the paper in which such notice appears, to the PUNCH Office, Brisbane.


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