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  ― 33 ―

The Drovers

A Play in One Act.

Scene. — A driving camp, on the edge of the Barklay Tableland. The camp is made on a little muddied water-hole fringed with a few gydgea trees ; the Plains, unbroken by timber, stretching to the horizon.

Time. — Early morning. A Camp-fire. Pack saddles strewn about.

(ALBERT, the Cook, is busy at the fire. He is a little fat man, fussy but cheerful.) (A shot rings out.)

(The Cook drops the frying Pan, and watches.)

COOK.

They're off again.


(Sound of hoofs, stockwhips cracking — a stampede of cattle.)

(Cook picks up billy of water, and puts it on fire.)

(Two drovers, BOB and MICK, carry in “BRIGLOW BILL.”)

(“BRIGLOW” BILL is a square built, determined looking man, with steely grey eyes. He is about forty-five, and has lived all his life in the bush.)


  ― 34 ―

(BOB and MICK are young men. BOB is tall, wiry, and sandy-haired. He is burnt brick-red, and heavily freckled. He is good-natured, and has a fanatical love of horses. MICK is a little dark man, mild and rather silent, with perfect faith in the Boss.)

COOK.

What's wrong ?


BOB.

A stampede.


MICK.

They've got Bill.


BOB.

(As they Put him down.) How's that, Bill ?


BRIGLOW.

Easy, boys, easy.


MICK.

How's that now, Briglow ?


BRIGLOW.

Let me sit up. It hurts to lie back. Prop me up a bit.


BOB.

Is that better ?


BRIGLOW.

Yes. It catches me here.


COOK.

(Giving him water.) Here's a drink.


BRIGLOW.

I'm done.


BOB.

Nothing like it.


BRIGLOW.

They've got me at last.


DROVERS.

It's hard luck.


COOK.

How did it happen?


BOB.

The jackeroo fired his revolver at a dingo, and rushed the mob off camp.


COOK.

God's truth, and them been ringing these two hours !


MICK.

The Boss is as mad as a snake — he was flourishing his greenhide and cursing thunder and lightning till we got 'em together again.


COOK.

It's hard luck, hard luck for us all.


BOB.

It's no good growling. It's done now, and we've got to make the best of a bad job.


MICK.

You should have seen the boss ——


BOB.

He takes it worse than Briglow.


MICK.

Can you blame him! Fancy the Jackeroo firing his revolver and rushing the mob like that — it's the dead finish — Briglow's horse smashed to bits, Bob' horse with a broken neck, and Briglow here laid out —


COOK.

And nothing in front of us but the long dry plains.


MICK.

We'll have a lively time from now on.


  ― 35 ―


BOB.

My oath, we will!


COOK.

What's up, Briglow?


BRIGLOW.

Gimme a drink.


COOK.

Right-o! (Gives him pannikin of water.) Sorry we haven't a drop o' grog left.


BOB.

(Examining him.) One thing — nothing's broken.


BRIGLOW.

It's here — inside.


MICK.

(To BOB) Any hope?


BOB.

It'll be a long time before he's in the saddle again.


BRIGLOW.

Bob!


BOB.

I'm here.


BRIGLOW.

Thanks for pulling me out.


BOB.

That's nothing.


BRIGLOW.

You risked your life to save me.


BOB.

Give it a bone, Briglow.


BRIGLOW.

It's rotten bad luck for Alec.


MICK.

It is that.


BRIGLOW.

He's responsible for them cattle.


BOB.

We're a man short now. I dunno what we can do about Briglow.


MICK.

The Boss'll think o'something.


COOK.

He's quieter now.


MICK.

The old man gave eighteen pounds for the gelding Briglow rode. He was going to run it at the Brunette races.


COOK.

Wish we were there now! I'm going to get a tenner for two day's cooking.


BRIGLOW.

Are the cattle steadying ?


MICK.

They were ringing when I left.


BRIGLOW.

They'll give some trouble yet.


MICK.

The Boss is with them, they'll never get away from him.


BRIGLOW.

I can't do no more. It's the dead finish.


(Enter JACKEROO, an athletic young man, city-bred, out for experience. It is his first trip in the Never Never.)

JACKEROO.

Where's Briglow?


COOK.

There he is.


  ― 36 ―


JACKEROO.

Don't say he's done for! It was all my fault, firing at that dingo. The cattle rushed like mad, trampling him into the ground. My horse bolted. I couldn't pull him up in time to help.


MICK.

Run away, you make me tired.


BOB.

You've too much talk, young fellow.


JACKEROO.

How are you now, Briglow? What can I do?


BRIGLOW.

You can't do anything . . . it's all over.


JACKEROO.

Don't say that!


BRIGLOW.

Part o' the game, lad.


JACKEROO.

If I only had that medicine chest! The Boss wouldn't let me bring it.


COOK.

It's all we can do to carry the tucker.


BOB.

Pain-killer's all right, though.


COOK.

Where can it be! Any of you blokes seen the Pain-killer? There's some kicking about somewhere.


BOB.

It's hard luck. Here we are, camped on a muddy water-hole, where there's not enough water to fill your hat, and five hundred cattle mad for a drink !


MICK.

The old bloke'll think o' something, and pull us through. D'you remember when he took those steers from the yellow water-hole at Murrimji, the short cut through the devil-devil country, where the ground broke under your feet, and the ants would eat you alive — only three of us and a Myall nigger! We got one drink for the mob in a hundred miles. He's a marvel, the old man is, and delivered only six short of his number.


(Thunder of hoofs heard.)

BOB.

They're off again.


MICK.

Blarst them!


BOB.

Come on Mick!


(BOB and Mick dash off.)

(A pause.)

COOK.

(To BRIGLOW.) By gum, that Bob can ride. See him jump on that brumby brute! . . By gum, tho', look at the old bloke putting a bend on them. . . He's got 'em . . . Wheeled 'em a treat. Bob's up now, so's Mick . . . They've got 'em all right . . . Got 'em rounded up, and fetchin 'em back to camp . . . Say, Briglow, ain't old Alec a bird! You should


  ― 37 ―
have seen him bending that mob, right on the shoulder o' the lead, swooping round 'em like a hawk.


BRIGLOW.

The old man's a tiger, you can't beat him.


COOK.

They're steadied now. . . On camp again . . .but they're on the prod all right, and looking for trouble. . . Here's the Boss coming in, Briglow. He knows where the Pain-killer is. You'll be as right as rain then.


BRIGLOW.

He's a hard case, ain't he?


COOK.

My oath!


(Enter ALEC, the Boss. He is a man about fifty, tanned, wrinkled, with thick bristling eyebrows, and grey hair and beard. He is bandy legged, but sturdily built. In his younger days he was champion horseman of three States, and is now a famous bushman and drover.)

BOSS.

The cattle's steadied. (To JACKEROO.) What the devil are you doing here ?


JACKEROO.

I wanted to see Briglow.


COOK.

We're looking for the Pain-killer.


BOSS.

It's in the pack-bag. . . In the black bottle. (To BRIGLOW.) We've got them steadied.


BRIGLOW.

Well done.


BOSS.

But the trouble is they're still pegging for a drink.


COOK.

(With bottle.) I've found it.


BOSS.

Give it to me. (Reads directions.) “Twenty drops maximum dose.” (Pours half the bottle into the pannikin.)


JACKEROO.

It's too much. . . Three times too much!


BOSS.

I know the dose for Briglow. Here, drink this.


BRIGLOW.

(Drinking.) That's good.


BOSS.

That'll fix you, eh ? (To COOK.) Get a move on, Albert.


(Enter PIDGEON, a black boy, behind tree. He is tall and thin, and dressed in ragged trousers and shirt. He is quite young, but a little black growth of whiskers gives him a comical appearance.)




  ― 38 ―
PIDGEON.

(Poking head round tree, with a grin.) Gibbit tobacco.


COOK.

Get out o' this.


PIDGEON.

Gibbit tobacco, Boss.


COOK.

I'll give you a cracked skull. . .


(Exit PIDGEON.)

BOSS.

Here's the Pain-killer, Briglow. Here, stick my swag under you. (He fixes him up.)


BRIGLOW.

Right.


JACKEROO.

My God! It's terrible!


BOSS.

What's done is done. You get out to the cattle now.


JACKEROO.

All through an accident.


BOSS.

You make things worse, jawing away like a blasted cockatoo. Get out, and mind you stay with them.


(Exit JACKEROO.)

BOSS.

(To BRIGLOW.) How are you feeling?


BRIGLOW.

Numb and comfortable now.


BOSS.

Good. . . We must get water for the mob. Not half of them had a drink at this mud-hole. That's the real trouble.


BOSS.

BRIGLOW. Yes, that's the trouble all right.


(Enter BOB and MICK)

BOB.

Cattle's steady as a rock.


BOSS.

What's the time.?


COOK.

Quarter past four.


BOSS.

How's the breakfast, Albert?


COOK.

(Taking up a comically pugilistic attitude.) Right, whenever you're ready. Stew on the left, damper on the right, and me in the blanky centre if you don't like it.


BOSS.

Hurry up, boys.


(DROVERS take quick breakfasts.)

COOK.

(To BRIGLOW.) Here's some stew, and a drink o' tea. That stew's made o' roast beef gravy. I reckon I can knock up a better stew than any man in this blarsted country.


BRIGLOW.

My oath, you can, Albert. Leave it there. I'll have a cut at it directly.


  ― 39 ―


COOK.

When we get through to Urandangy, me and Bob's going to the Brunette races. I've got the offer of the cooking there — my oath, there'll be a jamboree. Avon, and Eadingly, and Alexandra, and Alroy, and the O.T., and all the stations are sending horses. What o' the two-up then, eh ? And they're getting a waggon load o' grog from Townsville. Paddy Lenny told me.


BRIGLOW.

Remember me to the boys.


COOK.

But what do you think o' this, Briglow ? They're going to give me a blanky Chow for an offsider.


BRIGLOW.

That's murder, Albert.


COOK.

I'll make the yellow heathen move. Chows — Brunette's got one cooking now . . they can't cook . . Now, I can make pastry out o' weevily flour as good as you'll buy in the Brisbane shops. And I can cook a ragout —— (Sees PIDGEON breaking a piece of brownie.) Here, you blanky black thief, I'll skin you alive ——


(Exit COOK after PIDGEON.)

(The DROVERS take pannikins of tea.)

MICK.

(To Boss.) What are we going to do?


BOSS.

There's only one thing to do, get going.


MICK.

What about Briglow ?


BOSS.

We'll see.


MICK.

When are we starting ?


BOSS.

Right away . . picaninny daylight.


BOB.

(Coming over.) Without Briglow ?


BOSS.

How the Hell can we travel with an injured man ?


MICK.

It's hard luck.


(COOK and PIDGEON enter.)

COOK.

Pack the horses, Pidgeon. (Goes over to BRIGLOW) Can't you do a bit o' stew, Briglow ?


BRIGLOW.

I don't feel like eating.


COOK.

How about a drink o' tea ?


BRIGLOW.

Gimme a drop o' water.


COOK.

Right you are, lad. (Gets water.)


  ― 40 ―


BRIGLOW.

(To BOB and MICK) Look here. I've got a few pounds on me, you blokes can divvy that, and my cheque.


BOB.

You'll be all right, Briglow.


BRIGLOW.

But send a fiver to Joe Duggan. I owe him that.


MICK.

We won't forget.


BOB.

. . . I think I'll buy, that little mare — down at Banka Banka. (To Boss.) Briglow says we can divvy his cheque.


BOSS.

What about it ?


BOB.

I'm thinking o' buying that little Banka Banka mare, you know her — bay wi' black points.


BOSS.

Yes.


BOB.

And there's that roan gelding at Alroy. What do you think o' him — think he'd be better than the mare ?


BOSS.

Give it a rest, Bob.


(BOB and MICK finish breakfast.)

(The Boss goes to BRIGLOW, and fixes him up carefully.)

BOSS.

How are you feeling, mate?


BRIGLOW.

I'm settled, Alec.


BOSS.

By God, man, I'd rather it was me!


BRIGLOW.

I ain't growling.


(The Boss fills a Pipe, and holds a match over it while BRIGLOW puffs till the tobacco glows.)

BOSS.

Have a quiet smoke.


BRIGLOW.

We've had good times together.


BOSS.

My oath, they've been good times.


BRIGLOW.

Alec!


BOSS.

Yes.


BRIGLOW.

You'll be a man short now.


BOSS.

We'll work it somehow. Albert will have to do a watch ; and Bob will take your place on the tail of the cattle.


BRIGLOW.

You might tell Bob if that baldy-faced piker gets slewing out on the left wing, not to lay the whip into him. He's blind in one eye. I just found out last night. . . just sing out, and he'll go back himself.


BOSS.

How's it now, Briglow?


BRIGLOW.

Easier. The pain's gone.


  ― 41 ―


BOSS.

That's something. Why should it end like this? (He looks across the plains.) The cattle are uneasy, and bellowing with thirst.


BRIGLOW.

What are you going to do, Alec ?


BOSS.

We can't stay here, and we can't take you, Briglow. It's the devil's own luck — but there — what's the use of magging like an old crow?


BRIGLOW.

Who's grumbling ? We know the bush, me and you. We're old at the game.


BOSS.

We've got to get on. I'm in charge, and I'd push them through if every blanky man in camp snuffed his candle.


BRIGLOW.

You don't have to tell me that, mate.


BOSS.

I've got to deliver the damned cattle.


BRIGLOW.

I'd like to be going with you, but there's no chance. . .


BOSS.

There's no bones broken. Lets see. . .


BRIGLOW.

It's inside . . something's crushed in the fall.


BOSS.

I've seen such cases.


BRIGLOW.

Hæmorrhage.


BOSS.

You might get better yet.


BRIGLOW.

It's no use pretending. I'm settled, Alec.


BOSS.

Curse the jackeroo !


BRIGLOW.

Let the lad off light if you can. He didn't know what he was doing when he fired that shot. He's new to the bush.


BOSS.

. . . And it's all a damned accident. . . .


BRIGLOW.

It don't matter. It had to come sooner or later. I've lived my life, careless and free, looking after my work when I was at it, and splashing my cheque up like a good one when I struck civilization. I've lived hard, droving and horse-breaking, station work, and overlanding, the hard life of the bush, but there's nothing better, and death's comes quick, before I'm played out — it's the way I wanted.


BOSS.

May be I'll finish like you, Briglow, out in a bush. I hope so anyway.


BRIGLOW.

I've got no family to leave behind. May be the bush'll miss me a bit, . . the tracks I've travelled, and a star or two, and the old mulga.


  ― 42 ―


BOSS.

And I'll miss you. I've never travelled with a better man.


BRIGLOW.

I hope you get the mob through safe. I'm real sorry I ain't no use, but it ain't my fault.


BOSS.

Don't I know it! You've always done your share, Briglow, and a lot extra. I'll never find another mate like you. The others are good lads, but they're young yet.


BRIGLOW.

They'll soon get over it, and forget all about me.


BOSS.

But I'll never forget, Briglow. It's part of my life.


BRIGLOW.

Well, it's been a good life. I'm satisfied.


BOSS.

That's the way to look at it, Briglow.


BRIGLOW.

It's fate.


BOSS.

That's right. It's fate.


BRIGLOW.

No man can dodge his fate.


BOSS.

We've had some good times together.


BRIGLOW.

Yes, . . they were good times.


(COOK comes over to BRIGLOW.)

BOSS.

I'll just have a drink o' tea, and get them started.


(He goes to camp fire and fills pannikin.)

(The DROVERS come over.)

BOB.

How's it now, Briglow?


BRIGLOW.

The pain's gone.


BOB.

I'll be taking your place on the tail of the cattle now.


BRIGLOW.

Yes.


BOB.

. . I think I'll buy the mare, Briglow.


BRIGLOW.

The mare's the best.


BOB.

Well, so long Bill.


BRIGLOW.

So long, Bob.


(Exit BOB, Singing: “ Give me a horse wi' a bit o'pace And a saddle that's made by Uhl.”)

COOK.

I've packed up and started the horses.


MICK.

So long, Briglow.


BRIGLOW.

So long, Mick.


(Enter JACKEROO)

JACKEROO.

Good God, we're not leaving him, are we?


  ― 43 ―


COOK.

You're as bad as a kerosene tin in a yard full of colts.


MICK.

We're in for a rocky time, but I think the old man'll get through. He a marvel, ain't he ? So long, Briglow!


(Exit MICK)

JACKEROO.

How can I leave you, Briglow!


BOSS.

(Coming over.) Why ain't you with the cattle ?


JACKEROO.

I can't leave Briglow like this.


BOSS.

You're a drover, ain't you ?


JACKEROO.

Yes.


BOSS.

Your place is with the cattle. We've got to push that mob along, and we're a man short now. Get out to them. I'll see to Briglow.


BRIGLOW.

You ought to be with the cattle, lad.


JACKEROO.

What can I do ? So long, Bill.


BOSS.

Hurry up. Come on.


(Exit Boss with JACKRROO)

COOK.

The cattle's started.


BRIGLOW.

Fill my pipe, Albert.


COOK.

Right O! A smoke'll do you good. (Gives him Pipe.) All right now, Briglow?


BRIGLOW.

Yes.


COOK.

Well, so long. I'll tell the boys about it at Brunette.


BRIGLOW.

So long, Albert.


(Exit COOK.)

A pause.

(Then enter BOSS.)

BOSS.

(Calling.) Here Pidgeon.


(Enter PIDGEON)

BOSS.

You look out, Briglow. Supposin' him want tucker, water-bag, you gibbit!


PIDGEON.

Poor fellow! Bullocky bin kill him dead all right.


BOSS.

Bye'n'bye, me come back quick-fellow, and by God, if you no more bin good fellow, I'll murder you, you black devil.


PIDGEON.

Me good fellow watch.


  ― 44 ―


BOSS.

You can't run away from me. Supposing you run, me track him up, track him up, bye'n'bye catch-im you, shoot-him Pidgeon full with bullet, leave-him Pidgeon alonga little fellow black ant. . .Here, tobacco. (Throws a plug.) (To BRIGLOW) I'll come back myself when we get the cattle to water.


BRIGLOW.

I'll be gone then. (They shake hands.)


BOSS.

So long, old mate.


BRIGLOW.

So long, Alec.


BOSS.

(To PIDGEON.) You good-fellow watch.


(Exit BOSS) A pause.

(The sun rises. From the edge of the Barklay Tableland the great plains stretch away, unbroken by timber, except the few gydgea trees that fringe the muddy water-hole. The Drovers have disappeared on their journey across the long, dry stage.)

BRIGLOW BILL is lying on the ground, his head resting on a swag. Albert's stew, and a bottle of Pain-killer are both untouched.)

BRIGLOW.

The sun's rising. It'll be hot for the cattle. And here I am, lying in the shade, instead of eating dust on the tail of the mob.


PIDGEON.

See, hawk and crow, hawk and crow, they fly alonga mob. Plenty bullocky die before they catch-him water.


BRIGLOW.

The old bloke'll pull them through. He's the big gun drover of the North, and I've been his right hand man these twelve years. He's got good lads with him, but he'll miss me.


(PIDGEON throws some sticks on the fire, and blows up the dying embers. Then he sits down, his legs crossed under him, and starts clicking two sticks together, and murmuring a kind of chant.)

PIDGEON.

You, Briglow, and old man Boss, you savee bush all-the-same blackfellow. . . . I think first time you blackfellow, Briglow. You die, then jump up


  ― 45 ―
whitefellow. Now you die, and bye'n'bye . . . next time, you jump up blackfellow, alonga new fellow country, — good country — plenty water, plenty fish, plenty tucker. . . You die all right.


BRIGLOW.

That's right Pidgeon, I'm going.


PIDGEON.

Oh, you poor fellow Briglow, me big-fellow sorry alonga you. . . Bye'n'bye me go back alonga my country, alonga camp fire, alonga tribe. . . Me tell-im father, mother, brother, sister — me tell-im blackfellow all alonga camp — me tell-im poor fellow Briglow, he bin dead now. . . Then all blackfellow alonga camp make-im big-fellow corroboree alonga you . . all day, all night, we sing in corroboree, cut-im head, cut-im arm, alonga sharp-fellow stone.


(BRIGLOW BILL, falls back exhausted. His pipe rolls along the ground.)

(PIDGEON rises stealthily, and goes across to the drover. He looks down at hint carefully, shakes his head, and mutters,

PIDGEON.

Poor fellow! Me sit down, wait alonga Boss. Old man soon come back alonga shovel . . put him deep in ground, . . dingo can't catch-im bone.


(BRIGLOW makes no stir.)

(PIDGEON peers round Camp.)

PIDGEON.

Me make little-fellow hill; me build up little mound, grass, bushes, stories, keep off bad spirits alonga bush. That one frighten-im debbil-debbil. . . .debbil-debbil can't catch-im Briglow now.


(PIDGEON picks up the Pipe, and then sits smoking, again chanting to himself, and clicking the sticks together.)

CURTAIN.
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