How Polly Paid for her Keep

Original Text: 
Where the Dead Men Lie and Other Poems, ed. A.G. Stephens (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1897): 52. Internet Archive. Sydney Electronic Text and Image Service (SETIS), digital text sponsored by AustLit:
1Do I know Polly Brown? Do I know her? Why, damme!
2You might as well ask if I know my own name!
3It's a wonder you never heard tell of old Sammy,
5He asks if I know little Poll! Why, I nursed her
6As often, I reckon, as old Mother Brown
8In Chinaman's Gully, and dropped every crown.
9My golden-haired mate, ever brimful of folly
10And childish conceit, and yet ready to rest
11Contented beside me: 'twas I who taught Polly
12To handle four horses along with the best.
13'Twas funny to hear the small fairy discoursing
14Of horses and drivers! I'll swear that she knew
15Every one of the nags that I drove to the Crossing--
16Their voices, and paces, and pedigrees too.
17She got a strange whim in her golden-haired noddle
18That a driver's high seat was a kind of a throne:
19I've taken her up there before she could toddle,
20And she'd talk to the nags in a tongue of her own.
22(I think it was pineapple rum drove her daft)
23She cleared out one night, and next morning they found her,
24A mummified mass, in a forty-foot shaft.
25And Sammy? Well, Sammy was wailing and weeping,
27He was only too glad to give into our keeping
28His motherless babe--we'd have kept her till now;
29But Jimmy Maloney thought proper to court her:
30Among all the lasses he loved but this one:
31She's no longer Polly, our golden-haired daughter;
34Must know Jimmy shears fifty thousand odd sheep)--
35But I'm clean off the track: I was going to tell you
36The way in which Polly paid us for her keep.
39Inspecting coach-horses (I wanted a number)
40When they flashed down a message that made me turn pale.
41'Twas from Polly, to say that the old wife had fallen
42Down-stairs, and in falling had fractured a bone:
44So she and the blacksmith had set it alone.
45They'd have to come down by the coach in the morning,
46As one of the two buggy ponies was lame:
47Would I see the old doctor, and give him fair warning
49I was making good money those times, and a fiver
50Per week was the wages my deputy got;
51A good, honest worker, an out-and-out driver--
53So, just on this morning--which made it more sinful--
54With my women on board, the unprincipled skunk
55Hung round all the bars till he loaded a skinful
56Of grog, and then started his journey--dead drunk!
58He might have got right by the end of the trip
59Had he rested contented and quiet; but no, he
61That finished him off quick, and there he sat, dozing
62Like an owl on his perch, half awake, half asleep,
63Till a lurch of the coach came, when, suddenly losing
64His balance, he fell to earth all of a heap;
65While the coach, with its four frightened horses, went sailing
67Four galloping devils, with reins loosely trailing,
70And found a soft bed in the mud of the drain;
71The barmaid from Murphy's fell light as a feather--
72I think she got off with a bit of a sprain;
74Made straight for the door, never wasting his breath
75In farewell apologies: basely forsaken,
76My wife and Poll Brown sat alone with grim Death.
77While the coach thundered downward, my wife fell a-praying;
78But Poll in a fix, now, is dashed hard to beat:
79She picked up her skirts, scrambled over the swaying
80High roof of the coach, till she lit on the seat,
81And there looked around. In her hand was a pretty,
82Frail thing made of laces, with which a girl strives
83To save her complexion when down in the city--
84A lace parasol! yet it saved both their lives.
85Oh, Polly was game, you may bet your last dollar!
86She leans on the splashboard, and stretches and strains
87With her parasol, down by the off-sider's collar,
88Until she contrives to catch hold of the reins.
89They lay quite secure in the crook of the handle,
90She clutched them--the parasol fell underneath.
91I tell you no girl ever could hold a candle
92To Poll, as she hung back and clenched her white teeth.
94She must get a pull on them ere they should reach
95The fence on the hill, where the road had been mended ...
96The blocks bit the wheels with a scroop and a screech;
97The little blue veins in her arms swelled and blackened;
98The reins were like fiddle-strings stretched in her grip;
100She had done it, by God! they were under the whip.
101They still had the pace on; but Polly was able
102To steer 'twixt the fences with never a graze:
104Just stood with his mouth open, dumb with amaze.
105On the level she turned them--the best bit of driving
106That ever was done on this side of the range--
107And trotted them back up the hill-side, arriving
108With not a strap broken in front of the change.
109And the wife? Well, she prayed to the Lord till she fainted:
110I reckon He answered her prayers: all the same,
111He must have helped Polly, It's curious now, ain't it?
112To see a thin slip of a girl be so game.
113Did I summons the driver? I had no occasion
114The coroner came with his jury instead,
115Who found that he died from a serious abrasion--
116Both wheels of the coach had gone over his head.


4] Crackenback: an area in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales. claim: land taken to work in mining. Back to Line
7] burster: heavy fall from a horse. Back to Line
21] the horrors: delirium tremens and its fierce depression. Back to Line
26] row: fuss, hullabaloo. Back to Line
32] Packsaddle Run: unidentified. Back to Line
33] swell: well-off lady. Back to Line
37] Tumbarumba: small town in New South Wales, on the southern slopes of the Snowy Mountains. Back to Line
38] Germanton: small town in New South Wales, renamed Holbrook in 1915. Back to Line
43] Tumut: small town in New South Wales on the banks of the Tumut River, at the foothills of the Snowy Mountains. Back to Line
48] straight: sober. Back to Line
52] sot: drunkard. Back to Line
57] Drunk as Chloe: sloshed. Back to Line
60] Rosewood: rural hamlet in New South Wales between Tumbarumba and Carabost. Back to Line
66] Carabost: small town in New South Wales. break: "Where a mail road passes through a fence it is customary to dispense with a gate, a lane being built on either side of the opening instead, which goes by the name of a 'break.'" Back to Line
68] all roads: all over the place. Back to Line
69] bagmen: swagmen. Back to Line
73] jock: possibly, a Scot. Back to Line
93] bolters: wild or bolting horses. Back to Line
99] hove in sight: came into view. Back to Line
103] change: at the end of a coach-stage, the horses are changed. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
The Bulletin , February 6, 1892.
RPO poem Editors: 
Cameron La Follette
RPO Edition: