Throughout those terrible depression years of the 1930's, there were hundreds of thousands of people out of work. A lot of them rolled up a couple of blankets in to a roll,(swag), hung it on their shoulder with a bit of rope and took to the roads, mostly in a vain atempt to find a job on a farm, or cut a barrowful of wood for the boss's wife just for a bit of bread and a billy of tea. They were known throughout the land as the swagmen. This is the story of one such swaggie, probably a bit more fortunate than most.
Bill Doolan the swaggie sat still in the shade
Without thought of his swag or it’s load,
His mind wandered back to the town of his youth
As he gazed down that dry dusty road.
His head started to nod, as he closed his old eyes,
He was weary, it was easy to tell,
For the scorching hot wind blew down from the North,
Like a blast from a furnace in hell.
It had been thirty long years since he boarded that train,
In his arms was the girl of his dreams,
She begged and pleaded for him not to leave home,
It was so long ago now , it all seems.
At last she could see his mind was made up,
She relented, and said that forever she’d wait
For him to come back, and then they would wed,
Then he kissed her, and said it was fate.
He promised to come back, that was his vow,
As soon as his fortune he’d made,
But with bad friends & bad luck, he took to the drink,
And her faith in him, he knew he’d betrayed.
Many a time he had made up his mind,
To go home to Mary and wed,
But who’d marry a hobo, gambler and drunk,
Why a girl would be better off dead.
The years quickly passed and he had grown old,
Older by far than his years,
But not one to shirk, hard living and hard work,
Now he’d only himself to blame for his tears.
Now here he was at the side of the road,
A day’s march from the town of his birth,
For he finally decided he had to go home,
To catch up on the news, for what it was worth.
Next day he finally made it to town,
To the pub was where he first went,
He reckoned the barman would know all the news
And perhaps a room he would rent.
Old Bill threw his swag down on the floor,
Then wiped away the sweat from his brow,
He said to the barman, “ please give me a beer,
For I’m as dry as a drought stricken cow.”
The barman looked old Bill up and down,
“You’re a stranger round here,”he said, softly speaking,
Bill could see that he was on for a yarn,
Well information was what he was seeking.
He thought once again of his mates of the past,
And wondered if there were any still here,
There was big Lofty O’Shea, a good friend in a fray,
And McGregor who’d ride any wild steer.
Then he said to the barman as his memory grew clear,
Is Pat Murphy the ringer still in town,
Together he and I both learned to shear
And a shearer he was of renown.
The barman’s eyes gleamed abright, as he remembered the fight,
That took place out the back in the stall,
And he said to old Bill, as he gave a refill,
“Poor old Pat was killed in a wild drunken brawl.”
“Jimmy the blacksmith, did you ever know him,
He lived in the old house on the creek,”
A sad look spread over the publican’s face
He said, “poor old Jimmy passed away, only last week.
“Now Mary Malone , did you ever know her,
Did she ever climb the ladder to fame,”
A strange look came over the publican’s face,
And he said, “ why that was my wife’s maiden name.”
“I courted Mary for more than five years,
I thought that she would never say yes,
Then one day she answered, with a smile on her face,
She got sick of refusing I guess.
Yes Mary Malone indeed was her name
But I changed it to O’Shannessy,
We have three children, two girls and a boy,
And we’ve been married for years twenty and three.”
The old swaggie bent down and picked up his swag,
He said, “there’s nothing more now that I seek,”
With a slight nervous cough, he said, “I better be off,”
And a tear trickled down his old weathered cheek.
Next day they found him at the side of the road,
And a lot of folk will claim it was fate,
For in his old wrinkled hand, was a bright golden band,
And a note, that said I’ve come home, but I’ve left it to late.