As well as being entertained by music our forefathers (and mothers) were also wonderful storytellers. The oral tradition was also displayed in the poetry that they wrote.
The following examples are just a small selection of material that we have located as having been written by people living in, or visiting, the area. Some are famous, and others unknown but all have found enough fascination with the area to put their thoughts into verse.
Frank Macnamara (Frank the Poet)
Macnamara’s songs and poems have long been discussed and referred to by poets, playwrights, folklorists, historians, singers and scholars. Much of his work was in the oral tradition, and as such there were numerous version memorized by his followers. Documentary evidence places him in the Tambaroora area in the 1850s where the Sydney Morning Herald of 8 September 1853 noted that “A local celebrity, who answers to the cognomen of Frank the poet, has added his physical and poetical strength to the former, where his bones and sinews are likely to be of more service than his brains.”
“Frank The Poet” was also recorded as being around Tambaroora in the early 1860s, before his death at Pipe Clay Creek on the Meroo on Thursday 29 August 1861. At the inquest into his death held on 31st August 1861 his friend, Robert Welsh declared that “the deceased had resided with him on the Pipe Clay Creek diggings. … Had known him for eight years. He had a complaint which caused him to spit blood. He earned a great deal of money, and spent it very freely; had known him to obtain ‘hundreds a week’ at Tambaroora”. The medical evidence at his inquest was to the effect that he had died from cold and inanition; and the jury returned a verdict according to that evidence.
Best known for his 1839 epic, “A Convicts tour of Hell” this well-known poem was memorized to a great extent by other convicts. It was never published in his lifetime but the oral version was so well known that 19th century collectors of such literature copied it down and were able to piece it together.
The article in the Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal of Wednesday 18 June 1862 p.2 also places MacNamara at Clarke’s Creek, Meroo as late as 1859, and the statement “his penmanship seemed almost miraculous; and many persons who admired demonstrations of that kind, employed him to write on the blank leaves of prayer-books, bibles, and other valued books” seems to add credence that he was an expert calligrapher and a possible forger.
Robert Henry Johnson
Not much more can be found about Robert Henry Johnson other than that he placed himself on the Lower Turon in 1867 and was possibly there until the mid-1870s. He had been working on Oakey Creek in the Tambaroora Mining District when his application for a claim there was declared void as he failed to take up his lease. (NSW Government Gazette 26 September 1876: 3831). However, his “partial friends” seemed to think he had poetic talent and encouraged him to submit his work to the editor of the Empire in Sydney in May 1867. He prefaces his work with the following explanation:
To the editor of the Empire
Sir, – It is with great diffidence that I submit the following verse to your notice. Partial friends have persuaded me that they possess a little merit; of that you will be the best judge. Should you deem them of sufficient merit, I shall be happy to send you a few more; if not, the paper will do to light the fire. I may as well state that my poetical readings have been confined to Burns, Byron, Bloomfield, Moore, Shakespeare, Pope and Cowper, the Illiad, and the usual school pieces; so that I cannot be accused of wilful imitation.
The first is written by a young man about to start on an exploring expedition; in bidding adieu to his wife, her last words were “remember me” The song is his answer. The second, by a young man, whose wife died twelve months after marriage, of consumptipon. Grief for her death caused him to leave Sydney. A longing to visit her grave induced him to return. He is supposed to address himself to the harbour of Port Jackson.
Why dost thou say “remember me?”
How can I e’er forget,
for nature wears her emerald hue,
Just as when we first met.
For when I view the azure arch
Of our all-cloudless skies,
As journeying forwards on my march,
I’ll think of me with thine eyes;
And when I see the jasmine sweet,
That scents the morning air,
Its curling tendrils, trim and neat,
Shall mind me of thine hair.
Whate’er of beauty I may see
In meadow, plain or grove,
‘Twill but remind me still of thee,
As onwards I may rove;
For Sol’s bright ray shall turn to cold,
And ocean cease to foam,
And wolves grow tame as lambs in fold,
Ere I forget my home.
In death’s fell snare should I be caught,
Ere thy loved form I see,
My last and only dying thought
Shall be my God and thee.
When last I trod thy verdant shore,
With Mary by my side,
And heard thy surf’s loud booming roar,
And watched thy swelling tide;
Oh! Who so happy then as I,
Our hearts how light and free,
Thy summer flew unheeded by,
Rioe fruits were on each tree.
Ere autumn winds laid their leaves low,
My darling wife had died
By fell consumption, sure and slow,
Her first born by her side.
But now how cheerless seems thy shore,
Since wife and child are gone;
Nor tide, nor surf can charm me more,
My heart is sad and lone.
Although stern winter reigns around,
And dark skies o’er me frown,
Upon that hallowed spot of ground –
Her grave – I lay me down.
And when fell death assails my door,
Right welcome shall he be,
His dart, the means that shall retore,
Me evermore to thee.
The jasmine alluded to is an evergreen vine peculiar to the Turon, at least I never saw it in any other part of the colony; it blossoms in October – a white flower in the form of a cross. Its fragrance is only perceivable when a short distance from it ; on smelling it close it is very faint; the further off, in season, the better; it resembles the smell of the hawthorn.
Hoping you will pardon the liberty I have taken, believe me to be yours, &c.,
Robert Henry Johnson.
Lower Turon, Tambaroora, May 12th 1867.
His next submission, published in the Empire in July 1867 was also a lament:
The dog at his master’s grave
There’s a mourner that mourns in that old churchyard,
For he sleeps on that cold damp grave;
He heedeth not Winter stern and hard,
No shelter doth he crave.
Nor while life shall last will his memory fail
For his old friend dead and gone.
He sheddeth no tear, he maketh no wail,
But his long night watch keeps on.
Though rain may fall, though skies may freeze,
His true heart warmeth the ground.
He heeds not the biting southern breeze,
Nor the snows that fall around.
Oh, where is our reason’s boasted claim,
In virtue? Oh, where is our pride.
When a dog our friendship putteth to shame,
In his love for the friend that died?
And when fell death his victim shall claim,
And he sleeps by his master’s side,
Let this epitaph hand him down to fame –
Here truth and friendship died”.
And when at last in death’s cold sleep,
I am laid in old mother’ earth’s breast,
Let a mourner like him above me keep,
And my spirit shall sweetly rest.
R.H. Johnson Lower Turon July 17 1867.
Henry Lawson & “Tambaroora Jim”
In 1873 James Dagger purchased the “Hargraves Hotel” on the Mudgee Road at Tambaroora and maintained his blacksmith business at the rear of the hotel. The hotel was the last hotel in Tambaroora.
James is forever immortalized in the poem written by Henry Lawson called Tambaroora Jim. This poem talks of James’ kindness and how he took in strangers and would feed them and give them a roof over their heads until they could move on. Henry Lawson is believed to be one of those who James took in for a while.
Today, all that is left of the group of buildings associated with the Hotel at Tambaroora (on the western side of the Mudgee Road) is a lone chimney and the remains of a well.
Tambaroora Jim – by Henry Lawson
He never drew a sword to fight a dozen foes alone,
Nor gave a life to save a life no better than his own.
He lived because he had been born—the hero of my song—
And fought the battle with his fist whene’er he fought a wrong.
Yet there are many men who would do anything for him—
A simple chap as went by name of ‘Tambaroora Jim.’
He used to keep a shanty in the ‘Come-and-find-it Scrub,’
And there were few but knew the name of Tambaroora’s pub.
He wasn’t great in lambing down, as many landlords are,
And never was a man less fit to stand behind a bar—
Off-hand, as most bush natives are, and freckled, tall, and slim,
A careless native of the land was ‘Tambaroora Jim.’
When people said that loafers took the profit from his pub,
He’d ask them how they thought a chap could do without his grub;
He’d say, ‘I’ve gone for days myself without a bite or sup—
‘Oh! I’ve been through the mill and know what ’tis to be hard-up.’
He might have made his fortune, but he wasn’t in the swim,
For no one had a softer heart than ‘Tambaroora Jim.’
One dismal day I tramped across the Come-and-find-it Flats,
With ‘Ballarat Adolphus’ and a mate of ‘Ballarat’s’;
’Twas nearly night and raining fast, and all our things were damp,
We’d no tobacco, and our legs were aching with the cramp;
We couldn’t raise a cent, and so our lamp of hope was dim;
And thus we struck the shanty kept by ‘Tambaroora Jim.’
We dropped our swags beneath a tree, and squatted in despair,
But Jim came out to watch the rain, and saw us sitting there;
He came and muttered, ‘I suppose you haven’t half -a-crown,
‘But come and get some tucker, and a drink to wash it down.’
And so we took our blueys up and went along with him,
And then we knew why bushmen swore by ‘Tambaroora Jim.’
We sat beside his kitchen fire and nursed our tired knees,
And blessed him when we heard the rain go rushing through the trees.
He made us stay, although he knew we couldn’t raise a bob,
And tuckered us until we made some money on a job.
And many times since then we’ve filled our glasses to the brim,
And drunk in many pubs the health of ‘Tambaroora Jim.’
A man need never want a meal while Jim had ‘junk’ to carve,
For ‘Tambaroora’ always said a fellow couldn’t starve.
And this went on until he got a bailiff in his pub,
Through helping chaps as couldn’t raise the money for their grub.
And so, one rainy evening, as the distant range grew dim,
He humped his bluey from the Flats—did ‘Tambaroora Jim.’
I miss the fun in Jim’s old bar—the laughter and the noise,
The jolly hours I used to spend on pay-nights with the boys.
But that’s all past, and vain regrets are useless, I’ll allow;
They say the Come-and-find-it Flats are all deserted now.
Poor ‘Tambaroora’s’ dead, perhaps, but that’s all right with him,
Saint Peter cottons on to chaps like ‘Tambaroora Jim.’
I trust that he and I may meet where starry fields are grand,
And liquor up together in the pubs in spirit-land.
But if you chance to drop on Jim while in the West, my lad,
You won’t forget to tell him that I want to see him bad.
I want to shake his hand again—I want to shout for him—
I want to have a glass or two with ‘Tambaroora Jim.’