The Story of Mongrel Grey
by Banjo Paterson (1864-1941)
This is the story the stockman told
On the cattle-camp, when the stars were bright;
The moon rose up like a globe of gold
And flooded the plain with her mellow light.
We watched the cattle till dawn of day
And he told me the story of Mongrel Grey.
He was a knock-about station hack,
Spurred and walloped, and banged and beat;
Ridden all day with a sore on his back,
Left all night with nothing to eat.
That was a matter of everyday
Normal occurrence with Mongrel Grey.
We might have sold him, but someone heard
He was bred out back on a flooded run,
Where he learnt to swim like a waterbird;
Midnight or midday were all as one –
In the flooded ground he would find his way;
Nothing could puzzle old Mongrel Grey.
'Tis a trick, no doubt, that some horses learn;
When the floods are out they will splash along
In girth-deep water, and twist and turn
From hidden channel and billabong,
Never mistaking the road to go;
for a man may guess – but the horses know.
I was camping out with my youngest son –
Bit of a nipper, just learnt to speak –
In an empty hut on the lower run,
Shooting and fishing in Conroy's Creek.
The youngster toddled about all day
And there with our horses was Mongrel Grey.
All of a sudden a flood came down,
At first a freshet of mountain rain,
Roaring and eddying, rank and brown,
Over the flats and across the plain.
Rising and rising – at fall of night
Nothing but water appeared in sight!
'Tis a nasty place when the floods are out,
Even in daylight; for all around
Channels and billabongs twist about,
Stretching for miles in the flooded ground.
And to move seemed a hopeless thing to try
In the dark with the storm-water racing by.
I had to risk it. I heard a roar
As the wind swept down and the driving rain;
And the water rose till it reached the floor
Of our highest room; and 'twas very plain –
The way the torrent was sweeping down –
We must make for the highlands at once, or drown.
Off to the stable I splashed, and found
The horses shaking with cold and fright;
I led them down to the lower ground,
But never a yard would they swim that night!
They reared and snorted and turned away,
And none would face it but Mongrel Grey.
I bound the child on the horse's back,
And we started off, with a prayer to heaven,
Through the rain and the wind and the pitchy black
For I knew that the instinct God has given
To prompt His creatures by night and day
Would guide the footsteps of Mongrel Grey.
He struck deep water at once and swam –
I swam beside him and held his mane –
Till we touched the bank of the broken dam
In shallow water; then off again,
Swimming in darkness across the flood,
Rank with the smell of the drifting mud.
He turned and twisted across and back,
Choosing the places to wade or swim,
Picking the safest and shortest track –
The blackest darkness was clear to him.
Did he strike the crossing by sight or smell?
The Lord that held him alone could tell!
He dodged the timber whene'er he could,
But timber brought us to grief at last;
I was partly stunned by a log of wood
That struck my head as it drifted past;
Then lost my grip of the brave old grey,
And in half a second he swept away.
I reached a tree, where I had to stay,
And did a perish for two days' hard;
And lived on water – but Mongrel Grey,
He walked right into the homestead yard
At dawn next morning, and grazed around,
With the child strapped on to him safe and sound.
We keep him now for the wife to ride,
Nothing too good for him now, of course;
Never a whip on his fat old hide,
For she owes the child to that brave grey horse.
And not Old Tyson himself could pay
The purchase money of Mongrel Grey.
About the Author
See our page on Banjo Paterson. Includes a linked list of all his writing available on our website.
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