voices from the past


How Babs Malone Cut Down the Field

Barcroft Henry Boake (1866-1892)

Australian writer

The indenting of the text in this poem is as close as we are able to the original.

Now the squatters and the cockies,
Shearers, trainers, and their jockeys

Had gathered them together for a meeting on the flat;

They had mustered all their forces,
Owners brought their fastest horses,

Monaro-bred – I couldn't give them greater praise than that.

'Twas a lovely day in Summer –
What the blacksmith called a hummer –

The swelling ears of wheat and oats had lost their tender green,

And breezes made them shiver,
Trending westward to the river –

The river of the golden sands, the moaning Eucumbene.

If you cared to take the trouble
You could watch the misty double,

The shadow of the flying clouds that skimmed the Boogong's brow,

Throwing light and shade incessant
On the Bull Peaks' ragged crescent,

Upon whose gloomy forehead lay a patch of winter's snow.

Idly watching for the starting
Of the race that he had part in,

Old Gaylad stood and champed his bit, his weight about nine stone;

His owner stood beside him,
Who was also going to ride him –

A shearer from Gegederick, whose name was Ned Malone.

But Gaylad felt disgusted,
For his joints were fairly rusted:

He longed to feel the pressure of the jockey on his back;

And he felt that for a pin he'd
Join his mates, who loudly whinnied

For him to go and meet them at the post upon the track.

From among the waiting cattle
Came the sound of childish prattle,

And the wife brought up their babe to kiss his father for good luck.

Said Malone: ‘When I am seated
On old Gaylad, and am treated

With fairish play, I'll bet we never finish in the ruck.'

But the babe was not contented,
Though his pinafore was scented

With oranges and sticky from his lollies, for he cried –

This gallant little laddy,
As he toddled to his daddy,

And raised his arms imploringly – ‘Pease dad! div Babs a wide!'

Then the father, how he chuckled
For the pride of it! and buckled

The surcingle, and placed the babe astride the racing pad:

He did it, though he oughtn't;
And by pure good luck he shortened

The stirrups, and adjusted them to suit the tiny lad,

Who was seemingly delighted:
Not a little bit affrighted,

He sat and twined a chubby hand among the horse's mane:

His whip was in the other;
But all suddenly the mother

Shrieked, ‘Take him off!' and then the field came thund'ring down the plain!

'Twas the Handicap was coming,
And the music of their drumming

Beat dull upon the turf that in its summer coat was dressed:

The racehorse reared and started;
Then the flimsy bridle parted,

And Gaylad, bearing featherweight, was striding with the rest!

That scene cannot be painted –
How the poor young mother fainted!

How the father drove his spurs into the nearest saddle-horse!

What to do he had no notion;
For you'd easier turn the ocean

Than stop the Handicap that then was half-way round the course.

On the bookies at their yelling,
On the cheap-jacks at their selling,

On the crowd there fell a silence as the squadron passed the stand;

Gayest colours flashing brightly,
And the baby clinging tightly,

A wisp of Gaylad's mane still twisted in his little hand.

Not a thought had he of falling,
Though his little legs were galling,

And the wind blew out his curls behind him in a golden stream;

Though the motion made him dizzy,
Yet his baby brain was busy:

For hadn't he at length attained the substance of his dream?

He was now a jockey really!
And he saw his duty clearly

To do his best to win and justify his father's pride;

So he clicked his tongue to Gaylad,
Whispering softly, ‘Get away, lad!' . . .

The old horse cocked an ear and put six inches on his stride.

Then the jockeys who were tailing
Saw a big bay horse come sailing

Through the midst of them with nothing but a baby on his back;

And this startling apparition
Coolly took up its position

With a view of making running on the inside of the track.

Oh, Gaylad was a beauty!
For he knew and did his duty:

Though his reins were flying loosely, strange to say, he never fell;

But held himself together,
For his weight was but a feather.

Bob Murphy, when he saw him, murmured something like ‘Oh, hell!'

But Gaylad passed the filly;
Passed Jack Costigan on Chili;

Cut down the coward Wakatip and challenged Guelder Rose . . .

Here it was he showed his cunning –
Let the mare make all the running:

They turned into the straight at stride for stride and nose for nose.

But Babs was just beginning
To have fears about his winning:

In fact, to tell the truth, my hero felt inclined to cry;

For the Rose was still in blossom;
And two lengths behind her Possum

And gallant little Sterling, slow but sure, were drawing nigh.

Yes! Babsie's heart was failing;
For he felt old Gaylad ailing:

Another fifty yards to go! . . . he felt his chance was gone.

Could he do it? much he doubted:
Then the crowd – oh, how they shouted!

For Babs had never dropped his whip, and now he laid it on!

Down the straight the leaders thundered
While the people cheered and wondered,

For ne'er before had any seen the equal of that sight;

And never will they, maybe,
See a flaxen-headed baby

Flog racehorse to the winning-post with all his tiny might.

But Gaylad's strength is waning –
Gone, in fact, beyond regaining:

Poor Babs is flogging hopelessly, as pale as any ghost:

But he looks so brave and pretty
That the Rose's jock takes pity,

And, pulling back a trifle, lets the baby pass the post.

What cheering and tin-kettling
Had they after at the settling!

And how they fought to see who'd hold the baby on his lap;

As President Montgomery,
With a brimming glass of Pommery,

Proposed the health of Babs Malone, who'd won the Handicap.

About the Author

See our page on Barcroft Henry Boake. Includes a linked list of all his writing available on our website.

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