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The Lights of Cobb & Co

by Henry Lawson (1867-1922)

Australian writer

Cobb and Co is the name of a stagecoach company that operated in Australia and played an important role in our history. Coach service first began in 1854 between Melbourne and Bendigo in Victoria. Cobb & Co expanded with the discovery of new goldfields in New South Wales. The expansion of train service in 1875 cut into the profitability of the coaches. However, it wasn't until the development of automobiles, that travel by stagecoach became a thing of the past.

In the poem The Lights of Cobb & Co, it mentions "three lamps above the ridges". When the coaches operated after sundown, the driver would place one lamp on each side of the coach and one on the roof. This triangle of lights could be seen for many miles as the coach travelled across the open country.

Fire lighted on the table a meal for sleepy men;
A lantern in the stable; a jingle now and then;
The mail-coach looming darkly by the light of moon and star;
The growl of sleepy voices; a candle in the bar;
A stumble in the passage of folk with wits abroad;
A swear-word from a bedroom – a shout of 'All aboard!'
'Tchk tchk! Git-up!' 'Hold fast there!' and down the range we go;
Five hundred miles of scattered camps will watch for Cobb and Co.

Old coaching towns already decaying for their sins;
Uncounted "Half-Way Houses", and scores of "Ten-Mile Inns";
The riders from the stations by lonely granite peaks;
The black-boy for the shepherds on sheep and cattle creeks;
The roaring camps of Gulgong, and many a "Digger's Rest";
The diggers on the Lachlan; the huts of farther west;
Some twenty thousand exiles who sailed for weal or woe –
The bravest hears of twenty lands will wait for Cobb and Co.

The morning star has vanished, the frost and fog are gone,
In one of those grand mornings which but on mountains dawn;
A flask of friendly whisky – each other's hopes we share –
And throw our top-coats open to drink the mountain air.
The roads are rare to travel, and life seems all complete;
The grind of wheels on gravel, the trot of horses' feet,
The trot, trot, trot and canter, as down the spur we go –
The green sweeps to horizons blue that call for Cobb and Co.

We take a bright girl actress through western dusts and damps,
To bear the home-world message, and sing for sinful camps,
To stir our hearts and break them, wild hearts that hope and ache –
(Ah! when she thinks again of these her own must nearly break!)
Five miles this side the gold-field, a loud triumphant shout:
Five hundred cheering diggers have snatched the horses out:
With ‘Auld Lang Syne’ in chorus through roaring camps they go —
That cheer for her, and cheer for home, and cheer for Cobb and Co.

Three lamps above the ridges and gorges dark and deep,
A flash on sandstone cuttings where sheer the sidlings sweep,
A flash on shrouded wagons, on water ghastly white;
Weird bush and scattered remnants of "rushes in the night";
Across the swollen river a flash beyond the ford:
Ride hard to warn the driver! He's drunk or mad, good Lord!
But on the bank to westward a broad and cheerful glow –
New camps extend across the plains new routes for Cobb and Co.

Swift scramble up the sidling where teams climb inch by inch;
Pause, bird-like, on the summit – then breakneck down the pinch;
By clear, ridge-country rivers, and gaps where tracks run high,
Where waits the lonely horseman, cut clear against the sky;
Past haunted half-way houses – where convicts make the bricks –
Scrub-yards and new bark shanties, we dash with five and six;
Through stringy-bark and blue-gum, and box and pine we go –
A hundred miles shall see tonight the lights of Cobb and Co.

About the Author

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

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