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ALBERT DORRINGTON

AN OUTBACK TABLEAU

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As published in The Sunday Times, Sydney, NSW, 11 Dec 1904

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-04-08
Produced by Terry Walker, Gary Meller and Roy Glashan

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THE big drought played havoc with Barnsley's Combined Circus and Dramatic Show. The animals experienced hard times when travelling from Bourke to Narangee. Wagon and ring horses may pick up a little feed when travelling an unfrequented stock route, but the performing wolf and lion must have meat. A clown may go unpaid for weeks, the ringmaster suffer acutely from beer-thirst, yet in the hot Australian noon it is not good that a caged tiger should call for half a sheep in vain. Even a bear becomes unsociable and impolite if his rations are interfered with.

When times were bad Barnsley was not particular about paying for his animals' food. If a sheep strayed near a wire fence he was not the man to let it stay there long—in fact, he had a mania for sheep that wandered near a fence, especially if his half-grown tiger showed signs of impatience or his performing dogs fell over each other when food was being served to the men in the wagons.

Probably a circus is the hungriest thing that can pass over a drought-stricken land, for it demands its grass and water, its beef and money. If a circus proprietor cannot pay his way his creditors have a doubtful remedy in seizing a bear or a wolf as part payment.

From a financial standpoint the most disastrous member of Barnsley's company was Jimmy Pierrot, the clown. It was said that he had never raised a laugh among the audience. There was a tremendous sorrow in his voice, a tragic mournfulness which Barnsley, shaking his finger, said: 'They're threatening to throw rabbits at you. If they start that game we'll have to send you on in a bird-cage.'


THAT night a large crowd filled the tent, it was a silent, ominous crowd, shearers, cattlemen, and drovers filled the orchestra stalls, and each man carried an ominous looking bundle under his coat. Barnsley stroked his chin reflectively. He foresaw trouble. His bush experience taught him that when a show filled under such melancholy circumstances disaster was at hand. He had heard of shows being wrecked in the back-blocks by disappointed patrons, and he saw by the look in the cattlemen's eyes that it would require judgment and discretion to save his property and his face all along the line.

Barnsley's posters depicted thrilling scenes from the life of Ned Kelly and Captain Starlight, which, owing to the smallness of his company, he was unable to produce. But Barnsley hoped for the best, and counted the piled-up shillings with great fortitude; hoping for the best was the keynote of his philosophy.

A red-bearded man entered the tent, carrying a villainous- looking bag. He pushed his way into the centre of the crowd, and addressed it in a loud voice:

'Good evenin', byes,' he said. There was a lonely look in his eyes as though he had been gazing at bad shows and dead sheep for ages. 'Byes,' he repeated. 'Good evenin'.'


AT 8 o'clock a curtain wriggled across an elevated platform, revealing an Australian camp-fire scene, with gullies and gum trees painted in the background. A florid gentleman in satin shorts—he bore a striking resemblance to Barnsley—sang nine verses about 'The Rocking Horse that Stole the Summer Cup'. The audience listened coldly. A sudden draught of air blew the paper moon across the gully into the orchestra; the red-bearded man picked it up and passed it over the footlights with marked politeness.

He turned to the crowd and folded his arms as if to conceal something he was holding under his coat. 'Byes, ye all know me. Oi'm Rafferty that sthruck the roof off a thravellin' dispinsary. Oi'm Rafferty that sewed buttons on the corn dochtor's cheek, leavin' him widout a shelther savin' three testimonials an' some bunion exthract. Look ut here, byes, Oi're here to dale wut the circus-man this noight!'

'Ear, 'ear, Raff!' A large hand waved encouragingly from the stalls. Rafferty nodded and his chest heaved. At that moment Barnsley appeared in purple tights, carrying a huge club in his right hand.

'Gentlemen,' he began, severely, 'you have mistaken this palace of refinement for a dog-show. If the person with the voice and the decayed vegetables under his coat will step up here I will endeavor to smooth him over. I will return him to you within fifty seconds.'

Barnsley waved the club convincingly and with science. Rafferty passed his hand over his bulging coat and drew himself up regally.

'Circus-man, this enloightened assimbly has been thradjuced under misriprisentations. 'Twas printed that your clown wud make a cat laff. Bring out your clown, circus-man, an' make me laff.'

Barnsley paced the stage in deep abstraction. Good-tempered remarks had become savagely critical. The crowd resented the show as an imposition. They wanted to see Ned Kelly fighting against great odds; they yearned to see his immortal saucepan.

'Turn on the clown!' shouted a man from Bourke. 'We'll make him laugh.'

'The clown!' thundered Rafferty. 'Tis years since I laffed.'


BARNSLEY advanced to the footlights.

'Gentlemen, I must appeal to your sympathies. My star is out. My principal lady deserted me at Cobar, and, married the fat man belonging to another show. They are now on their miserable way to Melbourne. Mr. Jimmy Pierrot and his charming wife are at present suffering a bereavement, and I am left to face the music. Napoleon crossed the Alps and got Moscowed, Barnsley came to Bourke and got euchred. Gentlemen,' he repeated, pathetically, 'I'm fairly euchred.'

A favorable tremor passed through the crowd.

'Go on with yer speech,' said a shearer, sullenly. 'Spit it out.'

'I will if that long-bodied Hibernian will keep his dead vegetables under his coat.' Barnsley crossed the stage and shook his finger at Rafferty.

'Bring out the clown; I'll rayson no more wut you. I'll be made to laff.'

Rafferty rolled forward with the air of a vandal; he glared at the stage front as though about to tear it asunder.

'Bring out the clown.'

Barnsley retreated to the wings. A whisper followed, then a jam tin struck him on the mouth. He held up his hand protestingly; blood trickled over his fingers. Someone said, 'Give him a chance, boys.'

Barnsley retreated to the painted back-scene which screened the large house-wagon behind.

'Bring out the clown!' thundered Rafferty.

Barnsley reached forward suddenly and snatched aside the calico scene and disclosed the open house-wagon in the rear. A smoking lamp swung from the roof; a girl half-clothed in spangled gossamer was crouching on a truckle bed. In her outstretched arms lay the figure of a lifeless child. In a corner of the wagon sat Jimmy Pierrot, the clown, sullen-lipped and brooding. The scarred lines under his whitened cheeks might have been the furrows of tears. Shells were scattered about the wagon floor; some silken togs of better days draped the woodwork. There was a gilt-topped enchanter's wand and a broken mandolin. The girl dancer moved uneasily, the 'Sh, sh, sh' of the crowd made her look up. Someone had extinguished the tent lamps, and she craned forward until her ear caught the sound of laboring breaths. 'Oh!' She leaped aside with the tiny figure locked in her arms. Then, limned against the darkness beyond the footlights, she saw the figure of Rafferty with his right hand uplifted.

'You coward' She flung herself sobbing upon the bed. Barnsley whipped back the curtain and faced the crowd.

'Gentlemen, you've seen the clown and his little wife. They're both young, they're only nippers, and they're facing their first bit of trouble. The same thing might have happened to me or you.'

He paused to wipe the blood from his lips. 'Say the word, gentlemen, and I'll send them both on to do their turns. Say the word.'

Within two minutes, the show was empty. It was known soon after that Rafferty fought nine rounds with Constable Hogan at the back of the Shearers' Arms. Rafferty had to fight someone, and Hogan, on or off duty, looked upon fighting as one of his perquisites.


NEXT day Jimmy Pierrot and his little wife were billed for a benefit. It was New Year's eve, and the house was packed—men paid a shilling extra for the privilege of standing on each other's feet. Rafferty was observed in a far corner with meat on his eye.

After the performance Barnsley withdrew to the house-wagon, accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Pierrot. He handed the little lady a bottle of wine.

'We'll knock the funny business out of our programme in future,' he said, cheerfully. 'Great Scott! That big doll of yours knocked 'em off their feet. They mistook it for a dead baby. And the chumps never inquired about the funeral. Pass the bottle, Jimmy. A happy New Year, my boy!'

Two days later Barnsley's show moved along the line. A drover passing with a mob of cattle heard Mrs. Pierrot singing in the wagon.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.