Mrs. Flannagan’s Frock.
It was back in Coolgardie in pioneer days
When the paper for printing “The Miner” was shy,
And its shandy-gaff staff staff lifted inky hoorays
When the camels came in with the monthly supply.
It was written whenever the staff had a spurt
It was set by the comps when they’d nothing to do.
Its building was brushwood, its flooring was dirt,
Its press bore a date long before Waterloo.
It recorded the rushes, the leases and claims,
How far the McSalters had sunk on their reef.
The coach-fare and passengers, diggers and dames,
The prices of dynamite, bluchers and beef.
Its leaders gave hark-from-the-tomb to the toff
Who wouldn’t buy mines on the prospector’s word.
Its poems and pars had a surfeit of scoff
For investors who doubted, delayed and demurred.
It happened one day that the paper supply
Ran out with the nearest a fortnight away,
With Editor Flannagan willing to buy
White, yellow or nondescript, salmon or grey.
They printed on linen and tacked it on trees
Free, gratis, for nothing, they nailed up the news;
Round the salmon-gums gathered the battlers like bees
For the leaders that lift and the mots that amuse.
The Editor’s wife, Mrs. Flannagan stout,
Gave a calico costume to swell the supply,
And just as it was from the press it came out
A frock full of poems and paragraphs dry.
That dress at Kanowna was tacked on a tree,
With its columns of ads and its column of news;
And the fun and the fact and the fiction was free
For the whole population to see and peruse.
Soon sauntered up Sally, the queen of the gins,
And guiltless as Venus of costume or cloak,
From her tousled old thatch to her skeleton shins;
But the sight of the garment the woman awoke.
It hadn’t been tacked up a minute or more —
A Test Match was happening, right on the hip
And a crowd was computing the Englishmen’s score,
When Sal pulled it off and skedaddled — pip, pip!
They chased her, but Sal got it over her head.
“This mine pfella frock;” she announced with a yell
And when it was fastened securely she fled,
All hands on the heels of this hurricane belle.
Like many a sister far fairer than she,
The dress was her downfall, she slipped in the dust
And the warden, immersed in his damper and tea,
Arose in official, indignant disgust.
“How dare you’” he thundered, “lay hands on a gin?”
But a Test Match enthusiast, guiltless of crime
Explained they were anxious to know who would win,
For the Englishmen seemed to be playing out time.
“And I,” said another, grabbing her gown,
And trying his darndest to follow the flounce,
“Want to see if the Wildcat Extended goes down
For it says near her placket, it might go an ounce.”
“Hold hard!” yelled another, as Sally cut loose
And left half a yard of her petticoat print,
“Here’s the Coroner’s inquest on Charlie the Goose,
And the news of the robbery down at the Mint!”
Another explained to the Warden that he
Had seen a good cure for a cough on her skirt
While another a good testimonial for tea
Was reading, when Sally had scattered the dirt.
“And what,” asked the Warden, “are you seeking there?”
Of a dag who from flounces was taking his fill
“Intestate Estates, for I’ll have half-share
If my old geezer snuffs without making a will.”
And so with the Warden, as ring-referee,
With eyes all alert and excitable breaths,
They read from her nervous old neck to her knee,
Marriages, births, divorces and deaths.
They still tell the story in Mulgaland bars
Wherever auriferous gravel-stone glints,
How some wanted peeps at the Personal Pars
While some wanted squints at the Cookery Hints.
And out where the dollies the specimens crush,
The tin dishes rattle, the dryblowers rock,
Coolgardie men tell of the ravenous rush
For the pioneer print — Mrs. Flannagan’s Frock!
Edwin Greenslade Murphy, Dryblower’s Verses, Perth, W.A.: E. G. Murphy, 1926, pages 70-72
Previously published (with some differences) in:
The Sunday Times (Perth, WA), 20 November 1921, p. 4
bluchers = dress shoes for men, distinguished by open lacing; or a high shoe or half boot (named after the Prussian military leader Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, who fought against Napoleon at Waterloo)
comp = an abbreviation of “compositor” (someone who sets type for printing; a typesetter)
Mulgaland = refers to areas in Australia of semi-arid scrub land, commonly populated with mulga trees; an area where mulga trees grow in large numbers, i.e. a largely unsettled area (also spelt as “Mulga-Land”)
par = an abbreviation of “paragraph” (may also refer to a level or standard, from the Latin “par” meaning “equal” or “equality”)
pfella = an Aboriginal pronunciation of “fellow” (man)
shandy-gaff = a drink made of beer and soft drink, especially ginger beer or lemonade (also spelt “shandygaff”); also known as a “shandy”
skedaddle = flee, run away, retreat
[Editor: Changed full stop to comma after “flounce”, changed single quotation mark to double quotation mark after “there?”.]