Friday, March 7, 2008

Mongrel Grey by 'Banjo' Paterson

Banjo Paterson, one of the iconic Australian poets, wrote Mongrel Grey, the story of an old horse, a small boy and a flash flood. Living in Australia at the time, we were able to find an old illustrated version of this poem which the kids all loved. Tension verging on terror but with a happy ending.

Story of Mongrel Grey

Andrew Barton ‘Banjo' Paterson

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 every-day
Common occurrence to 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 could 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 with our horses was Mongrel Grey.
All of a sudden the flood came down
Fresh from the hills with the 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 was a hopeless thing to try
In the dark with the water just racing by.
I had to try it. I heard a roar,
And the wind swept down with the blinding rain;
And the water rose till it reached the floor
Of our highest room, and 'twas very plain

The way the water was sweeping down
We must shift 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 guide His creatures by night and day
Would lead 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 pitchy 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 the timber brought us to grief at last;
I was partly stunned by a log of wood,
That struck my head as it drifted past;

And I 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 on top of 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 old grey horse.

And not Old Tyson himself could pay
The purchase money of Mongrel Grey.

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