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Said Hanrahan -- John O'Brien

Guest poem sent in by William Grey
(Poem #1572) Said Hanrahan
 "We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
   In accents most forlorn,
 Outside the church, ere Mass began,
   One frosty Sunday morn.

 The congregation stood about,
   Coat-collars to the ears,
 And talked of stock, and crops, and drought,
   As it had done for years.

 "It's looking crook," said Daniel Croke;
   "Bedad, it's cruke, me lad,
 For never since the banks went broke
   Has seasons been so bad."

 "It's dry, all right," said young O'Neil,
   With which astute remark
 He squatted down upon his heel
   And chewed a piece of bark.

 And so around the chorus ran
   "It's keepin' dry, no doubt."
 "We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
   "Before the year is out."

 "The crops are done; ye'll have your work
   To save one bag of grain;
  From here way out to Back-o'-Bourke
   They're singin' out for rain.

 "They're singin' out for rain," he said,
   "And all the tanks are dry."
 The congregation scratched its head,
   And gazed around the sky.

 "There won't be grass, in any case,
   Enough to feed an ass;
 There's not a blade on Casey's place
   As I came down to Mass."

 "If rain don't come this month," said Dan,
   And cleared his throat to speak --
 "We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
   "If rain don't come this week."

 A heavy silence seemed to steal
   On all at this remark;
 And each man squatted on his heel,
   And chewed a piece of bark.

 "We want an inch of rain, we do,"
   O'Neil observed at last;
 But Croke "maintained" we wanted two
   To put the danger past.

 "If we don't get three inches, man,
   Or four to break this drought,
 We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
   "Before the year is out."

 In God's good time down came the rain;
   And all the afternoon
 On iron roof and window-pane
   It drummed a homely tune.

 And through the night it pattered still,
   And lightsome, gladsome elves
 On dripping spout and window-sill
   Kept talking to themselves.

 It pelted, pelted all day long,
   A-singing at its work,
 Till every heart took up the song
   Way out to Back-o'-Bourke.

 And every creek a banker ran,
   And dams filled overtop;
 "We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
   "If this rain doesn't stop."

 And stop it did, in God's good time;
   And spring came in to fold
 A mantle o'er the hills sublime
   Of green and pink and gold.

 And days went by on dancing feet,
   With harvest-hopes immense,
 And laughing eyes beheld the wheat
   Nid-nodding o'er the fence.

 And, oh, the smiles on every face,
   As happy lad and lass
 Through grass knee-deep on Casey's place
   Went riding down to Mass.

 While round the church in clothes genteel
   Discoursed the men of mark,
 And each man squatted on his heel,
   And chewed his piece of bark.

 "There'll be bush-fires for sure, me man,
   There will, without a doubt;
 We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
   "Before the year is out."
-- John O'Brien
Notes:
  John O'Brien was the nom de plume of Patrick Joseph Hartigan (1878-1952),
  born in Yass, New South Wales. He was a Roman Catholic priest in the Goulburn
  diocese and later parish priest at Narrandera -- also rural towns in New
  South Wales.

Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson are better (indeed the best) known names in the
Australian bush ballad tradition. Paterson ('Clancy of the Overflow', Poem
#566; 'The Man from Snowy River') and Lawson ('The Great Grey Plain', Poem
#569;
'Sweeney') however celebrate (or in Lawson's case lament -- see 'Past
Carin' ', Poem #1569) the Australian bush in a very different vein. Paterson
and
Lawson are city voices dreaming about, or meditating on, the bush while
detached from it living in the city. O'Brien, in comparison, is gentler and
indeed tenderly affectionate toward Australia's harsh brown land and its
seasonal cycles. O'Brien's poems are deeply and lovingly embedded in the
farming life of the Irish community in rural Australia, of which he was a part.

'Said Hanrahan' paints a wonderful portrait of Australian-Irish bush culture,
together with its church, the land, the climate and the seasons which
constitute its core. Hanrahan (a quintessentially Irish name) expresses
unconquerable Irish pessimism about the prospects down on the farm. (Hanrahan
has a point however: the lush growth from spring rain can indeed dry out into
fuel which poses a serious fire risk in summer.)

'Said Hanrahan', I think, is readily accessible to non-Australians but here are
a couple of notes:
'rooned' is Australian-Irish pronunciation of 'ruined';
'never since the banks went broke' refers to the turbulent 1890s which were bad
drought years and also when (in the absence of a central bank) nearly all the
land banks and building societies and 12 of the 22 trading banks went broke,
following the collapse of an intense property boom.
'Back-o'-Bourke' is an Australian colloquialism for being just about anywhere
in the vast and sparsely populated heartland of bush Australia;
'every creek a banker ran' means that the rivers overflowed.

'Said Hanrahan' was published in Around the Boree Log and Other Verses (1921).

William Grey

137 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Anonymous said...

a brilliant evocation of the 'sing song ' lilt of "hiberno english" married to the aussie twang (rooned , cruke instead of 'crook' ,'maintained'as only an Irishman could) ,I can 'hear' the bark chewers , I can 'see' the dryness , and then the floods ,and thru it all .... life goes on , despite the imminent 'roooonation' of the populace . A marvellous picture of rural Australia ( I imagine ) of that time. Of course with our intertwined history , I would find it interesting .... but I think a lot more people will understand , that it is not just a funny poem , with funny accents as a prop , but the amazing sense of place , I as an Irishman [and I am sure many other nationalities] can 'get' from this poem , even though it is set in Australia. A BRILLIANT 'SNAPSHOT' of a rural community with a near perfect recreation of rural 'small town' idiom.

Anonymous said...

Sixth verse from the end:

"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
"If this rain doesn't stop."

I remember at school (Brisbane, ca. 1966) we had to learn or recite a poem. I chose this one. But I remember that line as, "If this bloody rain don't stop." Of course, I wouldn't have the poetry book anymore.

I wasn't entirely happy with the word "bloody," but that's the way it was written. For some reason, the teacher never particulary liked me, and when I read the poem he said something like, "Trust you to pick a poem like that."

Which I thought was unfair, given it was in the poetry book we had to read!

Anyway, "If this rain doesn't stop" doesn't seem to scan as well as the "bloody" line, or another version I recall, "If this here rain don't stop."

Unfortunately I've not been able to find confirmation of these other versions.

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