The old man spun his yarn beside the fire one frosty night,
The full moon stopped to listen, and the grass shone back its light.
'Long ago this was, and longer still, from what I've heard:
A swaggie, some might call him, though he never knew the word,
He never swung a billy ─ but he parched for days out back.
And his clobber! Well, you wouldn't find it on the Birdsville Track,
A baggy dress and sandals, and a tea towel for a hat!
But where this fella came from, there was plenty dressed like that.
'The stranger, he came out this way one winter long ago,
It was a hard year: early frosts, and not a leaf would grow.
The autumn break had failed again, just like it has this year,
No government assistance then, just hungry mouths and fear.
His hands had done hard labouring for years before he came,
Despite his odd accoutrement, he knew the farming game.
He knew the ups and downs of drought and sudden saving rain,
And watching dreams go bust, and getting up to start again.
'He came from somewhere farther out. A long long way, I'd guess,
This roving ragged stranger in his baggy daggy dress.
He went on shanks's pony all about our dusty roads,
And spoke of sheep and harvest time and floods and heavy loads.
He talked a lot, but listened too. He pitched a yarn real well,
There was crowds would come to hear, and anyone could tell
Beneath his chat of seeds and rain, there always was a spin
For them that liked to hear it: but he didn't rub it in.
'Pretty ordinary really, if you overlooked the dress,
And ordinary people seemed to like him, more or less.
There was times he stirred them up, though! When he talked of drinking blood,
Or mixed his spit with dust and cured a blind man with the mud.
He wasn't gloomy, not the wild-eyed locust-chewing trick:
When there was celebrations, he would down a glass real quick.
And when Rudie had his wedding, and the bar ran out of beer,
The stranger found the best of brews, though how it wasn't clear.
'This fella went to church one day, and had a look around,
He reckoned his Dad owned the place, and it was holy ground.
The Sunday markets way back then would take the people down,
He yelled that they were cheats and robbers, then he went to town:
That gentle storyteller laid his stockwhip all about,
He cracked it like the best and drove the greedy bastards out!
'Cos church was meant for praying in. The bosses copped it too,
He called them rogues and hypocrites, and rotten through and through!
'His mates once swiped a donkey for a bareback bronc display,
The stranger in his gown rode like he broke 'em every day.
They flapped their jackets at that colt and yelled to wake the dead,
They ripped the branches off the trees and shook them at his head.
The young donk never turned a hair, and geez, were those men proud,
To watch that colt stroll into town and through the tourist crowd.
They cheered and cheered their mate. By God, that bloke could really ride!
But he just sat there quiet on his donkey ─ and he cried.
'The swaggie had a story of a shepherd with his mob,
Back then, before the fences, it was twice a full-on job,
There was wild dogs, there was panthers; robbers roamed the hills,
A shepherd had to guard his flock and tend to all their ills,
He found them grass and water, lived with them day and night.'
The old man's hearers snorted, 'Bloody useless sheep all right'.
'A hundred head to care for, take 'em out and bring 'em back,
And watch 'em, watch 'em always, or the boss'd blow his stack.
'He was careful, was this shepherd, and he wasn't often tossed,
But sheep are sheep, and stupid, and one of them got lost.
So, ninety-nine at hand that night and one sheep God knows where!
It was bitter cold and knock-off time ─ the shepherd didn't care,
He left the mob ─ he never even put them in the yard,
And clambered up the cliffs and crags, where tracking got real hard.
The dingoes howled, a squall blew up; the raindrops turned to hail,
That fell like rocks upon the dust that marked the lost lamb's trail.'
The audience broke in, 'Go home, she'll turn up one fine day.'
'Unless she's broke a leg, and then she's cactus anyway.'
'What about the mob, they might get rustled in the dark?
He should have waited for the dawn, he 's not the brightest spark.'
'The shepherd liked his flock so much he couldn't even sleep
While one was lost and maybe hurt.' 'You're kidding! It's a sheep!'
'Well, you spent hours tending Mandy's leg.' 'But she's a horse.'
'He didn't have a moke, that's why he loved his sheep o' course.
'Through the gullies, tangled bushes, up the rough and rugged steep
The shepherd struggled gamely, till at last ─ ' 'He went to sleep!'
His hearers chorussed. The old man rolled his eyes,
'He found his sheep, you wankers.' And they gasped in fake surprise,
'And alone and unassisted ─?' 'He slung her on his back,
And brought her homeward safe and sound, right down that mountain track.
Instead of cursing brainless sheep, as some blokes I know might,
That shepherd was so happy that he partied on all night!
'That's how the stranger told it. And he reckoned ─ I dunno ─
That's how it is with us and Jesus Christ. So there you go.'
'Christ Jesus!' echoed all the cynics on their log,
Except for redhaired Charlie, who sat quiet with his dog.
'Yeah, I said, "Jesus"; And that's all I've got to say.'
The old man gazed long at the flames. The moon got underway.
'That swagman? Blimey, I dunno. Religion leaves me cold,
But he was different. I suppose it was the tales he told.'
About these words
According to the Bible accounts, Jesus stirred people with his words and deeds.
Sometimes he was popular. Sometimes he offended everyone: like when he said they needed to drink his blood (John 6:51-66) or when he drove the traders out of the temple area (John 2:13ff).
The original of the story of the lost sheep is in Luke 15.
If wanker offends you, I can't help you. In my variety of Australian English and that of my peers, it has no sexual connotations and is just the right term for the old man to use.