A question asked of me at the Mudgee workshop conducted by Helen McKay, was “Where do you get your folklore?”
Sometimes I take known stories from the universal folklore and adapt them to a local setting. “Swagman’s Stone Soup” is an example. Further to this is the development of stories around a particular Australian theme – bush-rangers. Stories that adapt the history of Outback N.S.W. during the 1870’s-80’s.
The first introduces Silly Billy Brown. He demolishes the family toilet trying to shoot a crow stealing eggs from the chookyard. Billy runs away on a one-eyed horse (at a similar age and time to Sidney Kidman) to become a bushranger but is bushranged by Captain Twilight. They meet up with Captain Daylight and become the Daylight Gang, living at their secret Rocky Billabong Hideout. This is a traditional use of three characters.
Extended stories bring in The Three Troopers: Sergeant Flashman, Trooper O’Kane and Trooper Crump. Mrs Kate Brown, Molly Brown and Miss Elizabeth Goodheart, of Dunlop Station, feature as strong characters. Captain Daylight and Sergeant Flashman compete for the heart of Miss Elizabeth Goodheart.
These characters have their place on a Time Line — from the New Calendar 1752 to the 21st century. It starts in England before the First Fleet: shows the Crimean War, for Sergeant Flashman; the death of Daylight, then follows Silly Billy Brown, who, as William Browne MP, fails in his attempts to get the railway through the Outback. Captain Twilight just fades away, but, there is a link with the present.
At Terrible Tiny Tilpa, Lizard McGinnis, Old George and a smelly swagman provided volumes of information, mystery and unbelievable history, for a similar volume of ale, when I was researching “Around the Pubs” for ABC 2CR.
They took me to a long, low, mud house on the banks of the Darling River to meet first child of Daylight and Elizabeth Goodheart. Miss Day (Captain Daylight’s real surname), never married. The young man she loved and her two brothers died in the horrible mess that was Gallipoli.
She was waiting for the mailman to bring her a telegram from the Queen telling her she was 100 years old.
Don Day is remembered as a dashing bushman, not as a bushranger. He drowned rescuing a woman and her three children. Their horse bolted tipping them into the river. He rescued the people then dived down to cut the horse from the dray. He never came up. The horse did, more dead than alive, but the Great Grey-green Darling River kept Don Day.
After shearing, his friends made a memorial at Daylight Point. It’s a sight that brings tears to the eyes and a lump to the throat. I know, because Miss Dianna took me there.
She sat straight in her side saddle as the horses trotted up a rise overlooking one of the grandest waterholes on the Darling River.
And there it was, a big black billycan on a fire of bronze logs.
It sat on a large flat rook, dragged for miles by bullock team. Engraved into the billy can is:-
“In Memory of Donald Francis Day 1850-1896 — Elizabeth Day, Twilight, Cpt. Rtd. Dianna Day, William Brown, JP Frank Day, Judge Long, Rtd. Gordon Day, Ned O’Kane, Insp.” Little crosses are punched after Frank and Gordon.
“Even Captain Pickles was here. He brought people down from Bourke on the wandering Jane.”
I helped Miss Dianna down. The horses trotted into a small broken-down yard, lush with grass. I made a fire, then filled our billy from the river. We had jolly jumbuck, boiled potatoes, johnnycake and billy tea.
Red cloud bars turned grey. Frogs and night insects started chatting. I dropped another log onto the fire, showering red sparks and stirring the low flames. When I looked up small silver twinkles dotted the sky and Miss Dianna and a curlew were both talking at once.
She told how Aboriginal women saved her life, and her mother’s, when she was born. How, in the 1890 flood, Joey Quartpot rescued them, one by one, in his bark canoe. Of her brothers, young and wild, riding all the way to Sydney to join the Light Horse to fight for King and Country. And her mother, going to live in a flat in Manly where she knitted socks and made Christmas Puddings for the ANZACS, only to die of a broken heart.
The past flickered through the flames, as she went further back to tell about Daylight and Twilight.
She laughed about William Browne MP. “He became rather fat, bald and pompous. But his heart was in the right place. He stuck up for the Outback.”
The tail of the Southern Cross was hanging low over the river. “I come here every year for the morning of the day Dad drowned.” She walked stiffly to the bronze billy can, lifted the lid then pulled the end off one of the logs. It was hollow.
Night melted. The first ray of daylight speared down the long waterhole into the bronze log, striking a large crystal in the bottom of the billy can. A shaft of light shot upwards, through the overhanging coolabah, scaring the hell out of the black and red cockatoos and blinding the last stars.
“Bushranging, booze and battle took the best of our youth, Peter.”
That night gave me the folk lore and a store of stories – fact, fiction and fantasy – to last me a lifetime.
Miss Day received her telegram from the Queen. She rests beside the long, low, mud-brick homestead. No one lives there but, at times, a swagman calls, tidies the garden then disappears towards the Tilpa Pub.
Peter Dargan, Travelling Writer, Dubbo, NSW. © 1995