Sweeney yarned awhile and hinted that his folks were doing well,
And he told me that his father kept the Southern Cross Hotel;
And I wondered if his absence was regarded as a loss
When he left the elder Sweeney landlord of the Southern Cross.
He was born in Parramatta, and he said, with humour grim,
That he’d like to see the city ere the liquor finished him,
But he couldn’t raise the money. He was damned if he could think
What the Government was doing. Here he offered me a drink.
I declined ‘TWAS self-denial and I lectured him on booze,
Using all the hackneyed arguments that preachers mostly use;
Things I’d heard in temperance lectures (I was young and rather green),
And I ended by referring to the man he might have been.
Then a wise expression struggled with the bruises on his face,
Though his argument had scarcely any bearing on the case:
‘What’s the good o’ keepin’ sober? Fellers rise and fellers fall;
What I might have been and wasn’t doesn’t trouble me at all.’
But he couldn’t stay to argue, for his beer was nearly gone.
He was glad, he said, to meet me, and he’d see me later on;
He guessed he’d have to go and get his bottle filled again,
And he gave a lurch and vanished in the darkness and the rain.
. . . . .
And of afternoons in cities, when the rain is on the land,
Visions come to me of Sweeney with his bottle in his hand,
With the stormy night behind him, and the pub verandah-post
And I wonder why he haunts me more than any other ghost.
Still I see the shearers drinking at the township in the scrub,
And the army praying nightly at the door of every pub,
And the girls who flirt and giggle with the bushmen from the west
But the memory of Sweeney overshadows all the rest.
Well, perhaps, it isn’t funny; there were links between us two
He had memories of cities, he had been a jackeroo;
And, perhaps, his face forewarned me of a face that I might see
From a bitter cup reflected in the wretched days to be.
. . . . .
I suppose he’s tramping somewhere where the bushmen carry swags,
Cadging round the wretched stations with his empty tucker-bags;
And I fancy that of evenings, when the track is growing dim,
What he ‘might have been and wasn’t’ comes along and troubles him.