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By the sluggish River Gwydir
lived a wicked redbacked spider,
He was just about as vicious as could be;
And the place that he was camped in
was a rusty Jones's jam-tin,
In a paddock by the showground at Moree.
Near him lay a shearer snoozing,
he had been on the grog and boozing
All the night - and all the previous day,
And the 'kooking' of the kookas
and the noise of showground spruikers
Failed to wake him from the trance in which he lay.
Then a crafty looking spieler
with a dainty little sheila,
Came along collecting wood to make a fire;
Said the spieler, "There's a boozer
and he's going to be a loser.
If he isn't, you can christen me a liar!
Wriggle round and keep nit, honey,
while I fan the mug for money,
And we'll have some luxuries for tea."
She answered, "Don't be silly!
You go back and boil the billy:
You can safely leave the mug to little me."
So she circled ever nearer
till she reached the dopey shearer,
With his pocket bulging, fast asleep and snug
But she didn't see the spider
that was ringing just beside her,
For her mind was on the money and the mug.
Now the spider wanted dinner;
he was daily growing thinner.
He'd been fasting and was hollow as an urn;
As she eyed the bulging pocket
he just darted like a rocket
And he bit the spieler's sheila on the stern.
Like a flash she raced off squealing
and her clothes began unpeeling;
To hear her yells would make you feel forlorn.
On the bite, one hand was pressing
while the other was undressing
And she reached the camp the same as she was born!
Then the shearer, pale and haggard
woke, and back to town he staggered;
Where he caught the train and gave the booze a rest,
And he'll never know a spider,
that was camping by the Gwydir,
Had saved him sixty-seven of the best.
This version and the following notes from Mudcat. More of the tireless work of Bob Bolton.
Gwydir: The river passing Moree
Redbacked spider: Small venomous spider, latrodectus hasellti. First cousin of the Black Widow Spider, latrodectus maculatus.
(Jam)-tin: Can, previously holding fruit jam (conserve).
Moree: Inland town in New South Wales
Kookas: Australian abbreviation of kookaburras (our national bird, "The Great Kingfisher", "The Laughing Jackass" ... and a lot of other things, when they wake you before dawn with a maniacal cackle of laughter!).
Spieler: A suspicious type – city bloke probably, keep you money out of sight ...
Shiela: Common Australianism for a girl ... not usually to her face.
Spruikers: Showground professional crowd-pullers, describing the delights of various sideshows.
Keep nit: Keep a good look-out.
Billry: the ubiqitous tin can, with a fence-wire handle, used to boil water for tea ... or cook up a stew.
Mug: Anyone a spieler might turn to a profit.
Sixty-seven of the best: 67 pound notes – about $130 in today's currency, but the payment for weeks of backbreaking work when this poem was written.
This is the version originally found by John Meredith in a notebook of the late R J Blumer, now in the possession of his son Eric Blumer, of the Vale of Clwydd. The poem was first published in the Bush Music Club's magazine Singabout, volume 3, number 2, Autumn 1959.
The tune I've used here was collected by Ron Edwards from Buddy Weston in 1972.
For more on redback spiders, check out Wikipedia (they are tiny)