Over the Sliprails
An Incident at Stiffner's
They called him "Stiffner" because he used, long before, to get a living by poisoning wild
dogs near the Queensland border. The name stuck to him closer than misfortune did, for
when he rose to the proud and independent position of landlord and sole proprietor of an
out-back pub he was Stiffner still, and his place was "Stiffner's" -- widely known.
They do say that the name ceased not to be applicable -- that it fitted even better than in
the old dingo days, but -- well, they do say so. All we can say is that when a shearer
arrived with a cheque, and had a drink or two, he was almost invariably seized with a
desire to camp on the premises for good, spend his cheque in the shortest possible time,
and forcibly shout for everything within hail -- including the Chinaman cook and
Stiffner's disreputable old ram.
The shanty was of the usual kind, and the scenery is as easily disposed of. There was a
great grey plain stretching away from the door in front, and a mulga scrub from the rear;
and in that scrub, not fifty yards from the kitchen door, were half a dozen nameless
Stiffner was always drunk, and Stiffner's wife -- a hard-featured Amazon -- was boss.
The children were brought up in a detached cottage, under the care of a "governess".
Stiffner had a barmaid as a bait for chequemen. She came from Sydney, they said, and
her name was Alice. She was tall, boyishly handsome, and characterless; her figure might
be described as "fine" or "strapping", but her face was very cold -- nearly colourless. She
was one of those selfishly sensual women -- thin lips, and hard, almost vacant grey eyes;
no thought of anything but her own pleasures, none for the man's. Some shearers would
roughly call her "a squatter's girl". But she "drew"; she was handsome where women are
scarce -- very handsome, thought a tall, melancholy-looking jackeroo, whose evil spirit
had drawn him to Stiffner's and the last shilling out of his pocket.
Over the great grey plain, about a fortnight before, had come "Old Danny", a station
hand, for his semi-annual spree, and one "Yankee Jack" and his mate, shearers with
horses, travelling for grass; and, about a week later, the Sydney jackeroo. There was also
a sprinkling of assorted swagmen, who came in through the scrub and went out across the
plain, or came in over the plain and went away through the scrub, according to which
way their noses led them for the time being.
There was also, for one day, a tall, freckled native (son of a neighbouring "cocky"),
without a thought beyond the narrow horizon within which he lived. He had a very big
opinion of himself in a very small mind. He swaggered into the breakfast-room and round
the table to his place with an expression of ignorant contempt on his phiz, his snub nose
in the air and his under lip out. But during the meal he condescended to ask the landlord
if he'd noticed that there horse that chap was ridin' yesterday; and Stiffner having
intimated that he had, the native entertained the company with his opinion of that horse,