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Over the Sliprails

Black Joe
They called him Black Joe, and me White Joe, by way of distinction and for the
convenience of his boss (my uncle), and my aunt, and mother; so, when we heard the cry
of "Bla-a-ack Joe!" (the adjective drawn out until it became a screech, after several
repetitions, and the "Joe" short and sharp) coming across the flat in a woman's voice, Joe
knew that the missus wanted him at the house, to get wood or water, or mind the baby,
and he kept carefully out of sight; he went at once when uncle called. And when we heard
the cry of "Wh-i-i-te Joe!" which we did with difficulty and after several tries -- though
Black Joe's ears were of the keenest -- we knew that I was overdue at home, or absent
without leave, and was probably in for a warming, as the old folk called it. On some
occasions I postponed the warming as long as my stomach held out, which was a good
while in five-corner, native-cherry, or yam season -- but the warming was none the cooler
for being postponed.
Sometimes Joe heard the wrong adjective, or led me to believe he did -- and left me for a
whole afternoon under the impression that the race of Ham was in demand at the
homestead, when I myself was wanted there, and maternal wrath was increasing every
moment of my absence.
But Joe knew that my conscience was not so elastic as his, and -- well, you must expect
little things like this in all friendships.
Black Joe was somewhere between nine and twelve when I first met him, on a visit to my
uncle's station; I was somewhere in those years too. He was very black, the darker for
being engaged in the interesting but uncertain occupation of "burning off" in his spare
time -- which wasn't particularly limited. He combined shepherding, 'possum and
kangaroo hunting, crawfishing, sleeping, and various other occupations and engagements
with that of burning off. I was very white, being a sickly town boy; but, as I took great
interest in burning off, and was not particularly fond of cold water -- it was in winter time
-- the difference in our complexions was not so marked at times.
Black Joe's father, old Black Jimmie, lived in a gunyah on the rise at the back of the
sheepyards, and shepherded for my uncle. He was a gentle, good-humoured, easy-going
old fellow with a pleasant smile; which description applies, I think, to most old
blackfellows in civilisation. I was very partial to the old man, and chummy with him, and
used to slip away from the homestead whenever I could, and squat by the campfire along
with the other piccaninnies, and think, and yarn socially with Black Jimmie by the hour. I
would give something to remember those conversations now. Sometimes somebody
would be sent to bring me home, when it got too late, and Black Jimmie would say:
"Piccaninnie alonga possum rug," and there I'd be, sound asleep, with the other young
Australians.
 
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