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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