Over the Sliprails
The Story of the Oracle
"We young fellows," said "Sympathy Joe" to Mitchell, after tea, in their first camp west
the river -- "and you and I ARE young fellows, comparatively -- think we know the
world. There are plenty of young chaps knocking round in this country who reckon
they've been through it all before they're thirty. I've met cynics and men-o'-the-world,
aged twenty-one or thereabouts, who've never been further than a trip to Sydney. They
talk about `this world' as if they'd knocked around in half-a-dozen other worlds before
they came across here -- and they are just as off-hand about it as older Australians are
when they talk about this colony as compared with the others. They say: `My oath! --
same here.' `I've been there.' `My oath! -- you're right.' `Take it from me!' and all that sort
of thing. They understand women, and have a contempt for 'em; and chaps that don't talk
as they talk, or do as they do, or see as they see, are either soft or ratty. A good many
reckon that `life ain't blanky well worth livin''; sometimes they feel so blanky somehow
that they wouldn't give a blank whether they chucked it or not; but that sort never chuck
it. It's mostly the quiet men that do that, and if they've got any complaints to make against
the world they make 'em at the head station. Why, I've known healthy, single, young
fellows under twenty-five who drank to drown their troubles -- some because they
reckoned the world didn't understand nor appreciate 'em -- as if it COULD!"
"If the world don't understand or appreciate you," said Mitchell solemnly, as he reached
for a burning stick to light his pipe -- "MAKE it!"
"To drown THEIR troubles!" continued Joe, in a tone of impatient contempt. "The Oracle
must be well on towards the sixties; he can take his glass with any man, but you never
saw him drunk."
"What's the Oracle to do with it?"
"Did you ever hear his history?"
"No. Do you know it?"
"Yes, though I don't think he has any idea that I do. Now, we were talking about the
Oracle a little while ago. We know he's an old ass; a good many outsiders consider that
he's a bit soft or ratty, and, as we're likely to be mates together for some time on that
fencing contract, if we get it, you might as well know what sort of a man he is and was,
so's you won't get uneasy about him if he gets deaf for a while when you're talking, or
does funny things with his pipe or pint-pot, or walks up and down by himself for an hour
or so after tea, or sits on a log with his head in his hands, or leans on the fence in the
gloaming and keeps looking in a blank sort of way, straight ahead, across the clearing.
For he's gazing at something a thousand miles across country, south-east, and about
twenty years back into the past, and no doubt he sees himself (as a young man), and a
Gippsland girl, spooning under the stars along between the hop-gardens and the Mitchell
River. And, if you get holt of a fiddle or a concertina, don't rasp or swank too much on