His life and books
THE MAN FROM BACK CREEK
By Nat Gould
Back Creek may be described as a locality near Copeland, in New South Wales, and as the population of Copeland under three hundred, the importance of Back Creek - a bit of a limb of it – can easily be imagined. It is necessary to describe Back Creek, because Bill Hart, hailing from that quarter, was of such mighty importance that one would have expected him to have fathered himself to a vaster locality than Back Creek.
Bill Hart was a mystery, and too mystery was locked up in six foot of robust body, topped by a fair-sized head, fronted by an intelligent face, and lighted up by a pair of roguish eyes. What had originally been Bill Hart's trade or profession, if he ever had either, no one knew, and Bill himself had lost all count of his first start in life owing to its being blotted out by the numerous good things he had gone in for since. He had been a miner, and did very well on some of the rich reefs lying between the Barrlngton and Barwon rivers. But a roving disposition led him to seek fresh fields and pastures new. Throwing up mining, he went in for agricultural pursuits. He found there was much hard work and very small pay attached to the pursuit originally started by Adam, and therefore he “gave it best”. He tried his hand at horse-breaking, and managed to damage several valuable colts, whose owners expressed such a poor opinion of Bill's capabilities that he “threw up the job”. He once tried to clip a horse, but the animal clipped Bill on the knee, and he went lame for weeks afterwards. Deciding that the Copeland district was not for such men as he, Bill Hart steered for Sydney, which is about 167 miles south. He was over six months reaching the city, owing, he said, “to the numerous acquaintances I met on the way”. When he reached Sydney he felt a bit out of place. He tried a bookmaker who was in want of a clerk; but the man of money said, “You are too long for the job, my friend. You'd never be able to see the odds correctly.”
Bill's six feet in height was rather a hindrance to his success in life. He wished he could cut himself down a bit. This being impossible, he tried to feel as important as he looked.
“The man from Back Creek,”as some of his Sydney mates called him, was fast becoming reduced to his last shilling. He had been in this position before, so the situation did not trouble him. So thoroughly did he believe in himself that he went and spent his last shilling in a manner that would not recommend itself to any economiser, political or otherwise.
During the process of melting his silver Bill Hart heard of a situation. A mate handed him a paper containing the following advertisement :
“Wanted, a strong, well-built man, not less than six feet high. One used to horses and accustomed to travelling preferred. - Apply, the Manager, Bolger's Circus, near Redfern Station.”
“That's me,' said Bill. 'That advertisement has been inspired by some man who's seen me. I'm strong, I'm well built, I'm six feet. Used to horses, you bet, and accustomed to travelling from childhood. This job was designed for me. What it is the Lord only knows, but according to the advertisement, I'm the man for it.”
Bill Hart walked up to the circus tent and enquired for the manager. When the manager came Bill saluted him by saying :
“I'll sit down while you talk, or I'll never hear you up here.”
Being a small man, the manager fired up, and said : “Hear you, you bull of Bashan! We haven't a lion in the menagerie that can roar like you. What the deuce, do you want here?”
“That announcement is meant for me,' said Bill, pulling the paper out of his pocket and pointing to the managerial 'ad.” “I answer it in every particular. It's only a matter of terms. I suppose ?”
The astonished manager stared at Bill in amazement. Then he said : “You're a cool customer. Where do you hail from ?”
“I'm the man from Back Creek,” said Bill.
“Who's he?”' said the manager.
Bill Hart looked at him pityingly, and said : “Never heard of the man from Back Creek before?”
“Never,” was the reply.
“Then allow me to explain,'” said Bill, and proceeded to relate the adventures he had gone through in such a manner that the manager exclaimed :
“Stop, you've said quite enough. You appear to have many qualifications. Can you ride?”
“Ride anything,'”said Bill.
“We've got some rum horses in this circus,” said the manager.
“So I heard,” replied Bill.
“Who told you?”'
"It's the talk of the town,” said Bill. “Never was such a circus before”.
“I believe you, my boy,' said the manager, all smiles; “But you hardly understand me.”
“No," said Bill, wonderingly, “I fancied you stated the case clearly. However, if you're at fault, fire away.”
“By rum horses, I mean rough horses we buy and have to break in and train to perform,” said the manager.
“Just so,' said Bill, 'I'm, equal to such horses. I know the sort you mean well. I've ridden the worst buckjumper out West.”
"That's not a lie," thought Bill, "for the horse I mean didn't buck hardly at all. If a horse don't buck he must be a bad buckjumper, that's clear."
The manager caught the last two words of his soliloquy and said, “What's clear.”
“That I'm the man for your job,” said Bill.
“We've hundreds of applications,” said the manager.
“Where are they,” asked Bill Hart.
“Not seen any of 'em. You're the first to apply personally,” said the manager.
“First come, first served,” said Bill. May I consider myself engaged?”
“But you don't know what your duties are,”' exclaimed the manager.
“I always do my duty. I'm the man from Back Creek,” said Bill proudly, and rising to withdraw.
“Stop, man, where are you going,” said the manager.
“Going away. Getting out of this fast. No man ever told me twice I didn't do my duty, and I won't be hard on a little man like you.' said Bill. Bill Hart was persuaded to sit down, and the manager explained that what was required at the circus was a strong man to keep order at the entrance gate, and to give a hand with the horses when they were being schooled or had to travel.
Having settled the matter of salary and the engagement ratified, Bill Hart was taken to Professor Bolger, the proprietor of the circus.
The professor stood in the ring with his coat off, a whip in his hand, a very red face, a perspiring forehead, and his temper well-nigh gone. The cause of Professor Bolger appearing in such an undignified position as a horse trainer was the fiery steed whose pride he was trying to quell. The horse was a thoroughbred, bought cheap because he had a nasty temper, and Bolger was taking him in hand.
”Keep out of this or the brute will kick your brains out,' yelled Bolger as he saw the manager and Bill Hart approaching.
The manager halted, but the man from Back Creek marched on. He stepped into the ring and walked towards Bolger.
“Keep back, you idiot,'”shouted Bolger. Bill Hart strode up to the Professor, grasped him by the collar and lifted him off his feet.
“You're the idiot, I reckon, and as I'm engaged to keep order I may as well commence inside with you,' thundered Bill, and the manager lifted up his hands in horror.
“Great Caesar,” howled the little man. “He's shaking up the boss; I'll get the sack sure”.
“Leave go,” roared Bolger, purple with rage. “Do you know who I am?”
“I know what you are not,” said Bill.
“Yes, go on. Insult me,” said Bolger, savagely.
“You're no trainer of horses,'” said Bill.
Strange to relate, the horse Bolger had lost his temper with stood quietly contemplating the scene. No doubt had he been able to speak he would have coincided with Bill's remark.
The manager seeing the horse quiet, and danger averted, stepped into the ring, and sidling up to Bill Hart whispered, “You've laid hands on the boss, man. That's Professor Bolger. He's the proprietor of this circus.”
“Then explain my engagement,” said Bill.
“Explain what?”shouted Bolger fairly at boiling point. “Who is this - this – this?”
“Man from Back Creek,” said Bill.
This answer further exasperated Bolger. He glared at Bill Hart, and then, catching sight of the manager, advanced to him and said, “Who is responsible for this lunatic's presence here?”.
“He applied for a situation— this one,” said the manager, holding out the paper.
Bolger dashed it away and said, “Hustle him out of the place.”
None of the men standing round moved. They did not fancy hustling the man from Back Creek.
“Hustling,” said Bill, “That's part of my duties. Come on, you fellows, I'm ready to hustle.”
“Have you engaged him?” said Bolger, again boiling over with rage.
“Yes,” said the manager. “You left it to me. He seemed a likely man.”
"Then I'll leave It to you to get rid of him,”said Bolger. “I decline to engage him. He's a ruffian.”
“Better hear my qualification,” said Bill coolly.
“Hang your qualification!”said Bolger.
“Where?” said Bill, looking round.
“Don't 'where' me!” roared Bolger, stamping his foot and waving his hands.
This action started the horse, and he tried to break loose from the man who held him.
Bolger seized the rein and gave it a savage tug. The horse reared and fell backwards.
“Hold him!” shouted Bolger, “or he'll break his back. I gave a score for him, the brute!”
“Dirt cheap,” said Bill Hart, contemplating the scene.
This put the finishing touch on Bolger's rage. He rushed at Bill Hart and aimed a savage blow at him with his whip. Bill put up his arm and warded the blow. He seized Bolger and, despite his struggles, put him on his back in the ring.
“You've assaulted me, and you've broken your engagement with me through your manager,” said Bill sweetly. “You'll settle for those two little items before I leave here, or I'll shake the life out of you.”
Bolger was a bully and a coward, and his men detested him.
“Let me get up!” said Bolger.
“How much damages do I get?” said Bill pressing his hands harder on Bolger.
“Get me get up and I'll settle with you," said Bolger, knowing he was in a fix.
“Two pounds five shillings and nine pence and no cheque,” said Bill.
“You're chokin' me,” groaned Bolger.
“Two pounds five shillings and nine pence, and the manager hands it me before you got up. He engaged me, and he'll pay me square,'”said Bill.
Bolger saw the game was up, and said, “I'll settle.”
Bill beckoned the manager with a jerk of his head, and said to Bolger, “Now tell him.”
Bolger gave the manager instructions to pay Bill Hart the sum he had named. The manager went to the office and brought the coin back to Bill.
“Count it out,” said Bill.
This was done, and Bill Hart, still holding Bolger with one hand and pocketing the money with the other, said as he let go his hold, “Now you can get up.”
Professor Bolger scrambled to his feet and looked round him. He saw the men standing about him were not on his side. With a muttered imprecation he strode away.
The manager looked at Bill and then looked at the men. Then, in a low voice only heard by those close round, he said, “What do you think of the man from Back Creek?”
Each in turn grasped Bill's hand and shook it hard.
“Come on, lads,” said Bill, and spend the two-five-nine with the man from Back Creek.”
The Man from Back Creek by Nat Gould was published on 26 December 1906 in the Referee (Sydney, Australia).