The stranger came from Narromine and made his little joke —
‘They say we folks in Narromine are narrow-minded folk.
But all the smartest men down here are puzzled to define
A kind of new phenomenon that came to Narromine.
‘Last summer up in Narromine ’twas gettin’ rather warm —
Two hundred in the water-bag, and lookin’ like a storm —
We all were in the private bar, the coolest place in town,
When out across the stretch of plain a cloud came rollin’ down,
‘We don’t respect the clouds up there, they fill us with disgust,
They mostly bring a Bogan shower — three rain-drops and some dust;
But each man, simultaneous-like, to each man said, “I think
That cloud suggests it’s up to us to have another drink!”
‘There’s clouds of rain and clouds of dust — we’d heard of them before,
And sometimes in the daily press we read of “clouds of war”:
But — if this ain’t the Gospel truth I hope that I may burst —
That cloud that came to Narromine was just a cloud of thirst.
‘It wasn’t like a common cloud, ’twas more a sort of haze;
It settled down about the streets, and stopped for days and days,
And not a drop of dew could fall and not a sunbeam shine
To pierce that dismal sort of mist that hung on Narromine.
‘Oh, Lord! we had a dreadful time beneath that cloud of thirst!
We all chucked-up our daily work and went upon the burst.
The very blacks about the town that used to cadge for grub,
They made an organised attack and tried to loot the pub.
‘We couldn’t leave the private bar no matter how we tried;
Shearers and squatters, union-men and blacklegs side by side
Were drinkin’ there and dursn’t move, for each was sure, he said,
Before he’d get a half-a-mile the thirst would strike him dead!
‘We drank until the drink gave out, we searched from room to room,
And round the pub, like drunken ghosts, went howling through the gloom.
The shearers found some kerosene and settled down again,
But all the squatter chaps and I, we staggered to the train.
‘And, once outside the cloud of thirst, we felt as right as pie,
But while we stopped about the town we had to drink or die.
But now I hear it’s safe enough, I’m going back to work
Because they say the cloud of thirst has shifted on to Bourke.
‘But when you see those clouds about — like this one over here —
All white and frothy at the top, just like a pint of beer,
It’s time to go and have a drink, for if that cloud should burst
You’d find the drink would all be gone, for that’s a cloud of thirst!’
. . . . .
We stood the man from Narromine a pint of half-and-half;
He drank it off without a gasp in one tremendous quaff;
‘I joined some friends last night,’ he said, ‘in what THEY called a spree;
But after Narromine ’twas just a holiday to me.’
And now beyond the Western Range, where sunset skies are red,
And clouds of dust, and clouds of thirst, go drifting overhead,
The railway-train is taking back, along the Western Line,
That narrow-minded person on his road to Narromine.