Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sergeant Small

Tex Morton, Brad Tate, Terry Boylan

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went broke in western Queensland in Nineteen Thirty One
Nobody would employ me so my swag carrying begun
I came down into Charleville through all the western towns
I was on my way to Roma destination Darling Downs

My pants were getting ragged my boots were getting thin
But when I stopped at Mitchell a goods train shunted in
I heard the whistle blowing and looking out could see
She was on her way to Roma it was quite plain to me

I wish I was about twenty stone only seven feet tall
I'd go back to western Queensland and beat up Sergeant Small

Now as I sat and watched her inspiration's seed was sown
I remembered the Government slogan: Here's the railway that you own
By this time the sun was setting and the night was getting nigh
So I gathered my belongings and took her on the fly

When we got into Roma I kept my head down low
I heard a voice say "Any room Mate?" I answered "Plenty Bo"
"Come out of there my noble man" came the voice of Sergeant Small
"I have trapped you very nicely - you've ridden for a fall"

The judge was very kind to me he gave me thirty days
Saying "Maybe this will help to cure your rattler jumping ways"
So if you're down and outback boys I'll tell you what I think
Stay off those Queensland goods trains they're a short cut to the clink

These notes from the Australian Folk and Bush Music and Musicians:

Sergeant Small aka Down and Outback may not be so well known. Sergeant Small was a well-known police officer stationed at Roma in south-west Queensland. In the depression years, many men on the dole were obliged to travel the country searching for work as they had to collect their dole from different locations. With virtually no money, there were really only two ways to effect this travel - by walking or jumping a freight train. The railways tended to resent the second option and there was a constant effort by both the state police and the railway police to deter these free travelling swagmen or bagmen as they were sometimes called. Their usual technique was to intermittently board and comprehensively search trains. Sometimes the swagmen were arrested and other times they would be forced off the train in remote areas.

Sergeant Small developed a cunning approach. He would kit himself out as a bagman trying to find some space on a goods train for himself and he'd surreptitiously approach each carriage and ask if there was any room inside and many a concealed bagman would answer back and thus give himself up.

In 1938, the very talented New Zealand country and western singer then in Australia, Tex Morton, decided to write a song about Sergeant Small and it got a lot of airplay. Unfortunately, Sergeant Small took exception to this and his threats to sue resulted in the song being withdrawn from both broadcast and sale. Later, one Brad Tate amalgamated Tex's song with a poem with a similar theme by a Terry Boylan to produce, intentionally or otherwise, a much more folky feel and I suspect that the German Language version here arises out of the later version.

Sergeant Small has also been performed by others including the Irish group Patrick Street in "On the Fly" and the Australian rock group Weddings Parties Anything.

Here is the orginal from Tex Morton:

1 comment:

  1. Your version is great John, but I love that yodel. I hope you're practising it.