image depicting "The Wargeilah Handicap" by Banjo Paterson. The scene captures a rustic horse racing event in early 1900s Australia, with a group of enthusiastic spectators of diverse descents and riders fiercely competing in the background.

The Wargeilah Handicap by Banjo Paterson

A chaotic race of drinking, fighting and trickery in The Wargeilah Handicap

This narrative poem by Paterson tells a humorous story about a group of Australian bushmen who play a trick on an English newcomer. The poem utilizes Paterson’s trademark wit, Australian vernacular, and bush imagery to poke fun at the naivete of the foreign “new chum.”

The ‘The Wargeilah Handicap‘ poem opens by describing the small outback town of Wargeilah, home to a rowdy group of local sportsmen. When an Englishman arrives wanting to purchase a versatile horse, the locals devise a plan to dupe him into buying an old worn-out horse called The Trap.

Paterson vividly describes the sorry state of The Trap through bush imagery – “a very aged screw” who was “cast for age” from the police force. The cheeky Australians then groom the horse up and sell him to the clueless Englishman for an exaggerated price, claiming he could win the local handicap race.

The colorful description of the actual handicap race is highly amusing, as the Englishman’s only competitors are a Chinese cook tied to his horse and an unbroken colt. The chaotic race ends with The Trap winning by default. Paterson humorously conveys the boisterous Aussie spirit through the final drinking, fighting and trickery.

The poem showcases Paterson’s ability to capture the essence of the Australian bush in an entertaining comic narrative. Through the fate of the witless Englishman, Paterson humorously criticizes foreign naivete and pretentiousness, while celebrating the cleverness and larrikin nature of the Aussie locals. The rollicking rhyme scheme and use of slang terms like “new chum” and “screw” give the poem a lively rhythm that matches its humorous tone.

The Wargeilah Handicap

Wargeilah town is very small,
There’s no cathedral nor a club,
In fact the township, all in all,
Is just one unpretentious pub;
And there, from all the stations round,
The local sportsmen can be found.

The sportsmen of Wargeilah side
Are very few but very fit:
There’s scarcely any sport been tried
But what they held their own at it
In fact, to search their records o’er,
They held their own and something more.

’Twas round about Wargeilah town
An English new-chum did infest:
He used to wander up and down
In baggy English breeches drest —
His mental aspect seemed to be
Just stolid self-sufficiency.

The local sportsmen vainly sought
His tranquil calm to counteract,
By urging that he should be brought
Within the Noxious Creatures Act.
“Nay, harm him not,” said one more wise,
“He is a blessing in disguise!

“You see, he wants to buy a horse,
To ride, and hunt, and steeplechase,
And carry ladies, too, of course,
And pull a cart and win a race.
Good gracious! he must be a flat
To think he’ll get a horse like that!

“But since he has so little sense
And such a lot of cash to burn,
We’ll sell him some experience
By which alone a fool can learn.
Suppose we let him have The Trap
To win Wargeilah Handicap!”

And here, I must explain to you
That, round about Wargeilah run,
There lived a very aged screw
Whose days of brilliancy were done:
A grand old warrior in his prime—
But age will beat us all in time.

A trooper’s horse in seasons past
He did his share to keep the peace,
But took to falling, and at last
Was cast for age from the Police.
A publican at Conroy’s Gap
Then bought and christened him The Trap.

When grass was good, and horses dear,
He changed his owner now and then
At prices ranging somewhere near
The neighbourhood of two pound ten:
And manfully he earned his keep
By yarding cows and ration sheep.

They brought him in from off the grass
And fed and groomed the old horse up;
His coat began to shine like glass —
You’d think he’d win the Melbourne Cup.
And when they’d got him fat and flash
They asked the new-chum—fifty—cash!

And when he said the price was high,
Their indignation knew no bounds.
They said, “It’s seldom you can buy
A horse like that for fifty pounds!
We’ll refund twenty if The Trap
Should fail to win the handicap!”

The deed was done, the price was paid,
The new-chum put the horse in train:
The local sports were much afraid
That he would sad experience gain,
By racing with some shearer’s hack,
Who’d beat him half-way round the track.

So, on this guileless English spark
They did most fervently impress
That he must keep the matter dark,
And not let any person guess
That he was purchasing The Trap
To win Wargeilah Handicap.

They spoke of “spielers from the Bland”,
And “champions from the Castlereagh”,
And gave the youth to understand
That all of these would stop away,
And spoil the race, if they should hear
That they had got The Trap to fear.

“Keep dark! They’ll muster thick as flies
When once the news gets sent around
We’re giving such a splendid prize—
A Snowdon horse worth fifty pound!
They’ll come right in from Dandaloo,
And find—that it’s a gift to you!”

The race came on—with no display,
Nor any calling of the card,
But round about the pub all day
A crowd of shearers, drinking hard,
And using language in a strain
’Twere flattery to call profane.

Our hero, dressed in silk attire—
Blue jacket and a scarlet cap—
With boots that shone like flames of fire,
Now did his canter on The Trap,
And walked him up and round about,
Until the other steeds came out.

He eyed them with a haughty look,
But saw a sight that caught his breath!
It was! Ah John! The Chinee cook!
In boots and breeches! Pale as death!
Tied with a rope, like any sack,
Upon a piebald pony’s back!

The next, a colt — all mud and burrs!
Half-broken, with a black boy up,
Who said, “You gim’me pair o’ spurs,
I win the bloomin’ Melbourne Cup!”’
These two were to oppose The Trap
For the Wargeilah Handicap!

They’re off! The colt whipped down his head,
And humped his back and gave a squeal,
And bucked into the drinking shed,
Revolving like a Cath’rine wheel!
Men ran like rats! The atmosphere
Was filled with oaths and pints of beer!

But up the course the bold Ah John
Beside The Trap raced neck and neck:
The boys had tied him firmly on,
Which ultimately proved his wreck,
The saddle turned, and, like a clown,
He rode some distance upside down.

His legs around the horse were tied,
His feet towards the heavens were spread,
He swung and bumped at every stride
And ploughed the ground up with his head!
And when they rescued him, The Trap
Had won Wargeilah Handicap!

And no enquiries we could make
Could tell by what false statements swayed
Ah John was led to undertake
A task so foreign to his trade!
He only smiled and said, “Hoo Ki!
I stop topside, I win all li’!”

But never, in Wargeilah Town,
Was heard so eloquent a cheer
As when the President came down,
And toasted, in Colonial Beer,
“The finest rider on the course!
The winner of the Snowdon Horse!”

“You go and get your prize,” he said,
“He’s with a wild mob, somewhere round
The mountains near The Watershed;
He’s honestly worth fifty pound,—
A noble horse, indeed, to win,
But none of us can run him in!

‘We’ve chased him poor, we’ve chased him fat,
We’ve run him till our horses dropped,
But by such obstacles as that
A man like you will not be stopped,
You’ll go and yard him any day,
So here’s your health! Hooray! Hooray!’

The day wound up with booze and blow
And fights till all were well content,
But of the new-chum, all I know
Is shown by this advertisement—
“For Sale, the well-known racehorse Trap,
He won Wargeilah Handicap!”

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