Me, Bubba and Banjo
Four-time Walkley Award winning political commentator and Churchill Fellow, has returned to the fray over concern that the integrity of news dissemination is continually being threatened by a partisan media.
One day we were given homework by the English teacher, Bubba Powell. He was the spitting image of Kevin Rudd with his ruddy baby face, insipid little quivering mouth and white hair. He was dentally challenged and avoided baring his grey, uneven teeth.
When god gave Bubba teeth, he stood back ten feet and threw them at his open mouth and they stuck.
We all had to learn two verses of “The Man from Snowy River”, overnight, and recite them to the class the next day.
Bubba then said a very hurtful thing to me, in front of the whole class:
“…and Pickering, you only need to learn one verse, I don’t want to ask too much from you”, he said with a sick grin.
I was devastated.
I was king of the kids at that time, I was the fucking Union Boss for Christ sake! But the Union members actually laughed at the comment. They thought it was funny.
I was devastated, shattered. For the first time in my school years I had no humorous response. I was the funny bastard, not Bubba, but this little turd had turned the tables on me!
Had he just thought of that or had the dirty little shit intentionally asked everyone for two verses so he could tell me I only needed to learn one? Bubba had a triumphant smirk on his infantile face like he had just won the fucking lottery.
Bubba wasn’t normally a funny bastard but now he was all aglow with his new-found talent of evoking derision. He was on my territory. It was a good line! He tried not to smile.
The king had been reduced to an unamusing court jester in an instant… it had to be redressed.
On the way to the panel beating shop that night I bought a small book of that poem. Well, it was a book of Banjo’s poems that had that one included.
I was determined that, during the English period the next day, I would recite the whole lot of that fucking poem and Bubba was not going to stop me. “So Bubba thinks he has had a fuckin’ win, eh… we will see who’s had the fuckin’ win tomorrow, Bubba.”
It was a huge score I had to settle and somehow I was going to do it!
Shit! When I saw the poem my heart sank.
It was the longest poem I had ever seen.
I stayed up all night trying to find ways to remember it. By morning I felt confident I could recite about half. I was melding the lilting words to the mental pictures I had concocted of the saga.
It was amazing… I could picture the whole story, vividly, and the words seemed to flow and attach themselves to the pictures in my mind. I could have painted each scene in detail.
I perched the book on the handlebars of my bike and held a torch in my mouth while doing my paper rounds.
By the time I got to school, I still hadn’t learnt it and I was transposing the last two verses.
English was set down for the second period that day. The first was science. I didn’t go to science class. Instead I spent the whole period sitting in the toilet, smoking frantically, with “The Man from Snowy River” on my knee.
By the time the English period started I was still reciting it all under my breath. On the last two occasions I actually got through it all without having to refer to the book. I was feeling nervous but confident… I could do this.
The other boys had gone pretty ordinary with their two chosen verses, stuttering and accepting of the prompts. I was about the fourth or fifth to be called up to the dais.
Bubba was nurturing the moment.
I was sure he had slept the night with that smirk on his face.
“Ok, Pickering, how did you go with your one verse?”
The boys all laughed again, but this time it was an ominous chuckle… an air of expectancy, they knew I would never cop losing a round against a teacher. Least of all, Bubba.
Bubba was still enjoying the humiliation. He had this “I got ya!” look still spread across his immature fucking face… and I was about to wipe it off
I walked to the dais, “Well, Sir, I decided to learn the first verse” I said. “Off you go”, chortled Bubba.
I recall the photo of the Queen at the back of the room.
I was hot and tired, I hadn’t slept all night. I centred my complete concentration on the Queen.
She was standing next to a chair in all white, a tiara and a blue sash… there was a splash of red somewhere.
I took a deep breath, “There was movement at the station, for…”, I continued.
I was into the third verse and Bubba was sitting beside the table resting his chin on one hand. I could see him shifting about in my peripheral vision.
There was no way this little bastard was going to stop me finishing… a third world war wasn’t going to stop me finishing.
I kept going for what seemed like an hour. Bubba never actually interrupted.
The kids were engrossed. They now realized what the payback was.
Each had a knowing smile and were on the edge of their seats mentally pleading with me, willing me to finish the lot.
The whole class was really quiet by the time I had reached the verse; “He was right among the horses as they climbed the farther hill…”.
I was terrified I would falter because I knew Bubba would have the opportunity to step in with, “nice try Pickering!”
This wasn’t a mere reading… this was raw emotion.
There was emphasis where needed and I tried to inject real passion and pregnant pauses into the telling of the tale. I finally got to the last two verses… and I got them in order. “Fucking ripper!”
I finished that poem, without one mistake.
The boys clapped… no, applauded wildly!
I was back!
The humiliation was now borne by that little bastard Bubba.
I walked back to my seat and sat down, head high, staring straight at Bubba.
The kids were all staring intensely at Bubba… desperately awaiting his reaction. The weak prick wouldn’t look at me. He simply called the next kid to the dais.
There was time for only two or three other boys to do their stuff after that. Bubba didn’t hear a word… he was staring anywhere but in my direction.
He knew why I had done it. He knew, and he was trying to fathom how it had actually happened.
Bubba must have agonized over that because he approached me in the schoolyard some weeks later, “You already knew that poem didn’t you, Pickering?” he asked laughingly, trying to hide his stored anguish.
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t reply to him at all. I just brandished a broad grin. I didn’t want him to think I had gone to all that trouble for him… I wanted him to squirm some more.
I think he did.
I walked off. He went to walk after me but stopped.
I reckon he’s dead now so it’s safe to explain what happened.
Today, I can still recite that poem without a mistake, I have never forgotten a single word.
My kids love it.
My daughter, Melanie, cries when, after a few wines, I get the request to recite it… she loves horses. If I can’t sleep I begin reciting it to myself. I am always asleep before I finish.
I sometimes use the story on my after dinner circuit, or at a motivational speech.
It is the most emotional Australian under-dog poem ever written.
Dorothea Mackellar was cute.
C. J. Dennis was pictorial but Banjo tapped Australian hearts like no other.