A Song of the Telephone
Henry Lawson, 1910
It is one long ring for Kiah; it is two rings for Green Cape;
It is three for Gabo Island; and to have it all ship-shape,
One for Eden. Four rings quicken Mallacoota's interest;
And a long ring and a short one gives you Mallacoota West.
Oh, the folk are never lonely that the telephone can reach!
There are three undreamed of places with a telephone at each,
'Twixt the bedroom and the kitchen, to be handy night or day,
For the women mostly tend it while the men folk are away.
Stripping wattle-bark, or fishing, sleeper-cutting any game;
Trading in the little cutters to "the Bay" or Cunninghame,
Loaded deep with bags of tan-bark bags of wattle bark to tan
Leather to make ladies's shoes or bluchers for a labouring man.
It was show time up at Eden, and a gala time for all
Some were in the pubs, others at a Cinderella Ball.
On the Lakes the fish were barrelled, and the fishermen at rest
Slumber fell on Mallacoota, and on Mallacoota West.
In the west of Mallacoota, where the night was dark and deep,
In her room behind the office, Mrs Allan lay asleep
Until wakened by a ringing someone ringing up in vain:
Eden! Green Cape! Eden! Green Cape! and again, and yet again.
"Someone ringing for a doctor." And a flash came of the days
When they had to ride for doctors on those lonely tree-marked ways.
And at last she rose and answered, and she must have thought it odd
When a woman's voice in anguish sent the message through: "Thank God!"
Voice of one who seemed with terror to be more dead than alive,
And she said she was at Kiah with a little girl of five;
All the folk away in Eden, and the awful bush seemed black,
And the girl who had been with her had gone home and not come back.
She was lonely, she was frightened, she'd been very ill indeed,
And the haunting fear was on her that the bush at night can breed.
She was nearing her confinement and had thought that she would die;
And the terror grew upon her when she could get no reply.
And she had the little girl dressed, and would send her in her fright
To the nearest lonely neighbour, three bush miles off through the night.
There could be no help till sunrise, when the neighbour's wife might come,
Or till later in the forenoon, when her husband would be home.
And so Mrs Allan held her while the small hours chilled the room
Tired, hard working woman standing in her night dress in the gloom,
Till the other one grew calmer, speaking quiet, even low,
And they talked of other children they had each borne years ago.
"Ring again," said Mrs Allan "if you feel too much alone.
I will ring again at daybreak." and advised her to lie down.
And the other woman lay down, and she slept till break of day,
Just through talking to a woman more than forty miles away.
Women, down in Mallacoota, must be early out of bed.
Milking, cooking, making butter, and they have to bake their bread,
For the fishermen and tourists, and the frequent reverend "guest"
And their life is one hard routine, down in Mallacoota West.
There's a telephone to Kiah, Green Cape, and the Gabo Light
But down here in Mallacoota, one hears rings at dead of night
'Tis an angel's touch responding to the kindest deeds and best,
Ringing Eden, ringing Gabo ringing Mallacoota West.