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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
Stewie Mudcat Australia/NZ Songbook (993* d) RE: Rise Up Mudcat Songbook - Australia 02 Jan 21


My favourite ballad of Ben Hall is one that I have recited over many years. I have been unable to find any audio or video of it as a song. Graham Jenkin put a tune to it which you can find at page 100 of his 'Great Australian Balladists'. Stewart/Keesing printed it in their 'Australian Bush Ballads'. In an early edition, they attributed it to 'anon', but in a subsequent edition attributed authorship to the great Will Ogilvie. Jenkin rejects this attribution claiming that there is no evidence to support it and that it is nothing like Ogilvie's style. I like to think it is by Ogilvie who is one of my favourite bush balladists.

THE DEATH OF BEN HALL
(Anon/W.Ogilvie?)

Ben Hall was out on the Lachlan side
With a thousand pounds on his head
A score of troopers were scattered wide
And a hundred more were ready to ride
Wherever a rumour led

They had followed his track from the Weddin’ heights
And north by the Weelong yards
Through dazzling days and moonlit nights
They had watcher him over their rifle sights
With their hands on their trigger guards

The outlaw stole like a hunted fox
Through the scrub and stunted heath
And peered like a hawk from his eyrie rocks
Through the waving boughs of the sapling box
As the troopers rode beneath

And every night when the white stars rose
He crossed by the Gunning Plain
To a stockman's hut where the Gunning flows
And struck on the door three swift, light blows
And a hand unhooked the chain

And the outlaw followed the lone path back
With food for another day
And the kindly darkness covered his track
And the shadows swallowed him deep and black
Where the starlight melted away

But his friend had read of the big reward
And his soul was stirred with greed
He fastened his door and window-board
He saddled his horse and crossed the ford
And spurred to the town at speed

You may ride at a man's or maid's behest
When honour or true love call
And steel your heart to the worst or the best,
But the ride that is ta'en on a traitor's quest
Is the bitterest ride of all

A hot wind blew from the Lachlan bank
And a curse on its shoulder came;
The pine-trees frowned at him, rank on rank,
The sun on a gathering storm-cloud sank
And flushed his cheek with shame.

He reined at the court and the tale began
That the rifles alone would end
Sergeant and trooper laid their plan
To draw the net on a hunted man
At the treacherous word of a friend

False was the hand that lifted the chain
And false was the whispered word
'The troopers have turned to the south again,
You may dare to camp on the Gunning Plain'
And the weary outlaw heard

He walked from the hut but a quarter mile
Where a clump of saplings stood
In a sea of grass like a lonely isle
And the moon came up in a little while
Like silver steeped in blood.


Ben Hall lay down on the dew-wet ground
By the side of his tiny fire
And a night breeze woke, and he heard no sound
As the troopers drew their cordon round
And the traitor earned his hire

And nothing they saw in the dim grey light
But the little glow in the trees
And they crouched in the tall, cold grass all night
Each one ready to shoot on sight
With his rifle cocked on his knees

When the shadows broke and the dawn's white sword
Swung over the mountain wall
And a little wind blew over the ford
A sergeant sprang to his feet and roared
‘In the name of the Queen, Ben Hall!’

Haggard, the outlaw leapt from his bed
With his lean arms held on high
‘Fire!’ And the word was scarcely said
When the mountains rang to a rain of lead
And the dawn went drifting by

They kept their word and they paid his pay
Where a clean man's hand would shrink;
And that was the traitor's master day
As he stood by the bar on his homeward way
And called on the crowd to drink

He banned no creed and he barred no class
And he called to his friends by name
But the worst would shake his head and pass
And none would drink from the bloodstained glass
And the goblet red with shame.

And I know when I hear that last grim call
And my mortal hour's spent
When the light is hid and the curtains fall
I would rather sleep with the dead Ben Hall
Than go where that traitor went

Paul Slade printed a truncated version on his murder ballad site. However, he also presented extensive research on the Ben Hall story. It is well worth a read:

Click

--Stewie.


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