The report of the 

Inspector of Nuisances 

was laid on the table 

together with his resignation

later he sought solace 

at a race meeting

cheering as Larrikin was run off by Fraud   


His hammering heart skipped 

straight past the finish line

to the Ovens District Hospital 

where Joseph Ryan (Kelly sympathiser) 

lay alongside Constable Keane (Kelly catcher)  

their broken legs not drunk 

but only plastered   


In the operating theatre

Dr Moussé amputates 

a miner’s finger and thumb 

at the bottom joint –

the sail needle used to

scrape out a dynamite cap 

melted in the blast


Ragtag remains no comfort

to the callow counter-tenor 

so crossed in love

he swallowed croton oil

wideawake wondering

if he will ever scale 

such joyous heights again


At visiting time 

a murder of ladies descend  

clutching gilt-edged minion bibles

clasping ecumenical hands 

O give thanks unto the Lord

let the wicked forsake his way

and death and hell delivered up the dead 


Filing out in evangelical formation,

they leave behind 

a half-bound Job  

a sticky handful of boiled lollies

and a crumpled betting slip

that fell from an inseam pocket

a testament to humbug folly






Notes on the poem

The resignation of the inspector of nuisances was reported in the minutes of Wodonga Shire Council, published on Saturday 1 March, 1879 in the Ovens and Murray Advertiser. On 4 March, the same newspaper reported that Larrikin was run off by Fraud in the Victoria Racing Club autumn race meeting. The account of Joseph Ryan and Constable Keane both ending up in the Ovens District Hospital with broken legs (in unrelated incidents) appeared on 27 February, p.2, under the heading “SINGULAR ACCIDENT”. On 1 March, p.4, the same newspaper reported the accident of a miner named John Lerth, residing in Hillsborough, who was sent to the Ovens District Hospital after experimenting with a dynamite cap. It included details of the amputation performed. On the same day, p.5, the newspaper mentioned the attempted suicide of “a young fellow” from Colac who was “crossed in love”. The ”murder of ladies” takes its cue from an account of women from the British and Foreign Bible Society, Beechworth Branch, collecting subscriptions (27 February, 1879, p.3). The biblical quotes used were sourced from Reports of the British and Foreign Bible Society, Volume 65, Parts 1869-1870.

Rozanna Lilley reads 'Humbug'