The Robbie Burns Bush Dance

The Masons Robbie Burns Celebration, Saturday January 18, 2014 5:30 to 10:30pm at the Cranbrook Anglican Church. Music By Angus MacDonald (fiddle) and Rod Wilson (Irish Bouzouki and Irish Cittern), and M.C. Wally Smith. The following is  a brief story offered as entertainment by Rod Wilson, Angus MacDonald and Wally Smith.


On the Western plains of New South Wales at this time of year it is hot, hot, hot. Far different from the cooler climes of a traditional Robbie Burns night celebration. Never-the-less, the farmers and their families from miles around travelled to the local school house  to celebrate “The Bard”. At this particular Robbie Burns celebration it was no different from the usual and yet……….

Up to this point things had gone well. Glasses had been raised, drinks had been drunk, food had been consumed in copious quantities and the speechifying was over. Trestles, The Dancerstables and chairs had been pushed to the wall and every body was ready to dance. On stools running end to end along one side of the room sat twenty more or less blooming country girls ranging in ages from fifteen to twenty odd. On the rest of the stools running end to end  along the opposite side of the room sat more or less twenty robust lads. But it was evident that something was seriously wrong.

None of the girls spoke above a hushed whisper. None of the men spoke above a hushed oath. Now and then two or three of the men would sidle out into the darkness to vent their frustrations.

‘TAP, TAP, TAP ……..

The rows moved uneasily and some of the girls turned pale faces towards the side door and the mysterious sounds.

‘TAP, TAP, TAP ……..

The tapping came from the kitchen at the rear of the teacher’s residence and was uncomfortably suggestive of a coffin being made: It was also accompanied by a sickly, indescribable odour – more like that of a warm cheap glue than anything else.

In the schoolroom there was a painful scene of strained listening. Whenever one of the men returned from the outside, or put his head inside the door all eyes were fastened on him in a flash forcing him to withdraw. At the sound of a horse’s step all eyes and ears were on the door ’till some one muttered “it is only the horses in the paddock”.

Some of the girl’s eyes began to glisten suspiciously and at last the belle of the evening – a great dark haired pink-and-white Blue Mountain girl, who had been sitting for a full minute staring before her, with blue eyes unnaturally bright, suddenly covered her face with her hands and started to sob. She rose and blindly stumbled from the room, from which she was steered in a hurry by two sympathetic and almost equally upset girl friends. On passing she hysterically sobbed…..

“I can’t help it. I did want to dance. It’s a sh-shame !. I can’t help it. I rode twenty miles and I want to dance.”

A tall strapping young bushman rose, and without disguise, followed her from the room. The rest started to loudly discuss stocks, dogs, horses and other bush things; But above all the chatter rang the voice of the distraught girl. “I can’t help it Jack! I did want to dance. I had such a job getting father and mother  to let me come  – and – now – …. ” The two girl friends came back into the room  and whispered to the school mistress “he sez to leave her to him while he tries to calm her down. ” It’s no use Jack!” came the voice of grief “You don’t know what it is like with father and mother. I, I won’t be able to g-get away – again for – for-  not until I’m married perhaps.” The school mistress glanced uneasily along the row of girls – “I’ll take her into my room and get her to lie down and maybe that will calm her.”

A final ‘TAP, TAP, TAP from the kitchen and then a sound like a squawk of a hurt or frightened child. All faces brightened and turned expectantly in the direction of the new sound. And then there came a bang and the sound of “dam” and everybody settled back down in a depressing funk.

Then there came a shout from the darkness and most of the men and some of the girls hurried out to investigate. It sound like the paddock gate rattling and the snort and plod of more horses. “Who is it Tom?” There were voices from the yard yelling “I think it is young Angus MacDonald”. And then were cheers all around because young Angus never travelled anywhere without his fiddle.

Out in the kitchen Wally Smith was still struggling with his button accordion. He had just retrieved the battered and bruised device from the opposite side of the room where, The Kickafter an hour of struggling to patch the bellows, he had despondently thrown the instrument. Finally he picked it up and headed towards the door and holding it forward between the palms of his hands, as a football is held, he let it drop, and neatly fetched it on to the toe of his riding boot. It was a beautiful kick out into the darkness where upon it was immediately greeted with a yelp of pain as it collided with some one’s head.

But from the school room the M.C. yelled “Yes, yes , yes  it’s Angus MacDonald with his fiddle. Every body hurry up and  take your partners for the first dance ……..”

(In the movie version there would be a joyous scene of dancers flying around the room to the sound of Angus MacDonald’s fiddle belting out a very lively reel and then, in true Hollywood fashion, the scene would fade to black)

Bush Wackers Dance Book(Stolen and freely adapted from the BushWacker Dance Book (published in 1980) who in turn lifted it from Henry Lawson’s Collection of Short Stories Joe Wilson’s Mates.

Bush Wackers Dance Book - cover@@@@@@@@@@@@

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