Mrs Johnston’s Chooks

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It was the harshest crime to have hit the station ‘s books,
Some dirty low-life scum had rustled Mrs Johnston ‘s chooks.
The robber bagged the best of them and took the rest for luck ,
Forty-seven leghorns, fifteen bantams and a duck.

The pride of all the district was Mrs Johnston’s flock,
From her mighty leghorn roosters to her little bantam cock.
“We’ll have to put our best on this,” said Senior Sergeant Kiley,
So the call went out, loud and clear, for Stock Detective Riley.

A slow-talkin’ sort of casual bloke but ruthless just the same,
He was known to all as Roundup and knew how to play the game.
He tracked a dozen Herefords from Tamworth out to Bourke
Using nothing more than instinct and a passion for his work .

And he busted up a rustling ring that spanned the eastern states,
Without the aid of partners, just a few words from his mates.
But if there ever was a case that forged his reputation,
The Homing Pigeon Hit spread his fame across the nation.

The conman Kenny Carter was the master of the scam,
For years it was his living, or in his words ” bread and jam”,
By day he sold his pigeons to unsuspecting folk
And by night they’d all be home again – a money-making joke.

So, with a bank of fifty pigeons which he sold three times a week,
Ken was loving life, somewhere west of Scrubby Creek.
The hideaway was secret but with Riley on the trail
The boys back at the station knew they’d soon have Ken in jail.

With a torch taped to his saddle shining upwards from his horse
Riley rode non-stop for ninety miles to track one pigeon’s course.
He dismounted at the hideaway, tied up his faithful mare,
Carter met him at the door, hands up in the air.

He stood there looking sheepish , pondering his fate,
Then Riley asked the question “Aaaah, how ya gain ‘ mate?”
“I thought at first,” the conman said ” that you were young and green
“But I’ve gotta hand it to ya, you’re the best I’ve ever seen.”

And now it was again that everyone conceded
To track down Mrs Johnston’s chooks the Roundup man was needed .
“I aaah hear we’ve got a problem,” it was a voice that they all knew.
“Mrs Johnston’s chooks eh, well let’s see what we can do.”

Now a lesser stock detective would’ve headed for the scrub
But Riley’s intuition took him straight down to the pub.
His modus operandi, at first it seemed unclear,
Then came the explanation, ” Aaah, I just wouldn’t mind a beer” .

He quietly quaffed a schooner as the boys fed him the facts,
It was then that he decided on his method of attack.
He rode to Mrs Johnston ‘s while the others drove behind
Wondering just what it was that he hoped to find.

He walked into the chookhouse, had a look around,
“Right , I’ll take it all from here, thanks boys, you head back to town”.
Now they don’t know what he saw, Riley wouldn’t say,
He just jumped up on his horse and swiftly rode away.

Forty minutes later he was at the Kelly place
With Old Man Kelly standing there, broken teeth and crooked face,
Riley walked towards him, leaned across the gate,
Looked him up and down and said “Aaah, how ya gain’ mate?”

And as he asked the question he noticed near some trees
A single leghorn feather floating softly on the breeze.
He looked long and hard at Kelly and said ” Now you just tell me straight
“Where you may have chanced to be last night at half-past eight.”

“You see I’ve got the feeling you might be the type of crook ”
Low enough to rustle poor Mrs Johnston’s chooks.
“Now you don’t have to do it but if you tell me where they are
“I just might be convinced to put away this iron bar.”

Old Kelly mumbled something, he couldn’t do much more,
Then pointed out a shaky arm towards a grain-shed door.
Therein lay the missing birds which soon were taken home,
While Riley helped old Kelly pack his toothbrush and his comb.

Mrs Johnston was delighted to have back her missing flock,
All her lovely leghorns and her little bantam cock.
She said to Roundup Riley ” I truly thank the Lord
“And the only thing for me to do is offer you reward.”

Riley wasn’t bashful so he thought he’d try his luck,”
I tell ya Mrs Johnston , I wouldn’t mind a duck”
Riley got his dinner and his reputation grew
But he never shared his secrets with the other boys in blue.

Just how he solved his cases was a mystery to all
But if you start out stealing stock, well, you’re bound to get a call.
You’ll see this bearded gentleman leaning on your gate,
He’ll look you up and down and ask “Aaah, how ya gain’ mate?”


For years Murray Hartin has been making audiences laugh, cry and visualise the spoken word with his unique style of Australian storytelling.
The former Barker College boy grew up in the Northern NSW town of Moree and is a country journalist by trade.
Through his extensive travels around Australia, Muz has met a vast and varied collection of remarkable Australians. They are the inspiration for his stories.
His story “Rain From Nowhere”, written in February, 2007, addressing the issue of rural suicide, has touched the hearts of people Australia-wide. It is already being spoken of as one of the most significant pieces of Australian verse in recent memory.
His stories epitomise mate-ship.
Muz will remind you and the family how lucky we are to be Australian.

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