Poems of Banjo Paterson

Ok, we have to post some poems because they are truly great reads. You can’t just talk about the man behind the poems. There is something wonderful about hearing these poems being read aloud but they are also wonderful to read yourself as well. There is a great sense of adventure and suspense and daring in these poem and there is a reason they are Australian classics that are loved across the board, especially The Man from Snowy River. You should also listen to the darling Slim Dusty singing Waltzing Matilda because if anyone is going to sing it it should be Dusty, but you can read the poem here which is slightly different.

Clancy of the Overflow (published in The Bulletin 21 December 1889)

I had written him a letter which I had, for want of better
Knowledge, sent to where I met him down the Lachlan, years ago,
He was shearing when I knew him, so I sent the letter to him,
Just “on spec”, addressed as follows: “Clancy, of The Overflow”.

And an answer came directed in a writing unexpected,
(And I think the same was written in a thumbnail dipped in tar)
‘Twas his shearing mate who wrote it, and verbatim I will quote it:
“Clancy’s gone to Queensland droving, and we don’t know where he are.”
In my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of Clancy
Gone a-droving “down the Cooper” where the western drovers go;
As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing,
For the drover’s life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.

And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him
In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
And at night the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars.

I am sitting in my dingy little office, where a stingy
Ray of sunlight struggles feebly down between the houses tall,
And the foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city
Through the open window floating, spreads its foulness over all.

And in place of lowing cattle, I can hear the fiendish rattle
Of the tramways and the buses making hurry down the street,
And the language uninviting of the gutter children fighting,
Comes fitfully and faintly through the ceaseless tramp of feet.

And the hurrying people daunt me, and their pallid faces haunt me
As they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste,
With their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy,
For townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste.
And I somehow fancy that I’d like to change with Clancy,
Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go,
While he faced the round eternal of the cashbook and the journal –
But I doubt he’d suit the office, Clancy, of “The Overflow”.

The Man from Snowy River (published 26 April 1890)

There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around
That the colt from old Regret had got away,
And had joined the wild bush horses – he was worth a thousand pound,
So all the cracks had gathered to the fray.
All the tried and noted riders from the stations near and far
Had mustered at the homestead overnight,
For the bushmen love hard riding where the wild bush horses are,
And the stockhorse snuffs the battle with delight.

There was Harrison, who made his pile when Pardon won the cup,
The old man with his hair as white as snow;
But few could ride beside him when his blood was fairly up –
He would go wherever horse and man could go.
And Clancy of the Overflow came down to lend a hand,
No better horseman ever held the reins;
For never horse could throw him while the saddle girths would stand,
He learnt to ride while droving on the plains.

And one was there, a stripling on a small and weedy beast,
He was something like a racehorse undersized,
With a touch of Timor pony – three parts thoroughbred at least –
And such as are by mountain horsemen prized.
He was hard and tough and wiry – just the sort that won’t say die –
There was courage in his quick impatient tread;
And he bore the badge of gameness in his bright and fiery eye,
And the proud and lofty carriage of his head.

But still so slight and weedy, one would doubt his power to stay,
And the old man said, “That horse will never do
For a long a tiring gallop – lad, you’d better stop away,
Those hills are far too rough for such as you.”
So he waited sad and wistful – only Clancy stood his friend –
“I think we ought to let him come,” he said;
“I warrant he’ll be with us when he’s wanted at the end,
For both his horse and he are mountain bred.

“He hails from Snowy River, up by Kosciusko’s side,
Where the hills are twice as steep and twice as rough,
Where a horse’s hoofs strike firelight from the flint stones every stride,
The man that holds his own is good enough.
And the Snowy River riders on the mountains make their home,
Where the river runs those giant hills between;
I have seen full many horsemen since I first commenced to roam,
But nowhere yet such horsemen have I seen.”

So he went – they found the horses by the big mimosa clump –
They raced away towards the mountain’s brow,
And the old man gave his orders, “Boys, go at them from the jump,
No use to try for fancy riding now.
And, Clancy, you must wheel them, try and wheel them to the right.
Ride boldly, lad, and never fear the spills,
For never yet was rider that could keep the mob in sight,
If once they gain the shelter of those hills.”

So Clancy rode to wheel them – he was racing on the wing
Where the best and boldest riders take their place,
And he raced his stockhorse past them, and he made the ranges ring
With the stockwhip, as he met them face to face.
Then they halted for a moment, while he swung the dreaded lash,
But they saw their well-loved mountain full in view,
And they charged beneath the stockwhip with a sharp and sudden dash,
And off into the mountain scrub they flew.

Then fast the horsemen followed, where the gorges deep and black
Resounded to the thunder of their tread,
And the stockwhips woke the echoes, and they fiercely answered back
From cliffs and crags that beetled overhead.
And upward, ever upward, the wild horses held their way,
Where mountain ash and kurrajong grew wide;
And the old man muttered fiercely, “We may bid the mob good day,
No man can hold them down the other side.”

When they reached the mountain’s summit, even Clancy took a pull,
It well might make the boldest hold their breath,
The wild hop scrub grew thickly, and the hidden ground was full
Of wombat holes, and any slip was death.
But the man from Snowy River let the pony have his head,
And he swung his stockwhip round and gave a cheer,
And he raced him down the mountain like a torrent down its bed,
While the others stood and watched in very fear.

He sent the flint stones flying, but the pony kept his feet,
He cleared the fallen timber in his stride,
And the man from Snowy River never shifted in his seat –
It was grand to see that mountain horseman ride.
Through the stringybarks and saplings, on the rough and broken ground,
Down the hillside at a racing pace he went;
And he never drew the bridle till he landed safe and sound,
At the bottom of that terrible descent.

He was right among the horses as they climbed the further hill,
And the watchers on the mountain standing mute,
Saw him ply the stockwhip fiercely, he was right among them still,
As he raced across the clearing in pursuit.
Then they lost him for a moment, where two mountain gullies met
In the ranges, but a final glimpse reveals
On a dim and distant hillside the wild horses racing yet,
With the man from Snowy River at their heels.

And he ran them single-handed till their sides were white with foam.
He followed like a bloodhound on their track,
Till they halted cowed and beaten, then he turned their heads for home,
And alone and unassisted brought them back.
But his hardy mountain pony he could scarcely raise a trot,
He was blood from hip to shoulder from the spur;
But his pluck was still undaunted, and his courage fiery hot,
For never yet was mountain horse a cur.

And down by Kosciusko, where the pine-clad ridges raise
Their torn and rugged battlements on high,
Where the air is clear as crystal, and the white stars fairly blaze
At midnight in the cold and frosty sky,
And where around The Overflow the reed beds sweep and sway
To the breezes, and the rolling plains are wide,
The man from Snowy River is a household word today,
And the stockmen tell the story of his ride.

Happy Birthday Banjo Paterson!

Today is the 150th birthday of the Australian poet Banjo Paterson and who would I be if I didn’t acknowledge some of the great poetry he wrote and the impact he’s had on our culture.


Google Doodle

Banjo Paterson was born Andrew Barton Paterson in 1864 and lived at the property “Narrambla” which is out near Orange, NSW. He moved around a lot later on but when he married his wife Alice Emily Walker, they lived at Woollahra, NSW with his two children. Paterson’s parents were Scottish immigrant Andrew Bogle Paterson and Australian Rose Isabella Barton. Also, fun fact, Paterson’s mother was related to the future first prime minister of Australia, Edmund Barton. So that’s cool.

Through his life Paterson was a poet, a lawyer, a journalist, a soldier, a jockey, as well as a farmer, but his poems are what he is mainly remembered for. I think there are a few of Paterson’s poems that we all know because they have infiltrated society and culture more than others. I’m fairly sure we all know about The Man from Snowy River, or at least have heard it being referenced. Written in 1890 The Man from Snowy River was first published in The Bulletin on 26 April and has since been made into a successful movie and a TV show. The poem tells the story of a pursuit to recapture the colt of a prizewinning racehorse that has run off into the mountain ranges and is living with brumbies. The poem recounts the attempt to recapture the colt and the bravery of the hero Clancy who risks the terrible decent of the impassable slope to chase after the horses. This was not Paterson’s first poem, however, Clancy of the Overflow was a shorter poem published the previous year, but some characters reappear in The Man from Snowy River.

I vaguely recall seeing The Man from Snowy River film with my sister when I was young but it was never a favourite of mine, and I can’t say I knew of any others of his poems that well. You get taught about Banjo Patterson in primary school and you learn about of a few poems, but there are some that stay with you and some don’t. Though a few years ago now, back in 2000, the Royal Easter Show did an excellent Man from Snowy River Spectacular which broadened my love of Paterson’s poems. It was an excellent show, the arena was set up to re-enact the story and the riders and the horses put on an epic display while the poem was being narrated alongside, it was really amazing.

But before any of that, Waltzing Matilda was the one that stayed with me more than any other. That is one I think that everyone gets to know from a young age. Waltzing Matilda is a poem that is set to music that is revered by a lot of people, but if you look at the narrative it is about a man who steals a sheep and to escape being captured commits suicide in a billabong. There is something wonderfully morbid in that this is a poem we cherish. People even wanted to make it our national anthem at one point. I can’t say when we win at the Olympics or before footy games, or standing at school assemblies I would think we want that being sung, but some do. I’m not saying it isn’t an awesome poem or song, it is, but I just can’t see it as a national anthem. Because it is a song though, Waltzing Matilda has been covered by a lot of people, being originally set to music makes it more accessible I suppose than the poetry and the ballads.

What I found interesting was that Paterson did not live out in the bush while he was writing. A lot of works about rural Australia are romanticised and Paterson was no different. He was living in the city as a lawyer while he was writing about these mountain ranges and billabongs. I think though poetry needs a bit of romanticising, even if you lived in the rural areas surely in poetry you are not going to be discussing the ins and outs of farming troubles and the fact your cattle are or aren’t breeding. Instead you write about the sun setting over the hills, and the cockatoos screeching in the evening, you write about the continuing plains of barren lands and the river the winds through the ancient cliffs. No one needs to hear about the boring parts of the rural areas, romanticising is what poetry is all about.

Paterson did a lot more than just write poetry, he helped with the war effort not only as a war correspondent in the Second Boar War but as an ambulance driver in WW1 and did three voyages with horses to Africa, China, and Egypt resulting in being repatriated to Australia as a Major. He is remembered for his poetry of course more than his war effort or any of his other jobs, and after he returned home he continued writing, releasing short stories, verse, and essays but he also continued to contribute to various journalism publications.

Banjo Patterson is the guy on our $10 note for those who don’t know, and over his lifetime he wrote hundred of works which you can find a list of on Project Gutenberg, and he was even commemorated on a stamp in 1981. I’m sure there are people all over Australia who have their favourite Banjo Patterson poem, some know one, some know all, and there are always new people discovering him each day.

Paterson died in 1941 from a heart attack but he continues to live on in Australian culture and through his poetry and other works that have continued to inspire and entertain children and adults alike to this day. Happy 150th birthday, Banjo!

Learn more about Banjo Paterson