My copy of the collected verses of A.B. “Banjo” Paterson has money as a bookmark. It’s an Australian $10 note, and the reason it makes the perfect bookmark for this collection is that it bears the image of Banjo Paterson, with a sketch in the background of the ride from “The Man from Snow River.” The fact that Paterson is on the money might suggest to non-Aussies the cultural significance of this poet.
While a lot of his poems are gloriously evocative, Paterson also occasionally revealed in his work a classic element of Australian humor: hyperbole. When things are rough, you exaggerate. In fact, Australian humor is kind of a blend of the wild exaggeration one finds in classic tall tales of the American west and the very dry wit of the British–but all modified and a bit twisted by the wonderful peculiarities of Australia itself.
One example of this hyperbolic humor is the following Paterson poem, published in the late 1800s. Interesting to note that it ends with ghosts being heard–since that’s how the even more famous Paterson poem, “Waltzing Matilda,” also ends.
The Geebung Polo Club
by A.B. “Banjo” Paterson
It was somewhere up the country in a land of rock and scrub,
That they formed an institution called the Geebung Polo Club.
They were long and wiry natives of the rugged mountainside,
And the horse was never saddled that the Geebungs couldn’t ride;
But their style of playing polo was irregular and rash -
They had mighty little science, but a mighty lot of dash:
And they played on mountain ponies that were muscular and strong,
Though their coats were quite unpolished, and their manes and tails were long.
And they used to train those ponies wheeling cattle in the scrub:
They were demons, were the members of the Geebung Polo Club.
It was somewhere down the country, in a city’s smoke and steam,
That a polo club existed, called the Cuff and Collar Team.
As a social institution ’twas a marvellous success,
For the members were distinguished by exclusiveness and dress.
They had natty little ponies that were nice, and smooth, and sleek,
For their cultivated owners only rode ‘em once a week.
So they started up the country in pursuit of sport and fame,
For they meant to show the Geebungs how they ought to play the game;
And they took their valets with them – just to give their boots a rub
Ere they started operations on the Geebung Polo Club.
Now my readers can imagine how the contest ebbed and flowed,
When the Geebung boys got going it was time to clear the road;
And the game was so terrific that ere half the time was gone
A spectator’s leg was broken – just from merely looking on.
For they waddied one another till the plain was strewn with dead,
While the score was kept so even that they neither got ahead.
And the Cuff and Collar captain, when he tumbled off to die,
Was the last surviving player – so the game was called a tie.
Then the captain of the Geebungs raised him slowly from the ground,
Though his wounds were mostly mortal, yet he fiercely gazed around;
There was no one to oppose him – all the rest were in a trance,
So he scrambled on his pony for his last expiring chance,
For he meant to make an effort to get victory to his side;
So he struck at goal – and missed it – then he tumbled off and died.
By the old Campaspe River, where the breezes shake the grass,
There’s a row of little gravestones that the stockmen never pass,
For they bear a crude inscription saying, “Stranger, drop a tear,
For the Cuff and Collar players and the Geebung boys lie here.”
And on misty moonlit evenings, while the dingoes howl around,
You can see their shadows flitting down that phantom polo ground;
You can hear the loud collisions as the flying players meet,
And the rattle of the mallets, and the rush of ponies’ feet,
Till the terrified spectator rides like blazes to the pub -
He’s been haunted by the spectres of the Geebung Polo Club.