The Man from Snowy River

In my comments about the riding trip, both here on the blog and in my book, I mention “The Man from Snowy River.” This may not have a huge amount of significance for readers outside Australia, so I thought a little additional information might be helpful.

First it was a poem written in the late 1800s by A.B. “Banjo” Paterson, among Australia’s most famous poets. You may have heard one of his works without realizing it, as he wrote the poem “Waltzing Matilda,” which, once set to music, became internationally famous. In Australia, “The Man from Snowy River” is the poem every kid grows up learning—sort of like Americans learning “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” back when the TV show was still on and every kid wanted a raccoon-skin cap. He was “the man.” Paterson’s poem recounts the astonishing, death-defying ride of a mountain horseman, an event Paterson witnessed during one of the many times he escaped his law office for the bush. The identity of the rider, however, was never confirmed.

In 1982, a lovely movie titled “The Man from Snowy River” was released. It creates a fictional back-story for the real events of the climactic ride that is the topic of the poem. Lines from the poem, and from other Paterson poems, are sprinkled through the movie, and, because he would have to have been there to see the events, poet Banjo Paterson (though introduced by his proper name, Andrew) is one of the characters—he is the solicitor (lawyer) who delivers “the colt from old Regret” to its new owner and stays on as a guest.

The character Clancy, who appears in the poem, was introduced in an earlier poem entitled “Clancy of the Overflow.” One line from this poem—”he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains unended”—is alluded to in the movie. In the movie, the character is played by Jack Thompson, himself something of an icon in the history of Australian film-making.

The film is lovely and lyrical, and the chase, the one that recreates the events of the poem, is fabulously exciting. The thing that made that rider from Snowy River (a mountainous area of Victoria not terribly far from where we rode) memorable was “that terrible descent”—a seemingly impossible ride down a steep mountainside. It would be hard to imagine recreating successfully, and yet the film did. Almost as remarkable as the ride is the stunning photography.

Here is an excerpt from the film that focuses on the final events in the poem, particularly the remarkable downhill ride (which the actor actually did in real life — no stunt double): Jim’s Ride.

For those interested in the original poem, it follows. An interesting note is that, as with the events in the poem, so too in the movie, all the crack riders from the area were gathered together. There were a few actors and a couple of stunt men among them in the film, but the majority of riders in the final chase were mountain men from the area where the filming took place. If you watch the titles, you’ll see that whole families showed up to participate.

Here, then, is Andrew Barton Paterson’s classic poem.

“The Man from Snowy River”
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 stock-horse 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 and 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 stock-horse 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 stringy barks 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 farther 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.
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.

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15 Comments

Filed under Australia, Book, History, Literature, Poetry, Travel

15 responses to “The Man from Snowy River

  1. whisperinggums

    Love it – takes me right back to my childhood when my Dad used to read Paterson to us. I fell in love with Paterson then and have never lost that love. So nice to see others – from foreign lands even! – enjoying him too.

  2. Yes—I do love Banjo Paterson. I have the collected works, and I even quote him (an excerpt from The Droving Days) in my book. Even though I didn’t grow up in Australia, enough of my dreams are anchored there that Paterson conjures up that vision splendid” for me in so many verses.
    “And I somehow rather fancy that I’d like to change with Clancy,
    Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go…”

    Great stuff. Of course, he’s great at communicating the Aussie sense of humor, as well. 🙂

  3. whisperinggums

    Yes he is, and he is so quotable. Another – sad one – is Lost. As I recollect it starts something like this:

    ‘He ought to be home,’ said the old man, ‘without there’s something amiss.
    He only went to the Two-mile — he ought to be back by this.
    [and then a couple of verses later]
    The old man walked to the sliprail and peered up the darkening track
    And looked and longed for the rider who would never more come back…

    You know that one isn’t going to end well.

    I also love the comedic ones like Bush Christening, The Man from Ironback (my father would love to shock our delicate ears with ‘ “Murder, bloody murder” cried the Man from Ironbark’) and The Dingo Pup.

    • I have more than 20 of the poems dog-earred, to find them easily, and because I’m a writer, I have “The Song of the Pen” posted on the refrigerator.

      Among my many favorites in the “semi-humorous/semi-reflective: category is “An Answer to Various Bards,” where he responds to some of the more consistently grim Aussie poets:

      If it ain’t all “golden sunshine” where the “wattle branches wave.”
      Well, it ain’t all damp and dismal, and it ain’t all “lonely grave.”
      And, of course, there’s no denying that the bushman’s life is rough,
      But a man can easy stand it if he’s built of sterling stuff…

      I’m sure you know the rest. Like the bushman in the poem, there are times I get “mighty sick of town.”

  4. whisperinggums

    Oh yes, it’s hard to know when to stop. Interestingly, I just read yesterday (and wrote a post on my blog – http://whisperinggums.wordpress.com/2009/08/25/australian-classics-library/ – that Sydney University Press is producing a new Australian Classics Library – of 12 works. It’s an intriguing selection BUT I was rather chuffed to see Paterson there. I’m inclined to get it when I see it because it has a new critical intro by a current academic and I think that would be interesting to read.

  5. Yes — I saw your post and read it with interest. I didn’t comment because I’m not familiar with everything on the list. However, I was surprised at the absence of Adam Lindsay Gordon, and a little sorry not to see The Sentimental Bloke on the list — but perhaps it simply does not need to be reprinted.

  6. whisperinggums

    If you’ve checked the post again you might have seen that the publisher has commented saying there will be more! We’ll just have to be patient. Perhaps you could put in a plug there for your favourites!!

  7. Hello again, thought I would stop by and touch base with you. How are things down under? I know that you are having your winter while we are having our summer. Hope that all is going well.

    Sign me, Living Simply in Small Town America, M

    • Thanks for the visit, Marguerite. I have stopped by your blog on occasion, and enjoy reading your continued adventures in the realm of frugal living and enjoying the simply life. You certainly stay busy.

      As for how things are, they’re fine, but they’re not down under. I have traveled extensively in Australia, but I actually live in the U.S. So like you, I’m enjoying the tail end of summer — and sad to see it end.

      • whisperinggums

        LOL And we who are really downunder (particularly towards the southern end) are not sad to see the tail end of winter!

  8. Pingback: A.B. (Banjo, to most of us) Paterson « Whispering Gums

  9. Pingback: The Archibald Fountain | Waltzing Australia

  10. Julia Tan

    Oh great! Nice reading and its good to be able to see the spirit of the people captured in their poems. The culture, the environment and the sheer sense of passion about what they do and how they live is in the poems they write. I love it! Thanks for sharing.

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