Tag Archives: Banjo Paterson

The Geebung Polo Club

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.

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In Defence of the Bush

I’ve mentioned both Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson, and shared some of their poetry. The two poets were friends and both contributed to the Sydney Bulletin. However, they took different stances on the outback–at least partly in fun, to stir up discussion on the topic. Lawson traveled in some of the same areas Paterson did, but wrote rather scathingly about it, in contrast to Paterson’s generally adoring outlook. Paterson penned the following to let Lawson know that he disagreed. In response to this “argument” between Paterson and Lawson, other poets of the day jumped into the versified “discussion.”

As a note to those who aren’t acquainted with some items of British or Australian slang: lemon-squash would be lemonade, a selector would be roughly the equivalent of a homesteader, and “push” was slang for “gang,” the Sydney Push being a notorious gang of the time. And for Americans, “defence” is the British spelling of “defense.”

In Defence of the Bush
by A.B. “Banjo” Paterson

So you’re back from up the country, Mister Lawson, where you went,
And you’re cursing all the business in a bitter discontent;
Well, we grieve to disappoint you, and it makes us sad to hear
That it wasn’t cool and shady — and there wasn’t whips of beer,
And the looney bullock snorted when you first came into view —
Well, you know it’s not so often that he sees a swell like you;
And the roads were hot and dusty, and the plains were burnt and brown,
And no doubt you’re better suited drinking lemon-squash in town.
Yet, perchance, if you should journey down the very track you went
In a month or two at furthest, you would wonder what it meant;
Where the sunbaked earth was gasping like a creature in itts pain
You would find the grasses waving like a field of summer grain,
And the miles of thirsty gutters, blocked with sand and choked with mud,
You would find them mighty rivers with a turbid, sweeping flood.
For the rain and drought and sunshine make no changes in the street,
In the sullen line of buildings and the ceaseless tramp of feet;
But the bush has moods and changes, as the seasons rise and fall,
And the men who know the bush-land — they are loyal through it all.

But you found the bush was dismal and a land of no delight —
Did you chance to hear a chorus in the shearers’ huts at night?
Did they “rise up William Riley” by the camp-fire’s cheery blaze?
Did they rise him as we rose him in the good old droving days?
And the women of the homesteads and the men you chanced to meet —
Were their faces sour and saddened like the “faces in the street”?
And the “shy selector children” — were they better now or worse
Than the little city urchins who would greet you with a curse?
Is not such a life much better than the squalid street and square
Where the fallen women flaunt it in the fierce electric glare,
Wher the sempstress plies her needle till her eyes are sore and red
In a filthy, dirty attic toiling on for daily bread?
Did you hear no sweeter voices in the music of the bush
Than the roar of trams and buses, and the war-whoop of “the push”?
Did the magpies rouse your slumbers with their carol sweet and strange?
Did you hear the silver chiming of the bell-birds on the range?
But, perchance, the wild birds’ music by your senses was despised,
For you say you’ll stay in townships till the bush is civilized.
Would you make it a tea-garden, and on Sundays have a band
Where the “blokes” might take their “donahs”, with a “public” close at hand?
You had better stick to Sydney and make merry with the “push”,
For the bush will never suit you, and you’ll never suit the bush.

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Daylight is Dying

Back to Banjo Paterson again, who so beautifully captures the attraction of the Outback, either lyrically or humorously. I love this poem because I do still occasionally hear the echo of the “song” it describes.

Daylight is Dying

The daylight is dying
Away in the west,
The wild birds are flying
In silence to rest;
In leafage and frondage
Where shadows are deep,
They pass to its bondage —
The kingdom of sleep.

And watched in their sleeping
By stars in the height,
They rest in your keeping,
Oh, wonderful night.
When night doth her glories
Of starshine unfold,
‘Tis then that the stories
Of bush-land are told.

Unnumbered I hold them
In memories bright,
But who could unfold them,
Or read them aright?
Beyond all denials
The stars in their glories
The breeze in the myalls
Are part of these stories.

The waving of grasses,
The song of the river
That sings as it passes
For ever and ever,
The hobble-chains’ rattle,
The calling of birds,
The lowing of cattle
Must blend with the words.

Without these, indeed, you
Would find it ere long,
As though I should read you
The words of a song
That lamely would linger
When lacking the rune,
The voice of the singer,
The lilt of the tune.

But, as one half-hearing
An old-time refrain,
With memory clearing,
Recalls it again,
These tales, roughly wrought of
The Bush and its ways,
May call back a thought of
The wandering days;

And, blending with each
In the mem’ries that throng,
There haply shall reach
You some echo of song.

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Song of the Pen

I’ve mentioned A.B. “Banjo” Paterson a number of times previously, most especially in relation to “The Man from Snow River,” one of the most famous poems in Australia. It’s highly enough revered that I have an Australian $10 note that pictures both Paterson and a horseman making the “terrible descent” celebrated in the poem. Paterson also wrote “Waltzing Matilda.” But he wrote a lot of poems, and many of them have become favorites of mine.

This one I particularly love because I have found it so often to be true. Writing rarely offers reward commensurate with the amount of work done, and yet the work itself is why one writes. So here is “Song of the Pen,” another in a continuing series of Aussie classics.

Song of the Pen

Not for the love of women toil we, we of the craft,
Not for the people’s praise;
Only because our goddess made us her own and laughed,
Claiming us all our days,

Claiming our best endeavour–body and heart and brain
Given with no reserve–
Niggard is she towards us, granting us little gain;
Still, we are proud to serve.

Not unto us is given choice of the tasks we try,
Gathering grain or chaff;
One of her favoured servants toils at an epic high,
One, that a child may laugh.

Yet if we serve her truly in our appointed place,
Freely she doth accord
Unto her faithful servants always this saving grace,
Work is its own reward!

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Clancy of the Overflow

In the poem “The Man from Snowy River,” as well as in the movie, a character named Clancy appears. One line in the poem states that “Clancy of the Overflow came down to lend a hand.” This refers to another of Patterson’s poems: “Clancy of the Overflow,” which is almost as iconic as “The Man from Snowy River.” If you see the movie “Snowy River,” you’ll hear a line about the sunlit plains being a “vision splendid,” which is actually lifted from the “Clancy” poem. I’ve always loved this poem, because like Paterson, I too have occasionally fancied that I’d like to change with Clancy.

Clancy of the Overflow

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 with a thumb-nail 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 wond’rous 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 rather 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 cash-book and the journal —
But I doubt he’d suit the office, Clancy, of The Overflow.

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