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Clancy of The Overflow


Andrew Barton (‘Banjo’) Paterson, the son of a grazier, he was born in 1864 at Narrambla near Orange, New South Wales. His pseudonym, “The Banjo” came from the name of an old station racehorse. He was educated at Sydney Grammar School. He finished school at 16 and joined a law firm as a clerk, worked his way up the office ladder and qualified as a solicitor when he was 22. It started as routine brief to chase up a deadbeat: A stockman from up-country New South Wales had been refusing to pay some debts and the creditors turned the matter over to their solicitor Andrew Barton Paterson. He duly took up their case writing a stern reminder and advising the man to settle up. The letter bounced back, undeliverable, with the simple explanation scrawled across it: “Clancy’s gone to Queensland droving and we don’t know where he are.”

No luck for the creditors, but for talented Paterson, inspiration to write an all time classic poem.

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
Just on spec, addressed as follows, “Clancy, of The Over-

And an answer came directed in 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
For the drover’s life has pleasures that the townsfolk
never know.

And the bush has 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 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
And the foetid air is gritty of the dusty dirty city,
Through the open window floating, spreads its foulness
over all.

And in a place of lowing cattle, I can hear the fiendish rattle
Of the tramways and the buses making hurry down the
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
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
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
But I doubt he’d suit the office, Clancy, of The Overflow.

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The Swagman’s Rest

We buried old Bob where the bloodwoods wave,
At the foot of the Eaglehawk;
We fashioned a cross on the old man’s grave
For fear that his ghost might walk;
We carved his name on a bloodwood tree
With the date of his sad decease
And in place of “Died from the effects of a spree”
We wrote “May he rest in peace”.

For Bob was known on the Overland,
A regular old bush wag
Tramping along in the dust and sand,
Humping his well-worn swag.
He would camp for days in the river-bed,
And loiter and “fish for whales”.
“I’m into the swagman’s yard,” he said’
“and I never shall find the rails.”

But he found the rails on that summer night
For a better place— or worse,
As we watched by turns in the flickering light
With an old black gin for a nurse.
The breeze came in with the scent of pine,
The river sounded clear,
When a change came on, and we saw the sign
That told us the end was near.

He spoke in a cultured voice and low—
“I fancy they’ve  `sent the route’;
I once was an army man you know’
Though now I’m a drunken brute;
But bury me out where the bloodwoods wave,
And, if ever you’re fairly stuck,
Just take and shovel me out of the grave
And maybe, I’ll bring you luck.

“For I’ve always heard—“ here his voice grew weak,
His strength was wellnigh sped,
He gasped and struggled and tried to speak,
Then fell in a moment—dead.
Thus ended a wasted life and hard,
Of energies misapplied—
Old Bob was out of the “swagman’s yard”
And over the Great Divide.
. . . . . . .
The drought came down on the field and flock,
And never a raindrop fell,
Though the tortured moans of the starving stock
Might soften a fiend from hell.
And we thought of the hint that the swagman gave
When he went to the Great Unseen—
We shovelled the skeleton out of the grave
To see what the hint might mean.

We dug where the cross and the grave posts were,
We shovelled away the mould,
When sudden a vein of quartz lay bare
All gleaming with yellow gold.
`Twas a reef with never a fault nor baulk
that ran from the range’s crest,
and the richest mine on the Eaglehawk
is known as “The Swagman’s Rest”.
Dear Arnfinn,
Banjo writes for me music rather than poetry! How he controls the flow of his verse so the more you read the more you want to read and the faster you read. It seems to me, modern poetry often wears thin when it exceeds a modicum of lines.

Cheers, Ron jgd
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