The surprising tale of one of Australia’s best known poetic characters.
Click on the title of each poem to see its full text.
The inspiration for this poem, written in 1889 by Andrew Barton “Banjo” Paterson, came to him when he was working as a lawyer in Sydney. He was asked to send a letter to a man named Thomas Gerald Clancy, regarding an outstanding payment. The last known address of Clancy was “The Overflow”, a sheep station 100 kilometres south-west of Nyngan. Paterson received a reply to his letter that read simply:
Clancy’s gone to Queensland droving and we don’t know where he are.
The letter looked as though it had been written with a thumbnail dipped in tar, and it led Paterson to speculate about the life Clancy must be enjoying – and also gave the resulting poem its meter.
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.
This poem, written the year after “Clancy of the Overflow”, is a more fictional tale, inspired more by the general experience of rounding up brumbies than by any particular incidents. Clancy is the one who stands up for the title character, insisting that he be allowed to ride along with the others – and whose faith is vindicated when the Man from Snowy River proves to be the only one who can ride the most dangerous territory.
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 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 reedbeds sweep and sway
To the breezes, and the rolling plains are wide,
The man from Snowy River is a household word to-day,
And the stockmen tell the story of his ride.
In 1897, Thomas Gerald Clancy himself wrote a poem using the same meter and rhyme scheme – but considerably less romanticising of the bush life – as Paterson.
Of my Austral home,
When watching by the camp fire’s ruddy glow,
Oft in the flickering blaze
Is presented to my gaze
The sun-drenched kindly faces
Of the men of Overflow.Now, though years have passed forever
Since I used, with best endeavour
Clip the fleeces of the jumbucks
Down the Lachlan years ago,
Still in memory linger traces
Of many cheerful faces,
And the well-remembered visage
Of the Bulletin’s ‘Banjo’.
Tired of life upon the stations,
With their wretched, scanty rations,
I took a sudden notion
That a droving I would go;
Then a roving fancy took me,
Which has never since forsook me,
And decided me to travel,
And leave the Overflow.
So with maiden ewes from Tubbo,
I passed en route to Dubbo,
And across the Lig’num country
‘where the Barwon waters flow;
Thence onward o’er the Narran,
By scrubby belts of Yarran,
To where the landscape changes
And the cotton bushes grow.
And my path I’ve often wended
Over drought-scourged plains extended,
where phantom lakes and forests
Forever come and go;
And the stock in hundreds dying,
Along the road are lying,
To count among the ‘pleasures’
That townsfolk never know.
Over arid plains extended
My route has often tended,
Droving cattle to the Darling,
Or along the Warrego;
Oft with nightly rest impeded,
when the cattle had stampeded,
Save I sworn that droving pleasures
For the future I’d forego.
So of drinking liquid mire
I eventually did tire,
And gave droving up forever
As a life that was too slow.
Now, gold digging, in a measure,
Affords much greater pleasure
To your obedient servant,
‘Clancy of the Overflow’.