A winter’s afternoon, curling up with the latest kinfolk magazine, a poetry book and some homemade Bus Drivers Biscuits. Recently I’ve felt an interest in the Australian bush poets: wanted to know more about them- how they saw the country, how they lived. Nothing much seemed to penetrate from Australian history at school; I didn’t even know that Banjo Paterson wrote Waltzing Matilda.
On the drive to the old schoolmasters house, coming through the Blue Mountains and looking down over the valley- some lines of Banjo Paterson’s “Clancy of the Overflow” come to mind-
“And he sees a vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended”
I rediscoverd Banjo Paterson on a five day group horse trek in Kosciusko National park a couple of years ago. The first day, tired & low in spirit I started to feel dizzy and faint as we ascended through stony paths and grim eucalypts. All I wanted was an energy drink – it felt like a basic right. In the city you are never more than a few moments away from one, but on this ride there wasn’t even water. A nurse in the group gave me a lollypop and the sugar in that was enough to get me to the camp. I woke up late that night in my little tent, listening to strange thumping sounds & wished desperately that I was back at home. But I stuck it out & things got better.
A few days later we were riding on high alpine plain when suddenly some wild horses, brumbies, appeared. It was thrilling to see them. Later that night round the campfire, an old stockman, a member of our random group, sang “The Red Back on the Toilet Seat”. And then the gruff mountain woman leading the group surprised us all by reciting Banjo Paterson’s “The Man from Snowy River”. It had been written about the same area we were camping in – we’d been riding through the poem. “Through the stringybarks and saplings on the rough and broken ground”. We were listening to her round a campfire
“where the air is clear as crystal and the white stars fairly blaze
At midnight in the cold and frosty sky”
You can tell Banjo Peterson was a man who had galloped on a horse – his words hit hard and rhythmically like hooves striking the ground.
“There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around
That the colt from old Regret had got away”
So now I’ve gone back to “Clancy of the Overflow” – using Banjo Paterson’s eyes to see the landscape on my drive through the country to the old schoolmaster’s house. Here are just the first couple of verses…
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 thumbnail 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.”