Down Under: The Vision Splendid?

Andrew Barton “Banjo” Paterson (1864-1941) was the most celebrated of Australia’s bush poets. He grew up at Narrambla near Orange {Semmler 1988}, but beginning with his education at Sydney Grammar School, he would live most of his life in the city {Muller 2012}. He practised as a solicitor with John William Street, before making a name for himself when his poetry was published in The Bulletin, beginning in 1885. His first book of verse The Man From Snowy River, and Other Verses, was published in 1895 {Semmler 1988}. This sold very well; ‘its particular achievement was to establish the bushman in the national consciousness as a romantic and archetypal figure’ {Semmler 1988}.

The famous bush poet ‘took a Romanticist view of the outback – Wordsworth was an influence’ {Caterson 2014}, while Henry Lawson had a ‘social realist perspective.’ {Caterson 2014} So we could say that Banjo did the same as Glover had done in Tasmania, which is bringing Romanticism to a new continent Down Under.

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
{Paterson 1890}

The Australian bush is a very different vista to the ones that Wordsworth had admired.  ‘His outback is the stuff of myth, though at the same time his vision is never merely fanciful’ {Caterson 2014}.  However, it is obvious that Paterson was influenced by, and paying tribute to the older poet, even quoting his “vision splendid” here.

‘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.’

{Paterson 1889}

While there is a dispute as to who the real man from Snowy River was, with several contenders, there is no doubt that there was a real drover named Clancy.  In fact it could be several men from one family, Irish immigrants from County Cork, who arrived in Melbourne in 1841. {Clancy 2002, p12}  Clancy “of the Overflow” could have been several of these men, in particular the brothers Thomas and John, or one of their sons.   ‘The Clancys – two brothers, John and Thomas, plus five sons of John and one son of Thomas – played a not inconsiderable part in the great droving tradition that developed during the second half of the nineteenth century.’{Clancy 2002, p14}

The “real” Clancy is said to be Thomas Gerald Clancy.  In his day job as a solicitor, Paterson even witnessed his will {Cathcart 2014}.  His diary entries would provide much evidence for his descendant Eric Clancy, the family historian.  This shows him as anything but an illiterate bushman, dipping his thumbnail in tar. Clearly, he could easily dip a pen in one of the contemporary inkpots.


TG Clancy, courtesy of the Clancy family

He would resurface later, after Paterson’s mention in two poems had made Clancy famous: a ‘household word’ in his own day, played in another century by Jack Thompson.  Published in 1897, his poem Clancy’s Reply nips effectively at the heels ‘of the Bulletin’s “Banjo”’, like one of the drover’s blue heeler dogs.

Neath the star-spangled dome

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”.

(Clancy 1897)

He describes the true hardships of life in the bush, in that trademark dry sarcastic Australian wit.  He talks about ‘drought-scourged plains extended’, being woken in the night by cattle stampedes, and dying cattle ‘to count among the “pleasures” that townsfolk never know.  The result is to give us a feeling of compassion for the drovers, and other pioneers, something that Paterson’s Romanticism does not convey.

Clearly, Thomas Clancy deserves to be renowned as a poet as well as a bushman: his poetry should take its place alongside Paterson’s, Lawson’s Ballad of the Drover and the classic songs Augathella Station and The Overlander(Queenland Drover). This is our tradition of the drovers, the Australian answer to the cowboys.

Such is the literature that these men have left behind, the poetry of the Australian bush. In Paterson’s case, it owes a little to Wordsworth and the traditions of Romanticism. However, it owes a lot to the gritty realities of those times.

Works Cited

Caterson, Simon (2014) Banjo Paterson: is he still the bard of the bush?Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved from: http://www.theguardian.com/books/australia-culture-blog/2014/jan/30/banjo-paterson-poet-anniversary
Cathcart, M. (2014/2/28). Was Clancy of the Overflow a real person? ABC. Retrieved from: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/booksandarts/clancy-of-the-overflow-a-real-person/5290136
Clancy, E.G. (2002). The Overflow of Clancy: The Story of Thomas and Anne Clancy and Their Descendants. Webcore. Retrieved from: http://www.webcore.com.au/clancy/
Clancy, T.G. (1897). Clancy’s Reply. Wallis and Matilda. Retrieved from: http://www.wallisandmatilda.com.au/clancys-reply.shtml
Muller, N. (2012). On this day in history: Banjo Paterson was born. Australian Geographic. Retrieved from: http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/blogs/on-this-day/2012/02/on-this-day-in-history-banjo-paterson-was-born/
Paterson, A.B. (1889) Clancy of the Overflow. Wallis and Matilda. Retrieved from: http://www.wallisandmatilda.com.au/clancy-of-the-overflow.shtml
Paterson, A.B. (1890). The Man from Snowy River. The Bulletin. Retrieved from: http://www.middlemiss.org/lit/authors/patersonab/poetry/snowy.html
Semmler, C. (1988). Paterson, Andrew Barton (Banjo) (1864–1941). Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved from: http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/paterson-andrew-barton-banjo-7972
The Man from Snowy River (2007) Australian Government. Retrieved from: http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/man-from-snowy-river

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