A ‘True Blue’ Ballad of Australia

A ‘True Blue’ Ballad of Australia

In every culture, poetry, rhymes and songs tell the story of the country, of the region, of the people. Yet except for the English bards and a very few from other cultures, French, Italian, German, not much transfers from one language, from one culture, to another. Shakespeare and Lord Byron are exceptions, where rhymes and stanzas have become known in other cultures. And now for a ballad of Australia.

Australian culture is surprising and unknown to many. The world sees Australians as sun, surf and sin loving young men and women. But what is the record of Australian culture?

Australia’s greatest poet was Banjo Patterson from about 125 years ago. His poems sit in Australian history. The ballad of Australia below is recorded in microprint on the $10 note behind his portrait, characteristically with a hat, and an image of a drover mounted on his horse with a stockwhip ‘singing’. So what is this subject of Australian lore – not just folklore? It is of a man and his horse, of great horses, of proud horses, of the drover and his horse (and sometimes his dog). These and the drought form the basis of many a ballad of Australia.

This ballad of Australia, this poem is The Man from Snowy River. Its territory is the highlands of Australia around the border between Victoria and New South Wales; country that is similar to the Italian Pre-Alps above Bassano del Grappa, just wilder and less easily crossed. Read this poem and learn Australian lore and language. Contact us and we will translate words and terms that seem intractable. Mostly, feel the pride of men who were the heritage of Australia – men who lived with their horses, who became one with them, and together they just ‘did’.

There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around
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 stockhorse 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 stockhorse 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 stringybarks 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 reed beds sweep and sway
To the breezes, and the rolling plains are wide,
The man from Snowy River is a household word today,
And the stockmen tell the story of his ride.

A few translations into English:

Stanza 1
Station - Large outback farm
Crack – Great horse rider
Fray – Battle
Colt – Young stallion
Mustered – gathered and camped
Snuffs – smells the air
Stanza 2
Pile – large amount of money
The Cup – The Melbourne Cup (horse race)
Blood was fairly up – excited
Droving – Herding and pushing cattle long distances
Stanza 3
Stripling – thin young man or youth
Weedy Beast – underdeveloped horse
Thoroughbred – breed of horse for racing
Wiry – lean and sinewy
Stanza 4
Lad – teenage boy
Stood – supported
Mountain bred – born in the mountain country
Stanza 5
Kosciusko – Australia’s tallest mountain above the Snowy River
Firelight – sparks
Flint Stone – very hard sharp rocks
Holds his own – doesn’t lose touch
Stanza 6 ………
And now over to you – good luck – and enjoy the story

(This article is published under licence from Energitismo Limited and forms part of the Australian Blog)

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