Founders of Our Literature: Will Ogilvie

A possible guest whom the Centenary authorities have overlooked is William Henry Ogilvie, the Australian poet, and now a recognised Scottish bard, who spent many years in Australia as a young man, and who wrote some of the most delightful verse this country has produced. Ogilvie brought with him that singing quality which pervades all the works of Robert Burns and makes him so loved and appreciated throughout the world.

It was as a youth of 20 that Ogilvie landed in New South Wales. He was a robust young man who came here largely in search of adventure. The rough life of the Outback appealed to him vastly. He scorned the cities and went west, where there were horses to break and cattle to drove. He remained 11 years and then returned to Scotland, where he still lives.

Ogilvie's verse is largely personal, but we like him none the less for that. He takes his readers into his confidence, and shows them some things of extraordinary beauty, and some of the philosophy of his life. On the stations and in the droving camps he saw much that was beautiful, and if he did see anything unlovely he promptly forgot it. You can search the pages of his published works and you will find nothing that is morbid or melancholy or unpleasant. He did not omit these things for any prudish reason, but because he was a thoroughly healthy-minded man and they did not interest him.

Ogilvie's value in his Outback verse is that he lived it all. Lawson was the swagman poet; Paterson a visitor to the bush, but Ogilvie was the real bushman. That is patent in all that he writes. Nearly every bushman is a poet at heart. Ogilvie had the good fortune to be one of them, and articulate. Every bushman would say of his work, "that is how I would have liked to write it myself."

But Will Ogilvie is included in this series in literary founders, not because he was an articulate bushan, but rather by reason of his being a true poet. A poet must write of what he knows or of what is in him, and Ogilvie could not help writing of the bush in its cruder moments; but there are many rare things in his poetry which stand out like jewels among the roughness. Horse-breaking and droving are forgotten when he recalls Bowmont Water or writes "The Bush My Lover."

Outwardly a man of action he was a dreamer at heart, and it was the dreamer who came out triumphant in his best work.

You cleave with sword or sabre
   A pathway for your feet;
But I move in meadow sweet
   By the side of silent streams,
And you are lord of Labor
   And I am serf of dreams.
No poet who has felt beneath him the rhythm of galloping hooves can help committing it to verse. Ogilvie was no exception. His horse verse is the best of its kind. His lines canter or gallop, and if you are to write of horses this must be so. But it was not all of gallopers. "How the Fire Queen Crossed the Swamp" is an epic of the teamster, of how Dan with his "sixteen horses collared and chained -- the pick of the whole wide west," crossed a mighty flood and landed his 70 bags of flour at the Swagman's Rest. No man who has ever handled a team can fail to thrill to it.

Ogilvie is the real bushman's poet. He has lived with bushmen, worked with them. He has ridden with them "fast and far in waterless plains and wet." He has joined the boys from the station on their Saturday excursions to the town. He has galloped away under the moon to a love tryst, and ridden slowly home afterwards with his eyes on the stars and his head full of romance. Some people may not understand these things, but for those who do, Ogilvie has given them immortality.

Ogilvie stayed with us 11 years, and it is a pity we could not keep him, for none sang more sweetly or truly. One of the last things he did in Australia was to write his appreciation of the Overlanders -- the drovers of the Outback whom he knew so well.

And now he is a Scottish bard, but he left his best words here and there are many of us who treasure it.

First published in The Herald, 28 July 1934

Note: the mention of a Centenary in the first sentence refers to the 100th anniversary of the founding of the colony (in 1835) that later became the State of Victoria in Australia.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on February 15, 2008 6:19 AM.

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