Reprint: Review of "The Banjo's" Poems by Anonymous

Mr. A.B. Paterson is modest with much right to be otherwise, which is more than can be said of many poets. The title which he has chosen for his book "The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses" -- is as unpretentious a designation as we have seen for a collection of really admirable poems. In his preface to the volume Rolf Boldrewood expresses the opinion that "this collection comprises the best bush ballads written since the death of Lindsay Gordon." We are prepared to go a little further and say that even Gordon is less widely known in Australia than Paterson is -- not as Paterson, certainly, but as "The Banjo," the pen name under which the talented author of "The Man from Snowy River" has hitherto hidden his identity. It strikes one at first as somewhat strange that in his book Mr. Paterson omits to mention his identity with "The Banjo" ; but on consideration it becomes apparent that the man who wrote "The Geebung Polo Club," "Clancy of the Overflow," and "The Man from Ironbark" needs no other introduction whatever name he may afterwards choose to write under. There is no mistaking the swing of his verses. Perhaps no Australian poet has a wider local fame than Mr. Paterson. The four bush ballads just mentioned, not to speak of others, are to be heard all over Australia -- in every station hut from Cape York to Wilson's Promontory, from Cape Palmerston to Shark Bay -- wherever the white man has settled the swinging rhyme of "The Man from Snowy River" is familiar to every one who has ever spent a night at a camp fire. Mr. Paterson has done well to give this fine piece of composition the place of honour. Though it is not easy to discriminate between several of his best poems, there is no mistaking the grandeur of his narration of how the Snowy River rider turned back the mob of wild horses when every other man, including the famous "Clancy of the Overflow," had fain confessed himself beaten. This man from Snowy River, though only "a stripling on a small and weedy beast," that 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--

was more than a match for experienced stockmen of more imposing stature and greater age, for--  

When they reached the mountain 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 torrent down its bed,  
   While the others stood and watched in very fear.

And after the stripling on his pony had run the mob single-handed

Till they halted cowed and beaten, then he turned their heads for home,    
   And alone and unassisted brought them back.

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.

Small wonder that lines such as these should stir the hearts of men who recognise in them scenes from their own lives and moments of enthusiasm. Then "The Geebung Polo Club" has been quoted and parodied times out of number. It has even attracted the notice of English papers devoted to the noble sport, and has been quoted verbatim for the appreciation of readers who could wonder at, though they might not understand the conditions under which that famous match was played between the Geebungs and the "Cuff and Collar Team," when both teams died in their heroic efforts to beat each other. Mr. Paterson thus discloses the result of that fateful contest-   

By Old Campaspe River, where the breeses shake the grass,
There's a row of little gravestones that the stockmen never pass,
For they bear a rude inscription saying, "Stranger, drop a tear,
For the Cuff and Collar Players and the Geebung boys lie here."
And on misty moonlight evenings, while the dingoes howl around,
You can see their shadows flitting down that phantom polo ground;
You can hear the loud collisions as the flying players meet,
And the rattle of the mallets, and the rush of ponies' feet,
Till the terrified spectator rides like blazes to the pub--
He's been haunted by the spectres of the Geebung Polo Club.

We might go on quoting indefinitely from the other half-hundred poems in the book without wearying our readers, but justice to the author and the publisher requires a halt. It is sufficient to say that there is many an hour's delight in "The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses" for everyone who loves the Australian bush and bush life. But we would fain give one closing extract, from "Clancy of the Overflow," as an admirable picture of the romantic side of the drover's life--  

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 drovers' life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.

"The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses" by A. B. Paterson. Sydney : Angus & Robertson. London : T J. Pentland.

First published in The Queenslander, 26 October 1895

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

You can read the full text of this collection at Project Gutenberg.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on August 6, 2010 9:30 AM.

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