The Man from Ironbark [poem by Banjo Paterson]

[Editor: This poem by “Banjo” Paterson was published in The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses, 1895; previously published in The Bulletin, 17 December 1892. It is a story about a barber who plays a practical joke upon an unsuspecting man from the bush. The meaning of various words within the poem are given in the “Editor’s notes” section at the end.]

The Man from Ironbark

It was the man from Ironbark who struck the Sydney town,
He wandered over street and park, he wandered up and down.
He loitered here, he loitered there, till he was like to drop,
Until at last in sheer despair he sought a barber’s shop.
‘ ’Ere! shave my beard and whiskers off, I’ll be a man of mark,
I’ll go and do the Sydney toff up home in Ironbark.’

The barber man was small and flash, as barbers mostly are,
He wore a strike-your-fancy sash, he smoked a huge cigar;
He was a humorist of note and keen at repartee,
He laid the odds and kept a ‘tote’, whatever that may be,
And when he saw our friend arrive, he whispered, ‘Here’s a lark!
Just watch me catch him all alive, this man from Ironbark.’

There were some gilded youths that sat along the barber’s wall.
Their eyes were dull, their heads were flat, they had no brains at all;
To them the barber passed the wink, his dexter eyelid shut,
‘I’ll make this bloomin’ yokel think his bloomin’ throat is cut.’
And as he soaped and rubbed it in he made a rude remark:
‘I s’pose the flats is pretty green up there in Ironbark.’

A grunt was all the reply he got; he shaved the bushman’s chin,
Then made the water boiling hot and dipped the razor in.
He raised his hand, his brow grew black, he paused awhile to gloat,
Then slashed the red-hot razor-back across his victim’s throat;
Upon the newly-shaven skin it made a livid mark —
No doubt it fairly took him in — the man from Ironbark.

He fetched a wild up-country yell might wake the dead to hear,
And though his throat, he knew full well, was cut from ear to ear,
He struggled gamely to his feet, and faced the murd’rous foe:
‘You’ve done for me! you dog, I’m beat! one hit before I go!
‘I only wish I had a knife, you blessed murdering shark!
‘But you’ll remember all your life the man from Ironbark.’

He lifted up his hairy paw, with one tremendous clout
He landed on the barber’s jaw, and knocked the barber out.
He set to work with nail and tooth, he made the place a wreck;
He grabbed the nearest gilded youth, and tried to break his neck.
And all the while his throat he held to save his vital spark,
And ‘Murder! Bloody Murder!’ yelled the man from Ironbark.

A peeler man who heard the din came in to see the show;
He tried to run the bushman in, but he refused to go.
And when at last the barber spoke, and said ‘’Twas all in fun —
‘’Twas just a little harmless joke, a trifle overdone.’
‘A joke!’ he cried, ‘By George, that’s fine; a lively sort of lark;
‘I’d like to catch that murdering swine some night in Ironbark.’

And now while round the shearing floor the list’ning shearers gape,
He tells the story o’er and o’er, and brags of his escape.
‘Them barber chaps what keeps a tote, By George, I’ve had enough,
‘One tried to cut my bloomin’ throat, but thank the Lord it’s tough.’
And whether he’s believed or no, there’s one thing to remark,
That flowing beards are all the go way up in Ironbark.

Andrew Barton Paterson. The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1896 [January 1896 reprinting of the October 1895 edition], pages 64-68

Previously published in: The Bulletin, 17 December 1892

Editor’s notes:
all the go = the current fashion

blessed = an exclamatory oath; “bloody” was the most common expletive used at that time, but it was regarded as so rude and uncouth that it could not be printed

bloomin’ = an exclamatory oath

bushman = a man from the bush; someone who lives out in the country

By George = an exclamatory oath; from the tradition of avoiding blasphemy and the misuse of sacred words, by substituting words with the same initial letter (exclamatory oaths that use such a substitution for “God” include “by George”, “good golly”, “oh my gosh”, “good gracious me”, and “good grief”)

catch him all alive = to succeed in tricking someone with a practical joke (originally an unrelated fishermen’s phrase)

dexter = on the right side

flash = showy, vulgar; fashionable or showy, but in a way that shows a lack of taste.

flats = usually a reference to river flats, the flat and fertile alluvial plains located around the lower reaches of large streams or rivers (usually prone to flooding)

gilded youths = fashionable and usually idle young men; from “gilded” as in covering an item with a thin layer of gold (or to make something look that way), leading to the meaning of “gilded” as to give a deceptively attractive or showy appearance that conceals something of little worth

Murder! Bloody Murder! = this is a precise usage of the word “bloody”, as to use “bloody” as a swear word was considered at that time to be too rude and uncouth to be printed

nail and tooth = to act in a totally unrestrained manner; the usual phrase “tooth and nail” means to fight fiercely with every available means

peeler man = a policeman; a reference to Sir Robert Peel, 1788-1850, former British Prime Minister who, when he was Home Secretary, laid the foundations for the modern police force in Britain (police were also nicknamed “Bobbies” after him; from the nickname of “Bob” commonly used for the name Robert)

razor = an open-blade razor or (also known as a “cut-throat razor”), as was used in earlier times for shaving, in wide use before the invention of the safety razor

toff = someone who is rich or upper-class, a term usually used in a somewhat derogatory manner; “do the Sydney toff” refers to acting like a rich man from the city of Sydney

tote = short for totalisator (US spelling, totalizator), a form of betting on horse races, where those who bet on the winners divide the bets or stakes, less a percentage which goes to those who run the operation (who “keep the tote”)

up-country = a reference to a remote, inland region; in this context it is an unflattering reference to an unsophisticated style


  1. Nat Lucas Jr says:

    Banjo Paterson seems to be the Australian Robert Service!

  2. Chris paterson says:

    Why is this a rude remark:
    ‘I s’pose the flats is pretty green up there in Ironbark.’

    • Australia is a very dry, “Arizona-like” country – in summer in particular there is very little green to be seen – Paterson has his Barber make a sarcastic remark – “the flats is pretty green” means they are particularly parched and brown.

    • Tony Young says:

      Because Ironbark is in rough mountainous county side which is also very dry in the summer time.
      The barber implied it was flat and lush like farm land (knowing full well it’s not) and the Man From Ironbark wasn’t as tough as he looked (knowing that he was).

      It’s a subtle Aussie way of poking fun at somebody.

      • B.K. Laughton says:

        Apart from the fact that Ironbark is almost always dry, I suspect there may be an additional snipe tucked into the remark; in country NSW it’s a common joke to describe a fat person as having been in a ‘good paddock.’ He could be calling the Man from Ironbark a big fellow, especially given that the flats are generally not pretty green in central western NSW.

  3. Good question. The answer is not readily apparent, although “green” can be used to refer to someone who is inexperienced or naive, or lacking maturity, knowledge, sophistication, or wisdom. Possibly it could be a snide remark, inferring that the folk of Ironbark are unsophisticated.

    Would be interesting if someone else has more insight into this issue.

    • John Hoare says:

      I suspect that the bush may have been going through a drought or dry spell at the time. So the remark as to green implies things are good in Ironbark when in fact the opposite is the case

    • E Sergeev says:

      Probably for the same reason that it would be considered an insult to ask a visiting American “I s’pose the deep fried burgers taste good back in the USA?” Or asking the Japanese about rice, Egyptians about camels, New Zealanders about sheep, etc. Having said that, this is one of those types of mild joke that get repeated so frequently nowadays that they’ve become one of the standard ways to start an informal conversation.

      There could be another layer in this case: typically in such a situation the barber could touch on a distinctive aspect of the visitor’s home town, but with Ironbark being in the middle of nowhere, this topic is apparently the best that the barber could come up with.

  4. LAURIE says:

    Love Banjo Patterson . One of my Dad’s (RIP) favourite poets ;

  5. Bob King says:

    I keep coming back to this poem and enjoy it very much. As a bit of a bushie myself, it’s all right for them smart townies to take a few liberties with us if they’re harmless practical jokes (we do the same ourselves), but if they step over the line, they’d better start running.

  6. My 74th Birthday yesterday. My twenty Grand Children recited the ‘Man from Ironbark’ all duly filmed and taped. What a great day!

Leave a Reply to E Sergeev Cancel reply