[Editor: This poem by “Banjo” Paterson was published in The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses, 1895; previously published in The Bulletin, 21 December 1889.]
The Man from Snowy River
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 stock-horse 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 stock-horse 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 stringy barks 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 reedbeds sweep and sway
To the breezes, and the rolling plains are wide,
The man from Snowy River is a household word to-day,
And the stockmen tell the story of his ride.
Andrew Barton Paterson. The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1896 [January 1896 reprinting of the October 1895 edition], pages 3-9
Previously published in: The Bulletin, 21 December 1889
beetled = jutting or overhanging (from beetle-browed, i.e. having heavy overhanging eyebrows); not to be confused with “beetled” as in someone who has scurried off or “beetled off” (moved like a beetle)
Clancy of the Overflow = a character, who was an expert stockman, created by Banjo Paterson for his poem “Clancy of the Overflow”
cracks = experts (e.g. an expert at shooting is called a “crack shot”)
Koskiusko = Mount Kosciuszko (New South Wales), the highest mountain peak in Australia (2,228 metres, or 7,310 feet, above sea level); it was named by the Polish explorer Count Strzelecki in 1840 after General Tadeusz Kościuszko of Poland
kurrajong = a genus of 31 species of trees and large shrubs (Brachychiton, also known as Bottletree), common in Eastern Australia
mimosa = a genus (of about 400 species) of flowering herbs and shrubs; although in this context it is more likely to refer to the Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata, also known as Mimosa), a species of the genus Acacia, native to southeastern Australia
mob = in this context, a group (or mob) of wild horses, found in the Australian bush, usually being descendants of lost or abandoned horses from colonial times; generally “mob” refers to a large group of animals, commonly used when referring to cattle, horses, kangaroos, or sheep; also used to refer to a group of people, sometimes – although definitely not always – used in a negative or derogatory sense (possibly as an allusion to a group of dumb or wild animals), but also used in a positive sense (e.g. “they’re my mob”) especially amongst Aborigines
mountain ash = a eucalyptus tree; Eucalyptus regnans, also known as Swamp Gum or Stringy Gum), native to southeastern Australia
Old Regret = a famous racing horse, whose offspring were worth a lot of money (apparently a fictional horse, created for the poem)
The Overflow = the name of a rural station, “The Overflow” was referred to in several of Banjo Paterson’s poems (“Clancy of The Overflow”, “The man from Snowy River”, “Old Australian ways”, “The Silent Shearer” and “The Travelling Post Office”); Paterson, in an annotation to a letter from Angus & Robertson (18 January 1913, in the George Robertson papers at the Mitchell Library) wrote: “‘Overflow’ is not intended to refer to any particular run. It is just used as a typical name”; however, it is believed by some to refer to a station named “The Overflow” situated about 32 kilometers (20 miles) to the south-east of the town of Nymagee in New South Wales
pound = a unit of British-style currency then in use in the colonies of Australia; the pound was replaced by the dollar in 1966 when decimal currency was introduced in Australia
scrub = low bushland; also, the low trees and shrubs that grow in such areas
Snowy River = a major river, originating from the Mount Kosciuszko region (New South Wales) and flowing southward through the Eastern Victorian highlands; in the 1950s and early 1960s the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme, a major engineering project with several dams, significantly cut down the flow of the once mighty river
station = a large rural holding for raising sheep or cattle; the term “property” is used for smaller holdings
stockwhip = a long whip used in handling stock, often made from bullock hide
stringy barks = several species of eucalypt trees, characterised by thick fibrous bark that is shed (or can be peeled off) in a stringy manner; older trees are often seen with large strips (strings) of bark hanging from them; used by early colonists for roofing and walls of huts
wild hop = Rosy dock (Acetosa vesicaria), an introduced flowering plant; an invasive weed that has caused biodiversity problems by supplanting Australian plants in their native environments; although it may grazed by animals, significant consumption may cause oxalate and nitrate poisoning
Note: Paterson’s reference to “pine-clad ridges” may be using “poetic licence”, as it is believed that there were no pine trees on or near Mount Koskiusko at the time when this poem was written
“Fun Trivia : Man from Snowy River, The”, Fun Trivia (accessed 14 March 2012) [re. Old Regret]
Andy Parks. “Nymagee – Stories and Songs part one ”, ABC Rural (accessed 14 March 2012) [re. The Overflow]
“Rosy dock: Acetosa vesicaria”, Weeds of Australia (Queensland Government) (accessed 14 March 2012) [re. wild hops]
Michael Collins says
Seventy years ago, as a 5yo refugee from bombed-out Germany, I (along with others) set out to prove we were ‘real’ Aussies, and learning “The Man From Snowy River” off by heart was a big step in that process. A red-headed primary-school teacher named ‘Mr. Jamieson’, a close and proud relative of ‘those’ Kelly’s and a real historian, recited the ballad in front of the class, complete with violent action to illustrate ‘the Ride’, and the whole class learned it within a week. Many volatile years and many recitals later I still shed the odd tear: it’s a part of who I became.
Mike Begley says
Clancy of the Overflow a myth, who could have been any of
twenty men who rode in that
time. Known by all the men as
a rider from their kind. The man from Snowy River, a
horseman who could have been any of the few who with
a horse as tough as steel. They became part of our love
of folklore who made our hairs
stand up. It was more than a
part of a poem, as it stood
Australia proud. It became our
part of our history of never
giving up when it looked as
though we were beaten. To be
our Nation’s pride. This may just be a story to some, but it’s
the legend that keeps us one.
John Kindred says
I grew up loving Banjo Paterson’s poems, but the Man from Snowy River and the Man from Ironbark were my favourites.
Now at 80 years I can still amaze my grandchildren by reciting the complete poem from memory.
Just like Michael Collins said, it can still bring a tear to my eye after all these years.
Neriah 101 says
When a summer breeze
Blooms the romance of the air
That fuels the fire within
Have His Way
To bring that wild mountain pony
At His bay
Where there he won His Way
To those fields of gold
Where He carriage, stallion of beauty
With pony spending long lived days
John Harland says
The poem is an embarrassing relic in a sense, yet I still cherish its rhythmic intensity, vivid imagery and emotional power.
As with others here, I learned it in my hero-worshipping pre-adolescence but still find myself reciting it to myself at times.
Dean Ciokiewicz says