Sly Satire in Banjo Paterson’s Comic Bush Ballad “An Idyll of Dandaloo”
One of Paterson’s most amusing works, the ballad “An Idyll of Dandaloo” uses an entertaining comic tale about a racing scam to offer broader commentary on social pretensions.
Set in the fictional frontier town of Dandaloo, the poem depicts a swaggering city gambler arriving to race his imported thoroughbred against the humble local nags. But the seemingly simple folk of Dandaloo are not so naive, conspiring to ensure the visitor’s flashy steed doesn’t prevail.
The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses
by Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson
Paterson delights in detailing their ingenious skullduggery to “stump” the outsider, from drugging his horse to pre-arranging a dead heat to disqualifying his jockey on a technicality. The exaggerated cockiness of the visitor makes his comeuppance even more satisfying.
While Paterson ultimately romanticizes the bush values of matehood and pluck, he also implies certain lawlessness and anti-intellectualism kept Australia locked in an inferiority complex against the world. Dandaloo’s “innocence” has a sinister side.
So with much humor, “An Idyll of Dandaloo” provides deeper perspective on perceptions of Australia as an unsophisticated backwater. Paterson suggests social progress requires looking beyond parochial tribalism to engage the world with integrity, not trickery.
An Idyll of Dandaloo
On Western plains, where shade is not,
‘Neath summer skies of cloudless blue,
Where all is dry and all is hot,
There stands the town of Dandaloo —
A township where life’s total sum
Is sleep, diversified with rum.
It’s grass-grown streets with dust are deep,
‘Twere vain endeavour to express
The dreamless silence of its sleep,
Its wide, expansive drunkenness.
The yearly races mostly drew
A lively crowd to Dandaloo.
There came a sportsman from the East,
The eastern land where sportsmen blow,
And brought with him a speedy beast —
A speedy beast as horses go.
He came afar in hope to `do’
The little town of Dandaloo.
Now this was weak of him, I wot —
Exceeding weak, it seemed to me —
For we in Dandaloo were not
The Jugginses we seemed to be;
In fact, we rather thought we knew
Our book by heart in Dandaloo.
We held a meeting at the bar,
And met the question fair and square —
`We’ve stumped the country near and far
To raise the cash for races here;
We’ve got a hundred pounds or two —
Not half so bad for Dandaloo.
`And now, it seems, we have to be
Cleaned out by this here Sydney bloke,
With his imported horse; and he
Will scoop the pool and leave us broke
Shall we sit still, and make no fuss
While this chap climbs all over us?’
. . . . .
The races came to Dandaloo,
And all the cornstalks from the West,
On ev’ry kind of moke and screw,
Came forth in all their glory drest.
The stranger’s horse, as hard as nails,
Look’d fit to run for New South Wales.
He won the race by half a length —
QUITE half a length, it seemed to me —
But Dandaloo, with all its strength,
Roared out Dead heat!’ most fervently; And, after hesitation meet, The judge’s verdict wasDead heat!’
And many men there were could tell
What gave the verdict extra force:
The stewards, and the judge as well —
They all had backed the second horse.
For things like this they sometimes do
In larger towns than Dandaloo.
They ran it off; the stranger won,
Hands down, by near a hundred yards
He smiled to think his troubles done;
But Dandaloo held all the cards.
They went to scale and — cruel fate! —
His jockey turned out under-weight.
Perhaps they’d tampered with the scale!
I cannot tell. I only know
It weighed him OUT all right. I fail
To paint that Sydney sportsman’s woe.
He said the stewards were a crew
Of low-lived thieves in Dandaloo.
He lifted up his voice, irate,
And swore till all the air was blue;
So then we rose to vindicate
The dignity of Dandaloo.
Look here,’ said we,you must not poke
Such oaths at us poor country folk.’
We rode him softly on a rail,
We shied at him, in careless glee,
Some large tomatoes, rank and stale,
And eggs of great antiquity —
Their wild, unholy fragrance flew
About the town of Dandaloo.
He left the town at break of day,
He led his race-horse through the streets,
And now he tells the tale, they say,
To every racing man he meets.
And Sydney sportsmen all eschew
The atmosphere of Dandaloo.