Billy Barlow In Australia

Paterson’s Satire on Settler Suffering and False Hopes

This lengthy comic ballad by Banjo Paterson offers an insightful satire on the pipe dreams and harsh realities of trying to start a new life as a settler in colonial Australia.

Paterson chronicles the misadventures of Billy Barlow, an opportunistic but hapless English migrant who rapidly falls from grand hopes to utter ruin in the unforgiving Australian bush.

The Old Bush Songs

by Banjo Patterson

Through hilarious mishaps from swindlers to scabbed sheep, Billy’s lofty ambitions crash against lack of knowledge and run of bad luck. Paterson mocks naive faith in easy prosperity.

The ballad provides a humorous yet sobering perspective on the exploitative systems and punishing environment that crushed many settlers. Billy stands in for the everyman newcomer who sees only possibility until ambushed by hard truths.

While exaggerated for effect, the account reflects authentic challenges faced by over-aspirational settlers unprepared for Australian realities. Paterson insightfully reveals a tragic gap between dreams and means in the colonies.

Ultimately, Billy Barlow’s woeful tale sheds an amusing yet cautionary light on the rude awakenings that overturned migrants’ ambitions, despite propagandist myths. Hardship proved far more plentiful than success in the Antipodes.


When I was at home I was down on my luck,
And I earned a poor living by drawing a truck;
But old aunt died, and left me a thousand–“Oh, oh,
I’ll start on my travels,” said Billy Barlow.
Oh dear, lackaday, oh,
So off to Australia came Billy Barlow.

When to Sydney I got, there a merchant I met,
Who said he would teach me a fortune to get;
He’d cattle and sheep past the colony’s bounds,
Which he sold with the station for my thousand pounds.
Oh dear, lackaday, oh,
He gammon’d the cash out of Billy Barlow.

When the bargain was struck, and the money was paid,
He said, “My dear fellow, your fortune is made;
I can furnish supplies for the station, you know,
And your bill is sufficient, good Mr. Barlow.”
Oh dear, lackaday, oh,
A gentleman settler was Billy Barlow.

So I got my supplies, and I gave him my bill,
And for New England started, my pockets to fill;
But by bushrangers met, with my traps they made free,
Took my horse and left Billy bailed to a tree.
Oh dear, lackaday, oh,
“I shall die of starvation,” thought Billy Barlow.

At last I got loose, and I walked on my way;
A constable came up, and to me did say,
“Are you free?” Says I, “Yes, to be sure; don’t you know?”
And I handed my card, “Mr. William Barlow.”
Oh dear, lackaday, oh,
He said, “That’s all gammon,” to Billy Barlow.

Then he put on the handcuffs, and brought me away
Right back down to Maitland, before Mr. Day.
When I said I was free, why the J.P. replied,
“I must send you down to be i–dentified.”
Oh dear, lackaday, oh,
So to Sydney once more went poor Billy Barlow.

They at last let me go, and I then did repair
For my station once more, and at length I got there;
But a few days before, the blacks, you must know,
Had spear’d all the cattle of Billy Barlow.
Oh dear, lackaday, oh,
“It’s a beautiful country,” said Billy Barlow.

And for nine months before no rain there had been,
So the devil a blade of grass could be seen;
And one-third of my wethers the scab they had got,
And the other two-thirds had just died of the rot.
Oh dear, lackaday, oh,
“I shall soon be a settler,” said Billy Barlow.

And the matter to mend, now my bill was near due,
So I wrote to my friend, and just asked to renew;
He replied he was sorry he couldn’t, because
The bill had passed into a usurer’s claws.
Oh dear, lackaday, oh,
“But perhaps he’ll renew it,” said Billy Barlow.

I applied; to renew he was quite content,
If secured, and allowed just three hundred per cent.;
But as I couldn’t do, Barr, Rodgers, and Co.
Soon sent up a summons for Billy Barlow.
Oh dear, lackaday, oh,
They soon settled the business of Billy Barlow.

For a month or six weeks I stewed over my loss,
And a tall man rode up one day on a black horse;
He asked, “Don’t you know me?” I answered him “No.”
“Why,” said he, “my name’s Kinsmill; how are you,
Oh dear, lackaday, oh,
He’d got a fi. fa. for poor Billy Barlow.

What I’d left of my sheep and my traps he did seize,
And he said, “They won’t pay all the costs and my fees;”
Then he sold off the lot, and I’m sure ’twas a sin,
At sixpence a head, and the station giv’n in.
Oh dear, lackaday, oh,
“I’ll go back to England,” said Billy Barlow.

My sheep being sold, and my money all gone,
Oh, I wandered about then quite sad and forlorn;
How I managed to live it would shock you to know,
And as thin as a lath got poor Billy Barlow.
Oh dear, lackaday, oh,
Quite down on his luck was poor Billy Barlow.

And in a few weeks more, the sheriff, you see,
Sent the tall man on horseback once more unto me;
Having got all he could by the writ of fi. fa.,
By way of a change he’d brought up a ca. sa.
Oh dear, lackaday, oh,
He seized on the body of Billy Barlow.

He took me to Sydney, and there they did lock
Poor unfortunate Billy fast “under the clock;”
And to get myself out I was forced, you must know
The schedule to file of poor Billy Barlow.
Oh dear, lackaday, oh,
In the list of insolvents was Billy Barlow.

Then once more I got free, but in poverty’s toil;
I’ve no “cattle for salting,” no “sheep for to boil;”
I can’t get a job–though to any I’d stoop,
If it was only the making of portable soup.”
Oh dear, lackaday, oh,
Pray give some employment to Billy Barlow.

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