Irish Nationalism’s Twilight in Australia’s Penal Colony
This poem by Banjo Paterson offers a poignant perspective on the bittersweet experience of Irish nationalist sentiments and dreams of revolution, as felt by exiled convicts like Bourke far from home in Australia.
Paterson vividly depicts the convicted Bourke’s fantasy of fighting alongside comrades to liberate Ireland. Patriotic zeal and heroic sacrifice define this imagined epic struggle.
The Old Bush Songs
by Banjo Patterson
But the fantasy gives way to the cruel reality of his imprisonment and permanent separation from the homeland and cause he longs to serve. The injustice and futility of his exile rings through.
While avoiding explicit politics, Paterson insightfully conveys the agony of forced displacement – being unable to share in your people’s struggles. Bourke’s vision reveals his homesickness and continued spirit despite incarceration.
Ultimately, the poem provides a humane look at the inner lives of convicts demonized as lawless. Their humanity emerges through Bourke’s poignant dream of belonging and purpose denied by penal transportation. Paterson gives voice to their grief.
Lonely and sadly one night in November
I laid down my weary head in search of repose
On my wallet of straw, which I long shall remember,
Tired and weary I fell into a doze.
Tired from working hard
Down in the labour yard,
Night brought relief to my sad, aching brain.
Locked in my prison cell,
Surely an earthly hell,
I fell asleep and began for to dream.
I dreamt that I stood on the green fields of Erin,
In joyous meditation that victory was won.
Surrounded by comrades, no enemy fearing.
“Stand,” was the cry, “every man to his gun.”
On came the Saxons then,
Fighting our Fenian men,
Soon they’ll reel back from our piked volunteers.
Loud was the fight and shrill,
Wexford and Vinegar Hill,
Three cheers for Father Murphy and the bold cavaliers.
I dreamt that I saw our gallant commander
Seated on his charger in gorgeous array.
He wore green trimmed with gold and a bright shining
On which sunbeams of Liberty shone brightly that day.
“On,” was the battle cry,
“Conquer this day or die,
Sons of Hibernia, fight for Liberty!
Show neither fear nor dread,
Strike at the foeman’s head,
Cut down horse, foot, and artillery!”
I dreamt that the night was quickly advancing,
I saw the dead and dying on the green crimson plain.
Comrades I once knew well in death’s sleep reposing,
Friends that I once loved but shall ne’er see again.
The green flag was waving high,
Under the bright blue sky,
And each man was singing most gloriously.
“Come from your prison, Bourke,
We Irishmen have done our work,
God has been with us, and old Ireland is free.”
I dreamt I was homeward, back over the mountain track,
With joy my mother fainted and gave a loud scream.
With the shock I awoke, just as the day had broke,
And found myself an exile, and ’twas all but a dream.