Celebrating the Spirit of the Bush in Banjo Paterson’s “Clancy of the Overflow”
One of Banjo Paterson’s most enduring ballads, “Clancy of the Overflow” eloquently contrasts the freedom of outback life with the stifling bleakness of the city. Through lyrical descriptions, Paterson insightfully explores the unique Australian identity emerging from the wilderness frontier.
The ballad is structured as a Bushman’s rueful letter to his old friend Clancy, a legendary drover now off driving cattle “where the seasons come and go.” Vivid images of Clancy surrounded by stunning vistas, kindly faces, and campfire camaraderie capture the romance of droving.
The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses
by Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson
Meanwhile in the “dingy little office,” the writer feels oppressed amidst foul air, constant noise, and unnatural rush. The overcrowded filthy city is portrayed as almost dehumanizing through its frenetic demands and lack of agency.
While idealizing the solidarity and freedom of Clancy’s life on the range, Paterson’s depiction of alienation and limitation in the urban sphere is strikingly perceptive. His empathy for Australians exiled from their elemental landscape comes through.
In the end, the writer wishes for the authenticity of a drover’s existence over his disconnected city subsistence. Paterson astutely recognizes the emergence of Australian identity from a frontier very different from European roots. This nascent national spirit is embodied in archetypes like Clancy living in harmony with the bush.
So despite its nostalgic lens, “Clancy of the Overflow” insightfully explores the Australian condition at the urban frontier. Paterson sees the interior’s allure as integral to cultural belonging in a land where most will now be disconnected from the unique wilderness that shaped identity.
Clancy of the Overflow
I had written him a letter which I had, for want of better
Knowledge, sent to where I met him down the Lachlan, years ago,
He was shearing when I knew him, so I sent the letter to him,
Just on spec’, addressed as follows, Clancy, of The Overflow’.
And an answer came directed in a writing unexpected,
(And I think the same was written with a thumb-nail dipped in tar)
‘Twas his shearing mate who wrote it, and verbatim I will quote it:
`Clancy’s gone to Queensland droving, and we don’t know where he are.’
. . . . .
In my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of Clancy
Gone a-droving `down the Cooper’ where the Western drovers go;
As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing,
For the drover’s life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.
And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him
In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
And at night the wond’rous glory of the everlasting stars.
. . . . .
I am sitting in my dingy little office, where a stingy
Ray of sunlight struggles feebly down between the houses tall,
And the foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city
Through the open window floating, spreads its foulness over all
And in place of lowing cattle, I can hear the fiendish rattle
Of the tramways and the ‘buses making hurry down the street,
And the language uninviting of the gutter children fighting,
Comes fitfully and faintly through the ceaseless tramp of feet.
And the hurrying people daunt me, and their pallid faces haunt me
As they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste,
With their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy,
For townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste.
And I somehow rather fancy that I’d like to change with Clancy,
Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go,
While he faced the round eternal of the cash-book and the journal —
But I doubt he’d suit the office, Clancy, of `The Overflow’.