A Cautionary Tale of the Bush
Banjo Paterson vividly recounts the presumed demise of a man named M’Ginnis in his ballad-style poem ‘How M’Ginnis Went Missing’. Using the Australian bush as a harsh and unforgiving setting, Paterson weaves a cautionary tale warning against the perils of drunkenness.
The poem immediately pulls the reader into the mystery, announcing M’Ginnis’ disappearance by the flooded Murray River. Descriptions of the “roaring flooded Murray” that “covered all the lower land” establish a volatile, threatening landscape.
The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses
by Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson
M’Ginnis is depicted venturing recklessly into this environment with “a bottle in his hand”, alluding to his inebriated state. The river’s dangerously rising waters are evident, yet in his drunken stupor, M’Ginnis underestimates the risk.
Paterson imagines him lounging carelessly “’neath the influence of drink”, oblivious to the surrounding turmoil. M’Ginnis romantically dreams of his distant Irish hometown, blinded to the imminent peril closing in on him.
Vivid personification immerses the reader in the climactic moments – the “crashing logs” filling the air with their “tumult” as the “cruel waters” find and drown the slumbering man. The Australian bush is rendered a powerful, merciless force of nature against man’s careless arrogance.
The final stanza conveys the indifference of the landscape, with the “blossom-tufted wattle” blooming on as M’Ginnis drifts out to sea. Paterson reminds us of the danger posed by underestimating the bush, especially when impaired.
Written with rich descriptive language, the poem highlights the Australian environment’s capacity for both beauty and brutality. Paterson skillfully blends lyricism, drama and sobering caution in recounting this mysterious tale of demise in the bush. It continues to resonate as a timeless warning against risk-taking in the Australian landscape.
How M’Ginnis Went Missing
Let us cease our idle chatter,
Let the tears bedew our cheek,
For a man from Tallangatta
Has been missing for a week.
Where the roaring flooded Murray
Covered all the lower land,
There he started in a hurry,
With a bottle in his hand.
And his fate is hid for ever,
But the public seem to think
That he slumbered by the river,
‘Neath the influence of drink.
And they scarcely seem to wonder
That the river, wide and deep,
Never woke him with its thunder,
Never stirred him in his sleep.
As the crashing logs came sweeping,
And their tumult filled the air,
Then M’Ginnis murmured, sleeping,
`’Tis a wake in ould Kildare.’
So the river rose and found him
Sleeping softly by the stream,
And the cruel waters drowned him
Ere he wakened from his dream.
And the blossom-tufted wattle,
Blooming brightly on the lea,
Saw M’Ginnis and the bottle
Going drifting out to sea.