John Gilbert (Bushranger) by Banjo Paterson

Poking Fun at Bushranger Folklore in Paterson’s Ballad

This satirical ballad pokes fun at the romanticized legends surrounding the Australian bushranger John Gilbert.

Paterson playfully describes Gilbert’s audacious takeover of Canowindra town, exaggerating it as a swashbuckling feat. The farcical tone undercuts the supposed menace of Gilbert and his gang.

The Old Bush Songs

by Banjo Patterson

By depicting the townspeople welcoming the bushrangers, Paterson humorously implies they tacitly approve of their antics. The New South Welshmen are portrayed as passively accepting the chaos and lawlessness.

References to Gilbert shouting drinks in pubs and being cheered on by villagers mocks the outlaw’s folk hero status. Paterson suggests bushranging had become a peculiar “institution” in the colonies.

The mocking exaggeration culminates in the absurd image of a refined piano recital for Gilbert’s partner in crime amidst the pandemonium.

So while adopting folk ballad forms, Paterson satirizes the romantic lore surrounding bushrangers by presenting Gilbert’s antics in an amusingly absurd light. He implies ordinary people enable the outlaw’s exploits through compliance.


[He and his gang stuck up the township of Canowindra for
two days in 1859.]

(Air: “Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.”)

John Gilbert was a bushranger of terrible renown,
For sticking lots of people up and shooting others down.
John Gilbert said unto his pals, “Although they make a
About our tricks we have never done a tip-top thing in

“We have all of us a fancy for experiments in pillage,
Yet never have we seized a town, or even sacked a village.”
John Gilbert said unto his mates–“Though partners we
have been
In all rascality, yet we no festal day have seen.”

John Gilbert said he thought he saw no obstacle to hinder a
Piratical descent upon the town of Canowindra.
So into Canowindra town rode Gilbert and his men,
And all the Canowindra folk subsided there and then.

The Canowindra populace cried, “Here’s a lot of strangers!!!”
But immediately recovered when they found they were
And Johnny Gilbert said to them, “You need not be afraid.
We are only old companions whom bushrangers you have made.”

And Johnny Gilbert said, said he, “We’ll never hurt a hair
Of men who bravely recognise that we are just all there.”
The New South Welshmen said at once, not making any
That Johnny Gilbert, after all, was “Just but one of us.”

So Johnny Gilbert took the town (including public houses),
And treated all the “cockatoos” and shouted for their
And Miss O’Flanagan performed in manner quite gintailly
Upon the grand planner for the bushranger O’Meally.

And every stranger passing by they took, and when they got
They robbed him of his money and occasionally shot him.
And Johnny’s enigmatic feat admits of this solution,
That bushranging in New South Wales is a favoured

So Johnny Gilbert ne’er allows an anxious thought to fetch
For well he knows the Government don’t really want to
ketch him.
And if such practices should be to New South Welshmen dear,
With not the least demurring word ought we to interfere.

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