Authored - On Kiley's Run by Banjo Paterson

On Kiley’s Run by Banjo Paterson

Nostalgia and Nationalism in Banjo Paterson’s Elegiac Ballad “On Kiley’s Run”

One of Paterson’s most acclaimed works, this melancholy verse traces the declining fortunes of a beloved pastoral property to lament the passing of a more egalitarian, community-oriented era in Australian history.

The poetic narrator contrasts his idyllic memories of Kiley’s Run in its heyday, when generous owner Tom Kiley fostered a culture of mateship and hospitality, to its present state under an absentee English landlord interested only in profits.

The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses by Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson - Book Cover

The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses

by Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson

Vivid contrasts between the warm convivial days under Kiley and the current joyless atmosphere convey a sense of paradise lost. Details like shutting out swagmen epitomize the erosion of goodwill.

Paterson implies something intrinsic to Australian character is extinguished when community and compassion give way to impersonal commercialism. The ideals of the bush legend fade as society “progresses.”

So while romanticizing the past, “On Kiley’s Run” provides evocative commentary on alienation from reductive modernity. Paterson sees the unsentimental new order severing vital links to Australian identity’s origins. His elegiac tribute continues to resonate.

On Kiley’s Run

The roving breezes come and go
On Kiley’s Run,
The sleepy river murmurs low,
And far away one dimly sees
Beyond the stretch of forest trees —
Beyond the foothills dusk and dun —
The ranges sleeping in the sun
On Kiley’s Run.

‘Tis many years since first I came
To Kiley’s Run,
More years than I would care to name
Since I, a stripling, used to ride
For miles and miles at Kiley’s side,
The while in stirring tones he told
The stories of the days of old
On Kiley’s Run.

I see the old bush homestead now
On Kiley’s Run,
Just nestled down beneath the brow
Of one small ridge above the sweep
Of river-flat, where willows weep
And jasmine flowers and roses bloom,
The air was laden with perfume
On Kiley’s Run.

We lived the good old station life
On Kiley’s Run,
With little thought of care or strife.
Old Kiley seldom used to roam,
He liked to make the Run his home,
The swagman never turned away
With empty hand at close of day
From Kiley’s Run.

We kept a racehorse now and then
On Kiley’s Run,
And neighb’ring stations brought their men
To meetings where the sport was free,
And dainty ladies came to see
Their champions ride; with laugh and song
The old house rang the whole night long
On Kiley’s Run.

The station hands were friends I wot
On Kiley’s Run,
A reckless, merry-hearted lot —
All splendid riders, and they knew
The `boss’ was kindness through and through.
Old Kiley always stood their friend,
And so they served him to the end
On Kiley’s Run.

But droughts and losses came apace
To Kiley’s Run,
Till ruin stared him in the face;
He toiled and toiled while lived the light,
He dreamed of overdrafts at night:
At length, because he could not pay,
His bankers took the stock away
From Kiley’s Run.

Old Kiley stood and saw them go
From Kiley’s Run.
The well-bred cattle marching slow;
His stockmen, mates for many a day,
They wrung his hand and went away.
Too old to make another start,
Old Kiley died — of broken heart,
On Kiley’s Run.

 .    .    .    .    .

The owner lives in England now
Of Kiley’s Run.
He knows a racehorse from a cow;
But that is all he knows of stock:
His chiefest care is how to dock
Expenses, and he sends from town
To cut the shearers’ wages down
On Kiley’s Run.

There are no neighbours anywhere
Near Kiley’s Run.
The hospitable homes are bare,
The gardens gone; for no pretence
Must hinder cutting down expense:
The homestead that we held so dear
Contains a half-paid overseer
On Kiley’s Run.

All life and sport and hope have died
On Kiley’s Run.
No longer there the stockmen ride;
For sour-faced boundary riders creep
On mongrel horses after sheep,
Through ranges where, at racing speed,
Old Kiley used to `wheel the lead’
On Kiley’s Run.

There runs a lane for thirty miles
Through Kiley’s Run.
On either side the herbage smiles,
But wretched trav’lling sheep must pass
Without a drink or blade of grass
Thro’ that long lane of death and shame:
The weary drovers curse the name
Of Kiley’s Run.

The name itself is changed of late
Of Kiley’s Run.
They call it Chandos Park Estate’. The lonely swagman through the dark Must hump his swag past Chandos Park. The name is English, don’t you see, The old name sweeter sounds to me Of Kiley’s Run’.

I cannot guess what fate will bring
To Kiley’s Run —
For chances come and changes ring —
I scarcely think ’twill always be
Locked up to suit an absentee;
And if he lets it out in farms
His tenants soon will carry arms
On Kiley’s Run.

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