Paterson’s Nostalgic Portrayal of Itinerant Mateship
This humorous folk ballad depicts a group of rambling rural workers spending their earnings at a roadside pub en route to Sydney from a shearing job.
Paterson affectionately satirizes the iconic Aussie “blokes’ weekend” full of drinking, carousing and fleeting romances. Vivid slang like “humping our blues” and “knocking down our cheque” adds authenticity.
The Old Bush Songs
by Banjo Patterson
The carefree spirit of mateship and adventure rings through as the men revel in their freedom. But Paterson also hints at the transience and loneliness underlying itinerant outback life.
The pub, humorously called Lazy Harry’s, provides a lively respite from their hard work but cannot detain them long. The temporary escape ends when funds dry up.
While exaggerated for comic effect, the ballad carries touches of wistfulness about drifting on after camaraderie. Paterson evokes the blend of pleasure and aimlessness in the classic Australian “walkabout“.
So with dry wit, “On the Road to Gundagai” encapsulates the footloose existence of rural workers amusingly indulging themselves between jobs. Paterson captures the spirit of mateship along with the inherent impermanence.
ON THE ROAD TO GUNDAGAI
Oh, we started down from Roto when the sheds had all cut
We’d whips and whips of Rhino as we meant to push about,
So we humped our blues serenely and made for Sydney
With a three-spot cheque between us, as wanted knocking
But we camped at Lazy Harry’s, on the road to Gundagai
The road to Gundagai! Not five miles from Gundagai!
Yes, we camped at Lazy Harry’s, on the road to Gundagai.
Well, we struck the Murrumbidgee near the Yanko in a
And passed through old Narrandera and crossed the Burnet
And we never stopped at Wagga, for we’d Sydney in our eye.
But we camped at Lazy Harry’s, on the road to Gundagai.
Chorus: But we camped, &c.
Oh, I’ve seen a lot of girls, my boys, and drunk a lot of beer,
And I’ve met with some of both, chaps, as has left me mighty
But for beer to knock you sideways, and for girls to make
You must camp at Lazy Harry’s, on the road to Gundagai.
Well, we chucked our blooming swags off, and we walked
into the bar,
And we called for rum-an’-raspb’ry and a shilling each cigar.
But the girl that served the pizen, she winked at Bill and I–
And we camped at Lazy Harry’s, not five miles from
In a week the spree was over and the cheque was all knocked
So we shouldered our “Matildas,” and we turned our backs
And the girls they stood a nobbler as we sadly said “Good
And we tramped from Lazy Harry’s, not five miles from
Chorus: And we tramped, &c.
“Humped our blues serenely.”–To hump bluey is to carry
one’s swag, and the name bluey comes from the blue blankets.
To “Shoulder Matilda” is the same thing as to “hump