Paddy’s Letter 1857 by Banjo Paterson

Paddy O’Rourke’s Poetic Tales from the Bush

This lengthy narrative poem adopts the voice of a newly arrived Irish immigrant in Australia, Paddy O’Rourke, writing home about his difficult experiences in the colonial bush.

Paddy describes the harsh realities behind the romantic notion of life “down under.” Through vivid anecdotes, Paterson reveals the exploitation of workers, racism towards Indigenous peoples, and the isolating dangers faced by settlers.

The Old Bush Songs

by Banjo Patterson

Paddy tries to shield his family from the extent of his troubles, making light of things like the flimsy roofing and astronomical living conditions. But grim stories slip through about a friend’s family attacked by Aborigines and magistrates abusing powers.

The poem humanizes the immigrant struggle to subsist in an alien and unforgiving landscape. Paddy’s closing advice to share the letter with others if his family can’t read suggests how new arrivals relied on community.

Written in Paddy’s authentic Irish dialect, the letter adds color and empathy to a pioneer-era viewpoint. Paterson brings the immigrant experience down under to life through touching and candid stories from the frontier delivered in Paddy’s distinctive, melancholic voice.

So while humorous in tone, “Paddy’s Letter” documents the profound challenges faced by early European settlers in Australia. Through Paddy’s eyes we see the reality behind the romantic myths of colonial life.


I’ve had all sorts of luck, sometimes bad, sometimes better,
But now I have somebody’s luck and my own,
For I stooped in the street and I picked up a letter,
Which some one had written to send away home.

The old adage says, “What you find, you may keep it,”
And as most of these old sayings are very true,
I straight broke the seal, and then having read it,
The contents of this letter I tell unto you.

             The Letter

Dear Dermot, I hope when this letter gets to you
‘Twill find you in health, as now it leaves me;
But I hope you’re more happy than I am in Australia–
If not, it’s small comfort that you have, achree!

Hard fortune’s been mine since crossing the line,
Though that same I ne’er saw, for we crossed it at night;
But they say ’twas laid down at expense of the Crown,
To divide the wrong side of the world from the right.

But what should a boy placed in my situation
Know about lines laid across the big sea!
But, faith, this I know, and without navigation,
I’m at the wrong side of the line, anyway.

I’m telling you now how strange seasons fall.
We have here rain and sleet in the month of July,
And hailstones as big as a small cannon-ball–
And they do as much harm–not a word of a lie!

But the making of magistrates now all the rage is,
And every flockmaster’s a justice of peace;
They find it so easy to cancel the wages,
The law is their own and they rob whom they please.

Pat Murphy’s boy Tim, that married Moll Casey,
Lives on the Barcoo that’s away in the bush.
Himself and the wife, why they lived mighty aisy,
Till one day on Tim, oh, the blacks they did rush.

They killed little Paddy, but spared the young baby,
Because it was sickly–I think it was that–
And while Molly was crying, a gin said, “No habbie
Your thin picaninny–well wait till it’s fat.”

‘Tis a beautiful country to practise economy.
Though the houses out here are not quite waterproof,
But they’re illigant houses for studying astronomy–
You can lie on your back and read stars through the roof

P.S.–This is cramped–if there’s no one to read it,
Send for Tim Murphy, he’ll know every stroke.
Ye all have my blessing, I know that yell need it,
So no more at present from Teddy O’Rourke.

The above to an old tune called “Barney O’Keefe,” 1848.

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