Saltbush Bill’s Gamecock by Banjo Paterson

Saltbush Bill’s Gamecock by Banjo Paterson

Aussies vs Poms

This comic bush ballad pokes fun at stubborn British cultural chauvinism through an amusing animal rivalry. Paterson uses irony and Australian vernacular to caution against arrogant closed-mindedness.

The poem ‘Saltbush Bill’s Gamecock‘ sets up a clash between an Australian bush drover and a British immigrant obsessed with the superiority of English gamecocks. Their bird-fighting contest becomes a metaphor for conflicting national identities.

Paterson revels in the Australian archetype of “Saltbush Bill” outwitting the pompous British traditionalist through an absurd ruse, substituting an emu for a gamecock. The anti-climax of the emu sending Rooster Hall’s group fleeing satirizes their overconfidence and visceral fear of being bested.

Rooster Hall’s furious reaction underscores his insecurity, despite blustering faith in British breeding. By depicting Hall’s assault over wounded pride as “justified”, Paterson sarcastically highlights the irrationality of unchecked prejudice.

  • The poem was first published in 1898 as part of the Brooks’s Australian Xmas Annual, adding to the canon of Banjo Paterson’s bush ballads.
  • It features the character Saltbush Bill, who appeared in several of Paterson’s poems. Bill embodied the resourceful, itinerant spirit of the Australian bushman.
  • Saltbush Bill was one of Paterson’s most well-known and beloved bush characters, starring in a total of five poems over the years.
  • This particular humorous ballad highlighted Bill’s cunning as he outsmarts a boastful British immigrant by entering an emu in a cockfight rather than a real gamecock.
  • Saltbush Bill’s popularity endures as a quintessential Aussie archetype who always manages to get the better of pompous characters still attached to the old British ways.
  • The poem’s depiction of Bill’s clash with the immigrant obsessed with English gamecocks would have resonated with Australians in the late 1800s as a newly independent national identity emerged.

With humorous exaggeration, Paterson ultimately cautions against stubborn cultural elitism in a changing society. He promotes open-mindedness to new identities emerging in post-colonial Australia.

Saltbush Bill’s Gamecock

’Twas Saltbush Bill, with his travelling sheep, was making his way to town;
He crossed them over the Hard Times Run, and he came to the Take ’Em Down;
He counted through at the boundary gate, and camped at the drafting yard:
For Stingy Smith, of the Hard Times Run, had hunted him rather hard.
He bore no malice to Stingy Smith—’twas simply the hand of Fate
That caused his waggon to swerve aside and shatter old Stingy’s gate;
And being only the hand of Fate, it follows, without a doubt,
It wasn’t the fault of Saltbush Bill that Stingy’s sheep got out.
So Saltbush Bill, with an easy heart, prepared for what might befall,
Commenced his stages on Take ’Em Down, the station of Rooster Hall.

’Tis strange how often the men out back will take to some curious craft,
Some ruling passion to keep their thoughts away from the overdraft;
And Rooster Hall, of the Take ’Em Down, was widely known to fame
As breeder of champion fighting cocks—his forte was the British Game.
The passing stranger within his gates that camped with old Rooster Hall
Was forced to talk about fowls all night, or else not talk at all.
Though droughts should come, and though sheep should die, his fowls were his sole delight:
He left his shed in the flood of work to watch two game-cocks fight
He held in scorn the Australian Game, that long-legged child of sin;
In a desperate fight, with the steel-tipped spurs, the British game must win!
The Australian bird was a mongrel bird, with a touch of the jungle cock;
The want of breeding must find him out, when facing the English stock;
For British breeding, and British pluck, must triumph it over all—
And that was the root of the simple creed that governed old Rooster Hall.

’Twas Saltbush Bill to the station rode ahead of his travelling sheep,
And sent a message to Rooster Hall that wakened him out of his sleep—
A crafty message that fetched him out, and hurried him as he came—
“A drover has an Australian bird to match with your British Game.”
’Twas done, and done in half a trice; a five-pound note aside;
Old Rooster Hall, with his champion bird, and the drover’s bird untried.
“Steel spurs, of course?” said old Rooster Hall; “you’ll need ’em, without a doubt!”
“You stick the spurs on your bird!” said Bill, “but mine fights best without.”
“Fights best without?” said old Rooster Hall; “he can’t fight best unspurred!
You must be crazy!” But Saltbush Bill said, “Wait till you see my bird!”
So Rooster Hall to his fowl-yard went, and quickly back he came,
Bearing a clipt and a shaven cock, the pride of his English Game;
With an eye as fierce as an eaglehawk, and a crow like a trumpet call,
He strutted about on the garden walk, and cackled at Rooster Hall.
Then Rooster Hall sent off a boy with a word to his cronies two,
McCrae (the boss of the Black Police) and Father Donahoo.
Full many a cockfight old McCrae had held in his empty Court,
With Father D. as the picker-up—a regular all-round Sport!
They got the message of Rooster Hall, and down to his run they came,
Prepared to scoff at the drover’s bird, and to bet on the English Game;
They hied them off to the drover’s camp, while Saltbush rode before—
Old Rooster Hall was a blithesome man, when he thought of the treat in store.
They reached the camp, where the drover’s cook, with countenance all serene,
Was boiling beef in an iron pot, but never a fowl was seen.

“Take off the beef from the fire,” said Bill, “and wait till you see the fight;
There’s something fresh for the bill-of-fare—there’s game-fowl stew tonight!
For Mister Hall has a fighting cock, all feathered and clipped and spurred;
And he’s fetched him here, for a bit of sport, to fight our Australian bird.
I’ve made a match that our pet will win, though he’s hardly a fighting cock,
But he’s game enough, and it’s many a mile that he’s tramped with the travelling stock.”
The cook he banged on a saucepan lid; and, soon as the sound was heard,
Under the dray, in the shallow hid, a something moved and stirred:
A great tame emu strutted out. Said Saltbush, “Here’s our bird!”
But Rooster Hall, and his cronies two, drove home without a word.

The passing stranger within his gates that camps with old Rooster Hall
Must talk about something else than fowls, if he wishes to talk at all.
For the record lies in the local Court, and filed in its deepest vault,
That Peter Hall, of the Take ’Em Down, was tried for a fierce assault
On a stranger man, who, in all good faith, and prompted by what be heard,
Had asked old Hall if a British Game could beat an Australian bird;
And Old McCrae, who was on the Bench, as soon as the case was tried,
Remarked, “Discharged with a clean discharge—the assault was justified!”

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