building Australian railroads

The Flying Gang by Banjo Paterson

Celebrating the Railways – An Analysis of ‘The Flying Gang’ by Banjo Paterson

Banjo Paterson’s exhilarating poem ‘The Flying Gang’ pay tribute to the excitement and importance of railways in colonial Australia. Adopting the perspective of a veteran rail worker, Paterson vividly depicts the thrills of traveling at high speed to repair damaged tracks.

The poem immediately pulls us into the action as the speaker establishes his credentials as head of the ‘Flying Gang’ – an elite maintenance crew ready to rush to the site of an emergency. Their expertise and courage is highlighted through the dramatic summons to leap into action when word comes of a collapsed bridge.

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

Vibrant imagery evokes the gang’s dramatic departures from town, steam engine pounding as they race off into the landscape. The scene is memorably brought to life through sights, sounds and motion. The workers take pride in their daring role, providing a vital service.

Paterson emphasizes the sheer speed and urgency of their missions, suspended above the blurs of bush and tracks. His repetition of “the pilot MUST go by” powerfully conveys their authority and the necessity of their reckless velocity, forcing all other trains aside.

Yet the poem also appreciates the majesty of railways linking remote communities and taming the harsh Australian terrain. The pilot engine both conquers and harmonizes with the environment, harnessing steam power for human progress.

Written in an infectious rhythm mimicking the movement of the train, ‘The Flying Gang’ celebrates the railways as an icon of modernity, engineering and mateship. Paterson’s admiration for the workers’ skill and community spirit continues to resonate today.

The Flying Gang

I served my time, in the days gone by,
In the railway’s clash and clang,
And I worked my way to the end, and I
Was the head of the Flying Gang’. Twas a chosen band that was kept at hand
In case of an urgent need,
Was it south or north we were started forth,
And away at our utmost speed.
If word reached town that a bridge was down,
The imperious summons rang —
`Come out with the pilot engine sharp,
And away with the flying gang.’

Then a piercing scream and a rush of steam
As the engine moved ahead,
With a measured beat by the slum and street
Of the busy town we fled,
By the uplands bright and the homesteads white,
With the rush of the western gale,
And the pilot swayed with the pace we made
As she rocked on the ringing rail.
And the country children clapped their hands
As the engine’s echoes rang,
But their elders said: `There is work ahead
When they send for the flying gang.’

Then across the miles of the saltbush plain
That gleamed with the morning dew,
Where the grasses waved like the ripening grain
The pilot engine flew,
A fiery rush in the open bush
Where the grade marks seemed to fly,
And the order sped on the wires ahead,
The pilot MUST go by.
The Governor’s special must stand aside,
And the fast express go hang,
Let your orders be that the line is free
For the boys of the flying gang.

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