The Old Suvey by Bajo Paterson

Celebrating the Spirit of the Outback Surveyor

This ballad offers a romanticized view of the challenging work performed by surveyors in Australia’s early colonial days.

Adopting the voice of a surveyor, Paterson describes the adventure and freedom of traversing the wild terrain to map out new settlements and borders. Riding out when funds run dry, the survey life is portrayed as one of independence and camaraderie.

The Old Bush Songs

by Banjo Patterson

Vivid frontier imagery evokes the enormity of the landscape from mountain peaks to endless snow that the surveyors traverse. Technical surveying terms like “theodolite” and “drag the chain” add authenticity.

The repetitive “theodolite-tum” chorus gives a rhythmic momentum, mimicking the trotting hooves of the surveyors’ horses. The song creates nostalgia for the past glory days of surveying the new frontier.

While selective in focusing on the excitement rather than hardships, the ballad encapsulates the significance of 19th century surveyors in exploring and delineating the Australian interior. Their work enabled expansion and development.

By characterizing surveying as a bold adventure, Paterson mythologizes another outback profession. His lyrical portrait ignores the arduous reality while celebrating the freedom, questing spirit, and national importance of these pioneer surveyors in opening up the bush.

So through folksy romanticism, “The Old Survey” pays tribute to the surveyors who mapped Australia’s boundaries and created pathways into the vast interior and beyond the snowline.


Our money’s all spent, to the deuce went it!
The landlord, he looks glum,
On the tap-room wall, in a very bad scrawl,
He has chalked to us a sum.
But a glass we’ll take, ere the grey dawn break,
And then saddle up and away–
Theodolite-tum, theodolite-ti, theodolite-too-ral-ay.

With a measured beat fall our horses’ feet,
Galloping side by side;
When the money’s done, and we’ve had our fun,
We all are bound to ride.
O’er the far-off plain we’ll drag the chain,
And mark the settler’s way–
Theodolite-tum, theodolite-ti, theodolite-too-ral-ay.

We’ll range from the creeks to the mountain peaks,
And traverse far below;
Where foot never trod, we’ll mark with a rod
The limits of endless snow;

Each lofty crag we’ll plant with a flag,
To flash in the sun’s bright ray–
Theodolite-tum, theodolite-ti, theodolite-too-ral-ay.

Till with cash hard-earned once more returned,
At “The Beaver” bars we’ll shout;
And the very bad scrawl that’s against the wall
Ourselves shall see wiped out.
Such were the ways in the good old days!–
The days of the old survey!
Theodolite-tum, theodolite-ti, theodolite-too-ral-ay.

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