The Overlander by Banjo Paterson

Paterson’s Tribute to Lives on the Fringes

This rollicking ballad by Banjo Paterson offers an amusing yet thought-provoking perspective on the Australian overlanders who droved cattle vast distances in the bush.

Adopting the voice of an overlander, Paterson details the trials and adventures of mustering a herd and driving them north to market. Vivid frontier images bring the demanding trek to life.

The Old Bush Songs

by Banjo Patterson

With dry wit, the overlander implies the role fosters resourcefulness and larrikin disregard for authority like squatters and police who impede progress. Refrains extolling the lifestyle romanticize their spirit.

Yet beneath the bravado are sobering hints at isolation and excess in the face of hardship – seeking fleeting connections with women, drinking to forget relentless migrancy.

While exaggerated for effect, the ballad provides nuanced social commentary on the itinerant pastoral economy that pushed workers to the fringes yet bred matehood. Paterson crafts an empathetic tribute to lives often misunderstood.

Ultimately, “The Overlander” gives lyrical voice to the legends and realities behind driving Australia’s prosperity – from duffers to dreaming. Paterson celebrates their place in folklore.


There’s a trade you all know well–
It’s bringing cattle over–
I’ll tell you all about the time
When I became a drover.
I made up my mind to try the spec,
To the Clarence I did wander,
And bought a mob of duffers there
To begin as an overlander.


Pass the wine cup round, my boys;
Don’t let the bottle stand there,
For to-night we’ll drink the health
Of every overlander.

Next morning counted the cattle
Saw the outfit ready to start,
Saw all the lads well mounted,
And their swags put in a cart.

All kinds of men I had
From France, Germany, and Flanders;
Lawyers, doctors, good and bad,
In the mob of overlanders.

Next morning I set out
When the grass was green and young;
And they swore they’d break my snout
If I did not move along.
I said, “You’re very hard;
Take care, don’t raise my dander,
For I’m a regular knowing card,
The Queensland overlander.”

‘Tis true we pay no license,
And our run is rather large;
‘Tis not often they can catch us,
So they cannot make a charge.
They think we live on store beef,
But no, I’m not a gander;
When a good fat stranger joins the mob,
“He’ll do,” says the overlander.

One day a squatter rode up.
Says he, “You’re on my run;
I’ve got two boys as witnesses.
Consider your stock in pound.”

I tried to coax, then bounce him,
But my tin I had to squander,
For he put threepence a head
On the mob of the overlander.

The pretty girls in Brisbane
Were hanging out their duds.
I wished to have a chat with them,
So steered straight for the tubs.
Some dirty urchins saw me,
And soon they raised my dander,
Crying, “Mother, quick! take in the clothes,
Here comes an overlander!”

In town we drain the wine cup,
And go to see the play,
And never think to be hard up
For how to pass the day.
Each has a sweetheart there,
Dressed out in all her grandeur–
Dark eyes and jet black flowing hair.
“She’s a plum,” says the overlander.

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