The Shepherd by Banjo Paterson

Paterson’s Perspective on the Fickle Bush Fortunes

This ballad by Banjo Paterson offers thoughtful perspective on the cyclical and unforgiving nature of outback life for Australian rural workers like shepherds.

Paterson traces the same man across three vignettes, each presenting a different facet of his circumstances. At first content in his solitary station routine, the shepherd then indulges in fleeting revelry when paid, before ending up broke and alone again.

The Old Bush Songs

by Banjo Patterson

The vivid details – wearing fine clothes then reverting to rags, drinking champagne then trudging with a swag – convey the pendulum swing between security and dispossession in the bush. Fates could turn quickly.

While avoiding judgment on the shepherd’s choices, Paterson insightfully reveals the limited options and dreams for those in harsh transient roles. Moments of escapism proved temporary before obligations reclaimed them.

Ultimately, the ballad provides nuanced social commentary on the cycles of joy and sorrow in the outback, where meager comforts were relished but never lasted. Paterson gives a poetic glimpse into realities behind pastoral romanticism.


(Air: “She Wore a Wreath of Roses.”)

He wore an old blue shirt the night that first we met,
An old and tattered cabbage-tree concealed his locks of jet;
His footsteps had a languor, his voice a husky tone;
Both man and dog were spent with toil as they slowly
wandered home.


I saw him but a moment–yet methinks I see him now–
While his sheep were gently feeding ‘neath the rugged
mountain brow.

When next we met, the old blue shirt and cabbage-tree were
A brand new suit of tweed and “Doctor Dod” he had put on;
Arm in arm with him was one who strove, and not in vain,
To ease his pockets of their load by drinking real champagne.

I saw him but a moment, and he was going a pace,
Shouting nobbler after nobbler, with a smile upon his

When next again I saw that man his suit of tweed was gone,
The old blue shirt and cabbage-tree once more he had put on;
Slowly he trudged along the road and took the well-known
From the station he so lately left with a swag upon his back.

I saw him but a moment as he was walking by
With two black eyes and broken nose and a tear-drop
in his eye.

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