The Mistreatment of Workers in the Bush Ballad
Adopting the voice of a struggling new arrival, Paterson satirizes the exploitation of laborers by wealthy squatters in colonial Australia.
The squatter ruthlessly piles multiple demanding duties onto the naïve migrant, who had envisioned a more dignified living. Backbreaking work like hauling wood and water is conveyed through vivid frontier imagery.
The Old Bush Songs
by Banjo Patterson
Paterson humorously juxtaposes the squatter’s grandiose manor against the “old bark hut” hovel the worker is relegated to. Details like being mauled by dogs add comic absurdity.
The mocking refrain about obediently answering “yes sir” and “no sir” implies the migrant is treated like a indentured servant, not an employee. Escaping to join outlaws seems a better fate.
While exaggerated for effect, Paterson sheds light on the harsh working conditions and mistreatment of Australia’s laboring poor. He gives a voice to their exploitation and dashed hopes.
So “The Squatter’s Man” entertainingly inverts the power dynamic between masters and manual laborers in colonial Australia. Paterson satirizes pastoral life by exposing its grim underbelly.
THE SQUATTER’S MAN
Come, all ye lads an’ list to me,
That’s left your homes an’ crossed the sea,
To try your fortune, bound or free,
All in this golden land.
For twelve long months I had to pace,
Humping my swag with a cadging face,
Sleeping in the bush, like the sable race,
As in my song you’ll understand.
Unto this country I did come,
A regular out-and-out new chum.
I then abhorred the sight of rum–
Teetotal was my plan.
But soon I learned to wet one eye–
Misfortune oft-times made me sigh.
To raise fresh funds I was forced to fly,
And be a squatter’s man.
Soon at a station I appeared.
I saw the squatter with his beard,
And up to him I boldly steered,
With my swag and billy-can.
I said, “Kind sir, I want a job!”
Said he, “Do you know how to snob
Or can you break in a bucking cob?”
Whilst my figure he well did scan.
“‘Tis now I want a useful cove
To stop at home and not to rove.
The scamps go about–a regular drove–
I ‘spose you’re one of the clan?
But I’ll give ten–ten, sugar an’ tea;
Ten bob a week, if you’ll suit me,
And very soon I hope you’ll be
A handy squatter’s man.
“At daylight you must milk the cows,
Make butter, cheese, an’ feed the sows,
Put on the kettle, the cook arouse,
And clean the family shoes.
The stable an’ sheep yard clean out,
And always answer when we shout,
With ‘Yes, ma’am,’ and ‘No, sir,’ mind your
And my youngsters don’t abuse.
“You must fetch wood an’ water, bake an’ boil,
Act as butcher when we kill;
The corn an’ taters you must hill,
Keep the garden spick and span.
You must not scruple in the rain
To take to market all the grain.
Be sure you come sober back again
To be a squatter’s man.”
He sent me to an old bark hut,
Inhabited by a greyhound slut,
Who put her fangs through my poor fut,
And, snarling, off she ran.
So once more I’m looking for a job,
Without a copper in my fob.
With Ben Hall or Gardiner I’d rather rob,
Than be a squatter’s man.
“Do you know how to snob?”–A snob in English slang is
a bootmaker, so the squatter wanted his man to do a bit of
“I’ll give ten, ten, sugar and tea.”–The “ten, ten” refers
to the amount–ten pounds weight–of flour and meat that
made up the weekly ration on the stations.