For the word had passed around/ that the colt from Old Regret had got away
And joined the wild bush horses./ He was worth a thousand pound/
And all the cracks had gathered to the fray . . .”
Thus begins one of the most famous poems in Australian literature, one of a few made into a movie (two, the first one sticks with the poem, the second, yeah, well, I like both of them, so nyah.) The title is “The Man from Snowy River” by A. B. “Banjo” Patterson. Patterson and Rudyard Kipling are probably the two of the best horse-poets ever, in terms of capturing the sense of motion and energy in horses. They are also both Romantics, in the sense of emotion and story.
Like Kipling, Patterson was proud of his country, and played up the strengths of Australia and her people. He has been accused of romanticising life in the Bush (and the Outback), and the charge is true, as it is of Kipling to an extent. But both men also wrote about hardships, loneliness, and pain.
If modern readers know Patterson, it is “Walzing Matilda” and “The Man from Snowy River.” I also love “Brumby’s Run,” “The Drover’s Horse,” and feel a lot of sympathy for the narrator of “Clancy of the Overflow.” (Clancy appears in several poems, including “Snowy River.”)
Brumby is the Aussie term for a wild horse. Mob is a herd of animals (horses, sheep, kangaroos). The poem came from a court case, and a judge who inquired who Brumby was, and where was his run (ranch).
It lies beyond the Western Pines
Towards the sinking sun,
And not a survey mark defines
The bounds of “Brumby’s Run”.
On odds and ends of mountain land,
On tracks of range and rock
Where no one else can make a stand,
Old Brumby rears his stock.
A wild, unhandled lot they are
Of every shape and breed.
They venture out ‘neath moon and star
Along the flats to feed;
But when the dawn makes pink the sky
And steals along the plain,
The Brumby horses turn and fly
Towards the hills again.
The traveller by the mountain-track
May hear their hoof-beats pass,
And catch a glimpse of brown and black
Dim shadows on the grass.
The eager stockhorse pricks his ears
And lifts his head on high
In wild excitement when he hears
The Brumby mob go by.
Old Brumby asks no price or fee
O’er all his wide domains:
The man who yards his stock is free
To keep them for his pains.
So, off to scour the mountain-side
With eager eyes aglow,
To strongholds where the wild mobs hide
The gully-rakers go.
A rush of horses through the trees,
A red shirt making play;
A sound of stockwhips on the breeze,
They vanish far away!
Ah, me! before our day is done
We long with bitter pain
To ride once more on Brumby’s Run
And yard his mob again.
Some time ago, not long after I got to visit Australia for several weeks, PBS had a program on about Patterson’s poems, with several dramatized. That’s when I first heard “Brumby’s Run.” Mom and Dad managed to pull off a minor miracle (we’re talking late 1980s) and got a copy of Patterson’s poems, with many of the illustrations that were done for a special WWI ANZAC pocket edition. Yes, he was so popular that the troopers carried a small edition of his work with them. A similar edition of Kipling was also made, and I have a very tattered copy of one of those. Anyway. I now have a few tapes of Patterson set to music, as well as the book.
Yes, I like him almost as well as I do Kipling and a few others. I memorized almost half of “The Man from Snowy River.” Having seen that country, I can attest to the descriptions of that land. “The Drover’s Boy” also sticks in my memory. It is not a pretty story, but . . . it is very human, and tells a bit of Australian history that’s ugly, but also in this case beautiful. It leaves a lot of questions floating in the air, and the story it tells is terribly bad by modern standards. But you still feel sympathy for the characters, which shows just how good Patterson was.