Poems of the Australian Bush

A selection of poems of the Australian Bush that helped define the ‘Aussie myth’.
Yes … the ‘Aussie myth’. The myth that Aussies have this vital connection with ‘the bush’, ‘the outback’ ‘the scrub’, when in fact over 90% of us live in urban climes and have never lived in the bush. Still, the connection is real.

Now whether it’s a throw back to our nation’s founding years as we painstakingly extracted a life from this hostile dry land or the fact that for over a century Australia’s fortunes ‘rode on the sheep’s back’ … or deeper yet, that somehow we have imbibed the spirit of the First Australians, whose connection with the land completely defines them. Whatever the reason, our connection with the bush is real … and bush poets, like those listed below, have captured that sentiment with their sprinkling use of the Aussie vernacular, their flowing rhymes and their vivid imagery.

As our Government’s website says “The bush was a symbol for a national life and yet, by 1910, most Australians were urban. The bush myth has endured as novelists, poets, and artists continue to use it for inspiration. Elements of bush culture have been absorbed into mainstream Australian life through music, pop songs, clothing, slang, arts and architecture.”

I hope you enjoy … these poems of the Australian bush.

 Introduction – Poems of the Australian Bush

From the first day of European settlement in 1788, Australia presented as a confronting, hostile and alien place for both convict and colonist alike. It soon became apparent that those striking but incessant clear blue skies, were the root cause of a harsh searing heat that soon turned any living green into shades of dying brown.
The undertone simmering beneath the vast majority of our poems from the ‘bush poet’s era’, deal with this heat and the vastness, harshness and isolation of the Australian outback. Still, these themes are not treated negatively, but rather, they set a backdrop for those loved heroes and wily characters in the poems to shine. It is this contrast between a savage, unforgiving land and the courageous spirit of the men and women of the ‘outback’ who overcame these challengers, that binds the poet’s words close to our hearts. These poets have told the stories of these stockmen, drovers, shearers, bullockies, swaggmen and their families in such a way as to make the average Aussie believe that they are actually reading it about themselves.
Now writing about the hard but proud life of the outback for the new pioneering nation, these poets have tended to disregard the frills and niceties of literary style. They knew full well, that their audience was the ordinary Australian, whose preference was for a style full of life and vigor and imbibing, wherever possible, the typical Australian humour – dry and understated.
These poems may never rank internationally nor gain prominence in the great literary halls, but to us Australians, they are the cultural taproots that define us as a people, comfort us when spirits are low and most importantly … help us to laugh at ourselves when we become too serious, too pompous or too ‘full of our own self importance’.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but it will do me. My hope is that in reading this selection, you will be inspired to do your own research into the many thousand poems of the Australian bush, to find your special selection. Peter.
P.S. If you are looking for Waltzing Matilda … Click Here

 ‘The Man from Snowy River’

 



The Man from Snowy River is arguably Australia’s most famous poem. All Aussies can at least recite the first sentence if not the whole opening stanza. Still, it is less about the poetry than it is about the way many urbanised Australians would like to see themselves: showing that grit and determination of the Man from Snowy River, with his willingness to have a go against the odds. It also captures a barracking for the underdog which is an enduring part of the Aussie make up. The poet, A.B. (‘Banjo’) Paterson (1864–1941) spent much of his early years in the Yass district of New South Wales. From here he first witnessed the skills of the horsemen of the ‘high country’ in the Kosciuszko country and was able to capture their spirit in this epic story and to model it as an example for us all.

 

 

What people have said ….

 

Banjo Paterson and ‘The man from Snowy River’ features on the Aussie $10 note
Micro printed behind the horse and rider is the poem itself.

One of my favorite poems and movies, reading it now, brought a tear to my eye with just the beauty of the write, sweeping us along with imagery as we seem to be with them for the ride. This is excellence!

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This is one of my favourites. A real aussie true battler story both with the horses and men.

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I have always enjoyed this one. It really gets inside of you. A part of all Aussies I think. One of the underdogs have made a mark in history.

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A really good poem, its un Australian to not know the first paragraph!!!

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I love this poem and I love the country in which it is set. I think it truly epitomises what makes this nation great.

Poems of the Australian Bush

Other interesting facts …

Such is the significance of this poem that it opened the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games

Cliff Crane, a Banjo Paterson enthusiast and historian, talks on national radio about ‘The man from Snowy River’ Click Here

Was Jack Riley, the legendary horse man from Ireland, the Man from Snowy River? Jack lived in isolation in a hut high up in the hills at Tom Groggin and he loved the Snowy Mountain Country. Jack Riley and Banjo Paterson went on a camping trip and trekked the Kosciusko Ranges and the Snowys. Jack Riley would have shared many campfires and yarns and most probable provided an inspirational journey and material for Banjo to write his now famous poem. Jack Riley was buried at the Corryong cemetery in 1914 and the good people of Corryong celebrate Jack Riley’s contribution to there heratage at The man from Snowy River Bush Festival each year. Click Here to read more.
For another audio/visual recording of an Aussie reciting this poem. Click Here
Poems of the Australian Bush

 

 

 ‘I love a Sunburnt Country’

 



On 5 September 1908 a poem, ‘Core of My Heart’, which she had written about 1904, appeared in the London Spectator. It reappeared several times in Australia before being included as ‘My Country’ in her first book, The Closed Door, and Other Verses (Melbourne, 1911). During World War I and as a result of its frequent inclusion in anthologies, ‘My Country’ became one of the best-known Australian poems, appealing to the sense of patriotism fostered by the war and post-war nationalism.

She was appointed O.B.E. just before she died on 14 January 1968 in the Scottish Hospital, Paddington, after a fall at home. She was cremated after a service at St Mark’s Anglican Church, Darling Point, and her ashes laid in the family vault in Waverley cemetery.

Dorothea MacKellar wikipedia.org
ISOBEL MARION DOROTHEA MACKELLAR, was born on 1 JulY 1885 at Dunara, Point Piper, Sydney, third child and only daughter of native-born parents (Sir) Charles Kinnaird Mackellar, physician, and his wife Marion, daughter of Thomas Buckland. 

She was educated at home and traveled extensively with her parents, becoming fluent in French, Spanish, German and Italian, and also attended some lectures at the University of Sydney.

Her youth was protected and highly civilized. She moved easily between the society of Sydney’s intellectual and administrative elite, life on her family’s country properties, and among their friends in London.

Dorothea MacKellar anu.edu.au

 

What people have said ….
 

 

Core of my Heart – absoluteastronomy.com

When I heard this poem I got goosepimples, I still do. In my opinion this really describes my adapted country, its beauty, the cruelty of the seasons, the silence, the smell of the eucalypts after the rain, the wild birds, the difference of all the other countries I have visited – and most of all the love and respect she feels for this incredible sunburnt country…..which is shared by me.

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what a tear jerker! I miss my sunburnt country and this poem really rips at ones soul.. 

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This poem has twice the impact if you are living away from Australia, as I am. Australia is unique and Australians are very lucky to live there.Many may never realize it until they move or travel overseas.Often think of the first verse- says it all. 

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When I read the comments, the ache and the longing for Australia washed over me again – an Aussie on exile in Canada. It is the land, the bush that I miss the most……the sight and smell of the gum trees, the dirt, the “wide brown land” as Dorothea Mackellar writes. The land that my forbears farmed is in my blood forever.

Poems of the Australian Bush 
Other interesting facts …
Australia – A sunburnt country

To celebrate one hundred years since the English magazine ‘The Spectator’ first published Dorothea Mackellar’s poem, accomplished photographer and television journalist Peter Luck has produced a spectacular collection of photographs to compliment the beauty of the poem itself. For a beautiful pictorial tribute dedicated to Dorethea Mackellar’s ‘My Country’ Click Here or the image below. Dorothea Mackellar’s grave. Click Here

Peter Luck’s Tribute to Dorethea Mackellar’s ‘I love a sunburnt Country” Click Image to see all photos.
Poems of the Australian Bush

 ‘The Play’

“The Play” by C J Dennis was inspired by an incident in 1913, when he saw a couple obviously out of their element seated in the stalls at a performance of “Romeo and Juliet.” They were holding hands and appeared quite carried away by Shakespeare’s immortal story, in which they, perhaps, saw something of their own romance. Always on the qui vive for material, Dennis chatted with the man during the interval, and as a result was inspired to write this incident in the love story of the Bloke and Doreen.

Clarence Michael James Dennis was born of Irish descent in Auburn, on 7 September 1876. He produced several thousand poems and other works by the time he died at the age of 62 in 1938. He is buried at Boxhill Cemetery (Melbourne). After his death, Prime Minister J. Lyons said; “He created characters which have become immortal and he captured the true Australian spirit”. 

 

What people have said ….
 

This is an old favourite of mine. I think it should have a glossary for the early Australian slang in it. Most Americans wouldn’t know that “stoush” means a fight, for instance. 

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Poems of the Australian Bush

 

Other interesting facts …

 

Sentimental Bloke middlemiss.org

‘The Play’ was one of the poems included in The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke. It was the first of CJ Dennis’s “verse novels” and was illustrated by Hal Gye. First published in 1915 by Angus & Robertson of Sydney, and within eighteen months it had sold 66,000 copies and Dennis had captured the imagination of a nation.

This poem was originally published in The Bulletin, 16 July 1914.
Poems of the Australian Bush

 ‘Clancy of the Overflow’

 



 

The title comes from the address of a letter the city-dweller sends, “The Overflow” being the name of the sheep station where Clancy was working when they met. 

The poem is based on a true story that was experienced by Banjo Paterson. He was working as a lawyer when someone asked him to send a letter to a man named Thomas Gerald Clancy, asking for a payment that was never received. Banjo sent the letter to “The Overflow”

 

 

What people have said ….
Strike me pink, I really love this and I know it off by heart. I say it to myself when I have a long drive and I can see the country that Clancy loved, right outside my car window. True blue Australia. Thank you, Banjo for one of the rippers of literature.
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I learnt this poem in school many years ago. Growing up on a property in the Australian Bush I have always related to the description of the droving life and to the concept that someone who lives the life of an itinerant worker in the bush would not “suit the office”.My favourite line is “And at night the wond’rous glory of the everlasting stars.” for I have also seen them and they still have a profound effect.
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Banjo Paterson was much more than an “armchair” drover. He really knew what it was to live and feel the life out in the Australian Bush. And yet he choose to spend most of his life in the big cities, and who’s to say whether that wasn’t a better choice.
Poems of the Australian Bush

 

 ‘The Man from Ironbark’

 

 




Banjo Paterson first published ‘The Man from Ironbark‘  poem in The Bulletin on 17 December 1892. 

 

 

What people have said ….

 

 

this is an aussie poem at its best. and when read with the accent, it just gets better. 

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It still makes me laugh, it did when I was eleven and still, now that I`m much older. What a great heirloom to pass onto the next generations. 

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A tune was attached to this poem some years ago by Wallis & Matilda and it’s just great – so easy to remember as a song. it has a wonderful larrakin nature to it and I can really imagine this happening back in the mining towns when they had to make their own amusement.

 Poems of the Australian Bush

 

Other interesting facts about Banjo Paterson …

 

  • Born the eldest of seven children at Narrambla, near Orange on 17 February 1864. 
  • When he was 7 his parents, Andrew Bogle and Rose Isabella Paterson moved to the grazing station Illalong in the Yass district. It was on the main trading route between Sydney and Melbourne.
  • At the age of ten years was sent to live with his widowed grandmother Emily May Barton in Gladesville as he attended the Sydney Grammar School.
  • At 16-year-old Paterson was articled to a Sydney firm of solicitors, Spain and Herbert Salway in William Street, and was admitted as a solicitor on 28 August 1886.
  • In 1886 he formed a legal partnership as Street & Paterson then located on Bond Street Sydney.
  • He wrote poems for The Bulletin under the name “B” or “Banjo”
  • “Banjo” was the name of a racehorse the family once owned  
  • He was known as ‘Barty’ to his close family
  • To Banjo, Australia was “a cheery land inhabited by salt-of-the-earth characters who met adversity with pluck, ingenuity, and the laconic wit of the outback”
  • To Banjo, The man from Snowy River “was everybody, a metaphor for how Australia saw itself: a nation of quiet, determined underdogs who would one day surprise the doubters and do great things, and a people who could rise fearlessly to any occasion and never give in, no matter how tough the going.”
  • Banjo’s ‘Waltzing Matilda‘ was penned while on holiday at Dagworth station in Winton outback Queensland in 1895. His fiancée, Sarah Riley, had taken him to stay with an old friend, Christina Macpherson, who as an accomplished musician supplied the music to poem and some unrecorded company for ‘Banjo’ that saw him run off the property and an end to the engagement with Sarah.
  •  ‘Waltzing Matilda’ was first performed at the North Gregory Hotel in Winton Queensland.
  • As war correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald he was sent to South Africa in 1899 to cover  Boer War, and to China in 1901 with the intention of covering the Boxer Rebellion.
  • During World War I he was attached as an ambulance driver to the Australian Voluntary Hospital in Wimereux France and was commissioned to the 2nd Remount Unit of the AIF. He was eventually promoted to Major.
  • In 1892 Banjo Paterson the romantic and Henry Lawson the realist, carried on a lively exchange for three months in the Bulletin magazine, discussing the joys and perils of bush life in verse. 
  • In 1902 he confided in his diary “Henceforth I am a journalist,” leaving his law practice for good.
  • In 1903 he married Alice Walker, a grazier’s daughter in Tenterfield. 
  • Their first home was in Queen Street, Woollahra. The Patersons had two children, Grace born in 1904 and Hugh born in 1906.
  • In 1930 he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his services to literature.
  • He died on 5 February 1941

“By the verdict of the Australian people, and by his own conduct and precept, Paterson was, in every sense, a great Australian. Ballad-writer, horseman, bushman, overlander, squatter—he helped to make the Australian legend. Yet, in his lifetime, he was a living part of that legend in that, with the rare touch of the genuine folk-poet, and in words that seemed as natural as breathing, he made a balladry of the scattered lives of back-country Australians and immortalized them. He left a legacy for future generations in his objective, if sometimes sardonic, appreciation of the outback”


 For a rather different take on Australian Bush Poetry, one only needs to check our own ‘Auntie Jack’. Click Here 

 Poems of the Australian Bush

 ‘The Women of the West’

George Essex Evans usq.edu.au
George Essex Evans was born in London on 18 June 1863. His father, John Evans, Q.C., who was for five years a member of the house of commons, died when the boy was only a few months old, and his education was directed by his mother. His schooldays were spent in Wales and at a college in Jersey, and immigrated to Australia in 1881, where he worked as a farmer, teacher, editor, journalist, and public servant becoming the district registrar at Toowooma
The poet spent most of his life within the Darling Downs, mixed extensively with the local people and became very involved in the cultural and political life of Toowoomba. He married in 1899 Mrs Blanche Hopkins who survived him with one son. An edition of his Collected Verse was published in 1928, and there is a monument to his memory in Webb Park, Toowoomba.
Evans was a good athlete and a man of much strength of character, with the sensitiveness of the poet. He unfortunately suffered from deafness all his life. He also wrote for the Darling Downs Gazette and the Toowoomba Chronicle, and still found the time to write some plays for the Brisbane theatre. On his death in Toowoomba on 10 November 1909, Alfred Deakin, one of his many political patrons, eulogized him in Federal Parliament as Australia’s national poet.
What other people have said …
The early explorer/settlers in any land are almost always portrayed as men. The women’s role is unstated.
“For them no trumpet sounds the call, no poet plies his arts” Evans has done a little to put that right in this excellent poem.
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These wonderful pioneers how puny we are compared to them. No clock set their working hours of very hard labour, building our future land. Women & men working dying in harsh country conditions. In old cemeteries & the poets record they once existed.The youth of today could surely take a leaf out of their book
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This poem is an awakening of spirit for me personally.The “Women of the West” were the unsung heroes of the settlement of Australia’s vast inland, and many are still there, living much as their ancestors did. A wonderful poem which does not get the recognition it deserves.
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Had no idea this was about Australia until i read the comments and saw the author`s bio. The zinc roofs should have provided the clue. Assumed it was about the wild American west, particularly about the tented camps.
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Beautiful in reflecting a code of honor – for me it brings images not just of settlers of the american west, but rather more intensly the photos of depression era dust-bowl farm wives – stoic, whose goal is the preservation of the family – “The Grapes of Wrath” – in a beautiful Australian story
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Beautiful beginning and end to this one. Overall, this was a magnificient poem with a lot of meaning to it. The style was nice as well. Great work.
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Same again for me I am afraid…I haven’t read this one before either. I liked it very much though. I loved the whole story line about women and what they go through out west etc. I am originally from an outback town myself and I know how hard it can be. 
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Coming from not only an outback town but one that has mining as it beginning the women have endured a lot and have supported the town as much as the men. This really rang true to me.  
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Love and sacrifice seemed to be the basis of these women’s lives and this poem by Evans is a worthy tribute.
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The final line, to me, sums it all up to a statment of truth for these women who bore so much.
 Poems of the Australian Bus

 

 

 

 ‘Nine miles from Gundagai’

 


I’ve done my share of shearing sheep,
Of droving and all that,
And bogged a bullock-team as well,
On a Murrumbidgee flat.
I’ve seen the bullock stretch and stain
And blink his bleary eye,
And the dog sat on the tucker box,
Nine miles from Gundagai.
I’ve been jilted, jarred, and crossed in love,
And sand-bagged in the dark,
Till if a mountain fell on me
I’d treat it as a lark.
It’s when you’ve had your bullocks bogged
That’s the time you flog and cry,
And the dog sat on the tucker box,
Nine miles from Gundagai.
We’ve all got our little troubles,
In life’s hard, thorny way.
Some strike them in a motor car
And others in a dray.
But when your dog and bullocks strike
It ain’t no apple pie.
And the dog sat on the tucker box,
Nine miles from Gundagai.
But thats all past and dead and gone,
And I’ve sold the team for meat.
And perhaps some day where I was bogged,
There’ll be an asphalt street.
The dog, ah! Well he got bait,
And thought he’d like to die,
So I buried him in the tucker box,
Nine miles from Gundagai.

Poet Jack Moses 
1861 – 1945
Dog on Tucker Box  booktopia.com.au

 

Gundagai – news.com.au

 

Prime Minister Lyons members.tip.net.au

 

 

Other interesting facts …

 

The origins of the ‘Dog on the Tuckerbox’ are clouded in mystery, uncertainty and controversy, like much of Australia’s early folklore, yet its origins lie firmly in the Australian bush with the early pioneers.

We do know that the main players in securing this poem’s place as quintessentially Australian are;
  • Bill the Bullocky, whose Gundagai-dog epic printed on a matchbox, gained currency in the bush in the late 1850s
  • a character calling himself ‘Bowyang Yorke’ who penned a rather crude version of “the dog that shat in the tuckerbox” in 1857 (Replace the “a” with and ‘”i” and you get the picture). Actually, according to the booklet published in 1932 for the commemorative unveiling ceremony, one dog, near Five Mile Creek, actually did “shat” in the tucker box while waiting for his master’s return.
  • a mate of Henry Lawson, Jack Moses a commercial traveller and bush troubadour, amended the verse to “sat on the tucker box” some time later in 1920s, although obviously inspired by ‘Bowyang Yorke’ tale.
  • Jack O’Hagan who in 1937 recorded the verse in song and created a hit that immortalised the legend and put the outback town of Gundagai on the world map


‘Nine miles from Gundagai’ middlemiss.org

In the period 1830-50, Gundagai became a holding place for explorers from Sydney searching for the source of the Murrumbidgee River. Supplies had to be brought into the place over rough terrain and through muddy creeks by bullock teams. Often these bullock teams would get bogged and the bullocky’s dog would sit guarding its master’s tuckerbox and possessions while he went off to the nearest homestead or town to get assistance. (‘Tucker’ is an obsolescent Australianism for food)


To give you an idea of the popularity of the poem and the way it captured the imagination of Australians both in the bush and throughout the colony, none less than the Australian Prime Minister Joseph Lyons was given the honor of unveiling the statue of the Dog on the Tuckerbox, near Gundagai on 28 November 1932.

Jack Moses jewishhistoryaustralia.net

Jack Moses, although a prankster in the mold of Henry Lawson his mate, brought the poem to wider attention with the substitute ‘sat’ for ‘shat’. A teetotaller, Jack Moses as a wine and whiskey salesman, recorded his bush travels in Beyond the City Gates (Sydney, 1923), which was a volume of sketches and bush verse ‘rich in quiet chuckles and friendly reminiscences’ and included the poem ‘Nine Miles from Gundagai’. A second collection titled “Nine Miles from Gundagai”, came out in 1938; Moses gave the proceeds of both books to the Australian Red Cross Society during World War II. Moses died on 10 July 1945 in Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Camperdown, and was buried with Anglican rites in South Head cemetery. His son survived him.


The monument of the Dog on the Tuckerbox lies at Snake Gully about five miles (eight kilometres) north of the New South Wales town of Gundagai at the point where O’Brien’s Creek crosses the main Gundagai Road, the site of an old time bullockies’ camping-ground. It has become an icon of Australia’s past.

These days an annual ‘Dog on the Tuckerbox’ festival is held each year and in 2006 a food court style development opened nearby with a KFC, Subway, McCafe, BP service station and Tuckerbox restaurant.
Bowyang Yorke’s original verse (I think ‘shat’ fits with the imagery of the poor blighter’s lot):
‘Some blokes I know has all the luck no matter how they fall
But there was I, Lord love a duck, no flamin’ luck at all
I couldn’t make a pot of tea nor keep me trousers dry
And the dog shat in the tucker-box nine miles from Gundagai’
 Poems of the Australian Bush

 

 About the Author


Peter Baskerville was born in Australia and has lived the vast majority of his life in the country of his birth apart from a few years in Fiji and New Zealand pursuing business interests.


Despite imbibing the inherent non-nationalistic attitude that naturally comes with being an Aussie, we just can’t help loving this place called Australia – its vast open spaces, its pristine beaches, its unspoiled outback landscapes, its melting pot of immigrants, its ancient heritage of the First Australians, its Anzac spirit, it mateship creed, it hard working, positive yet carefree attitude to life … yes, and even its perils, dangers and strife – we love it all. It is a long way to come, but I’m sure you will find it well worth the visit, even better, come join us … the people of the land ‘down-under’.

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