In 2010 I posted the story of the Bulletin Debate, and reposted it in 2019.
Those wishing to read those posts, which are jolly good reads, can do so by clicking on the following links:
The "Bulletin Debate" was a well-publicised dispute in The Bulletin magazine between two of Australia's best known writers and poets, Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson. The debate took place via a series of poems about the merits of living in the Australian "bush", published from 1892–93.
On one level it is a literary duel between Australia’s two most popular poets, a battle of words and outlooks that started as comments and responses but ended up becoming personal, bringing their friendship to an end. On another level it is an examination of national identity at a time when Australia was coming of age. On 1 January 1901 Australia became a nation when 6 British colonies—New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania—united to form the Commonwealth of Australia. The “Bush” was a significant component of that identity.
For Paterson, a Sydney city solicitor, the Bush was a place of mateship, camaraderie, heroism, people supporting each other, standing proud and tall. See, for example, Paterson’s most famous poem "The Man from Snowy River".
Lawson saw it differently and considered Paterson’s outlook romantic BS that was filtered through rose coloured glasses. To Lawson the Bush was harsh, cruel, unforgiving and unrelenting. As an example, read Lawson’s "Past Carin’" at:
Other poets also contributed to the Bulletin Debate.
I came across two such examples recently, responses to Paterson’s famous poem Clancy of the Overflow. They put a reality check on Paterson’s view of the bush.
To understand the response, one needs to firstly read Clancy, a poem known to all in Oz, including each school child . . .
Some preliminary comments:
For those who would prefer to hear the poem put to music, here is Slim Dusty’s version:
The Overflow is a rural region in the centre of New South Wales.
“Clancy of the Overflow”, illustrated by Jamie and Leanne Tufrey. This postcard was published by Australian post to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Barton “Banjo” Paterson. Clancy of the Overflow is a poem by him that was published in 1889.
Paterson’s poem in all its idyllic glory:
Clancy of the Overflow
I had written him a letter which I had, for want of better
Knowledge, sent to where I met him down the Lachlan, years ago,
He was shearing when I knew him, so I sent the letter to him,
Just "on spec", addressed as follows, "Clancy, of The Overflow".
And an answer came directed in a writing unexpected,
(And I think the same was written with a thumb-nail dipped in tar)
Twas his shearing mate who wrote it, and verbatim I will quote it:
"Clancy's gone to Queensland droving, and we don't know where he are."
In my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of Clancy
Gone a-droving "down the Cooper" where the Western drovers go;
As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing,
For the drover's life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.
And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him
In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
And at night the wond'rous glory of the everlasting stars.
I am sitting in my dingy little office, where a stingy
Ray of sunlight struggles feebly down between the houses tall,
And the foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city
Through the open window floating, spreads its foulness over all
And in place of lowing cattle, I can hear the fiendish rattle
Of the tramways and the buses making hurry down the street,
And the language uninviting of the gutter children fighting,
Comes fitfully and faintly through the ceaseless tramp of feet.
And the hurrying people daunt me, and their pallid faces haunt me
As they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste,
With their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy,
For townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste.
And I somehow rather fancy that I'd like to change with Clancy,
Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go,
While he faced the round eternal of the cash-book and the journal —
But I doubt he'd suit the office, Clancy, of "The Overflow".
The Drover, 1912, by Walter Withers
The first response, The Overflow of Clancy, was by a poet who identified only as H.H.C.C. No-one knows the identity of "H.H.C.C." for sure, but one commentator believes it was Henry Lawson. It was first published in The Bulletin on 20 August 1892 and was followed 7 days later by the second response, which appears after the poem below. Both responses use lines and images from Paterson's poem and from other poems in the Bulletin Debate.
The Overflow of Clancy
I've read "The Banjo's" letter, and I'm glad he's found a better
Billet than he had upon the station where I met him years ago;
He was "slushy" then for Scotty, but the "bushland" sent him "dotty,"
So he "rose up, William Riley," and departed down below.
He "rolled up" very gladly, for he had bush-fever badly
When he left "the smoke" to wander "where the wattle-blossoms wave,"
But a course of "stag and brownie" seems to make the bush-struck towny
Kinder weaken on the wattle and the bushman's lonely grave.
Safe in town, he spins romances of the bush until one fancies
That it's all top-boots and chorus, kegs of rum and "whips" of grass,
And the sheep off camp go stringing when the "boss-in-charge" is singing,
Whilst we "blow the cool tobacco-smoke and watch the white wreaths pass."
Yet, I guess "The B." feels fitter in a b'iled shirt and "hard-hitter"
Than he would "way down the Cooper" in a flannel smock and "moles,"
For the city cove has leisure to indulge in stocks of pleasure,
But the drover's only pastime's cooking "What's this! on the coals."
And the pub. hath friends to meet him, and between the acts they treat him
While he's swapping "fairy twisters" with the "girls behind their bars,"
And he sees a vista splendid when the ballet is extended,
And at night he's in his glory with the comic-op'ra stars.
I am sitting, very weary, on a log before a dreary
Little fire that's feebly hissing 'neath a heavy fall of rain,
And the wind is cold and nipping, and I curse the ceaseless dripping
As I slosh around for wood to start the embers up again.
And, in place of beauty's greeting, I can hear the dismal bleating
Of a ewe that's sneaking out among the marshes for her lamb;
And for all the poet's skitin' that a new-chum takes delight in,
The drover's share of pleasure isn't worth a tinker's d--n.
Does he sneer at bricks and mortar when he's squatting in the water
After riding fourteen hours beneath a sullen, weeping sky?
Does he look aloft and thank it, as he spreads his sodden blanket?
For the drover has no time to spare, he has no time to dry.
If "The Banjo's" game to fill it, he is welcome to my billet;
He can "take a turn at droving" -- wages three-and-six a-day --
And his throat'll get more gritty than mine will in the city
Where with Mister Lawson's squashes I can wash the dust away.
First published in The Bulletin, 20 August 1892
The other response to Clancy was by Francis Kenna (1865 – 1932), an Australian poet, journalist, and Labor Member of the Legislative Assembly in Queensland. Kenna published Banjo, of the Overflow, in 1892, as part of the Bulletin Debate about the true nature of life in the Australian bush.
Kenna’s poem . . .
Banjo, of the Overflow
I had written him a letter, which I had for want of better
Knowledge given to a partner by the name of "Greenhide Jack" --
He was shearing when I met him, and I thought perhaps I'd let him
Know that I was "stiff," and, maybe, he would send a trifle back.
My request was not requited, for an answer came indited
On a sheet of scented paper, in an ink of fancy blue;
And the envelope, I fancy, had an "Esquire" to the Clancy,
And it simply read, "I'm busy; but I'll see what I can do!"
To the vision land I can go, and I often think of the "Banjo" --
Of the boy I used to shepherd in the not so long ago,
He was not the bushman's kidney, and among the crowd of Sydney
He'll be more at home than mooning on the dreary Overflow.
He has clients now to fee him, and has friends to come and see him,
He can ride from morn to evening in the padded hansom cars,
And he sees the beauties blending where the throngs are never ending,
And at night the wond'rous women in the everlasting bars.
I am tired of reading prattle of the sweetly-lowing cattle
Stringing out across the open with the bushmen riding free;
I am sick at heart of roving up and down the country droving,
And of alternating damper with the salt-junk and the tea.
And from sleeping in the water on the droving trips I've caught a
Lively dose of rheumatism in my back and in my knee,
And in spite of verse it's certain that the sky's a leaky curtain --
It may suit the "Banjo" nicely, but it never suited me.
And the bush is very pretty when you view it from the city,
But it loses all its beauty when you face it "on the pad;"
And the wildernesses haunt you, and the plains extended daunt you,
Till at times you come to fancy life will drive you mad.
But I somehow often fancy that I'd rather not be Clancy,
That I'd like to be the "Banjo" where the people come and go
When instead of framing curses I'd be writing charming verses --
Tho' I scarcely think he'd swap me, "Banjo, of the Overflow."
First published in The Bulletin, 27 August 1892