Thursday, February 10, 2011

Clancy of the Overflow

Andrew Barton Paterson ('Banjo')

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 wondrous 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".

Words by Andrew Barton ("Banjo") Paterson, tune by Wallis and Matilda. Banjo's poem was first published in The Bulletin, an Australian news magazine, on 21 December 1889. You'll find an interesting (if dated) version to a different tune here, sung by John Cameron in 1955.


  1. There is a fabulous version of this by Australian bass-baritone Peter Dawson, 4/5/1955, apparently the same tune as John Cameron. I grew up on this version, played on an old LP or 78 (can't recall which) in my dad's record collection. Here is a link to Peter Dawson's version:

    Ian D

  2. I must admit my heart sank when I first heard this performed as a song. I don't think it adds anything to the poem. One of the beauties of spoken word as a genre, I think, is that you are much freer to change the tempo and the volume, and use silence, in the form of pauses. A melody tends to by tyrranical, and every verse starts to sound the same, bringing you determinedly, uninspiringly, but inevitably to the end of the song. The words feel to me as though they have become bound in chains.

  3. Enjoyed the song but I agree with Stephen it works better as a poem for me. I know it from a reading by Ken Sparks on "Songs & Poems of Australia" Harbour Records.

    Richard & Chris Bedford UK

  4. Dawson's version of Arlen's setting of this wonderful poem is marred by the overblown hollywood style orchestra. That said, musically Arlen cannot be faulted in his respect for the words and rythm and this is fine composition by any standards. Dawson, at age 73, is sensitive, passionate, respectful and aware of the words. A glorious performance after 51 years in the recording studio.