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Clancy of the Overflow -- A B "Banjo" Paterson

This week I'll be running a series of Australian poems; thanks to Vikram
Doctor for the suggestion.
(Poem #566) 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.
-- A B "Banjo" Paterson
Today's choice of poet was easy - Banjo Paterson is far and away the best
known of Australian poets - and not just for his ubiquitous masterpiece
"Waltzing Matilda". His poems of the Australian bush capture the 'feel' of
country (at least from my perspective) vividly - the wide open spaces, the
sweep of the sky reaching down to the horizon, the

                vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
        And at night the wond'rous glory of the everlasting stars

are what I mostly associate with the Australia of song and story.

Which brings us to today's poem - a rather straightforward contrast between
the two Australias of open space and city. All brought out in Paterson's
wonderfully flowing verse, with its long, pattering lines and internal
rhymes, drawing the reader in not so much by the imagery as by the sheer
sound of it. Indeed, I would not be too surprised if 'Clancy' has been set
to music; like much of Paterson's poetry, it has a wonderfully musical
quality to it. (Strangely enough, the internym "Banjo" does not stem from
any connection to music; the story, quoted from the biography referred to
below, runs as follows:
  By the time Paterson came to submit his first verses (in 1885) to the
  Bulletin, he had been admitted to the Roll of Solicitors. Paterson
  claimed, afraid to use his own name "lest the editor, identifying one with
  the author of the pamphlet, would dump my contribution, unread, into the
  waste-paper basket...", adopted the pen-name of "The Banjo" after a
  "so-called racehorse" his family had owned - and the legend was born.

The other noteworthy element in the poem is Clancy himself, a typically
larger-than-life character of the sort that Australian - and, indeed,
frontier - tradition abounds with. (Another example worth mentioning here is
Paterson's own 'Man from Snowy River'). The contrast between the life of the
drover and that of the townsman is summed up beauifully in the wonderfully
dry last line

    But I doubt he'd suit the office, Clancy, of The Overflow.


The Lachlan and the Cooper are rivers in New South Wales and Queensland
respectively; the illustrated poem (see the links) includes popup maps of
their courses.


There's a nice biography (only one of several; just feed 'banjo paterson
biography' into google) at
 [broken link]

I quote one paragraph for its striking parallel with Kipling:

 Today, in some circles, there is a view that Paterson was "the spokesman of
 the squattocracy and the station owners". But this is certainly not true of
 Paterson the balladist and Bulletin sketch writer (even if in his last
 years, took a less impassioned and more detached view of life around him).
 But in his hey-day he wrote about the underdogs of bush and city life. Take
 Waltzing Matilda for example.


There's an illustrated copy of the poem at

Taken from the extensive Banjo Paterson site

A rather different poem with a similar theme:
- poem #261

On the Theme:

As usual, guest poems and suggestions are both welcome, as are comments
added to the poems. In fact, given that this is a topic with which I am
relatively unfamiliar, I'd be glad to replace one or more of my selections
with additional guest poems, so any fans of Australian poetry, speak now or
forever hold your piece.


47 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Helen Newton said...

A couple of comments on Clancy of the Overflow, and a suggested Australian

My Grandmother went to school with Banjo Patteson, in a small town
(Binalong) about an hour west of Canberra.

I lived in the Nyngan area, on the Bogan River. The locals there place the
Overflow a little further west than the map on your link does.

A completely different, and more contemporary Australian poet is Oodjeroo
Noonuccle, an Aboriginal woman, originally known as Kath Walker.

Helen Hall said...

My grandfather, who knew Paterson, and drove for Diuracks etc., owned a property called "The Overflow" in the Moree area. The name was changed by subsequent owners.

Helen Hall

Ian Baillieu said...

Your presentation of this poem isn't quite right. The
first eight lines shouldn't be shown as a single stanza.
Paterson wrote them as two four line stanzas. And what are
all those asterisks doing?! They aren't his. They suggest
something has been left out, which isn't so.

This is a famous and much-loved poem of Paterson's. IMHO
however it is a flawed masterpiece. The first sixteen
lines are wonderful, with their combination of images quirky
(the shearing mate writing with a thumbnail dipped in tar)
and luminous, even numinous (the breezes on the river bars,
and the 'vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended').
The poem's second half descends into unconvincing caricature
and, save for one or two lines, hardly rises above doggerel.

Of course Paterson intended to write two contrasting halves,
to compare life in the country with life in the city. The
trouble is, the country inspired him, whereas the city
didn't. So in trying to give effect to his concept he
couldn't maintain in the second half the writing standard he
set in the first. Creation became mere concoction. The
result is the difference between real and artificial

Incidentally I don't think anyone seriously regards
'Waltzing Matilda' divorced from its melody (of which there
are several haunting versions) as Paterson's best poem, or
as a POETIC masterpiece. Paterson certainly didn't.
Popular, yes, but for reasons having little to do with
literary merit.

winmac said...

You suggested that a song could be made out of this poem
There was.
I don't remember exactly when or even who sang it but the tune goes through my head often and I loved it from the moment I heard it.
It is sung by a group of men, perhaps the Four Kinsmen or similar sound and I heard it about in the '70's or early 80's. It was sung in a sort of harmonious ballad.
It was on the Australian radio stations for quite some time

Johanna Winkel

Kevin & Glenda Fox said...

In regards to "Clancy of the Overflow" as a song, it has been performed by a few Australian Country Artists such as Slim Dusty and the Bushwackers, however, the version that I think Winkel is referring to was released in 1980, by Festival Records and arranged by a man called John Wallis. I believe the group who sang this'folk like' version were called Wallis & Matilda.

David Frisken said...

It was Wallis & Matilda who put this and other Banjo poems to music on
an album.

Here is a poem by Thomas Clancy aka "Clancy of the overflow".

Written long after he had given up droving, he refers to Paterson's well
known poem about Clancy:

"Neath the star-spangled dome

Of my Austral home,

When watching by the camp fire's ruddy glow,

Oft in the flickering blaze

Is presented to my gaze

The sun-drenched kindly faces

Of the men of Overflow.

Now, though years have passed forever

Since I used, with best endeavour

Clip the fleeces of the jumbucks

Down the Lachlan years ago,

Still in memory linger traces

Of many cheerful faces,

And the well-remembered visage

Of the Bulletin's "Banjo".

Tired of life upon the stations,

With their wretched, scanty rations,

I took a sudden notion

That a droving I would go;

Then a roving fancy took me,

Which has never since forsook me,

And decided me to travel,

And leave the Overflow.

So with maiden ewes from Tubbo,

I passed en route to Dubbo,

And across the Lig'num country

'where the Barwon waters flow;

Thence onward o'er the Narran,

By scrubby belts of Yarran,

To where the landscape changes

And the cotton bushes grow.

And my path I've often wended

Over drought-scourged plains extended,

where phantom lakes and forests

Forever come and go;

And the stock in hundreds dying,

Along the road are lying,

To count among the 'pleasures"

That townsfolk never know.

Over arid plains extended

My route has often tended,

Droving cattle to the Darling,

Or along the Warrego;

Oft with nightly rest impeded,

when the cattle had stampeded,

Save I sworn that droving pleasures

For the future I'd forego.

So of drinking liquid mire

I eventually did tire,

And gave droving up forever

As a life that was too slow.

Now, gold digging, in a measure,

Affords much greater pleasure

To your obedient servant,

"Clancy of the Overflow"."

-Thomas Gerald Clancy 1897.

More info on the Clancy family including extracts from Clancy's diary
can be found here.

The Overflow of Clancy by By Eric Gerald Clancy

[broken link]

Ian Baillieu said...

I take it that Thomas Gerald Clancy, supposedly writing in
1897 (and plagiarising a few phrases from Banjo), is
a fictional character.

KArussell said...

Greetings from the driest state.
This not a comment but can you tell me, or direct me to the meaning of 'the overflow'?

Steve Martin said...

Hello Joanna

I saw your name on a site which was discussing AB Patterson's poem "Clancy....."

Are you any relation to Michael Winkel - he's now living in NZ??

Just interested,

Steve Martin.

Ian Baillieu said...

Apropos the last couple of posts, the correct spelling is
Paterson, with one t.

adlardfisherys said...

HELP...... for years I have been tracking an cd/ tape/ record all i know is that the record my mother use to have came in a red cover and had all the great poems sung on it like The man from snowy river, clancy of the overflow,etc... you see i can't ask my mom what it was called as she had a car accident and now has brain dammage and as far as my step dad goes well he passed away... so if anyone can help i would much appriciate it.... last time i heard it was about 22 years ago.... yours sincerly kimiko any information please e-mail to

pking said...

How would i get a hold of banjo tabs for wallace & matilda songs

Paul & Gaye Westcott said...

Thomas Gerald Clancy was a well-known drover on the stock routes of
western New South Wales and south-western Queensland in the late
nineteenth century, and may be the inspiration for the Clancy of the poem.

"The Overflow" is the name for the floodplains of the rivers in western
New South Wales and south-west Queensland. Being semi-desert country
the normal water flow is minimal, but in very wet seasons the rivers
spread over for hundreds of square kilometres over the flat surrounding

Paul Westcott

anne clapham said...

Have you heard Tony Latimer's version of the song ?

It is beautiful to hear.

Roger Clapham.

Jenny Korteland said...

A friend lent this to me when he found out I had a lot of background to the
poem/song Clancy of the overflow. The copy was/is published thru 'festival'
and is called PIONEERS, by Wallis and Matilda. It has a red cover and is
attributed to the poems of A B (Banjo) Paterson. Hope this helps. I'm trying
hard to locate a download of the music and will let you know

Mark (email @ )

Keith Gaines said...

The great Australian bass-baritone, Peter Dawson, recorded a superb sung version of Clancy Of The Overflow with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by a very young Charles Mackerras in London in 1955. Of the 3000 odd recordings by Dawson, this is the only one ever released in genuine stereo sound in a special 10 LP set issued by EMI Australia in 1988, the centenary of Dawson's birth. The set is called "Peter Dawson - Ambassador of Song". In my opinion, having heard hundreds of Dawson records, this version of Clancy is his best recording. Technically it was the best ever made (at Abbey Road, I think) and Dawson was in fine voice. If you can find a copy, it's well worth a listen.
Best Wishes
Keith Gaines

Kevin Russell said...

I posted a note on your website asking for the origin or meaning behind 'The Overflow' This was yonks back. Today I realised that only part of an email is published, I guess I should not be surprised at the lack of help.
Kevin Russell

Catherine Judd said...

Re: Thomas Gerald Clancy

Very real character! See The Overflow of Clancy by Eric Gerald Clancy for the history of this family and the connections between Tom Clancy and Banjo Paterson.

Terry Gowshall said...

the record your looking for my brother had or still has, by wallace & matilda

good luck with it

Anonymous said...

this is a great poem if you presented it better

Anonymous said...

im doing this for school homework and your comments helped a lot more than the actual poem makes sense

Anonymous said...

I have to do a project on this, Some of the words are really hard, these were my tasks-
1-Find out what the words mean
2-answer 500 questions on it
3-Remember the poem off by heart
4-Summarise the whole poem and...
5-Make up a new version of clancy of the overflow but wih modern words

Alicia said...

I set that as a task for my yr 4s and they loved itthanks Anonymous

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Gordon Barlow said...

In October last year (2013), reminiscing in my blog [Barlow's Cayman"] about my childhood on a small sheep-run on the Darling Downs in Queensland, I wrote a few words on the poem. Here they are:-

Occasionally, after school, some of us would pretend we were The Man From Snowy River and charge headlong through copses with fallen trees underfoot. That was fun, until Bryan broke his arm trying to squeeze between two trees that were too close together. The Man From Snowy River was the hero of our favourite action poem, a role-model for Australia’s bush horsemen.

"Through the stringy barks and saplings, on the rough and broken ground, Down the hillside at a racing pace he went;
And he never drew the bridle till he landed safe and sound At the bottom of that terrible descent."

It’s an exciting description, and impossible to recite properly without bending your body to the rhythm of the ride. My Dad knew all the words, but would never recite it in public. It was an unrealistic description, anyway. Galloping downhill over fallen trees would be suicide for both man and horse, on a loose rein. Ah well, poetic licence.

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