The Man from Snowy River is a breathless narrative of the escape of a prize colt from a station (ranch) and how, after a thunderous chase, and unbelievable feats of horsemanship it is recaptured by least likely horseman of them all, the unpretentious — Man from Snowy River.
There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around
That the colt from old Regret had got away,
And had joined the wild bush horses - he was worth a thousand pound,
So all the cracks had gathered to the fray.
All the tried and noted riders from the stations near and far
Had mustered at the homestead overnight,
For the bushmen love hard riding where the wild bush horses are,
And the stock-horse snuffs the battle with delight.
There was Harrison, who made his pile when Pardon won the cup,
The old man with his hair as white as snow;
But few could ride beside him when his blood was fairly up-
He would go wherever horse and man could go.
And Clancy of the Overflow came down to lend a hand,
No better horseman ever held the reins;
For never horse could throw him while the saddle girths would stand,
He learnt to ride while droving on the plains.
And one was there, a stripling on a small and weedy beast,
He was something like a racehorse undersized,
With a touch of Timor pony - three parts thoroughbred at least -
And such as are by mountain horsemen prized.
He was hard and tough and wiry - just the sort that won't say die -
There was courage in his quick impatient tread;
And he bore the badge of gameness in his bright and fiery eye,
And the proud and lofty carriage of his head.
But so slight and weedy, one would doubt his power to stay,
And the old man said, "That horse will never do
For a long and tiring gallop-lad, you'd better stop away,
Those hills are far too rough for such as you."
So he waited sad and wistful - only Clancy stood his friend -
"I think we ought to let him come," he said;
"I warrant he'll be with us when he's wanted at the end,
For both his horse and he are mountain bred."
"He hails from Snowy River, up by Kosciusko's side,
Where the hills are twice as steep and twice as rough,
Where a horse's hoofs strike firelight from the flint stones every stride,
The man that holds his own is good enough.
And the Snowy River riders on the mountains make their home,
Where the river runs those giant hills between;
I have seen full many horsemen since I first commenced to roam,
But nowhere yet such horsemen have I seen."
So he went - they found the horses by the big mimosa clump -
They raced away towards the mountain's brow,
And the old man gave his orders, "Boys, go at them from the jump,
No use to try for fancy riding now.
And, Clancy, you must wheel them, try and wheel them to the right.
Ride boldly, lad, and never fear the spills,
For never yet was rider that could keep the mob in sight,
If once they gain the shelter of those hills."
So Clancy rode to wheel them - he was racing on the wing
Where the best and boldest riders take their place,
And he raced his stockhorse past them, and he made the ranges ring
With stockwhip, as he met them face to face.
Then they halted for a moment, while he swung the dreaded lash,
But they saw their well-loved mountain full in view,
And they charged beneath the stockwhip with a sharp and sudden dash,
And off into the mountain scrub they flew.
Then fast the horsemen followed, where the gorges deep and black
Resounded to the thunder of their tread,
And the stockwhips woke the echoes, and they fiercely answered back
From cliffs and crags that beetled overhead.
And upward, ever upward, the wild horses held their sway,
Were mountain ash and kurrajong grew wide;
And the old man muttered fiercely, "We may bid the mob good day,
No man can hold them down the other side."
When they reached the mountain's summit, even Clancy took a pull,
It well might make the boldest hold their breath,
The wild hop scrub grew thickly, and the hidden ground was full
Of wombat holes, and any slip was death.
But the man from Snowy River let the pony have his head,
And he swung his stockwhip round and gave a cheer,
And he raced him down the mountain like a torrent down its bed,
While the others stood and watched in very fear.
He sent the flint stones flying, but the pony kept his feet,
He cleared the fallen timbers in his stride,
And the man from Snowy River never shifted in his seat -
It was grand to see that mountain horseman ride.
Through the stringybarks 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.
He was right among the horses as they climbed the further hill
And the watchers on the mountain standing mute,
Saw him ply the stockwhip fiercely, he was right among them still,
As he raced across the clearing in pursuit.
Then they lost him for a moment, where two mountain gullies met
In the ranges, but a final glimpse reveals
On a dim and distant hillside the wild horses racing yet,
With the man from Snowy River at their heels.
And he ran them single-handed till their sides were white with foam.
He followed like a bloodhound in their track,
Till they halted cowed and beaten, then he turned their heads for home,
And alone and unassisted brought them back.
But his hardy mountain pony he could scarcely raise a trot,
He was blood from hip to shoulder from the spur;
But his pluck was still undaunted, and his courage fiery hot,
For never yet was mountain horse a cur.
And down by Kosciusko, where the pine-clad ridges raise
Their torn and rugged battlements on high,
Where the air is clear as crystal, and the white stars fairly blaze
At midnight in the cold and frosty sky,
And where around The Overflow the reed beds sweep and sway
To the breezes, and the rolling plains are wide,
The man from Snowy River is a household word today,
And the stockmen tell the story of his ride.
Written by Banjo Paterson, a well-known Australian bush poet, it was first published in the Bulletin magazine on the 26th of April 1890. The fictional ride described in the poem is set somewhere in the hill country north-west of Canberra, ACT in the state of New South Wales in Australia.
Using Australian vernacular, similes and metaphors Paterson uses the vastly beautiful but hazardous Australian landscape as the backdrop to conjure up a tale of courage, tenacity, endurance and the Australian notions of mateship and a "fair go". It is the tale of the underdog who rises to the occasion and triumphs.
bushmen – People who live in the Australian country-side and Outback far away from the cities where sometimes called bushmen. 'Bush' is an Australian Strine word for the area between the cities and the Australian wilderness or Outback.
cracks– The best stockman (cowboys) — the best whip crackers.
cup – Refers to the Melbourne Cup, the biggest and most prestigious horse race in Australia.
cur – cowardly
homestead – A large dwelling usually the main residence of a station (a ranch house).
Kosciusko – The tallest mountain in the Snowy Mountain ranges.
mob – a group of wild Australian horses (Brumbies).
mountain ash and kurrajong – more types of eucalyptus trees.
pile – as in a"pile of money". Refers to a winning at a horse race.
Station – A large pastoral property in the Australian Outback — a ranch.
stock-horse – A specially bred horse known for its stamina, agility and endurance. Typically used by a stockman (another name for drover or cowboy) to round up stock. Sheep and cattle are usually referred to as stock.
wild bush horses – Free-roaming wild horses of Australia. These are descendants of lost or escaped domestic horses which have gone wild (feral). Many are found in the Alpine regions of south-eastern Australia where this poem is set. They are also referred to as 'brumbies'.
thousand pound – At the time this poem was written the currency used in Australia was the pound. (pounds, shillings and pence). A thousand pounds at that time was a huge amount of money.
Timor pony – A small sure-footed stock horse of a Portuguese breed imported from Timor.
Snowy River – a river that originates on the slopes of Mount Kosciuszko, Australia's highest mainland mountain and drains through the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales into Bass Strait.
stringybarks – A type of large eucalyptus tree with a thick fibrous bark. It can grow to 80 meters in height.
stripling – a young man.
stockwhip – A whip with a stiff handle and a long length of flexible plaited leather which makes a loud crack sound when whisked quickly through the air. (The cracking sound is made when the tip of the whip moving faster than the speed of sound creating a small sonic boom.)
weedy – thin and physically weak in appearance.
wombat holes – wombats are large burrowing Australian marsupials. Their burrows are sometimes hidden. A horse's leg falling into one of could result in serious injury to horse and rider.
The poem opens with the now famous line ‘There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around’. We are told that there is commotion at the station when it is discovered that a prized young colt has escaped and joined the wild horses in the mountains. A posse of some of the best horsemen in the district is assembled to set out and retrieve the colt.
Describes some of the stockmen who had assembled for the hunt to retrieve the colt. Amongst these is Clancy of the Overflow, of whom Patterson wrote another poem of the same name. He is described as the best horseman in the area.
Describes the key protagonist, a scrawny youngster mounted on an equally scrawny little horse who has arrived at the station to join the fray. They are ridiculed, but the narrator tells us that beneath the unimpressive exterior there lies steely courage and tenacity in both the rider and his horse. It is an expression of the Australian psyche to always support the underdog. The young man is not named.
The station owner waves the young lad and his horse away telling them that this is a man's job. The young boy and his horse stand aside dejected, but Clancy of the Overflow stands up for them, telling the station owner that the boy and the horse are from some of the toughest parts of the mountain country and will surely demonstrate their worth. Clancy reaffirms the Australian ethos of “a fair go”. That is that every person is entitled to have the opportunity, through his own exertion, to prosper.
Clancy goes on to tell them that this rider comes from the Snowy River district which has the toughest and most treacherous terrain in the area and the most skilful mountain riders to be found anywhere.
The posse set out and soon encounter the rogue horses by a clump of trees but they galloped away. The posse gave chase knowing that once the horses reach the mountains it would be near impossible of find them.
The chase in on. Clancy wheels around the wild horses and races to the front cracking his stockwhip in the air in to corral them. The horses halt momentarily, cowered by the sound of his stockwhip, but alas they glimpse their mountain refuge in the distance and dash away into the mountain shrub.
The posse sets out after the wild horses following them through the deep gorges and ravines as they rode higher and higher up the steep mountainside. The station owner mutters furiously that if the horses reach the top and start their decent down the other side no rider in his right mind would be capable of following them.
On reaching the summit the entire posse, including Clancy, come to a screeching halt. So treacherous was the decent, covered with dense shrub and pockmarked with wombat holes that no one dared venture any further. But the man from Snowy River (first direct reference to him) and his horse are undaunted and gallantly set out in hot pursuit while the rest of the posse watch in disbelief.
The narrator describes how horse and ride descend the steep and obstacle strewn mountain side not pausing at all until they reach the bottom.
The posse on the hilltop are dumbfounded as they watch the man from Snowy River cracking his stockwhip over his head as he quickly catches up with the wild horses and pursues them up another hillside.
They lose sight of him for a moment but soon see him once more tenaciously giving chase still yet another distant hillside.
The man from Snowy River runs them down single-handedly until foaming at the mouth with exhaustion the wild horses stop - cowered and beaten. The man from Snowy River rounds them up and brings them all back. His hardy mountain horse, with blood dripping from its body where the rider's spurs had dug into his side, was so exhausted it could hardly lift a leg, but undaunted the gallant little horse continued bravely on.
Describes the fame the man from Snowy River attained by this daring feat of horsemanship.
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