by Banjo Paterson (1864-1941)
Published in The Australasian Pastoralists’ Review, 15 September 1896
The drought is down on field and flock,
The river-bed is dry;
And we must shift the starving stock
Before the cattle die.
We muster up with weary hearts
At breaking of the day,
And turn our heads to foreign parts,
To take the stock away.
And it’s hunt ‘em up and dog ‘em,
And it’s get the whip and flog ‘em,
For it’s weary work is droving when they’re dying every day;
By stock-routes bare and eaten,
On dusty roads and beaten,
With half a chance to save their lives we take the stock away.
We cannot use the whip for shame
On beasts that crawl along;
We have to drop the weak and lame,
And try to save the strong;
The wrath of God is on the track,
The drought fiend holds his sway,
With blows and cries and stockwhip crack
We take the stock away.
As they fall we leave them lying,
With the crows to watch them dying,
Grim sextons of the Overland that fasten on their prey;
By the fiery dust-storm drifting,
And the mocking mirage shifting,
In heat and drought and hopeless pain we take the stock away.
In dull despair the days go by
With never hope of change,
But every stage we draw more nigh
Towards the mountain range;
And some may live to climb the pass,
And reach the great plateau,
And revel in the mountain grass,
By streamlets fed with snow.
As the mountain wind is blowing
It starts the cattle lowing,
And calling to each other down the dusty long array;
And there speaks a grizzled drover:
‘Well, thank God, the worst is over,
The creatures smell the mountain grass that’s twenty miles away.’
They press towards the mountain grass,
They look with eager eyes
Along the rugged stony pass,
That slopes towards the skies;
Their feet may bleed from rocks and stones,
But though the blood-drop starts,
They struggle on with stifled groans,
For hope is in their hearts.
And the cattle that are leading,
Though their feet are worn and bleeding,
Are breaking to a kind of run–pull up, and let them go!
For the mountain wind is blowing,
And the mountain grass is growing,
They settle down by running streams ice-cold with melted snow.
. . . . .
The days are done of heat and drought
Upon the stricken plain;
The wind has shifted right about,
And brought the welcome rain;
The river runs with sullen roar,
All flecked with yellow foam,
And we must take the road once more,
To bring the cattle home.
And it’s ‘Lads! we’ll raise a chorus,
There’s a pleasant trip before us.’
And the horses bound beneath us as we start them down the track;
And the drovers canter, singing,
Through the sweet green grasses springing,
Towards the far-off mountain-land, to bring the cattle back.
Are these the beasts we brought away
That move so lively now?
They scatter off like flying spray
Across the mountain’s brow;
And dashing down the rugged range
We hear the stockwhip crack,
Good faith, it is a welcome change
To bring such cattle back.
And it’s ‘Steady down the lead there!’
And it’s ‘Let ‘em stop and feed there!’
For they’re wild as mountain eagles and their sides are all afoam;
But they’re settling down already,
And they’ll travel nice and steady,
With cheery call and jest and song we fetch the cattle home.
We have to watch them close at night
For fear they’ll make a rush,
And break away in headlong flight
Across the open bush;
And by the camp-fire’s cheery blaze,
With mellow voice and strong,
We hear the lonely watchman raise
The Overlander’s song:
‘Oh! it’s when we’re done with roving,
With the camping and the droving,
It’s homeward down the Bland we’ll go, and never more we’ll roam;’
While the stars shine out above us,
Like the eyes of those who love us–
The eyes of those who watch and wait to greet the cattle home.
The plains are all awave with grass,
The skies are deepest blue;
And leisurely the cattle pass
And feed the long day through;
But when we sight the station gate,
We make the stockwhips crack,
A welcome sound to those who wait
To greet the cattle back:
And through the twilight falling
We hear their voices calling,
As the cattle splash across the ford and churn it into foam;
And the children run to meet us,
And our wives and sweethearts greet us,
Their heroes from the Overland who brought the cattle home.
About the Author
See our page on Banjo Paterson. Includes a linked list of all his writing available on our website.