Clancy of the Overflow
[ Issue 47 ]

Clancy of the Overflow fascinates Emily Bronto

Bikwil is proud to feature Clancy of t he Overflow

Clancy of the Overflow

Many Australians have speculated what that original letter from Banjo Patterson to Clancy of the Overflow might have contained. 

Leon Bannister has the answer.

I know you for the blackguard you are and, should the need arise, I will not hesitate to see you are brought to justice, or what passes for it in these colonies

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Letter to Clancy — Leon Bannister


Andrew Barton (“Banjo”) Patterson was one of Australia's great poets. He wrote the words to Waltzing Matilda (our alternative national anthem).

Two of his best-loved poems include reference to a character called Clancy of the Overflow. In The Man from Snowy River his role is as one of the riders who set out to bring back to property near Mansfield a valuable young stallion which has “joined the wild bush horses”. In the eponymous Clancy of the Overflow, Patterson compares his own desk-bound lawyer’s existence with that of the shearer/drover Clancy and laments his lack of the freedom Clancy enjoys on “the sunlit plains extended and at night the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars”.

The poem starts

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,
ust "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."

I had always wondered what Patterson would have said in the original letter to Clancy.

The following supposition presents a somewhat less flattering view of the iconic Clancy; but I fancy it’s one which a lot of Australians might quietly recognise and admire.

— Leon Bannister



July 28 1893

Dear Clancy,

Since you have not seen fit to acknowledge mine of the 3rd inst., I will renew this correspondence, trusting in Her Majesty's most excellent postal service to deliver it, as before, to The Overflow. I hope that when you learn what I have to tell you it will strengthen your resolve to stay away.

A clever ruse that — the crude handwriting of a shearer; but I was not deceived. Oh no. I know you for the blackguard you are and, should the need arise, I will not hesitate to see you are brought to justice, or what passes for it in these colonies. But I digress. Let me draw you to the purpose of my first letter requesting you to contact me.

Recall, if you will, the events of the evening of March 10th 1890, in the bar of the public house in Omeo, wherein we partook of sustenance and conviviality with the local folk, culminating in a hand or two of cards. I am sure it will not have slipped your mind — inebriated though you were — that you enjoyed considerable good fortune that night and succeeded in winning from a wretched miner the title to his claim at Benambra. You will, of course, also recall our agreement, by which you were enabled to play that night with my money on the understanding that your winnings would be shared with me. To that effect I took charge of the title deeds to the poor, miserable fellow's barren diggings and, indeed, I have them before me as I write.

Also before me is a report from The Office of the Government Assayer in Melbourne informing me that the latest samples taken from our mine show evidence of an extremely rich vein of gold-bearing quartz. I am certain that you will be delighted with these tidings; but before you begin celebrating, let me assure you that if you so much as show your face in Sydney I will tender to the police an affidavit which I have prepared, the salient details of which are as follows:

Firstly, that your name is not Clancy , but Brannigan. Secondly, that you arrived in Australia as first mate aboard the Yankee man o' war, Shenandoah , and that on anchoring off Williamstown, in the colony of Victoria, on December 16th, 1887 you did desert ship by swimming ashore under cover of darkness and took refuge in the home of an associate of mine, Mr. James Carrington QC, whose kindness to strangers and hospitality you rewarded by molesting his fifteen year old daughter. Further, that after you were ejected from his home, Mr Carrington discovered the absence of several pieces of fine silverware (which you doubtless sold to finance your expedition to the goldfields).

Thereafter you were next sighted in Ballarat, where you were imprisoned on a charge of murdering a man with a belaying pin. Following your escape from the lock-up you disappeared for a time; but news soon reached me of a man of your description duffing cattle in Western Queensland. My informants also report that you were run off several sheep stations in the Riverina after disputes over the number of sheep you claimed to have shorn. There is also an allegation of theft of a very valuable colt from a property in the Mansfield district, a charge you attempted to slip by bringing the beast back after a wild ride. The colt was lame and had to be destroyed. There is more; but I think you will follow my drift.

Therefore, sir, I bid you good day and good riddance and leave you to enjoy in solitude your sunlit plains extended and at night the wondrous glory of the everlasting bloody stars.

I am yours sincerely,

A.B. Paterson, LLB

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