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When I was in primary school, we were taught both English and Australian poems, many of which were favourites of my mother. I have decided to write an article on Australian poems which formed a part of my childhood, with the English poems perhaps for another day. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, so I have decided to briefly review the poets and the poems, and then to post actual recitations or singing of one of their much-loved poems, which are no longer taught as they are considered racist.

Mary H Foott

Mary Hannah Foott was born in Glasgow in 1846, and following her immigration to Australia and subsequent marriage, she spent time in the outback, including Bourke and Western Queensland. She later opened a school at Rocklea near Brisbane, and published short stories and poems. She was a true patriot with two of her sons serving in WWI, one of whom was killed at Passchendaele in 1917, sadly one year before her death. The other son attained the rank of Brigadier-General.

Her most well-known and remembered poem was Where the Pelican Builds, published in 1881. The poem is based on a true story of some men who set out from Western Queensland into the interior and never returned. Pelicans breed in locations where there is an abundance of water and fish, and it was thought that such a habitat existed in Central Australia. In fact, Lake Eyre is such a habitat after heavy rains.

Like many of the early Australian poets, Mary’s poems were published in the now defunct Bulletin which was a fiercely nationalistic publication in those early days.

Bulletin Headlinebulletin


(Cartoon published after Bulletin ceased publication)



 Henry Lawson

Henry Lawson

Henry Lawson was born in 1867 in Grenfell on the NSW goldfields where his father was a miner. At age 14 he became deaf, and while working at various menial jobs, he began writing stories and poems, encouraged by his mother who was a poet herself. During the 1890s many of his works were published in the Bulletin, at which time he developed friendships with Banjo Patterson and Breaker Morant. He married Bertha Bredt in 1896, from which time he developed mental issues and an addiction to alcohol. The marriage broke down by 1903, and Henry was subsequently imprisoned a number of times in Darlinghurst Jail for non-payment of child support and drunkenness.

Henry continued writing until 1915. The remainder of his relatively short life was spent in being cared for by friends at Naremburn, a suburb of Sydney, and destitute wandering around Sydney. At times while drying out, he lived in Flat Rock Cave in Naremburn. Henry died in 1921 and was granted a State Funeral. He is buried in Waverley Cemetery. Bertha, who died many years after him is buried in the same grave.

Lawson Grave

Henry wrote The Ballad of The Drover published in 1889, which is a poem about a young drover returning home, who is drowned along with his faithful dog. In contrast to the somewhat idealistic poetry of Banjo Patterson, Henry’s poetry and stories present a much harsher picture of life in the bush.




Andrew Barton (Banjo) Patterson

Banjo Patterson

Banjo Patterson was born in 1864 at a property near Orange in NSW. When Banjo was five, the family moved to a property at Illalong near Yass where he observed horsemen from the Snowy Mountains competing in equestrian events and consequently developed a love of those horsemen and horses. He was involved also in the rounding up of wild brumbies. When he was ten, he was sent to Sydney Grammar School, where his relative Edmund Barton, the first Prime Minister of Australia had preceded him. He qualified and practiced as a solicitor, and like Henry, his early writings were during the 1890s, which were published in the Bulletin. He served with distinction in WWI and retired with the rank of major.


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Banjo’s most well-known poem is The Man from Snowy River published in 1890. It is based on the daring ride of a young man from Snowy River near Kosciusko in NSW, in order to head off a mob of wild brumbies which had been joined by a valuable colt.The ride is said to have taken place in rugged country north-west of Canberra, around the site of the present Burrinjuck Dam. It is thought that the story may be based on fact, as told by the actual rider Jim Riley to Banjo. However, there is dispute about this. The poem also features Clancy of the Overflow, which is the title of another well-known poem written by Banjo and published in 1889. He was also the author of the lyrics of Waltzing Matilda, published in 1895.

burrinjuck dam



 Patrick Joseph Hartigan (John O’Brien)

John OBrien


Patrick Hartigan, who wrote under the pen name of John O’Brien was a Catholic priest born in 1878 at Yass. He served in the towns of Thurgoona, Berrigan and Narrandera up until the 1920s. He is said to have given the last rites to Jim Riley, the supposed man from Snowy River. He was later elevated to the rank of Monsignor and died in 1952.

Patrick wrote wonderful verse about the early Irish settlers. Although written earlier, his most famous verse was published in the anthology Around the Boree Login 1921. Poems among many others included Around the Boree Log, The Little Irish Mother, The Trimmin’s on the Rosary, The Presbyt’ry Dog, Tangmalangaloo, The Old Bush School, and the following Said Hanrahan. Said Hanrahan refers to the drought and banking crisis of the early 1890s, which proves that financial crises are nothing new and that climate change is a recurring feature of nature.

My mum who went to Mass at the rural Irishtown church in WA in the early 1920s, told me that the men waiting outside for Mass to start, did indeed squat down upon their heels and chew a piece of bark.

churchJohn OBrien caricature


Breaker Morant is up there with his fellow contributors to the Bulletin, Henry Lawson and Banjo Patterson. Surprisingly, Breaker’s poetry was never taught in Australian schools in the days of the British Empire when we oldies were young.

Tomorrow, I will tell you all about the life of Breaker Morant.

And never fear: Flysa has more Aussie poets up his sleeve...