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With my Swag upon my Shoulder

When first I left Old England's shore
Such yarns as we were told
As how folks in Australia
Could pick up lumps of gold
So, when we got to Melbourne town
We were ready soon to slip
And get even with the captain
All hands scuttled from the ship

With my swag all on my shoulder
Black billy in my hand
I travelled the bush of Australia
Like a true-born native man

We steered our course for Geelong town
Then north west to Ballarat
Where some of us got mighty thin
And some got sleek and fat
Some tried their luck at Bendigo
And some at Fiery Creek
I made a fortune in a day
And spent it in a week

For many years I wandered round
As each new rush broke out
And always had of gold a pound
Till alluvial petered out
'Twas then we took the bush to cruise
Glad to get a bite to eat
The squatters treated us so well
We made a regular beat

So round the lighthouse now I tramp
Nor leave it out of sight
I take it on my left shoulder
And then upon my right
And then I take it on my back
And oft upon it lie
It is the best of tucker tracks
So I'll stay here till I die


From Paterson's Old Bush Songs . Paterson has the Lighthouse as a landmark station in Victoria. Eric Partridge in his Dictionary of Slang gives "lighthouse - a tramp acquainted with the police or their methods". The meaning here may be that the swaggie spends much of his time in jail. In the bush the Southern Cross constellation is also known as The Lighthouse, so tramping round this continent is in effect tramping round the lighthouse. This song, the tune of which is a variant of 'The Boys of Wexford', was collected by John Manifold from Father P.P.Kehoe of Kyabram, Victoria in the 1950's. Compare with 'Dennis O'Reilly' in this collection.

An early published fragment of the song can be found in NSW newspaper the Scrutineer and Berrima District Press Saturday 2 November 1895 p. 2.

Soon they were out of sight, of the crock and on the Berrima road The country on either side was interesting, and Colin knew every inch of it. Here were the ruins of an ancient inn, a relic of tho old coaching days, with decaying roof and smashed windows that peered out at them like dim sightless eyes, worn out with watching for the old days of life and revelry that would never return. Not even in the older countries of Europe is there anything to exceed the desolation of the Old South road. Then they passed a swagman with swag on shonlder and dog at heel.

'With a swag upon my shoulder,
and a black billy in my hand,
I'll roam the bush of Australia
like a true-born Englishman.' 'One of the real Simon Pure who slings bluey up and steers whichever way she slows him.' Then they passed a team of bullocks dragging wearily along.

A similar fragment is publisher in the Sydney newspaper the World's News Saturday 14 March 1908 p. 25.

"So you have been here a long time?" Ever since Holy Joe came, youngster. But I aven't stayed here all the time. Sometimes when Joe turns nasty and hurts my feelings I lug Matilda on my back and steer whichever way she shews me."
"Matilda!" repeated Ernscliffe.
"Ah!" said Ralph in an unenlightened voice.
"Swag--swag," said the man with the red whiskers irritably. "Bother me if you new chums don't get on my nerves sometimes." And then as if to soothe his vexed spirit he chanted wheezily:--

With my swag upon my shoulder and a black billy in my hand,
I roam the bush of Australia like a true-born Englishman.

A lively schottische was now being danced to the well-known air of "Green Grow the Rushes, Oh.


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory