Australian Folk Songs

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Where The Brumbies Come To Water (1895)

There's a lonely grave half-hidden where the blue grass droops above,
And the slab is rough that marks it, but we planted it for love:
There's a well-worn saddle hanging in the harness room at home,
And a good old stock-horse waiting for the steps that never come;
There's a mourning rank of riders closing in on either hand
O'er the vacant place he left us, he, the best of all the band,
Who is lying cold and silent out beyond the long lagoon,
Where the brumbies come to water at the rising of the moon.

His dog will lick some other hand, and when the wild mob swings
We'll get some slower rider to replace him in the wings;
His horse will find a master new ere twice the sun goes down.
But who will kiss his light o' love, a-weeping in the town?
We've called her hard and bitter names who chose--another's wife--
To chain our comrade in her thrall and wreck his brave young life,
We've cursed her for her cruel love that seared like hate, and yet
We know when all is over there is one will not forget
As she piles the white bush blossoms where her poor lost lover lies
With the death-dew on his forehead and the grave dark in his eyes.
Where the shadow-line is broken by the moonbeams' silver bars,
And the brumbies come to water at the lighting of the stars.



From the Melbourne newspaper the Australasian Saturday 15 June 1895 p. 42.

Many thanks to Graeme Smith for alerting me to his discovery of the first publication of this song. He writes:
Ron Edwards collected it as a song from Jack Parveez, Qld and NT drover, in 1966. Edwards recognised it as a version of Will Ogilvie's poem. Parveez learnt it, apparently around 1908.
Here presumably is where Ogilvie first pubished the poem in 1895, under the name "Glenrowan". Later it appears in his collection Fair Girls and Grey Horses, with other verses; (1898) in a version slightly edited from this one.

The oral folk version cuts down the poem in interesting ways. Some of the more literary style is removed, and the subtext of an urban corrupting woman is removed. A more wholesome grieving wife is substituted from the adulterous temptress of Ogilvie's original. And the dead drover has become a singer of songs, fittingly for a sung version.

The poem was apparently very popular. It appears in a number of quotes and extracts in newspapers, including one where the second verse is used as an obituary of a drover, c 1930s.


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory