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Saltbush Bill on the Patriarchs

Andrew Barton Paterson 1864 (Orange, New South Wales) – 1941 (Sydney, New South Wales)

Come all you little rouseabouts and climb upon my knee;
To-day, you see, is Christmas Day, and so it’s up to me
To give you some instruction like—a kind of Christmas tale—
So name your yarn, and off she goes. What, “Jonah and the Whale”?
Well, whales is sheep I’ve never shore; I’ve never been to sea,
So all them great Leviathans is mysteries to me;
But there’s a tale the Bible tells I fully understand,
About the time the Patriarchs were settling on the land.

Those Patriarchs of olden time, when all is said and done,
They lived the same as far-out men on many a Queensland run—
A lot of roving, droving men who drifted to and fro,
The same we did out Queensland way a score of years ago.

Now Isaac was a squatter man, and Jacob was his son,
And when the boy grew up, you see, he wearied of the run.
You know the way that boys grow up—there’s some that stick at home;
But any boy that’s worth his salt will roll his swag and roam.

So Jacob caught the roving fit and took the drovers’ track
To where his uncle had a run, beyond the outer back;
You see they made for out-back runs for room to stretch and grow,
The same we did out Queensland way a score of years ago.

Now, Jacob knew the ways of stock—that’s most uncommon clear—
For when he got to Laban’s Run, they made him overseer;
He didn’t ask a pound a week, but bargained for his pay
To take the roan and strawberry calves—the same we’d take to-day.

The duns and blacks and “Goulburn roans” (that’s brindles), coarse and hard,
He branded them with Laban’s brand, in Old Man Laban’s yard;
So, when he’d done the station work for close on seven year,
Why, all the choicest stock belonged to Laban’s overseer.

It’s often so with overseers—I’ve seen the same thing done
By many a Queensland overseer on many a Queensland run.
But when the mustering time came on old Laban acted straight,
And gave him country of his own outside the boundary gate.

He gave him stock, and offered him his daughter’s hand in troth;
And Jacob first he married one, and then he married both;
You see, they weren’t particular about a wife or so—
No more were we up Queensland way a score of years ago.

But when the stock were strong and fat with grass and lots of rain,
Then Jacob felt the call to take the homeward road again.
It’s strange in every creed and clime, no matter where you roam,
There comes a day when every man would like to make for home.

So off he set with sheep and goats, a mighty moving band,
To battle down the homeward track along the Overland—
It’s droving mixed-up mobs like that that makes men cut their throats.
I’ve travelled rams, which Lord forget, but never travelled goats.

But Jacob knew the ways of stock, for (so the story goes)
When battling through the Philistines—selectors, I suppose—
He thought he’d have to fight his way, an awkward sort of job;
So what did Old Man Jacob do? of course, he split the mob.

He sent the strong stock on ahead to battle out the way;
He couldn’t hurry lambing ewes—no more you could to-day—
And down the road, from run to run, his hand ’gainst every hand,
He moved that mighty mob of stock across the Overland.

The thing is made so clear and plain, so solid in and out,
There isn’t any room at all for any kind of doubt.
It’s just a plain straightforward tale—a tale that lets you know
The way they lived in Palestine three thousand years ago.

It’s strange to read it all to-day, the shifting of the stock;
You’d think you see the caravans that loaf behind the flock,
The little donkeys and the mules, the sheep that slowly spread,
And maybe Dan or Naphthali a-ridin’ on ahead.

The long, dry, dusty summer days, the smouldering fires at night;
The stir and bustle of the camp at break of morning light;
The little kids that skipped about, the camels’ dead-slow tramp—
I wish I’d done a week or two in Old Man Jacob’s camp!

But if I keep the narrer path, some day, perhaps, I’ll know
How Jacob bred them strawberry calves three thousand years ago.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

3:43 min read

Andrew Barton Paterson

Andrew Barton "Banjo" Paterson, was an Australian bush poet, journalist and author. He wrote many ballads and poems about Australian life, focusing particularly on the rural and outback areas, including the district around Binalong, New South Wales, where he spent much of his childhood. Paterson's more notable poems include "Clancy of the Overflow" (1889), "The Man from Snowy River" (1890) and "Waltzing Matilda" (1895), regarded widely as Australia's unofficial national anthem. more…

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