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The Overlander

[ Roud 9107 ; AFS 70 ; Ballad Index FaE164 ; trad.]

Driving huge mobs of cattle from the stations to markets, the drovers were a social menace to the genteel squatters and townspeople whose path they crossed on their long journeys (particularly with regard to womenfolk!)

A.L. Lloyd sang The Overlander in 1956 on his Riverside LP Australian Bush Songs and a year later for the Wattle album The Banks of the Condamine and Other Bush Songs. All tracks on the Wattle album were included in 1960 on his Topic LP Outback Ballads and in 2008 on his Fellside CD Ten Thousand Miles Away. He noted:

As Australia songs go, this is quite a venerable ballad. It was printed in the Queenslander’s New Colonial Campfire Songbook as long ago as 1865. There the overlander was identified as a Victorian, who had wandered up to Kempsey, NSW, and bought a big mob of cattle, intending to pasture them in Queensland. The ballad described some of his exploits on the overlanding trip through northern New South Wales. In later versions, including those printed by Patterson and Vance Palmer, the overlander lost his southern identity, and appears as a dinkum Queenslander. The version given here is in some respects closer to the original.

Vance Palmer gives a tune for his version that is related to the Scottish bagpipe melody Lady Madeline Sinclair. Old Bob Bell, of Condobolin, said he made up the melody I’ve used here: but it's very close to a known tune called The Irish Bull; also it’s a distant relative of the fairly similar ballad-melody of Turpin Hero. Bob said he wrote the words too. Perhaps he did. But he must have been even older than he looked.

Brian Mooney, Martyn Wyndham-Read and David Listen sang The Overlander in 1963 on the Australian Score album Moreton Bay They and Peter Laycock also sang it in a live recording from Melbourne Town Hall on the 1964 W&G album Australian Folk Night.

Peter Dickie sang The Overlanders in 1967 on Martyn Wyndham-Read's, Phyl Vinnicombe's and his album Bullockies, Bushwackers & Booze. He noted:

The version here is similar to the one published in the Queensland New Colonial Campfire Songbook issued in 1865. The melody is a relative of one used in England for a ballad about the highway man Dick Turpin.

Martyn Wyndham-Read recorded The Overlander again in 1971 for his eponymous Trailer album, Martyn Wyndham-Read.

Trevor Lucas sang a three verses shorter version of Overlander in 1966 as title track of his second Australian solo album, Overlander.

Gerry Hallom sang The Overlander in 1981 on his Fellside album Travellin' Down the Castlereagh. The track was included in 1996 on his compilation CD Undiscovered Australia II. He noted on the compilation CD:

Free-ranging cattle drovers were called ‘overlanders’ because of the long, lonesome journeys involved in leading their mobs (herds) to new grazing grounds or to railheads which led to markets. These men were of a tough breed and, as one might expect, they took advantage of women and spirits whenever they happened across a town. The song tells these tales and epitomises the stockman’s attitude towards authority, namely a two-fingered salute, the authority here being ‘squatters’ who held the lion's share of land which had been given out when Australia was first opened up. The overlander’s realm, “from Normanton to Bass’s Strait” essentially encompasses all of eastern Australia, from the Gulf of Carpentaria on the north coast to the channel that separates Victoria from the island state of Tasmania in the south.

There are at least four basic versions of this popular droving song attributed to Phillip ‘Remos’ Somer, the earliest printed in the Queenslander’s New Colonial Camp Fire Song Book of 1865; this version first appeared in 1889 in the Native Companion Songster. It also has at least two tunes: the one used here, collected in the 1930s by singer and folklorist A.L. Lloyd, is a popular dance tune of the day known as The King of the Cannibal Islands; the other is related to the chorus of Thou Bonnie Wood of Craigie-Lea. The two instrumental tunes that follow the song are The Bush in the Garden and the Clare Jig, both brought to Australia by Irish immigrants.

Flash: gaudy or ostentatious, when referring to women, it often means those of the ‘tart’ type.
Mob: a large number of anything, though usually referring to a herd of cattle or sheep.
Run: another term for station (see below).
Squatters: powerful owners of large tracts of land.
Station: a large, even by American standards, cattle or sheep ranch.

James Raynard sang The Overlander in 2005 on his One Little Indian CD Strange Histories. He noted:

The Overlander is taken form the singing of A.L. Lloyd and is a reworking of a reworking of a poem by Banjo Paterson. The music is most associated with The White Hare of Howden, though this lacked a full chorus melody and some new writing was needed to complete the tune.

Lyrics

A.L. Lloyd sings The Overlander on The Banks of the Condamine

Oh, there's a trade you all know well, it's bringing cattle over,
I'll tell yous all about the time that I became a drover.
I wanted stock for Queensland to Kempsey I did wander,
I bought amount of duffers there and began as an overlander.

Chorus:
So pass the bottle round, me boys, don't you leave it stand there,
For tonight we'll drink the health of every overlander.

Well, when the cattle were counted and the outfit ready to start,
The lads were all a-mounted with their swags up in the cart.
I saw I had all sorts of men from Germany, France and Flanders,
Lawyers, doctors, good and bad in the mob of overlanders.

The very next morning I fed up where the grass was green and young.
And the squatter said he'd break my snout if I didn't push along.
Says I, “My lad you're very hard but don't you raise my dander.
For I'm a regular knowing card, I'm a Queensland overlander.”

They swore they didn't pound my cattle but I pulled them all the time.
They very seldom caught us and they never got their fine.
They think we live on store beef but I'm no flamin' gander,
If a fat little stray comes our way he loses to the overlander.

If ever our horses get done up of course we turn 'em free
And you can't expect a drover to walk if a pony he can see
So now and then we bone a prad and believe me it's no slander
To say there's many a clever trick done by an overlander

Now I would scourn to prig a shirt 'tis all me mates can say,
But if we pass through a township all on a washing day,
The dirty brats of kids would shout, and quickly raise me dander,
Crying, “Mother quick, bring in the clothes, here comes an overlander.”

In town we drain the whiskey glass and go to see the play,
We never think of being hard up nor how to spend the day.
We shear up to them pretty girls who rig themselves with grandeur,
And as long as you spend your cheques, my lads, they love the overlander.

A little girl in Sydney side, she said, “Don't leave me lonely.”
I said, “It's sad but my old prad has room for one man only.”
So now I must be jogging on, this pony she's a goer,
We'll pick up a job with a crawling mob along the Maranoa.

(Chorus)

Trevor Lucas sings The Overlander on Overlander

Oh, there's a trade you all know well, it's bringing cattle over,
I'm gonna tell you about the time that I became a drover.
I wanted stock for Queensland to Kempsey I did wander,
I bought a bunch of duffers there and began as an overlander.

Chorus (after each verse):
So pass the bottle round, me boys, don't you leave it stand there,
For tonight we'll drink the health of every overlander.

Well, when the cattle were counted and the outfit ready to start,
The boys were all a-mounted with their swags up in the cart.
I saw I had all kinds of men from Germany, France and Flanders,
Lawyers, doctors, good and bad in the mob of overlanders.

Now I would scourn to prig a shirt 'tis all me mates can say,
But if we pass through a township all on a washing day,
While the dirty brats of kids would shout, and quickly raise me dander,
Crying, “Mother quick, bring in the clothes, here comes the overlander.”

In town we drain the whiskey flask and go to see the play,
We never think of being hard up nor how to spend the day.
We shear up to them pretty girls who rig themselves with grandeur,
And as long as you spend your cheques my lads they love the overlander.

Oh, a little girl in Sydney town, she said, “Don't leave me lonely.”
I said, “It's sad but my old nag has room for one man only.”
So now I must be jogging on, this pony she's a goer,
We'll pick up a job with a crawling mob along the Maranoa.

Gerry Hallom sings The Overlander

Come all you lads that long to roam and cannot live at ease at home,
But wish to cross the salt-sea foam, in foreign lands to wander.
I know a trade will suit you well, that from all others bears the bell,
Pitch pen and ink and books to hell, and join an overlander.

Chorus (after each verse):
Let the bottle quickly pass, and every man fill up his glass,
And drink to every pretty lass loves an overlander.

The youth of Scotland, long ago, were wont, as doubtless you may know,
To march abroad and meet the foe in Germany or Flanders.
No mercenaries now they need for pay, or love, or fame to bleed.
Let them hasten here with speed, and go as overlanders.

We have no bounds to our estates from Normanton to Bass's Straits;
We're not fenced in by walls or gates, no Monarch's realms are grander.
Our sheep and cattle eat their fill, and wander blithely at their will
Over valley, plain, or hill, free as an overlander.

We pay no licence nor assess our flocks-they never grow much less
But gather on the road I guess, as onward still we wander.
We vote assessments all a sham, avoid our taxes to a man,
Care for squatters not a damn, says every overlander.

[five verses still missing]

Acknowledgements

Lyrics copied from Mark Gregory's Australian Folk Songs and adapted to the actual singing of A.L. Lloyd and Trevor Lucas.