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Halamus Publishing - Archived Articles - #31, October, 2004



The Articles from the Monthly Newsletters

Written by

M. Lesley Halamek

October, 2004:–

SONG: "The Reedy Lagoon"

"This is a typical swagman's song ... It differs from "Waltzing Matilda" in that it was composed and sung by swagmen themselves, and it is certainly easy to imagine "The Reedy Lagoon" being droned in the slow, nasal voice of the old bush singer in a contemplative mood. The song ... is from Queensland, although versions are known elsewhere, including the Northern Territory."

From: "Favourite Australian Bush Songs", compiled by Lionel Long and Graham Jenkin,
© 1964, Rigby Ltd., Adelaide

The Traditional Australian Melody "The Reedy Lagoon"
is on Page 7 of:

"Folksongs for the Violin", Part 3:
Third Position, Modes, and Pentatones
(A Graded Selection of Melodies for Beginners of All Ages).

Details on the MUSIC PAGE

"SWAGMAN, a man who carries a swag, or bundle of blankets and possessions, while tramping country roads, usually, unlike the sundowner (qv), in search of employment. There were many swagmen in Australia around the turn of the (20th) century , and later during the economic depression of the 1930s, but with the coming of the motor car (automobile) their numbers decreased.

They came from the ranks of shearers, farm hands, fencers, tank-sinkers, scrub-cutters, and occasionally white-collar workers. In times of depression they sometimes became beggars, and as a result, aid centres were established in some areas, where sustenance and light work were provided.

They were mainly taciturn men, and for the most part travelled alone, or with one mate or a dog. Usually they were honest and willing to work in return for food-supplies, though some committed petty offences, and among them were many "characters" around whom Australian folklore has grown up. Henry Lawson wrote extensively about swagmen, and there have been numerous books on the subject by other authors, including a novel by D'Arcy Niland, The Shiralee (1955), which was subsequently made into a film. The swagman and the sundowner came to be associated with a considerable vocabulary: they were said to be "walking matilda" (corrupted into "waltzing matilda"), "humping bluey", "carrying shiralee", "on the wallaby track", or simply "on the wallaby".

Women swaggies were rare, but they were occasionally to be seen, using a pushcart or wheelbarrow to carry their belongings, and sometimes men used a similar vehicle."

"SUNDOWNER, a term applied to a type of Australian bush-wanderer - distinct from the swagman (qv) - who would approach a homestead at dusk with an appeal for work, and, work being at that hour impossible, thus obtained free rations in the form of flour, mutton and tea. People in lonely areas were as often as not pleased to see him, for he invariably had a stock of yarns. The sundowner was often well-educated and his wandering life was a form of escapism, or a sheer delight in the open road.

The sundowner's average walk was usually about 19 kilometres (12 miles) a day. His route was determined by distances between homesteads and the supply of water along the track. Unlike the swagman, who travelled anywhere in search of a job, the sundowner stayed on the flat country and returned again and again on his tracks. He flourished mainly in the 1880s and 1890s and he vanished as settlement and communications increased."


Bernard Cronin, "When the Sundowner hit the Trail", Walkabout, vol. 6 (Oct. 1950)
George Farwell, Vanishing Australians, ch. 8 , (1961);
Henry G. Lamond, "They Humped Bluey", Walkabout, vol. 31 (Oct.1965).
D'Arcy Niland, The Shiralee (1955).
Arthur W. Upfield, Death of a Swagman, 1945.
Arthur W. Upfield, Madman's Bend, 1963.

(The Grolier Society of Australia) © 1979.

The Reedy Lagoon

(By the Banks of the Reedy Lagoon)

The sweet scented wattle sheds perfume around,
        Delighting the bird and the bee,
As I lie and take rest in a fern-covered nest
        In the shade of the kurrajong tree.
High up in the air I can hear the refrain
        Of a butcherbird piping his tune,
For the spring in her glory has come back again
        To the banks of the Reedy Lagoon

I've carried me bluey for many a mile,
        Me boots are worn out at the toes,
And I'm dressing this season in different style
        From what I did last year, God knows!
My cooking utensils, I'm sorry to say,
        Consist of a knife and a spoon;
And I've dry bread and tea in a battered Jack-Shea
        By the banks of the Reedy Lagoon.

Oh where is poor Frankie (and how he could ride!)
        And Johnnie the kind-hearted boy?
They tell me that lately he's taken a bride
        A Benedict's life to enjoy.
And Mac, the big Scotsman? I once heard him say
        He'd wrestled the famous Muldoon.
But they're all far away and it's lonely today
        By the banks of the Reedy Lagoon.

And where is the lady I often caressed,
        The girl with the sad dreamy eyes?
She pillows her head on another man's breast
        Who tells her the very same lies!
My bed she would hardly be willing to share
        Where I camp by the light of the moon!
But it's little I care, for I couldn't keep square
        By the banks of the Reedy Lagoon.

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