Henry Lawson's "The Ballad of the Drover"




"...he knew intimately the real Australia, and was its greatest minstrel" —Billy Hughes, Australian Prime Minister 1915-23

Henry Lawson's "The Ballad of the Drover" narrates a melancholy story of a young cowboy/drover who succumbs in a flood as he is journeying to his beloved home from his difficult work.

Movements 1-2: "Across the stony ridges"

The narrator describes the young drover, Harry Dale, as light of heart because he is on his journey to his home. Accompanying Harry are his dog, Rover, his stock-horse, on which he rides, and his packhorse that "[i]s trotting by his knee."

Harry has been gone many months and has not seen his family for those many months. He has been driving cattle "[u]p Queensland way," and has travelled regions vast. As he rides, Harry muses on his fiancee and hums a song, indicating his happiness in anticipation of seeing her again.

The narrator ends the second movement with what becomes something of a limited refrain: "And hobble-chains and camp-ware / Keep jingling to the tune." And indeed this line is repeated, but only in two other movements.

Movements 3-4: "Beyond the hazy dado"

The rider continues toward his station homestead which lies just beyond a blue line of ranges. He rides now around noon time, and the narrator describes the view off in the distant as hazy and the noon as lazy. Again the narrator repeats his near refrain, "While hobble-chains and camp-ware / Are jingling to a tune."

This line foreshadows the dark conclusion of his ballad. The weather turns threatening within an hour. Dark storm clouds filled the heavens. Lightning threatened the little party as they journey on. The drover believes he can "reach the river / Before the flood shall rise."

Movements 5-6: "The thunder, pealing o'er him"

The storm quickly turns deadly with thunder pealing "o'er him," as it waters the "thirsty pastures." But the rain is coming very fast, the creeks begin to rise, and "the river runs a banker / All stained with yellow mud."

Harry addresses his dog, Rover, and his hardy horses, telling them confidently that they have weathered bigger storms than these. Nothing will stop them from getting home tonight!

Movements 7-8: "The thunder growls a warning"

With the thunder clapping all around and the lightning threatening the little party, they enter the river, but this flood is stronger than any they had thus far experienced, and they begin to sink before half way across the river.

By the time the lightning bursts again, Rover and the packhorse are struggling to get out of the river, and poor Harry has drowned, along with his stock-horse.

Movements 9-10: "The faithful dog a moment"

Rover, being a faithful dog, returns to the middle of river to try to save Harry, but the strength of the water is just too much for the poor dog; he becomes the rivers third victim.

Only the packhorse makes it through the storm alive, and the narrator leaves his listeners with a melancholy image of the poor horse as he "take[s] dumb tidings home."

Harry's poor family will be greeted by "a mud-stained, wet, and weary packhorse, and clanging chains and tinware / All sounding eerily."

The refrain of the clanging utensils concludes the tragic tale.

Modern Interest in Cowboys

"Cowboys" are the staple in stories involving the "Old West" in the United States. Everyone knows that "cowboys have something to do with "cows." And "cowgirls" condescendingly have something to with "cowboys.'

But is there really a demographic today known a "cowboys"? What would a google search turn up?

Musical version of Henry Lawson's "Ballad of the Drover"


What does a cowboy do?

  • Cowboys shoot guns, ride fast horses, and always get the damsel in distress
  • I have no idea what a cowboy does
  • A cowboy swaggers and pretends to be important, like George W. Bush
  • Cowboys drive cattle--same as they did in the past
See results without voting

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

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Comments 4 comments

pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 12 months ago from sunny Florida

"The refrain of the clanging utensils concludes the tragic tale."

no doubt far too many tales of settling unsettled areas came to such an end.

Angels are on the way to you this morning ps

Maya Shedd Temple profile image

Maya Shedd Temple 12 months ago from Spring Hill, TN Author

Love your angels, Pat. Welcome them with open heart and mind and soul. Praying for you a lovely day. Blessings!

Jodah profile image

Jodah 12 months ago from Queensland Australia

Along with A.B. Banjo Paterson, Henry Lawson is one of my favourite Australian writers. "Ballad of the Drover" is one of his best poems though very sad. Your commentary and breakdown of the poem is very good. Thank you for sharing this Maya.

Maya Shedd Temple profile image

Maya Shedd Temple 12 months ago from Spring Hill, TN Author

Thanks, John! One of my faves.

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    Linda Sue Grimes (Maya Shedd Temple)36 Followers
    473 Articles

    Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962.

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