Clancy of the Overflow Meaning of Clancy of the Overflow

clancy of the overflow

Photo: Banjo Paterson

Clancy of the Overflow is a poem about a lawyer living in an overcrowded and dirty city who yearns for the freedom and carefree life of a drover (cowboy) in the Australian Outback.

Clancy of the Overflow was written by Banjo Paterson and offers a romanticised view of rural life. The poet drew upon a chance experience he had when he sent a letter to a man named 'Clancy' at a sheep station (ranch) named 'Overflow'. He received a simple yet evocative reply which read: "Clancy's gone to Queensland droving, and we don't know where he are." Inspired by this reply, Banjo Paterson wrote this poem — Clancy of the Overflow.

Clancy of the Overflow The Words to Clancy of the Overflow Poem

I had written him a letter which I had, for want of better

Knowledge, sent to where I met him down the Lachlan, years ago,

He was shearing when I knew him, so I sent the letter to him,

Just 'on spec' addressed as follows: 'Clancy of The Overflow'.


And an answer came directed in a writing unexpected,

(and I think the same was written with a thumbnail dipped in tar)

'Twas his shearing mate who wrote it, and verbatim I will quote it:

"Clancy's gone to Queensland droving, and we don't know where he are."


In my wild erratic fancy, visions came to me of Clancy

Gone a-droving 'down the Cooper' where the western drovers go

As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing,

For the drover's life has pleasures that the townfolk never know.


And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him

In the murmur of the breezes and river on it's bars,

And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,

And at night the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars.


I am sitting in my dingy little office, where a stingy

Ray of sunlight struggles feebly down between the houses tall,

And the foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city

Through the open window floating, spreads it's foulness over all.


And in place of lowing cattle, I can hear the fiendish rattle

Of the tramways and the buses making hurry down the street,

And the language uninviting of the gutter children fighting,

Comes fitfully and faintly through the ceaseless tramp of feet


And the hurrying people daunt me, and their pallid faces haunt me

As they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste,

With their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy,

For townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste.


And I somehow rather fancy that I'd like to trade with Clancy,

Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go,

While he faced the round eternal of the cashbook and the journal-

But I doubt he'd suit the office, Clancy, of 'The Overflow'.

• Listen to Clancy of the Overflow

Clancy of the Overflow Analysis Clancy of the Overflow Explained

Clancy of the Overflow is a poem composed of 365 words of 32 lines set in 8 stanzas. It is written as a monologue and and used a AA–B–CC–B rhyming scheme.

1st Stanza

The poem opens with the poet (who was also a solicitor/lawyer) sending a letter to a person named 'Clancy'. He doesn't know Clancy's last name or his exact whereabouts. So he sends the letter addressed to "Clancy at the Overflow" Station near the Lachlan River where he had met the man many years earlier.

2nd Stanza

The poet is surprised to receive a reply from one of Clancy's friends. The message is pretty basic and appears to be scribbled on a piece of paper using tar as ink (Tar was used as an antiseptic to seal off shearing wounds on sheep). The message simply read "Clancy's gone to Queensland droving, and we don't know where he are."

3rd Stanza

The poet now starts daydreaming of Clancy droving near the Cooper Basin. He imagines the cattle and sheep slowly making their way through the grazing land while Clancy rides behind them singing contently. The poet tells us that city folks have no appreciation of the carefree life of a drover and the tranquillity of this sort of existence.

4th Stanza

This stanza describes the friendliness of the people living in the bush and the beauty of the landscape including the brilliant sunsets and the pristine clear star-filled nights.

5th Stanza

The poet now tells us about his life in the city where he is sitting in a tiny office surrounded by high-rise buildings which are blocking out the sunlight. He goes on to tell us that the city air is polluted with all kinds of foul odours and fumes.

6th Stanza

Here the poet contrasts the bush with city life. He tells us that instead of the peaceful mooing of cattle he only hears the noisy rattle of tramcars and buses rushing about. He can also hear people rushing about, and the rude language and fighting of children in the streets below.

7th Stanza

The poet is dismayed by the city people, with their pale, unhealthy complexions, hurrying about in search of wealth and power. By doing this, they have forfeited the chance to enjoy the simpler more fulfilling things in life.

8th Stanza

In the final stanza, the poet yearns to exchange places with the carefree Clancy droving contently in the Outback. But he concluded sadly that Clancy would be totally out of place in the city.

Listen to Clancy of the Overflow

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Clancy of the Overflow - Meaning of Words Used What the Words Mean

Lachlan – a river in New South Wales Australia about a hundred kilometres south of Overflow station.

Overflow – a sheep and cattle station (ranch) in central New South Wales ( see below)

Shearing – is the process of removing the fleece (fur) off a sheep but cutting it off with a special pair of scissors designed for this purpose.

on spec – using one's best guess, on a hunch, in the hope of success.

tar – a dark gooey liquid extracted from pine wood. It is a natural antiseptic and insect repellent. Melted tar was dabbed any wounds caused while shearing sheep.

thumb nail dipped in tar – The original meaning of the term was that the note was written by dipping a finger in tar and using it as ink. However, it has also come to mean bad handwriting.

mate – A good friend.

Queensland – a state in Australia north of Overflow station where this story is set.

droving – to move sheep or cattle long distances by walking them (on the hoof).

Cooper – refers to the Cooper Basin a geological depression (basin) located in south-western Queensland and north-eastern South Australia.

stock – a collection of something for example a stock of food. In Australian agriculture it means a collection of animals such as sheep or cattle.

stringing – the spreading out in single-file or small groups of a few animals as they walked.

Bush – people of Australia refer to any part of the country outside the major cities and towns as " the bush". The phrase probably originated because there are lots of bushes and scrub in the Australian country-side.

dingy – small confined space - poky.

stingy – meagre, very little, reluctantly given.

foetid – smelly, putrid air.

lowing cattle – the mooing of a herd of cattle. The 'moo' sound.

cashbook and the journal – large books in is which an accountant recorded transactions.

Inspiration for Clancy of the Overflow Where Did Banjo Paterson Get His Inspiration?

Photo: Droving sheep in Australian Outback

Banjo Paterson had a deep affection for the people of the Australian Outback and frequently wrote about them. His poetry often conjures up romantic and nationalistic images of the Australian bush, its people and the Australian way of life.

In December 1938, Banjo Paterson recalled, in an interview for the Sydney Mail newspaper, how he got the inspiration of this poem.

"The ballad had its being from a lawyer's letter which I had to write to a gentleman in the bush who had not paid his debts. I got an answer from a friend of his who wrote the exact words, "Clancy's gone to Queensland droving and we don't know where he are".

Around these classic words Banjo crafted a poem of longing for a simpler life in the Outback.

The city dweller in this poem is most probably Banjo Paterson himself trapped behind a desk in a poky little office in a smelly dreary city. And Clancy is a bushman he once befriended by chance whose carefree lifestyle Paterson longs for.

The poem first appeared in the Bulletin Magazine in December 1889 and was an instant hit.

Where is the 'Overflow'? In Clancy of the Overflow

Photo: Map of area where the poem is set

The Overflow Station is a sheep and cattle property in Outback New South Wales, about 618km north-west of Sydney and 30km from the town of Nymagee.

In its heyday, in the late 1800s, this station was owned by R.S. Kinnear and was spread over an area of 118,000 ha. The station grazed 82,870 sheep, 430 cattle and 182 horses. The distance from the Overflow to the Lachlan River is approximately 100km as the crow flies. This is well within the distance that animals would have been taken for grazing. Given Banjo Paterson penchant for traveling in the Outback it is quite conceivable that he visited the area and met the Clancy brothers.

Gold was discovered on Overflow station in 1896 resulting in a huge influx of prospectors. The gold rush soon petered out and with the general decline of the wool industry, the significance of the property declined. The station still exists today.

See the map for the location of the Overflow station in New South Wales.

Who was Clancy of the Overflow? Was Clancy a Real Person?

Banjo Paterson always claimed that his character was fictitious and a pure invention of his imagination. While this is not to be disputed there is evidence to suggest that there really was one or more persons on whom Banjo may have based his character "Clancy". This drover, named Clancy from the Overflow, is mentioned in two of Banjo Paterson's poems. These poems being Clancy of The Overflow and The Man from Snowy River.

A recent ABC documentary titled "Who was Clancy of the Overflow" aired on 14 February 2014 put forward a suggestion that the central character of this famous poem was a composite of two real people. One was Thomas Gerald Clancy, a who recorded in his diary, dated 29 September 1882, that he was droving sheep near the Lachlan River. The second line of the poem says that the poet first met Clancy near the Lachlan River "years ago". It appears that Banjo and Thomas knew each other as Banjo (in his role as a solicitor) witnessed Thomas's will on 14 March 1899. Thomas retired to Melbourne in 1910 and died in 1914. Thomas also had a brother named John Clancy who worked on a sheep station called 'The Overflow' in New South Wales about 618 km north-west of Sydney. Both brothers seems to have been well educated. Thomas penned some poetry of his own and John was a teacher at some point in his career.

It should be noted that if these brothers were indeed the inspiration of this poem they would both have been in their late-fifties when Banjo, who would have been 25 years old at the time, wrote his poem. It may well be true that Banjo's initial encounter with a Mr. Clancy was as a consequence of his letter addressed to this gentleman at the 'Overflow'. It is quite possible also that given Banjo's keen lifelong fascination with the Australian Outback and its people that he visited the Overflow, befriended these drovers and retold their stories, We will never really know the answer.

More by Banjo Paterson

Waltzing Matilda — Australia's favourite song, is the story of a swagman in Outback Australia.
The Man from Snowy River — describes the story of the recapture of a valuable colt that was living with wild horses.
Mulga Bill's Bicycle — Mulga Bill buys himself a bicycle and boasts he can ride this machine with ease. He is in for the ride of his life.