Don’t Go to the Bush of Australia




There is another early ‘immigrant’s complaint’ sister song titled ‘Don’t Go To The Bush Of Australia’ that could almost be the origin of the Billy Barlow Maitland set of verses. This song documents the trials and tribulations of a new chum settler. The poor devil cops the lot – bushrangers, the barren bush, drought, hostile Aborigines and financial disaster, before hotfooting it back to Mother England. He claims he’d rather sell matches door-to-door than return to Australia. It was also published in Old Bush Songs (1924 revised edition) and A.B. Paterson, in his notes says, ‘It is noticeable that in all the ballads of early days there is a sort of happy-go-lucky spirit that reflects the easy come, easy go style of the times.’ Paterson’s version was titled (sarcastically) ‘The Beautiful Land of Australia’.

I located the following version in the Mitchell Library Collection, in John Henderson’s Excursions and Adventures in New South Wales. Captain Henderson, of the 78th Highlanders, had two volumes of his book published in 1854 and included this song, implying that he composed it en route to Australia and adding that it was sung to the tune of ‘King of the Cannibal Islands’. It is more likely the work of Colonial Surgeon Goodwin who was in the Colony prior to Henderson. This would suggest that Henderson would have heard the song in London and had adapted the verses, especially since his rendition was written down in transit to Australia. Both scenarios beg the question, if the song had been composed in Sydney, at an earlier date, conceivably the early 1840s, this would coincide with the Maitland performance and publishing. A chicken and egg case? It is possible Billy Barlow was inspired by ‘Don’t Go To The Bush of Australia’, or visa versa.




Now all intent to emigrate,
Come listen to the doleful fate,
Which did befall me of late,
When I went to the wilds of Australia.
I sailed across the stormy main,
And often wished myself back again,
I really think I was quite insane
When I went to the bush of Australia.


Illawarra, Moneroo, Parramatta Woolloomaloo (sic),
If you wouldn’t become a kangaroo,
Don’t go to the bush of Australia.


One never knows what does await,
For just as we entered Bass’s Strait,
We lost the half of our crew, and our mate,
As we sailed to the bush of Australia.
The vessel struck on a bank of sand,
And when we drifted to the land,
We soon were surrounded by a band
Of savages in Australia,


But I was so starved I look’d like a ghost,
I didn’t weigh more than four stone at most,
Thank heaven! I wasn’t fit for a roast,
For the cannibals in Australia.
So to Sydney town I travelled then,
The Governor gave me some convict men,
And I set off to live in a den
In the dismal bush of Australia.


And when I came to look at the land,
Which I got by his Excellency’s command,
I found it was nothing but burning sand,
Like all the rest of Australia.
But I bought a flock of sheep at last,
And thought that my troubles were past,
But you may believe I stood aghast,
When they died of the rot in Australia.


My convicts were always drinking rum,
I often wished they were up a gum-
Tree – or that I had never come,
To the horrible bush of Australia.
The bushrangers my hut attacked,
And they were by my convicts back’d,
And my log hut was fairly sack’d
Of all I had got in Australia.

A thousand or two don’t go a long way,


When every one robs you in open day,

And the bankers all fail and mizzle away

From the capital of Australia.
And it’s not very easy to keep your cash,
When once in twelvemonth your agent goes smash,
And bolts to New Zealand, or gets a whitewash;
It’s a way that they have in Australia.


So articles I signed at last,
And work’d as a man before the mast;
And back to England I came full fast,
And left the confounded Australia.
To sell a few matches from door to door,
Would certainly be a very great bore,
But I’ve made up my mind to do that before
I’ll go back to the bush of Australia.