The Broken Down Squatter



Broken Down Squatter


The combination of economic downturn, shearer’s strikes and continuing drought in the 1890s, forced many farmers to abandon their properties, leaving them ‘to the crows’. The author of this tragic story was the victim of such unfortunate circumstance and, one suspects from the reference in the last verse, without the support of the banks, he had no option but to walk away. From Paterson’s Old Bush Songs, 1905. The final verse, reproduced below, was located by Bill Scott in a notebook of Charles Flower. Some of the collected traditional versions have the ‘Jews’ replaced with ‘screws’ which could be either ‘the turning of the screw’ or ‘screw warders’ in prison.
The song’s appeal could possibly be explained by the fact it is sung to a favourite horse, something most bushmen could understand.

Come, Stumpy, old man, we must shift while we can;
All your mates in the paddock are dead.
Let us wave our farewells to Glen Eva’s sweet dells
And the hills where your lordship was bred;
Together to roam from our drought-stricken home —
It seems hard that such things have to be,
And its hard on a ‘hoss’ when he’s nought for a boss
But a broken-down squatter like me!

For the banks are all broken, they say,
And the merchants are all up a tree.
When the bigwigs are brought to the Bankruptcy Court,
What chance for a squatter like me?

No more shall we muster the river for fats,
Or spiel on the Fifteen-mile Plain,
Or rip through the scrub by the light of the moon,
Or see the old stockyard again.
Leave the slip-panels down, it won’t matter much now;
There are none but the crows left to see,
Perching gaunt in yon pine, as though longing to dine
On a broken-down squatter like me.

When the country was cursed with the drought at its worst
And the cattle were dying in scores,
Though down on my luck, I kept up my pluck,
Thinking justice might temper the laws.
But the farce has been played, and the Government aid
Ain’t extended to squatters, old son;
When my dollars were spent they doubled the rent,
And resumed the best half of the run.

‘Twas done without reason, for leaving the season
No squatter could stand such a rub;
For it’s useless to squat when the rents are so hot
That one can’t save the price of one’s grub;
And there’s not much to choose ‘twist the banks and the Jews
Once a fellow gets put up a tree;
No odds what I feel, there’s no court of appeal
For a broken-down squatter like me.

They have left us our hides and but little besides,
You have all I possess on your back.
But Stumpy, old sport, when I boil my next quart
We’ll be out on the Wallaby Track.
It’s a mighty long ride till we cross the Divide
And the plains stretching out like a sea,
But the chances seem best in the far away west
For a broken-down squatter like me.