Joy Hildebrand’s comprehensive study of ‘Billy Barlow’ is a wonderful journey into a theatrical character with more lives than the average theatre cat. In true theatrical and folklore style the character is surrounded by mystery and ‘Billy Barlow’, in one of his many disguises, has a habit of still popping-up in the strangest places. Like others, I first encountered ‘Billy Barlow’ through one of ‘his’ songs being included in Australia’s most important collection of bush verse, A. B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson’s, 1905 collection Old Bush Songs, published by Angus and Robertson. The story, like its broadside counterparts ‘Mr. O’Keefe’s Adventures in Australia’ and ‘Paddy Malone In Australia’, tells of the trials and tribulations of a pioneer settler. However, this song has proved to be just one of many that have come to the surface, and keep coming, about our friend with ‘one boot and one shoe’.
Joy explains the early provenance of Billy Barlow in nursery and folk song and particularly the following
O when I was born, says old Mother Goose,
He is a fine boy, but he’ll be of no use;
My father he said that to church I should go,
And there he had me christened Billy Barlow.
Refrain: O dear, lackaday O, etc.
My father he said I came from a good breed,
So he sent me to school for to learn me to read,
But because I coud not tell all my letters at once
They put me on a foolscap, and called me a dunce.
One day my mother O Billy, says she,
Will you go and fetch me some milk for my tea,
But going along I broke the milk pot,
And when I got home what a whopping I got.
As I walk through the streets, I can’t tell for why,
The boys they point at me, saying- “there goes a Guy.”
‘Twas only last night very well I remember,
They said that they’d burn me next 5th of November.
O then there’s my brother I did him displease,
He gave me soap for to eat and said it was cheese
And when that he had done it he call’d it a joke
But for three weeks after poor Billy ne’er spoke.
As I walk along, the girls as I pass
O how they look at me and cock up a glass,
And then they cry out, one and all,
There goes a great fool that’s got nothing at all.
One morn I got up, not thinking of harm,
And took a walk to the New River all for to catch fish,
But my foot gave a slip, so I fell into a ditch.
I’m grown old, it is my ill luck,
For with another man to draw a truck
Because I’m so feeble to work I can’t stick,
And when I get home give me oakum to pick.
Firth b25(72), Catnach Printer, London, 1813-1838. Bodleian Library.
Also Harding B11(2908), 1840-1866. Minor differences however one can see how these became the Australian versions.
IN THIS SECTION:
Billy Barlow sung by Warren Fahey from Australia: folk songs and bush verse – Give Me a Hut in My Own Native Land: Colonial Settlers
THE MANY SONGS OF BILLY BARLOW: