The Overflow

If you were being asked to take part in a word association test and you were given “The Overflow”

how would you respond?

Chances are, a Kiwi would respond like an Australian, for many of us share in that heritage of the Bush Ballad, particularly those of Banjo Paterson and our schooling would bring us straight to…”Clancy of The Overflow”. Anyhow that was my mental response when I made enquiries about the junkshop in Mayfield and was told it’s ‘The Overflow’.

Clancy of the Overflow (link)

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 thumb-nail 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 come 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 townsfolk never know.

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

  In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,

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

  And at night the wond’rous 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 its 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 change with Clancy,

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

While he faced the round eternal of the cash-book and the journal —

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


If you’re having trouble working out just how to read it, to get the rhyme and flow heres something that may help

If not from schooling then most of us would be familiar with the movie “The Man from Snowy River” based on another of Banjo’s ballads of the same name that gives Clancy a guest appearance:

The Man from Snowy River

….And Clancy of the Overflow came down to lend a hand,

  No better horseman ever held the reins;….

I hadn’t got the significance of The Overflow into my understanding until in recent years I picked up a rather dry read in a 2nd hand book ‘Across the Nullarbor’ by world famous “in Australia” Ion L. Idriess, but if I’d paid more attention to the next lines of the ballad I would have got a clue.

…For never horse could throw him while the saddle-girths would stand,

  He learnt to ride while droving on the plains….

For the full ballad follow this link or for the ballad set to scenes from the movie…

While Clancy was a real man and there is a Station called ‘The Overflow’ on the Lachlan River in the Murray-Darling Basin, Ion makes it clear that the station is a small part of something that is vast.

Across the Nullarbor Chapter VIII

The Creeping River (abridged)

Yes the Darling was coming down. Not the surging torrent of an ordinary river in flood, but a quiet, steadily growing volume of brownish water gradually swelling up to the banks, through hundreds of miles of flat country. While back up river those waters began creeping out, creeping out to either side over the country. Every few miles a little trickle creeping away from the banks into some long-dried channel, trickling here, trickling there, as leaves and rubbish dammed it, until it should gather strength from pressure to spurt on with a rustling hiss. Growing in volume and strength, sucking its way over the ground, reaching ever further out, out into the parched bush. The deeper channels filled first, then scores – hundreds of little feelers spilling from them pushing further out – further out. A little brown finger drops over the bank of a long-dried billabong – is lost. Ah, but more is following – dropping over, slowly growing into a little stream that sputters down to the billabong bed and begins to sing all by itself, far away out there amongst the grasses and dead leaves and gnarled old billabong trees and the insects and the wriggling things and the little birds that it excites. Splashing down into the billabong where it seems to have died – but it has not, for quietly over the sun-cracked bottom its snaky little fingers grow and spread, it is creeping out, creeping out, moistening the dead leaves, here and there beginning to push them into tiny heaps as it spreads and grows, while many little fingers like wriggling brown baby snakes push between the leaves, then dart further along.

That billabong may extend for miles. Maybe fifty, a hundred feet wide or more. Billabongs and lagoons and waterholes miles away out to right and left, all quietly steadily filling with slow moving brown water that seems to come from nowhere. Over hundreds of square miles of bushland.aerial-inundated-pike-mundic-floodplain-complex-2012

Photo from

They’d lost a race with the rising river when they ran into the Talywalka.

….It was the Talywalka an anabranch of the Darling, usually dry…..I remembered old hands telling me that in the great flood of the nineties (1890’s) river steamers had steamed two hundred miles up the Talywalka to inland stations.

The Overflow of Banjo’s time was probably the whole floodplain areas of the Darling, Murray, Murrumbidgee and Lachlan systems. Collectively the Murray-Darling Basin, of which the Darling Riverine Plains Bioregion (10,651,748 ha [26,321,042 acres] or 41,127 square miles) is only a part.

menindee lakes

A small part of the Darling floodplain. The first 40km of the Talywalka anabranch is just above the Legend.





Anyway that’s what I think of when I hear The Overflow but what I really wanted to do was give a thumbs up to the store in Mayfield called The Overflow.RIMG2400-001

It started with the old P.O. and collecting stuff just tends to grow

but as the luck would have it, the next store along came upRIMG2418

There’s treasure here aplenty, inside, behind the glass facadeRIMG2421

but I come here to look around, the sheds and iron yard.RIMG2410

For as the goods were piling up, and getting underfoot

a vacant section with aging shed got laid out with more lootRIMG2394

Jan’s son, a wag by some accounts said ‘that’s The Overflow’

and so it is, and so it does for as the pressure builds, just like

those Darling waters in far off Menindee, the pressure builds until it spills

into the next dam section.RIMG2391

So park yer bikeRIMG2420

and rush not hameRIMG2396

Cos I’d augur thatRIMG2395

you’ll gather up some gearRIMG2397

for just past those picnic tables

jambed right up to the rafters, there are some crumbling stables,RIMG2399

Behind a brand new barn in yet another section , there’s no traction-engine to pull the drivers shackRIMG2404

but wait a bit cos Ferguson, could trundle itRIMG2402

along, on nearby Thompson’s TrackRIMG2422

This head was quick to go, for such is a rare findRIMG2414

the only thing rarer is R.H.S. it’s seldom left behindRIMG2407

These outer yards lie under the Tin Man’s watchful guard, in weather hot or coldRIMG2398

you never know there may be, something new what’s old

So stop a bit and rest the trip, at Jan Howden’s Overflow.



Ion L. Idriess, 1951. Across the Nullarbor, a modern argosy.  Angus and Robertson Ltd, Bloomsbury St., London.

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