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The Bulletin and Bush Poetry

Updated on July 26, 2009

The chances are you've never heard of The Bulletin or read any early Australian Bush poetry. This form of poetry is not, and never really has been, famous on the world stage. Bush Poems describe life outside the city; its trials and tribulations, way of life and its fun times. The Bulletin allowed this form of poetry to be brought to the masses.

The two biggest stars were, without a doubt, AB 'Banjo' Patterson and Henry Lawson, but even Harry Harbord 'Breaker' Morant, who later signed up for the Boer War and was executed for war crimes, had poetry printed in The Bulletin.

JF Archibald (Left), one of the founders of The Bulletin, with poet Henry Lawson
JF Archibald (Left), one of the founders of The Bulletin, with poet Henry Lawson

A Short History of The Bulletin

The Bulletin was first published in January 1880, and its founders journalists J.F. Archibald and John Haynes, soon found a hungry audience. The paper was xenophobic, nationalistic and pro-union. Its views were often in contradiction to the more established newspapers, and most of its readers were the common man of the time. The paper was a mixture of radical and stunningly racist policies.

Eventually, the paper would be known as 'the bushman's bible'. It was conceived as a paper for political and economic commentary. In a masterstroke, Archibald opened the paper for reader contribution in 1886, and soon short stories, cartoons and poems were being published alongside calls for self rule of all Australian colonies. The contributors for the literary section of the paper came from all over Australia, and were stories of the common man. Shearers, station hands, miners, as well as the more educated were all invited to join in. This eventually led to The Bulletin School, conceived by the literary editor, which contained the best of the best of artists and writers.

After Archibald's retirement the paper became more conservative in its views, but was still one of the loudest voices against conscription in World War 1. The readership of The Bulletin began a steady decline after the first world war, eventually changing owners, and by the 1940s was seen by most of the population as out of touch and out of date.

The paper was purchased by Sir Frank Packer in 1961 and he changed its format into a magazine. Packer took the magazine back to its roots, and The Bulletin concentrated on political and business commentary. Even with this revamp the magazine continued to lose money and readership, but Packer continued to keep it in Australian Consolidated Press due to its age and prestige. It wasn't until January 2008 that the magazine finally ceased publication, shortly after the death of Frank Packer's son, Kerry Packer.

Below: A recitation of one of Banjo Paterson's early poems, published first in The Bulletin in 1892. The Man from Ironbark.

The Man From Ironbark - Banjo Paterson

The Man From Snowy River by Banjo Paterson

AB 'Banjo' Paterson

Born in 1864 in rural New South Wales Andrew Barton Paterson was in the perfect position to absorb what would become the subject matter of his later poetry and songs. He was educated in a small school in the town of Binalong, before attending Sydney Grammar School. His first job was as a lawyer's clerk, and he eventually became a solicitor.

When The Bulletin opened its pages for contribution he was among the first to send in works. He selected the pseudonym 'The Banjo' for publication. Among his early works was The Man from Ironbark, which was published in 1892, and the sentimental Clancy of the Overflow, written from the point of view of a city dweller, wishing for the freedom of the drover's way of life.

His most famous poem, The Man From Snowy River was published in The Bulletin in April 1890, and included the character of Clancy of the Overflow from his earlier poem.

Paterson is also famous as the author of Waltzing Matilda, one of Australia's unofficial anthems.

Paterson worked as a war correspondent during the Boer War, and during the Boxer Rebellion in China. He also attempted to cover World War 1 from the front lines in France, but was unable to get close enough. He eventually returned home and concentrated his efforts on the Remount service, which were sending horses to Australian Troops in the Middle East.

Paterson died of a heart attack in Sydney on the 5th February 1941.

Harry 'Breaker' Morant
Harry 'Breaker' Morant

Harry Harbord 'Breaker' Morant

Not much is known about Harry Morant's early life. There's been the suggestion that he made up much of his early history, and over the years facts have become tangled in with conjecture, leaving a morass of contradictory claims about who his parents were and how well educated he actually was. What is known is that arrived in Australia in 1883 and eventually moved to Queensland before moving all over the country working a variety of jobs.

He had a reputation for being charismatic and a womaniser. This didn't stop him translating a lot of his experiences of life in the bush into poetry. His first poem published by The Bulletin was called A Night Thought, published under the pseudonym of 'The Breaker', in September 1891. His last poems were published in 1902, the year of his death.

After years of itinerant work, and by this time in South Australia, Morant volunteered for the military in 1899, and was sent to fight the Boers in South Africa.

By 1901 Morant had gained a promotion to Lieutenant and was attached to the Bushveldt Carbineers, and sent to Northern Transvaal with the mission to fight the guerrilla campaign. It was a dirty war, and with the Boer insurgents hiding with civilians. The old rules of war had been thrown out, and the unofficial order came from above not to take prisoners. Unofficially this was known as 'Rule 303'. In August 1901, following a series of tragic events, Morant and his men killed six prisoners of war and one clergyman who they suspected of collaboration with the Boers. They were arrested and court-martialled for this war crime.

Morant and Peter Handcock were found guilty and executed for War crimes on February 27, 1902. The night before his execution Morant wrote his last poem entitled Butchered To Make a Dutchman's Holiday, published in The Bulletin in April 1902, two months after his execution.


Submit a Comment
  • Hovalis profile imageAUTHOR


    11 years ago from Australia

    Thank you, Stephanie. I'm glad you enjoyed it. :-)

  • profile image


    11 years ago

    I think that this is an exeptional site & it's great for both educational & pleasure.

  • Hovalis profile imageAUTHOR


    11 years ago from Australia


  • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

    Patty Inglish MS 

    11 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

    Very interesting presentation!


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