Free like Clancy

Clancy

In modern culture the cowboy is not just a man who works horses or drives cattle.  The cowboy is a symbol.  By definition a symbol is a thing that represents or stands for something else.  The cowboy is a complex symbol representing adventure, independence, freedom, a carefree life untroubled by the manners and conventions of civilized society.  He represents the polar opposite of living in a city, with a job, family, mortgage, car payments etc.  He is an escape fantasy.

When Philip Morris cigarette company advertised their Marlboro brand the ad agency, Leo Burnett, tied it to the symbol of the Cowboy.  It was an instant success because the target market identified immediately with all the meanings conveyed by that symbol.  The cowboy became known as the Marlboro man.

In Australia the free-ranging cowboy symbol has a name, which happens to be my own;  Clancy.  Inspired by Banjo Patterson’s poem “Clancy of the Overflow” the aussie cattle drover crystallized in the minds of Australians in the character of the eponymous hero.  So much so that Clancy inspired his own literary following.

Clancy appears in the poem, and in the movie “The Man from Snowy River”.  A less favourable view of the drovers life is given in “Clancy’s Reply” by Thomas Gerald Clancy and the popularity of the genre is mocked in the parody “The Overflow of Clancy” by the enigmatic HHCC.

The poem below is by well known Australian poet Dorothy Hewett, born May 21st 1923.  Her usage of Clancy is a clear nod to the symbology of Clancy representing the wild carefree and fun existence as a stark contrast to her Quaker roots.

 

Once I Rode With Clancy; by Dorothy Hewett

Once I rode with Clancy through the wet hills of Wickepin,
by Kunjin and Corrigin with moonlight on the roofs,
and the iron shone faint and ghostly on the lonely moonlit siding
and the salt earth rang like crystal underneath our flying hoofs.

O once I rode with Clancy when my white flesh was tender,
and my hair a golden cloud along the wind,
among the hills of Wickepin, the dry salt plains of Corrigin,
where all my Quaker forebears strove and sinned.

Their black hats went bobbing through the Kunjin churchyard,
with great rapacious noses, somber-eyed,
ringbarked gums and planted pine trees, built a raw church
in a clearing, made it consecrated ground because they died.

From this seed I spring—the dour and sardonic Quaker men,
the women with hooked noses, baking bread,
breeding, hymning, sowing, fencing off the stony earth,
that salts their bones for thanksgiving when they’re dead.

It’s a country full of old men, with thumbscrews on their hunger,
their crosses leaning sideways in the scrub.
My cousins spit to windward, great noses blue with moonlight,
their shoulders propping up the Kunjin pub.

O once I rode with Clancy through the wet hills of Wickepin,
by Kunjin and Corrigin with moonlight on the roofs,
and the iron shone faint and ghostly on the lonely, moonlit siding
and the salt earth rang like crystal underneath our flying hoofs.

And the old men rose muttering and cursed us from the graveyard
when they saw our wild white hoofs go flashing by,
for I ride with landless Clancy and their prayers are at my back,
they can shout out strings of curses on the sky.

By Wickepin, by Corrigin, by Kunjin’s flinty hills,
on wild white hoofs that kindle into flame,
the river is my mirror, the wattle tree our roof,
adrift across our bed like golden rain.

Let the old men clack and mutter, let their dead eyes run with rain.
I hear the crack of doom across the scrub,
for though I ride with Clancy there is much of me remains,
in that moonlit dust outside the Kunjin pub.

My golden hair has faded, my tender flesh is dark,
my voice has learned a wet and windy sigh
and I lean above the creekbed, catch my breath upon a ghost,
with a great rapacious nose and somber eye.

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