Mulga Bill's Bicycle

Mulga Bill's Bicycle is a very funny poem written by one of our most famous Australians Andrew Barton "Banjo" Paterson. 

Banjo Paterson was born in 1864 near Orange in New South Wales. 

mulga bills bicycleRiding a bicycle in rural Victoria around 1896

He wrote and published a number of poems in the 1890s including 'Mulga Bill's Bicycle' which was first published in 'The Sydney Mail' on 25 July 1896.

From what I have been able to find out, it seems the poem was inspired by a man named William Henry Lewis who had bought his bicycle during a drought when there was no feed for horses. Lewis knew Paterson when he spent time around the Bourke area in western New South Wales.

Lewis' bicycle was actually a 'safety bicycle' which looked more like a modern bicycle than the penny farthing shown in most illustrations of the poem.

The safety bicycle had superseded the penny farthing by 1896. I guess the old penny farthings just looked more quaint in the illustrations.

Bicycles were quickly became a popular way of getting around in the country for shearers and itinerant workers.

The first cycle show to be held in the colony of New South Wales was a two-day event in June 1896.

There's no proof that Paterson attended the show but cycling was a new craze at the time and I guess the poem and the show were a part of the enthusiasm for this new way of getting around. 

Mulga Bill's Bicycle

'Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that caught the cycling craze;
He turned away the good old horse that served him many days;
He dressed himself in cycling clothes, resplendent to be seen;
He hurried off to town and bought a shining new machine;
And as he wheeled it through the door, with air of lordly pride,
The grinning shop assistant said, "Excuse me, can you ride?"

"See here, young man," said Mulga Bill, "from Walgett to the sea,
From Conroy's Gap to Castlereagh, there's none can ride like me.
I'm good all round at everything as everybody knows,
Although I'm not the one to talk - I hate a man that blows.
But riding is my special gift, my chiefest, sole delight;
Just ask a wild duck can it swim, a wildcat can it fight.
There's nothing clothed in hair or hide, or built of flesh or steel,
There's nothing walks or jumps, or runs, on axle, hoof, or wheel,
But what I'll sit, while hide will hold and girths and straps are tight:
I'll ride this here two-wheeled concern right straight away at sight."

'Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that sought his own abode,
That perched above Dead Man's Creek, beside the mountain road.
He turned the cycle down the hill and mounted for the fray,
But 'ere he'd gone a dozen yards it bolted clean away.
It left the track, and through the trees, just like a silver steak,
It whistled down the awful slope towards the Dead Man's Creek.

It shaved a stump by half an inch, it dodged a big white-box:
The very wallaroos in fright went scrambling up the rocks,
The wombats hiding in their caves dug deeper underground,
As Mulga Bill, as white as chalk, sat tight to every bound.
It struck a stone and gave a spring that cleared a fallen tree,
It raced beside a precipice as close as close could be;
And then as Mulga Bill let out one last despairing shriek
It made a leap of twenty feet into the Dean Man's Creek.

'Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that slowly swam ashore:
He said, "I've had some narrer shaves and lively rides before;
I've rode a wild bull round a yard to win a five-pound bet,
But this was the most awful ride that I've encountered yet.
I'll give that two-wheeled outlaw best; it's shaken all my nerve
To feel it whistle through the air and plunge and buck and swerve.
It's safe at rest in Dead Man's Creek, we'll leave it lying still;
A horse's back is good enough henceforth for Mulga Bill."

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