HOME
        TheInfoList






Swagman float at the 2008 Adelaide Christmas Pageant

In the 19th century, Australian bush poetry grew in popularity alongside an emerging sense of Australian nationalism. The swagman was venerated in poetry and literature as symbolic of Australian nationalistic and egalitarian ideals. Popular poems about swagmen include Henry Lawson's Out Back (1893) and Shaw Neilson's The Sundowner<

At times they would have been seen in and around urban areas looking for work or a handout. Most eyewitness descriptions of swagmen were written during the period when the country was 'riding on the sheep's back'. At this time, rovers were offered rations at police stations as an early form of the dole payment. They roamed the countryside finding work as sheep shearers or as farm hands. Not all were hard workers. Some swagmen known as sundowners would arrive at homesteads or stations at sundown when it was too late to work, taking in a meal and disappearing before work started the next morning. The New Zealand equivalent of a sundowner was known as a tussocker.[5]

Most existed with few possessions as they were limited by what they could carry. Generally they had a swag (canvas bedroll), a tucker bag (bag for carrying food) and some cooking implements which may have included a billy can (tea pot or stewing pot). They carried flour for making damper and sometimes some meat for a stew.

In Henry Lawson's short story The Romance of the Swag, he describes in detail how to make a dinky-die Aussie swag. Lawson states,"Travelling with the swag in Australia is variously and picteresguely described as "humping bluey", "walking Matilda", "humping Matilda", "humping your drum", "being on the wallaby", "jabbing trotters", and "tea and sugar burglaring".[10]

Swagmen travelled with fellow 'swaggies' for periods, walking where they had to go, hitch hiking or stowing aboard cargo trains to get around. They slept on the ground next to a campfire, in hollowed out trees or under bridges.

In the 19th century, Australian bush poetry grew in popularity alongside an emerging sense of Australian nationalism. The swagman was venerated in poetry and literature as symbolic of Australian nationalistic and egalitarian ideals. Popular poems about swagmen include Henry Lawson's Out Back (1893) and Shaw Neilson's The Sundowner (1908). In 1902, Barbara Baynton published a collection of short stories titled Bush Studies. The final story, "The Chosen Vessel" (1896), gives an account of a woman alone in a bush dwelling, where she is preyed upon and eventually raped and murdered by a passing swagman. This was in stark contrast to traditional bush lore, where swagmen are depicted in distinctly romantic terms. Swagmen were also prominent in the works of those associated with the Jindyworobak Movement, including poet Roland Robinson, who was a swagman for much of his life before World War II.

Coinciding with trends in 19th-century Australian literature, swagmen were popular subjects of contemporary painters and illustrators. Drawings of swagmen, itinerant bush workers, rural nomads and other men "on the wallaby" were prevalent in newspapers and picturesque atlases. ST Gill and James Alfred Turner popularised the open-air life of the swagman. By the 1880s, swagmen featured in the works of Tom Roberts, Walter Withers, Arthur Streeton, Frederick McCubbin, and other artists associated with the Melbourne-based Heidelberg School, which is customarily held to be the first distinctly Australian movement in Western art and the "golden age of national idealism" in Australian painting.Coinciding with trends in 19th-century Australian literature, swagmen were popular subjects of contemporary painters and illustrators. Drawings of swagmen, itinerant bush workers, rural nomads and other men "on the wallaby" were prevalent in newspapers and picturesque atlases. ST Gill and James Alfred Turner popularised the open-air life of the swagman. By the 1880s, swagmen featured in the works of Tom Roberts, Walter Withers, Arthur Streeton, Frederick McCubbin, and other artists associated with the Melbourne-based Heidelberg School, which is customarily held to be the first distinctly Australian movement in Western art and the "golden age of national idealism" in Australian painting.[11]

Swagmen and other characters of the bush were popular subjects of the silent film era of Australian cinema. Raymond Longford's 1914 The Swagman's Story starred Lottie Lyell. 1936's The Flying Doctor was directed by Miles Mander and starred Charles Farrell as a swagman travelling through the Blue Mountains towards Sydney. Swagmen have been the subject of numerous books including the 1955 novel The Shiralee by D'Arcy Niland, which was made into a 1957 film, starring Peter Finch (who himself lived as a swagman during early adulthood[12]), and a 1987 TV mini-series, starring Bryan Brown. Norman Kaye played the role of a swagman in the 1976 bushranger film Mad Dog Morgan.[13] Arthur Upfield wrote a number of novels about swagmen including Death of a Swagman (1942), The Bushman Who Came Back (1957) and Madman's Bend (1963). In the 1981 film adaptation of Ethel Pedley's 1899 children's book Dot and the Kangaroo, a magical swagman helps Dot find Mother Kangaroo's lost joey.[14] The Scottish singer-songwriter Alistair Hulett wrote a song about the 'swaggies' called "The Swaggies Have All Waltzed Matilda Away".

In the 1946 Sherlock Holmes film Dressed to Kill, a tune called "The Swagman", heard on an old music box, plays an important role in solving the mystery.

The Australian Batman villain Swagman derives his name from the term, but takes more conceptual inspiration from Australian bushranger Ned Kelly, who wore a suit of bulletproof armour during his final shootout with Australian law enforcement.