Story jointly researched by local Castlebar historians Brian Hoban and Ernie Sweeney.©
A unique festival entitled "The Man from Snowy River Bush Festival" - April 1st to April 3rd 2005 was held in Corryong, Victoria the Australian Alps to celebrate the life of Castlebar born Jack Riley (1841- 1914). Jack Riley was born in 1841 in Castlebar, Co. Mayo, Ireland to Daniel Riley and Anne (nee Murray). He was 13 when he emigrated to Australia, arriving in Sydney on a ship called "The Rodney" on March 15th 1854.
He later lived with and supported his widowed sister, Mrs. Mary Anne Jones and operated a tailoring business at Day Street, Omeo in the high country. When his sister remarried he left Omeo to pursue the life of a gold digger, bushman and stockman. He worked in the Monaro district the Prendergast and Freebody families, and at a stationcalled Eutamula near the border of New South Wales and Victoria. He quickly acquired notoriety as a mountain rider, horse-breaker, bushman and tracker of wild horses.
In 1884 cattle baron John Pierce appointed him to look after cattle at Tom Groggin, an Upper Murray pastoral run of 20,000 acres in the foothills of the Kosciuszko Range. He lived alone in a log cabin for nearly 20 years and drove cattle out of Tom Groggin Station every summer to graze on the high country.
Riley developed a reputation as a brumby hunter and horse breaker, but these tales would probably have been long since forgotten if Walter Mitchell had not introduced him to A.B. (Banjo) Paterson. (Poet and author of Waltzing Matilda.)
This Walter Mitchell was father-in-law of Elyne Mitchell who wrote the internationally known Silver Brumby series of novels. Elyne has heard the story about the night Andrew Barton (Banjo) Paterson met Jack Riley several times since she married Tom Mitchell and moved to Upper Murray over sixty years ago.
Walter took Banjo from the Mitchell homestead at Bingenbrong to Riley's hut at Tom Groggin in 1890. A bottle of whiskey emerged in the hut that night and it is said there was none left by morning. "Riley just kept talking" Elyne said. "Those were the days when a person who could tell a good yarn was always popular because there was no wireless and no television."
Riley told the tale of one of his exploits about chasing a herd of wild horses. From this Banjo Paterson wrote his poem "The Man from Snowy River." 1890.
The poem tells of the story of a valuable horse, which escapes and the princely sum offered by its owners for the safe return. All the riders in the area gather to pursue the wild bunch of horses and cut the valuable from the mob. But the country defeats them all except for one "The Man from Snowy River" Jack Riley. His personal courage and skill has turned him into a legend.
In 1914 Jack Riley died on the 15th of July, after suffering from heart problems. They buried him the next day at the Corryong cemetery. In 1956 Tom Mitchell erected a rough granite head stone in his memory.
Corryong is a quiet attractive older-style town of some 1,500 people situated in the upper reaches of the Murray River at an elevation of 320 metres. It is one of the most unspoilt places in Victoria and is surrounded by spectacular countryside. It is located 437 km north east of Melbourne via the Hume Freeway and Murray Valley Highway. The town is the gateway to both the Snowy Mountains (Australian Alps) and to Kosciuszko National Park. When news reached Corryong that Jack Riley had become ill, a party was sent to bring him in. the going was tough with snow falling. On July 14th 1914 Riley died in a hut at Surveyor's Creek and was buried two days later. This event is celebrated each year by a commemorative ride along the route taken by those who brought the dying Jack Riley into town from his mountain home.
Jack Riley's grave is located in the hillside cemetery at the top of Pioneer Avenue, Corryong. Australian born Fr. John O Brien (born Patrick Joseph Huntington) whose parents came from Lisseycasey, Co. Clare performed the last rites. The Man from Snowy River Museum is located at the corner of Mc Kay Street & Hanson Street in the old shire offices.
The poem is also remembered in two movies The Man From Snowy River & Return to Snowy River as well as a TV series Snowy River: The Mac Gregor Saga.
The following is the text of the poem:
The Man from Snowy River by Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson
THERE was movement at the station, for the word had passed around
That the colt from old Regret had got away,
And had joined the wild bush horses - he was worth a thousand pound,
So all the cracks had gathered to the fray.
All the tried and noted riders from the stations near and far
Had mustered at the homestead overnight,
For the bushmen love hard riding where the wild bush horses are,
And the stock-horse snuffs the battle with delight.
There was Harrison, who made his pile when Pardon won the cup,
The old man with his hair as white as snow;
But few could ride beside him when his blood was fairly up
He would go wherever horse and man could go.
And Clancy of the Overflow came down to lend a hand,
No better horseman ever held the reins;
For never horse could throw him while the saddle-girths would stand,
He learnt to ride while droving on the plains.
And one was there, a stripling on a small and weedy beast,
He was something like a racehorse undersized,
With a touch of Timor pony-three parts thoroughbred at least
And such as are by mountain horsemen prized.
He was hard and tough and wiry-just the sort that won't say die-
There was courage in his quick impatient tread;
And he bore the badge of gameness in his bright and fiery eye,
And the proud and lofty carriage of his head.
But still so slight and weedy, one would doubt his power to stay,
And the old man said, "That horse will never do
For a long and tiring gallop-lad, you'd better stop away,
Those hills are far too rough for such as you."
So he waited sad and wistful-only Clancy stood his friend -
"I think we ought to let him come," he said;
"I warrant he'll be with us when he's wanted at the end,
For both his horse and he are mountain bred.
"He hails from Snowy River, up by Kosciusko's side,
Where the hills are twice as steep and twice as rough,
Where a horse's hoofs strike firelight from the flint stones every stride,
The man that holds his own is good enough.
And the Snowy River riders on the mountains make their home,
Where the river runs those giant hills between;
I have seen full many horsemen since I first commenced to roam,
But nowhere yet such horsemen have I seen."
So he went - they found the horses by the big mimosa clump
They raced away towards the mountain's brow,
And the old man gave his orders, 'Boys, go at them from the jump,
No use to try for fancy riding now.v And, Clancy, you must wheel them, try and wheel them to the right.
Ride boldly, lad, and never fear the spills,
For never yet was rider that could keep the mob in sight,
If once they gain the shelter of those hills.'
So Clancy rode to wheel them-he was racing on the wing
Where the best and boldest riders take their place,
And he raced his stock-horse past them, and he made the ranges ring
With the stockwhip, as he met them face to face.
Then they halted for a moment, while he swung the dreaded lash,
But they saw their well-loved mountain full in view,
And they charged beneath the stockwhip with a sharp and sudden dash,
And off into the mountain scrub they flew.
Then fast the horsemen followed, where the gorges deep and black
Resounded to the thunder of their tread,
And the stockwhips woke the echoes, and they fiercely answered back
From cliffs and crags that beetled overhead.
And upward, ever upward, the wild horses held their way,
Where mountain ash and kurrajong grew wide;
And the old man muttered fiercely, "We may bid the mob good day,
No man can hold them down the other side."
When they reached the mountain's summit, even Clancy took a pull,
It well might make the boldest hold their breath,
The wild hop scrub grew thickly, and the hidden ground was full
Of wombat holes, and any slip was death.
But the man from Snowy River let the pony have his head,
And he swung his stockwhip round and gave a cheer,
And he raced him down the mountain like a torrent down its bed,
While the others stood and watched in very fear.
He sent the flint stones flying, but the pony kept his feet,
He cleared the fallen timber in his stride,
And the man from Snowy River never shifted in his seat-
It was grand to see that mountain horseman ride.
Through the stringy barks and saplings, on the rough and broken ground
Down the hillside at a racing pace he went;
And he never drew the bridle till he landed safe and sound,
At the bottom of that terrible descent.
He was right among the horses as they climbed the further hill,
And the watchers on the mountain standing mute,
Saw him ply the stockwhip fiercely, he was right among them still,
As he raced across the clearing in pursuit.
Then they lost him for a moment, where two mountain gullies met
In the ranges, but a final glimpse reveals
On a dim and distant hillside the wild horses racing yet,
With the man from Snowy River at their heels.
And he ran them single-handed till their sides were white with foam.
He followed like a bloodhound on their track,
Till they halted cowed and beaten, then he turned their heads for home,
And alone and unassisted brought them back.
But his hardy mountain pony he could scarcely raise a trot,
He was blood from hip to shoulder from the spur;
But his pluck was still undaunted, and his courage fiery hot,
For never yet was mountain horse a cur.
And down by Kosciusko, where the pine-clad ridges raise
Their torn and rugged battlements on high,
Where the air is clear as crystal, and the white stars fairly blaze
At midnight in the cold and frosty sky,
And where around the Overflow the reedbeds sweep and sway
To the breezes, and the rolling plains are wide,
The man from Snowy River is a household word to-day,
And the stockmen tell the story of his ride.