Posted by: Julie Duell | March 15, 2008



illustof-banjo-patterson-poem-the-bush-christening-oils-1980s.jpg the-man-from-snowy-river-oils-1980s-scotts-collection.jpg   p3101808.jpg

NOTE: If you would like a mounted cello-wrapped print of any of the paintings shown here please email Julie at   Prices are $25 for A4 & $15 for A5 + postage.

Hi again everyone! Julie here…

Autumn is a great time to visit the Australian outback – after the full heat of summer. Like many Aussies, I always get the urge to ‘go bush’ then – anyway I got to thinking about our bush heritage and comparing the days of the pioneers to now, with all our mod cons!

Every year everyone is encouraged to join “Earth Hour” and turn off electricity for one hour  in an effort to assist and draw attention to global warming problems.

For me it will be a bit like revisiting the days of my childhood, with candles or a kerosene lamp.  In the quiet, intimate atmosphere of a flickering flame, no doubt many of our bush poems and songs were born, some to stand the test of time – being still with us today.

Do you have a favourite Australian poet or songwriter?   My favourite would have to be Andrew Barton “Banjo” Paterson – and this is evidenced in a few paintings he inspired me to produce over the years….

The song “Waltzing Matilda” (accredited to A.B.”Banjo” Paterson)  is known all over the world as representative of Australia, even though some of the terminology is a bit strange these days.  I once gave this topic to my children’s art class, who all had a go at painting the part of the story they liked best.   Who was the little boy who was scared of painting people and just showed the Swaggie’s hat floating on the water after he had dived in and drowned??? Would you call that lazy or clever?

Anyway, before the children started painting, I had to make sure they knew what all the words meant and understood the story.  If you’re new to this or are a bit hazy, here’s a refresher:


Waltzing = in this case, walking, tramping.

Matilda = A bushman’s bundle. A swag. ‘To matilda’ means to travel the road/carry a swag.

Billy = A can with a handle used for boiling water over an open fire, often without a lid.  A handful of tea would be thrown in when boiling, then the billy would be swung in a full straight arm circle up over the shoulders and down again 3 times to distribute the tealeaves through the water.  (A bit dangerous with boiling water in a billy with no lid! Safer to stir with a stick!)  The name ‘billy’ came from the cans of imported “Bully beef” (a type of corned beef) which were used as  cooking implements when empty.

Swag =  A person’s worldly possessions, carried on their back – in the days   before modern ‘backpacks’ things were often rolled up in a blanket slung across the shoulders with bulky things hanging off it – such as a billy can.

Swagman (Swaggie) = a tramp who carries his swag on his back from place to place.

Billabong =  A small backwater cut off from its main water source. (We give thanks for so many wonderful Aboriginal words like this in our rich & unique Australian vocabulary. Billabong’ is first recorded as ‘Billibang’ from the Wiradjuri people of southern N.S.W. & northern Victoria.)

Coolibah tree = a type of eucalypt or gum tree that grows in seasonally flooded areas of arid Australia.

Jumbuck = A sheep.

Tuckerbag = A bag used for storing food, or “tucker”.

Stockman = One who tends stock (sheep, cattle etc.)

Troopers = Officials who uphold the law (police or soldiers).

See if you can follow the story more easily now…note: there a few versions floating around & you can find sites on the Web with music also.


WALTZING MATILDA             (Credited to A.B. ‘Banjo’ Pateron)

verse 1. Once a jolly swagman sat beside a billabong

under the shade of a Coolibah tree

and he sang as he sat and waited ’til his billy boiled

‘You’ll come a waltzing matilda with me’







2. Down came a jumbuck to drink at the billabong

Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee

and he sang as he stuffed that jumbuck in his tuckerbag

“You’ll come a-waltzing matilda with me”.



3. Down came the stockman, mounted on his thoroughbred

Up came the troopers, one – two – three

“Where’s that jolly jumbuck you’ve got in your tuckerbag?

You’ll come a-waltzing matilda with me!”



Up jumped the swagman and dived into the billabong

“You’ll never catch me alive” said he!

(softly) And his ghost may be heard as you ride past that billabong

“You’ll some a-waltzing matilda with me!”

CHORUS REPEAT, SUBSTITUTING LAST 2 LINES OF VERSE ABOVE ___________________________________________________

Here is my oil painting illustrating ‘Waltzing Matilda’


A close-up of the action…. the swaggie reaching for his tuckerbag when he sees the jumbuck drinking at the billabong & stockman watching from behind.  Note the bedroll, billy boiling & frying pan at the ready.


It was my first painting on a stretched canvas and someone put a chairleg through it (not in a crucial place!) with careless handling at an Exhibition! (All care & no responsibility is what most artists sign on standard entry forms!)

So I had to be innovative – after patching the spot carefully on the wrong side, I added a few ‘impasto’ gumleaves over the offending tear! I think it was an improvement – added a bit more flavour to the painting! What do you think? It is now glued down firmly onto hardboard & framed!


So “All’s well that ends well” my mother used to say!

The next painting inspiration along these lines came to me with the wonderful film “The Man from Snowy River” which has become an Australian classic. Once again, the storyline was drawn from A.B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson’s poem of the same name.

The poem is a bit lengthy to print here, but most of you who know the story will recall vividly young Jim on his brave and sturdy little mountain pony chasing the brumby herd led by the black stallion (the colt from ‘Old Regret’)…daring to follow them down a steep ravine after the more seasoned riders gave up.   I painted this scene as they reached the bottom of the ravine.

I recall it took a lot of study of horse-flesh to think myself into the scene and attempt to portray it from my imagination.


and here are some details of the painting…..





I was still in Aussie outback mode, when along came a commissioned mural to use as a backdrop for a Woolshed Show Band… depicting the well known bush song”Click go the Shears” Here are the songwords:


I think it was Sydney’s Town Crier that contacted me.   The mural was to be a large as practical, on loose canvas – able to be unrolled and hung & easily transported, since the Woolshed Show Band travelled widely – although their main base at that time back in 1985 was at Old Sydney Town.

I had never attempted a mural before and was keen to confront a new challenge since I liked the subject matter.   A lot of my artwork in those days was illustrative – I guess because most of my art input as a child was through book illustrations.  Expressions and body language have always held great fascination for me.

So, with a tight deadline, the next two weeks – day and night – were spent up and down a small step-ladder, painting this 15 ft. x  7 ft. mural, which was the exact size of the biggest wall in my studio, so I could go no larger.


Of course, I planned it carefully small scale after lots of small sketches from my imagination and research, then squared it up on the canvas but it was quite demanding getting the proportions of the life sized figures right. Here’s the finished work…


Below is the main drama – “the ringer looks around and is beaten by a blow, cursing the old snagger with the bare-bellied ewe”

To be really authentic, I included the sticky flypaper that often could be seen hanging ready to attract and trap annoying bush flies, as well as each shearer’s hessian water bottle.


The ringer = Top shearer (best and fastest)  Shearing was fiercely competitive. I wonder if it still is with the electric shears?   My late husband John got hold of an early authentic pair of shears which he modelled for me.    I still have them.

Snagger = A fellow with two prominent front teeth with a separation between them.   The ewe with a bare belly meant that the snagger had less wool to shear and could therefore beat the ringer, if only by one ‘blow’ with his shears!


Then there’s the verse “In the middle of the floor in his cane bottomed chair is the boss of the board, with eyes everywhere. Notes well each fleece as it comes to the screen, paying strict attention if it’s taken off clean”

This was a good spot to include the “Rousabout” with his broom (general cleaner-upperer!)    It was fun to research it all.  The watertank outside is on a tank stand for gravity feed.


The tarboy would be ready with a pot of warm tar to daub on any cuts or lacerations in the sheep. This would seal the wound and keep it from getting fly-blown while it healed.  I added the dog scratching its fleas on the tallyman’s hat for a touch of humour.


Next I needed to paint in the Tallyman, keeping score of each shearer and the number of sheep shorn, as this determines how they get paid!   He is watching intently to see if the snagger will become the next ‘Ringer”!  The sheep in the pen are Merinos, those most sought after for the soft quality wool that Australia became known for throughout the world.


In the background I needed to add the other workers – the wool classers and wool balers.  There was so much detail needed in this mural and I was running out of time!


Finally, it was finished!   I was so glad I worked in flexible quick-dry acrylics! John and I stood back together with a critical eye.   We looked at each other and both said the same thing….”it’s too neat and clean looking!”   So last thing, I quickly added lots of sheep doops and bits of wool to the floorboards!  Ha! That did it!

There was no time to spare – not even time to enjoy it on the studio wall for a short time.  Delivery was the next day!    The Woolshed Showband people were very pleased with it – I wonder where it is today?


Another delightful poem by Andrew Barton “Banjo” Paterson was ‘A Bush Christening”.  I couldn’t resist having a go at illustrating it. Here is the poem:


and here is the painting…


I hope you’ve had a laugh or two by now!

Don’t forget it is my intention to make these posts interactive.   Please feel welcome to ‘come on board’ and share your comments and suggestions below – then we can all enjoy the feedback.


OK one last painting before I finish for now…I don’t have the poem ‘The Ned Kelly Saga’ but my partner, Tony can recite much of it.   Ned Kelly was an infamous bushranger/bank robber in Australian history, best known for his unusual hand-forged armour and final shootout at Glen Rowan.  I put together a composite picture, put it up for sale in a BANK of all places, and it sold!


That’s it for now then folks…hoping to hear from you & chat!

“Ooroo” (as we say in the bush!)





  1. Well, I can’t believe so few comments are here unless they have been removed with time.

    Gosh Julie, my mind boggles with this poetry site and your wonderful exciting and memorable paintings of the characters in the poems. Your enormous painting of Click Goes The Sheers just blows my mind, Incredible, so funny, so filled with everything a sheering shed would need and characters we could love. Like you, I wonder where that painting is now — did you ever catch up with it?

    The Man From Snowy River painting with the wild frightened eyes of the horses and the action is just stupendous.
    Your painting of Waltzing Matilda is much smaller but certainly tells the story – seems so inadequate for me to say this to a painter of renown because of this Website and all your many prizes – but Congratulations Julie Duell.

    My husband has sat here with me laughing and admiring the delightful paintings, and the never-ending supply of joy in that mind of yours. I’ve yet to come across one page (or is it called a blog) here, where I wasn’t enthralled with the paintings or the teachings. Thank you again, so very much. x x

    • Thank you Robyne for your comments and compliments. It’s strange that you should mention the mural “Click go the Shears” as I just met one of the Town Cryers a few days ago who ordered it all those years ago. He said it is still in use and in good order so that’s great to know. It is acrylic on canvas & rolls up when not in use as a backdrop for woolshed themed shows.

      • Maybe one day the Town Cryer may wish to put it in a gallery sometime so more people than shearers will be able to see it — a painting with a great story. I’m so glad it’s still around and hope it lasts for many lifetimes. With one voice the Town Cryer would be able to call all and sundry to the showing of your ‘scroll’.

  2. Julie , Jimmy Hill has told me about you. You need to put his pic up on your website! Cheers, (BTW… I live almost opposite Jimmy)

    • Hello Ian – Thanks for your comment. I do have the portrait of Jimmy Hill on the site under the post on ‘Archibald entries’. However it is a good idea to include it in another post also – ‘Australian Heritage – black and white’ would be appropriate. Will do. Please give Jimmy my very best wishes.

  3. Absolutely Great Julie Wonderful reading and painting depicting the Banjo Paterson pleased I was able to break into your website.

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