Since we first set up the Poetry on Wheels section of our website, I hadn't spent any significant time or effort on checking out other cycle related poems accessible on the internet. But this month (October 2006) I did try a few tailored searches to see if things had picked up, or even changed at all. For the most part, I found things about the same – a lot of free verse (much of which seriously deserves to be locked up, IMHO) and even more 'stuff' (calling it poetry is much too generous) written at about the level of a third-grade classroom assignment.

This poem is an exception: a very well written bit that I really liked about an overconfident adult's first encounter with a bike. Oddly enough, it wasn't new – probably written 75 to 100 years ago, in fact. But as I reread it, I couldn't help but wonder how many 'bent bikers had witnessed very similar contemporary incidents while letting other 'confidently experienced' cyclists try out their new low racer or 'responsive' SWB high boy. Although I had originally intended to use this space only for poems that were otherwise unpublished or very difficult to find anywhere else on the net, this one was just so cute I wanted to make it a snap (click?) for our readers to share it.

If some of the place names and expressions seem a little foreign, it's because this verse was written by an Australian. I was surprised to learn that the author, whose name hardly anyone living north of Guam will recognize, was actually a fairly prolific poet. The 'mulga' in the title character's name is a type of Eucalyptus tree or its very hard wood.

Andrew Barton (Banjo) Paterson

'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 shiny 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,
Above the banks of 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, bound straight for 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 and splashed in Dead 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 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."

Why do I think this poem stands out above the other 'stuff' I found this time around? Well, first of all, it's funny, of course, and has a nicely unique character in its narration. Plus, as a poem, it is also relatively (and pleasantly) unusual in that it has very consistent meter. Each line has 14 iambic syllables – ta-DAH-ta-DAH-ta-DAH..., and also has a natural pause after the eighth syllable. It's not easy to construct an entertaining rhyme that 'flows' this well, yet still sounds almost as though a person was telling the story, using common, natural words and expressions.

Oh, and yeah, about this obscure Australian poet: as I said, he was pretty prolific; his other poems include 'Waltzing Matilda' and 'The Man from Snowy River'. Isn't it amazing how familiar a person you never heard of can be?

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Last updated Oct 30 2006