jack riley, 'our
The old Irish saying 'Reputations last longer than
lives.' aptly relates in many ways to the life of Irishman Jack Riley, immortalised
by A.B.'Banjo' Paterson's iconic Australian poem, The Man From Snowy
John 'Jack' Riley was born in
Castlebar, County Mayo, Ireland, in 1841. Nothing much is known of his family's
background or why Jack, as a thirteen year old, travelled to Australia. Young Jack
arrived in Sydney, New South Wales, on 15 March 1854, aboard the ship,
Riley travelled to Omeo, in the Victorian high country, to live with his sister,
Mary Anne, Mrs Joseph Jones, and her family. After her first husband died, Mary
Anne married a Mr McGown and moved to the busy gold mining area at Cassilis, near
Jack, for a time, worked as a tailor in a shop
directly opposite the Golden Age Hotel in Omeo. It has been suggested that he
learnt this trade during a small stint in gaol after having been caught and
sentenced for horse theft.
It is known that Jack loved to work
with horses and, during his time in Omeo, he broke in horses.
Eventually he became a full time stockman and, for
a number of years, he spent a good part of each year in the high country around the
Snowy River and the Victorian and New South Wales border.
Several times a year
he returned to Omeo to replenish his supplies and to trade stories with his sister
and her children, and his friends.
In 1884 Jack Riley obtained work as a stockman for John Pierce Sr., who owned
land at Tooma and Greg Greg.
At that time, the
Pierce family owned many thousands of acres of land in the Upper Murray and owned
and held leases on 20,000 acres of land at Tom
Groggin, west of the main range of the Snowy
John Pierce gave Jack
Riley a management role, supervising his cattle in the high country over the summer
months and then the job of mustering the animals down from the mountains to the
home paddocks before winter.
jack riley meets
From his early days in the job, Jack Riley
consolidated a reputation as a fearless and dashing rider and a first-class hand
among stock. It was a lifestyle that Jack Riley
relished and, as the years passed, his love and knowledge of his high country
Jack Riley's high country home was a simple timber
hut. Despite living on his own for most of the time, he was not adverse to visitors
and was better known than probably any other man in the mountains at that time.
He was liked and respected by all who knew
His open heart and
generous disposition won him many friends, especially among wayward tourists
passing through the area. Gifted with an bushman's unerring sense of
locality, he developed a quiet
contempt for the value of a compass when in the hands of those who did not know how
to use one.
In the late 1880s, Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson, a Sydney solicitor
and aspiring poet, visited brothers Peter and Walter Mitchell at Bringenbrong
Station, a prominent Upper Murray property. The Mitchell men escorted Banjo up into
the mountains and, while passing through Tom Groggin, stayed the night with Jack
Riley at his station hut.
Over a shared bottle of whisky that evening, Jack
told his visitors several of his experiences as a stock man in the high country. It
is believed that one particular story about an
exciting horse chase through many hazards, where 'the wild hop scrub grew
thickly and the hidden ground was full of wombat holes,
and any slip was
death', that gave birth to Banjo's now famous
In April 1890, Banjo Paterson
published 'The Man From Snowy River' poem in Sydney's newspaper, The Bulletin.
Though at the time when Jack and Banjo met, Jack was no 'stripling on a small and weedy
beast', the correlation to Jack's
story and the poem is clear.
In 1895 Angus and Robertson published a
collection of Banjo's work in the now famous book, 'The Man From Snowy River and
other verses'. The book became an
instant best seller and is still in
print to the present day.