Murray River and Snowy Mountains view, Towong, Upper Murray

Showcasing 'The Man From Snowy River' Country

 
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jack riley, 'our man'

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 River.

A winter view of the Snowy Mountains in the Kosciusko National Park
early days

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, 'Rodney'.

Jack 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 Omeo.

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 Mountains.

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's high country- the western face of the Snowy Mountains (view from Scammell's Lookout in the Kosciusko National Park, just off the Alpine Way)

jack riley meets 'banjo' paterson

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 environment grew.

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 him.

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 poem.

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.


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