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Cockies of Bungaree

[ Roud 20415 ; AFS 23 ; Ballad Index FaE128 ; trad.]

Cockies are small farmers. Bungaree is sixteen kilometres east of Ballarat in Victoria. A related and earlier song, Stringy Bark Cockatoo was printed in Banjo Paterson’s Old Bush Songs.

A.L. Lloyd recorded Cockies of Bungaree in 1956 for his Riverside LP Australian Bush Songs and a year later for the Wattle album The Banks of the Condamine and Other Bush Songs. On the latter recording, he was accompanied by Peggy Seeger on guitar and John Cole playing harmonica. Like all tracks of that album, this recording was reissued in 1960 on the Topic LP Outback Ballads. It was also included in the CDs Classic A.L. Lloyd and The Old Bush Songs. Lloyd commented in the latter album’s sleeve notes:

There is some pretty poor country around Bungaree. Perhaps that was what made the cockies such skinflints thereabouts. They tell of one cocky so mean before he put the milk on the hand’s table, he used to skim it on top; then when no one was looking, he’d turn it over and skin it on the bottom as well. Perhaps it was the same fellow who was so tight, he laid off the hands of his watch. The great Bungaree song began life as the doleful complaint of a potato lifter. At some time along the road it caught up with another, called the Stringybark Cockatoo. The present version is the offspring of this honourable if humble union. In spirit and in melody too, it owes something to an Irish song, The Spalpeen’s Complaint of the Cranbally Farmer. I had the tune and some of the words from James Hamilton, of Albury, NSW.

Peter Bellamy learnt The Cockies of Bungaree from A.L. Lloyd’s Australian collection and sang it on his 1983 cassette Fair Annie: English, Irish, Australian and American Traditional Songs.

Danny Spooner sang The Cocky of Bungaree in 2004 on his CD of Australian songs of toil and reward, ’Ard Tack. He noted:

The Folk Lore Society of Victoria collected this from Simon McDonald of Creswick, Victoria. I got the forth verse from the singing of A.L. Lloyd, an Englishman who worked in Australia in the 1930s. Here we see that while life was hard for the cockatoo farmer, trying to scratch a living from marginal land, it could be even harder for the itinerant he employed.


A.L. Lloyd sings Cockies of Bungaree

Come all you weary travellers that’s out of work just mind,
You take a trip to Bungaree and plenty there you’ll find.
Have a trial with the cockies, you can take it straight from me,
I’m very sure you’ll rue the day you first saw Bungaree.

Well how I come this weary way I mean to let you know,
Being out of employment I didn’t know where to go.
So I went to the registry office and there I did agree
To take a job of clearing for a cocky in Bungaree.

His homestead was of surface mud, the roof of mouldy thatch,
The doors and windows hung by a nail with never a bolt or catch.
The chickens laid eggs on the table such a sight you never did see,
One laid an egg in the old tin plate of the cocky of Bungaree.

Well, it’s early the very next morning, it was the usual go.
He rattled a plate for breakfast before the sun did show.
The stars were shining glorious and the moon was high, you see,
I thought before the sun would rise I’d die in Bungaree.

By the time I come into supper, it was just on half past nine
And when I had it eat I reckon it was my bedtime.
But the cocky he come over to me and he says with a merry laugh,
I want you now for an hour or two to cut a bail of chaff.

Well, when the work was over, I had to nurse the youngest child,
Whenever I cracked a bit of a joke the missus she would smile.
The old feller he got jealous, looked like he’d murder me
And there he sat and whipped the cat, the cocky in Bungaree.

Well, when I’d done my first week’s work I reckoned I’d had enough,
I went up to that cocky and asked him for me stuff.
I came down into Ballarat and it didn’t take me long
I went straight into Sayer’s Hotel and blued me one pound one.

So now me job is over and I’m at liberty,
I’ll never forget the day I met that cocky in Bungaree.


Lyrics copied from Mark Gregory’s Australian Folk Songs.