Hay and Hell and Booligal

Hay and Hell and Booligal is a poem by the Australian bush poet Banjo Paterson. Paterson wrote the poem while working as a solicitor with the firm of Street & Paterson in Sydney.[1] It was first published in The Bulletin on 25 April 1896.[2] The poem was later included in Paterson's collection Rio Grande's Last Race and Other Verses, first published in 1902.[3]

The poem is about the western Riverina town of Booligal; then and now a remote, isolated locality. It compares Booligal unfavourably with the nearby town of Hay and even Hell, recounting a litany of problems with the town—heat, sand, dust, flies, rabbits, mosquitos, snakes and drought—with humorous intent.[4] "Hell" may also refer to a nearby property called "Hell's Gate".[4] The Oxford Literary Guide to Australia places "Hell" at nearby One Tree, on the stock route between Hay on the Murrumbidgee River and Booligal on the Lachlan River.[1]

The poem concludes with the lines:

“'We’d have to stop!”  With bated breath
We prayed that both in life and death
Our fate in other lines might fall:
“Oh, send us to our just reward
In Hay or Hell, but, gracious Lord,
Deliver us from Booligal!”

—A. B. 'Banjo' Paterson, Hay and Hell and Booligal

Booligal was indeed the victim of many natural disasters around this time. As well as the usual droughts and floods, in 1890 the town was victim to a rabbit plague. Despite poisoning and "drives" killing hundreds and thousands of rabbits, the pasture was severely depleted. This was quickly followed by another plague; this time of grasshoppers who ate everything that grew, including the produce in the Chinese gardens.[5] Nevertheless, the description of the town was not popular with Booligal residents:
The inhabitants of Booligal rather resent their village being immortalised in "Banjo" Paterson's famous poem, and ever try to show that the poet made an error of judgment.
—R.B. Ronald, [5]
The phrase "Hay and Hell and Booligal" or its variant "Hay, Hell and Booligal" has become part of Australian folklore. In 1897, one year after the poems' publication The Age in Melbourne reported:
From Echuca to Booligal a straight line running due north for 175 miles the situation may be tersely summed up in one word - desolation all dust and desolation, dying stock and disheartened settlers there is this year a modicum of truth in the expression, -Hay, Hell, and Booligal
—The Age, [5]

The author and folklorist Bill Wannan titled his collection of Australian bush humour Hay, Hell and Booligal.[6]


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