Wednesday, August 23, 2023


Monsignor Patrick Joseph Hartigan (13 October 1878 – 27 December 1952) was an Australian Roman Catholic priest, educator, author and poet, writing under the name John O'Brien.

The poem immortalises an incident that took place at a school at Tanbangaroo, a "Back-o'-Bourke" town, near Yass in New South Wales. Tangmalangaloo is however a fictitious town.


    - John O'Brien

The bishop sat in lordly state and purple cap sublime,
And galvanized the old bush church at Confirmation time;
And all the kids were mustered up from fifty miles around,
With Sunday clothes, and staring eyes, and ignorance profound.
Now was it fate, or was it grace, whereby they yarded too
An overgrown two-storey lad from Tangmalangaloo?

A hefty son of virgin soil, where nature has had her fling,
And grows the trefoil three feet high and mats it in the spring;
Where mighty hills uplift their heads to pierce the welkin’s rim,
And trees sprout up a hundred feet before they shoot a limb;
There everything is big and grand, and men are giants too –
But Christian Knowledge wilts, alas, at Tangmalangaloo.

The bishop summed the youngsters up, as bishops only can;
He cast a searching glance around, then fixed upon his man.
But glum and dumb and undismayed through every bout he sat;
He seemed to think that he was there, but wasn’t sure of that.
The bishop gave a scornful look, as bishops sometimes do,
And glared right through the pagan in from Tangmalangaloo.

‘Come, tell me, boy,’ his lordship said, in crushing tones severe,
‘Come, tell me why is Christmas Day the greatest of the year?
‘How is it that around the world we celebrate that day
‘And send a name upon a card to those who’re far away?
‘Why is it wandering ones return with smiles and greetings, too?
A squall of knowledge hit the lad from Tangmalangaloo.

He gave a lurch which set a-shake the vases on the shelf,
He knocked the benches all askew, up-ending of himself.
And oh, how pleased his lordship was, and how he smiled to say,
‘That’s good, my boy. Come, tell me now; and what is Christmas Day?
The ready answer bared a fact no bishop ever knew –
‘It’s the day before the races out at Tangmalangaloo.


By the way:


Hartigan was a Roman Catholic priest in rural New South Wales, in particular the Goulburn diocese and later at Narrandera. He is less well known than Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson, the doyens of the Australian bush ballad tradition, though he expresses a closer and gentler affinity for the Australian bush and its communities than either of them. 

Hartigan has another connection with Paterson: he gave the last rites to Jack Riley of Bringenbrong, the man whose legendary exploits are supposedly recorded in Paterson's epic bush ballad 'The Man from Snowy River'. According to legend, Hartigan was in the Albury presbytery in 1914 when word came through that an old man named Riley was dying at a place called Bringenbong on the Upper Murray, and had asked for a priest to bring him the last sacraments. It took Hartigan several days to reach Riley, who he found not at Bringenbong but at a place called Hickeys, in sight of Mt Kosciusko at the end of the track. After administering the sacraments it was too late for Hartigan to return to Albury, so he gratefully accepted local hospitality and, in front of a blazing log fire, recited one of his favourite poems, 'The Man From Snowy River'. After he had finished he remarked that it must have been in these parts that the man from Snowy River had made his famous ride. To his astonishment the laconic reply came that the subject of Paterson's poem was none other than Riley, the old man he had just prepared for death.

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