Mulga Bill's Bicycle

Three men and a boy on a bicycle ca. 1896- ca. 1904 in Victoria, Australia

"Mulga Bill's Bicycle" is a poem written in 1896 by Banjo Paterson.

The poem is a ballad.[1] Each line is a fourteener, having fourteen syllables and seven iambic feet.

It tells the tragic tale of Mulga Bill, a man whose pride in his riding skill causes him to purchase, ride and crash a bicycle. Although Mulga Bill claims expertise in riding all things his ineptitude and subsequent accident suggest that he may only know how to ride a horse.

The poem was first published in The Sydney Mail on 25 July 1896.[2] It is amongst Paterson's most popular works.[3] A 1973 reprinting of the poem illustrated by Kilmeny & Deborah Niland has been continuously in print since publication and won the 1973 ABPA Book Design Award and the 1974 Visual Arts Board Award.[4]

The novel by H. G. Wells on cycling, The Wheels of Chance: A Bicycling Idyll was published in the same year as this poem.[5]

The poem actually featured the Safety bicycle. However, the poem has been inaccurately illustrated by various illustrators with a depiction of the visually more interesting Penny-farthing which had been superseded at the time the poem was written.[6][7] The introduction of safety cycles gave rise to a bicycling boom with millions being manufactured in the decade 1890-1900. They were very popular in the Australian outback, widely used by shearers and itinerant workers at the time that Paterson wrote this poem.[6]

The model for the character of Mulga Bill was William Henry Lewis (1880-1968), who knew Paterson in the vicinity of Bourke, New South Wales. Lewis had bought his bicycle as a result of a drought when there was no feed for horses.[7]

Eaglehawk, Victoria—once a rural mining town, now part of greater Bendigo—was given as Mulga Bill's hometown ('Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk ...). This has been recognised with the development of the Mulga Bill Bicycle Trail, a scenic ride taking in many of the mining attractions, historic sites and modern-day amenities of Eaglehawk.[8]

Mulga is a very common species of Acacia that predominates the interior regions of the Australian bush, and colloquially, it is an alternative term for the Bush itself or wilderness regions, for example ‘up the mulga’.[9]

The poem has been set to music [10] [11] and the poem title was the name of a prominent Australian folk music group (also known as a bush band) in the 1970s.[12]

Mulga Bill's bicycle
‘Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that caught the cycling craze;

He turned away the good old horse that served him many days;

He dressed himself in cycling clothes, resplendent to be seen;

He hurried off to town and bought a shining new machine;

And as he wheeled it through the door, with air of lordly pride,

The grinning shop assistant said, “Excuse me, can you ride?”

“See here, young man,” said Mulga Bill, “from Walgett to the sea,

From Conroy’s Gap to Castlereagh, there’s none can ride like me.

I’m good all round at everything as everybody knows,

Although I’m not the one to talk – I hate a man that blows.

But riding is my special gift, my chiefest, sole delight;

Just ask a wild duck can it swim, a wildcat can it fight.

There’s nothing clothed in hair or hide, or built of flesh or steel,

There’s nothing walks or jumps, or runs, on axle, hoof, or wheel,

But what I’ll sit, while hide will hold and girths and straps are tight:

I’ll ride this here two-wheeled concern right straight away at sight.”

‘Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that sought his own abode,

That perched above Dead Man’s Creek, beside the mountain road.

He turned the cycle down the hill and mounted for the fray,

But ‘ere he’d gone a dozen yards it bolted clean away.

It left the track, and through the trees, just like a silver streak,

It whistled down the awful slope towards the Dead Man’s Creek.

It shaved a stump by half an inch, it dodged a big white-box:

The very wallaroos in fright went scrambling up the rocks,

The wombats hiding in their caves dug deeper underground,

As Mulga Bill, as white as chalk, sat tight to every bound.

It struck a stone and gave a spring that cleared a fallen tree,

It raced beside a precipice as close as close could be;

And then as Mulga Bill let out one last despairing shriek

It made a leap of twenty feet into the Dead Man’s Creek.

‘Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that slowly swam ashore:

He said, “I’ve had some narrer shaves and lively rides before;

I’ve rode a wild bull round a yard to win a five-pound bet,

But this was the most awful ride that I’ve encountered yet.

I’ll give that two-wheeled outlaw best; it’s shaken all my nerve

To feel it whistle through the air and plunge and buck and swerve.

It’s safe at rest in Dead Man’s Creek, we’ll leave it lying still;

A horse’s back is good enough henceforth for Mulga Bill.”

by "Banjo" Paterson


  1. ^ "What is Poetry (Ballad)" (Shockwave; click on the link for Ballad). Aussie SchoolHouse - Teachers on the Web. Australian Council for Computers in Education (ACCE). Retrieved 2008-09-30. [dead link]
  2. ^ "Mulga Bill's Bicycle by A.B. "Banjo" Paterson". Perry Middlemiss. 
  3. ^ Densley, Kevin. "Collected Poems by Banjo Paterson ISBN 9780207198670 Teacher’s Notes Prepared By Kevin Densley". Teachers' Guides. HarperCollins Publishers (Australia). Retrieved 2008-09-30. 
  4. ^ "Mulga Bill's Bicycle". Deborah Niland: artist and illustrator. Deborah Niland. Retrieved 2008-09-30.  Published by HarperCollins, Australia, April 2007 New edition, ISBN 9 780207 172847. First published by William Collins Australia Pty Ltd HB 1973, PB 1976.
  5. ^ Lloyd, Rosemary (April 2005). "Reinventing Pegasus: Bicycles and the Fin-de-Siècle imagination" (pdf). Journal of the Society of Dix-Neuviémistes (Number 4): page 55. ISSN 1478-7318. Retrieved 2008-09-29. .
  6. ^ a b Fitzpatrick, Jim (1980). The Bicycle and the Bush: Man and Machine in Rural Australia. Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press. pp. pages 24, 234–236. ISBN 0195542312. 
  7. ^ a b "Mulga Bill rides again" (pdf of 16 pages). Push on. Volume (Bicycle NSW) 31 (Number 11): page 8. November 2007. Archived from the original on 2008-07-21. Retrieved 2008-09-29. .
  8. ^ "Mulga Bill Bicycle Trail". Bendigo Tourism. Retrieved 2008-09-29. 
  9. ^ Wilson, Pip (2007) (pdf, 585 pages). Faces in the Street: Louisa and Henry Lawson and the Castlereagh Street Push. Pip Wilson / p. page 523. ISBN 978-0-9803487-0-5. 
  10. ^ Patton, E.A. & Paterson, A.B. & Australia Music Centre. 19--, Mulga Bill's bicycle [music]: for choir (sopranos, altos, baritones) pianoforte (four hands), flute, clarinet, trumpet, violin, cello, percussion - found in NLA catalogue.
  11. ^ Peachey, Andrew. & Paterson, A.B. & Australian Music Centre. 1999, Mulga Bill's bicycle [music]: for SATB choir & piano / text by A.B. ("Banjo") Paterson; music by Andrew Peachey.
  12. ^ Folkloric recording. Chris Bettle speaks about joining the prominent folk band Mulga Bill's Bicycle Band (MBBB) in 1972; touring Australia wide for two years; the songs they were singing; in Bettle, Chris, & Willis, Rob, 2008, Chris Bettle interviewed by Rob Willis in the Rob Willis folklore collection [sound recording] (at National Library of Australia).

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