An Australia-wide band of enthusiasts is keeping the voice of poet Will Ogilvie alive.

Story By John Dunn

A small group of literary enthusiasts from a variety of backgrounds and scattered across the country have a binding bond – poet Will Ogilvie and his work. They have one aim: to make him better known and more appreciated.
Along the New South Wales–Queensland border, Phil Johnstone, who runs the tourist office in Bourke, helps put together a Poets’ Trek every year. In the far north of New South Wales Bob McPhee, a former policeman and one-time organiser of poetry competitions, reads a selection of Ogilvie verses most nights before going to sleep. In Tasmania, Graeme Long, who spent his life in the tractor trade, has written with great feeling about the balladeer he learned to love from his schooldays. In Victoria’s Western District Cambria Parkinson, once a teacher, regrets that more has not been done to appreciate Ogilvie, as does Ian Forbes, who returns every year to the Scottish district where the balladeer lived from 1917 until his death in 1963. In South Australia Marg Muller, also a former teacher but now prominent in community life in Penola, says Ogilvie was “a sensitive and emphatic observer of human foibles who covers a wide range of emotions”. Marg unveiled a plaque to his memory a while ago and continues her interest by promoting him widely through historical and literary tours of her town.
These people and their endeavours are noted with approval in the faraway Scottish Borders where Ogilvie lived, where a commemorative cairn has been erected and the 50th anniversary of his death was marked last year. A Scot, Ogilvie spent only 11 years in this country, but the impressions he set down have lasted.
He came to Australia in 1889 as a 20 year old to follow his love of horses. Ogilvie’s father, whose family had managed estates on the border between England and Scotland for 300 years, encouraged the journey and arranged employment with the Scott family of Belalie Station, north of Bourke. Ogilvie became captivated with the outback where he worked as a drover, jackaroo, boss of the shearing boards and horse-breaker at a variety of properties that extended as far as the far south-east of South Australia

This Story is from Issue #95

Outback Magazine: June/July 2014