Poet’s ancient Aussie club debt paid at last

Kelso poet, Will Ogilvie .
Kelso poet, Will Ogilvie .

Borderer Will Ogilvie is famous across Australia for his Outback poetry, but in one small bush town he is better known for an ancient debt.

Or he was until recently, when fellow Scot Ian Forbes, who has lived in Australia for the last 43 years, stepped in and settled the writer’s outstanding race club membership bill.



Ian was in Barringun in New South Wales to undertake the Poets Trek, a two-day bus trip started 20 years ago which lets travellers follow in the footsteps of such famous Outback writers as Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant, Henry Lawson and Ogilvie, born near Kelso in 1869.

Ogilvie’s bill, of more than a century’s standing, had been a talking point for travellers on the Poets Trek for years, visible for all to see in a 120-year-old ledger in the back room of the Barringun Pub.

There, clearly marked against the one guinea due to the local race club in membership dues is Ogilvie’s signature. Ogilvie, who returned to Scotland in 1901 and died at his home in Ashkirk in 1963, lived and worked in the country around Barringun throughout the 1890s and was well-known for his love of horses.

Although highly regarded in his native Borders, it is nothing compared to his fame in Australia, where he has equal status with such famous well-loved literary figures as Waltzing Matilda author, Andrew ‘Banjo’ Paterson, and Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant.

In fact, it was their mutual respect for each others horsemanship that saw Ogilvie and Morant, who also worked in the area, forge a close and enduring friendship during their time in the remote area.

On discovering Ogilvie was behind in his dues, Ian, who has relatives in Selkirk and spent many of his childhood holidays in the town, immediately pulled out his wallet and declared he would make good the poet’s debt.

But retired marine engineer Ian, a long-time fan of Ogilvie’s writing and who returns to Selkirk each year to visit family, was rebuffed when proffered five dollars.

“The chap there said, ‘No, no, I want pounds’,” Ian told The Southern this week from the home he shares with his wife, Teris, in Port Fairy, Victoria. “So I agreed to send him five pounds. I got a friend in Scotland to send me a Scottish fiver and the chap at the pub is going to hang it on the wall along with a photograph of a sketch of Ogilvie which I gave him.”

Ogilvie spent 12 years in Australia and worked for much of that time on the Belalie station between Enngonia and Barringun.

Although Ian hails from Edinburgh originally, his parents lived in Selkirk, where after the First World War his father worked in a bank and had actually met Ogilvie, who was a customer.

“My father had mentioned it to my sister and she told me and it was that which got me interested and I started getting a few books of Ogilvie’s poetry.”