Rightful honour restored to poet Will Ogilvie on Road to Roberton

THE hill road to Roberton's a steep road to climb,

But where your foot has crushed it you can smell the scented thyme,

And if your heart’s a Border heart, look down to Harden Glen,

And hear the blue hills ringing with the restless hoofs again

THE above verse is from The Road to Roberton, one of the most famous of all the poems penned by Will H Ogilvie.

Born at Kelso exactly 140 years ago, Ogilvie was to carve out a literary reputation that would see him lauded in both his native Borderland and on the other side of the world in Australia.

Ogilvie spent 12 of his younger years in Australia, where he became an accomplished station hand, drover and horsebreaker, as well as composing some of the most evocative romantic verse about the Outback and the people who made their homes in it.

And it was to the setting for The Road to Roberton that a large crowd made its way on Saturday to celebrate the 140th anniversary of the poet’s birth.

The event was marked with the launch of a new book containing 60 of Ogilvie’s poems, as well as the dedication of a new seat and plaque honouring those late members of the Will H Ogilvie Committee who had worked tirelessly to bring wider recognition to the well-loved Border poet.

Those gathered also heard Alan Brydon gave the oration, while The Road to Roberton was recited by Bert Armstrong.

Ann Holt, secretary of the Will H Ogilvie Memorial Committee, says the weekend’s event was a major success.

“It was an excellent day, with a very large turnout to support it. The new book sold very well and it was wonderful to have Will Ogilvie’s grandchildren, Tom and Rosemary present.”

On Ogilvie’s enduring popularity, Ann says the poet had a unique way with words.

“He had a way with words like no-one else. Ogilvie always wrote about what was topical and he could see things in the countryside which other people could not and he recorded these in such a way as to tell a story.

“He has left a great legacy for future generations. But we need to keep regularly producing publications to keep up the interest in Ogilvie’s work.”

Ogilvie was born at Holefield Farm near Kelso, in 1869. It was a lifelong love of horses and riding that drew him to Australia and, aged just 20, he set sail for the Antipodes where he was to have numerous adventures, making a name for himself as a writer of romantic verse about the Outback.

Working on remote stations such as Maoupe in South Australia and Belalie on the Warrego, he counted among his friends the legendary horseman, Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant.

Ogilvie’s love of the Outback, dogs and horses, is well-reflected in his works and a book containing a selection of his poetry, Saddle for a Throne contained a foreword by the Australian Outback legend and businessman, R M Williams, who met Ogilvie in the late 1940s, and who was instrumental in publishing the work. Ogilvie is much lauded in Australia, ranking alongside such famous national writers as Banjo Paterson, author of the poem Waltzing Matilda.

A formal portrait of Ogilvie posing with his miniature fox terrier hangs in the National Library of Australia in Canberra.

He returned to Scotland in 1901, continuing to make his living from writing, penning a number of stirring poems of the Borderlands.

Ogilvie died, in his 94th year, in 1963, at his beloved home at Ashkirk. His ashes were scattered on the hillside on the road to Roberton.

However, in the years after his death, Ogilvie faded slightly into obscurity in both Scotland and Australia.

But this was to change after James Jackson from near Lockerbie, and Ann Holt of Annan, formed a small committee of seven people in the autumn of 1991 to raise funds to erect a memorial to Ogilvie with the intentions of gaining him some recognition for the legacy he left in the form of his poems.

It was also their intentions to reproduce his last book, Border Poems.

As well as Mr Jackson and Mrs Holt, the original committee included William and Ian Landles, Euphen Alexander, J Graham B Murray and Billy Young, with the late Vic Tokely joining in March the following year.

A lot of hard work followed and, thanks also to public generosity, sufficient funds were raised to both reprint Border Poems and pay for Hawick sculptor Bill Landles to create a superb bronze book and face plate which were placed on a stone cairn.

This was constructed by John Grant, from reclaimed stone from the recently demolished Hawick Auction Mart and gifted by Andrew Hepburne-Scott of Harden.

It was on a beautiful summer’s day in August 1993, exactly 124 years since Ogilvie’s birth, that the memorial cairn was unveiled by his son George before a substantial crowd of people from far and near.

This event attracted considerable media coverage, which in turn stirred up renewed interest in Ogilvie and his work in Australia. Bill Landles was commissioned to produce an exact copy of the cairn for Bourke, in New South Wales. There are also memorials to Ogilvie at the Stockman's Hall of Fame in Queensland and one at Maaoupe Station, Penola.

Work on the new collection of poems was originally started by Mr Tokely, and it was published as a tribute to him and all his hard work on the committee.

Ogilvie’s granddaughter, Mrs Rosemary Jeffries, was also delighted with Saturday’s event and the new anthology.

“I really enjoyed Saturday and it was wonderful to see so many people there. Alan Brydon gave a wonderful oration, which was especially interesting to me as Will H Ogilvie’s granddaughter.

“My grandfather was quite elderly by the time my brother and I became aware of his work as a poet. Up until then he had just been our grandfather.

“I think, to a large extent, his talent was for being able to write down and put into words what many people feel about things.”