By Jane Gleeson-White
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After work in a bank and on a station, Clarke became a journalist for the influential newspaper the Argus and settled into the bohemian milieu of Melbourne, which was newly rich, vibrant and teeming with exotica following the discovery of gold the previous decade. Clarke became editor of Colonial Monthly in 1868 and there published his first novel, Long Odds, in serial instalments from 1868 to 1869. Long Odds—about horse-racing and mostly set in England—was criticised for having no relevance to colonial life.
Although convict transportation to Van Diemen’s Land had ceased almost twenty years earlier (and the state had been renamed Tasmania to mark this), Port Arthur was still open and remained open until 1878 to house old and infirm convicts. ’ Taking that feeling of horrible gloom, Clarke returned to Melbourne and wrote the opening chapters of His Natural Life. They appeared in the Australian Journal the following month, in March 1870. Henry Lawson, reading the serialised novel as a boy, considered Clarke’s style in these opening chapters as equal to Charles Dickens’s.
The boy is the only rider who can keep up with the colt, ‘Through the stringy barks and saplings, on the rough and broken ground’, while the men look on, dumbstruck and defeated. The Snowy River rises on Mount Kosciuszko in the Great Dividing Range, near the border of New South Wales and Victoria. ’ It is said that Paterson based the ‘Man’ from Snowy River on Jack Riley, a fearless mountain horseman who came from Corryong, a small town on the western side of the range. In honour of this possibility, Corryong celebrates Paterson’s poem every April with ‘The Man From Snowy River Bush Festival’.