barking dogs –
the swaggie’s progress
through town

John Bird


What a difficult task it was to pin down one particular haiku as my favourite. At last I settled on  barking dogs  by John Bird, a pioneer of English-language haiku in Australia.

Most of us are too young to have witnessed this scene, but may have heard stories. During the depression, jobs were so scarce that desperate men set out for the country, moving from town to town in quest of employment. My father-in-law was a butcher in Bangalow NSW, and many a swaggie called into the shop. He gave the hobo some meat and directed him to his house, where my mother-in-law organised a job – maybe chopping wood for the fuel stove and laundry copper. Then she sent him on his way with bread and goodies.

My own parents were then living at Richmond NSW. One day my father noticed a swaggie loitering at the fence. The man called, ‘Mister, d’ya mind if I listen to ya music?’ My father played only classical music, and wondered at the background of this seemingly cultureless man.

The amazing phenomenon of this haiku is that an aural image can evoke such a visual impact. The swaggie is unseen but the punctuation of his progress, created by a variety of barks, is vivid.

barking dogs ticks all the boxes. It is concise. For many years I had been thinking of the second line as ‘the swaggie’s slow progress’, but of course ‘slow’ isn’t necessary as this is already included in the image. There is a sense of place, set in the post-war Australian countryside. The structure is traditional. It is simple, it is objective, and it certainly leaves plenty for the reader to ponder. I feel sure that most of us will now think of this haiku whenever the word ‘swaggie’ is mentioned.

barking dogs was first published in Yellow Moon Vol.15, 2004. Since then John has posted it to his site Haiku Dreaming, (a wonderful resource of Australian haiku still available for viewing).

From John’s notes:

A swag (Australian slang) is a bedroll carried by a swaggie, an itinerant/hobo; and an Australian icon. A swag was also known as a bluey, as in “hump the bluey”, and as a matilda, as in the song Waltzing Matilda.

Selection and commentary by Quendryth Young

%d bloggers like this: