A vegan author who has rewritten Banjo Paterson’s The Man from Snowy River from an animal activist’s perspective says he will not be discouraged by “hostile” early feedback.
- Vegan poet Marcus Ten Low has been accused of “butchering” a “sacred” work
- Low is a previous award-winner
- A legal expert says the poem is fair game
Brisbane-based Marcus Ten Low, who describes himself as an “art-ivist”, has created a stir in an online writers’ forum by seeking opinion on his work The Dead Man from Snowy River.
In it, the main human protagonist dies, while the horses evade capture.
“The original poem describes the recapture of a horse that escapes,” Mr Low says.
“I wanted to expose the irony and hypocrisy of our nation celebrating that.
“It’s a poem which is very popular, very iconic, but at the same time it needs to be dismantled.
“We need to move forward and realise that we are still mistreating animals in 2024 on a large scale.
“So many people are mistreating animals, eating them, using them for entertainment, using them for testing and research purposes.”
Vegan-conscious and sympathetic since he was 17, 44-year-old Mr Low has been a stricter adherent to veganism since 2018.
Several of his poems have been published in online magazine Quadrant, while Mr Low won two awards for his poetry at the 2009 Mindscapes festival in his former hometown, Canberra.
Among the causes he has supported in the past is the Save a Cow Foundation, based at Conondale near Maleny on the Sunshine Coast hinterland.
Criticism from fellow writers
When Mr Low sought feedback for his poem The Dead Man from Snowy River from Facebook group Writers around Australia – which has more than 4,000 members – he received largely negative remarks.
“I can’t believe you would dare to butcher a Banjo Patterson work. There are some things which are sacred in Australian society,” wrote respondent Ken Allen.
“Why on earth would you do this? No one wants your holier-than-thou dietary ideology shoved up their [profanity] by disrespecting an Australian icon,” replied another, Kim Smith.
“Please stop denigrating other people’s work and create your own original pieces,” Selena Standfast wrote.
“The Man from Snowy River is more than a poem. (It) has been woven into Australian culture and attitudes. The great writers of the bush ballads captured the Australian heart. It is a darkened place you appear to wish to draw this great poem into,” Robyn Cowen responded.
Poet defends his work
While most respondents were “quite hostile” in the view of Mr Low, several welcomed his challenge of Australian archetypes.
“A vegan version of an Aussie classic isn’t my cup of tea, but satire has been a vehicle for driving awareness and change for eons. It’s a way of peaceful protest, inciting thought and self-awareness, and a political weapon used to empower the disenfranchised,” Amy Hopkins wrote.
In responding to his critics, Mr Low said the original poem was “inherently unethical” and said the works should be torn down “just as the statues of (Christopher) Columbus need to be dismantled”.
“Horses are heavily exploited, whether that be for the horseracing industry, taking on work in place of humans, or doing things which horses are not naturally inclined to do,” Mr Low said.
“In The Man from Snowy River, the capture of a horse involves the exploitation of two horses; one being ridden by the assailant and another that obviously wants to be free.
“My agenda is to give justice. [In my version] the man is thrown into a ravine, and he accidentally dies. It’s not an easy poem to deal with, I get that, but I think I’ve been fair.”
Mr Low has previously published a rework of poet Les Murray’s An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow, instead titled An Absolutely Ordinary Murder.
It contains the line, “As I walk with my VEGAN teeshirt, men look up from butcher’s racks”, and also references the “slickest vegan amongst us”.
He said he had considered also writing a version of Banjo Paterson’s Waltzing Matilda, but felt there was more injustice towards animals in The Man from Snowy River.
Publication law expert Nicholas Pullen of HWL Ebsworth Lawyers advised that poems were protected by copyright for the life of the author, plus 70 years.
“Banjo Paterson died in 1941 so copyright has now expired, and the work is now in what is commonly referred to as the public domain,” Mr Pullen said.
“Therefore, the latest author is free to do as he wishes without the need for permission.
“In any case, there are a number of statutory defences to reproducing material that is subject to copyright without the author’s permission and a work of satire is one of them.”