Once a not so jolly swag-man came to Glen Innes

Neil Hocking on Bourke Street, Glen Innes.

Neil Hocking on Bourke Street, Glen Innes.

He looks the part, with his sweat-stained hat, his swag and billy.

Neil Hocking is an Australian icon from another time.

He’s been on the road for more than four decades. He had a couple of years in the army but apart from that he’s lived on his wits, taking a job here and a job there.

When he has money, he stays in a motel. When he doesn’t, he sleeps under bridges or trees or in derelict houses – wherever there is shelter - shade or warmth, depending on the place and season.

Sometimes, there isn’t shelter and he says he has nearly frozen to death a few times.

He is getting older and he said when he came into the Glen Innes Examiner office to say “hello” that when he found life hard he would gravitate towards towns and people he knew.

He makes a distinction between a swagman or swaggie and a “bum” – the latter might steal and make a nuisance of himself. A swagman like him lives and lets live and works when he can. 

But it’s not easy. “Everybody thinks ‘yo, ho ho, bottle of rum. Happy swaggie’ but it’s a hard life.

“It can be a hot life, a cold life. I’ve nearly frozen to death. I have nearly roasted to death”.

“I get jobs if there’s anything available and nif there’s nothing available”, he said, “I move along”.

He’s been right round Australia several times – 16 times, he said - so where’s his favourite town?

He said he really liked Glen Innes but his favourite was Alice Springs, at least as he remembered it many years ago.