Abstract: Following the recent discovery of artesian supplies, the Shearers’ Strike of 1891 and the onset of the Federation drought (1895–1902), A. B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson’s Song of the Artesian Water, published in 1896, was written at a time of profound social and environmental upheaval in the ‘bush’ of Australia. In order to better understand the historical encounters between colonial capitalism and semiarid rangeland environments, this paper unpacks the cultural meaning behind Song of the Artesian Water by exploring the interactions between water, scientific knowledge, drought and environmental transformation along the pastoral frontier of Queensland. Banjo Paterson’s poem is used as a framework to provide an historical interpretation of European exploitation of the Great Artesian Basin as well as a framework for current economic uses and environmental threats.