Andrew Barton "Banjo" Paterson, CBE was an Australian bush poet, journalist and author. He wrote many ballads and poems about Australian life, focusing particularly on the rural and outback areas. He is one of the best, most famous, and acclaimed of writers in Australia. He is also one of my favourites.
Barty, as he was known to his family and friends, enjoyed a bush boyhood. When he was 7 the family moved to Illalong in the Yass district. Here, near the main route between Sydney and Melbourne, the exciting traffic of bullock teams, Cobb & Co. coaches, drovers with their mobs of stock, and gold escorts became familiar sights. At picnic race meetings and polo matches, he saw in action accomplished horsemen from the Murrumbidgee and Snowy Mountains country which generated his lifelong enthusiasm for horses and horsemanship and eventually the writing of his famous equestrian ballads.
As a young man Paterson joined enthusiastically in the Sydney social and sporting scene, and was much sought after for his companionship. Norman Lindsay in Bohemians of the Bulletin (1965) remembered him as a 'tall man with a finely built, muscular body, moving with the ease of perfectly co-ordinated reflexes.
Black hair, dark eyes, a long, finely articulated nose, an ironic mouth, a dark pigmentation of the skin … His eyes, as eyes must be, were his most distinctive feature, slightly hooded, with a glance that looked beyond one as he talked'. Paterson was a keen tennis player and an accomplished oarsman, but his chief delight was horsemanship. He rode to hounds with the Sydney Hunt Club, became one of the colony's best polo players and as an amateur rider competed at Randwick and Rosehill.
During his schooldays in Sydney Paterson lived at Gladesville with his widowed grandmother Emily May Barton, sister of Sir John Darvall and a well-read woman who fostered his love of poetry. His father had had verses published in the Bulletin, soon after its foundation in 1880. Paterson began writing verses as a law student; his first poem, 'El Mahdi to the Australian Troops', was published in the Bulletin in February 1885. Adopting the pen name 'The Banjo' (taken from the name of a station racehorse owned by his family), he became one of that sodality of Bulletin writers and artists for which the 1890s are remarkable in Australian literature, forming friendships with E. J. Brady, Victor Daley, Frank Mahony, Harry 'The Breaker' Morant and others. He helped Henry Lawson to draw up contracts with publishers and indulged in a friendly rhyming battle with him in the Bulletin over the attractions or otherwise of bush life.
While on holiday in Queensland late in 1895, Paterson stayed with friends at Dagworth station, near Winton. Here he wrote 'Waltzing Matilda' which was to become Australia's best-known folk song. In the next few years he travelled extensively through the Northern Territory and other areas, writing of his experiences in prose and verse for the Sydney Mail, the Pastoralists' Review, the Australian Town and Country Journal and the Lone Hand, as well as the Bulletin. In 1895 he had collaborated with Ernest Truman in the production of an operatic farce, Club Life, and in 1897 was an editor of the Antipodean, a literary magazine.
His most important journalistic opportunity came with the outbreak of the South African War when he was commissioned by the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age as their war correspondent; he sailed for South Africa in October 1899. Attached to General French's column, for nine months Paterson was in the thick of the fighting and his graphic accounts of the key campaigns included the surrender of Bloemfontein (he was the first correspondent to ride into that town), the capture of Pretoria and the relief of Kimberley. The quality of his reporting attracted the notice of the English press and he was appointed as a correspondent also for the international news agency, Reuters, an honour which he especially cherished in his later years. He wrote twelve ballads from his war experiences, the best known of which are 'Johnny Boer' and 'With French to Kimberley'.
Paterson returned to Australia in September 1900 and sailed for China in July 1901 as a roving correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald. There he met G. E. ('Chinese') Morrison whose exploits he had always admired; his accounts of this meeting are among Paterson's best prose work. He went on to England where he met again his old friend of Bulletin days, the cartoonist Phil May, and spent some time as Kipling's guest at his Sussex home.
When World War I began, Paterson immediately sailed for England, hoping unsuccessfully to cover the fighting in Flanders as war correspondent. He drove an ambulance attached to the Australian Voluntary Hospital, Wimereux, France, before returning to Australia early in 1915. As honorary vet (with a certificate of competency) he made three voyages with horses to Africa, China and Egypt and on 18 October was commissioned in the 2nd Remount Unit, Australian Imperial Force.
After the war Paterson resumed journalism; he contributed to the Sydney Mail and Smith's Weekly and in 1922 became editor of a racing journal, the Sydney Sportsman—an appointment he found highly congenial. In 1923 most of his poems were assembled in Collected Verse, which has been reprinted many times. He retired from active journalism in 1930 to devote his leisure to creative writing. He was by now a celebrated and respected citizen of Sydney, most often seen at the Australian Club where he had long been a member and where his portrait now hangs. In following years he became a successful broadcaster with the Australian Broadcasting Commission on his travels and experiences. He also wrote his delightfully whimsical book of children's poems, The Animals Noah Forgot (1933). In Happy Dispatches (1934) he described his meetings with the famous, including (Sir) Winston Churchill, Kipling, Morrison, Lady Dudley and British army leaders. He published another novel, The Shearer's Colt (1936), and in 1939 wrote reminiscences for the Sydney Morning Herald. That year he was appointed C.B.E. He died, after a short illness, on 5 February 1941 and was cremated with Presbyterian forms. His wife and children survived him.
Although coming from a family of pioneer landholders who, by their industry had achieved some substance, Paterson wrote for all who were battling in the face of flood, drought and disaster. He saw life through the eyes of old Kiley who had to watch the country he had pioneered turned over to the mortgagees, of Saltbush Bill fighting a well-paid overseer for grass for his starving sheep, of Clancy of the Overflow riding contentedly through the smiling western plains:
While the stock are slowly stringing,In such lines as these Paterson lifted the settled gloom from our literature of the bush.
Clancy rides behind them singing,
For the drover's life has pleasures
that the townsfolk never know.
On the night of Paterson's death, Vance Palmer broadcasted a tribute: 'He laid hold both of our affections and imaginations; he made himself a vital part of the country we all know and love, and it would not only have been a poorer country but one far less united in bonds of intimate feeling, if he had never lived and written'.
Clancy's comment: Love ya works, Banjo! If you want to read The Man From Snowy River, buy a copy of my book about bullying - KY! The poem is mentioned within the story, and the entire poem is added at the back of the book.
It's my opinion by the way that Waltzing Matilda should be our national anthem. And, some years back, I learnt that the copyright to the words and the song has been owned by an American since about 1929. Amazing. Most people would not know that.
Oh, you can also find out how he got the nickname, 'Banjo', by reading KY!
PS: I've read all of his works at least three times. Bloody brilliant stuff.