Banjo Paterson

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15th November 2005

BANJO PATERSON

Banjo Paterson was a major contributor to the Racing Hall of Fame’s collection of racing stories and verses.  In fact he is currently the only writer in the Australian Racing Hall of Fame.

ANDREW BARTON PATERSON was born on 17 February 1864 at Narambla, New South Wales.  His parents lived at Buckinbah Station at Yeoval (the town was called Buckinbah in the 1860’s, the name changed in 1882) and as it was so isolated Mrs Paterson went to Narambla for the delivery of her son.  Andrew (Banjo) lived at Buckinbah Station until he was about 5.  When his uncle died at Illalong, near Yass, the family then moved there to run the farm.  He lived at Illalong Station until he was ten, when he went to Sydney to attend Sydney Grammar School.  He trained as a solicitor but also contributed some verse to the Sydney “Bulletin” under the pseudonym of “The Banjo”, taken from the name of a horse.  His first book, “The Man from Snowy River”, was published in 1895, and has sold more copies than any other book of Australian poetry.  He later gave up law to become a journalist, and went to South Africa to report on the Boer War.  When World War I broke out he sought work as a war correspondent, but failed to get it.  He then went to work driving an ambulance in France, and later became a Remount Officer with the Australian forces then in Egypt.  After returning to Australia in 1919 he continued as a writer, and in 1934 he wrote some memoirs of his time in South Africa and France titled “Happy Dispatches”.  He died of a heart attack in Sydney on 5 February 1941.

The works for which Paterson is famous were mostly written before the First World War, and are collected in three books of poems, “The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses” (1895), “Rio Grande’s Last Race and Other Verses” (1902), and “Saltbush Bill, J.P. and Other Verses” (1917), the latter of which is a collection of tall tales and serious (but often humorous) reporting.  In fact, above all else it is perhaps Paterson’s sense of humour that sets him apart from such balladists as Rudyard Kipling and Robert Service.  It should also be noted that Paterson was writing his ballads before either of these became well-known, and there was little, if any, influence from either side.  More likely, Paterson was influenced by the Scottish tradition of poetry (Paterson was of Scottish descent) which had been popularized in Australia by Adam Lindsay Gordon and others.

Paterson’s most famous work is “Waltzing Matilda”, written in 1895, and now an unofficial anthem of Australia.  “The Man from Snowy River” has since become the inspiration for a well-known movie of the same name.  “Clancy of the Overflow” is similarly well-known.

After completing school, the sixteen year old Paterson was articled to a Sydney Law Firm, Spain and Salway.  He was admitted as a Solicitor in 1886 and formed the legal partnership Street and Paterson.

His first poem was written in 1885 and he wrote his first “racing” poem, “A Dream of the Melbourne Cup” on 30th October 1886, in which he dreams that the Cup is won by the NSW horse Trident which he backed at “a million to five”.  On the first Tuesday in November Trident ran 4th.

Although he lived much of his life in the city, his stories and verses are written from a true knowledge of the Australian bush and its people.  He had a real grasp of the sense of humour that permeated life in rural Australia, especially of the characters found on its racetracks.