Banjo wrote about his memories. His past, about the human
desire to have a place where you belong. He also wrote about change, about the
future. At the time of Australia’s Federation, at the turn of the century,
he was witness to the first Australian men to die at war. He was witness to
Australia’s birth as a nation.
And he wrote, not with a voice tarnished with early settler
accents of the mother country, but with a voice that was proud and strong. A
voice that is truly Australian.
However, his work is far more than merely an
observation of people and the stunning Australian Landscape, it is a
reflection of something profoundly human, profoundly universal. The memories
of the past that haunt our hearts. The desire to belong, to have a home. His
work is about our connection with Place. Banjo says "And I somehow
rather fancy that I’d like to change with Clancy," expressing that
part of the human spirit that is never quite satisfied. But the power of
Paterson lies not only in his desire to retain memories of the past but also
his willingness to embrace the future.
It has been said that if Shakespeare had not written "My Kingdom for a
horse" then there is little doubt that Banjo Paterson would have. His
chosen pen name, BANJO, was in fact taken not from the musical instrument as
commonly believed, but rather from the name of a race horse owned by his
family when he was a child.
Paterson (known to his friends and family as Barty) was born at Narrambla,
near Orange, New South Wales, on 17 February 1864. The first seven years of
his life were spent on a station called Buckinbah and then he left for
Illalong another station property.
At the age of about ten, he went to Sydney to school, staying in
Gladesville with his grandmother, Emily Mary Barton. He developed many
sporting interests, including rowing, polo, cricket, tennis , whilst also
maintained a high standard of scholarly work. Horseracing was his chief
delight and he was a most successful amateur rider, competing at Randwick and
On leaving school he pursued a legal career and was admitted as a solicitor
on 28 August 1886. While still a law student, Paterson submitted his verses to
The Bulletin. The editor and founder of the Bulletin, J.F.Archibald, who took
up issues such as Australian Federation, Home Rule for Ireland and the South
African War played a large role in shaping Paterson’s literary career.
In 1895 Archibald suggested Paterson approach George Robertson, of Angus
and Robertson and "The Man From Snowy River and Other Verses"
achieved immediate success, beating the record for Australian publishing.
He also knew the Fairfax family, owners of the Sydney Morning Herald, and
in 1899 Sir James Fairfax gave him 100 pounds and two horses to go to the Boer
war as a correspondent. His poetry has been compared favourably with the likes
of Rudyard Kipling, whom he later befriended after meeting him in South
Africa. On hearing of the outbreak of the Boxer Rebellion, Paterson left South
Africa and traveled to China.
Banjo wanted to be out there "I shall be up where the ‘Great Game’
is being played, where Empires are being juggled about, and where the fates of
nations are likely to be decided in short order."
Near the end of 1902 he finally accepted his fate and wrote in his diary
"Henceforth I am a Journalist." Ending his career in law.
In Australia Paterson traveled extensively, meeting his wife Alice Emily
Walker in Northern New South Wales.
After a stint at editing between 1902 and 1908, Banjo wrote "the
confinement to the office is breaking my health down..." He gave in to
the desires he had so clearly spelt out in Clancy of the Overflow "I am
sitting in my dingy little office.....And the foetid air and gritty of the
dusty, dirty city..."
Banjo bought a station "Coora Vale" returning to childhood
memories with the desire to have his own children raised in the bush.
Financial difficulties lead to the sale of the "Mountain Station"
before trying wheat farming at Grenfell which was abandoned with the out break
of World War 1.
He could not gain work as a correspondent, so went to France as an
ambulance driver. He then returned to Australia before becoming a remount
officer in Egypt.
After the war Banjo devoted more time to family pursuits along with
lecturing, radio talks and publishing a number of works.
In January 1936, a portrait of Banjo by Sir John Lonstaff was awarded the
Archibald Prize. No doubt one of the most poetic prizes bestowed upon one of
our greatest literary treasures.