About A.B.Paterson


ANDREW BARTON (BANJO) PATERSON (17/2/1864 - 5/2/1941)

Andrew Barton Paterson, known to his family as Barty, known to the rest of the world as Banjo. Author of Australia’s unofficial National Anthem, Waltzing Matilda. Banjo traveled Australia and the world with his journalistic desire to see the people and the places first hand. His works are a vivid documentation of the world in which he lived. Droughts, grasshopper plagues, banks selling up the farmers, horses racing around the track or down the mountain "like a torrent down its bed", and the "dusty dirty city".

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 Rosehill.

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.


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