Banjo Paterson

So, Andrew Barton Paterson, more affectionately known as Banjo Paterson by the average Australian, was one of Australia’s most famous poets as well as also being a solicitor, a journalist, a war correspondent and even a soldier throughout his life.

And you’ll probably know his face. All of you guys have probably seen his face as it is on the $10 bill. The Australian $10 note. His face is the one with the cowboy hat on.

He was born in 1864 on the 17th of February in Narrambla near Orange in New South Wales and he was the eldest of seven children. He grew up in the bush as the son of a grazier and was affectionately known as ‘Barty’ by his close friends and family.

From a young age, he went to picnic meetings and polo matches and saw many accomplished horseman from Murrumbidgee and the Snowy Mountains country in action, which sparked his lifelong enthusiasm for horses and horsemanship.

After receiving lessons from a governess, he was able to ride a pony and attend school in the bush town of Binalong. In 1874, he was sent to Sydney Grammar School where he matriculated at age 16. Unfortunately, he failed a scholarship exam in order to go to the University of Sydney, and instead he became a solicitor’s clerk, and was then admitted in 1886 as a solicitor and worked in that position for the following decade or more.

As a young man, Patterson took enthusiastic part in the Sydney social and sporting scene, indulging in tennis and rowing, but falling head over heels in love with horsemanship becoming one of the colonies best polo players.

He was reported to be quote “a tall man with a finely built muscular body moving with ease of perfectly coordinated reflexes, black hair, dark eyes, a long finally articulated nose and ironic mouth, a dark pigmentation of skin, his eyes as eyes must be were his most distinctive feature, slightly hooded with a glance that looked beyond one as he talked”, end quote.

His love of poetry was fostered by his widowed grandmother Emily May Barton with whom Patterson lived during his school days in Gladesville in Sydney.

Patterson began writing verses as a law student and his first poem ‘El Mahdi to the Australian troops’, was published in The Bulletin in February of 1885. This is where he adopted the pen name ‘The Banjo’. So, he used the name ‘The Banjo’ instead of his real name, which was taken from the name of a station racehorse owned by his family.

He quickly found himself part of a group of Bulletin writers and artists whose work made the 1890s remarkable in terms of Australian literature, rubbing shoulders with the likes of E.J. Brady, Victor Daly, Frank Mahoney, and even Harry ‘The Breaker’ Morant.

By 1895 a series of ballads by Paterson became so popular among readers, that the publisher Angus and Robertson published the collection of the works as ‘The Man From Snowy River and Other Verses’. The first edition sold out in a week of publication and 7,000 copies were sold in the following few months.

The work’s most important achievement being that it established the bushmen in the national consciousness of Australia as a romantic and archetypal figure. The work received as much praise overseas in England as it did in Australia, and finally Patterson’s identity as ‘The Banjo’ was revealed and he became a national celebrity and Australian icon overnight.

In the same year of 1885, whilst on holiday in Queensland with friends at Dagworth station, Paterson wrote his famous ballad ‘Waltzing Matilda’, which referred to a swagman carrying his bag whilst walking. He was waltzing Matilda. Little did he realize this song, this ballad, would one day be arguably Australia’s most famous folk song and nearly became the country’s national anthem when it came second in a referendum losing out to Advance Australia Fair.

In the next few years, he travelled through the Northern Territory and overseas and wrote of his experiences in prose and verse for newspapers all across Australia.

In 1899, he became a war correspondent after being commissioned by The Sydney Morning Herald to sail to South Africa to cover the Boer War. For nine months he was attached to General French’s column where he was placed in the thick of fighting and gave graphic accounts of key campaigns including the surrender of Bloemfontein and the capture of Pretoria and the relief of Kimberley.

His writing was of such quality that it was noticed by the English press and he was appointed as a correspondent for the international news agency Reuters.

Patterson returned to Australian shores in September of the year nineteen hundred before quickly leaving to go to China and England whilst working as a roving correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald.

He returned again to Australia in 1882 where he met and married his wife Alice Emily in 1883. They settled down in Woollahra and had two children Grace and Hugh.

In 1888, Patterson resigned his editorship as the call of the bush could no longer be resisted and he took over a 40,000-acre property called Coodra Vale near Wee Jasper where he continued to write.

When World War One broke out, Patterson immediately sailed to England in an unsuccessful attempt at becoming a war correspondent again to cover the fighting. Instead, he ended up driving an ambulance attached to the Australian Voluntary Hospital in France before returning to Australia in 1915.

He then made three voyages with horses to Africa, China and Egypt, where he was training these horses and was then commissioned in the second remount unit of the Australian Imperial Force. He was promoted to captain while serving in the Middle East, wounded in the year 1916 shortly after which he rejoined his unit and was promptly promoted to Major where he commanded the Australian Remount Squadron until he returned once again to Australia in 1919.

He lived for another 20 or more years working as a journalist and then retiring to devote his leisure time to creative writing where he was often seen at the Australian Club in Sydney, where his portrait still hangs to this day.

In 1941 Banjo Patterson died following a short illness and was survived by his wife and children. Patterson was in every sense and by verdict of the Australian public an Aussie hero. His life was thoroughly devoted to being a ballad writer, horseman, bushman, overlander and squatter and he helped to make the Australian legend.


ST = Something

SW = Somewhere

SO = Someone

A bushman – a person who lives, works, or travels in the Australian bush.

A graphic account – a clear and detailed description of ST violent or unpleasant.

A key campaign – a crucial battle effort.

A national anthem – a solemn patriotic song officially adopted by a country as an expression of national identity.

A national celebrity – a person who is famous across a country.

A pen name – an assumed name used by a writer instead of their real name.

A picnic meeting – Picnic horse racing, or more usually picnic races or more colloquially “the picnics” refer to amateur Thoroughbred horse racing meetings, predominantly in Australia.

A polo match – a game played on horseback by two teams of four players each, who attempt to drive a small wooden ball through the opponents’ goal with a mallet having a long, flexible handle.

A squatter – a large-scale sheep or cattle farmer.

A swagman – a person carrying a swag or bundle of belongings.

A war correspondent – a journalist who reports from a scene of war.

An overlander – SO who travels over land and drives livestock.

Become ST overnight – turn into ST suddenly.

Break out – begin; start.

By verdict of SO/ST – by decision of SO/ST.

Fall head over heels in love with ST – become enamoured with/by ST.

In every sense – in all possible ways.

In the thick of ST (e.g. fighting) – in the most active or dangerous part of a particular situation or activity.

Indulge in ST – allow oneself to enjoy the pleasure of ST.

Leisure time – time when one is not working or occupied; free time.

Lose out to ST – be beaten in competition and/or deprived of an opportunity.

More affectionally known as ST – have the nickname of ST.

Rub shoulders with SO – associate or come into contact with another person.

Survived by SOWhen you say “someone was survived by so-and-so”, it means that that someone is deceased, and their surviving relatives are so-and-so.

Take over ST – take control over ST.

The call of the ST – the power that a place or way of life has to attract someone.

The following decade – the next 10 years.

The social and sporting scene – a specified area of activity or interest, e.g. socialising publicly or related to sporting events.

To this day – until now.