Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Notes For February 17th, 2015


This Day In Writing History

On February 17th, 1864, the legendary Australian writer Banjo Paterson was born. He was born Andrew Barton Paterson in New South Wales, Australia. When Banjo was five, his family lost their wool crop. After his uncle died, the family took over his farm in Illalong.

The farm was close to the main route between Melbourne and Sydney; Banjo grew up around horses and horsemen of all sorts, including coachmen, drovers, and polo players. Thus began his love for horses and the inspiration for his future writings.

He was tutored by a governess until he was old enough to ride a pony and could ride to the bush school for his education. Banjo was a good student and athlete but failed to win a scholarship to the University of Sydney.

So, he took a job as a law clerk, which he would use as a stepping stone toward becoming a solicitor. While working as a solicitor, Banjo took up writing and began his literary career as a poet. He described himself as a "bush poet."

His first published poem, which appeared in the Australian nationalist literary magazine The Bulletin, blasted the British government's war in the Sudan. He struck up friendships with other great Australian writers such as E.J. Brady, Breaker Morant, and Henry Lawson.

In 1895, Banjo Paterson's classic first poetry collection, The Man From Snowy River and Other Verses was published. The title poem, written when Australia was at the cusp of gaining independence from England, would come to symbolize the national identity of Australia and her people.

The title character of this classic ballad is an Australian horseman who embarks on a heroic quest to capture a racehorse who escaped from its paddock and is now living with wild horses in the mountains. The poem and its author were commemorated on the Australian $10 note.

The Man From Snowy River would be adapted as a classic Australian feature film in 1982, directed by George Miller and starring Kirk Douglas, Tom Burlinson, and Terence Donovan.

Another of Paterson's classic bush ballads would be set to music and become the most popular Australian song of all time, affectionately referred to as "the unofficial national anthem of Australia."

Waltzing Matilda told the story of a swagman (Australian itinerant laborer) camping in the bush who catches a jumbuck (sheep) to eat. The sheep's owner arrives with three policemen to arrest the swagman, who commits suicide. His ghost then haunts the site.

Paterson sold the rights to the song, and the lyrics would be modified somewhat over the years. This is the original version:

Oh there once was a swagman camped in the billabong
Under the shade of a Coolabah tree
And he sang as he looked at the old billy boiling,
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me?

Who'll come a waltzing Matilda my darling
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me
Waltzing Matilda leading a tucker bag
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me?

Down came a jumbuck to drink at the water hole
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him in glee
And he said as he put him away in the tucker bag
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me.

You'll come a waltzing Matilda my darling
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me
Waltzing Matilda leading a tucker bag
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me.

Down came the squatter a riding on his thoroughbred
Down came policemen one, two and three
Where is the jumbuck you've got in the tucker bag?
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me.

You'll come a waltzing Matilda my darling
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me
Waltzing Matilda leading a tucker bag
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me.

But the swagman he ups and he jumps in the water hole
Drowning himself by the Coolabah tree
And his ghost can be heard as it sings in the billabong
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me?


During the Second Boer War, Banjo Paterson became a war correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. He also served as a war correspondent during the Boxer Rebellion in China, where he met Australian writer and adventurer George "Chinese" Morrison.

Back home in Australia, Paterson married his girlfriend Alice Emily Walker, who bore him two children, Grace and Hugh. Continuing his journalism career, he became editor of the Sydney Evening News (1904–06) and of the Town and Country Journal (1907–08).

During the first world war, unable to get a job as a war correspondent in Flanders, he became an ambulance driver for the Australian Voluntary Hospital in Wimereux, France.

Paterson went home, but later returned to the French front as a commissioned officer with 2nd Remount Unit, Australian Imperial Force. He was wounded, went temporarily missing in action, and served again in Cairo. He would be discharged with the rank of major.

He kept writing. Though primarily known as a poet, he also published essays, short story collections, two novels, An Outback Marriage (1906) and The Shearer's Colt (1936), and a children's book called The Animals Noah Forgot (1933).

Banjo Paterson's classic bush ballads were originally published without sheet music. They would be set to sheet music by many different performers over the years, establishing him as one of the all time great folk song writers.

He died in 1941 of a heart attack at the age of 76.


Quote Of The Day

"I have followed the wandering teamster's track, and it always led to a pub." - Banjo Paterson


Vanguard Video

Today's video features a reading of Banjo Paterson's classic poem, The Man From Snowy River, performed by Jack Thompson at the Darwin Festival. Enjoy!

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