Aussie Verse and Verse-Writers: 1. Banjo Paterson [16 February 1918]

[Editor: An article about “Banjo” Paterson published in Aussie: The Australian Soldiers’ Magazine, no. 2, 16 February 1918.]

Aussie Verse and Verse-Writers.

A short biographical sketch of a popular Australian author, with selections from his work, will appear on this page each issue.

1. — Banjo Paterson.

Andrew Barton (better known as “Banjo”) Paterson probably takes first place as the most Popular — but certainly not the best from a poetical standpoint — of the Australian poets. He owes his popularity to his fine, robust, genuine Australian sentiment and to the fact that his verse is particularly suited for recitation. His “Man From Snowy River,” “Clancy of the Overflow” and “Man From Ironbark” have probably suffered more from “elocutionists” from Cape York to the outer edge of Tasmania, than any other of our poems.

Paterson was born at Narrambla, N.S.W. He is 54 years of age. His father was Scottish and his mother Australian. He was educated at Sydney Grammar School, and afterwards practised as a solicitor for some years. He evidently came to the conclusion that the pen was mightier (or more profitable) than the tongue. Anyhow, he gave up arguing the point for a living and took to purveying language per medium of the pen instead of the tongue. He went to S. Africa and China as War Correspondent and then became Editor first of Sydney “Evening News” and afterwards of the “Town and County Journal.” Then he decided to “Go on the Land, my boy,” and became a pastoralist, which seems to have disagreed with his Muse, for it is a long time since he produced any poetry of the “worth while” sort. When the writer last heard of him he was serving in the A.I.F. in Egypt.

His first book, “The Man From Snowy River” (published 1895), has achieved the phenomenal sale, for verse, of over 50,000 copies. In fact “The Man From Snowy River” easily held the record for a book of Australian Verse until the “Sentimental Bloke” came along and made him “take the bloomin’ count.”

The piece which gives the title to his first book is one of the best things he has done. It thrills with the dash and vigour and sensation of the brumby hunt:

So Clancy rode to wheel them — he was racing on the wing
Where the best and boldest riders take their place,
And he raced his stock-horse past them, and he made the ranges ring
With the stock whip, as he met them face to face.
Then they halted for a moment, while he swung the dreaded lash,
But they saw their well-loved mountain full in view,
And they charged beneath the stockwhip with a sharp and sudden dash,
And off into the mountain scrub they flew.

* * * * *

When they reached the mountain’s summit, even Clancy took a pull,
It well might make the boldest hold their breath;
The wild hop scrub grew thickly, and the hidden ground was full
Of wombat holes, and any slip was death.
But the man from Snowy River let the pony have his head
And he swung his stockwhip round and gave a cheer,
And he raced him down the mountain like a torrent down its bed,
While the others stood and watched in very fear.

* * * * *

And the man from Snowy River never shifted in his seat —
It was grand to see that mountain horseman ride.

* * * * *

And he ran them single-handed till their sides were white with foam;
He followed like a bloodhound on their track,
Till they halted, cowed and beaten, then he turned their heads for home,
And alone and unassisted brought them back.
But his hardy mountain pony he could scarcely raise a trot,
He was blood from hip to shoulder from the spur;
But his pluck was still undaunted, and his courage fiery hot,
For never yet was mountain horse a cur.

“Banjo” loves the bush. Born and reared in it, he understands all its moods and all its attractions, and he sings of them and of its impressive vastness, its thrilling splendour, its sombre majesty, its splendid, freedom and its profound peacefulness. And he loves to sing of the attractions of the Bushman’s life:

As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing,
For the drover’s life has pleasures that the townfolk never know.
And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him,
In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars.
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
And at night the wond’rous glory of the everlasting stars.

And these lines, not so generally known as many that are less capable, are full of good, staunch Australianism:


The London lights are far abeam,
Behind a bank of cloud
Along the shore the gaslights gleam,
The gale is piping loud;
And down the channel, groping blind,
We drive her through the haze
Towards the land we left behind —
The good old land of “never mind”
And old Australian ways.

The narrow ways of English folk
Are not for such as we;
They bear the long-accustomed yoke
Of staid conservancy.
But all our roads are new and strange,
And through our blood there runs
The vagabonding love of change
That drove us westward of the range
And westward of the suns. . . . .

P. L. H.

Aussie: The Australian Soldiers’ Magazine, no. 2, 16 February 1918, [inside page of the front cover in the 1918 original; page 17 in the 1920 reprint]

[Editor: Corrected “Patterson” to “Paterson” in three instances.]

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