Poet Profile: A. B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson (1864-1941)

There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around
That the colt from old Regret had got away,
And had joined the wild bush horses – he was worth a thousand pound,
So all the cracks had gathered to the fray.

Arguably the second-most famous of Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson’s poems, ‘The Man From Snowy River’ appears in anthologies of favourite poems not only in his native Australia but also in Britain and New Zealand.

Paterson was born at ‘Narrambla’, near Orange in New South Wales, Australia, in 1864, the eldest son of Scottish immigrant Andrew Paterson and Australian-born Rose Isabella Barton. Educated by a governess, at a bush school at Binalong, and Sydney Grammar School, he became a law clerk, then a solicitor, and a war correspondent in the Second Boer War (1899-1902) and the Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901), a newspaper editor, and an ambulance driver in World War One. His wife, Alice Emily Walker, also served with a Red Cross ambulance unit near her husband’s. After the War he continued to work as a journalist, writer and poet.

Title page and author portrait from my 1913 edition of ‘The Man From Snowy River And Other Verses’.

‘The Man From Snowy River’ was one of five poems by Paterson published in the newspaper ‘The Bulletin’, then released as a collection of Australian verse in 1895. This was also the year in which he wrote his most famous poem, ‘Waltzing Matilda’.

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong,
Under the shade of a Coolibah tree,
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boil,
You’ll come a Waltzing Matilda with me.

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda,
You’ll come a Waltzing Matilda with me,
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boil
You’ll come a Waltzing Matilda with me.

Paterson was a city-dweller for most of his life, and his romantic depiction of life in the Australian bush is sometimes contrasted with the grimmer, and arguably more realistic, image portrayed by another of Australia’s most celebrated poets, Paterson’s contemporary Henry Lawson.

Personally, I love the lively rhythms of Paterson’s work and the flashes of humour in poems like ‘The Man From Ironbark’ and ‘Last Week’ as well as the poignancy of ‘Black Swans’ and ‘In The Droving Days’.

Paterson died at Sydney, Australia, in 1941.

Know him? Love him? Let me know.


3 thoughts on “Poet Profile: A. B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson (1864-1941)

  1. At the age of about 14 I decided to commit myself to memorising The Man From Snowy River – not for an event or competition, but because I could see how important a part of my Australian cultural heritage it is. 14 years later, I still know the entire poem off by heart!


      1. It’s not difficult if you create a system to memorise a pair of lines, then add the next pair on until you have all four lines memorised, then add the next pair, etc. Just a little time consuming 😉


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