Banjo Paterson

Banjo Paterson 1864 - 1941 #

Born in 1864, on his grandparents’ station near Orange, his parents later moved to Yass, Andrew Barton Paterson received a sound education at a day boy at Sydney Grammar, staying with his educated Grandmother in Gladesville who inspired his interest in history and writing. He articled as a solicitor but his real interest was the Bush and writing.   He had his first poem published in the Bulletin in 1886 at 22 years old.

He got away to the Bush as much as he could publishing Clancy of Overflow in 1889, The Man from Ironbark and The Man from Snowy River by 1892.

He finally left his legal practice to travel and write as a journalist, eventually becoming the official war correspondence for the Sydney Morning Herald covering the Boer War and later the Boxer Rebellion in China.

Once he married, he settled back in Sydney for a while, then took over as editor of The Town and Country Journal.  He took his family of two children to settle in the Murrumbidgee, close to the mountains he had grown up in.

During World War I he joined the Army’s Remount Unit of jackaroos, horse-breakers and buck jumpers from the back blocks, taking them to Egypt.  He finished the war as a Major.

Banjo Paterson, a contemporary and rival poet, described the difference between him and Lawson perceptively and respectfully:

“Henry Lawson was a man of remarkable insight in some things and extraordinary simplicity in others.   We were both looking at the same reef… but I had done my prospecting on horseback with my meals cooked for me while Lawson had done his on foot and had to cook his own.  Nobody realised this better than Lawson…. Henry suggested we should write against each other, he putting the bush from his point of view and I from mine……I think Lawson put his case better than I did, but I had the better case, so honours (dishonours) were fairly equal.”

Others, H.P. Heseltine, observed that Paterson verse worked at the level of craft skill, rather than the level of poetic insight.   A.G. Stephens of The Bulletin wrote; 

He was much more popular than Lawson because he connected with the people of his time due to his love of the bush, his cheery tone, ear for dialogue and his humorous stories.  He admonished Lawson for his blindness to the romance and beauty of bush life.   Both Paterson and Lawson championed the cause of the underdog status of the stoic pioneer settlers.  Both advocated for the distinct nature of the Australian character and initially promoted the formation of a republic.

Perhaps the convict origins forged Australia’s fierce independent, self-reliant and defiant national characteristic of “a healthy disrespect for authority”.  Other equalizing factors include Pubs where equality rules, the illegitimacy of the ruling classes who gained their wealth and dubious status through illegal squatting.  The rich in Australia seem more eager to gain the acceptance of the ordinary rather than the other way around.  The iconoclastic rebellious protest some, “Waltzing Matilda” almost became our national anthem.

It is based on the actual tale of an on strike shearer, with  a stray jumbuck in his tucker bag, pursued by the military police, who shot himself near the Combo waterhole, rather than be captured.

It is widely used especially in films - almost to the point of tedium in *On the Beach" * 1959.

Waltzing Matilda Banjo Paterson #

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

* *

[Chorus]

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

* *

[Verse 2]

Down came a jumbuck to drink at that billabong

Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee

And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag

You’ll come a Waltzing Matilda with me

* *

[Chorus]

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda..

* *

[Verse 3]

Up rode the squatter mounted on his thorough-bred

Down came the troopers One Two Three

Whose that jolly jumbuck you’ve got in your tucker bag

You’ll come a Waltzing Matilda with me

* *

* *

[Chorus]

Waltzing Matilda Waltzing Matilda..

* *

[Verse 4]

Up jumped the swagman sprang in to the billabong

You’ll never catch me alive said he

And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong

You’ll come a Waltzing Matilda with me

* *

[Chorus]

Waltzing Matilda Waltzing Matilda

You’ll come a Waltzing Matilda with me

And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong

You’ll come a Waltzing Matilda with me

Waltzing Matilda & the Great Shearers strike of the 1890s

By Nicole Alexander  September 5th, 2017

Wool was one of Australia’s largest industries by the 1890s. But as the wool industry grew, so did the number and influence of shearers. By 1890, the Australian Shearers’ Union boasted tens of thousands of members, and at their annual conference in Bourke in 1890, the Union laid down a new rule, which prohibited members from working with non-union workers, such as low-cost Chinese labour. Soon after, shearers at Jondaryan Station on the Darling Downs went on strike over this issue, then at Logan Downs Station, union shearers were outraged when they were asked to sign a contract. 

The strike spread quickly. From February until May, central Queensland was on the brink of civil war. Shearers formed armed camps outside towns and raided shearing sheds, harassing non-union members while thousands of soldiers protected non-unionists and arrested strike leaders.

It was only when the then Premier of Queensland called in the military that the strike ended. But it wasn’t over yet. At Dagworth Station in 1894 striking shearers turned violent setting fire to the woolshed and killing dozens of sheep. The owner of Dagworth Station and three policemen gave chase to a man named Samuel ‘Frenchy’ Hoffmeister, but rather than be captured, Hoffmeister shot and killed himself at the Combo Waterhole.

Banjo Patterson wrote the words to Waltzing Matilda while staying at Dagworth Station in 1895. It is said that he would probably have passed the Combo Waterhole where Frenchy committed suicide and that the owners of Dagwood Station, the Macphersons would have undoubtedly shared the story of the violent uprising on their property and the man’s death.

Waltzing Matilda was first performed in 1895 at the North Gregory Hotel in Winton, Queensland. Finally in the 1930s in an interview with ABC Radio Banjo himself confirmed the origin of Australia’s unofficial National Anthem

“The shearers staged a strike and Macpherson’s woolshed at Dagworth was burnt down and a man was picked up dead … Miss Macpherson used to play a little Scottish tune on a zither and I put words to it and called it Waltzing Matilda.”

*         Up jumped the swagman and sprang into the billabong.*

*                “You’ll never catch me alive!” said he*

*                 And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong:*

*               “You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”*

Writer Matthew Richardson said in 2010 that Waltzing Matilda was more than likely written, ‘as a carefully worded political allegory to record and comment on the events of the shearers’ strike.”

For many Australians it has become so much more than that.

* Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda*

* You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me*

* And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled:*

* “You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”*