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Andrew Barton (Banjo) Paterson 

1864-1941    |    NSW    |    Journalist & poet

The Times of London compared Paterson with Rudyard Kipling after the remarkable reception of the publication of The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses in 1895. Paterson’s genius was to establish the bushman in the national consciousness as a romantic and archetypal figure. A friend and contemporary of Norman Lindsay, the pair exchanged rhyming battles in The Bulletin over the attractions or otherwise of bush life. Paterson was a war correspondent in the second Boer War and covered the Boxer Rebellion.  He edited the Sydney Evening News (1904-06) and the Town and Country Journal (1907-08). Yet he is best remembered for his classic verses, including Waltzing Matilda and Clancy of the Overflow.

...while his contemporary, Henry Lawson, had a view of the bush that was far more gritty, and informed by a darker social realism, Paterson saw and reported the pastoral experience as overwhelmingly gladdening – for him, those extended plains were always sunlit. 

Virginia Trioli 


Andrew Barton (Banjo) Paterson


Banjo Paterson poet, solicitor, journalist, war correspondent and soldier—wrote what he knew. He grew up on a station near Orange, NSW in the 1860s with racehorses and polo clubs, watching equestrian and stockman competitions, living the Australian bush experience he immortalised in print. But he was no raw-boned bushie; Banjo was a child of privilege and education, with access to the pleasure and leisure classes of the squattocracy and later Sydney society. 

In looks and manner he was impressive and elegant. Norman Lindsay described him as a “tall man with a finely built, muscular body, moving with the ease of perfectly coordinated reflexes. Black hair, dark eyes, a long, finely articulated nose, an ironic mouth, a dark pigmentation of the skin … His eyes, as eyes must be, were his most distinctive feature, slightly hooded, with a glance that looked beyond one as he talked”.

He was a natural athlete and the original Aussie sports lover, according to the Australian Dictionary of Biography: “Paterson was a keen tennis player and an accomplished oarsman, but his chief delight was horsemanship. He rode to hounds with the Sydney Hunt Club, became one of the colony's best polo players and as an amateur rider competed at Randwick and Rosehill.”

His writing and journalism mark him as a big-hearted, curious, but somewhat restless man, roaming the country and the world in search of adventure and stories. He didn’t find his vocational niche and settle there, but instead married a long-time legal practice with reporting and ballad-writing, bush travel and tours of military service overseas. He longed for the bush, unsuccessfully tried his hand at farming, then settled into a city life of journalism and creative writing.

Paterson began writing verses as a law student. His father had published verses in The Bulletin and his son’s first poem, El Mahdi to the Australian Troops, was published there also in February 1885. Along with Henry Lawson, Miles Franklin and Victor Daley, Paterson became one of the most popular and famous contributors to that important journal.

His identification with racehorses can’t be overstated. He took the pen name “Banjo” from one of the racehorses his family owned, and his passion for horses and racing continued all his life, including travelling with horses to battlefronts in 1918 as an “honorary vet” and editing a racing journal at the end of his career.

His first collection of poems, The Man from Snowy River, in 1890, sold out in a week and established him as a celebrity overnight. His elevated status gave him cachet and options in his career as a writer, and so for the next few years he travelled widely through the Northern Territory and other areas, writing prose and verse for the Sydney Mail, the Pastoralists' Review, the Australian Town and Country Journal and the Lone Hand, as well as the Bulletin.

His journalism is less well known than his verse, but it seems he was captivated by the reporting life and took up every opportunity he was offered. He appeared to regard war in the same adventurous way. He was commissioned by the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age to cover the Boer War and did so with such distinction that Reuters also appointed him their correspondent. This was a title he apparently cherished right through his life. For four years he was the editor of the Sydney Evening News and much later in life editor of the racing journal, The Sydney Sportsman.

Paterson clearly had the bug. When War World One broke out he immediately sailed for England wanting to cover the fighting in Flanders as a correspondent, but he failed to do so. Instead, he drove an ambulance attached to the Australian Voluntary Hospital, Wimereux, France. He was eventually commissioned to the AIF and promoted to major.

Paterson’s journalism shares a great deal with his verse. His focus steadies on the lived experiences of the (almost exclusively male) contemporary Australian, in the city and the bush, with the energetic and romanticised pursuits of sports and working the land not far behind. Paterson and Rudyard Kipling were often favourably compared, and the two writers became friends, even while the colonial distinctions were clear. Visiting Kipling at home in England in 1901, Paterson reported Kipling as observing: “You people in Australia haven’t grown up yet. You think the Melbourne Cup is the most important thing in the world."

The city/country divide was no simple binary equation for Paterson. He knew, lived and loved both, allowing his bush ballads to be entirely free of condescension and even accord the sardonic its proper place: bullshit was a distinctly Australian feature even by the 1890s.

But while his contemporary, Henry Lawson, had a view of the bush that was far more gritty, and informed by a darker social realism, Paterson saw and reported the pastoral experience as overwhelmingly gladdening – for him, those extended plains were always sunlit.

Paterson’s lilting meter and natural rhymes, imbued with an unselfconscious love of the Australian bush still define the way we recall and embrace this country’s rural history. .

Virginia Trioli is co-presenter of ABC TV News breakfast, a prize-winning columnist and former ABC radio presenter in Sydney and Melbourne.


Further reading


'Paterson, Andrew Barton (Banjo) (1864–1941)', Clement SemmlerAustralian Dictionary of Biography, Melbourne University Press, 1988.

The Story of Waltzing Matilda, Banjo Paterson, Sydney, 1944.


The Banjo of the BushClement Semmler, Melbourne Lansdowne Press, Melbourne, 1966.


The World of ‘Banjo’ Paterson, Clement Semmler, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1967.


Fair Dinkum Matilda, Richard Magoffin, Mimosa Press, Charters Towers, 1973,


Dear Robertson, A. W. Barker (ed), Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1982.


A.B. (Banjo) Paterson: Complete Works 1885-1941, R. Campbell and P. Harvie (compiled), Lansdowne, Sydney, 1983.