Bush poet’s trea­sure from scrib­bled note

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - - NEWS -

BANJO Pater­son, a tall, dark and sad-eyed young so­lic­i­tor, was day­dream­ing in the of­fice of his le­gal firm at 105 Pitt Street, Syd­ney.

It was late in 1889 and the young lawyer, who loved fast horses and beau­ti­ful women, was think­ing about the next poem he might write for the rad­i­cal Bul­letin mag­a­zine, whose clut­tered of­fice was lo­cated down the same busy thor­ough­fare in a small, shabby brick build­ing at the top of what Banjo re­mem­bered as “a nar­row and never dusted flight of stairs”.

Times were tough and Banjo much pre­ferred be­ing a writer of verse to run­ning his firm Street and Pater­son, which rep­re­sented big banks chas­ing money from poor farm­ers.

For the “want of bet­ter knowl­edge’’ Banjo had writ­ten one let­ter of de­mand to a drover with the sur­name “Clancy” who was work­ing on a prop­erty called “The Over­flow” along the Lach­lan River.

So there was Banjo, in his dingy lit­tle of­fice sit­ting un­der a stingy ray of sun­light, when he opened a re­sponse from “The Over­flow”.

It came from one of Clancy’s shear­ing mates and was writ­ten in a scrawl so un­tidy that it looked like it had been made with a thumb­nail dipped in tar.

It said sim­ply: “Clancy’s gone to Queens­land drov­ing, and we don’t know where he are.”

Queens­land had played a big part in Banjo’s life and the shearer’s curt sen­tence and frac­tured gram­mar stayed in his mind all his days.

Banjo wrote Clancy of the Over­flow for the Christ­mas 1889 edi­tion of the Bul­letin and was paid 13 shillings for what be­came a time­less trea­sure.

Banjo was born just out­side Or­ange, NSW in 1864. The an­niver­sary of his birth is next Satur­day.

I spent some of last week op­po­site the ru­ins of Banjo’s first home at Buck­in­bah Sta­tion at Yeo­val in the cen­tral west of NSW, talk­ing about the Queens­land drought that ru­ined his fa­ther.

At their su­perb Banjo Pater­son Mu­seum, Yeo­val’s Alf and Sharon Cantrell showed me all man­ner of Banjo arte­facts that Alf has been col­lect­ing for most of his 75 years.

Among them was a let­ter that Banjo’s fa­ther wrote to the West­ern Bank in La­nark, Scot­land a few days be­fore Christ­mas in 1854.

An­drew Bogle Pater­son had just ar­rived in Aus­tralia from there with some sib­lings and a dream of build­ing a pas­toral em­pire.

He asked the bank for a trans­fer of funds from the es­tates of his late fa­ther and un­cle.

Even­tu­ally An­drew Pater­son, and his brother John, op­er­ated huge sheep runs at Buck­in­bah, Il­la­long Sta­tion near Yass in south­ern NSW, and the 10,500ha prop­erty Stain­burn Downs, 25km from Ara­mac in cen­tral Queens­land.

But the Queens­land prop­erty de­voured so much of their time and cap­i­tal that the Pater­son broth­ers went bust, los­ing their hold­ings in NSW as well.

Young Banjo Pater­son saw his fa­ther spend the rest of his short life as a hired hand on a prop­erty that he once owned.

It was a sim­i­lar tale of the lit­tle man fight­ing for a fair go that in­spired Banjo to write Waltz­ing Matilda dur­ing an ill-fated love af­fair on a trip to Dag­worth Sta­tion, north of Win­ton in 1895. By then Banjo was al­ready Aus­tralia’s most pop­u­lar writer. Through all of his days he re­mem­bered the let­ter from Clancy’s shear­ing mate and the vi­sion that it con­jured of the drover rid­ing out into the wide open spa­ces, far from the hur­ry­ing city-peo­ple shoul­der­ing one an­other in their rush and ner­vous haste. Banjo of­ten thought of Clancy and how lucky Aus­tralia’s bush­men were in see­ing first-hand the “vi­sion splen­did of the sun­lit plains ex­tended, and at night the wond’rous glory of the ev­er­last­ing stars”.


grantlee.kieza@news.com.au HarperCollins/ABC Books will pub­lish Grantlee Kieza’s bi­og­ra­phy of Banjo Pater­son later this year.

GREENER GRASS: Banjo Pater­son’s work evoked the age of drovers and farm work­ers striv­ing for a fair go.

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