Poets of Australia – 2: Banjo Paterson

Open book and empty book ready to write

One of Australia’s most prominent historical figures, Paterson was born on the property of “Narambla” and originally studied to be a lawyer in Sydney. He published his first work in 1895, containing the infamous Man From Snowy River poem. This book sold over 100,000 copies in Patterson’s lifetime alone.

His assignment to cover the Boer War was the first step in his career as a journalist and he became the Editor of the Sydney Evening News just four years later. The unofficial Australian anthem “Waltzing Matilda” first appeared after his term of service as a horse expert with the cavalry through World War I. Paterson then became a rancher and admits that his experience in the bush and as a soldier heavily inspired many of his works.

“The fisher-boys dropped sail and oar

To grimly stand the test,

Along that storm-swept Turkish shore,

With miners from the west.”

We’re All Australians Now, Banjo Paterson

One of his most obvious works that focused on his experience of the war, this poem is one of pride and patriotism. Paterson comments on the unity of the soldiers in the trenches, “For English, Scottish, Irish bred, They’re all Australians now.”

“The stunted children come and go, 

In squalid lanes and alleys black, 

We follow but the beaten track, 

Of other nations, and we grow

In wealth for some – for many, woe.” 

Song of the Future, Banjo Paterson

This poem emphasises Australia’s relatively recent entry into the European history books and proposes that this recognition may be good for some but detrimental for most. To Paterson’s credit, this was not a perspective which many European Australian’s had considered back in his time.

“But this was caused (as now I know), 

When summer sunshine glowing, 

Had melted all Kiandra’s snow, 

And set the river going.” 

A Mountain Station, Banjo Paterson

Paterson wrote several poems on the hardships experienced by the first generations of European farmers who didn’t understand the challenges of the Australian landscape. Much of the local Indigenous knowledge was ignored up until about the late 2000s which led to many stations at that time being mismanaged. The new focus on appreciating and adopting Indigenous land practices has seen a new, and more successful, agricultural management system emerge in Australia.

An annual writing award was established in Paterson’s honour with three different categories, attracting competitors from across Australia and internationally. Want to try your hand at bush poetry or a short story? Perhaps you’ll be inspired by the Poets of Australia series!