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Banjo Patterson Australian Poet

A. B. (Banjo) Patterson
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A Short Biography

Andrew Barton (Banjo) Patterson

Andrew Barton Paterson was born on 17 February, 1864, at Narambla in New South Wales. When he was five, his family moved to Illalong, where A.B Paterson went to a bush school called Binalong Primary. In 1874, his parents, Rose and Andrew decided to send him to Gladesville to live with his Grandmother. He finished his education at Sydney Grammar School. On his holidays, he would go home to Illalong. He would go camping with his five sisters and one brother along the upper reaches of the Murrumbidgee or in the Snowy River country. He became a skilful rider, shooter and bushman.

When he failed to get a scholarship to University, A.B Paterson started working for a firm of lawyers when he was sixteen. After qualifying as a solicitor, he became managing clerk for a larger law firm. An unpleasant part of his job was to get money out of small farmers and selectors, but Paterson's sympathies lay with these people. His first piece of writing was a political pamphlet showing the necessitiy for Land Reform combined with protection, urging the abolition of the existing land grant system. Around 1885, Paterson turned to a different style of writing and his first published poem appeared in the Bulletin anonymously around this time.

Soon after, Paterson adopted the pen name of "The Banjo" after a race horse his family had owned at Illalong. Banjo's first poem was "The Bush Fire, an Allegory" which appeared in the Bulletin in June, 1886. In 1888, he wrote "Old Pardon, the Son of Reprieve", which marked the beginning of his bush ballads. Throughout the 1890's the Bulletin became famous for encouraging new Australian writers and featured poetry and stories that were uniquely Australian - squatters and shearers, drovers, swagmen and bullockies. Henry Lawson also wrote for the Bulletin and Lawson and Paterson had a contest in the Bulletin where each presented their views of the bush.

By 1889, Paterson had his own law firm and his popularity as a poet continued to grow. In 1889, the Bulletin published fourteen of his poems including "Clancy of the Overflow". Paterson was feeling confined by his office job and in 1890 wrote "The Man from Snowy River" and "The Geebung Polo Club" which reflected his love of polo. In 1895, Banjo published the very first book of Australian poetry, "The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses" and his identity as "The Banjo" was finally revealed. The book became a best seller and Banjo, a celebrity.

Paterson went to visit his fiancÚ in Winton and heard a local legend about a wanted man who drowned himself to avoid being captured. He also heard the expression "waltzing Matilda" which meant to carry a swag. Paterson wrote a song and called it "Waltzing Matilda" but sold the rights to it to Angus and Robertson in 1903 because he didn't particularly like it. By 1895, Banjo was employed by the Bulletin as a travel journalist and in 1899 when the Boer War broke out in Africa, Paterson went to South Africa as a War Correspondent. He was in the thick of the action and became an expert on the use of horses in warfare. After the Boer War, Paterson met and married Alice Walker in 1903 and he became editor of the Evening News. In 1905 his "Old Bush Songs" was published and his first novel "An Outback Marriage" was published in 1906. In 1908, Banjo, Alice and their two children, Hugh and Grace, became squatters, camping out and working on his poems. However, by 1912, Banjo was back in Sydney working as a freelance journalist.

When World War 1 broke out in 1914, Paterson, put his knowledge of horses to good use when he became a lieutenant in the Second Australian Remount Unit, breaking and training over 50 000 horses. By 1916, he was promoted to major and his group became famous for their riding displays. In 1919 at the end of the war, Paterson returned to Australia and settled in Sydney's eastern suburbs.

He also returned to journalism and became editor of the Sportsman, a sporting newspaper. Banjo enjoyed this job as he could use his knowledge of horses, also covering the races for the Sydney Truth newspaper. In 1930, he was made a C.B.E. and resigned his editorship to write books. "The Animals that Noah Forgot" was published in 1933, followed by "Happy Dispatches". By 1941, The Banjo was nearly seventy-seven years old and suffered from a heart condition. He died on 5 February, 1941.