one day at a time…
Wednesday, 28 July 2004

Author Victim Of His Own Success
CREDIT: © Rob Gray/RobGray.com
WHERE: Winton, Queensland, Australia. WHAT: author of 'Waltzing Matilda'.
MAP: Queensland, and Winton. Thumbnail pops-up source page.

Banjo Paterson © Rob GrayIn yesterday's item about Marie Lloyd we said we would introduce you to Banjo Paterson, and give you details of his shipboard meeting with 'The Queen of the Music Halls'. Firstly, let us deal with our expectation that you would recognize Banjo's best known work: surely 'Waltzing Matilda', the unofficial national anthem of Australia, must be as widely known as any song? Why not sing-along, if you are in any doubt, with this version of the tune and the lyrics. Today's thumbnail is a statue of Banjo located at the Waltzing Matilda Centre in Winton, Queensland, which is not only near the birthplace of the famous song, but also the birthplace of the Qantas airline.

For those who prefer cut-and-dried history here is the story: in 1895 Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson visited brother and sister Bob and Christina Macpherson at the old Dagworth Station, near (100km is near in this vast country) Winton, Queensland. The previous year there had been an incident at Dagworth, part of the ongoing labor dispute between graziers and shearers, begun in 1891 as the Great Shearers Strike. Macpherson and three constables had pursued shearers who had set fire to the Dagworth woolshed, burning three hundred sheep. One of the pursued shot himself to avoid capture. Macpherson and Paterson saw a partially butchered sheep while out riding, presumably taken by a 'swagman', or itinerant worker.

Paterson put these incidents together, wrote the words, to which Christina added music derived from a tune named 'Craigielea', and 'Waltzing Matilda' was born. Like all history the truth is less clearly cut; the curious will undertake further investigation.

There are several research resources on the web: [1] Roger Clarke's page is a good starting point; [2] Warren L. 'Hambone' Ham has a journeyman site with a five part section taken from the Sydney Morning Herald, 04 February to 04 March 1939, in which Paterson tells his own story; [3] National Library of Australia has an official looking site; and [4] folk singer Dennis O'Keeffe has a commercial front end for his products, though reporting this is in no way to detract from pages about Banjo, the song history, Dagworth, and the 1894 strike.

Perhaps the focus on 'Waltzing Matilda' has done a disservice to the remainder of Paterson's rich output. Yesterday's Marie Lloyd anecdote came from 'Happy Dispatches', Paterson's recollection of various characters he met in his travels, a chapter list that includes Winston Churchill, Rudyard Kipling, and 'Hell-fire Jack', in addition to the Marie Lloyd chapter.

SETIS [Australian Studies Resources, the University of Sydney Library, Scholarly Electronic Text and Image Service] has eight downloadable Paterson texts. From Project Gutenberg four texts in various formats are available. Lastly OzLit, a project from the State Library of Victoria offers 'The Man from Snowy River & Other Verses'. The University of Newcastle (campuses at Callaghan & Ourimbah, New South Wales, Australia) has an electronic library containing comprehensive collections of work by many authors, and its WhiteWolf server resource for Paterson is useful.

Recommending an author whose work is rooted in a particular time, place, and culture, always has the potential to backfire. We share none of those dynamics that are particular to Paterson, but when he was recommended to us we began with small doses until we acclimated to the dynamics. We found the effort worthwhile: good writing transcends those limitations that condemn lesser work to obscurity.

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Jules Laforgue (1860-1887)
"Ah! que la vie est quotidienne."
Oh, what a day-to-day business life is.
'Complainte sur certains ennuis' (1885)