Andrew Barton Paterson, who used the pen name
", after a race horse
owned by his family, was born on February 17, 1864 at a remote station in New South Wales
. One of seven children, he was raised on Buckinbah Station until he was five years old, then moved to Illalong, another remote station.
At the age of ten, Paterson left the station to attend grammar school in Sydney. When he did not earn a scholarship to university, Paterson went to work as a clerk for a law firm, and read law in his off hours.
Paterson found that one of his first barrister duties was bill collection. This disturbed him greatly and he wrote his first piece, a pamphlet calling for land reform and the abolition of the land grant system in Australia.
In the 1880s, Paterson discovered poetry and published his first poem, anonymously. A few years later he published the first of his bush ballads, "Old Pardon, the Son of Reprieve".
Paterson's poems were an immediate hit. He and Henry Lawson both wrote for the same newspaper, the Bulletin, and the paper gained fame for its Australian writers and its unique poetry and fiction features that embraced the beauty and the immensity of Australia's bush.
By the time that he published his first volume of poetry, "The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses", the Banjo had his own law offices and his star was still rising in the world of poetry. His dissatisfaction with the office never showed through better than in these lines from one of his most famous poems, "Clancy of the Overflow":
I am sitting in my dingy little office, where a stingy
Ray of sunlight struggles feebly down between the houses tall,
And the foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city
Through the open window floating, spreads its foulness over all.
And in place of lowing cattle, I can hear the fiendish rattle
Of the tramways and the buses making hurry down the street,
And the language uninviting of the gutter children fighting,
Comes fitfully and faintly through the ceaseless tramp of feet.
And the hurrying people daunt me, and their pallid faces haunt me
As they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste,
With their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy,
For townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste.
And I somehow rather fancy that I’d like to change with Clancy,
Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go,
While he faced the round eternal of the cash-book and the journal--
But I doubt he’d suit the office, Clancy, of The Overflow.
With the publication of this best selling volume of poems, the Banjo revealed himself as A. B. Paterson and found himself an instant celebrity. Not very much later, he heard a bush legend about a man who drowned himself rather than be brought in by the police, and from this came what is perhaps his most famous poem, "Waltzing Matilda".
During the Boer War Paterson served as a war correspondent in South Africa, and after the war he married and had two children.
During World War I, he served as a lieutenant in a riding regiment. He ended his service with the rank of major, and in 1919 returned to Sydney's suburbs and work as a journalist.
The Banjo died of a heart attack in 1941, leaving a collection of work that included three volumes of poetry and two novels. He is widely considered to be the voice of Australia's bush, and his face is featured on the Australian ten dollar note.
Waltzing Matilda, a poem the Banjo never much cared for, is considered by many to be the true Australian national anthem, rather than the officially sanctioned "Advance Australia Fair!.
Biographical information in print copy of "The Man From Snowy River"
"Clancy of the Overflow" originally published 1913, in the public domain.