A. B. 'Banjo' Paterson (The Bush Poet): Featuring 'The Geebung Polo Club'
Andrew Barton Paterson
Andrew Barton Paterson was born on February 17, 1864 at Narambla Cattle Station, near Orange, New South Wales. His early years were spent at Narambla before his family moved to Illalong Station in the Yass district, near the Snowy Mountains, where the young boy got to know squatters, drovers, stockmen, and even bushrangers (the characters who would fill his later books).
At ten years of age Paterson was sent to live with his grandmother Emily Barton so that he could attend Sydney Grammar School. Here he became a well-mannered and athletically gifted teenager, and on leaving school at 16 years of age, he took up a position as an articled clerk in a lawyer's office. He found office work somewhat boring and spent most of his leisure time pursuing is sporting interests. Paterson received some public attention in the sporting field as a member of the first polo team to represent his state of New South Wales.
The following poem was inspired by his love of polo.
The Geebung Polo Club
by A. B. 'Banjo' Paterson
It was somewhere up the country, in a land of rock and scrub,
That they formed an institution called the Geebung Polo Club.
They were long and wiry natives from the rugged mountain side,
And the horse was never saddled that the Geebungs couldn't ride;
But their style of playing polo was irregular and rash --
They had mighty little science, but a mighty lot of dash:
And they played on mountain ponies that were muscular and strong,
Though their coats were quite unpolished,
And their manes and tails were long.
And they used to train those ponies wheeling cattle in the scrub:
They were demons, were the members of the Geebung Polo Club.
It was somewhere down the country, in a city's smoke and steam,
That a polo club existed, called `The Cuff and Collar Team'.
As a social institution 'twas a marvellous success,
For the members were distinguished by exclusiveness and dress.
They had natty little ponies that were nice, and smooth, and sleek,
For their cultivated owners only rode 'em once a week.
So they started up the country in pursuit of sport and fame,
For they meant to show the Geebungs how they ought to play the game;
And they took their valets with them -- just to give their boots a rub
Ere they started operations on the Geebung Polo Club.
Now my readers can imagine how the contest ebbed and flowed,
When the Geebung boys got going it was time to clear the road;
And the game was so terrific that ere half the time was gone
A spectator's leg was broken -- just from merely looking on.
For they waddied one another till the plain was strewn with dead,
While the score was kept so even that they neither got ahead.
And the Cuff and Collar Captain, when he tumbled off to die,
Was the last surviving player -- so the game was called a tie.
Then the Captain of the Geebungs raised him slowly from the ground,
Though his wounds were mostly mortal, yet he fiercely gazed around;
There was no one to oppose him -- all the rest were in a trance,
So he scrambled on his pony for his last expiring chance,
For he meant to make an effort to get victory to his side;
So he struck at goal -- and missed it -- then he tumbled off and died.
By the old Campaspe River, where the breezes shake the grass,
There's a row of little gravestones that the stockmen never pass,
For they bear a crude inscription saying, `Stranger, drop a tear,
For the Cuff and Collar players and the Geebung boys lie here.'
And on misty moonlit evenings, while the dingoes howl around,
You can see their shadows flitting down that phantom polo ground;
You can hear the loud collisions as the flying players meet,
And the rattle of the mallets, and the rush of ponies' feet,
Till the terrified spectator rides like blazes to the pub --
He's been haunted by the spectres of the Geebung Polo Club.
By 1885 Paterson had become a qualified solicitor and his first works, under the pseudonym 'The Banjo', were published in the Bulletin magazine. He had adopted the nickname 'Banjo' after a racehorse owned by his family, and by 1890 his works were among the most popular in the Bulletin. The critically acclaimed and much loved Clancy of The Overflow having assured 'The Banjo' success when published in the 1889 Christmas edition of the Bulletin.
Further verses including The Man From Ironbark, and Old Pardon, the Son of Reprieve under the same pen name aroused considerable interest, and curiosity as to the author's true identity. This however would not be revealed until the 1895 publication of The Man From Snowy River and Other Verses. This book was described in the London Library Year Book as "without parallel in colonial literary annals," and gave A. B. 'Banjo' Paterson a public following wider than any other author in the English language except Rudyard Kipling.
The author had become an overnight success. The first edition sold out in a fortnight, and 10000 sales reached within the first year. By 1992 more than 120000 copies had been sold, and it continues to outsell any other publication of Australian poetry. The Man From Snowy River has been made into a movie, television series, and as many other of Paterson's poems, a song.
Soon after the successful publishing of The Man From Snowy River Paterson went for a holiday in Queensland. While staying at Dagworth Station, near Winton, he wrote Waltzing Matilda which was to become Australia's national folk song.
In late 1899 he served as a war correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald during the Boer War in South Africa, where he had a close association with the Australian Lancers. While there he met famed English poet and author Rudyard Kipling. Paterson returned to Australia in 1900, and almost immediately set off for China as a war correspondent to cover the Boxer Rebellion, but it had ended by the time he arrived. Soon after returning home this time, he met and fell in love with a grazier's daughter, Alice Walker. Their subsequent marriage proved a very successful union.
He left the city to try his hand at farming on two occasions, but these ventures proved unsuccessful and he returned to Sydney to work as a freelance journalist. During these years Paterson published Old Bush Songs and Saltbush Bill JP and Other Verses.
At the outbreak of World War 1 he sailed for London with the hope of becoming a correspondent, but instead was employed as an ambulance driver in the French battlefields. Now 50 years of age, Paterson was then sent to Egypt as a Remount Officer and attained the rank of Major due to his work in breaking horses for the Allied troops. His wife joined him there, working for the British Red Cross until they returned to Sydney in 1919, where they settled with their son and daughter.
Paterson's later life was adventure filled. He went crocodile-hunting and buffalo shooting in the Northern Territory, and pearl diving at Broome in Western Australia. He continued writing collections of poetry and in 1933 produced the children's book The Animals That Noah Forgot, and the following year, the semi-autobiographical Happy Dispatches.
A. B. 'Banjo Paterson became ill and died in hospital on February 5, 1941
He wrote as bush folk themselves would if they were able and it is this that has made his poetry so popular with them and city folk alike. His verse belongs to the true ballad tradition of tales musically told and he could appropriately be compared to a minstrel of the middle ages.