Banjo Paterson – Poet, Ballad Writer and Journalist

Though his poetry may not be as widely recognized today in Australia, Banjo Paterson remains popular and our digitised collections provide a fascinating look into his life and work.

Banjo attended Sydney University before finding employment as a law clerk, qualifying as a solicitor, and publishing poetry in The Bulletin journal. During this period he also began publishing his poetry regularly in The Bulletin journal.

Born Andrew Barton Paterson

Andrew Barton Paterson, more commonly known by his nickname of Banjo Paterson, was an Australian poet, ballad writer, and journalist. Born at Narrambla near Orange on 17 February 1864 to Andrew Bogle Paterson and Rose Isabella who were graziers on Illalong station in Yass District graziers Andrew Bogle Paterson was known for developing an affection for Australia and its people; with no formal education he managed to develop this love through poetry – his lilting meter and natural rhymes reflecting this love continue to shape how we remember and embrace Australia’s pastoral history today.

At 16, he began working as a law clerk with a firm in Sydney. Two years later he was admitted as a solicitor, becoming part of the legal partnership Street and Paterson. Soon thereafter he started writing narrative-type verse for publication in Bulletin of Sydney under his penname ‘The Banjo” after an iconic racehorse of his time.

In 1895, his collection of poems entitled, The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses, was released and it became an instantaneous success, catapulting him to national celebrity overnight. In fact, The Times even compared him with Rudyard Kipling and sent letters of congratulations directly to his publisher.

In 1899 he left legal practice to become a full-time writer and journalist, travelling extensively while writing articles and poetry for various magazines and newspapers. He was appointed special war correspondent by The Sydney Morning Herald during the Boer War before later travelling to China to cover Boxer Rebellion. Banjo Paterson married Alice Emily Walker at Tenterfield and they had two children Grace and Hugh before eventually settling in Queen Street Woollahra where he died five February 1941.


With his background in farming and law, Henry Lawson became a well-known horseman known for both writing poetry and being an accomplished rider. His works painted an idyllic view of Australian bushlife that contrasted sharply with Henry Lawson’s more realistic and gritty account of rural life; Lawson published his works in numerous publications such as Bulletin and Sydney Mail. Furthermore he worked as journalist.

At first, he took little interest in horses when beginning his writing career; however, quickly growing fond of them over time. Participating in several horse races and riding at local tracks where he quickly earned himself the reputation as an adept rider; eventually eulogizing many horseman within his poems as tribute.

In 1895, Paterson visited Dagworth station near Winton in Western Queensland with Sarah Riley and encountered Christina Macpherson, one of Sarah’s former school friends and Christina played her autoharp to play a song for Paterson that became one of Australia’s most well-known folk tunes: Waltzing Matilda. This interaction triggered Paterson to write one of Australia’s iconic folk songs – Waltzing Matilda!

Banjo Paterson wrote poetry and journalism leading up to World War I, contributing articles to Sydney Mail, Pastoralists’ Review, Australian Town and Country Journal and The Lone Hand. Additionally he published numerous books such as his memoirs and reminiscences as well as bush ballads collections. Furthermore he became a prominent racehorse owner who was later awarded with C.B.E in 1922.

War Correspondent

Attorney by profession, Paterson was also an accomplished author who contributed his poetry and prose pieces to many journals such as the Bulletin, Pastoralists’ Review, Australian Town & Country Journal and Lone Hand. Additionally he became well-known for writing rugby league articles for The Sydney Sportsman during this period.

His first poem, El Mahdi to the Australian Troops, was published in The Bulletin in 1885 and its success brought to the notice of The Sydney Morning Herald who offered him work as a war correspondent.

As a war correspondent, his work took him around the globe. He reported on China’s Boxer Rebellion and later traveled to South Africa during Boer warfare – all the while keeping up an active writing career and producing reports full of vivid details which captured the spirit and pace of events at hand.

While staying at Dagworth station in western Queensland, he penned what has since become Australia’s best-known folk song: an ode to his sole equine companion that has come to be recognized as one of our national songs.

As soon as World War I broke out in 1914, Paterson made the journey from England to Flanders hoping to be accredited as a war correspondent. When this did not work out he volunteered at the Australian Voluntary Hospital in Wimereux France as an ambulance driver and gained first-hand knowledge of both European conflict and nation’s history – becoming fondly known by its members by taking their nickname of Banjo which came from one of his racehorses he owned as part of their call sign for ambulance drivers – making his lifelong contribution irreplaceable by his peers in England when WW2 broke out in 1914 he arrived aiming to report on it all as war correspondent awaited.


Banjo Paterson lived an inspiring and adventurous life as a farmer, jockey, poet, war correspondent, and soldier; one that left its mark on Australian literature. Best known for The Man from Snowy River but also famous for numerous other poems that are part of Australian folklore he managed to achieve so much throughout his lifetime – making an inspirational figure!

Andrew Bogle Paterson was born in Narrambla near Orange in New South Wales on 17 February 1864 to Andrew Bogle Paterson (a grazier) and Rose Isabella Barton. One of seven children, he received an education first at his governess’s house until he learned to ride, before attending Binalong Bush School and eventually Sydney Grammar School where he excelled both academically and athletically.

At 16 he began writing verses for The Bulletin. By 19, he had published his debut collection of poetry under the pen name Banjo and gained employment as both law clerk and solicitor with Spain & Salway firm; at this same time contributing regularly to Sydney Mail and Bulletin while loving racehorses with an editing journal dedicated to them.

In 1900, he traveled to South Africa and China as a war correspondent, only arriving too late to observe the Boxer Rebellion first hand. Instead, he lectured extensively about his wartime experiences. By 1902, he decided to leave law altogether, publishing under the pen name “Banjo” an edition of old bush ballads with his own commentary on them. Finally in 1903 he married Alice Walker from Tenterfield; together they had two children, Grace and Hugh.


Banjo Paterson is best-known for writing the classic poem, “Waltzing Matilda.” In addition, he produced other verses and essays including an anthology of children’s poetry that received widespread recognition. He was often compared to Rudyard Kipling; his work received positive reviews. Furthermore, his popularity among attorneys and sportspeople saw him play tennis, rowing and horseback riding; however his greatest talent lay with horseback riding which his wife Christina Macpherson performed when visiting Dagworth Station in Queensland

Paterson became a household name following the publication of The Man from Snowy River in 1895, an immense success that solidified bushmen as romantic archetypes in Australian culture. Paterson had an acute sense of place when writing, often including references to landscape and environment in his writing.

After leaving school, he articled with Spain and Salway solicitors of Sydney before being admitted as a solicitor and founding Street and Paterson legal partnership in 1886. At that point he began publishing poetry under pseudonyms such as ‘B’ or ‘The Banjo.’ During this period he began publishing verse in both Bulletin and Sydney Mail under pseudonyms of ‘B’ or ‘The Banjo.

In 1900 he became editor of the Sydney Evening News but soon left law to focus on writing. During the Boer War he traveled as war correspondent for this publication; then sailing for China during its Boxer Rebellion outbreak; unfortunately he arrived too late.

Paterson is widely considered the father of Australian poetry, and his work continues to shape how we remember and embrace Australia’s rural past. His unselfconscious love of nature was juxtaposed against Henry Lawson’s gritty social realism of that period.