18 June 2020

Banjo Paterson: discovering more about the man behind the words

| Karyn Starmer
A B Paterson

Photograph of A B Paterson in The Man From Snowy River and Other Verses signed by Paterson. Photos: Supplied.

While most of us know the lines to his poems, little is known about the man, A B ‘Banjo’ Paterson, the famous Australian bush poet, author of ‘The Man from Snowy River’ and ‘Waltzing Matilda’. But as the National Library of Australia prepares to digitise its newly acquired collection of personal papers, previously held by the Paterson family, the world will get to see more of the man behind those famous verses.

The collection, held by four generations of the Paterson family before its acquisition by the National Library in 2019, includes over 16 boxes of handwritten diaries, notebooks, drafts, correspondence and even an unpublished memoir.

National Library of Australia Director of Philanthropy Dr Conor McCarthy said this is the last major collection that was not held in a public institution.

“We were excited to get this material. Banjo Paterson is such an iconic figure and these papers give us a much richer view of his life and times,” Dr McCarthy said.

The collection represents a considerable part of Paterson’s work and life. There is a large group of his writings in the form of manuscript and typescript drafts of verse, prose, articles and radio plays. Some drafts are fully formed, while others are notes jotted down in journals and diaries. There are also papers and photographs relating to Paterson’s military service in both the Boer War and World War I, as well as photographs, newspaper cuttings, ephemera, scrapbooks, and memorabilia.

The collection includes an early version of ‘Waltzing Matilda’, and family correspondence revealing an affectionate and personal side to the famous poet including a letter from fellow writer Henry Lawson, written on prison letterhead. Lawson was in prison in 1905 for unpaid debts and was asking Banjo to help raise £12 to get him released.

Dr McCarthy says the library has not yet unpacked all of the treasures.

“We will catalogue the items as we digitise the collection but so far we have found some really unexpected things like invitations featuring a banjo logo and a beautiful photograph of Banjo with his daughter at her wedding.”

National Library staff

National Library staff undertake work to digitise the vast collections and make more materials accessible online.

The National Library will soon commence work on the digitisation of the papers and the Library is running an appeal to raise money for the digitisation program.

“Digitising our collection is an important part of the work we do here at the Library. Digitisation means that our collections are available to all Australians, no matter where they live, and ensures they remain available for future generations,” Dr McCarthy said.

“The Library’s digitisation program has been supported by the ongoing, generous contributions from donors across Australia and around the world. This year, we are inviting supporters to help us to preserve and share this nationally important collection of ‘Banjo’ Paterson’s papers.

“Philanthropy has played an important role over many years in helping us to share the treasures of our collection online. Previous donations have helped us to digitise everything from advertising posters to the records of the women’s suffrage movement.”

An early version of 'Waltzing Matilda'

An early version of ‘Waltzing Matilda’.

The Library started digitising its collection material in the early 2000s and is a world-leader in digital capture, managing digitisation projects at scale and caring for the resulting digital objects into the future. All digital objects are freely available online through Trove.

To support the National Library in its preservation and digitisation of the papers of A B ‘Banjo’ Paterson, please visit National Library of Australia.

Original Article published by Karyn Starmer on The RiotACT.

Weekly Wrap

Canberra is renowned for its restaurants, bars, arts and culture. If you want to know what's going on in and around the nation's capital, sign up for our weekly newsletter and have all the best of the Canberra community delivered free to your inbox.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.