Saturday, 21 May 2011

Remembering Australian Literature

A.B. “Banjo” Patterson
One of my recent book finds is a book of writings by Banjo Patterson so I had a quick read and it renewed by interest in Australian literature.
Banjo Patterson was born in rural New South Wales in 1864. At the age of 31, he achieved two milestones in Australian writing. He composed his now famous ballad “Waltzing Matilda” and his first book, “The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses,” was published.
Every Australian claims ownership of Banjo. So much that “Waltzing Matilda” was once even consider for the Australian National Anthem. For those of you who have never heard the poem, here is a short sample.

Oh! there once was a swagman camped in the Billabong,
Under the shade of a Coolabah tree;
And he sang as he looked at his old billy boiling,
"Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me."

Down came a jumbuck to drink at the water-hole,
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him in glee;
And he sang as he put him away in his tucker-bag,
"You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me!"

And here it is put to music at the magnificent Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Okay, now for the translation. A swagman is an old fashioned term for an unskilled itinerant worker who carried his few belongings  rolled up in a sleeping bag on his back and a jumbuck is a sheep. Billabong is another term for a waterhole. 

Once Australia had decided it was grown up enough to have an “Australian” national anthem, the hunt was on for something to replace “God Save the Queen.”

“Waltzing Matilda” was a popular choice. We all know the words and have sung it enthusiastically at every school across the country, at the cricket, football or around the barbecue after a few drinks.

In the end, common sense prevailed. National anthems should be patriotic. About growth and the future. We could hardly have a song about a sheep stealer who in the end, jumped into the billabong and killed himself when pursued by the law.

I think Australians rest comfortably with “Advance Australia Fair” as our national anthem.
In my belief, Banjo should not feel discarded for not having made it to the national anthem. He resides on the $10 note, which will still buy you a burger and a drink for lunch, a ticket to the movies on “cheap Tuesday” and a cheap t-shirt with a slightly ugly picture on the front.


For sale on ebay this week I have a book of Banjo's stories and sketches. Check it out.

It is probably not proper for me to finish this little insight into one of Australia's legends without providing a link to the song that pipped "Waltzing Matilda" at the post. Funnily enough, I don't even know who wrote it. 

"Advance Australia Fair"

Which one would you have voted for?


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