Reprint: Australia and Men He Sang

Australians to-day are fighting on the other side of the world with songs on their lips redolent of the Australian bush and that cheery optimism that its bushmen breathed from the early days of British settlement in this land, but the songster is dead. Andrew Barton Paterson's life ebbed to its close in Sydney this week, but the verses of "Banjo"' Paterson will continue to live because they pulsate with an essentially Australian vitality and their fresh originality leaves them undated. We do not know whether this celebrated Australian poet died well endowed in this world's goods, indeed, we would be surprised if any Australian poet had received such material recognition in his generation, but he has enriched and stimulated the lives of millions of his countrymen and has bequeathed to them a legacy and cheerfulness that will be the prize of generations yet unborn.

It is too often the fashion of the literati to despise the poet who achieves popular fame and to see little poetic merit in verses which are on everybody's lips. This common tailing of our university products, who too often also are blind to merit in aught that arouses Australian national fervour, would be particularly astray in its customary attitude if applied to the works of "Banjo" Patterson. There was about them a lightness that their lilt enhanced, but as the lines raced over the open "countryside, raced fie and braved flood, leaped fences and swam billabongs, they carried true poetry in word and phrase, in thought and expression. The Stockman and the swagman, the shearer and the squatter, the men of the outback who blazed the trail and made the present greatness of this country possible - these are the figures which flit merrily through his writings. They were also very largely the subjects that Henry Lawson also revelled in, but whereas Lawson's work was often imbued with a sadness that was perhaps characteristic of Lawson himself, indomitable laughter rang out of Paterson's men and women. They left their troubles behind them as his riders left their fences, by taking them in long, lofty strides. So, the spirit of Paterson's verse has come to be an attitude of life characteristic of the Australian wno has almost adopted "Waltzing Matilda" as a national anthem. He sang of Australians whose dress has changed and whose manner of transport is faster to-day than in the last two generations, but their spirit is the same, That spirit which Paterson saw in the Australians as war correspondent in the Boer War has been intensified in the Great War and flowers to-day again as the Australians take the brunt of the attack in the battles over African sands. The shearer who once tramped the dusty roads with a bluey on his back may to-day travel with his mates in a motor car, but within his breast his heart beats like that of the inconsequential Clancy. For every type that Paterson portrayed, mode of life has undergone inevitable change, but they are Australians and their Australian characteristics are not only influencing the outlook of Australia in the affairs of the world but are playing their part in shaping world history.

First published in The Canberra Times, 7 February 1941

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

Note: A.B. ("Banjo") Paterson died on 5th February 1941

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on August 14, 2009 8:48 AM.

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