Reprint: Banjo Paterson Meets Kipling

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Mr. A. Paterson, the "Australian Kipling," has met the other Kipling. In the S. M. Herald he gives this account of it:--

While in town (Bloemfontein) inquiring into a certain matter I had the luck to meet Kipling. He has come up here on a hurried visit, and partly in search of health after his late severe illness. He is a little, squat-figured, sturdy man of about 40. His face is well enough known to everybody from his numerous portraits, but no portrait gives any hint of the quick nervous energy of the man.  His talk is a gabble, a chatter, a constant jumping from one point to another, and he seizes the chief idea in each subject unerringly. In manner he is more like a business man than a literary celebrity. There is nothing of the dreamer about him, and the   last thing one could believe was that the little square figured man with the thick black eye- brows and the round glasses was the creator of "Mowgli the Jungle Boy," of "The Drums of the Fore-and-aft," and of ''The Man Who Would be King," to say nothing of Otheris, Mulvaney, and Learoyd, and a host of others. He talked of little but the war and its results, present and prospective. His residence in America has Americanised his language, and he says "yep," instead of "yes." After talking some time about Australian books and Australian papers he launched out on what is evidently his ruling idea at present -- the future of South Africa. " I'm off back to London," he said, "booked to sail on the 11th. I'm not going to wait for the fighting here. I can trust the army to do all the fighting here. It's in London I'll have to do my fighting. I   want to fight the people who will say the Boers fought for freedom -- give them back their country!' I want to fight all that sort of nonsense. I know all about it. I knew this war was coming, and I came over here some time ago and went to Johannesburg and Pretoria, and I've got everything good and ready. There's going to be the greatest demand for skilled labor here the world has ever known. Railways, irrigation, mines, milk, all would have started years ago only for this Government."

I asked what sort of Government he proposed to put in place of the Boers.

"Military rule for three years, and by that time they will have enough population here to govern themselves. We want you Australians to stay over here and help fetch this place along."

I said that our men did not think the country worth fighting over, and that all we had seen would not pay to farm, unless one were sure of water.

"Water! You can get artesian water at 40ft any where! What more do they want!"      

I pointed out that there is a vast difference between artesian water which rises to the surface and well water which has to be lifted 40ft. When it comes to watering 100,000 sheep one finds the difference.

"OH, well," he said, "I don't know about that; but, anyhow, you haven't seen the best of the country. You've only seen 500 miles of Karoo desert yet. Wait till you get to the Transvaal!"  

"Will there be much more fighting, do you think?"

Well, there's sure to be some more, and the soldiers want to get their money back."

"How do you mean, get their money back?"  

"Get some revenge out of the Boers for the men we've lost -- get our money back. The Tommies don't count the lot captured with Cronje at all. They're all alive and our men are dead. We want to get some of our money back. You Australians have fought well," he went on; "very well. Real good men.  Now, we want you to stay here and help us along with this show. I can't understand there being so many radicals in Australia. What do they want? If they were to become independent, what do they expect to do?  Will they fork out the money for a fleet and a standing army? They'd be a dead gift to Germany if they didn't. What more do they want than what they've got?"  

I didn't feel equal to enlightening him on Australian politics, so I said, "What are you going to do with the Boers if you take their country?"  

"Let 'em stop on their farms."  

"Won't they vote against you as soon as you give them the votes back? Won't they revert to their old order of things?"  

"Not a bit. We'll have enough people to outvote 'em before we give 'em the votes. There'll be no Irish question here. Once they find they're under a Government that don't commandeer everything they've got, they'll settle down and work all right.  They're working away now to the north of us, entrenching away like beavers; we'll give them something better to do than digging trenches."

One could almost see the man's mind working while he talked, and yet all the time while he was talking with quick, nervous utterance of the great things to be done in those unsettled countries I seemed to see bebind him the heavy, impassive face of the man I saw in Kimberley -- Cecil Rhodes. Kipling is the man of thought and speech, Rhodes the man of action. Cecil Rhodes seems to own most things in these parts, and when our Australians reach the promised land of which Kipling speaks so enthusiastically they will be apt to find the best claims already staked out by Cecil Rhodes and his fellow-investors -- at least, that is my impression. There are no fortunes "going spare" in this part of the world; but, anyhow, this is not a political letter, and Kipling is big enough to draw his own rations, and if he chooses to temporarily lay aside the pen of the author for the carpet-bag of the politician, it is his own look-out. He expressed great interest in the Australian horses, and promised to come out to the camp and see them, and he gave us a graphic account of the way in which an Australian buckjumper had got rid of him in India. "I seemed to be sitting on great eternal chaos," he said, "and then the world slipped away from under me, and that's all I remember."

He looks pale and sallow after his illness, but seems a strong man, one that will live many years if his brain doesn't wear his body out.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 May 1900, and later extracted in The Barrier Miner, 17 May 1900.

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

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on October 14, 2011 7:28 AM.

Great Australian Authors #50 - A. B. "Banjo" Paterson was the previous entry in this blog.

Poem: "Banjo's" Book by Will H. Ogilvie is the next entry in this blog.

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