Author Paul Terry gives take on Banjo Paterson

Paul Terry with his new book about poet Banjo Paterson, who features on our $10 note. Picture: MATTHEW SMITHWICK
Paul Terry with his new book about poet Banjo Paterson, who features on our $10 note. Picture: MATTHEW SMITHWICK

THINK Banjo Paterson and horses come to mind, but cars rather than colts brought the poet to Albury in 1905.

The author of The Man from Snowy River and Waltzing Matilda was participating in an interstate automotive endurance test when Albury flour mill mechanics came to his rescue after his car wheel shattered on the northern outskirts of the city.

The mishap is recalled in Banjo, a new biography of Paterson written by Paul Terry.

The news director at Albury’s Prime7 television station was drawn to Paterson by his Clancy of the Overflow, which tells of a Sydneysider dreaming of the scrub.

“I liked the sentiment that he’s sitting in this dirty little office in Sydney and looking out the grimy window and wishing he was out in the bush,” Terry said.

“I reckon anybody who has sat in an office on a slow day has daydreamed about being out in the snow or on the beach, there’s been plenty of times I’ve looked out the window and thought I’d love to go to the mountains today, and that’s largely what it’s about at its most simple assessment.”

As for Paterson’s most famous work written on an outback Queensland station, Terry reckoned Banjo would think it had become over-rated.

“He didn’t really think a great deal of Waltzing Matilda, I think,” Terry said.

“I don’t think he saw it to be the most famous song ever written in Australia, I think he just thought it was a little ditty.

“People have tried to attach things to it, was it a political protest song because there’s a lot of politics behind the shearers’ strikes, but I just think it was a little ditty he picked up from hearing interesting yarns on the station.”

Banjo includes a chapter on The Man from Snowy River and Paterson’s encounters with Tom Groggin station manager Jack Riley.

“He did become very famous after The Man from Snowy River was published, it really catapulted him into becoming a household name, he was a really big deal, before then he was reasonably anonymous, although people in the know knew who he was,” Terry said.

But despite his fame the response to Paterson’s death in 1941 did not match the outpouring following the demise of his great contemporary Henry Lawson.

“When Henry Lawson died, the papers just went crazy, the prime minister was speaking and people all round the country were mourning,” Terry said.

“When Paterson died it was almost a non-event and I think he would have preferred it that way, he didn’t like the limelight.

“I couldn’t even find any coverage in the papers of the funeral, I think it was just a family thing.”

Banjo, which is Terry’s third history work following books about Ned Kelly and Captain Moonlite, is published by Allen and Unwin and on sale from Wednesday.