Saturday, May 2, 2009

NSW Greats 1 Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson

When it comes to new south Welshmen, we have an absolute abundance to pick from. This is of course a blessing and a problem, as I was only aiming for 10 great Aussies from each State or Territory. The result will inevitably leave some great people out, but her goes for my personal – home- State list.

Let’s make the first entry about two colourful characters who did not always see eye to eye.

Andrew Barton (Banjo) Paterson.

Banjo Patterson will of course always be treasured by Australians for his wonderful poetry. Probably best known, certainly in global terms, would be The Man From Snowy River. Most Aussies would surely be able to quote you at least the first line…

“There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around

That the colt from old Regret had got away…”

When tired of reciting it we can always sing it!

And speaking of singing, Banjo Paterson also wrote the words to Walzing Matilda, so for that alone he would be an icon.

There are of course other great favourites of old and young alike. Poems such Mulga Bill's Bicycle; the Man from Ironbark; or the various poems featuring Saltbush Bill (Saltbush Bill JP is just hysterical) and of course Clancy of the Overflow. If you hunt around on the web, you can find such treasures this fabulous rendition of Clancy of the Overflow by Lindsay Radford.

AB Paterson's family wasn't short of a quid, as is reflected by his education - governess and Sydney Grammar. This privileged life gave him a different perspective on the bush to the view held by Henry Lawson who was from a family of battlers. Paterson and Lawson sparred with eachother in verse on the subject.

Both Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson were among quite a group of people published in the Bulletin. By the way, one of the prime movers in the establishment of the Bulletin was one J F Archibald (a Victorian). This same Archibald was responsible for establishing the Archibald Prize (see the link for Archibald) and gave Sydney the Archibald Fountain in Hyde Park. Easily Sydney's favourite fountain. The Bulletin - an iconic Australian in its own right published its last edition in January 2008. Archibald once described the Bulletin as a "clever youth" he later predicted, as he sold his interest, "it will become a dull old man". It seems the readers ultimately agreed.

This being a travel blog, it seems appropriate to note the Banjo Paterson related festivals I have come across. The Mulga Bill Festival is held annually over the last weekend in July in Yeoval NSW and includes a Mulga Bill bike ride!

The Snowy River Festival is held in Dalgety NSW in November.

The Man from Snowy River Bush Festival is held in Corryong Victoria in April.

And of course, the Waltzing Matilda Centre is located in Winton Queensland, where the song was written. Though I have to say their website is fairly useless, you'd hope the centre is an improvement on the website especially given their fairly hefty entrance charge.

Henry Lawson

Henry Lawson was also a poet, but he is even more highly regarded as a writer and wrote quite a number of short stories. Born in the NSW town of Grenfell, in a tent on the goldfields, his family were battlers. It was a life of struggle for the family. Henry Lawson suffered an interrupted education and did not have an opportunity of schooling at all until his mother's "vigorous agitation" resulted in a bark slab school hut being built when he was 8. In addition to the difficulties of schooling, there were also difficulties in health care and as a result of illness Henry suffered a significant hearing loss.

However as is so often the case for those who experience trials and struggles in their life Henry clearly gained in his perceptions and insights which fed his writing, giving him a very different idea of life in Australia to that experienced and perceived by Banjo Paterson. Lawson's poem Faces in the Street is a case in point or Borderland which pointedly counters the upbeat and romantic vision of the country in poems like Paterson's Clancy of the Overflow.

While the Billy Boils is a collection of Lawson's short stories.

Lawson's statue, by George Lambert is usually in the Domain in Sydney (though I know it was moved at least temporarily for the George Lambert retrospective in Canberra a year or so ago). George Lambert is best known as the official war artist of the AIF (Australian Imperial Force) and many of his paintings are held at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Henry Lawson's portrait, commissioned by JF Archibald from Will Longstaff (another Victorian) is in the Art Gallery of NSW. Will Longstaff was a veteran of the South African War (aka Boer War) and WWI and is best known for his paintings of ghostly soldiers such as Menin Gate at Midnight.

Both the towns of Grenfell and Gulgong claim a relationship with Henry Lawson. Lawson's birth place is marked in Grenfell with a small memorial to him in the main street. Grenfell also hosts the Henry Lawson Festival of Arts over the June long weekend. Gulgong gets in on the act with their own Henry Lawson Heritage Festival held on the same weekend. Gulgong has a small museum dedicated to Lawson's life. Both Grenfell and Gulgong are lovely little towns to visit with historic streetscapes.

No comments: