On the Trek
By Andrew Barton "Banjo" Paterson
Oh, the weary, weary journey on the trek, day after day,
With sun above and silent veldt below;
And our hearts keep turning homeward to the youngsters far away,
And the homestead where the climbing roses grow.
Shall we see the flats grow golden with the ripening of the grain?
Shall we hear the parrots calling on the bough?
Ah! the weary months of marching ere we hear them call again,
For we’re going on a long job now.
In the drowsy days on escort, riding slowly half asleep,
With the endless line of waggons stretching back,
While the khaki soldiers travel like a mob of travelling sheep,
Plodding silent on the never-ending track,
While the constant snap and sniping of the foe you never see
Makes you wonder will your turn come – when and how?
As the Mauser ball hums past you like a vicious kind of bee –
Oh! we’re going on a long job now.
When the dash and the excitement and the novelty are dead,
And you’ve seen a load of wounded once or twice,
Or you’ve watched your old mate dying – with the vultures overhead,
Well, you wonder if the war is worth the price.
And down along Monaro now they’re starting out to shear,
I can picture the excitement and the row;
But they’ll miss me on the Lachlan when they call the roll this year,
Banjo Paterson is seen standing third from the left in the second line of officers from the Australian Light Horse. Captain Paterson proved himself an adept horseman, breaking and training remounts in Egypt with the 2nd Remounts. He was promoted to the rank of major before the cessation of hostilities in 1918.
Banjo Paterson covering the Boer War in South Africa in 1899-1900
Almost every Australian knows of Banjo Paterson as arguably this country's greatest - certainly most popular - poet. He was, after all, author of Waltzing Matilda, our unofficial national anthem, The Man From Snowy River and that other Australian classic, Clancy of the Overflow.But very few realise that he was also a war correspondent, having covered the Boer War in South Africa in late 1899 and through 1900 for The Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne's The Age.
Andrew Barton Paterson was born on February 17, 1864, at Narrambla near Orange, New South Wales. Barty, as he was known to his family and friends, enjoyed a bush boyhood. When he was seven the family moved to Illalong in the Yass district, outside present-day Canberra. Here, near the main route between Sydney and Melbourne (now the Hume Highway), the exciting traffic of bullock teams, Cobb & Co coaches, drovers with their mobs of stock and gold escorts became familiar sights. At picnic race meetings and polo matches, he saw in action accomplished horsemen from the Murrumbidgee and Snowy Mountains country, which generated his lifelong enthusiasm for horses and horsemanship and eventually the writing of his famous equestrian ballads.
Once he was able to ride a pony he attended the bush school at Binalong. In 1874 he was sent to Sydney Grammar School and matriculated aged 16. After failing a University of Sydney scholarship examination, Paterson began writing verses as a law student. Adopting the pen name 'The Banjo' (taken from the name of a station racehorse owned by his family), he became one of that sodality of Bulletin writers and artists for which the 1890s are remarkable in Australian literature, forming friendships with Harry 'The Breaker' Morant and others. He helped Henry Lawson to draw up contracts with publishers and indulged in a friendly rhyming battle with him in the Bulletin over the attractions or otherwise of bush life.
By 1895 such ballads as Clancy of the Overflow, The Man from Ironbark and Saltbush Bill were so popular with readers that Angus & Robertson published the collection, The Man From Snowy River and Other Verses. The title-poem had swept the colonies when it was first published in April 1890. The book had a remarkable reception: the first edition sold out in the week of publication and 7000 copies in a few months; its particular achievement was to establish the bushman in the national consciousness as a romantic and archetypal figure. The book was as much praised in England as in Australia: The Times compared Paterson with Rudyard Kipling, who himself wrote to congratulate the publishers. Paterson's identity as 'The Banjo' was at last revealed and he became a national celebrity overnight.
While on holiday in Queensland late in 1895, Paterson stayed with friends at Dagworth station, near Winton. Here he wrote Waltzing Matilda, which was to become Australia's best-known folk song.
His most important journalistic opportunity came with the outbreak of the South African War when he was commissioned by The Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age as their war correspondent; he sailed for South Africa in October 1899.
Attached to General French's column, for nine months Paterson was in the thick of the fighting and his graphic accounts of the key campaigns included the surrender of Bloemfontein (he was the first correspondent to ride into that town), the capture of Pretoria and the relief of Kimberley. The quality of his reporting attracted the notice of the English press and he was appointed as a correspondent also for the international news agency, Reuters, an honour which he especially cherished in his later years.
Paterson sailed for China in July 1901 as a roving correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald. There he met G. E. ('Chinese') Morrison, whose exploits he had always admired; his accounts of this meeting are among Paterson's best prose work. He went on to England where he spent some time as Kipling's guest at his Sussex home.
When World War I began, Paterson immediately sailed for England, hoping unsuccessfully to cover the fighting in Flanders as a war correspondent. He drove an ambulance attached to the Australian Voluntary Hospital, Wimereux, France, before returning to Australia early in 1915. As honorary vet (with a certificate of competency) he made three voyages with horses to Africa, China and Egypt and was commissioned in the 2nd Remount Unit, Australian Imperial Force.
He died in Sydney, after a short illness, on February 5, 1941, 12 days short of his 77th birthday.