Andrew Barton "the Banjo" Paterson, the author of Waltzing Matilda

The connection between the creation of the song Waltzing Matilda and events that occurred on Dagworth station during the shearing strike of 1894 is well attested. Andrew Barton Paterson himself, in his 1930’s Radio talk, “Golden Water”, makes that link:

The shearers staged a strike by way of expressing themselves, and MacPherson’s woolshed at Dagworth was burnt down and a man was picked up dead. This engendered no malice and I have seen the MacPhersons handing out champagne through a pub window to these very shearers. And here a personal reminiscence may be worth recording. While resting for lunch, or while changing horses on our four-in-hand journeys, Miss MacPherson, afterwards wife of the financial magnate, J.McCall MacCowan, used to play a little Scottish tune on a zither and I put words to the tune and called it “Waltzing Matilda”. Not a very great literary achievement perhaps, but it has been sung in many parts of the world. (Song of the Pen – A.B.Paterson’s Complete Works 1983, p.500)

The ‘man picked up dead’ was Samuel Hoffmeister, a German immigrant unionist and a shearer. This was one of the newspaper reports following the Dagworth incident:

BRISBANE Tues. A Barcaldine telegram states that shearing work in that district is proceeding satisfactorily. Hoffmeister, the unionist supposed to have been shot in the affray in Dagworth, was well known here… He is about 30 years of age. [He] sheared at Leichhart Downs and other stations. In 1891 Hoffmeister, it is stated, took a very prominent part in fomenting strife and advocating violence, but succeeded in keeping out of the clutches of the law. He invariably carried firearms. (Sydney Morning Herald Sept 5 1894)

The coronial inquest on 27th September 1894 found Hoffmeister’s death to be suicide.

A hand drawn portrait of Banjo Paterson.

Image Copyright©1996 A. Partington All Rights Reserved Used by permission.

This photograph of the original telegraph line that supplied Dagworth station with communications shows the scale of the landscape 'Back of Bourke'. This photograph was taken about 150 miles from Kynuna Station, the station owned by Banjo Paterson's fiancé Sarah Riley's family. These telegraph lines were cut before the Unionists attacked Dagworth Station.

Image Copyright©1996 A. Partington All Rights Reserved Used by permission.

The Verse Debate between Lawson and Paterson.

The verse debate between Lawson and Paterson about the respective virtues of the city and the bush, Lawson taking the side of the city, and Paterson the bush, was set up by the two of them primarily to publicize their poetry, but it had the unintended consequence of causing a rift between the two of them, as the debate began to get personal. Lawson took offence at Paterson’s description of him as “fond of writing about corpses and the tomb”; which was not an entirely unjustified statement nevertheless, as Lawson’s poetry tends towards morbid and tragic subjects (to great effect sometimes, for instance in his masterpiece, “Faces in the Street”), however Paterson himself did write some fairly mournful poems, and it is ironic that his most famous poem came to be Waltzing Matilda, which is fundamentally about a suicide!

There are no certain dates as to when the verse debate was set up but the first poem appeared on July 9th 1892, in the Bulletin so it’s not illogical to assume that it was not long before that.

The Poems in order of appearance:


July 9 1892    “Borderland” by Lawson

July 23 1892  “In Defence of the Bush” by Banjo Paterson

6 Aug 1892    “In Answer to Banjo and Otherwise” by Lawson

- Aug 1892    “the Overflow of Clancy” by HHCC (anon. maybe not Lawson? Dyson??)

October 1 1892 “In Defence of the Bush, in answer to various bards” by Banjo Paterson

- Sep 1892      “Banjo of the Overflow” by K (Could it be Lawson?)

10 September “The Grog n’Grumble Steeplechase”

October 1 1892 “In Defence of the Bush - in answer to various bards” by Banjo Paterson.

In this poem Banjo criticised Lawson - saying he was “fond of writing about corpses and the tomb”; Banjo is said to have stolen the phrase from a poem that he saw on Lawson’s desk called “Poet of the Tomb”  - it appeared a few months later in the Bulletin.

Sept 92 “The Poet of the Tomb” by Lawson. This poem virtually marks the end of Banjo Paterson and Lawson's friendship, although some  years after all of that Banjo did do legal work for Lawson. Lawson found it very difficult to forgive Banjo’s jibe, despite having given Banjo a few jibes himself!

Lawson went to Bourke after this, supposedly having been terribly upset by the outcome of the verse debate, and wishing to experience the bush for himself.

Towards the end of ’92 I got £5 and a railway ticket from the Bulletin and went to Bourke. Painted, picked up in a shearing shed and swagged it for six months...


Edwin Brady had a slightly different take on how Lawson ended up going to Bourke:


Banjo’s connection (through Sarah Riley, his fiancé) with Robert Macpherson was by no means a meagre thing- station owners didn’t mix with the riff-raff, and MacPherson’s three stations had over 150,000 sheep- perhaps up to 200,000 sheep. The doors of Government house were open to Banjo Paterson because of Sarah Riley’s family connections with the Governor.


Banjo Paterson- a member of the Australia Club.

A.B.Paterson was a member of the exclusive Australian Club from Feb 92.

ibid. p 72 gives his work and home addresses during 1891-92:

 “In the Droving Days” was the portrait of an imaginary outback....days obviously that existed only in the poet’s fancy. Paterson’s verse was gradually veering away from anything of a radical nature during 1891. During the year Street and Paterson moved to Waltham Buildings at 24 Bond street, a short street running from Pitt Street to George street, closer to the “Bulletin” and the shops that exuded the odours of groceries, tobacco, bread and beef, and pubs that provided beer and cheese. Paterson rented a flat at 13 Bond Street, almost opposite his office. This flat he turned into a bush microcosm by fitting it out with Rose’s possum-skin rugs, stuffed birds, and other memories of Illalong... here he continued to relieve himself of the realities that his work across the street continued to thrust on him.....

ibid. p 75 goes on to describe his entry into the Establishment, and the change in viewpoint in his poetry;

Escapist verse persisted throughout the year that marked the change in Paterson’s attitude to society, the swing from radical protest to artificial bush escapism. If at times he lapsed, as in “a Bushman’s song”, his verse made it clear that he was doing no more than representing the viewpoint of a fabulous bush worker, avid for egalitarianism, contemptuous of the little landlord god - notwithstanding Emily Mary’s ascent to that elevation by the acquisition of four more properties in the vicinity of Rockend... By the end of 1891 Paterson had decided that “front attack” on social inequities dislocated the serenity of life. Egalitarianism was a theoretical phantom. Better to follow the road that his colonial forbears and his relatives had smoothed. He decided to enter the contemporary fortress of privilege. His first step was to seek membership of the Australian Club. The anonymously satirised Henry Edward Kater obliged by sponsoring him. His pastoral colleague Francis Bathurst Suttor, at that time member for Bathurst and Minister of Public Instruction, supported Kater, and in February 1892 Banjo became one of the fifty six solicitors admitted to the Club during the decade 1890-99. As the historian of the Club, Dr J.R.Angel, has written, he soon came to regard the Club as his home. And so it was to his dying days.


Some interesting facts about Banjo Paterson that have a bearing on Waltzing Matilda

Banjo’s fiancé enabled him to hob-nob with the upper class.

Colin Roderick’s biography of A.B. "the Banjo" Paterson, “Poet by Accident” is the most thorough and exhaustive reference for information about him.

Banjo Paterson’s first law partner was John William Street, through whom he met his fiancé of eight years, whom he never married.

Page 64 of ibid. describes Banjo Paterson’s engagement to Sarah Riley:

Sarah must have been acquainted with Street’s partner, Bartie Paterson, by September 1888 at the latest. A letter in private possession from Bartie’s grandmother to his Aunt Nora, then in Switzerland, dated 18 October 1888, is reasonable proof that by then Sarah had become a guest at Rockend, where Emily Mary Barton was agreeably taken by the handsome young woman. Her exact words were:

“Barty’s fiancé Sara Riley has been staying with us, & does credit to his taste; she is an exceptionally nice girl, well connected and well educated. I sometimes wonder that she should not have look’d higher, but his talent goes a long way, and also makes his worldly prospects pretty secure. He is in partnership with a son of our old neighbour John Street, who is a cousin of hers.”

Barty’s engagement - and this partnership - took him into the network of friendships that were destined to make legal history in New South Wales.

This image was taken from "My Henry Lawson," a biography of Lawson written by his ex-wife Bertha.

(Bulletin 22 Jan 1925)

          ‘Some months later I was living in a ground floor room of an umbrella repair shop in Regent Street, Redfern, writing hard, mostly for John Norton and Archibald, and postponing the turkey and champagne for future occasions. I do not know where Henry was living but he arrived at my caravanserai of an early morning in one of his blackest moods...

           ‘We walked down to the old BULLETIN office in Pitt-Street, and went upstairs to the old editor’s office. Archibald, keeping his hand on the copy he was revising, screwed partly round in his chair, and regarded us with what I thought was an uncivil eye.

             ‘Henry found occasion to go downstairs about something. Still keeping his hand on the MSS. before him, Archibald suddenly wheeled right round and asked me to sit down. Then this kindly, black bearded fatherly arbiter of a hundred Australian literary ambitions demanded: “What’s the matter with Lawson?”

I sparred for wind. “He’s all right,” I began.

“No” said JF “he is not all right: he is coming here in the morning with tobacco juice running down his jaw, smelling of stale beer, and he has begun to write about “The Rocks”. The next thing he will be known as “the Poet of the Rocks”; and-”

“Look!” I cried, seized by inspiration “if he got away to the bush he would be all right.”

Archibald turned back in his chair and regarded the MSS. thoughtfully. “Why doesn’t he go back to the bush?” he demanded over his shoulder.

 “No money” I ventured.

 “Well” he said “you go to him and speak to him. If McLeod or I speaks to him he will think there is something behind it.”....’


Lawson was given £5 and a train ticket - value £4 - and sent to Bourke.


Lawson arrived at Bourke on or around 21 September 1892, (from a Letter to his Aunt); after a one and a half day train trip.

Clancy of the Overflow, and Banjo Paterson's relationship with the Bulletin.


The poem “Clancy of the Overflow” is the perfect introduction to the happy, positive strain in Andrew Barton Paterson's poetry, which is the main tendency in his work - Clancy tells us that Banjo is a poet who dreams of living in the bush, while in Lawson's poetry the bush and the city are both places where people struggle with poverty and hardship.

Much of Banjo's poetry was written for the Bulletin, and the literary part of his life seems to have been separate at least initially from the rest of his life. Banjo Paterson had social contacts with Pastoralists and people in high society, he was good friends with Robert Macpherson - (a man who ran three stations with a total of approx 200,000 head of sheep); Sarah’s social contacts extended to Government house - those doors certainly weren’t open to Lawson and the other poets who wrote for the Bulletin. Banjo did not drink with the other poets at the Bulletin the way Lawson did - he had few friends among that circle. He rode on horseback because he could afford a horse - not everyone could. Banjo, as a lawyer and a member of the squattocracy, is relatively privileged compared to the shearers and rouseabouts.

The Bulletin’s circulation - a contemporary advertising blurb-  “The Bulletin’s red cover is equally familiar to the bushman of the Far North, the stockman of Central Australia, the pearl sheller of Torres Straits, and the digger in the New Zealand ranges. A paper which is at once the most popular city publication and the organ of the intelligent bushman must indeed be broadly based.”

The major economic issues at the time of the verse debate (1892) were the bank crashes, and the consequent rise in unemployment- the unemployed were burning effigies in the streets, and there were mass protests; all these issues were reflected often in Lawson's poetry, but Waltzing Matilda is one of the few poems that does reflect contemporary events, albeit in an oblique way.


The legend of Banjo negotiating a truce between the Pastoralists and Unionists.

Three months after the shearing strikes, when Banjo went to Dagworth, and with Christina wrote “Waltzing Matilda”, and according to Richard Magoffin's sources he is supposed to have negotiated a deal that ended the shearers strike - the Unionists reportedly agreed to go back to shearing if Robert MacPherson promised not to charge them for burning his shed. If they had’ve been charged they would’ve gone to gaol for three years or more. Did this really happen?

The only actual documentary evidence is circumstantial. In the newspaper article quoted above, Banjo mentions the Dagworth strikes and says that he saw “champagne being passed through the window from the Pastoralists to the Unionists”, and implies that they didn’t take it all as seriously in the bush as you might think. Also, the Unionists were never charged, unlike every other instance of the burning of a shearing shed where there were suspects; in fact in the 1891 strikes some Unionists were charged for the far lesser crime of conspiracy. Richard Magoffin interviewed many of the people who had known Banjo Paterson who were still alive when he began researching Waltzing Matilda; so he may well have been correct in this conclusion, especially since later on Banjo actually did negotiate a peace settlement during the Boer war, saving thousands of Boers in a town from being massacred by getting them to surrender (that’s written by way of aside in one of his Boer war stories) He quite bravely went through the front line and got into the town before all the Allied troops as a journalist.


Richard Magoffin deserves to be recognized for the wonderful work he did over his many years of collating information about Waltzing Matilda. Sadly, he died in 2006. Below is a picture of the circus tent where he lived in the outback, about a hundred metres from the Kynuna pub, and where he displayed the Waltzing Matilda memorabilia that he had collected.

Below: The windmill that supposedly stood next to Dagworth Homestead.

Images Copyright©1996 A. Partington All Rights Reserved Used by permission.

Above: Farewell Station sign, taken within 30 kilometres of Dagworth Station. Below: Banjo Paterson ink sketch; in a more serious state of mind.

Images Copyright©1996, 2007 A. Partington All Rights Reserved Used by permission.

All content on this website Copyright © 1993,1996,2006,2007 Submarine Media Pty Ltd, Waltzing Matilda the musical Pty Ltd, Edward Holding & Andrew Partington

Waltzing Matilda the musical Copyright © 1993,1996,2006,2007 Submarine Media Pty Ltd, Waltzing Matilda the musical Pty Ltd, Edward Holding & Andrew Partington