Magee Mentor: Banjo Paterson

The Bard from Narrambla

Born in 1864, Andrew Barton “Banjo” Paterson was a solicitor, author, war correspondent, and composer.  But above all, he was a bush poet.

His subjects were the rough and tumble horsemen of his youth; his lands were the snowy rivers and mountains of New South Wales. He is the lyricist of Waltzing Matilda and the Australian responsible for Clancy of the Overflow and The Man from Snowy River.

I might also add he was a key mentor in the creation of The Treasure of Mad Doc Magee.

The Girl from Eden

I first came across Paterson’s work in my teenage years. In the summer, a soundtrack of his bush poetry was the only entertainment on the 7-hour drive from Christchurch to Arrowtown. I must have heard The Man from Ironbark hundreds of times (whether I wanted to or not).

Paterson’s style became so baked into my memory bank that it eventually found its way into my fiction. His blend of action, humor, and colloquialisms infected The Treasure of Mad Doc Magee from the start. Fans of The Man from Snowy River may recognize similarities between:

There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around. That the colt from old Regret had got away…”

And: “On the banks of the Arrow, where the gold poplar grew, lived the daughter of Hapless Burns…”

The Treasure of Mad Doc Magee by Elinor TeeleLike the “stripling on a small and weedy beast,” Jenny is a feisty mountain girl, the kind who loves the high country that Paterson describes:

“Where the air is clear as crystal, and the white stars fairly blaze
At midnight in the cold and frosty sky…”

Only in Jenny’s case, her mountains are the Southern Alps of Te Waipounamu:

“On a clear day, with peaks in front of you and peaks behind, the world of sorrow shrinks to a fleck in the dirt. There’s no taint of past to a walk in the mountains. Just the sky and the wind and the scent of the black honey bush.”

The Birth of Mike Magee’s Name

After the first few drafts were complete, I discovered that my subconscious had even found time to include the name of a long-forgotten character. Here are the first two stanzas from Paterson’s poem, Bush Christening:

On the outer Barcoo where the churches are few,
And men of religion are scanty,
On a road never cross’d ‘cept by folk that are lost,
One Michael Magee had a shanty.

Now this Mike was the dad of a ten-year-old lad,
Plump, healthy, and stoutly conditioned;
He was strong as the best, but poor Mike had no rest
For the youngster had never been christened.

If you have a moment, it’s worthwhile discovering how Mike Magee’s son came to be christened Maginnis!

Thanks, Banjo!

So here’s to the Bard from Narrambla, the man who gave us Clancy, Saltbush Bill, and Mike Magee. My thanks to you for your poems and your puckishness.

I’d ask Jenny to add her regards, but she might get to arguing about why Aotearoa/New Zealand is a far better place to live than Australia.

For in The Treasure of Mad Doc Magee, she’s the girl from Otago. And the peaks above the Arrow are the sight she loves the best.