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Looking for Rose Paterson: How Family Bush Life Nurtured Banjo the Poet

Rose Patterson, who was she and why, apart from the obvious fact that she was a woman who lived in the mid 1800’s, be considered important enough to have letters, found stored in an old sailing trunk, published.

Rose Patterson, along with her many other attributes, was the mother of the well-loved and much lauded poet, author and journalist Andrew Barton Patterson, known to his family as ‘Barty’ and to the Australian public as ‘Banjo’, famous for his poetry and works set in the Australian bush; works such as Clancy of the Overflow and The Man from Snowy River.

His upbringing as one of the children of Andrew and Rose Patterson, on the outback property of Illalong Station contributed much to what was later to become his trademark, that of writing about the Australian bush and the people who lived there.

The many letters which go to make up the background of this book come from a collection of letters written by Rose to her sister Nora and mother Emily Mary Barton over the years she lived out on Illalong Station.

Born into linage of pastoral pioneers, Rose was a well-educated girl, who was like many others of the time, encouraged to marry into the same level of society, in her case that of the pastoral ‘squattocracy’ to endeavour to maintain a level of society created by these pioneers, as well as to unite or attain further pastoral lands.

But life was hard for these women who left the genteel nature of the family home to go with their husbands to the rural life; a life where husbands were away from home for lengthy periods, the continuous circle of childbirth and caring for the children, the staff, the homestead and the isolation proved to be taxing.

Letters were the only means of communication to the ‘outside world,’ written in great detail and long awaited for the return. Each of the letters to Nora are always colourful, often with a wry wit, a huge ability to make a disaster into something funny, but always detailing the life and lot of women who were simply required to cope.

As a small child, ‘Barty’ broke his arm; in a letter to Nora she wryly states that “it is somewhat strange too that no one should have observed the crookedness of the arm in all the years which followed until about 2 years ago……..”

So much information was shared with the family, and now, nearly a century on, these letters shed a very real look on what was a very, challenging, lonely life. She describes the drought of 1881 in heart rendering detail as she laments about the grape vines whose grapes have barely formed, the rustling of the dry leaves on the fruit trees as the hot summer winds continue to blow, the cattle slowing dying.  She fears the resultant hardship as there will be little or no produce to put by for the coming months.

Her frustration with the long absences of her husband and in his later years, her concern for his ill health are apparent, as is her strong love of her children, the very genuine desire to see the boys well educated was communicated and shared with her sister. The girls were educated at home and if money permitted given a year of ‘finishing’.  To Rose education was sure way of preventing terrible hardship. She was very much aware and resentful of the place of women in a male driven society. Perhaps in many ways she could almost sense the change to come in the dictates of society which sadly, she did not live to observe.

Beautifully presented, there are various verses of AB “Banjo” Patterson’s throughout the pages, as there are a number of photographs of family, sketches of various aspects of rural life and most importantly her letters have been reproduced, many crossed and recrossed when paper was in short supply, as all to frequently, was money. Unfortunately the letters are all from Rose; none of the replies penned by Nora have been discovered. It could be a point of consideration that the free and easy lifestyle the children all lived, along with their mothers love of reading and language are all contributors to the eventual direction of her son ‘Barty’, in his adult life – that of balladeer and journalist.

Well researched and written, Jennifer Gall takes a trip back into the past, to bring to life a world which in so many ways no longer exists. In doing so she also presents the underlying ethos that dictated society’s attitudes and aspirations, and to some extend still does so today.



Author Jennifer Gall
Publisher National Library of Australia
ISBN 9780642278920
Website http:/
Distributor National Library of Australia
Released March 2017