Front page of sheet music for song Waltzing Matilda. White text on a red background above the title reads "The Unoffficial Australian National Anthem!"
Marie Cowan & A.B Paterson, 1936, Waltzing Matilda, an Australian song: unisonnla.obj-175333240

Whether you know him best as a bush poet, lawyer or journalist, Banjo Paterson is a commanding figure in Australian history. His poetry is woven into the fabric of Australian culture, with bush ballads like The Man from Snowy River and Australia’s unofficial national anthem Waltzing Matilda forming part of a uniquely Australian mythology. The Library is fortunate enough to hold some of the papers of Banjo Paterson, a collection of handwritten diaries, notebooks and correspondence that reveal the personal life of the man behind the name. These papers were the focus of a large-scale digitisation project that made them accessible to the Australian public.  

To celebrate the anniversary of Banjo Paterson’s birth, 158 years ago on February 17, 1864, we’ve searched the archives to bring you a guide to the Library’s material. In this blog, we explore manuscripts of children’s poetry, personal letters written to Paterson's family, and the story of the discovery of a 120-year-old chocolate box. Read on to discover more about the life and achievements of Australia's best-known bush poet. 

Preserving the new collection

After four generations with the Paterson family, the Library acquired the papers of Banjo Paterson in 2019. This acquisition contained the last remaining material relating to Paterson that was not already held in a public institution. In 2020, following a public donation appeal, the collection was digitised and made available online. 

Some of the material required extensive conservation care so these items were sent to the lab for careful restoration.  

A photograph of Australian poet Banjo Paterson in side profile. He wears a hat and a suit jacket.
Photograph of Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson, Papers of Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson, Class 1/Series 10/File 33,  nla.obj-2902002641

Read more about the journey from acquisition to display at the National Library and find out how one photograph was lovingly restored to its original glory. 

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Banjo Paterson, the children's poet

Though we may not immediately associate Banjo Paterson with children’s poetry, he did produce quite a few. Some were believed to have been written for his grandchildren. 

One collection, The Animals Noah Forgot, contains a series of playful verses that explore the idiosyncrasies of Australia’s unique wildlife. In the Library’s collections, you’ll find drafts and fragments of the verses that made it into the published volume, handwritten notes and amendments, and two first editions of the 1933 publication – one copy is inscribed with the message ‘To my dear wife with much love and admiration for her unfailing pluck and cheerfulness.’ 

The first page of a book entitled 'The Animals Noah Forgot by A.B Paterson'.
The Animals Noah Forgot, Papers of Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson, Class 1/Series 2/File 180, nla.obj-2338313000

Find out more about The Animals Noah Forgot and Paterson’s writing for children in this video with one of our manuscripts experts. 

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The poet and the lawyer

Before rising to prominence as a writer, Banjo Paterson practiced law as a solicitor in Sydney. It was during these years of legal practice that Paterson began submitting poetry for publication in The Bulletin, a well-regarded literary journal. 

A snapshot of a handwritten diary entry on February 17, 1892
A handwritten diary entry from 17 February 1892. Papers of Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson, Class 1/Series 3/File 1,  nla.obj-2873498670

Paterson’s flair for the written word is obvious in the legal documents contained within his papers, where his legal work is interspersed with snippets of verse. These early drafts would later form the basis of publications that are widely known today. 

Dive into Paterson’s legal notes with our manuscripts expert. 

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The family man

Amongst the drafts, manuscripts and diaries acquired with the papers of Banjo Paterson are a series of letters and photographs that provide a rare insight into the family life shared by Paterson, his wife and his children. These intimate letters reveal the daily life of the family, often separated due to the nature of Paterson’s work and his various postings as a war correspondent. 

Photograph of a couple and two young children outside a large house
Family life, Papers of Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson, Class 1/Series 10/File 51, nla.obj-2338316269 

One letter, written by Paterson to his daughter Grace, expresses enthusiasm at his daughter’s interest in writing. Explore some highlights from the Paterson’s personal correspondence in our video. 

Watch the video

The 120-year-old chocolate box

Whilst processing the acquired papers of Banjo Paterson, Library staff made an unusual discovery amongst the photographs and manuscripts. An unopened and well-preserved box of chocolates was found still in its straw packing and silver foil wrapping.

A small tin is open to reveal chocolates inside, partially obscured by paper. Both the tin and contents are very old.
Tin of Boer War chocolates, Papers of Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson, Class 1/Series 14/File 19, nla.obj-2338318065

The tin was commissioned by Queen Victoria and sent to South Africa as a gift to troops serving on the front during the Boer War. Paterson, who served as a war correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, is thought to have bought it from a soldier. 

Explore this piece of military history in our news item on the discovery. 

Read about it

Explore the digitised collection

Can’t get enough of the papers of Banjo Paterson? Use our handy finding aid to guide your journey through the collection. In the guide, you’ll find itemised lists and descriptions of each item contained within the acquisition. Amongst these items are an original pencil sketch of Paterson as war correspondent during the First World War by artist G.W Lambert, a letter to Paterson written by poet Henry Lawson from prison, and a dinner menu signed by Neville Chamberlain and Rudyard Kipling. 

A paper dinner menu is obscured by a number of handwritten signatures.
Menu for a dinner at Bloemfontein, March 28 1900. Papers of Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson, Class 1/Series 14/File 5, nla.obj-2338317789

The treasures contained within this collection are digitised and available for viewing online today. Dive in and see what you can find. 

Explore the finding aid

Learn more about Australian poetry

The Library holds an extensive range of Australian poetry in its collections. If you are interested in learning more about the history of Australian poetry, and bush poetry in particular, our Australian literature research guide contains tips and tricks for searching the catalogue.

Black and white photograph of two men standing over a railing.
Fairfax Corporation, Banjo Paterson and Hunter White leaning on a railing, New South Wales, ca. 1930, nla.obj-162398614

Here you’ll find a guide to online databases and websites that contain information about Australian poetry, as well as useful links for further reading. 

Use the research guide