Banjo Paterson: The Man Behind the Words

Hello. I’m Bronwyn and I’m Assistant Curator of Manuscripts here at the National Library of Australia.
Today we’re in one of the manuscripts work areas to take a closer look at some of the papers we’ve recently acquired. The Papers of Banjo Paterson.
A favourite component of mine form this collection has got to be the letters that Banjo Paterson wrote to his wife Alice and to his children Hugh and Grace.
They’re really intimate letters and they show the personal Paterson. The Father. The husband. They’re private. They’re unguarded.
Alongside those letters are some wonderful family photographs as well. They too are quite candid, and I think to two together make this part of the collection really really special.
This letter here that he wrote on the 21 February in 1912. He was working at Grenfell at the time and he wrote to his wife Alice.
‘My Dearest Old Alice’, he began his letter. He talks about how he was very very sick of this job and says, ‘I often think of how splendid it would be if I had you, son Hugh and Grace up here and how much the children would love to run about, I know’. 
He really talks about family life and spends a lot of time talking to Alice about what he’s been up to and asking about her and the children.
Another letter was written on the 1 April 1909 from Wee Jasper. And I think Alice must have been somewhere away from home because Paterson was writing to her talking what the children had been up to. 
He starts his letter, ‘my dearest wife, I am writing this in hopes of posting it at Baran Jack for the daily mail which opens today. 
He then goes on to say, ‘I was out on the mountain all day yesterday sighting a line for the new fence. It is a rough place alright. Grace and Hugh are very interested in some stumps we are using below the house. They carry bark and sticks and talk all the time. “There is some bark”, said Grace as she worked on to her father’.
So you really get a feeling of his relationship with his children. That really just left an impact on me that letter.
I think this letter, written on 26 February 1918, is probably one of my favourite letters. At the time Paterson was over in the First World War in Egypt. And Alice, his wife, had actually gone over to join him and was working with the Red Cross. So he wrote a letter to his daughter, Grace, to advise that her mother had arrived safely, but to give his daughter Grace some advice. 
He writes, ‘Your mother tells me you’re showing a turn for writing. I would like you to send me any stuff you write and I might be able to help you a little. I have done some verse for the magazine they are starting here for the Australian troops. If you take my advice, you’ll get some drawing lessons as it is great help if one can illustrate one’s own ideas. But you must work hard at the drawing, as no good work is ever done without hard work. As all the dull and monotonous part of it and the enjoyable work comes later on’.
And so he continues to write to Grace.
I thought that was a really lovely letter and lots of learning came out of that letter for me. Most notably, the fact that Alice went over to Egypt with him. 
Alongside this beautiful cache of personal letters to Alice are some lovely candid photographs. And side by side the two make a lovely little component of this collection, of personal Paterson.
There is a lovely photograph here of Alice, with one of the children and the family pet.
There is another one of Grace in her wedding gown walking down the aisle with Banjo Paterson.
So I found this part of the collection really really interesting. And I think a lot of people could get so much enjoyment out of this part.

My name’s Conor. I’m the Director of Philanthropy at the National Library of Australia.
The Banjo Paterson collection is one of the treasures of the National Library’s collection. We want to share that with everybody in Australia.
To support our appeal to digitise the Papers of Banjo Paterson, please visit our website at
Thank you.

In a new series, Assistant-Curator of Manuscripts, Bronwyn Ryan, gives viewers a glimpse into Banjo Paterson’s last remaining papers not already held in a public institution.

This week Bronwyn discusses who A.B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson was behind the words. As well as being a lawyer and poet, he was a husband and father, and the collection includes some of his personal letters to members of his family and a selection of candid family photographs.

The National Library of Australia is proud to be the custodian of the papers of A.B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson (1864-1941).

The letters mentioned in this video are:

  • 21 February 1912, Banjo Paterson writes to his wife Alice from Grenfell expressing his wish that his family was with him.
  • 1 April 1909, Banjo Paterson writes to his wife Alice from Wee Jasper discussing what their children had been doing.
  • 26 February 1918, Banjo Paterson writes to his daughter Grace from Egypt where he was then stationed during the First World War, advising that Alice had arrived safely in Egypt but also providing some advice to Grace about writing.

All images and items belong to the collection, Papers of Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson, 1807-1950,