My affinity with Banjo Paterson



I’ve always felt a certain affinity with Banjo Paterson. He too was a lawyer. Moreover, he worked as such for the law firm for which I first worked: Fisher & Macansh. Beyond that the comparison falls away. I never worked in a dingy little office where there was only a stingy ray of sunlight. (Mine was just a little office. It had florescent lights so it was the opposite of dark.) Also I never worked in a city office with an open window, so I never had to experience the foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city spreading its foulness over all. It probably helped that I worked there in the 1980s, not the 1880s.

For the last 30 years or so I’ve handled estate work for clients. And during that time I’ve had experiences with clients which are reminiscent of Paterson’s account in The Man who was away:

The widow sought the lawyer’s room with children three in tow,

She told the lawyer man her tale in tones of deepest woe.

Said she, ‘My husband took to drink for pains in his inside,

And never drew a sober breath from then until her died.

‘He never drew a sober breath, he died without a will,

And I must sell the bit of land the childer’s mouths to fill.

There’s some is grown and gone away, but some is childer yet,

And times is very bad indeed – a livin’s hard to get.

‘There’s Min and Sis and little Chris, they stops at home with me,

And Sal has married Greenhide Bill that breaks for Bingeree.

And Fred is drovin’ Conroy’s sheep along the Castlereagh,

And Charley’s shearin’ down the bland, and Peter is away.’


The lawyer wrote the details down in ink of legal blue –

‘There’s Minnie, Susan, Christopher they stop at home with you;

There’s Sarah, Frederick and Charles, I’ll write to them to-day,

But what about the other one – the one who is away?

‘You’ll have to furnish his consent to sell the bit of land.’


The widow shuffled in her seat, ‘Oh don’t you understand?

I though a lawyer ought to know – I don’t know what to say –

You’ll have to do without him boss, for Peter is away.’


But here the little boy spoke up – said he, ‘We thought you knew;

He’s done six months in Goulburn gaol – he’s got six more to do.’

Thus in one comprehensive flash he made it clear as day,

The mystery of Peter’s life – the man who was away.


As Paterson obviously knew, sometimes the whole story’s hard to get. And sometimes it comes in the most unexpected ways!

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