Title: Looking for Rose Paterson: How Family Bush Life Nurtured Banjo the Poet.
Author: Jennifer Gall
Genre: Non-fiction. History, Biography
Publisher: NLA Publishing
Published: 1st March 2017
Synopsis: ROSE ISABELLA PATERSON gave birth to a boy, Barty, in 1864. That child became the famous balladeer, Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson. Barty was the first of seven children who lived on Illalong station, a property near the New South Wales township of Binalong, where Rose spent most of her married life.
In this book, we enter into the rustic world of late nineteenth-century pioneers, where women endured continuous cycles of pregnancy, childbirth and recovery, and the constraints of strict social codes. Rose faced the isolation of Illalong – ‘this poor old prison of a habitation’ – with resolute determination and an incisive wit. Her candid letters, written throughout the 1870s and 1880s, to her younger sister, Nora Murray-Prior, reveal a woman who found comfort in the shared confidences of correspondence and who did not lack for opinions on women’s rights, health and education. Here we see a devoted sister, a loyal wife battling domestic drudgery with scarce resources, and an affectionate mother whose parenting approach embraced ‘a little judicious neglect & occasional scrubbing’.
‘Looking for Rose’ recreates the world of Rose Paterson and, within the rhythm of her life, the bush childhood of ‘Banjo’ Paterson, which ultimately found a place in some of Australia’s best-known verses.
DR JENNIFER GALL is Assistant Curator, Documents and Artefacts, at the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra, and a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University School of Music. Her publications include ‘In Bligh’s Hand: Surviving the Mutiny on the Bounty’, published by the National Library of Australia, for which she won the 2011 Barbara Ramsden Award.
Looking For Rose Paterson brings the domestic world of women on the land in the mid to late nineteenth century, colonial era Australia, and in particular, the life of the mother of one of Australia’s much-loved poets. Andrew Barton “Banjo” Paterson’s (or Barty as his mother called him) mother Rose raised the generation of children that would go on to see the Federation of Australia, suffrage, and the early stages of the women’s rights movement, and the First World War. As Rose was a part of the generation that preceded this, Jennifer Gall’s book focuses on the trials she faced living the pastoral life, having a large brood of children, and the importance that society at the time placed on the role of women in the household, bringing up children and at times, seeing to the education of boys and girls, with a little more importance placed on the birth and education of sons who could provide for the family and take care of female relatives and younger sisters who were still children themselves if both parents were dead.
Rose was not however, the meek and mild stereotype that some accounts and stories make women of this time out to be. She fulfilled the roles of mother, caregiver and wife as was expected, yet she also maintained a close relationship with her sister, strived to teach her children to be humble as well as self-sufficient and accomplished at various things – which usually meant music, housework, and maybe some language skills, reading and writing for the girls, so they could run a household of their own, and instilled a desire to write in her son, Barty – known to us these days as Banjo Paterson.
Each chapter begins with the reproduction of a painting depicting nineteenth century pastoral life, and a quote from Banjo Paterson’s poetry. Throughout, Jennifer Gall has reproduced some letters that Rose wrote to her sister Nora, as well as other images and artefacts from the time period to illustrate to the reader what Rose’s life would have been like, and the advice that would have been available to mothers and women.
The story of Rose Paterson is one that until now was unknown to me. I suppose, like the stories of many women of her generation, it was one that may not have been seen as important to the history of Australia. Indeed, we celebrate many male stories from colonial times and the first part of the twentieth century, but apart from the suffrage movement and women’s involvement in the First World War, some stories are still hidden and we need to continue mining away to find the gems, such as this story of Rose Paterson. In a time when women’s voices were often not listened to, Rose played an integral role in bringing up her son, Barty to become the poet we know today.
Reading Rose’s story brought me back to thinking about Jackie French’s Matilda Saga, and the way she has brought the lives of these women to life, white, Indigenous, rich, poor and sometimes, of various nationalities throughout the books. Rose Paterson is a figure whose story is worthy of being told, allowing insight into a world predominantly seen through the written word of men and their world views. A world where boys and girls were faced with different expectations and futures, and a world that only a generation later, would see the beginnings of Federation, and suffrage for women, moving into the twentieth century where women became more vocal, and fought for their rights. It makes me wonder: with Rose as strong as she was – what would she have made of that world, and would she have been for or against suffrage? If she had met a girl like Jackie French’s Matilda O’Halloran, what would she have thought?
An intriguing book, and one to be treasured, so we never forget these hidden voices of which there are so many. It is both informative and entertaining, and gives deeper insight into the world of women of this era and the ways so many found to step outside of the confines of a gendered world, even if only in a small way.