Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Banjo Paterson Picture Books

In the lead up to this week's CBCA shortlist announcement I have instigated my own personal mini-challenge to read as many of the previous CBCA winners as I can before Friday.

Today I bring you a selection of classic Australian picture books all featuring the poetry of A.B. 'Banjo' Paterson.

Some of them are award winning books and some are not.

Waltzing Matilda illustrated by Desmond Digby won the CBCA Picture Book of the year in 1971.

Using A.B. 'Banjo' Paterson's well-known and much loved song as his inspiration, Digby paints page after page of iconic Australian bush scenes that bring to mind the great paintings of Frederick McCubbin or Tom Roberts.

The swaggie looks a little like a down-on-his luck Santa Claus. He has a kind of face and Digby paints him very sympathetically. In fact, Paterson's waltzing matilda must be one of our earliest stories that features the great 'Aussie battler' - our favourite anti-hero.

The final pages of Digby's book provide a glossary of Australian terms as well as information about the origins of the poem. This includes the fascinating and apparently true story of Christina Rutherford Macpherson who played the music (a tune she had adapted from a folk song she had heard in her earlier travels) for Banjo Paterson. He was then inspired to compose his poem.

Sadly Desmond Digby died last year. In an article at this time in the SMH, Digby was credited with "establishing the picture book in Australia as an art form".

Mulga Bill's Bicycle illustrated by twins Kilmeny and Deborah Niland was published in 1973.

In keeping with the less serious nature of this particular Paterson ballad, the Niland's illustrations are comic in style. They encourage our enjoyment of the silliness of Mulga Bill.

Kilmeny and Deborah are the children of Ruth Park and D'Arcy Niland (they also have another three siblings). Sadly Kilmeny died in 2009 after a battle with cancer.

The Man From Ironbark was illustrated by Quentin Hole and won the CBCA Picture Book of the year in 1975.

Sadly, it seems that this particular version of Paterson's poem has been out of print for a while.

Which is a shame, as this humorous poem taps into the urban legend of the 'murdering barber' and plays around with the country/city divide that is still evident in Australian society today.

Hole's illustrations are full of action and drama and continue the Digby tradition of picture book as art.

Quentin Hole also illustrated the Paterson poem A Bush Christening in 1976.

This is another humorous yarn about country life, heavy drinking and religion. Like the man from Ironbark, young Magee is a bit of a larrikin, a rogue. Therefore we enjoy the joke that fate and circumstance plays on him.

Arguably Paterson's most famous poem is The Man From Snowy River.

In 1977 it was illustrated by Annette Macarthur-Onslow a sixth generation descendant of Elizabeth and John Macarthur.

She created a beautiful flowing style of illustration for this book about one of the most famous horse rides in the world.

Macarthur-Onslow was probably more well-known for her 1970 CBCA winning picture book, Uhu, which has been reviewed by Louise @A Strong Belief in Wicker.

In 2002 Kilmeny Niland illustrated her second Paterson poem. This time she chose the romantic rural hero, Clancy of the Overflow.

Her Clancy is much more softer and rounder in style than the lanky, angular Mulga Bill.

Clancy later makes an appearance in Paterson's 'The Man from Snowy River'. Although, for most of us, Clancy will now always appear to us in the guise of actor Jack Thompson thanks to the 1982 movie.

The Man From Snowy River was again illustrated in 2004 this time by Freya Blackwood.

Even though this is one of Blackwood's early attempts at picture book illustration, her trademark style and colour palette is instantly recognisable.

In 2007 Freya Blackwood published another Paterson poem.

This time it was Waltzing Matilda that received her special deluxe picture book treatment.

She incorporated collage scenes of the 1894 shearer's strike which embedded her version firmly in it's historical context. The swaggie's behaviour and the police response made much more sense with this extra detail.

This particular edition also came with a CD featuring 'true blue' John Williamson performing the song.

In 2015 (to mark the centenary of WWI) Mark Wilson illustrated one of Paterson's famous letters to the troops for Harper Collins.
Australia takes her pen in hand, to write a line to you, to let you fellows understand, How proud we are of you.
Wilson's illustrations are very moving and some of the most realistic ones in the entire Paterson picture book oeuvre.

All Paterson's poems were designed to entertain his readers, but this one in particular, was also created to boost morale and stir up patriotic fervour.

2015 also saw Random House publish a children's biography by Kristin Weidenbach called Meet... Banjo Paterson. 

Weidenbach uses snippets of Paterson's poems to retell his life story. She includes a timeline of Banjo's life at the back of the book and Random House provide detailed Teaching Notes.

James Gulliver Hancock's illustrations convey a lot of detail. In particular, I love how he captures Paterson's nose and turns it into an iconic feature throughout the book.

Hancock's drawing style may already be familiar to you thanks to his All the Buildings in... series (so far New York, London and Sydney).

This post ended up being bigger than I first anticipated. Who knew that there were so many adaptations of Paterson's poems out there!

If by any chance I have missed an illustrated children's picture book of one of Banjo's poems, please let me know.

(Robert Ingpen illustrated a version of Click Goes the Shears in 2011 which is part of the Harper Collins Children's Classics poetry range, but, of course, it is not a Paterson poem.)


  1. Are these books still available to buy

    1. Some are, some aren't. Most could be found in second hand shops or libraries though.


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