2 September 2022

Have you heard the yarn about Banjo, Henry and a rather large sculpture? Word is, you will soon

| Sally Hopman
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Old photo outside pub

Legend has it that Henry Lawson, far left, spent some time at the Bowning Hotel – and even met fellow wordsmith Banjo Paterson there. It’s believed this photograph was taken around 1904. Photo: Bowning District Progress Association.

There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around, that the colt from Old Regret had got away – and was heading towards the Bowning pub. (Sorry Banjo).

Much glory has been bestowed on two of our greatest writers, Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson: for Lawson, a statue in his honour in Sydney’s Domain, a postage stamp (1949), a centre in Gulgong and his mug on the back of an old $10 note.

Banjo, meanwhile, can claim a bridge at Illalong, near Yass, his face also planted on a $10 note, a stamp (1981), a college on the Gold Coast, a library at Sydney Grammar School, a Festival of Arts in Orange – and the biennial Banjo Paterson Award for Poetry, and a wooden boat named Banjo Paterson which just happens to float up and down the Patterson River out of Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay.

But there’s no memorial to the Bowning pub where it’s said they continued one of colonial Australia’s best discussions, The Bulletin Debate – named after the magazine of the time which published their work. The two men, so the story goes, with their vastly different views of the Australian bush, discussed with great animation, their opinions at what is now a historic watering hole near Yass.

Man outside old building.

Stuart Atkins on the site where Henry Lawson stood – the former antique shop which was originally part of the Bowning Hotel. Photo: Frances Atkins.

Held in 1892, the debates took the form of poetry by both men about the merits, or not, of living in the bush. Paterson, who was based mainly in the city, was known to romanticise bush life whereas Lawson considered Paterson to be a “city bushman”. Turns out the “discussions” continued off the pages of the magazine and into the Bowning pub.

For Paterson, the Yass connection goes back even further. Although he was born on “Narrambla”, a property near Orange, he lived for many years on the family property at Illalong, not a million miles from Bowning.

He further cemented his local links in the mid-1800s, when, as soon as he could ride a pony, he started teaching at the bush school in nearby Binalong.

Signed sepia photo of man.

A.B “Banjo” Paterson CBE, an Australian bush poet, journalist and author, wrote much about life in the country, particularly his beloved Binalong, near Yass. Photo: National Library of Australia.

For Frances and Stuart Atkins of the Bowning District Progress Association (BDPA), knowing the debates were held there, the men’s already strong connection to the Yass Valley – and the discovery of the old photograph showing Lawson at the pub, a plan to officially honour the two men, they decided, was well overdue.

“We would like to put Bowning on the map again,” Stuart said.

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“We know that Lawson drank at the pub and that he apparently met Banjo there, so we think that’s really important for our community – so we’re looking at putting a statue up to commemorate it.”

The plan is to design, build and install a bronze statue of Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson to mark their connection to the village. Ideally, it would be installed adjacent to the pub they frequented and where a former antique shop now stands.

With many descendants of the original families still living in the Yass Valley, the BDPA is keen to hear from people with memories or connections to Lawson and Paterson’s days in the village, with a particular interest in any remaining photographs.

Three black and white images of man with moustache.

Australian writer and bush poet, Henry Lawson, is considered one of the greatest short story writers and poets of our colonial era. Photo: National Portrait Gallery.

“It would be wonderful to mark that time in our history by erecting a statue to them right where the photo shows Lawson to be,” Stuart said. “It would be a great drawcard for the village when visitors come here – they can get their photos taken in the same place.

“What we’d like to do is discuss this idea with our community to see what we can do.

“Then we can see if there are any grants available to make it happen.

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“We want to get the word out now to see what people think.”

Frances and Stuart, president and treasurer of the BDPA respectively, have lived in the village for more than 25 years – not quite locals yet, Stuart said because only “locals” were “born, bred and buried” in the place. But they’re looking to the village’s new blood to help get involved with the statue project.

“We want to hear from everyone,” he said. “We don’t have letterboxes out here, so sometimes it’s hard to spread the word around. But we are really keen to hear what people think to help get us back on the map again.”

If you’d like to get involved with the BDPA’s statue proposal, email the association at [email protected] or read all about it on the Facebook page here.

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