Book review: Meet Banjo Paterson

Reproduced with the permission of Buzz Words.

Meet Banjo Paterson by Kristin Weidenbach, illustrated by James Gulliver Hancock (Random House)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-0-85798-008-3
Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller

While lurching at a copy of Meet Banjo Paterson, I was immediately reminded of my grade 4 public speaking performance of Clancy of the Overflow, (that and Jack Thompson’s blonde mustache). As our English teacher’s comb over floated celestially above his head during enthusiastic rehearsals, we were blithely unaware of the man behind the poem; the boy then the man who was to become Banjo Paterson.

Meet Banjo Paterson is the seventh book in the Meet… series from Random House, a collection of non-fiction picture books aimed at uncovering the people behind Australia’s most well-loved and infamous icons including Ned Kelly, Mary MacKillop, Captain Cook and Douglas Mawson. 

Kristin Weidenbach and illustrator James Gulliver Hancock, set the scene for a young Andrew Barton Paterson (Banjo), a boy who lived and loved the Australian bush, particularly horses and bush life. Weidenbach’s evocative tone creates a clear description of what life was like in the second half of the 19th century. 

This is contrasted beautifully with the backdrop of the industrial revolution and the cities where Banjo worked as lawyer in later in life. His love of the Australian outback and fascination with Bushmen is translated as a lasting vehicle of Australia’s heritage.  

James Gulliver Hancock’s illustrations enrich the palate of colonial Australia with muted hues and the use of black chalk to portray a coal and campfire society. The colours including deep reds and purples are indicative of those naturally found in banksias and wild lavender. While the stylized art is a rich collage of Australian bush imagery, the typeface is clean and easy to read, so as not to detract from the overflowing pictures. The font reinforces the non-fiction nature of the book and is interwoven with excerpts from Paterson’s poems and stories such as Waltzing Matilda and Mulga Bill’s Bicycle.

I love that Weidenbach’s retelling of Banjo Paterson’s life creates a vibrant and engaging experience while the timeline of his life at the back of the book gifts insights about the man rarely known. The Man from Snowy River is part of Australia’s DNA, however I was unaware that when it was released it sold out within a week and broke Australian publishing records (without the aid of that internet thing). As an educational tool teachers will love the way it can inspire further research on the life and times of the man but as an example of writers impacting their community.

Kristin Weidenbach’s previously published non-fiction book Tom the Outback Mailman won the 2013 CBCA Eve Pownall Award. James Gulliver Hancock has an extensive background in advertising, animation and technical drawing. Artists, Writers, Thinkers, Dreamers is his compilation of profiles detailing interesting facts about famous historical figures presented as highly stylized infographics.