A B Paterson might have never been to Warrnambool but it's a fair bet that the man known simply as Banjo would have felt right at home here at next week's Jericho Cup.
The celebrated Aussie bush poet who brought us the iconic The Man from Snowy River and much-loved Waltzing Matilda, with its Warrnambool origins, enjoyed a day out at the races.
The Jericho Cup, which honours the legend of the Australian Light Horse in World War I, would be close to Banjo's heart.
Most know him as a balladeer first, but few know that among his many other exploits, Andrew Barton Paterson was also a soldier; a commanding officer who played an integral role in the original Jericho Cup in the desert sands of Palestine 102 years ago.
As commander of the Australian Light Horse Remount Squadron, Paterson was responsible for the care and well-being of the Light Horse mounts in the Middle East arena.
Among these horses were those who made up the fields for the Jericho Cup, a ruse which successfully fooled the Turks about the likely location of a major Allied offensive in the closing stages of the war in the Middle East.
On Sunday, November 29, Major Paterson's services will be recognised with a 1700-metre handicap race named in his honour at the third annual staging of Warrnambool's own Jericho Cup.
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Alf Cantrell has been an avid Paterson fan since his grandmother gifted him a book of Banjo's collected verse as a child more than 70 years ago.
The man whose passion for the poet has now grown to museum status had been due to make the winner's presentation for Warrnambool's Jericho Cup race named for his life-long idol.
COVID-19 restrictions have dashed those plans but Mr Cantrell will be watching on from his Yeoval Banjo Paterson Museum in the New South Wales central district where the young poet grew up.
The museum's exhibition of letters, books, newspapers, original scripts, photos and all things Banjo, titled More than a Poet, pays homage to the man Mr Cantrell describes as "a great Australian". "He did so many things. He fitted six lifetimes into his life," he said.
Over the course of his 77 years, Paterson was variously a solicitor, poet, winning jockey, champion rower, tennis player and cricketer, journalist, editor, war correspondent and soldier.
Mr Cantrell, whose museum attracts about 6000 visitors annually, said most were unaware of Paterson's war service, which included experience as a Boer War correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald attached to the New South Wales Lancers in 1899, and in the First World War as a field ambulance driver on the Western Front, an honorary vet and finally as the commanding officer of the remounts in the Middle East.
It is Banjo the soldier, complete with leggings and a riding crop in one hand and customary pipe in the other, that will be soon depicted in a towering three-metre bronze sculpture at the museum entrance.
Mr Cantrell said the Paul Smits' sculpture, based on a sketch by war artist George Lambert, was due to be unveiled on February 17 next year on the 157th anniversary of Banjo's birth in 1864.
Among the museum's latest acquisitions are several photos donated by a woman whose mother and uncle were taught to ride by Banjo as children living in wartime Cairo where their soldier father was seriously ill. The Davies children, Barbara and Jay, are pictured with Banjo having lessons on his grey pony.
Warrnambool resident Bill Mountjoy also treasures the photos taken by his father Stan who served as a veterinary officer alongside Paterson in the 3rd Light Horse Brigade. The photos, several of which include Paterson, form an extensive pictorial record of the desert campaign.
Paterson's love of the bush, which became the backdrop for many of his later ballads, was instilled from an early age. His riding skills were honed as a six-year-old riding bareback to school.
He was an expert horseman with an eye for good breeding and a champion jockey around the Sydney tracks in his youth.
Known to the family as 'Barty', Paterson adopted the nom-de-plume Banjo after one of the family's horses on becoming a published poet.
Waltzing Matilda, Australia's unofficial national song and one of Paterson's best-loved works, had its origins at the Warrnambool racecourse. In 1895 Paterson was holidaying in outback Queensland at Dagworth station, run by his friends the Macpherson brothers.
The story goes that their sister, Christina Macpherson, was also visiting from Melbourne. She entertained the visitors, playing by ear on her piano, or zither, a catchy Scottish tune called Craigielee March. She had heard the tune played by a military band at the Warrnambool races the previous year.
So taken was Paterson with it that he penned his own lyrics to the tune, creating what would become the country's enduring anthem.
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