How Banjo Paterson's ghost welcomed me to Yass District

September 19, 2007
How Banjo  Paterson's ghost  welcomed me to Yass District

By Garth Morrison

Banjo Paterson's ghost brought me to Yass. It was past noon and I had fired up the truck at Ironbark Rest Area south of Wodonga at 8.30am. I was bored to tears with the monotony of long straight strips of Hume Hwy and when his friendly voice greeted me near the Binalong turnoff time off the highway was a lure I leapt at.

Suddenly the humour of the poem Mulga Bills Bicycle was in my head and as the Retro Sahara climbed Conroys Gap, made famous by Bill's boast that - "From Conroy's Gap to Castlereagh there's none can ride like me," - I was turned off the Hume in every sense.

Binalong - Lovely ringing name it is for the place our great Australian lyric poet loved. The village is near Illalong the property Andrew Barton called home in the Yass District he grew in.

Paterson was born in 1864 near Orange and moved to Binalong with his family when he was seven. He kept coming back until his father Albert died in 1889. Albert Bogle Paterson is buried in the Binalong cemetery.

His famous son is now, like Yass, part of Australia's heritage. Journalist, lawyer, soldier, balladist he captured Australia's heart with his poems and won acclaim in 1895 with The Man From Snowy River. He used the non de plume The Banjo. It was the name of one of his beloved horses.

Paterson was gifted in handling horses and men. Horses are like men. Treat them well and they will give their best. In 1900 he covered the Boer War as a war correspondent and noted the fighting qualities of the embattled Boers in his poems.

The following year he reported the aftermath of the Boxer Rebellion in China and came back to Sydney to do a little more journalism. But the Yass district pulled him back to a farm at Coodravale, Wee Jasper, another name with a song to it.

But World War 1 burst into the rural peace and in 1914 he served in Egypt with the famed Lighthorse Brigade. He was a major and commanded a unit which trained remounts and his skill with men and horses earned him great respect. He returned to journalism and his prose and poems flowed until his death at 77 in 1941.

He is a mirror of bush life, the love of country and reflects a devotion to horses which is rare in Australia now. I found him waiting for me in Paterson Park. Take a left off the main street, just past the town clock. It used to be hand wound right up to 1984.

I am not much on stone memorials. Cold things they be but there is a warm welcome in the words that record Paterson's life. Right at the end - it says - the beginning of some of his wonderful poems are displayed on the fence behind you.

On top of Conroys Gap in 5th gear overdrive
On top of Conroys Gap in 5th gear overdrive

And they are alive with the bush life - The Man From Snowy River, Mulga Bills Bicycle, Clancy of the Overflow - ballards of Australia which prove that nobody dies as long as someone remembers.

I camped in the truck at Yass Caravan Park for $14 ($25 02.06.2014) on an unpowered site under a beautiful old pine. It was close to the clean washroom and toilet and blessed with the hot shower pleasures which bring me off the road.

I like caravan parks and love the people I meet. Ken came for a yarn with his red dingo kelpiecross bitch and we got into Vietnam, his hot Ford tow truck, beautifulclassic twin axle caravan and the friendly easy stuff that blokes who have seen a bit enjoy.

Yass Caravan Park filled up fast after 2.30pm and by 6pm the easy to use drive-through sites were taken by a string of caravans and a motorhome.

The caravan park's cabin lights added to the cherry evening sky and when I stretched out in warm snow bag comfort on the thick matresses (2) in the roomy Retro Sahara Banjo was in my head again - this time with lyric words from Clancy of the Overflow. Diamond white stars blazed overhead through the sunroof and rear window of the company 1985 Sahara and Paterson painted a poem picture for me from Clancy - And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended: and at night the wonderous glory of the everlasting stars.

I slept well and woke at peace with the world.

Yass Valley is 45 minute drive from Canberra and has its own unique charm and country friendliness. During the early 1800's, the natural beauty and superior agricultural land of the Yass district led famous explorer Hamilton Hume as well as Banjo Paterson to settle in the district.

Today, the main street of Yass is brimming with architectural treasures from early settlement days.

Many of the wonderful heritage features of Yass are best visited on foot. Walk down Comur Street and browse through the antique shops and galleries or stop for a cup of freshly brewed coffee in a sidewalk cafe. Try the Comur St butcher. He has a list of sausage and meat selections which stopped me in my tracks.

About five minutes from Yass, is the National Trust Property Cooma Cottage, which was once the home of Hamilton Hume, or venture further afield to the studios of internationally renowned glass artist Peter Crisp. Yass also has many rural and adventure activities including horse riding, paragliding, caving at Wee Jasper, abseiling, boating and water skiing. Visit a working sheep farm.

Banjo Paterson Memorial  Park Yass
Banjo Paterson Memorial Park Yass

Burrinjuck Dam was built in the early 1900's, as a water storage system for the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. The dam is a popular attraction and offers cruises, water-sports, fishing, camping, and bushwalking.

The surrounding eucalypt forests has plenty of sight-seeing and wildlife includes kangaroos, wallabies and crimson rosellas, some of which can be hand-fed.

Yass Valley has a wide range of accommodation styles, ranging from caravan parks to four star motels and historic Bed Breakfasts.

There are luxury hideaway cabins and farm stays on working sheep properties. Wine has been made in the Canberra and Yass district for 160 years.

The wine makers are renowned for the high quality of their authentic, hand-crafted cool climate wines.

The region's three main grape growing areas are Murrumbateman/Yass, Canberra/Hall and Bungendore/Lake George.

The district's vineyards cover a big altitudinal range of 300 to 800 metres, and produce exquisite, award winning cool climate wines. The Yass district is about three hours drive from Sydney and about six hours from Melbourne.

Yass clock was wound by hand  right up until 1984
Yass clock was wound by hand right up until 1984

 My sheltered campsite at Yass Caravan Park
My sheltered campsite at Yass Caravan Park

Rose Inn 1837  the oldest building in Yass
Rose Inn 1837 the oldest building in Yass

Spring blooms in the main street of Yass
Spring blooms in the main street of Yass

Yass Courthouse is striking architecture
Yass Courthouse is striking architecture

Yass Concilliation Wall links to a riverside walk
Yass Concilliation Wall links to a riverside walk

Yass Park looking  east upstream
Yass Park looking east upstream

Yass Park looking  west downstream
Yass Park looking west downstream

GoSeeAustralia on top of Conroys Gap hill
GoSeeAustralia on top of Conroys Gap hill