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Pardon, of course, went on to win the third heat and the cup, and Owner Harrison, in what seemed to Paterson a decidedly flamboyant gesture, threw his hat into the air.
Paterson's natural reserve was evident throughout his literary career. After three years he permitted the Bulletin to publish a notice that The Banjo was "a modest young man of Sydney," not a bush rider. Few people noticed, and few, in any case, could have identified Paterson from that innocuous description. For almost a decade, during which he became the best-selling Australian poet (he still is), only his family, personal friends and the literary group around the Bulletin knew he was writing.
His cover began to slip on April 26, 1890, when the Bulletin published Paterson's masterpiece, The Man from Snowy River. In this ballad the best riders in the country gather to lend a hand to a station owner. A colt worth a thousand pounds has gotten away and joined a herd of wild horses. Harrison, who made a fortune when Pardon won the cup, is there, as is Clancy of the Overflow, the hero of another Banjo Paterson ballad. Among these experienced riders there is an unknown youngster on a small and weedy horse. "Lad, you'd better stop away," the landowner says. "Those hills are far too rough for such as you." Clancy speaks up for the newcomer. He is from the Snowy River country, on the slopes of Mount Kosciusko...
Where the hills
are twice as steep and twice as rough;
The wild horses are found in a clump of mimosa trees and run toward the mountain. Clancy tries to wheel them. If they get through the pass nothing can stop them from disappearing down the other side. But as he passes and faces the animals, they charge under his cracking stockwhip. The race goes on through the mountain scrub, up gorges and under cliffs, always climbing, clear to the summit. There the riders stop, terrified at the drop. They watch the man from Snowy River ride on alone, scattering flintstones and clearing timbers, over broken ground until he arrives among the wild horses climbing a hill in the distance. They halt, cowed and beaten, and he brings them back alone. He becomes a folk hero, the story of his ride told over and over....
Where the air is
clear as crystal, and the white stars fairly blaze
Paterson's poems were intended to be memorized and recited with dramatic emphasis and gestures. Apparently he meant to link them in a group of folk ballads, with the same characters and horses appearing in different poems. He used an amazing array of places—the Shadow of Death Hotel in Conroy's Gap, the Snakebite River, Whiskeyhurst, Come-by-Chance, Swagman's Rest.
One reason for Paterson's reluctance to become known as a poet was his modest admiration for his predecessors and an uneasy kinship with contemporary poets. Of those who had come before, the most popular was Adam Lindsay Gordon, the reckless son of a well-to-do English family, a boxer who fought professionals in England and one of the best amateur race riders of his time. Gordon appeared in Australia at the age of 20, joined the police, shot it out with outlaws, became a professional breaker of horses and then a jockey good enough to win three races in a day at Melbourne. Gordon wrote his melancholy poems at a time when he was running a livery stable and serving in the legislature. After his second book of verse was published he walked out into the bush and shot himself.
Then there was Henry Lawson, Paterson's contemporary and friendly rival, more naturally gifted than Paterson, a mildly revolutionary poet, who wrote of the dust, desolation and cruelty of bush life while Paterson, in his dingy office, longed for the song of the bellbirds and the cheery blaze of campfires:
So you're back
from up the country, Mr. Lawson, where you went,