Christina Macpherson’s Nursemaid Goes for Help (From Waltzing Matilda) – SOLD

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Detail photos for this Artwork

This intriguing painting by Pro Hart takes its inspiration from the history of the iconic Australian poem by Banjo Paterson (1864-1941) “Waltzing Matilda”, and how Paterson was inspired to write the poem in 1895 during a visit to western Queensland.

Pro Hart created a special series of paintings that recounted the history of “Waltzing Matilda”, and in this painting he focuses on one of the main contributors, Christina Macpherson (1864-1936), who composed the music for the song “Waltzing Matilda”.

Christina Rutherford Macpherson was born on 19 June 1864 at Peechelba Station, which was located in rural Victoria, near Rutherford with frontages on the Ovens and Murray rivers, about 20 miles north-west of Wangaratta. She was the ninth of eleven children born to Ewen Macpherson and his wife Margaret Brown Rutherford who had migrated to Australia from Scotland around 1854. Peechelba Station, a property of about 150,000 acres was jointly owned by the Macphersons’ and Rutherford’s’ who had homesteads close to each other on the property.

On the night of 8 April 1865, when Christina was a baby, her family and the workers of Peechelba Station were bailed up and held captive for the night by one of Australia’s most notorious, deranged and dangerous bushrangers, Dan Morgan (1830-1865).

Dan Morgan gathered everybody into the homestead’s main room and, with his gun in range, forced the group to while away the evening with him with dinner, conversation, music and dancing.

Unfortunately for Dan Morgan, he allowed the nursemaid, Alice Keenan, to leave the main room to calm the crying baby, Christina. Cunningly, Alice used the opportunity to calm the baby and then climbed through the window, raced to the Rutherford’s adjoining property, and word was then sent to the police at Wangaratta. Alice returned to the homestead, climbed back through the window and walked into the main room as though nothing had happened.

In the morning, Dan Morgan, accompanied by Ewan Macpherson (Christina’s father) strolled down towards the horse yards to select a fresh horse from Macpherson’s stable. Unknown to Dan, he was by then surrounded by troopers. A station hand called John Wendlan, who was hidden from Dan’s view behind a tree, stepped out and shot Morgan in the back.  Morgan died later that afternoon in the wool shed at Peechelba.

Like many wealthy southern pastoralists, Ewan Macpherson bought extra holdings in NSW and Queensland, including Dagworth Station about 120 north west of Winton. Christina’s brothers went to Dagworth to run the property, while the rest of the family moved to Melbourne. Christina went to school in Melbourne and grew to womanhood.

Christina Macpherson’s younger sister, Margaret, married Stewart McArthur and went to live on Meningoort Station near Camperdown, Victoria. Christina spent many happy holidays at their property. On one of her visits in April 1894, Christina attended the much celebrated annual Warrnambool Steeplechase, 70 kilometres away – a racing event popular with many of Victoria’s social and political elite, and befitting of the Macpherson family’s social standing. At Warrnambool she attended picnics, balls and the races.

At the races, the seeds for the music of “Waltzing Matilda” were born in Christina’s mind after hearing a catchy tune performed by the Warrnambool Garrison Artillery Band – a march called “Criagielee”, by the migrant composer Thomas Bulch, who came to Australia in 1884 and who wrote under the name of “Godfrey Parker”.  It has long been a practice for composers to take a simple song or dance tune and develop it into orchestral, piano, ensemble, or band pieces; and this is what Bulch had done on this occasion.  The original music from which he took his inspiration was an old Scottish song tune called “Thou Bonnie Wood o’ Craigielea”.

Christina, being a musical person, was captivated by the tune of the “Craigielee” march and she remembered the tune long after the Warrnambool race meeting was over.

In December of that same year (1894) Christina Macpherson’s mother died. So Ewan Macpherson decided to take his two unmarried daughters, Christina and Jean, with him to visit his sons on the family property Dagworth in Queensland.

It is believed that enroute to Dagworth, Christina and her family stopped at the nearby town of Winton for a few days, where they bumped into Christina’s old school friend, Sarah Riley. Sarah’s brother Fredrick lived in Winton and owned a number of properties including the local Post Office Hotel, and nearby Vindex Station which adjoined Dagworth.

Sarah Riley introduced Christina and her brother Rob Macpherson to her finance of nearly eight years, who was visiting from Sydney, none other than Andrew Barton Paterson, a solicitor and poet from Sydney. Paterson was a solicitor by day, and by night he wrote his much-loved poetry and moonlighted as a freelance journalist under the pen name of “The Banjo”. Paterson’s works were becoming very popular through the pages of Sydney’s “Bulletin”. His pen name Banjo, was the name of his favourite horse on his father’s farm.

After meeting Sarah and Paterson in Winton, Christina and her brother invited them to visit Dagworth Station. Paterson was keen to see Dagworth and to get a sense of how people lived on such enormous and remote sheep stations. He was also curious to view the Macpherson’s magnificent forty-stand wool shed which had been partially destroyed by fire the previous year, the result of angry retaliation from disgruntled shearers during the great shearers’ strikes which occurred around 1891 to 1894. Several large wool sheds were torched during this time throughout Queensland and New South Wales.

The dramatic recent events of the shearers strikes, and a combination of experiences during Paterson’s visit to Dagworth set the stage for him to write the words for “Waltzing Matilda”, which was to become Australia’s most iconic folk song.

A few years before Banjo’s visit to Dagworth, a wool scourer named George Pope drowned in a waterhole at Dagworth. Additionally the Macphersons took Banjo to one of their favourite picnic spots, the Combo Waterhole situated in a beautiful billabong of the Diamantina River. Also, on one of their rides around the station, the Macpherson brothers and Paterson encountered the remains of a sheep’s carcass which had been butchered, presumably by a passing swagman.

During one evening’s entertainment during Banjo’s outback visit, Christina Macpherson, then 31 years old, played on her zither (or autoharp) that she’d brought with her from Melbourne the catchy little tune she’d heard at the Warrnambool races the year before. Paterson also became captivated by the tune and offered to write some lyrics to suit the melody. In Christina’s own words, “He then and there wrote the first verse.” Christina and Banjo worked through the score, Christina playing the tune on her autoharp and Banjo penning the words as they came to mind.

Paterson’s experiences at Dagworth, Christina’s music adapted from the tune of the “Craigielee” march, and the colourful local term for carrying a swag, “Waltzing Matilda”, set Paterson’s poetic mind into action, and the lyrics of the first verse of the bush song “Waltzing Matilda” were born. The rest of the song was written by Paterson over a period of three or four weeks in August 1895 at a number of locations.

The title for the poem used Australian slang for travelling on foot (waltzing) with one’s belongings in a “matilda” (a swag or rolled blanket) slung over one’s back.

Within months of the song’s composition it was proving immensely popular and began to circulate throughout the Winton district. When it reached Hughenden, north east of Winton, it created so much excitement that the whole town began to sing “Waltzing Matilda”.

Interestingly, Banjo Paterson never married Sarah Riley, rumoured to be because of a romantic attraction to Christina Macpherson stemming from the many hours they spent fine-tuning the lyrics to the music. Paterson was despatched from Dagworth and his engagement to Sarah Riley ended soon after.

Ewen Macpherson returned to Melbourne with his daughters, and he died in 1896.

Christina never married and lived the rest of her days in the more affluent suburbs of Melbourne. Christina’s grand-niece Diana Baillieu recollects her grand-aunt’s visits to their property at Meningoort. She remembers her aunt as a jovial lady who played the piano often.

Christina died in obscurity on March 27, 1936 and was buried next to her father and other members of her family at the St Kilda Cemetery. She left her entire estate worth £3,624 (about half a million dollars in 2014 currency) to her younger sister.

It was only in the late 1970s while the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) was making a documentary on “Waltzing Matilda” that her burial plot, without a tombstone, was rediscovered. Christina’s grand-niece Diana Baillieu had a small marker placed on the spot where she was buried. This small marker on a long-forgotten grave-site is the only recognition, it seems, given to the woman who inspired the creation of Australia’s most treasured song.

As for Banjo Paterson, he married Alice Walker from Tenterfield in 1903 and went on to become one of Australia’s greatest poets.

Despite the popularity of ‘Waltzing Matilda”, Paterson never considered it to be a true Bush Ballad, which is a form of poetry composed for spoken recitation, not singing. Paterson considered it to be more of a Bush Song and so it didn’t appear in important collections of his work, such as “The Man from Snowy River and other verses”. The song remained unpublished for about 8 years after its composition – although it was circulating widely in hand written and oral form.

In 1903 Banjo Paterson sold the lyrics of “Waltzing Matilda” for a paltry sum to his publisher, Angus and Robertson. Angus and Robertson then sold the lyrics to the tea merchants, Inglis & Co who decided to use the verses as a marketing gimmick for their line of “Billy Tea”, wrapping each packet of tea in a copy of the song.  Mrs Marie Cowan, wife of one of the firm’s directors, arranged a musical accompaniment on piano for the song, which is the version of the lyrics that are now commonly sung.

“Waltzing Matilda” was eventually published in 1917 by Banjo Paterson in book form in his collection entitled “Saltbush Bill, J.P. and other verses”.

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong
Under the shade of a Coolibah tree
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boil
You’ll come a Waltzing Matilda with me

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
You’ll come a Waltzing Matilda with me
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boil
You’ll come a Waltzing Matilda with me

Down came a jumbuck to drink at that billabong
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag
You’ll come a Waltzing Matilda with me

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
You’ll come a Waltzing Matilda with me
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag
You’ll come a Waltzing Matilda with me

Up rode the squatter mounted on his thorough-bred
Down came the troopers One Two Three
Whose that jolly jumbuck you’ve got in your tucker bag
You’ll come a Waltzing Matilda with me


Waltzing Matilda Waltzing Matilda
You’ll come a Waltzing Matilda with me
Whose that jolly jumbuck you’ve got in your tucker-bag
You’ll come a Waltzing Matilda with me

Up jumped the swagman sprang in to the billabong
You’ll never catch me alive said he
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong
You’ll come a Waltzing Matilda with me

Waltzing Matilda Waltzing Matilda
You’ll come a Waltzing Matilda with me
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong

You’ll come a Waltzing Matilda with me

When Banjo Paterson heard troops singing “Waltzing Matilda” in camp prior to departing for battle during World War One, he said to his friend Daryl Lindsay: “Well, Daryl, I only got fiver for the song, but it’s worth a million to me to hear it sung like that.”

Oil on Board
60 x 60 cm
78.5 x 78.5 cm
$SOLD
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