Banjo Patterson“And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong, you’ll come a Waltzing Matilda with me.” Banjo Paterson, 1895
Nanjing Night Net

IMAGINE if Australia’s most famous poet was stuck in a love triangle while he wrote Australia’s most famous song.

Now imagine if the woman Banjo Paterson had the affair with was Premier Ted Baillieu’s’ great-great-aunt Christina Macpherson.

In a new twist which is set to spark controversy and renewed interest in the 117-year-old song, Warrnambool author Dennis O’Keeffe argues the case that the iconic swagman may well have been shot by Bob Macpherson, Ted Baillieu’s’ great-great uncle.

O’Keeffe says he is ready for the backlash which Waltzing Matilda The Secret History of Australia’s Favourite Song is about to create.

“What I say in this book is that Waltzing Matilda is tied up to the shearers’ strikes and that the swagman was a union shearer, who supposedly committed suicide beside the billabong, was murdered,” he said.

“I’ve got evidence that suggests he was murdered by the squatter (Bob Macpherson) or one of the three policeman.”

The book is 20 years in the making and O’Keeffe says the swagman took part in burning down the Dagworth shearing shed, along with 140 sheep, in Queensland with a group of other unionists.

The next morning the squatter or pastoralist Bob Macpherson, whose family owned Dagworth Station, and the policemen stationed at Dagworth, rode into Kyuna and were told the swagman was dead by the billabong.

“Bob Macpherson and the three policeman then apparently road out to collect the body,” O’Keeffe said.

“Within two days there was a hastily-convened inquest and the verdict was the swagman had committed suicide.”

O’Keeffe looked at the inquests from 1894 and had a barrister do a cold case finding.

“He found not enough evidence for any finding, let alone a specific finding of suicide,” he said.

“The finding should have been deceased died by person or persons unknown.

“If our iconic swagman didn’t shoot himself then we have to look at who did and who had the biggest motive.”

The shearing shed was destroyed one week after the infamous attack on the paddle steamer Rodney, which was burnt down.

“No one was convicted of burning the paddle steamer Rodney, which happened just a week before,” he said.

“Could they have shot the swagman and kept it quiet for 100 years?

“The line is ‘and his ghost maybe heard as you pass by the billabong’. Is this the ghost we’re hearing now?

“Maybe there was an oath taken to cover up the death of the swagman.”

O’Keeffe said he had no doubt there would be those who say that it’s impossible to keep this and a love triangle covered up for more than 100 years.

He said in 1894 Christina Macpherson went to Warrnambool’s May Races, where she heard the Warrrnambool Garrison Artillery Band play The Craigielee March.

“On the face of it, it seems strange that Christina Macpherson would be here in Warrnambool and hear the tune and some months later be in western Queensland at Dagworth Station,” O’Keeffe said.

“Dagworth Station is almost as far from Brisbane as Warrnambool is. It’s a huge distance.

“It wasn’t unusual for her to be there, because many Warrnambool families were up and down. The families of Victoria’s Western District were making these trips because they had families up there.

“Towards the end of 1895 Christina’s mother had passed away and her father took her and her sister to Dagworth Station to be together with her brothers for Christmas. On the way there she met her old school friend Sarah Riley and staying as a guest of the Rileys was Sarah’s fiance of eight years, Banjo Patterson.

“During that time Christina played the tune to Banjo. It’s said that playing of the tune awoke the Scot in him and he wrote Waltzing Matilda.

“He not only took a liking to the tune he also took a liking to Christina and they had an affair.

“An affair in those days is most definitely not what we think an affair is today. They were very proper times, it was a very small social circle and they were very proper women.

“Banjo had been engaged eight years to Sarah, which might suggest the relationship was on the way out, but the fact is it destroyed both the women’s lives.

“Sarah left Australia and lived in London and Christina never married.”

In 1995 O’Keeffe interviewed Dianna Baillieu, Ted Baillieu’s’ mother, who said her great-aunt Christina never got over Banjo.

“Dianna told me it was all over him making passes at Christina,” O’Keeffe said.

“She said he was a cad and a rotter and the Macpherson brothers told him to never darken their doorstep again.

“Christina never married either and according to Dianna Baillieu she thought that Christina never got over Banjo Paterson.

“As Dianna said, even though there were great distances the social circle was very small.

“Everyone knew what was going on. In those days you didn’t go with someone and then break it off. Women didn’t bounce back likRe they would today.

“Banjo was probably our first, you might say, pop star.

“By the time he got to Dagworth Station he was about to have his book of poems published and you can imagine what it would be like — a Christmas party with everyone there. Christina played him a tune and something happened.

“I’m expecting backlash from the love affair and that I’m contending that the swagman may have been shot by the squatter or one of three policemen.

“Christina is Ted Baillieu’s great-aunt, Bob is her brother, Ted’s great-uncle, who I’m suggesting may have shot the iconic swag man.

“That’s the truth.”

O’Keeffe said he had no doubt about why the song resonated so strongly.

“Although it’s not our national anthem, it has more of our national character than the national anthem,” he said.

“(In Waltzing Matilda) people recognise the ethos of a fair go. We had come through the convict days with freedom of thought, which is more important than anything else.

“There is no doubt this will make people think differently about it and what it means.”

O’Keeffe said Warrnambool residents should be proud of their connection to Waltzing Matilda and should celebrate it.

“There is no doubt now the tune that Waltzing Matilda was written to was played at the Warrnambool May race carnival, at the end of April 1894 and Christina Macpherson heard that tune and some months later played what she could remember to Banjo Paterson and he wrote Waltzing Matilda,” he said.

“The thing about it is there are very few historical things that we can celebrate which still happen. We’re still running the same race carnival that tune was played at and is connected to our national song. I think it’s something that Warrnamboolians should really celebrate. It’s a wonderful tune.

“Now I’ve got the story out.”

Waltzing Matilda The Secret History of Australia’s Favourite Song is being released this weekend and will be launched tomorrow at Warrnambool Racing Club. For more information or to make a booking, phone 5562 2211.

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