Looking for Rose Patterson by Jennifer Gall

Who was Rose Paterson?
Most readers will be introduced to Rose Paterson by reading the poems and stories written by her son, Barty, better known to the world as Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson. But so subtle are the references that readers may not realise they have made her acquaintance. She is there in Banjo’s turn of phrase, his sense of humour, his resilient spirit and in some rare direct references to her as she was in his childhood. But Rose Paterson, in a series of little-known letters written to her younger sister, Nora, provided her own account of her life.

Meet Rose Paterson, mother of A B ‘Banjo’ Paterson. ‘Looking for Rose Paterson’ chronicles Rose’s life as daughter, sister, wife and mother. It also examines the life of a farmer’s wife in a time very different to now. Rose’s letters to her younger sister reveal a world of challenge, from the regular and protracted absences of her husband, to the isolation and inadequacies of her home. Yet she managed to retain a sense of humour, raise and educate her children. She also kept in touch with her family and friends, even when poverty dictated that she cross-write her letters. ‘Looking for Rose Paterson’ includes photos, letters, posters and extracts from Paterson’s poetry.

Looking for Rose Paterson’ is much more than a story of an individual life, though it is that too. It’s a rich portrait of a colonial world, with a focus on the often invisible women who helped shape it. In addition, it chronicles the world that nurtured Banjo Paterson and set the foundations for his writing. Rose’s letters offer an intimate peek into matters personal and domestic, while other elements reflect on childbirth, education, women’s rights and more. ‘Looking for Rose Paterson’ is a fascinating read, a chocolate box of delights for anyone interested in Rose herself and in learning about the lives of colonial women. Highly recommended.

Looking for Rose Paterson, Jennifer Gall
NLA Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9780642278920

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller