My name is Will Mackerras, and until recently I was a theological student in Melbourne Australia. I grew up in Canberra and used to be a lawyer, but after 5 years of doing that I decided to train for ministry instead. Now that I’ve finished my training, I’m about to start working for a church in London.
I had the idea for these poems partly through rediscovering a Banjo Paterson poem which my geography teacher had taught me in year 7. It’s about a man who wanders into a dusty outback town needing a drink, and is called “Been There Before.”
There came a stranger to Walgett town,
To Walgett town when the sun was low,
And he carried a thirst that was worth a crown,
Yet how to quench it he did not know;
But he thought he might take those yokels down,
The guileless yokels of Walgett town.
They made him a bet in a private bar,
In a private bar when the talk was high,
And they bet him some pounds no matter how far
He could pelt a stone, yet he could not shy
A stone right over the river so brown,
The Darling river at Walgett town.
He knew that the river from bank to bank
Was fifty yards, and he smiled a smile
As he trundled down, but his hopes they sank
For there wasn’t a stone within fifty mile;
For the saltbush plain and the open down
Produce no quarries in Walgett town.
The yokels laughed at his hopes o’erthrown,
And he stood awhile like a man in a dream;
Then out of his pocket he fetched a stone,
And pelted it over the silent stream —
He had been there before: he had wandered down
On a previous visit to Walgett town.
I’d more or less forgotten about this poem until I came to be living near the town of Walgett while doing a ministry apprenticeship with the Anglican Church in Wee Waa, NSW. It wasn’t long til I was reminded of the poem, and then I found it a little later in a book at my parents’ house back in Canberra.
Afterwards Paterson’s poetry caught my imagination in a way it probably hadn’t since I was quite small (when my parents used to read to me from picture book editions of “The Bush Christening” and “The Man from Ironbark”.) Eventually the fascination spilled over into adapting “Waltzing Matilda” to tell the story of Abraham for a school scripture class, and then into all the other adaptions you’ll read here too.