Who was the 'Man from Snowy River'
This book, “Banjo’s Inspiration”, tries to uncover the myths that have developed since the first release of A. B. Patterson’s poem, “The Man from Snowy River” and also gives recognition to the increasing number of contenders and the material provided by previous historians.
The book outlines who the 'Man from Snowy River' was and he was.
Why Jack Riley is the 'Man from Snowy River'
Of all the contenders for the honour of being the “Man from Snowy River”, Jack Riley was the only one to have met A.B. Paterson prior to the writing of the poem.
Late 1889 or Early 1890 - An old friend of John Pierce, Walter Mitchell of Bringenbrong Station, takes A.B. (Banjo) Paterson on a camping trip into the mountains with the intention of attaining the highest peak. They spend the night at Riley's hut at Groggin where they are thoroughly entertained. The next day Jack guides them to the summit of Kosciuszko, returning to Groggin over the next few days via the Ram's Head, the Cascade country and the Pilot.
26th of April 1890 -Paterson's poem “The Man from Snowy River” is published in the Sydney Bulletin.
Jack Riley was the only one of about 14 contenders to had met Banjo Paterson prior to the writing of the poem in 1890. To name them we have:
Lochie Cochran, “Hellfire" Jack Clarke, Charlie McEachern, Jack Riley, Jim Lowder, Jim Spencer, Jim Troy, Owen Cummins, Charles Lachlan McKeahnie, George Hedger, Alex Riley, Toby an Aboriginal, a stockman James Kiss and Patrick Kiley.
There were two versions of the poem. The first was printed in the Bulletin in 1890. The second version was published in 1895.
Paterson consistently said the poem was not about one man.
Most people argue that Jack could not be the “Man” from the point of view that they believe the poem is a factual account of a brumby chase, but in reality, the poem is full of “poetic license”’ which makes it difficult to discern what is fact and what is fiction. For example, the original poem had “down by Araluen side”, whereas the 1895 version has “Kosciuszko side”. If it was factual, where did the chase occur? The other main source of error that has distorted Jack Riley’s history were works published by a Corryong primary school teacher in the 1960s. Unfortunately, this man’s story was based on little fact and a lot of imagination. As a result, historians like Jean Carmody and Lez Blake have included material that they have sourced from his works and therefore their works are not as accurate as it should have been.
Monaro Mercury. Cooma, Monday 27 July 1914, written by an old hand on the Monaro. In this article the writer summarises Jack’s life-giving dates that can be verified from other sources, which makes it a very important part of the evidence that Jack was the Man. The writer is one that believes the poem is a factual account of the chase and as such said that Jack could not have been the Man, however he then goes on to say “but Riley was a better rider at 50 years than at 25, strange as this may seem”…..”and during his last 20 years it would have been safe to say that there was not a man his age in either State who could have paced him in rough country.” The writer also notes “It may be interesting to know how Jack came to think he was the inspirer of those lines of Paterson's.”
Clearly Jack believed that Paterson had written the poem about him. He was also aware that Paterson had not written an accurate account, which in 1912, while talking to Farther PJ Hartigan, as written up in the Catholic Weekly Times,
Hartigan had "a yarn" with the Man from Snowy River and was astonished to find that he was by no means pleased with Banjo's version of the story.
"We often had to do that sort of thing, and had tougher "goes" than that," he said, deprecatingly. "I was taking a party up to Kossy, and was telling them about it, and one of them put it in a book; but he brings in the names of a lot of men who weren't there at all. There was nobody named Clancy; there was me and so-and-so, and so-and-so." Unfortunately, Hartigan could not remember the names of the others.
Finally, in 1934, at a function for the Australian Ski team Paterson told Tom Mitchel, who later became the Attorney General of Victoria, that the poem was inspired by his meeting with Jack Riley. Paterson had also written to a young girl in WA in about 1920, stating the fact that Riley was the inspiration for the poem.