The Bulletin Debate - Chapter 1 - A Roast Battle for the Ages

The Bulletin Debate - Chapter 1 - A Roast Battle for the Ages

Series Introduction

Lawson V Patterson

The Big Smoke V The Bush

Romanticism V Reality

A roast battle for the ages!!!

The Bulletin Debate – An attempt to define Australia's national identity

In the days before modern media and music, the main means of communication throughout the colonies was newspapers, and poems were regularly featured as somewhat of “Opinion Pieces”.

A classic City V Country Battle erupted across the pages of The Bulletin raging on between 1892 & 1893, with a series of poetic debates between Henry and Banjo, known as “The Bulletin Debate” with a few other poets also chiming in for good measure.

A 19th century Poetry Slam! The Bulletin Debate was a Roast Battle for the Ages!

A great divide of sorts; Arguably illustrating, the perceived superiority complex of the city perspective in the minds of those that lived in one. Those in the city thinking they know better than their country cousins, a resentment still strongly felt by many in the bush, towards many who wouldn’t last more than a few days when confronted with the harsh realities of Bush life.

The Bulletin Newspaper Masthead 

Sometimes referred to as the "Bush Legend, in its day, The Bulletin was a popular and influential publication, and often supported the typical national self-image held by many Australians of the time. 

However, author Tony Moore, observed in his 1997 paper that:

The bohemian traits revered by 'The Bulletin' writers are almost a caricature of the Australian national type propagated by the journal: mateship and blokey bonding to the exclusion of family life; hostility to religion, personified by the Protestant wowser; ironic humour; a fondness for alcohol, pubs and gambling; pre-occupation with a free-wheeling Australian identity (overlaid with francophilia and Irish nationalism) invariably opposed to a conservative Englishness; and an occasional flirtation with political causes such as socialism and republicanism. The identification of the bohemian with male mateship remains a strong thread in the Australian tradition. 

Widely followed by the public, The Bulletin Debate played a substantial part in Australia’s societal discourse at the time reinforcing "the Bush" as a significant part of Australia's national identity.

There was never any clear "winner" to this debate. More to the point, how could there ever be, it’s a matter of each to their own, love it or hate it, bush life isn’t for everyone, nor is city life for that matter.

However, Paterson presented Australia with the desired image of its national identity, and his short story collections subsequently garnered spectacular sales.

Banjo Patterson Statue in front of Waltzing Matilda Centre Winton Queensland 

Since the dawn of European settlement, bush poetry has formed a large part of Australia’s national identity. Both well and truly prominent Voices of Federation, Henry Lawson and Banjo Patterson are widely regarded as Australia’s greatest Bush Poets. Their words forging an idealised picture and perception of pioneer Australia at the turn of the 20th century.


Despite their vastly differing perspectives on Australian bush life, both Lawson and Paterson are often mentioned in the same breath as Australia's most iconic and influential writers. Both were masters of the descriptive phrase, telling the story of our nation in rhythm and rhyme and reflecting the harsh realities and romanticism of pioneer life.


In 1939, Banjo Paterson recalled his thoughts about the Bulletin debate:

Henry Lawson was a man of remarkable insight in some things and of extraordinary simplicity in others. We were both looking for the same reef, if you get what I mean; but I had done my prospecting on horseback with my meals cooked for me, while Lawson has done his prospecting on foot and had had to cook for himself. Nobody realized this better than Lawson; and one day he suggested that we should write against each other, he putting the bush from his point of view, and I putting it from mine.

"We ought to do pretty well out of it," he said. "We ought to be able to get in three or four sets of verses before they stop us."

This suited me all right, for we were working on space, and the pay was very small ... so we slam-banged away at each other for weeks and weeks; not until they stopped us, but until we ran out of material.” 


Henry Lawson Statue amongst Rose garden in Gulgong NSW 


On 9 July 1892, Lawson published a poem in The Bulletin entitled "Borderland", later retitled "Up The Country". In this poem (beginning with the verse "I am back from up the country—very sorry that I went,—"), Lawson attacked the typical "romanticised" view of bush life.

On 23 July 1892, Paterson published his reply to Lawson's poem, titled "In Defense of the Bush". While Lawson had accused writers such as Paterson of being "City Bushmen", Paterson countered by claiming that Lawson's view of the bushlife was full of doom and gloom. He finished his poem with the line "For the bush will never suit you, and you'll never suit the bush."


Works of poetry involved in the Bulletin Debate[2]

Publication Date



9 July 1892

Henry Lawson

"Borderland" (retitled "Up The Country")

23 July 1892

Banjo Paterson

"In Defence of the Bush"

30 July 1892

Edward Dyson

"The Fact of the Matter"

6 August 1892

Henry Lawson

"In Answer to 'Banjo', and Otherwise" (retitled "The City Bushman")

20 August 1892


"The Overflow of Clancy"

27 August 1892

Francis Kenna

"Banjo, of the Overflow"

1 October 1892

Banjo Paterson

"In Answer to Various Bards" (retitled "An Answer to Various Bards")

8 October 1892

Henry Lawson

"The Poets of the Tomb"

20 October 1894

Banjo Paterson

"A Voice from the Town"


 Kieran Wicks in front of Henry Lawson Statue in Gulgong NSW

The Bulletin Debate Episode 2 - Borderland by Henry Lawson

📜 Episode 1: A Roast Battle for the Ages

In this episode, we delve deep into the background of the battle, meet the players and start to understand the circumstances under which it came about. Witness the clash of ideas, the powerful prose, and the cultural impact of these two literary powerhouses.


📜 Episode 2: The Opening Salvo – Borderland By Henry Lawson

A shot across the bows, Borderland displays a contempt and disdain for romanticising life on the land, pointing to the stark realities faced by those that venture inland, far flung from the luxuries of city life, Lawson leaving no doubts as to the persuasion which he prefers.


📜 Episode 3: Game On – In Defense of the Bush

Playfully scornful, cheekily referencing Lawson’s poem’s Faces in the Street, and the Bastards From the Bush. Patterson outright calls Lawson nothing more than a whinger in, In Defence of the Bush.


📜 Episode 4 – The Drovers in Reply ; The Fact of the Matter by Edward Dyson

It wasn’t long before other notable voices started chiming to the Bulletin debate, offering their own two cents, and truth be known, leaping to Lawson’s defence.


📜 Episode 5 – Rebuking Banjo ; The City Bushman by Henry Lawson

The Gloves are off! Lawson insists that Banjo doesn’t know what he is talking about, having never, literally rather than figuratively, walked a mile in ‘their’ shoes.


📜 Episode 6 - Another Contender Enters the Race ; The Overflow of Clancy by HHCC

A parody none the less, the first of two that play on Patterson’s iconic character Clancy of the Overflow. The Overflow of Clancy reads like a first-hand eye-witness account from a contemporary who had ‘dealt’ with Patterson first hand.


📜 Episode 7 - A Pile On ; Banjo of the Overflow by Francis Kenna

“And the bush is very pretty, when you view it from the city” - Would Banjo really swap his city lawyer life for that of Clancy’s?


📜 Episode 8 - Banjo's Retort ; In Answer to Various Bards by Banjo Patterson

After 4 fellow poets attack Banjo across the pages of the Bulletin, it’s easy to see that he may have felt as though he was being attacked on all fronts. it was becoming more of a pile on, so Banjo felt inclined to set the record straight.


📜 Episode 9 - Lawson's Lament ; The Poets of the Tomb by Henry Lawson

By now the debate had devolved into a slinging match. Lawson acquiesces that Banjo’s declaration of optimism is the best outlook in life in this playful lament, embracing and playing on this caricature of doom and gloom with The Poets of the Tomb his last contribution to the Bulletin Debate.


📜 Episode 10 - The Last Word ; A Voice From the Town by Banjo Patterson

Banjo thought the debate was done and dusted, but just when you think you’re out, they pull you back in. Upon returning home after many a year away. Banjo is asking himself, is the grass greener? If he had his time again, would he think and act differently?


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A polymathic touring musician, film maker, historian and producer, for the past 8 years Kieran Wicks has navigated the Great Southern Land of Australia performing hundreds of shows to ravenous audiences, whilst simultaneously developing a vast catalogue of interviews, images and videos in the production of multiple formative docuseries including 'One Town at a Time', which records his musical journey, immersed in poignant, forgotten Australian history and poetry, in archives such as 'Gold Rush Stories' and 'Poetry of the Pioneers'.

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