On a muggy April night in 1865 a young woman cuts across the courtyard of a station on the outskirts of Wangaratta. She enters a nursery and in the faint cobalt hue of the night she manages to light a lamp. She proceeds to a cot near the window and by the lamplight checks the fourteen month old infant asleep within. The child has been ill but is finally resting peacefully. The young woman sighs with relief and begins to recalculate. She divines a new objective and proceeds to the workmen’s hut.
Alice Keenan, nurse to the MacPherson children slips into the hut and breathlessly exclaims that the family have been stuck up by Morgan the murderer and the police must be fetched at once. Keenan’s actions will draw ire from her mistress but the opportunity to ensnare the most feared bushranger of all can’t be missed. In the morning Keenan’s bravery will pay off when Morgan is gunned down on his way to the stables.
Keenan must have thought often of this accomplishment when tending to that child, Christina Rutherford MacPherson, as she grew. Christina took her middle name from her mother’s side of the family who were part owners of Peechelba Station and who were instrumental in rounding up volunteers to bring Dan Morgan to his end. The MacPherson family had a particular affection for music and Christina, who regarded herself as a merely proficient tinker of keys had an excellent ear for tunes.
In 1894 during a visit to the Warrnambool races Christina heard a tune that was a bit of an earworm being performed by a band of musicians and when she returned home she tried to play it while the memory was fresh. The tune, as it turns out, was an old Scottish love song called The Bonnie Woods of Craigielea. Christina travelled the following year to Queensland. She went to Dagworth Station, managed by her brother Bob, to visit family members who had gathered to celebrate her sister Jean’s marriage. It was here that Christina met Banjo Paterson who was also a house guest and engaged to one of Christina’s old school friends Sarah Riley and one afternoon by and by the conversation came around to music. Christina played the tune from the races to the best of her memory on her zither for her new acquaintance and before long the pair decided to make something of it. That very afternoon Paterson wrote some lyrics to the tune based on an idea he had been playing with since he and Bob found a sheep skin on the edge of a billabong left by some mischievous swaggie who had helped himself to the sheep. The song was about a swagman who stole a sheep and committed suicide rather than be arrested and it was called Waltzing Matilda. The song quickly caught on and according to MacPherson herself “In a short time everyone in the district was singing it.”
According to oral histories MacPherson would become the target of Paterson’s desire but no information exists to corroborate the claim that the pair had an affair but fuel to the fire is the fact that Paterson’s wife left him soon after, supposedly upon receiving word of the infidelity. Christina MacPherson returned to Victoria with her father Ewan in 1896 and would spend her remaining days as a spinster and proud aunt, passing away in Malvern in 1936. Her estate was managed by her younger sister Lady McArthur and while sorting through her effects Lady McArthur discovered several letters regarding the song from Patterson now held by the national Library of Australia.
As an interesting sidenote, Christina McPherson also has links to the Victorian government through her great-great nephew Ted Baillieau, the former premier of Victoria. It just goes to show how people can be connected in the most unexpected ways.
“TOWN TALK” Williamstown Chronicle (Vic. : 1856 – 1954) 26 April 1941: 7.
“”WALTZING MATILDA”” Townsville Daily Bulletin (Qld. : 1907 – 1954) 26 February 1943: 2.
“Who Wrote “Waltzing Matilda”?” Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954) 3 September 1942: 17.
“ORIGINS OF WALZING MATILDA” Army News (Darwin, NT : 1941 – 1946) 16 April 1944: 4.
“OUT Among The PEOPLE” The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954) 23 February 1943: 4.
“Memories and Musings” Advocate (Melbourne, Vic. : 1868 – 1954) 13 August 1942: 12.
“The bushranger, the beard and the baby” The World’s News (Sydney, NSW : 1901 – 1955) 7 May 1955: 14.