It was to an extent manufactured, but the poetic debate between two of Australia's best-known writers, conducted in the pages of The Bulletin in the early 1890s, helped define the perception of 'The City and The Bush' divide - a perception which exists to this day.
Banjo Paterson, writer of The Man From Snowy River and The Man From Ironbark, Mulga Bill's Bicycle and Clancy of the Overflow, forever known as having composed the lyric for Waltzing Matilda - took on Henry Lawson, the author of hundreds of brilliant short stories and ballads borne of the suffering he saw as he wandered with his swag, battling his own depression and alcoholism.
The debate ran for two years. Lawson for the most part contested the bush was a place of misery and crippling isolation; Paterson countered it possessed the values of mateship and humour. Women, Indigenous and cultures other than white men did not feature strongly in their discourse.
In truth the pair knew they were playing to an audience (and for a quid), but behind their literary banter was as serious consideration of a colonial culture already becoming urban, and a deeper friendship which surmounted the differences of their upbringing and background. It was also the consideration of the fiercely nationalistic Bulletin the debate would foster a burgeoning pride in the republican ideals it championed.
Now actor Max Cullen and musician, historian and folklore expert Warren Fahey will also play out the battle of the bards in front of a contemporary audience, this time in Ballarat, with their long-running play Dead Men Talking coming to Trades Hall in November.
Well-loved and renowned performer Max Cullen is an Australian legend. From Shakespeare to Spider and Rose, he's appeared in countless local and international films and television series. One of his first roles was that of Raffaello Carboni in the film Stockade, a 1971 dramatisation of Eureka probably most memorable for the fact federal seat of Ballaarat MP Dudley Erwin asked for it to be banned for containing brothel scenes.
He's long had a fascination for the painful, erratic, brilliant life of Henry Lawson, performing a one-man show about the writer since 2007.
In 2014 he proposed another show, this time about Lawson and Paterson reuniting in the afterlife, having a 'casual drink' at the 'Leviticus Bar and Grill, Heaven's Gate', and reminiscing about their lives and legacies.
He approached Warren Fahey, a friend of 15 years and a man with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the cultural history of the period; a record producer, author, performer and oral historian .
It helped that he was an equal in his admiration for the work of the two 'bush bards', and had been since childhood.
Dead Men Talking is the result.
"Both of us were huge fans of these men," Fahey says on the telephone from his home in Sydney.
We grew up at when most kids recited a poem, had a party piece or at school were encouraged to learn Australian poetry. For me it was the fact that both these characters came along as storytellers when Australia really needed themWarren Fahey
"It was that time around Federation when the population pendulum swung from the majority of people living in the bush in Australia where they worked on the land, to moving to the cities in huge numbers because that's where the new work was in factories and commerce.
"It just happened to coincide in the 1890s with the shearers' strike which really crippled the east coast of Australia; and also there was a massive drought at the same time and so people did move to the city and these two storytellers bridge that gap between the bush and the city."
Fahey says he received a call one day from Cullen, asking if he'd like to be in a play with him.
He protested he was no actor.
"I just get up and sing and tell a few stories," Fahey told Cullen.
"You're a bloody actor," was the distinctively recognisable reply.
"I want you to be in a play about Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson," rasped Cullen.
"Oh you beauty," Fahey recalls saying.
"I'd love to play Henry Lawson."
"And Max said, 'No... no... you're the other bloke."
Fortuitously Fahey had researched Paterson for the centenary re-release of his 1905 collected edition Old Bush Songs, and felt he knew the character well.
"So we tried it, and we've been in their skins now for nearly five years!"
Fahey says for Australians of the time, Lawson was seen as a bit of a drunk, while Paterson was perceived as a something of a toff.
"Maybe being a lawyer, people saw him like that," Fahey says.
"So we use that to create a bit of theatrical friction, which the audience just loves. We look a bit like the characters. I mean Max is brilliant, because he absolutely looks like Lawson and he completely gets inside him in so many ways. It's believable, but it's also an enjoyable way to get inside these two extraordinary characters."
Only three years separated Paterson and Lawson in age. They were born just over 100km part as the crow flies: Paterson near Orange and Lawson at Grenfell, in NSW.
But their lives took very different paths. Lawson's mother, the brilliant Louisa, raised her son to read and write mercurially, but his need for drink eventually led her to turn from him. He married Bertha Bredt in 1896 but they divorced after Lawson was violent and abusive towards her. He spent time in Darlinghurst Gaol and died in 1922 a dissolute alcoholic, aged 55.
After the debate, Paterson worked as a correspondent covering the Second Boer War and the Boxer rebellion in China. He served in WWI with a remount unit as a veterinarian and was wounded. In later life he returned to journalism and became a grazier, dying in 1941 aged 76.
Dead Men Talking is at Ballarat Trades Hall for two shows: 7.30pm, Friday November 1; matinee Saturday November 2 at 2pm. Tickets are $35/$25 https://www.trybooking.com/BEUMQ.
*Dreary land in rainy weather, with the endless clouds that drift/O'er the bushman like a blanket that the Lord will never lift/Dismal land when it is raining/growl of floods, and, oh! the woosh/Of the rain and wind together on the dark bed of the bush - Henry Lawson, Up The Country (1892)