Reprint: On Memory's Shelves by B.M.

If the shades of Banjo Patterson, Henry Lawson, Billy Hughes and many other noted men of the past were to return to Sydney to find something to read they would look for an old friend - Syd McCure.

They would be disappointed, for Sydney McCure no longer sits in his high-backed chair in Angus and Robertson's lending library, He has taken his chair home with him to Rose Bay after 62 years with the firm.

He has also taken a host of memories.

There's the memory of gentle, soft-eyed Henry Lawson.

"Henry . . . poor old Henry. He hardly ever looked at a book. I've no idea what he read," Mr. McCure told me as we sat on his sun porch the other day.

"He used to come into the library and stand there spouting poetry. I'd hustle him out, but I never heard him use a profane word.

"One day he came to me and said, 'Syd, we haven't had a row for a long time. This will never do.' But he never looked at a book. His poetry was all within him."

Billy Hughes, the Little Digger - what did he read?

"Oh, a good thriller always interested him. That and a humorous book. He loved P. G. Wodehouse."

It is strange to think of the doughty little Australian chuckling as he sat hunched over the doings - of Bertie Wooster and the inimitable Jeeves. It seems out of character.

Another frequent visitor was Banjo Paterson, but, like Lawson, he displayed little or no interest in the books on the shelves.

And so, as we sat drinking tea, the names rolled past in their ghostly parade.

A father of Federation, Sir Henry Parkes: "Would just browse among the books - showed no special preference."

Sir George Reid, State Premier: "Thrillers."

Admiral Sir Harry Rawson, State Governor: "Good novels and biographies."

Sir Julian Salomons, Judge: "Fiction, escape reading."

Leading members of the judiciary, apparently, always had a strong leaning towards thrillers.

And how has the public taste changed since 1892, when there was a school on the site of David Jones' main store, and Castlereagh Street consisted mainly of livery stables and horse bazaars?

For the better, apparently, factual and biographical books are enjoying greater demand than in the last 60 years, and their popularity is approaching that of fiction.

Syd McCure, at 75, and not looking much over 50, still takes a swim every day, drives his car and fully expects to fulfil a prophecy by Billy Hughes by living on lo live "to beat Methuselah."

First published in The Sun-Herald, 15 August 1954

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on December 9, 2009 8:26 AM.

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