Reprint: Victor Daley and John Farrell

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Daley met Farrell in Queanbeyan a quarter of a century ago. Farrell was then engaged on the unpoetical work of brewing beer -- later, when he wrote poetry and leading articles, he used to say "the more congenial work." Victor Daley, a young, fresh-blooded Irishman, walked into Queanbeyan one day, and got a job on the "Times'' of that town, then owned by Mr. John A. O''Neill. He went to live with O'Neill, who soon recognised he had made a good bargain, for Daley's work made the "'Times" a new paper, and people bought it because of its cleverness and its novel features. Farrell and Daley both put a lot of their early verse into it, and many a fine joke they used to tell about those days afterwards. One of them is worth narrating. The town had just been incorporated, and the numicipal elections were approaching. The temperance people banded themselves together. Farrell (the brewer!) went to O'Neill. "We'll have to fight these good temperance folk," he said with his fine, rich, Irish brogue. And O'Neill told him he could use his paper in ''the cause of fairplay." There was a meeting one night in opposition to the temperance party, and one man in the audience kept making interjectings. "Who is the man who is interjecting ?" it was demanded from the platform. "The man who will be Mayor," came the reply. And the man's name was Nathan Moses Lazarus. That week Farrell wrote these hitherto unquoted lines for the Queanbeyan "Times":-  

   Will he be Mayor? He may or may not,    
      The choice of the voters is often the oddest;
   But anyhow people keep saving "Great Scott!"
      Was ever a man so delightfully modest?"
   He don't ask our voice, but gives us his own,  
      Yet Friday will portion the thorns and the roses ;
   And when the numbers are publicly known        
      We'll see whether Nathan is reckoned our Moses!

There is Irish humor in this skit, and it seems to have had its effect,for Lazarus, though he made a very estimable alderman, was not elected Mayor. For a time Farrell and Daley contented themselves with writing jingle like this. One day a deaf and dumb comp. named Jordan drew on the whitewashed plaster above the fire a picture intended to represent a little angel of about seven summers banging a drum. Daley wrote these lines below it:-  

   Lord, give me in the realms of bliss
      No measly harp to strum,
   But let me sit and bang like this
      An everlasting drum.

Fancy Daley ever having written such a word as "measly." But these are types of early efforts of twin souls ere they had more fully cultivated the Muses. Besides, Daley drew a thick line between poetry and verse. "Write us some poetry, Mr. Daley," said one of the comps. on one occasion, pointing to the drum and angel. "That's not poetry, my boy; that's verse," said Daley.    

As some one has already pointed out, Queanbeyan 20 years ago was what might aptly be described as a Mecca for literary pilgrims. Why ? O'Neill. His heart was so big and he was doing so worldly well that any man fallen on evil days -- especially if he were Irish -- could be sure of his lending a helping hand. Moreover, it is just within the bounds of possibility that those who had tasted of his hospitality used to '"pass the word on," as tramps are said to do, and it was no uncommon thing for minor poets to travel down from Sydney tired of Riot, to take refuge at this Writers' Rest. Several names recur to me, but they don't concern us now. Daley, Farrell, and others who were making their way up the literary ladder, were oftentimes found smoking their pipes together in Queanbeyan. The two I have named were practically fast friends for life. Practically starting out together, it is curious how they stuck to each other. I remember a good many years ago buying a copy of the "'Bulletin'" book with the tltle of "The Golden Shanty." There I found Farell and Daley side by side. I haven't the book by me now, but I remember Farrell's "How He Died" and "The Last Bullet" were there. I forget Daley's verse. Long before that Daley had published many verses -- some in Melbourne, some in Sydney. His first contribution to a Sydney paper was, I believe, "The stucco age," which appeared in old Sydney "Punch." It began--

   This is the stucco age, the age of sham:  
   The age of things immortal and deeds that damn. 

In later years Daley and Farrell saw much of each other in Sydney. The former used to tell of a visit he paid to Farrell one night in the "Daily Telegraph" office. ''Which of us is going to write an obituary notice of the other?" asked J. F. They spun a coin. Heads, Daley wrote; tails, Far- rell. "The coin ran under the table,'' said Daley, a few days after his friend's death, "and I think Courtney found it afterwards, but it must have been heads." Daley wrote the obituary, and among other things he wrote was this: - "I remember quoting to him on an evening the saying of Abou ben Zeeyd -- 'I am a singing man of the singers -- the world's guest and a stranger.' He said he would say it about me. And I have to say it about him."'

Yet neither of them is a stranger. Both men have gone, but they live for us still in their work. When they buried Daley on Saturday they took with them to the grave a beautiful floral harp, with a laurel wreath attached, and a heart of red carnations and bonvardia -- and a streamer said."Victor -- in verse, in life, in song." This from "some lovers of Victor Daley and some admirers of Australian verse." There were many at the graveside, and though some may never have met him, he was no stranger. Rather was he "singing man of the singers -- our guest and familiar friend!"

First published in the Sunday Times (Perth), 28 January 1906

Note: Victor Daley (1858-1905) died on 5 December 1905.  John Farrell (1851-1904) died on 8 January 1904.

You can read the full text of The Golden Shanty, the anthology mentioned above, care of Austlit.

[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 June 3, 2011 7:17 AM.

Literary Cartoon #6 was the previous entry in this blog.

Poem: The Protest of the Pipe and Glass Club by Victor Daley is the next entry in this blog.

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