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Founders of Our Literature: James Brunton Stephens

There is an important centenary to celebrate next year. On June 17, 1835, was born James Brunton Stephens, one of our earliest poets, and one whose rich imagery thrills Australian readers today.

Stephens was a Scot and an Edinburgh University man. He adopted teaching as a profession, seemingly because he liked it, but he discovered early that it did not fill his life. Such a colorful mind was shaded in the land of his birth, and there was an unconscious yearning for a richer background. Accordingly at the age of 31 he landed in Brisbane, and Queensland claimed him for the rest of his life.

In that land of sunshine he found just the background that he needed. He pursued teaching as a profession, but the sunlight wakened a rich mind, and his pen began to write poetry colored with the reds and greens of a sunny land.

Linger, O Sun, for a little, nor close yet this day of a million!
   Is there not glory enough in the rose-curtained halls of the West?
Hast thou no joy in the passion-hued folds of thy kingly pavilion?
   Why shouldst thou only pass through it? Oh, rest thee a little while, rest!
Rest thee at least a brief hour in it! 'Tis a right royal pavilion.
   Lo, there are thrones for high dalliance, and gloriously canopied o'er!
Lo, there are hangings of purple, and hangings of blue and vermillion,
   And there are fleeces of gold for thy feet on the diapered floor!

Stephens taught private pupils in Queensland, both in the city and the bush. "Convict Once," by which he is probably best remembered, and of which the foregoing is an extract, was written in the bush as can easily be imagined, for it is only there that Nature fully reveals herself.

Seven years after his arrival in Queensland he joined the Education Department and became a headmaster. His poems brought him many friends and admirers, and after 10 years of State school teaching he was drafted into the Colonial Secretary's Office. He was chief clerk and acting under-secretary when he died on June 29, 1902.

A rather commonplace life for one so susceptible to color, but Stephens had two sides to him. All his unusualness came out in his poetry. That which was commonplace -- and all of us have some of it -- went into his job. In these circumstances one can imagine James Brunton Stephens a happy man living a life well sorted out and even meticulously catalogued.

A great deal of emotion went into the writing of "Convict Once," which is a very long poem. It contains most of his best work. Fortunately or unfortunately, he possessed a keen sense of humour, which he displayed in his "Chinee Cook" verses which have been recited by humorists all over Australia and are probably still recited.

"Convict Once" was not published first in Australia. It is a tribute to its quality that a London publisher found merit in it and brought it out in 1871. It has since been reprinted here, and the poet has come to be regarded as one of Australia's literary pioneers.

Curiously enough, the most patriotic, or perhaps, the most readable patriotic odes ever written in Australia came from Queensland. Both Brunton Stephens and George Essex Evans wrote odes to Federation, and did them extremely well -- so well, in fact, that they are still associated by many readers with our first step in nationhood. Stephens as far back as 1877 forecast Australia's Federation and Dominion status in lines which are beautiful and apt:-

She is not yet; but he whose ear
Thrills to that finer atmosphere,
   Where footfalls of appointed things,
      Reverberant of days to be,
   Are heard in forecast echoings,
      Like wave-beats from a viewless sea,
Hears in the voiceful tremor of the sky
Auroral heralds whispering, "She is nigh."

Who could do it better than that?

Stephens probably wrote the first Australian Anthem, and the lines are good. The sentiment is excellent, but the tune is obviously that of "God Save the King," and Australians are original enough to want a national song of their own.

Who among his contemporaries, not knowing who he was, would have sensed in this dry-as-dust public servant a poet of romance and color? None, possibly, but the color and romance were there, and they persist long after the brain which saw and recorded them ceased to work.

First published in The Herald, 14 July 1934

Founders of Our Literature: Barcroft Boake

Whatever may be said of Barcroft Boake as a poet, he has extraordinary claims to picturesqueness. His short, melancholy life is a story in itself. His poetic career was so brief that it places him more in the category of might have been than of established reputation. And yet, as one reads his sometimes truly poetic lines, one sorrows that he did not live longer to complete the greater work that was in him.

There were foundations of greatness in Boake and his poetry. If it be necessary for a poet to be melancholy, he had more than his fair share of melancholia. He resembles Gordon in appearance, mode of life and death. Gordon ended things with a gun. Poor Boake found life so unattractive at the age of 26 that he hanged himself with a stockwhip. Both chose the seashore as the venue.

We remember Barcroft Boake best by his melancholy poem "Where the Dead Men Lie." It is a gripping and heartrending thing rising to great heights of feeling. Cheerful people may think that it were better left unwritten, but the Never-Never and its tragedy has a right to be made articulate, and Boake did it incomparably well.

Out on the wastes of the Never Never -
   That's where the dead men lie!
There where the heat-waves dance forever -
   That's where the dead men lie!
That's where the Earth's loved sons are keeping
   Endless tryst: not the west wind sweeping
Feverish pinions can wake their sleeping -
   Out where the dead men lie!
Barcroft Boake was a man with no vices. He had courage, generosity, affection and simplicity. Possibly he had too much affection for it was a love affair gone wrong which gave the final impetus to the urge which took him and his stockwhip to the shame of Long Bay and to the end of life.

One of his final messages to his father was "Write to Miss McKeahnie." A few days before that he had received a letter. After he had read it he said to one of his sisters. "I have had rather a knock today. I hear that my best girl is going to be married." It was unusual for him to say so much, and, as he was then in a deep state of melancholia, the anxiety of his family about him increased.

Barcroft Boake was born on March 26, 1866, in Sydney. At nine he was taken by a friend of the family to Noumea, where he remained two years.

He developed into a sturdy boy, a strong swimmer and boatman, and a good tennis player. Probably he is the only one of our early poets who played that game.

After a public school education, during which he displayed no unusual ability, he became a draughtsman and subsequently field assistant to a surveyor at Adaminaby, in the Monaro country of New South Wales, under the shadow of Kosciusko.

He did not grow up a strong man. He was a terrific smoker, and he possessed a slow-beating heart. So long as he was engaged in violent exercise he was happy and gay, but ease only drove him to melancholia. He lacked initiative unless something fired his imagination, and then he almost needed restraint.

The end of his country jobs saw him back in Sydney, unemployed and depressed. His most sympathetic biographer, Mr A. G. Stephens, says that he would sit for hours with his head down smoking his pipe eternally and speaking to nobody.

Boake was more a natural poet than a cultured literary man. Some of his letters are carelessly written. His verse seems to have come out of him willy nilly, because it had to. And yet he could, when he liked to make the effort, write excellent prose.

Possibly it was a mock hanging at Adaminaby in which he nearly lost his life, which suggested the real one that caused his end. With some other young men he was larking and he and another declared that they would hang themselves. Boake tied a slip knot round his neck and fixed it to the gamble with which slaughtered sheep were raised. The skip knot closed and nearly choked him, and he lost consciousness.

He left the surveying job to become a boundary rider at Narromine. He loved the outdoor life so much that he and two others presently took their horses and rode up to Queensland, where they went droving. After a trip with cattle to Sydney he took service with a surveyor again in the Riverina.

It was there that he wrote many of his rhymes and achieved public notice. The job ending he returned to Sydney to his people. There intense melancholia gripped him.

Things had gone badly with the family. His father's business had failed, and the home was, for that reason, not quite as happy as it might have been. Barcroft could get no work, and that made matters worse.

And so we lost him just when he was of an age to do great things.

First published in The Herald, 21 July 1934

Founders of Our Literature: George Essex Evans

Possibly they remember George Essex Evans better in Queensland than we do in the other States. If that is so, the fault is ours, for Evans sang first at a time when we were not quite so rich in poetry as we were a little later. He had the true poetic feeling and a study of his collected works reveals it.

The Welsh are a poetic nation, deep in fervor and emotional feeling. George Essex Evans was Welsh, although he was born in England and hardly ever saw the land of his parents. But severance from Wales did not destroy his Welsh temperament. The intense patriotism of his race comes out in his verse, and was applied to Australia, the country of his adoption.

Born in London on June 18, 1863, he seemed destined for a life of leisure. His father was an eminent Q.C., and at one time a member of the British House of Commons. He was reputedly rich and rich he died when his son was a few months old, but his fortune did not last. With what remained George Essex with a brother and two sisters, took ship for Queensland at the age of 18.

They set out to retrieve their fortune for the land, and settled on the Darling Downs. George was a strong young man and a great athlete. The work did not worry him, but inexperience and other things did, and he left the land never to return to it.

He began to write and his poems soon attracted attention. He took various jobs -- one was that of a school teacher -- but his poetry gathered him friends and presently he found himself editing the weekly Queenslander. Later he entered the office of the Queensland Registrar-General, and afterwards became literary director of the Intelligence and Tourist Bureau.

Because he led a very busy life, George Essex Evans wrote often in a hurry. The fault has been common in many Australian writers whose work had to be done at odd moments, if it were to be done at all. But the best in Evans is well worth preserving and is likely to live.

For his good work he earned many encomiums. Alfred Deakin called him Australia's national poet, "whose patriotic songs stirred her people profoundly." He had all the patriotic fervor of Henry Lawson, but a more conventional way of expressing it. The patriotic ode came easily to him in its time-honored form. And yet he invariably gave it dignity and conviction and even poetry because he believed what he wrote.

His "Ode for Commonwealth Day" began "Awake! Arise!" And yet he goes on:-

Free-born of Nations. Virgin white,
   Not won by blood nor ringed with steel,
Thy throne is on a loftier height,
   Deep-rooted in the Commonweal!
His "Women of the West" stands as an eternal monument to the pioneers' wives who followed their men into the wilderness.

He wrote a "Federal Song" in laudation of Australian unity. He wrote an ode to Queen Victoria beginning "White Star of Womanhood," on the occasion of her death. He did these things so extraordinarily well that even today when the occasions have long since passed, the poems do not savor of the banal, because he felt what he wrote.

Like Henry Lawson he was deaf and very sensitive about his misfortune. He was deeply religious like his Welsh compatriots, and he hated cant and humbug.

Whisper! O wings of the wind! Sing me your song O sea!
Grey is the weary world, and grey is the heart of me!
Into my shadowy heart pierce like the star of old,
Pearl of the tender dawn, kissed by the trembling gold!
The grey heart ceased to beat at the early age of 46. Although he had the athlete's frame, although he was a first-class footballer and swimmer, and excelled in the art of wrestling in his youth, illness struck him down. An operation was performed, but it was of no avail.

Probably they remember him best in Toowoomba, where he spent many years, and where they erected a public monument to him, but Australia 25 years after his death has not forgotten him, and he has left behind him a legacy of true poetry which gives him a sure place as one of the founders of our steadily growing literature.

First published in The Herald, 7 July 1934

Founders of Our Literature: Will Ogilvie

A possible guest whom the Centenary authorities have overlooked is William Henry Ogilvie, the Australian poet, and now a recognised Scottish bard, who spent many years in Australia as a young man, and who wrote some of the most delightful verse this country has produced. Ogilvie brought with him that singing quality which pervades all the works of Robert Burns and makes him so loved and appreciated throughout the world.

It was as a youth of 20 that Ogilvie landed in New South Wales. He was a robust young man who came here largely in search of adventure. The rough life of the Outback appealed to him vastly. He scorned the cities and went west, where there were horses to break and cattle to drove. He remained 11 years and then returned to Scotland, where he still lives.

Ogilvie's verse is largely personal, but we like him none the less for that. He takes his readers into his confidence, and shows them some things of extraordinary beauty, and some of the philosophy of his life. On the stations and in the droving camps he saw much that was beautiful, and if he did see anything unlovely he promptly forgot it. You can search the pages of his published works and you will find nothing that is morbid or melancholy or unpleasant. He did not omit these things for any prudish reason, but because he was a thoroughly healthy-minded man and they did not interest him.

Ogilvie's value in his Outback verse is that he lived it all. Lawson was the swagman poet; Paterson a visitor to the bush, but Ogilvie was the real bushman. That is patent in all that he writes. Nearly every bushman is a poet at heart. Ogilvie had the good fortune to be one of them, and articulate. Every bushman would say of his work, "that is how I would have liked to write it myself."

But Will Ogilvie is included in this series in literary founders, not because he was an articulate bushan, but rather by reason of his being a true poet. A poet must write of what he knows or of what is in him, and Ogilvie could not help writing of the bush in its cruder moments; but there are many rare things in his poetry which stand out like jewels among the roughness. Horse-breaking and droving are forgotten when he recalls Bowmont Water or writes "The Bush My Lover."

Outwardly a man of action he was a dreamer at heart, and it was the dreamer who came out triumphant in his best work.

You cleave with sword or sabre
   A pathway for your feet;
But I move in meadow sweet
   By the side of silent streams,
And you are lord of Labor
   And I am serf of dreams.
No poet who has felt beneath him the rhythm of galloping hooves can help committing it to verse. Ogilvie was no exception. His horse verse is the best of its kind. His lines canter or gallop, and if you are to write of horses this must be so. But it was not all of gallopers. "How the Fire Queen Crossed the Swamp" is an epic of the teamster, of how Dan with his "sixteen horses collared and chained -- the pick of the whole wide west," crossed a mighty flood and landed his 70 bags of flour at the Swagman's Rest. No man who has ever handled a team can fail to thrill to it.

Ogilvie is the real bushman's poet. He has lived with bushmen, worked with them. He has ridden with them "fast and far in waterless plains and wet." He has joined the boys from the station on their Saturday excursions to the town. He has galloped away under the moon to a love tryst, and ridden slowly home afterwards with his eyes on the stars and his head full of romance. Some people may not understand these things, but for those who do, Ogilvie has given them immortality.

Ogilvie stayed with us 11 years, and it is a pity we could not keep him, for none sang more sweetly or truly. One of the last things he did in Australia was to write his appreciation of the Overlanders -- the drovers of the Outback whom he knew so well.

And now he is a Scottish bard, but he left his best words here and there are many of us who treasure it.

First published in The Herald, 28 July 1934

Note: the mention of a Centenary in the first sentence refers to the 100th anniversary of the founding of the colony (in 1835) that later became the State of Victoria in Australia.

Founders of Our Literature: "Banjo" Paterson

He used to sign his work "The Banjo," and that is how he came to be known over a large section of the English-speaking world as "Banjo" Paterson. His real names are Andrew Barton, but nobody ever thinks of him as anything but Banjo.

Paterson is now 70 years of age, having been born on February 17 1864. He is perhaps the last survivor of the little band that can be classed as founders of our literature. Some might not accord him a place, for he was a robust and cheerful versifier, who wrote mostly of the open air and horses. However, we can afford to disregard a lot of his verse when we consider him as a poet, and concentrate on the occasions when he did rise to olympic heights. At the same time there is no reason why the open air and the horse should be barred from the inner circle of poetry.

Paterson was not a bushman in the strict sense that Lawson was. Henry did carry his swag and tramp with his mates in the Outback. Paterson did not. He was a city man with a deep love of the bush. It was the bush that brought out all the poetry in him. He saw it more as a spectator, but that did not make him appreciate it any the less.

After a public school education "Banjo" trained for the law and mixed legal work with writing. He had a passion for horses and was interested in racing. His holidays were always spent on stations where he rode with the stockmen and imbibed their philosophy. Maybe a man in these circumstances gets a truer appreciation of the life than he who actually lives it. Lawson could never get away from the tragedy of the Outback. Paterson saw the cheeerful side of it and wrote it.

When "The Man from Snowy River" and other verse was first published in 1905, there was an instant and strong demand for it. Up to 1925 the book had been sold to the extent of 90,000 copies. Paterson in his time was acclaimed the Rudyard Kipling of Australia, and his cheery, ringing and often humorous verse was in the same ballad vein as that of the author of "Barrack-Room Ballads."

There are things in Paterson's verse that the Outback will never allow to die. Clancy of the Overflow stands as a type for all drovers. The Man from Snowy River is known through the length and breadth of the land. Saltbush Bill, the "drover tough," who lost the fight with the new chum for business reasons is never likely to be forgotten. The Man from Ironbark will remain a gem to the Outback as long as the Outback exists.

Paterson's first regular newspaper work was done in the South African War as correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald. He also saw service in the Boxer Rebellion in China. Later he was editor of the Sydney Evening News for two years, and also of the Town and Country Journal for the same period.

He was too old for enlistment in the European war, but he served in Egypt as a lieutenant in the remount service and returned with the rank of major. The diggers found him out early. There were few of the mounted men who did not know some lines of his verse and when the whisper went round that "Banjo" Paterson was with the troops, the men from the Outback plains and the mountain cattle-runs thrilled at the close association with a man who had provided so much enjoyment for their leisure hours.

"Rio Grande's Last Race" and "Saltbush Bill, J.P." were published in 1902 and 1917 respectively. His collection of short sories and sketches, "Three Elephant Power," which were recently republished in The Herald, also came out in 1917.

One great service Paterson did for Australia was to collect all the old bush songs, which were in danger of dying out, and published them in 1915. His collected poems came out in 1921 and they are still popular.

Poetry is for Youth and Paterson's best work was done in his early days. His passion for horses and the open country enthralled him most of the time, but there were times when deeper things stirred him, and then he was moved to poetry of a high order. "Black Swans" is included in the Golden Treasury of Australian verse and in this Paterson the poet is at his best.

But more people will read his rhymes of Monaro and the Snowy River, and his lilting racing ballads of horse and man, which reveal in the music of words the music of that rougher life which the cities do not know. Romance lies in strange places and if it be the poet's mission to disclose it, then "Banjo" Paterson has surely done so and is sure of his niche among the immortals.

First published in The Herald, 30 June 1934

Founders of Our Literature: J. F. Archibald

No survey of the founders of Australian literature could be complete without mention of J.F. Archibald. Although he did not write himself, except in the way of journalism, he encouraged literary genius and helped it along. That exceptionally rich period in Australian literature beginning at the end of the last century can nearly all be attributed to him.

Archibald was the literary sub-editor in excelsis. In the most ill-written doggerel he sometimes discerned the spark of genius and fanned it into flame. It was the same with prose. If a poor effort could be turned into a good one, Archibald could do it better than anybody else.

As a rule, writers of established reputation dislike intensely any interference with their work by the sub-editorial pencil. It is a tribute to Archibald's particular kind of genius that the greatest writers of his time did not object to his sub-editing. Henry Lawson was such a one. Indeed, it is said that much of the polish in Lawson's writing was the work of Archibald.

He had a high appreciation of literature. Without him Australia would have missed much of that which it is now proud to acclaim. Lawson, Paterson, Will Ogilvie, Victor Daley, Roderic Quinn, Hugh McCrae and a host of others might have gone their ways silently, might never have been able to express themselves but for him. In black and white art it was the same Archibald who as the literary helmsman of the Bulletin found and
fostered them all.

Writing of him, Mrs William Macleod, wife of his partner, says: "Archibald was frail, nervy, mercurial, intellectually arrogant, full of likeable little vanities and a continuous and usually witty and informative talker. He sub-edited others, himself he never sub-edited -- so far, anyhow, as the spoken word went."

And in another place, "He loved fine jewels and wines and delicate dishes, just as he loved fine writing and good pictures."

The same writer credits him with rare qualities as an editor, quite apart from his amazing technique as a condenser and improver in style. "He had the gift of appreciation and the will and capacity to express it. No free-lance, however humble, sent anything of worth to the paper and failed to hear about it from him."

Archibald was a man of great personal charm and of extreme loyalty to the people with whom he worked. He inspired loyalty in his friends.

In his later days Archibald fell on ill-health of a distressing nature, but his great work had been done. All over Australia today people prize collections of verse and stories which his eyes were the first to see and whose writers he was the first and often only one to encourage.

He secured enough of earthly reward to endow the Archibald prize for painting and supply the soldiers' memorial in Hyde Park, Sydney, but his true memorial lies in greater things than these. This man, who began life as an insignificant reporter on a Melbourne newspaper, and who toiled for ideals that were not all literary, actually laid many of the foundations of Australian literature.

People often say, "If Henry Lawson and others came along today with their manuscripts; if Ogilvie had written his bush ballads a generation later; if Paterson were to turn up now with 'Man From Snowy River,' would they get the hearing that they received in their generation?"

The question is impossible to answer. Probably they would, but we have to remember that they wrote in a period that has gone, and that no writer succeeds without a sympathetic editor or publisher. They might find such a one today, but in that period it was Archibald who found them, and archibald who encouraged and published them. Without him to whom could they then have turned?

So the man who wrote nothing fills a big niche in the literary structure and none would acknowledge the debt more readily than the writers themselves.

First published in The Herald, 16 June 1934

Founders of Our Literature: Henry Lawson

Most people think of him as Australia's national poet, and as a prose writer of extraordinary strength and insight. But bushmen will always know Henry Lawson as one of themselves.

Doubts have often been cast on his claim to be a bushman, but no real bushman ever contested it, and with reason. The poet and archpriest of mateship in this country could have been nothing else. Mateship was born in the back country of Australia, it has lived there ever since, and it will only die when the outback ceases to exist. If it is found in the cities it has been brought there by bushmen.

And if it continues to live in the cities it is because those who brought it there are still bushmen as Lawson was. Henry loved the bush and the people in it. He knew the value of a good mate in areas where population is scarce. His ideal of mateship was something passing the love of women.

Since no man can serve two masters or two ideals, Henry Lawson's married life was not successful, but he died rich in mates, who subsequently wrote his life as they knew it. The book, "Henry Lawson by His Mates" is the monument to his ideal.

Tall, slender, sensitive and desperately shy -- these words describe him adequately enough. His real name was Larsen, but Australian usage turned it to Lawson. His early life was hard. He was born on the diggings, his boyhood was spent at drudgery on a selection, although he was not physically strong. He was house-painter and school-master before the pen claimed him wholly.

His mates were Lawson's greatest asset. Once, on his first trip to New Zealand, he was penniless and sleeping out. A man who admired his works heard of it and housed and fed him. In his later and more difficult days, his mates shepherded him, kept him out of the way of temptation, took him back to the bush and helped him to bodily and mental health. Whatever he sowed in mateship brought him rich returns.

Lawson went twice to New Zealand, once by himself and once with his wife. On the first occasion he joined for a time the Pahiatua Herald, and was sent to report the opening of a brewery. His report did not come to hand for days, and when it did it read as follows - "The Mangatainoka Brewery was opened one day this year. It was a gigantic success and ended in oblivion."

On the second occasion he and his wife taught in a Maori school.

With his wife he also spent some time in Western Australia and England. In the latter place he probably missed his mates. He always came back to Sydney. According to his wife, the mate that Henry Lawson loved best was Victor Daley, his brother poet.

Lawson was a true founder of Australian literature. He brought into it anew and original note. He transferred to paper the cheery casualness of the Outbacker. His style was casual, easy and unaffected. He write from his heart with the fluency of natural genius. A different upbringing would have given us a different Lawson, and one that we might not have loved so well.

He was always poor. The path of literature in this young, developing country has always been hard to those who follow it. Possibly it was this lack of money that caused his domestic unhappiness. In her memoir of him his wife writes thus:- "I often think that had it not been that I was faced with such a hard financial struggle for the children, there might have been a hope of happiness and reunion."

Among the mates who wrote of him was his wife. She told only of the happy days in which they were true mates. When they returned from England after a venture which had failed, she writes that they went to live at manly. "And there we stayed for many months, and the little one that we lost was born and the sad time came of our parting. For sorrow had come to us and difficulties. But when the shadow of that parting was over, and the sadness and bitterness had all gone, Harry understood, and we were friends. And he loved the children dearly and was very proud of them."

Perhaps it was that Lawson, if he lost a wife, found a mate.

As a country we owe Lawson much, and it is something to our credit that we are attempting to pay it. He has his statue in Sydney, and, until the bronze of Gordon went up in Melbourne, it was the only statue in Australia to a writer. The Lawson Society keeps his memory and works green. His work grows in esteem.

He belongs to us. He has been translated and published abroad, but his best appreciation is here, where he is Australia's mate.

First published in The Herald, 9 June 1934

Founders of Our Literature: Victor Daley

He has been called the writers' poet, and with some reason. When Victor Daley put his closest thoughts on paper, he did so with the gracefulness and fluency to which all writers aspire. He wrote so easily, so tunefully, that the job seemed simple. To the craftsman sometimes painfully struggling at the loom of woven words, he represented achievement.

There is none of the moroseness of Gordon about Victor Daley. From beginning to end his heart was light, even if his pocket was empty, which it often was. As was the case with Kendall and Marcus Clarke, routine work appalled him. He tried to stick in an office more than once, but failed.

Daley was born in Ireland and reached Australia early in 1878. His ambition was to be a poet -- nothing else. Money did not attract him and he never sought it. Life itself was not a serious thing to him. The worse it treated him the more he laughed at it. When death took him in December 1905, he was still jesting.

According to Bertram Stevens, his biographer, Daley believed that he was born at Navan in County Meath on September 5, 1858, but he was not sure. His father, a soldier in India, died early. His mother married again and the family went to live at Devonport, England, where Victor went to school and subsequently entered the office of the Great Western Railway Co., Plymouth.

He stood the office for three years and then took ship for Adelaide, South Australia, where his stepfather had relatives. He disembarked at sydney, got into financial difficulties, did odd jobs and finally reached Adelaide. There he secured employment as a correspondence clerk.

He was writing much at this time and achieving publication. One day by mistake he enclosed a love lyric in an envelope which should have contained a business letter. The recipient had no sense of humor and became exceedingly annoyed, so annoyed in fact that Daley lost his job.

Victor left for Melbourne with some money. In this city he staked it all on a racecourse certainty which did not win, and had to find work. He took a job on a suburban newspaper, achieved fame with a couple of sonnets in a local review and became acquainted with Marcus Clarke.

A prospecting friend lured him to Queanbeyan, where the friend was supposed to have struck it rich, but the friend had disappeared when Victor arrived. A job on a Queanbeyan newspaper followed and then he went to Sydney. There he found some market for his poems and many friends, among whom was Henry Kendall.

Melbourne saw him again in 1885, and in 1898 his first published collection "At Dawn and Dusk" was published. It gained the warm praise it deservd from Australian reviewers, but overseas it attracted little notice.

Possibly this failure was the one care which Daley allowed to enter his life. Ambition to be a great poet seemed to die then.

I have been dreaming all a summer day
Of rare and dainty poems I would write,
Love-lyrics delicate as lilac scent,
And songs and sonnets carven in fine gold.
Those lines introduced "At Dawn and Dusk" but the dream was shattered. Daley was ill-equipped to withstand a serious blow at the one thing he held sacred. He gave in and wrote then only for the bare living the poetry brought him. Friends found him work in a Government office in Sydney after this disappointment, but he could not bear it, and walked out.

Bohemia was the only place in which he could live. He drifted into a vagabond life. "At times Daley touched the mire," Mr Stephens wrote, "yet he remained unsoiled; for he was clean at heart, and, apart from the irregularities of Bohemia, he had no vices."

Daley is our poet of Romance, which he saw in dawns and sunsets. His "Sunset Fantasy" is regarded by many as his finest effort, but he was always graceful and colorful, and a delight to read. His is not grand impassioned verse, but rather word music, compounded of rhythm and dainty fancy. A true lyric poet.

Only 47 when he died, after three years of lingering illness. Perhaps it is really true that whom the gods love die young for they must have loved Victor Daley very much.

First published in The Herald 2 June 1934

Founders of Our Literature: Marcus Clarke

We remember him only by that one powerful, heart-breaking drama "For the Term of His Natural Life." After that, who in these days knows Marcus Clarke?

The tragedy of Rufus Dawes has given him his place on the shelf of memory, yet he has left behind him much graceful prose. Now and again "The Marcus Clarke Memorial Volume" turns up in a secondhand bookshop, but this book is becoming rare, more's the pity. Some of it is the chaff of a man who wrote hurriedly for a journalistic living, but some is genuine grain, and golden grain at that.

Marcus Clarke died in Melbourne on Tuesday, August 2, 1881, aged only 35. How tragic! Only 35 and his best work still to come! But he was born into Bohemia, and those who dwell there see life at high noon which passes quickly.

His father was an eccentric recluse. His mother he never knew, for she died soon after he was born on April 24, 1846. Of his childhood little is known except that he went to a private school in Highgate, London. He was delicate and eccentric as a lad. At home he mixed freely with his father's Bohemian companions and imitated them and their ways.

When he was 17 his father died. He was supposed to be rich, but he died poor, and Marcus received a few hundred pounds with which he took ship to Australia.

Here he entered a new Bohemia, and it soon became imperative that he should earn his living. Marcus Clarke was a man of extraordinary charm, with the gifts of satire, humor and bonhomie which made him a favorite wherever he went. He quickly found work in the Bank of Australasia under Messers Frank Grey-Smith and Henry Gyles Turner, but as a clerk he was impossible. He would never add up a column of figures. He always guessed the answer and put it down. He put the wrong letters in the wrong envelopes, and one day lost his job.

Through his uncle, Judge Clarke, he found his way to Swinton Station, near Glenorchy, but he was a hopeless case again. His extraordinary capacity for friendship enabled him to stay there for two years, but he did little work.

It was at Glenorchy that he began writing seriously, and came in contact with Dr. Robert Lewins, who had been a surgeon in the New Zealand War. Through Dr. Lewins he joined the literary staff of the Argus. He was an impossible reporter, but his book reviews and humorous contributions under the heading of "The Peripatetic Philosopher" won him recognition immediately, and thereafter he remained a contributor.

He started journals which failed. He founded the Yorick Club. He was the friend of Lindsay Gordon and Henry Kendall. He lived beyond his means, and he married Miss Marian Dunn, the actress daughter of John Dunn, who is described as the prince of burlesque actors.

He wrote voluminously for the newspapers and for the stage, and then he fell ill. A change of air was necessary. He went to Tasmania, and Clarson, Massina and Co., of the Australian Journal, gave him a commission to write a novel of the convict days of Tasmania.

"For the Term of His Natural Life" had a hectic career. The first few chapters came quickly to hand, and the story began to appear. Then the arrival of the manuscript ceased. The journal was often forced to publish without the next instalment. Only by locking the author in a room could the publishers get any copy out of him.

Through the influence of Sir Redmond Barry he was given the post of secretary to the trustees of the Public Library, but he did not discontinue writing. The end came soon after his estate had been sequestrated. He felt that bitterly, and it lost him his position. He was only ill for a week when his eyes closed for ever.

A long list of writing is attached to his name but only one other completed novel, "Long Odds." His third attempt, "Felix and Felicitas," was unfinished.

Some of Clarke's most beautiful prose is found in his famous preface to Gordon's poems. Here are extracts- "Australia has rightly been named the Land of Dawning. Wrapped in the mist of early morning her history looms vague and gigantic. The lonely horseman riding between the moonlight and the day sees vast shadows creeping across the shelterless and silent plains, hears strange noises in the primeval forests, where flourishes a vegetation long dead in other lands and feels despite his fortune, that the trim utilitarian civilisation which bred him shrinks into insignificance beside the contemptuous grandeur of forest and ranges coeval with an age in which the European
scientists have cradled his own race."

And in another place: "In Australia alone is to be found the Grotesque, the Weird, the strange scribbling of Nature learning to write. Some see no beauty in our trees without shade, our flowers w'out perfume, our birds who cannot fly and our beasts who have not yet learned to walk on all fours. But the dweller in the wilderness acknowledges the subtle charm of this fantastic land of monstrosities. He becomes familiar with the beauty of loneliness. Whispered to by the myriad tongues of the wilderness, he learns the language of the barren and the uncouth, and can read the hieroglyphs of haggard gum-trees blown into odd shapes, distorted with fierce, hot winds, or cramped with cold nights when the Southern Cross freezes in a cloudless sky of icy blue. The phantasmagoria of that wild dreamland termed the Bush interprets itself, and the Poet of our desolation begins to comprehend why free Esau loved his heritage of desert sand better than all the beautiful richness of Egypt."

That is great prose and all the greater because of its insight into the beauty of a land which so many of us love.

First published in The Herald, 19 May 1934

Founders of Our Literature: Simpson Newland

Years ago, a short, bearded man used to stand up in the House of Assembly in Adelaide, and quietly but fervently speak on two great projects that lay near his heart. These were the north-south railway, and the development of the Murray River. The man was Simpson Newland, a great pioneer and the author of what has now deservedly become an Australian classic novel, "Paving the Way".

Those Australians who have not yet read "Paving the Way" are urged to do so. It may not be great literature. Many may see faults in the rather stilted Victorian style, which, however, was common to the literature of the period. But sincerity and truth make a halo for every word of it and reflect the nature of the man who wrote it.

Newland wrote the book fairly late in life. It was first published in 1893 and the author arrived in South Australia in 1839 at the age of four. His early life was spent in pioneering, first of all in the beautiful Encounter Bay region of South Australia, which is now the State's premier tourist resort, and later on, on the Darling River, not far from Wilcannia, where he prospered sufficiently to enable him to retire to Adelaide with his wife and family.

And there, from a naturally keen observation and a most retentive memory he produced his book, which took him two years to write.

"Paving the Way" immediately achieved a popularity which did not wane. Its success spurred him on to write another novel, "Blood Tracks of the Bush," which is as sanguinary as its name and which stamped the author as a one-novel man.

But in his old age he wrote his memoirs, and these, along with "Paving the Way," form a most valuable section of our pioneering literature. They are unique in this way, that the man who wrote them saw his field from the inception of things until almost the present day.

Simpson Newland was one of those paradoxes, a sickly child who lived to a great old age. It was in his ninetieth year that he laid down his pen after having completed his memoirs, and three weeks later, in June, 1925, he was gathered to his fathers.

South Australians are exceedingly proud of their parent stock. Simpson Newland's father was a descendant of Puritans, a Congregational Minister who migrated, pioneered the land and in between times ministered to a pioneer community of which he was the undisputed leader.

The boy grew up among people whose methods were at first necessarily so primitive that they used oxen, like the ancient Hebrews, to tread out the corn. He saw Riddley's first wheat stripper. He was there when the first steamer went up the Murray. He saw the blacks -- now extinct -- in the pride of their aboriginal life. He saw South Australia grow from nothing to a sovereign State with vast growing wheatfields and a handsome capital city. Every "first" thing in most of the Commonwealth occurred during his life time, and he lived through that devastating war, under whose influence a whole world is still staggering.

Much of his life has gone into "Paving the Way," which in itself is a valuable historical record.

Himself, a great friend and protector of the aborigines, he is forced to write thus of them: "It is pathetic to be thrown among the aboriginals and note how they wither away when brought into contact with the people of our race. It seems to make little difference how kindly they are treated, how well clothed or fed, they tend to die out on the appearance of the white man. Among those I have known, this has been brought about by no epidemic, nor the use of intoxicants, or cold or hunger; none of these have had much to do with it. I can vouch for their being well fed and clothed, and for years spirits were almost entirely kept from them; yet they died off, and the young, the strong and the weakly alike, sometimes with startling suddenness, at others by a wasting sickness of a few days, weeks or months. They have always represented themselves to me as comparatively free from diseases."

When "Paving the Way" first appeared an English critic said that it was evident that the author had never been in Australia. Certainly the critic had not.

These two books, "Paving the Way" and "Memoirs of Simpson Newland" have a value for all time, and are due for a niche in our library of immortals.

First published in The Herald, 5 May 1934

Founders of Our Literature: Lindsay Gordon

More has been written about Adam Lindsay Gordon than any other Australian writer. Possibly it is because he was out first poet to be taken seriously. Maybe it was that he was a man of high temperament and an extraordinary mixture of qualities who went out of life by his own hand. Perhaps all these things, together, are responsible.

It is a habit now of many people to say that Gordon was really no poet, but a picturesque stringer of rhymes. No two critics ever quite agree, but the fact that Gordon's works are still read and are a remarkably live subject still suggests that many people can find poetry in his "loosely-strung rhymes." However, that can be left to the debaters.

It is fitting, at the moment, to write of Gordon as a pioneer of our literature.

Nobody can truthfully deny him this. His bust, unveiled yesterday, has been placed in Westminster Abbey among the other immortals of British life and letters. This act is a literary canonisation which all the acid of criticism cannot eat away. For evermore in public esteem both in Britain and Australia, Gordon is an Australian poet by national recognition. No Australian man of letters has been more effectively immortalised.

Even if the best in Gordon (and who will deny him splashes of genius) had not been quite so good, he might have lived by reason of his extraordinary character as a man. Eugenists in those days would say that he never had a chance. His father had all the reckless nature of the son. His mother early developed a distressing mental affliction, and from her he received his strong tendency to melancholia.

From an untameable boy with a head full of Latin and Greek verse, he grew to an untameable manhood. He was expelled from school and his questionable association later put an end to his career at the Woolwich Academy, where he was in training for the army. Apart from his fondness for Greek and Latin literature, he found his chief enjoyment in the company of pugilist and jockeys. He rode and fought and was happy.

Fortunately for us his biographers have never sought to cover up his faults. Perhaps that is why he has become so endeared to us as a man. "Poor Gordon," we say from the depths of our hearts. So unfortunate! So picturesque! So melancholy! So sweet a singer!

Policeman, horsebreaker, politician, livery stable keeper, steeplechase rider, poet. What a mixture! And he was half blind!

The one thing Gordon never lost faith in was horseflesh. In all his mad rides, he admitted he could never see beyond his horse's ears. What a sublime faith in his mount he must have possessed always! Perhaps he rode on the principle that what a man does not see he does not fear. And he rode well, if awkwardly.

He fell frequently. He would ride only in hurdles or steeplechases. Once when he fell during a race he got up, caught his mount, set up a stern chase, and then fell again, this time to be severely injured.

Gordon's "leap," at Mt Gambier, is traditional now. In travelling on horseback he never took the road, but steered his steed across country, taking the fences as they came. He was recklessness personified, a recklessness inspired by the fact the he cared little whether it killed him or not.

Possibly the happiest days of his life were spent as the guest of Mr John Riddoch, at Yallum, S.A., where there is an old gum still called "Gordon's Tree." Into this tree he would climb after breakfast and sit there writing long after the lunch hour.

But in the end he tired of racing. At first he neither bet nor rode for money. Toward the close of his life he did both, and was ashamed of himself for so doing.

He could have been sporting editor of a Melbourne newspaper, but it would have meant attendance at race meetings which he now loathed. He had come to a dead end. The batterings which head and body had received brought on insomnia. He became addicted to opiates. He drank more than was good for him, although most of his life he was abstemious. The melancholy strain in his family history took charge. Small wonder that early in the morning of June 24, 1870, he stole out of his home a Brighton with a rifle and ended his existence in a tea-tree scrub.

Gordon came here in 1853, when the gold fever was at its height, and life was rough. He did not seek gold. Arrived in South Australia, he enlisted in the police force, and was sent to Mt. Gambier. His passion was horses, and when that died, he died, too.

We owe him much, of course. Few people who care for poetry cannot quote a line of his. Some of his verse was jingle, but some was not, and anyway, no poet who ever lived maintained a high pitch of poetic fervour throughout. There is good and bad in all of them.

He is sometimes classed as an Englishman who wrote poetry in Australia. Does it matter? He wrote according to his time. Most of the population then was made up of Englishmen living in Australia.

What does matter is that he gave us Australians something to hang on to, something to keep and cherish. And we are keeping and cherishing it.

First published in The Herald, 12 May 1934

[Note: this was published on the editorial page with no by-line.]

Founders of Our Literature: Henry Kendall

He was the poet of the mountains and tall timber, and time has acclaimed him our greatest. Others have sung of burning plains under a fierce sun, But Henry Clarence Kendall preferred the grandeur of the big hills or the mystery of unfooted dells.

And no wonder! He was born among them at Ulladulla, N.S.W. on April 8, 1841, along with his twin brother, Basil. He was rocked in a cradle made from the trunk of a fallen forest giant, and his first consciousness was of high hills and trees.

And in later life he drifted back to the big timber as all who love it must, and he was with it when his last illness developed, and he went away to die.

Tragedy seems to be the lot of all poets. Kendall knew it early in life when his father, a delicate, sensitive soul, closed his eyes for the last time. Basil Kendall began with a goodly heritage at Ulladulla, N.S.W., but he lost that when his poet son was only four and went to the Clarence River district to eke out a small living. Henry was 10 when his father died.

The widow and family of two sons and three daughters moved to Illawarra and in this beautiful district the young poet found Nature in her most inspiring mood.

Cabin Boy in Whaler

At 14 we find Henry Kendall the cabin boy on a whaler belonging to one of his uncles. In this vessel he lived for two years in Antarctic waters was glad to return. His was not the robust type which seeks physical adventure. Rather was he fitted for explorations of the mind, and these he pursued.

He found work of various kinds in Sydney, and was clerk to James Lionel Michael, a solicitor of Grafton, himself a man of letters. All the time Kendall read and wrote.

His shyness was a torture to him. Once his employer called on him to deliver a lecture in a Grafton hall. When the time arrived young Henry bolted and Michael had to deliver it himself.

Kendall did not last long at the law. He worked his way back to Sydney, where some of his poems had been appearing. Sir Henry Parkes, then editing the Empire, took an interest in him, and later found him work in the Survey Office and the Colonial Secretary's Department.

He wearied again, and set out in 1869 for Melbourne, where he hoped to live by his pen. Here he remained some time. He was the friend of Gordon and Marcus Clarke.

Tragedy pursued him again. His daughter, Araluen, died. Heartbroken, he moved back to Sydney, and a clerkship in a timber company. Then he was sent out to the big timber by the same firm. Possibly the most contented years of his life were spent in the North Coast timber area, for he was back to his beloved forest once more.

Then came another Government position as forests inspector, and it was while filling it that he caught a cold which turned to tuberculosis.

Born April 18, 1841; died August 1, 1882. Only 41! But if his life was short his work is immortal.

Poetry of Effort

Australia has not had much opportunity to breed great poets. Our pioneer stock was mostly drawn from the venturesome and hardy, who were poets in deeds and not in words. For that reason much of our poetry has been of the strenuous kind, or from men who were nurtured in rough surroundings. Gordon, the horseman; Lawson, the swagman; Paterson, the horse lover; Ogilvie, the jackeroo -- these men wrote the poetry of the out-of-doors, which to the poetaster overseas with his centuries of civilization, is hard to understand.

Kendall was the first to apply finer instincts to a rough land in the making, and he found a quiet beauty where others had only seen adventure. For this reason he is very dear to us. Whoever may come after him will never depose him as our first great poet.

Consider the titles of his published collections: Poems and Songs, Leaves from Australian Forests, and Songs from the Mountains. How truly he was wrapped up in the hills and forests!

The poet of the great plains of the interior has still to arise, and we will find him yet just as we found the laureate of the mountains in Kendall.

First published in The Herald, 26 May 1934
Henry Kendall webpage
Henry Kendall photo

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