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Title:I Recall: Collections and Recollections Author:Robert Henderson Croll * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1500211h.html Language: English Date first posted: March 2015 Most recent update: March 2015 This eBook was produced by: Colin Choat Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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'As I walked by myself I talked to myself
And thus to myself said I......'
To The Memory Of
To Whom I Owe So Much
Days—and Some Others
II. 'The Mechanics'
III. The Public Service
IV. Art and Letters
V. The Quick and the Dead
VI. Solvitur Ambulando
VII. The Press
VIII. The Inland and the Native
IX. Some Books and Friendships
X. 'Parleyings with Certain People of Importance'
XI. In My Anecdotage
XII. Purely Personal: a Note on Origins
02. 'The Wood-God'
03. Will Dyson at Work
04. Toolangi, 1938
05. J. F. Archibald and Henry Lawson
06. Officials, Australasian Cross-country Championship
07. Roughing it on Mount St. Bernard
08. Crossing a River, Central Australia
09. The Wheel of Life
10. Hugh McCrae
11. At 'Sunnyside'
12. John Shaw Neilson
13. John Shirlow at Work
14. Founding the Australian Academy of Art
15. Mrs. Croll
16. Robin Croll
17. Blamire Young
18. Captain Firth
19. As Low saw the Author
I have been a wanderer all my days, in intent when not actually in action, so if I ramble a bit in these reminiscences it is from force of incurable habit.
Anyway, let me get down the basic facts that I was born in the mining township of Stawell (it became the Borough of Stawell that very year), and that this event, of so much importance to me, took place at midnight on the 4th of January, 1869. The hour led to some confusion in after days. We have always celebrated the event as happening on the 4th; it was only when I entered the Public Service, and had to obtain a birth certificate, that we discovered that father had registered me as arriving on the 5th. They say that a man doesn't waken his second child to hear the infant laugh—perhaps father was not quite so particular about me, the fifth youngster, as he would have been with the first.
I am reminded (I can't help this rambling) that in later years I discovered that an old friend, Jessie Stewart, had also been born on January 4. I sent her a card:
We are both of us modest folk, I hope,
Who would deprecate a fuss,
But I think they started the New Year well
When they started it with Us!
One of my earliest recollections is of a day when I was playing in the front garden of our house in Houston Street. I was a very small boy indeed. There was a sudden rush of feet, a roar of angry men, and I looked through the fence to see a hatless stranger, racing literally for his life, pursued by a group of miners.
'Jumpers!' said someone, and on the word I was inside, and hiding behind my mother.
That was my share of the famous claim-jumping riots in Stawell when the 'Pleasant Creek Jumps Association' was formed in Ballarat to 'jump' certain Stawell gold mines about the validity of whose leases there was some doubt, and the diggers of my native town turned out in force to repel the invaders. That memory goes back a long way: I was about three years old at the time.
Earlier still is the memory of a warm afternoon, a summer day of the old type when extreme heat would persist for a week or more without a break. How old would I be? I had been 'put down' for the day-sleep of very young childhood, so I must have been a tiny boy indeed. There was a plate of fruit at my side when I woke. Through the mists of the years I am aware of that fact and that the house was empty (which probably impressed the scene on my mind); also I know that my people had all gone to the near-by dam of water because a boy had just been drowned there. I could name that unfortunate lad now.
Stawell, and school at No. 502, and the sand-heaps of the crushing batteries, and the busy mines, and all the world (and his wife and children) walking up and down Main Street on a Saturday night, and the peppermint-flavoured Presbyterian Church on Sunday mornings—at first St. Mark's, for did not my people break away from St. Matthew's and help to build a kirk of their ain?—and always and ever the Bush—these made up much of my early life. Then walks to the Big Hill, right in the town; to the Cemetery, to the Hospital, and with greater years greater distances—to the Black Range on a Saturday (where I tore critically my only trousers on one sad occasion and had to lurk in the rocks while the picnic with Her in it, proceeded gaily below) and finally to that goal of every youngster's dream in those days—the Grampians.
Is there anything more deplorable in humanity, by the way, than the desire to destroy Nature's fine work, the craving to buy a paltry prominence at the expense of some magnificent natural monument! The remarkable Sister Rocks near Stawell are covered from base to crown with names, painted or tarred or cut, the owners of which have even taken ladders to assist in the desecration. On the stone face of the Splitters' Falls in Hall's Gap in the Grampians (I blush!) are chiselled the names of three youths who now know better. Kindly Nature has modified my shame by covering those names with lichen, but they may still be traced by the curious, for they are cut deeply.
That was my first camp, just past Delly's Bridge in Hall's Gap. Bill Grant (afterwards General Grant, C.M.G., D.S.O., Order of the Nile and Bar), Bill Webster (later to become Chief Clerk of the Education Department), and myself were the trio. This trinity of bush-lovers increased at times to a quartette by the addition of Grant's cousin, Bill Blair, son of David Blair, the old historian of Australia, who, by the way, was the first man to encourage me to write. But that was to come much later. Bill Blair, coming all the way from Melbourne, was only an occasional partner.
My one school was the State School in Stawell, ruled over by Dick Davies ('Dick' was short for the incredible name Richard Zerubabel); a vigorous hearty man who administered firmly, but with humanity, and with a rare understanding of juvenile human nature. The odd things that linger in the mind after more than half a century!—I recall his coming into the junior second class (it was perched perilously in one of those abominations known as a gallery) and testing the class in spelling. Now I was good at spelling (no pun) and I scored until he gave me the word 'egg.' In retrospect I feel that my persistence in rendering it 'a-g-g' was a reflection upon the common pronunciation of the word rather than upon my abilities.
The teacher's life is not an easy one, but it has its compensations. A good teacher makes every year a new generation of friends who will honour his name in after days. Dick Davies was a fine man and he had a fine team. I wish, in gratitude, that I could say something here about each of those men and women, all now gone beyond the voices, who did so much for me, as for others. I shall mention two only—Tom Webster (a cousin of my lifelong friend Bill Webster) and that very successful and prominent man of business, F. J. Cato—the first because his influence upon me, as a member of the highest class in the school, was so stimulating; the other because of his remarkable progress, as one of the firm of Moran and Cato and because of his generous benefactions to charity in the years of his retirement. He abandoned schoolwork at an early age to take up commerce. My most vivid recollection of him at school is connected with a cane which he used across my shoulders one day in class. I'll bet that I deserved it.
It was a big school then, for the town was at the peak of its gold getting. Mines were indeed worth 'jumping' with the precious metal being produced literally by the ton. That is not overstating it. The Pleasant Creek Cross Reefs (known to us as the Duke) yielded 241,461 ounces in one period of eight years and eventually paid its shareholders £750,000 in dividends. One man held 2,000 shares: from 'Bill the Smelter' he became the Hon. W. H. Osmand, M.L.C. As a Legislative Councillor, by the way, he was noted, like the Harp of Tara, for his enduring silences—but that in passing. Crushing batteries, reducing the quartz to sand, thundered away from midnight Sunday to midnight Saturday without a pause. So continuous was the roar that no-one was aware of it until it stopped (is that an Irishism?). Then the old folk woke up, wondering at the stillness.
All the mines, and there were many, were working three shifts. A miner's pay was 8/- a day, 48/- a week for 48 hours' work. One of my early jobs, when I left school to succeed my brother as the whole staff of Messrs. Bennett and Bristow, legal managers and insurance agents in the Main Street (with what pride I took home my £1 a week!) was to pay those wages every fortnight to the men of a couple of mines. Later, as yields decreased, I was to make many an excursion along the 'street called Straight' (Main Street, Stawell, has as many angles as a book on geometry) with a lump of smelted gold in my pocket to see which bank would give the highest price. Pure alluvial gold was then worth just over £4 an ounce; this smelted stuff was valued at from £3/17/3 to £3/17/9. To-day the price would be twice as high. I can still see the bank tellers rubbing the bar or dump on a test-stone before making an offer.
Low wages in those times! But there seemed to be no unemployment, and no real grinding poverty.
Social strata in the town there were of course, but, as is customary, they were mostly woman-created.
Men who had worked together in earlier days did not change as a rule when some struck riches and their mates didn't. One of the wealthiest stood in the porch of his new house one morning and saw his friend the old milkman pass, carrying two cans. Both men hailed from Scotland. Rain was falling heavily. 'Tak' the lids off, Jamie,' advised the sheltered one. 'No need, Wullie, they've had enough a'ready,' came the reply, and the two old friends nodded at each other appreciatively.
'Breathes there a man with soul so dead.'—Stawell has a halo about it which grows more definite to me with the years of separation. There are no impressions so vivid as those of boyhood. The bush about Stawell, the Black Range, Doctor's Creek, the Seventy Foot, the Silver Shilling, the Flying Doe, the Grampians—our Saturday and holiday tramps to such places gave me that taste for vagabondage which has since led me far. How we ate on those trips! Our careful mothers tried to over-estimate our appetites, but we came home each time with never a crust of the food we took away in such quantity.
Marcus Clarke had lived at Ledcourt, not far from Stawell, for a time. He was a legendary character in my day and later I was to come closer to that legend when I joined the Public Library, though I never saw the author of His Natural Life. One of his Stawell friends was N. Walter Swan, then editing the Pleasant Creek News and Stawell Chronicle. Swan wrote at least two novels—A Couple of Cups Ago and Luke Mivers' Harvest. The latter won a prize of £100 given by the Sydney Mail for the best tale by an Australian (they called it 'Colonial' then) author. His family at that time interested me more than did his writings: I was very young and his daughters were very charming. They still are.
In 1886 I passed the clerical examination of the Public Service, an examination for which I had to sit in Ballarat, and I was appointed to the staff of the Melbourne Public Library. Was ever such luck! I was a booky boy, a reader of everything I could lay hands on, and here I was thrust into the midst of one of the greatest collections of literature in the southern hemisphere. My people had never been well-to-do, but mother had always contrived, somehow, to keep my brother and myself in reading matter. I said 'somehow'—as I grew up I realized that those books were bought very often with money which our mother should rightly have spent upon herself.
September of that year saw me embark on the great adventure. Armed with a carpet-bag (yes, truly, a carpet bag) in which my careful sister Mary had sewn a list of its rather scanty contents (I have that list still), I left the old Borough for the big City and duly reported for duty to Dr. Bride, then Librarian of the Public Library. I was raw, nervous, sensitive, and no doubt extremely gauche, but, I think, not so crude as some of the great band of provincial youngsters who were passing the service examinations in those years, so enriching the city at the expense of the country. One of them, it is alleged, announced himself to the head of his Department, a lordly being sitting in lofty seclusion, by marching in, placing his bag carefully down by the great man's table and remarking simply: 'I've come!'
The Library exercised a notable influence upon my life. There I began to write, so shyly that I would not show the stuff to my mother even—that mother who all her days was so interested in her children's progress.
It is a comical thing, by the way, that in most Victorian country towns the local library is known as the Mechanics' Institute—always shortened in speech to 'the Mechanics.' My birthplace, of course, had its library so-named. After I had been a year or two in the magnificent Public Library of Melbourne, long enough that is to have established the pride in its wonderful collection which I shall ever feel, I met an old schoolfellow just down from Stawell on a holiday. 'Let's see, Bob,' said he, reflectively, 'you're in the Mechanics, aren't you?'
Dr. Bride was then librarian (we had a Bride and a Husband, a Bath and a Brazier on the staff) and Dr. Gagliardi was engaged in a reclassification of the whole collection of books, following the opening of the Barry Hall.
Dear old Gagliardi: what a fine man he was to be with! He had excellent English in construction but some pronunciations were most amusingly beyond him. He would sound, for instance, the final consonant in such words as young, shilling, and lamb. His disgust with the accepted sound of a word like McLeod was comical. I enjoyed thoroughly, as we worked together, his lectures on the superiority of Italian over what he called our barbarous language. He seemed to me a much more able man than Bride, who, by the way, was never popular with the staff.
M. F. Dowden, E. La T. Armstrong and R. D. Boys, each to be chief librarian in turn, were on the staff in those days; another was E. H. C. Oliphant, lately deceased, who returned from America as Professor Oliphant. My old friend James McConnell Kerr, surely the wittiest of barristers, was to join us later, and so was James S. Battye, now B.A., LL.B., LITT.D., Chief Librarian of the Public Library of Western Australia and Chancellor of the University there.
The Library still held traditions of Marcus Clarke and the great Sir Redmond Barry, founder of the institution. An old attendant told us of Clarke's coming in one day clad all in white, and Barry, a stickler for what he conceived to be suitable garb for a public officer, demanding with an oath if Clarke knew how a gentleman should dress. The retort was an inquiry directed to Barry's acquaintance with how a gentleman should speak. This sounds apocryphal.
I learnt to love (literally) that great institution—the Public Library, Museums and National Gallery of Victoria, and I have lost, and lose, no opportunity of serving it.
It was my Alma Mater, the source from which I drew most of my mental nourishment. I sampled everything in it from Theology (which commenced the classification in the north end of the main hall—this was long before the present rotunda was built) to Geography, which concluded it in the east end of the Barry Hall. The whole of the books, except a few shelves of indecencies, and some rare, and very valuable, volumes kept in the Librarian's room, as well as the art and medical works in the Gallery, were in bays open to the readers. There was no need to ask for anything: you went to the shelves and helped yourself. A wonderful institution, a true cultural centre with its associated art gallery and museums, a place which is in truth a monument to the pioneers of the State, for they, led by the redoubtable Redmond Barry, had laid its foundations before settlement here was twenty years old.
I think it was in 1891—anyway, I was still a junior librarian—that I saved Rudyard Kipling's life, or so it pleases me to think. But for me, the world may never have known the Jungle Books, the Just So Stories, Kim, and, indeed, most of the works, prose and verse, which made Kipling such a leading figure in English literature. That sounds boastful: well, it is meant to sound boastful. Said firmly it tends to smother the feeling, which will unfortunately persist in me, that Kipling never realized that he had had such a narrow escape. Memory has a trick of wearing magnifying glasses—it is quite possible that that life-saving feat was not so very remarkable. This is what happened: Kipling was paying his only visit to Australia when I met him—a pleasant-spoken, well-knit figure of a man, young in those days, of course, with just a touch of 'bay' in his 'good-bye'; obviously, but not typically, English. He and Bill Blair (son of the then doyen of the Melbourne journalists) and a Japanese and I walked down Collins Street together from the Austral Salon (the Oyster Saloon we irreverent boys called it) and as we crossed Swanston Street a cab, a wild and wobbly one-horse cab, charged down upon us. I grasped the great man's arm and hurried him out of danger just in time.
It is odd to reflect, in these days, that a horse-drawn vehicle was once the terror of the crossings.
It is odder still to remember that the trustees of our Melbourne Public Library banned Kipling's books for a while on the ground (shades of the present-day censorship!) of indecency! I think it was a reference to Indian society "playing tennis with the Seventh Commandment" that caused the trouble. The offending volume was locked up in the librarian's room, and the public was saved from pollution—for a time, anyway! Well do I recollect the amusement of all (save the trustees) who knew of the embargo. He was also charged, but this charge was more general, with obscurity, mainly because of his use of Indian words in those early works. Apropos this he wrote in one of his books when here (if the owner is still this side Glory, may she forgive me the quotation). Girls in those days, by the way, had 'mops' of hair:
'If seven maids with seven mops
Should read for half a year,
Do you suppose,' the author said,
'That they could make it clear?'
'I doubt it,' said the publisher,
'They're only human here!'
The present generation may find it difficult to realize what an effect this brilliant and forceful young Anglo-Indian writer had upon us. We youngsters had a burning admiration for him—'Kiplingitis,' we named it. After all, we were only sharing what became a world-wide fever. His Indian stories had struck a new and arresting note which caught the public taste and, because it was so novel, had divided the critics into at least two camps. His truly remarkable Barrack Room Ballads were appearing in the Scots (later called the National) Observer and their vigour and originality stirred us like a trumpet call. It was about this time that J. K. Stephen, with a savage note in his clever verse, prayed to be translated to a shore—
Where the Rudyards cease from kipling
And the Haggards Ride no more.
I pressed Kipling to say when he would give us the Book of Mother Maturin (see the final story in Plain Tales from the Hills) and I wanted badly to know when that grizzled Ulysses, Terence Mulvaney, would fulfil the curse of ould Mother Sheehy and 'die quick in a strange land, watchin' your death before ut takes you an' onable to stir hand or foot!' (To-day I would ask him to finish Kim.) He put me off, of course, and countered with an inquiry regarding cash betting on our racecourses. I could hardly be regarded as an authority, having never (then) had a bet, but I was able to assure him that in my experience (I had seen the Melbourne Cup once, and then only from the Flat) it was ALL cash betting! How cheerfully omniscient is Youth, and how willing to oblige!
Kipling came to the Library one day, and, to my great delight (bear in mind I was very young), recognized me and gave me a cordial handshake. He left without having attracted the attention of the hierarchy of the institution, so far as I know.
Sitting in the little old Presbyterian Church of Evandale, Tasmania, in the month of January, 1936, I heard the preacher announce the death of the 'unofficial Laureate of the Empire,' and I recalled gratefully his wonderful contribution to the literary wealth of the world. I recalled, too, a small thing which showed the human side of the man. My son Robin, when very young, was given Just-So Stories. I read them to him. He asked who wrote them. The result was a childish note in printed characters (the only way he could write) in which he thanked Mr. Kipling for the stories and signed himself 'with love from Robin Croll.' I thought such a testimonial, unsolicited, artless, might be valued by anyone. I posted it to Kipling and forgot the incident. By return mail, however, was a letter headed 'Bateman's, Burwash, Sussex': the great man had acknowledged promptly and in doing so declared that 'when an infant of that age is moved to sit down and write with his own hand, it is a most convincing proof of his gratitude and it makes me very proud.'
The sea-coast of Bohemia
Is pleasant to the view
sang Hebblethwaite. My earliest knowledge of that delectable land came when I was still an assistant in the Public Library. It came in the shape of a little weekly titled Bohemia, which was 'run' by a group of the younger journalists of the day, who took it in turns to act as editor. (To-day, by the way, a new Bohemia has come to birth—a monthly sponsored by the Bread and Cheese Club.) The Argus owes that original journal something, for out of it was born the 'Oriel' column, a feature of its Saturday issue for so many years. Rumour had it that John Sandes and Davison Symmons were told that they could choose between Bohemia and the paper which employed them; they could not serve both. So 'Oriel' was created, and 'The Passing Show' started to give exercise to their skill in light prose and lighter verse, and very excellently did they perform in the new column.
To Bohemia I began contributing, first scraps of book gossip (I used to get first view of the old-world literary journals as the mail arrived at the Library—well do I remember announcing the forthcoming publication in Lippincott's Magazine of Kipling's Light that Failed), then I wrote prose sketches, then verse. All were anonymous, of course; so shy was I that I think I could have denied the authorship had anyone charged me! The Blair girls, Lily and Florrie, knew, for they were of the Bohemia group and to them I gave my stuff. One of them was later to do a great deal of Bulletin matter. Their veteran father (to whom I have already referred) was an astonishing mine of knowledge and good stories. He knew Dublin and 'Silver's Theayter' where, you may remember, Mulvaney claimed to have seen Hamlet played in a new black eye and the Queen as full as a cornucopia. An old tale David Blair repeated was of the night when the crowd proceeded to throw a man over the ledge of the gallery into the pit. The gallery at each end extended above the orchestra. 'Hould on, bhoys!' yelled a voice. 'Don't whaste the mhan! Kill a fiddler wid him!'
I have said that the old journalist and historian was a mine of knowledge. Well he knew it. Donald Macdonald told me he went along for a talk one afternoon. He had the talk all right—a monologue. When he was leaving, his host said: 'Come along some day and hear me again. I'm worth it!'
And so he was, as Macdonald confessed and as I myself can testify.
The little journal Bohemia lived longer than most of its kind; but of course it died in a very few years. The Public Library is a magnificent tomb in which lie buried the remains of numberless dead and gone Melbourne magazines.
Another which comes to mind was The Outpost. It, I think, was originally The Cycling News, cycling being the sport of the day. Bohemia was much above the average, and the Outpost was at times brilliant. Three of the outstanding artistic contributors were Norman and Lionel Lindsay and Blamire Young, and its columns attracted most of the interesting writers of the period, including that able journalist, E. C. Buley, then in the Mint, but earlier with me in the Library, who later published a number of books in London. I think it was he who invented the caption for the sporting column: 'The Quick and the Dead.' Carey, the editor, was a very able man. His departure from Australia was a matter of great regret to many. One thing I have not yet forgiven him for. Jack Castieau was doing a weekly sketch of men who had been prominent in the land boom. Each was supposed to be talking in his sleep and the revelations were very amusing—to everyone but the victims. To Carey one day there entered the burly figure of one of those notabilities, a man who 'came back' eventually and thoroughly rehabilitated himself. Indeed, he became Premier of Victoria. He had heard that he was to be served up next week and asked for mercy, pleading that the dead past should not be raked up against him now that he was on the up grade again. 'I know what you're going to say against me, Mr. Carey,' he went on earnestly. 'You are going to say that I have a wife and family in every suburb and that I neglect them. I don't neglect them, Mr. Carey!' I have always thought that any editor with bowels should have 'let-off' a man who could make so naive a plea. But the article appeared.
Collectors should search for a very vivid poster issued by the Lindsays (Norman and Lionel) for the Outpost. It represents a pirate with all the raciness that those talented artists could put into such a subject, and it is probably unique in the fact that it is signed "Lindsay Brothers." Other posters of that period, rare enough now and worth collecting, are those done for Joshua Brothers to advertise their Boomerang Brandy. Blamire Young designed them.
When I think of the Library period I am reminded of the 'fine confused feeding' which the famous Scot said he found in a sheep's head. I came from the place with an interest quickened in an amazing number of things, if with no great knowledge of any. With E. C. Buley, Bernard O'Dowd, H. A. Corbett (who eventually settled in Western Australia), my brother, and a couple of other youthful enthusiasts, we formed a reading circle. How is this for a bill of fare for young minds—Herbert Spencer's Principles of Sociology, Goethe's Wilhelm Meister, Henry George's Progress and Poverty, Oliver Wendell Holmes' Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, Edwin Arnold's Light of Asia and, of course, Whitman's Leaves of Grass. I still count it a well-balanced diet, heavy enough, light enough, thought-compelling, excellent from the literary point of view. We read the books aloud, a portion of each at a sitting, and discussed them.
I think Buley and O'Dowd were the leaders. Buley had a keen analytical mind and was blest with real humour. O'Dowd had even then an encyclopaedic knowledge. Those two were to rise notably in the literary world, Buley to become an editor and author in London, where he died, O'Dowd to take a foremost place in Australian letters. The latter's Celtic ancestors had endowed him with a rare capacity for enthusiasm. It carried him from the Roman Catholic religion to rationalism and from there, or I should say while still there, to sample many forms of belief. A fellow poet, when we were amusing ourselves by composing epitaphs for people still alive, wrote this of O'Dowd:
Here beneath his sable shroud
Lies the Laureate O'Dowd,
Who upon Earth's flowery lap
Had all sorts of Heavens on tap;
Olympus, Asgard, Aidenn, and,
Worst of all, the Silent Land.
Undecided here he lies
Wondering which to patronize.
But that epitaph reflects very little of the true greatness of my old friend. He moved from opinion to opinion, from belief to belief, because of no shallowness of intellect, but because of the very intensity of his study of each and the sincerity and honesty of his mind. I confess to an admiration and a liking for O'Dowd which nothing can shake. My 'of course' with regard to Leaves of Grass referred to O'Dowd's devotion to Whitman, with whom he had much correspondence.
One day Emil Creed, musician and analytical chemist, who somehow had come to be a fellow assistant in the Library, asked me if I cared for wine, women and song, because, if I did, he could put me on to something. It proved to me Fitzgerald's 'Omar Khayyam.' The music of it sang in my blood, the pagan philosophy wakened my mind to new and wonderful audacities—
O Thou who Man of baser earth didst make
And even with Paradise devise the Snake—
For all the sin with which the face of Man
Is blackened, Man's forgiveness give—and take!
An old diary shows that I copied almost the whole of that remarkable set of verses. This, of course, was long before they became a popular Christmas card! Creed it was who introduced me to good orchestral music and told me how to recognize a fugue when I heard it. We spent many an evening and afternoon at Cowen's concerts, both at, and following, the 1888 Exhibition. If my more common taste rejoiced particularly in Phil. Langdale and his amusing bassoon I came also, though more gradually, to appreciate Wagner and classical works generally. Melbourne was truly musical in those years and we could hear first-class renderings of great compositions by paying a shilling (no amusement tax then) for a seat in the south gallery of the Town Hall. And that south gallery was about the best place in the house for hearing—a knowledge we hugged to our frugal bosoms for it heightened our enjoyment.
But three of my boyhood friends in Bill Webster, Gus Scoullar and Ernest Kent were in the Education Office and I eventually, by transfer in January, 1892, became the fourth Stawellite there. (I started on £60 a year at the Library; I was now earning £100 a year.) We had been at State School No. 502 together and to this day we remain good friends, but there was something special about the bond between Webster and myself. Match this for a record of the lives of two unrelated people: Born in a provincial town within a few hundred yards of each other and with only four months separating the births; attended the same school; appointed to the Public Service in the same year; boarded in Melbourne in the same suburb; served in the same Department for many years and concluded that service in the same room, one as Chief Clerk, the other as Senior Clerk; never lived farther apart from one another than they do now—and one is in Kew and the other in Camberwell. Parallel lives—yet each has always had his own distinctively individual tastes and has followed a separate course in most of the important matters that make up life.
The change from the Library's almost monastic seclusion (save on wet holidays—and then, well, the deluge!) to be part of the huge machinery of one of the biggest Departments of the State was a marked one. Many a time I longed to go back, but my new colleagues proved good fellows in most cases and it was easy to be reconciled. A group of the men, though, has left a bad taste in the mouth of memory. It was a hard-bitten half-dozen of the elders, hard drinkers all, usually short of cash and very willing to induce the more foolish of the youngsters to 'see life' ('Life with a capital Hell,' as Kipling has it); in other words, the seniors were quite prepared to spend the juniors' money. The result was disastrous to several bright lads. One went to the pack with drink, a couple of others were dogged by money-lenders all their remaining official days.
Officialdom is an interesting study. I had an escape door, fortunately, in outside interests which kept me individual, but there were many of my colleagues who seemed to be no more than cogs in a machine. Here let me break a lance in defence of a much-maligned service. First always to bear the brunt of hard times—the implication seeming to be that the Service had caused them; referred to by sections of the Press as though to be a public servant was necessarily to be a loafer; I want to record, from knowledge and not hearsay, that the Victorian State Service, as a whole, is composed of a magnificent body of workers. Men live their jobs; night after night there are officers working overtime in those public buildings without any special fee or gratuity, with no other reward, indeed, than the satisfaction of knowing that they are keeping their work up to date.
The last of the Old Timers has long gone, relics as they were of a period when the qualification for a post was influence. The examination system has replaced them by men who, in many cases, would have made names for themselves in any other sphere of life, but who are swallowed up in a system which permits of hardly any individual recognition. But if there is anything of value in the pronouncement of a Minister of the Crown, at any time, anywhere, you may depend upon it a public servant's brains very largely informed it; if there is anything futile you can be sure it went in against a public servant's advice.
I would not suggest that I was in that first flight, but because it was known that my writings were acceptable to newspapers I have been given the interesting task, not once but many times, of preparing speeches for Ministers, and on several occasions the rounded periods and more or less telling phrases, the facts and suggestions, the amusing anecdotes and the moving peroration, of a Premier's speech all came from my pen. Indeed, there is a full page article in one of England's most authoritative financial journals, under the signature of the Premier of the day, every word of which I wrote.
That was a very special job and a rush one. Owing to the mass of matter to be digested, I spent a whole week-end upon it, also a couple of nights and my lunch times. These spoilt and over-paid public servants!—I did not receive so much as 'thank you' from the gentleman whom I had obliged. My reward was a copy of the magazine when the article appeared—that and no more. In fairness I should mention that I was not asked to pay for the copy! It cost sixpence.
Some other unusual jobs came my way. One day I was summoned to Cabinet. I went with trepidation—what had I done? Was I to be charged with an offence or offered promotion? Neither; the Honourable the Treasurer said the Cabinet was taking sides in a certain struggle—could I write some verses for publication to assist the cause? Well, of course I could, and I did, and they were duly given prominence in the press—not under my name, of course. I hae ma doots about their having had any effect on the issue at stake, but the Treasurer must have liked the effort, for later he called upon me again, this time for what he was pleased to name 'a poem' to commemorate a certain national anniversary. That was not quite so easy, but it was done—the curious may see the result in my little book of verses By-Products, under the title of 'The Singing Wind.' The fee in each case was the same, but, anyway, I was thanked on this occasion.
With that great-hearted and witty Under-Treasurer, M. A. Minogue, I wrote a Budget for that careful State Treasurer, Sir William McPherson. Later I spent over a year in Parliament House as Secretary to a Royal Commission on Fisheries, and several months in the State Electricity Commission's office, again as Secretary of a Royal Commission—this time on what was known as the Police Strike; when the Prince of Wales (afterwards King Edward) visited Australia the Premier (Mr. H. S. W. Lawson) sent me along to assist the organizer for Victoria, who had fallen ill; I have been on a Visual Education Committee, a Physical Culture Committee, a Broadcasting Committee—these samples of official duties will serve to show that the routine admits of variation.
The Education Department, despite its ten thousand employees, its thousands of schools, its three millions, or thereabouts, of expenditure, and its outstanding importance to the State, has earned the title of Cinderella of the Departments. Anyone, not otherwise provided for, has generally been good enough, when Cabinets were being formed, for the post of Minister of Education. A few Ministers were excellent, but the list of the inept is an appalling one. When I said this to a well-known politician (himself a Minister) his remark was: 'Yes; in creating a Cabinet there are always certain outstanding men whose professions or known inclinations suggest that they should be given the Treasury, Law, Lands, Public Works, Mines or Forests. Things move smoothly till somebody says "Oh, don't let us forget old So-and-So; we'll have to give him something." There's a pause, then "Give him Education," and all are satisfied. That's how you get your Ministers!'
Now that Minister, often with no more qualifications for the post than that he was a good Party man, is endowed with power, by virtue of his office, to sit in judgment upon and to cancel or modify the plans of, a permanent head who may have given a lifetime to the special study of the subject. Such a permanent head was Mr. Frank Tate, the first Director of Education, a man outstanding in Australia and with an international reputation as an educationist. The farmer, or storekeeper, or tradesman, or whatnot, who found himself, as Minister of Education, directing the Director of Education, would doubtless have smiled scornfully had that Director put himself up as adviser, really dictator, in the business of farming, storekeeping or whatever pursuit the Minister followed in private life.
At a public dinner a year or two ago I suggested that we are over-blessed with statutes and that it would be a good idea to proclaim a close season for politicians for a period of five years, during which time the public service should administer the existing laws, but have no power to add to them. I am more than half serious in advocating that to-day. Think of the peace of it!
Minogue, already mentioned, was one of the finest men with whom I made friends in the public offices. An Irish Catholic, he collected all the tales against Scotsmen to retail to me, the son of an Aberdeen father and an Edinburgh mother. In return I never missed a chance to recount a good one against the Irish. We formed a sort of Joke Exchange. I remember his joy when I told him of the Irishman who said it was the fine job he had got—oh, the fine job! He was pullin' down a Protestant church and gettin' paid for it! Poor Minogue, a fine friend, and a man capable of the most generous acts. Roman Catholic as he was, I knew him to join O. R. Snowball, prominent Orangeman, in an appeal for a down-and-out Methodist. I wrote the address the Service presented to Minogue on his retirement. In it I said, with truth: 'May you never be short of a good story, for assuredly you will never be short of a friend to tell it to.' He did not live long to enjoy retirement. A stroke took him off one day in the public offices: he died in my arms.
He it was who introduced me to the Hon. George Michael Prendergast, an old Stawellite whom I had not met till then. In an aside, let me boast a little of my native town. It has produced many notable men, but I shall name only four—Mr. Prendergast, who rose to be Premier of Victoria; Mr. Alex. Cooch, who became head of what is probably the greatest of our State institutions, the Savings Bank; Mr. Dave Bell, Chairman of that other great institution, the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works; and Mr. T. W. Bearup, Manager of the Australian Broadcasting Commission.
The Hon. George Michael was looking for a Secretary for the Fisheries Commission, of which he had just been appointed Chairman. Half-a-dozen other Members of Parliament completed the board. I was reluctant to take the job, but yielded, and I must say I enjoyed the experience. Incidentally, I formed a sound liking for my Chairman. The inquiry extended over a year, during which my headquarters were the Assembly rooms at the Exhibition Building. For a proper estimate of the worth of Parliament and the party-system, I commend a few months in the House 'without the option.'
Some of the relationships there were astonishing. Publicly the late O. R. Snowball was in the opposite camp to G. M. Prendergast, but personally they were the closest of friends. Both were on the Commission. Each took me aside to assure me of the other's worth—'a capital fellow,' said the Orangeman of the Roman Catholic; 'one of the best,' was the verdict of the Catholic on the Orangeman. They were excellent companions to travel with, and their jokes with one another were endless. Each scored a point on one of our trips. As Secretary, I had forgotten the Bible on which to swear the witnesses. The only one I could get hold of in the little fishing village was a Douai version—the Catholic Bible. 'Not a word to Snowball,' I warned the Chairman, and the session was duly carried through. But Prendergast had to tell the tale, and loud was his crowing over 'Snowy.' At the very next village, however, the only Bible I could borrow was one bound and prepared for Masonic services. 'Not a word to the Chairman,' was now my warning to Snowball, who, as soon as the meeting was over, proceeded, with mock gravity, to 'get his own back' over the first incident. All this with the utmost good-nature on both sides.
By the way, the final witness there seemed a trifle confused. He told me confidentially: 'Jus'-had-a-pint-o'bran'y.' He made it one word. Whatever he had had, he couldn't stand steady, but swayed gently back and forth as if a wind blew. He was in a mood to agree to anything. 'Take the Book in your right hand,' commanded the Chairman. 'Now repeat after me: I swear by Almighty God that the evidence that I shall give before this Commission shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.' The drunk beamed on him with admiration. 'Yeah!' he answered impressively. Then, with emphasis: 'Thash right!'
When all is going smoothly and all his plans are working out as arranged, the Secretary of a Commission has nothing to do but listen to the evidence and jot down comments to guide him later as to the credibility of the witnesses. Here is a note made at such a time, which I handed to the Chairman:
The gentleman is on his oath,
But, speaking without bias,
I'd sooner take the simple word
Of good old Ananias!
One more anecdote about George Michael Prendergast. Few men of my acquaintance could tell a better tale than he. This is the story of his Waterloo. We were in Klug's Hotel at Queenscliff, waiting for dinner. There were half a dozen M's.P. present. A solitary stranger sat by the fire sucking a pipe and surveying us with interested eyes. The Hon. George told a good yarn, directed largely to the outsider, and told it so well that we laughed and laughed again. All, that is, but the stranger, who took his pipe out of his mouth, regarded the speaker gravely, almost with a puzzled air, then fell to smoking again. Such behaviour was a challenge to our Chairman. He was not accustomed to having one of his jokes, and a good one at that, ignored. Almost pointedly addressing the stranger this time, he told another. It was even better than the first, and again we were convulsed. The man at the fire had watched the talker with rapt attention, pipe in hand. At the point he looked at us all curiously—and resumed his smoking without a sign. We were now watching the duel with interest, but just as the tale-spinner had uttered the preliminaries for another attack the gong went and we trooped out to dinner.
Imagine the joy of the party when later on we discovered that the man on whom so much eloquence had been expended was stone deaf!
That Fisheries Commission provided many a humorous episode. One was directly to my address. We were in the early morning train for Swan Hill. Kyneton was the breakfast station. The train was full of racing men bound for a meeting up the line. I warned my parliamentarians that the crush would be great for breakfast and I led the way directly we pulled in at the platform. I was the first at the counter. I collected my order, picked up a knife and fork and put them on the plate with my sausages, took the lot in one hand and my cup of coffee in the other and began to back out through the now dense crowd. At the last moment I thought of bread, put my coffee down, grabbed a couple of slices and then, fully loaded, managed to get clear and reach one of the small tables. There I arranged my dishes...but what was this in my hand? It was the florin with which I had meant to pay the waitress! But, as if that were not bad enough, when I came to attack my meal I found the 'two slices of bread' were another man's ham sandwich! Apparently my Aberdonian ancestry had triumphed over my natural diffidence!...It was hard to persuade my Commissioners, when I told the story, that I eventually paid the girl. I did...but the ham sandwich was quite another matter!
Another Royal Commission of which I became secretary was interesting largely because it introduced me to one of the most outstanding men I have ever met—Sir John Monash. Again I did not want the job, but a public servant must obey his Premier and I found myself installed, with a dry humorist named Rollo Hesketh as assistant, in an office in the State Electricity Commission's building. Monash impressed me profoundly. His wide reading, his diversity of interests, his astonishing knowledge would in themselves have constituted him a leader, but greater than these were the quickness and thoroughness of his grasp of affairs, new affairs, as they were presented to him, and the promptitude and certainty of his judgment. It did not take me long to realize why it was that this civilian rose to such a distinguished position in the army. By the way, he told me one day how he came to write his book, The Australian Victories in 1918. He had been invited to publish something on the Great War and, in preparation for the job, he had all his papers assembled and arranged while demobilization was proceeding in 1919. A start at the actual work was made at seven o'clock one evening and he finished it by writing from 7 p.m. to midnight each night for thirty consecutive nights. 'I hardly re-wrote a line,' he added. He was paid £2,000 for the completed volume.
I have a copy of the second edition before me at the moment. It is inscribed to my son: 'To Robin Croll, confidently believing that the lads of his generation will be ever ready to emulate the deeds of patriotism recorded in this book. From the author, John Monash, Lieutenant-General, 30/1/25.'
This Royal Commission was appointed to investigate the causes of that amazing happening known as 'the police strike,' a happening which shook Victoria, and particularly Melbourne, to its very foundations. Thanks to it, most people realized for the first time how securely they normally live—in other words, they appreciated the meaning of the words law and order.' A number of police, at a customary parade, refused to obey commands and were instantly dismissed—within twenty-four hours the lawless element which is part of every city began to loot the unprotected shops, traffic control was lost, and only the loyalty of a small section of the constabulary, acting in conjunction with a quickly-formed corps of civilians, who were sworn in as 'specials,' prevented worse doings.
Who were to blame for the 'strike'? There are two sides to most questions, and this particular conundrum had many answers—of a kind. It is idle to debate the matter now; after listening to all the evidence of interested parties and hearing much of the undertones, I concluded that the men had genuine grievances which called loudly for redress (some have since been redressed), and that they were in a state of exasperation which made it easy for certain of their number, rebelliously inclined, to use them for the mischief-makers' own ends. Many fine men, ornaments to the force, found themselves involved in a sudden movement with which they had little sympathy, but from which they could not withdraw. They were caught 'on the hop.'
A short-lived Labor administration was in office when the Commission was appointed; a National ministry was in power when our Report was prepared—so that Report still remains in the pigeon-holes! It cost more than a trifle to produce, for three highly-paid State officers in Sir John Monash, Mr. C. S. McPherson (Public Service Commissioner), and Police Superintendent J. H. Martin, to say nothing of a barrister at ten guineas a day and a Secretary, an Assistant Secretary, officials of the Police Department, the Government shorthand writers and others, were all deflected from their ordinary duties. Truly a case of the mountain and the mouse. The inquiry occupied the last five months of 1924.
The barrister who sat behind the Commissioners was Mr. A. W. (now Judge) Foster, a man of individuality and charm. His quick wit was delightful; to him and to the Crown Solicitor, Mr. F. G. Menzies, I usually gave my versified comments on the proceedings. Those proceedings were remarkable in at least one regard. Practically all the witnesses were police or ex-police, all were thoroughly trained in the art of giving evidence in court—never were two opposing sets of evidence so perfect in their utterance or so completely and wholly contradictory!
As Secretary, it was my job to write the Report. With many hundreds of pages of these conflicting statements to weigh and, if possible, reconcile, it was to be no easy task. My relief was great when Sir John said that he would like to draft and submit an outline of what he considered should be said. I undertook, and produced, one section; the rest came from Sir John's pen, and came from it, too, in a single night. It was a feat that could be appreciated by those only who had seen that mass of evidence. Moreover, it passed, almost as it stood, the keen survey of that very able administrator, C. S. McPherson, and his colleague, J. H. Martin, and eventually was adopted. Its fate you know.
The visit of the Prince of Wales (afterwards King Edward) to Victoria in June, 1920, caused another break in my routine. The organizer of the arrangements (Mr. Sam Whitehead), working double tides, fell ill owing to the strain, and the Premier of the day, the Hon. H. S. W. Lawson (now Sir Harry), sent me along to ease the pressure. Here was a new world. At a first impression it was peopled mainly by snobs and persons trying to gain favours—an early experience was an offer of £10 for an invitation to one of the functions. Whitehead soon had my complete sympathy. Half Victoria appeared to be clamouring for something, and all addressing their requests and complaints to him. Nothing was apparently too trivial to bring under the notice of the Prince—one woman wrote that she would show him a white magpie if he would call at her house!—and no device was too mean to practise in the scramble for cards to meet our illustrious visitor.
It was not the general public who gave all the trouble; much of it was caused by people in high places, who demanded that constituents or relatives should have preferential treatment—and when they found us unmoved they carried the tale to the Premier and worried him. Dignity we found to be a frail flower which needs careful handling: a well-known Federal politician 'raised Cain' when he learnt that his seat one evening was in the second row, behind that of one of the State members! I don't know what awful consequences might have followed if the matter had not been found capable of adjustment.
I have never met a more likeable man than the Prince, or a more thoughtful. By the way, of the many stories about him at the time, one is well worth retelling. It may be apocryphal, but it rings true. The scene was supposed to be Brisbane, the place a dance room to which he had been invited by a group of girls from a big warehouse. He chose a partner. They danced. She was tongue-tied by shyness. At last she spoke: 'When you are at home, your Royal Highness, what do you do in the evenings?' 'Oh,' said the Prince, 'in the evenings? Well, you see, after dinner father gets the paper and mother takes her knitting, and when I see father begin to nod I nip out!'
My first big job during the visit was to attend the magnificent display given by the school children at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. I was to see that the Prince kept to the schedule laid down. He duly arrived and was shown up to the box reserved in the members' pavilion. At a signal he was to come down and pass on to the arena where the thousands of children stood in their lines to give him a welcome. I loitered downstairs waiting for the appointed hour and prepared to have the police make a lane for him through the crowd.
But he jumped up ahead of time, and the first thing I knew he was at the foot of the stairs and making for the arena gate. No policeman was handy at the moment, so I fell in alongside and together we pushed our way through the crowd, which opened out as it recognized him. We reached the gate—'Open up!' I called to the sergeant standing within. He saluted, threw the gate wide—and disclosed a thick rope breast-high across the entrance. Then it was that I made my first speech to Royalty. Without preliminary, I turned to our future King and said 'Duck!' He duly ducked under the rope, and all was well.
Later that day I had private audience with him. His references to the display showed how much he had appreciated it.
Frank Tate, the first Director of Education, was head of the Department at the time. Successive governments, ruled by the selfish precedent that no State Public Servant had ever been permitted to accept a title, failed to recognize adequately the wonderful work of this able educationist. He was not only outstanding in Australia but he took a foremost place at Imperial gatherings. The I.S.O. and the C.M.G. awarded to him were small rewards for his outstanding services to the State. He should certainly have been knighted, if for nothing but the magnificent War Relief Fund (half a million in cash and half a million parcels of food and clothing) produced, under his guidance, by the State Schools during the Great War. Theatrical people and others were handed the honour for much less.
Tate had a wonderful memory. I introduced him to C. J. Dennis and to the Sentimental Bloke, and he became greatly interested in that clean and clever larrikin-classic. Later he told me that had every copy of the Sentimental Bloke and its sequel, Ginger Mick, been destroyed, he could have restored them word for word. His memory of the Shakespeare plays was phenomenal; often a lecture would be as much quotation as connecting matter. Most astonishing of all, he could repeat whole pages of prose, particularly the fine English of Lowell.
He had an elvish, a Puckish, humour which was more than a trifle disconcerting at times. The late Dr. John Leach, known the world over for his popular book on the birds of Australia, was an Inspector in the Education Department and a long-standing friend of Tate. Leach was humourless and it amused Tate to play on this and Leach's acknowledged partiality for science and its exactitudes. A purely imaginary conversation between Leach and an old schoolfellow is a good example of Tate's whimsicality. 'Married?' inquires Leach, as the two friends shake hands after years of separation. 'Yes,' replies the other, 'I've been married quite a long time.' 'Any larvae?' queries the scientist.
A true tale is that of the Nightjar. As everyone knows, the Nightjar is a curious nocturnal bird. The devil entered into me one day and I said: 'Leach, a friend of mine has found a bird which is not listed in your Bird Book.' That was enough to rouse the author. He looked at me scoffingly, but a trifle uneasily, too. 'And what's that?' he asked. 'It's the White-handled Night Jar,' I answered, and prepared to leave. 'That shows all he knows about birds,' was Leach's retort. 'It's the White Throated Nightjar.' At this I shouted with laughter and Leach, good fellow as he was at heart, hated me for almost a day.
We had another humourless person on the staff at that time. It seems to me that the possession of humour keeps a man from making himself ridiculous. We were discussing surnames and our friend remarked, with much seriousness: 'My name is derived from an old English word meaning "Polecat!"' I suppose a man can't be blamed for the habits of his ancestors, but I don't think I would have advertised their weaknesses if I had been in his place.
In quite another category was our Art Inspector, Carew-Smyth. Tate was noted for his skill in introducing appropriate stories when making a speech; Carew-Smyth knew all those stories 'and then some.' Tall, lean, dignified, serious-faced, he suggested an ascetic churchman. But that sober countenance would be transformed as the point of one of his numberless tales was reached—it became irresistibly jovial. The man who could remain unmoved when Carew-Smyth set himself to entertain would be a wonder. I scored off him once. He came from London and had been trained as an artist. His knowledge of gardening was thought to be negligible. So when it was reported that he had joined the Horticultural Society and had started cultivating some garden plots, I wrote these verses which, by the way, the Director read to the assembled horticulturists at their next meeting:
ART AND NATURE
Oh, the Art Inspector smiled a smile,
And his smile was good to see,
As he turned up the earth in artistic style
To fashion a bed that would seem worth while
To the bean and the good green pea.
He niggled it here, and he cross-hatched there,
And he rubbed out a line too much,
Till the whole thing glowed like a picture, fair
As a painter's dream, that he felt should wear
A frame as a final touch.
Then he added a wash of pure Yan Yean
And he picked out the choicest seeds;
Each nude nude bean was a pure French bean,
Each pea a poem, as round and clean
As my Lord High Abbot's beads.
In the cunningest curves, on High Art lines,
He buried the food to be;
'There's nothing like starting with sound designs,
Art's everything, Nature she quite outshines,—
I'll be picking them soon,' said he.
But alas for the Art that would govern Life,
Old Nature had planted, too,
And Hurryup Weed and his hungry wife
With 'umpteen kids each keen as a knife
Came thronging and thrusting through.
They stippled the ground with their leaflets bright
In patterns all twirl and twist,
They broke each canon he knew was right,
They wedded the lean Preraphaelite
To the Cubist and Futurist.
And the Art Inspector bent his back,
(With a word that I may not tell)
And oh, but his brow with wrath was black
As he grabbed each weed by the scruff and the slack
And consigned it straight to...well!
'When at last the tucker took heart and grew,
Its planter's cup was full;
The Spider red made his hopes look blue,
His beautiful curves were all askew,
The slug and the snail got busy, too,
And he hadn't a pod to pull!
ENVOI—To P. M. C.-S.
There are one or two morals quite plain to read,
O Artist so lank and lean:—
'No peas for the wicked' is truth indeed,
And if with the other you did succeed
You'd be classed as an old has-bean!
It was Carew-Smyth who dressed as Cardinal Richelieu for an artists' fête in aid of Red Cross funds. He looked the part to the life. The only anachronism was the motorcar in which he sat as the procession wound its way through the city. There was a halt for a few minutes in Collins Street. It brought the Cardinal's car to a standstill just in front of a group of his fellow officers of the Education Department. He regarded us impassively, not deigning to know at that high moment such base canaille. I determined to break his poker mask. Squeezing through the crowd, I stood before the window and held up two fingers in blessing—'Benedictine, father!' I called. The response was comical. For a few moments the Cardinal had the upper hand, then the natural man prevailed, and the procession moved onwards with its great church dignitary doubled up in a most wholehearted fit of laughter.
Carew-Smyth was one of the kindest of men. He hated, as examiner, to fail anybody. The tale goes that he was visited in his office one Saturday by a woman teacher, a particularly garrulous sample, whose drawing had not been passed as satisfactory. She had a portfolio of her works with her, and Carew, sighing, but with his customary courtesy, went through the lot one by one. To each he said, 'Ye-es, ye-es!' and finally managed to bow her out. Then he communed aloud—'No, they're no good, I can't pass her...no, I can't pass work like that...' a reflective pause, then, springing up: 'Oh, my goodness, I'll have to pass her: she might come back!'
I hate to spoil a good story, but the finish of that one smacks rather of office invention.
The Department yielded many a light episode. No one could invent anything as funny as some of the genuine documents handed to me at times by the Attendance Officers. An anxious mother excused Willie's absence from school—'he has been under the Children's Hospital for three weeks.' Another had kept the eldest girl home and was sorry—'I have had twins. It will not occur again.' A teacher, trying to squeeze into one line the cause of a child's absence and the duration of it, summarized thus: 'Kicked by a horse from the 8th to the 14th.' But it remained for my friend Webster, working at top speed during a bad influenza epidemic, to achieve a telegram of such import that it has become a Departmental legend. A wire had come in to the effect that the whole staff of one big school was absent with the exception of the head teacher (a man) and the sewing mistress. 'Carry on with the sewing mistress!' ordered Webster.
My Public Service career lasted from 18th September, 1886, to the 5th January, 1934. I retired as Senior Clerk of the Education Department and Registrar of the Council of Public Education. The latter post I had held for over thirteen years, having succeeded my friend, Martin Bottoms, on 9th November, 1920. That Council, a statutory body, was one of Frank Tate's thoughtful creations. Unfortunately, it was given no executive power. It is a body representing many interests—the Education Department, the University, the registered schools, agricultural education, the Trades Hall, and music. While it may originate any inquiries relating to education, its main function is to consider matters referred to it by the Minister of Public Instruction and furnish reports and recommendations about them. In my experience much valuable time was spent by some of the wisest of our citizens in endeavours as members of this Council to assist the administration—services utterly wasted, for the Minister almost invariably either took no notice of them, or refused any request they embraced.
Still, the Council persevered and it is, I suppose, continuing to act as a fifth wheel to the coach. I have never ceased to admire the devotion of most of the members. They gave useful service to the State, and that not only without reward but customarily without recognition. Some of the Council's debates were a liberal education in how to be warm without being heated, and how to oppose without being personal. I conceived a strong feeling of friendship for several of these able men and women, and I do not need the books they gave me when I retired (Baldwin Spencer's The Arunta and J. M. Barrie's Complete Plays), much as I value and appreciate them, to keep the Council of Public Education in grateful remembrance.
To my colleagues of the Department I addressed a farewell word at the request of Gilbert Wallace, then editor, for publication in the Education Gazette:
Now ends my long official day;
The work is done, the book is signed.
May Fortune grant me on my way
Friends staunch as those I leave behind.
I wonder if it would smack too much of egotism to print one of the letters which came to me when my retirement was announced. I quote this partly because of its unexpectedness, for I had no association with Canberra, and it came from the Federal capital. But the writer, Senator Sir Harry Lawson, had known me during his occupancy of several Ministerial posts (including that of Premier) in Victoria. I esteem very highly his unsolicited testimonial:
Commonwealth of Australia,
Dear Mr. Croll,
May I as a citizen thank you for your service to the State and express my appreciation of your fine work at the Education Department? My best wishes for long life, good health and happiness in retirement.
H. S. W. LAWSON.
The Public Library had increased my love of letters; it created in me a taste for art—I mean pictorial art—even as association with my fellow-librarian, Emil Creed, had wakened a feeling for music. In neither pictorial art nor in music had I any power of expression, but one could appreciate and even learn a good deal, I found, without being an executant. Spare half-hours I spent in the National Gallery and gradually came to know something not only of our Australian artists and their work, but of the world of art outside.
So I was not altogether a Philistine when I joined the Victorian Artists' Society in 1908 and later was elected a lay member of the Council. There I met men of outstanding merit, such as Charles Web Gilbert (the finest native-born sculptor Australia has known), Douglas Richardson (whose Memorial Exhibition I had the honour to open in 1933), John Mather, John Ford Paterson, Alex. McClintock, Walter Withers, Alex. Colquhoun, John Shirlow, Walter Montgomery, Fred McCubbin—but the list is too long to detail.
That Council was the joy of my existence. I wish I could tell the full story. Surely never was there a body like it. One night McCubbin, kindest of men, proposed a motion. It was duly seconded. Then Mather rose, waxed eloquent in opposition, and moved an amendment that in any other Society would have been ruled out as a direct negative. The chairman accepted it, however, and McCubbin, stirred by Mather's oratory, actually seconded the amendment—an amendment to his own motion!
We used to go round to the life class after the meetings, and the artists would give advice to the students practising there. One night the model, sitting in the 'altogether,' had a well-shaped body but a particularly plain face. John Ford Paterson, pausing at the back of a student and critically regarding first the sitter and then the drawing, fired off, in his rich Doric, this remarkable double-barrel: 'No, no! It'll no do! Too dahmed much like the model!'
I sat next to Paterson at a supper given by Montague Brown. 'More coffee, Mr. Paterson,' said our host. 'No, thank ye,' returned Johnnie, reaching for the whiskey bottle, 'Ah can get coffee at hame!' Of a certain member of that Council it was said that he could hold an amazing amount of whiskey without showing it. So he must have been carrying a proper load, when, accosted in the street by a friend, he swayed as he stood. 'Come and have a drink,' invited the friend. The artist swayed again, then—'No, thank you; I've had one!' said he.
The artists' circle in every country impinges, of course, upon that place of strange beings and doings known as Bohemia. The sea-coast of Bohemia may be as pleasant to the view as Hebblethwaite averred, but I am inclined to think that it is a better country for a short visit than as a spot to settle in.
So far as Melbourne was concerned, Bohemia (not the magazine earlier mentioned, but the land of Murger and his like—our nearest approach to the Quartier Latin) centred in Fasoli's in Lonsdale Street, with the willow tree in the back yard. When the cafe moved to King Street, all its following went with it—artists, poets, journalists, musicians, parliamentarians, professional men and the rest. Many have written of both the old and the new Fasoli's: none, I think, has done justice to the memory of Mrs. Maggia, under whose firm and beneficent rule it prospered for such a number of years. She was a woman who had to play a tactful and often difficult part, and well she did it. She earned respect and liking; at her death I felt the loss of a personal friend.
My old friend and schoolfellow, Jack Shirlow, the etcher, later to become Art Master of Scotch College and a Trustee of the National Gallery, was the first to take me to Fasoli's. Here I found a whole new world of sensations. I was delighted. The salads (particularly the potato salad) and the 'shark' (as any fish was named, from sardines upward), or the salami (believed by all to be of horseflesh) which prefaced the more important dishes; the spaghetti with its grated cheese; the general flavour of oil and garlic; the vin ordinaire (it was proper to refer to this, no matter how excellent it might be, as the etching bath), the novel cheeses (here I first met Gruyere and Gorgonzola), and, above all, the flow and sparkle of talk in many languages—these were indeed a change from the monotony of the normal. Even the fact that you must not part from your knife and fork throughout the meal had a charm—the charm of novelty.
A famous night (30th July, 1907) at the King Street place celebrated the coming out in a new form of a little literary monthly—The Native Companion. E. J. Brady had taken over the editorship. I was told that everybody would have to 'do something,' so I wrote some verse which afterwards appeared, in part, in The Bulletin, and as a whole in my book, By-products. But I need not have bothered, there were enough of the well-known of the writing, artistic, musical and dramatic worlds to have provided programmes for several nights without calling on anyone else. What a crowd there was! We had scarcely room to ply our knives and forks, and as the wine went down the voices went up, until all West Melbourne must have known there was 'something doing' at Fasoli's. There was to be a flashlight photo. We put most of the womenfolk on a row of chairs on the table, some of us sat on the table itself, another row was on seats on the floor, the rest squeezed in where they could. Everybody did the arranging. When quiet was obtained—foof! went the flashlight, and the Babel broke out again. But a yell from the photographer silenced us for a moment—he had forgotten to uncover the lens! A second attempt gave, on development, an excellent picture of a London fog, for the room was full of the smoke of the first explosion.
I have heard notable opera singers and even more notable violinists and pianists perform after dinner in Fasoli's rooms; many times has Walter Kirby sung ballads there (no one has sung certain well-known ballads better than Walter Kirby) to his own accompaniment. I have heard in the one evening a Member of the Federal Parliament, a scissor-grinder, and a consul, endeavour to please the little audience. And we would sit there till the midnight train in those older days, talking 'about it and about,' settling the affairs of the world, deciding what the National Gallery should buy, quarrelling or agreeing about the merits of this book or that poem or the latest show of pictures—would that I had half the wisdom now that Youth is so sure of!
A gay adventure had been the publication of a journal 'issued now and then, at the Pension Suisse, Lonsdale Street, Melbourne,' what time Signor Camusso upheld the Fasoli flag. I have the whole issue: Vol. I, No. 1, for no 'then' succeeded the 'now'. Consequently (to quote a schoolboy friend), copies are as scarce as hens' teeth. I doubt if either our Melbourne Public Library, or even the Mitchell Library, has one. So, Collectors of Australiana, keep a look-out for a small quarto of eight pages entitled The Waddy, with which is incorporated The Salami. The cover design is by Ruby Lindsay (who married Will Dyson, so linking two famous families of artists) and there is a full-page drawing by her husband of Dave Wright, 'the man of memory,' the most regular of diners at Fasoli's. Louis Esson has a prefatory poem on the Pension—
Wine flows; rare songs are sung;
Here hearts and pockets both are light,
But all the world is young,
and I suspect the unsigned verses, The Willow-Tree, are likewise his. Particularly bright and very truly personal are the personal notes. One brother of the band, Hal Cohen, had left for Germany; 'We congratulate Kaiser Wilhelm,' says the chronicler and adds: 'Hal's place was difficult to empty.'
Perhaps the most delightful thing in The Waddy is its motto. Parodying The Herald's then slogan, 'Impartial, not Neutral', it declared itself 'Neutral, but Biassed'!
William Moore, actor, playwright, historian of the arts, and most bohemian of journalists (alas! also gone beyond the voices), had evidently a hand in the issue. He was then on The Herald and returning some very interesting copy—that is, when he remembered to return any at all. An erstwhile editor told me that once William found his notes in his pocket next morning when they should have appeared the night before. How he used to relish the curiosities of life! The lady who, with venom, described in his presence another woman as a 'puss-cat,' contributed greatly to his pleasure, and I shall not forget his enjoyment when he went to report the Dinghy Club and found the members listening to a paper on Dreadnoughts.
Many of our writers now try the dramatic form of presenting their ideas, and several societies, here and in other capitals, offer them encouragement every now and then by staging their plays. The Repertory Theatre has also, at long intervals, put on a local tragedy (such as Louis Esson's 'Dead Timber') or comedy (as, for instance, Blamire Young's 'The Children's Bread'). But William Moore was very early in the field with his Australian Drama Nights—local plays, local music, recitals of local verse—several successful nights were held. At the Turn Verein hall I took charge of the front of the house while Moore filled the posts of producer and stage manager, playwright and actor. There was little profit in these affairs, for, just before the last item, we had a half-hour interval in which we served, free, coffee and cigarettes. I have not heard of any professional theatre following suit! A flat rate of three shillings was made for admission, and there were no reserved seats—first come, best served. Yes, on second thoughts, there was one reserve. We were very anxious to please Tom Carrington, the Argus critic (one-time cartoonist of Melbourne Punch), and we held a seat for him (without advertising it) and ushered him in with ceremony. We got the good notice—but then, perhaps the show deserved it! A line on the tickets caught the public fancy—'Citizens in evening dress not admitted.' We aimed at a modified Bohemia, and the evenings certainly were very friendly, happy-go-lucky, democratic affairs. In the popular phrase: everybody was there, and the long interval, and the refreshments, made for good fellowship.
Those Drama Nights brought out plays by Louis Esson ('The Sacred Place' and 'The Lion Tamer'), Kathleen Watson, William Moore himself, and several others. When Moore was leaving for the old country in 1912, there was a fine rally to wish him Godspeed. At the dinner we gave him, Dr. Springthorpe took the chair, and amongst the speakers were Frank Tate (Director of Education), Blamire Young, Louis Esson, Bernard O'Dowd, Desbrowe Annear and Dr. T. P. McInerney. Faute de mieux I found myself proposing the important toast of Literature and the Arts. Genial Herr Hattenbach, leaning lovingly over his 'cello, made music for us, and Doug. Hart and Tom Skewes put on the best of their comic numbers. After his return, William married the well-known New Zealand poet, Dora Wilcox, and lived in Sydney.
Most of the inhabitants of Bohemia, as we knew it, were merely visitors, tourists, so to speak, 'highly respectable gondoliers' who looked in occasionally as a relief from what Gordon has called the dreary round to which we're bound—the same thing over and over again—of their ordinary lives. The regular inhabitants were few, even as they are to-day; an acquaintance with vermouth and spaghetti, or even the composition of Minestrone, does not necessarily qualify for citizenship.
Two burghers of our own Bohemia by naturalization, if not by birth, were my friends Frank Williamson and Hugh McCrae. Both were big men, over six feet, and well-proportioned to that height. Each carried himself like the proverbial lord and each, as Henley wrote of Stevenson, could be said to be
Valiant in velvet, light in ragged luck
for each had the cheerful spirit that refused to be long cast down. It has been said of Frank that, with a shilling in his pocket and the whole town before him, Romance lurked behind every corner and smiled at him from every passer-by. Poems came then which he sometimes wrote down, but more often did not. Generally his work as a State school teacher carried him to the back-blocks so, city-born as he was, the pavements were sweet to his feet in the vacations. He began writing verse at a later age than with most people, and his whole output is no more than would make one slight book. Most of it is between the covers of his only volume, Purple and Gold (so-named from the colours of Wesley College, where he was once a master).
Well do I remember the birth of that volume. It was printed in England for a Melbourne publisher. That meant that the author did not see the proofs. A remarkable result followed, for thus was produced what has been called the only piece of true Celtic mysticism written by an Australian. You will find it as a sixth verse to his poem 'Dirge.'
The first verse runs—
Strew the flowers at Love's behest
Meet for such a lovely guest,
Coronal the sapling weaves,
Rainbows wrought by Spring of leaves,
Blackwood blossom, hither bring
To perfume her slumbering.
Archibald Strong had seen the verses in manuscript and took exception to the phrase 'Rainbows wrought by Spring of leaves' as a bit heavy. When Williamson sent me the complete MSS. to hand to the publisher, I found six lines written in at the foot of the Dirge—he wanted one selected to take the place of the line Strong objected to. I passed the trouble on, the publisher also passed it on, and the printer in England set up the whole half-dozen as a new verse. It reads:
Rainbows made by Spring of leaves,
Rainbows touched by Spring to leaves,
Woven irises of leaves,
Made by Spring of rainbow leaves,
Consecrated rainbow leaves,
Vernal iridescent leaves.
Did I say 'Celtic mysticism'? The more modern 'Surrealism' might be a better description.
By the way, I was with Williamson when he was handed the first copy of his Purple and Gold. It is an attractively produced book and he was charmed, till unhappily he lighted on the new verse of the Dirge. The row that ensued was epic. There was a line of small rooms partitioned off along the corridor—from each came the scared heads of typistes and clerks who listened, fascinated, while a really capable performer did justice to his opinion of printers and publishers, their relatives and friends, their ancestors and descendants. It was a noble effort.
Frank was a golden talker in his best days. He had read widely and he had also read well, which is so much better than widely. When he quoted, there was nothing trite about the saying, and it was ever to the point. His Muse of written expression died young: poetry dwells with him to-day but will not let him write her thoughts. (Alas! he has died since I wrote that!)
Of big, boyish Hugh McCrae one can speak only in love. He is the Peter Pan of Australian letters and assuredly, despite his size, he will never grow up. I met him first at McNally's studio at the top of Oxford Chambers in Bourke Street. I quoted something. 'My God! Theocritus!' cried Hugh and took me by the shoulders in his two strong hands and rocked me to and fro.
They used to tell in Sydney that Hugh was wakened one night in a taxi-cab and asked by the driver where he lived. They had reached the suburb all right—'What street do you want?' demanded the man. 'What streets have you got?' inquired the sleepy poet. But these are trivia; the real Hugh is in the immortal 'Satyrs and Sunlight' and was revealed on the stage of the Scots Church Hall in Melbourne that night when he spoke to an absorbed gathering on the subject of his father and the famous circle of friends of which that father was one. To hear the intimate talk of Gordon and Kendall and Marcus Clarke and Dr. Caffyn and Charles Conder and Orion Horne was to live for a time in an age fast becoming legendary. And, best of all, it was brother Hugh (I cannot think of him otherwise) who had you by the hand as you walked through that enchanted land.
It was Hugh who said, when Le Gay Brereton died: 'The first thing Brereton will do over there will be to ask God to forgive the Devil.' This contrasts well, by the way, with Stevenson's remark when Matthew Arnold passed out: 'Poor Matthew; he'll never get on with God!'
I cannot refrain from quoting some personal rhymes addressed to me a few years ago by Hugh, shortly after I had published a book of verses. They indicate the kindness of his heart and the charity of his judgment:
To R. H. C.
THESE presents; frae oor chimla-neuk:
DEAR BRITHER RAB, syne first I teuk
Intil my claw your chirping beuk,
The starry rout,
Cup-shot, began to dance an' deuk,
Wi' mony a shout!
Through shine, or sklentin' rain, or mizzle,
Ilk gowan linket wi' a thrissle;
The rams an' yowes obeyed your whistle
Their countra way;
Enow to mak my ain bluid sizzle—
Puir mortal clay!
Whiles, doon the hoose, in tens an' twelves,
(Black-coats among the tittlin' elves),
Sermons an' ballats, frae their shelves
—Sae please your Highness!—
Stacher'd an' whisket roond themselves:
Or shewed their Finis.
Dan Orpheus of ancient time,
A michty piper in his prime,
Gar'd sticks an' stanes an' lumps o' lime
Dance unco' well:
Nae news to you—for certain I'm
You're he himsel'!
The following Christmas I sent him this, by way of remembrance:
Three slogans in my willing ear
Make pleasant music day by day;
In their degree I place them here:
Mak guid, mak better, and...McCrae!
Here are a couple of stories (in Hugh's own words) told me in Petty's lounge when I was in Sydney in June, 1937. He had been Editor of the New Triad when Ernest Watt owned it:
During The New Triad period, E. and I (or, 'im an' me) used to swallow preprandial cocktails at 12.45 p.m., and then walk across to the cold-table to ask 'How the cheese is, to-day?' This was part of our machinery, and it happened right through the week. Ernest always paid for EVERYTHING; and the story went that he never allowed—if he could help it—any man to buy him a drink. So, with a desire to be different from other chaps, I conspired with Ernest himself that I, for once, should do this solitary deed.
The bar we frequented was presided over by an eminently respectable woman, bowed by years, but always addressed with the prefix 'Miss.' On this occasion, having ordered the routine 'sherries and bitterses,' I put down the cash—a pound note. Miss Asterisk, at the middle of a long conversation, still talking, backed away to the till...then, with her eyes fixed upon Ernest's own remarkably beautiful ones, paid Him the change!
Ernest, from force of habit, pocketed the money, and benevolently hooking his arm through mine, walked into Castlereagh Street.
For me, it was a damned expensive drink; but it wasn't only sherry that warmed my inside the rest of the afternoon. I loved him so much he could almost have done the impossible—taken a hundred, or a hundred thousand, pounds from me without a squeak.
Here's the companion story—
When I first returned from America, Tom McMahon, the Bulletin accountant invited me to drink. Previously, I had been telling him how like a child I was with regard to money, not being able to compute even English currency.
'Well,' said Tom, 'if you can't count English money, how did you manage with American, during your twelve months in New York?'
I replied 'You can generally trust people. Now, for instance, here's change of a pound coming to me. It goes into my pocked, unexamined, and you may be sure it's all right.'
'Humph,' said Tom, 'I shouldn't like to run the risk...That's not your change of a pound! That's mine!'
On that visit to Sydney I parted from Hugh one afternoon in Pitt Street. Norman Lindsay was with us. I shall not forget that farewell in a hurry. Hugh is a big man, broad of chest and sturdy of arm; Norman is slight and so am I. Grasping Norman with his left hand and me with his right he leaped into the air with us dangling like puppets as we went up with him, while his jolly voice shouted 'Goodbye! Good-bye! Good-bye!' At each leap we rose like a pair of marionettes. Then, with his huge laugh, Hugh was off, and I watched him moving like a giant through the evening crowd.
My impression of Norman Lindsay at that time, as at all times, was one of extraordinary vitality and great charm.
Mention of M. J. McNally, artist, writer, raconteur, recalls many a jolly evening spent in his rooms near the roof of Oxford Chambers. Only once did I know those rooms to be locked, and that was because he had a prize pup there which he was looking after for its owner. The pup had a pedigree as long as a wet week-end; it also had a most catholic taste, for one day it ate Mac's pyjamas! Much has been said about McNally by his friends and other detractors. I knew him as the most hospitable of men, generous to a fault, and many a young artist has had cause to thank him for advice, practical direction and the immediate solace of a few pounds. Irish of descent, heir to a Celtic imagination, his natural heritage was the ability to tell a tale well and he would not spoil it by merely adhering to the bald facts. He was as much an artist in this as he was in his painting. His warm temperament and generous outlook coloured everything he told or possessed. It was a perpetual joy to hear that he had a new story. Realizing how much more intimate and interesting is the first-hand narrative, he invariably told it as happening to himself or in his presence, and his great gifts as a raconteur carried it over and made it believable, if only for the moment.
One day I looked in. McNally was out on the balcony, with its really wonderful view to the east, south and north. Far away, the Dandenongs swam in a soft haze; beyond them, palely blue, showed the outlines of the ranges at Healesville. It was a charming outlook, but for once Mac had no eyes for it. He was laughing heartily. 'Just had a great lark,' he said. 'See those buildings down there'—he pointed to a tall row of offices in Queen Street—'when I came out I could see a typiste busy in one of those rooms. She was hitting off a letter close to the window. Then I noticed a chap in the next room, I suppose her boss, for he got up and presently came in to her office. As she looked up at him he stooped and kissed her. I scooted inside and got my field glasses and read the name on his window, grabbed the book and found his telephone number. I suppose he was still with the girl when the bell rang, for I had to wait a minute or so before he answered. "Is that Mr. So-and-So?" I asked. "Yes," said he, "this is Mr. So-and-So speaking." "Oh," said I, "I just rang up to ask why you were kissing the typiste," and with that I hung up the receiver, grabbed the glasses and raced out to see what happened...They pulled down the blind.'
I wanted a meeting-place for a small society—'Use my studio,' said Mac, and use it we did. The first night we found on the table a sketch-portrait of his face ('by the hand that feeds it,' he had put below) and a characteristic note inviting us to help ourselves, 'and you'll find the whisky in the corner.' Another night, at a loose end, I blew in from Fasoli's to find Mac having a birthday party. With cheers and acclaim I was dragged into it to the refrain of 'Another Little Drink Wouldn't Do Us Any Harm.' Had all the world and his wife turned up they would have been welcomed. As a final gesture of friendship that night Mac decided to 'sell a horse.' Lest anyone reading should not know, let me explain that commonly you 'sell a horse' by putting in a shilling apiece, one member writes a number down privately, then all count as in a kiddies' game. The person who calls the hidden number scoops the pool and buys the drinks. In this case we put in no money and at the discovery of the chosen number Mac presented the fortunate one with a watercolour. Three times did he do this—and those water colours were selling at from ten to fifteen guineas apiece! I have mine before me as I write; I was one of the lucky.
When I recall McNally I think of that saying of Marcus Aurelius: 'As the vine bears grapes, so it is natural for some to give.'
We would stay down at Fasoli's in King Street swapping yarns and setting the universe in order till the dinner was comfortably down—Quinn of Sanderson's, and Dave Wright, the man of memory, always in the same corner; and E. J. Brady, both when bearded and when bare; and that sincere artist Web Gilbert, who died of overwork in the very flower of his genius; and Mrs. Peters, ever serene and charming; and Lucy Thomas, the slightly-cynical onlooker at the game; and the kind little doctor of West Melbourne, Doctor Maloney (now M.H.R.); and generous Garry Roberts from the Tramway Company; and witty Alick McClintock, who could tell with irresistible gravity of the train-loads of holes he had seen going to the spaghetti factories in Italy; and Jimmy MacDonald, now Director of the Melbourne Art Gallery; and the Dysons, both Edward the writer (occasionally) and Will the cartoonist (frequently); and that charming woman, Ruby Lindsay, doomed to die long before her time; and Colonel Reay of the Herald; and Bill Moore, thawing more and more as the night went on; and Frank Williamson, at his best as a talker; and 'Den,' whose Sentimental Bloke had yet to be born; and McNally, rubicund and jolly and full of good tales; and Bogue Luffman with his yarns of Spain and many another far-off land; and Johnnie Ford Paterson, on occasion singing a pleasant song; and capable Louis Esson, whose best work we always felt was yet to be; and brilliant Jack Sommers, able with both brush and pen; and Percy Lindsay, ever looking younger than he was; and a certain Public Service Commissioner—I discovered him with mixed feelings, being young and a member of that service—and Jack Shirlow, rapidly acquiring fame as an etcher; and lovable Ernest O'Farrell, (Bob' to us), afterwards so well-known as 'Kodak' of the Bulletin; and his sisters, Nance and Mrs. Palmer-Archer ('Bushwoman' of the Australasian); and Alf. Fischer, who gravely led us into St. James' Old Cathedral one evening, and shut us in a pew before endeavouring to take up a collection; and big burly Grant Hervey (not so often); and well-liked Fred McCubbin, with sometimes his handsome wife, (who may be recognized in that triptych 'The Pioneers' in our National Gallery); and Leslie Wilkie, Director (dead, worse luck, since I wrote that) of the Adelaide Gallery (his portrait of the youthful Guido Maggia hung on the cafe wall for years); and at odd times that greatest of our thoughtful poets, my friend Bernard O'Dowd; the 'hero of the piece' Gerald Massey; Doug. Hart, with his inimitable City Court recital (By cripes, it's time old Panton was retired'); Tom Skewes, covering a world of waggish humour under a solemn exterior (who of us can forget his love-lorn Esquimaux!); cheerful Dolf Leiberman, whose chief delights seemed to be hard work and Sunday fishing; and Hal Waugh, later to go to Toolangi and lure 'Den' to follow him (there Waugh established the Hall of Hal and Dennis the Den of Den); and puckish Hal Gye, most spontaneous of humorists; and the sober-faced, observant Dave Low, half-Scotch and half-Irish in descent (he declared that the Scotch half had a terrible time keeping the other in order)—by the way, he is now probably the most highly-paid cartoonist in the world; and keen-witted Betty Baker, later prominent on the Repertory stage; and that doughty athlete, J. E. Davidson, then, I think, on the Argus, but better known in after days as editor of the Herald, his idea of relaxation from newspaper work being a bout with Bill Squires or Tommy Burns; and Guy Innes, well-read, quick at repartee, who was to succeed Davidson in the Herald chair—but these are only a few of the fixed and shifting population of the Bohemia which was Fasoli's.
How many, alas! how very many! of these have died. 'The milestones turn to headstones as we approach the end, and under every one there lies some once-familiar friend.' Some were no more than the stimulating or agreeable acquaintance, but many left gaps which remain unfilled. Of these Jack Shirlow was one of the hardest to replace. This is portion of what I wrote of him in the Argus of June 27, 1936 (he died on the 22nd). Commencing with a quotation from 'The Bush' by Bernard O'Dowd—'Strong Shirlow's hand shall trace Mantegna's line,' I told of our early association:
I was walking with John Shirlow one fine
spring afternoon along what was then a bush road from Frankston to
Mornington. I had known him for some years and had never suspected
that he was other than a product of the city. So when boyhood
memories were stirred in me by the sight of some ripe cranberries I
proceeded to tell my companion what they were. 'These,' I said,
'are cranberries. They are quite eatable,' and I stooped and
picked, with due regard to the prickles, a small handful of the
little green and gold fruit. 'So they are,' he retorted, took the
handful, tossed it into his mouth, and added, 'The last time I had
a feed of these was in the Stawell cemetery.'
That statement held two surprises. I let the cranberry reference pass, but Stawell...it was the first time I had heard him mention that town. 'I was born in Stawell,' I said. 'Were you?' said he. 'Well, I went to school there!'
So we learnt, after some twenty years of acquaintance in Melbourne, where we had been introduced as strangers, that we had been in the same classes of the same school for a year or two as boys, and had then completely forgotten each other.
Shirlow wrote many articles for newspapers and magazines, he painted in oils, drew in water-colour, and carved in wood; but the achievements which will survive are his etchings. The medium is difficult, and its many processes demand not only great artistic ability, but also constant care. In the beginning, as is customary in such cases, his work was not appreciated, but he lived to see 20 guineas paid for a copy of a volume he issued in 1904 at a single guinea. It is known as the Five Etchings. The issues of several of his plates have long been exhausted, with the consequence that 10 guineas has been offered for a proof of 'The River' (1902), while the 'Gothic Spire' (1915) and 'The Central Station' (1910) have also markedly risen in value. A small octavo printed in Sydney in 1917 reproduced twenty-five of his etchings; 8,000 copies of this book were sold. In 1917 and 1920 respectively he brought out two folios of six plates apiece—the Sydney Set and the Melbourne Set, both now out of print.
John gave me one very unpleasant task. At his death the executors sent me the following letter which had been attached to his will:
16 Park Avenue,
4th July, 1935.
Dear Bob Croll,
I am not feeling too well just now, but I want you to please understand that I want you—quite apart from anything laid down in my last will and testament, that you are to take charge of all my copper plates remaining after my decease and while you are to retain four (4) which you can consider your property—to do with as you like—I want all the other plates, copper or Zinc, utterly destroyed so that no one can get any further proofs from them. Under no circumstances should any adventurer get hold of them to his own profit. Signed by me
I could not refuse, so some hundreds of etched plates were brought to my home and I took a file and defaced all the lovely things save the four left to me. I have never had a more distasteful job than this destruction of beauty, but I realized that my old friend's artistic reputation must suffer if dealers were to obtain the plates, so I did it. It must be remembered, in judging this action, that the printing of etchings is almost as great an art as the creation of the pictures. Whistler went so far as to say that no etcher is worthy of the name who did not do his own printing.
From the gathering at Fasoli's one night we took some Sydney visitors to McNally's studio. As usual, it was open to the world, though Mac was not at home. As we examined the Norman Lindsays on the walls, and admired the very fine Cumbrae Stewart which hung over the mantel, Percy Lindsay looked in. Down in the street again Percy was still with us. Considering all things, there was humour in the fact that he had attached himself to the elderly lady of the party, a staid woman of sixty to whom Fasoli's and an artist's studio were an almost breathless adventure. It was now capped to her by the thought that actually she was with one of those famous Lindsays! Percy was voluble, and she kept him going in her extremely dignified way. We wandered as far as Princes Bridge—'What is that bright light, Mr. Lindsay?' asked the old dear. Percy identified it as a beacon on the tower of the Federal Coffee Palace. 'Oh, and look,' she went on, 'there's another—what place is that on?' and she pointed down the river. Percy looked—'That?' said he genially—Why, that's a star, you silly sausage!'
To the old lady's credit, she is laughing yet!
Victor Daley I never met, strangely enough. But I felt I knew him because of my close contact with so many of his friends. Innumerable were the yarns in which he figured and he was credited with many a good saying. At a time when Australian poetry was largely concerned with the stockrider and the jockey, Victor remarked that our local lyre was strung with horse-hair. It was about that period, by the way, that A. G. Stephens asked for a four-line description of Australian literature, and I wrote for his Bookfellow:
Whalers, damper, swag and nose-bag, Johnny cakes
and billy tea,
Murrumburrah, Meremendicoowoke, Youlgarbudgeree,
Cattle-duffers, bold bushrangers, diggers, drovers, bush race-courses,
And on all the other pages horses, horses, horses, horses.
A story told to me recently of Victor Daley is worth repeating. He fell very sick while living somewhere about Collingwood and Brodzky went to see him. 'What's the matter, Victor?' said the visitor. 'I think I'm going to die,' replied the poet. 'Oh, cheer up,' returned Brodzky, 'you're not as bad as that. Anyway, we've all got to die; don't get downhearted.' 'No, it isn't that,' said Victor earnestly. 'I don't mind the dying, but I don't think I can persuade that undertaker chap to bury me on time-payment!'
In the world of Art I came to know intimately that lovable genius Blamire Young. Had he not chosen pictorial art as his means of expression he would most assuredly have made a shining mark in the profession of letters. As it was, he wrote a good deal, much of it as contributions (still uncollected) to art criticism. He dipped into drama with a little comedy 'The Children's Bread,' and he could turn a neat verse, while his book interpreting Goya is probably the most illuminating ever published on that extraordinary Spaniard. I have before me an unpublished account of Blamire's early life. He sent it to me to consider why the editor of the Argus should have thought it unsuitable for publication. I told him it seemed weak in the way it finished and suggested a different ending. He was in poor health at the time and let the matter stand.
This thoughtful and penetrating sketch reveals that he had been destined by his people to enter the Church and to that end was sent to Cambridge to take his degree. One of his comments is pungent: 'There is a world of difference between taking a degree and receiving an education.' However, he managed both—and came out an agnostic from the process. So there was no Church for him and he emigrated to Australia as a school teacher who was later, through friendship with Phil May, to turn artist. The struggle to make a living was severe. I asked him once how certain notable pictures of his came into the possession of a rather poorly-endowed Gallery, and he told me the tale of their seizure for debt.
But those lean days passed and he lived to know prosperity and enjoy the honours he deserved. Tall, straight-backed, aristocratic-looking, his was an imposing figure in any company. He acted as art critic for the Melbourne Herald for some years, following the appointment of J. S. MacDonald to the Directorship of the Sydney National Gallery. As Blamire could not, very well, review his own work, the Herald asked me to act as critic for his 1929 exhibition. I don't mind confessing that most of the knowledge displayed in my article came 'direct from the horse's mouth' for, before starting to write, I walked the artist round the show and bade him discourse. The language is mine; the facts are his.
The dinner which followed that show was worthy of it. By the way, he sold, if my memory is sound, some £1,500 worth of pictures that time. With Harper Bell I drove to Young's hilltop house near Montrose one afternoon about six; we left again for home about eleven next morning! We had put on dinner suits and, fortunately, we took ordinary clothes along, too. Such a dinner! Blamire Young was a connoisseur in wines: from the Chablis through the warmed claret and the iced champagne to the rare old liqueur brandy the meal flowed gently and happily. Hors d'oeuvres, a choice soup, a special capon, a delicious sweet, coffee of the blackest, rare glass and silver, a surround of lovely pictures, talk till the small hours, a bedroom where your last memory and your first waking view were of beautiful watercolours hanging on the walls, then a burst of sunlight, thrushes singing, and our host with coffee and a roll to preface the morning meal.
But Blamire died, and I came home from the funeral to write this, more moved than I care to say. It appeared in the Argus:
The dust of his funeral is in my
From his hilltop at Montrose the land fell away to green fields, as usual; his gum trees patterned the slopes; beyond the valley, with its hidden creek, rose the forested walls of the Dandenongs, upon which his eyes, those calm, considering eyes, had rested so regularly in pleasure; deliciously blue were the distant ridges of Donna Buang...and he lay in his studio insensible to it all.
How often had he welcomed us at this door, this blue door with the bluer hydrangeas looking in, the door from which he now camel borne by men in black who carried him down the narrow track below the limes to where a hearse waited at the little wicket gate. The old mare grazed contentedly, near by: she did not lift her head. But the young colt, head and mane held high, full of friendly curiosity, trotted forward to inspect this new intruder, and was no whit dismayed when the motor tuned up.
Good-bye, home on the hill! Good-bye, trees that he loved! Good-bye, world in which he found so much beauty! The hearse moved forward, the colt trotted alongside as if to see his master safely away, and we followed. Lilydale Cemetery is on a hill. Our way lay through the valley where wondering children, picnicking, stood in silent groups to see us pass, through the main street of the township, astir with afternoon traffic, and out again to the quiet of the cleared countryside. Ahead was the gentle rise, tree-planted, where Melba sleeps, and at the gates stood a group of artists come to pay respect to their dead chief. Not only artists in pigment, though: one of the mourners was a well-known figure in the legal world, whose friendship with Australian painters goes back to days when he was the boon companion of Blamire Young and Phil May, and many other brilliant artists, and all were young; another was the foremost poet in the Commonwealth; the common bond of love for this dead man had brought together a diversity of interests.
'I am the Resurrection and the Life,' intoned the priest, and we walked, holding the gilded tassels of the pall, to where the earth was torn and a grave stood open. 'O death, where is thy sting?' We looked upon a sunlit landscape, and the truant thought whispered, 'He is being buried in the heart of one of his own pictures.' 'O grave, thy victory!' A thrush, Harmonica the musician, immortalized in his picture 'Mansions of the Grey Thrush,' raised a mellow flute note in triumph, and once again Memory closed the physical ear to listen to voices of the past.
How well he talked! His Cambridge degree, which was to fit him for the Church, laid a foundation upon which he built greater structures than his teachers ever intended or dreamt of. His culture was both deep and wide; without display he held an abundant knowledge of life in an amazing number of aspects. He was an aristocrat in the best sense of that abused word, the aristocrat of intellect. Experience of poverty and of riches, of the company of peasants and of princes, had ripened in him a natural tolerance which was expressed in the ease and grace of his manners. Had he not been a pictorial artist he would certainly have made his mark as a writer. No one could turn a neater phrase or a more lucid one; he could create a clever piece of verse, as he did to accompany his two woodcuts for the Library Association's meeting in 1902, or as he had done in many a bantering exchange of limericks with myself; he could and did use the dramatic form to excellent effect, as in 'The Children's Bread,' which he described as a 'tragedy or a farce, according to how you look at it.'
The poet at my side wakened me from my dreaming. In the silence following the Benediction he clasped my hand and looked at the grave. 'I am proud to belong to the generation which produced him,' he said. Again I saw the man as we knew him. Tall, erect, quiet-spoken, gentle in debate, hesitating to correct when he knew so much better, generous to a fault—had he lived one hundred years he would have died too soon. I walked with him again through the bush and saw him stoop to discuss an orchid with a small boy; I heard him discourse of the symbolism of Goya, the merits of his favourite Australian poet, John Shaw Neilson, the scientific growing of roses, and a wide variety of topics; and I watched him, the perfect host, pour perfect wine into delicate glasses while he discovered to his listeners his wonderful knowledge of vintages.
Anecdote treads upon the heels of anecdote. Some early pictures of his had been mentioned. 'When was it you sold those?' I asked. He smiled. 'I can hardly say I sold them, you know,' he remarked. 'You see, the bailiffs took them for some money I owed. When they were seized I asked the man what he was going to do with them. "Sell them," said he. "Well, I wish you luck," said I; "I've been trying to for a long time."'
But those were the days of the beginning of things; he was to be recognized eventually as, in Arthur Streeton's phrase, 'one of the three foremost water-colourists of Australia.' As I looked once more from the mellow landscape to the open grave I thought of the Greek Heraclitus. Forgive the paraphrase:
They told me, Heraclitus,
They told me you were dead;
They brought me bitter news to hear
And bitter tears to shed.
I wept, as I remembered
How often you and I
Had tired the sun with talking,
And sent him down the sky.
And now that you are lying,
My dear old Carian guest;
A handful of grey ashes,
So silently at rest
Still are thy pleasant pictures,
Thy nightingales, awake;
For death he taketh all away
But those he cannot take.
The dust of his funeral in still in my eyes...
Poets in Australia remind one of W. S. Gilbert's 'Barataria,' where—
Bishops in their shovel hats
Were plentiful as tabby-cats—
In point of fact too many!
My friend Percival Serle, in his Bibliography of Australasian Poetry and Verse, has recorded some 2,700 volumes by 1,420 versifiers.
How is that for less than 150 years and a population of only six millions! That was in 1925—and still they come! The chief productions of Australia are wool, wheat and poets. We export the first two, but only a very occasional sample of the third—rather a pity when the supply is so plentiful!
So it is no boast to mention that one is acquainted with a poet. I have been fortunate enough to know some of the best of our tuneful choir, amongst them that gentlest of men and most excellent lyrist, John Shaw Neilson. It was given to me to edit, in 1934, the Collected Edition of his poems and to write an introduction. That meant reading, and several times re-reading, the whole of his output, critically and closely. Nothing is more 'debunking,' as a rule, to an author; it only increased my admiration in this case. The fact that he had had little schooling did not come into the matter—all too commonly a writer is admired (or patronized) because he has overcome some such handicap—the refinement of expression and the beauty and delicacy of thought in Neilson's work ranked it high by any standard.
Blamire Young admired it greatly; indeed, he used some of the lines as titles for a number of attractive pictures, and he offered to illustrate Neilson's next book. Neilson was working in a quarry in New South Wales when Young first became acquainted with him. A monthly journal in Melbourne asked several well-known citizens what each would do if he were given a million pounds. This is what Blamire Young wrote:
I should buy for Australia a large and airy
quarry containing lots of stone of the softest and pleasantest
quality that could be found. It may be thought that my object is to
provide material for building war memorials, but that is not the
case. My reason is this: I have noticed that Australia's leading
poet, one John Shaw Neilson, born near Mt. Gambier fifty-five years
ago (this was written in 1927) spends most of his time working in a
large and dangerous quarry containing iron ore of the hardest
consistency imaginable. His eyesight is seriously impaired, and his
hands are so knocked about that he can hardly hold a pen. I had
urged him to leave this kind of work alone, but he said that as he
cannot sell his poems, he must continue to act as quarryman, for
that is the only kind of labour he can get to do.
Now, if Australia insists on having her quarries worked by her poets, well and good. I and my million will not interfere. But I will see to it that the stone in the beastly quarry is soft and that the hands of the poets are damaged as little as possible, in case they might ever wish to write another ode.
Another piece of work which I enjoyed was one which occupied most of the leisure time of some eighteen months. Percival Serle was invited by W. Collins & Sons to prepare an Anthology of Verse, and he asked Frank Wilmot (himself a poet, best known, perhaps, as 'Furnley Maurice') and myself to collaborate with him. This we did and the book came out in 1927 with the title An Australasian Anthology. We read, and in many cases re-read, critically and carefully, well over a thousand poems by Australians and New Zealanders.
It was (again to use that expressive Americanism) a sad debunking process. Ever since boyhood I had read everything Australian I could lay hands on, and naturally I came to this new task with a mind made up about all the better-known of our writers. The deliberate weighing of the work, to ascertain how much of it could stand alongside the best produced in Australasia, gave results that, in the beginning, I could not have believed possible. Demi-god after demi-god fell down from his pedestal and often we had desperate work to pick up even a few pieces worthy of the company into which we wished to place them.
It may be laid down as an axiom that anyone can make a better anthology than has yet been produced. Everyone believes so, anyway. Always some personal favourite, probably never critically regarded, has been omitted—and that omission condemns the whole. We were attacked by critics who had not undergone a purging similar to that which we had endured, and I had, and have, some sympathy for their point of view, seeing that it would have been mine in like case. That there were only three fragments of Adam Lindsay Gordon in our book was a particular offence to a considerable public. That resentment left me, personally, quite unmoved. Gordon's reputation rests mainly on his racy verse and not on any large body of high-class poetry. I feel that the sporting side of his life and the tragedy of his death have been responsible for the general knowledge of him almost as much as anything he wrote.
Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson were in different case. They were the authentic voice of my young Australia and I had never reasoned about their right of inclusion in a collection of Australia's best, or ever thought of questioning it. It was a shock to find how much of their verse fell to the level of the merely emotional and the brightly topical. Popular verse, full of humour, manliness and vigour—yes! but true poetry—well, hardly at all. There are a few omissions from that anthology, mainly caused by publishers' restrictions. But, looking at it now, dispassionately, as one can after years, I still consider it the best production of its kind. We aimed at the highest, which means, of course, the inclusion of a good deal of what would never be popular, and I think the mistakes are few.
An excellent anthology, bright, happy and really acceptable by all classes of readers, awaits the patience and industry of someone who will delve into old files of the Bulletin, the Lone Hand, Smith's Weekly, Aussie, the Cycling News (yes, I mean that!) the Outpost, Bohemia, the Queenslander (remember Brunton Stephens), Birth, Verse, the Australasian, Table Talk Annual, the Weekly Times Annual, the Bookfellow, Steele Rudd's Magazine, Norman Lillie's Magazine and the dozens of other journals, some living, some dead, which have been started in Australia. He should seek the humorous and racy contributions which have not been republished—not the slap-stick stuff, but the deftly handled verse of good quality. There is a mine of wealth to be prospected. The title of the resultant volume could be Australia's Racy Verse.
Another book which should be produced in the interest of gaiety is a collection of Norman Lindsay's drawings of dogs, cats, fowls, koalas (particularly koalas) and other animals which he did for the Bulletin and the Lone Hand. Its welcome is assured. I know of no artist who has infused so much humour and life into animal studies. On a couple of occasions I have suggested this book to Norman, but I suppose the job would be a difficult one. He would be doing a genuine service to a lugubrious and all-too-serious world if he would get it out. Art is as definitely served by this side of his work, it is as true an expression of his great genius as are any of his finely decorative pictures of gods and godesses. Lindsay is a great creative artist; his fertile brain has invented for us worlds of wonder in which move not only creatures of flesh and blood, but dwarfs and heroes, satyrs and nymphs, and 'more devils than vast Hell can hold.' When we were writing 'Epitaphs Before their Time' I suggested this for Norman Lindsay:
Here lies our Norman Lindsay who
Invented Worlds entirely new.
The dear God, with a sense of fun,
Has sent him now to live in one.
Those Lindsays would be a remarkable family in any country: as the product of a little country village in Victoria they are miraculous. They seemed to issue from Creswick like bees swarming from a hive. How many there are I don't know: I have met no more than Percy (painter), Lionel (etcher, wood-engraver, painter, writer), Norman (all-round genius), Ruby (artist, married to Will Dyson and now, alas, dead), and Daryl (artist). All possessed the charm that makes friends easily, indeed an artist friend said to me of Norman, when a young man: 'He's irresistible: if you learnt that he needed your last half-crown you'd give it to him!' I prize a deft caricature of himself he drew on a receipt issued for the price of two drawings I bought from him—in those days when the prices of his good pen-and-ink work were not prohibitive.
Norman never looked sturdy, though in reality a tireless worker; Lionel always suggested robust vigour. He was a voluble, but ever interesting, talker. For a while he held the job of art critic for the Melbourne Herald. His critiques formed an interesting study. Forceful at times to the point of offence, they presented occasionally a sort of strangled look—as though he had tried, not quite successfully, to square his own views with those of someone else. That impression may be wrong, but it was easy to gain when reading his notices of one or two of the more advanced 'modernists.'
The Dysons, linked with the Lindsays by marriage, were also outstanding. Edward made his mark as a writer of both prose and verse—he was one of the Bulletin's most regular contributors—while Will gained international fame as a cartoonist. Epigrammatic, concise, mordant and often bitter, his work, in subject and in its accompanying text, disclosed a powerful logical mind and a fine gift of expression. That he, too, could have shone in literature is proved by the volume Poems in Memory of a Wife which he published shortly after Ruby Lindsay's death. The verse is marked by dignity and restraint.
It was of Will Dyson, by the way, that his brother Edward uttered a truly brotherly criticism. Will was induced (these were early days) to give a lecture on Art to the Australian Literature Society. He gave it in Furlong's rooms in the Royal Arcade, Bourke Street, Melbourne. Obviously nervous, he kept moving during the whole time of its delivery, now with his weight on one foot, then on the other. When he had finished and returned to the audience I was privileged to hear Edward's greeting: 'Well, Bill, you can't lecture for nuts, but you'd make a damn good step-dancer!'
Someone may be interested to look up that lecture. It was published in Randolph Bedford's brilliant, but short-lived, weekly, The Clarion.
In 1917 John Shirlow dedicated a little book 'To my friends, Mr. and Mrs. R. H. Croll.' It was titled Etchings, and contained reproductions of twenty-four of his best-known works. Included was the portrait he did of me. Three years later Alexander McCubbin, then in business as a publisher, issued a more important volume entitled The Etched Work of John Shirlow. To it I contributed the text, a biography of Shirlow. The book is a handsome one, a quarto, the broad page of which gives the illustrations proper display. The ordinary edition was limited to 500 copies, the edition de luxe to 100 numbered copies, each of which contained a signed etching.
That was my first actual book. In 1928 I gathered together a number of articles, most of which had appeared in the Melbourne Herald and Argus, and Robertson and Mullens put them out in a small octavo which I called The Open Road in Victoria, Being the Ways of Many Walkers (the sub-title an acknowledged parody of E. J. Brady's 'Ways of Many Waters'). I was genuinely astonished at the success of the book. Within three weeks the presses were busy again, printing a second edition.
My next volume (1930) was another collection of newspaper articles. I called it Along the Track. Mullens sent it to England to be printed and thereby managed to produce a most amusing misprint. I did not have a chance to correct proofs—a mistake authors should always avoid. Where I had described 'a lazy swell' in the ocean the printer made me picture 'a lady swell.' Another effort by a printer to add to the gaiety of the nation succeeded in turning Louis Esson's 'Sundowner's Song' into 'Landowner's Song.' Could there have been a more thorough reversal of idea! That, too, was the result of having the type set up overseas, so denying the author a sight of the book until it was actually in circulation. The misnamed song may be seen in his volume of verses Bells and Bees.
Counselled by my good friends Percival Serle and Frank Wilmot ('Furnley Maurice') I brought together and published a selection of the verse I had written from time to time. My two critics discarded a mass of stuff of only topical interest; the remainder appears in the volume By-Products, which I issued in a limited edition of 300 copies in 1932. Wilmot printed and Serle published, so 'the old firm' which produced the Australasian Anthology came into action once more. This volume does credit to its printer and binder.
The bound edition of By-products (100 copies) numbered and signed, was sold out within a couple of days; the 200 in paper covers also sold well, so expenses were covered and a small profit was made.
My fifth venture was a commission from Mrs. Tom Roberts to write the life of her husband, who had been one of the most notable of Australian artists. When he died in 1931 his widow decided that she would erect a monument which would do his memory greater honour than anything that could be placed in a graveyard. So she spent the money on this book. Tom sleeps in the quiet little churchyard of Illawarra, Tasmania; the book, his memorial, is in every great library of Australia and New Zealand, and in national libraries of England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Sweden, Norway, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Czecho-Slovakia, India, China, Japan, Egypt, South Africa, the Argentine, Brazil, Canada, the United States, Hawaii, and in the municipal library of his birthplace—Dorchester (England). A monument indeed! The book is known as Tom Roberts, Father of Australian Landscape Painting. It has a number of reproductions of his paintings, some in colour.
Tom was a vigorous, able man, a born leader, whose influence upon pictorial Art here, at a critical period, was incalculably great. His enormous canvas, 'The Opening of the Federal Parliament' was presented to the King and now hangs in St. James' Palace. He painted some hundreds of portraits in this, including those of King George and Queen Mary, and he had many a good tale to tell of 'those present.'
When he went to England to finish the picture he was given, by Royal favour, a room in the Imperial Institute as a studio. One day the Queen was due for a sitting and to his horror he found the Institute locked up. He had forgotten it was a holiday Greatly disturbed he ran round to the nearest police station to see if anyone knew where the keys were kept. A fine old shindy was going on there. The police had brought in a lunatic and it was taking the whole staff to hold him down. When at last the row was over and the man removed, Tom, more agitated than ever by this delay, rushed up to the officer in charge. 'Tell me where I can get the keys of the Imperial Institute,' he demanded. 'I've got to paint the Queen!' The sergeant was still wiping his brow after the recent encounter. 'My God!' he exclaimed. 'Here's another one!'
That Life of Tom Roberts appeared in 1935. It, too, was produced by Robertson and Mullens, whose manager, my good friend Captain Harold Peters, displayed so active and helpful an interest in it that the book may rightly be claimed, in its printing and format, as one to be proud of.
In 1937 I collected the articles written by me on my Central Australian travels, and submitted them, strung together by various devices to give continuity to the narrative, to Angus and Robertson, of Sydney. Their response was gratifying indeed. They had published a number of books on the Inland, including Idriess' Lasseter's Last Ride; Plowman's capital trinity—The Man from Oodnadatta, Camel Pads and The Boundary Rider; that fascinating volume by Finlayson called The Red Centre; several romances by Hatfield; indeed, their output upon our great hinterland was astonishing both in its number and its variety. So I was more than pleased to find that my Wide Horizons: Wanderings in Central Australia (as I named the proposed book) was regarded by this experienced firm as an 'absorbing account' of my excursions. 'The manuscript,' I was told, 'touches new ground, and will appeal to the already great number of readers of Inland books.' After extending the work, at the publishers' request, by writing an additional 10,000 words, it was duly accepted and, at this date of writing (August, 1937) I am waiting for the first copies, having read the galleys and the page proofs, checked the illustrations, admired a pull of the endpaper designed by John Gardner (one of the two artists with whom I took my 1934 trip to the Centre)—in short, having performed all those odd jobs that are necessary between the writing of a book and its issue in print.
Let me add, writing a month later, that the book is out. I have to-day received the first copy (September 15, 1937). It is a fine production, a credit to the publishers.
But there is another volume to add to the list. In fifteen days I have written the life of Dr. Alexander Thomson, a pioneer of Port Phillip and founder of Geelong. It was a rush job, done at the urgent request of Dr. Roland Wettenhall for issue in connection with the centenary of Geelong and of Presbyterianism in Victoria. That book was completed (so far as the writing went) by Ocobtor 3.
Still later (now October 15)—word just to hand from Angus and Robertson advises me that the first edition (1,500 copies) of Wide Horizons has been sold out in four weeks and a second printing is in hand. The retail price is 9/6.
Since writing the foregoing I have completed, by request, a Life of R. W. Sturgess, who achieved so notable a success in water colours during his short existence; and a brief history of Australian art for the catalogue of a collection of paintings presented to the Melbourne University by Dr. S. A. Ewing.
Horse-racing was never quite a sport to me; it was a spectacle. As a gathering of humans brought together by a common interest I have enjoyed the Melbourne Cup many times and have had a thrill from each of the infrequent races which make up the day's programme. The horses, dancing to the barrier and fully extended in the actual contest, were an artistic delight. Being in Rome I did as Rome did, but I never needed the additional fillip of a bet to quicken my interest in a finish. I was, and am, a keen believer in amateur sport—I mean sport for the health and the fun of the thing—and the 'sport of kings' depends so much upon cash that I must confess to a certain amount of impatience with its followers when they describe it as 'the' sport.
A good friend of mine in the Public Service was an ardent punter. One Monday morning I greeted him: 'How did you get on on Saturday, Mac?' 'No good at all,' was the reply. 'Never struck a winner!' 'Ah, well,' I consoled him, 'you had your afternoon's sport, anyway.' 'Sport be ——!' he retorted, with emphasis. 'Do you think I look at the races? When I get my money on I go round to the back of the Hill and have a smoke till the race is over!'
Contrast with that form of 'sport' the meetings which are held every Saturday afternoon in the summer at the Olympic Park in Melbourne. There you will find something like a thousand young athletes competing against each other—for what? What I have already said—health and the fun of the game. Not a single individual prize of any kind is awarded—a pennant for the winning club is the one recognition of success. But the fellows gain the strength that clean exercise yields and, incidentally, they make better citizens in adult life because of their training in good sportsmanship.
It is a most excellent training in generosity and the Spartan virtues. Better than preaching is an illustration. It was in a cross country championship that two runners were having a ding-dong go well ahead of the field. With only another mile to the finish they dived together at one of the obstacles, a barbed-wire fence. On the other side George found himself racing alone: looking back he saw his rival hopelessly tangled in the wire. What did he do—run on to a secure win? Not he: he turned back and released his opponent, then went for his life, and fortunately won. Was his action Quixotic? Maybe...but what an excellent neighbour that chap would make!
I have called this chapter 'The Quick and the Dead' but 'the dead' is mainly applicable to the racecourse. Very seldom, in my long association as participant and official, have I seen anything that suggested 'stiff running' at amateur sports gatherings. (By the way, it is high time to create a word to replace 'amateur'; to many people it suggests inferiority, whereas the world's best performances are mainly in the names of amateurs.) But the professional meeting provides plenty of examples of 'crook' practices. The tales are legion. I recall a case where two men were matched for a small stake and each had backed the other. The race was a quarter-mile. After a start so slow as to suggest lumbago, they gathered speed of a kind till one found himself unavoidably leading, so he stumbled and fell. The other stopped and helped him up! Such unusual consideration on the part of a professional interested the stewards so much that they wiped out both contestants (?) for life.
An amusing story came from England with my old friend Basil Parkinson, the father of amateur running in Victoria. He said that in a handicap race the official starter had backed the scratch man to win. Pistol in hand he stationed himself close behind scratch and, directly he had the runners set on their marks, he fired the blank charge fairly into the thinly-clad posterior of the man his money was on. That man, it is alleged, went off so fast that he passed the field before the limit man had heard the report of the pistol!...Yes, I know! But it's a good story, anyway.
Harking back for a moment—I remember my first Melbourne Cup for reasons quite apart from the race itself. It was a blazing hot day. We three Stawellites, Bill Webster, Gus Scoullar and myself, all in our 'teens, walked out to Flemington (we walked because we could not afford to ride—we had a salary of £60 a year each and had to pay our board and keep ourselves; there was no margin for luxuries) and we naturally patronized the Flat, for in those days admittance to it was free. We had brought lunch and we bought a bottle of lemonade to go with it. Sitting flat on the ground at mid-day I was eating my sandwiches, the bottle lying unopened between my knees. A sudden bang made us jump. The heat had exploded our bottle by blowing off the end which pointed at me. Before I could move, my trousers had absorbed most of our drink. That was bad enough, but the stuff was sickly sweet and, when it dried, the trousers stiffened till they were like boards wherever the lemonade had landed.
The other two enjoyed that immensely, though they accused me of having had more than my fair share of the beverage.
We saw the races, had a most interesting time studying the crowd, and came home with my pair of unusual-looking trousers, and a black eye which Gus had gathered for making remarks about a gentleman who was exhibiting his skill with three cards on the cover on an open umbrella. Quite an interesting day...I wonder which horse won the Cup?
(Here's a coincidence, if you like! Gus Scoullar lives in Hamilton and I have not seen him for over twelve months. As I wrote that paragraph about his black eye of forty years ago the telephone rang. I laid down my pen and went to the instrument. It was Gus who spoke!
I am reminded by this of another effort of 'the long arm.' Going in to town one morning with my brother, he showed me a little book he had picked up. It related to the voyages of Robert Louis Stevenson through the South Seas in the yacht Equator. Amongst the illustrations was a photograph of the crew grouped about their distinguished passenger and I remembered that Jim Rossiter, a fellow officer of mine in the Education Department, had been a member of that crew. My brother promised to lend me the book next day and on reaching the office I told Rossiter of the find. He was greatly pleased, for he had not previously known of the volume. Nor had I, for that matter. But after lunch Jim came and said 'I don't need the loan of your brother's book. I have seen a copy. Here it is. It belongs to you.' 'Belongs to me!' I exclaimed. 'Yes,' he returned, and he told me this remarkable story. He had gone in the lunch interval to consult his solicitor about a matter. That solicitor happened to be James McConnell Kerr, another old cobber of mine. When the business was concluded Kerr remarked: 'You're going back to the Education Office now, Mr. Rossiter, are you not? I've had a book here for some months that I've been keeping to give to Mr. Croll, for I know he is interested in Robert Louis Stevenson—would you mind taking it up to him?'
It was that very book! a book in which Rossiter's own portrait appeared and of which neither he nor I had ever heard until my brother showed me his copy earlier that same day.)
But these are digressions, if there can be such a thing as a digression in such a rambling narrative!
In amateur sport I was never a champion. I boxed a little, but never sufficiently well to save myself from the smack that shifted a rib one day—the lump is still fairly visible on my sternum; I played single-stick, but could never be quite sure of guarding that left ear; I worked long and steadily in a gymnasium, but for display purposes I never got beyond the running evolutions and leaping over the 'horse'; I ran with a harrier pack for years, but would be given pretty well the limit in a distance handicap; I trained earnestly for that hardest of all contests, the walking race (yes; I mean it—it is one of the most trying of all physical competitions) but a walker like A. O. Barrett could stand me up at least a mile in ten miles—in other words, I was no champion at any of these sports. But from each and all of them I gained (no 'sour grapes' about this) what was better than any rewards like cups or medals—I gained health and strength.
Incidentally, and best of all, I gained friends—sound friends whose company has made life the pleasurable thing it has mostly been. If I were permitted to dictate my own epitaph it would go something like this:
Here rests the restless R.H.C.,
Here his last journey ends—
Happy with all his world was he,
But happiest in his friends.
With a fellow clerk (Henry Amos) in the old Board of Advice room of the Education Department (some day I must write a little more about that room, my first in the Department, and its staff. Henry Ouseley Blake Lane was then its head—a typical sample of the class which, before Public Service examinations were devised, found its positions in what was then always called the Civil Service. Tall, aristocratic-looking, he had culture, and education of a kind which did not include instruction in organization or management. As a youth he had had some connection with the American Civil War and one of our interests was his repeated attempts to secure a pension from the United States Government. In the end he proved his case and was awarded a small monthly gratuity. Francis, next in charge, was a gentle, keen-minded man, interested in mechanics, the first person to lure me out on a bicycle trip of any length—Melbourne to Sorrento and back—one of the earliest citizens to own a motor-car and an early victim to that Juggernaut of our traffic, for his engine stalled on a railway crossing and he was killed by a train. Bright-witted, uncouth-mannered, half-blind Billy Webb; 'Dougal' McKay, who made a fortune and left us—but no, there is not space enough to deal with my room-mates in detail here.)
As I was saying—with Henry Amos I joined Trinity Gymnasium, East Melbourne, where the Ingram Brothers (Jack and Bill—twins) and the two Nunns (Frank and Crump) were the honorary instructors, and eventually was elected to the committee. It was a strong concern in those days. Out of our plenty we equipped the place with new and up-to-date apparatus, built a bathroom (an unusual adjunct to a Sunday School building) and installed excellent showers. Canon Hindley was a sympathetic vicar and so, I think, was his successor, Canon Berry, but there came a day when the Church began to interfere with the make-up of the classes and they, in the words of the old song, began to 'fade away and grad-u-ally die.' The apparatus, still in good order, of that defunct gymnasium is now in use in the Y.M.C.A., Brisbane.
Out of the gymnasium came what seems, after a life of over forty years and 'still going strong,' a permanent institution—the East Melbourne Harriers. Henry Amos and I had a paper-chase or two with the Melbourne Harriers—why not a club of our own, he asked me one day. So we called a meeting of the gymnasium fellows and enrolled about forty. That first meeting had some comical features. We secured an excellent chairman in Basil Parkinson and had tried to provide against all contingencies by taking along, amongst many other things, variously coloured sweaters and running knickers—this in case of a division of opinion about club costume. Division of opinion!...The evening was spent largely in debating a suitable costume, and it ended in the selection of a horrible maroon jersey, after rejecting about a dozen other more attractive colours. Amos and I were disgusted. We had been appointed secretary and treasurer respectively—as executive officers we decided next day to take the law into our own hands, the result being that the fellows found themselves in the present neat and serviceable uniform of dark blue jersey with the white letters E.M.H. on the chest, and black knickers. The proponents of the claret-coloured creation apparently repented of their choice, for we heard no complaints.
We linked up our new Club with the Victorian Amateur Athletic Association and I became the E.M.H. representative on the Council of that body. It was a struggling concern then, though now very prosperous. Cross-country running was the chief interest of us all; to-day the track meetings are the main feature. Entering officialdom I found myself, in the next three decades, acting as steward, judge, starter, timekeeper, referee—whichever post I was required to fill. This led from local to inter-State competitions and I went to Sydney, Brisbane, Auckland and Hobart as manager of Victorian teams taking part in Australasian championships.
For many years I assisted at that excellent gathering, the Public Schools sports, in the capacity of judge. Then, for many more years, I was referee at those meetings. One of my few—my very few—unpleasant recollections of the sporting world is associated with the Public Schools. A new secretary had succeeded Harold Stewart (of Wesley) and some question had been raised of the correctness of the tracks marked out on the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the new man's first meeting. Those tracks were re-measured after the meeting by R. W. E. Wilmot and certain discrepancies were revealed. As the referee who had acted at the sports, I was telephoned to and invited to come and see, on the ground itself, what the checking had revealed. It was no fault of the secretary that the thing had happened, and most men would have been glad to have had a staff weakness pointed out as a future safeguard, but this particular secretary chose to regard the discovery as a personal affront. The result was that I, and another innocent official who was present at the checking, were not invited next year to fill our old posts. Moreover, speaking for myself, my years of service were ignored with an ungraciousness that suggested anything but good manners, let alone any evidence of that 'Public School spirit' which the committee and its secretary no doubt dinned into their pupils as a principle of decent living. In Stewart's day we officials received a note of thanks after a meeting...but now—'Manners, Ben!'
Some day a man like Basil Parkinson should write an anecdotal history of the pedestrian sport in Victoria. To-day the growth of the suburbs about Melbourne has changed the two big championships, the five and ten miles, from cross-country events to contests on racecourses. But I recall when we measured the most of the track on the heathy country, full of singing larks, between Caulfield and Oakleigh, and I remember the leader in a certain ten-mile vaulting a fence and seeing below him, as he was in the air, a fine large snake lying stretched out in the sun. He missed the creature: It has always interested me to speculate what would have happened, both to the runner and the race, if he had landed on that snake. He was running in spiked shoes; the chances are that he would have taken it with him for a while—but that's not the best way to collect snakes! His legs were bare...yes, quite an interesting speculation opens up!
If I were to catalogue the friends made in those years the list would dominate the book. But I must mention the Serles, four in number, whose acquaintance I first made at the gymnasium. In particular I would specify Percival, for whom I have more than a liking—to put it soberly. Well informed and able critic that he is, I have been privileged to make many joyous excursions into art and letters in his company. He it was, by the way, who, with Basil Parkinson, did the pioneer work of founding the Amateur Sports Club of Victoria, a club of which I was a foundation member. That was not long after my first trip to Sydney (1897) where I went with Walter Briggs and others to witness the Australasian Track Championships. The Amateur Sports Club of New South Wales had attracted our attention and we determined to create a similar institution. I am no longer a member, but I know that this is now one of the flourishing clubs of Melbourne.
On that excursion Wallie Briggs told me of the Melbourne Amateur Walking and Touring Club, which had been in existence three years. I joined, at his suggestion, and never did I do anything to yield more profit in recreation and health. Looking back over the forty years of my connection with this club (I am proud of the fact that I have been an official the whole of the time) I see a vista of forest and mountain and river and lake and sea coast that perhaps I should never have known—certainly I should never have known intimately—but for it. I shall return to the subject.
It was in my active period with the Council of the Athletic Association that we formed an Amateur Boxing and Wrestling Committee and proceeded to hold, first State, then Australian championships. I could tell many tales of our adventures. Let one be enough at the moment—a very personal one. One of the time-keepers failed to arrive at a championship meeting. It was in the Athenaeum, where moving pictures now exclude sport. I was given a stop-watch and sat down at the ringside. All went well till a particularly merry bout was staged. I became so interested that I forgot all about my job; one of the boxers was down for some seconds before I woke up. Then I was aware of my own voice. 'One!' it called (it sounded horribly like 'Wahn'). Mechanically I had begun to count and, just as mechanically, my finger had started the seconds hand of my watch. Fortunately, the man was up again by 'five,' really about 'eight.' I kept wide awake and alert for the rest of that night!
The road calls to all that ever drank tea
of an iron mug. And it knows they'll hear.
It is said that an ancient philosopher, sitting in customary debate with his pupils, was informed by one of them that, in his belief, everything in the world was static. The old man responded by rising to his feet and exclaiming, as he marched away, 'Solvitur ambulando!' In other words, he settled that matter by walking.
Walking has been my doubt-settler, too. It has likewise been my little liver pill of health, my fountain of bush knowledge, the inspiration of two books and many articles, and, above all, the begetter of some valued friendships. To walk is to have leisure and opportunity to observe; moreover, one meets the back-country dweller on more even terms than if, say, a car were used; incidentally it is one of the most natural of all exercises and perhaps the most easily regulated to suit age and condition.
I am not speaking of speed walking—that method of progression which is so artificial that, in my competitive days, we sought a new name for it, eventually calling it 'gaiting.' I refer rather to the walking one does, preferably in company, to see new things or ponder over old, the leisured pacing that conquers distance, but not by haste. Mostly to me that has meant tramping in the bush; often it has implied carrying Matilda, the swag. With that hospitable lady on my shoulder, a nosebag (i.e., a tucker bag) hanging in front, and a black billy in hand, I have walked some 3,000 miles in Victoria, sleeping hard, eating simple food, enjoying a freedom difficult to know in cities. Of the innumerable short excursions with a knapsack I have kept no record: they would add up to another fair total.
For most of that I am in debt to the Melbourne Walking Club, of which I am now a life member. It has always been a joyous body, taking good and bad in the same philosophic spirit, enjoying any luxuries which came along and not growling too much at 'perishes.' Does it seem that exploring so small a place as Victoria can provide no adventure? Well, I have been eight days tramping about the mountains without seeing a human being outside of my own party; I have called at a cattle station which no wheeled vehicle has ever entered, for its only 'highways' are horse-pads which make sidings along the steep slopes of mountains and cross rivers at girth-deep fords, for bridges there are none; I have marched a stern thirty miles, carrying a heavy swag, in a hunt for drinkable water, and that with the shade temperature over 100° Fahrenheit—but to multiply examples would be to give an undue impression of hardship.
Pleasure predominated, or we should not have taken these strenuous outings. For twenty-two consecutive years a small party of the older members spent the Christmas holiday together in a tramp through the back country. Our longest excursion was from the Gippsland Lakes Entrance to Cape Everard lighthouse and from there to the Thurra and the Mueller Rivers, then back along the coast to our starting point. We must have looked the part of the genuine swagman, for in the streets of Sale we were hailed by a farmer seeking harvest hands, and offered a job.
We had imported sleeping-bags from Germany (this was long before the War) and our first swagging trip was made with these. It was from Beech Forest to Cape Otway, and along the coast to Queenscliff. We were new to a walk of such length and we loaded ourselves with food till I, personally, felt as if I must soon be cut in half. Steadily we jettisoned the stuff: it may be possible, even to-day, to follow that thirty-year-old march by the tins of meat and plum pudding with which we punctuated our path. It was a case of discard or stop. Perhaps that reckless abandonment explains the appetites the trip bred in us until we actually ate a whole crayfish apiece, and no small one at that, at lunch one day.
Chief of us in those high and far-off times was Phil. Flower, for long secretary of the Club, and definitely the finest man who ever joined it. His was a humour that could carry any tale he told—and he told so many and told them so well that it is common to-day for older members to preface a remark with 'As Phil used to say.' Unselfish, generous, resourceful, well-read in unusual branches of literature, he was an ideal mate for a long tramp. 'The actions of the just, smell sweet and blossom in the dust'—his memory does not die though he has gone from us these many years.
Of Wallie Briggs, one of the earliest members and my introducer to the Club, I can only say that we have been intimately associated for so long that we can quarrel like brothers. Not that we do quarrel, but I feel that we could without disturbing the friendship. I recall one day on a long walk when relations were strained. We camped in the same spot for a couple of nights, our beds being hollows scooped from the slope of a sandhill. Mine was just a few feet above Wallie's. The second day I saw him gathering some fine soft grass from the flat. Presently he climbed the sandy rise (I saw this from a distance) and lined my bed with the stuff. I was touched, for we were still a bit huffy. Going across, I said: 'Thanks, Wal.' 'What for?' said he—I thought rather aggressively. 'For lining my bed,' I replied. 'Lining your bed!' he retorted. 'I lined my own!' But he hadn't, and we roared with laughter as he regarded the result of his labours.
The Melbourne Walkers are now a strong club, interested in many things beside walking. They have regular lectures on such subjects as our native fauna and flora, ambulance work and compass reading; they have a library and a stock of maps, some prepared or corrected by themselves, of bush tracks; they have joined up with the Forest League and the Bush Fire Brigade; several of the members are honorary rangers under the Forests Commission and honorary protectors under the Wild Flowers Act. Altogether the Club is doing some good public service while enjoying its healthy exercise.
To-day the motor and the good road make possible at a week-end many outings which a few years ago would fill a vacation. A charabanc takes the party a hundred miles or so on a Saturday afternoon and carries it back on the Monday, when that is a holiday. A short walk on the Saturday, a full day's tramp on Sunday and a return to the waiting bus on Monday, and the city men have had a thorough and delightful change.
'To hike' has become a popular verb since the Boy Scouts adopted it. 'Hike' is an ugly word of more than doubtful ancestry, but it has definitely come into the language and, however grudging I was at first, I must admit it has its use. Something was needed to define succinctly the special kind of walking now embraced in 'hike,' so hike has come to stay.
The hiking craze which, a year or two ago, put so many damsels into trousers and carried them in squealing hundreds into the bush each week-end, evaporated after a few seasons, but it had one fair result: it accustomed the public, in this motor age, to the idea of walking for pleasure.
Earlier it was difficult to persuade the ordinary citizen, especially in the country, that you could do such a thing for fun. I recall our coming from Gippsland's hidden lake, Tarli Karng, and running out of tucker. On a river flat we saw a homestead. Dropping our swags at the gate we went in to buy some food. The squatter himself welcomed us and, with the characteristic hospitality of our back country, not only filled our tucker bags, but refused to accept payment. 'Where are your horses?' he asked as he proceeded to help us out with the spoil. 'We have no horses; we're walking,' I replied. 'Walking!' he cried, as if he could not believe his ears. 'Walking! What a bloody game!'
That summarises the country view. The city opinion was no better. Just returned from a long tramp through East Gippsland, I told John Shirlow some of its incidents. He repeated them at home to his wife. She was very deaf. 'What did you say he had done?' she asked, after a time. 'He said he walked 250 miles carrying a swag,' John returned at the top of his voice. She meditated this. Then she gave her decision: 'He's mad!' she remarked.
The Gippsland walk just mentioned was unusual in that we attempted to trace the coastline back from Cape Everard (Captain Cook's first Australian landfall) to Lakes Entrance. At the end of nearly three weeks of carrying the swag, scrambling through scrub and marching along miles of sand, we looked pretty disreputable. Moreover, we had agreed not to shave. Little wonder, then, as we neared the civilization of Lake Tyers and decided to dodge a wet night by sleeping indoors—little wonder that the proprietor of the highly respectable guest-house we tried closed the door in our faces with the remark: 'We don't sell liquor here!'
Elsewhere I have told of my writings on this subject of walking for recreation. So many people have mentioned that they have been guided by those writings in bush excursions that I am tempted to claim kinship with Job, of whom, you may recall, one of his friends said: 'Your words have kept men upon their feet.'
That is not quoted in vanity: any vanity I ever had was pretty well subdued after a few years' close intercourse with those exceedingly frank friends, the older members of the Walking Club. Those who composed the group which for so long spent each Christmas vacation together in the back country, carrying the swag or leading the packhorse, sharing perishes and tucker—those members in particular had reached the stage when Truth, that lovely lady, was never disguised but was introduced naked—fresh, so to speak, from her well. We had arrived at that state of assured friendliness in which insults to one another do not exist, so certain is each of his standing with the rest.
Humour was the keynote of most of the trips; the man who couldn't take a joke would have been in sorry case. Chief of the cheerful group was always Phil Flower. He met my wife and me one day at Mornington. After the greetings: 'I hear you are collecting those published writings of yours to make into a book,' he remarked. Then, with that attractive smile of his, he went on: 'I've got the whole of them cut out. That knocks your circulation down fifty per cent.!' The neat implication that only two copies would be sold was characteristic of his humour.
Yes; there was not much room for vanity in that company!
Bush tramping has, in many cases, given place to motoring, and it in turn has proved enjoyable. If that has done nothing else, it has at least enlarged the horizons. But it is not as good in any other way. Speed is the life, the very essence, of a motor; it seeks to arrive and neglects most other things. The man on foot, though he, too, may desire to arrive, has leisure to observe, and he does not deserve to walk if he is not noting the details of what he is passing through. When Rory (in Lord Dunsany's story) marries and leaves the vagabond life, his friend, Ship-in-the-Bottle, tells him: 'You'll never see dawn any more, and you'll often miss sunset; and it's seldom you'll see the light that does be in the air after the sun is gone: it's as though the holy saints were leaning out of Heaven then, and blessing the fields, which were too noisy for them by day.'
So many of those good friends have gone to explore across the Last Divide! Heber Green, young to be a Doctor of Science, was one of the best and one of those whose passing I regret the most. Mercifully, a number of the earliest members of the Walking Club still survive, and one of our pleasures is to come together in a stroll at a week-end. I cannot refrain from a story of one of them. He has grown more absent-minded with the years until, on a longish trip, he will now mislay most of his losable belongings. One night, on top of Mount Wellington, I was trying to read at a little fire and by the light of a candle which I had stuck in the earth. Seated on the ground, I was aware of the legs of my absent-minded friend, who had strolled across to me and stood warming himself at my fire. I went on reading till, suddenly, my light went out. Believe it or not, my friend had not noticed my lighted candle, and had sat down on it!
As I came gradually to increase my press output, I took a natural interest in the various journals, daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually published in Australia, most of them to die an early death. I cannot suppose that there exist anywhere, even in the Mitchell Library, files of the whole of those love-children of enthusiasm, as they so often were. To succeed, Enthusiasm must marry Capital, and generally Hope took the place of necessary money. A survey of them, if that were possible, would disclose a remarkable mass of matter, some of it excellent, which has never been collected and put into volume form. I think readers would be astonished at the number and variety of these has-beens. I wonder of which of them it was that this story is told: A group of writers and artists, conducting between them a struggling magazine, stood in a Sydney street. Amongst them was the editor. A well-dressed citizen passed. Off came the editor's hat in a profound bow. 'Who was that?' asked one of the others. 'That? That's our subscriber!' was the reply.
If I were writing advice to young reporters, I should begin by saying: Take an interest in everything you have to report. In a wide experience I have found that most of the juniors (and it develops into a habit as seniors) regard each meeting or other reportable matter much as a bricklayer regards each brick—merely as something to put down and get rid of. They listen to a speaker's words but do not bother about his thoughts. His subject is merely something he is interested in—the words are the thing, and once they are recorded, well, that's another job done. It is a pose, of course, on the part of the young—I could preach a telling sermon against it if space would permit. Definitely, it is opposed to their own future welfare: a newspaper man, above all, should have a wide background of knowledge and should miss no chance of gaining it.
With trepidation I began to send prose and verse to that great encourager of letters, the Bulletin, and was moved equally by their acceptance and their rejection—for to see one's stuff in print was then bliss indeed, while the frankness, not to say rudeness, of the remarks on any rejected matter almost burnt holes in my sensitive skin. (By the way, my wife's father, Arthur Croall, came to Australia as a wood-engraver. An odd job one day was to cut the first block of that script title, 'The Bulletin,' which that Sydney paper uses to-day.)
But there was much matter that was not suitable for the Sydney weekly, and that matter was tried on the Argus and was found acceptable. Dr. Cunningham was then editor. For years he and his successor, R. L. Curthoys, were kind to my work, and on two of my Central Australian journeys I was given authority to act as representative of the Argus, the Australasian and the Sydney Morning Herald.
The Herald (Melbourne) was always a good acceptor of my stuff. When Guy Innes succeeded the athletic J. E. Davidson as editor, he suggested a series of articles on walking trips. I did it under a general caption: 'The Open Road, Being the Ways of Many Walkers.' The sketches proved so popular that they ran for six months without a break, and had a revival for a short season during the succeeding Christmas vacation. They form the major portion of the book which Robertson and Muliens were later to produce.
Mention of the Herald recalls that I started sporting journalism by writing, with a fellow-runner, Percival Serle, harrier notes for the Sportsman, long since dead and gone. We were very young then. We earned, I think, half a crown a week each. On that paper, by the way, another good friend of mine, Charlie Smith, was a compositor. By sheer ability he was to rise through the ranks to become what he is now—Managing Editor of the biggest newspaper combination in Western Australia. Presently I linked up with the Weekly Times (Melbourne) as its writer on athletics, and, under the pen-name 'All Round,' I contributed a column weekly for nearly thirty years.
I would be out running with the harriers on Saturday afternoon, and tramping with the Walking Club on Sunday, and every Monday night was devoted to the writing of the stuff for my column. It had to be in the office on Tuesday morning. What a job it was sometimes, particularly in the off season! Then I must, like a spider, weave a web from within, for often there was nothing doing—outside—yet the column must be kept open. Like Whistler, in his famous defence, I relied on 'the knowledge of a lifetime.' In retrospect I fancy those essays on various aspects of sport, written in the 'off' season, were better value than the mere records of happenings with which I customarily must fill my space. I outlived several editors while on this job, George Mulchinock, always a good friend to the Australian writer, being the last and best of them. Long may he prosper!
A youthful reporter of those days (now almost a veteran in the sporting world) used to make himself a great nuisance to us all in his search for news. When in doubt, I became his referee. I liked him well enough, but he grew wearisome. At last I began to play jokes upon him, but that was no good: he never saw them! He badgered me intolerably one season for an early pull of the Walking Club's syllabus showing the forthcoming outings. The Secretary was ill with, of all things for a grown man to catch, measles. In his absence the card was held up. I wrote to the importunate one (who knew nothing about the measles) that the card would be out soon—'the Secretary is now considering new spots.' That cryptic utterance duly went in!
Of making many printers' errors there is, of course, no end. Doubtless the compositor is often like the office boy who did not know who was responsible, but knew who was always blamed! However, one notable error in my matter in a daily paper was definitely the compositor's, though the 'reader' must take some of the responsibility, too. I had written about a 'kitchen midden' (a refuse heap dating back to aboriginal days) which I had visited in the bush. The compositor knew better, so did the proof-reader. So I found in print that what I had really done was to find a 'kitchen, hidden in the bush'!
The champion misprint, said to have cost a Melbourne daily a pretty sum to soothe the outraged feelings of a Jewish family, was that memorable notice in the 'Births' column: 'To Mr. and Mrs. (a well-known Hebrew name), a sow.' It is almost too good to be true.
Ideas came too fast in those days. I found it hard to keep pace with them and the commissions which began to come in from editors. Under various names, I had prose and verse accepted in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, while as far away as Canada an enterprising monthly lifted a set of verses and did not correct a very obvious printer's error in them!
A sectional paper, The Public Service Journal, then edited by my old friend Gordon Carter, looked upon me apparently as a sort of household poet who could, and would, concoct topical rhymes upon any given subject at short notice. I used the pen-name 'Barak' (after the ancient 'king' of the Yarra Yarra tribe) until found out; then I became 'Melbourne Mick.'
A swift run through my books of cuttings has given the names of eighty-five newspapers and magazines which have published work of mine. The reader who dislikes mere lists of names is advised to skip the next paragraph. It records the titles of the journals, whether important or unimportant, just referred to. They go in solely at the request of my son, who wants to know them: Sportsman, Bulletin, Bohemia, Outpost, Advance Australia, Carlton Gazette, Gadfly, Australia, Bookfellow, Southern Sphere, Weekly Times, Argus, Australasian, Age, Leader, Herald, Victorian School Papers, The Emu, Public Service Journal, The Mouth Mirror, Lone Hand, Birth, The Winner, Kyneton Guardian, Red Cross Record, Daily Mail (Brisbane), Weekly Times Annual, Day of Judgment, The Home, Victorian Amateur Sportsman, Life, Pals, Amateur Sport, Book Lover, Perspiration, Echoes, Smith's-Weekly, Stawell News, Stawell Times, Savings Bank Magazine, Daily Telegraph (Sydney), Southern Cross, Table Talk, Table Talk Annual, Popular Radio Weekly, Art in Australia, Adam and Eve, Sun News-Pictorial, Advocate, New South Wales School Magazine, Geelong Advertiser, The Pinnacle, Together, New Triad, Postal Institute Magazine, The Star, Cairns Post, Muses Magazine, Gum Tree, I Serve, Stead's Review, Defence Magazine, Listener In, Osaka Mainichi (Goodwill Volume), Presbyterian Messenger, Verse, Melbourne Walker, Financial Times (London), Royal Auto Journal, Hopetoun Courier, The Hiker, B.P. Magazine, Pallas, The Walker, Heel and Toe, Centenary Journal, Methodist Inland Link, Walkabout, British Medical Journal, Castlemaine Mail, Australian Quarterly, Australian National Review, Home Beautiful, Shell House Journal, and that joyous effort, The Dingo Flat Advertiser.
Many of those contributions were what the soldiers called Buckshee, in other words, were given in response to requests, but the others represent a considerable income. On year I made £150 from odds and ends of prose and verse—a substantial sum when it is remembered that I had many other irons in the fire at the same time. The game was irresistible; I had to keep going because, not only did ideas come thick and fast and demand expression, but editors had begun to send along little notes asking if I could oblige with an article on so-and-so. Always, by the way, they were in a hurry—on a certain occasion the request reached me by messenger at 9 a.m., and the stuff was wanted by 11 a.m.! With the approval of the then Director of Education (the matter was a departmental one), I hid in a quiet room and duly turned out the required column in the stipulated time.
When writing became my most important sideline and I was keeping three columns a week going, I was often asked why I did not go in altogether for journalism. I cannot be too thankful that I repelled the tempters. The newspaper world is too wearing for men of my temperament; the daisies would have been growing over me long ago had I entered it completely. The newspaper man's best gift from his fairy godmother would be a present of his sensitiveness (if he happened to be born with any) in a nice little bottle to keep on his mantelpiece...and never use. It is odd ('funny queer, not funny ha ha' as an American friend puts it) how few of our journalists become authors of books. So much brilliant and capable writing is printed every day, yet of the brilliant and capable producers of that writing, it would be safe to say that not one in ten ever comes into the literary field with a volume. Presumably, for a journalist such a job is knocking off work to carry bricks, or, at best, a busman's holiday.
Journalism may, of course, be a stepping stone to other (I will not say higher) things. My giant friend, Irvine Douglas, who began newspaper work as a junior on the Melbourne Age, passed to the Sydney Sun and then to the Sydney Morning Herald, became Publicity Officer for the Commonwealth and, at time of writing, is Private Secretary to the Prime Minister. But his ability and fitness for advanced work were outstanding. I hold him to be a good example of the young reporter who is interested in his wonderful opportunities to learn, and takes full advantage of them. My only regret is that the interminable hours of duty in his present post keep Douglas from exercising his talent for verse and prose of a non-political kind.
When Keith Murdoch took over the editorship of the Melbourne Herald, he made many changes. I was in and out of the office a good deal in those days, and often found myself caught by 'K.M.' and asked what I thought of such and such a new feature. One day he pulled me into a room. 'You know lots of stories,' he said. 'Sit down and write some. They must be short—not more than three or four lines.' I wrote some there and then (typical was the tale of the school ma'am who wanted the class to note that the elephant has a trunk. 'Now, what is it that elephants have that no other animal has?' she asked. And the bright child answered: 'Little elephants, miss!') and wrote scores more afterwards for the 'Who Told You That?' which tags the 'In Town and Out' column on the leader page. Percy Jenkin, witty and genial, was the first 'Rouseabout' I knew, and he gave me space for many paragraphs. The friendly personal tone of that column was carried over to the Star when Percy joined up for a time with that ill-fated paper.
When 'K.M.' became Sir Keith, the whole of the Herald staff became appropriately congratulatory, and in the general jubilation was mingled the usual amount of facetiousness. Percy Jenkin's neat retort to a fellow officer is legendary. 'Good morning, Sir Percy,' hailed the officer, a huge man whose lower chest stood out like a bay window. 'Good morning, Circumference!' was Percy's riposte.
I have always liked the Age, except in one regard. That is (I should rather say was) its policy of seeing no good in anything conducted by the Public Service, or in any of the doings of a public institution such as, for instance, the Metropolitan Board of Works or the Railway Department. As a watchdog and fighter for reform, the paper has proved its value, but it would have had much more weight if it had not been so uniformly fault-finding. A note of querulousness used to be in every pronouncement—frequently a good effort at reform was spoilt by lack of a little generous recognition of good work done. 'There's always a snarl in the voice!' said someone, and one morning that able citizen, Sir John Monash, then head of the Electricity Commission, remarked with a smile: 'I feel quite sorry for The Age to-day: the Commission has just shown a profit!'
For many years the dead hand of its great founder (it is said) prevented the Age from using pictures in its columns, whether as news or as advertising blocks. No newspaper to-day, however, can afford to be without illustrations, so the Age has now as many pictures as it can squeeze in. A curious practice is its custom of omitting the author's name from a contributed article. That is such a definite loss to the paper itself that the interested reader marvels that the proprietors tolerate it. An authority on a particular subject contributes an article on that subject, and the paper informs the public that it is by 'R.K.' or P.J.' or whatever the expert's initials are. Few indeed recognize the writer in the initials, so the article is unread by thousands who would have been attracted by the expert's name.
Occasionally the rule is varied, apparently because of the eminence of a particular writer. The result has often been comical in its disclosure of the office estimate of values. I recall an article on the late Sir Baldwin Spencer. Only the initials of the writer were given, yet that writer is as great a scientist as Sir Baldwin was; moreover, they had worked much together.
Of Mr. Leonard V. Biggs I must say that the Age has improved under his editorship, and that I enjoy my occasional opportunities of sharing his witty company.
The Mercury which adorns the Collins Street face of the Age office was observed one morning to have fluttering from it what looked like the beginning of a costume. A well-known and popular member of the staff, Henrietta McGowan, had been married the day before to Mr. Frank Walker, and a fellow officer had marked the occasion by climbing to the roof and tying to Mercury's flying limb a large white satin bow.
Never was a brighter, more generous-spirited woman than Henrietta Walker. I was at her wedding; a year or two ago I followed her to the graveside.
Central Australia, where I have now been five times, was long a place of desire. When my Sister Elizabeth and her husband, Albert Watts, went to live at Quorn, a township sitting at the foot of the Flinders Range in South Australia, I paid her two visits. They quickened my wish to see more of the remarkable country on the edge of which Quorn is placed. That was some forty years ago. The first, a Spring journey, left two vivid memories. One is of the seemingly endless fields of young wheat which made much of South Australia so beautiful just then; the other is of a shooting trip to which we were invited. Our hosts were two young men of the district, tall and powerful, sons of a German settler. The conveyance was a light open cart with one fixed seat which held the two brothers. Behind them, a board rested its ends on the sides of the cart and was secured to the front seat by a stout rope. That rope was tied to the middle of the board and was all that held the 'seat' in place, and all that my brother-in-law and I had to hold on to. In retrospect I feel that the two half-broken horses never went at less than a gallop. Lightweights that we were, our board would often rise beneath us, and Albert and I and the board would stream out behind like the tail of a comet. It was strenuous work hanging on, and I rejoiced when I saw ahead a dry creek bed, its banks steep and its bottom wide and stony, which must mean a slackening of the furious pace.
Not it! The driver flapped the reins on the backs of his steeds and let out a yell. Down the near side we charged, arrived in the bed still miraculously right side up, then, with a further yell, we rattled over the boulders and went at the opposing bank. That almost stopped the gallant beasts. As we topped it and at last slowed down for a breather, our friends looked round, presumably to find if we were still there. We were; but only by desperate clinging.
On their appearance, those two big men would have passed, in South Africa, for Boers. Like so many of the Boers, too, they were wonderful shots and wonderful judges of distance. A rabbit crouched in a small clearing on the hillside about a hundred yards away. Gauging its distance beautifully, one of the men put a rifle bullet through its head. Euros (the hill kangaroo) were plentiful, and we secured a number—sheer waste of life, as I see it now, for we did nothing with either carcase or pelt.
The little town seemed prosperous enough, but recurring droughts must have hit it hard, for its welfare derived mainly from pastoral and agricultural interests. Some twenty miles away, through the picturesque Pitchi Ritchi Pass, lay Port Augusta at the head of Spencer Gulf. The Gulf is very narrow there, but the water must be deep, for I recall visiting a relative-by-marriage, Captain Brodie, of the Blue Anchor line, who had brought his ship that far when I was at Quorn.
The ubiquitous Chinese gardener had established himself in Quorn. This one had married an Irish girl, and a good husband he proved. One morning he was greatly elated—a daughter had been born to him. 'What name you call her?' asked my sister, and the proud parent replied, with the customary difficulty of his countrymen to manage the 'r' sound: 'Luby Blidget!'
Standing on the top of the Devil's Peak, a high point of the Flinders, I looked to the north with special interest. I wanted to see places like Hergott Springs, the very name of which spelt mystery, while the word Oodnadatta was all that 'Mesopotamia' could have meant to the Bishop. And those places lay there in the haze, beyond vision but not beyond imagining. I went so far as to find out what could be done in the three weeks which were the limit of my holiday. Well, that was easy. A train ran once a fortnight to Oodnadatta; a coach left Oodnadatta for Alice Springs every sixth week! I gave it up!
Perhaps that was just as well, seeing that I wanted to retain my job in the Public Service! I could not be away for longer than the regulation holiday period, and tales of slow trains and uncertain coaches were plentiful. If one were to credit what he heard, the transport service was truly happy-go-lucky—probably a gross injustice when difficulties were so great. But the yarns were many. Quorn told me of the artisan who went up the line to do a job, finished it in a few days, and was so much in debt to the local publican before the returning fortnightly train happened along that he found it almost impossible to get home again. Then on another occasion the train stopped in the middle of a waste where no man lived. The interested passengers saw first the fireman, then the engine-driver, and finally the guard, all climb down and start off for, apparently, the far horizon. But they were only after the Sturt Desert Pea, which was just then in flower, and presently the whole train was ablaze from end to end with the beautiful blooms, for everyone decided to 'take some home to the missus.' More exciting was another halt, again in a wide desolation, when the two officials on the engine, showing definite signs of having 'had a few,' pulled up the train to fight out a couple of quite ineffectual rounds. They finished an amicable bottle together before getting the conveyance going again. Apocryphal? Perhaps.
But my dream of the north lingered, despite all discouragement. So, when an old friend, Professor Stanley D. Porteus, of the Hawaii University, looked in at my office one day, and mentioned that he would like me to go with him to Central Australia, he found me more than willing. That was the Spring of 1929. He had been commissioned by the Australian National Research Council to make a study of the mentality of the Australian aboriginal, and he had already spent some time in the north-west of the continent.
I have told in my book, Wide Horizons, a good deal of what happened to us. Professor Porteus has given a more detailed account in his Psychology of a Primitive People. Anyone who wishes to gain a scientific view of the position our aborigines hold in the scale of intelligence should read that book, and follow it with Porteus's later work, Primitive Intelligence and Environment, which is an absorbing narrative of a journey through the Kalahari Desert in Africa, with much shrewd comment on the Bushmen.
I have been lectured by a rather ponderous critic for stating somewhere that the old men of the Arunta at Hermannsburg had told Porteus and myself that they had admitted us as members of the tribe. I was careful to explain how little significance we attached to this action of a people whose initiation rites are fierce and bloody and secret, and extend, with intervals, over years. I called our association with them a sort of honorary membership. But my critic friend had met people who claimed, seriously, admission into native tribal life, and the chance was too good to miss. So he made me the whipping boy for the real sinners.
His was the only discordant voice amongst the critics of my Wide Horizons. In contrast, a man of real experience in the Inland said: 'Your book is one hundred per cent. right.'
That first visit was in the fifth year of what proved to be a five years' drought. The land seemed dead. Carcases of cattle lay, mummified, wherever water had been. As I said at the time, it seemed as if Life had taken one look at the place and had gone away again. Porteus, fresh from green Pacific islands, thought it a pity that any white man should be allowed to settle in such an arid wilderness. But the settlers, we found, grimly holding on to their leases, did not share his view. The whole thing was a gamble, like most other businesses. Given a good season, the soil responded wonderfully, grasses and other herbage grew in amazing fashion, and where there were saltbush and mulga the stock could resist anything but the most serious of the droughts. They do not ask much of Nature, these settlers: I was assured-by one cattleman that if his holding could receive four inches of rain yearly, he would 'turn out the best fat cattle in the Commonwealth.'
That suggests the real need of the great Inland of Australia—water. Until that can be supplied (not necessarily in quantities, but at the right time), I have the feeling that the permanent population can never be much greater than it is now. A goldfield like Tennant Creek, for instance, will collect some thousands of people and, if rich enough and big enough, could possibly secure the creation of huge reservoirs in the Macdonnell Ranges, or nearer, with which the field could be linked up (even as Coolgardie is linked, by a pipe-line some 300 miles long) with sources of supply. That would mean, in turn, closer settlement, more abundant food supplies and improved conditions generally.
Goldfields, however, are notoriously impermanent and, as I see it now, this large hinterland seems destined to be cattle country for all time. The sheepman is advancing north a bit, but gingerly so far, and mining in gold, tin, wolfram, osmiridium, opal, mica and other minerals will always prove a fascinating, if not always profitable, pursuit. But cattle are the mainstay, and must remain so for many years.
The tourist is a distinct possibility as a help to the advance of the Inland. But, and it is a prodigious but, there is much to be done before a really appreciable business can be established in that line. The wealthy Americans who come to Australia in luxury ships desire, very often, to see our Stone Age aborigines, but two obstacles are in the way—want of time to reach the Centre (so distant from the coast), and absence of that extravagant comfort which they consider their money entitles them to. I am writing, at this moment (27th June, 1938) sitting in a car at the entrance to Palm Valley, about 100 miles west of Alice Springs, which, in turn, is roughly 1000 miles north of Adelaide. Should the tourists just mentioned elect to follow the road we came, the only one open lately owing to washaways caused by a flood last February, they would be horrified by the difficulties. Almost every creek-crossing must be matted (that is, rolls of coconut matting must be laid and relaid several times to keep the car from sinking in the sand), and at each of these pauses myriads of small flies would torment the passengers.
If they came by train they could go no farther by that means than Alice Springs; cars must then be taken over roads of varying degrees of badness (from a city standpoint)—the best of which must offend people who, it is recorded, objected to a single mile of unbitumened road near Melbourne! The train is comfortable enough for the ordinary citizen, but I fear that the tourists I am now discussing do not regard themselves as ordinary citizens.
Air travel would probably suit them better, and that swift method of travel is now available.
But, whichever way they come, they are faced by the fact that the accommodation at Alice Springs, good as it is, is much behind the standards demanded by such pampered world travellers. They must face the fact, too, that the native, in a native state, is still far to seek. All the aborigines who may be met within hundreds of miles of Alice Springs are clothed, and are more likely to be seen opening tins and making tea than chasing game or dancing corroborees. Out in the Macdonnells a few days ago Arltinga, a Loritja looking for a Euro, smiled pityingly when I asked him where were his spears. 'No usem spear, now; usem rifle!' He had more clothes on than I had. At a distance the tourist will distinguish the aboriginal from the white man only by the fact that the native carries himself so much better than the average European.
Tourist traffic is certainly growing, and an increasing number of Australians are finding interest and pleasure in becoming acquainted with this part of their country.
Porteus and I went from Alice Springs to Hermannsburg, more correctly the Finke River Mission. Lutherans, persecuted in Germany on religious ground, emulated the Pilgrim Fathers by emigrating. Many came to South Australia, and a missionary zeal sent some of them inland to convert the aborigines. Several stations were formed and doubtless all would still be in existence but for the pestilent habit of the tribes in dying. Contact with the whites has been fatal in most cases, whether that contact has been lay or church. Hermannsburg survives, and I am assured by its present pastor, the Rev. F. A. Albrecht, that the wastage has been checked and the births are now exceeding the deaths.
About 300 are on the mission books to-day, mainly Arunta—the remnants of the large tribe of many branches, which once were undisputed lords of this Larapinta Land—the land of the source and gorges of the Finke River. A likeable people we found them—always ready to smile, quick judges of character, a people one would do much to have survive.
I fear the worst. Hermannsburg is one small raft on an ocean of waste. Valiant efforts I know are being made for the native generally by such enlightened workers as the Rev. J. R. B. Love (amongst the Worora) and others, but one cannot help remembering that there are no native Tasmanians alive, that the 6,000 aboriginal Victorians are now down to something under 100, and that the tale of the census shows a general decrease for Australia whenever a tally is taken. The existing period is patently one of transition for the 60,000 who still remain. At the Jay River Reserve, ruled over by the capable Patrol Officer, Mr. T. G. A. Strehlow, some 300 natives of several tribes have made almost-permanent homes. Here the Government hands out, each Friday, 10 lbs. of flour, so much tea and so much sugar, to each old person. The camp shelters vary from a well-roofed low hut to the old-time, elementary break-wind of branches. Transition? Yes! Here may be seen a kangaroo being cooked as Stone Age man cooked it, in a hot hole in the ground, but it is eaten with damper of white flour, and a brew of tea washes it down; young men, uninitiated and intending to remain so, lowering their voices if they mention the still-dreaded Kurdaitcha and hiding the still-sacred bullroarer should a woman or child pass by; old men, as grave and as conventionally dressed as any elder of a Scottish kirk, carrying spears and woomera on a hunting expedition, smoking a clay pipe as they go; a fully-clothed ancient singing hymns lustily at the frequent church services, and keeping holiday on days of religious festival, yet telling privately, with equal seriousness, of the 'bad fellow snake—beeg fellow' whose huge body made the gap known as Standley Chasm and whose descendants still guard certain waterholes where no man dare go.
What is to be the outcome of this mixing and changing? I am no prophet. The children sang us a song at Hermannsburg; translated, it said: 'I do not know the name of my sadness. I look to the hills where my fathers sought the kangaroo. To-day I cannot find a single one!' A requiem?
My excursions into the Centre gave me many newspaper and magazine articles, and quickened my interest in the natives so much that when my friend Stan. Mitchell suggested the formation of an Anthropological Society in Victoria I agreed readily. He obtained copies of the constitution of the New South Wales Society and I drafted circulars and had them typed. We wanted Professor Wood Jones as President, knowing that his name would help greatly, but he was going for a year to China. He promised he would help on return and we postponed action till he did so. The Society is a sound concern to-day. Wood Jones held the Presidency for two years, then A. S. Kenyon for one, then I had it for twelve months, and D. A. Casey is at present in the chair.
Wood Jones was a remarkable man. He was anatomist first, I suppose, as Anatomy was his chair, but he had also a world reputation as an anthropologist, and he was quite unusually gifted as a writer. His lectures were, in the old phrase, 'a liberal education.' The matter was invariably good, while his choice of words and happy turns of phrase were a delight to hear. He was on the lean side, tallish but not tall, with a small, very neat, head and quick, observant eyes. With all his learning he could confess ignorance. 'What is it that constitutes quality in a brain?' he was asked at one of his talks on Anthropology. 'You have told us it is not size, or shape, or convolutions—what actually is it that makes for value?' And the professor answered: 'Search me!'
One of the outcomes of all this travel on my part has been a collection of aboriginal implements which has yielded us much interest. It is particularly rich in the sacred articles known as Churinga (or Tjurunga, as some spell it). Mainly concerned with Central Australia, it has been added to through excursions to old camps in Victoria, on several of which my son has joined me. He had an unusual experience in the Spring of 1937, when he took part with Mr. Murray Black, of Tarwin Meadows (Gippsland), in an excursion into the Riverina near Wakool to obtain aboriginal skeletons for the Canberra Museum, then presided over by Sir Colin Mackenzie. They dug up over a score of skeletons during Robin's stay of a fortnight; the eventual total was over 200. The implements we have from Victorian camps are axes, knives, scrapers, 'crescents,' 'points,' ochre mills, seed mills, pounding stones and axe sharpeners—all of various kinds of stone—and a few, a very few, wooden weapons. They have come mainly from Tarwin and various points on the coastline such as Cape Otway and Portland; but many inland parts of the State are also represented.
For the benefit of the captious critic, let me say that, in summarizing my impressions of the Australian aboriginal, I am well aware that no one in this world (and least of all the average Government official, in Darwin or elsewhere) can speak definitely of the past, any more than he can speak with assurance of the future, of these interesting people. I have noted facts at first-hand as they have come before me; deductions from those facts are not presented as more than my personal opinions.
My reaction to the aboriginal each time that I meet him in Central Australia is always one of disgust with my own kind. I am not speaking of the wild, naked people (rarely to be met with now), but of those who have eaten of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, as introduced by us, and have learnt shame. In other words, they are clothed. Usually that transforms them from upright, free-moving men and women to shambling mendicants. Then we scorn them for being shabby and for being beggars, conditions which we have forced upon them.
The sophistication to-day of the native in the neighbourhood of white settlement is illustrated in a conversation with one I met in the Macdonnell Ranges. He had a boy with him. I asked the lad's name. The reply was either 'Benny' or 'Penny,' I was not sure which. 'What name?' I repeated. The man made a gesture as of flicking a coin into the air. 'Penny. Alla same toss-up!' he replied. He evidently was well acquainted with the great Australian game of Two-up.
Recently, too, I have learnt of a full-blood Arunta who has a bank account and pays for goods by cheque! He is Albert Namatjira, a man who, though he has never been out of Central Australia, has established a reputation as an artist, handling water-colours with a skill and sensitive appreciation of values remarkable in such circumstances. His cash, now in the bank, came from a successful show of his work, assuredly the first of its kind in the world, held in Melbourne in 1938 and opened by Lady Huntingfield, wife of the Governor of Victoria. She had met him in Central Australia. My friend Rex Battarbee gave him a few lessons in painting; beyond that Albert has had no art tuition. The missionary school at Hermannsburg, on the Finke River, taught him to write and to read in Arunta.
Australia has two remarkable inventions to her credit. Doubtless she has many more, but in those two she definitely led the world. Each has been a great national boon, benefiting particularly the people living far from cities. One is the system whereby back-country children receive education by correspondence—this must be credited to Frank Tate, then Director of Education in Victoria, and James McRae, at that time Principal of the Teachers' Training College in Melbourne. It has spread over the whole of the Commonwealth and far beyond. Call at any remote homestead, separated by perhaps fifty miles from the nearest neighbour, and you will likely find (as I have found so many times), the mother superintending the children's lessons—lessons sent hundreds of miles by post.
The other is the brain child of another Victorian, the Rev. John Flynn. Originating in a Presbyterian organization known as the Australian Inland Mission, it has outgrown its parents' house and is now the Australian Aerial Medical Services, with centres dotted about Australia, wireless sets (sending and receiving) in private homes, and a staff of medical men who use aeroplanes to reach, and convey, their patients.
These are the great amenities of life in Central Australia. Coupled with the efforts of several missions, they have made the lot of the white settlers safer and happier—have thrown 'a mantle of safety' over the widely-scattered community.
I have mentioned that my earliest acquaintances with the Inland was made as a member of Professor Porteus's expedition in 1929; my second trip was a run to Marree with S. R. Mitchell and Ray Golland in 1930; the third (in two Ford cars) was with A. S. Kenyon (State Rivers and Water Supply), my brother Charles, Ron Neil (of the Age newspaper), the well-known naturalist A. H. Mattingley, Chris. Bailey (Melbourne Walking Club), H. P. McColl (Field Naturalists' Club), and Jack Shoebridge (State Rivers); the fourth with two artists, Rex Battarbee and John Gardner, in 1934; the fifth, again with two artists (John Gardner and Will Rowell) in 1938. The longest was the trip headed by A. S. Kenyon: we went to Alice Springs by way of Coober Pedy, and returned via the Jervois Range and down the Birdsville track in West Queensland—incidentally, calling on George Aiston (co-author with Dr. George Horne, of Savage Life in Central Australia) at his home in remote Mulka.
During the 1938 trip I collected native Silverfish for the Melbourne University and narrowly escaped having one of the active little pests named after me, for at Standley Chasm I captured a new species—now Acrotelsella silvestri.
Just a word on that invaluable beast of burden, the camel. I cannot warm to him, useful as he is—as someone has said: 'I can't imagine anyone but a mother camel loving a camel.' I have written a good deal about him elsewhere, and desire now merely to note that the ungainly beast has taken to ringbarking the eucalypts. I knew that, like the goat, he was reputed to eat anything he could bite, but I was not prepared to find, as I did, several places where camels had to be excluded because they were killing the gum trees.
And here is a story which will be my sole contribution to the Lasseter Reef legend. A bushman leaned over the bar at Oodnadatta recently and showed a nice gold specimen. 'Where did you get that?' he was asked. 'That's tellings!' was his rejoinder. 'Well, what are you going to do with it?' continued the questioner. The bushie smiled a knowing smile. Then, with quiet emphasis: 'I'm going to find it one day out in the desert.'
I recall gratefully many valued friendships formed in Central Australia or on the way there. Albert Miles, opal-gouger, of Coober Pedy, has proved himself a good 'roadside pal' (his own words); I have the happiest recollections of the unstinted hospitality of long-established pastoral families such as the Picks, of Coondambo and East Well, the Stanes of Erldunda, and the Gills of Doctor's Stones, in whose friendly houses I have always been made to feel really at home; and pleasant indeed are the memories associated with certain padres of various sects—John Flynn himself and his fellow Presbyterian J. Andrew Barber; the Methodist representatives at Alice Springs, H. Griffiths and his helpful wife; Pastor and Mrs. Albrecht, of the Finke River Mission; just to name a few where so many have been kind.
I owe much to Mr. H. A. Heinrich, once of Hermannsburg, for advice and assistance during my first visit to the Inland; and I must record my admiration for the work performed by certain Federal officers (the name of D. D. Smith, Resident Engineer at Alice Springs, comes at once to mind) whose duties, often extremely difficult, are spread over areas greater than some European countries.
Writing now in my home in Camberwell (Vic.), I face a book-case which holds a wealth of memories, for most of the books have been inscribed by their authors or are rare editions picked up for the proverbial pence. Adam Lindsay Gordon shot himself on June 24th, 1870, the day following the publication of his Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes. A copy of that first issue stands alongside the unhappy poet's other two books, also first editions—Ashtaroth, by the author of Sea Spray and Smoke Drift (published June 10th, 1867), and Sea Spray and Smoke Drift, by the author of Ashtaroth (published June 19th, 1867). It is recorded that 500 copies of each of this pair were printed, that the sales of Ashtaroth were negligible, and that only about 100 of the other found purchasers. My browsing in second-hand book shops brought these to light—total cost (despite their comparative rarity), 4/6.
Alongside is a contemporary volume, Kendall's Leaves from Australian Forests (1869), not very scarce, but this copy a bit more interesting because it bears the signature of Garnet Walch, that bright journalist of last generation who was one-time Secretary of the Melbourne Athenaeum, but was much better known as a writer of pantomimes. Jolly pantomimes they were; full of puns and general hilarity—proper stuff for the youngsters...and not too bad for father and mother!
Almost of the same period are some Brunton Stephens books. The earliest I have is Convict Once: a Poem, which is dated 1871—Macmillan published it in London. The Black Gin and other Poems (Melbourne, George Robertson, 1875) comes next in order of dates; the others are A Hundred Pounds: a Novelette (Melbourne, Samuel Mullen, 1876), The Godolphin Arabian (Brisbane, Watson Ferguson, 1894) and Fayette, an Original Australian Comic Opera in three Acts. Music by George B. Allen (Brisbane, Watson Ferguson, 1892). An able versatile writer whom I wish I had met. Each of these was picked up for a few pence.
It was always good fun, if not always good hunting, 'doing' the second-hand shops, and the game became exciting when, as so frequently happened, I was accompanied by my equally keen friend, Percival Serle. By agreement, we would start on the same shelf at the same time, working from opposite ends to meet, we hoped, in the middle. Where we did meet depended on our luck, for delay to examine a possible 'find' might enable the other fellow to gain a big lead. I was fond of Australiana; Serle desired mainly good editions of English authors: at the close of a profitable hunt we were remarkably like the famous Jack Spratt and his wife—both contented.
Odds and ends hold interest—this Carlyle Latter-day Pamphlets, for instance, mainly because it shows Marcus Clarke's signature on the title page. Just below his name is written 'Moon & Rowel, Melbourne, 1899' in, I think, Clarke's hand. Who were Moon & Rowell? That reminds me that I once wrote for the Argus a 'Litter-day Pamphlet' during a public attempt to correct our people's bad habit of leaving rubbish about, especially in beautiful picnic places. I still think it a rather happy pun. A few other old things neighbour it, such as: A New Verfion of the Psalms of David fitted to the Tunes ufed in Churches, printed for the Company of Stationers and are to be Sold by moft Bookfellers (the old-fashioned 's' gives a queer modern turn to that word 'booksellers'). It was the joint production of N. Brady, D.D., Chaplain in Ordinary to His Majesty, and Nahum Tate, the then Poet Laureate, or Poet Laureat, as the printer spells it. A bookplate declares, with much heraldic flourishing, that this was once the property of the Mackewan of Muckly, Dungarthill. The book is dated 1751:
Georgius Secundus was then alive,
Snuffy old drone from the German hive
as Holmes has it.
The next two make me wonder how many pirated editions there were of Sterne's famous Sentimental Journey. He published it as 'by Mr. Yorick' in 1768. One of my volumes bears the date 1783; it was (very discreetly) printed 'by the proprietors'! The other, dated 1791 and embellished with a copperplate frontispiece, was 'sold by all booksellers in town and country.' Each, by the way, supplies a continuation of the Journey, by someone styling himself Eugenius, in which Sterne's style is fairly capably maintained.
More recent in first editions are Mrs. Gaskell's anonymously issued Cranford (1853), Charles Kingsley's Andromeda (1858), and Longfellow's Song of Hiawatha (London, David Bogue, 1855). The last-named has the ex libris of the Rev. George Richard Mackarness, M.A., Vicar of Ashbourne, Derbyshire, and is signed by still another ex-owner, 'John Duke Coleridge, 1855.' This was the Coleridge, a grand-nephew of the poet, who rose to be Lord Chief Justice of England.
But that's enough of older days. I've much more pleasure in the possession of works of my own period, for in most cases I have known the authors. William Moore, with whom I collaborated, many years ago, in the production of the Australian Drama Nights, gave me several books and drawings. One volume, produced by Whitcombe and Tombs, bears the unpromising title of Health Reader, but (however unlikely!) it is illustrated by Norman Lindsay. His brother-in-law, Dr. J. S. C. Elkington, supplied the text. The pictures (surely Norman set out to enjoy himself!) are comical beyond belief. The one labelled 'The Wrong Way to Take Meals' is typical of all. Father, knife and fork in hand, vociferates so wildly that he knocks his cup and saucer to the floor, sister smacks the howling baby, mother reaches over to deal it out to the two boys, who occupy all one side of the table with their box-on, and Towzer, the dog, is making off with the leg of mutton. Yes, I should say it is the wrong way! I think this must be one of the really rare Australiana; inquiries all over the Commonwealth have failed to produce another copy.
William Baylebridge is a man of genius, and so much of a literary recluse that few indeed know him, even in Sydney, where he now lives. I met him once only. He gave me this Anzac Muster, which I value highly. It is a prose epic, masculine from end to end. He writes with a style and a vigour which relate to no other author; he is original in both outlook and statement. My copy is No. 78 of an issue of 100, privately printed, as most of his books have been. Baylebridge will always, I fear, be 'caviare to the general.' That has been brought about partly by his early practice of publishing under the name of William Blocksidge (even to-day he signs his correspondence merely 'W.B.'), but more by the fact that his poetry (and he is one of the greatest of our poets) is so packed with thought that he cannot be read lightly. Here is his Love Redeemed, too, No. 5 of a limited edition, again a present. The inscription is: 'R. H. Croll from W.B.'
A valued friend was the New Zealander, Hubert Church, after he settled in Melbourne. Too bad that so bright a personality should have been cursed by deafness. It is a strain on both sides when converse can be carried on only by using pad and pencil, and particularly hard on an intellect like his. Yet whenever we met I enjoyed his company. His volume, Poems, has this original verse addressed to my son, some pertinence being gained by the fact that Robin is an only child:
One flower is always best;
And, hidden near the nest,
One bird of all the brood
Will sanctify the wood.
Particularly vivid are my memories of C. J. Dennis. He was always known as 'Den,' but there was much more than that to it. 'Most effusively yours, Clarence James Michael Stanislaus Dennis,' he once signed a letter to me, so giving his surprisingly full name. This half-shelf of his books is the whole of his collected writings, with one exception—the Singing Garden. That, excellent in its way, is not Den at the top of his form. Like Burns, he was best when using the vernacular. No one has ever worked colloquialisms and slang phrases more neatly into verse; there is always an effect of perfect naturalness. His first book was Back Block Ballads, published by Cole, with a cover design by Dave Low. Here are two copies, one in cloth, the other paper-covered. Although it has in it the first four sections of the Sentimental Bloke, also that rousing Australian Marseillaise which he called the Austra-laise:
Fellers of Australier
Blokes an' coves an' coots,
the issue was a failure. Eventually Angus & Robertson took it over and issued a much-changed volume (here it is, too) under the old title. But that was not until well after the 'Bloke' had proved such a success.
J. G. ('Garry') Roberts and I worked hard to push the Ballads, one device being printed stickers placed on all our correspondence; another dodge was to stand in front of a bookseller's window which showed a copy of the Ballads and, by a very obvious display of interest, cause a little crowd to stop and look, too (quite easy, by the way). Then I wrote at intervals to any newspaper, the Australasian, for instance, which professed a desire to answer inquiries; to these I would quote a few lines of Den and ask where they came from. (A mean dodge, I think now, for some chap would have a bad job hunting up such obscure references.)
I possess one of the original typescripts of the Sentimental Bloke prepared by Den for publication. He did three on his little typewriter ('I want a new typewriter—neuter!' said one of his letters). He offered the book to George Robertson's (Melbourne). It was declined. Then we debated bringing it out either as a shilling paper-cover or in a limited subscription edition at five shillings. Fortunately, it was decided to try Angus & Robertson; the sales have been amazing. I understand that a first edition of the 'Bloke' has a collector value nowadays. This one on my shelf may be worth something extra, for it is inscribed by Den and by Hal Gye (the illustrator), has a signature and other writings by Henry Lawson (who supplied the Foreword), and, by way of additional embellishment, a caricature of Den, signed by Low, has been pasted in, together with portraits of George Robertson (Sydney), as publisher, and Mr. and Mrs. Roberts as dedicatees. That, I think, makes a pretty piece of Grangerising—thorough, and not overdone.
Here, too, are all his other first editions, inscribed and made interesting in other ways as well. A true rarity is a small folder, seven pages of printed matter, titled The Battle of the Wazzir. This was given to me by Den with the explanation that he wrote it for the Bulletin in 1916, intending to include it in the volume, The Moods of Ginger Mick, which came out that year. Three 'unrevised proofs' were pulled; one had to be submitted to the censor, one was kept by Den, the third is the one before me. Rumours had reached Australia that the A.I.F., when camped in Egypt, had 'cleaned up' that particularly unsavoury portion of Cairo known as the Wazzir—Den's was a poetic version of a first-hand account of this which had been smuggled out to him at the time. Unfortunately, the censor wouldn't pass it. The result was that Den's effort remained unprinted, save for the three copies, until the war was over and, so far as I know, it has never appeared in volume form. My copy is signed 'C. J. Dennis, August 16th, 1917'; the printed date of the proof is 12th July, 1916. The verses began:
If ole Pharaoh, King uv Egyp', 'ad been gazin on
'E'd 'ave give the A.I.F. a narsty name
. . . . . . . . .
I'm tippin' they'd 'ave phenyled 'im, an' rubbed it in 'is 'ead,
But old Pharaoh, King uv Egyp', 'e is dead.
Den could draw well. I have a number of his sketches, all with humorous intent and all succeeding. We used to exchange verses—a ragtime set, 'The Yea or Muddy,' in which I libelled his river, brought from him by return 'The Glenferrie Rag,' in which he professed to describe his efforts to find my Hawthorn home.
That effort at Grangerising the 'Bloke' recalls another book, on the same shelf, which I treated similarly. It is that choice edition 'strictly limited to 2,000 copies,' of the Selected Poems of Henry Lawson which Angus & Robertson produced in 1918. It has a colour reproduction of Longstaff's portrait of Lawson (in the N.S.W. National Gallery) as frontispiece, and the poems are illustrated by that other able artist, Percy Leason. Written by Henry across the half-title is: 'To R. H. Croll with kind regards from Henry Lawson, Sydney, Xmas, 1918.' Sir John Longstaff signed the portrait for me, and Leason the title-page. So there's another good effort!
There are more Lawson mementoes here, but no other which appeals to me quite so much as this paper-covered Short Stories in Prose and Verse, for this was his first volume, and it has a romantic history. 'L. Lawson, 402 George Street, Sydney,' published it—that was Louisa Lawson, Henry's mother, who was then editing a woman's journal, The Dawn. Henry's little brochure (it has 96 pages) was printed at The Dawn office, 500 copies in all. A boy was carrying the sheets to the binder when a southerly buster (every Sydneysider knows what that means!) sprang up and assaulted him. When he had recovered, he found a lot of his precious bundle scattered along the street, the gutters capturing their share. The result was that the already small edition was considerably reduced. Apparently there was little demand for the book, and it faded out of recognition altogether when, next year (1896), Angus & Robertson began to bring out the volumes by which Lawson is now so well known, both in Australia and abroad.
One of the mud-stained volumes is owned by Mary Gilmore (Sydney); another she presented to Harold Peters (Melbourne) in 1933 as a thank-offering for his recovery from an almost fatal illness. She had written in it the story of its rescue from the mud—it is prized by its present owner as the gem of a collection of modern first editions, most of them inscribed by their authors in terms of gratitude.
My copy, bought in 1895, cost me one shilling. A Melbourne bookseller is reported to have sold one for £10 recently.
In this copy I keep a rather sorry reminder of Henry's common condition in his later years. It reads:
Henrik Hertzberg Larsen
But here's another item of more than usual interest: The Auld Shop and the New. Written specially for 'The Chief,' George Robertson, of Angus and Robertson, as some slight acknowledgment of and small return for his splendid generosity during years of trouble, and addressed to Donald Angus by Henry Lawson. It was printed for private circulation in 1923. I tried to buy a copy, but George Robertson wrote me: 'I am sorry, but we have not a copy left. I have actually given away my own! and must consult the publishing department's file copy when I wish to look at it. Seventy-five copies seemed an ample number—until I began to send it out. Past and present employees of the firm mopped up such a lot, and naturally they came first.'
That was in January, 1924. At Christmas of the same year came this present copy, most beautifully bound in half morocco. In it is written: 'To R. H. Croll. This turned up a few months ago, and I sent it to London to be bound for you. We had many proofs of this thing, and I am not sure that this is the final one. George Robertson.' Surely there is nothing in Australian letters more entertaining than this rhymed history by Henry of the House of Angus & Robertson—unless it is the series of pungent notes and comments by George Robertson himself, printed as an appendix to the volume. Between Henry and George, we gain an amazingly intimate view of both.
Another privately-printed effort by Henry is equally racy, but not so personal. It is titled Joseph's Dream—really a paraphrase, in good (at times lurid) Australian, of the Scriptural tale of Joseph and Potiphar's wife. Mine is only a typewritten copy (one given me by my friend, J. K. Moir, that ardent supporter of our local art and literature and begetter of the vigorous young Bread and Cheese Club, of which he is Knight Grand Cheese). The Dream, as interpreted by Henry, is both interesting and amusing, and the booklet is worth having on that account.
When Mary Gilmore came to Melbourne in 1924, we welcomed her warmly. I summed her up in the one fine, embracive word 'homely.' She was unquestionably the woman of her own poem, 'Marri'd.' Bless the boy who owns this book,' she wrote (with two following verses) in Robin's copy of her The Passionate Heart. Some years later I sent her one of my books with 'kind regards.' Back came a copy of Under the Wilgas, which she had just published—'To Robert Henderson Croll with LOVE, not miserable kind regards.' Little wonder that, when Hugh McCrae and I called at her flat in Darlinghurst in 1937 and Hugh hugged her in his great arms—little wonder I, too, kissed the dear woman. This other volume, Hound of the Road, is inscribed 'To that good Hound of Many Roads (in Victoria and elsewhere), R. H. Croll, from Mary Gilmore, Christmas, 1930.'
Hugh McCrae sent me the Georgiana's Journal, really his grandmother's diary, annotated by him and illustrated with many family pictures. He would not take the cheque I posted to him. I value this volume the more because he wrote a verse in it. He began by quoting a question from some lines I wrote on Melbourne:
Her league-long streets with myriad lights
Is this the 'Village' of John Batman's dream?
and he added two of his own:
Somewhere my grandam, stirring, answers Yes!
Dear Crolly-boy...however did you guess?
My copy of Hugh's Satyrs and Sunlight has his 'Colombine' written in by him—I had asked him to sign the book, and that was the nice thing he did. His Du Poissey Anecdotes is also inscribed, and so is that attractive smaller book, My Father and My Father's Friends—but then, so is everything else that is his. Richly endowed with talents, able draughtsman, still abler writer, poet of no mean order, he has not, perhaps, made much money, but what a wealth he has in friends, what a draft he could draw upon the Bank of Love and Good Fellowship!
Another who found grain where most of us can discover only chaff was William Moore. I have written of him earlier in this volume. One of the ambitions of his happy-go-lucky existence was to produce a history of Australian pictorial art. Over a space of at least thirty years he collected facts and wrote articles relating to this subject, and 1934 saw his dream realized in the two handsome volumes now before me. We had been much associated, but I hardly expected the florid inscription he wrote in Volume I: 'To Robert Henderson Croll, author and traveller, whose association with art culminated as Organizer of the Centenary Art Exhibition. William George Moore, October, 1934.' (That was the year of Victoria's Centenary. I organized the Memorial Art display.) The inscription in Volume II has a more homely touch: 'To Bob from Bill, with happy memories of the time when you were Manager in front of the house in connection with the Drama Nights and saw that the critics got good seats.'
Three paper-covers alongside are Bill's Plays with a Local Background, City Sketches, and Studio Sketches, all of them interesting.
Mention of my connection with the Centenary Art Exhibition reminds me of another volume on the shelf: Russell Grimwade's charming and useful Anthography of the Eucalypts. He was Chairman of the Art Committee. I could not have wished for a more delightful memento of a (to me) happy association than this book, presented by the author at the end of our labours. He was good enough to call it 'a record of a happy collaboration.'
One of my hobbies has been the collection of those liaison between artist, author, and owner known as bookplates or ex libris. I was in Sydney when the Australian Ex Libris Society was formed, and Jim Tyrrell, bookseller and knowledgeable dealer in all sorts of historical curios, found no difficulty in inducing me to join. I have been Victorian vice-president for many years. But long before the Society was born I had become a collector of the dainty things. The Hon. John Lane Mullins, who died this year (1939), gave me, I think, my first examples: then that pleasant chap and able writer, Bertram Stevens, presented me with his design. I began to watch for ex libris as I hunted the bookshops, and so the collection grew, until to-day there are many hundreds waiting my leisure to classify and arrange them.
Neville Barnett, of Sydney, Secretary of the Society, produced several noble volumes on this subject, each volume a credit to Australian printing and book production. They are all here, together with certain other bookplate works, notably those issued by Adrian Feint and Frank Brangwyn, and Gordon Craig's quaintly-named Nothing.
That recalls that I have several bookplates of my own. John Shirlow etched me one of a swagman, swag on back, marching towards the sunrise and reading as he goes. He added as motto: Solvitur Ambulando. That (generous old Jack!) was a gift. As etchings are difficult to print (I know it from personal experience), I ordered a woodcut from Philip Litchfield, of Sydney. He made a very pleasing job of it. Next that great artist of the fantastic, Sidney Sime, of London, presented me with a weird dragon design, a plate of which I had cut in wood by Roy Davies, a Sydney man. I like that, too. Benefactions, like misfortunes, never come singly: Dr. Ernest Harden, a Polish scholar who came to me about a teaching position when I was Registrar of the Council of Public Education, surprised me one day by bringing in a wood-block and fifty prints of a bookplate he had designed for me. He had cut the block himself. This plate, by the way, is rather too big for general use. Still another gift, again a surprise, was an etched plate by William Hunter—it, too, with a swag motif. Varying the theme came a drawing from, and by, Hugh McCrae—a graceful, topsy-turvy figure which my son found pleasure in turning into a lino-cut. Finally (well, I think so!) is a delightful pencil drawing given me by Harold Herbert—a lovely old tree in the foreground and, striding along the road in the middle distance, a figure which may reasonably be myself.
Bless all the givers!
Of course, Such is Life is here (the original issue), and so is the rib which was carved from its huge body: Rigby's Romance. Joined up, they form Australia's most distinctively Australian book—the Austral classic. (What a debt we owe Miss Kate Baker for her aid in giving us that outstanding work! She richly deserved her O.B.E.) And here, too, are Mrs. Gunn's fine We of the Never Never (inscribed), E. J. Brady's very rare Earthen Floor (printed at Grafton, N.S.W.), and that volume, The King's Caravan, which he told me was the one book he really enjoyed writing. It is scarce now; my copy was obtained for me in London by Miss Helen Bailey.
John Shaw Neilson, most delicate of our lyrists, is well represented. Generous Mary Gilmore sent me this page-proof copy of his first volume, Heart of Spring. Its editor, A. G. Stephens, gave it to Mary. With diffidence (and an appreciation which warms me through and through), I quote the inscription: 'To dear Robert Croll, who has such a feeling for Neilson.' Enclosed is a holograph poem by Neilson, 'The Smoker Parrot,' written for Mary Gilmore. I edited the Collected Edition of his works, published by Lothian in 1934. In this copy he has made graceful acknowledgment of my share in the production. It was an enjoyable task, the editing and the writing of an Introduction—surely never was a gentler being than this poet who had lived so stern a life! Hard manual work, with its common contacts, had not affected his naturally sensitive and refined outlook—save, perhaps, to render him even more compassionate of the poor. The Heart of Spring and his Ballads and Lyrical Poems have long been out of print. Rarely indeed does a copy turn up for sale. I count myself lucky that all his books are here, and all inscribed.
This brown-covered Bush, by Bernard O'Dowd, once belonged to his fellow-poet, Frank Williamson, whose Purple and Gold stands alongside of it. O'Dowd and Williamson were close friends: witness the inscription at the end of this book: 'With love, Bernard O'Dowd, 1913.' He refers in the poem to a number of his contemporaries and others—three of those who are named (Web Gilbert the sculptor, John Shirlow, etcher, and Frank Williamson, poet) have added their signatures to the little volume. Best of all is included a letter from O'Dowd himself, and a piece of his manuscript of the work.
He was attacked by some of the critics for what they regarded as the unwarranted intrusion of persons' names. To me the 'intrusion' does not harm the poetry, and it adds a point to the main contention of the poem. O'Dowd laughed over some of his difficulties in that regard. He tried, for instance, to introduce a reference to a certain University professor standing, deservedly, high in the public regard, but the name conjured up, irresistibly, memories of a well-known nursery rhyme, and had eventually to be dropped.
O'Dowd has been silent since 1921, when he published his Alma Venus. The frontispiece is a photograph of the bronze head of O'Dowd by Web Gilbert. It stands in the Melbourne National Gallery. I introduced the two men. The bronze was cast at Gilbert's studio in Gore Street, Fitzroy, where we used to gather to see him at work—the custom was to toss pennies into the molten bronze.
That recalls the coincidence that the Lotus flowered for the first time in Victoria (so I was told at the Botanic Gardens—it was certainly the first time there) just when Web Gilbert needed to study a bloom for his famous bas-relief, 'The Wheel of Life.' This depicts an aged Lama from Tibet who, after much travail, has reached what he believes to be the River of Peace. He sits beneath a leafy bamboo, prayer wheel and begging bowl alongside; closing the beautifully-graduated distance are the faintly outlined ridges of the Himalayas. A hint that the old man is still in the grip of Destiny is conveyed by the portrayal of a section of the mystic Wheel of Life, adorned with strange symbols. This bas-relief was created for Dr. Springthorpe, of Melbourne, and stood for a time as part of a memorial in the Boroondara Cemetery. It was purchased by the Cudmore family and presented to the Melbourne University, where it adorns the main entrance to the Union building. By the kindness of P. R. H. St. John, the botanist, I was able to secure for Gilbert the Lotus leaves and flowers which he used in this sculpture—probably the finest of his many works.
Some other local productions of special worth are the several books of etchings by John Shirlow, including that scarcest of publications, the Five Etchings, probably the first of its kind in Australia. The issue was limited to 25, the price being a guinea a volume. One was sold in recent years for twenty guineas. Here, too, of course, are Angus & Robertson's small octavo of reproductions after Shirlow, with its dedication: 'To my friends, Mr. and Mrs. R. H. Croll,' and the more important volume, The Etched Work of John Shirlow, which came from the press of Alexander McCubbin.
Two even more expensive productions are these portfolios labelled The Melbourne Set and The Sydney Set.
Straying into art like this reminds me of a couple of volumes on the lower shelf. Both are sketch books used by the late Blamire Young, and given me as mementoes by his widow. The pencil, pen-and-ink and watercolour drawings in them are delightful. The copy, alongside, of The Art of Blamire Young is inscribed 'Robin Croll, in remembrance of Blamire Young,' and I rejoice in possessing, too, a signed copy of his play, The Children's Bread, which he dedicated to that good citizen, Gregan McMahon.
The industrious explorer, and world-famous botanist, Baron Von Mueller, wrote in this copy of his Select Extra-tropical Plants (purchased for one shilling in my book-hunting days), a German inscription to Ch. Tasker and signed it on 16th October, 1889. I wish I had known the old Baron—what a great acquisition he was to this young country. Had he recorded the incidents of his travels as fully as he recorded his beloved plants, he must have been acclaimed as one of the most intrepid of our explorers. But with him the plant was the thing; the journey to find it hardly mattered.
Nearby is Mrs. Langloh Parker's Australian Legendary Tales, which I bought from A. G. Stephens—now a very scarce book. This one has a letter stuck in from the author. Other works bearing upon the aborigines are five volumes of Baldwin Spencer, Katharine Susannah Prichard's novel Coonardo (inscribed) and that capital book, The Red Centre, by Finlayson, of Adelaide—a chap who did some truly amazing journeys into the heart of Australia. He has a delightful style.
But this is becoming a mere catalogue. Percival Serle's useful compilation, A Bibliography of Australasian Poetry and Verse, sits besides his well-produced Song to David (Christopher Smart's) and his Anthology, and I should, of course, refer specially to these signed works of Norman and Lionel Lindsay, of Frank Wilmot, of Bertram Stevens and of Donald Macdonald. (The veteran journalist, David Watterston, so long connected with the Argus and the Australasian, told me that Donald Macdonald was 'the greatest find' the Melbourne press ever had. His graceful work put Nature-writing here (just to mention one of his many sides) on a high plane, and set a standard lofty indeed for his successors on the Argus—Alex. Chisholm, Crosbie Morrison, and Norman McCance.) But space forbids more than the mere naming of some of the other writers represented—all of them recalling pleasant memories. Ambrose Pratt, for instance, and Sir John Monash, and Frederick Chapman, and Sydney Ure Smith, and Dr. Souter, and A. G. Stephens, and Professor Osborne, and Louis Esson, and George Essex Evans, and Martin Peter Hansen (my old chief when Director of Education), and Louis Lavater, and Dave Low (the cartoonist), and that able describer of Central Australian life, R. B. Plowman, and Ernest Favenc, and Fred Johns (the Who's Whoist), and Elliott Napier, and Dr. Leach and Frederick Macartney, and the productions of that printer who loves his work and calls himself the Hawthorn Press, I mean John Gartner, and...and...and...
When H. G. Wells was in Melbourne, he signed this copy of his Time Machine, remarking that it was a first edition, very limited in this form, of one of his earliest books. This Collected Poems has Masefield's autograph (I spent a pleasant hour with him that afternoon in the Centenary Art Exhibition), and here are first editions of Kipling and Yeats and Barrie and Oscar Wilde and others.
Whistler has always attracted me—though I doubt if I would have liked to live with such a wasp! From John Shirlow's library, when John went where all good artists go, I bought these delightful volumes—The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, Eden versus Whistler: The Baronet and the Butterfly (this is the first printing, Paris, 1899), the Whistler Journal by the Pennells, and the big Life of Whistler which they wrote. Another item is Writings by and about Whistler, a most attractive book produced by Don C. Seitz in Edinburgh in 1910. It has a full account of the homeric fight between Whistler and Sheridan Ford, the man who managed to issue the Gentle Art before the artist-author could interpose. Ford evened up a good many grievances by publishing a clever set of verses in which he did justice to Whistler's two sides—the able artist and the impish poseur. Here is a sample of his aggressive style:
When Jimmie sleeps beneath the daisied
At peace, at last, with man if not with God,
but he could add, with equal justification:
'Twas Whistler who, with vision that
Pressed on serenely where Velasquez ends
And shaped for curious Nineteenth-Century needs
The colour schemes that only genius breeds,
with much more to the same high effect. This small volume, with its rubricated title page and its hand-made paper, must be rather rare. I notice the edition was limited to 350 copies.
But enough of books for the moment. So many personal names crowd upon me, each connoting pleasurable memories, that I am at a loss to know how to deal with them, for all cannot go in where space is so restricted.
First, though, let me quote, and correct, a press reference to myself. A paragraph in a Sydney weekly, after giving me (as Jael did to Sisera) 'butter in a lordly dish,' declared that 'R. H. Croll is about the only man in Australia who writes by Act of Parliament, a special measure having been passed years ago for his benefit.' With the Sentimental Bloke my only comment was 'I wish't yeh meant it, Bill!' The fact was that I had to secure, by Order in Council, exemption under certain sections of the Public Service Act or I could not, without infringing the regulations, have gone on writing for the press and receiving payment for my work. So I was duly gazetted as permitted to 'contribute articles, stories and verse to magazines and newspapers.' Later that was enlarged to cover my broadcasting.
One of the very oddest of compliments anyone could have paid to him was a dinner to which I was invited at Fasoli's on November 25, 1920. The invitation card measured about a foot by ten inches and was addressed, cryptically, to 'R. H. Croll, R.C.P.E., V.R.O.C., &c.' I gathered later that this described me as Registrar Council of Public Education, Very Rare Old Cock, &c. As usual, Garry Roberts was the begetter of this freak banquet, at which I had to take the chair and propose the toast of my own health, to which he responded. The card is signed by Bernard O'Dowd, Reg. S. Ellery, W. A. Shum, G. M. Prendergast, Charles Croll, Guy Innes, Garry Roberts, his son Bert, John Shirlow and his son Ted, Heber Green, M. J. McNally, Tom Landy, G. Ampt, E. Wilson Dobbs, Phil. D. Flower, T. Geo. Ellery, P. C. Clements, A. S. Howcroft, Percival Serle, W. Webster, E. H. Sutton, and Gilbert Wallace. I prize it as a memento of one of the happiest of nights.
Still harping on that subject so dear to most of us—one's self, here is a set of verses sent to me by poor old Frank Williamson from a country school (Tragowel) in December, 1911, as a kind of Christmas greeting:
What shall I wish you Robbie Croll—
A girl, a book, or wine?
For sages tell, who these control
Shall taste of the divine.
A star-eyed girl—a mouth of rose
To kiss and cling and sigh,
The houri Moslem heaven bestows
When true believers die?
A book of song, of youth and love,
And joy refined by pain—
That breathes of beauty gone above
Ere Time could Love arraign?
Or purple wine that holds the fire
Flung by enamoured suns,
That thrills the blood, and stirs the lyre,
And sybils makes of nuns?
Yea, take them all, the book and girl—
But stint the luring cup,
For there, like Cleopatra's pearl,
My soul has shrivelled up.
The personality of the artist, and particularly the literary artist, has always been an interesting study to me. Oscar Wilde has said that all Art is betrayal. Well, if the artist cannot help exposing himself in work done for the public gaze, how much more must he do so in letters to intimates.
Some are quoted in the next chapter. But before we come to it I want to give here, at the risk of some little repetition, an article which the Argus printed in August, 1933, for it summarizes a happy section of my life. I called it—
Bright blaze the stars, the night is
As down the roads of heaven they ride,
How could they our small planet mark
If 'twere not for its Sunny Side?
It is a long, steady rise from Belgrave to
Kallista, and twenty years ago the road was rough and stony. The
two city artists who were with me had found the walk rather far. As
we rose to the crest, topped now by the Kallista School, the
water-colourist sighed, drew his hands from his trouser
pockets—he always strolled with his arms buried to the
wrists—and looked at me reproachfully. 'Someone has stolen
the end of this road,' he remarked with conviction. Five minutes
later his back straightened, his eye brightened, he was a different
man; we were facing that wonderful view which is framed by the soft
green hills of Sassafras and Olinda. 'Why didn't I bring my
paints?' he asked. But he, as many another of equal skill, was to
'bring his paints' on plenty of other occasions, for the home we
were about to visit was famous for its hospitality. Many of the
choicest spirits of Melbourne's world of art and letters made the
well-named Sunnyside a meeting place, at week-ends, and, like Toby
Belch and his merry company, they frequently 'roused the night-owl
in a catch.'
The house stands on a hillside which slopes to the creek at Begley's Bridge. The rich soil has a number of granite boulders scattered through it, and from one of these, about three feet high, swelling up near the front verandah, each guest, if he stayed overnight, was expected to deliver an oration. They were memorable evenings. No motor cars in those earlier days flashed along the uneven roadway far below to remind us of city noise and city cares; our hilltop was a world apart, dedicated to us and to us only. In every pause we would be aware of the solemn night all about us, of the scent of musk and mint-bush and eucalypt, of the never-pausing murmur of the little creek, hurrying, always hurrying. But pauses were few in such company. Here it was that C. J. Dennis wrote much of his Sentimental Bloke and it was to his host and hostess, Mr. and Mrs. J. G. Roberts, that he dedicated that highly successful book. Mr. Roberts had been manager of the cable system of the Melbourne Tramway Company. Several of the ancient 'buses, withdrawn and sold by the company as trams superseded them, stood—they still stand—in favoured spots in the garden. They made capital bedrooms, as we found on occasion. In one of these 'Den' camped, and in it he composed much of his verse of that period.
We made a rally, a sort of house-warming, when he was installed. Each contributed a small picture or a text to hang along the line where, in the 'bus's live days, advertisements used to be placed. The result was a truly remarkable collection of cards, mainly figuring beautiful ladies, and of mottoes containing more advice, direct and oblique, than any man could take in a single lifetime. One of the cryptic utterances which I recall was the warning, worthy of a new Delphic oracle, that a 'motor-car is not fit to be out of!' We sang at nights ancient songs like 'Samuel Hall' and 'O Landlord, have you any fine wine?' but with verses made on the spot to supplant the extremely frank statements of the original makers of those delectable ballads. Dennis was particularly good at improvisation. A lady visitor declared that she had milked the cow that morning. The usual scepticism was expressed. 'Den' at once summed up the matter in a set of neat verses.
That likeable genius, the sculptor Web Gilbert, was a frequent visitor, and so were two of his art associates, John Shirlow, best known then as an etcher, and the late Alick McClintock, the water-colourist. Clad in a white sweater and wrapped closely in a snowy sheet of linen, I was posed one day in the garden as a wood god, alleged to be a creation of Web Gilbert's. The photograph shows him finishing off this marble statue, his implements being a garden hoe as a chisel and a wooden block used in rope quoits, grasped by its pin, as a mallet. It was McClintock who thanked God he had brought his liver with him when, on one occasion, he drove down that stony road in a rattling cart.
Most of the jokes originated in the fertile brain of our host, whose wit never flagged, whose invention was never at a loss. The late George Ellery, town clerk of the City of Melbourne, the editor of a Melbourne daily newspaper, and I were luxuriating in our beds one Sunday morning, having been forbidden to rise early, when Mr. Roberts appeared, attired in an old tail-coat, with towel on arm, as a broken-down waiter. He served me respectfully and passed into the room of the editor. Decorous murmurings ensued. Then suddenly the pseudo-waiter reappeared in a hurry, accompanied by a burst of threatening language from the newspaper man. With very un-waiterlike joy Mr. Roberts explained that he had offered the editor a sausage wrapped in a sheet of his journal. 'Well?' said I. 'Well,' replied our host, 'I told him that I had found something good in his paper at last!' There exists somewhere a remarkable caricature of Mr. Roberts in that waiter costume. It was done by David Low, now one of the foremost cartoonists of the English-speaking world. He and Hal Gye, who illustrated The Sentimental Bloke, were often at Sunnyside.
Here, too, M. J. McNally, artist in narrative as in pigment, told some of his finest stories; here, on the friendliest of footings, were men such as the late 'Dave' Wright, known to the frequenters of Fasoli's as 'the man of memory,' and the late Tom Roberts—he did a fine portrait in oils of his namesake. Harold Herbert, who has since recorded so many lovely scenes, has stood on the verandah to admire the Sunnyside view; that great annalist, E. Wilson Dobbs, contributed erudition to the gathering; Hugh Wright, of the Mitchell Library, Sydney, never failed to include Kallista as a place of call when visiting Victoria; but it is not possible to chronicle all. One name, however, must not be omitted. Mrs. Aeneas Gunn, author of those two classics of the inland A Little Black Princess and We of the Never Never, was often an honoured guest, coming up from Monbulk, the village of which, it is hoped, she will write the history some day.
But Sunnyside was centre of a wider circle. Its owner boasted that he was born near Scarsdale, and he was one of the prime movers in that staunch body, the Old Boys of Scarsdale, whose crest is a he-goat and whose motto Non extincti sumus. It was fitting that men born in a goldfield town should so honour their boyhood friend and enemy, the goat. Roberts wrote histories of the early times of his birthplace and its neighbourhood, and conducted a wide correspondence which embraced the late Fred Johns, of Who's Who in Australia, Adelaide, and many a London friend, including Colonel Arthur Lynch, soldier, author and Parliamentarian. Friends, humble or famous, were all welcome to this house in the hills, and when the fame of Mr. Roberts's collections of books on many subjects, notably on the foundation of the Australian Commonwealth, was noised abroad, visitors came even from overseas to Sunnyside to inspect and be charmed.
But to-day Sunnyside is empty. 'Garry' Roberts—to how many was he 'Garry'—is dead, and Mrs. Roberts has left the old place. The shell of the hospitable home stands waiting a new spirit to quicken it to life again. Farewell, Sunnyside!
I stole or lifted ('convey, the wise it call') that chapter-heading from Browning. It seems a suitable line with which to introduce some traffic I have had, by correspondence, with a few of the notables of the earth.
But the first letter I pick up was not to my address at all. It is a tiny note written by Robert Louis Stevenson in Samoa, a pencil invitation to R. Hetherington-Carruthers, who was Stevenson's old solicitor. It is characteristic:
Ave, gratias, Accipe R. L. S. Hail Thanks Catch! And come! R.L.S.
The middle R.L.S. is in printed characters, the final is a flowing signature. This came to me from W. Farmer Whyte when he was in Apia collaborating with H. J. Moors in a book on Stevenson.
A Kipling note holds a piece of good advice. It was written at Bateman's Bush, Burwash, Sussex, on May 7, 1928:
DEAR MR. CROLL,
Ever so many thanks for sending me your Open Road in Victoria, which ought to be most useful and, I should think, was the first work of its kind with you. I like the detail of it.
My Melbourne of the old days wasn't yours, but I remember one wonderful walk in what I suppose are now suburbs.
Only, please put a map into it, the next edition. One can get lost quicker on a walking tour than any other way.
Masefield also makes pleasant reference to this book, and so does the octogenarian novelist, Morley Roberts, who roughed it in Australia as swagman seeking jobs many years ago. His old cobber of those days, A. J. Sullivan, also over eighty years of course, is still alert physically and mentally and may be seen at every literary gathering, as well as every sports meeting, in this city of Melbourne or its suburbs. One thing struck Morley Roberts as surprising when reading the Open Road—'It is the luxury you hikers live in! A roll of blankets with a spare shirt and socks (or toe-rags!), a bag of sugar, a bag of tea and one of flour, and at odd times meat, and a billy, was all I carried when on the wallaby track...I advise all to carry a few matches in a water-tight case or a bottle in case of wet weather...I don't know if you have ever seen my Land Travel and Sea-Faring, some of it about Australia. A good book in parts, or so I think...'
I had asked that master of the grotesque in art, Sidney H. Sime, if he had published a volume of his quaint work. He replied that he had not, and very generously he sent along a book of Bogey Beasts for which he had drawn the pictures. I had long admired his illustrations to Lord Dunsany's tales and other men's writings in the now defunct Idler (Jerome K. Jerome's journal), the Pall Mall Magazine and many another periodical. Presently I bought from him, for our National Gallery, a print of his remarkable etching 'The Gate of Heaven.' I had noted his address as 'Old Crown Inn, Worplesdon, Surrey' and had asked if that were his fixed abode. 'It is my permanent abode,' he replied. 'I bought an ancient tavern which had lost its licence and turned it into a sufficient den for my needs. It is a ramshackle affair dating from Elizabethan times and shakes in a high wind like an old man with a palsy—but the timbers are sound, being old ship ribs, hard as ebony and as black; with the marks of the adze all over them. My studio is now what was the stabling. Of course it is a come-down for the poor old thing; but the licence, the vital spark, has gone: so I feel no compunctious visitings of remorse. Besides, I've retained some vestiges of vitality in the cellar.'
John Foster Fraser, the much travelled and the very much criticized for his statements regarding the many countries he wrote about, has this to say about his book on Australia: 'I gather from the newspapers that I am blind as a bat, prejudiced, ignorant—and they ought to know. Personally, I thought the book was favourable to Australia, but that shows what a dullard I am.
'And publishers continue to woo me with filthy lucre to write other books about other places. I've one on the stocks and another arranged—which is striking testimony to the accuracy of some Australians that English folk are fools..."Hold on tight round the curve"—by the way, I wonder whether I picked that expression up in Melbourne or Sydney?...Has Flinders Street station been razed to the ground yet? Somebody told me it is of fire-proof brick. What a pity!'
I have a photo. somewhere of Henry Lawson standing with that great journalist, the founder of the Sydney Bulletin, J. F. Archibald. It is signed by Henry. Here is a letter from Archibald given me by Mrs. Baverstock (one of David Blair's daughters) who for a time wrote much of the women's stuff in the 'Bully.' The note is dated October 18, 1906, just when Archibald's dream of the Lone Hand monthly was about to come true. 'I am absolutely burning to skite to you about our new magazine, which is to be the biggest thing in all the world (Baal gammon!). England and America export mags. to Australia by the shipload: I am going to see whether the compliment can't be returned with compound interest. We mean to start by printing 50,000 at a shilling and selling 'em out—and you'll be invited to the christening, which will be about January.'
In a postscript he added 'I am going to write the genesis of the Bulletin in the mag., and have been offered £1,000 for the book it will make.'
Poor Archibald; very soon after that his mind began to fail and, with his withdrawal, the driving force behind the new venture weakened so considerably that, as we all know, the Lone Hand passed, as so many other Australian periodicals have done...and will continue to do, so long as Australia allows herself to be flooded by thousands of cheap (and generally nasty) publications from abroad.
Archibald was (in Furphy's phrase) offensively Australian. One of his sayings always amuses me in remembrance: 'I have nothing against Oxford men. Some of our best shearers' cooks are Oxford men.'
I find it hard to refrain from quoting the pleasant things said about my first book by (amongst others) Sir John Quick, Sir John Monash, Theodore Fink, Frank Tate and Bernard O'Dowd, but this from the poet J. Le Gay Brereton must go in, for other reasons than vanity. I had never met Brereton. This is what he wrote, dating it from the University of Sydney, 30/8/28:
MY DEAR CROLL,
I feel no more inclined to call you mister than if you were the wallaby that Shaw Neilson saw drinking. I have lazily opened your book here and there, as at a campfire, and strolled with you in beautiful places, glad of the fresh open air and of the wafts of literary allusion, happy to be reminded of the absorbently taciturn R. H. Long, whom I always remember with pleasure, and sorry only because I am never likely to see with the eyes of sense most of the scenes which you describe. I've got into the way of going regularly to a place where hills and a fresh river and loneliness have a varying charm each time I contrive to break from my 'chair'—'O word of fear, unpleasing to a wanderer's ear'...
Of making many letters there is no end. A number is here from that versatile artist Blamire Young. Most are intimate to an extent that robs them of general interest—but here's a little bit I may risk. We used to write nonsense verses to one another—'I made this limerick lately,' he wrote—
A mad little maid is Rose Madder,
As bad as they make 'em and badder.
At her window one night
Was the scandalous sight
Of a lad and, God help us, a ladder.
Some friendly words from Hans Heysen (Ambleside, South Australia), one of the most famous of our painters, sum up his views on a subject much debated in artist circles to-day: 'Of course no artist is every really satisfied with his productions when he compares them with Nature's wonders and marvellous finish. At the same time he is thankful for being able to "capture" as much as he does...An artist's ambition is to "copy" nature as truthfully as is within his power—the other qualities that enter into his production are the unconscious results of his own character...One thing no one can deny and that is that Nature is the Fountain head of everything that is to make a lasting appeal to mankind.'
As a gloss upon that may I mention that one of our 'modernists' assured me lately that 'Art and Nature have no connection.'
Here is another note from an artist—that most generous of men, Harold Herbert, whose friendship I value so much. I bought a picture from him in his early days when his prices were low. This letter returned me my cheque with some humorous comments about his inability to induce a bank to recognize it. In paying it to him I had remarked that people had been known to get quite good money for my cheques; he sent the thing back with the retort that he was not one of the lucky ones. Little wonder! Artist-like he had carried the cheque about until, when he did remember to pay it in, the corner, with about half my signature, had been worn off! I like optimism!
It is perhaps worth recalling that Dave Low, to-day London's most brilliant cartoonist, owed at least some of his world fame to his loving studies of the then Prime Minister, William Morris Hughes. (By the way, I have twice been charged, lately, with being Mr. Hughes. One of my accosters was a swagman in Bourke Street, who wanted to profit by the fact that 'I've often been at your place at Sassafras, Mr. Hughes'; the other was an old woman in Flinders Street who declared that 'you always buy your matches from me, Mr. Hughes.' Hughes is not exactly a sculptor's model!...I could have borne those assaults better if I had not been taken, still more recently, for Mr. Harold Clapp, Chairman of the Railways Commissioners!...Worst of all, a little boy friend of mine saw Mahatma Ghandi on the moving pictures 'Mitter Croll,' he exclaimed...I am beginning to suspect the motive of the several artists who have made portraits of me—F. G. Reynolds, John Shirlow, Sybil Craig, Dave Low and Will Rowell amongst them. Apparently, as Hughes said in similar circumstances, what I need is not justice, but mercy! The Rowell portrait has, however, been bought by the Castlemaine Art Gallery.)
Well, harking back to Low. His famous cartoon 'Speak to him in Welsh, David' appeared in the Bulletin, and Minogue of the Treasury, aware that I knew the artist, wrote me at once about securing the original for Sir Frank Clarke. Low replied: 'I wrote to the Bulletin to reserve the cartoon for Frank Clarke (who has, I notice, resigned from something or other—probably out of sheer disappointment) but Munro-Ferguson [then Governor-General] was first, with a telegram, and he is now the unhappy possessor...If Frank Clarke would like a replica I can do him one for ten guineas. You are on one (1) cigar in silver paper if you can manage to bring this under his notice with results. Yours was one of six letters I received about that drawing. What's the matter with the public?'
Munro-Ferguson presented the drawing to the Federal Parliament. It may be seen at Canberra.
The menu card of the dinner we gave Low at the Grand Hotel in July, 1919, just prior to his leaving for London, has a design by Charles Nuttall (dead, now, worse luck!) showing Dave pulling the strings of a puppet which bears a strong resemblance to W. M. Hughes. This copy bears the signatures of Low and Nuttall and, amongst many others of the guests, those of Dave Dow, John Shirlow, Garry Roberts, Brendon Doyle, Hal Gye, Guy Innes, Edward Dyson, H. H. Champion, Heber Green, Harrison Owen, H. Lamond and Harry McClelland.
(It was H. H. Champion, by the way, who made the famous statement that the Labour Party of his day was 'an army of lions led by asses.')
Mention of Innes reminds me of much pleasant association. When he resigned the editorship of the Melbourne Herald and went to London he illuminated his correspondence by enclosing autographs of the interesting folk he was meeting. A menu of a dinner given to the Press Conference in 1924 is adorned by the signature of Tim Healy, then Governor-General of the Irish Free State. The cover design is a delightful attempt by Low to picture 'overseas editors wondering whether their digestions are equal to Welsh rare-bit.' The editors sit at a long dining table; on the plate of each is a tiny figure of Lloyd George gesticulating and posturing in a score of different ways as he delivers one of his wild orations.
With Professor Wood Jones (of the University) and Dr. C. H. Kellaway (Walter and Eliza Hall Institute) I stood one year for election to the Committee of the Zoological and Acclimatization Society. We were badly beaten, the members showing plainly that they preferred to retain the old Councillors (I use 'old' with its fullest implications) to outstanding scientists like Wood Jones and Kellaway. We were concerned with the fact that David Fleay, a Bachelor of Science and a most amazing man with animals (almost a second Mowgli) I have ever met, was complaining (it seemed with good cause) that the Zoo's Australian section, which he had created and was in charge of, was being badly subordinated to the other sections. So, believing that the Australian section should be easily the foremost in any Australian Zoo, and hoping to put new and vigorous blood into an institution which, as the president told me, sometimes had as few as five persons at an annual meeting, we allowed ourselves to be nominated.
But we found that this was no ordinary annual meeting. Dozens of new members had joined quite suddenly, subscribers whose interest in the past had ceased with the paying of their fees were quickened all at once into a desire to vote (that is vote against us) and the customarily neglected gathering swelled to such a size that the committee, having somehow sensed that this would happen, had prepared the rotunda as a meeting place, the usual one being too small.
Instead of some five votes being cast, the old members whose term had expired and who stood for re-election, scored a solid block apiece of some (I forget the exact figures, say) 130, while of the three rejects Wood Jones had about 30, Kellaway a few less, and I a few less than his. One amusing outcome of the affair was the discovery that the whole committee, as it stood, was illegally elected! As the method adopted had been followed in good faith for many years, and as no one had been harmed, the Government validated the action. Since then the Zoological Garden has been taken over by the State and the bone of contention has become the Director of the Sir Colin Mackenzie Sanctuary at Badger Creek. He has made this probably the most popular resort in Victoria.
When Wood Jones decided to resign from the trusteeship of the National Gallery (he was Chairman of the Museum Committee) I implored him not to. It was a matter of principle. Here is his reply: 'Unfortunately, Mr. Croll, I have a soul.'
Just one extract from William Moore's many letters. He had just returned from England, had married Dora Wilcox, the poet, and they had settled in Manly. I spoke of the Sime bookplate I use: 'It is a great thing to have a bookplate by Sime, the weird and imaginative artist. I always remember his 'Fabulous Animals' in The Sketch; one was called the Gazook...At the London Sketch Club one evening I said to a member "Where's Sime?" "Oh, keeping a pub in the country," said he.' This is evidently a reference to the Old Crown Inn, Worplesdon—see earlier in this chapter.
A letter from 'Kodak' O'Ferrall (christened Ernest, but known to his intimates as Bob) tells of his starting work on the Bulletin. That was December, 1907. He was the quaintest of humourists—his early death was a great blow. Oddly enough, his first job on the Bulletin was assistant to Prior, the financial editor. Bob was a treasury of the unexpected. One day as we rowed down the Yarra he suddenly leaned forward and remarked:
A cold grey wind blows out of the north
And the ghosts walk hand in hand,
And the Argus arises in holy wrath,
And is hard to understand!
What does it mean? Nothing, of course. But...
Poor Bob. Most popular of journalists, he was buried in Waverley Cemetery with only his family present. But as they turned away from the filling grave, a great group of 'mourners,' from the newspaper offices and the studios, came into view. They had been delayed by sundry drinks on the road. 'He's beaten us to it,' hiccuped the leader. 'Good old Kodak! Wouldn't he have enjoyed this!'
Which recalls the funeral of a prominent Victorian artist and one of his old cobbers (it was a very hot day) envying Mac 'in his nice cool coffin!'
By the way, Kodak's grandfather, John Brophy, so Kodak's mother told him, was the boy employed by John Pascoe Fawkner to help him print the Port Phillip Gazette. I recall a watercolour by Blamire Young in which a lad is shown working a hand press with Fawkner—presumably the old press now in the Melbourne Public Library.
Priceless (in the colloquial sense of that word) amongst these gatherings is 'Australia,' a (let us call it) poem 'written by Edmund Gerald FitzGibbon and dedicated to the Honourable Sir James MacBain, K.C.M.G., President of the Legislative Council of Victoria, and of the Centennial International Exhibition, Melbourne, 1888.' It is a broadsheet (printed both sides, for it runs to seven bad verses) and it is inscribed 'With compliments from E. G. FitzGibbon.' He was town clerk of Melbourne and claimed to be, if I remember aright, the White Knight of Kerry. His successor in the Melbourne office, the late George Ellery, gave me this document and adorned it with pencilled comments of a most vigorous nature. I cannot well quote them here, but the verses deserve them all.
Australia, great plenteous land,
Where youthful, vig'rous States expand;
Freedom and monarchy consort,
And labour alternates with sport,
In smoother verse to sing your fame
I'll change one letter in your name:
I'll turn the final 'a' to 'e',
And fondly call you Australie!
Like so many better poets he could not find a rhyme for 'Australia' so he dodged the issue by inventing a new name for our country. His statue stands in St. Kilda Road...but not on account of his poetry!
Talking of poets, here is a verse I have just come across by the accomplished New Zealander, Herbert Church, whom I have mentioned earlier. He professed, with a smile, that it was one Martial's epigrams:
'We marvel,' said the Parcae, 'where old Croll
Is going to for aye.'
(Doubtless he gave them furiously to think.)
Survivors said, in speech of common day,
Where'er he is he will not vex his soul
If he has pen and ink.'
(The Parcae, of course, are the Fates.)
I was appointed Publicity Officer for the celebration of the Jubilee (1872-1922) of free education in Victoria. The circulars I sent out to writers and others brought some interesting replies. I wanted articles or verse from any who had been helped by State systems of education in Australia. A good many sent contributions; others explanatory letters. 'I have just tried the water-waggon—a most damnable vehicle, fit only to convey wowsers to the rubbish tip'—so one of my poet friends, but he enclosed what I needed. I have preserved the replies, including a telegram from Henry Lawson: 'Glad to supply something for your jubilee. When do you require copy?' That was dated August 31; Henry died on September 2.
My reward for serving the Australian Academy of Art during the three troublous (my oath! they were troublous) years of its beginnings, three years of hard labour for which I asked no payment, my reward is before me in the shape of a pleasant letter of thanks from the Council, the signatures being those of Sir John Longstaff (President), Sydney Ure Smith (Vice-President), Will Rowell, W. B. McInnes, Harold B. Herbert, Norman Carter, Thea Proctor, Elioth Gruner, Lionel Lindsay and Hans Heysen—all of them artists of distinction. A personal gift of a fine drawing came also from Hans Heysen.
So rich in good matter have been the letters of Hugh McCrae, and so full of attractive drawings, that it seemed the act of a vandal to destroy any. So they have gone into a folder, now before me. Here are a few crumbs from this well-furnished table:
'A poet's at his best dead drunk:
So here's a go!' smooth Flaccus said.
A half-truth on the edge of bunk—
A poet's best when he is dead!
'Chris Brennan has gone. A man so deep-rooted in the world couldn't die easily. From desolate lodgings he was carried to the hospital where he denied himself to his friends; asked for a priest; confessed his sins; took the crucifix in his hands...and expired.
'Some people are hushing up the story: but I don't think they have understood Chris, or will ever understand this last most natural act. An inadequate lament has appeared in the Herald—a splinter of sugar where one had a right to expect a pillar of rock.
'Tell Bernard O'Dowd.
'I loved Chris. To hear him—as I did—declaim part of a Greek ode ore rotundo, in a street off Elizabeth Bay...the wind twisting his clothes about his body...and without any previous salute when I turned the corner: was to take to myself a treasure for life.'
And here is a postscript (headed 'To-morrow,' by the way) to that same letter:
'As if to give my feelings an upward flourish
my grandchild, Rosemary Cowper, and her mother arrived.
'Every child in the neighbourhood, every dog, every cat, every fly, every duck, every mouse, every cow, every horse has assembled to see the sight. The flowers in the garden have been smashed to confetti by the mob trying to touch the hem of Miss Cowper's sanctified garments.
'Her mama sits aloof—calm—full of mother-consciousness.'
'How Neilson can write! The other evening I had to talk to the Fellowship about John Le Gay Brereton; and I finished up by reciting "The Heart of Spring," a poem which my wife and I have said to one another ever since it was first printed in The Bookfellow: also
...it is a merry morn
The glittering bird has danced into a tree...
Could Chaucer or Wordsworth have imagined better?'
'Last week, on a visit to town, I called on Norman Lindsay, now the occupant of a flat in Bridge Street. He didn't answer my first knock; but, when I whistled, hurried to meet me. In his rooms, he was so merry he bounced up and down like a tennis ball and at last landed on a chair, Turkish-fashion, with both hands in his lap...I hadn't seen him for years; but could find no change except that his hair had become grey. While he spoke, his body play-acted his emotions...and I felt as if he were the only creature I cared for in the world. At last, when the lights came on, I left him seated before a table with a drawing cocked up on a couple of books...the usual garland-design of naked girls, with a satyr in the midst!...Seeing him was like the realization of a dream of youth...my own youth. I wanted to ride a horse, to shoot, to wrestle, to swim, to sail a ship to Treasure Island...instead of which I bought a second-class ticket to Wahroonga, and read 'orrible tragedies in the newspaper all the way up.'
I sent him Frank Wilmot's Melbourne Odes:
'Your unheralded gift filled me with joy. I
loved every bit of it and wound up my speech on Tuesday
afternoon—Authors' Week—with an excerpt from "Victoria
Market"...By the way, he is actually as modern as Chaucer;
especially when he writes about foodstuffs, and so on. It is that
the stomach has no past or future...'
'What old saying of what old man in what old book comes into my head. "I pray you weep not while I'm alive and I will give you leave to laugh when I am dead"?' And, in the same letter, a sad one, he quotes:
We're all deluded, vainly searching ways
To make us happy by the length of days;
For, cunningly, to make's protract this breath,
The gods conceal the happiness of death.
And here is a poem—'for R.H.C.'
He, though immortal, mortal pleasure
Hollas a song; or, prickt by thorny love,
For better sport, some gamesome dryad wakes,
Who, 'ware of him, straightway appears a dove.
He casts his net; she flashes to the sky;
He towers as an hawk; she drops from high
To earth; whence, freshly dight, she hurries forth,
Like to an infant stream, by field and fell—
Eastward she fares; or west or south or north;
The god becomes the sun. What need to tell
How, of his hands, he makes a shepherd's cup;
How stoops his head to drink the damsel up!
Each feint of his she with an equal meets;
And though he hold her, nothing can he gain—
Poor thirsty one! The hollow place repeats
'Poor thirsty one!' as if to mock his pain;
She into Echo turns—unwary whim—
He calls her name; and she must come to him.
Mention has been made of the fact that I edited the Collected Poems of John Shaw Neilson. Long before that we had corresponded, although his sight had become so weak that writing was very difficult for him. This sweet singer of moving lyrics could be humorous on occasion. I find in a letter from Merbein in 1928 some limericks I had provoked by a challenge to produce things of the kind. His headings are particularly delightful:
PARAMOUNT IMPORTANCE OF FOOD VALUES
An up-to-date doctor of Tamworth
Was asked what he thought turnip jam worth.
As he felt rather tired
He politely inquired:
What would you consider a damn worth?
REMARKABLE CLARITY OF EXPRESSION
A lecturer whom we love dearly
Was stung by some bees most severely.
Did he swear or get narked?
Not at all—he remarked:
They express themselves rather too clearly.
MAKING CHURCH SERVICES ATTRACTIVE
There was once an old Bishop named Gault,
Solemnity was his one fault.
So he screwed up a smile,
And he hopped down the aisle,
Then he turned a profound somersault.
THE CRITIC AFTER DEATH
A savage old critic named Byer,
Renowned for his gloom and his ire,
When to Hell he went down
He arrived with a frown
And began to belittle the fire.
When there is so much beautiful thought in these letters it is perhaps unfair to quote only a light interlude like that. Here, by the way, also in 1928, Neilson makes an appeal for the financial recognition of that fine art critic, A. G. Stephens, either by public subscription, or by State or Federal grant. He claimed, rightly, that Stephens had done an outstanding job to benefit art and letters in Australia and now he needed assistance. In this, Neilson forestalled our idea, ten years later, to honour A.G.S. Meanwhile Stephens had died. Neither effort was successful—ours was to have been posthumous honour; Neilson's was to have helped the living man.
So much must be omitted...a few of the autographs may be mentioned, though; mainly attached to pleasant letters, but some...well, just autographs. Dr. Thomas Wood wrote, in Cobbers, perhaps the best book on Australia by an outsider, and Francis Ratcliffe's Flying Fox and Drifting Sand is a good second—here are letters from each. Writers, I think, predominate in the very mixed salad: Arthur Adams (poet and novelist), for instance, and Roy Bridges (novelist), and Randolph Bedford (novelist mainly), and Louis Becke (South Sea yarn spinner), and J. H. Curle (the Marco Polo of his day) and Zora Cross (poet) and Edward Dyson (all-rounder) and Ambrose Pratt (romancer, historian, biographer) and Lord Dunsany (most imaginative of story spinners and playwrights—I particularly love his Irish tales) and Philip Gibbs (of international fame) and versatile Montague Grover, and our finest essayist, Walter Murdoch, whose writings as 'Elzevir' meant so much to the Argus at one time, and Vance Palmer (novelist) and his equally-famous wife, Nettie, and Sir John Quick, who originated the idea of a great bio-biblio-graphical work, but died before he could complete it. A work suggested by him, also dealing with Australian literature, but diverging widely from Sir John's design, has been prepared by Professor Morris Miller and should issue from the Melbourne University Press this year (1939). And there are dozens more from the followers of the inky way, while those from artists are like Gilbert's Bishops, who, 'in their shovel hats, were plentiful as tabby cats.' Other interests, too, are well represented—General Birdwood of Anzac fame, Baden-Powell of the Scouts, 'Snowy' Baker (boxer), Frederick Chapman (palaeontologist), Peter Dawson (singer), Sinclair Lewis (novelist), Sir Oliver Lodge (scientist), Sir John Longstaff and Lionel Lindsay (artists), Dame Nellie Melba (singer), Bertram Mackennal (sculptor), R. G. Menzies (Prime Minister), Dr. William Maloney (politician and friend of all the world), Herbert Sutcliffe (international cricketer), Lord Stonehaven (Governor-General), Donald Thomson (anthropologist)—these represent something of the variety, but do not suggest the number.
By the way, there is one good book going to waste in Australia for the sole reason that it remains in the mind of a certain citizen—it has yet to be produced. Its title should be Memoirs of the Honorable Theodore Fink.
It was in a queer conjunction that I first came to know that many-faceted citizen, Theodore Fink. It might easily have been on his art side, or his legal side, or his political side, or his literary side, or in some other of the more obvious of his many activities. But it was not any of these. Henry Amos (afterwards Comptroller of Stamps, then a clerk in the Education Department) and I founded the East Melbourne Harriers, and my acquaintance with Mr. Fink began when he accepted the position of President and actually came out (on a bicycle) to see us run. He was a good friend to the club. A dinner he gave us at his home in Balaclava was easily the most popular item of the fixture card! The Reverend Digby Berry, most serious-faced of all divines, vicar at the time of Holy Trinity, East Melbourne, was one of the guests. I shall not readily forget his looks, at the smoke-concert which followed, as he fought to regard with gravity our comedian. No one could resist that humorist when he really played the fool, as he did that night. Probably the greatest triumph of his career was his conquest of Canon Berry, who fairly doubled up with laughter.
Phil May I never met, but I came near him in the home of his friend, Theodore Fink, which seemed to me full of remembrances of the artist and his circle. There, too, I first knew something of one who was afterwards to become a close friend of my own, Blamire Young. Our host had command of all the arts of hospitality and used them liberally. Not the least attractive items were his own speeches, full of glancing wit and always pithy.
He has known everybody and remembers everything. When will that book be written?
Mention of the East Melbourne Harrier Club recalls many distinguished men who found recreation in its ranks in younger days. I meet some of them now as grave and reverend signiors about this city of Melbourne; others I hear of as filling high positions in remote parts of the globe. The Administrator of the Mandated Territory of New Guinea, Brigadier-General Sir Walter McNicoll, K.B.E., C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., V.D., will possibly remember happy smoke-nights with our old club, long before war and politics claimed him.
I suppose all writers receive letters from strangers. I have had many hundreds, agreeing or disagreeing with views put forth in articles and books. Of all those hundreds, I have retained this one with particular pleasure, because of its sympathetic understanding and the eloquence of its appeal. It was unsigned; if the writer ever reads this book, I hope she will write to me again. Here is the letter in full:
Dear Mr. Croll,
I have just read your article in the Argus, about the birds, and I enjoyed it, as I do everything you write. It is quite true, they are murderers, and cruel ones, too, but Nature has made them so, and of course they are not responsible. But don't you think that we 'humans' are much worse? It makes one wretched even to think of what we cause innocent animals to suffer. I live on a farm, and every time I see a flock of sheep driven from their happy 'hunting-grounds' by cruel dogs and unfeeling men to be trucked to the city, and, after ill-treatment and hunger and thirst, to be then slaughtered for our gratification, I can't help thinking that there is something seriously wrong somewhere, and tho' God may be 'in His heaven,' all is not right with the world. I am old, very old, and all my life I have felt far keener sympathy and pity for animals than I have for my fellow beings. We have reason and intelligence to help us to bear our troubles, and also a sense of humour (which I think is a better help than prayer!), but they can only feel and suffer!
I could write pages on this subject if I had time, and if I were so inconsiderate as to inflict them on you, but I will only say that if you would use the gift you possess in expressing yourself, to try and abolish at least some of the cruel practices that attend the trucking and sale of sheep and cattle for the Melbourne market you would earn the gratitude of
One Old Woman
who always reads and enjoys your contributions to the Argus, and also the books you have written.
Let me close this chapter by including 'The Martyr of Bovinia,' the set of verses referred to earlier as written, hot-foot, by C. J. Dennis when one of the lady visitors to Kallista (she is now my wife) declared that she had milked the cow that morning. The verses have not previously been printed.
THE MARTYR OF BOVINIA
She milked the cow; and all the morn was hushed
(It was a beast that never kicked or rushed),
The startled dicky-birds of early Spring
Sat up amazed to mark this splendid thing,
Nigh fainting with delight upon the bough...
She milked the cow.
She milked the cow; nor all the glory rare
Of that October morning could compare
With that sweet sylvan scene; the grace, the charm,
The rhythmic movement of her dimpled arm,
Would make a poor bloke feel just anyhow...
She milked the cow.
She milked the cow. 'Twas at South Sassafras—
(Which is a cruel word to rhyme, alas)
And all who gazed thereon declared, with force,
It was sublime—except the cow, of course,
Who wore a patient frown upon her brow...
She milked the cow.
She milked the cow—at least, she said she did.
There was the milk in proof; and God forbid
That I should doubt the statement in the least,
(I sympathised in private with the beast,
Who said—but, still, what does it matter now?)
She milked the cow.
Done at South Sassafras on the fifth day
October, 1913, by C. J. Dennis, after
drinking the milk.
Carlyle, grim as he was, declared laughter to be 'the cipher-key wherewith we decipher the whole man.' By the same token he seems to have given the world very little chance to 'decipher' Thomas Carlyle! Is it recorded that he ever laughed? I, too, value laughter—not from an analyst's point of view, but from the standpoint of one who welcomes its obvious implication of good humour and happiness. Yes; I know there is 'sardonic laughter' (the novels of part of the XIXth century were full of it), and 'satiric laughter' (we all have met hateful people who find amusement in human weakness), and I suppose there are other well-known special brands, but laughter in the main is wholesome and a sure sign of peace and jollity.
In the course of a varied life one hears, and enjoys, many a good story. Mostly they are forgotten in a day or two, or that is my experience. From time to time I have felt that a particular story, or incident, was too good to lose, so jotted it down. The result lies before me—a mass of old envelopes and scraps of paper, each with something on it to be deciphered.
Occasionally, though, they recall matters that are far from the jocular. One reminds me of a night I spent 'in the dim, dead days beyond recall' (as the syrupy old song has it, or, more plainly, when I was a youth of about 19), touring the slums and the dens of Little Bourke Street and its lanes with the plain-clothes police. I have said that, like Jurgen, I have always been willing to taste anything once (incidentally, I have been equally ready to spit it out if distasteful) so I found myself tailing up the inspector and making some queer acquaintances. He opened a door and we stepped into a room where a score of Chinamen sat at a table. Little piles of money were in front of them on the board. Had that policeman been the Gorgon's head, the effect could not have been more arresting. Not a sound, not a movement—all seemed petrified, all eyes stared unwinking at us. Then a fat, suave Oriental appeared and slipped forward ingratiatingly, the officer nodded...at once we were ignored by the gamblers—play went on as if we did not exist. They had grasped the fact instantly that this was not a police raid. In the next room was a different game; between the two stood a table with lottery tickets.
That scene was repeated many times during the night. Opium joints, too, were numerous. A typical one was up a stair which went steeply from a narrow ground floor. The furniture consisted of three hessian stretchers without covering of any kind. For 1/6 a small piece of opium was supplied, together with a little lamp, a steel knitting needle and a pipe. Lie on your side on the stretcher, take a tiny piece of the opium on your needle, cook it dexterously over the chimney of the lamp (this is where the novice usually fails—overheating melts the stuff into the flame), wipe it dexterously into the bowl of the pipe (the bowl looks like an acorn cup), lean over the light and, as the 'dope' ignites, draw one long breath of delight into your lungs. There's the recipe for heaven.
Well, the addicts said it was heaven. An experimental smoke had no effect at all upon me. The stretcher on one side of me held a Chinaman, that on the other side a woman, both lost in a dream which excluded all care. 'Never worry about an opium addict,' said the constable. 'You will never be attacked by one; his nerves are so destroyed that he is harmless.'
The loveliest creature I have ever seen was in one of those joints. A half-caste Chinese, she lay on the stretcher in the gentle waking sleep which the drug induces. Her face was faintly, subtly, Chinese, just enough to give it distinction, but the general effect was European, for her eyes were round and large and her skin was fair. Add to perfect features a bloom like the faint flush on the face of a slumbering child—she could have passed for the Sleeping Beauty of the fairy tale.
As we waited, her Chinese husband and their youngster, a little chap of five or six, called to take her home-a nightly practice, for the woman had reached the stage when she must have her daily six or eight pipes or become practically demented.
Life has been full of variety. Contrast that experience with an earnest endeavour, always present, to get at the heart of the mystery of existence. One way that suggested itself was to try all the churches. It's astonishing what a number of sects exists in Melbourne; I think I tasted the lot. Also, I tried the Spiritualists, sat at the feet of Mrs. Besant (most eloquent and delightful of speakers), read the Koran and Joseph Smith, took Buddhism in the agreeable form of the Light of Asia, and sampled, as best I may, the wisdom of that shrewd old philosopher, Confucius, who said: 'While you cannot serve men, how can you serve spirits?' Incidentally, I ran through much free-thought literature and heard atheist lecturers.
All of which leads up to an anecdote. I met a French Canadian priest in Melbourne. His English was poor; my French was worse. However, we managed a conversation. 'You are of the Old Church?' (words to that effect), asked the father. 'No, m'sieu,' I replied, 'I am a Protestant; but I claim to be fairly free from prejudice.' Then I was able to say that, a few months before, I had lectured at the Methodist Church's Pleasant Sunday Afternoon, that in the following week I had spoken in the Chapter House of the Anglican Cathedral, that a little later I gave an address to a Roman Catholic society in Oakleigh, that I had, in Central Australia, read the prayers for a Lutheran household; with all that, I had been brought up as a Presbyterian.
The father was very polite about it. I'd like to know what he really thought!
A lawyer friend of mine was fond of quoting a cynical maxim: 'The truth will out—even in an affidavit!' I am reminded of this by a news-cutting from the Portland Observer: 'During the evening R. H. Croll, a noted archer and explorer, gave a lecturette on Central Australia.' I must have pulled the long bow to some purpose that time! It is possible, of course, that 'author' was meant.
I am afraid that my son, Robin, was not very old when he began prospecting amongst my books, for he was a very little fellow indeed when he made this announcement to his mother: 'In a book of Daddy's I saw a man walking about just in his bones—no bleed or skin on!' He had probably opened my Holbein's Dance of Death. It was he who was so concerned about his, and my, welfare as we lay on a couch together in the dining-room. That is, it was a couch to the ordinary observer, but to this imaginative little kiddie it was at that moment an aeroplane. We had soared to a tremendous height. He looked over the edge at the crowds of people far below—'They can't touch us up here, can they, Daddy?' was his remark; then, suddenly glancing up, he added, rather apprehensively—'and if God tries to, we'll go down again!' He was having a bit both ways, as they say on the turf.
The most remarkable child utterance of which I have first-hand knowledge was this, said by little Marjorie, daughter of a well-known artist: 'Muvver, just before I was going to be born, I saw a big, fat lady coming be-wards me and I saw you and Daddy sitting in the corner and I went be-wards you'!
On long walks through the back country (hikes, as that sturdy Rover Scout, and my good friend, Bill Waters, consistently names them) we have had, as I have told earlier, many mild adventures. One afternoon, in East Gippsland, we breasted the bar of the Bell Bird Hotel, had a drink apiece, and bought a home-made loaf ('the best bread in Gippsland'—and I'll swear it was!) preparatory to camping. Enter Sylvia and her sister, daughters of mine host, and we were sure then that this was an ideal camping spot. Promoted from mere swagmen, we were soon helping to wash up in the kitchen and assisting to finish the Christmas pudding. Both girls were attractive; pretty, and in their early twenties. They had drawn the young men of the district for fifty miles round—and bear in mind this was before motors or good roads. Sylvia's 'autograph book' was full of more or less direct compliments, but the swain who referred to this plump, well-favoured young woman as an 'angle' (which he did in each of four verses) rather missed his mark. I was tempted to write beneath it Pope Gregory's famous compliment,
Non Angli, sed angeli
but we felt that the original joke, in its innocence, should not be trespassed upon.
A witty suggestion, made on one of those walking tours, lingers in my memory. One of the party was R. A. Broinowski, then Usher of the Black Rod in the State Parliament, now Clerk of the Senate in Canberra. He was always known to the Walking Club as 'Bron.' A cottage came to view, and he mentioned that he was thinking of purchasing it as a country retreat. Could we suggest a name for it? At the moment nothing could have looked more dismal—rain was falling in sheets, the creek was threatening the back door, everything was drenched and miserable. 'What about Bron-chitis?' asked someone.
Travelling up the Queensland coast with my brother Charles in the s.s. Canberra, I made a pretty faux pas. A group of passengers, first appearance after breakfast, stood watching the coastline and speculating as to what the headland was of which we were abreast. So many people, so many guesses...but just then appeared the burly form of that most genial of skippers, Captain Firth. 'Morning, Captain!' I called. 'Have you any idea where we are?' I have not lived that down yet!
It was a great pleasure to voyage with Firth. Someone should put into print a collection of his wonderfully good stories and tell something of his varied life. I hope he will forgive me for telling this: He was in Melbourne one blustery Saturday. Of course, there were races on, but he was not interested. Turning into Elizabeth Street, he met not only a gale, but a shower of an old newspaper woman's papers which had blown out of her hands. Always kind, the captain bent his back and retrieved some of the flying journals. The old woman was touched by this act of gallantry. Poor as she was, she tried to repay it. 'Back So-and-so for the Hurdle!' she said impressively, nodded to drive it home, and departed.
It was Captain Firth who told of one of the ship's firemen who was given a day off at a North Queensland port. He returned in the evening carrying every sign of having had a good time. 'They're a bonzer crowd,' he declared. 'I had sixteen long beers—could have got full if I'd liked!' I mentioned the saying of a shearer's cook that some of the chaps in his sheds had had wonderful appetites—he'd seen a man make a sandwich out of a whole sheep between two bags of flour! That reminded the captain at once of the other extreme, which he called the Sandy Mac sandwich. Sandy Mac, it appeared, was an out-back squatter noted for his meanness. His idea of a sandwich was a lizard between two pieces of bark!
My people were related by marriage to John Collins, red-faced, blustering, good-natured John Collins, who looked a seaman and was one in his youth, although stationmaster at Sydney Railway Station when I knew him. I recall with amusement that a young Scottish nephew of his came to New South Wales and, while staying with Collins during a spell ashore, confided that he would like to leave the sea. The uncle's horror was profound. 'What! Desert! Unthinkable!' and much more to that effect. But he confided to me later that he had done just that very thing when he was a lad!
He linked us up with Sir John Franklin for, as a boy, Collins went to the Polar regions in one of the ships sent to look for the lost explorer whose disappearance, when searching for the North West Passage, was one of the major mysteries of the nineteenth century. I wonder if my memory is correct in attempting to quote the first verse of a popular poem of the day. I have not seen it since I was a boy:
The Polar clouds uplift
A moment and no more,
And, through the snowy drift,
We see them on the shore,
A band of gallant hearts,
Well-ordered, calm and brave,
Braced for their closing parts—
Their long march to the grave.
Collins and his shipmates contributed nothing to the solution of the puzzle, but they had some interesting experiences. The first great iceberg they came to was like a minor mountain. It towered up to a peak which dominated the whole scene. A boat was put off and the crew, including young Collins, 'landed' on the berg. There was a scramble and a race to scale the peak. Collins, a marlinspike in his hand, was an easy first and, as he reached the summit, he smote it a driving blow with the point of the iron bar. The result was amazing. The ice split like glass and crashed down in masses on to the climbing sailors, taking the youngster with them. No one was hurt—but John found himself very unpopular.
My brother and I, young then, played a successful joke upon Collins when he visited us at our home in Melbourne. Father was an excellent gardener, and we had a good show of flowers. Collins was promised seeds of some of the choicest, and in due season these were made up in neat packets and forwarded. Now, John Collins, in his breezy way, was fond of 'throwing off' at us the old New South Wales jibe that Victoria was merely a 'cabbage garden.' So we included a packet of cabbage seeds, disguised under a Latin name, and managed to make it look so important that he planted them in the most conspicuous parts of his front garden. They grew beautifully. We had a complete retort to his remonstrances: 'What else could you expect from a cabbage garden?'
Collins's hospitable home at Glebe Point comes to mind in quite a different connection. I went to Auckland, New Zealand, as manager of a team of Victorian athletes who competed in the Australasian Championships there. Harvey Sutton (later to be the second Victorian Rhodes Scholar) and I found ourselves landing in Sydney on the return journey with just half a crown between us. Mercifully, we had our railway tickets for Melbourne, so could reach home, but what about some tucker during that more than twenty-four hours? We recklessly spent some of our hoard on a cab to the station—we were to leave that evening and it was then afternoon—and I undertook to raise a loan from Collins. But when I reached the Glebe there was no one home but the maid. I could not borrow from her, of course. As I pondered what to do, she asked me to have a cup of tea. Well, that was something to the good, and when she added ham sandwiches I felt that matters were not so black, after all. I certainly had some twinges about Harvey, guarding our one and threepence as he waited in the city. But abstention on my part was not going to help him, so I did justice to my meal. Eventually we boarded the express with a few apples, sat up all night, and when we crossed into Victoria (this was before federation), I spent a well-saved ninepence on a telegram to my brother: 'Meet us. Stony.'
Harvey Sutton is one of the best all-rounders I have ever known. Amiable, level-headed, full of common sense, a wide reader with a taste for art, an excellent student and a first-class athlete, he was the ideal Rhodes Scholar, for he so completely fulfilled the Rhodes requirements. He is now Professor Harvey Sutton, O.B.E., M.D., D.PH., B.SC., Director of the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Sydney University. I wonder if he remembers his triumphs in the mile and half-mile championships?
In those teams which I managed I recall, for their quaint humour, George ('Dad') Wheatley and George Blake, the one a middle-distance runner, the other best at the mile and onwards. No one could keep serious when either of these started their joking; the two in combination would have moved a Highland clergyman to laughter. But they took their sport as it should be taken, and never gave the manager any uneasiness. Herbert Hunter, sprinter and jumper, after whom the shield awarded in Victorian track championships is named, was one of my Auckland team. He was in the famous landing at Gallipoli, was wounded in the ankle and, as he lay on the beach awaiting transport, a stray bullet came over and killed him. Another fine sacrifice to that foul goddess, War.
Mention of Sydney reminds me of how I once took part in that silly old controversy about the relative merits of the two main cities of Australia. The prejudice on each side is dying now, thank goodness, but at the time of which I write it was very active. I blew in at my cousin's house in a Sydney suburb one afternoon and found an 'at home' in full blast. None but women were present, and they were all Sydney women. I handed cakes and 'did the amiable' till my cousin offered me up as a conversation piece, the topic being Melbourne and its ridiculous ways. This was much to the general liking; even I enjoyed it for a time. But they wouldn't stop, and I found myself the centre of a gradually warming bombardment. The worm turned. 'Mima,' I said, in a pause, 'I saw a Melbourne girl in George Street to-day.' 'A friend of yours?' asked my cousin. 'No, I didn't know her at all,' was my answer. 'How did you know she was from Melbourne, then?' and all looked at me with curiosity. My retort was rude, I admit, but it was singularly effective: 'She had a smart hat on!'
A gourmand, according to the dictionary, is a glutton; a gourmet is a connoisseur in food. In which class was the man (I knew him pretty well) of whom this tale was told? He was an extremely well-to-do German, long settled in Australia, a bachelor who sent his mother each year a cheque for £1,000 as a Christmas box. He prided himself on his chef: the 'little dinners' he gave were as artistic and satisfying as the fine etchings he used to import. A dinner for four was in progress. Suddenly the host turned to a guest and, speaking with a marked accent, demanded: 'Do you taste mushroom in dis sauce?' The guest meditated, tasted again, hesitated, then said doubtfully: 'I think I can taste mushrooms in it.' Up jumped the host and went out of the room angrily. He was still angry when he returned. 'I haf spoke to der cook,' he said. 'Dere should be mushroom in dat sauce, but you should not taste it'!
Amongst our Melbourne friends was one whom we valued for many reasons, but mainly, I think, looking back, because of her outstanding sense of humour. Despite her advanced years we knew her as Kate Alice; the familiarity implied a great liking for her. At her house one night we found her rocking with laughter over a new experience. She had met a small girl of about eight in the street that day and, feeling in good humour with the world, she paused and said: 'Well, my little dear, and how are you this nice morning?' And the little dear had answered in three succinct sentences: ''Oo are you talkin' to? Mind yer own business. Shut yer jaw!'
Did I say Kate Alice had an unusual sense of humour? How many old ladies would have seen anything to laugh at in such an encounter? But she counted it a joyous affair.
It was she who told of her very dignified son-in-law's involuntary emulation of Lady Godiva. He had taken the family riding hack to the sea beyond Elwood to give the beast a swim. In those days the beach along there had no houses near it, and the rider disrobed in the tea-tree, took the saddle off the horse, and went in, riding bareback, to the breakers. At the first crash he lost control, his steed took complete command, and a tall, strikingly handsome gentleman found himself careering through the streets of St. Kilda completely nude. That was bad enough, but while the beast was obviously bolting the situation was not beyond explanation; it was when he had mastered the horse and had to ride it back, and at a controlled pace, that his blushes had a real chance. He had three miles to go!
None of us were ever courageous enough to speak of this incident to the victim, but I have more than a suspicion that his mother-in-law was not so reticent when the humour took her.
Still harping on happenings to my personal friends, let me here tell of Marjorie's small adventure on the Adelaide express. She had a pet dog with her. 'Madam,' said the conductor, 'I am sorry, but the dog must go into the van until I see if you are to have your compartment (it was a two-berth sleeper) to yourself. Come and I'll show you where I'll put him, and if you find you are to be alone, slip along and you can have him again.' She duly saw where her pet was placed, and returned to her seat. Later in the evening she found all clear, so went back to the van to collect the dog. A man was there, presumably the conductor, standing with his back to her. 'I'm alone now,' she called out. The man turned; he was a stranger. Now, Marjorie is distinctly prepossessing. 'Oh, are you?' he said with a pleased smile, which so disconcerted the little lady that she made matters much worse. 'Oh, you're not the man I want!' she exclaimed, became aware at once of the implications of her speech, and fled for her cabin.
Old Jimmy Walker (he always seemed old to me, but he was not much more than 70 when he died) was the first to introduce me to Robbie Burns. With an Aberdonian father and an Edinburgh mother, I must have had some natural leanings towards the Scottish bard-anyway, I lapped his verses up as a cat laps milk. Jim Walker, junior, was my mate in those days; we lived next door in Stawell, and there was always a hole big enough for boys in the dividing fence. Very vividly do I recall the old man, a weather-beaten miner he was, with a broken nose, sitting in the chimney corner, spectacles on face, getting every ounce out of 'Tam o' Shanter,' or 'Holy Willie's Prayer,' or the 'Cotter's Saturday Night,' sometimes pausing to explain an unusual Scotticism, but mostly trusting to the context to make the meaning clear. What swing he gave to the racy 'Tam o' Shanter,' how shocked we were by the Louse on the lady's bonnet in church (we really were!), and how we sympathized with that 'wee, sleekit, cowrin', tim'rous beastie,' the Mouse whose nest the plough destroyed.
When Jimmy Walker ceased to be a miner he took up land in the Strathbogie Ranges, in the north-east of Victoria. It was a day's drive then, along shocking roads, to and from the nearest town, and in that town (Euroa) my old friend was accosted one afternoon by a man who wanted a lift to Strathbogie. Of course, country fashion, he was told to jump into the spring-cart and come along. The stranger was a well-put-on citizen, with a slight American accent. He proved to be a member of the Church of the Latter Day Saints (alias Mormons) seeking to convert Australians to his form of belief. (I found, by the way, several converts in the back country of Victoria in after years.) Now, the driver was dressed in shabby old clothes and doubtless appeared, to the passenger, to be a dull country 'yob.' Patronizingly, he proceeded to 'enlighten' the yokel regarding the Scriptures and their message to humanity. Never did he make a greater mistake. Walker, like so many other Scotsmen of the period, had been brought up in an atmosphere of religious debate and, again like so many of his fellow-countrymen, he was steeped in the Scriptures. It was long since he had had such an opportunity of renewing anything in the nature of the old debates—grimly, enjoying himself thoroughly, he set out to destroy the Mormon's arguments. It was a humbled Saint who bade his driver a chastened farewell at the end of the journey.
Jimmy, prospering a little, came to the city for a holiday, and we welcomed him to our home in Glenferrie. The days were hot and he found his greatest pleasure in sitting with his boots off and his stockinged feet cooling on the linoleum of our kitchen. I introduced bananas to his notice. He had never tasted any before. I left a dozen on his plate. He ate five. 'They're no' bad,' was his comment, 'but I couldna eat mony of them'!
He had been a fast sprinter in his day, winning many races. And what a fine gun shot! One afternoon I fired at a duck which rose from a swamp and went down the wind straight ahead of me. I missed. Jimmy took one step clear of my smoke (ordinary black powder then), raised his gun, fired, and the bird fell. It was a remarkable shot, for the duck was travelling very fast and directly away from us.
For some years Jimmy's was the farthest-out selection in that lonely bush. His nearest neighbour was his married daughter, who lived with her family a couple of miles away. Once a week he paid them a visit. The habit of a lifetime of Sabbath observance made him cease work every Sunday and don his cleanest clothes for the day. Then he would generally 'daunder doon' to the daughter's farm for a meal and a talk. On one occasion he found everybody at work—washing on the line, chaffcutter going—his Calvinistic blood boiled at the sacrilege. 'Are six days in the week no' enough for ye?' he stormed, as he entered the house. 'But, father, this is Monday!' returned his daughter. And so it was; the old man, in his loneliness, had missed a day.
That that was in 'the Kelly country' goes without saying—there's hardly a spot in north-east Victoria, if you credit local legend, that that gang of bushrangers did not frequent! Visiting the Clarkes at their sheep-station near Benalla (Mary Clarke is my godchild), I saw the last of the Kelly brothers driving a wagonette—an elderly man with a bushy beard. At the station I found everyone reading, week by week, a serial by Roy Bridges called The Fenceless Ranges. I have no excuse for what followed. With a bottle of red ink, I drew a bowl of blood with a dripping dagger above it, labelled the atrocity 'Beware: the Kellys is after you,' and mailed it to Roy. I then forgot all about it. But one day Roy blew in to my office—he had discovered somehow that I had perpetrated the rather silly joke. He had a tale to tell: he had altered his novel because of it! The thing had struck him as a joke until he noticed the postmark was Benalla (he had not learnt that I was there). He knew that township was just then the headquarters of the remaining Kellys, and he was uneasily aware that his rendering of the characters of some of their relatives might not please the family. Moreover, a particularly delicate situation was developing in the next chapter—he wired the publishers of the serial and had the incident cut out!
One of the hearty laughers of the world was W. A. Callaway, aforetime Under-Secretary for Victoria, that is, permanent head of the Department under which are grouped such diverse interests as the Public Library, Museums and National Gallery of the State, the gaols, the lunatic asylums, the aborigines, the Electoral Office, and everything else not big enough (like Education, for instance) to have a Department to itself. He was a good administrator, a particularly well-read man, and I liked especially his cheery optimism when, after his retirement, he was threatened with blindness and had to undergo an operation for cataract. Never was he despondent. He had joined the Cremation Society and one day, with a characteristic outburst of laughter, he said: 'When I go, all I want in the way of obituary is just: "Died—W.A.C. Gone to blazes."'
A group of writers who meet monthly at Percival Serle's home in Hawthorn decided one night,
Of something else to hew and hack,
to write one another's epitaphs. Some of the results were much in the vein suggested by Byron when he remarked: 'Believe a woman—or an epitaph!' but some, more honest, were worth preserving. Epitaphs of a general nature followed, and I was able to present my friend Callaway with this—
ON A CREMATIONIST
Here lies the ash of one who,
Found he could burn in this world,
And the next!
I think it was he, by the way, who told me the tale of the notoriously lazy man. This man died, and the friend of the family called, after the funeral, to condole with the widow. The body had been cremated. Looking at a nice vase on the mantelpiece, the visitor said sympathetically: 'I suppose that's poor old George reposing up there?' 'O dear no,' retorted the widow, briskly. 'I've got him going at last. That's George in the hourglass!'
I have already quoted one or two of the epitaphs devised by the group at Serle's. That special evening led me to attempt a few more—both for the living and the dead. The identity of my first victim is thinly hidden under the initials 'P.S.'
ON A KINDLY MENTOR
The gods took Wisdom and a Heart
And mixed them in a subtle blend;
Here lies the product of their art—
Critic, scholar, friend.
It seems right to use merely initials for the living, but the feelings of the dead need not be so considered, especially if they belong to the very remote past. So I served our First Parents in this fashion:
Here rests that great Progenitor
In whom all nations mingle.
Just think what we've to thank him for—
Ah, would that he'd stayed single!
And here the Mother of us all,
Long freed from earthly passions.
No woman now regrets the Fall—
It introduced the fashions!
With no particular person in mind, and in an endeavour to produce something more poetic than usual, this was fashioned:
ON ONE WHO DIED YOUNG
Make moan with softest music: she is dead
Who perfect lived and passed withouten stain.
O Death, to whom Mankind is daily bread,
Thou hast the Sweetest taken, now refrain!
But the epitaph lends itself agreeably to satire (perhaps because, as a rule, the satirised is beyond answering back):
A CERTAIN POLITICIAN
Upon this stone see carved a Statesman's name,
Whose word was wont to shake the Austral skies.
He gained his ends—wealth, power, place and fame,
All, all were his! And now? Oh, still he lies!
Someone has remarked that the Devil was the first critic; generally speaking, the followers of that profession are regarded with at least suspicion, if not dislike, by the creative artist. Reviewing the unsparing judgments of A. G. Stephens, so long a guide to the literary aspirant in Australia, I conceived a strong admiration for his work:
Here sleeps the critic A.G.S.,
His mordant wit the brown earth smothers.
Seeming to curse, he did but bless—
His monument's the work of others.
I do not name the man, but only the pseudonym when I quote this on
Here Courage lies, undaunted still!
Tho' Death take toll of this and that,
Two things in Frank he could not kill—
The Poet and the Democrat!
or this on
The final gallop's done; the mopoke calls;
His well-loved hills fade slowly from the sight;
From out the arch of Heaven a wailing falls—
The keen of swans high-flying through the night.
Risking a slight ruffling of his feelings, I shall identify the well-known poet and musician
And art thou mute, O singing soul!
Death was unkind to stop thy voice.
Now Other Worlds thy songs extol—
We grieve that they rejoice!
I don't know how a certain other friend would take this reflection upon his stability, so he will remain anonymous—none the less is it a true bill:
Nor Death, nor Principalities, nor Powers
Shall stay this Poet if he will to roam;
Here he should sleep, but, peradventure, scours
Blind Space with Comets, and makes Stars his home.
Two more will suffice, both, unhappily, of dead men. I knew and liked them well:
Here rests that man who made Mankind his mate
Peasant and prince alike his death deplore—
An old dog whimpers lonely at the gate,
A weathered swag lies idle at the door.
Delicious laughter haunts the place,
Though here Doreen weeps with the Kid.
Our Yorick sleeps within this space—
The Bloke has passed: Oh, dip the lid!
Earlier in this book I have suggested that, to put it mildly, my old Department was not fortunate, as a rule, in its Ministers. There were notable exceptions, of course, men who were able indeed, men with whom it was a pleasure to work because one could respect their decisions. I would name them but for obvious reasons. One of my unusual jobs was to represent the Department at the annual swimming school conducted, usually at Queenscliff, for and by teachers of the State service. This school was organized most capably on each occasion by the Supervisor of Swimming, Miss May Cox. On one occasion we managed to induce the Minister of the day to spend a week observing the work of the school. He was Mr. H. I. Cohen, M.L.C. I recall his visit largely because of his ready wit. We were walking on the cliff one evening, and facing out to sea. With mock seriousness, I complained that we had not had a decent sunset during the whole of our stay. Could he, as a Victorian Minister of the Crown, not do something about it? Like a flash he retorted: 'No power, Mr. Croll. Anything outside the Heads is a Commonwealth matter!'
I could tell many stories of Central Australian wanderings and the Inland people, but most of them are either in my book, Wide Horizons, or could not be told in print. One I may, perhaps, delicately indicate. A foreign scientist and his wife were studying the natives when I first visited the Centre. They had a very large train of camels, and so well provided were they that a meal might, and often did, include tinned asparagus, paté de fois gras, and other delicacies unusual to those parts, accompanied by quite a good selection of wines. 'Do you enjoy the camp fires?' I asked Madame. 'Camp fires? Oh, no; I haf a stove in my tent!' The bushmen studied this strange couple with relish—he, heavy-jowled and fleshy, with enormous tortoiseshell-rimmed glasses before two rolling eyes, she trim, petite, dainty even in such surroundings—and the bushmen indulged in a sort of ashamed mirth at the sight, in public view on the rearmost camel, of what I may euphemistically describe as two complete toilet sets, except that there were no jugs, no wash basins and no soap dishes.
One of the accepted fictions is that Scotsmen have no sense of humour. This of the nation which produced Robert Burns! And when it is, grudgingly, conceded that they may possess humour of a sort, the qualification follows that, anyway, they are not quick in the uptake—this from the slow-thinking English! Two fine old Scots I knew in Melbourne gave the lie to both assumptions. One, James Ferguson, was telling me of his early days in Scotland, when I interrupted with 'My father came from Aberdeen.' 'Ah dinna blame him!' was the instant retort, with a hearty laugh. The other Scot told a tale of his playing golf with a fellow countryman. Two women held the pair up badly by lingering at one of the greens. 'Fore!' called one Scot. They took no notice. Forre!' he called again, and again 'Forrre!' the 'r' becoming more pronounced each time. As he paused at last and glared at the offenders: 'Hoots, mon!' said the other Mc. 'Ye canna shift them wi' Fore. Try them wi' three and eleven!'
My friend, Gilbert Wallace, editor of the Victorian School Papers and Education Gazette, was fond of telling the tale of the dull scholar who became so careless and inattentive to his lessons that the Head decided he would not be bothered any longer with such a failure. But the lad was the very backbone of the football team, and the sports master pleaded for another chance. 'All right,' said the Head at last. 'Give him a test in any subject you like, and if he gets 50 per cent. right I'll keep him.' Away went the sports master, and in a day or two he was back, jubilant. 'He got his 50 per cent., sir,' he announced. 'Oh,' said the Head, doubtingly, for he knew the lad. 'What did you test him in?' 'I gave him two questions,' was the reply. 'I asked him the colour of anthracite, and he answered "red"—which was wrong, of course—but when I asked him the nature of chlorine gas he said he didn't know—which was right! That gave him his 50.'
A truer story Gilbert told me was of his staying one night at a little country hotel. At breakfast next morning he had for companion a youngish man who showed in conversation a truly astonishing knowledge. Wallace was unusually well read, and this man could meet him at all points. The stranger turned out to be Joseph Furphy, afterwards ('Tom Collins') to reach fame as the author of Such is Life.
Many were the good things which had birth in my old Department. Examination papers supplied the majority ('howlers'), but, to even things up between examiner and examinee, we had an apocryphal story of the history paper which contained as one of its questions: 'On which of his three voyages was Captain Cook killed?'
I have told elsewhere of the unconscious humour of parents and others, but even those brass-hats, the inspectors, would display, at times, a human weakness. In the earlier days, before the motor became the common vehicle, we used to chaff one of them on an entry in his office diary: 'Spelling horse, one hour.' It was suggested that he would save time by carrying a dictionary with him!
Amongst these old papers is a tiny booklet composed of seven pages of Fire Brigade Regulations, printed specially for the Public Library, Museums and National Gallery of Victoria. It will probably be news to the present staff that we, the clerical officers of the Library, went through a form of drill every month or two. We handled the hoses (and how we hated the messy job!), connected them to the hydrants, and pretended to put out a fire. Another unpleasantness the staff to-day knows nothing of was the wearing of badges to give us official standing with the public. The badge was in the form of a crown in gold wire, and we wore it (when the Librarian was about, and only then, for we detested the label!) on the lapel of the coat. I know that the Library to-day, through its very obliging staff, answers questions in amazing variety and number; in my day, too, we expected to spend much time satisfying inquiries. I recall being asked for a Do-away Bible, and satisfied the lady when I found her a copy of the Douai version. And one day a lean, sunburnt man, with 'bush' written all over him, wanted to find out how long it would take him to drive a bullock team from Victoria to Coolgardie, Western Australia. I think I saved that man's life, to say nothing of a team of bullocks! Every quotation under heaven was asked for at some time or other. The big reading room (now part of the Museum) was a popular place in which to have fits. Out-patients would come in from the Hospital next door, often surrounded by an aura of iodoform. In the peace of the reading room, where quiet was strictly enforced, the outcry and fall of an epileptic were terrifying at first to my unaccustomed ears.
The division then of the room into bays gave opportunity for theft and mutilation of books. The Irish History section should never have been placed, as it was, in a corner under the stairs, for the seclusion gave a rare chance to a reader who disagreed with the book to write his comments on the margin. And he did! And the next reader, disagreeing with him, would pencil in a libellous remark or two about the first commentator, and so the merry game proceeded. Sometimes these marginal exchanges were better reading (to an unprejudiced person) than the book itself!
Emil Creed, whom I have mentioned earlier, assisted to give the Library a treat one day. A group of Italians (Pifferari, I think is the name) was making Melbourne lively just then by playing several instruments (I recall one as a curious-looking bagpipe) about the streets. Creed was ceasing duty and met this band on the outside steps, looking interrogatively at the building. In very halting English they asked him what it was. He told us that he answered them in Italian, but his effort in what he conceived to be their native tongue could not be regarded as a success, for they at once lined up, the bagpipe squealed and the band broke forth, to the amusement of the readers and the astonishment of the staff, into a popular operatic piece. Evidently they thought the place an hotel. They didn't get a chance to finish their serenade!
A gong was beaten in the Library at 9.55 each night to warn all readers that the place closed at 10 o'clock. I recall with amusement (and some envy) that I could, and frequently did, catch the 10.5 train at Princes Bridge station. The race is sometimes to the swift—especially if he is able to dodge through traffic!
Of all the fine men and women I have met, I know none to rival Misss Edith Onians, honorary secretary of the City Newsboys' Society. If it is a notable deed to make two grains of corn grow where only one grew before, how great must be the action which produces a group of wholesome, honest citizens where the conditions make for nothing but evil? I am not speaking lightly when I say that I esteem it an honour to be associated in any way at all with such a work. I am one of the committee, but do not misunderstand the position—the committee meets regularly and passes accounts and listens to the doings of the month, but it is Miss Onians who does the work. She is 'Miss' (no other form of address is ever used by her immense family of boys and old boys) to thousands; the word connotes more than 'mother' to many, it means help and cheer and advice to all. The building she has raised (she will deny that it was she who raised it—but who else?) in Little Collins Street has a warmed swimming bath (how great a boon in health and cleanliness), rooms where bootmaking, carpentry, haircutting and other trades are taught, a hall with cinema and talkie equipment, a library, a room for games and gymnastics, and (again what a boon to these youngsters with their long hours of exposure in, often, wet streets) hot meals.
And all this has been achieved by Miss Onians without salary or other reward than that finest of all possible pleasures—the sight of men living honoured lives whose initial handicaps of poverty and environment would almost surely have been ruinous but for her.
None of her boys can do wrong...but in committee we hear of much that they do right. The streets teach them shrewdness and give them a rare ability to express themselves. They judge quickly and are not easily taken in. 'Miss' gathers a number of them into a Sunday School every week. She finds that their attention is best held when she recounts the Bible stories of great men and their doings. One day she told them how Samson carried off the gates of Gaza. 'Aw, that's a double-header, Miss!' came from one frank young sceptic.
Before I joined the committee of the Newsboys' Society I represented the Education Department on the Street Traders' Board, the principal duty of which was the licensing of the lads who sell papers in the city streets. We had some thirty boys before us one day. They sat below the platform and came up one by one as called. As a lad started up the steps I observed that he had the olive skin, the oval face and the dark eyes and hair of a member of one of the Latin races. I had not heard his name. Leaning across to the chairman I offered the opinion that the youngster was Italian and I wondered if we would understand him. I asked the first question. As he reached us I said: 'Where were you born, sonny?' In perfect English, with a slight lisp, he replied: 'In a private hospital, sir!' I don't know yet what his nationality was.
Miss Onians sits as a justice in the Children's Court, but it was not she who told me that amusing story of the cross-eyed magistrate. He was very cross-eyed indeed. Three prisoners were in the dock together. He addressed the first: 'What is your name?' 'John Smith!' promptly replied the second one. The magistrate was annoyed. Turning to No. 2 he said severely: 'You speak when you're spoken to!' 'Gorblime,' said the third man, 'I never opened me lips!'
A couple of other good yarns demand recording. One was used with delightful effect by a Victorian Minister of the Crown at a gathering of fellow politicians. A surgeon, an architect and a politician were discussing the origins of their callings. 'Well,' said the surgeon, 'mine goes back a long way. If you look at Genesis you'll find an operation was performed on Adam, the very first man. He had a rib removed.' 'Yes, that certainly is an early reference to your profession,' returned the architect. 'But remember that long before that incident took place, the Great Architect had created order out of chaos. So my profession obviously antedates those of you two.' 'All very well,' was the politician's retort, 'all very well—but who created chaos!'
I have written earlier of newspaper errors and happenings. It remained for that able Presbyterian, the Rev. Dr. Button of Ballarat (a Scot who refutes in his own person all that is commonly said about Scotsmen and humour)—it remained for him to put over to me, with a solemn face, the statement that, when an undertaker up there died during a burial, the local paper announced that the sad occurrence cast quite a gloom over the proceedings! If I had thought of it at the time I should have retorted with the equally apocryphal story of the undertaker who set his son up in business and committed suicide to give the lad a start!
Which recalls 'Den's' tale of the reporter (he said this happened in Adelaide!) who had ideas of his own as to the best way of telling a 'news story.' He was sent to get details of a murder and suicide and he started the narrative thus: 'Mind the blood and brains, said the courteous constable as he opened the door to our representative...'
And while dwelling on morbid subjects let me recall the witty remark of a lady patient in one of our most modern hospitals. When my wife entered the building it reeked of disinfectant. 'And how are you?' she asked her friend. 'My dear,' was the reply, 'I am suffering from phenyle decay!'
A cheerful Melbourne artist, nothing if not original and inventing the unusual, had to be operated on for some abdominal trouble. He was a source of mingled joy and trepidation to the nurses—joy because no one could help liking him, trepidation because he observed no rules known to hospitals. He boasted a visitors' book, surely the most unusual ever devised, for it was the broad bandage which covered the scar on his 'lower chest!' A fountain pen was kept handy; all must sign, and sign they did!
I remember M. J. McNally pretending to be a doctor during one of our visits to Sunnyside (of sainted memory). He caught me in bed and that, I think, gave him the idea. Drawing a chair up, he clasped my wrist with one hand, counted the pulse, looked startled, produced his watch, counted again, then leaping to his feet—'Good God!' he cried. 'The man's ten minutes fast!' Dave Low did a caricature portrait of Garry Roberts at that home and, later, in his William Street studio, he did one of me which was published in the Bulletin. The original drawing hangs on the wall of my bookroom. Framed with it is a piece of verse by Low. I had photographed the caricature and sent him a print as a Christmas card. On the back I wrote:
Though the artist here traduces
Quite a noble countenance,
Ugly mugs may have their uses—
As a mopper-up of juices
This one offers no excuses—
All it asks is half a chance.
His reply was very much to the point:
It hurts me sore, so help me, Bob,
To find my rendering of your gob
Regarded as a base traduce.
Goldarn it, Robert, what's the use?
My art did but lay bare your soul—
Should I be blamed for R. H. Croll!
Jack Cato, photographer, told me one night at the Savage Club a number of informative things about Tom Roberts, whose life I had just written. But Cato's best, I think, was of his meeting with Bernard Shaw, who expressed the hope that colour photography would soon come in—his ruddy beard was turning white!
My versatile friend, Garry Roberts, startled us one evening by the announcement that he had been 'best man' at his father's wedding! So he had; the father had married a second time, well after his first family had grown up, and they were very friendly towards their father's proposed new partner. Which recalls that a padre in Central Australia told me that, in a remote part of the back country where no clergyman had been before, he married a couple, their two grown-up children being the witnesses. Talking of remarriage reminds me of a conversation in which I took part one afternoon. 'How's father?' I asked one of the group. 'I'm not speaking to father,' came the reply. 'I won't have anything more to do with him.' 'What's that?' I queried, then thought I knew the cause. 'Oh, is it because he has married again?' 'No!' she retorted. 'I don't mind that, but he took mother to the church with him!' 'Took mother! how the deuce...?' 'Yes, you see, mother was cremated and father always wears her in his scarf-pin!'
Of the making of many anecdotes there is no end. Here's a pretty piece of punning told me by Frank Tate. He was with Franklin Peterson the younger—that brilliant journalist who died long before his time—on a steamer coming from America. A group of American girls chatted with a group of young Australians and, said Tate, all spoke most distressingly through their noses. 'They are contending for the nasal supremacy of the Pacific' was Peterson's crisp comment.
Amongst men who have, in the flesh, interested me very much are Mark Twain and Sir Henry Parkes. I saw Mark on the stage of the Town Hall, a benevolent looking, quiet man, who made you laugh by sheer personality, an oozing of humour (if I may put it that way) for he had no tricks of oratory and no high lights of emphasis in his talk. It just flowed on, and you listened reposefully till some delicious absurdity, delivered almost as though he did not mean it, swept you off your feet. He was, in his own words, 'as ca'm as a ham.'
Parkes, too, I heard in Melbourne Town Hall. He was a surprise. I had thought that his reputation for dropping the 'h' was forged by the humorous papers and fostered by his opponents in politics. But this able old man, who spoke most forcefully and eloquently, strewed the stage with his aspirates in the most illiterate fashion. What a gift he was for the caricaturists with that leonine head and bushy beard.
George Reid, so witty of speech, so resourceful in debate, has been the subject of countless stories. My personal contact with him was when he joined a band of athletes at dinner in Sydney one night as chief guest and we toasted his health. He replied, glancing down at his portly figure: 'I, too, have a championship belt!' Is it too stale a tale, that one in which for once he had no retort? I'll chance it. He was contesting an election and ended a narration of his claims by declaring himself necessary in the government of the country. He pointed out that his party seemed to depend on him. 'If I were to die, as things now are, what would happen!' he exclaimed. It was only a rhetorical question, but it brought a reply: 'The fat would be in the fire then, George!'
It was not politics which brought me into touch with the present Prime Minister of Australia, the Right Honourable Robert Gordon Menzies. It was Art. He originated the idea of an Academy which would link up all art interests in Australia (the pictorial and plastic arts, that is), so making it possible for the whole of these great cultural influences to speak with a single voice. What a row ensued! In Sydney, a few well-known painters, members of a local society, after joining the Academy, discovered that they were outnumbered by members of a rival society. So they resigned—hardly a logical act when it was clear that societies had not been considered in the matter, but merely the merits of individuals. Then Melbourne witnessed the remarkable sight of the numerous warring schools of that metropolis meeting for once on common ground! Led by one or two capable artists, who disagreed with academies 'on principle,' the mass of painters, most of whom could never show sufficient talent to reach the standard required by an academy, noisily rejected the idea of such a body. There remained, in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Hobart sufficient of the really talented exponents of painting and sculpture (architecture was added later) to found an academy of some fifty leading artists, so joining up the whole of the Australian States, save Western Australia. I predict that this academy will some day have the prefix 'Royal' and stand on the same footing in Australia as the Royal Academy does in England.
Menzies was then Federal Attorney-General. The academy, with him as chairman at the meeting, was formally brought into being at Canberra in June, 1937. I was appointed general secretary and treasurer, a busy job indeed. In the months which followed, I was to sit with Menzies in conference many times. I have never met an abler man. He was inevitably to be a leader and to fill high positions. Clear thinking, a good memory, wide reading, a really amazing gift of expression—combine these with mental alertness at its highest and you have some idea of his equipment. Without a gesture or other aid to his oratory, without a change of expression on his face, he could hold his audience absolutely. He even, on one memorable night, magicked a roomful of Savage Club members into silence (they had just dined, too!) while he told them, in the quietest way, of some of his travels abroad. It was said of him, when he was in the State House, that he would rather lose a friend than a repartee. Well, I heard many repartees...and enjoyed them all. When he became Prime Minister I sent him a wire with a quotation from Newbolt. This was the message: 'To Robert Gordon Menzies—Gay goes the Gordon to a fight. Good luck. Robert Henderson Croll.' I reckoned he was in for a fight—and so he was!
Although I am a life member of the Melbourne Walking Club I joined that other body of walkers in woodland ways, the Wallaby Club, a few years ago. Its members are mostly older men than those of the first-named club and are largely of the professional classes—University professors, doctors and lawyers being, I think, in the majority. My first close touch was made when, as the guest of Theodore Fink, I sat with him and Sir John Monash at an annual dinner of the club in the Oriental Hotel. Later, Professor Wadham (of the School of Agriculture, Melbourne University) was good enough to propose me as a member. I recall with much amusement a dictum of Mr. Justice Dixon, of the High Court of Australia, who was then, I fancy, president of the Wallabys. With mock seriousness he quoted: 'Stealing from one author is plagiarism; stealing from three authors is research!'
There are moments of expansion when I recall that, as a younger man, I once (and once only!) wrestled Clarence Weber when that active giant was at the height of his powers. I had just finished exercising in his rooms and was walking across to the bathroom when I encountered Weber standing with both arms stretched up high, doing breathing practice. I leaped at him, gripped him round the body, twisted my legs round his and sank my chin into his neck. The bout was on. He did not lower his arms: he merely bent his head slightly to glance down at me. Then he said: 'Well, I can't get you off without hurting you...!' The bout was over.
Thinking back to younger days when, with my good friend and indefatigable worker Lindley Wood as honorary secretary, a group of us, all very enthusiastic, 'ran' the Hawthorn branch of the University Extension movement, I am interested to recall our ambitions and the excellence of the matter we managed to present to our members. I cannot remember the titles of all the series of lectures, but here are some: Sir Edgeworth David on Antarctica; Professor W. A. Osborne on Physiology of Daily Life; the Revd. Professor Rentoul on English Literature; Dr. J. A. Leach on Nature Study in the Vicinity of Hawthorn; Professor Walter Murdoch on Great Living Writers; Mr. Frank Tate on Shakespeare. That gives an indication of the fare. There were other lecturers, including one who spoke on Ibsen. He folded up his notes as the clock struck nine, remarked that that was the customary length of an Extension lecture, and we were left to finish Ibsen for ourselves.
I was to know Walter Murdoch in other ways as well. One night at W. A. Callaway's he was prompter while Callaway and I acted a scene from Cyrano de Bergerac. I can see his perplexed face now when I managed to skip several pages. When I think of Murdoch as 'Elzevir' the essayist I am reminded of Neilson's line: 'Gold he has poured out and silver on this tent of mine.'
The Savage Club, joined when I left the Amateur Sports Club (reluctantly, for I had been a foundation member), has been a source of much pleasure in recent years. So many good fellows gather there, so many artists, so many writers, so many men it is a mental exhilaration to talk with. Kingsley Henderson has been president for the greater part of my period: I always think of him as a maker of neat, and telling, speeches and as the perfect host. One of the most interesting of my Savage memories is of the lunch given by Ambrose Pratt to help a young writer to put a new magazine (Manuscripts) on the market. It was one of those lunches calculated to rouse generous feelings in the heart of the most penurious. On our host's right sat the youth, Tatlock Miller by name; on the left was R. G. Menzies; the late Sidney Myer was also one of the dozen. When all were at the coffee stage a menu card was passed round for signatures. When it came back to Ambrose Pratt he handed it to Menzies who, as a lawyer, wrote in the blank space above our names an undertaking that we, whose names followed, had agreed to subscribe to the magazine. In vain, with much laughter, we protested. The only reply was: 'How many copies will you take?' As a poor public servant I was let down lightly with two, but some of my wealthy neighbours were loaded with as many as six. If anyone hesitated, his means were appraised by the whole company, the figures mounting with each pause. When Sidney Myer's turn came, he dug his hand deep into his pocket, produced his keys and threw them on the table with a despairing gesture—'Take the lot!' said he. He was put up to auction. The company was invited to bid: 'How many subscriptions for Sidney Myer?' called the chairman. 'Five!' from one voice. 'Six!' from another—we ran him up to eleven.
Have I told the tale already, I wonder, of meeting the Poet Laureate, John Masefield, one night at Mrs. Bull's home in Surrey Hills. Mrs. Masefield was with him. It was during that exceedingly wet spring which damped Victoria's centenary celebrations. Masefield remarked to my wife, as we drove home, that that was the first night of stars in the six weeks of their sojourn here! He had admired Arthur Streeton's great picture (now in the National Gallery, Adelaide) which the painter had named so happily 'Australia Felix.' 'Indeed an Australia felix' (strong accent on the felix) 'which has such a painter,' was Masefield's comment. He wished to meet Streeton, and I arranged that the two should come together.
That night at Bull's the Poet Laureate asked me if I could sing 'Waltzing Matilda'—he had heard in England, he said, that it was Australia's national anthem. Vance Palmer, sitting next to me, broke into the song, I joined him, and the company swelled the chorus. We had supper under the pines in the garden beside a camp fire: I think I may claim that my son Robin and our hostess's son, Ronald, have been the first persons in the world to make billy tea for a Poet Laureate. Masefield, by his kindly thoughtfulness, won a host of friends in Australia.
Like King Charles, this section is an inordinate time a-dying. Anecdote leads to anecdote until the chapter threatens to parallel the case of the widow of pious memory who, it is said, loved her husband so dearly that she went on having children for years after he died. I close it with much, even now, of the 'trivial fond record' still unwritten.
My father, Charles Croll, was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, on March 24, 1823, my mother, Janet Henderson, in Gladsmuir, near Edinburgh, on July 3, 1828. They married at St. Cuthbert's Parish Church, Edinburgh, on May 26, 1854, the minister being the Revd. William Bruce, of the Cowgate U.P. Church. Father and mother both died at 'Gladsmuir,' 20 Percy Street, Glenferrie, he in 1891, she on June 14, 1904. They are buried in the Boroondara Cemetery, Kew.
Of their Scottish life I know little save the fact that father had three brothers and two sisters, that one brother, William (born in 1819) went to America and settled there, and that another, James, succeeded in altering the spelling of the family name. He established a business in Edinburgh and had a doorplate made. The engraver put an 'a' into the name, making it Croall, and my uncle did not bother to alter it. So we have one set of cousins who are Crolls and another who are Croalls.
I have traced the 'Croll' back to the Danish 'Krone,' a crown, so it is possible ('anything is possible in a democracy') that one of my remote forbears was a leader of a raiding band which came across the water and managed the difficult job of holding its own against the Scots. Anyway, the Crolls have been a long time in Aberdeen; the name still persists there.
Six months after marriage my parents started for Australia as units in an immigration scheme. They left Birkenhead in the Clyde-built sailing ship William Miles on October 16, 1854, sighted the coast of Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) on New Year's morning, 1855, and cast anchor in Moreton Bay (then part of New South Wales) on January 16. The ship could not cross the bar, so the passengers were taken up the river to Brisbane in flat-bottomed boats. That was on January 24, 1855.
The colony had ceased in 1840 to be a dumping ground for convicts, and the William Miles emigrants were at first accommodated in the old convict barracks near the end of Queen Street where the bridge now crosses the river to South Brisbane. The cost of the trip had been £13 per head. Father obtained work with a chemist named Kent, and a small house was rented on the river bank in South Brisbane—the South Brisbane railway station now occupies the site. Here my eldest sister, Mary, was born on May 11, 1855.
Father left in 1855 for Warrnambool, Victoria, where his brother David had established himself as architect and builder. Mother followed at the end of the year in the steamer Boomerang (?), which took her as far as Sydney, where she transferred to the steamer Wonga Wonga (?) without entering the town. This boat came up the Yarra and, at 8 o'clock one evening, mother mounted the only vehicle available, an ordinary cart, and drove about Melbourne for many hours before she discovered her friend, Mrs. Horne, who had been her bridesmaid, and who now welcomed her to a home near the top of Little Collins Street.
In December, 1855, mother resumed her journey, embarking for Warrnambool in the steamer Lady Bird. For some years the family lived in Warrnambool or its neighbourhood and there the second child, Arthur, and the third, Elizabeth, were born (1857 and 1860 respectively).
Then came the flit to Pleasant Creek (now Stawell) where Arthur died, and Charles (1864) and myself (1869) came to light. The trek from Warrnambool by waggon took some three days and cost £4. Camp had to be made each night.
Mother had one trip back to the old country. That was in 1878. She started on October 26 (I have noted that it was the day of the Kelly outbreak of bushranging!) in the Money Wigram Co.'s steamer Durham. She left Scotland again on July 22, 1879, and landed at Williamstown (then the port for the mailboats) on September 11, 1879.
We moved from Stawell to Richmond in 1888 and to Glenferrie in 1890. I married, in 1914, Grace Devereaux Croall, of Sydney. Our son, Robert Devereaux ('Robin'), Bachelor of Agricultural Science, is now 22 years of age.
There is a very early mention of a family of Crolls in Victoria; I should like to know something of them. It appears in the diary of the Revd. Wm. Waterfield, first Congregational minister to the Port Phillip Settlement (as Victoria was originally called). Under date Wednesday, October 12, 1842, appears the entry: 'Baptized Mr. Croll's child, William.'
It has amused me to tabulate some of the more obvious evidences of having lived an active life:
President, Travel League of Victoria
President, Field Naturalists' Club
Ex-President, Anthropological Society
Vice-President, Australian Ex Libris Society
Ex-Councillor, Victorian Artists' Society
Organiser of the Centenary Art Exhibition
Ex-Secretary, Australian Academy of Art
For some years Assistant Editor of The Emu
Life Member of Council, Victorian Amateur Athletic Association
Life Member, Melbourne Walking Club
Trustee of Kinglake National Park
Committeeman of Library Association of Victoria
Committeeman of the Free Library Movement in Victoria
Chairman of Education Committee of Victoria League
Committeeman of City Newsboys Society
Committeeman of P.E.N. Club
Committeeman of Bread and Cheese Club
Committeeman of Arts and Crafts Society
Honorary member, United Service Institution
Honorary Forest Officer
Honorary Ranger under Wild Flowers Protection Act
Member of Fellowship of Australian Writers
Member of Wallaby Club
Member of Savage Club
Formerly Registrar of the Council of Public Education and Senior Clerk
of Victorian Education Department
The Etched Work of John Shirlow, 1920
The Open Road in Victoria, 1928
Along the Track, 1930
By-products (verse), 1932
Life of Tom Roberts (artist), 1935
Life of R. W. Sturgess (artist), 1938
Wide Horizons: Wanderings in Central Australia, 1937
The Ewing Catalogue, 1938
The Collected Poems of John Shaw Neilson, 1934
Life of Dr. Alexander Thomson, Surgeon (with Dr. Roland Wettenhall), 1937
An Australasian Anthology (with Percival Serle and Frank Wilmot), 1927.
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