Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
Angus & Robertson manuscripts, 1848, ca. 1881-1931: A fragment of autobiography: Henry Lawson: Vol. 1
MLMSS 314 / 181 (A 1887)
[Transcriber's note: Spelling has not been corrected. Lawson does not always complete words and alterations have been made in pencil, possibly by another person. Some sentences obscured by paper stuck in the margin.]
Previous pages are covers and inside cover]
[Pencil notes at top of page]
HL never completed this – having been paid £ 100 for it in advance [indecipherable]
Bind half dark green crushed morocco , cloth sides, g. top
Lettered as shown on attached
The Tent and the Tree
I had a dreamy recollection of the place as a hut; some of my people said it was a tent, on a good frame – for Father was a carpenter, but other tells me that he built a little bark room in front, lined with
calico "scrim" papered with newspapers, with a whitewashed floor with mats, a fireplace in front, by the side of the door, and a glass door! – relic of the rush, I suppose. The tent was the same that I was born in, on the Grenfel goldfield, some three years before, and had been brought back to Pipeclay. There
was a tree in front of the tent – or hut – a blue-gum I think, and I know it had a forked trunk, and on the ground between the tree and the hut had stood a big bark publichouse, one of seven in the gully in the palmy days of Pipeclay. Some of the post holes were there yet, and I
was used to fall into them, till until Father filled them up. Pipeclay had petered out before my people went with the rush to Grenfel.#
# Pipeclay was a stoney barren ridge, two little gullies full of digger holes caving in, a little brown flat, a few tumble down haunted huts, an old farm or two on the outskirts, Blue grey scrub, scotch thistles, prickly pears, Bathurst-burrs, rank weeds, goats, and utter dreariness and desolation. But the hills were still blue in the distance.
(Under) [I think this means look under the paper glued in the margin.
was a tree in front of the tent – or hut - a blue-gum I think, and I know it had a forked trunk; and on the ground between the tree and the hut had stood a big bark publichouse, one of seven in the gully in the palmy days of Pipeclay. Some of the post holes were there yet, and I
wastill until Father filled them up. Pipeclay had petered out before my people went with the rush to Grenfel. #I took screaming fits, they said, and would lie down and roll out of the tent, through the room and across the flat till I was tired; then Id sleep. But this was before I became conscious of the World.
[The following 6 sentences have been crossed out]
[filled them up. The publichouse had gone, of course, before we camped there, so Pipeclay had petered out before I became conscious of the world. It was done, in fact when my people went with the rush to Grenfel.]
That tree haunted my early childhood. I had a childish dread that it would fall on the tent. I felt sure it would fall some day time. Perhaps I looked up and the white clouds flying over made the top of the tree seem to move. The tent and the tree are the first things I remember. They stood there back at the beginning of the world, and it was long before I could concieve of either having been removed.
There was Father and Mother and a baby brother, but I seemed to come into the world alone – they came into my life later on. Father said that I suggested throwing the baby down a diggers hole, or drowning him, like a surplus kitten. They say I got a tin of jam one day and obstinately denied it, though my mouth hands and pinny
was were covered with jam: from top to bottom which was strange, for I was painfully and unhappily consciencous #when I was about three, or three and a half, I read the paper, they tell me – or at least I thought I did. I’d get it and stare at it hard, and rustle it as I’d heard it rustle when father turned it.
[need to see original to read hidden sentences]
I don’t remember the goat. It belonged to Granny. Grandfather had
[repeat of previous page with additions]
There was Father and Mother and a baby brother, but I seemed to come into the world alone – they came into my life later on. Father said that I suggested throwing the baby down a diggers hole, or drowning him, like a surplus kitten. They say I got a tin of jam one day and obstinately denied it, though my mouth hands and pinny was were covered with jam:
from top to bottom which was strange, for I was painfully and unhappily consciencous and truthful for many long years. # About this time I was butted by a billy goat – and I carry the scar, and several others, on my head to this day – but I don’t remember the goat. It belonged to Granny. Grandfather had
bullock teams and a sawpit. Granny lived in and old weatherboard place, that had been a publichouse, about a hundred yards further along in the World. I used to go to Grannies and get coffee. I liked coffee. One day she told me that the blacks had come and drank up all the coffee and I didnt like the blacks after that. I don’t remember that the old lady had any special points about her, except her chin and nose, but I was extremely fond of her until the day she died. When I was about four and my brother two we had a song about Aunty – Aunty Phoebe I think it was – that Mother had taught us. I was a song calling Aunty to come.
Sometimes Mother would tell us that if we sang that song Aunty would come, and we’d sing it, and sure enough she’d come while we were singing it, and rush in and kiss us. We thought it very wonderful.
Then a tremendious thing happened. Father built a two roomed slab and bark hut over on the flat on the other side of the gully – and on the other side of the World as it was then: and Grandfather came with a load of stringy-bark slabs, and stringy-bark poles for a kitchen. and Granny and the rest were going to Mudgee (about five miles away) on to some other place away out of the World.
The dining room had a good pine floor, and there were two dogs, and a church with a double tower, and a sentry on the mantleshelf, and the sofa tick had a holland cover – I remember this becaus we weren’t allowed to get
on onto it. About this time I was put into knickerbockers, and ‘come a man’, and began to take an interest in lady visitors. I had two pair of pants, one of tweed and the other of holland I think, and one morning I tore the dark pair on a stump. Then a young lady called came – a jolly, stylish girl whom I greatly admired. I was called but didn’t show up for some time. I’d washed my face and damped my hair and combed it, but it was too wet and all in furrows. I’d dragged the
holland pants on over the tweed ones. I shook hands with the young lady and hoped she’d excuse me for keeping her waiting, but the fact of the matter was, I said that my trousers were broke in a rather awkward place. I told Mother later in confidence that I didnt think she was very ladylike or she wouldn’t have laughed so. I was very hurt about it.
away or to some other place away out of the world. But we
hardly didn’t seemed to live in the new house at all any time before a more tremendious thing happened. We were in a cart with bedding and a goat and a cat in a basket and fowls in a box, and there were great trees all along, and teams with loads of bark and rafters, and tables upside down with bedding and things between the legs, and buckets and pots hanging round, and gold cradles, gold dishes, windlas [indecipherable] and picks and shovels; and there were more drays and carts and children and women and goats – some tied behind the carts; and men on horses and men walking.
All the world was shifting as fast as ever it could.
Gulgong the last of the great alluvial or ‘poor man’s’ rushes, had broken out. And it seemed no time, but it must have been months, and may have been a year or so, before a still greater thing than ever happened. Father’s party
must have bottomed on payable gold, and we went with mother and some aunts on a trip to Sydney. We saw Grandfather at Mudgee – he was up with one of his teams I suppose: it was in a public house and Grandfather was singing songs; and we saw Granny at Wellarawang, where the railway was, and where she’d gone to live. I remember nothing little of
the coach journey down, except that I felt smothered and squeezed once or twice, and it was jolly. I must have slept a lot. We went to sleep on chairs in the waiting room at the railway station and when I woke up somebody said it was Sydney, and there was a lot of smoke, and it was raining.
I remembered little of Sydney, except that we stayed at a place in Castlereagh Street and the woman’s name was Mrs Kelly. We must have picniced at Manly Beach or somewhere, for we had a picture at home of a Newfoundland dog with the sea behind him, and that picture meant Sydney to me for a
long time afterwards. Mrs Kelly had a swing in her back yard, and one day I was swinging high and told Mrs Kelly’s little girl that I was going right up to Heaven, and she said I was a very wicked little boy to say such a thing. I couldn’t understand why. Mrs Kelly’s little boy taught us to say "Ally-looyer! I hardly knew yer!"
I must have seen and remembered Pinchgut, or else Mrs Kelly’s little boy told me about it, for when I returned to Gulgong I informed a lady that I’d found out where babies came from – I was quite sure they came from Pinchgut.
I had a new suit of velveteen knicker-bockers, but I don’t remember what Charlie had. One day we got out in the street and the door shut behind us and we got frightened, and lost, and knocked and hammered at the wrong door, and it opened and we went into the wrong house. It
was aweful, but they didn’t hurt us. The girls took us up in their arms and kissed us and gave us cake, and one of them took us home. I remember that Mrs Kelly was very angry about it, because, she said, it was a bad house; but we couldn’t see anything bad about it – they might have kept us there, or killed us, or given us to a policeman; we thought it was a good house.
But a more terrible thing happened. There was a hole in the fence, where some palings had fallen out, at the bottom of Mrs Kellys yard, and through there was a coach builder’s or wheelwrights shop, with a big
heap of chips and shavings at the bottom of their yard, against our fence. One day Charlie an I got through the hole and started to put shavings and chips back through into Mrs Kelly’s yard for her to light her fire with. We thought it would be a pleasant surprise, I suppose. But, all of a sudden a man came running down the yard with a saw in his hand, while another man shouted to him from the shop; ‘Cut their heads off Bill! Cut both their heads off!’ I don’t know whether I got through the hole first, or Charlie, but their wasn’t much time between us. When they soothed us and got us a little calmer we were both
determined that we wanted to go straight back home to Gulgong at once.
I remembered even less of the journey home than I did of the journey down. There was an inn were we stayed for a night, so we must have taken the coach journey by van and not by Cob & Co’s. The landlady knocked at the door and asked if we’d take in another little boy to sleep there for the night, so the place must have been full. There was trouble in the morning about a bottle of smelling salts I broke and something I spilt – on my knickerbockers.
Then the hut on Gulgong, and Father had killed a pig. Mother asked us if we knew him again, and I said to him ‘Ally-looyer-I-hardly knew yer Father!’ And Father seemed surprised.
He was always working, or going somewhere with an axe or a pick and shovel on his shoulder, and coming home late. I remember watching for the glint of his white moles in the dusk, and sometimes following him out again after tea, when it was moonlight, and he went a little way with the axe on his shoulder to split firewood from a log. He worked in a claim in the Happy Valley, and again on the Canadian Lead. I had
visions childish fancies of Happy Valley, because of the name, but I saw it in after years, and a more dismal hole of a gully I’d seldom set eyes on. Sometimes we’d go for a drive round the fields in a cart with Mother
and one or two other diggers wives, and stop at a claim where one of their husbands worked. And if it was his shift below his mate would sing out ‘Below there! Peter! (or Tom) here’s someone wants to see you!’ and he’d be drawn up all covered with yellow mullock. I have an idea that those diggers didnt want to be bothered by their families while they were digging for gold.
[From here to end of page crossed out]
Strange to say there were periods, during my childhood when I seemed to live alone: when Mother and brothers, but not so often Father, seemed to go completely out of my life. May-be I dreamed a lot, or perhaps they were away on visites. But I remember a cubby house and a boy they wouldnt let us play with afterwards because they said he was a bad boy. As I grew the feeling of lonliness and the desire to be alone increased.
#[in the margin]
I had a fondness for dolls, especially wooden judy dolls, and, later on developed a weakness for cats – which last has clung to me to this day. My Aunts always said I should have been a girl.#
Aunt Phoebe was living at Gulgong and she had a sewing machine and a parrot; and there were honeysucles in front of her house (we called huts houses – or "places" when they had more than one room). I believed the parrot understood people and used to talk to him a good deal. I used to be there
sometimes often, and when I was about
six I fell in love with an elderly married lady who kept a lolly shop next door to Aunt Phoebes. Her husband was away and she seemed lonly. She was fourty or fifty and had miles and a moustarsh. I remember I went into her shop one day to buy lollies, she was busy sewing and she was worried, and she said ‘Oh Bother!’ and it hurt me so much that I cried. I’d come in the back way and so I went out into the kitchen and dried my eyes on a tea towel. She seemed greatly affected and comforted me, and gave me a lot of lollies – and she wouldn’t take the penny. I didn’t go into to Aunt Phoebe’s until I felt quite sure my
eyes were all right. I kept big things like that locked up tight in my heart, but the lady told Aunt. I was a very sensitive child.
And there were the diggers, grand fellows – Harry Brentnal and Jack Rutcliffe and the rest of them, and we had money boxes. And there were circuses – and one day we were walking with Aunt and she said ‘look quick! Theres Maggie Oliver. And I looked and saw the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She was fixing up a vine round a verandah. And one night, in a place they called a theatre, I heard another most beautiful woman
Out in the wide world out in the street,
Asking a penny from each one I meet.
Cheerless I wander about all the day
Casting my young life in sorrow away!
That infernal song haunted me for years, especially the last line.
[This paragraph pasted over text]
#There was a pretty woman, living in a hut near us, who used to sing ‘Love amongst the Rowses’ and have a black eye. I said I wanted to go and fight her husband – But perhaps she loved him. About this time I used to tell people that I was going on for seven. I seemed to stay going on for seven for a long time, but I began to feel old.
They said that Gulgong - [pasted paragraph over text]
blinded by a shower of pungent stringy-bark dust. Father was taking off the roof of the hut – for we carried the house with us in those days.
[This is the previous page repeated without the pasted paragraph]
Out in the wide world out in the street,
Asking a penny from each one I meet
Cheerless I wander about all the day
Casting my young life in sorrow away!
That infernal song haunted me for years, especially the last line.
[insert pasted part from previous page here]
They said that Gulgong was done, and, one day Mother and Father packed up all the things. Next morning we were waked early; there was a dray at the door and we heard a great scraping overhead. Suddenly we saw the sky and, next moment were nearly blinded by a shower of pungent stringy-bark dust. Father was taking off the roof of the hut – for we carried the house with us in those days.
We were back at Pipeclay again. There was someone
camping living in the new house on the flat, so we camped for a night or so with the Spencer’s. They had also shifted onto the flat and built a slab house. They used to live in a hut near the tent by the tree, but I didn’t remember them then. I wanted to go across the gully with some of the Spencers’ children and see the tent we used to live in but they told me it was gone; away I wanted to see for myself, or see the space where place, and whether the tree was still standing, but it was getting dusk, and the gully was full of dangerous digger holes, so we
weren’t let go.
The tree and the tent were gone. We’d brought the lining of the Gulgong hut with us, - ‘scrim’ or bagging with the news papers still pasted on it, and our table stood outside, where the dray had dumped it with the rest of the load; so we children pulled a big piece of the lining over the table, and let it hang down all round to make a cubby house, and we all got under – Spencer had a big family and it was a tight squeeze. And we compared notes and got chummy and told stories. They were the first playmates we had, and we theirs, and we were chums until we were scattered.
The tent and the tree were gone, and Spencer was making a garden there. But the tent and the tree still stand in a sort of strange, unearthly half light – sadder than any twilight I know of
way back there at the other end of the past. ever so far away back there at the other end of the past.
II The Old Bark School
Notwithstanding our old trip to Sydney which we had almost forgotten – and, it’s strange how boys forget things of their childhood which come back to them as men – Notwithstanding our trip to Sydney, the World was encircled by the Mudgee Hills, with Pipeclay as a centre. Mudgee, the town, five miles away was inside the world:
I used to say that Sydney was somewhere on the edge of the world, or just behind. I used to describe Sydney as a place 170 Miles from Pipeclay. and when strangers laughed I’d be indignant, for
The world could not be flat, because of the hills – we children settled that amongst ourselves. Later on we decided that it couldn’t be round, for the same reason. But we took it for granted, what we saw of it. The sky was part of the world, of course, and a dome, just as we saw it, and it ended all round where it touched the hills or flats. The sun – this was my idea – went down behind the ridge across the Cudgegong River, and then all round, behind the Mudgee Mountains, and behind old Mount Buckaroo in the West and then rose again. It took him
all night to go round. These conclusions of ours gave our first schoolmaster a lot of trouble later on. Heaven was up above, where the stars where; God was everywhere; and Satan and the other place were "down there" It was wicked to point at the moon or swear, or tell lies; it was also #
[written paper pasted over text on page]
#Add Par - There was the ghost of Old Robertson in his deserted slab hut: young Fred Spencer saw him one night through the cracks in the slabs. And there was the ghost of Old Joe Swallow in an old stone hut at the foot of Sapling Gully; and the Chinamans Ghost at
his grave the chinamans grave in Golden Gully; and the Hairy Man in Long Gully. We wouldn’t go through any of these gullies after dark. We children used to go out on the flat in the moonlight and sit in a circle, and talk about these spookes till we frightened each other, then one would start to run home and the rest would follow screaming.
ours many times in other books
all night to go round. These conclusions of ours gave our first schoolmaster a lot of trouble later on. Heaven was up above where the stars where; God was everywhere; and Satan and the other place were "down there:. It was wicked to point at the moon or swear, or tell lies; it was also wicked to say ‘devil.
Father worked at building and carpentering, round about the district and in the farming town: Spencer at fencing, clearing, & on surrounding runs, and, sometimes for wages in a claim. I have described such homes as ours many times in other books
Some were better and some were worse. There was a period of tin plates and pint pots and brown ration – sugar, bread-and- treacle and bread and dripping. Cows pigs and fowls came later and there was milk butter, eggs and bacon. There were times when the Spencers lived on bread and tea and ‘punkin pie’. Perhaps I wouldn’t realize the sordid hardship and poverty of it now – We couldnt – then and because we knew nothing better, and so we didn’t feel it.
I hope in another book, to go deeper into the lives of Bush people – there is no room here. There was hardship and poverty, squalor and misery, hatred and uncharitablness, and ignorance, there were many mistakes, but no one was to blame, it was fate – it – was fate. The misery and
unhapiness that had to be and couldnt be helped. There were lonely foriegn fathers, speaking broken English and strangers to their wives and families till the day of their death. A friend who knows me, writes ‘Treated ruthlessly, Rousseaulike, without regard to your own or others’ feelings, what a notable book yours would be! Yes. But what good purpose would it serve, even if I could find a publisher. Looking back, from these, the dark days of my life, to my boyhood and childhood, I can find many things that were bright and happy and good and kind and beautiful and heroic – and sad and beautiful tool.
And I want
I don’t want to write a bitter line, if I can help it, except it be against my later self. I want to gather all the
bright best things I can remember and put them in this book, and it will be none the less true. Perhaps it will be the truest I ever wrote. The dead of our family has rested for many long years, the living will rest in good time – and I have grown old in three years.
Shortly after we returned to Pipeclay my brother Peter was born. I spoke of my money box on Gulgong – I had two-pounds ten and I was given to understand that it went to buy Peter. He was bought from
a chinaman – not the vegetable variety ,but the sort that used to come round with boxes of drapery and fancy goods slung on their poles. I still stuck to the Pinchgut idea, but a chinese hawker did call at the house on the morning 0f the day
that Peter was born on which the new baby was sprung on us, and that settled it as far as we children were concerned. I didn’t think that Peter was worth two pounds ten as a baby, and couldn’t see why I should be called upon to pay for him. I thought it very unjust and brooded over it a bit. My sense of injustice was always very keen. The Spencer children had been
found in wombat holes and they said that that was better than being brought off Chinamen, anyway. but we
retaliated retorted to the effect that they hadn’t been
[paper insert here pasted over text]
There was an old camp for bullock teams on the flat. ‘Jimmy Howlett’ and Billy Grimshaw and other of my earlier characters used to camp there, for quite a spell sometimes in bad weather, or to
rest and feed spell their bullocks which they’d put in a paddock or back in the ridges. And they’d patch up their waggons and make new yokes etc. I’ve seen the great wool teams, with bales packed high, rolling along the rough road like ships in a gale; or bogged to the axle trees with two or three teams of bullocks yoked to one load and trying in vain to shift. It was cruel for the bullocks. I’ve seen them go down on their knees and bellow under the blows from the heavy handles of the bullock whips. When Jimmy or his mates were in trouble with their teams we’d be called in and shut up out of hearing. Great flocks of sheep went by in sections and mobs of cattlebullocks : ‘Wild cow! Wild cow! Keep yer bloody dogs inside! ‘Dave Regan’ and others of my drovers used to call with their dusty pack horses. I remember Jimmy Howlett ground up some char-coal and mixed it with axle grease and rubbed it on my brother, Charlie’s face: he rubbed it well into his chin and cheeks with and extra layer under his nose and assured him that it was the very best whisker seed the only genuine article, and told him to be careful not to rub it off till the whiskers sprouted. Charlie was a sight, but he screamed and tacked and wouldn’t be washed, and had to be put to bed with the whisker seed still on.
[bottom of page] of the Bush. And they got a school
found in wombat holes and they said that that was better than being bought off Chinamen anyway. But we
retaliated retorted to the effect that they hadn’t been paid for.
# Log Paddock had broken out, opposite the old Pipeclay rush, on the old, level, creek and river frontage land grant that had shoved the selections back in to the barren stony ridges. I remember the claims being bid for. Down at the far corner of the other end of log paddock the old farmers had built a little slab and bark chapel. See ‘Shall we gather at the River.’ Children of the Bush. And they got a school
teacher to camp there and paid him sixpence or a shilling ahead for the children. We went there first, in charge of some elder children. I told him that my name was Henery Lawson, and they say he spelled it that way. His was Hanks. I remember little or nothing of that school except great spitting and hard rubbing #
[This pasted over rest of text]
# Hanks, they say, used to talk about ‘improving our moral minds’. There was a hedge of roses – a most uncommon thing – round a lucern paddock on the bank of the creek, on a farm near the school, and, one day, in lunch hour, some of us went to the farm and asked permission to pick some roses and were told to take as many as we liked. We came late back to school each child with a big bunch of the flowers. Hanks was waiting for us, and, as we came up, he took the roses, bunch by bunch, tore them to pieces and scattered them on the ground, then he marshalled us in: Mary Cooper, Elizabeth Cooper, Bertha Landest, Henery Lawson, William Harvey &c &c – Stand up! You are guilty – of the crime of stealing – stealing flowers from a neighbour - Then it occurred to little Bertha Lambert to say, in a meak voice. ‘Pleas Sir, Mrs Southwick said we could take them: ‘Serve out slates’ said Hanks and he turned to the black board and started to set
teacher to camp there and paid him sixpence or a shilling ahead for the children. We went there first, in charge of some elder children. I told him that my name was Henery Lawson, and they say he spelled it that way. His was Hanks. I remember little or nothing of that school except great spitting and hard rubbing on slates #
Next we went two miles
About this time there was an incident which left a very painful impression on my mind for years. We had a quince tree at our place and were strictly forbidden to touch the
the fruit, which was not ripe at the time. One day my brother Charlie pulled a quince, and persuaded me to have a bite. I was always very fond of quinces. I believe that the gave me the bite out of pure good nature, but the theft was detected – there were few quinces on that tree – and Charlie blurted out in terror that I had taken a bite anyhow. I was stung by a sense of injustice and my indignation was roused for I reckoned that he had only persuaded me to have a bite for fear I
split tell on him – or that he wanted me to share the punishment in case of detection. Bursting with indignation, and a perverted sence of injustice, I denied that I had touched the quince at all. Charlie stuck to it, I was believed because I had always been truthful, and he was severely thrashed. He begged me to confess and save him (‘Henry you know you did it!) but – I dont know what devil possessed me – save that I was horrified that I had told such a lie and in terror lest it should be found out and I branded as a liar – but I stuck to the lie and he to the truth
and he got a second dose and was sent supperless to bed. It was a miserable night and a miserable week for me. I don’t think a boy was ever so conscious stricken or a little soul so self tortured. He forgave me next morning, after breakfast, and might have forgotten all about it in a day or two, had I let him. I tried every way to ‘make it up to him’ – he told me not to bother; I said I’d confess – he told me I’d be fool if I did, and tried his best to persuade me out of it. But, months after I confessed. They didn’t thrash me, better if they had and had done with it.
About this time – or I may have been a little younger began to be haunted by the dread of ‘growing up to be a man.’ Also I had an idea that I had lived before, and had grown up to be a man and grown old and died. I confided in Father and these ideas seemed to trouble him a lot. I slept in a cot beside the bed and I used to hold his horney hand until I went to sleep. And often Id say to him: ‘Father! it’ll be a long time before I grow up to be a man, won’t it; and hed say ‘Yes, Sonny. Now try and go to sleep. But I grew up to be a man in spite of lying awake worrying about it.
Father and a few others pertitioned for a ‘provisional school at Pipeclay – it was Eurunderee now, the black name had been restored. Father built the school. It was of bark. I* remembered the demensions for a long time, but have forgotten them now, anyway it was a mere hut. I was furnished with odds and ends thrown out of the public school in Mudgee, when the public school got new desks stools and things. Father made blackboards and easles and mended the ricketty furniture. The books, slates and things were all second hand and old.
I believe the population of Pipeclay to have been obstinately mulishly honest, whatever else they might have been; but Pipeclay, in common with many worse and some better place, disliked mounted troopers. The men and woman were uneasy when one was round, the children were frightened and they hid, and every dog on Pipeclay hated a mounted trooper and would bark himself into convulsions when one appeared on the scene. Perhaps the people disliked the sight of the trooper and were embarrassed by his presence because they were honest and poor. Bush children are generally shy of strangers, but I can’t account for the dogs – unless it was the uniform. Young Fred Spencer once told my brother and me, in a strict confidence, that when he was about ten year old he caught a trooper, tied him to a tree, cut stringy-bark saplings and thrashed him. And when he was tired his Father thrashed him. And his father was tired his uncle thrashed him. And they let him go. I doubted Fred but Charlie believed every word. Freds ambition was to become a jokey: he is now one of the best riders in the west and has ridden many races. Charlie was undecided as to whether he’d join the bush – rangers or the mounted troopers – a state of indecision not uncommon amongst boys before our time, for both Troopers and bushrangers came from the same class.
A selector, an Irishman, named John Tierney was selected as schoolmaster. He has served in some capacity in the army in Africa, a paymaster or something. His strong points were penmanship, arithmetic geography and the brogue; His weak ones were spelling, English grammer and singing. He was six feet something and very guant. He spent some months ‘training’ in the public school in Mudgee and had a skillion built onto the school, where he camped. I don’t know whether he made his own bed, but his sister-in-law used to send his meals
up to the school – one or other of us children used to carry them. #
[side of page] # I remember carrying a dinner of curried stew and rice, in a cloth between two plates, and a lot of the gravy leaked out.
I suppose the dignity of Pipeclay wouldnt have stood his cooking for himself.
The Spencers went a couple of miles over the ridges at the back of Pipeclay to a slab and shingle public school on Old Pipeclay. Maybe their father thought they would get a better education. We went there later on – on account of a difference, I suppose, between our people and [indecipherable] There were a good many Germans round; the majority of the farmers
[side of page] Enrolled at Pipe Clay Creek School Feby 2 1875
Henry Lawson aged 7
Charles " " 6
were Germans – all the successful ones were. There were a good few Irish and the yellow and green had not faded yet. So there was a fierce secterian and international bitterness on top of the usual, narrow minded, senseless and purposeless little local fueds and quarrels; but there is no room for these things in this book.
The first day, one day in the first week at the Bark School was a great day in my life, for I was given a copy book and pen and ink for the first time. The master
believed in children leaving slate and pencil and commencing with pen and paper as early as possible. While setting me my first copy he told me not to go back and try to ‘paint’ the
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It was Robinson Crusoe, by the way, who taught us to read. Mother got a Robinson Crusoe and used to read to us of evenings, and when she’d get tired and leave off at a thrilling place, we’d get the book and try to spell our way ahead. By the time Robinson Crusoe was finished we could go back and read the book through from beginning to end. I wonder if Defoe had any influence on my style? Speaking of books, I was presented, at school break up, with a copy of a book called ‘Self Taught Men’, for general proficiency. My people, for some reason, considered it a very appropriate present. But I wasnt a self taught man: the world taught me – I wish it had taught me common sense and the business side of my trade.
us on the map, and doubled it
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believed in children leaving slate and pencel and commencing with pen and paper as early as possible. While setting me my first copy he told me not to go back and try to ‘paint’ the letters. I am following that rule in this book, with reference to sentences. Better to strike out than paint. We had learned our A.B.C. – and about a Cat, a Bat, and a Fat Rate somewhere in the dim past. #
Then the trouble bother commenced. The master explained the hemispheres to us on the map, and doubled it
back as far as he could to show us how they were intended to come together. We hadn’t a globe. I thought the hemispheres should come round the other way; my idea was that the dome of the sky was part of the world and the whole world was shaped like half an orange with the base for the earth, but I couldnt account for the other half. The master explained that the world was round. I thought it must have something to rest on, but I was willing to let that stand over for awhile, and wanted the hill question cleared
up. The Master got an india-rubber ball and stuck a pin in it up to the head and told us that the highest mountain in the world would not have the ten thousandth (or something) effect on the roundness of the earth that the head of that pin would on the roundness of the ball. That seemed satisfactory. He it was I think, who tied a string to the neck of a stone ink bottle and swung it round, to illustrate the power of gravitation and the course of the earth round the sun. And the string broke and the bottle went through a window panel. But there was no string from the earth to the sun that we could see.
Later on I got some vague ideas of astronomy, but could never realize boundless space or infinity. I can’t now. Thats the main thing that makes me believe in a supreme being. But infinity goes further than the supreme. #
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A favourite [indecipherable] of the Masters was that the school, being built of old material and standing on an exposed siding, might be blown down at any moment, and he trained the children to dive under the desks at a given signal so that they might have a chance of excaping the falling beams and rafters when the crash came. Most of us, I believe privately resolved to dive for the door at the first crack. These things pleased father when he heard them, for he didn’t build things to come down. When the new school was built, the old bark school was used
as a stable by the master as a stable and may be standing still for all I know.
Later on I got some vague ideas of astronomy, but could never realize boundless space or infinity. I can’t now. Thats the main thing that makes me believe in a supreme being. But infinity goes further than the supreme. #
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Our school books were published for use in the National Schools of Ireland, and the reading books dealt with Athlone and surrounding place, and little pauper boys and the lady at the great house. The Geography said "the inhabitants of New
Holland are amongst the lowest and most degraded to be found on the surface of the earth. Also: ‘When you go out to play at 1 o’clock the sun will be in the south part of the sky’. The Master explained this and we had to take his word for it – but then it was in the book. The Geography also stated that in bad seasons the ‘inhabitants’ of Norway made flour from the inner bark of a kind of tree – which used to make Father wild, for he was a Norwegian. Our name, of course, is Larsen by rights.
There was a Mliss in the school, and a reckless tomboy – a she-devil who chaffed the Master and made his life a misery to him; and a bright boy, and a galoot – a hopeless dunce, a joker, and a sneak, and a sweet Gentle affectionate girl, a couple of show scholars – model pupils the master called ‘em, and one who was always in trouble and mischief & always late and one who always wanted to fight, and the rest of them in between. The children of the Germans were Australians – and children are children all over the world. There was Cornelius Lyons who rolled his r’s like a cock [indecipherable]
and had a brogue which made even the Master smile. And there was the obstinate boy, Johnny B – who seemed insensible to physical pain. The Master called him out one day ‘John B – stand out!’ Johnny stood out ‘Hold out your hand!’ Johnny held out his hand, the master struck it, Johnny placed it behind his back and held out the other, the Master struck that and Johnny put that hand behind and held out the first; the Master set his teeth, so did Jack – and so on for half a dozen strokes.
Then suddenly the master threw down the cane, laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder and spoke gently to him – and Jack broke down. Looking back I don’t think it was fair – Jack could have claimed a foul.
# [from side of page] And there was Jim Bullock ‘whose’ eddication was furnished’ at the old Bark School. ‘Oh yes’ he said to me, years later, while giving me a lift in his dray. ‘John Tierney punished me nicely’.
Amongst the scholars was a black gohanna. He lived in a dead hollow tree near the school and was
immediately under the masters immediate protection. On summer days he’d lay along a beam over the girl’s seats, and improve his mind a little, and doze a lot. The drone of the school seemed good for his nerves. They say
a black gohanna haunted the tent I was born in, and I remember on in the house on the flat – I used to see the impression of his toes on the calico ceiling when he slithered along overhead. It may have been the same gohanna and he might have been looking after me, but I had always a horror of reptiles.
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Sometimes, when the master’s back was turned for a minute or so, one of the boys would cry suddenly: ‘Girls! The gohanna’s fallin’. And then you’d hear the girls squawk. One form of alleged punishment in the Old Bark School was to make a bad boy go and sit with the girls. I was sent there once, by mistake. I felt the punishment, or the injustice of it, keenly: but I don’t remember that I minded the girls. I grew extremely and most painfully shy of girls later on, but I’ve quite grown out of that now. In fact I rather like sitting with them.
a black gohanna haunted the tent I was born in, and I remember on in the house on the flat – I used to see the impression of his toes on the calico ceiling when he slithered along overhead. It may have been the same gohanna and he might have been looking after me, but I had always a horror of reptiles.
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I was slow at arithmetic – it was father who had the mathematical head – but I stuck to it. I was, I think going into compound fractions when I let school. In 97,
when I went to teach a native school in Maoriland, I could scarcely add a column of figures. I had to practice nights and fake up sums with answers on the back of the board, and bluff for all I was worth; for there was a Maori girls there, about 20, a big as I am and further advanced in arithmetic, and she’d watch me like a cat watches a mouse until she caught me in a mistake. I was required to give the average attendance to two points of decimels, and I had to study, and study hard before I could do it.
My handwriting was always wretched, stiff and cramped and slow and painful, and it used to worry me a lot. I changed it many times, and it was only after I went to England, about three years ago, that I struck a sort of running round hand which enabled me to keep within a dozen paragraphs or so of my rate of composition.
The Master used to spell anxiety with a ‘c’: i.e. anxciety – and many other words to match. I spelled Friday with a ‘y’ for many years, was always in doubt as to whether the ‘i’ or the ‘e’ came
first in words like recieve or believe; I spelled separate with two ‘e’s’ and blare; blair – and so on and so-on. Mr Archibald said I used to be a whale at spelling, and some of my early copy should be interesting reading. A comp. who used to set my work up on the Boomerang used to complain that my spelling was demoralising him. I worried me a great deal, I was very sensitive about it: I’m not now – not a little bit – I leave it to the comps. Strange to say my punctuation was good – that must have ‘come natural’. Its a good plan to get rid of as many stops as you can.
I was fond of grammar, at the old Bark School, and made rapid progress in ‘parsing’ or analyses. I dont bother much about grammar now – it used to worry and cramp me and keep me back too much when I started to write. My composition was always good.
Until I was seventeen and went for a few months to a night school in Sydney. I knew of no monarch of England other than Queen Victorie – except for a very vague idea of a King William the Fourth.
I shared the average healthy boys aversion to school; in fact it developed into a positive dread, and before I left I had almost a horror of going to school. Yet I was a ‘show scholar’ or ‘model pupil’ as the master put it. There were two of us, and I can’t decide now whether we were the makings of noble men or simply little involuntary and unconscious sneaks, but am rather enclined to the latter opinion. It seems hard to reconcile the fact that I hated, or rather dreaded school, with the fact that I was a model scholar. Perhaps
the last fact accounted for the first – I dreaded school because I was sensitive, consciencious and a model scholar, and had never yet been punished, and it was a strain to keep up the reputation.
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I was always restless, fond of walking, and I hated confinement. Perhaps that is why, when I started to write, I used to do most of my work after midnight.
The boys went kangarooing and possum hunting, and had their games and superstitions and a contempt for girls, as boys have all over the world. Some played the wag and stole fruit, and told lies and went swimming. I was to consciencious to play truant, and I had a horror of lying or stealing. I might have been happier had it been otherwise.
But I couldn’t risist the swimming. The water-holes in the creek were full of snags and treacherous and we were strictly forbidden to bathe there unless one of the elders was with us. After a swim we used to rub our facers necks and hands with dust lest unwonted clenliness should betray us.
I was extremely painfully sensitive, and almost, if not quite, developed religious mania at one time (when I was about fourteen. The mother was very highly strung and had religious spells. We went to the other extreme later on in Sydney, during
the freethought craze of the Eighties, and became; free-thinkers – or thought we did.) Father always professed to be a freethinker, and he studied the bible. He was one of the hardest working kindest hearted men I ever know. I have known him, after a hard days work, to sit up all night watching a neighbours dying child.
I was painfully, unhappily ‘good’, a self torturer and a nuisance to my play-mates. I remember, on day, the Master, with woeful want of tact, gave me a note to take home,
informing my people that my brother had played truant from school that day. Charlie was waiting for me outside the school paddock and begged me not to take the note home – to save him and tell the Master a fib. He pleaded very hard, but I had to deliver the note. I suffered a great deal more than he did.
I was strong, as proved in school games, and no coward, as was also proved, but I wouldnt fight under any provocation, because I thought it was wrong. Charlie would, on the slightest excuse, and he often wanted to fight for me and gave me a great deal of anxiety on that account. Years after, when we
we grown to men, Charlie who had learned to use his hands backed me in a fight (girl the indirect cause of course) and I lost, after spraning my ancle. He was very proud of me on account of my pluck but he bitterly cursed my lack of science.
I began to be a lonely unhappy boy and to be considered a little mad, or at least idiotic, by some – my relatives included. My aunts said it was a pity I hadn’t been born a girl.
Father built a new sawn-timber hardwood house on the flat with a galvanized iron roof and a brick chimney, which
last was the envy of neighbours who had only slab and clay chimneys.
The Mother went to Mudgee for awhile, and, when she came back she brought a little stranger and foriegnor into the family. We were tall and dark on Mothers side, and generally supposed to have decended from Gypsies. We were hot-headed, impulsive, blindly generous, and open hearted and suspicious by turns. Father was short, nuggety, very fair, with blue eyes; he was domestic methodical and practical. The little stranger, one of twins, was the first and last creamy skinned blue-eyed baby in our family. She only stayed a little while -
long enother for us to call her ‘Nettie’, short for Henrietta (Grannys name) When the baby fell ill Mother took her to Mudgee and she died in the room she was born in. (I was born in a tent, Charlie in a bark hut, Peter in a slab house, and ‘Nettie’ and her sister in a brick one.) When Nettie was dying they sent Mother out of the room, and she sat on a log in the yard – sat very still, they said, staring up at the stars. Father was walking fast along the lonely road to Mudgee, but he was too late. About midnight they called Mother in. The old
watchman, passing just then, cried ‘Twelve o’clock and all’s well!’ I have often thought how well it was, for there has ever hung a cloud over our family.
Early in the morning after the funeral, Father took his maul and wedges & cross-cut and went up into the ridges to split rails. I heard the maul and wedges and the song of the saw until disk. He was trying to work it out of him. After tea he walked to and fro, to and fro in the starlight, with his arms folded and his head down, but now and again he’d put his hand behind him and take a few turns looking up at the stars. I pace the room or the yard a lot nowadays.
When I was nine years old there happened a thing which was to cloud my whole life, to drive me into my self, and to be, perhaps, in a great measure responsible for my writing. I remember we children were playing in the dust one evening and all that night I had an excruciating ear-ache and was unspeakably sick on my stomach. Father kept giving me butter and sugar, ‘to bring it up’ which it eventually did. It was the first and last time I had the ear-ache. Next day I was noticibly deaf, and remained slightly so till I was fourteen, when I became as deaf as I am now. Before that my eyes were bad but my hearing was always very keen. I remember, one night, when I was in bed, Mother was telling a very pathetic story to some visitors, three rooms away, when she came into me she found me sobbing. I’d heard every word.
The Selection And a sketch of Grandfather
I dont know whether Father took up the selection because he had a liking for farming and believed in the chances or because the ground was on an old goldfield and he was a digger. He had been a sailor and had passed in navigation, he had also served in a ship building yard and was a good al round carpenter: he was clever at anything were tools were concerned. I know he had always a fancy for a vegetable garden and a few fruit-trees, but our land was about the poorest round there, where selectors were shoved back amongst barren stony
ridges because of old land grants, or because the good land was needed to carry sheep. Our selection about three hundred acres, lay round a little, rocky, stoney, scrubby, useless ridge, fronting the main road; the soil of the narrow sidings, that were not too steep for the plough, was grey and poor, and the gullies were full of waste heaps of clay from the diggers holes. It was hopeless - only a life time of incessant bullocking might have made a farm of the place. I suppose it was the diggers instinct in Father – for a long time he was always putting down a shaft about the place in spare times, or thinking about putting it down (He had two men on prospecting when he died.)
Im not going to enter into details of grubbin’ clearin’ burnin’off, fencin’ ploughin’ etc. See ‘Settling on the Land’ and ‘A Day on a Selection’ in While the Billy Boils; and, for a discription of the poorer class selection, see ‘Past Carin’ in Joe Wilson and his Mates. In addition to grubbin,’.etc we had to reclaim land for ploughing by filling up the diggers holes. The shafts were driven underneath, of course, so the whole of the waste heaps wouldn’t go down. We used to ‘spread’ the lighter dirt –
and it didn’t improve the poor land; and we carted the hard lumpy clay away to the boundary in barrows; Some of it we used for making a dam. When I left the old Bark School, I used to tail the ‘cattle’ in the gullies and do a bit of ‘ring-barkin. The ‘cattle’ were a few weedy stunted cows one of them barren – and, some steers, and were always straying. The elders were mischevous and demoralized the rest; some of them could get through, over or under our scraggy two rail fence. Ditto the old grey horse – he’d get his fore-quarters over and slide. Then, when we got new cows
one or two of them would be sure to fall down a digger’s hole if we didnt watch sharp. A cow, and sometimes a horse, would be cropping the grass round the edge of the shaft, and sometimes, in wet weather the shaft would fall in, or else the beast, turning round, would miscalculate and slide down. Then the cry of ‘cow in a hole’ (it was ‘man in a hole’ once or twice) and we’d run in all directions and scare up the male population of Pipeclay; and, provided the beast hadn’t fallen head first and broken its neck or smothered, they’d rig a Sparrish windlas and get it out, little the worse.
It was very scratchy farming as far as I was concerned, but then I was only a child. I had no heart in it – perhaps I realised by instinct that the case was hopeless. But Father stuck to it between building contracts. He used to walk from five to seven miles to work, at first, work twelve hours and walk home again. He’d insult anyone who offered him the loan of a riding horse – I never knew a man so obstinately indipendent as he was in those days. Then, between jobs, he made a spring cart, wheels and all – except the iron-work. He could
make anything in wood. Then he bought our old Grey horse ‘Prince’ – used to run in Cobb & Co’s – I must tell you about Prince someday, and how he pulled up an hour on the Gulgong road, with a heavy spring cart load of mails in bad weather, when the coach broke down, but was never the same horse afterwards. Then, when Father worked in town he carted home a load of manure every night and spread it on the barren ground. And sometimes at night he’d burn off, and dig in the dam by moonlight. There had been a bullock camp on the level, and several acres, where
the old road had been, were so hard that even a big bullock plough, which Father hired for the day, couldn’t break up the ground. He broke it later on with charges of blasting powder! He trenched deep round the house and built frames and planted grape vines behind, and in front a rose bush and a slip of an ivy plant that had come from England in the early days. The last time I saw the place the house was a mass of vines. The Mater talked of christening the farm ‘Arundel’ after Fathers berthplace in Norway, as soon as we got it ship-shape. I rember the last
[Side of page] Trans further back
questions at night would be ‘are you quite sure all the calves are in the pen?’ ‘Are you quite sure the slip rails are pegged?’ And often at day-light the Mater would cry ‘Get up quick, the cows are getting away!;’ and one of us boys would turn out and run across the hard baked sods barefoot, or the frosty flats in winter – running hard so that
one drought and we couldnt make it out, until one morning, a neighbour getting up earlier than usual, saw Princes rump sticking out of his hay stack and hit it hard with a paling. Prince was very much surprised, and his condition and the mysterious hole in the stack were accounted for at the same time. I remember often, on a bitter cold frosty morning, rooting up a camping cow and squatting with my bare perishing feet on the warm spot where she’d been lying.
[In pencil – Lawson’s memory is at fault here. She enrolled at Pipe Clay Creek on Feb 2 1875 and at Eurunderee Oct [indecipherable] 1876
After we left the old Bark School we went, for
a month or so to the Old Pipeclay School across the ridges.
[In pencil : - WH Curtis took charge of Pipe Clay Creek School July 27, 1874]
Curtis was the master. His first idea was to unlearn the Old Bark School sholars all that Tierney had taught them. I suppose the Mater had fallen out with Tierney, but I used to go to him at night later on and get lessons in arithmetic and grammar. He’d improved in that branch.
At the Old Pipeclay School I worshipped pretty Lucy W -. We were both going into the fourth class when I left, but she used to go home in a different direction. My old sweetheart was Mary B – the tomboy,
of the old Bark School: but one day we quarrelled and she said she wouldn’t be my sweetheart any more. I think she made up to Fred Spencer for awhile. Fred by the way was the Tom Sawyer of our school. Mary’s sister Bertha, a prettier girl, began to look kindly on me, but I’d had enough of women. Childish reccolections begin to crown recollections of child life and character, but there is no room for them here. It was Curtis, by the way, who first noticed that I was a solitary child. There were days, during play hour, when I liked to get away by myself; and once or twice
he tried to draw me out, and asked me whether my school mates had been annoying me. But it wasn’t that – I couldn’t explain what it was. Sometimes I’d run home ahead of the rest, and once or twice Mary came funning after me to try to find out what was the matter, but she soon gave it up. It was while at this school that my companions first began to say I was ‘barmy’.
The mother was ambitious. She used to scribble a lot of poetry and publish some in the local paper. There were nine or ten daughters in her family, most
of them big women and all naturally intelligent and refined. Almost any one of them might have made a mark under other conditions. Their lots were cast in the rough early days, in big bark humpies were all things were rough and ready and mean and sordid and gypsy like, and they were brought up surrounded by the rough crowds on the goldfield.
["From here to Bushmen crossed out but Stet has been put in the margin]
(my diggers are idealised, or drawn from a few better class diggers, as the shearers my Bushmen are sketched from better class Bushmen). Then amongst those left on the abandoned goldfields, the most unspeakably dreary narrow and paltry minded of all communities.
The girls used to try to establish little schools, singing classes &c humanise the people but the horizon was altogether too narrow and hopeless, and, as they grew up, they became embittered. But they had humour, a keen sense of the rediculus, and that saved them to a great extent. Grandfather was a big strong dark handsome man, who came from Kent with his family.
[In the margin in pencil] Wavy black hair, worn long and profile Roman.
His people were supposed to have been Gypsies and he was very Gypsy like in his habits. He had sight like a blackfellow and was a first class Bushman of the old school. He was a humourist of the loud voiced order. When he
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seventy sixty he could handle timber and knock out palings and shingles with any young man. He had the head of an intellual man, a strong man, a leader of men, but he couldnt read nor write – a fact which he hid successfully from many. He liked to camp by himself in the bush. He never had no eddication, he’d say, and he didn’t see what his children wanted with it. He drank. At home he had been known to smash all the crockery and bring home a string of pint pots, and a pile of tin plates and dump them on the table. He was very mysterious and seldom did things
like other men. For instance hed go to Mudgee and buy a string of boots for the family, but he wouldn’t bring them home. No not he. He’d roar at one of the girls: ‘D’yer see that shaller diggers hole up there on the sidin’?’ ‘Yes Father." Then go up there, yer’ll find a piece of bark in the bottom – lift it up an’ see what yer’ll find. and the girls would find the boots. Again, where they were married and had families, he’d visit them in turn, and most unexpectedly of course, once in years. But he wouldnt
come up to the door and knock. No. In the morning the daughter or one of the children would look out and see a big man standing at the gate with his back to the house, or, more likely, leaning on a fence across the road. Then ‘Why there’s Father’ or ‘Why theres Grandfather’ and he’d be brought in. He’d be very clean and have on a full new suit of tweed, with maybe a dandy pair of shoes and a little curl at the bottom of his pants – but his old greasy hat:
‘Father why don’t you get another hat?’
‘What do I want with another
hat? I haint got two heads have I?
He’d leave as unexpectedly as he came.
He nealy always shouted at the top of his voice, and it was a big voice.
‘Mr Albury, why do you speak so loud?’
‘Because I want people to hear me!’
I’ve seen a man roll on the ground and shriek at something Grandfather said, and heard him, with a face as solemn as a judge’s, tell that man to get up and not be a thundrin’ jumpt up fool.
Save for ‘thundrin’ or ‘jumpt-up’ I never heard Grandfather swear,
[line repeated and crossed out]
Theres a legend to the effect that one day, in his young days, he swore so badly at his bullocks that he frightened himself; but I dont believe that.
I worked with him now and again in the mountains in the Eighties, humping palings and rails out of gullies. He was taking care of an empty house and camping there. He ‘had the writin’s’ (a letter from the owner, authorising him as caretaker). He had great faith in writin’s. (See ‘Uncle Abe’, in
Buckolt’s gate Children of the Bush)
An ordinary fire wouldnt do Grandfather, he’d pile on logs till he roasted us to the back of the room, and sometimes outside altogether. He was a good cook and very clean in camp; he’d polish up his tinware till he could shave in it. Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning he’d clean up. The furniture and things would be chucked out with a great noise and clatter – the furniture was home made and strong and could stand it. Then Grandfather would take off his boots, tuck up his trousers and arm himself with a broom and a mop. My business was to run
to the tank and back as fast as I could with two buckets. We camped in an outhouse, and when the house was let he was asked to clean it out for the new tenant. It was a great cleaning – I’ll never forget it. They say the house was damp all
winter summer – but it was clean. He couldn’t do things like an ordinary man. He was fond of dogs, little mongrel dogs, and he’d talk to them, and they seemed to understand. But if a strange dog came sneaking round Grandfather would lay for him. He wouldn’t attack that dog in the ordinary way, heed heave a chair, or table, or something equally handy. I remember a big hairy
thievish dog used to come sneaking round. Grandfather laid for him. He had just finished making a picket gate and it stood inside the door. It was dark inside and broad moonlight in the year, and when the dog sneaked into the yard he didnt see us. Suddenly Grandfather jumped up, seized the gate and hove it. It missed the dog by a hair, struck on one corner and smashed it to smitherines. I never saw that dog again.
He was a great man in Mudgee in the early days. He cleared the main street and owned blocks of land in town. He lost
them – drink of course. Amongst other things he was an undertake. He buried
men many and under all sorts of conditions – some in sheets of bark; and he was in great demand at burials. He usually had a coffin cut out roughly and stuck up over the tie-beams of the kitchen to season, and wait. The family hated this sort of thin g. they say he generally had an eye on a prospective client too and cut his coffin accordingly.
Jones, the legitimate undertaker made a palisading for a childs grave, gave it a coat of paint and stood it outside his shop to dry. Grandfather
coming along vaulted into the palisading took hold of each side lifted it and ran with Jones out and after him. Grandfather ran up a blind lane, dropped the palisading and jumped the fence. Jones took his palisading back in a dray and nothing would convince him that Grandfather didn’t want to steal it. The Old Man would suddenly go down on his knees in the middle of the street and stared hard at a stone till the floating population gathered round and put its hands on its knees and stared too. Then he’d get up and go away. And they’d stare hard after him than they had at the stone.
[continued on p 113]
Lonliness & a Trade
I was eleven or twelve when I first began to talk about being a writer someday; but I may have cherished the idea earlier. It exasperated father, but mother encouraged. Mother had a copy of Edgar Allen Poe’s poetical works. I often heard her read the Raven aloud and the other short poems, and I read them myself later on, over and over again. Not very healthy reading for a child, was it?
Home life, I might as well say here, was miserably unhappy, bit it was fate – there was no one to blame. It was the result of one of those utterly impossible matches so common in Australia I remember a child who, after a violent and painful scene, used to slip out in the dark and crouch down behind the pig-stye and sob as if his heart would break. And a big black mongrel dog who’d come round with slobbery sympathy. And the child would put his arms round the dog’s neck and
sob as if his he bury his wet white face in the shaggy hair. But that child had a stubborn spirit and would not kiss the rod
Spencer had given up his selection to a man who was mining mad, and taken in exchange [indecipherable] and had sunk a good deal of money in. The tenant on Spencers old selection was an Irishman named Page, and there was a feud between him and our family until we left. It was about a boundary fence, of course, with a stray bull thrown in. Page didn’t want to be overneighbourly, but he’d be aven wud’em someday. We bought a small secondhand harmonium, and Page got a barrel-organ next week. Both houses were close to the
the organ so sure as we started the organ of an evening Page would grind his hurdy-gurdy, and a digger across the road a concertina, and Fred Spencer would thump a kerocene tin in the still moonlight, and there would be music on Pipeclay. Page said that the hurdy-gurdy would go rippin’ wid him if he only had the noats’.
One day, after our rooster and pages rooster had crowed defiance at each other – each on the top of his own haystack – for several days, our bird went down, and got on Pages haystack and tackled the other fowl. We watched
the fight until both birds fell down on the other side of the stack. We dared not go through the fence, but, some half-hour later, we heard Pages familiar ‘Insoide there – come out!’ He had our rooster and handling him gently, "ye’re cock beat my cock!’ he said ‘but I bear no malice – ‘twas a grand fight. Here he is. And he set him down carefully.
We boys – the Spencers and we – used to annoy Page a good deal. I’ll tell the Masther on ye!’ he’d say. We used to like to run barefoot along the moonlit road and plough up the thick
white dust with boughs until we were inveloped in a dence cloud. Page had a score or so of turkeys and they roosted along the top rail of the fence in front of his place; and some times, as late as possible, we’d slip down and brush those turkeys from end to end with a bough, and they’d gobble, gobble, gobble, all down the line like a new musical instrument. And Page would come out, sometimes in his shirt, and then we’d vanish. In my memory my childhood, or boyhood, if I had any, went out with the gobble,
gobble gobble of those turkeys. There was a
flisker when I got a horse of my own, and again when I got a gun, but it went dead out.
Page found our cattle in his wheat one morning, and I met him taking them to pound. I don’t remember what I said to him, but he gave the cattle to me. He was at feud with all his neighbours, English Irish, German, and Father, but, the morning we were leaving the selection for good, he came up to the gate and shouted: ‘Insoide there come out." We came out. ‘Heres some fruit" he said. ‘Tis a harrd worrld and its little we have to be foighten for. Shake hands
and let by-gones be by-gones between us." The last time I heard of Page he was doing pick and shovel work at Prospect.
Twas a hard world and it was little we had to be fighting each other for. There was Harry Spencer; few men worked harder and longer than he did, unless it was Father. He was a stern Father, was Harry Spencer, but all his children turned out well; and he was a very kind husband. There was a split between the two families, by the way – over something a woman said another woman said – and we were
forbidden to play with the Spencer children and they with us, so we had to meet privately, and if caught both sides were punished. The Mother reckoned that the Spencer children lead us astray, and Mrs Spencer said that Charlie led Fred into mischief, and neighbours repeated. Well. Harry Spencer strained himself rolling heavy logs on a clearing contract on a neighbouring run, and was never quite well afterwards. Then he worked for wages in a claim in [the petered out] Log Paddock, opposite our place. One morning he had breakfast, kissed his wife and the
younger children, as was his custom when leaving home, and went to work. He sat down at a water hole to was a prospect – a dish of ‘wash-dirt’ or goldbearing clay, but had scarcely wetted the clay when he suddenly exclaimed "Oh! my side heart’ and fell backwards. A few minutes later, Harry O’Brien came running up to our place and said ‘Harry Spencer’s just dead!
I saw them bring him out of the paddock. Four of them carried him on a sheet of bark with two sticks under it to lift it. She took out the bottom rail of the slip rails, but the top rail jambed, so
the bearers stooped through with the beir. Away up the hot white road Mother was running through the dust like a mad woman, to Mrs Spencer. Twas a hard little world and ‘twas little we had to be fighting for.
I went for a few months to a catholic school in Mudgee. I don’t know why I was sent there, but probably because the mater had become disgusted with our own churchmen as they were then. I remember, one day, Pat Tovey, the coach driver, who was taking the mails out on a pack horse because
of the bad weather and flooded creeks, gave me a lift home on the pack-horse. He stayed to deliver a bag at a post office near our place kept by a bigoted Protestant family with whom our family were at fued.
‘What are they sending that boy to a catholic school for?’ asked the post mistress.
‘Sure he’s bein educated for a priesht’ said Pat; and a little further on he said, half to himself and half to me: ‘Let her put that in her pipe and shmoke it’. Then he added with a chuckle: ‘It’ll be all round the districk be tomorrow morning’
I was given a weedy riding hack and used to ride to school. I usually milked six or seven cows and had to catch the horse before riding to school, but were never late that I remember. Some children had to rise before dayligh and mixt ten or fifteen cows, in bitter cold frosty morning before starting for school. I don’t suppose there was ever such a collection of young friends as were in the Catholic school in Mudgee when I went there. One had thrown a slate at the last master who broke a blood vessel and died. Several masters
had resigned, but the present one, Mr Kevarn was a strong man and kept the young devils well in hand without the assistance of Father O.Donovan. His successor, a better scholar, a younger and cleverer man (who nevertheless said things like ‘Dont’do that no more’) had a tough fight but got the schoo under after using up two or three canes a day for a week or so. I got a sharp cut once by mistake, but, somehow, I didn’t seem to mind. Of course there were no girls in this school.
Father O’Donovan was a character and I liked him He didn’t mind the young men and
boys of his flock touching there hats to him but he discouraged the habit in old men: ‘Oh don’t bother about that! ‘ he’d say to a tottering ancient who’d suddenly reccolect himself and take of his hat to the father. Father O’Donovan would come into the yard, so softly behind a kneeling boy playing marbles, stoop, and take that boy by the shoulders. They boy would start to swear and blaspheme like a shearer in a rough shed, and the Father would lay him gently on his back and the nipper, still testifying would look up into the Fathers face. Then hed stop swearing.
[This page the same as page 118]
At other times the Father would come into school, make eyes at the boys behind the masters back, and one or two would laugh and be called out for punishment. Then the Father, with a face as solemn as a priests, would beg them off. One day a boy said ‘Please sir, Father O’Donovan was makin eyes at me – and he got it hot.
Father O’Donovan attended the Mudgee races, all three days, to look after the big ‘bhoys’ & his flock, whom corrected on occasion with a buggy whip. They say he always had a horse or two running, but this didnt prevent him from taking care of the boys.
The few Protestant pupils were sent out during prayers in the morning, but woe betide the Catholic boy who threw the Protestant boys religion in whether he fell into the hands of Schoolmaster afterwards or Father O’Donovan. ‘I’ll have none of that sort of thing’ said Father O’Donovan, with no softliness in his face ‘ I want that understood once for all?
Once or twice Mr. Kevan came and sat beside me, as I sat lonely and unhappy, by myself on a stool in the corner of the yard, and drew me out of myself and talked to me about poetry and Edgar Allan Poe. He’ heard something of mother I suppose.
I was tormented a good deal by the town boys, after school hours, and used to get to the paddock where I’d left my horse and get off home as quickly as possible. I was called ‘Chummy’ by some and by other ‘Barmy Harry’. Years before there had been another Barmy Henry in Sydney, a pale delicate shy and sensitive boy, carrying a tray of pastry on his head, to customers, for his master, a fancy baker, and mumbling verses to himself. It was the habit of ‘talking to hisself’ as his companions thought he did, that won him the nickname and the reputation of being mad.
I read Dickens. Got him at the School of Arts in Mudgee and read ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’ first I think. I have read Dickens over and over again and can read him now at any time. Next I read Marryat – Jacob Faithful and Peter Simple. I paid a visite to my Mothers people at Wellarawang, and, on leaving one of my aunts presented me with a volumn of Brett Hartes, entitled ‘Some Folks’ and containing ‘Tennessee’s Partner,’ Mliss, &c. I read that book on the journey home and it fastinated me: it seemed to
bring a new light, a new world into my life, and this with Dickens still fresh. But Dickens stayed by me and Bret Harte did not. I read Don Quixote before I was fourteen, but that was an accident – somebody had left the book at our place. I remember being greatly puzzled and worried about the loss and recovery of Sancho’s ass. It was only the other day I read somewhere that Cervantes did not read his proofs and that it was doubtful if he had even read his copy. And Oh! of course we read Robbery Under Arms when it
first appeared in the Sydney Mail – Brown, by the way touched an Australian sore when he described the Marsden family as being, the girls Catholics and the boys Protestants. We read (For the Term of his Natural Live’ (as Marcus Clarke wrote it) in the Australian Journal. The introduction was, I think, equel to
anything Dicken’s style. The sight of the book, with its mutilated chapters and melodramatic ‘prologue’ exasparates me even now. And we read ‘Jack Harkaway – I was going
on for thirty before I read ‘Deadwood Dick and then I used to read him to put me to sleep. And Mother used to recite Gordon from the Australian Journal. I liked tailing the cows amongst the
diggers holes gullies, for it gave me oppotunities for reading – though I was supposed to do some ring barking. But, when I was about thirteen I went to work with Father.
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The last time I saw him [Grandfather] in Sydney he’d bought some tools and a new carpenter’s bag to carry them in. He put the handle of an adze through the loops of the bag and carried it across his back. Out of one side stuck an auger and out of the other the blade of a saw. He walked straight down the middle of George Street, towards Redfern railway station – the tram wasn’t there then, - and he walked fast. It was Saturday evening and the street
was pretty full. Every few yards a passenger, coming in the opposit direction, would catch sight of the point of the saw or auger and duck just in time to save an eye or an ear. Heads were bobbing to right or left all the way.
I, and an uncle walked
I saw no traces of anger on any of their face – just mild startled surprise. Just such an expression as a man might wear who has nearly stumbled against a cart coming out of lane. An uncle and I walked behind the old man all the way and enjoyed the show.
One would have thought that he was absolutly unconscious of the mild sensation he was creating, but we knew the old man better than that.
I don’t remember ever hearing Grandfather laugh. Little Jimmy Howlett (Nowlett in my books) the bullock driver could throw some light on the subject. One day he was out, looking for a bullock in the scrub just outside Mudgee, and had sat down
to rest and smoke on a log on the edge of a little clearing about fifty yards from the road, when he saw Grandfather coming along. The old man seemed rather more mysterious than usual, and Jimmy watched him – he thought perhaps he had come to look for some timber. Grandfather glanced round, very courtiously, like a blackfellow, but he didn’t see Jimmy. Then he started to laugh. He laughed till the tears ran down his cheeks. He put his hands his hips and roared till he doubled up; then, when he recovered, he straightened himself, composed his face and went back when he’d come.
And thereafter it worried Jimmy a good deal at times for he never could find out what Harry Albury was laughing at that day.
I have moods now, sometimes, when I feel inclined to go out of the world apiece and laugh. But then I am growing old. Father used to work with Grandfather as a young man, and there are many anecdotes. Father got on with him famously and I never met two characters more opposite in every way. Add to this the fact that Father was a
teetotaler total abstainer. Father used to say that the one thing he
liked and admired the old man for, above all else was that he’d never harp on a string – he’d say a thing and have done with it. Father, you must bear in mind, was married when he used to say this. I never heard the old man say an ill word of anybody. The worst things I remember of him were. 1st He drank – but I drink too; 2 He would seldom sack a man for whom he had no further use – he’d wait for an excuse to have a row with him, and the man would leave bursting with indignation, and burning with a sense of injustice: but that was, in a way, in keeping with the old man’s character. 3 He got nearly
all his stringy-bark palings out of mountain-ash: but that was due (a) to the prejudice of his clients, (who could never hope to live as long as that timber) in favour of stringy-bark (b) the extreme scarcity of stringy-bark. (c) the prevalence of mountain ash; 4 Hens used to come round our camp for what they could pick up, and were encouraged, and often picked up more than they came for and left but the head: but then I was fond of poultry too, and the blame if any, was on our Gypsy ancestry. The old man usually had an old horse, boney and
arrgular past discription, popularly believed to be as old as himself and locally known as ‘Old Albury" too. The old man fed the old horse well, but no
food power on earth or in heaven could ever fatten him. (I’ve noticed that bosses who are extra fond of animals are usually hardest on their men) I remember seeing the old man throwing out some corn he kept for the horse to a stray fowl. He explained that he was fattening that fowl up for Christmas. I asked if the hen belonged to him, and he said no, not exactly but he thought it would about Christmas Time.
He bought a fowl occasionly, for the sake of appearances and to provide against accidents.
He had as I said, the sight of a blackfellow, and would bring his heavy eyebrows together and peer at something in the distance, standing and looking for the moment, just like a blackfellow and seeing as far.
I got on well with him and was, I think, the only one in the family who could get him to sing. He had a good voice and I used to read old songs to him and he’d get them line by line. Like most illiterate
men he remembered nearly all he had ever seen or heard.
Supposed to be without sentiment, I discovered him to be a dumb poet, a poet of the trees, ‘the timber’ and all living things amongst or in them. Supposed to be without affection I know that in his old age when the family was scattered & he along he made a long and useless journey just to have a look at the ruins of the church he was married in.
Granny was the daughter of an English clergyman; she came out to Australia as an
immigrant and went into domestic service Penrith way where she met Grandfather, who looked like a young god then, and married him for his looks. She went with him over the mountains and went through fourty years of a rougher bush life than you could imagine. She was good, and well meaning and old fashioned – and helpless. The diggers of Pipeclay in its flush days
once proposed subscribing to send my mother to England to have her voice trained, but Granny would not hear of it for she had a horror of any of her children ‘becoming public’.
[Back inside cover of book]
[Back outside cover of book]
Advertisements from The Bulletin Saturday, January 21. 1899
[Article in the Bulletin January 21, 1899]
[Titled ‘The Red Page’ ‘Pursuing Literature in Australia'
[Transcribed by Robin Mathews for the State Library of New South Wales]