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2010-06, 365, 366, Literature, Poetry, Richard Blair

Obscure Australian poetry books of the 1930s

AMONG THE collection of my late father, Jim Blair, who worked as a journalist from 1934 to the end of 1960 with The Bulletin and The Australian Woman’s Mirror were a number of slim books of poetry and verse, written by both well known and not so well known poets and often published by obscure publishers. Jim Blair either reviewed these works for The Bulletin or had the books given to him by the reviewer. Chronologically they are:

Brian Vrepont Spud: Everybody’s Dawg Brisbane, 1936. 29 pp.

Brian Vrepont Oh Marjory Ann Brisbane, 1936. 54 pp.

Ivy Moore Australian Violets Shipping Newspapers, Sydney, 1937. 80 pp.

Nora McAuliffe The Song Maker and other verse  The Bulletin, Sydney, 1937. 64 pp.

Mary Finnin Beggar’s Opera: Poems WA Hamer, North Melbourne, 1938. 40 pp.

Mary Finnin Royal WA Hamer, North Melbourne, 1941. 52 pp.

On the cover of Spud – Everybody’s Dawg is “Written and Produced by Brian Vrepont; Design from Model by Mary Corrie”, the design being a ceramic dog. The cover of Oh, Marjorie Ann carries the same authorial words, with “design by Margaret Cilento aged 11″. (Margaret Cilento was from a distinguished family who included her sister, actor Diane Cilento. Margaret had a distinguished career as an artist.) Both volumes inside have written in pen “o the Editor, The Womans Mirror with Compliments” and are signed by the author. Both books contain an identical Introduction signed by T. Gilmore, Musgrave Road, Brisbane and dated September 9th, 1936. No publisher or printer details appear. They are both printed on what appears to be poor quality paper and in rather plain typewriter script. The print is on one side of the page only. The books are in reasonable condition though a little tatty and mottled.

In his foreword Vrepont informs us Marjorie Ann is a sparrow who “chirped most inconsequentially, much as would a sparrow on a friendly rain spout”; of “Spud”: “a dogs eyes are eloquence itself, reflectors of our most intimate emotions, and proof of the inadvisability of affection.” His verse is gentle, humorous and whimsical.

From the Australian Dictionary of Biography (Online Edition) we learn Vrepont is a pseudonym for Benjamin Arthur True-bridge (1882-1955) Vrepont being a Frenchified version of “Truebridge”. In brief, he was born in Melbourne, became a music teacher and taught violin at the Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne. After leaving Melbourne in 1920 he spent several years travelling and working as fruit-picker, gold fossicker, music teacher, and masseur. During the 1920s his verse began appearing in The Bulletin under the name Brian Vrepont. Settling in Brisbane much of his work was published, especially in the Brisbane Telegraph.

In 1939 “he won the C. J. Dennis Memorial Prize for The Miracle (Melbourne, 1939), a long philosophical poem”. The Apple Tree was described by poet and literary critic Douglas Stewart as “perhaps the most beautiful lyric ever written in Australia”. In 1940 together with Clem Cristesen, James Picot and Paul Grano he founded Meanjin Papers. Other poetry appeared in the Angry Penguins and an avant garde Melbourne magazine called Comment. He later moved to Sydney, where he worked as a salesman with Angus & Robertson and in the mid 1940s he received a Commonwealth Literary Grant to write a novel The Time Has Come, which he finished but which was never published. He later moved to Perth where he died in 1955.

* * * *

In brackets after Ivy Moore’s name is “Officier dAcademie” which seems to be an award for outstanding service in teaching. Ivy (1888-1956, nee Walshe) was born in London and migrated to Australia in 1924, having married John Irwin Moore, an Australian born Sub-Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, in 1913. A card inserted inside the book reveals they resided at 77 Muston Street Mosman, although on the back is written “With the compliments of the Author, Ivy Moore, 42 Bridge Street City”. The volume contains about 150 poems and two items of short prose, one which appears to be autobiographical in relation to Ivys favourite flower, the Violet; and the other, her impressions of Sydney from an aeroplane called the Memma. Among the verses are To the memory of Helen Hughes, who died prematurely: her father was former prime minister, William Morris Hughes; The Black Swans Fly to Narrabeen; At Mornington; Flying Over Kiandra; and Egyptian Honey, with an accompanying note saying “a jar of honey, found in Queen Tiys parents tomb, was still liquid after 3,300 years”. Ivy no doubt got around.

But of most interest is that the foreword is written by Mary Gilmore, who tells us that the author knew Lloyd George, Sir John Foster Fraser (travel writer), A N Williamson (prolific author), Harry de Windt (explorer) and Kaid MacLean, of whom she declares “he really ruled the whole of Morocco”. Gilmore says

Moore‘s claim to fame in Australia was ―as woman publicist for the civil flying service‖. The book is dedicated to ―three true friends, Mary Gilmore (D.B.E.), Eileen Bernard and A.B. Crowther‖.

* * * *

Nora McAuliffe

dedicated The Song-Maker to S.H. Prior and David McKee Wright under whose names is the phrase, “Though dead they are not mute”. An extract of biography from Austlit reads: “While writing the ‘Dunedin Letter’ for the Christchurch Sun, Nora Kelly contributed poetry and short stories to the Lone Hand and The Bulletin. Settling in Sydney, she initially found employment in a shipping office before becoming a long-time member of the literary staff of The Bulletin. Writing under the pseudonym Nora McAuliffe, Kelly was responsible for the Bulletin‘s ‘Women‘s Letter’ which reported news and events that were current in the Sydney social calendar.”

Indeed on the inside cover of The Song-Maker is written “for review N Kelly”. Samuel Henry Prior had a long association with The Bulletin as a journalist, editor and later outright owner from 1927. The Bulletin remained in the Prior family until bought out by the Packer family in 1960. Prior introduced a novel writing competition with its inaugural joint winners being Marjorie Barnard and Florence Eldershaw‘s A House is Built and Katharine Susannah Prichard‘s Coonardoo. In 1932 he established

The Endeavor Press. David McKee Wright was a significant literary figure of his era, edited The Red Page in The Bulletin (1916-26) and lived for many years with notable writer and poet Zora Cross. To top things off Nora‘s foreword was written by poet, Hugh McCrae. This book of verse was published by The Bulletin, so one might expect The Bulletin review to have been generous. Nora‘s affection for the paper that gave her employment and an outlet for most of her verse, was honoured in a poem titled The Bulletin” Stairs.

* * * *

From Melbourne are the two works by Mary Finnin, printed and published by WA Hamer Pty. Ltd., 205-217 Peel Street, North Melbourne, N.1. The latter work appeared in 1941, but is included in this selection of works from the 1930s as its style is very similar to the 1938 volume. Both have deckle-edged pages and are by far the best presented of these works, especially Royal, her fourth publication, which is “to the memory of my father, William Finnin”. Mary Finnin was born in 1906 in Kildare, Victoria. The Bibliography of Australian Literature (Volume 2, eds John Arnold & Sally Batten, Australian Scholarly Publishing. Qld, 2008) indicates she is also known as Mary Connellan (n.m.). She also used the pseudonyms John Hogarth and Lawrence Vigil, but I‘ve not been able to establish what were written under these names.

In 1940 a reviewer of A Beggar’s Opera in the Oxford Journals (Vol. 3 No. 15 p. 146 f) described the work as “widely appreciated” and said Mary had “a place of distinction among a number of promising young Australian poets”.

I‘ll conclude with two of the “poems” in A Beggar’s Opera. The first is not a poem at all but an interesting inscription of an Aboriginal grave in the Western Public Cemetery, Geelong. King Billy (also known as William Gore and Willem Baa Niip) was a member of the Wathaurong people. Claims that he was the last of the Barrabool tribe were later found to be untrue:

“In a Victorian cemetery a tomb, set somewhat apart from the other graves, bears this inscription:

‘Tomb of King Dan-Dan-Nook (Jerry)

Chief of the Barrabool Tribe

King Billy Died, November 11, 1885

Jumbo Moora-nook

(Timboo) December 25, 1886

(Dick) February 24, 1862

(Jimmy Nelson) April 25, 1866

(Harry Gore) March 25, 1868

(Ellen) November 25, 1864

Erected in remembrance of the above, the last of the Barrabool Tribe by Robert de Bruce Johnson, Mayor of Geelong, 1868.‘ “

Several poems in this work are a mere two lines long. One is called Book Lover:

“Life, a romance with many a page uncut

Death snatched from me and the bright volume shut.”

Make of that what you will.

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