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2006-06, 350, Arthur Mortimer, Notes and Queries, Vale

Notes & Queries: Early Memories of Jim Dally

JIM DALLY was a bookseller and publisher who began his working life as a librarian. Jim and I first got to know each other in the early 1950s in the State Library of South Australia, and in the saloon bar of the Richmond Hotel when the ‘six o’clock swill’ still reigned.

I well remember one occasion when Jim and I were in Port Adelaide with Geoffrey Farmer between drunken pubs, and how Geoffrey suddenly grasped our shoulders, kicked his heels in the air, and shouted “Weeeeeh!” A police car pulled up next to us. “Steady boys. You’re in Port Adelaide now!” The idea of anyone having civic pride in Port Adelaide convulsed us when we talked about it in the Richmond Hotel later.

On another occasion, I remember being in the Norton Summit pub. We had walked up through the fog from the tram. We were singing Foggy Foggy Dew in front of a roaring fire and the locals were pelting us with pennies.

He was so generous. I remember how kind he was to me, an impecunious library assistant, stuffing ten shilling notes in my top pocket so that I could go on drinking



Jim was rather dangerous in and to himself. He had a crazy courage. Once, out of nowhere, he took it upon himself to release the puppy dogs, late at night, in the Gay’s Arcade Pet Centre. He injured himself a bit in the process and the police arrested him. He spent the night in the Watchhouse. There, he informed us in the Richmond the next day, the air was filled with flying ink pads as he successfully resisted all attempts to take his fingerprints. Jim also successfully refused to join in the early morning lineup when the officer-in-charge inspected the night’s takings. We were always rather envious of his courage.

My main memory of Jim at the time was of someone who was in love with the language and its possibilities. Precise, almost to pedantry. He really loved words. Once he was talking about his days at the Beck Book Co and he said “In some respects I miss those days.” I was lucky enough to say “In what respect? In retrospect?” He went on and on about how clever this was, and how true.

Later, he went into a carefully chosen and cultivated mystery and obscurity, so much so that my wife once accused me of having made him up. As if I could!

Arthur Mortimer



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