From Keating (2015)

In a series of 2015 television interviews, veteran ABC journalist Kerry O’Brien probed former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating – who had always insisted he would never write an autobiography – on what made him and how he governed. Born in Darlinghurst in 1944 and growing up in Bankstown, he left school at 14 and joined the Australian Labor Party as soon as he was eligible. Here he recalls one of his earliest mentors, the tempestuous Jack Lang, who had been Premier of New South Wales before his 1932 dismissal by Governor Sir Phillip Game, and was later expelled from the mainstream Labor Party:

PJK: I used to see him twice a week for about seven years. Strangely he used to call me Mr Keating and I was only eighteen in those days. He was very formal. I used to address him as Mr Lang. Among other things, I asked him whether I should go and do a university degree, and he thought for a while before saying, ‘Mr Keating, you have too much to learn for a university degree, about the getting of power and the using of it. There are no courses in this’…

Paul Keating sponsors Jack Lang’s readmission into the Australian Labor Party, July 1971

He and I disagreed on a lot of policy fronts like protection and tariffs, and I’d say on much of the world debate I would probably have been on the other side to him. I didn’t want that from him. I wanted the dynamics, and how the game was played.

What I particularly picked up from Lang was his use of language, the force of his language. He had hugely long arms, as if they were concertinaed. They’d come out at you as he talked. He had the celluloid collar and the gold chain, and that big jaw, and he’d say, ‘Mr Keating, I’m telling you this’, and he’d lean across the table with a look that would bore a hole in you. He was then 87 or 88. There was no one like him then.

He used to say to me, ‘Always put your money on self-interest, son. He’s the best horse in the race; always a trier.’

KOB: I did an interview with you in 1986 where you described how you learned from Lang to be hard in your judgements. What did you mean by that?

PJK: Lang once said to me, ‘One of your problems, Mr Keating, is you take people at their word. This is a business where duplicity is the order of the day. Look for the best in people by all means, but keep a sceptical eye peeled for what they are saying to you and what they really mean. What you should look for is the support of the earnest people. There will be a lot whose support you will never have. But you will never be anyone until you have a reasonable stock of enemies.’ It’s the issues that sort people out. It’s just so true, because having enemies worries some people. For me, it’s a badge of honour. It’s never worried me that a group of people would not have a bar of me. And that’s the way Lang conducted his life.

Even so, I never really took that kind of almost morbid cynicism on board as an operating principle. I always found better in people in public life, and if you go through a caucus like I did for nearly 30 years, you’ve got to build coalitions and friendships with people. So there are people you trust. I never subscribed to the solitary school, that you’re on your own and only on your own, but I did subscribe to the fact that you’ve got to look at what is said to you and look behind it. You have to end up being a good judge of character and a good judge of what is really being said to you, as well as a good listener.

People may be members of a political party, but they get to Parliament in their own right. It’s like a team with a captain but the members of a team earn their place independently, so to stitch together majorities in Parliament continually, you’ve got to look at people to see what their interests are, what things they have in common, what natural point of agreement you have with them, or points of disagreement.

  -Paul Keating, Australian, 1944-

-Kerry O’Brien, Australian, 1945-

From The Mirror of the Sea (1906)

Born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in a Polish-speaking part of the Russian Empire, Joseph Conrad went to sea in 1874, and drew on his experiences as a merchant seaman for his fiction. In his memoir The Mirror of the Sea, he looks back on the Sydney of the 1870s:


Watermen and their boats at Circular Quay, c.1890. (City of Sydney Archives)

These towns of the Antipodes, not so great then as they are now, took an interest in the shipping, the running links with “home,” whose numbers confirmed the sense of their growing importance.  They made it part and parcel of their daily interests.  This was especially the case in Sydney, where, from the heart of the fair city, down the vista of important streets, could be seen the wool-clippers lying at the Circular Quay—no walled prison-house of a dock that, but the integral part of one of the finest, most beautiful, vast, and safe bays the sun ever shone upon.  Now great steam-liners lie at these berths, always reserved for the sea aristocracy—grand and imposing enough ships, but here to-day and gone next week; whereas the general cargo, emigrant, and passenger clippers of my time, rigged with heavy spars, and built on fine lines, used to remain for months together waiting for their load of wool.  Their names attained the dignity of household words.  On Sundays and holidays the citizens trooped down, on visiting bent, and the lonely officer on duty solaced himself by playing the cicerone—especially to the citizenesses with engaging manners and a well-developed sense of the fun that may be got out of the inspection of a ship’s cabins and state-rooms.  The tinkle of more or less untuned cottage pianos floated out of open stern-ports till the gas-lamps began to twinkle in the streets, and the ship’s night-watchman, coming sleepily on duty after his unsatisfactory day slumbers, hauled down the flags and fastened a lighted lantern at the break of the gangway…

Circular Quay, c. 1888. View from the water looking south to Mort Co. (Woolbrokers) with banners “Many Happy Returns of the Day” (possibly on the occasion of the Centenary in January) and showing people gathered on the quay and a number of launches or ferries and tall ships. [Photo by Henry King 1880-1890] (City of Sydney Archives)

A stupid job, and fit only for an old man, my comrades used to tell me, to be the night-watchman of a captive (though honoured) ship.  And generally the oldest of the able seamen in a ship’s crew does get it.  But sometimes neither the oldest nor any other fairly steady seaman is forthcoming.  Ships’ crews had the trick of melting away swiftly in those days.  So, probably on account of my youth, innocence, and pensive habits (which made me sometimes dilatory in my work about the rigging), I was suddenly nominated, in our chief mate Mr. B—’s most sardonic tones, to that enviable situation.  I do not regret the experience.  The night humours of the town descended from the street to the waterside in the still watches of the night: larrikins rushing down in bands to settle some quarrel by a stand-up fight, away from the police, in an indistinct ring half hidden by piles of cargo, with the sounds of blows, a groan now and then, the stamping of feet, and the cry of “Time!” rising suddenly above the sinister and excited murmurs; night-prowlers, pursued or pursuing, with a stifled shriek followed by a profound silence, or slinking stealthily alongside like ghosts, and addressing me from the quay below in mysterious tones with incomprehensible propositions. The cabmen, too, who twice a week, on the night when the A.S.N. Company’s passenger-boat was due to arrive, used to range a battalion of blazing lamps opposite the ship, were very amusing in their way.  They got down from their perches and told each other impolite stories in racy language, every word of which reached me distinctly over the bulwarks as I sat smoking on the main-hatch.  On one occasion I had an hour or so of a most intellectual conversation with a person whom I could not see distinctly, a gentleman from England, he said, with a cultivated voice, I on deck and he on the quay sitting on the case of a piano (landed out of our hold that very afternoon), and smoking a cigar which smelt very good.  We touched, in our discourse, upon science, politics, natural history, and operatic singers.  Then, after remarking abruptly, “You seem to be rather intelligent, my man,” he informed me pointedly that his name was Mr. Senior, and walked off—to his hotel, I suppose.  Shadows!  Shadows!  I think I saw a white whisker as he turned under the lamp-post.  It is a shock to think that in the natural course of nature he must be dead by now.  There was nothing to object to in his intelligence but a little dogmatism maybe.  And his name was Senior!  Mr. Senior!

Circular Quay , with ruins of Dawes Battery in the foreground with a small steamer berthed in (now) Campbells Cove. The spire and lookout of the AUSN building is at far right. Campbell’s bond stores below the AUSN tower. (City of Sydney Archives)

The position had its drawbacks, however. One wintry, blustering, dark night in July, as I stood sleepily out of the rain under the break of the poop something resembling an ostrich dashed up the gangway. I say ostrich because the creature, though it ran on two legs, appeared to help its progress by working a pair of short wings; it was a man, however, only his coat, ripped up the back and flapping in two halves above his shoulders, gave him that weird and fowl-like appearance. At least, I suppose it was his coat, for it was impossible to make him out distinctly. How he managed to come so straight upon me, at speed and without a stumble over a strange deck, I cannot imagine. He must have been able to see in the dark better than any cat. He overwhelmed me with panting entreaties to let him take shelter till morning in our forecastle. Following my strict orders, I refused his request, mildly at first, in a sterner tone as he insisted with growing impudence.


Circular Quay, c. 1890. (City of Sydney Archives)

“For God’s sake let me, matey!  Some of ’em are after me—and I’ve got hold of a ticker here.”

“You clear out of this!” I said.

“Don’t be hard on a chap, old man!” he whined pitifully.

“Now then, get ashore at once.  Do you hear?”

Silence.  He appeared to cringe, mute, as if words had failed him through grief; then—bang! came a concussion and a great flash of light in which he vanished, leaving me prone on my back with the most abominable black eye that anybody ever got in the faithful discharge of duty.  Shadows!  Shadows!  I hope he escaped the enemies he was fleeing from to live and flourish to this day.  But his fist was uncommonly hard and his aim miraculously true in the dark.

 -Joseph Conrad, Polish-British, 1857-1924

From The Evidence to the Bigge Reports – The Written Evidence (1971)

Surgeon William Redfern went further in a letter to Commissoner John Thomas Bigge after their unhappy interview:

5 February 1821

At length, Sir, when you had examined all the underlings of the Hospital, & acquired the information you deemed necessary from sources whose purity & respectability I shall shortly delineate, without once intimating either to Mr. Wentworth or Myself the course of procedure you had adopted, I was by your desire introduced at 9 O’Clock at night – on the 26th June – the depth of winter – into your presence.

The appearance of the Room, – the Piles of Books, the dress of yourself & Secretary, the gravity of your countenance, the awful Solemnity with which you made your opening speech – the threatenings you denounced, the dreadful charges you had to exhibit against me, not forgetting the stale trick in imitation of Banquo’s Ghost, forcibly impressed on my mind the introduction of some unhappy victim, Clothed
in his Santo Venito, with his own picture pourtrayed [sic] thereon, surrounded with the figures of flames & Devils, to the inquisitorial Hall at Madrid, preparatory to the Auto Da Fe.

That memorable speech, conversation, & questions, so artfully calculated to wound & insult my feelings, have made too deep an impression on My Mind ever to be forgotten. The quiver of your lip, the curl of your nose, the expression of your eye – in short, your tout-ensemble, revealed to me your very thoughts & intentions, as a Mirror exhibits the person of him who stands before it. I clearly perceived your intention was to alarm and intimidate and in the event of a failure in that object, to irritate me to a breach of good manners. How far you succeeded in either the one or the other, I must leave you, Sir, to Judge. On calmly considering, at this distant period, the scene, the language you made use of, the manner in which you uttered it, I feel amazed that I could have remained one moment in your house, or that I could ever have been induced again to enter it. Nothing, Sir, but the high respect I entertain for His Majesty’s Commission, which you have the honor of holding, could possibly have induced me to listen for a Moment to such insulting language.

You were aware, Sir, that I had expressed my opinion on the arrest of Govr. Bligh in strong terms of reprobation & condemnation of that measure. You questioned me on it, by way of conversation; Nor did your sarcastic sneer on that occasion escape my observation…

We conversed, & you questioned me, on My appointment – My Commission – my remission of Sentence – by whom granted – whether it had passed the Great Seal – the Hospital, the Contract – the Specification – its mode of finishing – My Medical education. But how you noted down my remarks on these subjects, I shall have an opportunity of noticing in the emendation of My evidence in examination before
you – and which you caused to be transmitted to me on the 3d instant.

At length, Sir, when you went so far as to tell me that I had appropriated large quantities of Medicines Tin ware, & Spices to my own use & emolument; that I had written an insulting letter to your very redoubtable & Manly Protegé, Mr. Bowman, expressing My Sentiments of his ungentlemanlike conduct in visiting the Hospital whilst in my charge, unattended by Mr. Wentworth or Myself; and in questioning My Apprentice relative to the treatment of My Patients; and desiring him not to repeat his intrusion. Writing this letter was heresy & treason not to be forgiven. When you went so far Sir, as to question me respecting my chastising my apprentice & one of my servants; and when you told me that if there were an Attorney General in the Colony, you would proceed against me in a different way; It became high time to resist – and I then determined no longer to submit to such a course of proceeding.

The only regret I now feel on the subject, a regret I shall feel to the last Moment of my existence, is, that, when you, Sir, in my estimation, descended from the dignity becoming His Majesty’s Commissioner of Enquiry, to a mode of examination by Menaces of heavy charges to be preferred against me, in order to confuse, perplex, & intimidate me, in a Manner More becoming a Spanish Inquisitor, I did submit to it for a Single Moment; – that I did not make you a low bow, and instantly retire from your presence.

-William Redfern, English, 1774-1833

From The Evidence to the Bigge Reports – The Oral Evidence (1971)

Royal Commissioner John Thomas Bigge arrived in Australia in 1819, sent by Secretary of State for the Colonies Lord Bathurst to investigate ‘all the laws regulations and usages of the settlements.’ Surgeon William Redfern had been a surgeon’s mate on HMS Standard  when he was sentenced to death for his role in the 1797 Nore mutiny, commuted to transportation. Bigge’s interview with Redfern on the state of hospitals and health in the infant colony did not go well, according to Redfern’s notes on the minutes of his evidence:

26 June 1820

  1. When & by whom were you appointed assist. Surgeon?
    I was appointed by Lt. Col. Foveaux in May 1802, to fill the situation of surgeon at Norfolk Island.
  1. How long did you remain there?
    Until September 1804. I was then relieved by Mr. Wentworth at Norfolk Island & I continued to assist him & Mr. Conellan until 17 May 1808. I then came to this place in the Month of June of that year through the persuasion of Col. Foveaux & Mr. Wentworth I accepted of the situation of assist. Surgeon of this place where I have remained ever since I received a local commission from Lt. Govr. Foveaux dated “1st Augt. 1808”.
  1. You were I believe recommended by Col Foveaux to His Majesty’s Government; & received a commission from His Royal Highness the P. Regent? 
    I did, & my recommendation from Col Foveaux was supported by Govr. Macquarie.
    I now produce Col. Foveaux recommendation in the hand writing of his Secretary Mr. Finncane (No. 3) Certificate of qualification (No. 2), Notification of Confirmation (No. 4) & Commission (No. 5).
  1. Are you a member of any Medical Society in England Scotland or Ireland?
    I passed an examination in London before the examiners of the Company of Surgeons but I am not a member of any Medical Society.

I must beg leave here to remind you Sir; of the great astonishment which you affected at my having said I had passed the usual examination before the Court of Examiners of the Company of Surgeons in London, observing “Mr. Redfern you must mistake, I think they are called “The Royal College of Surgeons”. I then explained that “at the time I had undergone examination (Jany. 1797) the[y] were then the Company of Surgeons”.

…Now, Sir, with regard to my not belonging to any Medical Society in England, Scotland or Ireland, I beg leave to say that it can make nothing against me. Few, very Few Medical Men in those days entered into the Navy other than I did – that is without Diplomas from any Medical or Surgical Society, as you are pleased to denominate them. And indeed if the[y] had had those Diplomas, which rarely happened they were still obliged to undergo the same examination before the “Court of Examiners of the Surgeons Company”. In those days it was not quite so fashionable to be dubbed an M.D. from St. Andrew, where I might for the customary fee have procured one for My Horse; nor to throw away the fees for a Surgeons Diploma, when certain length of Service in the Army or Navy entitled them to all or nearly all the priviledges external to the College or Company. How Many Medical Men are there in the Colony who have any other claims than to “Chalk & Grinding” – and some of them not even that – merely the Fee for St. Andrews Degree of M.D.

  1. Where did you perform your Medical Studies?
    In London.
John Thomas Bigge, n.d. (State Library of Queensland)

John Thomas Bigge, n.d. (State Library of Queensland)

  1. You were Assist. Surgeon in the Navy?
    I was surgeon’s first Mate of His Majesty’s Ship Standard.

…When in my reply to your question “You were Assistant Surgeon in the Navy” I answered I was Surgeons Mate of His Majesty’s Ship Standard, the smile of exultation gleamed on your countenance in a manner which, tho I cannot describe, I shall never forget – I perceived at the moment, that you mentally said, “better & better”.

  1. How long did you remain in that situation?
    I served for a few Months.
  1. Was your sentence that of Transportation for Life?
    I suppose it was, for it was never communicated to me, I was sentenced to Death, but was strongly recommended on account of my youth. I was then about nineteen years of age.
  1. From whom did you receive your remission of sentence & when, was it absolute or conditional?
    I recd. an absolute Pardon from Govr. King. By the hand of Col. Foveaux. It bears date 4th June 1802.

I do further contend, Sir, that your questions but more particularly your conversation, connected with the Queries 7, 8 & 9, on the subject of the Secretaryship to the Mutineers & to Parker; on My Sentence & Pardon, whether it had passed the Great Seal, was most artfully & cruelly calculated to harrow up, wound & insult my feelings & that the question you put, but did not note down “Whether My Pardon had passed the Great Seal”, was asked in a manner to convey this impression “Take Care, Sir, Mind what you are about, otherwise I shall [take] such steps as shall prevent its ever passing it.” You will please to recollect this was about the time the question of the validity & effect of the Governor’s pardons was agitated & called into Public notice by the Judges.

William Redfern (State Library pf NSW)

William Redfern (State Library of NSW)

I beg leave to add, Sir, that in consequence of not seeing these examinations till Monday the fifth instant; of being up Country on the 3rd & 4th, & occupied in writing by letter under date the 5 inst when I returned, and attending to other pursuits, I have had no opportunity of correcting & animadverting upon more than the 9th Query, and that I beg you clearly understand that I do not sign these examinations as corrected any further than the 9 query, but that  I shall now send these examinations to you on this express condition, that I shall consider Myself at full liberty to correct, explain and animadvert on such parts of it as I may think proper. And I do further say that there are numerous & important omissions of My explanations given on examination, the insertion of which I consider essential to my reputation & character in a moral & professional point of view, & that those corrections I shall feel it My duty to send you ere Your departure if you happen to remain long enough, otherwise to deliver them to you in London on my arrival there…

-William Redfern, English, 1774-1833

-John Thomas Bigge, English, 1780-1843


From Backyard of Mars: Memoirs of the “Reffo” Period in Australia (1980)

The Hungarian journalist Emery Barcs arrived in Australia in August 1939, escaping the climate of rising fascism in his homeland. He would later be briefly interned as an ‘enemy alien’, but things began promisingly:

It was still pitch dark on Friday, August 25, the fourth morning of our arrival, when I stood in front of the newsagent’s opposite the Coogee tram terminus, impatiently waiting for the shop to open. Bundles of newspapers tied with string lay on the ground: among them the Daily Telegraph with, I hoped, my first article written for an Australian publication. I decided to kill time by walking along the promenade.

Stepping out fast to beat the pre-dawn cold, I thought of my meeting with C.S. McNulty, editor of the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday afternoon. At that time there was no sign of Mac’s later corpulence: he was a slim man of slightly less than medium height with a rather conventional face, but with exceptionally alert eyes behind a pair of thick spectacles. His movements were fast, as if he were always in a hurry. He quizzed me about the situation in Europe and agreed that if rumors about an understanding between Hitler and Stalin were true, war would be inevitable. He thought that a Nazi-Soviet agreement was improbable because the two political systems were so profoundly opposed.

I reminded him of the co-operation between Nazis and Communists in Germany to bring about the fall of the democratic Weimar Republic, then I told him that years before, Potemkin, at the time Soviet Ambassador to Rome, had remarked to me in an unguarded moment that ‘Stalin never leaves an insult unavenged.’ Wasn’t the action of the Anglo-French in ignoring Stalin at the time of the Munich conference an insult?

As we were talking, a smallish man with a big mop of curly dark hair bushy eyebrows and flashing eyes rushed into the room. Without even looking at me he said in an unusually clear, rather high-pitched voice:

‘Germany and Russia have just announced an agreement on a non-aggression pact.’

‘Blimey!’ ejaculated McNulty, ‘We were just talking about this.’

The small man looked at me questioningly and McNulty introduced us: ‘Brian Penton, our news editor,’ he said, then explained who I was. The name meant nothing to me, but I felt sure that I had seen that superbly intelligent, reckless, sensuous and more Mediterranean than Anglo-Saxon face somewhere. Then it came to me: a Greek satyr, of course.

Brian Penton Esq. by Sir William Dobell, 1943 (Packer Collection)

Brian Penton Esq. by Sir William Dobell, 1943 (Packer Collection)

‘Why not write an article for us?’ said Penton, after McNulty had told him what I had just said about Stalin’s revengeful nature. ‘Bring it in early in the afternoon for Friday’s paper.’

This meant putting ‘Operation Martha’ into motion immediately and not the following week when I had planned to write my first article for the Argus. When I delivered it to Brian Penton he told me to see the Features Editor, Mr Pearl.

‘The eminent Dr Barcs, I presume,’ said Cyril Pearl, I thought with a whiff of sarcasm as he greeted me with a warm smile. He looked about my age. He was slim, wore thick spectacles, a green shirt with a yellow tie and a suit that seemed to have been thrown on with a pitchfork. With his sensitive, intellectual face and his clothes he could have melted smoothly into any of my old haunts on the Paris Left Bank. He was extremely courteous, even friendly, but everything he said contained a touch of disconcerting irony; I wondered whether this was a sign of self-defence or aggression. After glancing through my article he asked me to write another for the following Monday’s paper.

Cyril Pearl, by William Pidgeon, c.1945. (National Library of Australia)

Cyril Pearl, by William Pidgeon, c.1945. (National Library of Australia)

Walking back to the Coogee terminal in the grey dawn I decided that my second piece for the Telegraph (which I also intended to send to Mr Knox) should be about the dangers of the Soviet-German pact to the small nations of Eastern Europe.

The newsagent was just cutting open the bundles of newspapers when I entered his shop. I bought a Telegraph. On page eight I found my article with a flattering by-line. To see my name in print was nothing new to me, yet this was different, and I walked back to the boarding house with the heady feeling of an athlete who has won a race which seemed so impossibly difficult at the start. Even before I reached the door doubts began to assail me. Had I diagnosed the situation correctly? After all, the world was still at peace. Hitler was still only rattling his military hardware and shouting himself hoarse about the ‘just claims’ of the Third Reich. Stalin’s propaganda hailed the Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement as a vital contribution to the preservation of peace. The two dictators were now friends, even if only for the sake of convenience. Yet my article suggested that war was inevitable and that within hours the Nazis would attack Poland. ‘Stalin,’ I wrote, ‘Must know that if Germany defeats Poland he ought to fight against the Germans who yearn for the corn factories of the Ukraine.’

Later that afternoon we went to Repin’s Pitt Street café which the Hungarians had chosen as their meeting place because they served two cups of coffee and a biscuit for sixpence, and because one could sit there in off-peak hours and talk as long as one liked. The Szalays were there, and George told us with mock resentment that Martha had driven him out at six in the morning to buy a Telegraph. She was elated that only very minor changes had been made in her translation.

Yushnij, the illustrious compere of Blue Bird, the excellent White-Russian vaudeville group which toured the globe between the two World Wars, used to refer to certain people as ‘world famous in their own families’. When many of my fellow Hungarians came to our table to congratulate me on the article, I too had the feeling of this sort of glory. ‘At least,’ said George, ‘Your example shows that not all Australian doors remain closed when you knock on them.’

-Emery Barcs, Hungarian-Australian, 1905-1990

From The Diaries of Beatrice Webb (1898) – 2

The Webbs go on to observe the political leaders of NSW, who would both become Prime Ministers of Australia:

October 9

Thursday: We had Archibald, Editor of the Bulletin, to lunch; Sidney lectured to a select audience on Municipal Government in England: an excellent lecture which though not touching on the municipal affairs of Sydney was felt every word of it to be apposite. Pompous old Sir George Dibbs was there and as I rose in response to the Chairman’s request for a few words, he whispered loudly, “No socialism, no radicalism please.” So I gave them chaff: much to the delight of the more advanced portion of the audience. Then we adjourned to the House just in time to hear the last paragraphs of Barton’s speech and the whole of Reid’s reply on the vote of censure – neither the one nor the other was impressive. Saturday we spent the whole day with Ashton and Reid, cruising about the waters of the National Park pretending to fish. Reid was in his holiday humour: that is to say he was always dropping off to sleep, in between telling and chuckling over some little details of his parliamentary manipulation. He has no intellectual interest in political questions: no desire to lead the country in one direction or another; but if you accept this absence of intellectual or moral distinction, he is good company with his humour, shrewdness and kind-heartedness. Moreover, one cannot fail to respect his financial integrity and rough and ready desire for efficient government.


George Reid, c. 1905 (National Library of Australia)

George Reid, c. 1905 (National Library of Australia)

To-day we have had Barton, the leader of the Opposition, to lunch. He has the face of an actor or preacher, he is a cultured man and appreciates an intellectual point. Perhaps he is more anxious than Reid to make things go in the direction he believes to be right. He hardly looks capable of a hard day’s work, certainly not of years of persistent labour. And outside Federation he seems to have few political ideas: he has neither Reid’s shrewd knowledge of human nature nor his unselfconsciousness, nor his persistency, nor his skill as a professional politician. Barton strikes us as an amateur uncertain of the worth-whileness of his hobby; he is perpetually asking himself whether he wishes to remain in politics. He likens Reid in only one respect: he looks as if he chronically over-ate himself; but even here Reid has the advantage in being jovial over it instead of dyspeptic. When Reid is replete he nods off to sleep; when Barton has eaten more than he can digest I am convinced that he is irritable.

–Beatrice Webb, English, 1858-1943

Edmund Barton, 1903 (National Library of Australia)

Edmund Barton, 1903 (National Library of Australia)

From The Diaries of Beatrice Webb (1898) – 1

Fabian Society members Sidney and Beatrice Webb visited Australia in 1898. By and large, they were not impressed:

October 5

A long conversation with the intelligent principal shopman in the largest bookstore in Sydney (the proprietor, by the way, a man of 35 or so, was standing at the door at 5 p.m. considerably “in liquor”). The shopman was a refined and rather depressed man of literary tastes. He said there was no sale for anything but cheap novels, supplied from England in Colonial editions at from sixpence to half a crown. The rich people bought little or nothing else, and many purchased nothing more literary than the weekly editions of the newspapers (the Australasian and the Sydney Mail chiefly). A newly enriched man had lately given them an order for £100 of books, all light literature, principally cheap novels. There had been something of a boom in cheap sociology eight years ago, but that had quite died out. But the young Australian writers – Lawson, Paterson, Daley – were now selling well and he still sold about a thousand copies a year of Gordon’s poems, which were known to every bushman. He attributed this popularity to Gordon’s reputation as the best and most fearless rider ever known in Australia, and to his poems dealing with horseracing. There had been a little set of bookbuyers in Melbourne, but this had died out. Australia had one great and wealthy collector – Mr Mitchell of Sydney – who collected every scrap relating to Australia – old newspapers, pamphlets etc. He complained that English newspapers or publishers would not accept Australian MSS – his wife wrote, and he had tried to place both her and others’ MSS in England in vain. The Australian public would not buy Australian productions until these had the English approval; Rolf Boldrewood himself could not sell his works until Bentley had brought out Robbery Under Arms.

The Bulletin, he said, had really been “made” by a dissolute but very clever Frenchman named Argles, who wrote the dramatic criticism, and originated the present characteristic style of the whole paper. But Argles worked through Archibald the principal editor, on whom he had a great influence until his (Argles) death from consumption. Now Archibald had gathered round him a brilliant staff of young Bohemians.

Beatrice Webb, c.1875 (London School of Economics)

Beatrice Webb, c.1875 (London School of Economics)

October 7

Dined at the Women’s College. A refined and intelligent Scotch woman (a graduate of London University) Miss Macdonell [sic] is the Principal, and has gathered from all parts of New South Wales and Queensland, 14 students. Like the rest of the University the Women’s College is depressed; is, in fact, struggling into life in spite of the steady indifference, if not hostility, of Australian Society. “Let the women keep to the kitchen” said a wealthy man who was asked for a subscription; and he fairly represented Australian opinion. And yet the cooking is so bad! As far as one can make out, the Australian girls spend their time in making their own clothes, except when they are wearing them in the company of young men. The clothes are fresh and flashy: powder and paint ruin complexions and the women age rapidly. The women of Australia are not her finest product.

–Beatrice Webb, English, 1858-1943

From Aunts Up the Cross (1965)

Robin Dalton was born Robin Eakin, moving to London after World War II and becoming a leading literary agent, then a film producer. In her memoir of Kings Cross in the 1920s and 30s she describes growing up in what Clive James calls ‘gentility in reduced circumstances’ with her doctor father:

On mornings when I was not at school I frequently accompanied my father on his rounds, sometimes visiting the patient and sometimes waiting in the car outside. If he left me in a doubtful slum area, he always admonished me, ‘Now, if anyone speaks to you, just make a noise like a five-year-old girl’ or whatever age was appropriate at the time. When he emerged he would sometimes tell me about the case. I remember some of our family intimates only through their ailments which, if they were startling enough, my father could not resist recounting. Thus, one plump and coyly coquettish lady was embedded in my consciousness since a tick had ‘crawled up her’. My father felt her charms were forever damned because as, he put it, ‘when I got to the poor brute, it had died’.

Actually, for me, all Sydney was an extension of the security of the house. My days never had an even tenor, but always an assured one, and certain events brought their certain flavour.

Was there ever a threat to this security, I now wonder? Financial threat may have been there but never to be taken seriously. In the 1930s so-called ‘society’ women thought little of popping into the pawn shops with their jewellery. This particularly appealed to my mother, whose fiscal week was ruled by Saturday’s betting results. Many a Thursday morning on Tony McGill’s settling day she would borrow Juliet’s sapphire and diamond ring (now on my finger) or one of her diamond, ruby and emerald butterflies, ostensibly to wear to a party, but in reality to appease Tony that night. After a few days, Juliet would become both curious and querulous and, dependent on the race results, my mother would either fling back her jewellery or plead another party.

Redfern Interior, David Moore (Art Gallery of NSW)

Redfern Interior, David Moore, 1949 (Art Gallery of NSW)

In our urban life, my consciousness of the depression was an awareness of a wicked man called Jack Lang, bent, it seemed, on ruining all our lives. I do remember a sense of apprehension, almost fearful, attached to this man. But my only experience of actual financial concern was the occasion on which my parents made a pact to give up smoking – in order to pay for my school fees.

The pact lasted a week. My mother gave in first. This did not appear to affect my education and the school fees were never mentioned again.

Darker moments have been pushed away, into another dimension. Every now and then, a sound, a smell, a chink of light or darkness breaks the happy carapace of memory. Sitting downstairs in a two-up, two-down Surry Hills tenement I watched my father disappear up the narrow stairs with his worn, brown leather ‘doctor’s’ bag, while from upstairs came screams – neither cries nor shouts, but piercing, wrenching, beseeching screams. When he came down again, the screams would have stopped. Someone else came with him – an elderly man or woman, talking in low voices. I knew that the screams came from a woman upstairs who had cancer. I knew that my father had, out of his leather bag, stopped the screams. I do not remember how I knew this, how my father had seen fit to introduce me to reality but all my life I have remembered – screams, cancer, horror, fear. It did not have the remote and curious connection of Uncle Ken’s pneumonia and the bread and sugar. This death (for surely the woman was dying) belonged to the real world, more affecting – not one’s uncle from my fairy tale (albeit sometimes a Grimm’s fairy tale) world – but a creature in extremis.

–Robin Dalton, Australian, b. 1921

From Reminiscences of Thirty Years’ Residence in New South Wales and Victoria (1863)

The Irish-born judge and politician Roger Therry reflects on how Sydney has grown since he arrived in 1829:

Besides the two large theatres constantly open, there are phil­harmonic societies, a public library, a philosophical society, and a mechanics’ institute, where scientific and literary lectures, as at similar institutions in England, are periodically given. In the new University a double first-class man (Dr. Wooley) of Oxford University; a senior wrangler of his year at Cambridge (Mr. Pell); together with an accomplished scholar of the Edinburgh University (Dr. Smith), occupy the professorial chairs in the respective depart­ments of Classics, Mathematics, and Natural Philosophy.

St. Phillip's Church, Sydney, ca. 1852-1853 / possibly Rev. Alberto Dias Soares (State Library of NSW)

St. Philip’s Church, Sydney, ca. 1852-1853 / possibly Rev. Alberto Dias Soares (State Library of NSW)

Two morning principal papers, “The Sydney Herald” and “Empire“, both conducted with superior talent, and several weekly papers, supply the usual political and literary news. Churches – some of superior architectural design – of the various religious denominations are well attended on Sunday. A Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council, in Sydney and Melbourne, sit for many months in the year, occupying (especially in Melbourne) spacious halls as brilliant and almost as commodious as the Houses of the English Parliament. Courts of justice are established, where the forms of Westminster are as closely observed as the circumstances of the Colony will admit; and there is as well regulated a police as in London. A few years ago, a large body of trained policemen were brought from Birmingham and Manchester to Sydney. There are besides in Sydney three well-established clubs, five or six banks in full business, insurance offices, and some superior hotels. These then are the principal ingredients from which persons may judge of the social advantages which New South Wales presents as inducements to emigrants who may be disposed to settle there.

In the arts which polish life, and the accomplishments which adorn it, the towns and cities of these distant colonies for a considerable time must of course rank secondary to those of the parent country. Of that class which constitute the high aristocratic circle of society in England there is as yet no representative circle in these colonies; but the class that comes next to it, and that consists of the gentry of England, and from it downwards through the several subordinate grades of life, society is creditably repres­ented in New South Wales, and is quite on a par with corresponding classes in England.

William Nicholas, [Lady and child], c.1847 Sydney, New South Wales, Australia (National Gallery of Australia)

William Nicholas, [Lady and child], c.1847
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
(National Gallery of Australia)

The society of Sydney of late years has received a valuable accession to its improvement by the arrival of young ladies whom the recently acquired wealth of their parents supplied with the means of providing for their daughters a first-rate English education. The well-known seminaries of London, Paris, and Brighton have sent forth pupils qualified to adorn the best circles of society in any country. And it is not a bold assertion to predict that soon the city of Sydney, and other cities of Australia, through the means of similar educational institutions to those in England, now established in the Colony, will have as much cause to be proud of the models of female accomplishments they can exhibit as any of the old and long-settled chief cities of Europe.

–Roger Therry, Irish, 1800-1874

From The Bulletin (1900)

In its 28 April 1900 issue, The Bulletin interviewed my great-grandfather Larry Foley, last of the bare-knuckle boxing champions and later a leading trainer:

Larry Foley [on left] and bookmaker and boxing promoter Jack Thompson. (National Library of Australia)

Larry Foley [on left] and bookmaker and boxing promoter Jack Thompson. (National Library of Australia)

Master-puncher Laurence Foley, in collaboration with a well-known Sydney sporting journalist, is writing a book on the Art of Boxing – which will, no doubt, be called ‘My “Scrap” Book’, with the accent on the ‘scrap’. Larry is still a man of excellent physique, and could, with a few weeks’ training, get through a respectable battle – though it might not compare in vigor with those he fought 30 years ago against old-time champion ‘Sandy Ross’ –‘For Foley and the Green’ as the almost-forgotten ballad had it. Foley’s comfortable residence at Waverley, Sydney is frequently visited by the sporting cognoscenti from England and America, where the retired champion’s name is very well known, indeed, and it was to an American visitor who pilgrimaged to the shrine of St. Laurence, in company with a Bulletin man, that Foley unburdened himself recently – somewhat to the following effect:

Larry Foley boxing, Hunt, C. H. (Charles Henry), 187-? (National Library of Australia)

Larry Foley boxing, Hunt, C. H. (Charles Henry), 187-? (National Library of Australia)

…The Australian eats meat with a big – big – whatever letter meat commences with. It doesn’t matter what their occupation is, if they’re reared on meat they are natural fighters, and game. Of course, it’s better if they’ve got an Irish father – see what I mean – but a meat diet’s the principle thing. They used to tell a yarn about me trainin’ two holy bishops of the Church to spar, and that they had a habit of scrappin’ at my place. Well, it ain’t quite true; but couldn’t Archbishop Vaughan use ‘em! See what I mean! Down on my knees I went to his lordship on the wharf, when he was goin’ away, and, says he, ‘My blessin’ on you, Laurence.’ Then he added, ‘It’s one champion seein’ another off.’ Rest his soul! An’ one of my relations; he’s a priest, you know – a meat-fed priest. He’s up in Queensland now, an’ of course, out of respect for his holy office, he doesn’t go ‘lookin’ for it’, but, for a priest, he has a very dirty left and a good right – eye, toe, an’ hand all in line. We sent him to Ireland to make a priest of him. Jim Punch an’ me took out his passage. The shippin’-clerk looks at Tom an’ looks at me, an’ says, ‘Rowing man or pug?’ meanin’ my nephew, for there’s a discount of 20 per cent on professionals. ‘No’, says I, ‘the young feller’s a-goin’ into the church’…