From Australian Accent (1958)

John Douglas Pringle came to Australia in 1952 to edit The Sydney Morning Herald. He left in 1957 and returned as editor in 1965, staying until 1970:

Sydney is ruled by three winds, which command the city in turn like the chiefs of an invading army. The first is the north-easter, the prevailing wind of summer. It is a fair-weather wind, a lazy, languorous wind, which comes in from the long reaches of the South Pacific heavy with moisture and sticky with salt. This is the wind which drives the great Pacific rollers onto the open beaches before leaping over the narrow barrier of land, making the pines at Manly sing as it passes and ruffling the calmer waters of the Harbour on the other side. On Sundays the crews of the eighteen-foot yachts catch it as they round the buoy for the long run home, and push out their bellying spinnakers which lift the small hulls out of the water until they seem to be flying

The north-easter is a sea-breeze and out of its element on dry land…To the western suburbs it brings no relief from the heat, but to the more favoured eastern suburbs it is a source of pride and joy; and the wealthy citizens of Bellevue Hill and Point Piper set their houses to catch it like the yachts on the harbour set their sails…

18 footer vessel on Sydney Harbour (William Hall collection, Australian National Maritime Museum)

18 footer vessel on Sydney Harbour (William Hall collection, Australian National Maritime Museum)

The southerly comes with a rush of cold air and a splatter of rain. The Sydneysiders call it the ‘southerly buster’, because it arrives with a banging of doors and windows like a train coming into the station. It can be fierce for a few hours, bowling over the yachts in the harbour like ninepins and dexterously removing loose tiles from the house-roofs; but it is a much-loved wind in summer, bringing down the temperature with a bump, cooling the sultry streets and sending fretful babies to sleep. Generally it blows itself out in the night, and Sydney wakes up in the morning to blue skies and brilliant sun as the north-easter resumes its sway over the city. In winter, however, it may blow for days, bringing cold Melbourne weather and a hint of snow to pampered Sydney.

Southerly Buster at Turrimeta Beach, 26 December 1996. (John Grainger, Bureau of Meteorology)

Southerly Buster at Turrimeta Beach, 26 December 1996. (John Grainger, Bureau of Meteorology)

The third wind is the westerly, a gusty, dusty wind blowing from the heart of the continent. It is an unpredictable wind, following no rhythm and obeying no laws, but it is always unpleasant. In winter dry and bitterly cold, in summer dry and hot as the blast from an oven door, it pounces on the city and worries it. It is an uncomfortable, penetrating wind, which gets through clothes and windows, forcing dust into the eyes and nose. Like the sirocco of the Mediterranean, its extreme dryness seems to irritate people, making the easy-going Sydneysiders nervous and bad-tempered. In winter it may blow for weeks on end, but in summer, fortunately, it rarely lasts more than a day or two – fortunately because it is only when the westerly is blowing that Sydney gets truly hot. The temperature climbs into the hundreds, the tar melts on the roads, and those who go down to the beaches for relief find that they cannot run bare-foot across the burning sand to the water. Worse still, it is the bush-fire wind…

Smoke from bushfires fills the sky over the city in Sydney, October 17, 2013. (AAP: James Morgan)

Smoke from bushfires fills the sky over the city in Sydney, October 17, 2013. (AAP: James Morgan)

I have described these three winds which rule over Sydney not only because they set the rhythm of the city’s life but because each one seems to represent the conflicting elements which shape Sydney’s character…The north-easter is the Pacific wind, and while it blows it tries to make Sydney a South Pacific city. Under its warm and humid breath men slow down in their daily tasks and dream of the islands to the east…

The southerly, on the other hand, is the voice of conscience, the voice of home and England, even though it comes from the Antarctic. When it blows life resumes the brisker tempo of the northern hemisphere. A man can work hard without getting too tired or can sit indoors and read without longing to be out in the sun. It is a Puritan wind, which scourges the city for its laziness.

But the westerly is the voice of Australia. This is the true Aboriginal wind, hard and lean and dry as the bones of dead sheep. Like the continent itself, it seems hostile to the white man who has swarmed on the sea-board. It hurls itself down from the mountains of the Dividing Range as if it would blow the city into the sea or burn it down with its fierce bush-fires. It mocks the efforts of suburban gardeners, withering their dahlias and roses in a single morning and turning their trim lawns brown no matter how they try to assuage its thirst with hoses. It is a nagging reminder of the great dry continent which stretches away beyond the Blue Mountains so clearly outlined on the horizon.

John Douglas Pringle, Scottish 1912-1999


If We Can’t Get It Together (1996)

You Am I’s 1996 album Hourly, Daily debuted at No. 1 on the ARIA Albums Charts. Tim Rogers looks at what’s involved in ‘settling down’:  

To get up the bond for an Inner West flat
He’d work for anybody if he wasn’t working for her dad
She’s practising saying ‘I do’ and ‘I will’
Cause she don’t know how to tell him that she’s going off the pill

Her curtains are for certain that he’ll talk about her ass
But she clings to his photo like a piece of broken glass
If we can’t get it together today
She’s looking for his heart while he stares the other way

His dad is a nut, his ex-girl is a slut
But he’ll be yours forever
If you just get it together
If we can’t get it together if we can’t get it together
Is it ever gonna be just you and me?

So they met on Tuesday at the Town Hall steps
To get an 8 by 10 photo and a wedding date set
‘we might as well do it next week,
cause we’ve met everybody that we’re ever gonna meet’

His dad is a nut, his ex-girl is a slut
But he’ll be yours forever
If you just get it together
If we can’t get it together if we can’t get it together
Is it ever gonna be just you and me?

470 to Circular Quay
With a present in your pocket from the TAB

If we can’t get it together if we can’t get it together
Is it ever gonna be just you and me?

Would you settle for a mobile home
Near a good record store and a public phone?

If we can’t get it together if we can’t get it together

Tim Rogers, Australian, 1969-

Live Tim Rogers 2015 (starts at 4:00):

From Sydney Revels of Bacchus, Cupid, and Momus (1854)

Charles Adam Corbyn was a convict (formerly a midshipman in the East India Company) transported to Australia in 1835 at about the age of 18. Pardoned in the late 1840s, by the early 1850s he was a police-court reporter for Bell’s Life in Sydney (a raffish sporting weekly modelled on Bell’s Life in London) and Henry ParkesEmpire. In 1854 he published a collection of his reports, subtitled: ‘Being choice and humourous selections from scenes at The Sydney Police Office, and other public places, during the last three years.’ He later worked in Goulburn and Wagga Wagga as a reporter, and at the time of his death in Albury was acting as tutor to a family:

Like Niobe, All Tears

Johanna Elvia, a very beautiful specimen of the frail sisterhood, whose soft pale oval face, rich blue eyes, and dark chestnut hair were placed in admirable contrast with a suit of deep mourning, was placed at the bar before Messrs Hill, Neale, and Kemp, charged with creating a commotion in front of the Prince Albert Restaurant, Pitt-street, at two o’clock on Wednesday morning.

Constable Carroll deposed that the nymph before the Court had been supping at a late hour with some of her frail companions, at the Prince Albert, some old fool from the country, who had come down to town with more cash than brains, having “stood flat.” But when Miss Elvia and her associates had plentifully regaled themselves with all the choicest delicacies procurable at the restaurant, together with sundry potations, they commenced what they called “chaffing” the amorous old clodhopper, who took their sarcasms with anything but good grace.

The comely dame who presides over the culinary and comestible arrangements of the Prince Albert, desired him to “shut up” and to refrain from “kicking up such a row” at that late hour. The ladies thereupon turned upon the landlady like so many tigresses, and used language towards her unfit for polite ears.

The man who grumbles and pays; Gill, S. T. (Samuel Thomas), 1818-1880. (State Library of NSW)

The man who grumbles and pays; Gill, S. T. (Samuel Thomas), 1818-1880. (State Library of NSW)

The handsome Cyprian before the court was the most volubly outrageous of them all; she sallied out into the street in front of the restaurant and gave vent to such a volley of profane and indecent language that he (Carroll) deemed it his imperative duty to “give her an arm,” and escort her to the watch-house.

Mr Hill (to Johanna, who was weeping):– Are you a married woman?

Miss Elvia:– No, my lord. I wishes as how I was. (Here she burst into tears and sobbed convulsively.) If as how I had an ’usband it isn’t likely I’d be in this here fix, no more I wouldn’t: but I’ve gotten nobody to take care on me but my own blessed self, and Missis Jones insulted me, and I give it her back again.

Inspector Read:– She’s been on the town a long time, your Worship.

Johanna:– How do you know: shut up.

The Bench sentenced Miss Elvia to pay a fine of forty shillings, or in default to be imprisoned fourteen days. She paid the fine and departed.

Charles Adam Corbyn, English-Australian, 1817-1861

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 The Harp in the South (1948)

Ruth Park based the Darcy family of Surry Hills on that of her husband D’Arcy Niland:

In this narrow-gutted, dirty, old house, squeezed with its elbows flat against its sides between two others, there lived seven people. There was Mr Diamond, the Orangeman, and Hughie Darcy and his wife. Also there was Dolour Darcy, who was sixteen, and her elder sister Roie, who lived in one of the attic rooms with her husband, Charlie Rothe, and their little girl, Moira, who called herself Motty. There had been two others – Thady, who had been born between Roie and Dolour, and who was stolen off the street when he was six and never seen again; and Grandma, dead a long time now, and yet curiously a part of their daily life, a shuffling little ghost, pungent as a whiff of pipe smoke, and Irish as the words that were all she had to leave them.

The Irish in these people was like an old song, remembered only by the blood that ran deep and melancholy in veins for two generations Australian. The great tree, kernelled in the rich dust of Patrick and Columbanus, Finn and Brian, and Sheena of the unforgotten hair – the tree whose boughs had torn aside the mist of Ultima Thule bore in this sun-drowned southern land leaves in which the sap welled sharp, sweet, as any on Galway quay, or the market at Moneymore. The great music that had clanged across the world, of lion voice of missionary, of sword and stylus; the music that spoke aloud in the insurrections, in the holds where the emigrants sweltered in vermin and hunger – this music was heard in Plymouth Street, Surry Hills, and was unrecognized…

St. Peter's Church, 237 Devonshire Street, Surry Hills. c. 1990. (City of Sydney Archives)

St. Peter’s Church, 237 Devonshire Street, Surry Hills. c. 1990. (City of Sydney Archives)

Only in the little girl, Dolour, lying on her stomach and picking her face before a yellow corner of looking-glass, was the fierce positivity of the Celt, a surging energy that made her long for the world she did not know, for thoughts she could not yet comprehend, for experience she could not yet encompass. In her was the infinite delicacy of feeling of the Irish, the very halt of the raindrop before it rolls down the stem, the spin of light on the knife-blade, the tremble of the wind harp’s string as the blown air touches. She was on the threshold of articulateness, and did not know it.

All the discomforts, the vulgarities, the harsh jovialities of her little world broke against her as repeatedly and unavailingly as a wave breaks against a rock; her real life was in school, and in the church.

The church in Surry Hills was no fountain of stone, no breaking wave of granite like some of the great cathedrals. It was foursquare, red brick, with a stubby steeple as strictly functional as the finger of a traffic cop; it humped its sturdy shoulder into the schoolyard, and the children rewarded it by bouncing balls off it.

It was as much a part of Surry Hills life as the picture-show or the police station, the ham-and-beef or the sly-grog shop. Its warm brick wall was there in winter for the old men to sun themselves against, or for the feeble-footed drunk, staggering home in the dim, to lie beside. Its steps were seats for the old ladies who’d walked too far with their marketing and them with their feet brittle as biscuits with the rheumatism. The church in Surry Hills had achieved the innermost meaning of Christianity; it was the commonplace of life, like a well-loved old coat, worn, ordinary, sometimes a little drab but essential to living.

On Sunday Father Cooley mounted the pulpit, rather slowly, for he had lumbago. He stared full into the eye of the microphone they had installed while he’d been sick, and contemptuously clouted the thing aside. He’d always been able to blast the ears off the backbenches, and he had no intention of giving way to new-fangled inventions at his time of life.

‘We’re going to have a mission,’ he said.

–Ruth Park, New Zealand-Australian, b. 1917-2010