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BARCROFT BOAKE'S LETTERS

1887-1891


 

RIVERINA LETTERS

 

Wagga Wagga

Jan 11th 91

Dearest Addie

 

            I forgave you for not having answered my last letter, when I got the photo of Doris, it's perfectly lovely - I got it on Boxing Day at Connorton, and it was greatly admired, unfortunately I left it there, but I am writing to Miss O'Connor and will ask her to keep it carefully for me till I go back there again. I had a great time at Xmas. I got over to Connorton on Xmas Eve, and on Xmas morning Dr drove Mrs O'C into Wagga to Mass. I promised to go, but the Doctor's Surgery was so delightfully cool that I stayed and talked to him instead of going to Church. We had a late dinner on Xmas day as we did not arrive home until 4 o'clock.

 

We spent a quiet Boxing Day. I had a pressing invitation sent to me by Tom Cox to go to a picnic he and some more were getting up at Wagga. But it was too jolly hot. Mr Lipscomb offered me his buggy to drive but it was 40 miles nearly to go there and back in the day so I did not think it was good enough. On the Saturday the Boss and I went into Wagga by the midday luggage train, and I had a long glad afternoon. He took me to the Riverina Club for lunch and we went the rounds. I had written some satirical verses about Old Gowland the manager of the Commercial Bank. And I could have got drunk for a week on the strength of them. We went round to Charly Croaker the Mayor who is a particular enemy of Gowland's and then we met old Hawkins the proprietor of the Wagga Express, who fairly danced with joy. I believe he is to have some copies printed for private circulation. I was to have caught the 8 o'clock luggage and gone out to Olly Cox's place at Yerong to get a horse, but I just drove up to the station in time to lose the train. I had to stay in town and go down by the Mail on Sunday morning. I spent the day at Grubben and then rode back to Connorton in the cool.

 

We left on Tuesday. New Year's Night I dined at the Springs Mr G P Wilson's a palatial place - the springs from which it takes its name run all through the garden, everywhere. Such a lovely bathroom with the icy water running through it. There was a long poem of mine in the Sydney Mail of the 13th Dec - and Mr Wilson who is a great man for poetry had been reading it out to the guests. Miss Stiles had seen it and taken a fancy to it and cut it out, never knowing whose it was until Mr Lipscomb told her at the Springs. That was a great compliment to have paid me was it not. I enclose something which will please you I hope and id you don't write immediately and thank me this is the last you'll ever hear of

                                                                                    Bartie

 

P.S. Give my love to Grannie and thank her for the book. I will return it as soon as Mrs O'Connor has read it. Giver my love to all at home tell Dad he owes me a letter.

 

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Carabost

Feb 16th 91

Dear Addie

 

Tonight is the proudest moment of my life. I feel that at last I have my foot on the first rung of the ladder that leads to fame. I have just got a letter from the editor of The Bulletin, acknowledging some verses. This is what he says: it is short but very sweet -

 

Dear Sir, - Shall be glad to publish your pretty and melodious verses: they may be kept for Xmas and illustrated. Cheque will follow in due course. Hoping to hear from you shortly. Yours etc J.F.Archibald.

 

I nearly jumped out of my skin when I got it - I was so surprised. This letter is rather egotistical; but I felt I must write to some one or die -

 

Your loving Bartie.

 

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Wagga Wagga

June 91

(From a letter to his Father)

 

....but alas there are many petty jealousies and causes that prevent the men who have power from using it. I myself believe with Tolstoi that the sooner the race dies out the better for all concerned. Bye the bye did you see anything of that Col Alcott when he was in Sydney, unfortunately the papers contented themselves with ridiculing him and his mission so I did not learn much of his creed. I see that Mme Blavatsky is dead, she was a very powerful mind. I saw some of her writing in the Review of Reviews. I read a notice in one of the papers in reference to Mous Henri who has gone home to publish a book about the suitability of our native fauna for artistic decoration, he may be the founder of an Australian school of Art.

June 24th

Since I commenced this we have made a tremendous round of the country doing a days work here and there. The work Mr Lipscomb will do for the next five weeks will not pay the expenses of his camp. We had a two days trip to Yanko Stn to do two days work value about 2 pounds 10 shillings so surveying nowadays is not all beer and skittles. I must say that the boss works it very well. He always stops at the station and we camp in the shearer's huts which are always empty now. It is rather unfortunate that he has a young fellow with him (nominally as assistant, but from his ignorance of any but the field work perfectly unable to relieve me of any of the calculation or drafting) as he cannot ask the station people to put up two assistants, and of course one cannot be invited without the other. Whereas before Raymond came, I accompanied Mr L as a matter of course. Not that I feel the deprivation much. I honestly tell you that the conversation in our camp that is round the fire between Raymond and I and the two men often takes a higher tone and embraces a wider range of subjects than ever it does at the tables of people who can count their tens of thousands of acres. I thought once that men I associated with in the back blocks were about as degraded as it were possible for a white man to become. But I assure you they never reached the shameless depths of profligacy that I have heard spoken of among some of the men I have met in Riverina Society.

 

We were out surveying alongside the Railway line this morning - and a special train flashed by us, when we recognised the hoary head of our Premier....

 

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Camp

Mundawaddery

July 25th 91

 

My Dear Father

 

many thanks for the little book of Anstey's. It is most amusing and original. I sent Grannie one of Hall Caine's but don't know if it reached her. I suppose you saw by the paper that the floods in this part of the country have been without precedent in the recollection of the oldest settlers. We arrived at Brookong and camped there on the Thursday before the memorable 12th July. It began to rain on Friday, and that night 120 points fell. All day Saturday it poured, and the lambmarkers were working all through it. On Saturday night Mr Dixon, the sheep overseer, came in from the camp at Green's Gunyah, and told us that they had been up to the waist in water all that day crossing sheep and that the creek was rising very fast.

 

The buildings at Brookong are scattered all over the place. The manager's house, Bachelors' quarters, men's huts, and Kitchens being down near the creek while Mr Halliday's house and garden, the stables and the office and Store are a couple of hundred yards away. Raymond and I were installed in the old schoolroom, which stands away by itself from the Store. We used it for an office, and slept in the bedroom adjoining. Mr L had a room in the big house across the garden from us. He used to walk over to Mr Grierson's the manager's house for meals while we used to go to the Barracks.

 

On Saturday night the water was up in Grierson's back yard but we never expected to see it as it was on Sunday morning. Staines, the Storekeeper whose room was just opposite the schoolroom accompanied us down to look for breakfast; in order to get to the Barracks we had a hundred yards of water up to our knees. When we got down there was six inches of water on the kitchen floor, and it was just commencing to ooze into the dining room. It was running like a mill race in the passage between the two houses.

 

After breakfast Syd, Wellman, Staines and I got the boat out and started to take the letters out to the mail. The mail change is about a mile away but the water was right over the plain. Syd and I took the oars, and away we went. All the time it was pouring in torrents and blowing half a gale. It was great fun pulling over the tops of fences and dams in and out among the trees, but we could not get right over to the road. We got the boat stuck and had to get out and pull her along. Now and again we'd come to a deep gutter and down one of us would go over his head. It was beginning to get rather chilly by the time the coach came along. It would have made a striking picture. The boat in the foreground and the scarlet coach with its four horses coming towards us, sometimes with the water over the wheels and the horses almost swimming - and then, as far as the eye could reach, the plain one sheet of water. We were wishing we could have had a photo of the scene.

 

I tell you, when we got back to Brookong we were glad to get dry things on. We three started a fire in the school room and stayed there. The water rose all day and at night they were rowing the boat between Grierson's house and our residence. At eight o'clock Sunday night it was into the store, and we had to turn to and shift two tons of flour and one of sugar into a place of safety. The lamb markers had all come into the station, and everything seemed pretty safe as far as the men were concerned.

 

The doctor came out from Urana in the afternoon, one of the pluckiest things I have ever heard of - he arrived in Urana from Melbourne a total stranger at five in the morning; at ten he got a telephone message to tell him that Jim Halliday was raving with DTs and would he come out. He got a horse and rode that 20 miles by himself; half of it was under water and he had to swim Wilson's crossing. He went back to Urana on Monday but no sooner had he got in than another telephone message awaited him. A lady about to be confined and would he come out at once. This was eleven at night but he turned around like a man. Mr Grierson met him at the crossing with a fresh horse and he got to his destination about one in the morning - everyone is singing his praises and if he likes it there is a fine practice to be worked up. He got 45 pounds for these two trips. That was not so bad was it.

 

We went to bed on Sunday night with three inches of water in our rooms. It never rose any higher and on Monday was beginning to fall. Then the bad news came. A man coming in from Green's Gunyah hotel where the lamb markers had been camped reported finding two of them dead on the main road about two miles from Brookong. Some of them had left the Publichouse to come in on Sunday in a wagonette. They were all drunk and these two unfortunates had dropped out of the cart and lain there and perished how can never be ascertained. The coroner would not come out he was afraid of the creek. He wired to bury them and held an enquiry a week afterwards but their comrades swore they were all so drunk they remembered nothing. Yet they were able to drive 10 miles in that fearful storm and never hit a tree or miss a gate.

 

On Monday night news came in from the out station that a young fellow named Arthur Biscay was missing. They had been scouring the country but it was not until Tuesday that they found him also lying dead in the bush. They had all left the Gunyah together but Arthur had slipped away from them and was never missed. He was riding a young thing, and the general opinion is that he got off and it pulled away from him for they found a lot of hoof marks of a struggling horse, and also Arthur's hat. When it got away he walked on and on until he got exhausted and fell down. He then dragged himself along on his stomach for about a hundred yards, then burying his face in his hand lay to sleep - and never woke. He was a fine young fellow, a great horseman, and the most popular man on the station. Mr Grierson was terribly cut up about his death.

 

They would not bury him until the Parson could come out which was on Wednesday. Every man on the station was at the funeral. Including visitors there were ninety men followed his body to its grave at the wool wash. We drove but all who had no horses had to wade through mud and water up to their knees. It was a most impressive ceremony, rendered so by the earnestness of Arthur's comrades, who had worked with him, played with him, and whose rough hands fashioned the coffin and dug his grave, and who now followed him to it in the silence of the brilliant morning, broken only by the shrill tolling of the bell which had rung him and them out to work so many times.

 

They put the coffin in a low waggonette: one of them perched himself on the side and drove the horses. Two poor little wreaths of jonquils and geraniums, twined with the lustrous leaves of the kurrajong - all the flowers afforded by the garden reposed on the shell. The buggies fell into line, the horsemen and footmen four deep, and the cortege moved off down the creek. The most pathetic touch in the whole thing was that one of the boundary riders led Arthur's horse immediately behind the remains of its master, saddled, with the stirrups crossed dejectedly over its back. Its presence brought sharply home the fact of its one time rider's absence. We take Death as a matter of course, and a slight thing such as that serves to remind us of its awful reality.

 

Every body was very much affected at the grave. I saw one young fellow crying manfully. I for one was not very far off it. The three victims of that awful night lie side by side in the little knot of graves on Brookong Creek but I think it will be many a long day before the recollection of the 12th July 1891 fades from the minds of the dwellers in Riverina. I have only spoken of what came within my own experience but every station was flooded and lives lost besides those at Brookong.

 

Mr Luscomb and I have been following the debate on the address in reply with much interest. He sent for the Herald's with the debate, and now we are anxiously waiting to hear the result. I was very much disgusted to see that some of the Labor men intend to support Dibbs, however they vote whether right or wrong it should be together. I am perfectly satisfied that they should support Parkes or any other man who will allow himself to be controlled by them until the next dissolution and then if I mistake not they will be in a position to take possession of the Treasury benches. It is human nature to desert the sinking ship and when people see that the Labor Party is the coming one they will vote that way at the polling booth.

 

I am glad to see that something might be done with my sketch. I wanted you to mark any passages that might be altered. I am quite of your opinion in regard to "On the Mail." I had metaphorically consigned it to the W.P.B. before I sent it to you. The Bull. Have not published "The Demon Snow Shoes" yet. I don't know what they are about at all. I wrote some verses in memoriam Arthur Biscay. Mr Grierson was awfully pleased with them. I sent them together with a short account of the flood to the Albury Banner. They appeared today but they only printed 4 out of the 7. I like their cheek.

 

Some time ago I wrote a couple of skits in verse on two of the leading Wagga men, Gowland the manager of the Com. Bank and Coleman a solicitor. They are two great supporters of G. R. Dibbs. Only for them he would have not been returned this time. Olly Cox who is a great friend of G. R. D. sent copies of these lines down the other day. They were a nine day wonder in Wagga. The best of the fun was that Coleman had a copy of the lines about Gowland showing around to everybody oblivious of the fact that Molly Gowland had the lines about him shewing to all mutual friends. It was as good as a play I believe.

 

I was very pleased to hear of Evie's success. I suppose the scholarship entitles her to go to the high school for a certain period and prepare for the University. I wish to God I could change places with her. To refer to "Nell's Wheelbarrow" I shall have to copy it out again neatly before I send it away. I think I shall try the Bull. and get their opinion. But I have very little time at present for writing - I do long sometimes to be able to sit down quietly and write but everything I do is done in snatches. To have a quiet room with an easy chair and a desk and no one to disturb me is the height of my never to be gratified ambition. I ought to have written to dear Grannie but I have spun this out so long there is no time. You must give this to her to read instead.

 

I am sorry to hear G has lost his billet yet he seemed a very steady fellow. I wish Evie would send me a copy of some of her verses. I would like very much to see them. I am very proud of being able to tell people that I have a father and a sister who are both literally (is that correct) inclined. The boss has been giving me a great advert - he borrowed my M.S. books and went away on a trip to read them to every man woman and child who would listen. Needless to say he is one of the worst readers I ever heard and murders metre and everything else, but it pleases him and gets my name up-

 

Give my love to Addie and the girls.

Yours affectionately

Bartie.

 

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Camp

The Rock

Oct 18th 91

My Dear Father

 

I suppose you have been too busy to answer my last letter so I won't wait for it.

 

I suppose Grannie will have shewn you the cutting of "The Demon S. S." that I sent her. There is another effusion of mine in this week's B. (17th inst) and probably another next week. I got a letter from Mr A to say they were in type and that he had handed another over to Mr Hopkins to illustrate. This latter is mere doggrel about the "Cup" and if printed will appear in the issue of that week. I am sending down another batch of verses today, one of which at least I consider above the average. Grannie told you I suspect, that I got a letter from Rolfe Boldrewood. I sent for some copies of the paper but they have not come yet. I got a charming letter from Vi the other day. She seems very gay and happy in her new home. How is your and Addie's venture in the Arcade getting on, successfully I hope.

 

I told you that I had got myself seriously disliked by a Wagga Magnate re some verses I wrote about him. Well when Mr Lipscomb was in at Show time old Gowland tackled him about them, at the Club in the presence of Mrs G and the Miss O'Connors. It was great fun they tell me, Mr G lost his temper completely (he had just lost a lot of money at poker) but my boss kept very calm and polite and scored all round. G accused him of inspiring the lines when as a matter of fact they were written before he ever saw them. However the banker would not believe Mr L's word of honor and that gentleman gave him the retort courteous and now they don't speak. But the irate gentleman is going to break my neck when we meet; I don't fancy he can somehow for he is stout and middle aged and imbibes a good deal. The best of it is he never saw the verses, only some kind friend told him (I know the kind friend aforesaid and he'll get a turn shortly) if he had read them he might learn what the general opinion of him is, and alter accordingly. Give my love to Grannie and the girls. I hope to hear from you shortly. We heard by wire last night that Parkes had resigned - But no particulars.

Yours affectionately

B H Boake

I open this to enclose the verse from the Albury Banner of the 9th inst.

 

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Camp

The Rock

Oct 19th 91

My Dear Father

 

did you ever lie on your back in the sun and have beautiful thoughts that you can't put into words, come to you? That is what I was doing this evening. You just lie down and fix your eyes on the red crest of the old Rock and wait. Presently you feel yourself melting away and then the body stops behind and away you go, somewhere I don't know where, fairly land I suppose, and that's where all the lovely things come from. Some men go and bring back beautiful stories; others poetry - some only wake up with a sigh and have the recollection.

 

I was thinking how nice it would be if one could always stay young, and not have too much work to do, and just lie in the sun. But then the sun doesn't always shine besides it would get monotonous. This is apropos of nothing at all, only I have just been musing under the stars while I waited for gentleman named Achenar to come to his E. elongation. We are having the most perfect weather possible, it is simply a joy to be alive, if it would only always be spring.

 

I thought I'd just drop a line in answer to yours as my last was rather short. I'm glad you like the "Demon S.S." Mr A says it is excellent but hampered by the fact of the G.P. (general public) being incredulous as to the existence of snow in the Colony. As to their payment I think they'll give me a guinea. That is what they gave me for "On the Range." One pound one shilling per column I think is what they give. Did you see "twixt the wings of the yards" in last Saturday's B. though I don't suppose you will altogether care for it. There ought to be "A Digger's Story" in tomorrow's I know it's in type. They have some others of mine so you may see them in a week or two. I enclose you the result of the aforesaid sun bath, don't know whether you will appreciate it. It is a vexed question with me whether I would be able to print the verses I have sold to the B. should I so incline. I don't think they could prevent me - in fact I don't suppose they would care - but you might find out if you know any newspaper men and let me know it would set the point at rest.

 

I did not know that Addie had an addition to the family. I must write to her. If you have not already sent the Demon S.S. to uncle Will you might send me the slip and let me send it, as I want to write to him. I meant to send him one but used up all the my copies.

 

Give my love to Addie and the girls and dear Grannie and write when you can spare time.

 

Yours affectionately

                        B H Boake.

 

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Camp

Wagga Wagga

Nov 1 91

My Dear Father

 

            many thanks for your appreciation of "Desire" which I may tell you is a girl's name as well as an adjective in French. I would not print verses under that title in any case. Of course I intended you to keep that copy. I just received at the same time as yours a cheque for 3 pounds 12 shillings from the B. they treated me most generously giving 1 pound 1 shilling for the Demon S.S. and the same for "Twixt the Wings of the Yard" which you have not seen and which appeared in the issue of the 17th inst. There is a "Digger's Story" by me in this week's (31st inst ). Apropos of your remarks re the "Demon" Mr Archibald did exactly what you said he should have done. I enclose the slip. He got his information from a letter of mine. I have read what the B. calls the book of the day "Ceasar's Column." Have you read it? I am going to send it to you. I was speaking about it to Miss O'Connor and she was curious to read it in Wagga and gave it to me when I was there last Sunday. It is a most powerful and luridly written description of the fall and total destruction of this wonderful fabric, the result of countless years of misdirected energy, yelpt Civilisation. Ceasar's column is a ghastly emanation from the brain of the leader of the revolution. The corpses of the slaughtered aristocrats set in cement, to serve as a warning to future generations.

 

Another charming book which I received by post today and which I will also send you is "News from Nowhere" a utopian romance written by the great leader of the english socialistic movement, William Morris, also one of the four great english poets - Tennyson - Lewis Morris - Swinburne - William Morris - that's how they run on these utopian schemes. It is very amusing - everything is done by "The Majority" (in capital letters) people are washed by Government three times a day because if left to themselves, the dirty people never washed at all consequently the clean people looked down on their dirty brethren - which tended to destroy equality. For the same reason names were abolished and each person known by a brass number on his collar. The odd ones men the even women - which was necessary as both sexes dressed alike. Black hair was decided upon by "The Majority" as being the regulation colour - anybody daring to be borne with any other colour had to dye it straight away. And the whole is told in such a charming fashion with such quaint touches of old fashioned humour that I am not surprised that the first edition was run through in a month.

 

Everything is not worked by square and compass and hard and fast rule as in Bellamy's book, to which by the by I have read a reply by the editor of the Chicago "Frei Presse" called "A Social Tangle" in which Bellamy's state of affairs is shewn to be most unsatisfactory. Of course Mr Michaelis (the author) after flattening out "Looking Backward" mentions incidentally how he would undertake to reform society. I suppose you have not read Jerome's skit. He wrote the "earthly paradise" a collection of charming tales in verse. His great work with which I am but slightly aquatinted being the "Death of Jason" which ranks among the foremost lyric poems of the nineteenth century. This man who is an ardent reformer, transports us to england after the coming revolution, and we move with him through the most delightful land possible to imagine, where everyone works for the love of it and his neighbour. He even (of course he can do it nicely being a poet) demonstrates that the marriage tie is not an absolute necessity in any form of society. Altogether one wants to go to his utopia so as to be the same as another one and so on ad infinitum. Very absurd but very funny.

 

You don't mention having received the verses I sent you about Rolf Boldrewood. I am sorry to hear you are having such heavy odds to contend with. I often think of you, working so hard with so very little to show for it, and so very few pleasures. I at least - though we are working like galley slaves in fearful rough country having 5 miles to walk in the morning and the same weary drag home to camp at night and probably two or three hours calculations after tea with one's eyes dropping out of the head with weariness - I at least, in the daytime can watch the changing shades on the hills and inhale fresh strength from the pure mountain air. But you alas have no such compensations.

 

I often in thinking of you fancy that the story of the last ten years of your life, could it be written, would be the most pathetic possible, and a living refutation of the fallacy that is so often preached - "work hard, keep sober and you must get on in this country." Give my love to Grannie and the girls.

 

Yours affectionately

                        B H Boake

 

Tell Grannie that I have written to the Dead letter office about those books and letters of mine which she has never received.

 

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