IV. The Delectable Mountains [biography of Philip Durham Lorimer]

[Editor: This is part 4 of the biography of Philip Durham Lorimer, written by Edward Augustus Petherick, which was published in Songs and Verses by Philip Durham Lorimer: An Australian Bush Poet, 1901.]

IV. The Delectable Mountains

By Christmas, Philip had travelled back again over the Blue Mountains into the Illawarra district, where he wandered about at his own sweet will for several months. We also find him in the township of Moss Vale, the summer residence of the New South Wales Governors, in Camden Village, the residence of the Macarthur family for nearly a century ; at Robertson township, named after the eminent New South Wales premier; at Bowral, at Balmoral, at Mittagong, — townships along the main line of railway; at Jamberoo, at Wollongong, at Kiama, and other coast towns.

During his stay in the Blue Mountains, Philip had occasion to visit Katoomba, Penrith, and other places. On one of these excursions he discovered near the summit of the mountains, — not far from the Zigzag, between Lithgow and Big Hartley, — a cave, and curiously enough made a home of it, and there stored his belongings. This cave became to him during the next few years, a resting stage on his journeys between the Bathurst, the New England, Illawarra and Southern districts ; and he lived in it for weeks at a time. He often sat at the entrance in the mornings and the evenings smoking his pipe — this and a billy of tea his only companions — admiring nature in its grandeur, watching the eagles as they soared or hovered over the deep gorges, or, sheltered from the dripping eaves, looking out in silent reverence at the awful thunderstorms. This manner of life, no doubt, brought on Philip’s fatal illness. In the Cave he began to collect his fugitive poems arranging them in scrap-books for selection and revision with a view to their future publication as “MY CAVE SONGS AND POEMS.” There were, he noted, many pieces incorrectly printed, and ruthless editors sometimes “clipped-out lines” in order to work them into the columns in which they appeared.

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We are afforded occasional glimpses of Philip as he became well known. One friend writes, “there was something very gentle about him, his soft blue eyes and musical voice, and he always spoke as a well-bred man.” Following him by the dates of his different pieces, we find that in February 1893 he had made another journey to the South and was once more travelling to the Lachlan gold-mining district. The editor of the Robertson Advocate (March 21 1893) says —

“We have had a pathetic letter from the poet Lorimer. Phil fell by the wayside and was taken to the hospital at Young. He writes humorously of the manner in which he was conveyed to the hospital in a cart that was designed for carrying the dead not the living ; but if Phil was as bad as he says, the cart must have answered the purpose very well. However we are glad to know that we have our Poet still.”

While in hospital Philip wrote verse. One of his pieces contains some beautiful lines descriptive of a summer-noontide scene in one of the higher valleys of the Blue Mountains, but like many more of the poet’s effusions it is too imperfect for publication. Leaving the township of Young, he proceeded to his old station at Wallendbeen but was back again at his Cave in May, and then once more took the north road to the Mudgee district, tramping along the bush track, over the Liverpool Ranges to Gunnedah on the Namoi River, and thence across the Liverpool Plains to Bingara on the Gwydir; to Warialda and Inverell on the M‘Intyre — altogether a journey of nearly 350 miles.

On this journey Philip wrote several poems which appear in the present volume, viz.:— ‘Wake me not,’ ‘The Bell Bird,’ ‘Our Store of Hope’ and several others — some being printed in the newspapers. While in the New England district he visited his old friends at ‘Yellowroi’ and ‘Trigamon,’ writing memorial and anniversary verses. He arrived back in the Illawarra district in October. The editor of the Southern Mail duly recorded his arrival:—

“Mr. Philip D. Lorimer, poet, paid his periodical visit the other day, and was offered the softest seat in the sanctum.

“ ‘Phil, we are off poetry.’

“ ‘No?’

“ ‘Yes; clean off poetry — and ghosts.’

“ ‘ I don’t wish my name associated with ghosts,’ was Phil’s reply ; ‘I believe in ghosts; I’ve seen them, but Phil Lorimer’s name must not go before the world in connection with ghosts. Won’t you have some poetry?’

“ ‘No.’

“ ‘Won’t you?’

“ ‘No.’

“ ‘Won’t you have any more poetry?’

“ ‘Not at present!’

“ ‘Well, what shall I do?’

“ ‘Write us a good yam about the early days; fix up something spicy about the gold-diggings thirty years ago.’

“ ‘I can tell two true bush yarns,’ replied Phil, ‘and as many more as you like.’

“ ‘Two true ones will do for a start.’

“ ‘What length?’

“ ‘Don’t go over the column.’

“ ‘Very well,’ said Phil, and he settled down to work.”

One of these ‘true’ stories will be found at the end of the present volume. Philip’s next journey was to Bathurst, Carcoar, and Cowra, whence he returned to Liverpool, Sydney (North Shore) and Windsor. At the local Gazette office in the last mentioned town, he “dropped in promiscuously and laid down a bundle of ‘screed’ with the remark, ‘That is some of my own.’ From the bundle of verses left by the wandering bard, the kind editor selected ‘A Sunset Wish’ and others which were duly printed in his paper.

A month or two later, Philip was again at Wallendbeen, where he rested a few days and then went on to Cootamundra, whence he wrote, 10th July 1894, to the Editor of the National Advocate Bathurst:—

“According to my promise, I send you a couple of poems. I would have sent them before, but I could get no stamps until now. Work is very scarce; the diggings up here have filled the roads with travellers and swagmen, and many a time my circumstances and ration-bags were in a sad state of financial ruin. Sic vita est!

“As I shall be here for a week, you can acknowledge receipt of this to the above address. The weather is cold and frosty, and times in general seem to harmonize with it in their hardness on mankind.”

The pieces enclosed were:— ‘Not Always’ and ‘A Hearty Shake Hands.’ The first included these
lines —

“Not always will the summer bring
Its true forget-me-not ;
Not always will the valleys ring
Aloud their favoured lot.
Not always will our lives repose
And chant a thankful psalm ;
Alas ! we have to bear the thorn
Ere we receive the palm.
Imperfect we in strength and will,
Through life’s all-changeful days ;
Though hearts are true, our lives may still
Pass in a tangled maze.”

In the latter poem these verses occur:—

“The kindly clasp is the heart’s uttered word,
That the lips are unable to say ;
It matters not much if our minds cannot be
For the time on a level to stay,
If in ways of life we can’t all agree, —
There still is the clasp that is offered to-day.”

Crossing the Murrumbidgee and the Murray, and the plains between, the Poet now paid his last visit to Victoria. A two hundred miles’ journey brought him to Daylesford in the ranges, but he passed on by way of Maldon and reached Ballarat in September, the month which, in Australia, as Kendall beautifully says, “brings spring in its raiment.” This was the year after the great collapse of financial institutions in Australia — the

banks closed or ‘reconstructing,’ — trade and commerce almost at a standstill, nothing enduring but hope. To his friend, the editor of the Illawarra Mercury, Wollongong, Philip wrote:—

“Don’t be surprised, but after a weary and watery walk, I find myself to-day in this ‘Golden City.’ Alas! the times and changes are trying to strangle it out of existence, and that high sounding name ought to be changed to ‘Poverty’s Point.’ Victoria is in a sad state all through for want of money, while all trade is paralysed ; public houses are empty and publicans turned into labourers on their own holdings, while in the streets it is almost impossible to find business men decently clothed. Your poet finds his business at a standstill. I am gathering a lot of information to help me and others who may require it, and I trust to be in Wollongong about the end of next month.”

On his previous visit to Ballarat Philip had sold several poems. On this occasion though he had a full wallet of new pieces, he disposed of none. The note above quoted enclosed that piece entitled ‘Welcoming Spring’ printed on page 142.

On this tour he appears to have paid a short visit to Melbourne, but he could not stay, and soon was back again in New South Wales. He has left some verses written on the route at Yass, at Como, Bowral, Kiama and at Unanderra, where he spent Christmas. On New Year’s Day 1895, he arrived in Bathurst after a nine months’ absence.

From Bathurst he passed on to Blayney and Cowra, writing ‘Reconciliation’ and ‘Life’s Grey Afternoon.’

“We had a visit,” wrote the editor of the Cowra Guardian, “during the week from Philip D. Lorimer, the wandering poet, who is now on his periodical grand tour of the western and south western districts on his way South. Phil is a remarkable long distance pedestrian. . . . He has ‘padded the hoof’ through Victoria, returning thence to New South Wales, where he followed the railway from Albury to Campbelltown. From there he struck away to Wollongong. Shortly after we find this child of nature and of the poetical muse, making his way over the Blue mountains. Eventually he arrived here and is now en route for the South again.”

If Philip was en route to the South, he must have altered his plans, for five weeks later he was at Glen Innes in New England, on his way to Queensland. At Warwick and at Brisbane editors patronised and published some of the poet’s verse. While on this last visit to Queensland, Philip took the opportunity of visiting Roma and the station at Wallumbilla where he had been employed nearly thirty years before.

Writing to the editor of the Illawarra Mercury from Warwick, 4th March 1 895, Philip says:—

“After a good deal of hard walking I find myself in this town having walked about 130 miles since I left the train at Glen Innes. It is 27 years since I was last in this place. The town of course is very much larger and the inhabitants to a certain degree seem to follow suit, for they are very stout and burly as a rule; but whether their corporations are attained through the natural functions of health or excessive beer drinking I cannot say. The temperature is not icy here but rather the other way. . . . Queensland is in a bad state, suffering from the same complaint as Victoria and New South Wales — no money. The ‘reconstructing’ play is going on with a vengeance. Federation with Queensland would mean a heavy millstone round the neck of New South Wales and Victoria. For instance, there is not a made road in Queensland, nothing but bush tracks. Federation would put her right with the other colonies.”

Writing again to the same editor from Inverell, New England, three weeks later, Philip says:—

“My wandering life with its attendant habits must often place me before the world as a mystery, which was once exemplified by a Highlander asking another of his clan how he liked the new meenister. ‘Well,’ quoth the latter, ‘six days in the week he is invisible, and on the seventh he is incomprehensible.’ So he was a mystery, like your poet. I cannot say where or when I shall pop up again to take the pen in hand for communicating to my friends, but to-day, my text (being Sunday) is in Inverell, and on it for a subject to commence. When I left Brisbane I took a rail ticket to Stanthorpe, and walked from there to this shop — some 86 miles. I was glad to leave Queensland. The poverty there is too much for the sensitive to bear. It has a parallel alone in Victoria. Protection has ruined them both. . . . No, there is not a better colony than New South Wales, notwithstanding the depression. When the banks restore the divs., public confidence will be cemented stronger than ever, and this colony will go ahead ; in fact, a change is gradually taking place for the better now, notwithstanding Wragge’s forecast of a drought for 18 months. This township is a fair-sized place — about the same size as Wollongong, or a little smaller. The squatters around are well off and I have been putting on my London side for work. Some contract work I am looking for, such as a heap of fire-wood for hospitals for the winter coming on. When I put on ‘side’ as they call it, it would amuse you to hear me talking big — and business. A great many know me individually here; others know me by name and repute, and I think I may score well. However, the ‘tucker bag’ is full, and I can get a week or two supply when I am in need. . . . This is not a milk or dairying district — too far away from rail carriage. The rail extension from Narrabri to Moree will be a great boon to these parts, but as a rule I feel happier and do better where the iron horse does not compete with the time-honoured horse or bullock waggon. I like the steam for post communication, but nothing else. 1 had rain since I left you, only once, when I was caught in a hail storm at Glen Innes passing through on my way here. It was at 4 p.m., and a good-natured Boniface in the shape of a widow, gave me a large bowl of soup, soaked-bread and vegetables in it, and a square shake down for the night, thus staving off one unpleasant catastrophe in my journey. While in Warwick I met with Essex Evans, the Bulletin poet, through the Rev. Mr. Pughe, the archdeacon, Church of England. I could not see Brunton Stephens in Brisbane, and was very disappointed . . . . I trust things will soon look up, and that Wollongong will be topping the whole of Illawarra.”

At Inverell on this return journey, 28th March 1895, Philip wrote his poem ‘Illawarra’ —

“I know of a place where my love cannot die” —

reprinted in this volume, and at Middle Crossing, the lines headed ‘When I am Gone’ printed on page 48.

Reaching Gunnedah, in July, he took the train for Sydney find passed on to Berrima, Unanderra, Jamberoo, and Nowra. In September he was in Bowral. The editor of the Free Press wrote:—

“Poor old Phil ! He paid us a visit yesterday morning and brought a good poem. He resides mostly at Unanderra, near Wollongong, but the roaming spirit takes him all round still. A short time ago he put in a month at the Nowra hospital through sickness, otherwise he never sleeps under a roof.”

From Bowral Philip passed on to Moss Vale, taking the train South — his last journey in that direction — stopping at Marulan, Gunning, and Cootamundra. He bade ‘good bye’ to his friend Mr. William Miller, in some ‘Farewell’ lines, and wrote two love songs, one of which ‘Dawn upon Me in Thy Beauty,’ is now reprinted. The editor of the Cootamundra Liberal noticed the arrival of Philip the wanderer, or ‘the Illawarra Poet,’ and that —

“He now walks with a stick. He is fifty two. Far has he tramped since last he rested upon our office stool and he sits in dumb silence for awhile to get his breath ere he relates his experiences. Phil, in answer to inquiries, says he has gone all over Southern Queensland since he was last here ; has seen Roma and Toowoomba, Goondiwindi, and crossed the border at Texas; and soon he will be likely to cross the further border which hides that land from ours.”

Philip had one more journey ere he laid down his swag and staff. He retraced his steps northward, resting awhile at Glenfield on the way to his Cave — his last visit there, I think — writing verses on ‘Fads,’ ‘New Year Wishes’ and ‘Illawarra Centenary’ celebrations. Then he tramped down to Camden and on to Moss Vale where he rested again, writing on ‘Rain,’ a little poem printed in the following pages, ‘Love, Come to Me Now,’ ‘Man’s Nothingness,’ ‘Time’s Delight,’ and lines ‘In Memory’ of a departed old friend. Then he passed on to Mr. Fackender’s farm at Unanderra, where he remained a few days. Here he wrote a story in verse ‘How Captain Short was Found,’ — too long and too imperfect for publication, some stanzas for the albums of his younger friends, and a ‘cantata’ for the centenary of Illawarra, which was printed in the local newspaper.

Once more he ascended Mount Kembla and took ‘A Walk round Bulli at Night’ recording his feelings in verse. Once more too, he bade good bye to his friends at Unanderra, and a fortnight after was in Parramatta, having written by the way an ode ‘to Unanderra’ printed here, lines on ‘The I’s of Life,’ and others to the memory of ‘Sir Henry Parkes’ who had just passed away.



Source:
E. A. Petherick (editor). Songs and Verses by Philip Durham Lorimer: An Australian Bush Poet, William Clowes and Sons, London, 1901, pages 35-46

Editor’s notes:
Boniface = the keeper or proprietor of a hotel, inn, nightclub, or restaurant; from Boniface, an innkeeper in The Beaux’ Stratagem (1707), a comedic play by George Farquhar (1678-1707)

further border = death, “the further border which hides that land from ours”

sic vita est = (Latin) “thus is life”, or “such is life”

Texas = a town in Queensland, on the border of New South Wales, located between Goondiwindi and Tenterfield

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