III. The Pilgrimage [biography of Philip Durham Lorimer]

[Editor: This is part 3 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.]

III. The Pilgrimage

It is the winter of 1884 ; the wanderer is on the tramp in Victoria ; he has been to Melbourne and is on his way back, has reached the town of Seymour and found a subject for his pen. Parodying the title of a book then widely circulated “From Log Cabin to White House” — a life of Garfield — he writes a piece entitled ‘From Parlour to Wood-Heap,’ from which the following lines are taken —

“He’s sitting in there drinking brandy and rum.
In Dick Shanahan’s parlour to-day ;
He now has the cash, and his comrades are dumb
When they’re asked by the girl — ‘who’s to pay ?’
He’s ‘shouting’ all round and the sovereigns turn
Into crowns and to sixpenny bits.
How quickly will gold through the pockets outburn
When the man is outside of his wits.

* * * * * *

“A week ago now in this ‘pub’ of content,
He first came for a nobbler or two ;
Now his credit is low and his money all spent.
And for this he has reason to rue
That he’s broken his vow, and is told ’tis too late
To cry over milk that is spilt,
No labour of thine can the draught reinstate
Or restore it thee, do as thou wilt.

“He swallowed his horse in the space of four days,
And his travelling traps followed suit ;
The landlord took all and his groom took the ‘praise’
Of being out of the swim and the loot ;
He swallowed the coin in the shape of old rum
While his mates stood aside at his fall,
And the girl who him served, took the wink and was dumb,
When she filled the last glass at his call.

“He saw at a glance that Dick Shanahan knew
How he stood with regard to his cash ;
But the glasses filled, he led off to renew
The tail-end of his spree with a ‘dash !’
No dinner that day nor the next to uphold
Such a cargo of beer and bad lush,
And at nightfall he slumbered all out in the cold
In the deep winter’s night of the bush.

“Three terrible nights and three terrible days,
And the end came at last with a crash,
When ‘old trust’ is dead and the placard displays
That the drinks must be paid for in cash.

* * * * * *

“Next morn he arose, saw the boss with a shake
That nigh doubled him up to the chin ;
He asked for some work with bewildering quake,
And the ‘none’ made him sicken within.
No craft and no strength and no food for a meal,
Save the station’s full-pint of bad flour,
And this he will get when he sharpens the steel
And cuts wood at the heap for an hour.”

From Seymour we may follow Philip in his verse, over creek and river, range and gully, to Ballarat ‘the Golden City’ where he found work for a few months and many subjects for his muse. Two poems of this period ‘The Lily’ and ‘The Reaper Stood By’ are included in the present volume.

The winter of 1887 was spent in the Lachlan district on a station at Wallendbeen, near Cootamundra on the main line of railway between Wagga Wagga and Sydney. Here he wrote and recited several pieces in the bushmen’s huts: ‘An Appeal for Sympathy and Help for Cootamundra Hospital,’ ‘Nature’s Child,’ and ‘Thy Violet Eyes’ were printed in the local newspaper. The two last-mentioned are reprinted here. ‘Nature’s Child’ expresses the author’s desire for a change from the arid and sparsely timbered plains and table lands to the sandy beach on the shores of the Pacific:—

“Where the leaping of the waters
And the rising of the spray
Form a rainbow in the heavens
Where refulgent sunbeams play.
I would ever dwell where beauty
Fills the soul with visions bright
And, at rest on Nature’s bosom,
Find a haven of delight.”

Thus drawn by inclination he departed to the lovely Illawarra country and the coast at Kiama, wandering a long way round by Bathurst, and then over the Blue Mountains, loitering at Katoomba and Wallerawang, writing many verses by the way, including ‘Love’s Awakening,’ ‘Gertrude,’ and others printed in local papers. Two months later he was again over the border in Victoria at Rochester, on the River Campaspe. Here he wrote ‘The Opening of the Bud’ which contains some exquisite lines on an infant, printed on page 115. From Rochester he went to Echuca and up the Murray to Wahgunyah, on a wool barge, and thence “footed it” to Rutherglen, a vine -growing district where he spent another month or two — Christmas and New Year 1888-89. At Rutherglen he had a vision of a troubled woman’s face and composed ‘Ethel’ (afterwards printed at Moss Vale), as well as ‘God’s Language to Man’ from which the following lines are taken:—

“Every event of the world —
Its roar, its hush, and its calm —
Is a syllable uttered by God
Who holds the wide earth in His palm ;
While epochs, when closing their flight.
Are each a sentence complete
Of His omnipotent Will
Unravelled beneath His feet ;
While earth, with its history past
Of ages and ages flown.
Has revealed the great God Himself
On His everlasting throne.”

Having recrossed the Murray at Albury, he walked on to Bowna where he rested among the cockatoo farmers. Here he composed the companion piece to ‘Love’s Awakening,’ namely ‘Love’s Constancy,’ both which are printed in this volume. The winter of 1889 he spent on the Gulgong goldfields, in the Macquarie River district. There he wrote ‘Say, What is Woe ?’ a sermon in verse, and ‘Changes’ compositions too imperfect to be printed here. A song ‘Hear me, O Night !’ subsequently set to music by Mr. J. M. Stevens, will be found on page 117.

Next summer Philip was again down South, in Victoria, and in January 1890, at Seymour, where he wrote ‘My Approaching End’ and some sweet verses ‘The Last Gift:’ both were printed in the newspapers: the latter is reprinted here. Retracing his steps, always writing by the way, he was again across the Murray at Albury, and soon after at Cootamundra and Wallendbeen, where he remained a month or two among his friends and then started away over the Lachlan district and vast plains of the interior, to Caigan, Castlereagh River, and on to Inverell, New England. He found a few of his old friends still remaining there after nearly thirty years. In this district he stayed during the winter months of 1890. Returning south, he was back again by the end of the year (midsummer) in Wallendbeen and Murrumburrah, where he generally found work of some sort on the station. That over, he walked back to the valleys of the Illawarra district where he felt most at home. The Southern Mail at Mittagong, published many of his poems; some of them are reprinted here: ‘Love Unspoken,’ ‘Rose,’ ‘The Two Sisters,’ ‘His Hand,’ ‘The Empty Cradle,’ ‘A Mountain Home’ (‘Kangaroo Valley’) and two descriptive pieces, namely ‘Bundanoon,’ and ‘Fitzroy Waterfall.’

The Illawarra country is a few hours’ journey south of Sydney. It has retained its native name ‘Elouera, or pleasant place,’ and certainly is romantic and beautiful. Lying between the main southern line of railway and the sea coast, its fine scenery, high ranges, numerous water courses, and an arm of the sea, almost land-locked, Lake Illawarra, are not the least of its beauties. The views from the lake are enchanting and the native names of places most musical : Wollongong, Jamberoo, Kiama, Cambewarra, Bundanoon, Unanderra, Nowra, Geringong, Keira, Wongawilla, Kembla, Bulli, Corrimal, Wonona, Mittagong; and several waterfalls have received the names of Colonial Governors : Fitzroy, Belmore, Carrington, and Jersey. Macquarie Pass and Kangaroo Valley are in the district, which is also rich in natural products, possessing extensive coal mines, while its meadows and valleys are the chief source for supply of dairy produce to Sydney and suburbs. It was in this district of New South Wales that Philip Lorimer’s muse found most encouragement. It will be remembered also that Kendall, the most musical of Australian poets, was a native of the Illawarra country. Kendall and Lorimer were intimate friends.

Philip Lorimer would travel for days to look at a waterfall and he has given it as his opinion that “Belmore falls surpass in beauty every other in New South Wales.” It is not gigantic in its splendour like the falls of the Weatherboard, or those named Fitzroy — “Belmore is softly beautiful with a loveliness of its own.” For the Robertson Advocate Philip attempted a description of these falls. Those who have seen them, will judge whether our poet has been successful.

At this period he lived for months almost within their hearing. This must have been the happiest year of his later life, for our poet then undertook for a time the happiest of out-of-door occupations — old father Adam’s — that of a gardener. He assisted in laying out an orchard and planting it, in bedding and trenching and trellising. There were loquat trees, gooseberries, red and black currants, strawberries, passion fruit, oranges, lemons, and quinces ; plum, walnut, apple, cherry and fig trees; vines, tomatoes, pumpkins, melons, potatoes, and above all “the purest of human pleasures” — a flower garden. There was also a hut of bark which Philip built for himself: in it he wrote ‘Belmore Falls.’

* * * * *

Though Philip still travelled much, naturally, as he grew older, he became less and less inclined for new places and new faces. He had many friends and not a few of them were ministers of churches and chapels — chiefly of his own persuasion — Presbyterian. The officious — not of that body — would sometimes judge Philip by his outward appearance, or by what appeared to them his wayward life. Yet he was no Bohemian. At Cootamundra one day he had what some would think an unpleasant experience. On the railway platform at the station he met a “ professional angel” who thus accosted him —

“Morning, Phil ! round about here again? same game? Hard up, eh? I say, old boy, do you ever go to church? Do you ever pray?” and so forth. This, spoken in the hearing of others and by a man who saw Philip for about four days in the 365, would have ‘riled’ any one possessing the least spirit. Philip, however, disliking argument with ‘a fool and a hypocrite’ who had presumed to speak of ‘a wasted life’ simply replied, “My writings are the index of my mind: I am quite prepared to ‘cross the bar,’ but not to the haven whither you are going!”

A week later on the sabbath Philip had ample compensation. He writes:—

“I was strolling a mile or so out of town enjoying the beautiful breeze and listening to the melody of the butcher bird’s song. Everything around me seemed to be happy, and I myself was that way inclined; even the grasshoppers and butterflies appeared to be more numerous and more active than usual. Peace reigned! The sheep and cattle fed gently in the paddocks. My heart felt grateful to my Creator for such delightful surroundings. Just then I saw a horseman galloping at racing speed across the beautiful level ground, in the direction of the browsing cattle. There he cut one bullock off from the mob. Whether it was obstinacy — perhaps the beast knew from the quietness and calm around that it was contrary to all Sabbatarianism to be driving it on Sunday, especially with the object of murdering it — that bullock would not and did not ‘head’ an inch, but bolted round and round the paddock, horse and dogs at its heels ; now wheeling this way, then that — down along the post-and-rail fence came bullock, horse and rider, bullock snorting, horseman swearing, while I, amused at the fun, crouched near until I heard the words : ‘By —— You —— I’ll stiffen you to-night !’ I looked up, it was my reverend remonstrant of the railway platform!

“‘Oh, Mr. ——’ said I, ‘you need not notice me — you are another who has missed heaven — good bye.’”

While at Cootamundra, Philip visited the newspaper office. Thus writes the editor:—

“The poet gave us a call on Saturday.
“Phil Lorimer is usually welcome.
“In character, in manners, in style he is a poet.
“He was full of sympathy, and love, and tenderness — and want.
“We told him of the break-up of an old acquaintance and friend — a pressman.
“The ‘dream’ came over Phil, and on the spur of the moment he sat down with our gold pen, and wrote —

‘ “ Such is life !” We often hear it
Murmured in our careless ears ;
Yet the phrase, so oft repeated,
Brings to us no change in years.

‘Still, oh, still, the same words linger,
Broken accents, with a sigh,
And the drooping heart it listens
To the lone but human cry,

‘Breaking through the wailing sorrow,
Falling from the lips we love,
Leaving yet a wound still deeper
Than the pang it would remove.’

“Phil has written better than this, and he has written worse, but it is not a bad impromptu trifle for a dead-beat who but a minute before threw his swag down by the doorstep.

“When the ‘dream’ left the poet he got outside philosophy, and became of the world, worldly.

“He advised us strongly to go up to —— and start a paper there.

“The town was languishing for ability such as ours.

“Let Mr. Philip Lorimer recite his own story:—

“ ‘ There is a paper there conducted by a bloated nincompoop ; his wife and children are without boots, socks or shoes; the kitchen is also the dining-room and printing office. The front door is walled up to keep the baby in. Starvation hangs around, and water never reaches the face of one of them for lavatory purposes. The whole surroundings of the court-yard [‘court-yard’ is not bad] would remind one of being 20,000 feet lower than the Sydney soup kitchen.’

“Phil was thanked for his generous solicitations on our behalf, and he left the office with our best gold pen in his pocket to write more poetry.”

E. A. Petherick (editor). Songs and Verses by Philip Durham Lorimer: An Australian Bush Poet, William Clowes and Sons, London, 1901, pages 26-35

Editor’s notes:
Garfield = James Abram Garfield (1831-1881) was the 20th President of the United States of America, serving in office from 4 March 1881 to 19 September 1881, when he finally died from the wounds received from an assassin’s bullets (he was shot on 2 July 1881); From Log Cabin to White House: Life of James A. Garfield, President of the United States; Boyhood, Youth, Manhood, Assassination was a biography of Garfield, written by William M. Thayer

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