W. T. Goodge [by A. G. Stephens, 11 December 1909]

[Editor: An article (by A. G. Stephens) about W. T. Goodge, who died on 28 November 1909. Published in The Register, 11 December 1909.]

W. T. Goodge.

[By A. G. Stephens.]

W. T. Goodge, known to a friendly world as “Billy,” died recently in hospital in Sydney, aged 47. London born, and with much of the grit and shrewdness of a typical Cockney, he had acquired considerable knowledge of the world before he came to Australia and drifted into country journalism. In his prime his was the brightest and most spontaneous pen in the Commonwealth for ‘‘topical jingle”. He had a natural sense of rhythm and knack of rhyme that, with his humour, his language, and his bright eye for a point, made him an admirable writer of light verse for the million. His command over metre, too, was unusual, and he varied his forms skilfully. When he took a little pain he made verses such as head these notes — little models of bush Doric. Or he might over-labour his material, and miss his effect — there was no telling. In 1900 Goodge sent me from Orange, New South Wales, a collection of his rhymes, cut chiefly from The Orange Leader, of which he was editor. The publication of his book of “Hits, Skits, and Jingles” followed, and by this book, still well appreciated, he is principally known. Its contents are often fragmentary — ideas seized and thrown from a nimble pen — sometimes to fill up an odd corner when news was scarce. As thus:—

Oh, it’s nice to be an editor, it’s beautiful, indeed,
When the comps for the copy are a-callin’,
When there isn’t any matter, and there isn’t any screed,
And the comps for the copy are a-callin’!
Oh, the pen it may be mightier, with men entirely great,
Than the sword, as all the copy books unanimously state;
But the good old-fashioned scissors is the weapons up to date
When the comps for the copy are a-callin’.

When the comps are a-callin’ for the copy, for the copy!
When the comps are a-yellin’ and a-bawlin’,
And there isn’t any ready,
You had better take it steady,
When the comps for the copy are a-callin’.

That spirit, that swing, that ingenuity were Goodge’s peculiar possession; and he reinforced his rhymes with an uncommon deal of commonsense. There is real “criticism of life” in this vignette:—

Oh, a station life is the life for me,
And the cold baked mutton in the morning!
Oh, the glorious ride o’er the plains so free,
And the cold baked mutton in the morning!
And the rising moon on the mountain’s brow!
And the ring-tailed ’possum on the gumtree bough!
And the leathery damper and the salted cow,
And the cold baked mutton in the morning!

And there is criticism of character in this little satire of “The Melodious Bullocky”:—

’Tis of the Wild Colonial Boy (come out of that saplin’, Rat!),
Brought up by honest parents (Now, Strawberry, what are yer at!)
He robbed them lordly squatters and (Whoa, Diamond! Darn yer hump!),
And a terror to Horsetralia (Now, then Nugget, you mind that stump!).

’Twas at the age of seventeen (Gee back, there, Dimple! Gee!)
He never (Way there, Baldy, sich a cow I never did see!).
He was his father’s only son (Gee back there, now Rob Roy!),
And fondly did his parents love the Wild Colonial Boy!

Or, again, this lilting stanza:—

Sure, she came from Tipperary,
And the town of Ballynagoe,
And her step was like a fairy,
And her eye was like a sloe,
And her laugh was light and airy,
And she’d smile for friend or foe,
For Biddy McGee
Was always free
And hearty!

That refrain has never failed to hold my fancy. Its gaiety is a spur to gallant living. After his book was published Goodge came to Sydney, and for the last seven years he had been a “free-lance” journalist, publishing a little verse every week. Youth and health were leaving him, however, and most of his Sydney work lacks fun and brilliancy. At its best and in his heyday Goodge had a happy spirit and his humour was cheerful and attractive. So, while he had health, were his temper and his philosophy. “Finally”, he wrote:—

What’s the good of a doleful tale?
Make the people laugh!
What’s the use of a woful wail?
Make the people laugh!
Ain’t there misery enough
In this world we find so tough?
What’s the good of the dismal stuff?
Make the people laugh!

That’s my notion all the while —
Help the folk to laugh!
Lord! there’s money in a smile!
Raise a ringing laugh!
What’s the use to keep your nose
Snivelling o’er the worst of woes?
Sorrow comes — but sorrow goes —
Shake it off and laugh!

The Register (Adelaide, SA), 11 December 1909, p. 4

Editor’s notes:
This article in The Register, 11 December 1909, was preceded by several poems written by W. T. Goodge.

comp = an abbreviation of “compositor” (someone who sets type for printing; a typesetter)

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