[Editor: This is part 5 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.]
Parramatta, literally ‘head of the waters,’ a few miles from Sydney is, next to that city, the oldest town in Australia. Extensively planted with oaks and English trees, with orchards and orangeries, and gardens of pleasure, the oldest ‘homes’ in the Commonwealth are found in its vicinity. Philip continued there some time, very often going into the Cumberland Argus office, to have a chat with his friend Mr. Button who says “every day he looked in to see me and it was a treat to hear the romantic stories of his travels through the country.”
A chat with a friend and a social pipe Philip thoroughly enjoyed: very little made him happy. As he had written — in an unfinished poem, ‘We cannot get all that we wish or desire’ — on his journey southward, from Brisbane early in 1895:—
“Contentment can reign like a gem in our hours,
Richly set with our wants and our cares ;
Ungranted desires can be sweeter than flowers
In our homes, in our lives, in our prayers.
We carelessly ask, but the Giver knows why
It is kindlier far to refuse ;
Our ugly returns we express in a sigh
For the love we oft daily abuse.”
During his stay in Parramatta Philip was introduced to the Leisure Hour Club, and he wrote some stanzas in honour of it. These were among the last verses which he composed.
Encouraged by some of his friends out of his natural timidity, Philip offered a number of his best descriptive pieces to a Sydney publisher but without success. Mr. Button then kindly had a few pieces printed in pamphlet form and sent them on to him at Unanderra. Among the friends who patronised Phil, Mr. Kenneth Mackay, Member of the Legislative Assembly and also a poet, should be mentioned.
Soon after this he was taken ill and once more was offered a home in Sydney. He however obtained admission to Walker’s hospital at Concord where he was very comfortable, but was not satisfied until he had procured his discharge: he longed to get out into the wild Bush and there he hoped that Death would find him, even as he had written a few months before at Middle Crossing.
“WHEN I AM GONE.
“When I am gone, oh let my ashes be
In peace and calm away from mortal stir ;
Beneath the boughs of shady forest tree
Let Nature’s own be then restored to her.
“No mourning o’er, or tears or falling sigh,
O’er fancied thoughts that once I bathed in light,
No clouds to hide the past when I am nigh,
And whisper slow my last farewell to night.
“Oh, read my verse without its mystic veil
In language plain, I’ve lived in many hearts —
And let my words no brother here assail,
But leave untouched their goal, if love departs.
“Around our homes I’ve brought the happy reign
Of that true love which here is seldom known ;
Life can be lived that mem’ries may retain
The fragrance of the seed which God through man has sown.
“In deepest gloom my pen has traced for me
Where light was brightest seen, and wearied then,
When want pressed hard, and left me torn but free,
I’ve sought and found a rest in homes of men.
“I’ve walked alone as one adrift from all,
Yet in communion with the heart of man,
Reaching his soul, in duty’s solemn call,
Ere life had ebbed and closed its mortal span.
“O Want! thy hands respect no state or frame,
Thy cruel grasp with its unfeeling hold
Is twin to Death with that all-dreaded name —
I leave without regret thy wasted fold.
“My hope leads on unto more pleasant ways,
And faith leaps too, to touch what seemeth kind ;
For man must live in light to know love’s praise,
And let its strength disarm and leave sin blind.”
* * * * *
The end was now not far off. Feeble though he had become, Philip journeyed to Parramatta again ; attacks of severe rheumatism came upon him and, in a short time, — on the 5th of November 1897, — the restless soul passed away to its Maker, and ‘Nature’s Own’ was ‘restored to her.’ The wearied body was laid in the Rookwood cemetery. Over the grave a monumental cross has been erected bearing his name, the dates of his birth and death, and these beautiful words:—
“AT EVENING TIME IT SHALL BE LIGHT.”
“HE BRINGETH THEM UNTO THE HAVEN WHERE THEY WOULD BE.”
From the tributes to Philip, published in the local newspapers, the following have been selected as rightly describing the man and his work.
“Exiit Vita. Poor old. Phil Lorimer ! There are few with any acquaintance of the back country but have come across him at some time or another. A gentle, kindly old man he was, a deep student of nature, and a persistent traveller along that shadowy path which leads to Bohemia. Well connected, and welcome in many happy homes, he never need have trudged the weary plains out back. But he loved not the busy haunts of men. The resinous scent of the forest primeval had more charms for him, and so he shunned the bricks and mortar, and devoted himself to the salt-bush and the mulga, the gidya and the myall. Woolsheds and shearers’ huts knew him well. In all he was a favourite. And now he has rolled up ‘bluey’ for the last time, and set out on that eternal trip — that silent journey, whose end is beyond the ‘Great Divide,’ and from which none have returned. May he arrive there safely and in peace. Vale!
“ I was reading my paper this morning,
And, in turning a page of it, read,
In a brief line or two the announcement,
That poor Phil, the ‘Bush Poet,’ was dead !
And his dreamy old face came before me,
As a vision from out the dim past.
And the thought in a moment sped o’er me,
Our old friend knows Death’s secret at last.
The dread secret that men of all ages
Have in vain tried to fathom and learn,
That ONE secret revealed not to sages
Till their souls have passed over the bourne —
Till the rushlight of life flies the body,
Leaving naught but the cumbersome clay,
Not till then is the dark curtain lifted,
Not till then are our doubts cleared away.
“O ye men of deep learning and science,
Philip Lorimer knows more than ye,
Ye who grope on frail hands in the darkness
For the light mortal eyes cannot see ;
Ye may plan, and in vain square the circle,
But the secret is not to be found,
Until after the last breath is taken,
Until earth meets with earth ’neath the ground.
“Ne’er again will he seek inspiration
On the mountain, in valley and dell ;
Ne’er again will he spend his vacation
All alone in the cave he loved well.
Feathered friends on the tree-tops may listen
For the steps that they heard oft of yore,
But the eye of a dead snake will glisten
E’er the birds hear that footstep once more.
“Poor old Phil has at last found a haven,
Where the Host will not frown at His guest,
Where our joys are not brief, but eternal,
Where the tempest-tossed spirit finds rest ;
But our children will yet hear the story,
Of the singer who sang on alone,
And who died, as in life, uncomplaining
Beloved, honoured, and not all unknown.”
Joe Alphonso, in Truth, Sydney.
* * * * *
“Philip Lorimer had a warm heart and saw all that was good in Nature in her naked wildness. Everything was a poem to him, and he never lost the opportunity of turning an incident into verse. Sometimes it was a cooing gentle love theme bursting out into a torrent of passion such as only a strong and deep nature could realise; or it was a happily constructed ode or descriptive verse singing of the grandeur of Nature. The glory attendant upon the drawing aside from the Eastern heavens to herald the uprising of the morning sun, the glow in the West as the fiery orb sank peacefully to rest; a bubbling brook, a roaring torrent leaping into a tremendous chasm, a mountain gorge, the verdure of spring, or the grizzly cold of winter — all these things to him were poems, glad or sad, or wild, as the mood found him.
“He wrote much and a great deal of it was worthy of being placed on record. Some few scraps from his harvest of poems found their way into the country newspapers; many more never saw the light of day; but nothing delighted Phil more than to recite by the hour his love poems and his compositions in praise of Nature as he found it. Still he never sought publicity and made no effort to bring himself before the world in the light of anything more than a bush poet. On the road he was a plain tramp — a sundowner on the wallaby with blackened billy and neatly rolled-up swag ; in the office of some country editor with his hat off, he was an enigma. . . .
“In the country districts Phil is mourned by thousands with whom he came in contact, and who recognised the worth of the jewel hidden beneath his rough exterior.
“Poor Old Phil! He chose his own course and found pleasure in following it to the end, content to live and enjoy the glories of Nature as they presented themselves to him in his isolation from the great busy world,” — The Australian Star.
* * * * *
“Philip Lorimer was known right through this colony, and Queensland, and Victoria, as ‘the Australian Bush Poet.’ ‘Old Phil,’ as he was called, was known to pretty well every country newspaper office in New South Wales. His poetry, published in nearly all the provincial journals, secured him an audience that more ambitious versifiers might envy. He led a roaming and romantic life. When he was tired of hawking his poetic wares from one country town to another he betook himself to an exclusive cave near Bowenfels, and rested there for weeks.
“We are indebted to Mr. Thomas T. Alkin of Yass, for a photograph of Phil taken about a year ago, from which the above picture is drawn.* Our correspondent says that with all Lorimer’s eccentricities he was a good old fellow, and his periodical visits will be missed.” — Sydney Daily Telegraph.
* * * * *
The minor poet has his niche somewhere on the lower slopes of Parnassus and he may “enter in at lowly doors” where greater poets and philosophers do not gain admittance. For Lorimer there should be a place among the first fifty of the hundreds of versifiers who already have attempted to voice the spirit of the mountain ranges, the deep valleys, the forests and the streams, the broad and arid plains, — scenes of drought and flood, — the life in the township or in the back blocks, among pioneers and prospectors, diggers and swagmen, stockmen and shepherds and shearers, or in the humble homes of southern Illawarras. For this reason the present writer could not give his verdict against the publication of this little volume. There may not be a large amount of literary merit in it; the poetry may not be of a high order — whatever wit or wisdom there is in it shall not be silenced by word of mine. In the Anthologies of Australian Poetry, which may be compiled hereafter, space may perhaps be found for a stanza or two by Philip Durham Lorimer.
E. A. P.
Streatham, April 1901.
E. A. Petherick (editor). Songs and Verses by Philip Durham Lorimer: An Australian Bush Poet, William Clowes and Sons, London, 1901, pages 46-54
bluey = swag
bourne = boundary; in the context of life and soul, it refers to the boundary between life and death
*Exiit Vita = (Latin) “life went”, or “exit life”, or “departed this life” (*rough translation)
Giver = God
vale = farewell, often used with regards to someone who has died (not to be confused with “vale” as another word for “valley”); in classical Latin, “ave atque vale” (“hail and farewell”) was a formulaic farewell to the dead
The reference to page 55 is to a picture drawn of Philip Lorimer