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1869 - 1952

John B. Webb. M.A.

Submitted to the University of Sydney in fulfilment of the

requirements of the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy.




  1. Biographical account 1869 – 1912

  2. Biographical account 1913 – 1952

  3. Political views and their expression

  4. Utopian theories and co-operative experiments

  5. Verse writings

  6. Prose writings a. fiction b. non-fiction

  7. Brady as journalist and editor

  8. Literary associates

  9. Conclusion

  10. Epilogue


Appendix One – Pseudonyms used by Brady

Appendix Two – Advertising for Mallacoota Community Farm

Appendix Three – Articles of Association of Mallacoota Community Farm


The main collection of Brady’s papers and manuscripts is in the National Library of Australia at Canberra. When this study was begun in 1969 the papers were randomly contained in fifty-five boxes. As this study progressed, the Library staff made some attempt to classify them so that the general contents of each box, and the folders within them, was known, but all the boxes were renumbered, so that folder numbers and box numbers no longer agree. The collection is not fully catalogued (a mammoth task), but main manuscripts are easily accessible, as are some subject groups such as the short stories or letters to artists and writers.

Various drafts of some manuscripts, such as Brady’s history of the Labor Party (The Red Objective), are scattered throughout many boxes , usually in chapter form. The pages of some works are unnumbered, but close identification has been given where feasible.

Brady adopted the American spelling of “our” words – “or” (flavor, labor). This practice has been retained in the case of direct quotation; otherwise the change has been made to “our”, with the exception of “Labor Party” and “Labor” movement.

Chapter One

Biographical account 1869 – 1912

“A wand’ring foot, the Celts contend.

Though yet a man grow old,

Will itch for roaming till the end:

Nor peace their sons shall hold

Whose fathers, where the rainbows bend

Have sought the Crock of Gold.”

Brady, “The Wandering Foot”

Edwin James Brady was born at Carcoar, New South Wales on 7th August 1869, son of Edward and Hannah Brady. His family was a proud one with a long tradition in Northern Ireland and the United States. Brady later traced the family back to Hugh Brady, first Protestant Bishop of Meath in Ireland, who was instrumental in the establishment of Trinity College, Dublin; and beyond him to “certain chiefs of Thomand” who traced themselves back to Oilill Olum, a prominent figure who, esteemed as a poet, died in 234 A.D. In referring to his ancestry Brady remarked that “my pedigree has always been longer than my purse.” 1

On several occasions Brady outlined this ancestral history, 2 telling particularly of the character of his grandfather, Edmund, and of his “respected” father, Edward John, who fought in the Civil War and against Indians in the United States before he came to Australia to become a trooper in the Mounted Police Force, where he put his experience to good use in chasing criminals and bushrangers in central and western New South Wales.

Being born into such a family and to such a father had its difficulties. As the young Brady saw it:

I arrived in the world of Life with a smile on my face and fists clenched – the smile because I saw at once that this Earth was a very beautiful and amusing place; the shut fist because I realised that I would have to fight, being a trooper’s son (and only child) and Lawmen anything but popular in the Australian back blocks towards the end of the bushranging period.3

The smile and the clenched fist were often visible in the years of development, but the smile was notably absent when the family returned to Oberon after a short period at Condobolin. To a boy used to roaming the wide, sun-drenched paddocks with his dog, Oberon Public School came as a great shock. Edwin Brady ran away. But the inevitable return came and soon an insatiable appetite for reading was apparent. He had soon read Orr’s Circle of the Sciences, which, with an illustrated History of the Bible comprised the family library. Under the impetus of demand however, the size of the collection grew considerably. When his father rode regularly into Bathurst, he was enjoined to bring back candy and books. The Arabian Nights, The Swiss Family Robinson, Shakespeare and Campbell’s poems were later recalled as favourites which were read “from the first streak of light” each morning.

In 1880 the Brady family moved to Washington for two years, where the young boy became an object of great attention and curiosity at the local school. He argued with his schoolmates the merits of the political systems of the two countries and, no doubt swamped by superior numbers, became convinced of the virtues of republicanism. Two of his report forms from this school, Grade Five, show he received full marks for Deportment and Scholarship – a performance which no doubt would have amazed some of his political opponents later on, had they been aware of it.

The educational environment of Washington proved thoroughly satisfactory to Brady who appreciated its tranquillity after “eleven or twelve years of almost-daily encounters in which blackened eyes and blooded noses figured, to say nothing bruises and abrasions.”1 But the temporary respite had to come to an end. Urged principally by the mother’s homesick longing for Australia, the family returned in 1882, settling in Sydney and beginning Brady’s long association with this favourite city. Although he often left it for Melbourne and other places, he retained a fondness for its busy streets, its harbour, and its commercial and cultural activity.

Brady, along with Roderic Quinn and Christopher Brennan, attended St. Francis’ School in Haymarket in 1882, but the next year saw him at St. Mary’s School, from where he passed the Civil Service Examination in October. Then Quinn and Brady went on to the Marist Brother school at Harrington Street while Brennan proceeded to Riverview.2 Brother Wilbred Staunton greatly influenced Brady at this school, and influence recognised when River Rovers was dedicated to ”Brother Wilbred – a candid critic and a keen sportsman. Who imbued my youthful mind with a love of literature, and inspired my spirit with true Australian sentiment”. From this school Brady passed the Junior Public Examination in 1884.

Even at this early stage of Brady’s development, there were signs of some of those facets of personality apparent in the mature man. In a series of reminiscence which was published in Southerly after Brady'’ death, considerable light was shed upon some of the influences which moulded him, as well as upon some of his preoccupations and beliefs. He stated that Life’s Highway was not an autobiography in the usual sense, but a book of reminiscence and personal experience which he wished to record before his arrival “at the Universal Inn”.3 Although the manuscript had been earlier submitted to Angus and Roberston, the rejection slip was accompanied by the readers’ reports, which described it as “full of interest” but “discursive and often disconnected” – both legitimate comments.4

Brady attributed his emotional sensitivities to his Celtic Forebears and made much of certain experiences of childhood which left a lasting impression. In addition to the fear engendered by a terrible “Something” which lived at the bottom of the well, there was a traumatic experience of almost fatal proportions when the young child pulled a basin of boiling bread and milk over him. This left physical scars but also mental traces in the form of nervousness and a sense of impending doom which were never quite outgrown:

I went down in to the Valley of Shadow and there I beheld stange new forms. When I read Edgar Allan Poe’s “Ulalume” it all came back to me.

By a route obscure and lonely

Haunted by ill angels only

I journeyed on and on. One face among four is more present than others – the face of a man with a grey beard. Sometimes as he bent over, his beard brushed my cheek. After days had gone, days and nights of suggering for a child, it came that I was to die. Will you believe me that I knew that the time had come for me to die? Where is one room of all the rooms of my years that I remember best. In that room there is a table with a lamp burning, a couch and a bed. There are four people in the room – my father, my mother, the doctor and myself. My mother is kneeling; my father stands rigid, erect, outside the circle of lamplight. I sense his presence rather than see him there. Dr Eaton bends over the table. Very carefully he measuring something in a teaspoon, which he pours into my mouth, something that warms my lips… They all fade away and leave me on a strange road. I came again to that road fifty years later. It was the road going down into Chillagoe in Northern Queensland, through desert sandstone that reflects the burning heat of a tropical sun. In the country through which it winds stand strange monsters caarved out of solitary rocks, behemoths, mastodons – creatures of an unreal world. It is the haunted Land of Ulalume, which lies out of Space and out of Time. I know it well for I followed that grim road right to its Outward Border. All my life, as a consequence, I have suffered from a nervous apprehension, a recurring dread of impending calamity which requires some philosophy to overcome…1

The impressionable boy was greatly disturbed also by the orthodox religious ideas which were presented to him at an early age. The stage was set for confusion in this regard by the fact that his father came from a long line of Protestants, stretching back to the time or Henry the Eighth, while his mother came from an equally long line of Catholics. The doctrine of eternal damnation struck him suddenly and savagely, an effect heightened by a sense of personal guilt which occasioned a fear and dread lasting at least three years, destroying much of the joy natural to a growing country lad. He recalled making altars of sticks, modelled on pictures of Judaic pyres in The History of the Bible, upon which he sacrificed small birds, pledging life-long piety in exchange for absolution and for success in the hunt.

His guilt was further increased under the impact of co-educational experience in the small bush school, the turning to “certain fascinating chapters” of the Old Testament, which awakened carnal emotions, and Shakespeare”s “Venus and Adonis”, all of which helped to introduce the neophyte to the world of sex-phantasy and experimentation – the very world of Hurtle Duffield. Brady hypothesised later that his guilt, in the rigid maternal morality of the world of his rearing, led to his early verse-writing as a method of sublimation.2

Brady’s accounts of his childhood fears – his dreams of malevolent green-eyed cats, of night-flying, of night-mares in which long-barrelled Winchesters continually bent and faced him in moments of crisis – all provide material of great interest to the sexually-oriented psychoanalyst, but to the casual observer there is an air of mysticism as well as an extraordinary revelatory quality. While Brady does not profess to understand all the emotional strains of childhood, he is unusually coherent and suggestive in retelling and describing them.

He betrays a sensitive mind and a vivid pen in recalling some of the actual scenes of the countryside and people from these early times. They provide an interesting picture of a way of life since passed:

My first memory is that of being carried by my mother to visit an old couple who had a farm on Fish River Creek. Maurice and his wife are the most prominent of figures of infantile acquaintance. The woman wor a white cap. She was fat, and the string of black apron divided her into two spheres, which quivered and undulated as she went about her work. Their house was built of slabs, the cracks between them stopped up with mud. It was whitened outside with limewash and thatched with rushes like the cabins in the country of origin. On rafters of round bush poles, blackened by smoke from an open fire-place, hung sides of bacon and hams. A Fountain was suspended over the log fire by a hook and chain. On the stone hearth stood a camp over and a polished tin teapot with a long spout.1

If the intensity of his early experiences led in due course to Brady’s interest in psychology, so did his early relationships with people and with a variety of environments lead to an interest in society and sociological questions. The black tracker and other aborigines in the little bush towns made him aware of another culture, where legends clashed with the explanations given by the white man’s scientific knowledge. The constant moving from Carcoar to Condobolin and Oberon, to Washington and Sydney, perhaps helps to explain the wanderlust which was so strong in the mature Brady that he was forever leaving in search of greener pastures. Perhaps, too, it would account for the restlessness of the man, who developed an attitude towards life’s tasks which amounted almost to dilettantism. But it did not prevent his early reading and thinking. Poetry served as a kind of antidote to other influences. He could recite his mother’s favourite poems, Campbell’s “Exile of Erin” and “Hohenlinden” before he was “any age at all”. Later, through Henry Lawson and Francis Adams, poetry was to increase his political awareness and exercise considerable persuasion over him.

Few of his early experiences, however, could compare with the emotion aroused in the young Brady when he went to the city with his father and first saw the sea. He had many times envisioned it through the eyes of Marryat, Melville, Defoe and John Masefield. It had always held a strange fascination for him. The vividness of this first sighting remained after sixty years:

There it was – the Sea!

Out to the horizon, to the edge of the world, to the Beyond where other countries, islands and continents lay, it spread like a level blue plain – the Sea.

I took a great gulp of the salty ocean wind and it went into my lungs and stayed there.

I shut my eyes and saw the triremes, clippers, and Viking Ships, I saw Columbus, Drake, Paul Jones and Captain James Cook; corsairs, buccaneers, filibusters, pirates, men-of –war, India men, navigators, adventurers, all the brave figures of the sea story – here was their stamping-ground. Here at last was the wide-spreading scene of their romantic exploits! 2

The sea was to continue top hold a strange appeal for him throughout his life, becoming in many ways a symbol – of Nature, of the universal mystery of life, of a great unknowable, of a pattern forever changing yet ever changeless, a force benevolent yet malevolent. Later he could not rest unless in sight of it.

But travelling Life’s Highway involved passing along through the plains and forests of time, and the youthful Brady soon began to find his metier as an observant and idealistic young man. At fifteen, rather tired of formal schooling, impatient to earn a living and make his own way in the world, he readily acceded when his father suggested he leave school to act as chainman with a civil engineer at thirty shillings a week. Here he began in earnest to learn of Life. His firm was working on the sewerage line from Bellevue Hill to Ben Buckler. He had to be lowered by winch down shafts in a bucket, with one leg in and the other steadying the contraption against the sides of the shaft to prevent rotation during descent. Accidents were common, but “if you were hurt or killed it was your own fault”. He often assisted in patching up victims of carelessness – their own or somebody else’s – before they were conveyed by wagonette to St. Vincent’s Hospital. Nor did an outbreak of typhoid help conditions!

In writing of his early experiences, Brady was ever anxious to set the scene for his readers, who by then lived in a time apart. Realising the close connection between a man and his social conditions, he usually attempted to give a correct sense of perspective:

The invention of the internal combustion machine may be regarded as a turning point in human progress. I am writing here of a world three decades prior to that invention, when steam had hardly come into its own, when a sailing-vessel from Liverpool to Port Jackson made a fast passage if it took no longer than ninety days; when Australian towns were lit by kerosene lamps, or not at all; when most bush roads were rutted tracks, along which bullock drays and horse teams toiled through mud or dust; when coaches were still occasionally held up by bushrangers, and few conveniences or comforts of the present day were known to settlers. Then the wind blows inshore its salty smell revives one memory picture; the odour of horse sweat and leather calls up another.1

After twelve months of this rigorous but educative experience, Brady decided, with the paternal blessing, that this kind of work was far better if one could direct others to do the dirtiest jobs and so he returned to school with the intention of qualifying to become a civil engineer. He studied Latin, French, and Algebra, as well as the subjects he had preciously taken, with Lyon Weiss of the Modern High School in Liverpool Street, and Father Kelly of St. Aloysius’ Jesuit Day School – so successfully that he matriculated. But he went little further; with the exception of evening lectures at Sydney University in Philosophy and English, and shorthand at the School of Arts, his scholastic education ended there.

Leaving the University without graduating, Brady was “compelled to pick up the wage-slave’s burden again” and secured a job as timekeeper on the Sydney wharves for Dalgety and Company at a pound a week and a shilling an hour overtime. It was a very strenuous time for him, but he learned a great deal, especially about the sights and sounds and smells of ships and sailormen – knowledge that he soon embodied in verse:

You can dunnage casks o’tallow; you can handle hides and horn;

You can carry frozen mutton; you can lumber sacks o’corn;

But the queerest kind o’cargo that you’ve got to haul an’ pull

Is Australia’s “staple product” – is her God-abandoned wool.

For it’s greasy an’ it’s stinkin, an’ them awkward ugly bales

Must be jammed as close as herrings in a ship afore she sails.

To which the authentic language of the Australian worker supplies the refrain:

So you yakker, yakker, yakker,

For the drop o’ beer an’ bacca.

For to earn you bloomin’ clobber an’ the bit o’ tuck you eat.

When you’re layin’ on the screw,

With the boss a-cursin’ you.

An’ the sweat runs like a river, an’ you’re chokin’ with the heat.

While “Hides and Tallow” recreates the smells of the wharves, “The loading of the Pride” reproduced the urgency and romance of the competition between ships’ masters to be first to the London market with the cargo, as well as the dangers of undue haste:

Re-a-rally! Ri-a-rally! Stand from under! Mind the slings!

Hang it! Use yer hook, you duffer! Can’t you catch her as she swings?

‘Tarnal fool! He’s gone and missed it! H’ist away there, quick as y’ can!

Why the blazing Son of Thunder

Couldn’t he have stood from under?

Leg’s broke! Can’t move! Look sharp! Fetch along a basket – and a man!”

But the life of the sea is not all work, according to the young Brady’s vision. There is the romance of the sea’s tradition (“The Ways of Many Waters”), its chanties and rhythms (“Lost and Given Over”), its tragedy (“The passing of Parker”) and the beauty of the sea:

And the sun streaks dim on the water’s rim.

With the heaving miles before,

And the still stars beam on the swirling stream

As she heels, hull down, once more.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

By the gull’s white breast on the rising crest

Of the far, unfathomed sea;

By the roll and dip of a royal ship,

By a thousand things that be;

By the girls we love, by the God above,

By the surge, and the surf, and the wind,

By the sun and air, and the death we dare,

Is the charm of the chains that bind.1

Still with Dalgety, Brady moved after twelve months to Town’s Bond store where he had more leisure for both reading and scribbling, “as no one was ever strictly sober after ten o’clock in the forenoon”. He began to feel more like a man. He patronised the Public Library every spare moment, reading scientific, philosophic and general literature.

There must have been many things in this position which grated against Brady’s increasing sensitivity. In a short story, written many years later, he provides a vivid description of the store, particularly the multitude of rats which over-ran the place. Wryly he refers to it as “an assembly and distribution centre for those hateful creatures”, packed, as it was, with “English ales, China teas, American tobaccos, French perfumes, Portuguese wines, cigars from Manilla, jute from Calcutta” – all brought in sailing vessels from the ports of the Seven Seas.

From the Bond store the young clerk went to learn the Day Book and Journal in the merchandise department of Dalgety’s Bent Street store and was shortly placed in charge of that section. He was now earning two pounds a week and he and his fellows regarded themselves as “the crème de la crème of the commercial class”. They dressed to suit. “Our tall collars were immaculately white; no mundane mud ever adhered for long to soles of our aristocratic shoes” Brady recalled. And during this time, leisure hours continued to be devoted to reading in philosophy, politics and sociology – Kant, Spencer, Schopenhauer, Mill and Marx receiving special attention.

These years from 1884 to 1889 saw the beginnings of literary production. One authority quotes Brady as stating that had begun to write even earlier, exchanging poems for cakes with his mother.2 Certainly he wrote early verse on religious theme, especially Biblical, his Juvenilia containing long ballads about Moses and Abraham as well as least one long poem of about a thousand lines on Spanish and Moorish themes – “Zayda – a Tale of the Alhambra”. Short stories, character sketches and articles were also produced.

1890 was a momentous year for Brady. The Maritime Strike being in progress, Dalgety and Co., in common with many other firms at the time, were sweating in their employees as special constables to help police the stores and warehouses long the waterfront where wool shorn by non-union labour was beginning to arrive.3 Wwhen Brady refused this assignment as a matter of principle, regarding it as a form of treason against the workers whom he saw actively trying to better their working conditions and wages, he was instantly dismissed. Although his ire was aroused, he could still see his employer’s point of view, recognising that he must have appeared as “an unsuspecting rebel, chafing, choking down thoughts, convictions, sympathise that were demanding expression” but this knowledge did not prevent his resentment. As well as the monetary loss, there was the lostt of status in his own and other eyes; but it was the breaching of principle which grieved him most. This he resented with all his “youthful heart and mind and soul”.1

This period was a watershed in Brady’s career in that it began his induction into the arena of active political and social questions. It also later led him into political journalism and into a particular bias in the field of general journalism when he served as contributor and editor. It meant the beginning of associations with me who were to be in constant communication with him for the rest of his life. Less tangibly, it helped to crystallise the idealism which the mature Brady embodied – an idealism which merged into utopianism under the influence of the religious ideas inherited from his parental home. Ultimately too, it led to the cynicism and disillusionment which helped him give the impression of always having a chip on his shoulder, of always being against the government, and of harbouring a bitterness which no amount of patronage or success could wholly obscure or remove.

Stirred by events, Brady sought means of rendering assistance to what he regarded as the underprivileged class. In short time he had taken three significant steps – joined the Australian Socialist League and become its Secretary, become a member of the Labor Electoral League (later the Australian Labor Party) and editor of its first official newspaper, The Australian Workman, and had organised The Clerical and Merchantile Workers’ Association, the first union for clerical workers and warehousemen.2

The Australian Socialist League had been formed in May 1887 by William McNamara and A.M. Pilter.3 It distributed the works of Marx, Hyndman and other socialists and became the centre of weekly debates and lectures. Among its early members were W. Higgs and W.M. Hughes, one becoming later a Labor member of Parliament and the other, of course, Prime Minister. Prior to Brady’s enrolment, McNamara had served as both Secretary and President before his transfer to Melbourne. During Brady’s secretary-ship he admitted to membership W.A. Holman, a staunch friend later to become Premier of New South Wales.

The regular Sunday night lectures and debates of the Socialist League provided a platform for political aspirants. As well as this public speaking, Brady took his turn at the Socialists’ Sunday afternoon stint of speaking in the Domain. This was a task also shared by William Lane’s brother, Ernest, who later wrote of the strong friendship formed between them:

We were both young (21 years of age), overflowing with enthusiasm and ideals of human emancipation and brotherhood. Brady, with a charming and magnetic personality, attracted me and I cherished an almost idolatriness for him which left a lasting impression.1

The two roomed together for a while in a back street in Wooloomooloo where they “quoted poetry to each other and dreamt wonderful dreams of the future triumph of the workers over their age-long oppressors.” Lane also told hoe Brady’s family and social circle repudiated and ostracised him because os his socialist leanings and connections. He was unable to mention religion or politics in his home without a disagreeable conflict, the result being a self0inflicted mental isolation except for the companionship of those friends who shared his beliefs and opinions. For a time at least, though, life was “a Sahara in which the oases were few and far apart”.

Shortly after joining the socialists Brady also joined the Labor Electoral League, soon to become the Political Labor League and then the Australian Labor Party. Just as his claim to have “led” the first Australian Socialist movement is a characteristic Brady exaggeration, so was his claim, made many times later on, to have been one of the “founders” of the Labor Party. Certainly however, Brady was one of the early members – along with George Black, W.G. Higgs and W.M. Hughes. He belonged, as did others, to both organisations simultaneously. The relationship which existed between them is not always clear, not is it important for consideration here, but Ford has disentangled some of the complexitities.2

As well as being propelled into political fields by the events of 1890, Brady found this year eventful in another field. He married Marion Cecilia Walsh at Paddington 30th October, beginning a union which lasted in spirit only until April of the following year when, according to Brady, a child was born of whom he was not the father. A private enquiry agent was engaged, the result being a legal divorce in 1894. Before the final separation however, there was a civil suit in which Brady alleged his wife had attacked him with an umbrella. Evidently his pride was hurt more that his person, for the magistrate dismissed the case.3

After leaving Dalgety, Brady had tried to support himself solely by his literary output but was having a lean time of it, there being an economic recession at the time. His fortunes improved in 1891 when his literary and political interests coalesced for the first time. He was offered the editorship of the official Labor paper The Australian Workman. This paper had evolved from a motion by C. Hart in June 1890 for the establishment of a “workman’s paper” and in December Hart became its manager and later chairman of the board of directors. W.G. Higgs served briefly as its first editor before Brady took over from him 5th September 1891.1

This position Brady held until the end of the year, or shortly after, when a political battle developed in the Labor Party over a fiscal issue. Brady backed a section of the paper’s management which was mainly Protectionist but this proved unwise. Labor members with Henry George affections, headed by A. Sinclair, hurriedly decided on an editorial change and Brady lost his position. He also claimed that George Black wanted the editorial columns to use against John Norton who was assailing him in “Truth”. George Edwards, the manager of the paper, supported Black and prevented the composing room from setting up Brady’s copy. Black’s triumph was short-lived however, for the paper which “Truth” scornfully referred to as a “quasi-Labor League organ” was wound up, the last issue being 17 November 1894. Brady managed to save something from the affair, in addition to the experience, by being engaged to supply “Truth” with weekly copy at ten shillings a column, supplementing his earnings by other writings, but “the New South Wales press was not notoriously radical” and he had a rather lean time.2

Although this experience helped the process of Brady’s gradual disillusionment with political activity and his “almost religions loyalty to the Labor Cause”, it produced a larger acquaintanceship with political and journalistic figures. One of these was a young lady, Creo Stanley, who belonged to the Socialist League. On one occasion Brady had the necessity, as Secretary, to request her to take the chair at a coming meeting, gallantly concluding:

If you decide to accede to our request you will receive the honour and admiration which as Socialists we must naturally feel for our first lady comrade who takes such an active part in our propaganda.3

He signed the letter “Yours respectfully and fraternally” but it was doubtful whether he had brotherhood in mind. \the day after his divorce was finalised he made her Mrs. Creo Brady.

This second voyage into matrimony lasted only a short time before the couple separated. Having only Brady’s account of the reasons for the separation, which he gave as irregular behaviour on his wife’s part, judgment on the matter needs to be suspended, but as a Catholic, his wife refused to give him a divorce and he remained legally married to her until her death in 1942. Perhaps it was of Creo he was thinking when he wrote a short poem:

I loved for what I thought you were,

And not for what you be –

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