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Being Certain Extracts From The Diary of Tom Collins

Joseph Furphy

Sydney: The Bulletin.


The fiction work, Such is Life by Joseph Furphy (who used the pseudonym Tom Collins) is one of the reasons why Burke is reported to have taken top-hats, bedsteads and carpets with him on the expedition. The novel, published by The Bulletin in 1903 is a fictional account of the life of rural dwellers in southern New South Wales and Victoria during the 1880s. The book comprises a series of loosely interwoven stories of the various people encountered by the narrator as he travels about the countryside. At times the prose is difficult to understand because of the use of Australian vernacular and the author's attempt to convey the accents of Scottish and Chinese personalities.

Chapter 1: Unemployed...

"Now, Mosey," said Willoughby, courteously but tenaciously, "will you permit me to enumerate a few gentlemen - gentlemen, remember - who have exhibited in a marked degree the qualities of the pioneer. Let us begin with those men of whom you Victorians are so justly proud, Burke and Wills. Then you have....."

"Hold on, hold on," interrupted Mosey. "Don't go no furder, for Gossake. Yer knockin' yerself bad, an' you don't know it. Wills was a pore harmless weed, so he kin pass; but look'ere - there ain't a drover, nor yet a bullock driver, nor yet a stock-keeper, from 'ere to 'ell that could n't 'a' bossed that expegition straight through to the Gulf, an' back agen, an' never turned a hair - with sich a season as Burke had. Don't sicken a man with yer Burke. He burked that expegition, right enough. I tell you, that (explorer) died for want of his sherry an' biscakes.

Well, the ole man, here, seen him camped, with his carpet, an' his bedsteed, an' (sheol) knows what paravinalia; an' a man nothin' to do but wait on him; an' - look here! - a cubbard made to fit one o' the camels, with compartments for his swell toggery, an' - as true as I'm a livin' sinner! - one o' the compartments made distinctly o' purpose to hold his belltopper!"

"Quite so," replied Willoughby approvingly. "We must bear in mind that Burke had a position to uphold in the party; and that, to maintain subordination, a commander must differentiate himself by" -

"It's Gord's truth, anyhow," remarked Price, rousing his mind from a retrospect of its extensive past. And, no doubt, the old man was right; for a relic, answering to Mosey's description, was sold by auction in Melbourne, with other assets of the expedition, upon Brahe's return.

"They give him a lot o' credit for dyin' in the open," continued the practical little wretch, with masterly handling of expletive - "but I want to know what else a feller like him could do, when there was no git out? An' you'll see in Melb'n', there, a statue of him, made o' cast steel, or concrete, or somethin', standin' as bold as brass in the middle o' the street! My word! An' all the thousands o' pore beggars that's died o' thirst an' hardship in the back country--all o' them a dash sight better men nor Burke knowed how to be--where's they're statues?

Don't talk rubbage to me. Why, there was no end to that feller's childishness. Before he leaves Bray at Cooper's Creek, he drors out--what do you think?-- well, he drors out a plan o' forti--(adj.)--fications, like they got in ole wore-out countries; an' Bray had to keep his fellers workin' an' cursin' at this thing till the time come for them to clear. An' mind you, this was among the tamest blackfellers in the world. Why, Burke was dotin'. Wants a young feller, with some life in him, for to boss a expegition; an' on top o' Burke's swellishness an' uselessness, dash me if he wasn't forty!"

"Well, no; he warn't too old, Mosey," interposed Price deprecatingly."Wants a experienced man fer sich work. Same time, you couldn't best Burke fer a counterfit."

"Sing'lar thing, you'll never hear one good word o' that man," observed Cooper."Different from all the other explorers. Can't account for it, no road."

"Another singular thing is that you'll never read a word against him," added Thompson. "In conversation, you'll always learn that Burke never did a thing worth doing or said a thing worth saying; and that his management of that expedition would have disgraced a new-chum schoolboy; and old Victorian policemen will tell you that he left the force with the name of a bully and a snob, and a man of the smallest brains. Wonder why these things never get into print."

"De mortuis nil nisi bonum [speak no ill of the dead] is an excellent maxim, Thompson," remarked Willoughby.

"It is that," retorted Mosey. "Divil a fear but they'll nicely bone anythin' in the shape o' credit. Toffs is no slouches at barrickin' for theyre own push. An' I'll tell you another dash good maximum,-- it's to keep off of weltin' a dyin' man."

"Did you ever read Burke's Diary, Willoughby?" asked Thompson."It's just two or three pages of the foolishest trash that any man ever lost time in writing; and I'm afraid it's about a fair sample of Burke. I wish you could talk to some fellows that I know - Barefooted Bob, for instance. Now, there's a man that was never known to say a thing that he wasn't sure of; and he's been all over the country that Burke was over, and heard all that is to be known of the expedition. And Bob's a man that goes with his eyes open. I wish you could talk to him. Lots of information in the back country that never gets down here into civilisation ."

"There is a certain justice in Mosey's contention," I remarked, addressing Willoughby. "He argues that, as Burke, by dying of hardship, earned himself a statue, so Brown, Jones, and Robinson - whose souls, we trust, are in a less torrid climate than their unburied bones - should, in bare justice, have similar post-obituary recognition. For Burke's sake, of course, the comparison in value of service had better not be entered on. Mosey would have our cities resemble ancient Athens in respect of having more public statues than living citizens."

"Your allusion to Athens is singularly happy," replied the whaler; "but you will remember that the Athenians were, in many respects, as exclusive as ourselves. The impassable chasm which separates your illustrious explorer from Brown, Jones, and Robinson, existed also in Athens, though, perhaps, not so jealously guarded. But let us change the subject."

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