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Authors: Tom Collins

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Such Is Life

BOOK: Such Is Life

Allen & Unwin's House of Books aims to bring Australia's cultural and literary heritage to a broad audience by creating affordable print and ebook editions of the nation's most significant and enduring writers and their work. The fiction, non-fiction, plays and poetry of generations of Australian writers that were published before the advent of ebooks will now be available to new readers, alongside a selection of more recently published books that had fallen out of circulation.

The House of Books is an eloquent collection of Australia's finest literary achievements.

‘Tom Collins', a slang byword for the source of all rumours, was a pseudonym adopted by Joseph Furphy. The son of Protestant Irish immigrants, he was born at Yering Station, Victoria, in 1843. As a boy, he helped his father work the land, and later became a goldminer, labourer and farmer before running bullock drays in remote south-west New South Wales for seven years with his wife and children.

After drought and illness wiped out his two bullock teams, Furphy began working at a foundry in Shepparton, Victoria, owned by his brother. There he began writing for
The Bulletin
. His masterpiece,
Such is Life
, was submitted to them in 1897 and published in 1903.

A year later, he and his wife moved to Perth to settle near his sons. He died there in 1912. His other books—Poems (1916),
Rigby's Romance
(1921) and
The Buln Buln and the Brolga
(1948)—were published posthumously.


Such is Life



This edition published by Allen & Unwin House of Books in 2012 
First published by The Bulletin Newspaper Company, Sydney, 1903 (offset from unabridged Angus & Robertson 1944 edition)

Copyright © Joseph Furphy 1903

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The Australian
Copyright Act 1968
(the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or 10 per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.

Allen & Unwin

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Phone:   (61 2) 8425 0100

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Cataloguing-in-Publication details are available from the National Library of Australia

ISBN 978 1 74331 273 5 (pbk)
ISBN 978 1 74269 984 4 (ebook)


ONTRARY to usage, these memoirs are published, not “in compliance with the entreaties of friends,” but in direct opposition thereto. It has been pointed out to me that the prizes of civilisation
Municipal dignity, Churchwardenship, the Honorary Bench, and so forth
do not wait upon avowed comradeship with people who can by no management of hyperbole be called respectable. But there is a grim, fakeer-like pleasure in any renunciation of desirable things, when the line of least resistance leads in a contrary direction; and, in my own case, the impulse of reminiscence, fatally governed by an inveterate truthfulness, is wayward enough to overbear all hope of local pre-eminence, as well as all sense of literary propriety. Hence these pages






Tuesday, Oct. 9


Friday, Nov. 9


Sunday, Dec. 9—


Wednesday, Jan. 9


Saturday, Feb. 9


Friday, March 28

Saturday, March 29

at last!

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   

Scientifically, such a contingency can never have befallen of itself. According to one theory of the Universe, the momentum of Original Impress has been tending toward this far-off, divine event ever since a scrap of fire-mist flew from the solar centre to form our planet. Not this event alone, of course; but every occurrence, past and present, from the fall of captured Troy to the fall of a captured insect. According to another theory, I hold an independent diploma as one of the architects of our Social System, with a commission to use my own judgment, and take my own risks, like any other unit of humanity. This theory, unlike the first, entails frequent hitches and cross-purposes; and to some malign operation of these I should owe my present holiday.

Orthodoxly, we are reduced to one assumption: namely, that my indomitable old Adversary has suddenly called to mind Dr. Watts's friendly hint respecting the easy enlistment of idle hands.

Good. If either of the two first hypotheses be correct, my enforced furlough tacitly conveys the responsibility of extending a ray of information, however narrow and feeble, across the path of such fellow-pilgrims as have led lives more sedentary than my own—particularly as I have enough money to frank myself in a frugal way for some weeks, as well as to purchase the few requisites of authorship.

If, on the other hand, my supposed safeguard of drudgery has been cut off at the meter by that amusingly short-sighted old Conspirator, it will be only fair to notify him that his age and experience, even his captivating habits and well-known hospitality, will be treated with scorn, rather than respect, in the paragraphs which he virtually forces me to write; and he is hereby invited to view his own feather on the fatal dart.

Whilst a peculiar defect—which I scarcely like to call an oversight in mental construction—shuts me out from the flowery pathway
of the romancer, a co-ordinate requital endows me, I trust, with the more sterling, if less ornamental qualities of the chronicler. This fairly equitable compensation embraces, I have been told, three distinct attributes: an intuition which reads men like signboards; a limpid veracity; and a memory which habitually stereotypes all impressions except those relating to personal injuries.

Submitting, then, to the constitutional interdict already glanced at, and availing myself of the implied license to utilise that homely talent of which I am the bailee, I purpose taking certain entries from my diary, and amplifying these to the minutest detail of occurrence or conversation. This will afford to the observant reader a fair picture of Life, as that engaging problem has presented itself to me.

Twenty-two consecutive editions of
Letts's Pocket Diary
, with one week in each opening, lie on the table before me; all filled up, and in a decent state of preservation. I think I shall undertake the annotation of a week's record. A man might, if he were of a fearful heart, stagger in this attempt; but I shut my eyes, and take up one of the little volumes. It proves to be the edition of 1883. Again I shut my eyes while I open the book at random. It is the week beginning with Sunday, the 9th of September.

SUN. SEPT. 9. Thomp. Coop. &c. 10-Mile Pines. Cleo. Duff. Selec

The fore part of the day was altogether devoid of interest or event. Overhead, the sun blazing wastefully and thanklessly through a rarefied atmosphere; underfoot, the hot, black clay, thirsting for spring rain, and bare except for inedible roley-poleys, coarse tussocks, and the woody stubble of close-eaten salt-bush; between sky and earth, a solitary wayfarer, wisely lapt in philosophic torpor. Ten yards behind the grey saddle-horse follows a black pack-horse, lightly loaded; and three yards behind the pack-horse ambles listlessly a tall, slate-coloured kangaroo dog, furnished with the usual poison muzzle—a light wire basket, worn after the manner of a nose-bag.

Mile after mile we go at a good walk, till the dark boundary of the scrub country disappears northward in the glassy haze, and in front, southward, the level black-soil plains of Riverina Proper mark a straight sky-line, broken here and there by a monumental clump or pine-ridge. And away beyond the horizon, southward still, the geodesic curve carries that monotony across the zone of salt-bush, myall, and swamp box; across the Lachlan and Murrumbidgee, and on to the Victorian border—say, two hundred and fifty miles.

Just about mid-day, the station track I was following intersected and joined the stock route; and against the background of a pine-ridge, a mile ahead, I saw some wool-teams. When I overtook them, they had stopped for dinner among the trees. One of the party was an intimate friend of mine, and three others were acquaintances; so, without any of the ceremony which prevails in more refined circles, I hooked Fancy's rein on a pine branch, pulled the pack-saddle off Bunyip, and sat down with the rest, to screen the tea through my teeth and flick the diligent little operatives out of the cold mutton with the point of my pocket-knife.

There were five bullock-teams altogether: Thompson's twenty; Cooper's eighteen; Dixon's eighteen; and Price's two teams of fourteen each. Three of the wagons, in accordance with a fashion of the day, bore names painted along the board inside the guard irons. Thompson's was the
; Cooper's, the
; and Dixon's, the
. All were platform wagons, except Cooper's, which was the Sydney-side pattern.

To avoid the vulgarity of ushering this company into the presence of the punctilious reader without even the ceremony of a Bedouin introduction—(This is my friend, N or M; if he steals anything, I will be responsible for it): a form of introduction, by the way, too sweeping in its suretyship for prudent men to use in Riverina—I shall describe the group, severally, with such succinctness as may be compatible with my somewhat discursive style.

Steve Thompson was a Victorian. He was scarcely a typical bullock driver, since fifteen years of that occupation had not brutalised his temper, nor ensanguined his vocabulary, nor frayed the terminal ‘g' from his participles. I knew him well, for we had been partners in dogflesh and colleagues in larceny when we were, as poets feign, nearer to heaven than in maturer life. And, wide as Riverina is, we often encountered fortuitously, and were always glad to fraternise. Physically, Thompson was tall and lazy, as bullock drivers ought to be.

Cooper was an entire stranger to me, but as he stoutly contended that Hay and Deniliquin were in Port Phillip, I inferred him to be a citizen of the mother colony. Four months before, he had happened to strike the very first consignment of goods delivered at Nyngan by rail, for the Western country. He had chanced seven tons of this, for Kenilworth; had there met Thompson, delivering salt from Hay; and now the two, freighted with Kenilworth wool, were making the trip to Hay together. Kenilworth was on the commercial divide, having a choice of two evils—the long, uninviting
track southward to the Murrumbidgee, and the badly watered route eastward to the Bogan. This was Cooper's first experience of Riverina, and he swore in no apprentice style that it would be his last. A correlative proof of the honest fellow's Eastern extraction lay in the fact that he was three inches taller, three stone heavier, and thirty degrees lazier, than Thompson.

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