Academic journal article Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL

The End of the Road: Joseph Furphy and Tom Collins in Western Australia

Academic journal article Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature : JASAL

The End of the Road: Joseph Furphy and Tom Collins in Western Australia

Article excerpt

The circumstances of the last seven years of Joseph Furphy's life, from 1905 until his death in 1912 at 69, spent in Western Australia, are well known-largely because of the extent of Furphy's correspondence during that time. He wrote regularly to his mother and some others, including Kate Baker and Miles Franklin, occasionally to his great friend William Cathels, as well as to editors and publishers. Thus these years yield 'more circumstantial detail than any other period of his life' (Letters 187). The effects of the move from Victoria to Western Australia on Furphy's writing life, as well as its broader consequences for him are interesting in themselves. However, there is a related story, regarding the ways his literary reputation was recovered in the West some years after his death, then preserved and memorialised there, through the agency of several local writers and through Furphy's son Sam. Furphy's last home, the cottage he built, was given by Sam Furphy to the Western Australian branch of the Federation of Australian Writers (FAWWA); he then established a Deed of Trust between himself and the University of Western Australia (UWA) to found both an annual literary prize and to purchase works of Australian art, both in the name of Tom Collins. Those bequests were later amplified by Sam Furphy's will, which lefthis modest estate to UWA for those original purposes. I want to first sketch in some of the detail of Furphy's life in WA, then describe that posthumous history.

By 1904, Furphy's three children had all resettled in Western Australia, following perhaps what was not an uncommon trend at the time. While Victoria was still suffering economically, the West was in a boom period following the discoveries of rich deposits of gold in Kalgoorlie and surrounding areas, mainly in the last decade of the nineteenth century. Between 1891 and 1905 the population of the State, though still very small, trebled. Furphy's daughter Sylvia (Shovel to Furphy) had migrated three years earlier and was now married with a baby and living in the West. Samuel and Felix Furphy and their wives had moved to WA in 1903 when their Shepparton foundry failed. They set up another foundry in Fremantle, one that was still working until quite recently. It is not clear exactly what prompted Furphy and his wife, Leonie's decision to follow the rest of their family to Western Australia, but Furphy's life at the time was in a kind of hiatus, caught between the aftermath of the success of the publication of Such is Life, sales of which had almost dried up by 1904, and his failure to persuade the Bulletin to publish Rigby's Romance. However the decision was made, he was able to write to Miles Franklin on 21 November 1904: 'I am leaving for the West any time after Dec. 12, the sooner the better. That date is the 87th birthday of my Mam...' (Letters 183).

After his arrival, in early January 1905, Furphy named his new environment in a typically jokey fashion, characteristically addressing his letters from 'Groperland'. It was a place inhabited by 'Gropers'; a region, he wrote to Franklin two or three days after his arrival, 'flowing with sand and limestone. A good country, nevertheless, with enormous possibilities' (Letters 189). Furphy appeared to enjoy the place, writing to Franklin in June 1905 in both aesthetic and practical terms: 'In many respects it is a beautiful country; but sandy-sandy-therefore good for nearly all kinds of fruit;... and the worst pasture land on earth' and later to William Cathels, in August 1909, 'I love this sandy region' (Letters 208, 249). Yet though he reports, in that same letter to Cathels, that he is 'squalidly happy in having no history for the last 4½ years,' there are indications that he was less content than this and other remarks indicated. In an earlier letter to Cathels, in 1908, Furphy wrote: 'I don't think I'll ever become acclimatised to the West' (OT 361).

For someone who had lived most of his life in the Murray Valley and the Riverina and who identified so strongly with that area, the shiftlate in his life to a very different environment must have been difficult. …

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