Thursday, November 07, 2013

Lydia O'Neil's Dinkum Aussie

Ursh, a Facebook friend of mine, collects old books, particularly anything to do with Australia and the Australian Military.

Among her collection is a book of poetry published in Brisbane by Watson, Ferguson & Co. Ltd. in 1924 and written by Lydia M. D. O'Neil. The poems are about Lydia's travels around the world during WWI and her time in Brisbane and in particular the Wynnum, Manly and Lota areas of Brisbane.

I had not heard of Lydia O’Neil, so looked her up on the AustLit data base. I quote:

O'Neil's maiden name was Dunham. She was educated in Pennsylvania public schools in the United States and published short stories in American popular magazines from 1913 to 1934 with her peak output being 1918 and 1919. A story, 'Pennsylvania' also appeared in Stockman Stories (1913) and was originally published in the National Stockman and Farmer, a Pittsburgh publication. O'Neil lived in Brisbane, Queensland, during the early 1920's before moving to Killarney on the Darling Downs. She contributed poetry, fiction and magazine articles to Queensland and other Australian newspapers and journals including The Bulletin. H. A. Kellow's Queensland Poets (1930): 246 comments: 'The courageous poetry of Lydia O'Neil, devotee of the creed of Kipling and Noyes, braves its discipleship in Dinkum Aussie (slang for 'genuine Australian') and leaves no observance out. For Miss O'Neil loves to write of soldiers and sailors and other of the King's men, of bonny jackaroos, of lean brown men nursed in a lean brown land - Australians all;...She is a typical extraverted sensationist, viewing Port o' Spain, Hong Kong, Alaska, Norway, Bokhara, or Ning-Po-Fu! The romantic glamour of these places lies primarily in herself. And so everywhere she puts a brave face on the outside world; there is the will to make the beautiful and to see all things at their best, as that best is conditioned by the poet.' (Source: J.H. Hornibrook's Bibliography of Queensland Verse With Biographical Notes (1953): 58)

The book opens with Ursh’s favourite poem of all. I wonder how many modern Australian men would recognise this image of them?


He is long, he is lean, he is wiry;
He is loose-limbed and carelessly hung;
He is quick on the flare-up and fiery;
He swears with an eloquent tongue.
He's at home on a horse or a camel;
He could sleep in the top of a tree;
He'll try anything twice, and again if it's nice,
For a dinkum Australian is he.

His skin is as brown as a gipsy's;
Like a gipsy he's thoroughly versed
In the lore of the high-stepping ponies;
He is blessed with a marvellous thirst.
He smokes cigarettes by the thousands;
He is happy-go-lucky and free;
Independent and shows it, and "don't care who knows it,"
For a thoroughbred Aussie is he.

His fingers were born to a rifle;
His long legs for marching were made;
He'll stand up to the world to a finish,
And go down, if he goes unafraid.
For he's lord of the earth and its master,
The mountains thereof, and the sea;
Don't dispute or forget it, or he'll make you regret it,
For a dinkum Australian is he.

In love as in war, he's a terror,
Whom nothing can daunt or dismay;
If he doesn't run after the sheilas,
He never, at least, runs away.
His eyes are brown blossoms of passion,
Gold-glinting, a glory to see;
Sparkling and sprightful, and wholly delightful,
For a red-blooded Aussie is he.

He may hail you in French or Egyptian,
As suits his immediate whim;
The slang of Port Said and Toowoomba
Alike are familiar to him.
For he's gone where his banners have beckoned,
And his tremulous drums made their plea,
And he's picked up the platter of half the world's chatter,
For a dinkum Australian is he.

Right down to his toes he's a gambler,
A sport to his very last breath;
He will laugh in the face of disaster,
Toss pennies or guineas with Death.
He puts not his trust in his princes,
But dare to asperse them, and see
With what personal feeling he'll send you far-reeling,
For a loyal Australian is he.

He is lovable, natural, forceful;
He is versatile, vivid, alert;
Audacious, courageous, resourceful,
Aspiring, inquiring, expert.
He's at home in the air or the water,
For a dinkum Australian is he;
And I've done some hard thinking, and I'll say without winking,
It's a dinkum Australian for me!


Anonymous said...

It's a myth, innit?

It wasn't really much more true then than it would be now.

Jim Belshaw said...

Good morning, marcellous. It is a myth, but myths are important. If you look at popular and official writing from the period, you will find it expressed in one way or another. We see ourselves through and respond to frames.

The poem captures every element in a romantic stereotype. It was truer then, in part. Take the idea of the lean, laconic Australian male. Men were leaner than now, in part because there was so much physical labour.

Excluding obesity, Australians (and Japanese too, for that matter) have bulked up because of high protein diets. They are taller and bulkier before you add any fat.

Laconic still survives in the Australian tendency to understatement.

Anonymous said...

Laconic still survives in the Australian tendency to understatement.

Often used, but I prefer 'wry' - and there it was again today, in all its laconilarrikanwryness:

There are probably other cultures which 'take the mickey', but none so well, or so delicately. (And I'm wondering how Ramana will translate 'take the mickey' - expert in such, as he so often demonstrates... :)


Jim Belshaw said...

Nice story, kvd. I hadn't seen the piece.