Early on 13 September 1912, Joseph Furphy set off to his son’s house with a horse and cart to pick up a load of iron railings. At about 8am his daughter-in-law, Mattie, saw him standing in the street in front of her house. After attempting to take a step, he collapsed and was assisted by neighbours into the house where he died of a cerebral haemorrhage soon after. On his death certificate his occupation was recorded as ‘Mechanic’.
Joseph Furphy’s name lives on as the author of Such is Life and people will gather today in Shepparton to mark the centenary of his death. John Barnes will present the John Furphy Memorial Lecture tonight on the topic, ‘Joseph Furphy: the Philosopher at the Foundry’, providing an opportunity to hear an esteemed Furphy scholar discuss the life and work of one of Australia’s most important writers. On Friday, Reading Joseph Furphy in Shepparton will bring a group of Furphy scholars together to continue the discussion.
Unfortunately, I’m unable to attend, but I’ll spend a few quiet moments today thinking about the man and the literary work that maintains such a prominent position in Australia’s literary history. Such is Life is one of those works that most people agree is not an easy read, but I line up with all those who will tell you that the rewards come in re-reading. The images and ideas that Furphy created emerge with such clarity in those moments when you concentrate on passages that were only vaguely familiar beforehand. I am looking forward to the next time I read about Tom Collins’ final approach to the ‘civilisation’ of the station mounted on a horse with his borrowed coat and bell-topper. I have laughed again at Tom Collins’ naked adventures on the ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ side of the Murray River, and I continue to learn things about myself while thinking about Joseph Furphy’s particular brand of socialism.
I hope the accessibility and the flexibility of an electronic edition of Joseph Furphy’s works will attract more first-time readers and encourage some of those to pursue the richer experience of second and third readings to get closer to the ideas and the fictional world that emerged from the author’s imagination in the 1890s.
The Shepparton mechanic and author of Such is Life died one hundred years ago today. Long may he live in the minds of readers everywhere.