previous
next

II

The strain of travelling day after day by trains, by sea and in lumbering four-horse drags over rough roads was considerable, especially as most of the members were middle-aged or elderly men. Happily, the journeying was relieved by cheery conversation and amusing episodes.

One of the liveliest of the party was W. M. Hughes. He was a martyr to indigestion and needed constant exercise to keep fit. Sometimes the track was heavy for the vehicles, and the horses painfully ploughed their way along. He usually jumped off the coach and ran beside it for miles. He did not seem to tire or perspire and he had not an ounce of superfluous flesh. Some of the younger members sought to emulate him, but not successfully.

As a practical joker he was inveterate. There was an elderly member, Mr. Solomon, who represented Fremantle. Mr. Solomon, despite his age and the whiteness


  ― 195 ―
of his hair, was a keen dancer. At one of the towns we were entertained at a dance in which he was participating. Mr. Hughes did not dance and found the time hanging heavily. Hughes had noticed that a shop in the main street had the name “Solomon” over the front. He pulled his hat low over his head, and disguising himself as much as he could, went to the dance hall and asked for the Fremantle representative. When Solomon came out he did not recognise Hughes, who drew him away into the darkness and told him a relative of his who lived in the main street over his shop was seriously ill, dying in fact, and wished to see him. Solomon said he had no relative in the locality, but notwithstanding he would go and see the sick man. He returned to the dance hall for his overcoat. When he came out Hughes was gone, but Solomon went to the main street and found the shop with the name over the door. He had to knock two or three times and loudly. Eventually the door was opened by a somewhat frightened old lady in a dressing-gown. Solomon explained why he had called, but she said no one of the name had lived there for years, and then slammed the door in his face with a loud bang. The next day Solomon confided to Hughes and other members how he was certain that the man who had called at the dance hall had intended to rob him as he was going to take him to the shop, but for some reason had not. No one disillusioned Solomon, who thought he had had a narrow escape.

One of Hughes's jokes had an ending that caused considerable laughter at his expense. When the party reached a town in the evening, a number of them would gather occasionally in a room of one of the


  ― 196 ―
hotels and indulge in comic tomfoolery. Hughes, who was a strict teetotaller, was a ring-leader of these gatherings and often enjoyed himself so hilariously that a stranger might for a moment think that he was intoxicated. One evening the party was engaged in a mock initiation ceremony to some supposed lodge with a high-sounding and absurd name. W. M. Hughes was the Master of Ceremonies. He grabbed a poker, stuck it in the fire, made it red-hot, and waved it about whilst he carried on strange antics and made excruciatingly funny speeches. He happened to lay the poker aside, where it lost its red glow but still remained burning hot.

A member of the party, Mr. Willis, who suddenly came into the room, thought he would join in the fun and seized the poker. Not knowing that it was hot, he began applying it to Hughes's legs playfully. Everyone shouted out to tell him that it was hot. In the clamour no one could be heard, and he continued to tap Hughes's legs with it.

The higher Hughes jumped the more the other continued to use the poker. It was not until there was a smell of burning from Hughes's legs that he stopped.

Hughes's trousers were so burned that he could never wear them again, but he took the thing in good part.

Wherever we went we were taken to an eminence and shown a wonderful view. “It amuses me,” said Mr. A. Paterson, a Queensland member, “to see men climbing a hill and declaring their amazement at the view. Of course they get a great view if they ascend a height. Why, you would get a good view from a hill in the Sahara desert.”




  ― 197 ―

Sir William Lyne was the federal minister who represented the Government with the party. The exchanges between him and Sir George Reid, leader of the Opposition, were witty. They were strong opponents, but warm personal friends. One day they had travelled together in the same buggy. They were both bulky men, and at a reception that evening Lyne said Reid had done him an excellent turn by sitting in the front seat of the vehicle and sheltering him from the cold wind and dust. Reid, in reply, jocosely observed that what happened was probably only in anticipation of a coming political change in the minister's views, as his friend had that day agreed to sit behind him for the first time in his life.

Amongst those who participated in the tour was one of the most singular of the members, King O'Malley, who told us he was born a few miles inside the Canadian border and thus missed “by a few miles” becoming President of the United States. He hoped to obtain a measure of consolation by getting the Treasurership of the Commonwealth, and had supreme confidence in his capacity for statesmanship.

For three years he had been a member of the Legislative Assembly in South Australia, but failed to secure re-election, and went to Tasmania, where at the first federal elections he was elected to the House of Representatives. Though he never was Treasurer, yet for more than four years he was Minister for Home Affairs.

He was typical of the old-time stage Yankee, and appeared to cultivate that character's accent, mannerisms


  ― 198 ―
and dress. A broad-brimmed hat, a full beard, his tall and lean appearance and flowing coat tails, accentuated his Americanism, also he addressed everyone as “brother” or “sister.” Even those who inwardly resented his familiarity and odd behaviour could not fail to like him and enjoy his humour. Early in the first session, when Mr. Bruce Smith was delivering an academic speech in choice and correct English, he declared that no great political economist was other than a free trader.

“That's not so,” interjected King O'Malley.

“Perhaps,” said Bruce Smith, “the honourable member will name one accepted political economist who is a protectionist.”

“Carey,” promptly came the answer.

“I confess,” said Bruce Smith, “I never heard of him. Who is he?”

Then came the startling reply, “He is the bald-headed eagle of the Rocky Mountains.”

King O'Malley at times could be very caustic. He represented a Tasmanian constituency, and another of the Tasmanian representatives bitterly resented his state having as a member a man whom he was in the habit of describing as “a mere Yankee bounder.” When he told O'Malley so to his face, O'Malley's reply was to liken the other to “a withered sausage skin filled with wind and water.”

He was a believer in professional politicians. He thought politics should be a profession, legislation should be the work of trained experts, and members


  ― 199 ―
of parliament should be well paid, not less than £1,000 a year. Members were then paid £400 annually, and King O'Malley said he could not make ends meet on his parliamentary allowance as he had to live in two places at the same time—namely, his constituency in Tasmania and in Melbourne, where Parliament sat, and he had to constantly travel. Giving these reasons, he consequently formally applied for permission to erect a tent in the gardens of Parliament House in Melbourne, so that he and any other member who desired could camp there and do his own cooking and washing. Permission was not granted, but members' allowances were gradually increased and ultimately they were raised to £1,000.

As a raconteur O'Malley was appreciated during our tour. There was a story that he told with great delight that purported to be a personal experience of his when young and reckless. Many new religions had been started in the United States, the promoters got large land grants, became affluent and important men, and he and other young bloods did not see why they should not found a sect. A few adherents were secured, a church was established with some such high-sounding names as “The Rock-Built Lily-Bound White Church of Jerusalem,” and bishops and other dignitaries were appointed. A prophetic announcement was made by the chief founder that in a certain remote mountain valley half an hour after midnight on a particular date an angel would appear and hand to a representative of the church tablets on which would be inscribed commandments which adherents had to obey.




  ― 200 ―

King O'Malley explained that a man had been found whose family name was “Angel.” For a stipulated payment he was to appear at the right moment at the appointed spot. He was to cover himself with a huge white sheet, wear stilts, carry an electric battery for lighting purposes and hand over certain tablets that were to be given to him beforehand.

The man who received them could make a solemn affidavit that he had been given them by “an Angel,” and others could swear that they saw him get them from “an Angel.” None of them would thus commit perjury, but only two or three were actually in the secret.

The supposed prophet in a trance-like condition insisted that the angel would appear and that the world would be astounded. Religious fervour was worked up amongst some men and women adherents, who were convinced that a great revelation was about to be made.

It was a dark night when some twenty or thirty persons gathered together in the valley. The prophet was amongst them, urging them to engage earnestly in prayer. He got the group to go on their knees and solemnly plead for the messenger from heaven to appear. They waited a couple of hours. The time was drawing near. Everyone was in a state of silent expectancy. Suddenly they saw on a high rock an imposing figure all in white with a light above his head. It was an awe-inspiring spectacle. With a deep groan the crowd crouched down until their faces almost touched the ground. There was a hush and a feeling of dread. Slowly and reverently the prophet advanced towards the figure, and, falling on his knees, was seen to receive the tablets. “The Angel” then vanished.




  ― 201 ―

Next day scores of fresh adherents joined the church. The story of the apparition got into the papers. It spread far and wide. Testimony was given by men and women who had no doubt that what they saw was supernatural. The church appeared to be firmly established.

According to King O'Malley the prophet announced that he was bound, after he had received the tablets, to take them with him and disappear into the solitude of the mountains to study and fast and pray. In a few days he would return to his disciples, and then the gospel would be explained and preached. In the recesses of a remote mountain cave he met “The Angel.” The prophet, who was armed with a revolver, said afterwards that all would have been well had he shot dead his fellow-conspirator, but instead a solemn promise was extracted from him that he would leave America and never again be seen in the country. Then the money stipulated was paid over.

When the prophet returned his disciples received him with respect that almost approached worship. More and more people joined the church. An appeal for funds for building a stately edifice in the valley where “The Angel” appeared to house the sacred tablets was meeting with a generous response. The future of the new church looked bright.

Suddenly the whole scheme was shattered. “The Angel,” whilst waiting at one of the ports for a ship that was to have taken him to Europe, became gloriously drunk in a saloon. He also became garrulous. He joked to the bar attendants about his being an Angel by name and also an angel messenger from heaven. They linked up what he said with what they


  ― 202 ―
had read in the Press. A reporter heard of it, interviewed the man, gave him drink and money, got the full story, and published it under scare headlines. Immediately a copy of the paper reached the prophet he got on a fast horse, was last seen riding for his life out of the reach of his infuriated disciples and dupes and was never seen or heard of after that.

Such was King O'Malley's chief story, told with many embellishments and great dramatic power. When he thought his audience was gullible, he described himself as the prophet, and when they believed him he was intensely pleased.

previous
next