Saturday, May 7, 2011

John Barr’s 1927 Australian cricket vignette

Every now and again, you come across a rare gem at a community book fair. At the Heretaunga Book Fair last weekend, I found a book by John Barr. It had no book cover; was an old book, rebound with just a blank paper cover.
I picked it up, was curious, people don’t rebind old books unless they’re worth keeping. Dated 1927, the book, Men and Other Sins, is a miscellany of John Barr’s poems, prose, satires and epigrams lifted from Aussie magazine, c1924-27.
I bought it for a dollar, and afterwards, I asked a friend if he knew about this author. He wasn’t sure, but in turn asked another friend, a book collector about it. Was the author a New Zealand writer? The collector emailed back the following response:

He is not the early Otago poet John Barr of Craigielee, nor novelist John Barr (Dunedin lawyer) nor John M. Barr, an earlier Australian journalist and writer.
  John Barr trained as a printer then became shipping reporter on the Evening Post [Wellington], then a Special Writer and Parliamentary Correspondent for the New Zealand Times. In 1906 he moved to Australia, joining the Daily Telegraph in Sydney, then was asked by James Edmund to join the Bulletin.
  He later edited the Sunday Times [Sydney] and worked on Aussie magazine and as a freelance journalist. He was one of the earliest writers of an Australian film-script, co-writing 'Australia Calls' with C. A. Jeffries. This, an account of an invasion of Australia by Asiatics, screened in 1913. He was a founder of the Australian Journalists Association and Sydney Press Club.
  Published poems in Free Lance then later short stories and poems in Bulletin plus the humorous stories in Aussie collected in his one book.

It’s an excellent book to find. I’ve given it to the Poetry Archive in Wellington, and we’ll be running some of the poems in the next Poetry Notes newsletter, including this one ‘Blue Peter’:

Kiss me, beloved, and swoon again to me,
For there, on foremast, running free,
Blue Peter flies – and I must go.

The clanging bell that will not be denied
Clamors farewell, and, trembling-eyed,
I see Blue Peter fly, and I must go.

Is love in vain? Does ecstasy of heart
Swell up and die when two must part?
Ask not of me. But this I know –
Blue Peter flies, and I must go.

As well, the book contains a humourus cricket vignette that I’ll share with you here.


Record Cricket Match

The queerest cricket match I ever took a hand in was set down for a ground some distance out of town.
  The brakes carried the teams out, and drew up at the hotel opposite the park. It was a hot day, and somebody suggested a bob-in for a cool drink.
  We “sold a horse”, and the winner bought another round of iced lager. Pipes were lighted and groups gathered in conversation.
  An hour or so later somebody bawled, “What about it?” – meaning the match.
  Nobody else seemed enthusiastic, and our skipper put it up to our opponents’ captain.
  “Mick,” he said, “I’ll toss you for who won the game.”
  We lost.
  Then we climbed happily back into the vehicles and rumbled home in the cool of the evening.

Poem and vignette © John Barr, 1927

(From Men and Other Sins, Sydney, 1927)

Article © Mark Pirie 2011

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