[Editor: This article by P. I. O’Leary was published in The Advocate (Melbourne, Vic.), 2 August 1944.]
On the track
A tribute to P.I.O’L.
Old mate! In the gusty old weather,
When our hopes and our troubles were new,
In the years spent in wearing out leather,
I found you unselfish and true ——.
Those lines of Lawson’s express my opinion of P.I.O’L.
It is 35 years since first we met, and the years in between have, to me, been brightened by my meetings with him. We were comparatively only a couple of kids when we met in Adelaide, and then, the 330 miles to Broken Hill looked an easy walk. “Wearing out leather” certainly is a fine way in which to get to know a companion, and on that walk I got to know O’Leary. He was always cheerful and a possessor of a cynical form of philosophy that was, to me, always amusing. The happy months spent with him in Broken Hill at his home are a source of pleasant memories.
Together we worked as rouseabouts in the shearing sheds across the border in South Australia. With great joy we participated in a strike for better conditions and when we succeeded in winning, felt like a couple of young emancipators. O’Leary’s command of language coupled with his devastating cynicism, even in those days, was a powerful weapon.
Of his writing, I will not speak (there are many more able critics), but I am sure that without any publicity, O’Leary’s work, both here and overseas, will be remembered by thousands of his admirers. But it is the man that I remember, not the essayist, the poet or the critic. The companionship of him and his friends. Those friends, including Bernard Ingleby, Con Lindsay, Jack Somers and many more who used to meet and tear the universe to pieces and afterwards remould it nearer to their hearts’ desire.
Ingleby, like O’Leary, had published a book of verse and also they had this in common — neither had a copy of his work. So if anyone wished to see a copy — and many did — we used to walk to the library. Strangely, both books were kept in the librarian’s room, and as neither Pat nor Bernard liked asking for a copy of his own work, I generally obliged. The people at the library must have thought that I was a keen student of O’Leary’s and Ingleby’s poetry.
Well, now Pat has joined Bernard, and when I heard the news over the wireless I knew that, for a while, I had lost a friend; a friend who, understanding his own shortcomings, always found an excuse for the faults of his mates. A kindly, dictatorial person, who was never put out if we would not be dictated to; a friend who would at any time do all he could to help another with anything that he had. But Lawson can certainly say it better than I can:
I remember, Old Man, I remember
The tracks that we followed are clear —
The jovial last nights of December,
The solemn first days of the year,
Long tramps through the clearing and timber,
Short parting on platform or pier.
But, alas! this is the long parting.
The Advocate (Melbourne, Vic.), 2 August 1944, p. 10
rouseabout = an unskilled worker, someone employed to carry out odd jobs or unskilled tasks, especially used regarding someone working in a shearing shed
wireless = a radio (i.e. a wireless radio)