In mid-2003 the State Library formally acquired the writer Henry Lawson’s walking stick and shirt. The items had been in the care of the Henry Lawson Memorial and Literary Society for many years. Their late Secretary, Bryan Kelleher, was custodian and it was one of his last wishes that the stick and shirt be added to the existing archive of material related to the society held in the State Library’s Australian Manuscripts Collection.
One of Australia’s best-known literary figures, Henry Lawson died on 2 September 1922 after a long battle with alcoholism and illness. The Henry Lawson Memorial and Literary Society records date from 1929 to the 1990s and include membership registers, minutes, correspondence, financial records, invitations, programmes, articles on Lawson and photographs of early Society gatherings featuring such people as Bernard O’Dowd, J.K. Moir and Steve Ford.
The walking stick acquired by the Library bears the following inscription:
This walking stick was used by Henry Lawson at Leeton, camping on the Murrumbidgee, with his ‘mate’ Jim Graham (Gordon). Given by the latter to Ted Turner from whom I obtained it. (signed) Harry H. Pearce’.
Pearce was a former President of the Henry Lawson Society.
The shirt has not aged as well as the stick. Discoloured by time, it is inscribed as follows:
One of half a dozen shirts given Henry Lawson by Dan green who put HL’s name down at his own dentist, Optician and at times his tailor. Again and again Dan Green clad him from hat to shoes. These shirts were part of one of these clothings. They were the last of those he wore. M.G given me by Mrs Byers the year before he died.
M.G. is Mary Gilmore, who presented the shirt to the Henry Lawson Memorial and Literary Society. Mrs Byers was Mrs Isabel Byers who ran the North Sydney Coffee Palace where Lawson lived for a time.
Lawson material is not a strength of the State Library, however the Lothian Collection in the Australian Manuscripts Collection not only contains Lawson’s correspondence with Thomas Lothian, but also some personal correspondence and literary works, one of them previously unpublished. A selection of these were published in the La Trobe Journal, No. 70, Spring 2002, an edition devoted entirely to his life.
Note: This is an edited version of an article originally published in a edition of the State Library of Victoria News, Number 24, Nov 2003–Feb 2004. Adapted with permission of the editor.