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Harrington, Edward Philip (1895–1966)

by Hugh Anderson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Edward Philip Harrington (1895-1966), by Charles Salis Lloyd

Edward Philip Harrington (1895-1966), by Charles Salis Lloyd

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H91.32/1

Edward Philip Harrington (1895-1966), balladist, was born on 28 September 1895 at Shepparton, Victoria, fourth child of Philip Harrington, a farmer from Ireland, and his Victorian-born wife Margaret, née O'Brien. Ted spent his boyhood and youth on his father's farm at Boundary Bend, and completed 'a rather chequered school career' at Wanalta Creek and Shepparton Central schools. On 22 February 1917 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force; he was then 5 ft 3 ins (160 cm) tall, his chest measured 32 ins (81 cm), he had blue eyes and brown hair, and he gave his religious denomination as Catholic. Harrington sailed to the Middle East and in August joined the 4th Light Horse Regiment in Palestine. He took part in the charge at Beersheba (31 October) and in the 1918 advance to Damascus, Syria, before being discharged in Australia on 24 August 1919. For much of his remaining life he required medical attention and received a repatriation pension.

After the war Harrington 'went broke on a Mallee farm'. In the 1920s he began contributing to the Bulletin and Labour Call. Widely described as the last of the bush balladists—a term which undervalues the range of his writing—he once said that he was 'a literary throwback'. One critic described his ballads as 'humourous, racy and realistic', but another, while agreeing that all Harrington's verse possessed 'a virile, singing, swinging quality', also pointed to the many poems with lyrical qualities. At least fifteen were set to music: eight of them (including 'My Old Black Billy') by Edith Harrhy, and others by Peter Dawson who recorded 'The Bushrangers' and 'Lasseter's Last Ride'. Harrington, nevertheless, made very little from any of his verses. In 1940-41 he realized a total of 24 shillings in royalties, which were deducted from his advance payment of £12. He learned a plasterer's trade, worked in munitions during World War II and was later employed in a canteen at Fishermen's Bend.

A foundation member of both the Australian Poetry Lovers' Society (1934) and the Bread and Cheese Club (1938), Harrington regularly visited J. K. Moir's weekend gatherings, always wearing a grey felt hat and often a dark blue overcoat, and never without a child's cardboard school-case which was referred to as his 'two-bottle case'. He was friendly but reserved, and only offered an opinion when asked directly. His closest friends among writers were possibly E. J. Brady and John Shaw Neilson, and, after Harrington had returned to live in Melbourne in 1936, he and Neilson met regularly.

In all, Harrington was the author of five collections of verse—Songs of War and Peace (1920), Boundary Bend and Other Ballads (1936), My Old Black Billy and Other Songs of the Australian Outback (c.1940), The Kerrigan Boys and Other Australian Verses (1944) and The Swagless Swaggie and Other Ballads (1957)—all noteworthy for their restrained social comment and humanism. Besides his poems, he wrote a number of short stories between 1962 and 1965, most of which appeared in Bohemia.

Seeing him at Jack Titus's pub in 1962, L. J. Blake observed: 'He looked spry enough but the dreadful cough was with him then. A tiny man with a coat too long and legs so short, but one could see him with emu feather jauntily in his hat and those legs in breeches, a light horseman of the first A.I.F. who fought once at Beersheba'. Harrington died of emphysema and chronic bronchitis on 28 May 1966 in North Melbourne and was buried in Fawkner cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at $4539.

Select Bibliography

  • H. W. Malloch, Fellows All (Melb, 1943)
  • Education Department (Victoria), Vision and Realisation, L. J. Blake ed, vol 3 (Melb, 1973)
  • Overland, no 3, Autumn 1955, p 8, no 35, Nov 1966, p 50
  • Australian Tradition, 3, no 2, June 1966, p 11
  • Lawsonian, no 369, Apr 1993, p 5
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 8 Oct 1945
  • Age (Melbourne), 30 May 1966
  • Advocate (Melbourne), 16 June 1966
  • S. Murray-Smith papers (State Library of Victoria)
  • C. Goode papers (State Library of Victoria)
  • private information.

Citation details

Hugh Anderson, 'Harrington, Edward Philip (1895–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/harrington-edward-philip-10431/text18493, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 26 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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