Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Martin Nelson Haley (1905–1980)

by Martin Duwell

This article was published:

Martin Nelson Haley (1905-1980), poet, essayist, translator and schoolteacher, was born on 7 July 1905 at New Farm, Brisbane, eldest of three children of Nelson Nathan Haley, a hawker from England, and his Irish-born wife Mary Josephine, née Kiely. In 1907 the family moved to Nambour. Martin attended the local primary school and in 1918 entered St Joseph's College, Nudgee, on a state scholarship; a school bursary of £20 allowed him to complete the senior examination in 1921. His experience at St Joseph's was pivotal. At the point of leaving home, he discovered a new home. In his unpublished autobiography Haley recalled an 'astonishing sense of uplift' which sprang from the college's 'fine prospect over the fields, frequent mass, a certain bright cleanliness everywhere, freedom from the parental roof, friends at hand all the time'. Intellectually it was a period of crucial debate generated by the Anglo-Irish crisis and the aftermath of the Russian revolution.

Employed in a bank, he left in 1925 to become a primary school teacher. His first posting was to Yaronga, and he taught at a succession of small schools in the country before being appointed to Kangaroo Point Boys' School, Brisbane, in 1937. At St Benedict's Catholic Church, East Brisbane, on 19 December 1939 he married Lydia May Egan. Haley subsequently taught in schools at Ithaca Creek, Mount Gravatt, Brisbane South and New Farm. He retired in December 1970. A practical and pragmatic educationist, he was resistant to any change which made learning more difficult for his students.

His literary career had begun in 1933 with articles contributed to the Catholic Leader; he also wrote for the Risen Sun, a monthly paper for Christian Brothers old boys. He was involved in numerous Catholic societies and maintained a prolific output of non-fictional prose, almost all of it published in Catholic papers and journals. Following his transfer to Brisbane in 1937, he joined the Catholic Poetry Society of Queensland: founded by the poet Paul Grano in 1934, its members included James Picot and Brian Vrepont. Haley's output comprised original poetry and translations. Poems and a Preface (1936) was self-published and received little attention. His later work, including More Poems and Another Preface (1938), never established a major reputation. He translated and published several collections of poems from Latin, Greek, French, Spanish and Chinese sources. With languages in which he was not proficient, he depended on prose paraphrases and the advice of friends.

A potent and habitual controversialist, Haley supported causes with a passionate concern. He belonged to a generation which saw a resurgent Catholicism as the only bulwark against communism. He was a staunch supporter of General Franco, and he rejected Darwinian evolution and the philosophy of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Poetically, he remained devoted to the idea that metre and rhyme were the cornerstones of form in English-language verse. Haley was active in the Catholic Readers' and Writers' Society from its foundation in 1944, and president (1975) and editor of its journal, Vista. Survived by his wife and three daughters, he died on 18 October 1980 at Paddington and was buried in Pinaroo lawn cemetery, Aspley.

Select Bibliography

  • Vista (Brisbane), vol 6, no 1, 1980
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 3 Dec 1970, 20 Oct 1980
  • Haley staff card, History Unit, Queensland Department of Education, Brisbane
  • Haley collection (University of Queensland Library).

Citation details

Martin Duwell, 'Haley, Martin Nelson (1905–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 21 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


7 July, 1905
New Farm, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia


18 October, 1980 (aged 75)
Paddington, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.