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Harold Percy Croydon Tritton (1886–1965)

by John Meredith

This article was published:

Harold Percy Croydon Tritton (1886-1965), shearer and folk-singer, was born on 3 October 1886 at Five Dock, Sydney, second son of Edgar Joseph Tritton, labourer, and his wife Frances, née Lane, both Sydney born. Educated at Waterloo and Belmore (Lakemba) public schools, he left at 13 and found work, first with a fisherman, then as a newsboy, a factory worker, an apprentice and a builder's labourer. With his mate, 'Dutchy' Holland, Tritton decided in 1905 to try his hand at shearing.

For the next four years they went 'on the track' through inland New South Wales, carrying swags and occasionally 'jumping the rattler'. They were employed as shearers by J. C. & C. Young. Between seasons Tritton worked as fencer, timbercutter, coach driver, roadworker, fossicker, rabbiter and a boxer with a travelling troupe. During one boxing match he was given the nickname 'Duke'. In country towns 'Duke' and 'Dutchy' earned extra money by singing in the streets.

On 1 December 1909 Tritton married Caroline Goodman with Anglican rites at Buckaroo, near Mudgee. After some months in Sydney in 1910, they returned to Mudgee where Tritton took various bush and station jobs. Rejected by the army in 1914 for flat feet—despite his proven record 'on the wallaby'—he spent time on odd jobs around Cullenbone. He was finally accepted by the army in 1918, but the war ended before he was posted.

Moving to Sydney in 1919, Tritton built a house at Punchbowl and found work delivering timber for H. McKenzie Ltd. When he lost his job in the 1927 timber strike he returned to Mudgee and went prospecting at Mount Knowles. In 1933 with his wife and ten children he moved to his 38-acre (15 ha) selection at Cullenbone. Too small for grain crops, it was used to fatten lambs while Tritton took extra casual work. In 1936 he became a powder monkey on the Sandy Hollow-Maryvale railway. A loyal union man, he was the Australian Workers' Union delegate for Jackson's gang.

In 1938 'Duke' sold his selection. He shifted with his family to Sydney, resumed work at McKenzie's and tried unsuccessfully to enlist. After the war he formed a syndicate to mine Mount Knowles, then moved back on to the selection which his son had repurchased; in 1957 he retired to Sydney.

Encouraged by Nancy Keesing, Tritton wrote an account of his early outback experiences, Time Means Tucker (1959), which was published by the Bulletin. In Sydney at Bush Music Club workshops he became a popular performer of bush songs, both the traditional and those of his own composition. In 1957 two of his songs were recorded on the Wattle label and issued on a vinyl long-playing disc, Australian Traditional Singers and Musicians. Tritton later toured Australian capital cities with a group of folk-singers. 'Tall and tough as ironbark', with intense blue eyes and a mop of snowy hair, he had presence and a strong, clear voice. ('You should always put a bit of venom into it', he used to say.) Sincere and strong-minded, he was sardonic, unpretentious and believed in mateship.

'Duke' Tritton died in Sydney, at the peak of his singing career, on 17 May 1965 and was cremated. His wife and nine of their children survived him. The National Library of Australia holds recordings of his folk-songs.

Select Bibliography

  • L. McLean, Pumpkin Pie and Faded Sandshoes (Syd, 1981)
  • J. Meredith, Duke of the Outback (Melb, 1983)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 May 1965.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John Meredith, 'Tritton, Harold Percy Croydon (1886–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 22 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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