Almanac Book Review – Albert ‘Pompey’ Austin: A Man Between Two Worlds

 

 

 

 

Albert ‘Pompey’ Austin: A man between two worlds – Some general impressions.

 

Roy Hay’s latest book in an extensive career encompassing social, cultural and sporting history is Albert ‘Pompey’ Austin: A man between two worlds, which details the life and world of Poorne Yarriworri, aka Albert “Pompey” Austin, a multi-talented Aboriginal man who was born and lived most of his life (c.1846 – 1889) in the Western District of Victoria. Among numerous achievements, particularly in the sporting arena, Austin has the distinction of being the only known Aboriginal to play top level Australian Rules football in nineteenth century Victoria (one game for Geelong in 1872).

 

Hay’s book is enjoyable and stimulating in equal measure. A good part of its impact is imparted by the large number of often splendidly evocative images (paintings, photographs, maps) spread throughout it. Many of these provide a fine sense of the milieu in which Pompey lived. Also, the images often evoked personal associations, as my paternal family history is very much concerned with Victoria’s Western District over the last one and hundred and seventy years or so. There’s a good chance that some of my relatives met Pompey and possibly competed with/against him in sporting events. I know, for example, via the online Trove NLA newspaper collection, that a great-great grandfather of mine (English-born) was playing Australian Rules football for the Terang club at least as early as 1879.

 

In terms of conveying a strong sense of Pompey the individual, Hay’s task was a difficult and complex one – a matter, of course, of which he indicates a full awareness. In his book, one does get some sense of Pompey as a kind of multi-talented trailblazer for Aboriginal people, but with the lack of detailed biographical material available about the man, combined with the obvious complexities involved in writing about him from a non-indigenous perspective, a three-dimensional Pompey is not present or indeed possible. That said, Hay clearly indicates that he wishes to present Pompey to the extent that he can, with the hope that in the future other (preferably indigenous) writers will take the baton from him and continue the search for Pompey the individual into the future: “This will not be the last word on Poorne Yarriworri, Albert … Pompey Austin. If he is better remembered as a result of this book, that is all I ask. I hope and expect that some of his descendants will make it redundant, sooner rather than later.”

 

Overall, the book is a highly successful one and what it does best is uncover a layer of Western District history that many tend to forget about or do not recognize to the extent that they should. To a very significant extent, it is as if Hay paints back in an Aboriginal world onto a conventional “white man’s” canvas of Western District history, and that is a wonderful achievement.

 

Albert ‘Pompey’ Austin: A man between two worlds
Roy Hay, Sports and Editorial Services Australia, Bannockburn (Victoria), 2020, pp. x + 265, $29.95 (paper), ISBN (13): 978-0-9946-0194-0.

 

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About

Kevin Densley is a poet and writer-in-general. His work has appeared in print in Australia, the UK and the USA, as well as on many online venues. His fourth book-length poetry collection, Sacredly Profane, has just been published (late 2020) by Ginninderra Press. He is also the co-author of ten play collections for young people, as well as a multi Green Room Award nominated play, Last Chance Gas, which was published by Currency Press. Recent other writing includes screenplays for films with a tertiary education purpose.

Comments

  1. Thanks Kevin for a very good review.
    Its so good that Roy Hay has explored the life and times of Pompey Austin and delved deep to endeavour to provide a platform for a stronger indigenous perspective.

    So interesting that you had a great great grandfather play for Terang in 1979, would love to know what he did for work?

  2. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks, Dr R, for your comments.

    Yes, I love what Roy has done with regard to this book.

    My great-great grandfather’s surname was Emeny. I know that at one stage, for an extended period, he was on the land in the Brucknell district and, beyond that time, plied his trade as a carpenter in Terang.

  3. Dear Kev and Rod

    Thanks for the kind assessment and the family link, Kev. I’m sure there must be many people today who have connections to the Western District in the 19th century and I live in hope that someone will spot Pompey’s story and add to and refine it. Or even replace it with a better account from an Indigenous perspective. That way we might get a better sense of the man in his times and as he straddled the two worlds he inhabited.
    Yesterday I had an order for copies of the book for the Collins Bookshop in Liebig Street in Warrnambool, so we were off at the crack of dawn to deliver same. So anyone on holiday in the Western District looking for a good read can pick one up from there, or log on to our website, http://www.sesasport.com.au. Forgive the shameless plug.

    Roy

  4. Kevin Densley says

    Hi Roy.

    Many thanks for your response. Your Pompey Austin book is certainly one that anyone interested in the subject matter should buy – and it’s the kind of text that should be in the library of every Western District town or city that possesses one.

  5. roger lowrey says

    Kevin,

    While I was writing my FA Wimmera article (2 July) I referred to various current and former AFL players who played for Wimmera footy clubs.

    While I was as it, my natural curiosity prompted me to investigate Wimmera cricketers who had reached Test or even Sheffield Shield level.

    Surprisingly enough, my very amateur research enabled me to find just one former Wimmera cricketer to have done so. Dick-a-Dick, a Wotjobaluk man and aboriginal farm hand from near Nhill played in the 1868 aboriginal cricket team tour of England.

    (Our kindly editor JTH would even concede this was well before the days of local horse trainer D I Dodson of Telopia Downs.)

    The point of all this is that my intuitive feelings tell me there are a whole bunch of stories of 19th Century indigenous sports stars which have never been told – or have only ever been partially told. The erstwhile Ebenezer Mission midway between Dimboola and Jeparit could probably tell many such stories if its former residents could talk to us.

    Dick-a-Dick and Pompey Austin are surely just two of many.

    Have a brilliant Christmas comrade. I’m sure you have been a good boy!

    RDL

  6. Kevin Densley says

    Cheers, RDL! Season’s greetings to you and yours! Re the ‘good boy’ comment, I’m reminded of what one of my favourite writers, Mark Twain, once wrote in the guise of Huck Finn (in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, from memory): “It used to be a good hotel, but that proves nothing. I used to be a good boy.”

    And I’m sure you’re on the money with what you’ve just said about 19th century indigenous sports stars, too.

  7. Roger, I only found your comment this evening. You are correct about the numerous stories that could be told about Ebenezer and its Indigenous footballers and cricketers. You will find some of them in my Aboriginal People and Australian Football in the Nineteenth Century, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 2019. Since then I have found several more stories about the Marks family and others. I hope to send something to the Almanac before too long on them. Thanks for your comment meantime.

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