Dryblower Murphy

Dryblowers came in different shapes and sizes, but were essentially mesh contraptions. Mined rock was spread on the mesh and the whole thing shaken to separate the gold from the dross.

Dryblower Murphy was born in Victoria but followed the gold to Coolgardie, Western Australia. He had been an opera singer, with a good tenor voice, and was an excellent raconteur. His lively personality and story telling skills made him a popular figure at the dances and sing-a-longs that were such an important part of life in the large, but isolated community that Clara Saunders belonged to.

Early in 1894, little over a year after Coolgardie had been declared a town, Billy Clare launched the first local newspaper, Coolgardie Miner, and ‘Dryblower’ became a regular contributor. The poems he wrote, and often performed, told stories of the hardships, the disappointments, the tragedies and triumphs on the fledgeling fields. But it was Dryblower’s sense of humour that most endeared him to the locals as he captured their daily lives on the page. One of his poems, ‘Mrs Finnigan’s Frock‘, tells the story of the Coolgardie Miner running out of paper with a full two weeks to go before the next camel-train was expected. With typical outback resourcefulness, Billy Clare offered to buy linen, preferably in light colours, from the towns people. He then printed the news, the stock market prices, the births, deaths and marriages and the Test Cricket scores on these sheets of linen and nailed them to the trunks of trees around the town. All the locals came crowding around to read their ‘newspaper’. Dryblower Murphy tells the story, in verse, of Mrs Finnigan, who was a large woman, selling a calico frock with a full skirt. The news was duly printed and the frock nailed to a tree. But Sal, who was acknowledged as queen of the gins, took a fancy to the frock, janked it off the tree and ran, pulling the garment on over he head. However, Sal was not used to wearing any sort of clothes and the skirt tripped her up. The locals then crowded around the prostrate Sal to read their news.

‘And so with the Warden as ring-referee/ With eyes all alert and excitable breaths/ They read from her nervous neck to her knee/ Marriages, births, divorces and deaths/ And out where the dollies the specimens crush/ The tin dishes rattle, the dryblowers rock/ Coolgardie men tell of the ravenous rush/ For the pioneer print – Mrs Flannigan’s Frock.

(from Mrs Flannigan’s Frock by Dryblower Murphy)

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