• Diana Nichol

Norman Lindsay in "Bohemians of the Bulletin" A&R 1965


"RANDOLPH the RECKLESS was the title he bestowed upon himself, and it is revealing enough, for he was a man of action who posed as such. He was a mining engineer, and his profession forced him to mix with the tough citizens of the goldfields, and toughness was needed there, if he was going to assert his own pugnacity. And self-assertion on that, or any other basis of conflict was the substance and essence of Bedford's being. He was built to maintain his chosen role of the man of action gifted with some capacity as a writer, for he wrote as voluminously as he lived expansively. And expensively. In his profession of mining engineer he made several fortunes, built a fine house in East Melbourne, and raised a family there. His stocky figure, with its powerful arms and shoulders, was a dynamo of physical energy, even though it supported a considerable paunch. that feature he was apt to flaunt under the dictum that "Fat is Force". He went bald early, and his high domed forehead signified the man of intellect, while the man of action took over his hooked, predatory nose and his big yellow Viking's moustache, masking a hard, coarse mouth which lacked that curve from lip to chin which indicates sensitivity.

Most of all, he was gifted with a flow of words, delivered with such speed, precision, emphasis, and lucidity as I never heard equalled by any other exercise in volubility. Truculence was its accent, and there was a punch in every phrase of it. He beat down an opponent by the powers of utterance and personality. I have seen A.G. Stephens reduced to a state of speechless paralysis by that combination of assault forces, but I have written of that event in my profile of A.G.

I have seen the same force in operation on a subject extreme from A.G.'s inability to defend himself in any sort of verbal conflict; a subject which would advise caution in arousing its latent ferocity. Randolph and I had turned in for lunch at one of those Melbourne oyster saloons, where the diners ate in cubicles facing each other across a short expanse of table. I ordered a grilled flounder, while Randolph called for a crab. Seated opposite him was a great, hulking, wharflumper type, guzzling steak and oysters in a noisy and voracious manner which Randolph chose to find offensive. As the waiter arrived with our order, Randolph said to the steak-guzzler, "If you can't eat that steak like a man, take it on the mat like a dog."

It took the steak-guzzler a moment or two to assimilate this insulting address from a stranger, but, with comprehension, ferocity exploded in him. "Talk like that to me I'll knock yer bloody block off!" he roared. Instantly Randolph grabbed up his crab and made a motion with it at the other's face, saying peremptorily, "Sit down, or I'll rub this crab all over your face."

The novel nature of this assault by crab, the voltage of pugnacity in Randolph's voice, and the compelling glare in his eyes, jerked the fellow backward with a stunning impact of his head on the cubicle's partition. His wits were not equal to such a combination of pugnacious forces, and he gaped at Randolph, who dismissed further interest in him by returning to his crab, and conversation with me, while the guzzler, muttering something about "No way — talk to a man", returned to his steak, with a diminuendo of voracity in its consumption.

I greatly enjoyed the whole performance, every word and gesture timed to its precise moment of effect, and performed with such assurance of its finality. It was a revelation of the dominance of personality over the crude human brute, and only practice in its technique could have perfected it. But I noticed in it, as others of the like nature, that Randolph kept the unfaltering threat of his eyes on the other till his gaze faltered, on which Randolph tossed the affair aside as of no consequence.

Bedford could be the rudest of men when he chose to exercise his wt at the expense of others. He happened to be a guest at a party given by a lady of some social pretensions. There arrived to it, a husband and wife — the wife, big, dominant, and masculine, the husband, small, meek, and submissive. Of them, the hostess said to Bedford, " Mr Bedford, I want to introduce you to my friends, Mrs and Mr So-and so," Said Bedford, bowing to the couple, 'Pleased to meet you. Which is which?"

I found out early, that the best retort to Bedford's rudeness was to meet it on equal terms of rudeness, and I exploited that device on my first meeting with him. I was at tat time, an art student in Melbourne. He had returned from one of the Western Australian goldfields with one of his fortunes, and was pervading Melbourne in a glorious festivity of booze, big dinners, and a reunion with the literary and journalistic elect of that era. It was my brother Lionel who met him first, and those two clicked in a friendship which endured to the end of their lives. Lionel had the art of inspiring such friendships when he desired to exercise it. He was a handsome fellow, with considerable charm, and he could be very entertaining at a festive gathering, having great powers of talk and an excellent sense of humour. I never ceased to marvel at the transformation that was inevitable when, no longer needing to exercise his art, he left such a festive occasion and we were alone together. From being on top of the world in public, he collapsed into an abyss of gloom in private. he was so used from boyhood to accepting me as the subjective young brother that it never occurred to him that I might secrete a treacherous sense of humour over the unbuttoned moments of his private life. Bedford had decided to publish his verses in an illustrated edition and it was Lionel who intruded me on him as an illustrator. I recall him bringing Bedford to a little room I rented in Law Court Chambers, at the top of Little Bourke Street. I knew nothing of Bedford, or his established character of Randolph the Reckless, so I took over the job of illustrating his verses . . . as I did any other little jobs that came my way, such as commissions from printers for hair-restorer ads, or the labels on jam tins, or pickle bottles, paid for at prices ranging from two-and-six to six shillings. The verses I set about illustrating were entitled "The Ballad of Abel Tasman", and in the one illustration I perpetrated I went very wrong in my costume period, for I outfitted Tasman in Elizabethan trunk hose, a short cloak, and a velvet bonnet. Bedford's first glance at it exploded him into outraged derision. That prinking popinjay mincing on eggs the tough old seaman Abel Tasman! What the hell did I think I was doing, trying to fub off a lousy joke like that on him?

The eggs referred to were cobble-stones, or meant to be, but even an incompetent art student may be aroused to defend his works from the sort of things Bedford was letting loose on them. My retort was automatic. "I admit it's a lousy drawing, but just about on the level of your verses." The effect on Bedford was as if I had delivered him a punch in the midriff. He just glared at me a moment and ejaculated, "Well, so help me God!" and stamped out of the room fuming. Such insolence from a runt of a lad of seventeen could not be dignified by combat in equal terms of truculence.

And a little event which occurred shortly after his rejection of me as hid illustrator confirmed my relations with him on a equality of rudeness. I had completely forgotten it, till many years later it was recalled to me by my brother-in-law Jack Elkington. We were discussing Bedford, and Elkington said, " I always thought that there was a good deal of bluff in Bedford's pose of toughness. He always knew when to call off a deal in it, as he did when he wiped his boot on you."

When was that? I told Elkington that I could not recall anything in the nature of a boot-wiping. He said, "You must remember us going into that pub in Elizabeth Street where Bedford was alone at the bar, talking to the barmaid. He lifted a bot and wiped it down the front of your clothes. You leaned over and picked his handkerchief out of his coat pocket and wiped your clothes with it, and your boots, and threw it back at him. Bedford said, "By God, you were right. I apologise. What'll you drink?"

Then I did recall the episode, which I suppose I had forgotten because it seemed so out of characterwith the sort of man I am. Or the sort of man I assume myself to be. Like every other man, I am the invisible entity in thes company of others. I see an observe their antics, but have no sense that they are observing mine. Visual memory is the strongest factor in recalling past events. It is denied us in the part we played in them.

That illusion f invisibility is the supreme joke perpetrated on us. What a man thinks, or writes about himself, has very little validity. It is by his speech, gestures, actions, the very intonation of his voice, by the contour and expression of his face, that his contemporaries decide what sort of man he is; and that is the impression of him protrayed to posterity if his acquaintances have chosen to make a record of it, as I am doing in these profiles. And if any of my subjects have left the like sort of impressions of me to poesterity, I endorse posterity's right to get all the entertainment it can out of it. Nothing is so fatuous as to assume that we can keep any aspect of ourselves or our private lives under cover.

...,to be cont.





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