Biography of Joseph Furphy

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Joseph Furphy
SLNSW 822160 29a Joseph Furphy Tom Collins 31103.jpg
Born26 September 1843
Yering, Victoria, Australia
Died13 September 1912
Claremont, Western Australia
Pen nameTom Collins
OccupationAuthor, poet
GenreAustralian literature

Joseph Furphy (Irish: Seosamh Ó Foirbhilhe; 26 September 1843 – 13 September 1912) is widely regarded as the "Father of the Australian novel". He mostly wrote under the pseudonym Tom Collins and is best known for his novel Such Is Life (1903), regarded as an Australian classic.

Personal life

Furphy was born at Yering Station in Yering, Victoria. His father, Samuel Furphy, was originally a tenant farmer from Tanderagee, County Armagh, Ireland, who emigrated to Australia in 1840. Samuel Furphy was head gardener on the station. There was no school in the district and at first Joseph was educated by his mother. The only books available were the Bible and Shakespeare and at seven years of age Furphy was already learning passages of each by heart; he never forgot them. In about 1850 the family moved to Kangaroo Ground, Victoria, and here the parents of the district built a school and obtained a master. In 1852 they moved again, to Kyneton where Samuel Furphy began business as a hay and corn merchant. A few years later he leased a farm and also bought a threshing plant. This was worked by Joseph and a brother and both became competent engine-drivers. In 1864 Furphy bought a threshing outfit and travelled the Daylesford and surrounding districts. At Glenlyon he met Leonie Germain, a girl of 16 of French extraction, and in 1866 they were married.

Soon after, his wife's mother went to New Zealand and Furphy for a time carried on her farm, but two years later took up a selection near Colbinabbin. The land proved to be poor and in about 1873 he sold out and soon afterwards bought a team of bullocks. He became prosperous as the years went by, but the drought came and he had heavy losses. Some of his bullocks and horses died from pleuro-pneumonia, and in 1884 he accepted a position in the foundry of his brother John at Shepparton. There he worked for some 20 years doing much reading and writing in the evenings.

Late in his life, Furphy moved to Western Australia to join his sons who had established an iron foundry there. He died in Claremont on 13 September 1912 and is buried in Karrakatta Cemetery.

A full biography of Furphy was written by the Australian author Miles Franklin: Joseph Furphy: The Legend of a Man and His Book, in 1944.

Literary career

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"I have just finished writing a full-sized novel; title, Such is Life; the scene, Riverina and northern Vic; temper, democratic; bias, offensively Australian."

— Furphy's famous self-introduction to J. F. Archibald, published in The Bulletin, April 1897

In his youth Furphy had written many verses and in December 1867 he had been awarded the first prize of £3 at the Kyneton Literary Society for a vigorous set of verses on 'The Death of President Lincoln'. While living at Shepparton, he was encouraged in his writing by Kate Baker, a schoolteacher who boarded with his mother. He sent a story 'The Mythical Sundowner' to The Bulletin under the name 'Warrigal Jack' and it was accepted for publication. His most famous work is Such Is Life, a fictional account of the life of rural dwellers, including bullock drivers, squatters and itinerant travellers, in southern New South Wales and Victoria, during the 1880s. In 1897 the manuscript was sent to The Bulletin where A. G. Stephens recognised its worth, but also that it was not a commercial proposition. He suggested cuts and Furphy removed an entire section, later published in serial form as Rigby's Romance. Stephens persuaded the proprietors of The Bulletin to publish the revised Such Is Life because it was a great Australian work although not commercially viable. It was published in 1903 and only sold about a third of the print run. Later editions were brought out after Furphy's death through the efforts of Kate Baker who bought the copyright from The Bulletin.

In 1905, Furphy moved to Western Australia, where his sons were living. He had made literary friends through the publication of his book, but now lost touch with them. He built a house at Swanbourne, which is now the headquarters of the West Australian branch of the Fellowship of Australian Writers.

Furphy's popularity may have influenced the usage of the Australian slang word "furphy", meaning a "tall story". However, scholars consider it more likely that the word originated with water carts, produced in large numbers by J. Furphy & Sons, a company owned by Furphy's brother John.

Such Is Life contains possibly the first written incidence of the Australian and New Zealand idiom "ropeable". Chapter One contains the following phrase: "On't ole Martin be ropeable when he sees that fence!"


  • Such Is Life (1903)
  • The Poems of Joseph Furphy (1916)
  • Rigby's Romance (1921)
  • The Buln Buln and the Brolga (1946)

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