Royal Reels: Gambling


This bland cover is addressed to an exciting man, Mr. B. O’Dowd, Supreme Court Library, Melbourne and the pink “ONE PENNY’ stamp of Victoria is cancelled MG 11/ AP 14/ 04/ VICTORIA (Figure 1).

The reverse has a roller cancel of MELBOURNE/ AP 15/ 4 30 AM/ 1904/ 2, with a flag-like seven wavy lines, surrounding VICTORIA (Figure 2).

Bernard Patrick O’Dowd was born on 11 April 1866 at Beaufort, Victoria, son of Bernard Dowd, constable and wife Ann Dowell, nee Mulholland, both Catholic migrants from Ulster, Northern Ireland. He was the oldest son and he was educated at a private school and thereafter at State schools. At 14 he won an exhibition, matriculated and passed the 1st year arts at the University of Melbourne. His father was seriously injured kicked by a horse, and Barney O’Dowd was obliged to earn his living, At age 17 he was offered the ‘headmasterhip’ at St. Alpius, Ballarat. His increasing secularism and scientism led to his bring dismissed from this post and in 1884 he opened a school at Beaufort. He published his verses in the Ballarat Courier, and was introduced to the poetry of Walt Whitman, a lifelong influence. Late in 1885 he passed the public service examinations, entered the Crown Solicitor’s Office in Melbourne and in 1888 he resumed his university studies and graduated B.A. and LL.B. with second-class honours.

O’Dowd joined innumerable clubs and societies: literary, secular, religious or radically political. In 1888 he edited The Ausralasian Secular Association Lyceum Tutor, an anthology which included many contributions of his own, and in the same year he married Evangeline Mina Fryer, daughter of the conductor of the Lyceum and they established in their home a weekly discussion group.

His poem “Hoist the Flag” was published in the Lyceum Tutor in 1888, outlined ideas that were very similar to anarchism. O’Dowd had become a friend of the Melbourne anarcho-communist Jack Andrews, and in 1897, O’Dowd and two others set up the radical paper Tocsin. In 1898, he was co-editor of Tocsin with Jack Andrews. He continued to be an editor, contributor and financial supporter of Tocsin until Andrews died of tuberculosis in 1903. During these six years, he published numerous radical poems, and used the pages of the Tocsin to express his opposition to Federation and The Boer War. In 1902, he issued a pamphlet “Conscience and Democracy” which opposed the Boer War.

Like Chummy Fleming who protested the opening of the first parliament in 1901, O’Dowd saw grave problems in Federation and wrote a clause by clause critique of the draft Federal Bill. He saw State-Federal rivalry as a future danger to working people.

Between 1903 to 1921, O’Dowd turned his attention to poetry and published six poetry books. Dawnward (1903), The Silent Land (1906), Dominion of the Boundary (1907), The Seven Deadly Sins (1909), The Bush (1912) and Alma Venus (1921). His most well known pamphlet “a plea for purpose in poetry”, Poetry Militant, was published in 1909. Dowd had five sons and in 1920, he left his wife and moved in with Marie Pitt, the editor of the Victorian Socialist.
five sons. In 1920, he left his wife and moved in with Marie Pitt, the editor of the Victorian Socialist and also a poet. He lived with her until her death in 1948. He and Pitt became members of the Unitarian church, denied the trinity and saw the historical Jesus Christ as an anarchist.

Although O’Dowd grappled constantly with the conflict between his work for the government and his radical politics, according to the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) “His optimism about human destiny never failed”, and a few months before his death at 87, “he affirmed his almost religious belief in anarchist communism.

Over the years, O’Dowd’s official career had remained intriguingly distinct from his poetic and political avocations. On the official side, he had been appointed, ‘on loan’, assistant librarian in the Supreme Court, Melbourne, in 1887. From the mid-1890s he had written and edited, sometimes ghosted, several law books. In 1913 he became first assistant parliamentary draughtsman.

O’Dowd’s restless and, as he would have insisted, Celtic energies lasted him through to the end, despite Marie Pitt’s death in 1948. In 1952 he broke a long poetic silence by producing two poems for the centenary of Australian Unitarianism. One of them included the hope ‘That we shall see our dream of Oneness realized’. His optimism about human destiny had never failed. He died on 1 September 1953 and was cremated with a Unitarian ceremony. His estranged wife (whom he had continued to support) and their five sons survived him. Two photos of B.P. Dowd are seen in Figure 3 & 4.

Portion of this paper was taken from the Australian Dictionary of Biography.