Moyarra – An Australian Legend

“Drawn from Life by Sir Thomas L. Mitchell” Frontispiece from the 1891 edition of Moyarra: An Australian Legend.

Day Shift – 18/09/2012 – 02:10 PM
Presenter: Carol Duncan
Interviewee: Gionni Di Gravio, Archivist, Newcastle University

University of Newcastle Archivist Gionni Di Gravio discusses Moyarra: An Australian Legend in Two Cantos originally printed in Maitland by R Jones at the ‘Mercury’ Office in 1851. Who wrote it, and what was it all about? Is it the earliest title published in the region?

Broadcast Notes:

The University holds both the original edition printed at the Mercury Office anonymously, as well as the 1891 edition published in London under the name of “Yittadairn”  which was pseudonym for George William Rusdon, the son of the Reverend G.K. Rusdon who was clergyman at Maitland from around 1832. We’re not sure if it is the earliest printed original work in the Region. It would be great if your listeners could tell us if they know of an earlier one.

You can read the 1891 edition online through the Openlibrary:

A local researcher, Mr Ross Edmonds, asked whether this is the first original work published in the region, and it would be interesting to know if it is.

The original 1851 edition bears no author, but the 1891 edition bears the authorship of “Yittadairn” who was the pseudonym of George William Rusdon, (1819-1903) the son of the Rev. G.K. Rusdon (1784-1859) who was stationed in the parish of Maitland from 1834.

His observations and interest into the Aboriginal people of the district, as well as inspiration from the classical author Terence was distilled in his poem Moyarra.

George William Rusdon was a pastoralist, and a bit of a rebel rouser. He got himself in a bit of strife later on.

He moved to Maitland around the age of 15, by 25 he was managing a series of pastoral properties across New South Wales in Mingay, (near Gundagai), and others in the Lachlan and Goulburn districts. By 28 he had gone to China, and back and took up a position in 1849 as agent for the National schools which took him traveling as far north as Brisbane, taking in the Hunter Region and Armidale.

He was 32 years old when it was originally published, and he says in his preface that he wrote it as an amusement when in the bush and his sole companions was his faithful black, his dog, and his horse. So we can assume he composed it during those early years as a pastoralist, from around his formative teenage years to 25 years of age.

He says in the 1851 edition that he got the idea to publish it from a friend who suggested he write it as an Australian contribution to the Industrial Exhibition of 1851.

His love of the classics is interesting, the first edition quotes and makes reference to an obscure Roman  writer of mimes Deceimus Laberius, who got into a great deal of strife with Julius Caesar for being a smart Alec.

“A Roman knight,
This day, I left my sacred home; but soon
Shall there return, an actor and buffoon.”

He also makes reference to the Roman dramatist Terence, especially from the work Heauton Timorumenos (The Self Tormentor):

“Homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum puto”
“I am a human being, I consider nothing that is human alien to me”
Heauton Timorumenos Prologue 45

In the 1891 edition, all references to Laberius appear to have been removed, Terence is still there, and adds the authorship under the pen name of “Yittadairn”.

In utramque partem ingenium quid possit meum.
Si nunquam avare precium statui arti meae,
Et eum esse quaestum in animum induxi maxumum,
Quam maxume servire vostris commodisj
Exemplum statuite in me, ut adolescentuli
Vobis placere studeant potius, quam sibi.”

“Do you make proof,
what, in each character, my ability can effect.
If I have never greedily set a high price upon my skill,
and have come to the conclusion that this is my greatest gain,
as far as possible to be subservient to your convenience,
establish in me a precedent, that the young
may be anxious rather to please you than themselves.”

The story concerns Moyarra, an Aboriginal warrior in love with Mytah, who is captured by a neighboring tribe’s warrior by the name of Muntookan. She is later murdered by him, and the second canto is a lament for her, and later for Moyarra after he is murdered as well. The whole thing is a sad lamentation to the Aboriginal people.

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