There have been three different Matthew Bradys in my life, and now I’ve met a fourth thanks to Pete Hay.
Like every Tasmanian school child I learnt of Matthew Brady the swashbuckling bandito, the gentleman thief, the best of the bushrangers.
My father would drive us to Bradys Lookout and I would imagine I too was galloping forth in search of adventure, easily evading some colonial keystone cop.
At University I met Richard Flanagan’s political Brady, the man who came closest to mounting a successful convict revolt and challenging George Arthur’s steam-powered police state. This Brady was “Mutt Brady, Liberator” as convicts scrawled on their cell walls. He was half Simon Bolivar, half Spartacus and like them both, an inspiration for the ages.
Then, a few years ago when I started studying the music of Tasmanian Scottish convict composer, Alexander Laing, I met a very different Brady. Laing dedicated one of his tunes to Brady but there was no liberation in it. The music is buffoonish, meant to elicit laughter from Laing’s (hoped for) audience of merchants and gentry, laughter at Brady the clown.
Laing was the constable of Sorell when Brady took the town and was subsequently accused of deserting his post until Brady left. Some say he hid in a drain. You can see why Laing might want people to laugh at Brady.
Now I’ve met another Matthew Brady. In his most recent book of poetry, Physick, Pete Hay includes a ballad about Brady. This Brady is a metaphor for survival against the odds.
Thanks to his love of life and of freedom, his clear head and good looks, his decency and his kindness, Brady is able evade his pursuers, themselves allegories for failure, mediocrity, cruelty, vice and bondage.
When Brady eventually hangs still he dodges death, ascends to a better place and consigns his oppressors, particularly Arthur, to perpetual ignominy.
I know Pete Hay well enough to know the professional disappointments and personal tragedies he has suffered are worse than most of us are called on to endure.
I rejoiced in Pete’s Bles’d Brady because he is saying defeat is never the last word.
I also loved Pete’s use of archaic words and half-educated spelling. Far from being a barrier to comprehension, these devices slowed me down just enough to appreciate the rhythm and meaning more.
Buy a copy of Physick and be sure to study Pete Hay’s new, felicitous, vindicated Matthew Brady.
*Rodney Croome is a veteran campaigner for gay rights, marriage equality advocate who is opposed to a Plebiscite