From Australia’s Jewish Past: John (Jack) Moses – a poet and story teller

December 14, 2021 by Features Desk
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Jack was born on 26 January 1861 in George Street Sydney, the grandson of John Moses who arrived in Hobart as a Jewish convict to serve a seven-year sentence.

John “Jack” Moses

Following the completion of his term, he moved to NSW and became a pasty cook in Parramatta. He went on to have a son, also known as John who became a storekeeper.  He and his wife produced a son whom they called John Jack.

Jack, as he became known, as a young boy pulled the delivery cart around at Sydney’s First Royal Agricultural Show, selling cigars.  This led to his starting out as a  salesman in the wine industry, commencing first with the firm of Frank Bouffier, and this followed with thirty years as a Lindeman’s representative, and finishing with Leo Buring. Travelling was by Cobb & Co coaches, sulkies and trains, before moving to a motor car.  In that capacity, he travelled all over New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria.  His widespread travelling gave him many opportunities to spend time with his love of poetry and bush ballads entertaining country audiences.  He became well-known throughout NSW because of his recitations at country shows and was given the title of the ‘father’ of the Country Promotion League, a scheme to advertise the primary resources of many country districts in Sydney.

His first book, Beyond the City Gates: Australian Story & Verse, uses his stories to tell of the virtues of life in the country and to encourage city folk to move there.  He was a great promotor of “Bush Week”, during which shops in Sydney dressed their store windows to promote products from the country as well as country living.

One such commendation is the following from The Coffs Harbour and Dorrigo Advocate:-

“Mr. Jack Moses, the wine traveller who attends numerous country shows . . . probably is better known throughout the State than any other man. He is a great entertainer and writer of verse . . . He is also a great friend of the country dweller and producer’’

Frank Morton, a good friend wrote an introduction in Jack’s book ‘’Beyond the City Gates,’’

“I wandered into the old theatre at Hobart and heard a man reciting bush-verse better than I had heard any man recite it before… This man in the old Hobart theatre was, of course, my friend Jack Moses, whom that night first I met…. Jack is an optimist, a friend of man, a lovable cuss, and every blackguard of us is his brother. On the male side, he is the happiest thing I know about Australia…. Jack sees the genial Australian as he is, and as I have found him.’’

In 1938, he penned another well-known book Nine Miles From Gundagai. The famous legend of the  ‘’Dog Sat on the Tucker Box’’ was originally written by Bowyang Yorke, but between Bowyang and Jack, lyrics and verse came about and it was Jack who amended the famous verse and it was then promoted as a poem by Jack.  Gundagai Shire Council was so impressed with his poem, that they considered it to be an important advertisement for their historic Australian town, and influenced the creation of the famous monument – ‘Dog on the Tucker Box’, five miles from Gundagai and a Jack Moses street in Gundagai was named in his honour.

Its popularity quickly spread, capturing the imagination of Australians both in the bush and throughout the colony. Though the legend was also immortalised by Jack O’Hagan in 1937 in his popular song that put Gundagai on the world map, controversy continued over the exact location of the monument – 5 or 9 miles from the town – and later, on whether to move the famous monument in, or closer to, the town.

Jack’s publisher wrote in a note to Frank Morton, stating that he liked Jack’s collection of verse in ‘’Nine Miles from Gundagai’’ as it ‘’dealt with the interests of real Australian bush people in a truthful, non-gloomy manner’’.

Another great friend of twenty years was Henry Lawson.  After years of championing by Moses, a book of stories about Lawson, Henry Lawson–By his Mates, was published in January 1932. Contributing writers included Lawson’s daughter and other well-known writers.

In Henry’s poem “Joseph’s Dreams and Reuben’s Brethren” Lawson makes reference to Jack, saying “My best friend was a Yid”. Jack Moses once said of Lawson, “Anything I know of writing verse I owe to Henry Lawson, who inspired me, as he was a genius born.”

Well-known Australian authors John Laws and Christopher Stewart wrote of Moses and his love for recitations and verse:

“Jack Moses loved the crowds — he had a joke for every occasion — and it was inevitable that someone would eventually call upon him to recite. Without missing a beat, he would launch into one of his ‘bush jingles’, as he called them. Jack’s jingles became so popular that he published two books of his verse, and both were best-sellers. . . . even in retirement, he worked the streets, entertaining passers-by with his poems and handing out postcards printed with some of his best-known verse.”

Jack later became an enthusiastic all-year swimmer at Bondi as a founding member of the Bondi Icebergs Club.  Aged 82, when asked ‘What do you regard as most responsible for your great age, Jack?’, Moses responded ‘I’ll tell you, sonny, I never go in!’.

Jack married Lucy Florence Nightingale in Sydney, on 18 June 1900.  The daughter of a bridge contractor and then had one son, also named John.  She died aged 53 at her residence of ‘Mirrabooka’, in New South Head Road, Vaucluse. She was buried at South Head Cemetery.

On 10 July 1945, aged 84, the ‘last of the bush troubadours, Jack Moses died of heart disease at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney.  He is also buried at South Head Cemetery.

The Australian Jewish Historical Society is the keeper of archives from the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 right up to today. Whether you are searching for an academic resource, an event, a picture or an article, AJHS can help you find that piece of historical material. The AJHS welcomes your contributions to the archives. If you are a descendent of someone of interest with a story to tell, or you have memorabilia which might be of significance for the archives, please make contact via www.ajhs.com.au or its Facebook page.

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