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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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O'Ferrall, Ernest Francis (1881–1925)

by Ken Stewart

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Ernest Francis O'Ferrall (1881-1925), by Robin M. Cale, 1920

Ernest Francis O'Ferrall (1881-1925), by Robin M. Cale, 1920

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an22761999

Ernest Francis O'Ferrall (1881-1925), journalist and writer, was born on 16 November 1881 at East Melbourne, youngest of eight children of Hugh O'Ferrall, gentleman, and his Melbourne-born wife Mary, née Brophy. He was educated at the Christian Brothers' College, East Melbourne, then worked in a Melbourne bicycle shop. His experiences as a clerk for the International Harvester Co. of Australia Pty Ltd and as a boarding-house lodger sparked his comic imagination: stories and light verse were accepted by the Bulletin (from 1901), and by the Arena, Steele Rudd's Magazine, Gadfly (edited by C. J. Dennis) and Edwin Brady's Native Companion.

Early in 1907 O'Ferrall joined the small full-time staff of the Bulletin, working in Sydney with its general and literary editors James Edmond and Arthur H. Adams. For about fifteen years he sub-edited hundreds of items and wrote pro-conscriptionist material in World War I. As 'Kodak' and under his own name he regularly published popular sketches, stories and light verse, frequently illustrated by Norman Lindsay, David Low and other talented cartoonists. He also wrote thirty-five stories for the Lone Hand.

His writings, which helped to diminish the Bulletin's emphasis on the bush, promote an inner-city and suburban comic mythology, of life in the boarding-house, office and pub: his exploitation of male and female stereotypes in humorous and ridiculous situations anticipates much Australian and overseas comic journalism and drawing. His most celebrated story, 'The Lobster and the Lioness', tells of a drunken boarder who mistakes an escaped lioness for a friendly dog; his most popular verse includes 'Chunda Loo of A Kim Foo', a long series advertising 'Cobra' boot polish, illustrated by Lionel Lindsay; but he could write with delicacy and pathos, particularly of the sea and on Irish and romantic subjects. A selection of his early Bulletin stories, Bodger and the Boarders, was published in 1921, for which he received £40. Through Nettie Palmer, who admired his fiction, he was associated with the Melbourne Pioneer Players, who performed a short play that he wrote. Both Nettie Palmer and George Mackaness included his short stories in anthologies.

About 1922 O'Ferrall transferred to Smith's Weekly, where, swamped by sub-editing duties and debilitated by illness, he was 'never quite happy', or as lively in print. A devoted family man, he had married Florence Tanton at St Philip's Church of England, Sydney, on 15 December 1909; they lived at Wahroonga. Portrayed by his Bulletin colleague W. E. FitzHenry as 'grave, gentle, abstemious, sparing of speech, a hater of rowdiness', O'Ferrall was a clerkly, modest, affectionate and whimsical man, whose orderly demeanour outwardly belied his sympathetic delight in the energetic disorderliness of his characters. He died of tuberculosis on 22 March 1925, survived by his wife, son and two daughters, and was buried in the Catholic section of Northern Suburbs cemetery. His light verse was posthumously collected in Odd Jobs (1928) and selections from throughout his career in Stories by Kodak (1933).

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24 Mar 1925
  • Bulletin, 26 Mar 1925, 10 Nov 1954
  • Smith's Weekly, 28 Mar 1925
  • Vance and Nettie Palmer papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Ken Stewart, 'O'Ferrall, Ernest Francis (1881–1925)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 28 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Ernest Francis O'Ferrall (1881-1925), by Robin M. Cale, 1920

Ernest Francis O'Ferrall (1881-1925), by Robin M. Cale, 1920

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an22761999