Poetry Turnstyle: Lesbia Vanner Harford


A friend of mine recently recommended me the work of Australian poet Lesbia Harford (nee Keough).

Harford was one of the first women to study Law at the University of Melbourne where she joined a number of student political societies after attending lectures on socialism and associated topics. She also became involved in a number of ‘unconventional’ relationships, which were lasting and significant in terms of their respective political allegiances and affiliations.

Harford graduated from the Uni of Melbourne in 1916 and sought work in a clothing factory to obtain first hand knowledge of the conditions under which women worked. She campaigned strongly against forced conscription in World War I. In 1916 she campaigned for the release of the Sydney Twelve, members of the Industrial Workers of the World arrested and charged with treason, arson, sedition and forgery. Two of these twelve men, Frank Franz and Roland Nicholas Kennedy were found guilt and executed at Bathurst Gaol in 1916. Harford herself joined the IWW in 1915/1916.

She died in 1927.

Back – or forward, rather, to the poems. This first poem is one of her better known. I only say this because I recognised the last two lines and then realised that Day’s End is actually included in two collected (Australian) volumes on my shelf. They are such a beautiful couplet anyhow – those last two lines – and remind me of John Brack’s Collins’ St 5pm.


Day’s End


Little girls –
You are gay,
Little factory girls
At the end of day.


There you stand
Huddled close
On the back of a tram,
Having taken your dose.


And you go
through the grey
And the gold of the streets
At the close of the day.


Blind as moles:
You are crude,
You are sweet – little girls –
And amazingly rude.


But so fine
To be gay,
Gentle people are dull
At the end of the day.



This second poem is a lot more Voltairine-esque.





To-day is rebels’ day. And yet we work –
All of us rebels, until day is done,
And when the stars come out we celebrate
A revolution that’s not yet begun.


To-day is rebels’ day. And men in jail
Tread the old mill-round until day is done;
And when night falls they sit at home to brood
On revolution that’s not yet begun.


To-day is rebels’ day. Let all of us
Take courage to fight on until we’re done –
Fight though we may not live to see the hour
The revolutions splendidly begun.






Filed under Poetry turnstile

4 responses to “Poetry Turnstyle: Lesbia Vanner Harford

  1. Thanks, I love it. Geraldine
    I didn’t know she was from Melbourne. Perhaps I should include her in the next print of BETRAYAL Women’s Paid Work 1874-1974, A story of Betrayals under section 28 NOT ONLY WOMEN
    Does anyone have any thoughts about this? Geraldine

  2. Hi Geraldine,
    Yes Melbourne born and bred! The publication you mention sounds really interesting – I’m not clear on what ‘section 28’ is though?

    • I am referring to the website version of BETRAYAL home.vicnet.net.au/~betrayal part A. EARLY DAYS – THE TIMES OF VIDA GOLDSTEIN
      Section 28 headed NOT ONLY WOMEN, referring to the WPA support for the wharf labourers’ strike and showing the women’s movement didn’t just work for themselves. I added it and trust I have sourced you correctly.

  3. Helen

    Nettie Palmer’s 1941 edition of LH’s poems is on net: http://adc.library.usyd.edu.au/data-2/v00033.pdf. You can read LH’s notebooks in the MItchell Library. Also do read her novel The Invaluable Mystery.
    PS It is Venner, and Keogh 🙂

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