Collie King, the Broadaxe Balladier

Biography by Margaret Adamson from the out of print book “Broadaxe Ballads” by William Arthur Kernick and illustrated by his great grandson, Gary William Speak.

WK Dwellingup

William Arthur Kernick – A.K.A. Collie King.

“A Dwellingup Dryblower, or Sleeper-Squaring Shakespeare is how Collie
King was first introduced to the readers of The South-Western Advertiser, when
in August 1912 his poetry was first published. Although he had written poetry
from around the turn of the century, it was not until he settled in the timber area
of Dwellingup, Western Australia, that he began to write consistently, and for
the next three years had poems published almost weekly, covering topics from
children’s verse, mateship, religion, death, farming, but most of all the thing he
knew most about, the timber industry and Jarrah-jerking.

While many of his poems were published under the pseudonym of “Collie King”
(an axe used in his trade), he also published under such names as Kolly Flour;
C. Wayback; Hayseed & Co; A. Pology; even Mary Jane and Alphonso Fitzmaurice.
Besides reading, poetry was his love and he would come home from a hard day in the
bush, searching for trees, felling and cutting them into sleepers, to sit down and
lose himself in his writing. When published he would proof read the copy, showing
particular concern for typographical errors, and then paste each poem in an old
ledger book that remains today with his notations and corrections. It was 1914
that he flourished as a poet, and in this year he had a poetical duel, on the style
of Lawson versus Paterson, with one Thomas Catt of the nearby timber town of
Mundijong. In the main his work had a humorous flavour, but as World War I
became the topic of the day, so too did his poems reflect the pertinent issues of
enlisting, patriotism, the death and grief so inevitable in conflict. Yet, some of
his earlier works about the Boer War and the Russian-Japanese confrontation
showed the futility of war and question allegiance to the Empire. Strangely, after
leaving Dwellingup in 1916, it appears his writing dwindled to almost nothing.

William Arthur Kernick was born in Stawall, Victoria, on the 27th June
1874, and was of a family of four boys and two girls. Early in his childhood the
family moved to Bundanoon, New South Wales where he was to spend all of his
life until he moved to the West. It was here he was educated completing, or
almost so, primary school, and it was here that the event that was to shape his
life, and most probably his poetic future took place. As a child he was afflicted
with severe ear aches, and the home remedy of the day was to instill warm or hot
oil, with the result of both affliction and remedy that by the age of twelve or
thirteen he had become quite deaf. Because of his deafness his schooling was to
come to an abrupt end when he received the cane on both hands for not hearing
the teacher’s instructions (an incident about which his mother was furious) and
tolled the end of his school days.

WK young man

William Arthur Kernick about 1895.

The timber industry became his life and he was to work in this field from the
time he left school. At age nineteen he began to court Harriet Emily Heath, then
a slight young fifteen year old, who had begun to work as a waitress in the
family tea rooms. The romance hardly had time to blossom when, because of
illness, one Sunday Ettie stayed home from Church and William escorted another
young lady home from the service, and the young couple separated for ten years.
Around 1903 the two began their romance again which led to their eventual
marriage in February 1906, and their first born, a daughter Edna, was born some
twelve months later. Once again, it was the timber industry that drew William
Kernick to Western Australia with his young family, and they immediately
settled in Dwellingup and his close association with his beloved bush began.

William became an avid reader, reading most anything he could obtain –
newspapers, journals, quality books, and Henry Lawson, his model. Probably
due to his inability to communicate freely with people he became almost
introverted, communicating through his poetry. Ettie was a most patient wife
who would talk using sign language, and his eldest daughter became invaluable
to him, going everywhere with him and acting as a go-between to aid
communication. It was not till later in life he was fitted with a hearing aid which
allowed him the joy of hearing his grand children speak, a joy he was denied
with his own children.

William and Ettie’s second daughter was born not long after their arrival in
Dwellingup, and life was busy and full with much of his verse written at this
time. Following a family crisis, which was probably the death of his brother in
France, the family returned to New South Wales for the space of four years, but
because of the love for the Western State returned again in 1920 and took up
residence in Dwellingup where he continued to cut sleepers. At some stage in the
next four years he met with another accident when a piece of steel flew into his
left eye whilst he was cutting timber. The quiet confident man that he was, he
did not panic, but simply wrapped a crude bandage around his head and made his
way into town. The loss of his eye and his deafness did not deter his spirit and he
continued to work the timber. By 1924 he moved to further fields, and the family
settled for a short time in Armadale, while he worked in the Bedfordale area.
Then the family moved to East Victoria Park and from here he would travel to
the timber zones such as Manjimup and Brunswick Junction, returning home
about once a month for a weekend. The 1930s depression saw Etty and William
move again. however by this time the girls were married, and the two lived in a
hessian home at Bakers Hill, where William continue to log the timber and Etty
contented to be his help-mate, fixing his morning tea and lunch, and carrying it
out to share it with him.

Ettie Kernick Bakers Hill

Ettie at Bakers Hill 1930’s.

WK and grandaughter abt 1936

Wiliiam Arthur Kernick and his granddaughter at Bakers Hill 1930’s.

The second world war was upon them, and so was William’s retirement. He had
become very close to his son-in-law Alec Wright, but saw him go to active
service. It was about this time he suffered two strokes, living long enough to see
Alec return from the Middle East enroute to New Guinea. His last known, but
not published, poem was written about World War II and the German leaders, in
1941. William Kernick died in April 1943.

To describe Collie King as a person you would have to say an ‘Aussie
Battier’; quiet and sensitive; a family man; not one of the boys, but would mix
in social gatherings as his deafness would allow. Whilst a Church-goer early in
life. he could be described as a Christian, a true gentleman, one who would enjoy
a joke with anyone, and yet have depth of understanding and compassion.”

King, Collie. & Adamson, Margaret.  1991,  Broadaxe ballads / by Collie King (William Arthur Kernick) ; edited by Margaret Adamson ; illustrated by Gary Speak  Hesperian Press Victoria Park, W.A 1991 ISBN: 085905165X

WK Page 8 & 9

Poems from the ledger.


‘Tis a tranquil afternoon, and so

I’ll drive away my care,

And forth I’ll go where the rock ferns grow

And the dainty maiden-hair;

Where the precious gifts of God are viewed

Unspoiled as yet by fingers rude

To ramble a while in solitude,

And I’ll find some pleasure there.


I wend my way beneath a sky

As bright as it e’er hath been;

The distant fields and the pastures nigh

Are arrayed in gold and green,

The flowers around me smiling are,

And all is beautiful near and far,

For little there is to blot and mar

The picture on natures screen.


I list while passing thro’ a dell,

And the only sounds I hear

Are the tinkle-ting of a cattle bell,

Borne far thro’ the atmosphere,

And the tuneful notes of the birds that sing

Their cheerful songs ere taking wing:

The sounds of gladness echoing

Fall sweetly on my ear.


I scramble up a rocky height

And I look on a picture fine

Green vales, and hill-topped gleaming bright

Where the rays from the sun doth shine :

And as I gaze on the country wide

A-smiling sweet on every side,

I feel in my heart a touch of pride

For in part this land is mine.


I rest beside a shaded stream

And I watch it flowing by,

And sparkling where a stray sunbeam

Shines down thro’ the treetops high ;

And as it goes upon its way

I fancy I hear it speak and say

“The bushlands looking its best today,”

And I answer “So say I.”


Now the daylight wanes and the night draws near,

The shadows are lengthening,

The sky is not so bright and clear,

And the birds no longer sing :

So I turn away from the rivulet,

And I homeward go with a slight regret,

For the sun sinks fast, ’twill soon have set

On a glorious day in spring.

– Collie King.

Published in the South Western Advertiser (Perth) 3 October 1913.

If you would like to know more about this bush poet from Western Australia, please use my contact page.




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