Hoaxes & Pranks
The Gentle Art of Leg-Pulling
by Henry Drake

The West Australian (Perth, WA)
Date: June 24, 1950
Page Number: 21
THE art of pulling the leg is, by some, considered to have reached a particularly high standard in Australia; indeed, it might not be unreasonable to consider this practice so universal as to merit acclaim as an integral part of our national culture.
     Quite recently a distinguished academic whose Alma Mater was that incubator of irony, Cambridge, confided to me that even after a decade in Australia he was not yet always certain whether, in conversation, he was having his leg pulled or not. This delighted me. During the years of our acquaintence I had never myself been at all certain of standing securely on both feet when engaging his bright ironic wits. I felt quite a flush of pride at the thought of all the West Australian practitioners whose skill in our national art some times left him guessing.
     In recent years two artistic hoaxes have flashed bright enough to be picked up in London. The affaire "Ern Malley"' in Melbourne, when the "Angry Penguins" publication brought out a series of poems (and erudite comments thereon) which afterwards were disclosed by the contributors to have been deliberately faked, and, last year, the "Jean Leps" lecture on modern art (his own particularly) delivered at our own University, not only created considerable diversion in Australian newspapers, but were both given amused notice in no less a journal than "The Times."
     Now, unless this time I am the pullee, I fancy a new literary joke was put over by R.J.D. on the "Life and Letters" page a fortnight ago. For a paragraph or two I took him seriously. As one would expect with a good artist. To be quite candid, I began to splutter mentally and cook up a reply somewhat after the strain of the two dealt out last Saturday. By the time our artist reached his really superb rendering of dear Matilda, the splutters had subsided to bubbles of pleasure. A most delicious pull! Quite on a par with the best North-West efforts produced with masterly ease by gentlemen from over the Ranges.
     I was reminded of my last visit, of leaning on the bar of a Derby pub, and being introduced to a bloke who was designated "King of the Horse Thieves." This pleased him.
     "Are you going to write a book about us?" he demanded. "It's time you did!"
     I said, no, too many people had already written books about the North, with the result that everybody was so busy being a "character" that they'd ceased to be dinkum. I said I should only get my leg pulled. I knew their habits. He promptly asked me to lunch, swore he would tell nothing but the whole truth, was I not "one of them?" But ten minutes later, as we were served cold meat and salads by a pretty dark skinned waitress (known to the lads as Snow-White), I could almost hear my knee joints begin to creak. His yarns were tip top. I felt rather sorry that I really was "one of them." In print, the stories would have read splendidly, and fiction can be more amusing, if less extravagant, than fact.
     The fact, for instance, that our literature lacks satire is, in view of the widespread prankishness of conversation, perhaps surprising; but it does not amuse. It is sad. Hugh McCrae once wrote a tiny piece: "Adventure: A fantasy of the ranges." Not more than seven hundred words, but large enough to prick any over-in- flation of the artistic use of our vast empty spaces, our intrepid explorers, our dead centre. I read it first in an anthology and scribbled a rather immoderate Whoopee of sheer joy to Hugh. Back came one of his inimitable notes, ending, ". . . and the reviewer. in the "Argus" (or "Age" or whichever it was) called it GRIM!"
     Oh yes! leg-pulling is a well developed art in Australia. And I'm ready to bet R.J.D. is capering with glee, this weekend. Otherwise, I am the mug.

The Final Word

R.J.D., who started it all, has the final word:
     "There is some doubt in my mind. Did I get a bite? Did Mr. O. K. Battye in fact gulp my whole joke 'hook, line and weight,' so to speak, or did he find fault with me with his tongue in his cheek? I must say I lean to the last.
     "Be that as it may, that is not the point that I wish to make. He boasts, or would it be more right to say, claims to write a note of fair length and to use words of not more than two sounds. May I point out that that is no hard task? It is in fact more or less the form of speech that we all use each day.
     "But in any case why not 'go the whole hog'? Why not swear to use none but words of one sound? That would make us one stage more like the beasts of the field that make known their needs by a few barks, grunts, neighs or squeals.
     "None the less may I say that, as these lines prove, one can write, or speak, if it comes to that, at some length, use words of no more than one sound and still not say a great deal. In fact one can talk round one's theme just as well, or ill if you like, with short words as with words of great length and wise sound. To use short words need not mean to be terse."

Hoaxes & Pranks
The Gentle Art of Leg-Pulling
Let Us Use Some Long Words
by R. J. D.

The West Australian (Perth, WA)
Date: June 10, 1950
Page Number: 23
trove2.jpg trove2.jpg
The Long And The Short Of It

The West Australian (Perth, WA)
Date: June 17, 1950
Page Number: 21
Ern Malley Hoax
"Jean Leps" Hoax