behind one of the most eloquent and enduring idioms in the Australian
language - 'furphy’ was a first generation Victorian born on 17 June 1842 at
Moonee Ponds, the eldest child of Samuel Furphy and Judith
migrated from County Armagh, Ireland in 1841; his brother Joseph
(Karrakatta Cemetery) wrote the
Australian classic “Such is Life”. After a limited education, Furphy
was apprenticed as a blacksmith in Kyneton, before opening his own firm in
Piper Street (1864-73). It was in the infant township of Shepparton that
Furphy made his name. With an inventive and enterprising mind he
established the town’s first blacksmith and wheelwright’s shop in Wyndham
Street; as the town grew, so did the Furphy business and within a few years
his name was known throughout the Goulburn Valley and today is still
operated by fifth generation members of the Furphy family. Amongst the many
agricultural implements that he patented were a crop stripper (1883), disc
harrow (1889), ploughshares (1900) and toothed rollers (1902). However, by
far the firm’s most recognisable product was “Furphy’s Farm Water Cart”.
Adapted especially as a means of carting water, they comprised of an
180-gallon cylindrical iron tank with an opening on the top and a rear tap,
mounted horizontally on a wooden frame with cast-iron wheels that could be
drawn by a horse. Coupled with the shrewd use of advertising the business
and the classic verse of “GOOD BETTER BEST / NEVER LET IT REST / TILL YOUR
GOOD IS BETTER / AND YOUR BETTER BEST” the water cart was to become the
firm’s most popular item and some three hundred were produced annually for over
forty years. More enduring is the word ‘furphy’ to describe a rumour, false
report or absurd story. Used by the Australian Army to cart water around
the camps of Egypt, the drivers of the Furphy watercarts were notorious for
passing on “news” of doubtful accuracy thus a word was born. A Methodist
lay preacher for many years, Furphy retired in 1909 with his wife Sarah
Vaughan to live with their daughter Harriet Jackson at 63 Page
Street Albert Park. He died there on 23 September 1920 aged 78.
(above) John Furphy
(Photo courtesy of
J. Furphy & Sons Pty Ltd)
(above) Monumental Headstone
ADB Volume 4 1851-90 (D-J).
Barnes, J., “Made in Shepparton. The History
of J. Furphy & Sons 1873-1998” (1998).
The Age 24 September 1920 & 4 December 1984.
The Argus 24 September 1920.
The Shepparton News 27 November 1920.
The Shepparton Advertiser 27 September 1920.
The Herald 28 July 1973.
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