Albert (Bert) Facey (31 August 1894 – 11 February 1982) was an Australian writer and World War I veteran, whose main work was his autobiography, A Fortunate Life, now considered a classic in Australian literature.
He was born in Maidstone, Victoria, the son of Joseph Facey and Mary Ann Facey (née Carr). His father died on the Goldfields of Western Australia in 1896 of typhoid fever when Albert was only 2 years old. In 1898, Albert's mother departed for Western Australia to care for her eldest children, who had accompanied their father to the goldfields. She left her younger children, including Albert, to the care of their grandmother. Because the grandfather died in 1898, the grandmother, Mrs Jane Carr, (nee Barnett), moved with Albert and his siblings Roy (born 1890), Eric (born 1889) and Myra (born 1892) in 1899 from Barkers Creek near Castlemaine, Victoria, to Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. He began his working life around 1902, aged 8, and hardly ever lived with his family again. He was never able to attend school. However as a teenager, he taught himself to read and write.
It was at this first job as a farm boy, that his employer subjected him to virtual slavery and violent physical beatings with a horse whip. After sustaining months of child abuse, Albert luckily escaped by walking over 20 miles through the bush and luckily finding some new settlers that had camped. Although the police were informed about the abuse, his employers were never brought to justice. The scars on his back and neck sustained from this abuse were evident for all of his life.
In 1908 his mother remarried, and at her request, he travelled to Perth to live with her and her second husband, a plumber, named Arthur 'Bill' Downie at Subiaco, although he only stayed for a short time before accepting work back in rural Western Australia. Albert and his mother saw each other sporadically until she died suddenly in September 1914 aged 51. His childhood in Western Australia was spent in areas such as Kalgoolie, Narrogin, Bruce Rock, Merredin, Yealering, Wickepin, Pingelly, and at Cave Rock, near Popanyinning, which he writes about in Chapter 2 of A Fortunate Life.
By the age of 14 he was an experienced farm labourer and bushman, and at 20 he became a professional boxer with a troupe that toured South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. His boxing career ended when he enlisted in the A.I.F. in January 1915.
On 4 January 1915, not long after the outbreak of the First World War, Facey joined the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). As an infantryman with the 11th Battalion, he travelled to Egypt aboard the troopship Itonus and fought during the Gallipoli Campaign including the famous battle of Leane's Trench. Much of his autobiography relates to the horror he endured during his service in the Australian Army in World War I, and his vivid recollections of the plight of the ANZAC Diggers at Gallipoli. Two of his elder brothers, Roy Barker Facey (1890–1915) and Joseph Thomas Facey (1883–1915) were killed during the Gallipoli Campaign.
In his book Facey told of being wounded on more than one occasion at Gallipoli, culminating on 19 August 1915 when a shell exploded near him and he received severe internal injuries and wounds to his leg. However, his war records show no evidence of being wounded, only heart trouble.
Family life and career
While recuperating from his war injuries, Facey met Evelyn Mary Gibson (1897–1976), whom he married at Bunbury on 24 August 1916. They were happily married for nearly 60 years until Evelyn died on 3 August 1976. He deeply mourned her death for the rest of his life. The couple had seven children, the first born in 1919 and the last in 1939.
Albert Facey became an active public campaigner for improved conditions for Australian 'Returned Servicemen'.
The Facey family lived at Victoria Park before returning to Wickepin as a farmer from 1922 to 1934 with their children.
After he returned from the war, Facey obtained employment as a tram driver (1916–1922) and after his return from Wickepin, as a trolley bus driver (1934–1946) in Perth. He then spent the rest of his working life as a successful self-employed poultry and pig farmer and businessman (1947–1958) in areas such as Tuart Hill, Wanneroo, Gosnells and Mount Helena near Mundaring.
Facey was active in public life from the 1920s until he retired in the late 1950s. He was President of the Perth Tramways Union for five years and later, he was also active as an elected member of Local Government and served on the Perth Roads Board for over 20 years. He was also a Justice of the Peace. He went on to become a very well known and highly respected member of his local community.
The death of his son
His eldest son, also named Albert Barnett Facey (known as Barney) (1919–1942) joined the Second AIF during the Second World War and served with the 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion. During the fierce Battle of Singapore fought against the Japanese Army, his son was killed in a bombing raid on 15 March 1942. While his family were aware that he was missing in action, his death was unable to be confirmed until May 1945. Facey stated in his memoirs that although he and his wife had expected that their eldest son had been killed, they never gave up hope. After a wait of over three years for the confirmation, his wife's health deteriorated to such an extent, that she suffered a major stroke. Two other sons, Joseph and George, also served in the Australian Army in World War 2, both seeing action in New Guinea. They both returned home safely at the end of 1945.
Albert Facey suffered many health issues throughout his life, all due to war related injuries received at Gallipoli. These included old bullet wounds, heart problems and a ruptured spleen. After suffering a major heart attack when he was 64 in 1958, he retired from business life although he was never one to relax.
His Memoirs and fame
In later years, Facey began making notes on his life and, at the urging of his wife and children, eventually had the notes printed into a book. He completed his memoirs on his 83rd birthday in 1977.
In 1979, aged 85, Facey learned that his autobiography, A Fortunate Life was approved for publication. It was published in 1981, just nine months before his death.
Although Facey was delighted that his life story was appreciated on such a grand scale, his health was quickly declining and he was losing his eyesight. Also, he used a wheelchair due to a broken hip. His book became a best-seller and won the prestigious NSW Premier's Literary Award for non-fiction and the National Book Council Prize. During the final six months of his life, Albert Facey became a national celebrity and was nominated for the Australian of the Year Award in 1981.
While being in the care of an Aged Care Facility due to a broken hip, Albert Barnett Facey died of natural causes at Midland, Western Australia on 11 February 1982 in his 88th year. His body was buried at the local cemetery in Midland. He survived by six of his seven children and 28 grandchildren.
His book, A Fortunate Life went on to sell over 250,000 copies and it has also been reprinted although it is estimated that the book has been read by more than double that number. The book was made into a 4-part television movie in 1985, based on Albert Facey's life between 1897 to 1916. It starred a notable cast including Bill Hunter, Val Lehman and Ray Meagher.
His old homestead in Wickepin is a tourist attraction today, while a government building named Albert Facey House on Forrest Place in the state capital, Perth, is named in his honour and is home to the Public Utilities Office of the Department of Finance and other government agencies. The Albert Facey Memorial Library in Mundaring, Facey Road in Gnangara, Albert Facey Street in Maidstone, Barney Street in Glendalough, Western Australia (named after his late son), and a motel in Narrogin also bear his name. The manuscripts of A Fortunate Life are housed in the Scholars' Centre in the University of Western Australia Library.
- West Australian Newspaper. 7 September 1914 – Funeral Notice: Mrs Mary Downie. (page 1)
- The A.I.F Project. Albert Burnet (sic) Facey ( http://www.aif.adfa.edu.au:8080/showPerson?pid=93717 )
- West Australian Newspaper. 5 August 1915. Death Notice: 'Killed In Action.' Roy Barker Facey. (page 1).
- West Australian Newspaper. 21 October 1915. Death Notice:'Killed In Action.' Joseph Thomas Facey. (page 1)
- National Archives of Australia. A.I.F. Casualty & Active Service Data for Private A.B.Facey. Regimental No.1536
- West Australian Newspaper. 26 May 1945, Death Notice – 'Killed in Action': Albert ('Barney') Facey. (page 1)
- about-australia.com.au, 2010
- http://adbonline.anu.edu.au/biogs/A170367b.htm (Australian Dictionary of Biography. Online Edition. – Albert Facey)
- about-australia.com.au, 2010, Albert Facey Homestead
- Facey, A. B. (1988) A Fortunate Life, Ringwood Vic., Penguin. ISBN 0-14-010869-6. (Previously published in 1981 by Fremantle Arts Centre Press, Fremantle, W.A.)
- Findlay, Len. "A Son's Fortunate life with no regrets" The West Australian 11 June 2007 p. 71
- Hirst, J. B. (2006) "Facey, Albert Barnett (Bert) (1894–1982)", Australian Dictionary of Biography, Online Edition, Australian National University.
- Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Victoria (1997), Federation index. Victoria 1889–1901, Melbourne, Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages.