Albert Facey

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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 of Australian literature. It has sold more than 800,000 copies.[1]

Early life[edit]

Facey 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 two years old. In 1898, Albert's mother departed for Western Australia to care for her older children, who had accompanied their father to the goldfields. She left her younger children, including Albert, to the care of their grandmother. When his 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 eight, and hardly ever lived with his family again. He was never able to attend school, but he managed to teach himself to read and write as a teenager.

On his first job as a farm boy, his employer subjected him to virtual slavery and violent beatings with a horse whip. After sustaining months of such abuse, Albert escaped by walking over 20 miles through the bush and luckily finding some new settlers that had camped. Although the police were informed of the abuse, his employer was never prosecuted. The scars on his back and neck from the injuries he had sustained remained evident for the rest of his life.

In 1908 Facey's mother remarried, and he travelled at her request to Perth to live with her and her second husband, a plumber named Arthur 'Bill' Downie at Subiaco. However, he only stayed a short time before accepting work back in rural Western Australia. Thereafter Facey and his mother saw each other sporadically until she died suddenly in September 1914, aged 51.[2] 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 continued until he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in January 1915.

War service[edit]

Facey joined the AIF on 4 January 1915, not long after the outbreak of the First World War. He travelled to Egypt as an infantryman with the 11th Battalion, aboard the troopship Itonus[3] 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 wartime service and his vivid recollections of the plight of the ANZAC Diggers at Gallipoli. Two of his older brothers, Roy Barker Facey (1890–1915)[4] and Joseph Thomas Facey (1883–1915)[5] were killed during the campaign.

Facey tells in his book 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 of heart trouble.[6]

Facey was invalided back to Australia on the ship Aeneas on 31 October 1915 for his voyage home.[6][7]

Family life and career[edit]

Marriage[edit]

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 before Evelyn died on 3 August 1976. He deeply mourned her for the rest of his life. The couple had seven children, born between 1919 and 1939.

Facey became an active public campaigner for improved conditions for Australian returned servicemen. The family lived at Victoria Park, before they returned with their children to farming at Wickepin, from 1922 to 1934.

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 and well known in his community from the 1920s until he retired in the late 1950s. He was president of the Perth Tramways Union for five years and later an elected member of local government and of the Perth Roads Board for over 20 years. He was also a justice of the peace.

Loss of son[edit]

Facey's eldest son, also named Albert Barnett Facey and known as Barney, 1919–1942, joined the Second AIF during the Second World War and served with the 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion. He fell in a bombing raid on 15 March 1942, during the fierce Battle of Singapore fought against the Japanese Army. While his family were aware that he was missing in action, his death was not confirmed until May 1945.[8] Facey stated in his memoirs that although he and his wife had assumed that their eldest son had been killed, they had never given up hope. After that 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 II, both seeing action in New Guinea. They returned home safely at the end of 1945.

Retirement[edit]

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 but continued to be active in other ways.

Memoirs and fame[edit]

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. Two years later, at 85, he learnt that his autobiography, A Fortunate Life, had been 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 rapidly declining and he was losing his eyesight. He also needed to use a wheelchair due to a broken hip. His book became a bestseller 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.[9]

Death[edit]

While in an Aged Care Facility with his 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 was survived by six of his seven children and by 28 grandchildren.[10]

Legacy[edit]

Albert Facey's A Fortunate Life went on to sell over 800,000 copies. However, it is estimated that the book has been read by more than double that number. It was made into a four-part television film in 1985, based on Facey's life between 1897 to 1916. The cast included Bill Hunter, Val Lehman and Ray Meagher.

Facey's homestead in Wickepin was turned into a tourist attraction. A government building named Albert Facey House on Forrest Place in Perth was named in his honour – it houses the Public Utilities Office of the Department of Finance and other agencies. His name is also borne by 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. The manuscripts of A Fortunate Life are housed in the Special Collections in the University of Western Australia Library.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Penguins Books Australia retrieved 19 April 2015
  2. ^ West Australian Newspaper. 7 September 1914 – Funeral Notice: Mrs Mary Downie. (page 1)
  3. ^ The A.I.F Project. Albert Burnet (sic) Facey ( http://www.aif.adfa.edu.au:8080/showPerson?pid=93717 )
  4. ^ West Australian Newspaper. 5 August 1915. Death Notice: 'Killed In Action.' Roy Barker Facey. (page 1).
  5. ^ West Australian Newspaper. 21 October 1915. Death Notice:'Killed In Action.' Joseph Thomas Facey. (page 1)
  6. ^ a b http://mappingouranzacs.naa.gov.au/file-view.html?b=3546196&s=B2455&c=FACEY%20A%20B
  7. ^ National Archives of Australia. A.I.F. Casualty & Active Service Data for Private A.B.Facey. Regimental No.1536
  8. ^ West Australian Newspaper. 26 May 1945, Death Notice – 'Killed in Action': Albert ('Barney') Facey. (page 1)
  9. ^ about-australia.com.au, 2010
  10. ^ http://adbonline.anu.edu.au/biogs/A170367b.htm (Australian Dictionary of Biography. Online Edition. – Albert Facey)

References[edit]