ALICE GUÈRIN CRIST (1876 – 1941)

Alice Crist was an author and journalist who was born on 8 February 1876 at Clarecastle, County Clare in Ireland.

Crist immigrated with her family to Australia at the age of two. Her father was teacher and personally supervised her education as they moved around a number of small South-East Queensland rural schools.

The lights flash out in shop and mart,
Toowoomba town, you have my heart!
And she, elusive wild and free,
She has the very soul of me.
My gypsy questings ended now
To her sweet slavery I bow
And she shall teach me all love’s speech,
“Flower O’ the Peach”.

‘Flower O’ the Peach,’ Alice Guerin Crist

In 1896 she was appointed as a teacher to the Blackhall Range State School near Landsborough. After a transfer to West Haldon the following year, she was dismissed from service because of a sectarian report from a school inspector.

Crist returned to her family at Douglas on the Darling Downs and in 1902 married a German immigrant farmer, Joseph Crist. The Crist’s moved to an isolated property at Rosenberg near Bundaberg in 1910 but returned to the Darling Downs in 1913.

We have scrubbed, and scoured and polished, till
She’s looking just like new,
And he good old engine’s singing, and our hearts
are singing too,
While the magpies pipe a chorus, and the air’s like
sparklin’ fizz.
And we’re going to the races in the Old Tin Liz.

‘Old Tin Liz,’ Alice Guerin Crist

Crist pursued an active literary career despite long years when she had to concentrate on farm work and the domestic care of her children. She was a prolific writer of verse and short fiction and published widely in the Australian press including the Sydney Bulletin, the Worker, Steele Rudd’s Magazine, The Home Budget, Toowoomba Chronicle, Catholic Advocate and the Catholic Press.

Her devout Irish Catholicism was associated with democratic politics and in 1902 she became a member of the Socialistic Democratic Vanguard.

Crist tended to write about her rural and domestic experiences and frequently celebrated the natural beauty of the bush and the virtues and struggles of Irish Australian pioneers. A marked Celtic influence is discernable in poems about the nostalgic homesickness of Irish immigrants and in the sprights and faeries that pop up at the bottom of the garden in her nature verse and poems for children.

Crist was a long-term member and Vice-President of the Toowoomba Ladies Literary Society, a cultural association that has played an important role in the promotion of the literary culture of the Darling Downs since 1913.

In 1917 her youngest brother was killed at Paschendale and for many years she contributed Anzac day poems to the Toowoomba Chronicle and other occasional verse. She published two collections of verse, When Roddy Came to Ironbark and Other Verses (Sydney, 1927) and Eucharist Lillies and Other Verses (Sydney, 1928), and a novel Go It! Brothers!! (Sydney, 1929). In his foreword to Eucharistic Lillies, James Duhig, Archbishop of Brisbane, lamented that ‘the real Catholic home life so beautifully depicted [by Crist] should be weakening and disappearing from the land’.

From 1927, the Catholic Advocate began to pay Crist for rural and religious poems, short stories and a serial celebrating the contribution of the Christian Brothers to catholic education, which resulted in the novel. In 1930 she became ‘Betty Bluegum’, the editor of the Children’s page and over the next few years she used it to stimulate Queensland’s catholic children. Crist’s page, like her verse, was an inventive mix of Catholic Irish-Australian nationalism, domestic virtue and environmental appreciation, and she encouraged young correspondents.

Ah! No, I’m not repinin’,
And I love this wide new land,
And I’m proud to see the childer
Growin’ prosperous and grand,
But roots strike deep in Irish soil,
Old memories are sweet,
And to-night my heart is yearnin’ for the cabin I
was born in,
And I smell the reek of turf-smoke driftin’ up the
city streets.

‘Homesick,’ Alice Guerin Crist

In 1935 she was awarded the King’s Jubilee Medal for her contribution to Australian literature and in 1937 received the Commemoration Medal of the Coronation of George VI. On 27 September 1953 a wing of the Holy Spirit Hospital in Brisbane was dedicated in her name. She died of pneumonia on 13 June 1941 and was buried in the Toowoomba Cemetery.

Further Reading:

Dimity Dornan, Alice with Eyes A-Shine, Virginia, Brisbane: Church Archivists’ Press, 1998.

James Duhig. ‘Foreword.’ Eucharistic Lillies and Other Verses by Alice Guerin Crist. Sydney: Pelligrini, [1929].

H.A. Kellow, Queensland Poets, London, 1930.

Christopher Lee, ‘Alice Guerin Crist,’ Australian Dictionary of Biography, (forthcoming)

Family papers in the possession of the Dornan family, Brisbane.