The 4ft 8in tall Scottish-born Australian journalist
Wallace Alexander 'Wongy' Nelson.
The Blickensderfer Featherweight portable typewriter
'Wongy' Nelson carried with him wherever he went on his travels
in Britain, Europe and the United States in 1914-16
What Wongy Nelson thought about the war that gave birth to the Anzac legend.
On Anzac Day 2016, it is timely to salute a previously unheralded Australian journalist who informed readers back home of the horrors of World War I, more than a century ago. Scottish-born Wallace Alexander 'Wongy' Nelson, all 4ft 8in (1.42m) of him, was travelling through Europe with his Blickensderfer Featherweight portable typewriter at the time of the ill-fated April 25, 1915, Gallipoli landings, the bloody and unjustified disaster that gave birth to the Anzac legend.
In early 1915, Nelson, at heart a true frugal Scot, fought a vigorous campaign of his own, against North British Rail for charging him 2 shillings and 6 pence (half a crown) to carry his Blickensderfer Featherweight on board trains with him.
Nelson turned 59 four days after the Gallipoli campaign began. He was born on April 29, 1856, in Aberdeen, Scotland, the son of a comb-factory manager (his little aluminium Blick might have served as a constant reminder of his father's work; Wongy's first job was as a journeyman comb-maker himself).
Nelson ran away from home and reached London at the age of 15. He contributed republican verse to Reynold's Weekly Newspaper. Revelling in the writings of Darwin, Huxley, Spencer and Bain, he delivered his first lecture, on utilitarianism, while still a teenager. In 1880 he went to Sheffield, where he was an energetic freethought lecturer from 1883. A member of the Radical Party, he associated with socialist luminaries.
Fearing himself to be 'a dying man', Nelson arrived in Brisbane, Australia, in early 1888. He was an instant success on Australasian freethought platforms, lecturing regularly at Brisbane's Gaiety Theatre and debating with all-comers. Restored to health, he became editor of the Stockwhip in 1890. After bungled attempts at parliamentary candidature, Nelson succeeded James Charles Stewart in 1896 as editor of the Rockhampton crusading weekly, the People's Newspaper, in 1896. Having opposed Australian Federation, Nelson became its ardent advocate, contesting the Federal seat of Capricornia for Labor in 1901. Zeal and wit brought this pro-Boer 'fearless Freedom fighter', campaigning against Kanaka labour, to within 160 votes of return.
In July 1901 he arrived at Kalgoorlie on the West Australian Goldfields to succeed Thomas Henry Bath as editor of the Westralian Worker. This was at the time when future United States president Herbert Hoover was working as an engineer in Kalgoorlie.
Nelson, right, on Coney Island in 1915.
Nelson later edited the Kalgoorlie Sun and the unsuccessful Labor-backed Figaro. From June 1904 to October 1905 he represented the new goldfields constituency of Hannans while the first Western Australian Labor government was in office. His gifts were appreciated in parliament. In association with Bath he edited the short-lived Perth Democrat, then was leader-writer for the Perth Daily News.
Calling Australia 'the freest democracy in the world', Nelson was appointed official immigration lecturer by the Western Australian Government.
Nelson represented Australian newspapers while based in England in 1914-16 (he also travelled on to the Continent and to the United States in that time). He returned to Sydney an anti-conscriptionist and was founding editor of the Australasian Manufacturer, a role in which he remained until 1943. The paper, subtitled 'A Weekly Newspaper devoted to Industrial Science and Efficiency', urged organisation and modernisation. He elaborated on the themes of protection and harmony between capital and labour.
By the 1920s Nelson felt Labor had lost its way, and his late-Victorian evolutionary optimism focused on ability. Supporting economic nationalism as vigorously as he had once supported political nationalism, Nelson co-founded the Australia-Made Preference League (1924) and was official lecturer on the 'Great White Train' which toured New South Wales between November 1925 and May 1926. He contributed frequent articles to The Sydney Morning Herald after 1926.
Nelson died on May 5, 1943, at Wollstonecraft, Sydney. 'Known and admired throughout the whole of Australia', Nelson was saluted by the Rationalist as the last of a band of stalwarts who 'never wavered in opposition to superstition'.