Vale, Tom Luscombeby John WrightNews Weekly
, June 2, 2001
When T.R. (Tom) Luscombe died a fortnight ago at the age of 82, it was more than 50 years since the first of his columns, headed "Collins Street Rustic", appeared in News Weekly.
A country boy from Port Pirie, South Australia, he had done his RAAF radar training near Melbourne, using leave days to explore the Dandenong Ranges on foot.
After the war, he worked in Port Pirie and in Newcastle, then, as ever, a key centre of industrial action, and then moved to Melbourne, where he worked for the National Catholic Rural Movement (NCRM), and with his wife bought a house and eight acres of land at the foot of the Dandenongs. From there, he was to commmute to the city, supplementing the family income by raising poultry and growing fruit and vegetables.
Tom's ideas were reinforced by two American books: Louis Bromfield's Malabar Farm and Ralph Borsodi's Flight from the City (the latter re-published in Australia). The pioneers of the organic and conservation movements were being heard and discussed long before such causes became fashionable, and some attention was given to the extent to which European city workers, sometimes faced with shorter hours of regular employment, were commuting from out-of-town blocks on which they were able to farm part-time.
Tom noted in an early column the difficulties of advocating homesteads with small acreages for industrial workers "in these days of full employment and unfilled jobs". But, he added, "the present boom is not necessarily permanent". He quite deliberately chose the title "Rustic" rather than "Collins Street Farmer", which was used on occasion to describe professional people who bought up farmland, under guidance from their tax agents, so that
Losses on the roundabouts
Meant profits on the swings.
Tom Luscombe's column was in the form, more or less, of a weekly report on the rustic author's operations, and its popularity soon became apparent from the number of readers who wrote to comment on, or to seek further details concerning life on the farmlet. There were requests, too, that the columns be re-issued in book form.
"Collins Street Rustic" appeared week after week for more than 10 years, and of course represented only a fraction of the author's output. He wrote for the NCRM's publication, Rural Life, and News Weekly on a wide range of rural and regional matters, and contributed articles and reviews which gave evidence of his deep and abiding interest in Australian history and literature.
He was thus well equipped for his later years as an author and in the publishing industry. His first book was a study of some 15 notable figures in Australian Catholicism, under the title of Builders and Crusaders.
He later published three novels, The Priest and the Governor (1970), A Village over the Yarra (1974), and A Bridge over the River (1980). In recent years, failing health restricted his ability to complete other novels for which he had long been making preparations.
One lasting memorial is a street bearing his name at the farming site from which he commuted and reported to his readers.