Daybreak or Clem Gray - A Biography

Clement Gray, later known as 'Daybreak', was born on 4 September 1886 to Clement Lewis Gray and Emma Auguste Illgen in Emu Bay, the early name for Burnie in Tasmania.1 Clement Gray Snr. was probably the un-named son born to Thomas Gray and Mary McGuire in 1850. Clem and his brothers were well known footballers in the Circular Head area, and Clem played with the old North Forest team until he was thrown from a horse as a sixteen year old "that rendered him a permanent invalid". Clem became known as the Poet Laureate of Circular Head, a title enshrined in his work, Railway Ballads, published in 1913.2 The following information is from a pamphlet called "The Forest - As I Pass By", collated by Jill Shackcloth and researched by students of the Smithton Primary School as an Australian Bicentennial project.

For some years he resided at Burnie. He had not an enemy. On the contrary his brave, cheery optimism had endeared him to all with whom he came into contact. The same characteristics exhibited in his expressive verses had also cheered very many who did not know him personally. He was ever on the lookout for a chance to help others... At war time he raised much money for the cause by the sale of booklets of his verses. When a word from him seemed likely to help a good cause it was always forthcoming, either in prose or verse. A red letter day to him was when Mr. E. J. Brady, the Australian poet-journalist visited him at North Forest.3

In February 1915, Clem went to Melbourne for an operation which it was hoped would improve his condition. The event was seized upon by the local community as a chance to show 'Daybreak' their respect.


On Sunday week last the members of the Stanley Brass Band journeyed out to North Forest to give a sacred recital to 'Daybreak' (alias Mr. Clem L. Gray). Circular Head's popular poet. The day was nice and fine, and there was a large attendance from all parts of the district, including several motor loads from Stanley, and one from Smithton. The band discoursed a good programme of music, which was much appreciated by all, the members and visitors being afterwards invited to partake of a dainty repast. Mr. H. G. Spicer, the band president, in a few well-chosen words, thanked Mr. and Mrs. C. L. Gray, and Miss Gray, for their genial hospitality. Cr. W. J. Waters, then, on behalf of 'Daybreak,' thanked the band for giving him such a treat. He said residents of that locality had come to look upon it as an annual event, from which is derived a great pleasure. Bandmaster Penrose suitably responded. Before the gatheriug dispersed, Mr. Spicer, on behalf of friends, made 'Daybreak' a presentation of a sum of money, with which to purchase some literature, and exhorted him to keep on writing his popular verses on current events, which, he said, were always looked forward to and appreciated by a large circle of readers. 'Daybreak' appropriately thanked Mr. Spicer and his friends, and said he was glad his verses met with such universal approval; he wrote them mostly for pastime, but some day hoped he would be able to take literature seriously and do something really worthy of world wide recognition. He also assured the bandsmen that Sunday was one of the happiest days of his life, and verily his cheery manner and smiling face seemed to emphasise the fact. Those who helped to contribute to that enjoyment must indeed have received their compensation by a short chat with him. Mr. C. Tatlow took the bandsmen out gratuitously in his big motor bus.4

Also in 1915, a copy of Clem's "Patriotic Verse" was sent to the Agent General in London. His response was reported in The North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times in March.


'Daybreak' (Mr. Clem. L. Gray), the circular Head poet, author of several booklets of poems, including 'Patriotic Verses,' recently issued in aid of [the] Red Cross Fund, has received the following complimentary letter from Sir John M'Call, Agent-General for Tasmania, in London: - February 4. 1915. Dear Mr. Gray, - I have received from my friend, Mr. Luke Williams, two copies of your 'Patriotic Verses', and am anxious that you should know they are much appreciated. This is a time when poets can, and do, render the Empire great service, and I am pleased to have verses from Tasmanians. I regret to know that you still suffer from the effects of your accident. Please accept my sympathy. You will be glad to know that apart from our Expeditionary Forces there are many Tasmanians giving their services in the British Army. With best wishes. - Yours faithfully (signed) John M'Call.' Needless to say, such a voluntary expression of approbation, coming from so far away, and from such an eminent Tasmanian as Sir John M'Call, has been a source of joy to 'Daybreak.' It is an honor of which any man might well be proud.5

'Daybreak' had numerous poems published in the Advocate during his relatively short life, and was a well known and treasured local identity. It would be wrong, of course, to pretend that everyone liked his work, or agreed with his philosophy. Clem seems to have had his own perspective on religion and Christianity, and there are infrequent examples in the Advocate where correspondents took him to task for one reason or another. His patriotism, as it was for many following Federation, meant he favoured a white Australia policy, which we can only consider as unpalatable now. But it would also be wrong to judge Clem outside of his place in time.

Clem died on 26 June 1933 in Latrobe, Tasmania. He was buried on 27 June 1933 in the Wivenhoe Cemetery, just outside of Burnie in Tasmania, facing the sea. The following obituaries and memorials speak volumes about Clem's life.

Late Mr. Clem. Gray.

The remains of the late Mr. Clement Lewis Gray, of Burnie, who died at the Devon Hospital, Latrobe, early on Monday morning, were interred in the Wivenhoe cemetery yesterday afternoon. Despite the wet weather there was a large and representative gathering of Burnie residents, including the Warden (Cr. J. B. Hilder), and all sections of the community were represented.

The burial service was read by father V. Hayes. The chief mourners were the three brothers of the deceased - Messrs. J. C. Gray (Burnie), Carl (Waratah), and William (Waratah) - while the carriers were Messrs. J. R. Hilder, A. Davis, W. Jones, N. Alexander, W. Parris and J. Crowe.

The pall-bearers were Messrs G. Billett, F. J. Gough, A. E. ("Snax") Pearce, and J. Veitch. Many beautiful floral tributes were placed on the grave.6

An obituary was published on 27 June 1933 in the Advocate:

Mr. Clem Gray.

The announcement of the death of Mr. Clement Gray, of Binnie, at the Devon Hospital, Latrobe, early yesterday morning, following an operation about a fortnight ago, will be received with keen regret by residents of all parts of the North-West Coast. His passing will also come as a shock to many, as although it was generally known that he was an inmate of the institution, reports as to his condition following an operation for internal trouble had been favorable.

The late Mr. Gray, who was the eldest son of the late Mr. and Mrs. C. L. Gray, of Forest, was born in the Circular Head district 46 years ago, and during his school days and immediately following them he led an active athletic life. Misfortune, however, dogged his footsteps, and when only 16 years of age he was thrown from a horse, sustaining injuries which ultimately deprived him of the use of his legs. For the greater part of his life, therefore, he was bedridden, but of late years was able to move about in a bath chair without aid. In Burnie particularly he was a well-known and popular figure. He was an attendant at practically all football matches and athletic carnivals, and daily was a familiar figure in the streets of the town. Known to almost everyone as "Clem," he always had a smile, and perhaps it was that cheerful and uncomplaining nature at all times that endeared him to Burnie residents. Certainly he was one who had learned the great lesson of being cheerful in adversity. He became so well known that he will be more than missed; he will be mourned by all who knew him.

To many, particularly lovers of verse, he was better known as "Daybreak," his numerous contributions in "The Advocate" having a charm all their own, as well us being of unusual literary merit for one who did not enjoy the advantages of more than an ordinary primary school education. During the Great War the late Mr. Gray was able to do "his bit," despite the fact that he was bedridden, and numerous publications, both of verse and prose, were prepared and sold by him to augment Red Cross and other patriotic funds.

Some months ago the late Mr. Gray developed an internal complaint, which necessitated his removal to the Devon Hospital, Latrobe, where an operation was performed about a fortnight ago. This was successful in every way, and it was generally believed that he had a good chance of recovery, but complications set in on Saturday, and he succumbed about 8 o'clock yesterday morning.

The late Mr. Gray is survived by three brothers - Messrs. J. C. Gray (Burnie), Carl (Waratah) and William (Waratah) - and three sisters - Mrs. H. Sharpe and Misses Eva and Mary Gray, all of Sydney.

The funeral will leave the residence of Mr. J. C. Gray, South Burnie, at 3 o'clock this afternoon for the Wivenhoe cemetery.7

The obituary was followed up by evocative memorials from Clem's friends:


Though the ways of life we travel,
  Unto some yields treasure rare,
There are others who are broken
  By the heavy cross they bear.

Ah,'the heartbreaks that we suffered,
  And the knocks that hurt us, yet
When the long road ends forever
  May God help us to forget!


If ever anyone had a cross to bear and bore it with fortitude it was our late genial and kindly old friend Clem. Gray. His life was an example to a lot of us who are able to get about and enjoy the beauties of Nature around us, and one only had to read the early poems of poor "Daybreak" to know how much he would have enjoyed the happy freedom of green fields under a smiling sun.

But it was not to be; God's ways are not our ways, and the example of patient suffering in the life of the kindly poet should work much good in the hearts of thousands who came in contact with him.

One had to know poor Clem well to find out the largeness of his heart. Some years ago when the writer was launching different movements for charity, Clem., who always used to prepare the posters for the different functions, would refuse point-blank to accept any more than would pay bare out of pocket expenses, and what was more, he didn't want anyone to know.

There are not many people born who would have stood up to the same sufferings as poor Clem did. I will always remember him as a hero who suffered great pain and smiled through it all; but like we all have to do, poor Clem, has "passed out," and there is nothing surer than the One who suffered so much himself will look after "Daybreak." And to quote another verse composed by him many years ago:

For He made a special feature
  Of the sick and homeless poor,
And each stricken fellow creature
  Of His aid did He assure.

To the youth and to the maiden,
  To the aged by cares oppressed,
Spake He thus, "Ye heavy laden,
  Come to me, I'll give you rest."

-"The Wild Irishman."8

The Late Clem. Gray.

"H.B.P." writes:

'"The Wild Irishman's" eulogy of the late Clem. Gray ("Daybreak") is more than warranted. Probably, as I do, he feels that the pen is inadequate in this case. While Clem, after his accident was still living at his home at North Forest, Circular Head, I used to make it a fairly regular practice to cycle 16 miles there and back to spend the Sunday with him. The first time I went I carried with me a concerted plan for an effort to cheer him up in his heavy physical trial. To my surprise the bedridden youth met me with a smile of sunshine- and one of the most cheery verbal greetings imaginable. Before I'd been there half an hour it seemed to be the most natural thing in the world for him to be listening to my petty troubles, and that was how he found his greatest happiness - listening so sympathetically to others. That in itself was a relief without the wise words of encouragement spoken in the light of his own experience that accompanied it.

It was always so. Clem would not avoid speaking of his own handicaps, but most rarely would he do so in any spirit of complaint. He could always trace compensations. The making of a new friendship in his mind outweighed weeks of suffering. He looked on the bright side. "Daybreak" was his practical pseudonym, and the soft diffused light was typical of him.

In his later writings some of his poems were touched with what to those who did not know his great brave heart might seem bitter pessimism. This was not on account of his own physical disabilities, but it was a reproach to the selfishness of a big section of the community. Having learnt himself the happiness that true unselfishness could bring to an individual, man's continued inhumanity to man almost broke his heart. His letters - and I had many after his removal to Burnie - were the real expression of himself. One of humanity's truest friends has taken a journey. It is very comforting to believe that "The Heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind." And our instinct tells us that "Daybreak" has now burst with the full sunshine of God's love.

There are two verses of a poem he wrote specially for me which may help others:

Though your skies be overclouded,
  With a dark depressive pall,
Will they brighton if you sorrow?
  No, my comrade, not at all.

With a hail for future seasons
  And a laugh for summers past
You are wise and I am with you,
  Comrade mlne, until the last.