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Pious past but Furphys loosen up for a beer

The man who became the Furphy legend may not have been amused.

GEOFF ADAMS August 19, 2014 3:04am

Sam Furphy at the launch of the new Furphy beer at Noble Monks


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The man who became the Furphy legend may not have been amused.

Shepparton icon and Methodist lay preacher John Furphy had his water carts emblazoned with the declaration: ‘‘Beer and whisky are concoctions of the devil’’.

Now his descendants are naming a beer after him.

In the 150th anniversary year of the establishment of John Furphy’s agricultural manufacturing business, the Furphy clan gathered at a venue with a religious name — Noble Monks — to celebrate the launch of the beer.

It was just a few hundred metres from where the famous Shepparton foundry opened in 1878.

The Furphy Refreshing Ale flowing from the taps at Noble Monks was developed by the Little Creatures Brewery at Geelong, which has been using Furphy-made stainless steel tanks in its business for years.

Guests at last week’s launch heard head brewer Warren Pawsey remark that an invoice from Furphys was sitting on the desk while they were looking for a name for a new beer.

A discussion ensued with Furphy family members who gave their blessing to the use of the name.

Great-great grandson of John Furphy, Sam Furphy, said the Australian pastime of having a beer and swapping stories fitted with the Furphy tradition.

The 180gallon galvanised iron tanks with cast iron ends were responsible for the development of the word ‘Furphy’ as synonymous with gossip or rumour. The water carts were common in World War I and the latest stories — fact or fiction — travelled with the carts.

Descendant Adam Furphy is also aware of their ancestor’s strict Protestant background and the irony of the family name on a beer label, but agreed with Sam it was a natural fit with the story telling associated with the word ‘Furphy’.

Adam said Furphy followers might be aware of the strange ‘hieroglyphics’ on water carts of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s that were actually outlines from Pitman shorthand, placed on the tank ends by John’s son, William, a teetotaller.

One of the original warnings was: ‘‘Water is the gift of God, but beer is the concoction of the devil. Don’t drink beer.’’

‘‘The message of temperance was quite stark and anti-beer but perhaps, thankfully, unlikely to have been understood by many of his customers,’’ Adam said.

He noted the message was later softened to: ‘‘Water is the gift of God but beer and whisky concoctions of the devil. Go and have a drink of water.’’

And this was where Adam decided to indulge in his own ‘Furphy’ storytelling.

‘‘It so happens that the early Furphys were neighbours with the local Shepparton brewer,’’ he said.

‘‘Not only that, but the brewer was a likely source of business for J Furphy and Sons.

‘‘This original message — despite being unrecognisable to most of the population — would have been a potential sore point between parties.

‘‘So it is perhaps possible that, following a friendly chat with the said brewer, the message was deliberately altered to ensure neighbourly commercial relations could continue to thrive.’’

John Furphy had a predilection for adding mottos to his water carts.

There was the ‘‘Good, better, best, never let it rest,’’ invocation, added to the carts in 1895, and much later the idea: ‘‘Produce and populate or perish’’.

So Andrew Furphy last week produced a new ditty at the launch of the Furphy drop: ‘‘Water, whiskey, beer; no need for any fear; the devil’s done the test; Furphy beer’s the best’’.

John Furphy pioneered Methodism in Shepparton and the first religious service in the area was held by the United Free Methodists in his cottage at the rear of the blacksmith’s shop in 1873.

In his 35 years with the Methodist Church in Shepparton he filled every office open to a layman.

A glowing tribute published in the Shepparton News in 1889 described, ‘‘a man who succeeds in business because from his honesty, attention and natural aptitude he has inspired his fellow men with confidence in his integrity, does more good for himself, for those around him, and for the town in which lives ...’’

The Furphy Museum has opened at Emerald Bank as part of the Shepparton Motor Museum.

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