Edwin James Brady, journalist and writer, was born on 7 August 1869 at Carcoar, New South Wales, son of Irish parents, Edward John Brady, mounted police constable, and his wife Hannah, née Kenny. His father had migrated first to the United States of America where he had fought in the civil war. Brady was educated at Oberon Public School, then in Washington D.C. where his family settled in 1881. Homesick they returned to Sydney next year, and Brady went to two Catholic schools, then in 1884 passed the junior public examination from St Patrick's Boys' School. He worked on the Ben Buckler sewer and matriculated, but only attended a few evening lectures at the University of Sydney.
Brady became interested in sailing-ships while a timekeeper for Dalgety & Co. Ltd on the Sydney wharves; he refused to be sworn in as a special constable during the maritime strike of 1890 and was dismissed. He became secretary of the Australian Socialist League, a member of the Labor Electoral League, editing its newspaper, the Australian Workman, and joined a clerks' union. He was narrowly defeated for Labor pre-selection in West Sydney in 1890. Through these activities he became friendly with many early socialists and Labor supporters. Between attempts at farming Brady worked as a dramatic reporter for Truth, wrote features for the Sunday Times, the Freeman's Journal, and the Bird O'Freedom, and edited the Arrow from 1896. On 30 October 1890 at Paddington he had married Marion Cecilia Walsh, whom he divorced for adultery on 28 May 1895. At Smithfield on 12 June he married a divorcee Annie Creo Dooley (d.1940), née Stanley, but they soon separated and she, reputedly, refused him a divorce. From about 1902 he lived with Norma Linda Dalby (d.1936).
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