Book review: “Waltzing Matilda – Australia’s Accidental Anthem”

March 6th, 2019 | 'Banjo' Paterson, Music

Book Review: “Waltzing Matilda – Australia’s Accidental Anthem” by W. Benjamin Lindner
(Published by Boolarong Press)

This is a book I have long been hoping somebody would write, but dared not believe anybody would.

There has been much written in recent years about the writing of Australia’s unofficial national anthem ‘Waltzing Matilda’. In particular, there has been a push to suggest that the words relate closely to the events surrounding the burning of the woolshed at Dagworth station in western Queensland in early September 1894, and the subsequent death of a shearer, Samuel Hoffmeister. (The two events may or may not have been related, but probably were.) Personally, I have never found this line of argument convincing.

Considerable uncertainty has also surrounded the timing of the writing of the song, with proponents of the Hoffmeister theory keen to believe, and therefore prove, that the song was written as soon as possible after these events. I have also never been convinced that this has been proven.

Part of the difficulty has been that Paterson’s travel arrangements during this time were never documented. A new book on the subject, “Waltzing Matilda – Australia’s Accidental Anthem”, by W. Benjamin Lindner, sets out to resolve this conundrum in a devastatingly simple way. It makes you wonder why nobody has ever thought of doing it before.

What is not disputed is that Paterson wrote “Waltzing Matilda” in collaberation with Christina McPherson, who provided the music (the tune ‘Thou Bonnie Wood of Craigielea’ that she had heard played at the Warrnambool races in April 1894), and that he was in the company of his fiancé, Sarah Riley, at the time. So, if Paterson’s travel movements cannot be nailed down, can the movements of McPherson and Riley? Turns out they can! They both travelled to Queensland from Melbourne, and both spent a large part of the journey on the ocean, travelling by steamer, First Class. These voyages are well documented, and prove beyond doubt that Waltzing Matilda could not have been written any earlier than August 1895, almost a year after the burning of the Dagworth woolshed. Furthermore, while Paterson’s travelling arrangements cannot be proven, his various sporting and social activities in Sydney most definitely can, and it turns out they line up perfectly with the movements of McPherson and Riley!

This is an extremely dense and well-researched book. There is a very large cast of characters. I read it quickly and in a somewhat feverish state of mind, as I quickly realised what a gem it was, and don’t pretend to have fully comprehended or integrated all the information it contains.

It is very clear to me, however, that Waltzing Matilda was written some months later than many would like to believe. I also think Lindner has done a very good job of demonstrating just how unlikely it is that Paterson based the words on the death of Hoffmeister. Importantly, a detailed analysis of the inquest into the death of Samuel Hoffmeister fails to make any link whatsoever with the squatter Bob McPherson, brother of Christina, and manager – with his three brothers – of Dagworth station. I can see that those events may well have fed into the lyrics, but only in a very general sense, and certainly not in the strictly literal sense that some would like to believe. (Lindner makes specific reference to Richard Magoffin and Dennis O’Keeffe in this respect.)

Lindner also makes it clear that Waltzing Matilda was almost certainly written at more than one location – possibly as many as three or four – with McPherson playing an autoharp initially, and then moving to a piano when one became available.

Lindner also points out that the evidence he has discovered means that the first public performance of the song could not have taken place in April 1895 at the North Gregory Hotel, as has been believed by many up until now, because it had not yet been written.

There are passages which could have benefitted from further editing. The text contains minor grammatical errors at times, and there is some repetition that could have been tidied up, but these are minor quibbles.

Lindner is a criminal lawyer, and calls his book a ‘forensic history’. It didn’t necessarily need a lawyer to write this book, but his methodical, persistent, extremely detailed, dispassionate approach is well suited to the task. He does concede that Trove, that invaluable National Library resource that contains so many early newspapers in digitised form, was not available to earlier researchers.

I would strongly recommend this book to anybody who is interested in the history of Australia’s unofficial national anthem, ‘Waltzing Matilda.’

Waltzing Matilda – Australia’s Accidental Anthem

Newstead Live! 2019

February 6th, 2019 | C. J. Dennis, Festivals, Music, Photos, Songs

Maggie Somerville and I attended Newstead Live! again this year. We set off after I had finished work on the Friday before Australia Day, which meant we were setting up the tent in the dark. To complicate matters a little further, the performers’ camping was not available, so we had to camp at the Racecourse, which I struggled to find. Eventually we stumbled into the Railway Hotel, where we were assisted by some helpful patrons.

I made it to the Poets’ Breakfast the following morning in time to act as MC and create a list of performers. (Jim Smith has always acted as MC at these events, but decided to call it a day last year.) We had only been allocated 45 minutes on the programme, but Troubadour Manager Andrew Pattison was happy for us to run through till 10 am, which meant we got a full hour, and everybody had a chance to perform twice.

It was good to see Campbell the Swaggie once again.

Maggie and I had the rest of the day free to check out other acts.

A highlight for me was the ‘Good Girl Song Project’ at the Uniting Church, telling the rather sorry story of early female migration to the colony of New South Wales, based on research by Liz Rushen, with songs by Helen Begley, and a script taken directly from documents of the day. Maggie enjoyed it, too. I bought the CD, which is also excellent.

Later in the afternoon we caught a couple of songs from ‘The Grubby Urchins’ at Lilliput. It was good to see Daniel Bornstein again. The last time I had seen him performing at Lilliput was several years ago, when he was with my son, Thomas, in ‘The Paper Street Soap Company.’

(Daniel is on the left.)

We also spent some time relaxing in the Courtyard, where we watched Geoffrey Graham (who was due to perform ‘Digger Smith’ with us the following day.)

Geoffrey was followed by fellow Victorian Folk Music Club members Don and Ken who also did an excellent job.

On Sunday morning I did a quick poem at the Poets’ Breakfast (this time with Geoffrey Graham acting as MC) before dashing off to do a show for children at Lilliput.

Maggie and I then watched Andrew Pattison interview Broderick Smith at the Troubadour for ‘Desert Island Discs.’ Broderick was a particularly eloquent interviewee, and Andrew was a superb interviewer, as always.

(Broderick and Andrew are away in the distance in this photo, I am afraid, and Andrew’s head has been completely blocked by a speaker!)

Finally it was time for Geoffrey, Maggie and I to perform ‘Digger Smith’ by C. J. Dennis at the Anglican Church. ‘Digger Smith’, first published in 1918, was the fourth of five books written by Dennis featuring Bill and Doreen, and is set at the end of the First World War. This was only the second time Maggie and I had performed it (the first being at Toolangi last year), and the first with Geoffrey. It went well, with a small but appreciative audience. We will be performing ‘Digger Smith’ next in the Trocadero at the National Folk Festival in Canberra at Easter.

It was very difficult for Maggie to perform following the unexpected and tragic death of her son Julian only twelve days earlier. I am extremely grateful to her for doing so, and for doing it so beautifully.

I will finish this report with a photo of the Men’s Shed, which caught my fancy with its ‘Receding Airlines.’

2018 Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival

October 25th, 2018 | C. J. Dennis, Festivals, Henry Lawson, Mary Gilmore, Music, Photos, Poems for adults, Poems for children, Songs, Stories for adults, Stories for children

The lead-up to the festival this year was disturbed by the very sad news that Vic Williams, co-owner of The Singing Gardens, and husband of Jan Williams, is very ill. My thoughts are with Vic, Jan and their sons at this difficult time.

This year’s festival was very enjoyable and went well, but numbers were significantly down on previous years, which is prompting some soul searching. The cold, wet weather no doubt was a contributing factor, but I am not convinced that this is the whole story.

It began, as always with the Awards Ceremony. This was one of the best attended events of the weekend. Numbers of entries were up on last year, and the standard, as always, was very high. In addition to the prize money and certificates, award winners also received a copy of the festival booklet containing all the winning poems, beautifully produced by Daan Spijer, and a copy of Jack Thompson’s CD, “The Sentimental Bloke. The Poems of C. J. Dennis”, a number of which had been kindly donated to the Society. The new category of short story (500 word limit), now in its second year, appears to be working well. It was especially gratifying to see Jan Williams win First Prize in the ‘Adults Writing for Children’ section, as judged by children, for her poem ‘Scruffy Dog’.

The ‘Open Mike’ and ‘C. J. Dennis Showcase’ followed, with great performances by Jenny Erlanger, Maggie Somerville, David Campbell, Ruth Aldridge and Daan Spijer.

At 5 pm we commenced the performance of ‘Digger Smith’, published 100 years ago, in 1918. Several rehearsals had been held, we were dressed for the part, and I think we acquitted ourselves well. Unfortunately, we played to a very small crowd, which was disappointing. That said the audience, though tiny, was highly attentive and appreciative – and complimentary! We broke after an hour or so for dinner, and then continued for another hour after dinner, completing the book. (The food, it must be said, was as superb as ever!)

(Photo by Tim Sheed)

The Poets’ Breakfast the following morning was attended by myself, Maggie Somerville, David Campbell, Christine Middleton and Tim Sheed. It was great to have Christine and Tim there. Christine is a beautiful harpist, and Tim is an excellent reciter of Australian bush verse.

Christine performed some of the melodies she plays in the course of her work as a music therapist.

Tim recited an old Dennis favourite, “An Old Master”. It was exciting to be able to inform him that he was pretty much standing on the slopes of Mt St Leonard himself as he performed the poem!

We were honoured with the attendance of the local Member of Parliament, Cindy McLeish (State Member for Eildon). I think she was expecting a larger turn-up, but she hid her disappointment well, and in the end I think she really enjoyed the performances.

Maggie Somerville had put the poem “West” from “Digger Smith” to music, and performed it after David Campbell and I had provided something of the context. It was very well received.

David took the opportunity to perform his poem “A School for Politicians”, and I then changed the mood slightly with one of my poems for children, “Yesterday’s Homework”. Maggie and Christine played “No Foe Shall Gather Our Harvest” together to finish the morning show. This poem, by Dame Mary Gilmore, has been put to music by Maggie. She has recorded the song, with Christine playing the harp. However, Christine was recorded in a different studio at a different time to the other musicians, so this was the first time Maggie and Christine had performed the song together.

(Photo by Tim Sheed)

Maggie and I have worked together to create a YouTube video of the song, which can be found here:

(from left to right, David, Tim (back), Christine (front), me, Cindy and Maggie – photo by Melanie Hartnell)

The sun came out after lunch, in time for the ‘moving theatre’ and the children’s ballet. ‘C.J. Dennis’ and ‘Henry Lawson’ received a surprise visit from ‘Dame Mary Gilmore’. ‘Henry’ took the opportunity to introduce the audience to little known poems by Banjo Paterson’s younger brother Ukulele, and Henry Lawson’s younger brother Leroy.

The numbers were swelled considerably by the families and friends of the dancers without whom, once again, the audience would have been very small indeed.

We then moved inside for afternoon tea, and Jan Williams presented David with the Marian Mayne award for First Prize in the Open Poetry section.

Congratulations, David!

Jim Brown was not able to attend the festival this year, and was therefore unable to perform his traditional rendition of ‘Dusk’ to close the festival. I performed it in his stead, with musical accompaniment from Maggie.

The gardens looked splendid as always. The weather was rather dismal on the Saturday, but picked up on the Sunday. Jan and her band of helpers performed admirably as they always do and, as I mentioned before, the food all weekend was delicious. The only thing missing was a good-sized audience!

It is hard to know precisely the cause(s) for this. We have an ageing membership, and are not attracting many new, younger members. The festival has been running in its current format for a number of years now, and perhaps a change is needed. Suggestions received included reducing it to a single day (probably the Sunday), or running it every second year. Further suggestions are welcome.

In summary, the festival this year was enjoyable and successful, but it would have been nicer to have had a few more people there!

Benalla Entertainment Muster 2018

October 16th, 2018 | Festivals, Music, Ocean, Photos, Sailing, Songs, Stories for adults, Stories for children

Maggie and I visited the Benalla Entertainment Muster last Sunday. This is an annual event run by the Victorian Bush Poetry and Music Association, and organised primarily by Cudgewa-based Jan Lewis. It is a great fun weekend, and I have been attending it for a number of years now. It is also a good opportunity to promote the Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival, which usually follows a week or two later. (This year it is following a week later – taking place this coming weekend.) Some years I have attended on both the Saturday and the Sunday, staying overnight in Benalla, and Maggie has joined me for the two days a couple of times in recent years, but my current work commitments make it difficult for me to get there on the Saturday.

As always, it was great fun. This year, a ‘sea shanty’ theme was chosen, which lent itself to being interpreted in a number of ways. Certainly the most visually spectacular of these was the court martial of Captain Kirley by Admiral Carrington and Co.

Val Kirley’s paintings of sailing ships added to the nautical atmosphere.

Maggie (back) joins Jan Lewis (left) and Christine Boult (right) in song.

Maurie Foun (lagerphone), Jim Carlisle and Jeff Mifsud (guitar) make music together.

Just a few snippets of what was a very enjoyable day…

National Folk Festival 2018

April 7th, 2018 | Camping, Canberra, Festivals, Folk clubs, Music, Photos

My Performer Application for the festival was unsuccessful this year, so I bought a ticket. Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities for ‘walk-up’ poets to perform at the festival.

I headed off with my son, Thomas, on the morning of Good Friday. It’s a long drive from Melbourne to Canberra, but fortunately I still had time to find a camping site, erect the tent, and attend “Poetry in the Round” in a new tent venue, “Festival Hall”. The MCs were Peter Mace and John Peel (see below).

In recent years, this event has been held in The Terrace, a very civilised room in the pavilion above the Sessions Bar. The great advantage of this venue is that it is very quiet and well sound-proofed. Performers in “Festival Hall” were constantly having to compete with the noise from other acts, especially the parade, heading past the front door first one way, then the other. One advantage of this year’s venue was that there is a lot more ‘passing trade’, with a greater likelihood of people dropping in casually to ‘check it out’. The tents can also get very cold at night. Fortunately, Easter in Canberra this year was quite warm.

The Poets’ Breakfast on Saturday morning was a big event, as these Breakfasts always are. There was a new award this year, the “Blue the Shearer Award” for the Best Original Poem. This is being held to honour the life of Col “Blue the Shearer” Wilson, a very popular poet and great friend of the festival, who died last year.

The “Reciter of the Year” award, which continues, is for a recitation from memory, and the reciter does not need to have written the poem. The new award can be read, but the reader must have written it. In other words, it is an award for writing, not performing.

The other new development this year was that the festival feature poets were also eligible to win the wards. The judge for both awards this year was last year’s judge, Chris McGinty, as last year’s winner of the Reciter’s Award, Len “Lenno” Martin, was unable to attend the festival.

Another opportunity to perform presented itself at “Poetry in the Park” on Saturday afternoon. The MC was John Peel (see below).

My friend, Maggie Somerville, arrived on Saturday afternoon, having left Melbourne that morning. We attended “Poetry in the Round” again together in the evening, and each performed a poem.

At the Sunday Breakfast Maggie read “A Deadly Weapon”, her poem about the hazards of trying to smuggle a tin whistle into court.

At 3.30 pm on Sunday, Maggie performed with the Billabong Band from the Victorian Folk Music Club, during their presentation of “Songs of the Victorian Goldfields” at the Trocadero. The band had been thrown into some disarray following the very sad news that the son of two of its most prominent members had died on Good Friday, and they had had to return to Melbourne. Replacements were arranged at short notice, and overall the show went well, but the situation was far from ideal.

Here is the full line-up…

(That’s Maggie in the red hat.)

A very interesting presentation took place in “Festival Hall” on Sunday night as Peter Mace and American cowboy poet Dick Warwick discussed the differences between cowboy poetry and Australian bush poetry. The takeaway message was that there are not a lot of differences, though perhaps the Americans are a little more reverential in their choice of subject matter. Then again, at least as I understand them, Ned Kelly is a far more ambiguous figure than Billy the Kid.

Here are Dick and Peter in animated conversation…

Chris McGinty announced the winners of the awards at the Monday Poets’ Breakfast. John Peel won the “Reciter of the Year” award with a poem he wrote himself, “When Elvis Came Back from the Dead”, which he performed at the Friday Poets’ Breakfast. Peter Mace won the inaugural “Blue the Shearer Award” with his poem about Kerry Stokes buying a VC medal at an auction for a million dollars to keep it in Australia, and then donating it to the National War Museum. (I haven’t found the title yet.)

Congratulations to them both!

Maggie headed back to Melbourne early on Monday morning, and Thomas and I left about midday.

Once again, the National Folk Festival had been very successful, and highly enjoyable!

More Newstead Photos

March 24th, 2018 | Festivals, Music, Photos, Poems for children, Songs, Stories for children

Many thanks to Geoffrey Graham for these photos of Maggie Somerville and me performing for children at Newstead Live! this year.

‘Baloney’ Launch

March 3rd, 2018 | Music, Photos, Songs, Stories for adults

It was both a joy and a privilege last Saturday afternoon (24th February) to host the launch of the new CD of original songs and tunes, ‘Baloney’, by my dear friend Maggie Somerville, at my home in Northcote.

Maggie began working on the CD two years ago, in the studios of Hugh McDonald (ex-Redgum, writer of the iconic song “The Diamantina Drover”). Sadly, Hugh died in late 2016 before completing the project. Fortunately, Hugh’s bass player, James Clark, agreed to help her finish it, first in Hugh’s studios, then in his own studios in Riddells Creek.

Maggie had been watching the long range forecast with an eagle eye for the previous two weeks, and had accepted that it was likely to rain during the event (although that turned out not to be the case!), and wet weather plans were put in place. The audience would be seated on plastic chairs in my living room, while Maggie and the band would be outside, on adjacent covered decking. Double doors allowed the audience good access to the musicians.

The launch was further complicated by the sad death of former President of the Victorian Folk Music Club Harry Gardner, with a memorial service in his honour being held in Ringwood on the morning of the launch. A number of the musicians, including Maggie, were planning to attend, which would make the timing tight.

(One of the tunes on ‘Baloney’ is titled ‘Harry’s Baking Bread’. Harry frequently hosted music rehearsals at his home, and in his later years mastered the art of baking bread, which he served for supper. Maggie was asked to play the tune at Harry’s service, and say a few words about him, which she was thrilled to have the opportunity to do.)

Catering was to be organised by Maggie’s daughters Gronya (who would also be singing) and Bridget, and two of Gronya’s friends, Suzanne and Mary-Anne.

Maggie had also printed a small number of purple T-shirts featuring the beautiful cover art of the CD, created by Hilary Jellett.

As it turned out, the day was a great success. The musicians all arrived in time (just!), the rain came prior to the event, and held off during the launch itself, the audience arrived in good time, and ideal numbers (a full house, but not over-full), and the catering was superb.

Maggie managed to perform all twenty tracks on the album, only running slightly over time, and that was in spite of a good long break for tucker at the halfway mark.

There was a great mood during the afternoon, and it was clear that everybody – audience and musicians alike – had enjoyed themselves immensely.

(Thank you to Catherine Leslie for this photo of the musicians.)

Maggie is joined by friends (and daughter Gronya, far right), in her ode to her hot water bottle…

Maggie is assaulted by a creeper in her song “The Creeper’s Curse”…

Maggie sings of the trials and tribulations of breast feeding…

Congratulations to Maggie and her large cast of musicians (see below) on a wonderful afternoon’s entertainment, and a very successful launch of ‘Baloney’.

Bill Buttler – guitar, ukulele
Maree Buttler – piano accordion, vocals
Katy Cottrill – vocals, percussion
James Clark – bass
Catherine Leslie – violin
Michael Parker – Uilleann pipes
Bryce Russell – keyboard
Ray Simpson – didgeridoo
Gronya Somerville – vocals
Bruce Watson – snare drum
Jill Watson – glockenspiel
Trevor Voake – mandolin

Gronya and Maggie.

Stephen (me) and Maggie.

(Thank you to Gronya Somerville for this photo.)

Here is a full track listing:

1. A Dog’s Life
2. A Little of Your Time
3. The Breastfeeding Blues
4. Hugh McDonald’s Lament
5. Streets of Fear
6. Koori Spirit
7. Don’t Give Up Your Name
8. Dunlewey Dream
9. One Forgotten Soldier
10. Aussie Christmas Day
11. How I Love My Hottie
12. Whiskers in the Whistle/Harry’s Baking Bread
13. Heroes of Guadalcanal
14. The Creeper’s Curse
15. Bridget’s Bicycle/Foster Market
16. Wattle Day
17. Garage Girl
18. The Weatherboard House
19. Sunset Farewell
20. Edith Oenone

A second launch of ‘Baloney’ will take place at the Ringwood Folk Club (Knaith Rd. Reserve, Knaith Rd, Ringwood East – Melway 50 B8) on Tuesday, 13th March. VFMC member Jane Bullock has choreographed a dance for ‘Harry’s Baking Bread’, which will also be performed on the evening.

Further information about the Ringwood launch can be found here:
http://www.vfmc.org.au/concerts.php

Further information about ‘Baloney’ can be found on Maggie’s website, here:

Baloney: Solo CD of original songs – out now

Photographs – “The Glugs of Gosh”

November 13th, 2017 | C. J. Dennis, Festivals, Music, Photos, Poems for adults, Poems for children, Significant dates in the life of C. J. Dennis, Songs, Stories for adults, Stories for children, Sunnyside, Toolangi, Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival

I was starting to worry that we had no photographic record of the performance of “The Glugs of Gosh” at the 2017 Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival, held to celebrate the centenary of its publication. Fortunately, C. J. Dennis Society member Will Hagon has come to the rescue!

Here we see, from left to right, Sir Stodge (David Campbell), a narrator (Maggie Somerville), King Splosh (Jim Brown), and another narrator (Ruth Aldridge), in “The Swanks of Gosh”.

Now we move on to “The Seer”, with narrators Jim Brown and Ruth Aldridge, and the Mayor of Quog (Daan Spijer).

The climax is reached in “Ogs”, with the “Og” audience throwing stones at the Glugs!

Here are Sir Stodge (David Campbell), a narrator (Maggie Somerville), Sym (Stephen Whiteside), King Splosh (Jim Brown), Queen Tush (Ruth Aldridge), and a Glug with a mole on his chin (Daan Spijer).

Alas, Sir Stodge has been stricken in the chest by a stone!

(Note the blurring of the faces due to movement – evasive action, or simply hilarity?)

And here are the stones that caused all the damage!

Thanks again to Will Hagon for saving the day!

Mary Gilmore Festival (Crookwell, NSW)

November 7th, 2017 | Camping, Festivals, Mary Gilmore, Music, Photos, Songs

Early on the morning of Friday, 27th October, Maggie Somerville and I headed north up the Hume Highway to Crookwell in New South Wales for the Mary Gilmore Festival.

Maggie has put a number of Mary Gilmore’s poems to music and the Festival Director, Trevene Mattox, was keen for us to attend. (There is also ample scope for a poet at the festival.)

To get to Crookwell, you go past Yass (not through it, as we did; it is a very pretty town, but does not get you any closer to Crookwell, as we found) and leave the highway at Gunning. You then climb steadily for an hour or so through open country until you reach Crookwell, at an elevation of about a thousand metres.

After erecting our tent at the Showgrounds, we drove into town for the opening of the festival at the art gallery by the local member of parliament, The Hon Angus Taylor MP, Member for Hume.

Angus made the point that, while Dame Mary Gilmore was undoubtedly a highly admirable woman, she and he differed in their political views.

The following morning, we were invited to perform to the local market goers. Maggie sang a number of her songs to an appreciative audience.

The Reserve Bank was even in attendance showing off the new banknotes, with Dame Mary Gilmore and the opening words of “No Foe Shall Gather Our Harvest” on the ten dollar note.

During the afternoon we witnessed a showcase of the local youth talent, and in the evening we were treated to a performance by a women’s choir from Wollongong. The performance took place in a pavilion with a corrugated iron domed roof. Unfortunately a short, sharp rain shower completely drowned out the first item of the evening’s concert! The choir was superbly rehearsed, with numerous lavish but highly efficient costume changes taking place over the course of the show.

The following morning was the “Poets’ and Balladeers’ Breakfast” and Maggie and I had ample opportunity to perform. Maggie sang the remainder of her Mary Gilmore songs, while I performed a newish Ned Kelly poem that went down well.

At the end of the show, Maggie was asked to draw the raffle.

(I should add that this was also Maggie’s birthday!)

Alas, now it was time to leave Crookwell and begin the long drive back to Melbourne – in time to be at work at 9 am the following morning.

Maggie and I are extremely grateful to Trevene Mattox for giving us a lovely weekend. We were looked after extremely well, and had a wonderful time.

It was also great to catch up with poet Laurie McDonald and his wife, Denise, from Canberra. (Laurie and I shared MC duties for much of the weekend.) Laurie explained that the Crookwell festival used to have more of a bush poetry focus, but in recent years the emphasis has been on Mary Gilmore, and music. That made sense to me, because I have vague memories of submitting poetry to a competition in Crookwell in years past.

It was also wonderful to meet Stephen Lindsay, a local musician who owns a studio and is doing a great job recording local musicians and personalities on CD.

These rustic dwellings caught my eye as we left town.

Report: 2017 Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival

November 4th, 2017 | C. J. Dennis, Festivals, Music, Photos, Poems for adults, Poems for children, Significant dates in the life of C. J. Dennis, Stories for adults, Toolangi, Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival

The tenth Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival took place at “The Singing Gardens” in Toolangi on the weekend of 21st and 22nd October, and was a great success.

This year we were celebrating the centenary of the publication of two of Dennis’ books – “The Glugs of Gosh” and “Doreen”.

The weather was cool and overcast, with some rain – nowhere near as good as the beautiful sunny weather we have had some years, but nowhere near as bad as the storms of last year.

It was wonderful to have C. J. Dennis Society Patron Ted Egan on hand to open the festival on Saturday afternoon. The festival began, as always, with the a
Awards Ceremony for the written poetry competition. A change this year was the introduction of an un-themed short story section (max. words 500), replacing the themed poetry section. It was generally felt that the theme of “The Glugs of Gosh” would just be too difficult. In spite of this, the winning entry, “Constable Og and the Bits and Bobs”, by David Campbell, was written on the theme of the Glugs, and was extremely clever and entertaining – a most deserving winner.

The Marian Mayne Prize (winner of the Open Poetry section) was won for the second successive year by Shelley Hansen with “My Name’s Doreen” – a view of Bill from Doreen’s perspective, written very much in the style of C. J. Dennis, and most fitting for the centenary of the publication of “Doreen”.

I was thrilled to win the “Adults Writing for Children” poetry section, both as judged by an adult (“The Fart from Outer Space”) and children (“The Fart from Snowy River”). Just how popular these poems really are with adults is somewhat questionable. I performed them both somewhat uneasily to the assembled throng on the day…

Another highlight of the ceremony was the success of the Williams family. Jan Williams, owner of “The Singing Gardens”, won Second Prize in the Short Story section with “Dear Mar” while her son, Michael, won Second Prize in the “Adults Writing for Children” poetry section, as judged by children, with “Lemonade Waterfall”.

Ruth Aldridge then performed “Doreen”. This is a slim booklet, comprising four poems only, published for the Christmas market in 1917. It relates a number of events in the life of Bill and Doreen, who are now married, and their young son, also “Bill”. Ruth did an excellent job, and it was a fitting tribute to the centenary of the publication of the book.

Another thrill for me was the presence of motoring journalist Will Hagon at the festival. I have been listening to Will on the ABC for many years. I have no interest at all in motor sports, except when Will is talking about them – then they suddenly sound very interesting indeed. Will has a beautiful speaking voice, and is a natural story teller. I had no idea that he is also a huge fan of C. J. Dennis! He performed “The Spoilers” on the Saturday afternoon, which was a great treat for all who were there to hear him.

The festival highlight commenced shortly after, with the performance of “The Glugs of Gosh”. We had rehearsed fairly intensely in the lead-up to the festival, but it is a long and complex work, and there were still plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong! The Glugs was the book of which Dennis himself was most proud, but it has never sold anywhere near as many copies as his most popular works, and various misgivings were expressed during rehearsals that we might struggle to hold the attention of our audience. As it turned out, we needn’t have worried. We were greeted with rapt attention, and given a standing ovation at the conclusion!

Here is a performer’s eye view.

The Glugs is a flawed masterpiece. It is primarily a satire for adults, though it began as a story for children, and retains some of those elements, which is a little confusing at times. The Glugs live in the fictional land of Gosh, where they are ruled by King Splosh and Queen Tush. The knight Sir Stodge also has a major say in affairs. An independently minded Glug by the name of Joi is eventually hanged for his treasonous thoughts, but his son, Sym, similarly independently minded but less given to rebellion – and modelled very much on Dennis himself – is alternately hailed as a prophet and reviled. No doubt this reflects in part Dennis’ own mixed feelings following the reception he received after the publication of The Sentimental Bloke and Ginger Mick.

My initial plan had been to employ a professional actor to read the book, but C. J. Dennis Society member Maggie Somerville suggested that it would work well as a play, with various actors playing the principal characters. I felt she was definitely onto something, so cast Society members for the various parts. The final performance featured Jim Brown, Ruth Aldridge, Maggie, Daan Spijer, David Campbell and myself. Colin Lee attended several rehearsals, but was very sadly prevented by illness from performing at the festival. Terry Maher also attended rehearsals, but was unable to attend the festival.

Maggie and I had planned to sleep in the tea room, in the corner where the performance of the Glugs had taken place. As we lay down at the end of the day, we had no idea that another dramatic episode was about to unfold for us! A speaker box, perched on a tripod two metres above the ground, came crashing down without warning and struck us both on the head! Maggie instantly had a large egg, while I found myself with several bleeding scalp lacerations. I felt we both needed medical attention and, after a couple of unsuccessful attempts to rouse doctors closer to home, we set off on the hour long journey to the Emergency Department at Maroondah Hospital in Ringwood.

Maroondah Hospital gets pretty busy on a Saturday night, and it took an hour to drive each way. It appeared that no serious harm had been done, but it was 3 am by the time we were back in Toolangi!

The Poets’ Breakfast the following morning went well.

David Campbell, on hearing of our plight the following morning, hastily penned a poem which he read to the delight of all.

Things That Go Bump!

When the sandman comes a’creeping
in the watches of the night
and you’re very soundly sleeping,
it’s not nice to get a fright.

But at times the gods get even
for the mischief that you’ve done,
and for Maggie and for Stephen
retribution weighed a ton!

For a speaker came a’calling
as they slumbered in their bed,
and they thought the sky was falling
as it cracked them on the head.

“Bloody hell!” poor Stephen shouted.
“What in heaven’s name was that?
For it seems that we’ve been clouted…
I forgot to wear my hat!”

Meanwhile Maggie lay there, aching,
as a lump began to grow,
and she cried “My head is breaking!
What has caused this awful blow?”

And then Stephen said “I’m shattered,
but the truth we have to face
is I think that we’ve been battered
by the fart from outer space!”

The “Moving Theatre”, featuring C. J. Dennis (myself), ‘Banjo’ Paterson (Jim Brown) and Henry Lawson (David Campbell), was scheduled to take place after lunch. However, the rain and cold meant that we’d be confined to the marquee, and there wouldn’t be much moving. Fortunately, there was plenty of theatre. Another highlight featured Will Hagon as, without any warning, C. J. Dennis invited him to take centre stage and talk about the types of cars that Dennis, Paterson and Lawson might have been driving in the 1920s. Suffice to say, Will rose to the occasion splendidly! I was particularly fascinated to learn that the Holden company had been present in Australia for many decades prior to the introduction to the motor vehicle, fashioning leather for saddles, bridles, etc.

Will and I had an opportunity to continue our conversation later in the afternoon.

(Photo courtesy Maggie Somerville)

Maggie Somerville and Cathy Phelan did a beautiful job of helping the children to perform a ballet to “The Glug Quest” from “The Glugs of Gosh”. Maggie sang selected verses she had put to music, while Cathy had choreographed the dance and taught it to the children, and helped with costumes.

Jim Brown then wound up proceedings with his traditional performance of C. J. Dennis’ “Dusk”.

All in all, it was another successful and highly memorable festival!

Here is a full list of the winners of the poetry competition.

Results – Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Competition 2017

Open Poetry Award

First – “My Name’s Doreen” (Shelley Hansen)
Second – “The Busker and the Bikies” (Will Moody)
Third – “The Gravedigger” (Will Moody)

Open Short Story Award

First – “Constable Og and the Bits and Bobs” (David Campbell)
Second – “Dear Mar” (Jan Williams)
Third – “The Piano Player” (Shelley Hansen)
Honourable Mention – “Our Singing Garden” (Ruth Aldridge)

Adults Writing for Children (adult judging)

First – “The Fart from Outer Space” (Stephen Whiteside)
Second – “The Kids that Rescued Easter” (Jackie Hosking)
Third – “The Fart from Snowy River” (Stephen Whiteside)
Fourth – “The Glogs of Gush” (David Campbell)
Highly Commended – “Grandpa’s Farm” (Jenny Erlanger)
Highly Commended – “Bush Tucker” (Jenny Erlanger)

Adults Writing for Children (as judged by children)

First – “The Fart from Snowy River” Stephen Whiteside)
Second – “Lemonade Waterfall” (Michael Williams)
Third – “The Kids that Rescued Easter” (Jackie Hosking)

Poems by Students in Primary School

First – “Bushranger’s Delight” (Max Bryant)
Second – “Water from the Rain” (Megan Vo)
Third – “The Land Down Under” (Jun Bok)
Highly Commended – “How Gold Changed Australia” (Micah Foreman)
Highly Commended – “Falling” (Daria Day)

Poems by Students in Secondary School

Honourable Mention – “Spring is Here” (Taylah – Williams-Benjamin)

Congratulations to all the winners, and thanks to all those who entered.

Thanks also to the judges: David Campbell (Open Poetry), Daan Spijer (Open Short Story, Students’ Poetry), Barry Carozzi (Adults Writing for Children – adult judging), students of Millgrove Primary School (Adults Writing for Children – as judged by children)

The festival booklet, containing all the winning poems, together with judges’ comments, can be purchased for $10 by writing to:

Jan Williams
“The Singing Gardens”
1694 Healesville-Kinglake Road
Toolangi
Vic. 3777

(PH: 0359629282)

Finally, thanks also, of course, to Jan Williams, her family, and her tireless band of supporters for continuing to make the festival the great success that we have become accustomed to enjoying.