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!

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.

Some photos from Will Moody

November 22nd, 2017 | C. J. Dennis, Festivals, News, Photos, Poems for adults, Poems for children, Significant dates in the life of C. J. Dennis, Stories for adults, Stories for children, Toolangi, Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival

Finally (I think!), here are some photos of the 2017 Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival from poet (and award winner) Will Moody.

Here is a great shot of C. J. Dennis Society Patron Ted Egan with Will Hagon…

…and here is a great group shot, taken just before the Awards Ceremony.

A couple of nice lunch table shots:

The view of the Awards Ceremony from the stage:

Finally, another shot of the Glugs:

Thanks, Will, for these great photos!

By the way, my website informs me that this is the 100th posting in my blog. Feels like an achievement in itself!

Photos of the 2017 Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival Awards Ceremony

November 15th, 2017 | C. J. Dennis, Photos, Poems for adults, Poems for children, Stories for adults, Toolangi, Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival

Thanks also to Shelley Hansen for these excellent portraits from the festival’s Awards Ceremony this year.

Stephen Whiteside

Jan Williams

Jim Brown

Daan Spijer

Shelley Hansen

David Campbell

Will Moody

Ruth Aldridge

Jackie Hosking

Jenny Erlanger

More “Glug” photos!

November 15th, 2017 | C. J. Dennis, Festivals, Photos, Poems for adults, Poems for children, Significant dates in the life of C. J. Dennis, Stories for adults, Stories for children, Toolangi, Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival

Photos! Photos! Photos!

Since I sent my plea out to members for photos of the performance of “The Glugs of Gosh” at this year’s Toolangi Festival, the photos have been pouring in!

First, thanks to Bruce Argyle for this photo of Sym (Stephen Whiteside – that’s me!).

Here is an ensemble shot with Sym, a narrator (Maggie Somerville), King Splosh (Jim Brown), Queen Tush (Ruth Aldridge) and Joi (Daan Spijer).

Thanks to Shelley Hansen for this great shot of Joi.

Finally, thanks to Linda Wannan for these shots of Maggie Somerville; first as the ‘practical aunt’ (“The Growth of Sym”)…

…and looking marginally more subdued in her ‘narrator’ outfit.

Daan Spijer has also posted some excellent photos, including a three-shot composite, at DropBox, here:
https://www.dropbox.com/sh/qlgmw2rn55dh4n0/AAAK0rZMLheRNogBAbvV3hvfa?dl=0 .

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!

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.

“The Glugs of Gosh” and Sassafras Creek

September 4th, 2017 | C. J. Dennis, Photos, Poems for adults, Poems for children, Significant dates in the life of C. J. Dennis, Sunnyside, Toolangi

This year, 2017, marks the centenary of the publication of C. J. Dennis’ flawed masterpiece “The Glugs of Gosh”.

This is a very different book to “The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke” and “The Moods of Ginger Mick”, the centenaries of the publication of which have taken place over the last two years. While those books were calculate to appeal to as many people as possible, and did indeed appeal to an enormous number, they came at a personal emotional cost. “The Glugs of Gosh” was written to square the ledger – it was written for himself, and is the most autobiographical of his books. Not surprisingly, perhaps, it proved nowhere near as popular as the other two. Nevertheless, it remained the book of which Dennis himself was the most proud. Furthermore, it has attracted and retained a core following of passionately loyal supporters over the years. (I am one.)

It is a brilliant but difficult book. Part nonsense verse for children, part satire for adults, one is not always sure which is which. (Hence the ‘flawed’.) Nevertheless, it contains much that is deeply wise, extremely funny, or simply sublime. The book was begun at “Sunnyside” in Kallista, under the influence of Garry and Roberta Roberts, and finished at Toolangi.

Plaque copy

Sunnyside Avenue copy

The first poem in the book, “The Glug Quest”, invites the reader to re-enter the world of their childhood imagination in order to reach the land of Gosh.

It begins as follows:

Follow the river and cross the ford,
Follow again to the wobbly bridge,
Turn to the left at the notice board,
Climbing the cow-track over the ridge;
Tip-toe soft by the little red house,
Hold your breath if they touch the latch,
Creep to the slip-rails, still as a mouse,
Then…run like mad for the bracken patch.

The second poem, “Joi, the Glug”, begins to tell us a little about the Glugs, and their land of Gosh.

It begins as follows:

The Glugs abide in a far, far land
That is partly pebbles and stones and sand,
But mainly earth of a chocolate hue,
When it isn’t purple, or slightly blue.
And the Glugs live there with their aunts and wives,
In draught-proof tenements all their lives.
And they climb the trees when the weather is wet,
To see how high they can really get.
Pray, don’t forget,
This is chiefly done when the weather is wet
.

Alec Chisholm, in his biography of C. J. Dennis, “The Life and Times of C. J. Dennis” (Angus & Robertson, 1946), quotes a conversation he had with Mrs Aeneas Gunn, author of “We of the Never Never”, and friend of Dennis.

Yes,” said Mrs Aeneas Gunn, when I commented to her on the free-flowing nature of “The Glugs of Gosh”, “there is melody in particular in the opening verses of the book, and I think that Dennis gained much of his inspiration from the music of Sassafras Creek. Early in 1914, soon after returning from England, I used to ride frequently beside that little stream, and I was always impressed, not merely by the ferns and other fairylike foliage that festooned its banks, but by the music of the steadily-flowing water.

“The creek had many voices. They all spoke together, and in perfect harmony. They were like numerous notes of music crossing and recrossing. Especially was this so at a certain spot where a big log spanned the stream amid a riot of picturesque growth. It was there that I often used to see Mr. Dennis loitering, apparently content to gaze at the scenery and listen to the music of birds and flowing water.

“‘I suppose’, I said to him one day, ‘you are like myself: you never tire of the voices of the Sassafras?’

“‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘this stream has many voices, and all musical.’

“Now, after many years” (Mrs Gunn added), “I continue to read with pleasure portions of The Glugs of Gosh. They recall for me the beauty of the ferns and other foliage, and as I read I hear again the varied and melodious voices of Sassafras Creek.”

Welcome sign copy

Yesterday I decided to attempt to follow in the footsteps of C. J. Dennis and Mrs Gunn, and visit Sassafras Creek myself.

It is indeed a beautiful and musical little stream, and no doubt in most ways little altered over the last one hundred years.

Little waterfall copy

I cannot imagine, however, how one could possibly ride a horse along its banks. Walking was difficult enough. They were narrow and muddy, and often steep and very slippery.

Mud 2 copy

I walked upstream from Beagleys Bridge Picnic Area, the closest point of the creek to where ‘Sunnyside’ once stood. She may well have headed downstream, where the going may become easier. It should also be noted that the biggest change to occur in the last hundred years is the dramatic increase in the foliage. Photos taken of the area at the time of C. J. Dennis and Mrs Aeneas Gunn show bare hillsides and very sparse vegetation.

Just as Mrs Gunn described, the foliage along the creek is indeed fairy-like.

Pretty ferns copy

Dark forest copy

Large ferns copy

It is easy to understand how Sassafras Creek inspired C. J. Dennis to write “The Glugs of Gosh”.

It is wonderful, too, to be able to walk so easily in his footsteps one hundred years later.

Report: 2016 Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival

October 28th, 2016 | C. J. Dennis, Festivals, Music, Photos, Poems for adults, Poems for children, Significant dates in the life of C. J. Dennis, Songs, Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival

The festival this year – held last weekend, on Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd October – faced challenges like none before it. Ever since the festival began in 2008, we have had amazing fortune with the weather. Our luck was bound to fail sooner or later, and this year it failed with a capital “F”.

The trouble began two weeks earlier, with wild winds that brought down nine enormous mountain ash trees at “The Singing Gardens”. It looked for a while as though the festival might not be able to proceed at all. The principal damage occurred to the pump house (see photo below) with damage to 100 plastic chairs and a fridge as well as the pumps. Much of the piping running water from the Yea River to the pond was damaged, and the plastic and clay lining at the bottom of the pond was perforated. (The pond was originally excavated by C. J. Dennis and his wife, Biddy, who named it “Touchstone Tarn”. Iconic photos show Dennis and the English Poet Laureate John Masefield lying side by side on its banks in 1934.)

Pumphouse copy

Jan Williams, owner of “The Singing Gardens” (home of the festival) believed, given the high winds experienced in the weeks leading up to the festival, it would be imprudent to erect the marquee that we have used in recent years. We would simply hold the festival inside the tea rooms. Jan booked the C. J. Dennis Hall across the road at the last minute, in the event that the tea rooms proved too small.

There was also a third exciting possibility. The Toolangi Forest Discovery Centre is being transferred to community control, and we might have been able to hold events there, too.

TFDC

The weather forecast on the morning of Saturday, 22nd October, was ominous. A smaller crowd than usual (but hardly smaller than expected, given the weather) gathered in the tea rooms for the Festival Opening and Awards Ceremony. Kath Gannaway, representing our major sponsor, Bendigo Community Bank (Healesville Branch) opened the festival with eloquence and passion. She spoke of the value of the festival in keeping Australian culture alive.

Opening 1

Bendigo Bank copy

The announcements of the winners of the Written Poetry Competition followed, together with the awarding of the prizes. Numbers of entries have been down the last two years. This is, of course, a concern, and the reason is not clear. Nevertheless, the winning poems maintained the high standard set in earlier years.

A full list of the results can be found here:
http://www.abpa.org.au/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=32&t=8253

A new award, the Marian Mayne Prize, for the winner of the Adult Open section, was announced last year. (Marian Mayne was Jan Williams’ mother. She died two years ago, leaving a generous bequest for the Adult Open prize.) The inaugural winner was David Campbell, and the winner this year was Shelley Hansen. Unfortunately, the trophy was not ready for last year’s ceremony, but it was on hand this year.

Jim Brown, Secretary of the C. J. Dennis Society, commissioned Joseph Galloway, a practitioner of the art of pyrography, to make the trophy.

Details can be found on YouTube, here:

While Shelley was not at the festival this year, David was. Here is David, with Jim Brown and Jan Williams, being presented with the trophy.

David, Jim and Jan copy

It is a perpetual trophy, and will remain at “The Singing Gardens” with the winners’ names engraved upon it.

Here is a better look at the trophy itself.

David and Jan copy

A scrumptious afternoon tea followed, after which we returned for an hour of C. J. Dennis poetry and song, performed by myself, Maggie Somerville, Geoffrey W. Graham, Ruth Aldridge, David and Jim.

Maggie 2 copy

Ruth 3 copy

This in turn was quickly followed by Part 1 of “The Moods of Ginger Mick”, featuring Geoffrey W. Graham performing the poems, a connecting narrative provided by myself, and certain slang explanations from Maggie. There are 16 poems in Ginger Mick. While a similar show last year for the centenary of “The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke” featured only nine of the 13 poems in the book, I thought it would be great fun (and a real challenge) to perform all 16 of the Ginger Mick poems this year. There was no way that could be achieved in a single setting, so we planned to do the first six poems in the hour before dinner, and the remaining 10 over an hour and a half after dinner.

Rain fell heavily off and on during the entire afternoon – interrupted by brief bursts of hail – and when the power went out, we realised the Forest Discovery Centre was no longer an option as a venue for part of the festival. Fortunately, the Williams were able to quickly crank up the generator, power was restored, and we were able to continue.

Part 1 was well received. The audience size was perfect, really – a snug fit for the tea rooms, but no empty chairs.

Audience 4 copy

An enormous and delicious buffet dinner followed, after which the assembled gathering re-grouped for Part 2 of “The Moods of Ginger Mick”. Although the show had not been performed before (and probably will not be again), the timing worked out well. We were finished by about 9 pm. Geoffrey, I must stay, was looking pretty spent by the time we reached the home stretch!

Geoffrey looking spent copy

There were various reports of the state of the roads by the end of the evening, and at least one person decided to sleep in their car rather than chance the trip back to their booked accommodation.

Nevertheless, all appeared bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the Poets’ Breakfast at 9 am the following morning. There was no shortage of performers, and a wide variety of pieces and styles were exhibited over the course of the session. We did manage to get around the room twice, but it took all morning to do so! I found myself sitting with the light in front of me rather than behind me so most of my photos that morning are far too dark, but I did catch this nice shot. From left to right we have Terry Maher, Geoffrey Graham, Jim Smith, and Christine Middleton (in profile).

Terry, Geoff and Jim copy

Lunch (traditional roast!) was then served, after which came the “Moving Theatre”, featuring “C. J. Dennis” (myself), “Banjo Paterson” (Geoffrey) and “Henry Lawson” (David). We were also graced with a newcomer this year, in the form of “Will Ogilvie” (Jim). Sunday had dawned a much brighter day than the day before and, after we had assumed the Moving Theatre would also need to be held indoors, we began to realise that we could happily move outside after all.

The bottom half of the garden, however, was not available to us because of the fallen trees and sodden ground, so we gathered in the house garden to commence proceedings. After introductions, we moved quickly into the children’s ballet. The poem chosen for this year was “The Blue Kingfisher”. Maggie had put it to music, and sang beautifully. The children also looked wonderful. Their costumes were delightful, the choreography was challenging and imaginative, and they were well rehearsed. (This is an even greater achievement when one realises that all rehearsals had been to a recorded version of the song.) Thank you to Cathy Phelan for making the children’s ballet such a highlight of the festival once again.

The poets then commenced to saunter around the gardens. Alas, the audience were required to stand, as all the chairs had been destroyed when the pump house was hit! A highlight was “Banjo Paterson” reciting a Dennis poem, “Washing Day”, in front of Mrs. Dennis’ original wash-house!

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Here is a view of the wash-house itself.

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The afternoon finished with a surprise appearance from “Mary Gilmore” (Ruth Aldridge) performing her famous poem “No Foe Shall Gather our Harvest”.

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Though the day was fine, it was still cold, and all were very happy at this point to retreat once more to the tea rooms for afternoon tea!

So ended another highly enjoyable and successful Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival. The challenges involved this year were far greater than in any previous years (though 2009, following the fires, was also very difficult), and I wish to especially thank Jan Williams and her hard working, dedicated family, for doing so much to ensure the festival was held this year, in spite of everything.

Join us next year, as we celebrate the centenary of the publication in 1917 of “The Glugs of Gosh” and “Doreen”. Won’t THAT be something special!

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(Thank you to Maggie Somerville for this photo of the five “poets”.)

World Poetry Day!

March 20th, 2016 | Poems for children, Reflections

It is tough getting poetry published. It has been that way for a long time, and I don’t see any signs that it is going to change.

Rejection is inevitable, and it is never easy. The greatest asset that a poet can possess (apart, from talent, I suppose – whatever that is!), is persistence – persistence and patience.

Don’t be surprised if you end up submitting 20 or 30 poems before you get one accepted for publication. Mind you, there are limits. If you find you have submitted 100 poems without any luck, it might be time to at least ask yourself if you might possibly be in the wrong game, or perhaps approaching it in the wrong way.

Part of the key is to be prolific. Write heaps. Don’t worry if they are not all masterpieces, and don’t spend hours trying to convert an excellent poem into a “perfect” poem (whatever that is!). Don’t hang all your hopes on a small number of poems. Make sure you have a swathe of them, so that when the first batch is rejected (as it almost certainly will be), the next lot is ready to be submitted right away. Again, remember – don’t take rejections personally. Everyone gets rejections. The editor is not rejecting you, just your poem!

The landscape has changed a lot since I first started writing poetry for children back in 1990. Then, in addition to the excellent NSW School Magazine, we had the Pearson magazines in Victoria (Comet, Pursuit, Explore, etc.) and New Zealand School Journal. Since then, the Victorian and New Zealand magazines have fallen by the wayside, and only School Magazine endures.

Yes I know, the whole world of online publishing has opened up since then, but I don’t feel there is any substitute for seeing your poem published in a magazine or book. Besides, you don’t get paid for online publishing. Nor is there the same sense of achievement. It seems pretty well anything will be accepted – or at least, that the bar is set a lot lower. And who reads these poems, apart from the poets themselves?

I feel very privileged to have had a collection published. (My collection of rhyming verse for children, “’The Billy That Died With Its Boots On’ and Other Australian Verse”, was published by Walker Books in 2014.)

I also feel very honoured that the book won a Golden Gumleaf for “Book of the Year” at the Australian Bush Laureate Awards during the Tamworth Country Music Festival in 2015. Indeed, this was the last year the Bush Laureate Awards were held. They were deferred this year – possibly indefinitely.

I would love to have a second collection published. I had the book very much in mind when I began writing for children in 1990, so it took 24 years to become a reality. I just hope my second book does not take another 24 years…

I do feel that I am not writing as well for children now as I once did. There are several explanations for this. There is no doubt that my own children were an inspiration, and they are now grown up. Also, of course, I am older now. Is that a valid reason, or just an excuse? I’m not sure. I do find that I am not in the right frame of mind to write for children as often now as used to be the case. I still do occasionally manage to turn out a poem I am very happy with, but it happens less often than it used to, and I also now turn out more poems that I am not really very happy with! Still, I’ll keep plugging away, because I enjoy it so much when it all goes well. Besides, it is such a big part of my life now, I would not want to stop.

Having said all that, though, it is important to maintain a balance in all things. You don’t want to become obsessed with anything. I have many other fields of writing endeavour other than writing poetry for children, and I have many further fields of endeavour that do not involve writing at all. That, surely, is how it should be!

So, go to it, all you writers of poetry for children! May you dazzle, amaze, thrill, amuse, and generally downright fill with awe at the glory of life many generations of children yet to come. And may you have one hell of time yourselves in the process!