Report: 2015 Toolangi C.J. Dennis Poetry Festival

October 24th, 2015 | 'Banjo' Paterson, C. J. Dennis, Festivals, Henry Lawson, Music, Photos, Poems for adults, Poems for children, Songs, Stories for adults, Stories for children, Sunnyside, Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival

The Toolangi C.J. Dennis Poetry Festival is over for another year, and what a festival it was this time!

It was undoubtedly the biggest and the best we have had yet, as indeed it should have been celebrating, as it was, the centenary of the publication in 1915 of “The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke”.

The festival got a great boost about a week out with the news that The C.J. Dennis Society’s Patron, Ted Egan, would be in attendance. Ted lives in Alice Springs, so it is a long journey for him to come to Victoria. Ted has only been to the festival once before, and that was back in 2013.

The weather was kind to us – as it always seems to be – and Ted opened the festival for us in fine style. What is more, he sang his tribute to Australia’s pioneering women to the assembled throng, as an added bonus. He had to get by without his famed beer carton, but a small book served almost as well to tap the rhythm out to.

David Hill from the Bendigo Community Bank (Healesville Branch) was also in attendance. The Bendigo Bank has been our chief sponsor over the years, and this year they agreed to double their commitment. Rather than present the prizes for “Adults Writing for Children” himself, David placed a small toy under one of the chairs, with the person who first found the toy to present the prizes. This led to the somewhat unexpected outcome of Jemima Hosking presenting a prize to her mother, Jackie! (Jackie’s father, John, also performed a poem later in the day, so we had three generations of the Hosking family involved in the festival!)

The local member of Parliament, Cindy McLeish MP (Member for Eildon), also kindly offered to attend the festival and award prizes. Cindy’s support of the festival is longstanding, and very much appreciated.

The number of entries was down a little on last year, which is a bit concerning, but everybody agreed nonetheless that the standard was very high. Not all the poems that received awards were heard this year, but all the winning poets who were in attendance performed their poems, and First Prize in each category was read out whether the poet was present or not.

Here is Ted Egan opening the festival. (Thank you to Nerys Evans for the photo.)

Ted Egan (Nerys Evans)

After a break for afternoon tea, we commenced an “Open Mike” session which proved extremely popular. Indeed, not all the poets who wished to perform were able to do so, as it would have left insufficient time for the showcase concert of C.J. Dennis poems and songs that was scheduled to follow. This also needed to be shortened a little because of time constraints.

The concert kicked off with actor John Flaus from Castlemaine. The other performers were Maggie Somerville, Jim Haynes, Jim Brown, Ruth Aldridge, David Campbell and Geoffrey W. Graham.

Here is Maggie Somerville singing a C.J. Dennis poem that she has put to music.

Maggie 3

Towards the end of the afternoon, the sun went down and a chill crept over the proceedings. The original plan had been to hold the evening’s entertainment in the marquee also, but it was generally agreed that it made much more sense to retire to the tea rooms, where a lavish buffet dinner was now waiting.

The evening meal was truly delicious, with a large range of choices on offer.

We then commenced our special presentation of “The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke”, featuring Geoffrey Graham as performer of the poems, Jim Haynes as “slang interpreter”, and myself as narrator. I suddenly found my voice failing me, and Geoffrey was looking very much the worse for wear having been badly dumped by a wave while body surfing in Hawaii two days earlier, but the show went on nonetheless, and was very well received. (About half the audience gave us a standing ovation; Geoffrey assured me the other half would have done so also, if they had not been so tired!)

Here we are – from left to right, Jim, Geoffrey and me – looking relieved but happy after the show! (Thanks to Maggie Somerville for the photo.)

Jim, Geoffrey and me (Maggie Somerville)

The Poets’ Breakfast kicked off right on schedule the following morning at 9.30.

Here is Ruth Aldridge reciting “Caravanning Bliss” by Bob Magor.

Ruth 10

Shelley and Rod Hansen provided a great double act.

Shelley and Rod Hansen

Jan Williams gave us a poem, but unfortunately I cannot show you a photo because my computer refuses to upload it!

The audience was large and appreciative.

Audience 4

We then moved back down to the marquee for the launch at 11am of the CD Maggie and I had put together, “The Two Bees”.

We were joined by three musicians – Hugh McDonald (ex-Redgum), who had recorded and produced the album for us, and Trevor Voake (mandolin) and Dieter Imberger (harmonica), friends from the Victorian Folk Music Club. (Trevor’s wife Margaret kindly acted as photographer for us.)

We performed “The Two Bees” in its entirety – eight songs and four poems, words by C.J. Dennis, music by Maggie. We did make lots of mistakes, but they were mostly small, and we all had great fun. The audience seemed to enjoy it all, too.

Here is the band line-up – from left to right, Trevor, Dieter, Maggie, me and Hugh.

The line-up

Here is Maggie demonstrating the title of the poem “How to Hold a Husband”.

Maggie and Stephen (How to Hold a Husband)

Hugh seemed to enjoy himself.

Hugh McDonald

Then it was time for lunch. Jim Brown and David Campbell did a great job entertaining patrons in the tea rooms over the lunch break.

The traditional “moving theatre” followed, with some new faces this year – Geoffrey W. Graham as Banjo Paterson, Jim Haynes as Henry Lawson, and John Derum as the “one and only” C.J. Dennis.

The gang - from in front

A recent tradition during the moving theatre has been for some of the local children to perform a ballet to music inspired by the poetry of C.J. Dennis. (Local parent and retired dancer Cathy Phelan designs the costumes and choreographs the dancing.)

In past years, the children have danced to recorded music. This year was different. Maggie Somerville had written music to C.J. Dennis’ poem “The Satin Bower Bird” (from “The Singing Garden”), and recorded it on CD for the children to rehearse to.

Here is the audience enjoying Maggie and the children’s performance.

Audience

We next moved to the top of the gardens, where the poets were joined by Dorothea Mackellar (Ruth Aldridge).

The gang - from in front

It was then back down to the marquee to finish the show.

Audience

Afternoon tea was held in the tea rooms, then back again to the marquee for one last time to watch the festival end in the traditional way – with Jim Brown’s rendition of C.J. Dennis’ magical poem, “Dusk”.

Some festival attendees missed Jim’s performance, so he agreed to perform it a second time.

I made a video of Jim’s second performance, which can be found here:

So ended what had been a wonderful festival.

There are too many people to thank properly, but special gratitude and appreciation must be given to the Bendigo Community Bank (Healesville Branch) for their continued generous sponsorship, to Vic and Jan Williams, owners of “The Singing Gardens” (and their family), for their tireless work maintaining the gardens and helping to organise the festival, and to our illustrious Secretary Jim Brown for all his hard work.

We hope to see you at next year’s festival, when we will be celebrating the centenary of the publication in 1916 of “The Moods of Ginger Mick”!

I will add one last photo – C.J. Dennis (John Derum) addressing the throng, with the famed copper beech tree in the background and cloudless blue skies above. Could anything be better?

John Derum with copper beech

12 responses to “Report: 2015 Toolangi C.J. Dennis Poetry Festival”

  1. Edel Wignell says:

    Highly successful two days. Gratitude and congratulations!
    Edel

  2. Jim Brown says:

    Terrific report Stephen. I have put the link on the website.

  3. Will Moody says:

    As always, a wonderful weekend in sublime surroundings mixing with and being entertained by like-minded “Den” lovers, thanks to the sterling efforts of all concerned with organising and delivering such a great festival.
    Kudos all round!

    Will Moody

  4. Stephen says:

    Many thanks, Will, and thank you to you and Mary, too, for being a part of it.

  5. Excellent report Stephen! Thank you so much to all the festival organisers for their hard work. It was a delight for us to attend for the first time and to be part of this very enjoyable weekend in such beautiful surroundings.
    Regards
    Shelley & Rod Hansen

  6. Jan Williams says:

    Thanks to all the committee for their help both physical and emotional,
    A really nice report Stephen ,just want to ad a thank you to Joan Wright for her gate keeping and my wonderful staff for going beyond their duties to make the day successful .

  7. Patsy Hohnen says:

    Mr President …your report was all true and correct. It was indeed the most brilliant festival , filled with the basic joys of a ‘Sentimental Bloke’ —
    much like yourself !
    Inspiring teamwork all round.

  8. Stephen says:

    Patsy, you make me laugh! Thank you very much.

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