“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.

10 responses to ““The Glugs of Gosh” and Sassafras Creek”

  1. Phil Butterss says:

    Lovely post, Stephen,
    Thanks!
    Cheers,
    Phil

  2. Barry Watts says:

    Thanks for this, Stephen. In reading it I regained the pleasures of ambling through the fern gullies by myself, and of course, C J. Dennis’s multi-talents. There are, as you say, several ways to interpret ‘Glugs’ – for me it’s the tongue-in-cheek undermining of the ‘money men’ (As appropriate today as when it was written). Barry

    • Stephen says:

      Yes, that’s certainly a big part of it, isn’t it. I think I most love the character of Sym. It reminds me so much of Hermann Hesse’s ‘Knulp’, a book that exerted a huge influence on me at the time I read it. It was “The Growth of Sym”, as performed by John Derum, that first alerted me to the magic of C. J. Dennis.

  3. Val Wallace says:

    Thank you for this insight. I’m afraid i haven’t been able to relate to the Glugs but maybe with more delving like you have presented today my appreciation might develop.

  4. Daan Spijer says:

    Wonderful contribution, Stephen. I know the creek well, having lived up there for 15 years. I had no idea of the CJ Dennis connection.

  5. This is just great, Stephen! I also had no idea about the connection between Sassafras Creek and The Glugs. I was fascinated to read the comments of Mrs Aeneas Gunn – and likewise, was not previously aware of her friendship with CJ Dennis.

    With the Toolangi Festival looming, I decided to “rediscover” The Glugs of Gosh, which I haven’t read for quite some time. I am just loving it all over again – along with its “stand alone” 1935 sequel “The Griefs of Ancient Gosh”, which I discovered only recently on the Perry Middlemiss website.

    • Stephen says:

      Thanks, Shelley. Thank you also for drawing my attention to “The Griefs of Ancient Gosh”. It’s a pretty good poem, isn’t it? I had no idea that he came back to the Glugs so late in life.

Leave a Reply to Stephen Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *