Wild Rover No More

June 6th, 2022 | 'Banjo' Paterson, Australian folk songs, Burl Ives, Music, Pete Seeger, Photos, Songs


The Ale-House Door (painting of c. 1790 by Henry Singleton – courtesy of Wikiwand)

‘Wild Rover No More’ is the eighth song on Burl Ives’ 1953 album ‘9 Australian Folk Songs.’ It was included in Banjo Paterson’s ‘Old Bush Songs’, and also in Douglas Stewart’s and Nancy Keesing’s ‘Old Bush Songs.’ Having said that, there is nothing distinctly Australian about the song at all, and very few Australians have recorded it. The song would appear to have been originally written for the temperance movement, propaganda to discourage the consumption of alcohol. Ironically, it is now best known as a drinking song, and is very popular in the pubs of Ireland. In recent times, it has mostly been recorded by Irish performers – The Pogues, The Dubliners, The Clancy Brothers, The High Kings, etc. Having said that, when The Clancy Brothers introduce the song on Pete Seeger’s Rainbow Quest TV show in the 1960s, they refer to it as “an old Australian song.”

Despite the song’s popularity in Ireland, the origins of the song most likely lie with England. There is also evidence that an early version of the song was sung by fishermen in the North Atlantic. The website ‘Mainly Norfolk’ tells us that ‘Wild Rover No More’ probably evolved from a song entitled ‘The Green Bed’, where the poorly treated ‘rover’ is a fisherman.

Sources:
The Institute of Australian Culture
Australian Folk Songs
Wikipedia
IRISH-EXPRESSIONS.COM
Mainly Norfolk: English Folk and Other Good Music
fresnostate.edu
Irish Australian Song Library


Refreshment Shanty, Ballarat 1854 (by Samuel Thomas Gill, courtesy of Art Gallery of Ballarat)

Click Go the Shears!

June 5th, 2022 | Australian folk songs, Burl Ives, Music, Photos, Songs, Uncategorized


(Photo courtesy National Archives of Australia)

‘Click Go the Shears’ is the seventh song on Burl Ives’ 1953 album, ‘9 Australian Folk Songs.’ It is one of Australia’s most famous folk songs, recorded by many singers, including Rolf Harris and Slim Dusty, yet surprisingly little is known about its origins. Indeed, until fairly recently, many folk music scholars felt it may have been written as late as the 1940s.

The breakthrough came in 2013 when doctoral student Mark Gregory typed the phrase ‘tar here jack’ into the search function of Trove, the repository of Australia’s digitalised newspapers. Bingo! Up came the words to ‘Click Go the Shears’ – albeit with the different name of ‘The Bare Bellied Ewe’ – in the Bacchus Marsh Express of 5th December 1891. There were, of course, some significant differences in the lyrics, and the Burl Ives version was found to be much shorter than the original. This discovery placed the song right at the heart of the shearers’ strikes of the 1890s, and the turmoil that led to the establishment of the Australian Labour Party in the years leading up to Federation in 1901.


(Source: Trove)

Gregory’s own account of his discovery can be found here:

http://www.unionsong.com/ebooks/barebelledewe.pdf

More information can be found on the website of the University of Wollongong, here:

https://www.uow.edu.au/media/2014/research-links-famous-ballad-to-birth-of-alp.php

The ABC television programme ‘Landline’ also ran a story on it:

https://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/programs/landline/2014-02-01/bare-belled-ewe/5232722

The story includes a performance by Jason and Chloe Roweth singing the original version at a woolshed in western New South Wales.

‘The Bare Bellied Ewe’ in the Bacchus Marsh Express was attributed to ‘C. C.’ from ‘Eynesbury, Nov 20, 1891.’

‘Eynesbury’ was a large sheep station in the 19th century, located approximately 20km southeast of Bacchus Marsh. Wikipedia explains that it was named after the birthplace of Simon Staughton in England. Staughton came to Australia in 1841, and settled on a large property. Following his death in 1863, the property was subdivided into four smaller properties (still very large!) for his four sons. One of these was ‘Eynesbury.’ The Eynesbury Homestead – the grandest of all the four homesteads – was constructed by Samuel Staughton in 1872. It is still standing, and is used as a function centre.

‘Eynesbury’ is now the site of a housing estate in the suburb of Melton in Melbourne’s far west. Further information can be found here:

Dining & Events

The National Trust launched the ‘Eynesbury Heritage Trail’ earlier this year. Further information can be found here:

https://www.nationaltrust.org.au/ahf_event/eynesbury-heritage-trail-launch/

To my knowledge, there is no clear evidence that ‘The Bare-Bellied Ewe’ was written at Eynesbury. It is, however, the place from which our earliest record of the song came, and that is significant in its own right. It would be fascinating to know who ‘C. C.’ was. It is possible that ‘C. C’ wrote the song but, to my mind, more likely that he simply submitted them to the newspaper.


(Shearers’ quarters, Eynesbury)

The Bacchus Marsh Express gives the tune of the song as ‘Ring the Bell, Watchman.’ This is an American song that was written by Henry Clay to mark the celebration, by the ringing of church bells, of the victory by the northern states in the American Civil War in 1865.

The words of the two songs are very similar. ‘Ring the Bell, Watchman’ begins as follows:

High in the belfry the old sexton stands,
Grasping the rope with his thin bony hands.
Fix’d is his gaze as by some magic spell
Till he hears the distant murmur,
Ring, ring the bell.

‘The Bare Bellied Ewe’ begins as follows:

Oh, down at the catching pen an old shearer stands,
Grasping his shears in his long bony hands;
Fixed is his gaze on a bare bellied ewe,
Saying “If I can only get her, won’t I make the ringer go.”

Bob Bolton explains on the website of Fresno State University that the words of ‘Ring the Bell, Watchman’ were too specific to remain popular for very long, However, the tune was very popular, and travelled quickly around the world. It had reached Australia by 1868.

Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band can be heard singing ‘Ring the Bell, Watchman’ here:

Other sources used in the writing of this article are as follows:
http://folkstream.com/022.html
http://folkstream.com/112.html
https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/89280995?searchTerm=the%20bare%20bellied%20ewe
https://www.fresnostate.edu/folklore/ballads/DTringbe.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eynesbury,_Victoria


(Photo courtesy National Archives of Australia)

The Springtime it Brings on the Shearing

June 5th, 2022 | 'Banjo' Paterson, Australian folk songs, Burl Ives, Henry Lawson, Mary Gilmore, Music, Photos, Scotland, Songs


(Photo courtesy National Archives of Australia)

‘The Springtime it Brings on the Shearing’ is the sixth song on Burl Ives’ 1953 record, ‘9 Australian Folk Songs.’ It has been recorded by many people since then, including Lionel Long, Gary Shearston, Martyn Wyndham-Read and the Bushwackers.

The song describes how the shearers are the heroes of the hour at the height of the shearing season, splashing money around carelessly. Once the shearing is finished for the year, however, you will generally find them camped on the banks of a river, living an extremely frugal existence.

A number of writers point out that the words have been taken from a poem, ‘The Wallaby Track’, by E. J. Overbury. For example, the second verse of the poem begins:

With a ragged old swag on his shoulder,
And a billy or pot in his hand,
‘Twould astonish the new-chum beholder
To see how he’ll traverse the land.

The second verse of ‘The Springtime it Brings on the Shearing’ reads as follows:

With a ragged old swag on my shoulder
And a billy quart-pot in my hand,
And I’ll tell you we’ll ‘stonish the new-chum
To see how we travel the land.

‘The Wallaby Track’ was first published in the Creswick and Clunes Advertiser, in 1865. (By way of historical context, Banjo Paterson was born the year before, in 1864, and Henry Lawson two years later in 1867. Dame Mary Gilmore was born in the same year. This is also probably the year when Ned Kelly, at the age of ten or eleven, rescued the seven-year-old Richard Shelton from drowning in Hughes Creek in Avenel, Victoria.)

Creswick and Clunes are two old Victorian gold mining towns in central Victoria. They are not far apart, and are often considered together. Creswick is perhaps best known as being the birthplace of the Australian painter and writer, Norman Lindsay. Clunes’ principal claim to fame these days is that it hosts the annual ‘Clunes Booktown Festival.’

Overbury also wrote two other well-known poems, ‘The Public by the Way’ and ‘The Loafer’s Club.’

Overbury also published a collection of his poetry, ‘Bush Poems’, in 1865. In 1999 Red Rooster Press published ‘Two Goldfield Balladists’, edited by Hugh Anderson. The balladists were W. W. Coxon and E. J. Overbury, and the book comprises two small, old books: ‘Coxon’s Comic Songster’ and Overbury’s ‘Bush Poems.’

Overbury wrote a preface to his book, with his tongue firmly in his cheek. It reads as follows:

The great object I have in view publishing this little book is, if possible, to make a little money by it. If the purchaser obtains six-pennyworth of amusement from it, the benefit will be mutual. Like all virgin authors, I naturally expect that it will permeate through all classes of society, not only in this country, but in the most distant parts of the earth – that it may even cause some sensation amongst the crowned heads of Europe, and be recognised by the “Great Panjandrum” himself. Under these circumstances, I am willing to declare “The right of translation is not reserved.”

Anderson wrote an extensive introduction to ‘Two Goldfield Balladists.’ He tells us that “…Overbury was born in Scotland about 1830, and arrived as a cabin passenger on the Anne Cropper in May 1853, aged 22 years…”

He goes on to say that Overbury spent most of his time in Australia employed by the Anderson brothers – James, John and William. He also rented his home from them. The Andersons were based in the gold fields of central Victoria, and their primary business was supplying timber for the deep leads. When local supplies were exhausted, tramways were laid deep into the Wombat State Forest. Their empire continued to grow, and they became involved in land speculation and agriculture. They built a five-storey flour mill in nearby Smeaton, which still stands today. (Overbury wrote his ‘Preface’ from Smeaton.)

Hugh Anderson makes the point that there is some confusion about Overbury’s middle name, as it is sometimes given as ‘Irvine’. Dr Graeme Skinner confirms that his middle name was indeed ‘Irvine’, and the initial ‘J’ is therefore an error. Skinner also tells us that Overbury was born in Westbury, Wiltshire (via Bath), England, on 5 September 1830. Information provided by Skinner is far more detailed, and also much more recent, than that provided by Anderson, so I am inclined to think it is also more accurate.

Eight years after ‘Bush Poems’ was published, in 1873, Overbury wrote a letter to The Australasian newspaper in Melbourne. He was now in Glengower, not far from Smeaton. The letter was published in part, with an editorial response, in The Australasian, Saturday 8 August 1873, on page 16. He is complaining about a man – whom he names (but the editor chooses not to) – who is making minimal changes to Overbury’s work, and passing it off as his own.

TO CORRESPONDENTS

“E. J. Overbury” (Glengower) – This correspondent writes to us to give satisfactory proof that he is “the real author of the songs termed the ‘Wallaby Track,’ ‘The Public by the Way,’ ‘Jack and I,'” &c, and in support of his claim gives the names of a good many respectable gentlemen as references. We regret that we are not familiar with the compositions themselves. He says “the songs themselves are certainly not worth much notice grammatically speaking. No doubt error abounds in them to a large extent. But the working classes in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland appreciate them, and I do not believe that a party who calls himself ______ should intentionally rob me of that little approach to fame that I am certainly due. Mr. ______ represents himself as the author of all these songs. He attends in shearing time every station that can possibly lie in his route. He partially makes a parody by calling ‘The Public by the Way,’ ‘The Shanty by the Way,’ but every word in it except the change of substantives is mine. The same with the ‘Wallaby Track,’ and as time, and ignorance, and dishonesty advance, I fear that others of my own composition may suffer the same fate.” We are sorry to learn that Mr. Overbury, like other men of creative genius, suffers from the competition of plagiarists. He may, however, take it as a proof of his popularity when his songs are acceptable even in their altered and plagiarised form. We trust that as time advances ignorance and dishonesty will not advance too, and that his rival minstrel will come to rely on songs of his own production.

it is clear the editor has little respect for Overbury. He does not know his poems, and refers to him sarcastically as a ‘creative genius.’ Overbury had the last laugh, of course, with his words now immortalised in ‘The Springtime it Brings on the Shearing.’ His rival also achieved some long-term success, however. ‘The Public by the Way’ is now better known as ‘The Shanty by the Way.’

Hugh Anderson tells us that Overbury died in Creswick Hospital on 22nd February 1898. The local papers noted the death of “an old resident of Smeaton.” The records of the Smeaton cemetery referred to him as “the local bush poet.”

I can find no information at all about the tune to ‘The Springtime it Brings on the Shearing’. To my ear, it sounds quite similar to ‘The Dying Stockman’.

Other sources:
‘Australian Folklore – A Dictionary of Lore, Legends and Popular Allusions’ by W. Fearn-Wannan (Lansdowne Press 1977) – page 543
‘Old Bush Songs and Rhymes of Colonial Times’ by Douglas Stewart and Nancy Keesing (Angus & Robertson 1970) – pages 232 – 3, page 248
‘Complete Book of Australian Folklore – Compiled and annotated by Bill Scott’ (Summit Books 1976) – page 193, pages 332 – 3
http://migall.fastmail.fm.user.fm/folk_music/Out_in_the_Bush/Out_in_the_Bush_15.pdf
https://www.sydney.edu.au/paradisec/australharmony/register-O.php


(Photo courtesy National Archives of Australia)

Creswick Forest Walk

May 11th, 2022 | Bushwalking, Creswick, John La Gerche, Oak trees, Photos, Pine plantations

Last Saturday I went bushwalking in Creswick. I was not sure what to expect, but it turned out to be a fascinating afternoon. I had been planning to have an overnight walk in the region of Mt Hotham, but the forecast of snow showers put me off. I’m not really set up for snow camping. I don’t know the area around Creswick, and central Victoria more generally, at all well, as I have spent so much time over the years in the northeast – Kelly Country, and the mountains.

I was following the track notes for the first walk in a book, ‘Victoria’s Goldfield Walks’, by Glenn Tempest. The Creswick Forest Walk is the first of twenty in the book. The walk begins in the town of Creswick itself, by the town hall, and I parked my car in the main street. I was advised to walk down Water Street to Creswick Creek, and then head upstream. The flow of water in the creek was so slow, however, that I had to walk onto the bridge and spend some time staring at the water until I was sure which way it was flowing!

Twenty minutes or so later, I found myself on the banks of St Georges Lake.

This was quite a revelation – all the more so when I learnt that the lake had been built by miners in the 19th century to service the gold industry – mainly, I think, the battery in Creswick. For some reason I had it in my mind that I would be heading south, away from the lake, but the reverse proved to be the case. I was instructed to walk north over the dam wall, and along the northern shore. There is an ancient, decrepit jetty there that looks very mysterious. I would love to learn more about it one day.

The walk along the northern shore is very beautiful. The vegetation is mostly pine trees – indeed, pine trees proved to be the theme of the afternoon – with no understorey, which is usually the way with pine trees. Some yellow coloured vegetation flourished at the water’s edge.

Things started to get a little tricky, however, once I reached the eastern extremity of the lake. The track notes advised me to leave the lake, and follow the walking track that ran above the western bank of Creswick Creek. I was advised to follow this until I reached an old fence that once belonged to the now abandoned Koala Park. Alas, the track was only present in vague traces here and there. I spent a great deal of time stepping over fallen timber. The going was very slow, and I eventually decided to cut my losses, retrace my steps back to the car, and try to approach the Koala Park from the opposite direction.

The scenery was desolate and rather spooky, and did nothing to encourage me to continue.

Once I reached the lake, I decided to walk back the other way, so I could at least complete a circumnavigation. I came across a board walk, but never managed to find the way on to it.

I wasn’t that fussed. I had bigger fish to fry.

Prior to Saturday, I also had not realised that Creswick is regarded as the home of Victorian forestry…

…nor that the University of Melbourne’s School of Forestry is based at Creswick. It is a grand old mansion on the side of a hill in Water Street. Continuing up Water Street in the car, I continued on up Brackenbury Road, a narrow, dirt road, until I came across the Goldfields Walking Track once more. (This is very well marked, with square posts in the ground – roughly a metre high – with brightly coloured painted yellow (for the gold!) tops.) I had planned to head south to try to find the Koala Park, but the trip downhill to the north looked much more interesting and promising.

It was an easy walk down through the plantation of young pine trees (I knew it would not be so easy walking back up again!) until I entered – very suddenly – a mature forest. The track continued downhill.

Suddenly I found myself in a beautiful glade of unfamiliar trees. Again, there was no understorey, which added to the beauty.

At first, I was not sure what they were, but the sign spelled it out very clearly.

The English oak trees created a yellow glow, and created a very peaceful, gorgeous scene. I half expected Robin Hood and his Merry Men to jump out at any moment!

People had been very busy creating cubby houses around the bases of many of the trees. (I hesitate to say children were responsible. My guess is their parents had a fair bit to do with it, too!) This was the pick of them.

Leaving the gully at its northern end, I was once again unsure which way to turn, or how long it would take to get to wherever it was that I was going. Time was running short, and I did not want to arrive back in Melbourne too long after dark. I retraced my steps back to the car once more (the climb did not prove as taxing as I was expecting), and drove to the end of the walk, in Sawpit Road. This is all much better prepared for the walker, as it is primarily celebrating the life and works of the man now regarded as the father of Victorian forestry, John La Gerche. There are heaps of signs, and the tracks are wide, and well maintained.

I more or less stumbled upon a remarkable carving of the man himself.

This sign tells his story.

it is clear that La Gerche spent a great deal of time experimenting with various exotic trees, and meticulously planting individual seeds. He strikes me as having been a gentle soul, as well as a man of great intellect and foresight. I couldn’t help wondering how he would feel about modern day forestry practices, especially as they relate to native forests.

Sawpit Gully is where it all started.

Extensive plantations were created, of both native and exotic species. They were generally planted on land that had been previously mined. In these days prior to mechanisation, horses were required to pull the ploughs. Naturally enough, there were stables for horses.

It was time to go home. I had failed in my original mission to walk the full 14km, as outlined in the track notes, but I had had a fascinating and physically bracing afternoon nonetheless. It is always great to get out of the city for a few hours!

‘The Landing’ (Stockyard Creek)

January 27th, 2021 | Bird life, Kayaking, Maritime history, Photos, Stockyard Creek

The South Gippsland town of Foster is primarily known these days as a farming centre. Its economy is also bolstered by tourism, particularly given its proximity to Wilsons Promontory. However, under its earlier name of ‘Stockyard Creek,’ the town began life following the discovery of gold in the area. A battery from the ‘Kaffir Hill’ mine stands outside the museum now, and across the road is a monument to the four timber getters who first discovered gold there in 1870.

Travel overland was almost impossible in those early days, and prospectors would travel by sea from Melbourne to Port Albert (to the east of Stockyard Creek), and from there, via a smaller vessel, out into Corner Inlet and then up Stockyard Creek as far as the water would allow. From there they travelled the relatively short distance overland by foot to the diggings. Later, a tramline was erected.

The place on the creek where they disembarked became known as ‘The Landing.’ Few records survive, but the following engraving and photograph give us some idea of what it must have been like.

The engraving, by Samuel Calvert (1828 – 1913), is of the SS Tarra of Port Albert, under Captain Pinkerton, arriving with prospectors at ‘The Landing’ on 12th August, 1871.

Caption: Sketch on “Stockyard Creek.” Arrival at the “Landing Place.”

Source: https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-136149915/view

The following photo is taken from the Foster & District Historical Society Inc. 2011 calendar.

Caption: “The Government wharf built at the Foster Landing in 1871.”

Maggie Somerville and I have made two trips in our kayak down Stockyard Creek from ‘The Landing’ to Corner Inlet and back again (once in January last year, and again in January this year), in an attempt to gain some sense of what it must have been like back then. ‘The Landing’ is situated only a few minutes drive south of Foster, at the end of Landing Road, a gravel road which comes off the sealed Fullers Road. It is a very quiet place these days, and it is rare to find another soul there. This year we had the good fortune to share it with three mates – a horse, an alpaca, and a black-faced sheep!

Other than the fact that it must often have been buzzing with humanity 150 years ago, one gets the sense that it has changed little since those days. The area is extremely tidal. From memory, the return journey last year was on a fairly high tide. Both the outward and return journeys this year were made on a very low tide. Indeed, the above photograph of a sailing boat tied up at the Government wharf shows just how little water was in the creek at times.

Fortunately, there is a boat ramp at ‘The Landing’ now, though it is pretty rough, and presents quite a challenge at low tide. The following photos of the ramp were taken at high tide last year.

This next photo, by way of comparison, shows the ramp at the end of our return journey this year.

This photo of Maggie in the kayak at the end of our paddle this year shows just how little water there was. Once again, it appears remarkably similar to the earlier photograph from a hundred odd years ago.

The following photos from last year give some idea of the current woodwork for supporting boats.

Here is how it looked at low tide this year.

We didn’t time the trip down from ‘The Landing’ to Corner Inlet, but my guess is it takes about 30 – 45 minutes in a kayak, paddling at a very leisurely pace. It is a peaceful, beautiful trip, which leads you past mangroves and steep mudbanks (depending upon the level of the tide), with tussock grass rising above the mangroves as you approach Corner Inlet. Thousands of small crabs live in the banks, and it is fascinating to watch the frantic retreating hordes scrambling up the bank and dropping into their holes as you approach.

There are plenty of herons, and last year a couple of wedge-tailed eagles hovered very low above us at one point. (I think they decided that we were just too big!) Once out in Corner Inlet there are large numbers of ibis, and also many gulls.

Navigation in Corner Inlet at very low tide is difficult, as you find yourself confined to narrow channels, surrounded by vast areas of mud. Last year, with a reasonable amount of water, we paddled up Dead Horse Creek to the west. This year I tried to take us up Bennison Creek, to the east, but the low water made it impossible to be sure of one’s bearings, and we abandoned the attempt.

On our return journey this year we ran out of sufficient water to float about thirty metres from the ramp. Pulling the kayak that last few metres through the mud is not something I want to do again in a hurry! That said, it really brought home to us just how well chosen the site for ‘The Landing’ really was!

There isn’t a great deal of information available about ‘The Landing’ at Stockyard Creek, or much awareness of its existence, and I am writing these notes in the hope that it may encourage others to follow in our footsteps (or paddle strokes!), or perform further research on this fascinating history. If you do decide to journey down the creek by kayak, I would advise you to try to avoid low tide if possible. The thick, black mud makes life very difficult.

Finally, a word about the eels in the creek. At very low tide there is not always room for both a kayak and an eel. Don’t be surprised (although I’m sure you will be!) if amidst a great splash of water a large fleshy eel presents itself briefly on the mud beside you before hurling itself back into the water as you pass!

2020 Port Fairy Folk Festival

March 14th, 2020 | Bird life, Festivals, Mary Gilmore, Music, Ocean, Photos, Poems for adults, Poems for children, Scotland, Songs, Stories for adults

Maggie Somerville and I were thrilled to be invited to perform at the 2020 Port Fairy Festival, as part of the Writers/Spoken Word section of the festival, organised by Jim Haynes.

We agreed to contribute an item (Maggie a song, me a poem) to the Aussie Morning Show on each of the three mornings (Saturday, Sunday and Monday). Maggie would launch her new CD (‘The Forest Prayed’ – poems of Dame Mary Gilmore set to music by Maggie), while I would contribute to a forum on ‘The Magic of Children’s Literature.’ I also agreed to participate in the Pat Glover Storytelling Award and, in the end, Maggie did too.

Our involvement got off to a bright start at the Saturday Morning Show, held in recent years in the Pavilion, rather than St. Pat’s Hall, where it was held when we last attended, in 2016. The Pavilion is a great venue, as it is right in the heart of the festival. The 9am start meant we were done and dusted by 10am, when the music shows started up, and threatened to drown us out. The Morning Show is held in the upstairs part of the Pavilion, offering great views of the festival from its balconies.

The show began with Jim briefly interviewing Maggie and me, as well as Di Jackson-Hill, who was launching her new children’s picture book, ‘Windcatcher’ (published by CSIRO Publishing), about the local bird, the short-tailed shearwater (illustrated by Craig Smith), and local writer Maya Linnell, who was launching her new ‘rural romance’ novel, ‘Wildflower Ridge.’ Jim was also launching his own very large new book, ‘The Big Book of Australia’s War Stories.’

Jim is an absolutely brilliant performer who always packs in a crowd, so we were playing to a full house every morning.

Thank you to Maggie for this photo of me. Here is Maggie strutting her stuff.

Bush poet Mick Coventry, from Kyabram, did a bracket of jokes and poems later in the show, exercising his particular brand of laconic Aussie bush humour. The crowd loved it!

Maggie and I had something of a programme clash, in that her CD launch was scheduled to begin while the panel discussion of ‘The Magic of Children’s Literature’ was still in progress, and I was keen to spend as much time as possible at her launch to support her. The situation was further complicated by the discovery of a technical hitch. Rather than employ a bevy of musicians to accompany her (a very expensive exercise), the plan was for her to sing along to the CD minus her vocal track, karaoke style. Unfortunately, however, there was a problem with getting it to play. This was eventually solved, but not without a good deal of angst all round!

There was still another problem, as we had no sound man to stop and start the track as needed. Fortunately an old friend of Maggie’s, Melanie Dorian, who was at the festival assisting her husband, instrument maker at ‘Rocky Creek Strings’, agreed to step into the breach.

The panel discussion was held at Blarney Books & Art, a relatively new (and excellent) combined bookshop and art gallery in the town.

More information about ‘Blarney Books & Art’ can be found here:

https://www.blarneybooks.com.au

Jim suggested I kick off proceedings to allow me to spend as much time as possible at Maggie’s launch, and I was pleased to be able to talk about my journey as a writer – the decision to write poetry for children, and the subsequent long and rather tortuous, but ultimately very satisfying, path to the publication of ‘The Billy That Died With Its Boots On’ by Walker Books in 2014. The other members of the panel were Di, Craig and Jim. Unfortunately, I was not able to hear what they had to say, but I was told that it had all gone well, with plenty of fruitful discussion towards the end.

I was pleased to find upon my arrival back at the Pavilion that Maggie’s launch had not yet begun, so I was able to watch the whole show. Melanie did a fine job as Maggie’s assistant!

Only one track could not be played, that for the accompaniment of ‘Botany Bay’, and it was probably more effective performed acapella anyway.

More information about ‘The Forest Prayed’ can be found here:

The Forest Prayed

The Pat Glover Storytelling Award was great fun on the Sunday afternoon. Maggie’ poem, ‘A Deadly Weapon’ (a cautionary tale about taking Irish penny whistles to the Magistrate’s Court!), was extremely well received, but the winner was Eric Purdy, a Scotsman, who told a hilarious tale about deciding to wear a kilt one day, and ending up with one that was far too big for him. He described a garment that began high at his chest, descended to near his feet, and extended great distances both front to back and side to side, so that he felt like ‘a tartan shuttlecock.’ Congratulations Eric!

After final performances at the Monday Morning Show, it was time to wind down and head for home. First, though, we took the opportunity to go for a stroll along the beautiful beach…

All in all, it was a wonderful weekend at an amazing festival, and we both feel very privileged to have had an opportunity to contribute to the proceedings.

Book launch: “This is Home” (NLA Publishing)

April 14th, 2019 | 'Banjo' Paterson, C. J. Dennis, Henry Lawson, Photos, Poems for children, Stories for children

The National Library (NLA Publishing) has recently released an anthology of poems for Australian children entitled “This is Home – Essential Australian Poems for Children.” I am very happy to report that two of my poems – ‘Dad Meets the Martians’ and ‘The Sash’ – are included in the collection, which is lavishly illustrated by Tania McCartney. The poems were selected by Jackie French, perhaps best known as the author of the classic children’s picture book ‘Diary of a Wombat.’

The book was launched at the National Library in Canberra last Sunday (7th April), and I received an invitation to attend and read one of my poems from the book. As I happened to be in the area with my friend Maggie Somerville, I decided to attend. My son, Thomas, and his girlfriend, Catherine, are also living in Canberra these days, so the four of us made our way to the library in the early afternoon.

It was a beautiful sunny day. I can’t remember if I have ever been to the National Library before or not, but I have to say the entrance looks quite magnificent.

Susan Hall, the publisher, welcomed the guests and introduced the afternoon’s proceedings…

Margaret Hamilton officially launched the book, but I do not have a photo of her speaking. The best I can offer is the following photo with, from left to right (in the comfy chairs) Margaret, Jackie French and Tania McCartney.

She was followed by Jackie French, who selected the poems…

and Tania McCartney, who provided the illustrations.

Both spoke with great passion about the book, and their contribution to it.

Next came the poets, a number of whom were in attendance, to read their poems.

Leo Barnard read ‘A Palace of a God’…

Jackie Hosking ‘A Dessert Sky’…

Christopher Cheng read ‘We Celebrate’…

Janeen Brian read ‘Looking’…

Libby Hathorn was the next to read, but I think I was distracted by my own imminent performance, and cannot be sure which of her three poems she read. I think it may have been ‘Cindric’s Trolley’, though.

Geoffrey Page also read ‘Silver Wind’, but unfortunately I do not have a picture of him, either.

Lastly, I performed my poem ‘Dad Meets the Martians.’ I am pleased to say it was well received.

Then it was time to say goodbye to Thomas and Catherine…

(thanks to Maggie Somerville for the photo) and skedaddle back to Melbourne in time for work at 9 am on Monday morning!

It had been a great day.

https://bookshop.nla.gov.au/book/this-is-home-essential-australian-poems-for-children.do

Gundaroo

April 10th, 2019 | Photos

Travelling south from Crookwell in New South Wales to Canberra last Sunday morning, Maggie Somerville and I came across the gorgeous little town of Gundaroo. I had never been there before, and may never go there again, but I am so glad we stumbled upon it last Sunday.

It looked like a perfect place to stop for a break and a cuppa. We didn’t have much luck at the Literary Institute & Library, which is currently being renovated…

…and the picturesque ‘Sally Paskins’ Stores’ also didn’t seem to be offering much.

We had more luck, however, at the Old Gundaroo Police Station…

…now being operated as the Cork Street Gallery – Cafe.

The police cell was an imposing sight…

…and the paling fence looked suitably rustic.

Some friendly locals suggested we check out the Catholic Church…

…just up the hill from the war memorial…

…and we were very taken with Grazing Restaurant and Function Centre at the Royal Hotel.

Then it was time to push on again…

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!