Sixth Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival

November 4th, 2013 | 'Banjo' Paterson, C. J. Dennis, Henry Lawson, News, Photos, Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival

The 2013 Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival, held over the weekend of October 26 – 27 was, to my mind, the most successful ever.

The festival began in 2008 to celebrate the arrival of C. J. Dennis in Toolangi in 1908, one hundred years earlier. It has become an annual event, with this being the sixth festival. Even the bush fires of 2009 did not stop the festival from proceeding!

Jim Brown founded the C. J. Dennis Society following the 2010 festival, and invited songwriter, storyteller, entertainer, and all-round Australian legend Ted Egan to be the Society’s Patron. Ted very kindly agreed to attend this year’s festival.

The festival got off to a bright start with the Awards Ceremony on the Saturday afternoon. This was held in the tearoom this year, rather than outside under the marquee as it was last year, because the weather was rather less inviting.

Many winners were on hand to read their winning poems. The standard was once again very high.

Fortunately, there was an hour remaining at the end of the ceremony for ‘walk ups’, and a very pleasant hour was spent listening to various performances, including a wonderful song by Ted.

In previous years, the crowd has dissipated at this point, as there has been no scheduled activity on the Saturday evening, and the tearoom does not normally serve evening meals.

However, this year a poetry and music show was programmed to commence at the nearby C. J. Dennis Hall at 7.30, and a vast smorgasbord was on offer at “The Singing Gardens” from about 6.

The evening show proved a great success. A ‘warm-up’ act was provided by myself, David Campbell, Jim Brown, and Vince Brophy – a wonderful singer, and friend of Jim who had very kindly allowed us to use his PA system, but also consented to sing a song in his beautifully resonant voice.

After a short interval, Ted Egan entertained us all with a set of his classic songs, together with some wonderful stories relating to his life in central and northern Australia.

A sumptuous supper was also served.

The only slightly disappointing feature of the evening was the somewhat smaller than hoped for audience. Of course, there can be many explanations for this. We are very limited in the amount of publicity we are able to arrange, Toolangi is a reasonable distance from Melbourne – and not well known – and accommodation options in and around Toolangi are also very restricted. Hopefully we will be able to build on this in future festivals.

A “Poets’ Breakfast” was scheduled for 10.30 the following morning. At previous festivals, this has been a very small event, with a handful of poets essentially performing to themselves. Imagine my surprise, then, to find an audience, sitting on a line of chairs, waiting for us when we arrived! This proved to be an excellent session, with poetry forced at times to give way to animated discussion on a range of related and relevant subjects. Ted led much of this, for which I am very grateful.

The usual sumptuous roast dinner was served shortly after midday, and then it was time for the “Moving Theatre” at 1.45. This is the third time this event has been held, and the audience grows every year. Fortunately, the weather has been kind to us on each occasion, allowing us to move comfortably around the gardens, followed by a posse carrying chairs.

Ted joined us for a spirited rendition of C. J. Dennis’ “The Bridge Across the Crick” (appropriately stationed beside a couple of fallen logs that spanned the adjacent Yea River), as Dennis, Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson entertained the crowd for the next ninety minutes or so.

The conversation was wide and varied, spanning such subjects as David Low (Dennis’ first illustrator), platypuses, hydraulic water rams, Shakespeare, John Masefield and the copper beech tree, the inimitable Noel Watson and his AFL Grand Final rendition of “Waltzing Matilda”, Paterson’s and Lawson’s ‘city versus the bush’ debate, maritime poetry, and Mrs Dennis’ wash-house (where Ruth Aldridge gave an excellent performance of “Washing Day” from “Doreen”). Jim Brown also gave his now traditional performance of “Dusk”.

The show finished in the front garden of Jan and Vic’s home, as local children, led by ballet teacher Cathy Phelan, danced to Mozart, dressed as the ‘blue wrens and yellow tails’ from Dennis’ poem “Dawn Dance” (Book for Kids). With this performance they inspired a bleary-eyed and tousled-haired C. J. Dennis, clad in dressing gown, to write the poem.

It was then time to retire for ‘high tea’, while Strathvea guest house owner Toby, his accordion, and his sons, entertained us further with some old folk songs.

In summary, then, I think it can fairly be said that this was the largest, most varied, best attended, and most enjoyable Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival yet. Fasten your seat belts for next year!

Jim Brown - Moving Theatre 27.10.2013 copy

2 responses to “Sixth Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival”

  1. Robert Markwell says:

    Congratulations Stephen, great to see the festival is a growing success. Hope to be in attendance next year.

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