National Folk Festival 2014

April 24th, 2014 | 'Banjo' Paterson, Camping, Family holidays, Festivals, Photos, Snow

I had a great time at the National Folk Festival in Canberra this Easter, as I always do.

My mission this year, of course, was to promote and sell my new book, “‘The Billy That Died With Its Boots On’ and Other Australian Verse”. I can safely report that the book was very well received indeed!

Laurie McDonald has done a great job in recent years, as Director of the Spoken Word Programme, in getting poetry and yarn spinning back on a firm footing at the festival, after it was all beginning to look a bit dicey a few years ago.

The National is, of course, primarily a music festival, but what with the Poets’ Breakfasts every morning, “Poetry in the Park” at 3.30 in the afternoon, and “Poetry in the Round” in the evenings, plus the occasional workshop (writing and performing workshops were both on offer this year), it can be pretty hard for us poets to find time to sample much of the music!


The highlight for me this year, apart from the reception of my book, was having the opportunity to introduce Geoffrey Graham, who resurrected his one man “Banjo” Paterson show, to celebrate the 150th birthday of Australia’s most popular bard.

Here is Geoffrey holding a large audience in thrall.

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I also got some great shots of Geoffrey (in the red shirt) and three time Australian Champion Bush Poet Gregory North acting out Paterson’s “The Man from Ironbark” in impromptu fashion. (The reciter is Ralph Scrivens.)

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The festival is a great chance to deepen old friendships, and make new ones. There are a number of people I only ever see at the National in Canberra.

I was pleased also that I had a chance to mention at one of the Breakfasts the terribly sad and utterly unexpected passing of Bob Markwell. I know that Bob had touched the lives of many, and we shared our shock and grief in conversation afterwards.

The weather was fine and still, though very cold at night. I find it pays to think of the National as a snow trip. I take plenty of extra clothing and bedding.

My son, Thomas, and his mate, Gus, excelled themselves, building an elaborate square-rigged pirate ship for the parade!

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We elected to come home via the scenic route this year – south through Cooma and Bombala to Cann River. It’s a beautiful drive, but it’s a long one!

Vale Bob Markwell

April 11th, 2014 | C. J. Dennis, Festivals, Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival

This is the most difficult post I have had to write since creating this web-site and blog.

Reading Facebook last night I was shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the sudden and unexpected death of Bob Markwell.

Bob lived with his wife Faye and his daughter Jenny in the Hunter Valley. I first met them at the Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival several years ago.

Bob was a passionate fan of the Australian poet C. J. Dennis, and had committed many of Dennis’ poems to memory. He was a wonderful reciter. Dennis’ poems are particularly difficult to learn, because they tend to be long and wordy, and contain much slang, most of which is now outdated.

Bob told me that his love of C. J. Dennis was viewed with a certain amount of disrespect in the Hunter Valley, where poets such as Paterson and Lawson tended to very much hold sway, and it was for this reason he had chosen to seek temporary refuge down south, by attending the Toolangi Festival. I know he enjoyed the festival very much, and returned on at least one occasion.

Last year, I bumped into Bob again at the Bush Poetry Muster held in Benalla by the Victorian Bush Poetry and Music Association, headed by Jan Lewis (who also runs the Corryong Festival). He was slightly apologetic for choosing to attend Benalla rather than Toolangi, but explained that his budget was limited, and he thought it would make a nice change. I assured him there was no need to apologise on my behalf. I also only attended Benalla on the Sunday last year, but I was told that Bob had a big impact on the weekend, and was partly instrumental in it taking on a strong “C. J. Dennis” flavour.

Then I saw Bob again at Corryong last weekend. He had quite a funny story to tell.

The next book that C. J. Dennis published after “The Moods of Ginger Mick” was a slight volume for the Christmas market, “Doreen”. It picks up the story of Bill and Doreen from where “The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke” leaves off. Bill and Doreen now have a son.

There are only four poems in the book: “Washing Day”,”Logic and Spotted Dog”, “Vi’lits” and “Possum”.

“Washing Day” is an extremely well known poem, and often recited. Indeed, many would claim it is Australia’s greatest love poem.

The other three poems, however, are much less well known. Bob was telling me how terrific and underrated these other three are. He went on to explain that he planned to perform “Vi’lits” for competition during the weekend, in the belief that nobody would have heard it before, or be familiar with it. He was shocked indeed to learn that another of the competing reciters was also performing “Vi’lits”!

At the Poets’ Breakfast on Sunday morning Bob recited “Logic and Spotted Dog”. Unfortunately, about halfway through he lost the thread and had to stop. He was very frustrated and disappointed with himself.

I greatly admired and enjoyed what he had managed to achieve, however, and made a point of letting him know.

Bob looked an absolute picture of health last weekend – slim, sprightly, with a twinkle in the eye. It is hard to believe he is no longer with us.

Jan Lewis has written on Facebook that Bob died from injuries sustained in a bicycle accident.

Bob Markwell was a wonderful fellow – warm, gentle, passionate, sincere.

His death is a great loss to all those who love the poetry of C. J. Dennis. Bob alone did so much to keep that legacy alive. His daughter, Jenny, is also a great lover and reciter of C. J. Dennis, and I know she will continue that legacy.

More importantly, though, the world has lost a wonderful man with the death of Bob Markwell. My heart goes out to his wife, Faye, and Jenny, and I wish them all strength for the difficult times ahead.