The Mystery has been Solved!

August 20th, 2016 | C. J. Dennis, Camberwell, Folk clubs, Photos, Significant dates in the life of C. J. Dennis, Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival

Recently I posed the question, “Where did C. J. Dennis write “The Moods of Ginger Mick?””

Well, it is my great pleasure to report that the mystery has finally been solved!

It has long been known that Dennis moved into a boarding house in early 1915 at 107 Burke Road, Camberwell, and that it was from there he submitted to publisher George Robertson the manuscript for “The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke”. More importantly, perhaps, it was also in this boarding house that he wrote the manuscript for the Bloke’s sequel, “The Moods of Ginger Mick”.

The difficulty, however, has been that the street numbering has changed substantially in the intervening century, and 107 Burke Road is no longer in Camberwell.

During a Victorian Folk Music Club (VFMC) concert night earlier in the year, I had the opportunity to invite the assembled throng to assist me in trying to answer this fascinating and significant national cultural/historic question.

Historian Louise Blake was in the audience at the time, and offered to help. She has since brought her professional research skills to the task, and solved the problem!

Here is her statement on the matter, the distillation of her research.

107 Burke Road Camberwell

I am extremely grateful to Louise for her work, and wish to thank her most sincerely for her efforts on behalf of the C. J. Dennis Society.

Fortunately, the building is still standing. Indeed, I have had the opportunity to visit it on several occasions recently, and inspect both its exterior and interior. It would appear to be little changed from the days of C. J. Dennis and David Low. In fact, somewhat remarkably perhaps, it is still being run as a guest house!

1 copy

You will notice some real estate hoardings outside the property. It was recently put up for auction, but did not change hands.

I am enormously excited to now know where Dennis wrote “The Moods of Ginger Mick”, and am keen to disseminate the information as widely as possible. Indeed it is fitting, is it not, that the mystery be finally solved in the year that we celebrate the centenary of its publication?

2 copy

Significant dates in the life of C. J. Dennis: 9th October

October 8th, 2014 | C. J. Dennis, Henry Lawson, Poems for adults, Significant dates in the life of C. J. Dennis

This must surely be one of the very most significant dates in the life of C. J. Dennis, for it is the date of publication by Angus & Robertson – 99 years ago – of his blockbuster masterpiece, “The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke”.

Dennis initially had very modest hopes for the book, and was as shocked as everyone with its phenomenal success. According to Wikipedia, the first print run consisted of 2,500 copies only, but a further 5,000 were released several weeks later, on 2nd November. Another 5,000 were released on 6th December, another 5,000 on 25th January (presumably after a bit of a break over Christmas and New Year), and on it went. Within eighteen months it had sold 66,000 copies!

Indeed, the relationship between Dennis and his publisher, George Robertson, got off to a very shaky start. Robertson resented Dennis giving him details about how the book should be published. He replied, “We like your stuff, but we don’t like your letter. We are publishers, and do not take instructions from authors…” Dennis apologised (after a fashion…), and the relationship was soon on a firm footing, which it never lost.

It was Lawson who first introduced Dennis to George Robertson when Dennis had been in Sydney the year before, 1914. Indeed, it seems likely that Lawson can claim at least part of the credit for Angus & Robertson accepting “The Sentimental Bloke” after it had been rejected by several publishers.

Lawson was already very much a literary star by then and, with that in mind, Dennis asked him to write a Foreword to the book. Lawson was happy to oblige, but Dennis was uncomfortable with much of what he had written. Lawson made reference to the class struggles evident in the book, but did so in what Dennis felt was a rather sour way, and he was concerned that it might put some readers off. Lawson eventually more or less agreed to sign anything that Dennis wrote on his behalf. (Dennis eventually partially repaid this debt when he tried – unsuccessfully – to secure a pension from the government for Lawson towards the end of his life.)

“The Sentimental Bloke” outsold all of Lawson’s books, and the joke is sometimes made that the most successful thing Lawson ever wrote was the Foreword to “The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke” – and he didn’t even write it!

Next year – 2015 – will mark the centenary of the publication of “The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke”.

The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke - first edition