2014 Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival

October 21st, 2014 | 'Banjo' Paterson, C. J. Dennis, Festivals, Henry Lawson, Photos, Poems for adults, Poems for children, Stories for adults, Stories for children, Sunnyside, Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival

The 7th Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival, held last weekend (October 18th and 19th) was a great success, and very enjoyable.

As always, the weekend kicked off with the Awards Ceremony for the written poetry competition, held in the lead-up to the festival. Congratulations to all the winners, especially to David Campbell, who once again won the Adult Open category. (I will post a list of the winners separately on my blog.) Thanks again to the Bendigo Bank (Healesville Branch) for continuing to act as a festival sponsor.

Following the presentations, I was very excited to be able to pass around images of a new C. J. Dennis poem unearthed by a talkback caller during an interview I gave on ABC Radio 774 recently. The poem, “The Gentle Kangaroomour”, had been written especially for Eilie Ford, a young girl living in Toolangi at the time C. J. Dennis was there. The exact date of the poem remains a little uncertain, but it would appear to have most definitely been written prior to 1920.

The “open mic” session which followed was very enjoyable. Maggie Somerville and I finished the session with a duet we had put together based on the poem “The Two Bees” that Dennis had written for the Herald. It had subsequently been published posthumously by his wife, Margaret Herron, in the book “Random Verse”. The poem uses the strange weather effects prevailing at the time – frosty nights and bright sunny days – which impeded the blossoming of flowers and frustrated the usual feeding habits of bees as a metaphor for the unemployment and hunger of the Great Depression. We were commanded to perform it again on the following day, so it must have been well received!

The weather gods smiled on us once again for the whole weekend, and Jan and Vic’s new marquee proved a great success.

Marquee

After a break for afternoon tea, our guest star for the festival, John Derum, then performed “The Singing Garden”, a show based on Dennis’ last book of the same name. The book primarily consists of a large number of poems, each devoted to a particular species of bird that frequently visited the gardens surrounding Dennis’ Toolangi home. Of course, it is this book that also inspired the current name of Dennis’ former home – “The Singing Gardens”.

John has done an enormous amount to popularise C. J. Dennis amongst contemporary readers. In 1976 he developed a one-man show, “More Than A Sentimental Bloke”, to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Dennis. It proved extremely popular, and many other performances have followed. (On a personal note, it was a recording based on this show, an LP published by Pumphandle Records, that first introduced me to the magic of C. J. Dennis.)

In what proved to be an inspired move, John moved the chairs out of the marquee and turned them around so that they were facing the gardens. The audience soon found themselves surrounded by the very birds – king parrots, kookaburras, etc. – upon which the poems are based. The show was pure magic.

As darkness fell, we retired into the tea rooms for dinner and the main show of the festival, “More Than A Sentimental Bloke”, by John Derum. John treated us to a fabulous exposition of the life and works of C. J. Dennis. What shone through, apart from John’s brilliant talent, was his great passion for the work.

Sunday morning began well with the “Poets’ Breakfast” (strictly speaking, a morning tea!). We held the first hour in the tea rooms, then moved back down to the marquee for another session.

It was wonderful to be able to welcome veteran reciter Jim Smith to Toolangi for the first time. Jim scored a bit hit with his performance of a classic poem by Rob Charlton, “Bloody Sheilas”.

Jim Smith 2 copy

After lunch, Banjo Paterson (aka Jim Brown), Henry Lawson (aka David Campbell) and C. J. Dennis (aka myself) took the guests once more on a tour (both geographic and historic) of the gardens.

Moving Theatre 2

We were once again treated to a ballet from the local school children, based on a C. J. Dennis poem. This year, it was the Firetail Finches from “The Singing Garden”.

Fire-tail Finches

Firetail Finches 2

For the second time during the history of the festival, we were treated to a surprise visit from Dorothea Mackellar (aka Maggie Somerville), who was keen to know whether her newly written poem “My Country” was good enough to submit to a publisher. (Henry suggested that the second verse would never catch on…)

We once again retired to the marquee for sponge cake, fruit juice, and more poetry and song, finally drawing the festival to a close at about 5pm.

There are so many people to thank for making the festival once again a great success. All of the performers and poets must be thanked, especially our wonderful guest star for this year, John Derum. Above all, however, our gratitude is greatest for Jan Williams and her family, together with her army of helpers, who provide vast quantities of delicious food throughout the weekend, and keep everybody relaxed and happy. (Also, of course, for maintaining the beautiful gardens throughout the year.)

Next year, we will be celebrating the centenary of the publication of “The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke”, and it promises to be the biggest and best Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival ever!

(I must add a word of apology here. My phone is playing up at the moment, and I am very limited in the photos I can put up here. No photos of John Derum, the star of the show! Aarrgh!)

7th Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival

September 30th, 2014 | 'Banjo' Paterson, C. J. Dennis, Festivals, Henry Lawson, Poems for adults, Poems for children, Songs, Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival

The 7th Toolangi C. J. Dennis Poetry Festival will be held on the weekend of Saturday 18th and Sunday 19th October at “The Singing Gardens” in Toolangi, the site of Dennis’ original home.

Yes, we’ve been a bit slow with our publicity this year, but better late than never!

We have a special guest this year, in the form of the actor, John Derum.

John Derum

It was John who first introduced me to the delights of C. J. Dennis, way back in the early 1980s.

In 1976, to mark the centenary of the birth of Dennis, he produced a one-man show, “More Than A Sentimental Bloke”. The premise, of course, was that Dennis was mostly known only for this masterpiece, but had written so much more.

Pumphandle Records, a very small label, had recorded an LP (remember them?) based on Derum’s show, and I happened to stumble upon it in a record shop in the city several years later. It looked interesting. I bought it, took it home and played it, and it changed my life.

(John has had a long and distinguished career as an actor. For example, he appeared in the first episode of “Homicide” and the final edition of “The Mavis Bramston Show”. He was also “Narrator Neville” in the first season of “The Aunty Jack Show”.)

John will be performing his show “More Than A Sentimental Bloke” at “The Singing Gardens” on Saturday evening. Late in the afternoon, just before dinner, he will also be performing a show, “The Singing Garden”, based on Dennis’ last book, of the same name. The title comes from the many different species of bird – both native and introduced – that regularly visited Dennis’ forest home. He will also be with us for the other events that will take place over the course of the weekend.

The programme, therefore, will be (roughly…) as follows.

We will kick off, as usual, with the Awards Ceremony for the Written Poetry Competition at 2pm on the Saturday afternoon. This will be followed by an ‘open mic’ session, though this may be a little truncated this year due to the fullness of the programme. (We also have a surprise musical component to the entertainment on the Saturday afternoon this year.)

John will perform “The Singing Garden” from about 4.30pm, after which dinner will be served. He will then perform “More Than A Sentimental Bloke” from around 7.30pm. The show will finish around 9pm, after which a very light supper (tea and biscuits) will be served.

Sunday will kick off with the usual Poets’ Breakfast (perhaps more appropriately called a “Morning Tea”), after which lunch will be served. C. J. Dennis, Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson will then personally take guests on a guided tour of the gardens. This will also include a ballet performance from local school children, and John will also be there, of course, to make sure we do not stray too much from the track…

Afternoon tea will then be served, during which another ‘open mic’ session will be held.

It promises to be a truly fabulous weekend!

Here is a reminder of last year’s festival, with Banjo Paterson (aka Jim Brown!) in full swing.

Jim Brown - Moving Theatre 27.10.2013 copy

For further information and bookings, please contact Jan Williams at “The Singing Gardens” on 0359629282.