Significant dates in the life of C. J. Dennis: The women

October 15th, 2014 | C. J. Dennis, Significant dates in the life of C. J. Dennis, Sunnyside

I would venture to suggest that the three most important women in the life of C. J. Dennis were his mother, Kate Dennis (nee Tobin), his wife, Margaret Herron, and Roberta Roberts (nee Dickson), who provided invaluable support at her home, “Sunnyside”, in the Dandenong Ranges, during a critical period of his life.

I would love to be able to share with you on this blog, then, six very significant dates – the dates of the birth and death of each of these three women. Sadly, though, instead of sharing six dates with you, I can only share one – the date of his mother’s death, 16th August 1890. (She died, incidentally, when Dennis was only fourteen years old.)

As seems so often to be the case, the lives of the men in Dennis’ life are much better documented then those of the women. Roberta Roberts arguably offered more emotional support than even her husband, Gary, yet she is mentioned on the internet as little more than his appendage.

Dennis returned from Sydney to Melbourne shortly after the outbreak of the First World War in pretty bad shape, mostly due to excessive drinking, and it was largely she who provided the support he needed to get back on track. Of course, it was in a tram car on the property of Gary and Roberta in South Sassafras that Dennis finished writing “The Songs Of A Sentimental Bloke”. They had both by now effectively become his alternative family, and he called them “Dad and Mum”. He also dedicated the book to them.

Dennis married Margaret Herron in 1917, a couple of years after the publication of “The Bloke”. While he was slight of build, and perhaps even a little effeminate, she was sturdy and powerful. Together they created the beautiful “Singing Gardens” that we know so well today, but it is said that she provided most of the spade work!

It must have been very tough being the wife of C. J. Dennis. There was the alcohol, of course, and also the huge financial roller coaster – the brief spell of affluence that followed his initial success, followed by long years of penury and associated anxiety – a combination of profligacy and a string of poor investments on the part of her husband. Herron lived for many years after Dennis’ death, but his financial situation upon his death forced her to sell “Arden”, their home in Toolangi, shortly after.

Herron was a writer in her own right. She published two novels, “My Dear” and “Seed and Stubble”, and a posthumous collection of her husband’s Herald writings, “Random Verse”.

I am not suggesting that it will be impossible to track these dates down, and share them with you eventually. I am sure they are all on the public record somewhere. It is frustrating, though, that I cannot find them at my fingertips when it is so easy to find so much these days.