“The Glugs of Gosh” and Sassafras Creek
This year, 2017, marks the centenary of the publication of C. J. Dennis’ flawed masterpiece “The Glugs of Gosh”.
This is a very different book to “The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke” and “The Moods of Ginger Mick”, the centenaries of the publication of which have taken place over the last two years. While those books were calculate to appeal to as many people as possible, and did indeed appeal to an enormous number, they came at a personal emotional cost. “The Glugs of Gosh” was written to square the ledger – it was written for himself, and is the most autobiographical of his books. Not surprisingly, perhaps, it proved nowhere near as popular as the other two. Nevertheless, it remained the book of which Dennis himself was the most proud. Furthermore, it has attracted and retained a core following of passionately loyal supporters over the years. (I am one.)
It is a brilliant but difficult book. Part nonsense verse for children, part satire for adults, one is not always sure which is which. (Hence the ‘flawed’.) Nevertheless, it contains much that is deeply wise, extremely funny, or simply sublime. The book was begun at “Sunnyside” in Kallista, under the influence of Garry and Roberta Roberts, and finished at Toolangi.
The first poem in the book, “The Glug Quest”, invites the reader to re-enter the world of their childhood imagination in order to reach the land of Gosh.
It begins as follows:
Follow the river and cross the ford,
Follow again to the wobbly bridge,
Turn to the left at the notice board,
Climbing the cow-track over the ridge;
Tip-toe soft by the little red house,
Hold your breath if they touch the latch,
Creep to the slip-rails, still as a mouse,
Then…run like mad for the bracken patch.
The second poem, “Joi, the Glug”, begins to tell us a little about the Glugs, and their land of Gosh.
It begins as follows:
The Glugs abide in a far, far land
That is partly pebbles and stones and sand,
But mainly earth of a chocolate hue,
When it isn’t purple, or slightly blue.
And the Glugs live there with their aunts and wives,
In draught-proof tenements all their lives.
And they climb the trees when the weather is wet,
To see how high they can really get.
Pray, don’t forget,
This is chiefly done when the weather is wet.
Alec Chisholm, in his biography of C. J. Dennis, “The Life and Times of C. J. Dennis” (Angus & Robertson, 1946), quotes a conversation he had with Mrs Aeneas Gunn, author of “We of the Never Never”, and friend of Dennis.
“Yes,” said Mrs Aeneas Gunn, when I commented to her on the free-flowing nature of “The Glugs of Gosh”, “there is melody in particular in the opening verses of the book, and I think that Dennis gained much of his inspiration from the music of Sassafras Creek. Early in 1914, soon after returning from England, I used to ride frequently beside that little stream, and I was always impressed, not merely by the ferns and other fairylike foliage that festooned its banks, but by the music of the steadily-flowing water.
“The creek had many voices. They all spoke together, and in perfect harmony. They were like numerous notes of music crossing and recrossing. Especially was this so at a certain spot where a big log spanned the stream amid a riot of picturesque growth. It was there that I often used to see Mr. Dennis loitering, apparently content to gaze at the scenery and listen to the music of birds and flowing water.
“‘I suppose’, I said to him one day, ‘you are like myself: you never tire of the voices of the Sassafras?’
“‘Yes,’ he replied, ‘this stream has many voices, and all musical.’
“Now, after many years” (Mrs Gunn added), “I continue to read with pleasure portions of The Glugs of Gosh. They recall for me the beauty of the ferns and other foliage, and as I read I hear again the varied and melodious voices of Sassafras Creek.”
Yesterday I decided to attempt to follow in the footsteps of C. J. Dennis and Mrs Gunn, and visit Sassafras Creek myself.
It is indeed a beautiful and musical little stream, and no doubt in most ways little altered over the last one hundred years.
I cannot imagine, however, how one could possibly ride a horse along its banks. Walking was difficult enough. They were narrow and muddy, and often steep and very slippery.
I walked upstream from Beagleys Bridge Picnic Area, the closest point of the creek to where ‘Sunnyside’ once stood. She may well have headed downstream, where the going may become easier. It should also be noted that the biggest change to occur in the last hundred years is the dramatic increase in the foliage. Photos taken of the area at the time of C. J. Dennis and Mrs Aeneas Gunn show bare hillsides and very sparse vegetation.
Just as Mrs Gunn described, the foliage along the creek is indeed fairy-like.
It is easy to understand how Sassafras Creek inspired C. J. Dennis to write “The Glugs of Gosh”.
It is wonderful, too, to be able to walk so easily in his footsteps one hundred years later.
The Wheel of Life
This is a complex story, with many layers.
Gilbert created a marble statue called “The Wheel of Life”. It depicts a Buddhist lama sitting beside a stream. “The Wheel of Life” has just fallen from his hands. Presumably, it is a metaphor for the folly of believing one can control one’s own destiny. It proved especially true in Gilbert’s case. The First World War came along and de-railed all his plans. That’s not the story I want to tell now, though.
And before I proceed further with the story I do want to tell, I have a question to ask. How did Web Gilbert, living in Australia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, become familiar with Buddhism? I have read that the sculpture recalls Kipling’s Kim, but I am not sure in what way. (Admittedly, I have not read Kim. Perhaps if I had, it would be clear to me.)
Apparently, the sculpture was commissioned for the Springthorpe memorial in the Boroondara cemetery, but was considered “too eastern”.
John William Springthorpe was born in England in 1855 (the same year as Ned Kelly). He came out to Australia as a young child, and was educated here. He completed his medical degree at the University of Melbourne in 1879 (the same year that Ned Kelly wrote the Jerilderie Letter).
Springthorpe’s wife died in childbirth in 1897. He was stricken with grief, and created a mausoleum for her. Gilbert was commissioned to contribute to this. Why did Springthorpe choose Gilbert? And why did Gilbert think a statue featuring Buddhism would be appropriate?
Somehow, the statue found its way into the hands of three brothers, R. A., W. M., and A. S. Cudmore, nephews of Dr. Lilian Alexander. Dr. Alexander was one of the first women to graduate in Medicine in Australia. Upon her death, her nephews donated “The Wheel of Life” to the University of Melbourne as a mark of respect and gratitude for their aunt, who had acted as their friend and mentor.
So why was the statue acceptable to the Cudmores but not Dr. Springthorpe? And what did the university make of it? Apparently, it has been moved around several times during its life at The University of Melbourne. It is currently on display in the main foyer of the medical school building in Grattan Street. That is where I took these photos. (Being a graduate of Medicine at the University of Melbourne myself, this building is very familiar to me!)
In preparing this blog post, I have drawn heavily from three articles, as follows:
Sunnyside and Montsalvat
I recently discovered a direct link between two artists’ communities, the little known “Sunnyside”, and the much better known Montsalvat.
I have already mentioned that frequent visitors to Sunnyside were C. J. Dennis and the sculptor Web Gilbert. Another regular member of the Sunnyside circle was the artist Percy Leason. He is perhaps best remembered these days as the artist who painted the Carlton & United Brewery advertising poster of the bearded prospector standing beside the bar with a glass of beer, with the caption: “I allus has wan at eleven”.
This photo was taken about twenty years ago in Walhalla, another old gold mining town in Victoria. The picture on the right is the Leason poster.
Percy Leason was at Sunnyside before the First World War, but after the War he and his wife built a house in Eltham. As you can imagine, there were not many people living in Eltham in those days.
It was the Leasons’ house that inspired Justus Jorgensen to also build at Eltham.
Here are some photos of Montsalvat that I took during a recent visit.
I want to talk a little about Web Gilbert.
“Who is Web Gilbert?” you may well ask.
Gilbert was a sculptor, but perhaps I should go back to the beginning.
My favourite poet of all time is C. J. Dennis. Dennis was very much influenced by a small artists’ colony that was beginning to take shape in Kallista in the Dandenong Ranges. (It wasn’t called Kallista then, though. It was known as South Sassafras.)
John Garibaldi Roberts and his wife Roberta owned a hobby farm, called “Sunnyside”. Roberts worked in various senior positions for the Melbourne Tramways Company, and was wealthy. He and his wife were also very enthusiastic and active patrons of the arts.
The Roberts invited many of their artist friends to stay with them at “Sunnyside”. When the house proved too small, they arranged for their son, Frank, who was managing the property, to tow a number of the horse-drawn omnibuses that had been rendered obsolete by the new cable tram technology up to “Sunnyside”, to be placed in the paddocks around the house.
C. J. Dennis was given his own omnibus, and it was here that he completed writing his masterpiece, “The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke”.
Another frequent visitor to “Sunnyside” was Web Gilbert. Gilbert’s life ran in a rough parallel to Henry Lawson’s. They were both born in the same year. Gilbert died three years after Lawson, but they were both very young – Lawson 55, Gilbert 58.
Gilbert actually began as a cake decorator, but moved from there to sculpting. Initially he used marble, but later he discovered the wonders of bronze. Gilbert did everything himself, a real ‘one man band’. This meant carting his own clay in wheelbarrows to make the moulds to eventually pour the bronze into. I have read that he dropped dead suddenly one day while wheeling his barrow. He had a studio in Gore Street, Fitzroy.
I will talk more about Gilbert later, but the sculpture that he is best known for is the Matthew Flinders statue outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne.
How many people walk past this statue every day without giving it a second thought? I know I did for many years.
I still know very little about it. I rang the Melbourne City Council one day to find out more information, and they very apologetically explained that they also know very little. They pointed me to the Public Records Office. I haven’t had a chance to get there yet, but hopefully I will one day.
Sadly, Gilbert died before the Flinders statue was installed.
from a distance…
from a greater distance…(love the blue bike thingeys)
from upstairs window of McDonalds, across the road