“Carrington Hall” moves towards heritage protection…
The property, “Carrington Hall” (formerly 107 Burke Road, now 832 – 834 Burke Road, Camberwell) is moving closer to receiving heritage protection.
This is the boarding house in which C. J. Dennis lived for most of 1915 and 1916. It was here that he wrote “The Moods of Ginger Mick”, and it was from this property that the manuscript of “The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke” was posted to its eventual publisher, Angus & Robertson.
Interestingly, the property is still run as a boarding house. Last year it changed hands. Two similar neighbouring properties were recently removed to make way for apartments.
My application for the property to be registered with Heritage Victoria was unsuccessful. However, a letter I wrote to the Shire of Boroondara appears to be bearing fruit. A citation concerning the property, as part of a recently completed Camberwell Heritage Gap Study, has recommended that the property be given a heritage overlay, on the basis of its association with C. J. Dennis. The proposal passed through council last Monday night without amendment. The process is complex and this is just the beginning, but the early signs are promising!
The citation can be viewed in full here (pp 292 – 301):
2015 Port Fairy Folk Festival
The Port Fairy Folk Festival this year was without a doubt, for me personally, the most demanding and most rewarding I have ever attended.
The key was, of course, that 2015 marks the centenary of C. J. Dennis’ classic verse novel, “The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke” and, as President of the C. J. Dennis Society, I felt I needed to step up to the plate to help celebrate the occasion!
It was both a pleasure and a challenge to do so.
Jim Haynes has been doing a wonderful job of running the Spoken Word programme at Port Fairy for many years now. While recent festivals have chosen ‘Banjo’ Paterson and Henry Lawson as their themes, it was felt inevitable that the focus would eventually turn to Dennis, and this was obviously the year to do it.
It was a fairly simply task for me to adapt the script from the show about the Bloke that I first developed with Mac Craig for the Sunnyside Festival, and then performed so successfully with Geoffrey Graham at the VBPMA Bush Poetry Muster in 2013, to add a further narrative, explaining the slang in the book, for Jim.
The only problem was knowing the time it would take to perform the whole show. We had 90 minutes to perform nine poems, together with explanatory narrative. Would we make it? Would we have to drop a poem? How do you factor in the time taken for audience applause? Should I develop a Plan B to drop one poem if necessary?
I couldn’t really see how to institute a Plan B, so I decided to keep the faith with my original script, and simply run with it. It was all a little nerve-wracking, but the show came in at about 88 minutes – a couple of minutes under time! How’s that for brilliant timing?
Geoffrey was absolutely superb as the “Bloke” (no surprises there), and the 200-strong crowd gave us a standing ovation, which was extremely gratifying.
I was also involved in two other C. J. Dennis related shows during the course of the weekend, all held at St. Pat’s Church.
The first, at midday on the Saturday, comprised a 90 minute concert of poems and songs by C. J. Dennis. Maggie Somerville and I had prepared a number of items, some of which we performed together, others individually. (These were a mix of poems and songs. For the songs, I chose the poems, and Maggie wrote tunes for them.) Jim Haynes also had a number of poems, as did Laurie McDonald, visiting poet from Canberra, and Geoffrey.
We didn’t make any major stuff-ups, and it was all very well received.
Following this, I gave a ‘workshop’ on the life and times of C. J. Dennis. This essentially consisted of me sitting on a chair with a microphone and talking for about an hour. About 50 hardy souls stayed to hear what I had to say, bless them, and almost all of them stayed the distance, which I appreciated very much. I was assisted by Maggie, who read “Laura Days”, a poem Dennis wrote in the twilight of his life recalling his childhood in that small town in South Australia. Jim read an excerpt from “Haggling in Filth”, an account of Dennis’ journey with Frank Roberts, oldest son of Gary and Roberta, from “Sunnyside” in the Dandenong Ranges to the Victoria Market to sell berries. Lastly, Geoffrey read excerpts from Dennis’ account of his (successful) efforts to save his property from bush fire in 1926.
The other event I was involved in over the festival – and my final show for the weekend – was my launch of my collection of poetry for children, “‘The Billy That Died With Its Boots On’ and Other Australian Verse”. This was held on Sunday afternoon in the children’s marquee.
It was a somewhat daunting sight to see the Mik Maks in full flight on stage, and knowing that I, as a humble poet, would be required to follow them!
Here they are…
Maggie joined me, providing some moral as well as entertainment support. I set off in a fairly low key way, but the crowd seemed to be with me, and it went well. Maggie read my poem “Flies”, her own poem, “Mozzed”, inspired by “Flies”, and sang “The Sash”, the song she has written from my poem of the same name, about a young Ned Kelly’s rescue of an even younger boy, Richard Shelton, from the flooded waters of Hughes Creek in Avenel in 1865. I sold some books and received plenty of positive feedback, so the show can be fairly judged a success, I think.
After that, we hotfooted it over to the primary school to catch what we could of Geoffrey Graham’s show about the First World War. Geoffrey must have been utterly exhausted following his performance of “The Sentimental Bloke” earlier in the afternoon, but he did a great job, as always.
With the formal part of the weekend over, Maggie and I decided to summon the energy to go to the Surf Club in the evening. There we were treated to fine brackets of music by two up-and-coming young bands, “The Stray Hens” and “Oh Pep!”
Here are “The Stray Hens”.
I should not finish this report without a mention of the famous Poets’ Breakfasts that Jim led magnificently throughout the course of the weekend. The feature poets for this year were Laurie McDonald from Canberra (who I mentioned earlier in relation to the C. J. Dennis concert of poems and songs), and the redoubtable Geoffrey Graham, who barely had a chance to put his feet on the ground during the course of the festival. (It is Laurie, by the way, who puts together the Spoken Word programme for the National Folk Festival in Canberra at Easter.) It was also a great pleasure to have the opportunity to become better acquainted over the course of the weekend with Laurie’s lovely wife Denise.
What more can I say? Port Fairy Folk Festival 2015 was undoubtedly my best ever!
Significant dates in the life of C. J. Dennis: 9th October
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”.