Dare I make a bold claim about Henry Lawson? He is a writer much derided in his own land, yet much loved as well. He has not translated into the modern age very well, hasn't our Henry. He was a product of this land, at that time - for much of the 19th century, the country called Australia did not exist. We were just a collection of independent states.
So the bold claim? Henry Lawson is to Australia as Mark Twain is the the United States. What about Banjo Paterson I hear the pundits splutter? Or C.J. Dennis or Adam Lindsay Gordon, or Henry Kendall I hear interjected from the bleechers!
Lawson almost single-handedly defined the mythical Australian in his landscape. He created the ideal of the sun-burnt battler humping his bluey around the outback blocks of this state, living off his wits and ever sus of them city-folk in their finery with their fancy ideas.
Lawson was prolific in the period before the demon drink got her claws into him. He was well served by George Robertson (of the booksellers, Angus & Robertson), and by J.F. Archibald (editor of The Bulletin). He also had Banjo looking out for his legal interests. Mainly two women, his mother and his wife, who always gave him curry. Every time Henry was locked in the clink or dead-drunk in the gutter, his mates would hand the hat around, and Henry would live to write another day.
|Lawson's journal, exhibited in the Centenary '100' by the State Library of NSW|
Try but two of his short stories: 'The Loaded Dog', and 'The Drover's Wife' to get the flavour of his definiton of life in this wide, brown land.
As for his poetry, I have already posted 'Faces in the Street', and 'One Hundred and Three'. Seek out 'The Roaring Days', and 'A Voice from the City'.
It is ironic that this statue puts Lawson on a pedestal - that is the last place he would want to be. But one calm, starry night wander through Sydney Hospital, across the Domain and down Mrs Macquarie's Road. Just as the loop divides, in the centre beneath a gum-tree, there you will find Henry, his dog, his mate and his swag ready to entertain you with ballads from a land that maybe no longer exists, if it ever did.
|Portrait of Henry Lawson, painted in 1913 by Florence Rodway, held by the State Library of NSW|