Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Taphophile Tragics - A face in the gutter

This weekend just past, was the anniversary of Bloom's Day, that extraordinary 16th June 1904, described by James Joyce in 'Ulysses' where Joyce follows his hero, Leopold Bloom, around Dublin. I did not see any coverage of this at all in my own city. Usually I do, but just not this year.

Nor did I see any coverage of the 145th anniversary of the birth of Australia's own, Henry Lawson. But I expected this. Whereas the United States lauds the likes of Walt Whitman and Mark Twain, Australians cringe at the achievements of the likes of Lawson, and Banjo Paterson.

Left: Henry in 1881 aged 14; Right: Lawson in 1888 aged 21
Lawson was a sad, melancholic man, an alcoholic who was in and out of Darlinghurst gaol because his wife, Bertha, needed to be constantly at him for child support. How that helped is lost on me. Lawson wrote of the NSW countryside as he visited the rivers and lands west of the divide. But, in reality, he was a man of the city, of the industrialised inner-city where, even today, drunks and other addicts people the streets and the gutters.

Left: Henry in 1893 aged 26; Right: Lawson in 1910 aged 43
Lawson died in a tawdry boarding house in Abbotsford in the inner west of Sydney one bleak September day in 1922, aged just 55. He had been sitting up in bed writing with his stubby pencil, as was his want. He complained of discomfort, but upon attendance his doctor diagnosed nowt. An hour later, Lawson lay dead in a corner.

Of course, all and sundry wanted the glory of a funeral, but no-one wanted to pay for one. Eventually, the Prime Minister, Billy Hughes (similar in character to Lawson), agreed to a State Funeral, and made sure another tier of government paid for it. And I quote from Colin Roderick's biography:
Lawson's funeral took place on Monday 4th September. Throughout the morning, his open casket lay in the mortuary chapel (Wood Coffill at Camperdown), where hundreds of his friends filed past to take a last look at his face. Shortly after noon, the casket was taken to St Andrew's Cathedral,. On it was placed a bunch of native roses, and around them a spray of gum leaves, a cluster of golden wattle, and bush ferns. Magnificent wreaths lined the choir stalls and the alter rails. A score of Lawson's relations had materialised from beyond the horizon of his life. He was buried in Waverley Cemetery. And thirty five years later - in a final act of sentimental irony - Bertha's ashes went into the same grave.
This is my contribution to the Taphophile Tragics community.

22 comments:

Jo said...

Great post, I really do learn something new each day..

Jim said...

Great post.

Ann said...

Very interesting.

Annie said...

Very melancholy place. Photos are very poignant.

Rae Walter said...

Very sad that we do not celebrate this heritage more Julie. When we went into the bush with camels for a few weeks the poems of Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson were campfire favourites. It was wonderful to hear these verses again.

Julie said...

And yet both men lived in the inner city of Sydney!! Yes, I can understand how their writings resonate out in the bush.

Gemma Wiseman said...

I had no idea that Lawson was buried at Waverley Cemetery! So strange that he was buried in the east of Sydney near ocean when he lived his Sydney life in the west of inner Sydney at Abbotsford. Fascinating post!

Joe said...

Such a sad life. I do like the way that the way that Colin Roderick describes his relations materialising from beyond the horizon.

biebkriebels said...

He lived a real poor writer life to end up in miserable conditions. But he will be remembered by his poems I suppose.

Nicola Carpenter said...

Fantastic post. What an interesting story of an interesting man, gutter or not.

Herding Cats

Steffe said...

I don't read poetry, but poets often die young.

Paul @ Leeds Daily Photo said...

Not heard of Lawson, but I do recall Banjo Paterson and "The Man From Snowy River" and of course Waltzing Matilda.

Julie said...

Not sure why poets have this reputation for dying young, Steffe. I'll grant you that rock stars seem to as well ...

Paul, that is the sad thing about Lawson. He is at least Paterson's equal.

Dina said...

With the red sign I guess everyone can find his grave.

Deb said...

Not a poet I am familiar with, which of his poems would you suggest are worth looking at to get a flavour of his work?

Ali Crehan said...

The style of his grave is interesting to me... we don't have graves like that here in my neck of the woods, just regular headstones. Was it the style of the time?

CaT said...

an interesting story. i really know so little, should i say nothing?, about your country!! your writers and poets, anything.
i should read your blog more often, i guess. :)
regarding the poet at least i dont like to read poetry...

hamilton said...

I wasn't familiar with Lawson, so looked up one of his poems, A Bush Girl - a man with a lard life describing a girl with another.

Francisca said...

Not surprised Henry Lawson didn't have a happy marriage:

Oh! this is a joyful dirge, my friends, and this is a hymn of praise;
And this is a clamour of Victory, and a pæan of Ancient Days.
It isn’t a Yelp of the Battlefield; nor a Howl of the Bounding Wave,
But an ode to the Things that the War has Killed, and a lay of the Festive Grave.
’Tis a triolet of the Tomb, you bet, and a whoop because of Despair,
And it’s sung as I stand on my hoary head and wave my legs in the air!
Oh! I dance on the grave of the Suffragette (I dance on my hands and dome),
And the Sanctity-of-the-Marriage-Tie and the Breaking-Up-of-the-Home.
And I dance on the grave of the weird White-Slave that died when the war began;
And Better-Protection-for-Women-and-Girls, and Men-Made-Laws-for-Man!

Oh, I dance on the Liberal Lady’s grave and the Labour Woman’s, too;
And the grave of the Female lie and shriek, with a dance that is wild and new.
And my only regret in this song-a-let as I dance over dale and hill,
Is the Yarn-of-the-Wife and the Tale-of-the-Girl that never a war can kill.

Oh, I dance on the grave of the want-ter-write, and I dance on the Tomb of the Sneer,
And poet-and-author-and-critic, too, who used to be great round here.
But “Old Mother Often” (“Mother of Ten”) and “Parent” escaped from the grave—
And “Pro Bono Publico” liveth again, as “Victis,” or “Honour the Brave.”

Oh, lightly I danced upon Politics’ grave where the Friend of the Candidate slept,
And over the Female Political Devil, oh wildly I bounded and leapt.
But this dance shall be nothing compared with the dance of the spook of the writer who sings
On the grave of the bard and the Bulletin’s grave, out there at the Finish of Things!

:-)

Julie said...

Francisca - 'A Dirge of Joy' was written in 1914 which was not only the start of WW1 but also on the cusp of the existing conscription being allowed for overseas service as well as national service.

Lawon has a domineering, but very talented mother, Louisa and I suspect this queered his attitude to women, although there were a number of affairs aluded to in the biographies. He must also be assessed given the sexual mores of the times back then.

Much of his writing is not light hearted.

Julie said...

Hamilton - Lawson wrote 'The Bush Girl' in 1901 and 'A Bush Girl' in 1909. His editor should not have allowed this!

The poems are quite different but the themes are very very similar. No matter how nice and how intelligent you are, you MUST broaden your horizons and not stay on the farm with no intellectual or social input.

Julie said...

BTW - 'The Bulletin' was the magazine that published Lawson's works and Banjo Paterson's works. It's owner/editor was J.F. Archibald who was legendary ... I gather.