Friday, 27 July 2012

Queen Mary of The Claremont

Gilmore walked through this door for 30 years.

She must have been an infuriating woman to have known: imperious, always right, judgemental. Yet she infused those around her with an adoration, bordering on idolatry, most certainly obsequiousness, known in the parlance as 'brown-nosing'. Perhaps that comes with the territory: a life well-lived, well-wrung, that continues for well-nigh a century. And yet, I suspect, history will not judge her output with the esteem she, not craved so much, as expected, perhaps. I have read it critiqued as trivial doggerel.


I have grown past hate and bitterness,
I see the world as one;
But though I can no longer hate,
My son is still my son.

All men at God's round table sit,
and all men must be fed;
But this loaf in my hand,
This loaf is my son's bread.

Gilmore in 1938, and in 1957

Mary lived a peripatetic life with her parents in the backblocks of what would become the Riverina of New South Wales, and prepared herself for a professional life as a teacher. However, moving to Sydney in 1890, she got in with the wrong crowd; Not really; She acreted a crowd around her; The writers and thinkers that made Archibald's 'Bulletin' a progressive rag. She claimed to have a relationship with Henry Lawson which, apparently, is difficult to verify. She was heavily involved with the Australian Workers' Union (AWU), and described herself, and was described by others, as a 'socialist'. She charged off to Paraguay on the fairy-tale-wonderment of William Lane's Cosme settlement, where she met Will Gilmore and gave birth to her only child, Billy (who died in 1945 leaving descendents). In 1912, Mary and Billy moved to Sydney, whilst Will moved to Cloncurry. They never cohabited again, although her ashes were taken to Cloncurry and included in Will's plot. Maybe, this following verse sheds a little light:

Eve- Song

I span and Eve span
A thread to bind the heart of man;
But the heart of man was a wandering thing
That came and went with little to bring:
Nothing he minded what we made,
As here he loitered, and there he stayed.
I span and Eve span
A thread to bind the heart of man;
But the more we span the more we found
It wasn't his heart but ours we bound.
For children gathered about our knees:
The thread was a chain that stole our ease.
And one of us learned in our children's eyes
That more than man was love and prize.
But deep in the heart of one of us lay
A root of loss and hidden dismay.

He said he was strong. He had no strength
But that which comes of breadth and length.
He said he was fond. But his fondness proved
The flame of an hour when he was moved.
He said he was true. His truth was but
A door that winds could open and shut.

And yet, and yet, as he came back,
Wandering in from the outward track,
We held our arms, and gave him our breast,
As a pillowing place for his head to rest.
I span and Eve span,
A thread to bind the heart of man.

Gilmore's Darlinghurst Road in 1950. She lived on the left in the middle-distance, whereas Dobell was on the right and further along.

The Kings Cross years were spent as a 'cultural icon', a much-loved grand dame, much like Margaret Olley whom Dobell painted who passed from amongst us in 2011. The 2BL studios of ABC-Radio were just down the road in William Street in those days, and she was a 'go-to opinion'. Here is just one verse, the final one, of a piece of interesting jingoism, which is scrawled across the $10 note which I showed you two days ago:

No Foe Shall Gather our Harvest

We are the sons of Australia,
of the men who fashioned the land;
We are the sons of the women
Who walked with them hand in hand;
And we swear by the dead who bore us,
By the heroes who blazed the trail,
No foe shall gather our harvest,
Or sit on our stockyard rail.

And here be the apartment block that Dame Mary Gilmore called home for all those years: The Claremont at 99 Darllinghurst Road which was built in 1927, and is now adjacent to the entry to the railway station. She was in apartment #2, which was at the rear, overlooking Earl Place. Not a nice outlook, nor conducive to creativity, necessarily. But she was in the thick of the bohemia for which 'The Cross' was celebrated. Indeed, she could almost be regarded as the honeypot.

The Tenancy

I shall go as my father went,
A thousand plans in his mind,
With something still held unspent,
When death let fall the blind.

I shall go as my mother went,
The ink still wet on the line;
I shall pay no rust as rent,
For the house that is mine.

Darlinghurst Road is littered with these footpath markers; indeed, the entire city seems to be littered with markers of one sort or another, but Darlinghurst Road is awash. I don't mind so much. But do EXPECT them to be ACCURATE! Dame Mary Gilmore was born in 1865 and died in 1962. Which made her 97.


Joe said...

A life well lived with all it's emotional peaks and troughs.

Joan Elizabeth said...

I've got a volume of Gilmore's poetry on my bookshelf. For the most part I enjoy them. I was not aware of her background so his made for interesting reading, as well as your poetry selections.

I love your description of imperiousness.

Jim said...