C.J. Dennis Associated Material

LOW AND DEN by Alec Chisholm

Dave Low has got off the beam, probably through trusting to memory instead of looking up readily-available references, in regard to C.J. Dennis's "Australaise". Den certainly did not label his verses "The Austra-bloody-laise," nor did he use the adjective in any verse or the chorus; and moreover he did not write "Pull yer bloody pants on, tie yer bloody boots," but "Shift yer --- carcasses, Move yer --- boots."

"The Australaise" was first published ("With some acknowledgements to W.T. Goodge") in THE BULLETIN of November 12, 1910. Then entitled "A Real Australian Austra--laise," it consisted of four verses and a chorus, and it won its author a special prize in a National Song Competition, promoted by THE BULLETIN, which drew 74 entries.

In further comment, the judge suggested that "The Australaise" would gain "immediate popularity" because it would "go to the swing of the 'Merry Widow' waltz"; but in fact (as far as I know) that air was never adopted. Instead Den borrowed a more rousing melody - he issued "The Australaise" in 1915, in the form of a leaflet containing seven verses and chorus, as "A Marching Song," and he suggested that it be sung to the tune of "Onward Christian Soldiers." That suggestion accorded with the ideas of the lads of the A.I.F. (for whom, chiefly, the leaflet was issued), and so they learned to bawl, not only the first but the last of the verses:-

Fellers of Australier,
   Cobbers, chaps an' mates,
Hear the --- German
   Kickin' at the gates!
Blow the --- bugle,
   Beat the --- drum,
Upper-cut an' out the cow
   To kingdom- --- -come!

Neither in THE BULLETIN nor the leaflet (nor, indeed, in any of the later issues of "The Australaise") did Low's adjective appear. Discreetly enough, Den left that matter to his readers, as witness his footnote to the 1915 issue:-

Reprinted from THE BULLETIN with alterations. Where a dash replaces a missing word, the adjective "blessed" may be interpolated. In cases demanding great emphasis, the use of the word "blooming" is permissible. However, any other word may be used that suggests itself as suitable.

Because unbound publications of some few pages soon fall asunder, that one-page "Marching Song" is now very rare. Personally, I have seen only a single copy, and I considered myself lucky to locate and borrow that one for use as an illustration in my Dennis biography of 1946, The Making of the Sentimental Bloke.

Aside for Low's error regarding "The Australaise," plus a minor one touching Den's latter-day home at Toolangi (which was not "the same house, rebuilt magnificently," as his original shabby old dwelling), what surprises me in the cartoonist's narrative is the scanty nature of his reminiscences of the writers and artists of his Melbourne period.

Has David forgotten Garry Roberts and his wife, that warm-hearted couple who entertained him and his colleagues at Sunnyside, Kallista, over a long period? Has he forgotten the rich talk of Tom Roberts, Web Gilbert, and John Shirlow, to say nothing of the pranks and quick-witted quips of Hal Gye (who, with Low himself, is the only member of the Sunnyside group now living), Harold Herbert, Bob Croll and Guy Innes, as well as those of the author of "The Australaise"?

When collecting material for the Dennis biography I gathered at second-hand (for I was not in Victoria in the period under discusison) quite a lot of fruity and amusing material relating to the Sunnyside circle in general and Den in particular, and thus it was reasonable to expect from Low, as a member of the group, additional material in kind - one of the brightest literary-artistic circles known to Australia.

David has not, for instance recalled the quaint error he made when illustrating Den's Backblock Ballads. Nor, to mention just one other snappy item, has he told us about the rice-pudding, complete with basin, which he took to the Melbourne railway-station and presented to Den and his bride when, in 1917, they were starting on their honeymoon.

Is it too late for Low to do a spot of amending and amplifying? An hour of two of meditation, I imagine, would be quite worthily productive, and if memory fails on any point it could be jogged by that sprightly combination of artist and writer, Hal Gye.

Alec Chisholm (N.S.W.)
Bulletin, 16 January 1957, p34

This article was written in response to David Low's autobiography which was being serialised in the Bulletin at the time. Davd Low responded to Chisholm in early 1958 and Chisholm's response can be found in "Low and Den" published, again in the Bulletin in February 1958.

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2002