C.J. Dennis Associated Material

Extract from LOW'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY by David Low

I did not pack my bags to go [from New Zealand] without sorrow at leaving many friends. As a small boy the opinions, too often comtemptuous, of outsiders on my choice of a profession had driven me into a defensive solitariness. As a youth, although I became gregarious enough to be socially at case in the world, I had continued to cultivate a private self-sufficiency and was wary of complicating loyalties and dependent friendships. In my early twenties, when not the window so to speaks I could stand my own company for long stretches without discontent. But for all that, in those black depressions which follow over-concentration, when all work seems fruitless, bad, waste of time, when the mind rattles like a pea in a hollow drum, and confidence is replaced by despair, I imagined with longing a second self that could know what one was at and estimate truly the success or failure of the attempt. At such times what a priceless boon would be a clear-headed outside judge, to whom one could toss one's piece with 'Good or bad?' and accept the verdict with confidence as from one familiar with the conditions of creation.

In Melbourne I was fortunate enough to count two. I shared a studio with Hal Gye, caricaturist, and C. J. Dennis, poet, was our inseparable. Before settling in Melbourne I lived as a fellow-lodger with Den for a space and finished my cartoons by night on his wash-stand while he read proofs aloud in bed. After that, Hal and I took our studio, and Hal arranged to illustrate Den's book. Thus the association was confirmed.

Hal was a fantastic chap, thin, with long hair parted in the middle, a way of waving his arms about and an irresistible wit. When he wasn't drawing theatrical caricatures for the Bulletin, or illustrating Den, he was painting water-colour symphonies with a dreamy effect which he produced by losing his temper with them and putting them under the tap. After the second jet of water the picture almost disappeared leaving plenty to the imagination, which pleased mightily those who had the imagination. Den's chief claim to fame at first was that he was the author of the Austrabloodylaise, a vernacular piece known far and wide in Australia, of which the opening stanza gives the flavour:

Fellers of Australia, blokes and coves and coots,
Pull yer bloody pants on, tie yer bloody boots.

But he was then deep in the planning of a volume, The Sentimental Bloke, which was to bring him wide fame and an honoured place in Australian poetry. Meanwhile Den filled in as a civil servant complete with two-inch starched collar and vest slip, an effect quite unsuited to his bony-nosed Roman face.

Here were a couple of characters in whose company I found rest and understanding. We could laugh, shout, sing, exult, mourn, curse the wrongdoer in the open, as we wrestled with our work. (I was always one to talk to my work as it came out on my old drawing-board perched on a broken arm-chair.) Our trio expanded into an odd mixture of fellowship. Painters, poets and writers, of course, actors, farmers, civil servants, business men, politicians, an occasional Cabinet Minister, and on one red-letter day even Melba herself, the immortal song-bird. All I remember of her was that she was a bullying woman who ate a good deal and swore a lot. It was all one. Even on the blackest days I found relief in that pool of goodwill. In no other company could I ever have tried the experiment of sharing a studio. I have had many since, but all by comparison have had a touch of loneliness.

From Low's Autobiography by David Low, Michael Joseph 1956, pp78-79

Alec Chisholm took exception to a couple of statements made in this passage and published his views in the Bulletin in 1957 under the title "Low and Den". Early the next year Low had responded to Chisholm in a personal letter and Chisholm clarified the misunderstanding about this poem in "Low and Den" published, again in the Bulletin, in February 1958.

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2002-03