John Garibaldi Roberts was a book-loving public servant working with the Melbourne Tramways Company when he was introduced to C.J. Dennis by R.H. Croll in 1906. Roberts and his wife (who Dennis would later refer to as "Dad" and "Mum") came to exert a great influence over Dennis in the ensuing years. Without their support and encouragement it is difficult to seem how Dennis could have reached the heights he was to attain in later years. His first book The Sentimental Bloke carries the dedication: "To Mr. and Mrs. J.G. Roberts", giving a firm indication of the high regard in which he held them.
Roberts and his wife maintained a country home, "Sunnyside", set among the hills at South Sassafras (now Kallista) about 40 kilometres from Melbourne in the Dandenong Ranges. It was their habit to invite members of the Melbourne literary and artistic circles to Sunnsyside for weekends, and regular visitors included Tom Roberts, Web Gilbert, John Shirlow, Harold Herbert, Hal Gye, R.H. Croll, Guy Innes, and sometimes Mrs Aeneas Gunn, author of We of the Never-Never. (See Croll's article "Goodbye Sunnyside" for his reminiscences of that period.)
Although it was considered by others later that David Low was a regular visitor he maintained that he only visited on one occasion. (See Alex Chisholm's articles titles "Low and Den" published in the Bulletin in 1957 and 1958.)
Roberts and his wife were the sound guiding influence that Dennis needed at that time in his life and the control they exerted over him helped him overcome his loneliness and drinking problems. From time to time Dennis moved in to one of several old tram vehicles that Roberts had installed at Sunnyside as weekend cabins. And it was here that he was able to complete his work on The Sentimental Bloke.
A good overview of the relationship between CJD and the Roberts family is provided by Ian McLaren in his article "C.J. Dennis and the Roberts Family".
|Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2002-04|