More Than a Sentimental Bloke
A Performance
John Derum as C.J. Dennis

Cover photograph by Stuart Campbell


Dustjacket synopsis:
"John Derum's brilliant stage show on the life and work of CJ Dennis is crystalised in this warm and funny book.

"Old friends like The Bloke and Doreen, Ginger Mick, the Glugs of Gosh and dozens of others parade through its pages, wryly observed by 'Den' himself, played by Derum. The richness and breadth of Dennis' creative life can also be seen in many long-forgotten pieces, republished here for the first time in 70 years.

"This delightful book is a fitting tribute to one of Australia's most-loved writers."

"I dips me lid to John Derum." - Sydney Morning Herald
"More than a Sentimental Bloke is a delight...It's a funny, moving, wonderful evening of theatre and Derum is quite perfect. Hurry along." - Sunday Observer
"If you missed it first time around, don't miss it now. It is Mr Derum's affectionate portrait of C.J. Dennis and his poetry and a much needed reminder that Dennis did indeed write about more than the Bloke." - The Sun

First paragraph from the Introduction:

The name of C. J. Dennis has been synonymous with his most famous creation, The Sentimental Bloke, ever since September 1915 when the poems were first published together as The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke. All but two of the fourteen poems had been published in The Bulletin and four had been included in Dennis's first collection, Backblock Ballads and Other Verses, two years earlier. But it was with the arrival of The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke that Bill, the Bloke, his sweetheart, Doreen, and his rough mate, Ginger Mick, became part of the lives of generations of Australians.

The intention in devising a theatrical presentation of a selection of the writings of C. J. Dennis was to bring to a wider audience, and subsequently to a wider readership, exactly what the title suggests - that Dennis had written much more than his most famous book of poems and its equally famous and successful sequel, The Moods of Ginger Mick.

Clarence Michael James Stanislaus Dennis, who preferred to be known as Den, was born in Auburn, South Australia, on 7 September 1876. Both parents were born in Ireland: James Dennis, a master mariner and later publican, was a widower when he married Kate Tobin, who died, aged thirty-nine, when Den was only fourteen. He and his two younger brothers were cared for by their mother's four maiden sisters and at boarding school in Adelaide.

After he left school young Den had a variety of jobs including journalism for several Adelaide, and later Melbourne and Sydney, publications. He was also a frequent contributor to The Bulletin and other magazines of the time. This pattern continued through his twenties, combined with various wanderings and a period of about eighteen months near Broken Hill until he came to the small town of Toolangi, about seventy kilometres east of Melbourne, in 1908.


The script of More than a Sentimental Bloke, as originally performed and presented here, is made up from the poems and prose of C. J. Dennis, and even the narration is compiled from comments Den made in letters to people who were perceptive enough to keep them and later make them available to us all in library collections. There are also some reported comments and views that 1 have taken back to the first person, and a few where I blatantly made up what I thought he would have said! The sections in italics are either original stage directions or my additional background comments for the benefit of the reader.

Making the final selections which could convey, in a single performance, an idea of the contents of ten books and more than three thousand items of poetry and prose printed in The Herald was sometimes frustrating. Some old favourites had to be left behind. As well, the performance changed as we found that certain literary pieces were barely comprehensible to the theatre audience. "A Guide For Po-its" and "As She Is Spelt" need to be seen on the page to be fully appreciated. Similarly, the letters from Ben Bowyang are fun to hear but even more fun to read. A later and temporary inclusion in the performance, an extract from "Fighting The Fires". Den's description of an experience with bushfire, was included in the weeks immediately following the Ash Wednesday bushfires of 1983. The complete texts of all these are now included in Appendices 1 and 3.

Also included in this volume is the previously unpublished "Limpy Ben". It was written to be published as a Christmas pamphlet in 1918. Extracts from the correspondence between Dennis and publisher George Robertson discussing the decision not to publish are included with the text in Appendix 2.

Editing for live performance makes rather more ruthless demands than editing for publication and it has been tempting to restore some cuts made for the performance simply to enable the inclusion of the widest possible sample of Den's work. Nevertheless, the script is presented as it was performed, with the addition of two of Den's short stories which will come as a pleasant surprise even to people who are familiar with C. J. Dennis.

It was occasionally depressing to realise that so many of the subjects dealt with in The Herald were still with us fifty years later and that despite the rapier thrust of the satirist, little had changed.



Scene 1
The Mooch o' Life
A Bush Christmas
An Old Master
Summer Sanctuary
The Madman
The Spoilers
The Satyr

Scene 2
A Spring Song
The Intro
The Call of Stoush
The Singing Soldiers
A Digger's Tale
Washing Day
A Gallant Gentleman
The Play

Scene 3
The Stones of Gosh
The Growth of Sym
More from The Stones of Gosh
To a Dead Mate
The Great Lock-Out

Scene 4
Another Economic Riddle
The Lure of the Trees
On One of Melbourne's Dull Nights
A Post-Cup Tale
The Battler
Black Peter Myloh
Leg Theory
My Scenario
The Road's End
The Mooch o' Life

Appendix I
Fighting the Fires - The Anzac Spirit

Appendix II
Limpy Ben

Appendix III
A Guide for Po-its
As She is Spelt
A Round with Kipling
Bowyang Unbends

From the New South Wales University Press paperback edition, 1990.

About the Author:
Whether treading the boards in the Australian production of Nicholas Nickelby, starring as Peer Gynt at the Sydney Opera House or gracing television screens in the disguise of Aunty Jack's stuffy sidekick Narrator Neville, John Derum's career makes the description 'versatile' seem miserly. Actor, writer, singer, comedian, television quiz master, teacher, caberet and revue performer, Derum's fascination with Australian writers has manifested itself in a national television show 'That's Australia' and in the original More than a Sentimental Bloke show, which Derum has brought to theatres across Australia.

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2002