Low and Den by Alec Chisholm

Rather more than a year ago (B. 16/1/'57) I made some mildly critical remarks about David Low's references to C. J. Dennis's "Australaise." My point was that Den did not, in fact, label his verses "The Austra-bloody-aise," 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."

Now, a trifle belatedly, I've received a note on the subject from Dave Low in London. He says that an Australian friend sent him as a Christmas-present a copy of my Dennis biography, The Making of a Sentimental Bloke, with "The Bulletin" article tipped-in, and he suggests that I've fallen into error in my comments upon him.

As to "The Australaise," Low didn't dispute my corrections of his quotations, but says that he and his friends always sang the verses with "bloody" filling-in the blanks. So, of course, did the Diggers of World War I. But the fact remains that Den didn't use that word in print - he suggested (maybe with tongue in cheek) that where a dash replaced a missing word the adjective "blessed" might be interpolated, and that in cases demanding great emphasis the use of the word "bloomin-" was permissible.

When I did fall into error, it would seem, was when, in commenting on the scanty nature of Low's references to the writers and artists of his Melbourne period (as given in his reminiscences published serially in "The Bulletin"), I asked had he forgotten Garry Roberts and his wife, "that warm-hearted couple who entertained him and his colleagues at Sunnyside, Kallista, over a long period," I also asked if he had forgotten the rich talk of Tom Roberts, Web Gilbert, John Shirlow and, among others, Harold Herbert.

Actually, Low went to Melbourne to live (so he tells me) in 1914, and therefore had no part in Roberts's "Sunnyside Circle." He says he never met Tom Roberts or Web Gilbert and was only slightly acquainted with John Shirlow and Harold Herbert. "Garry Roberts," it is added, "I thought of as a friend of Gye and Dennis; I was his guest at Sunnyside only once."

My impression that Low used to be a regular Sunnysider was due, firstly, to the fact that some members of "the Circle" often referred to him as one of their number, and secondly, to the fact that Den commemorated him, along with Hal Gye and Garry Roberts in verses which he wrote around "Ingavar."

Ingavar was a property near Sunnyside which Roberts had rented for his son Frank (the lad who later served Web Gilbert as the model for the figure of the Australian soldier on Mount St. Quentin, where he died in September of 1918), and it so called because it had formerly belonged to fellows named Ingless and Avard.

Den produced at least two sets of merry verses (both little known) centring upon Ingavar. Here's a sample of one of them, featuring Garry Roberts (the "Lord High Pot" of the area), Hal Gye and Den himself:-

Loud laughed ye mockinge dead-wode tree:
Goe search ye neere, and seeke ye far,
I wot in vaine your quest will bee
For him, ye Potte of Ingavar.

In armoure clad and cap-a-pie
Ye stout Sir Hal rode thro' ye glen,
And by hys side, wi' flashing eye,
Rode galantlee ye Lorde of Den . . .

Moreover - and this brings Low into the local picture - the second set of rhymes of Ingavar introduces some very odd birds of the area, among them the Davlo Owl, the Halgi Tit and the ruthless Denawk. The "song" opens thus:-
O, the trees grow straight and the trees grow tall,
And the trees grow all around;
And the long limbs sprout the trunks about
Where the Davlo Owl is found.
And the Davlo bird is most absurd
In the early days of June -
For he sings this song, the whole day long,
To a strange, fantastic tune -

"O, ink, ink, ink! I sit and think
I brood on the Wildwood Tree;
But, near or far, on Ingavar,
No ink, no ink I see.
And late or soon, the swift Cartoon
Must soar to the Utmost Star -
O, ink, ink, ink! I swoon! I sink!
O, inkless Ingavar!"

The rhymes run on through half-a-dozen other verses, reaching an end on this high note:-
The Davlo hoots, the Halgi toots,
The Denawk swoops no more,
Alone to yearn, the Nude Nocturn
Adorns your leafy floor.
But trees, O, trees, what ectasies
Thrill thro' you, root and spar,
When the Lord High Pot comes up to squat
In the glades of Ingavar,
Green glades of Ingavar!
Clearly, when Den proclaimed Roberts's Ingavar to the spot "where the Davlo Owl is found" he gave the impression that this distinctive creature was a regular denizen of the area. That was slightly misleading. Any list of the "birds" of both Sunnyside and Ingavar, it would appear, should record the Davlo Owl only as what ornithologists term a "casual".

First published in The Bulletin, 19 February 1958

This piece follows the extract from David Low's autobiography, and Alec Chisholm's first response to that extract, both published here over the past two weeks.

You can read the full text of the poem Ingavar.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on July 11, 2008 8:45 AM.

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