Reprint: The Sentimental Bloke: How He Came to Toolangi by Freda Sternberg

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks

   I love to live in Norwood,
      Where the flowers scent the air,
   And take a walk at sunset,
      When the evening's bright and fair.

The little chap of six, who wrote those lines, thought they were very beautiful. To-day, even though he is perhaps six times six, he still rather likes to quote them, and tell how they were inspired by his first sight of beautiful gardens around Adelaide, which stood out in wonderful contrast to the drab bush country in which he had been born.

Even though he is now known through the Empire as the author of "The Sentimental Bloke," "Doreen," "The Glugs of Gosh," "Backblock Ballads," he is still proud of his first outburst into poetic rhapsody. Of course, that small boy of six was the forerunner of the man who is how C. J. Dennis.

--Dennis's Background.--

In New York every other Saturday, a number of intellectuals meet at lunch at an exclusive club. As a sort of mental appetiser, the brilliant conversation which fills in the pauses between courses is started off by one member giving what in U.S.A. is called "his background." Translated into Australian, this would be his life history. If C. J. Dennis happened at this club, it is certain his "background" would provide much mental food, as well as many thrills for this intellectual group. There would be enough of the picturesque, adventurous and unusual in it to stamp him as a man of mark, even among these exclusives. While painting this background -- it is certain he would do it with the humour and pathos that runs through his writings -- C. J. Dennis could take them right to the small South Australian town of Auburn, where he was born, and where his father, a retired sea captain, kept a hotel. He could conjure up a boyhood, spent in an agricultural district, where horses were his chief thought and topic of conversation. He could show them the small school where he proudly occupied the position of editor of the school paper, The Weary Weekly. Even the most sensation-loving of these Americans would surely be interested in the Dennis story of an adolescence spent first in a stock and station agent's office in Adelaide, and later on the staff of The Critic. Their democratic souls would rejoice over his telling of the days when he went to Broken Hill, arriving with 1/9 in his pocket; of the adventures there while he worked as a miner, carpenter, railway construction labourer, photographer's canvasser, and insurance agent. The fact, that he nearly perished from thirst; and exhaustion while traversing the saltbush wastes between Broken Hill and Poolamacca would show just how and why C. J. Dennis knows how to sound the "human note" in his writings.  Then from this hazardous life the author of "The Sentimental Bloke" would take them back to Adelaide, where newspaper work once more caught him, right on to the days when he went to Victoria, stayed for a while in Melbourne, and then settled at Toolangi, where "The Bloke" was born.

-- The Banjo and the Lyre. --

There is no "Background" Club in Australia, and nowadays C. J. Dennis is a city dweller. He has a desk in a newspaper office, and he writes a Daily Column. Still he is willing to talk to individuals about his days at Toolangi, where he still spends his week-ends and holidays. Soon after he arrived at this spot, in the shade of the Great Dividing Range, Dennis found shelter in a sawmiller's disused hut, where he passed his time writing political and topical verse. Any interludes were covered by playing a banjo, which he fashioned out of a native blackwood, galvanized iron, the skin of a cat, and the sinews of a wallaby. Here he began ''The Sentimental Bloke." Later on it was finished in the unique study which he occupied while staying with Mr. J. G. Roberts. This study was the interior of an old omnibus, brought up from Melbourne and fitted up for Dennis. "I first got the idea for 'The Sentimental Bloke", Dennis explained recently, "from a racy fellow who came to Toolangi to train horses. He had lived hard in the vicinity of Little Bourke street, and was a great 'cobber' at the various Chow shops. This chap was very keen on a local farmer's daughter. The farmer objected to his attentions, as he was a 'crook' bloke. I remember the first time he came down to my hut. 'Gor blimme, Dennis' he said, 'why should he object. I got sisters of my own.'''

By the time "The Sentimental Bloke" was born the original one had faded from the Toolangi horizon, and it is thought he was killed at the war.

"The Sentimental Bloke" written, the next thing was to find a publisher. "I met Hal Gye in Dave Low's office at The Bulletin," related C. J., as he went over the days when success was still elusive.  "I suggested to him that if he illustrated the book we might get £50 each out of it as a subscription volume. I wrote to George Robertson of Angus & Robertson, suggesting this subscription volume, and he replied, 'Dear Sir--We are publishers, not printers and binders.'"

Eventually Dennis fixed up a contract with George Robertson. The first edition sold out in a fortnight, and up to date 30,000 copies of "The Sentimental Bloke" have been published. It has been filmed, and shown on the screen throughout Australia, Great Britain and America, and before the end of the year a dramatic version will be given on the Australian stage.

-- A Soft Spot for Glugs.--  

Like many other writers, C. J. Dennis has a great love of his less successful work. "I always think 'The Glugs of Gosh' is the best thing I have written," he said, as he talked of things he liked and disliked. Needless to say, among the things he liked were the freedom of the bush, the big trees at Toolangi. He confessed to a catholic taste as far as books written by others were concerned. In his youth he spent his first two weeks salary on two volumes of Dickens. He lost one job because his superiors did not appreciate his idea of reading the works of Rider Haggard in office hours. In his spare moments to-day Dennis likes to delve into the works of Masefield, Wells, Max Beerbohm, and James Stephens.  

Probably, because be still has much of the boy in his nature, C. J. Dennis loves and understands youth to an uncanny degree. Just how deep and real this understanding is was shown in "A Book for Kids," for which he also did the amusing illustrations. Many mothers who have crooned lullabies over their babies' cots are still at a loss to know how a mere man could have had enough 'inside information' to have written "The Lullaby," which comes near the end of this book.

First published in The Home, 1 December 1922; and later in The Register, 22 December 1922.

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL:

1 Comment

The banjo sounds truly remarkable, Perry. No wonder he could conjure up Bill and Doreen.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on May 27, 2011 7:46 AM.

Television Adaptation of Cloudstreet by Tim Winton was the previous entry in this blog.

Poem: A Book-Ghoul by O'Fipp is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Monthly Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.23-en