John R Newland
AT THE SYDNEY Show & Tell meeting of December 2007 I showed a collection of C J Dennis books and some rather unique items in my possession. I am not all that much of a poet, but I do have a fascination for some of the earlier Australian poets who, in these current times, do not seem to be so well known as Henry Lawson, ‘Banjo’ Patterson and C J Dennis. This is a pity, that our early Australian poets have been overlooked; my English study curriculum for the 1951 Leaving Certificate course was restricted to English poets and essayists of the 19th century and, of course, a Shakespeare play.
In 1973 my fiancée and I were browsing through a well-known bookshop in the Melbourne suburb of Prahran when we discovered a first edition of C J Dennis’ book The Moods of Ginger Mick. Various issues of some Australian books of the 1915–1920 era can be identified by the dates shown on the publisher’s adverts and reviews bound in at the rear of the book—in this case those of Angus and Robertson Ltd, 89 Castlereagh Street, Sydney, dated September 1916—and, yes, this appeared to be the first impression of the first edition.
Turning to the front of the book to see the price, I found an inscription, “To my friend R.H. Croll with kind regards, [signed] C.J. Dennis, Melbourne, Oct. 13th 1916”, and another inscription, “To ‘Bob’ hoping the drawings within meet with his critical approval—Yours sincerely, Hal Gye [with a small caricature portrait of himself], 25/10/16”. Robert Henderson Croll was the author of the illustrated travel book Wide Horizons: Wanderings in Central Australia, published by Angus and Robertson in 1937, which is also in my possession and was shown at the meeting.
But that wasn’t all: loosely inserted in the book were several pieces of folded paper. Unfolding these, I found: a book review published by The Sydney Morning Herald of 25 October 1916, a typewritten four-line poem with a pencilled annotation, “Written by Den on the office blotting pad while waiting in the Lands Dept [Department]”, and a carbon copy of a three-page typewritten poem, The Battle of the Wazzir, bearing the signature in ink, ‘By C.J. Dennis’. The Battle of the Wazzir occurred in Cairo, where some Australian soldiers had visited a ‘doubtful establishment’ and contracted venereal disease. The Australian troops rioted, causing that local property to incur much damage. Publication of Dennis’ poem was restricted in order to ease Egyptian and Australian diplomatic relations. These poems and the Herald review are reproduced with this article.
Another find, loosely inserted with the others, was a typewritten tribute to Ginger Mick written by ‘Tip’ Kellaher and published on 17 September 1942 in the Furphy Flyer, the Official Organ of the 2/24 Battalion. It is not known who typed ‘Tip’ Kellaher’s poem, but a footnote regarded him as “logical successor to Banjo Patterson”. This tribute was also published in 1942 in a book of poems by the Currawong Publishing Company of Sydney, The Digger Hat and Other Verses by ‘Tip’ Kellaher, with illustrations by C H Percival. This book is also in my possession.
Although a fictitious character, Ginger Mick was ‘killed in action’ at Gallipoli; ‘Tip’ Kellaher was killed in action near El Alamein in 1942.
Another of C J Dennis’ books shown by me at the meeting was a first edition of The Glugs of Gosh, also illustrated by Hal Gye. This copy has inscribed on its half-title: “Iris Brown with the Publishers Compts [Compliments]”. I cannot recollect how I came by this.
But I do remember coming across a copy of The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke at a flea market. Although it was from an eighteenth impression of 3,000 copies printed at Sydney on 31st August 1919, this copy was no ordinary one, for spread across the front endpapers was a coloured pen and ink illustration signed by Hal Gye and dated 1957, with an inscription also by him of July 1957 to a “Dear Sally O’Brien”. These are also reproduced with this article.
There came up for auction at a Sydney auction firm a first edition copy of The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke which was inscribed by C J Dennis, Hal Gye, Mr and Mrs J G Roberts (to whom the book was dedicated) and Henry Lawson, who wrote the Foreword. Small sized photographs of these people were also attached. Unfortunately, the bids far exceeded my modest ‘credit rating’.