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1999-12, 324, Australiana, Book Reviews, Jeff Bidgood, Poetry

Book Review

What a Difference 50 Years Make.

Miles Franklin. A personal tribute to HENRY LAWSON.

Pearl Beach N.S.W., Escutcheon Press 1999, 16 pages (unpag.) paperback,

ISBN | 87586212 9, $11.00 plus p&p.

Just imagine a night in September, 1942, with Australia and its allies not only at war but in the dark days of World War Two. Miles Franklin is broadcasting over 2FC on that night giving a talk on Henry Lawson. Her talk is a personal view and tribute that tells of Lawson and his effect on Australians of that time and his standing as an Australian poet.

There are now not many that feel as she did that “his prose is that of a writer who represents a continent”. Whilst there are some among us who still share that view I feel we are in the minority. Where now are the young people that know the name Henry Lawson, let alone those that can recite his poetry.

Is this because he saw England still as a motherland or because we feel we are beyond rhyme? Lawson’s work reflected those feelings prevalent up to the beginning of the Second World War that we still owed England some affection for having helped our destiny. He also nurtured the sense of homesickness that many of the people at that time felt for England. As for rhyming, surely this cannot detract from his standing, indeed it would have helped, for as Miles Franklin says ” … youthful reciters (used) to let off steam and thrill to such a stanza … “.

Other things that have changed in the passing of 50 years or so are Miles Franklin’s comments on and Lawson’s belief in Australian mates and mateship. It would seem from comments expressed during the past year or so that we are beyond such “arcane” feelings. Equally who would now be prepared to quote this stanza with its last line

And Ireland – that was known

From the coast line to Athlone

But little of the land that gave us birth

Save that Captain Cook was killed

and very likely grilled

And our blacks are just the lowest race on earth.

by anyone wishing to acclaim Australian poets and their work?

One thing that has not changed is that both she and Lawson felt the need to travel to London to increase their prosperity. Young people still feel the need or urge to do likewise.

The Escutcheon Press have done Lawson and ourselves a service in producing this previously unpublished talk by Miles Franklin. As ever Bob Summers has produced a work of which he, as a private press, can be truly proud. In a soft cover illustrated by Monica Oppen it is a production which will enrich any collection and which continues his excellent work. Its contents may make us wonder why Lawson and the other Australian poets, whose love of Australia was unbounded, have been dropped from school syllabi.

Jeff Bidgood

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