14 December 2012 - Henry Lawson - Australian Legend


Copyright Clancy Tucker (c)


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Quote of the day:


"The greatest evil that can befall man


is that he should come to think ill of himself."


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HENRY LAWSON


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AUSTRALIAN LEGEND


June 17 1867 - September 2 1922


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G'day guys,


Today I feature another Aussie legend - Henry Lawson, courtesy of Brian Matthews.


Henry Lawson was an Australian writer and poet. Along with his contemporary Banjo Paterson, Lawson is among the best-known Australian poets and fiction writers of the colonial period and is often called Australia's "greatest writer".


Henry Lawson (1867-1922), short story writer and balladist, was born on 17 June 1867 at Grenfell, New South Wales, eldest of four surviving children of Niels Hertzberg (Peter) Larsen, Norwegian-born miner, and his wife Louisa, née Albury. Larsen went to sea at 21 and, after many voyages, arrived in Melbourne in 1855 where he jumped ship and joined the gold rush. He and Louisa were married in 1866 and Henry (the surname changed when the parents registered the birth) was born about a year later, by which time the marriage was already showing some signs of stress. The family moved often as Peter followed the gold but, in August 1873 with the birth of their third child imminent, they finally settled back at Pipeclay where they had started from. Peter took up a selection which Louisa managed; she also ran a post office in his name while he worked as a building contractor around Mudgee.


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When his much-interrupted schooling (three years all told) ended in 1880, Lawson worked with his father on local contract building jobs and then further afield in the Blue Mountains. In 1883, however, he joined his mother in Sydney at her request. Louisa had abandoned the selection and was living at Phillip Street with Henry's sister Gertrude and his brother Peter. He became apprenticed to Hudson Bros Ltd as a coachpainter and undertook night-class study towards matriculation. Yet, as the story ('Arvie Aspinall's Alarm Clock') which he based on that time of his life suggests, he was no happier in Sydney than he had been on the selection. His daily routine exhausted him, his workmates persecuted him and he failed the examinations. Over the next few years he tried or applied for various jobs with little success. Oppressed anew by his deafness, he went to Melbourne in 1887 in order to be treated at the Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital. The visit, happy in other ways, produced no cure for his affliction and thereafter Lawson seems to have resigned himself to living in the muffled and frustrating world of the deaf.


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Copyright Raymond Sanders (c)


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Meanwhile he had begun to write. Contact with his mother's radical friends imbued in him a fiery and ardent republicanism out of which grew his first published poem, 'A Song of the Republic' (Bulletin, 1 October 1887). He followed this with 'The Wreck of the Derry Castle' and 'Golden Gully', the latter growing partly out of memories of the diggings of his boyhood. At the same time he had his introduction to journalism, writing pieces for the Republican, a truculent little paper run by Louisa and William Keep (its precarious and eccentric existence is celebrated in the poem 'The Cambaroora Star'). By 1890 Lawson had achieved some reputation as a writer of verse, poems such as 'Faces in the Street', 'Andy's Gone With Cattle' and 'The Watch on the Kerb' being some of the more notable of that period.


Much of what Lawson saw in the drought-blasted west of New South Wales during succeeding months appalled him. 'You can have no idea of the horrors of the country out here', he wrote to his aunt, 'men tramp and beg and live like dogs'. Nevertheless, the experience at Bourke itself and in surrounding districts through which he carried his swag absolutely overwhelmed him. By the time he returned to civilization, he was armed with memories and experiences—some of them comic but many shattering—that would furnish his writing for years. 'The Bush Undertaker', 'The Union Buries its Dead' and some of the finest of the Mitchell sketches were among the work he produced soon after his return. Short Stories in Prose and Verse, the selection of his work produced by Louisa on the Dawn press in 1894, brought together some of these stories albeit in unprepossessing form and flawed by misprints. But While the Billy Boils (1896) was Lawson's first major short-story collection. It remains one of the great classics of Australian literature.


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Following an abortive trip to Western Australia in search of gold, the Lawsons returned to Sydney where Henry, now a writer and public figure of some note, embarked on a colourful round of escapades in which large amounts of alcohol and the company of his Dawn and Dusk Club friends, including Fred Broomfield, Victor Daley and Bertram Stevens, were central ingredients. The Lawsons' move to Mangamaunu in the South Island of New Zealand was arranged by Bertha with the express intention of removing him from this kind of life. They left on 31 March 1897, but the venture was not a success, creatively or otherwise. Lawson's initial enthusiasm for the Maoris whom he taught at the lonely, primitive settlement soon waned. As well, there is evidence in some of his verse of that time ('Written Afterwards', 'The Jolly Dead March') that he was realizing, for perhaps the first time since their romantically rushed courtship and marriage and subsequent boisterous, crowded life in Western Australia and Sydney, both the responsibilities and the ties of his situation. Lawson's growing restiveness was deepened by promising letters from English publishers. Bertha's pregnancy strengthened his resolve and they left Mangamaunu in November 1897, returning to Sydney in March after Bertha's confinement. Lawson spent the enforced wait in Wellington writing a play ('Pinter's Son Jim') commissioned by Bland holt; it turned out to be too unwieldy to stage.


Lawson was something of a legendary figure in his lifetime. Not surprisingly, as dignitaries and others gathered for his state funeral on 4 September, that legend was already beginning to flourish in various exotic ways. The result was that some of his achievements were inflated—he became known, for example, as a great poet—and others obscured. Lawson's reputation must rest on his stories and on a relatively small group of them: While the Billy Boils, the Joe Wilson quartet of linked, longer stories and certain others lying outside these (among them, 'The Loaded Dog', 'Telling Mrs Baker' and 'The Geological Spieler'). In these he shows himself not only a master of short fiction but also a writer of peculiarly modern tendency. The prose is spare, cut to the bone, the plot is either slight or non-existent. Skilfully modulated reticence makes even the barest and shortest sketches seem excitingly full of possibility, alive with options and potential insights.


A stunning example is 'On the Edge of a Plain' but almost any Mitchell sketch from While the Billy Boils exemplifies these qualities. Though not a symbolist writer, Lawson had the capacity to endow accurately observed documentary detail with a significance beyond its physical reality: the drover's wife burning the snake; the black goanna dying 'in violent convulsions on the ground' ('The Bush Undertaker'); the 'hard dry Darling River clods' clattering on to the coffin of the unknown drover ('The Union Buries its Dead') are seemingly artless yet powerful Lawsonian moments which, in context, transform simple surface realism into intimations about the mysteries, the desperations and the tragedies of ordinary and anonymous lives.


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Clancy's comment: wow, what a career and life. The same man, like Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson, has appeared on the Australian ten-dollar note and our postage stamps. My first introduction to Lawson was in grade three, when a teacher read one of his spell-binding stories to the class. From then on, Henry was one of my faves. Still is. Go, Henry! Love ya work!


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