“suppose you come down from the clouds” – feedback to aspiring writers

Back in 2011, I wrote a post about Louisa Lawson in support of the digitisation of her ground-breaking newspaper, The Dawn. That project was successfully crowd-sourced through the efforts of Donna Benjamin, and editions are now accessible via Trove, The National Library of Australia’s digital collection.

You can find more information about Louisa Lawson’s life over here on the Australian Dictionary of Biography entry.

dwpicture - royalty free Louisa Lawson

There is much source material available in The Dawn which may well appear in future Now and Then postsToday’s offering, though, features a selection of feedback for would-be contributors to the publication which ran from 1888-1905.

The regular column Answers to Correspondents incorporated advice, household hints, subscription details and responses to unsolicited stories and verse. Here’s a selection of mostly short, sweet and very direct feedback to hopeful correspondents gleaned from editions of The Dawn on Trove.

1 Dec 1896

M.B.W.  Story hardly concise enough and the incidents want rearranging.

V. S.  Not quite up to standard, would not the first theme be sufficient for one poem. Try again.

1 Jan 1900

Myra Howard.  You have a very good idea of rhyme and metre but not mechanical skill enough for the mythical theme you have chosen. Suppose you come down from the clouds and try something more mundane.

Isabel.  It would be a good plan to study the characteristics of a paper you intend writing for before commencing the work. It will save the editors time as well as your own.

1 Oct 1902

Anonymous.  Why make [your] first attempt on broken verse? Why not try simple subjects in regular metre?

1 Aug 1903

Cissie (Newcastle).  The Spelling Book Superceded will give you the instructions you seem to need for correct verse writing.

1 June 1905

Literary.    If you distrust your own judgment concerning your work, then submit it to some capable and impartial critic. Avoid consulting any relative, friend, or literary acquaintance unless you are certain that the one you select is clear-headed and hard-hearted enough not only to consider fairly what you have written, but also to tell you without, fear or favour exactly what he thinks of it.

1 July 1905

the R.W. and B.  Would you kindly send your name and address and your story “Australian Bobby” will be returned to you. The story is not without merit but it is rather crude, and you would do well to rewrite it.

C. M. (Taralga).  Your story “The True and the False” has been received, and if you forward a stamp it will be returned to you.








faces in the street – Gilmore on Lawson

Mary Gilmore in Goulburn 1922

The Goulburn Evening Penny Post of 26 September 1922 reported a talk by poet Mary Gilmore at Goulburn High School. It was only a few weeks after the death of her friend Henry Lawson.

Last week, in an informal talk at the Goulburn High School, Mrs Mary Gilmore gave in outline an account of the late Henry Lawson, his work, his temperament, and some of his personal history, as well as an appreciation of his value as the outstanding figure in the history of Australian literature. Opening her remarks, Mrs. Gilmore said that, to begin with, she had known Henry Lawson ever since he was about twenty-one, that her mother and Henry’s mother, Louisa Lawson, had been friends, and that acquaintance ran through three generations of Lawson’s family. “It is not necessary,” said the speaker, “to refer to Lawson’s birthplace or to read or discuss his writings in the present talk, as all these things are given in the course of High School teaching. But something of the man, of his life as known to his friends, and of the causes which made him what he was are more necessary, and what I propose to give, for , indeed, much of this is still only passed mouth to mouth and will be lost if not collected or given now. When I first met Lawson he was a tall, thin, shy, sensitive lad, not yet done growing. In a photograph which I have of him this is shown very emphatically for the pictured Lawson has a definitely weak chin. Those who know the mature Lawson will remember that he had a big, deep, strong chin. He was like his mother in appearance; he was like her in temperament. Apart from his own mother, my mother and I were among the first to realise Lawson’s genius and his originality. He was without doubt the most original writer Australia has ever produced. His style was his own, his method was his own. From his mother he inherited much. He had her sense of drama, of humour, of the value of local colour, and the  essential point of any story. But his power of expression went beyond hers; and his capacity for a suggested under-current of feeling went beyond hers afar as genius goes beyond intellectual talent. When I first knew Louisa Lawson, social conditions were not what they are now, and it is difficult to realise what she, in her fight for women, was up against. But as an instance I might mention that at that time any woman seen in, or seen going into, a restaurant in Sydney could be arrested by the police. And just as his mother had much to do with the early shaping of conditions in Australia socially, so had her son, and I shall never forget when, nearly thirty-five years ago, in a strike of that day the young Lawson ran all the way from a mass meeting at the old Exhibition building to where I lived and burst in with the cry -‘They are going to fire on my countrymen.’ It was have served out ball cartridges and are going to fire on my countrymen. It was then that Colonel Price had given his infamous order: “Fire low and lay ’em out !’ When I had quietened Lawson down I sent him to his mother and asked for a message to be sent to Sir Henry Parkes. And I like to think that it was partly due to Henry Lawson that the infamy of that day was not carried out. His influence in the early days of the rise of our social democracy has seldom been told. But it is a fact that his ‘Faces in the Street’ and his ‘Army of the Rear’ ran like a flame throughout the young State. He wrote in the early ‘Worker’ (my paper), and throughout his work runs the note of the seer and the prophet of national democracy. His temperament was subject to moods, like his mother’s, and among his best friends was the late Minister for Education, Mr. T. D. Mutch. Our office was for twenty years a sort of home to Lawson, and till latterly there was always someone there who looked after him, and to whom he looked in time of trouble. Mr. Mutch, when Henry would have a depressed mood on him, would give up all his Saturday afternoon to the poet, returning for him on Sundays, and together they would tramp the bush of Gordon, Middle Harbour etc., silent for hours and hours at a stretch. But in those seemingly sombre hours germinated and grew much which later blossomed in the best of Lawson’s later work. When Mr. Mutch left our office to go into Parliament, his trust as regards Henry fell on Mr J Noonan, our accountant. But others were faithful friends to to poet and none more so than Mr George Robertson (Angus and Robertson’s), Mr Phil Harris (“Aussie” Magazine), and Mr . J. G. Lockley (of the Lockley Library).” Mrs Gilmore speaking of Lawson in London as well as in Australia gave tribute to his work, quoting in reference to the former place Mr. Pinker (the well-known English publishing agent), the editor of “Blackwood’s Magazine” and Mr. Garnet, the critic (afterwards Sir Richard Garnet) all of whom had stressed to her the unique value of Lawson’s work. Mrs Gilmore spoke for nearly an hour and then ended by reading a letter which Lawson’s sister, Mrs Gertrude Lawson O’Connor, had published to the children of Australia (in “The Women’s Budget”) in memory of her gifted brother.

Lawson’s handwritten story of his famous poem “Faces in the Street” is here courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales.  It reveals how, at the age of 21, he “struck the keynote or the key line” for the poem on Petersham Station in Sydney on a cold wet night.

The thirteen stanza poem begins thus.

Faces in the Street

You can read it in full here at The Australian Poetry Library (HT to the following institutions that support this important cultural resource).

Australian Poetry Library


forgotten women: Hazel de Berg – oral historian

The digitising of collections in our national and state libraries and museums is making much more than just photographs and objects more accessible.  The content of reels of tape, recorded decades ago, is also finding its way online.

The work of Hazel de Berg forms the basis of the oral history collection in the National Library of Australia.  Around 4 years after Mrs de Berg began using a tape recorder in her work with people with visual disablities, this article in the Canberra Times noted her prolific rate of recording the voices and work of Australian poets and the modest grant she received to continue collecting their readings and stories.

The Canberra Times – 17 October 1961 Hazel de Berg

A woman with an unusual hobby visited Canberra yesterday. She is Mrs. Hazel de Berg ….. a tape-recorder enthusiast from Sydney.  Mrs de Berg’s interest in tape-recording originated from her idea to present taped recitals at Blind Institutes in Sydney.  She was granted £100 from the Commonwealth Literary Fund after she presented some of her recordings at the Adelaide Festival last year.

Since then she has travelled Australia collecting recordings of Australian poets for the National Archives. She has recorded all living recognised Australian poets – 68 altogether – reading their own voice.  Dame Mary [Gilmore], Kenneth Slessor, [Dorothea] McKellar, Douglas Steward and Lady Hope are a few of the many she has recorded.

Last night Mrs. de Berg played some of her collection to the Canberra Fellowship of Australian writers and told them some of her experiences making the recordings. She does not interview people but records them talking about their work, interests and themselves.  The tape recordings are converted later into records and sent to the National Library archives.  Mrs de Berg will leave for Melbourne today to begin a series of recordings of Australian artists.  This afternoon she will speak to some in the Melbourne Art Gallery.  She hopes to follow that series by one on Australian authors and dramatists and another on Australian composers and musicians.

From the Australian Dictionary of Biography,

By the 1970s she was recognised as the pioneer of oral history in Australia, yet it was not a term that she favoured. She regarded herself not as an interviewer, but as a recorder of the voices, recollections and ideas of Australians of diverse ages, backgrounds and talents. She brought to this work great energy, enthusiasm, charm and perseverance, often managing to record individuals who were notoriously reticent or reclusive. Her practice of excluding her own voice from the tapes has been criticised, while the brevity of the earlier recordings limits their value. Taken as a whole, however, the de Berg tapes provide a unique record of the voices and memories of hundreds of Australians born between 1865 and 1956.

I’ve been listening to a few of the recordings.  They were not sophisticated by any means and this adds to their charm.  In the sessions with May Gibbs (then over 90 years old) you can hear traffic noise and bird sounds from her garden.  The recordings of people who knew Henry Lawson give some of the back story away. Dame Mary Gilmore (in her late nineties at the time of recording) is adamant that Henry used some of her own family’s stories to create his – The Drover’s Wife being a case in point.  Casually she drops in the odd gem – “He wanted to marry me of course”.

In 1960, Doris Fitton, actress and founder of the Independent Theatre, recorded her memories in a strong voice that was in no need of amplification from the stage.

May Gibbs (illustrator and creator of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie) had several starts for her sessions recorded in 1968, apologising for her hoarse voice brought on by fatigue.   “I could draw almost as soon as I could talk”.

There’s John O’Grady – author of “They’re a Weird Mob” using his pen name of Nino Culotta. Norman Lindsay, George Johnston, photographer David Moore and many many more.  Hazel de Berg interviewed many people shortly before their lives ended.  What might we have missed if she had not had such an enthusiasm for carting around a tape recorder and collecting their wisdom.


11 June 2013

I was thrilled to receive this comment from Hazel de Berg’s daughter, Diana Ritch.  It gives some insight into the characteristics that Hazel applied to her work, none the least of which was the determination to achieve quality sound reproduction and to not accept no for an answer.  Thanks also to Diana for sharing more about the story of May Gibbs’ interview.

Diana Ritch has also contributed interviews to the National Library’s collection.  You’ll find them here.

Hazel de Berg was my mother and I was delighted to read your article. We, her family, are very proud of her, and my brother, sister and I grew up with her recordings as an important part of our lives. They are frequently used for radio and television programmes, and as research material for books and articles. It’s great that they are being made more accessible on line and will be enjoyed by many more people.
Mum didn’t put her voice on the recordings as she wanted the listener to feel that the person was speaking directly to them and they were not listening to an interview between two people. She went to a lot of trouble to get good quality sound on her recordings, using the best available equipment, and once even getting a group of road workers to stop drilling while she was doing a recording.

You mentioned the recording of May Gibbs. Doesn’t she have a strong voice! Not knowing Mum, she didn’t want to be interviewed, so Mum rang her every day for a month and eventually was asked “Hazel, why don’t you come over and bring your tape recorder?” When she arrived May Gibbs was in the garden and she wanted Mum to sit on a cushion on the steps and record her there, which she did. Hence the bird sounds.
I’m glad you enjoyed her work and appreciated the quality of material in the collection.

Best wishes
Diana Ritch

C J Dennis – sometime illustrator

Somehow or other (and I know not why) I keep finding references (see here and here) to C J Dennis, Australian poet, journalist, columnist and now, I discover, author of children’s stories and a bit of an illustrator.

Here’s a photograph of him from The State Library of Victoria (out of copyright) taken c 1893.

download (1)

I came across these drawing by Dennis through Trove from The State Library of Victoria’s collection.  Again, all out of copyright so happily shared here.

The first one is a simple pencil drawing from “A Book for Kids” one of several children’s books Dennis wrote.  It’s called Going to School.  You’ll find the illustrations as they appeared in the book (via Project Gutenberg) below with the poem itself.

download (2)

Going to school

text - Going to School - C J Dennis

home from school

These coloured drawings (links here and here) were gifts from Mrs Greitje Croll to the Library. Both drawings were gifts from Dennis to Mrs Croll’s father-in-law, Robert Henderson Croll.

C J Dennis - My dog (after rabbits)

My dog (after rabbits) – C J Dennis

Just dossin - C J Dennis

Just dossin – C J Dennis


The Project Gutenberg has a copy of “The Glugs of Gosh” (1917) in its free e-book collection.  The illustrations for that book were rendered by Hal Gye.  On 16 June 1923, The Mail (Adelaide) published an article by C J Dennis praising the talents of Gye as an artist.

The Glugs of Gosh - book coverGlugs of Gosh - front cover Old Gosh Rhyme

The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Glugs of Gosh, by C. J. Dennis
Project Gutenberg's A Book for Kids, by C. J. (Clarence Michael James) Dennis
These eBooks are for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no
restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the
terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at

Mary Grant Bruce – children’s author

Mary Grant BruceThe publication of Mary Grant Bruce‘s first book, The Little Bush Maid was reported in The Traralgon Record on 14 October 1910.  The following excerpt is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography‘s listing on Bruce.

A Little Bush Maid - review

Australian Dictionary of Biography

Although she wrote many books, her most famous were the Billabong series, begun when she was writing weekly stories for the children’s pages of the Leader, where A Little Bush Maid first appeared in serial form. The story proved so successful that the Linton family was launched. At her editor’s suggestion she posted the completed novel to Ward, Lock & Co. in London where it was published in 1910 under the authorship ‘Mary‘, regarded as more marketable than ‘Minnie’.

On the centenary of Mary Grant Bruce’s birth, The Australian Women’s Weekly published a tribute article, making reference to the last of Bruce’s books – Billabong Riders published in 1942. The photograph shows Bruce on the left with a friend around 1900 when she was 22 years old.

Mary Grant Bruce’s books are very collectible.  The International League of Antiquarian Bookstores has some notes here about collecting her works, including first editions.

Mary Grant Bruce - bicycleLast book MGB

words and pictures – Mary Poppins

Helen Lyndon Goff (or P L Travers as she became known) was born in Maryborough in Queensland in 1899.  Her character Mary Poppins appeared in print in late 1934 with outline illustrations by Mary Shepard.  Mary was the daughter of E H Shepard who drew for A A Milne.

The colour print here is from a 2009 State Library of NSW exhibit.  The short review appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 9 February 1935.

Sydney Morning Herald 9 February 1935

Image: State Library of NSW

the great Australian poetry hoax

The Ern Mally edition of Angry Penguins.This 1944 Autumn edition of Angry Penguins featured a painting of Sidney Nolan’s on the cover.  (Image from ABC Radio National’s Bookshow where you can also find an audio download about the hoax poems included in the publication).

Angry Penguins was the creation of Max Harris and his editorial committee – John Reed, Sunday Reed and Sidney Nolan.  This edition featured the work of Ern Malley whose work had been introduced to Harris by his ‘sister’ Ethel.  But things weren’t necessarily as they seemed.

The Mail – 17 June 1944

Mr. Brian Elliott, lecturer in Australian literature at the Adelaide University, has challenged Mr. Max Harris to prove the existence of Ern Malley, a poet ‘discovered’ by Harris. (The Max Harris link is to the Professional Historians Association of South Australia)

The mystery of Ern Malley is causing concern in literary circles not only in Adelaide, but through out Australia. The reason is that the poems are good, whoever wrote them. Some of them were included in the anthology of Australian verse collected by the American poet, Harry Roskelenko, and published in New York by Henry Vinnal.

AN alleged life story of Malley, together with all his poems, appears in the latest issue of ‘Angry Penguins.’ published by Reed & Harris.   ………… Harris says:— ‘Recently I was sent two poems from a Miss Ethel Malley, who wrote saying they were found among her brother’s possessions after his death on July 23, 1943. Someone suggested to her that they might be of value, and that she send them to me for an opinion. ‘At this stage I knew nothing about the author at all, but I was immediately impressed that here was a poet of tremendous power working through a disciplined and restrained kind of statement into the deepest wells of human ex perience.’ ………… Adelaide University students who have seen the original of this letter and the original poems say that if it is a hoax it is an elaborately prepared one, as these documents appear to be genuine.

James McAuley and Harold Stewart were the young hoaxers.

The Morning Bulletin – Rockhampton – 4 July 1944 and Adelaide Advertiser of the same date reported on the bogus doctorate awarded to the fictitious poet.


The two cheerful and healthy-minded young graduates of the Sydney University who perpetrated the much-discussed “Ern Malley” hoax, and who thus blew to smithereens the irritating pretensions and incomprehensible philosophy of a school of so-called “modern poetry,” are deserving, perhaps, of some higher distinction than the bogus doctorate conferred upon them by “the Sydney University Oxometrical Society.”   But the authors of the “Ern Malley” documents, who labored so hard to make his pretended “poems” the most arrant gibberish, and whose highest expectations must have been exceeded when a laboriously bad skit on bad verse was hailed as the work of  “a giant of contemporary Australian poetry,” will not wear the trappings, if any, of  “doctors of oxometry,” with an ill grace. The one thing that remains to be thought of, is the invention of a fitting academic award for the poetasters and other literary quidnuncs [a self-important newsmonger and gossip] who took the fictitious “Ern Malley” to their bosoms, swearing that he was a genius after their own hearts, and implying, in the usual way, that all who ventured to pronounce him childish and incomprehensible, would but betray their own pathetic lack of aesthetic taste and spiritual perception. A wooden spoon or a leather medal, might conceivably meet the case.

Blinky Bill on Project Gutenberg Australia

Further to my post of 3 March 2011, here’s a link to the full text of Blinky Bill, courtesy of Project Gutenberg Australia.

He ate—and ate—and ate those gum-tips.

Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included.

Australian children’s books

Dorothy Wall was preparing for the Christmas publication of her illustrated series of Blinky Bill books in August 1933.


The author-artist is at present engaged in a series of children’s illustrated books, the first of which, “Blinkie Bill,” will be published for Christmas by Messrs Angus and Robertson. She has also done the illustrations for another book, “Jacko, the Broadcasting Kookaburra,” by Dr Brooke-Nicholls, to be published next week.  Illustration: “Blinky Bill,” the Koala, and his mother in sad circumstances, as sketched by the artist.





To mark Children’s Book Week in 1952, Kathleen Commins wrote this piece on Australian children’s literature with observations and recommendations of old favourites and new writers.

We can claim at least one world classic-from the pen of Norman Lindsay. His “Magic Pudding,” first published by Angus and Robertson in 1918, is as fresh and joyous to-day as ever.

The Magic Pudding stands the test of time as a children’s story.  Sadly Angus and Robertson (together with its contemporary partner Borders Australia) is currently under administration after a long history in Australia.

A few titles such as Cole’s Funny Picture Book are mentioned.  I’m sure that this publication, popular as it was in its time for its puzzles and conundrums, does not hold the following fundamentals as outlined in the article.  If you head over here to White Hat, you’ll read a bit more about E W Cole and the views and attitudes that crept into these picture books.

In a world of shifting values, certain fundamentals remain the same. This is particularly true of publishing for young people. Here the old values stand as strong as ever. There must, as always, be children’s books to satisfy the imagination and books to awaken and strengthen the children’s interest in things as they are. A good book for a child is a good book for anyone. It must be genuine, something that will not only interest a child, but something in which he can believe, something to make him think a little more.

The enduring character of Ginger Meggs

Courier Mail – 1 Feb 1934

What do Ginger Meggs and Ethel Turner, the author of Seven Little Australians, have in common?  According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography “before World War I, she had planned to start a children’s newspaper; in 1920 she suggested the idea to the editor of the Sydney Sun; when it fell through, she edited (1921-31) ‘Sunbeams’, the children’s page in the Sunday Sun.”

The Ginger Meggs website adds to the story.

In her book, The Diaries of Ethel Turner, Philippa Poole detailed how Turner had approached The Sun about starting a children’s paper, Rising Sun, in July 1919 but nothing had happened. In September 1921 she agreed to edit the new children’s section Sunbeams, but only on the understanding that the children’s paper would follow. The four-page Sunbeams section was first published on October 9, 1921 and on November 13, 1921 a comic section was added without Turner’s consent.

That comic strip – Us Fellers – penned by Jimmy Bancks, appeared on Sunbeams’  back page.  Ethel Turner was reportedly unhappy with the content.  Us Fellers became Ginger Meggs,  the character which still appears regularly in newspapers across Australia.  After Banck’s death, the cartoonist’s baton passed to Ron Vivian, then to Lloyd Piper, James Kemsley and more recently to Ginger’s current artist Jason Chatfield.