Sunday, June 17, 2007

Henry Lawson turns 140

Today according to Australian Eastern Standard Time when this item was posted

Give me a pound a column, and a drop to clear my throat,
An' I will write the reddest song as ever poet wrote.

1867 Henry Lawson (d. September 2, 1922), Australian's best-known writer of short stories and verse, noted for his realistic portrayals of bush life and the revolutionary politics of his earlier writing.

Henry Lawson was born dirt-poor in a bark hut on the goldfields at Grenfell, New South Wales. Likewise, he died in abject poverty, under a tree in his garden, and Prime Minister William Morris Hughes ordered one of the grandest State funerals ever seen in Australia, and the first for a writer, which was attended by many thousands in St Andrew's Cathedral and out on the streets of Sydney (picture of funeral).

Years later, his face was on Australia's $10 note, only to be removed and replaced with that of his conservative friend and The Bulletin magazine poetic sparring partner, Banjo Paterson. On the reverse of today's $10 note is one-time Communist Mary Gilmore, who Lawson once asked to marry him, but was refused. She changed her mind soon after she had sailed to Paraguay to live on the William Lane-led radical communal experiment, New Australia, but by then it was too late as Lawson had married the daughter of two of Australia's most famous fiery radicals, William and Bertha McNamara.

Henry Lawson's mother was the pioneer feminist and 'Mother of Women's Suffrage', Louisa Lawson (1848 - 1920), publisher/editor of the progressive women's journal, Dawn (a “paper in which women may express their own opinions on political and social questions”), which Henry Lawson printed in its earliest editions. His brother-in-law was another fiery labor man, Jack Lang, who became Premier of New South Wales in 1925.

When female Australian British subjects (with the glaring exception of Asians, Aborigines and Africans) won the vote with the Uniform Franchise Act (June 16, 1902), Louisa Lawson was hailed by her political sisters as "The Mother of Womanhood Suffrage", in the first country in the world to grant women the right to vote and stand for election. Unlike many suffragists and feminists of her day, she did not come from a privileged background but from the shanties of rural Australia. Dawn was a monthly journal that lasted for 17 years, employed a staff of ten and mostly published the writings of Henry Lawson’s remarkable mother.

Henry Lawson lived much of his life in poverty and alcoholic despair, but even during his lifetime he was acknowledged as a poetic genius, much-loved by the Australian people who until recently had a strong poetic culture. In his lifetime, he was probably Australia's most famous person. With Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson (1864 - 1941), he is Australia's national poet and the two names are often said together. His poetry, however, like his short stories (he was prolific in both genres), has much more of a radical bent than that of Banjo. The two men were friendly rivals and a famous poetic duel ('Up the Country'), was fought publicly between them in The Bulletin. Paterson's poem romanticised the Aussie outback; Henry Lawson, ever the cynic-realist, answered decrying its harshness, poverty and social injustice ...

Read on at the Henry and Louisa Lawson page at the Scriptorium.

My photos of the 50th Annual Lawson festival, Grenfell, 2007

The Louisa Lawson and Henry Lawson Online Chronology is, as far as we know, the largest Lawson website.

Read for free

This being Henry's 140th birthday, I am serializing my 52-chapter novel, 'Faces in the Street'. My novel's two central characters are Henry Lawson and his suffragette mother, Louisa Lawson ("Mother of Women's Suffrage"). It's being well received -- you can read the reviews here. It will make a good gift for people who like to read historical fiction.

From later today, I will be sending out (no charge, of course) one chapter every Sunday for the next year to members of the Wilson's Almanac free daily ezine. If you'd like this seralized novel and sign up for it, but sign up too late for Chapter One, you can read it here, and all archived posts will be here.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Henry Lawson's birthday was commemorated on a Siberian phorum:

7:03 PM  
Blogger Pip said...

Well I'll be blowed! Thanks for letting me know.

8:11 PM  

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