[Editor: This article includes both a poem and a letter by C. J. Dennis; it was published in The Laura Standard and Crystal Brook Courier (Laura, SA), 1 July 1932.]
Clarrie Dennis’ message to Lauraites.
Dreaming to-day in a forest green
Where the great gums rake the sky,
My thoughts turn back to another scene
And to old days, long gone by;
To a land of youth, and a youth’s employ,
And — to filch another’s phrase —
To the men who were boys, when I was a boy,
In the long gone Laura days.
To a little town that nestles down
By the hills of Beetaloo,
Where a youth dreamed dreams of fair renown
And a man’s ambition grew.
’Twas here his earliest songs were sung
And he won his earliest praise
From men who were young when he was young
In the long gone Laura days.
Spicer, Stockdale, Ballantyne,
Marrie, Mitchell and Braund;
How many a right good pal of mine
Has gone from that sunlit land.
How many a man, how many a lad,
Whose head now slowly greys,
To a song grew glad as I grew glad
In those long gone Laura days.
Susman, Sibly, and Dr. Cook,
Blume and Barrington,
Oh! the lives of some are a long-closed book,
But many a tale runs on.
Hollis and Harvey, Chandler, Green
Are gone their various ways,
But I see them all in the olden scene
Of the long gone Laura days.
I see them still, I see the town
Under those scrub-clad hills,
The shops where the quiet street runs down,
Wilson, Rowland, Bills,
Taylor, Weste, Felstead too.
Cole of the kindly ways,
And many another friend I knew
In the long gone Laura days.
And the names of some come slow to mind,
But the faces greet me clear,
And I hold them all as men most kind,
As I hold the old town dear;
And so in memory to the end
That old time picture stays,
For I see each face as a faithful friend
Of the far off Laura days.
To the ladies all I lift a glass,
And toast with a right good will,
Every matron, every lass, who
Shine in memory still,
Fair would I hymn them all in rhyme
With soaring song of praise,
Friends of my friends of an olden time
In the long gone Laura days.
When the evening sun slants through the gums,
By my forest-rimmed abode,
Once more the old clear picture comes,
And my mind drifts down the road;
Back to the town by Beetaloo,
Where the Rocky River strays,
Back to the old kind friends I knew
In the dear dead Laura days.
* * * *
Mr. W. J. C. Cole, who for 19 years was editor-proprietor of the “Laura Standard;” for six years in succession Mayor of Laura, holding that office in the year that the town celebrated its Silver Jubilee, rendered to the Laura Jubilee Celebration Committee splendid service as its Adelaide representative during the period of preparation for the celebrations which took place from June 22 to 28 inclusive.
In responding to the toast at the “Re-Union Social and Welcome Home,” which inaugurated the Golden-Jubilee Celebrations at the Laura Town Hall on Wednesday, June 22, of “Laura’s Ex-Mayors and Councillors” Mr. Cole said he hoped to have been able to have conveyed a message to Laura residents from C. J. Dennis, the writer of “The Sentimental Bloke” and other works of Australian verse, who as a young man was a resident of Laura, and whose earliest verses were published in the columns of the “Laura Standard.” He had received a telegram from Mr. Dennis that this message had been posted from Victoria, but it had not reached Laura. On Thursday afternoon Mr. Cole received the following from Mr. C. J. Dennis, which we have pleasure in publishing:—
18th June, 1932.
Dear Mr. Cole — I can think of no man whom I should prefer to yourself in seeking a deputy to deliver a little message to my very good friends of the old Laura days. Particularly this is since you have the distinction (if it is a distinction) of being the very first to put any of my verse into print. I would not care to reckon how many printers have had cause to curse my MS. since that far day; but there have been a goodly few.
In greeting my old friends of those somewhat unregenerate days, it would seem to be a trite thing to say that I shall be with them in spirit, though not in fact. But that really does express my feelings because it happens in this case to be true. I should like very much to have the happiness of being in Laura when so many well- and often-remembered people are there. But I should like to assure my friends that, though very many and varied interests have necessarily entered my life since those early days, those days are often and happily recalled when I am in a mood to voyage fancifully upstream into the pleasanter places of what is now becoming a moderately long life.
It has been said of a writer that he gets a little of something from every person and every place with which and with whom he comes in contact. I believe that, to a certain extent, this is true, and I do know that in the subsequent winnowing I gained much from my early experience in Laura. Most of my old friends have since, consciously or unconsciously, been made to pay tribute, but, I think I can honestly say, to the detriment of none.
The more I see of, and the deeper I study my fellow men the greater becomes my admiration, and my gratitude, for friends in the country places of Australia. And, of all country places I know, Laura still remains for me the place of most pleasant memory. Since I was then a long way from knowing it myself, my friends — particularly my elder friends — of those old days could scarcely have been blamed for failing to recognise that they had “a child among them taking notes” which he might conceivably use long years afterwards in seeking atmosphere and character. But I suppose it was so, in a limited sense at any rate.
Instead of this, I rather fear that my friends of those days were much more apt to recognise in me a somewhat wild and shiftless youth heading for nowhere in particular — or for somewhere very spectacular — with great expedition and enthusiasm. Happily there was a fork in the road a little further along and the youth happened to fluke the right turning. But I do not recommend the course to the younger generation of the old town. I have seen too many since who missed the turn. But despite the many head-shakings and rather gloomy prophesies of those far days, which a foolish youth might be expected to resent, I have none but the pleasantest memories of my life among the good people of Laura.
In sifting those memories — as I very often do — I can discover nought that could be set down in malice, but a very great deal that gives me constant happiness to recall. I have endeavored to convey something of this in a more particular and personal manner in some rather hurried verse which I am sending along at the request of Miss Ruby Spicer.
Will you kindly convey to those of my old Laura friends who are left my heartiest greetings and my most sincere wishes for their continued happiness and prosperity. I should like to deliver this message personally to each individually, and at the same time to revisit many old spots that are still green in memory and also, I hope, in fact. But fate orders otherwise.
— Yours truly, C. J. DENNIS.
The Laura Standard and Crystal Brook Courier (Laura, SA), 1 July 1932, p. 1
Beetaloo = the Beetaloo Reservoir (in South Australia, west of Laura); also, the Beetaloo district (SA), Beetaloo Valley (SA)
a child among them taking notes = (or “a child amongst them taking notes”) this phrase refers to a situation where a child, an innocent, or an outsider is in the company of others, remembering what they say and do, taking notes, and perhaps reporting on those observations and occurrences to others; the phrase comes from the poem “On the Late Captain Grose’s Peregrinations thro’ Scotland Collecting the Antiquities of that Kingdom”, by Robert Burns, which includes the lines “A chield’s amang you takin notes, And, faith, he’ll prent it” (A fellow is among you taking notes, And, faith, he’ll print it)
MS. = abbreviation of “manuscript”
Rocky River = a river in South Australia
To the men who were boys, when I was a boy = a phrase from the poem “The South Country”, by Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953), which includes the lines “And the men that were boys when I was a boy, walking along with me”
See: 1) Hilaire Belloc, “The South Country”, Bartleby.com
2) Hilaire Belloc, “The South Country”, in: E. V. Lucas, Highways and Byways in Sussex, London: Macmillan and Co., 1904, pp. 72-74
’twas = (archaic) a contraction of “it was”
[Editor: Changed “souring song of praise” to “soaring song of praise” (the other two instances of this poem, published in 1932, use the word “soaring”); “Particularly is this to since you” to “Particularly this is since you”; “curse by MS.” to “curse my MS.”; “hather hurried” to “rather hurried”; “the request am Miss Ruby” to “the request of Miss Ruby”. Changed the single quotation mark before “The Sentimental Bloke” into a double quotation mark.]
[Editor: The original text has been separated into paragraphs.]