C.J. Dennis

C.J. Dennis

The first poet to capture the Australian national spirit.

Clarence Michael James Dennis, of Irish descent, was the son of James, born 1824 and Catherine, nee Tobin and was born on 7 September 1876 at the District Hotel in Auburn. Three days later, on 10 September he was christened by Father Anthony Strele at Sevenhill. Clarence was the first son of his father's second marriage. James Dennis had previously been married to Mary Anne Cronin. There were two children from this marriage, Antoinette who died in 1865 and Michael John who died in 1867. Both were only ten months old.

Mary Anne died on 23 August 1874, aged thirty-nine and was buried at Undalya. James married Catherine, who was twenty-four, in 1875. After Clarence birth there were two more children born, Francis in 1880 and Claud in 1886. Catherine died in 1890, aged also thirty-nine and James died, aged ninety-two, in 1910. Both were buried at the West Terrace Cemetery in Adelaide. At the death of his mother, Clarence or Clarrie was only fourteen years old and was raised by his aunts in Mintaro, who would not allow him to play with other children as they wanted him to become a gentleman.

In 1883 his father, James Dennis, took the family to Gladstone, where he ran the Gladstone Hotel. In 1890 they moved again, this time to Laura where James became the publican of the Beetaloo Reservoir Hotel. After finishing his education, Dennis tried several different jobs, including that of clerk for a Laura solicitor, barman and working for The Critic, an Adelaide weekly journal.

His time at Laura later resulted in 'The Singular Experiences of Six Sturdy Sportsmen', which was published in the Laura newspaper. Some of his earliest writings were published in The Critic in 1898. From 1901-1905 he worked again for The Critic, the last year as editor. In 1906, at the age of 29, he launched The Gadfly with 16 year old A.E. Martin. The first issue came off the press on 14 February and lasted for just three years. The last issue was printed on 24 February 1909.

From the end of 1907 he worked as a freelance journalist at Toolangi, where he remained until his death in Melbourne on 22 June 1938. While at Toolangi, where he lived in a shack or old tramcar, he worked for different Melbourne newspapers and wrote several articles for The Bulletin, including 'Spring song of a bloke' in 1913.

He wrote 'The Austra-laise' in 1908. His publication of 'Backblock Ballads' in 1913 was not a success but two years later he did much better with 'The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke'. Within 18 months it sold more than 66,000 copies in Australia. Several thousand copies were later also sold overseas, including England, Canada and America.

It was later made into a stage play and film. Its sequel 'The Moods of Ginger Mick' was written in 1916 especially for the Australians serving in the AIF. 'Doreen' was completed in the following year. They brought in enough money for him to be able to get married in 1917 to Olive Harron. The 'Singing Garden' of 1935, which is not as well known, was one of his best works.

In his foreword to the Sentimental Bloke, Henry Lawson wrote; The bloke is more perfect than any alleged larrikin or Bottle-O character I have ever attempted to sketch, not even excepting my own beloved Benno.

When C.J. Dennis died, at the age of sixty-two in 1938, he had produced several thousand poems and other works. He is buried at Boxhill Cemetery near Melbourne. After his death, Prime Minister J. Lions said; He created characters which have become immortal and he captured the true Australian spirit. Already his work is world famous and future generations will treasure it.

In his introduction to the latest edition of a Sentimental Bloke, Jack Thompson writes, To read and listen to the stories of The Bloke and Doreen and Ginger Mick is to enter an optimistic world, a world full of pleasure. I hope that a new generation of Australians will come to admire and value CJ Dennis'contribution to our national heritage and character as I do.


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