McQueen, Humphrey: on CJ Dennis (1977)

McQueen, Humphrey

‘Sentimental thoughts of “A moody bloke”‘, Gallipoli to Petrov: Arguing with Australian History, George Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1984, pp. 23-34 (pdf of out-of-copyright material made available by the author)

This piece was originally written in 1977. (You will need to rotate the view on the pdf.) It discusses CJ Dennis’s Sentimental Bloke and other works against the background of Great War Australia and Dennis’s own mercurial and contradictory personality. McQueen believes Dennis did not find war ‘uplifting or exciting’ and felt that the ‘real battle for Australia’ would begin after the war as returned men tried to adjust. In the poem ‘A letter to the front’ (1915) in The Moods of Ginger Mick, Dennis writes

Then there’s another fight to fight, and you will find it tough

To doff the khaki for a suit of plain civilian stuff.

When all the cheering dies away and hero-worship wanes,

You’ll have to face the old drab life and fight for other gains;

For still your land will need you, as she needs each sturdy son.

To fight the fight that never knows the firing of a gun –

The quiet fight, the steady fight, when you shall prove your worth,

And milk a cow on Yarra Flats or drive a quill in Perth.

The complete poem is well worth a read. It is read here by cartoonist First Dog on the Moon (Andrew Marlton).

The piece also discusses Dennis’s attitudes to class conflict. He ‘was torn between his long-standing radicalism and an ineradicable fear of proletarian power’.

Honest History records its appreciation to Humphrey McQueen for making his private archives available to Honest History.


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