orn in Auburn, South Australia on 7th September, 1876, Clarence, Michael, James, or as he preferred C J, grew up mainly in the care of several maiden aunts with his Irish father being an ex mariner turned publican. After working as a journalist and at other occupations in Adelaide and Broken Hill he contributed verse and articles to the Bulletin and helped found the Gadfly, a bitingly funny journal. As a poet he was sometimes known as Australia’s ‘Laureate of the Larrikin’.
He achieved fame in 1915 with The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke, a collection of humorous colloquial verse telling the story of Bill, a larrikin lured from his wild ways into domestic bliss with Doreen. The book was an immediate success and proved very popular with the homesick Australian troops fighting in Europe in World War 1.
|C. J. Dennis Memorial|
The Moods of Ginger Mick (1916) was equally successful, especially the pocket edition printed for the troops, followed by Digger Smith (1918) and A Book for Kids (1921). Ginger Mick was the archetypical larrikin who, when lying dying on a French battlefield, turned to his cobber, Trent and said "Look after Rose when I move on".
From 1922 he was on the staff of the Melbourne Herald writing poetry and when he died in 1938 many eulogies described him as Australia’s national poet. The Victorian Government instituted, in 1976 the centenary of his birth, the C J Dennis Award, for a book on Australian flora or fauna. Also, a musical version of The Sentimental Bloke was produced for stage and television.
The Sentimental Bloke was featured in a 1983 stripset of Australian postage stamps.
Dennis’ style of writing poetry, though not so popular nowadays, helped change the writing of poetry from rather formal language to everyday speech.
Perhaps there is a bit of C J and the larrikin in all of us Aussies?