About C.J. Dennis
CLARENCE MICHAEL JAMES (C.J.) Dennis, poet, was born on 7 September 1876 at Auburn, South Australia, first of three sons of James Dennis, an Irish immigrant.
Dennis began writing for several South Australian magazines and gained recognition for his unique pungent style. He contributed over 200 items of verse and prose until his departure for Melbourne in November 1907.
A Freelance journalist plagued by poor health, lack of money and bouts of heavy drinking, Dennis camped with artist Hal Waugh at Toolangi, in the hills forty-five miles (72 km) north-east of Melbourne in 1908. Toolangi was to be home for most of the remainder of his life.
He and his wife settled on a few acres bounded by the Yea River where he and others planted the exquisite"Singing Gardens" which is now maintained as a local tourist attraction A literary friend, invited Dennis to camp in an old tramway bus at nearby Kallista, where under he pen name "Den"' wrote much of "The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke."
Published in October 1915, "The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke" was an immediate success and made Dennis as famous as Banjo Peterson and Henry Lawson. Still regarded as one of Australia's literary masterpieces, in its day the "Sentimental Bloke" broke all publishing records in this country and overseas. Just as important was the timing of the publication; it reached a public depressed by enormous war casualties.
Thousands of copies of the 'trench' pocket edition were sent to overseas troops. The work was widely recited, produced as silent (1918) and sound (1932) films, a stage play (1922), a musical (1961), and many gramophone recordings and radio and television programmes. "The Sentimental Bloke" had phenomenal success because of the wide appeal of the sentiment and humour in its simple love story.
Dennis' characters like Doreen, Ginger Mick and Digger Smith all became household names. A master wordsmith, Dennis wrote many popular childrens poems which showed his ability to write creatively and amusingly in rhyme and meter. It is estimated that Dennis wrote over 5000 poems, many for published in the Melbourne Herald.
An asthma sufferer for several years Dennis died in a private hospital in Melbourne on 22 June 1938 of cardio-respiratory failure. His grave at Box Hill bears an extract from The Singing Garden:
"Now is the healing, quiet hour that fills
This gay, green world with peace and grateful rest."
Memorials have been raised in Melbourne and Auburn, South Australia, and the centenary of his birth was celebrated in 1976 by various competitions, books, articles, readings and exhibitions. The C.J. Dennis Society was formed in 2010 and is steadily growing.