CJ Dennis is my favourite Australian poet. In his books such as The Sentimental Bloke, Ginger Mick and Digger Smith he depicts the ordinary working men and women of the time.
These books are written in dialect verse which can take a little to get used to but once the reading is mastered it adds more to the depicting the characters than if it had been written in plain English.
For those who have difficulty in understanding the Australian slang of the day he uses there is a glossary at the back of the book.
Digger Smith is the sequel to Ginger Mick who was lost at Gallipoli. Unlike Mick, Smith returns from World War 1 but has lost a leg in the war and considers himself “’arf a man”.
The story is told by the Bloke (Dennis’ character from “The Sentimental Bloke”) and through his eyes and those of his wife Doreen we understand the difficulty Smith experiences.
There is clear depiction of the attitudes of the working class of the time to WWI. However, it is not just about the war, it is about mothers and sweethearts left behind and the struggle they also endured. It is about the after effects on the men of the men who fought.
There is tenderness expressed by The Bloke, Doreen and the other characters in the way they care for their neighbours and .supporting them through hard times.
It shows the compassion and wisdom of the common people in a humorous way that you will want to read over and over again.
There are simple lessons to be learnt from each poem for example in “Over the fence” the Bloke and his neighbour ‘ole man Poole’ start arguing about politics. When they are well into the argument Digger Smith comes along and reminds them that there s a war being fought:
“We’ve seen a thing or two, us blokes ‘oove fought on many fronts;
An’ we’ve ‘ad time to think a bit between the fighting stunts.
We’ve seen big things, an’ thought big things, an’ al the silly fuss,
That used to get us rattled once, seems very small to us.
“An’ when a bloke’s fought for a land an’ gets laid on the shelf
It pains ‘im to come ‘ome an’ find it scrapping with itself;
An’ scrapping all for nothin’, or for things that look so small –
To us, ‘oo’ve been in bigger things, they don’t seem reel at all
My favourite poem in the book is “A Digger’s Tale”. It is the story of when Smith is in England on Blighty’:
“Us Aussies was the goods in London town
When I was there. If they jist twigged yer ‘at
The Dooks would ask yeh could yeh keep one down,
An’ Earls would ‘ang out ‘Welcome’ on the mat,
An’‘ sling yeh invites to their stately ‘alls
For fancy balls
A duchess asks him to tell her more about Australia. After he tells her about breeding boomerangs, driving kangaroos “four-in-‘and” and other tall tales, he discovers she is an Aussie girl, “marri’d to an Earl” when she replies:
“ ‘I reckerlect,’ she sez – ‘Now, let me see-
In Gippsland, long ago, when I was young,
I ‘ad a little pet Corroboree,’
(I sits up in me chair like I was stung)
‘On its ‘ind legs,’ she sez, ‘it used to stand.
Fed from me ‘and
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