Friday, August 7, 2009

Henry Lawson (Thanks, Matt)

For reasons I won't share, the subject of Henry Lawson brings up some negative stuff for me.

It's not Henry Lawson's fault though. I can't blame him.

It's just he reminds me of something I'd rather not think about.

But he's on the list.

And Matt is the one who suggested I write about him. I like Matt a lot. So THAT'S a positive thing.

What do I know about Lawson?

He's a writer.

I think maybe he was an alcoholic.

I think he had a rough life.

Didn't he work for The Bulletin?

I know he wrote short stories. Did he write poetry too? I'm guessing he did.

Well, now I shall go consult Lord Wiki.

Baby Henry was born on 17 June 1867.

He's a Gemini like my niece Darcy.

He's a 9 like my sister Melissa, and my nephew Javier. This is the humanitarian number. Was Henry a humanitarian?

Lawson's birthday is a hundred years and one month before Tim's birthday....minus a day. I'm not sure if I said that right.

Lord Wiki says baby Henry was born in a New South Wales goldfield town called Grenfell. He actually says Henry was born in a town on the goldfields. There is a town today actually called Grenfell;  but maybe Lawson was born in another town within the area?

Grenwell is about forty minutes west of Cowra. Isn't that the place where the Japanese POW people escaped?

Daddy Lawson came from Norway. He arrived in Melbourne in 1855. He met Mommy Lawson at another New South Wales goldfield place. This one is now the town of Eurunderee. That's about three hours north-east of Grenwell.

Mommy Lawson was a writer too. Lord Wiki has an entry on her. I shall read it....

Henry had four siblings. One of them died as a baby.

Henry was the oldest.

Daddy Lawson was out doing the gold mining stuff a lot. Mommy Lawson was often alone with the kids.

Lord Wiki says that in 1882 she took the children and moved to Sydney. Did she separate from her husband? Did they break up? Or did she just relocate the home base while Daddy Lawson was out in the goldfields?

Henry was a teenager when the move took place...about fifteen-years-old.

Mommy Lawson went to work for a radical pro-federation paper called The Republican. She made money from that, and then started a new journal called The Dawn. It was a feminist magazine published monthly; done by women and for women. Henry did contribute some writing to it though.

She was strong in the suffrage movement.

Okay, so now we know that Henry grew up with a feminist mom.

Let's go back to the Henry entry.

Lord Wiki says Mommy and Daddy Lawson had an unhappy marriage. I suppose they did split up then. Or maybe they just stayed unhappily married.

Lawson went to school in that town Mommy and Daddy Lawson had met. Eurunderee. Did they return? Or maybe they always lived there, but they had happened to be in Grenfell when Henry popped out.

When Lawson was about nine, he had an ear-infection that mucked up his hearing. Lord Wiki said he soon became totally deaf. Really? I didn't know that. Like completely deaf? Or completely deaf in one ear?

Lawson later attended a Catholic school in Mudgree. I'm looking at Google Maps again. It's VERY close to Eurunderee. There he learned a lot about reading. It was the best way for him to learn because his deafness made classroom learning difficult. Yeah, I can imagine.

Ah! Lawson hadn't at first gone to Sydney with his mom. He worked with his dad in the Blue Mountains. Then his mom requested that he come to Sydney. I wonder if he wanted to; or if he went out of guilt and obligation.

Lawson wanted to go to University. He worked. He studied. But the poor guy failed his exams. That's inspiring for someone like me. I fail a lot. I get rejected a lot. It's nice to know that some rejected people eventually find success and acceptance.

In 1896, Lawson married a woman named Bertha Bredt. She was the daughter of a prominent Socialist. Here's some exciting trivia. Lawson's sister-in-law married Jack Lang. I actually don't know much about Lang, except that he's famous for some reason. Is he the one who opened the Harbour Bridge? Or maybe he's the one who was supposed to open the Harbour Bridge, but someone else came along and did it?

I need to go read this. Hold on.....

Okay. Lang was planning to cut the bridge ribbon, but some extremely right-wing guy came up on his horse and took the honor away from Lange. Well, at least I THINK the right-wing came up on a horse. Lord Wiki says he galloped up. He could have galloped with his own feet. That image is making me laugh. I might be laughing all day about this.

Sometimes I'm easily amused.

Now for Lawson's writing career....

At the age of twenty he had his first poem published. It was called "A Song of the Republic". That was published in The Bulletin. I don't like poetry much, but I don't mind this one.I at least understand what it's saying.

From 1890-1891, Lawson worked in Albany. I guess he wasn't yet rich and successful from his writing. He probably needed a day job.

Wow. I THOUGHT Albany was in Western Australia, but then I, that's too far away. Maybe there is an Albany in New South Wales. I started thinking there was, but I was probably thinking of Albury.

Why did Lawson go so far west? Or maybe he didn't go. Is there a mistake? I'll probably figure out more later.

It seems he didn't stay long...all that travel for nothing. He went to Brisbane to work on a newspaper (or magazine?) there. That was called Boomerang. The job didn't last long, because Boomerang didn't last long.

Lawson returned to Sydney to do The Bulletin. The Bulletin paid for him to travel inland. There he got to witness the droughts. This greatly influenced his later writing.

Lord Wiki says that Banjo Paterson gave an idealistic portrait of the bush...a place where scenery is beautiful and people are brave. Lawson gave a more realist view....a bit grim and all that.

Lawson wrote things called sketch stories. They're stories that are more about describing people, scenes, and situations. They don't contain much plot.

In his later years, Lawson was quite famous. Lord Wiki says he might have been Australia's most well-known celebrity. He was also a drunk.

I guess he was famous, but not rich and famous. Lord Wiki says he did some begging, often at Circular Quay. I wonder if his spirit haunts the ferry terminals.

The guy really had a tough life. He was famous. Yet he was poor and depressed. Lord Wiki says the financial problems were due to bad royalty deals with publishers. Then his ex-wife got on to him about child support. Lawson ended up in jail (or gaol...if you prefer). He wrote a poem about his prison experiment called "One Hundred and Three". The title refers to his prison number.

Here's a video of the poem. It's eerie. Someone has made it look like Lawson is reciting the poem. Special effects stuff...... Well, I guess if they can make a pig talk, a dead poet can speak as well.

Can you imagine someone being so famous...their work loved. Yet they're suffering in poverty? Can you imagine JK Rowling begging for money at the train stations?

The good news in all of this is someone came through for Lawson. In a world of fair weather friends, a woman reached out to Lawson. It seems they met when Lawson sought out a room at a coffee palace in North Sydney. What is a coffee palace?

Oh.... Maybe it was the name of the Inn.

Lawson became friends with the owner of the coffee palace place....Isabella Byer. She did all kinds of stuff to help him. She helped him get visitation with his children. She helped negotiate more money from publishers. She helped solicit funds from his friends and family.

That's beautiful.

I wish we ALL have friends like that.

I wish I was a friend like that. I'm a good friend in terms of LISTENING to someone. I'm a shoulder to cry on. I'm not sure I'm so good at actually taking action for someone.

Lawson ended up dying in Byer's home. He had a cerebral hemorrhage. I wonder how that happened? Did he hit his head? Was it an aneurysm?

He had a state funeral and was buried in Waverly Cemetery. Ah. This is the cemetery in Bronte. I think we considered going there, but we ended up avoiding the whole Bondi area.

It looks like a beautiful cemetery. Seeing that actually makes me want to be buried. I mean not that I'm wanting to die right now. But I've always preferred the idea of cremation.

Can an American be buried in an Australian cemetery? Or do you need to have citizenship/residency? I'm just thinking if I can't ever move to Australia as a living person, maybe I can do it when I'm dead.

I doubt that's possible though.

Well, I think I'm going to move on to another website. Maybe the biographical dictionary one....

Here we go. This site always has interesting facts. It's like reading celebrity gossip.

Lawson was born soon after his parents got married. I mean it wasn't a shotgun wedding. He was born about a year after their wedding. Early on there was marriage problems.

The family moved a lot because of the gold seeking stuff.

When baby number three was on its way, they settled in Pipeclay. I'm back on Google Maps. Pipeclay is up north. It's near Port Macquarie.

Mommy Lawson opened up a post office. Daddy Lawson did building work in Mudgee.

Mudgee is seven hours away from Pipeclay. That's a pretty long distance.

I feel I'm missing something here.

The website says the absence of his father gave Lawson too much responsibility. Supposedly, this made him introverted.

I don't know about that.

I'm not sure if home life makes a child grow up to be introverted.

I talked about this on my homeschooling blog recently. It's tempting to blame a child's personality on how they are parented or educated....ESPECIALLY if we don't agree with the parenting or education style.

It's tempting to say Oh. Yeah. That child is shy because his dad is rarely around.

But are there not children of difficult marriages who are cheerful and outgoing?

If upbringing and education played such a dominant role in a child's personality, all siblings of the same family would have very similar personalities.

Earlier this summer, I encountered people who want to put so much of mental illness blame on genes. No, it's not the parent's fault! The kids were just born that way. 

And then there's the opposite extreme....people who put too much emphasis on the environment.

As I said in yesterday's post, mental/emotional issues are complicated.

I have two sisters. I'm the most shy. I'm the most socially awkward. I'm the least popular. I've had the most emotional problems.

How can that be if we're all in the same family? We have the same mother and father.

It's easy. We were all born differently.

The parenting that worked fairly well on my two sisters worked less well with me. I was more sensitive. I was more insecure.

My parents were heavy on the invalidation stuff. As I said yesterday, I have a very difficult time handling that. I don't think it bothered my sisters much.

Birth order could play a part too. There's a lot to say about that, but I need to shut up about myself and return to Lawson.

The website says the marriage failings were due too poor communication between Mommy and Daddy Lawson, and Daddy Lawson's frequent absences. Yes! Both of those things can be quite detrimental to the marriage....I think especially the first. Although in those days, the latter probably more than the former. It's not like they had email in those days. They couldn't do much communicating when apart.

His parent's marriage problems left young Henry worried and sad. He spent his time dealing with that rather than hanging out with friends. He was a bit of a recluse.

Again though, I'm sure there are children of difficult marriages who are social and somewhat oblivious to what's going on in their home life.

Lawson's deafness made him even more socially isolated.

From what I'm reading, my impression was that Lawson was born a depressed person. He was not able to deal with adversity. If he had an easier life, would he have been a happier person?

You know what I've been thinking about lately. EVERYONE has had a tough life. There's this Jewish story about that. I forgot the details. I think maybe a person faces a horrible tragedy. They want it overturned. A rabbi (or wise person) says if they can find someone who has had no problems, their tragedy will be erased. The person is unable to find anyone. The lesson is...we ALL have tragedy in our life. We all have tough times.

The other day I tried to think of someone in my life who hasn't had a tragic loss or really difficult situation. I couldn't think of anyone.

But see...we're all not walking around depressed. Some of us still manage to be happy. We eventually stand up, brush ourselves off, and move on with our lives.

I'm definitely not trying to say that sadness is an abnormality...we should all be smiling all the time. I think depression can be a normal reaction to difficult situations. I don't think we should hand out Prozac to everyone so we can have a happy happy world. I think what we need is to recognize that some people have a rougher time handling shit than others.

We say don't judge a person until you've walked in their shoes. But shoes don't just contain situations and events. They also contain personality. What's easy for one person to deal with is almost impossible for another person to deal with.

Lawson couldn't even make the best of an awesome situation...a successful writing career. Even that couldn't make him a happy person.

Lawson, his wife, and their kids spent some time in London. He was trying to further his writing career.

Was he happy in London? No. He was depressed there too. And there was some bad stuff happening. His wife spent time in a mental hospital. Maybe they both had depression issues.....

At one time, Lawson attempted suicide. That was after they returned to Australia. Soon after he and his wife got a divorce.

The website says his writing declined.

This is all very depressing.

Now I'm going to look at the Australia Government site about Lawson.

A biographer of Lawson believed he was bipolar. Maybe? I didn't see much about any manic states. It seems there was more depression. But maybe Lord Wiki and the biography site just didn't talk about the manic times. I don't know. I got the impression of someone who is rarely happy...rarely smiles...sees the worst in everything.

His funeral had crowds of people. Many were there for him when he died. How many were there for him when he was alive? It makes me think of Michael Jackson. In his last years of life, it seemed to me he was ignored, hated, and ridiculed. Then he dies and suddenly there's all these Michael Jackson fans popping out of nowhere.

Anyway, I'm going to be bad and end this here.

I know I should talk more about his actual poems and stories, but I don't feel like it.

I read some of them. They were okay, but not really my type of thing. I think I just liked hearing the Aussie language. The story that stands out to me involved a guy who was always collecting money to help someone else in need. At least I think that was Lawson. I kind of remember a priest as well...or some kind of church leader guy.

Maybe one day I'll go back and read the stories again...but not today.


  1. He was a truly great Aussie story writer.

  2. Andrew,

    Yeah. I know he was much loved...a true Aussie icon.

  3. Hi Dina,
    It does seem as if he had a very hard and difficult life.
    P.S Thanks for the kind words

  4. Matt,

    Yeah. I feel for the guy.

    Maybe in some ways it helped him to know he was so well loved by Australia.

  5. Yes, Lawson was an alcoholic and in today's terms he probably suffered depression as well.

    Lawson's father anglicised his Norwegian name to 'Lawson'.

  6. Henry Lawson,

    Hi! I just checked out your website. Are you one of the guys who did the walk?

    That's pretty amazing.

  7. Hi Dina,

    Yes - you guessed it. Henry Lawson is just my pseudonym and I was one of the guys who did the walk but I'm not going to spoil the mystery by telling you which one!

    On the walk, we discussed, among other things, how people from other countries would most likely not know Lawson or be able to appreciate his work, so it was a great surprise to find your blog on Google.

    I enjoyed reading your analysis of some of the information available on Lawson.

    We also lamented the fact that the curriculum in Australian high schools does not often include Lawson these days and that many Australians are missing out on the value of Lawson's work.

    In fact, from your thoughtful research here, you seem to know more about Lawson than the average Aussie. Good job!

  8. Henry Lawson,

    Americans sadly don't know about a lot of Australian stuff.

    The other day I was thinking how GRATEFUL I am for becoming oddly obsessed with Australia. I've been introduced to so many wonderful people, books, TV show, songs, etc. And I never would have heard of these things otherwise.

    I feel my world has opened up.

    I don't know more than the average Aussie about Australia, although I do know more than the average Aussie toddler. I'd even go as far as betting on it.