Henry Kendall

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Poems a testament to talent and love of the bush

by Lynelle Kendall

 

Henry Kendall imageHenry Kendall was born at Ulladulla on the 18th of April, 1839. His childhood was spent on the NSW mid-north coast, in the Illawarra region and Clarence River. When he was 15 he joined the crew of a whaling vessel with one of his uncles. After two years at sea he moved to Sydney where he began working as a clerk.

It was here he began to share his writing with others, including fellow poet Charles Harpur and editor Henry Parkes. They encouraged him to foster his talent and his work was published in several local Sydney publications, as well as a London-based magazine, the Athenaeum. His first book, entitled Poems and Songs was published in 1862. Kendall married Charlotte Rutter in 1868.

Full of optimism from his early success, he moved to Melbourne in 1869 hoping to make a living solely off his writing, but it was not to be. Struggling financially, fighting an alcohol addiction, poor health and mental illness, his life was not always a happy one. One of his most poignant poems is about his daughter Araluen who died at a young age, and we know that he lost his father when he was only 10.

Despite these hardships, his poems remain as a testament to his talent and his love of the bush. They are beautifully lyrical and descriptive of the Australian mountains and landscapes where he grew up. Kendall was one of Australia’s colonial poets and his book Leaves from Australian Forests [published 1869] “is regarded by many as the first really Australian book of poetry” (Hamilton, 1983).  Themes of droving, living on the land, indigenous experiences and bush ballads are featured in his writing, which predate the famous verses of Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson. His third and final volume Songs from the Mountains was published in 1880.

Kendall’s last few years were spent working for Australian Forestry at Camden Haven, where he was taken in by the brothers William and Joseph Fagan. The town has since been renamed in his honour. Kendall died of consumption in 1882 at the age of 43. Present day memorials to the poet can be found in the town of Kendall, at the Botanic Gardens in Sydney and in Gosford, where his old residence has been preserved and converted into a museum.

 

Song of the Cattle Hunters

 

While the morning light beams on the fern-matted streams,

And the water-pools flash in its glow,

Down the ridges we fly, with a loud ringing cry ─

Down the ridges and gullies we go!

And the cattle we hunt, they are racing in front,

With a roar like the thunder of waves,

As the beat and the beat of our swift horses’ feet

Start the echoes away from their caves –

As the beat and the beat

Of our swift horses’ feet

Start the echoes away from their caves!

 

Like a wintry shore that the waters ride o’er,

All the lowlands are filling with sound:

For swiftly we gain where the herds on the plain,

Like a tempest, are tearing the ground!

And we’ll follow them hard to the rails of the yard,

Over gulches and mountain-tops grey,

Where the beat and the beat of our swift horses’ feet

Will die with the echoes away –

Where the beat and the beat

Of our swift horses’ feet

Will die with the echoes away!

 

The Last of His Tribe

 

He crouches, and buries his face on his knees,

And hides in the dark of his hair;

For he cannot look up to the storm-smitten trees,

Or think of the loneliness there –

Of the loss and the loneliness there.

 

The wallaroos grope through the tufts of the grass,

And turn to their covers for fear;

But he sits in the ashes and lets them pass

Where the boomerangs sleep with the spear –

With the nullah, the sling, and the spear.

 

Uloola, behold him! The thunder that breaks

On the tops of the rocks with the rain,

And the wind which drives up with the salt of the lakes,

Have made him a hunter again –

A hunter and fisher again.

 

For his eyes have been full with a smouldering thought;

But he dreams of the hunts of yore,

And of foes that he sought, and of fights that he fought

With those who will battle no more –

Who will go to the battle no more.

 

It is well that the water which tumbles and fills,

Goes moaning and moaning along;

For an echo rolls out from the sides of the hills,

And he starts at a wonderful song-

At the sounds of a wonderful song.

 

And he sees through the rents of the scattering fogs,

The corroboree warlike and grim,

And the lubra who sat by the fire on the logs,

To watch, like a mourner, for him –

Like a mother and mourner for him.

 

Will he go in his sleep from these desolate lands,

Like a chief, to the rest of his race,

With the honey-voiced woman who beckons and stands,

And gleams like a dream in his face –

Like a marvellous dream in his face?

 

The Warrigal (Wild Dog of Australia)

 

The warrigal’s lair is pent in bare

Black rocks at the gorge’s mouth;

It is set in ways where summer strays

With the sprites of flame and drouth;

But, when the heights are touched with lights

Of hoar-frost, sleet, and shine,

His bed is made of the dead grass-blade

And the leaves of the windy pine.

 

Through forest boles the storm-wind rolls,

Vext of the sea-driv’n rain;

And, up in the clift, through many a rift,

The voices of torrents complain.

The sad marsh-fowl and the lonely owl

Are heard in the fog-wreaths grey,

When the warrigal wakes, and listens, and takes

To the woods that shelter the prey.

 

In the gully-deeps the blind creek sleeps,

And the silver, showery moon

Glides over the hills, and floats, and fills,

And dreams in the dark lagoon;
While halting hard by the station yard,

Aghast at the hut-flame nigh,

The warrigal yells, and flats and fells

Are loud with his dismal cry.

 

On the topmost peak of the mountains bleak

 

The south wind sobs, and strays

Through moaning pine and turpentine,

And the rippling runnel ways;

And strong streams flow, and dank mists go,

Where the warrigal starts to hear

The watch-dog’s bark break sharp in the dark,

And flees like a phantom of fear!

 

References:

Kendall, H 1862, Poems and Songs, J.R. Clarke, Sydney

Kendall, H 1970, Leaves from Australian Forests, Lloyd O’Neil, Hawthorn VIC.

Kendall, H 1880, Songs from the Mountains, William Maddock, Sydney

Dutton, G (ed.) 1964, The Literature of Australia, Penguin Books, Blackburn VIC

Hamilton, E 1983, A Taste of Poetry, Longman Cheshire, Melbourne

Henry Kendall Cottage and Historical Museum. Available from:

<http://henrykendallcottage.org.au/ [8 Oct. 15].

Monument Australia 2015, Henry Kendall. Available from:

<http://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/people/arts/display/23194-henry-kendall> [5 Oct. 2015]

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