by C. J. Dennis (1876-1938)
Toolangi is a rural township 52 kilometres north-east of Melbourne, Victoria. The population at the time C. J. Dennis lived there, was around 130 people. Toolangi is near the Yea River in the Great Dividing Range. The name Toolangi is thought to be derived from an Aboriginal word meaning stringy-bark tree or tall growing timber.
C. J. Dennis, who wrote this poem, moved to Toolangi in 1908. He lived at first in a tent and later in a timber worker’s hut. While in Toolangi he wrote Backblock Ballads and Other Verses and The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke. He later built a house which he named Arden. Today his house and garden have been restored by its current owners and are open for visits by the public.
He was obviously English, in his Harris tweeds and stockings.
And his accent was of Oxford, and his swagger and his style
Seemed to hint at halls baronial. He despised the “demned Colonial”;
But he praised the things of England with a large and toothful smile.
He’d discourse for hours together on old England’s splendid weather;
On her flowers and fruits and fashions, and her wild-fowl and her game.
At all Austral things he snorted; pinned his faith to the imported.
And he said the land was rotten. But he stayed here just the same.
Why, he came or why he lingered he was never keen to mention;
But he hinted at connections ‘mid old England’s nobly grand.
Seems he drew a vague remittance – some folk said a meagre pittance –
And he sought to supplement it by a venture on the land.
So he journeyed to Toolangi, where the mountain ash yearns skyward,
And the messmate and the blue-gum grow to quite abnormal size.
‘Spite the “stately homes” he vaunted, ’twas the simple life he wanted;
And he got it, good and plenty, at Toolangi on the rise.
It appears he had a notion that his “breeding” and his “culture”
Would assure him some position as a sort of country squire;
And he built a little chalet in a pretty, fern-clad valley,
And prepared to squire it nobly in imported farm attire.
But the “breeding” is in bullocks that they prize upon Toolangi.
Where the forelock-touching habit hasn’t grown to any size.
And he found, as on he plodded, and the natives curtly nodded,
That their “culture’s” agriculture at Toolangi on the rise.
First he started poultry farming, as a mild, genteel employment;
For the business promised profit, and the labor wasn’t hard;
But he wondered what the dickens was becoming of his chickens,
Till he found some English foxes prowling round his poultry yard.
So he cursed at things Australian, and invested in an orchard
That adjoined his little holding: and foresaw a life of ease.
But a flock of English starlings – pretty, “harmless” little darlings –
Ate his apples and his peaches as they ripened on the trees.
Once again he cursed the country, and fell back on cabbage-growing –
He had heard of fortunes gathered while the price was at the top
So he started, quite forgetting to erect the needful netting,
And some cheerful English rabbits finished off his cabbage crop.
Then his language grew tremendous, and he cursed at all the country;
Cursed its flora and its fauna north and south, from coast to coast:
Sat and cursed for hours together, at the “demned colonial weather”;
Till an English snow-storm bit him just as he was cursing most.
When the snow falls on Toolangi wise folk look to beam and rafter.
For the fall is ofttimes heavy as upon the roof it lies;
And it crushed the dainty chalet nestling in the pretty valley,
In the little fern-clad valley at Toolangi on the rise.
He was cursing yet, and loudly, as he crawled from out the wreckage:
Cursing as he packed his baggage and departed for his club,
For his club down in the city. Vulgar folk – it seems a pity –
Hinted meanly that his club-house was a little back-street pub.
Now, away in far Toolangi, where the mountain peaks yearn skyward,
Folk will drop the dexter eyelid and the case epitomise;
“Yes, ‘the Duke’ has gone for ever. British pests are far too clever.
And the English climate crushed him at Toolangi on the rise.”
About the Author
See our page on C. J. Dennis. Includes a linked list of all his writing available on our website.