Tyalgum's true-blue poet as Aussie as they come

WORDSMITH: Bush poet Dennis Scanlon is a fifth generation Australian.
WORDSMITH: Bush poet Dennis Scanlon is a fifth generation Australian. SCOTT POWICK

Dennis Scanlon's life is like one of the bush poems he writes, all about meter and rhyme. It's a song and a story, the falling of heavy rain on the roof of the Tyalgum General Store, the mischief as he smiles and points at a circa 1910 Heinz Baked Beans sign fixed to a wall which boasts of a new 'fart friendly formula.'

He didn't plan to be a poet, he says as he sits on an old bus seat out front of the store earlier this week, but he never really had a choice in the matter either.

It took him 60 years to gather the experiences he needed to tell stories and have people truly believe. And you want them to believe, you just do.

To him a bush poet is a man with a heart and a sense of humour. He's a man in a wide-brimmed hat and a Driza-Bone vest. He's born on Anzac Day and becomes emotional when contemplating the country he dearly loves finally losing its way.

He's a bloke who had a previous life before this one. In it, he sold cattle for the Australian Agricultural Co to the world and once scored a contract by taking part in a karaoke competition in downtown Japan. He asked before his turn came around that everyone sing along with him. By the time the room finished belting out the last few lines of Waltzing Matilda, with Dennis banging away on a grand piano, the contract was his.

A bush poet is a man who was raised in country Australia. He's a man with lines at the corners of his eyes and history etched on his face. "Everything you want to take out of life is in bush poetry," he says, as a dog dripping in rain and mud makes a spot on the pavement, as if sensing the time was now right. "Everything: the sadness, the pathos, the humour, the larrikinism ... everything."


Entertaining the crowd is bush poet, Dennis Scanlon, Emu Gully Air & Land Spectacular 
Photo Bev Lacey / The Chronicle
Entertaining the crowd is bush poet, Dennis Scanlon, Emu Gully Air & Land Spectacular Photo Bev Lacey / The Chronicle Bev Lacey

It was 2003 before he took to writing bush poems. He says he began because he wanted to leave something behind. His poetry has since won him awards and seen him travel and release books. But his proudest achievement, after his children and wife, is hearing his words echo through the corridors of the National War Memorial in Canberra. That was enough to bring a tear to an old bloke's eye.

Dennis Scanlon's life is like one of the bush poems he writes. It's the final part of our interview where he looks you in the eyes and lays everything on the line.

"As words can, poetry can," he begins. "A poet can either write poems that are inspiring and of great value to them or they can write something that's as desperate and as sad as they are at that time.

"And my reward from poetry is there will be something here that lives on after me and that's important, because when I set out to write these stories I believed they needed to be recorded - that quality of people in the bush, that quality of life in the bush, that quality of sharing and caring and giving.

"I mean, where will we be if people ever lose touch with those things? So, you can see where my heart is."

"Here," he says, now grabbing your arm and not letting go. "Have a listen to this - this is how I explain the legacy of war to young students at colleges and schools I work with, in Anzac Children:

"Anzac children, at school and play,

"They have no war, to spoil their day.

"Through the years, our people have fought,

"Cherished freedom, courage brought.

"Boys and girls here, are free to learn,

"They share a peace, which others yearn.

"Children are precious, this we know,

"Let them - here - be free to grow.

"Lest we forget."


Dennis Scanlon is all dressed up for Australia Day 2013 in Tyalgum.
Photo: John Gass  / Daily News
Dennis Scanlon is all dressed up for Australia Day 2013 in Tyalgum. Photo: John Gass / Daily News John Gass /TWE240113aust

Topics:  aussie bush poet dennis scanlon general-seniors-news murwillumbah noticeboard tweed heads and coolangatta tweed shire council tyalgum

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