Henry Lawson: poet of the people

A writer wrote of the hearts of men, and he followed their tracks afar; for his was a spirit that forced his pen to write of the things that are.

Literary legacy

Run of rocky shelves at sunrise, with their base on ocean’s bed;
Homes of Coogee, homes of Bondi, and the lighthouse on South Head.
For in loneliness and hardship - and with just a touch of pride -
Has my heart been taught to whisper, ‘You belong to Sydney-Side.’

– ‘Sydney-Side’, 1898

A hero’s farewell

Henry Lawson was the first non-official to be given a state funeral, on 4 September 1922. Among the mourners were politician Jack Lang, who would later become Premier of NSW, and Prime Minister W.M. ‘Billy’ Hughes. It was Hughes who named Lawson ‘the poet of Australia, the minstrel of the people’.

‘An overflowing gathering of people of all stations of life’ reported the Sydney Morning Herald the following day of the crowd at Lawson’s funeral – a reflection of the vast range of characters he wrote about.

Lawson was buried at Waverley Cemetery in Sydney. His headstone can be found there today, as well as those of fellow Australian literary visionaries Henry Kendall, Dorothea Mackellar and J.F. Archibald, the publisher who was such a support to him.

The writer was survived by his ex-wife, Bertha, son Jim and daughter Bertha Louisa. By 1922, Bertha Louisa was working as a librarian at the Mitchell Library and, after the author’s death, mother and daughter worked together to cement Lawson’s reputation.

Henry Lawson's funeral at Waverley Cemetery, September 1922

A voice to remember

With his sensitive, precise observations and inimitable writing style, Henry Lawson brought a nation one of its first voices. Concepts of Australian identity, of city and country life, battlers and survivors, larrikins and heroines and unforgettable characters in both worlds are in large part due to his creations. Lawson will always be remembered for the sentiment of his poems and the writing in his short stories, and while his own tragic tale of disillusioned life had a detrimental effect on his work and wellbeing, it has become a part of the literary legend we remember now. Lawson’s work continues to be read, loved and talked about by each new generation. 

By track and camp and bushman’s hut - by streets where courage fails -
I’ve sung for all Australia, but my heart’s in New South Wales.
(‘Bonnie New South Wales’, 1910)

Literary legacy - the yarn continues

Performing Lawson - his words today

A century after they were published, Henry Lawson’s poems have been put into song and recorded by some of Australia’s best known country singers, including Slim Dusty, Lee Kernaghan, Hugh McDonald and John Schumann of Redgum and The Bushwackers. His verses and stories have been recorded by actor Jack Thompson and performed by actor Max Cullen.

Talking points - Lawson’s thoughts today

One of the most amazing things about reading Lawson’s work today is its ability to capture the essence of a topic and the way people deal (or don’t deal) with it. Almost anything you can think of, Lawson has written about it, in rich verse or sharp, laconic prose.