Rowland Bell. "The Bushman" ?

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Gary Harding
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Rowland Bell. "The Bushman" ?

Post by Gary Harding » Tue Jan 23, 2018 8:36 am

I was at my usual garage sales a couple of weeks ago and spotted a thick book entitled "The Story of Metung" by Gay Halstead.

Having a mate in Victoria I thought that he might appreciate having it as he had a beach-house in Metung which is a coastal town in Gippsland. Talking to the seller I commented that I had an interest in collecting old bush poetry and he remarked that there was work by a fellow called Bushman (or The Bushman?) in that particular book. I bought the book for $2, only to discover later that this was a signed and numbered copy of a limited run of only 1000 and the going on-line price for them was at least $150!

There was no reference to The Bushman in the book.

However there was reference to a fellow by the name of Rowland Bell and I draw on and quote from material from this excellent book for the following comments :

Now Rowland was described as a "queer fellow who lived alone in a hut - a recluse and a poet". To a couple of others he was a gentle sort of man, a great friend and confidant. He sometimes played his phonograph when they visited and strains of Wagner and the voice of Caruso would waft through the garden. They would ride out once or twice a week to visit - his door was always open and they would discuss wondrous subjects such as rare birds and rare types of orchids.

Is there any chance he could have been "Bushman", the man referred to?

It is pure conjecture since I could not see any specific mention of this term.

However, he wrote a poem that is featured in the book (no given title) about a certain class of folk who love to poke their noses into other folks' affairs. He is reported to have loved and understood the simplicity and sincerity of nature in all its aspects, while his main dislike was aptly described in the aforementioned poem.

Also he wrote a poem about his pushbike - a humorous one. Another about an old mate who died was published in the Bairnsdale newspaper "Every Week" while others were "The Bark Canoe" (1928) and "The Old Home". These are the poems featured in the book about Metung.

Apparently he would walk for miles through the bush to Lakes Entrance, Bairnsdale or Swan Reach with a sugar bag over his shoulder for supplies and would spurn any offers of a lift for his other bug-bear - the motor car - although later in life he bought a push bike. Hence the poem about the bike.
He collapsed and died in 1940 after a long ride on his bike to a friend's house.

In all honesty, it is not difficult to imagine that this character could fit the bill for "Bushman". What a shame if this is the case that it was not mentioned in the segment pertaining to him - something like a full three pages or more.

He must have been a man of some repute to have his poems recorded in this book one would think.

A man who lived alone and yet had an appreciation for all of nature's beauty and music and opera singing. A man who completely shunned any "modern" advances of the day such as motor cars etc., even when offered a lift to where he was going. I could well imagine why (if this is so) that he would have been referred to as "Bushman" and why he would not have been understood by many other than his closest friends.

I don't know if any of this info could be some sort of lead to finding out more information?

The only other poem in the book I could see was written by Mary Howitt (P. 235) with the title : "The Use of Flowers". She must have been some sort of poet as well because it is mentioned that this is just one of her poems.
....

Was Rowland Bell the inspiration for Jim Grahame's poem Phonograph Jack which also refers to "Jack" having a sugar bag.

"He carries a few of the sweet old tunes
In the folds of a sugar bag,
And his battered old piping phonograph
Is packed on top of his swag."

Did he also inspire Jim's "The Pied Piper of Pipeclay Point" ? perhaps.

"Old Peter the 'possumer lived all alone
In a queer little hut he'd erected of stone.
...
Some said he was "ratty", some called him a fool,
For he would walk home with the children from school,
Though most of them feared him and some ran away
And few cared to listen to what he'd to say.
Beneath his ill-shape, he'd a heart that could sing
And child-love to him was a wonderful thing."

I guess we will never know, but it is nice to dream that maybe The Bushman did inspire Jim Grahame.
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Gary Harding
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Re: Rowland Bell. "The Bushman" ?

Post by Gary Harding » Thu Jan 25, 2018 10:02 am

Poet Rowland Bell ("The Bushman"?) is also featured at the front of this Metung book (see attached) with a short, untitled and touching poem.

I find that one of the beautiful things about Bush Poetry ..or at least well-crafted, structured poetry with proper rhyme and meter ... is that in our busy world, so much can be said in so few words. I am not into poems about sadness and death.. there are better ways to get to the heart of the reader.

However in this case Rowland makes one reflect briefly on an afterlife and like everyone I hope the answer to his unanswered question is "Yes there is!"
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Re: Rowland Bell. "The Bushman" ?

Post by Shelley Hansen » Fri Jan 26, 2018 8:32 am

Fascinating stuff, Gary! So many hidden gems just waiting to be discovered!

Cheers
Shelley
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Re: Rowland Bell. "The Bushman" ?

Post by Catherine Lee » Fri Jan 26, 2018 2:13 pm

What a fantastic find - this is indeed a treasure!

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Re: Rowland Bell. "The Bushman" ?

Post by Gary Harding » Fri Jan 26, 2018 5:54 pm

What may also be of interest in this book is a "letter to home" written by Tom Howlett of Metung who served as an RAAF pilot in WW2.

The Metung book has the handwritten-copy which is difficult to read in places, so I have taken the trouble to transcribe it.
It may be an inspiration to any ABPA members considering writing on the subject of war service.

I personally find the letter incredibly moving and thus worthwhile reproducing.

In the book "The Story of Metung" there is a picture of Tom waving from the cockpit of his Wellington bomber 1941 prior to departing on a bombing raid.

As a postscript, I should say that Flight Sergeant Thomas H. Howlett No. 400348, was killed in action in the Middle East.

Such letters were held over and forwarded to next of kin in the event of aircrew failing to return.
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Re: Rowland Bell. "The Bushman" ?

Post by Gary Harding » Mon Jan 29, 2018 6:58 pm

Many thanks Catherine and Shelley... yes it was a rare find.

I noticed that the same garage sale was open on the following week as well, so I called in and picked up the rest of several Local Histories. $5 the lot. One was about Avoca in Victoria. Another about Bairnsdale put out by the Council. I had a relative who was a mayor there. All these books valued $35 - $40 each.

Conclusions..

1. There always seemed to be rhyming poetry quoted in them with some noted local poet of the 1900 - 1940 era. Ballads were the thing in those days apparently. Popular and respected. Good leads for sleuthing, but whether they pan out into good poets with good books is another thing. Like today there were no doubt enthusiastic amateurs that wrote "poems" for the local papers, but how many were any good? we will see...

2. Instead of turning up my nose at them, I will seek out these fascinating local histories now ! Oh no.. I can feel yet another collection coming on! So much stuff that the kichen will need to be moved out to the yard!

3. Lesson : If your writing has merit, (for example you win prestigious competitions) then for heaven sake put out a book of it!! Otherwise sadly it will fade and people who in future collect the poetic works of today's bush poetry... say the period 1960's to now (which I do not do).. will find your writing elusive. BOOKS for libraries and collections are the thing. Without one, there is little to make a permanent mark! Do that Book now!

4. When I think of what I nearly missed for the sake of a few dollars... I must be a cheapskate!

5. I mentioned Mary Botham Howitt from the book. I looked up some poems by Mary and came across a few although she wrote many more. I was intrigued to know more about her when there seemed to be so very few good female poets published. PoemHunter was the best link and there I found 17 poems in total. She had over 180 books attributed to her name (not all poetry of course). One of her poems mentions something interesting. Something that has been a bit of an issue for me...

Anyway I have chosen for eventual mention a poem of hers that I quite like, apart from “The Spider and the Fly” for which she is famously known.
Spider and Fly was written in 1829 so one can perhaps forgive the obvious imperfections but overall I think it is interesting and clever.

A children’s poem and yet its dark undertones and hidden message could apply to any age and generation. Probably why it has stood the test of time. It probably isn’t rigorous enough or to the taste of many, but remember that she was English and was writing almost 200 years ago. Not really my scene but.. interesting.

Who has heard The Rolling Stone’s flipside song called “The Spider and the Fly”? No guesses as to where the inspiration came from. Some fans say it is one of their best songs and yet it has a sort of blues sound to it I think.

Funny where such poetry can lead one... even Mick Jagger was impressed... and he played Ned Kelly too... Crazy world.

.. anyway enough from me !!! xxx
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Re: Rowland Bell. "The Bushman" ?

Post by Maureen K Clifford » Sat Feb 03, 2018 12:34 pm

WOW! A wonderful find Gary and a wonderful though sad read. You have unearthed a treasure I think - thanks you so much for sharing it with us and also for your (as always) additional insight into the mystery. Good work
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Re: Rowland Bell. "The Bushman" ?

Post by Gary Harding » Sat Feb 03, 2018 3:33 pm

Thanks Maureen, a lot of luck in these finds I think.

Further research...

1. Part of the lot of books I also obtained was The Shire of Tambo History.
Metung is in Tambo Shire, Victoria. Rowland gets a mention in the index (attached) where yes he is referred to as "Bushman"!
So that answers the question.

I think he has a striking resemblance to Henry Lawson!?

2. Poor Tom Howlett!

"RAF Moreton-in-Marsh, the RAF station was opened in November 1940.
The town's environs are quite flat and low-lying although it is situated at the northern extremity of the Cotswald Hills range. During World War II, a large area of this flat land to the east of the town was developed as an airfield and became the base of 21 OTU (Operational Training Unit) RAF, flying mainly Vickers Wellington bombers."
So I would guess that the photo is of Tom on a conversion course to Wellingtons. Either he is returning alive from a night-time navigation exercise, or equally heading outward on a non-combat night training task.. both options being causes for his happy thumbs up...? Although heaven knows that flight training was dangerous enough!

3. It would be a useful exercise for an Arts Degree or Hons. thesis to gather up all Rowland's writing and consolidate it. Maybe that already exists? I wish.
I think Rowland's writing although imperfect in places is extremely worthy and rare. I hope most folk would agree with that. (There may be transcription errors in places in his poems).

I get depressed when I see greedy hands in government "Arts" pockets ripping out millions in public money for nothing, in the name of "poetry", while truly wonderful guys like Rowland .. real and skilled Australian balladists, are allowed to get lost in history. Sad for Australia.

Anyway we have perhaps all given him a fond and last Hurrah here at the ABPA!! Three cheers for the ABPA.

Rowland Bell. Gone but not forgotten.. yet. :) :)
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