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Bourke to host celebration of Henry Lawson

Organisers of the Henry Lawson Festival at Bourke, Andrew Hull and Melanie Milgate. Photo TWH

Henry Lawson. Photo wikimedia

Henry Lawson cast an enormous shadow across the Australian literary landscape, and when he died on September 2, 1922, he was the first non-government citizen of New South Wales to be given a state funeral.

Among the mourners at his funeral were Jack Lang, who would soon become Premier of NSW, and Prime Minister Billy Hughes, who dubbed Lawson ‘the poet of Australia, the minstrel of the people’.

But surprisingly, on the 100th anniversary of his death, little has been planned across the nation to commemorate one of its greatest writers.

That’s about to change.

Former Bourke resident, and well-known poet and performer, Andrew Hull, has been enlisted by the Bourke Shire Council to help organise a three-day celebration of Henry Lawson’s life and acknowledge the centenary of his death.

“Every year we have held the Festival of a Thousand Stories on that September weekend, including the Poets’ Trek and we have delved into the literary background of Bourke,” Andrew said.

“This year is a little different. Believe it or not, there’s not a lot going on for Henry - a couple of minor events around the place, an event in Adelaide with the chamber orchestra, but other than that, there’s not much.

“So, this is a good chance for Bourke to put the hand up and acknowledge and celebrate the bloke - we certainly use his catchphrase - ‘If you know Bourke, you know Australia’.

“We decided to do something for Henry and spend the weekend reflecting on his time at Bourke, reciting his poems and remembering his legacy,” he said.

The legend of Henry Lawson is woven into the fabric of Australia’s history – and especially into the history of Bourke.

The son of a former Norwegian sailor and an active feminist, Lawson fought a lifelong battle against alcoholism - one of the reasons he was dispatched to Bourke by his employer, the editor of The Sydney Bulletin.

Lawson suffered from depression, broken marriages, was jailed for abusive behaviour and non-payment of child support and in many ways, lived a life as harsh as the subjects of his writing.

But he struck a chord with the ‘battler’ and the ‘bushie’ and Bourke has proudly claimed him as one of its own.

Henry Lawson died of a cerebral hemorrhage in a boarding house in Abbotsford, Sydney in 1922. He was given a state funeral, the first ever non-official to be granted that honour for being a ‘distinguished citizen”.

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