Arts / Something about Mary still

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DAME Mary Gilmore is all the rage, all over again.

We already knew that a suburb of Canberra is named after her and her picture is on the $10 notes and on stamps. Late last year Canberra’s Griffyn Ensemble performed Vincent Plush’s song-cycle based on her Paraguayan poems. Then, in January, we published Gilmore’s seasonally appropriate poem “Canberra in Recess” in these pages.

Dame Mary Gilmore… a thwarted love relationship with poet Henry Lawson.
Dame Mary Gilmore… a thwarted love relationship with poet Henry Lawson.

Now, “All My Love”, a play by Sydney novelist and screenwriter Anne Brooksbank, unveils, through Gilmore’s own letters, a thwarted love relationship with poet Henry Lawson who, incidentally, was replaced by Gilmore when our $10 note moved from paper to polymer.

“CityNews” caught up with Brooksbank by phone at her Palm Beach home where she lives with her long-time husband, the writer and iconoclast Bob Ellis.

“It feels good for it all to be coming together like this after a number of years,” she says of a play she wrote in the ‘80s but which has now been brought to life in the production directed by Denny Lawrence with music composed by her son Jack Ellis.

“Kim Denman, who plays her, gets her strength very, very well. Kim also did a lot of research about the younger Mary in seeking to understand her,” she says.

The love story predates Gilmore’s involvement in the failed utopian experiments in South America. The young Mary Cameron and Henry Lawson were brought together in the late 1890s by his terrifying mother, feminist and socialist editor Louisa Lawson, who encouraged Mary to move to Sydney, where Henry showed her the “dark spots” of Sydney life, until the mothers of both the young people fell out.

Louisa got in the way of the developing romance by one of the oldest maternal tricks in the book – intercepting their mail, a fact confirmed by Henry’s 12-year-old sister.

The end of Act I, Brooksbank explains, sees the beer-sodden Henry passed out at the docks in Sydney after trying unsuccessfully to stow away when Mary leaves for Paraguay to join the utopian colony Cosme. By this time Mary had rejected his proposal of marriage in favour of following the idealist William Lane.

Act II sees Mary and her (by now) husband William Gilmore with their small son Willy abandoning South America and travelling to England where Henry, his disturbed wife Bertha and their children were residing. Henry unwisely persuades Mary to take Bertha and the kids back to Australia in 1902, but this ends with Bertha accusing Mary of breaking up her marriage.

“All My Love” concludes with Mary’s efforts to have Henry Lawson publicly acknowledged, as he was, notably in the George Lambert statue in Sydney’s Domain.

Brooksbank’s admiration of Henry and Mary is palpable, as is her view of the manipulative Louisa Lawson. She admires Gilmore, describing her “as indeed a very strong person and kindly and generous as well… I still wish she and Henry had managed to stay together”.

“All My Love”, The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, February 24- 27, bookings to theq.net.au or 6285 6290.

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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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