Wednesday, January 24, 2018

A stranger in town

Henry Lawson in 1900. Portrait by John Longstaff in the Art Gallery of NSW collection
A stranger in town

In the early days, Leeton was accustomed to welcoming outsiders. But one stranger who arrived in the district in 1916, attracted particular attention.

My father Bede was only seven at the time. He and his mother Alice were on the main street of town, when a curious disheveled man approached from the opposite direction. He was tall, thin and stooped over a cane. His coat hung loosely on his back and a baggy felt hat covered his head. A drooping, handlebar moustache extended out beyond his jaw line.

'Mum,' said Bede. 'Look at that man's huge whiskers!'
'Sssht, Bede. Don't stare.'

Bede's eyes locked onto the stranger's penetrating gaze. A pungent cloud of tobacco smoke enveloped them as he passed. Alice remember the man from her home town of Gulgong, but he didn't recognise Alice.

'Son, that's the famous author, Henry Lawson. He lives in a farmhouse by the river, down on the Daalbata Road.' Bede turned to look back at the faltering figure receding down the dirt road.

Henry Lawson's friends from Sydney had helped him relocate to Leeton, a dry town, where he could get off the grog and pick up the pen again. Henry stayed two years in Leeton from 1916 to 1917. Among the orange groves by the Murrumbidgee River, his writing bore fruit, producing important new works: Leeton Town and A Letter from Leeton.

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