Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Tributes to John Dengate



 Dale & John, 1983 (Bob Bolton photo)

Some thoughts about John Dengate from Roseann Dale Dengate
 
John was still in primary school at West Epping, when he started telling yarns and reciting the works of Banjo Paterson. He had a phenomenal memory and could recall traditional songs when others forgot the fourth and fifth verses late in the night. I am really going to miss that assuring prompt when singing.
His mother said he was an easy child to take anywhere as long as he had paper and pen because he would just write or sketch. At the funeral, his cousin Carol told me that one of her first memories of going to school was seeing John surrounded by a group of kids in the playground listening to his reciting or story telling  and how proud she felt that he was her big [9 year old] cousin. John was Influenced by his father Norman Dengate, when he began writing rhymes about the people and everyday life around him . Many years later wrote about playing cricket on the roads,
Over the paddocks I’ve run,
Drugged with summer cicadas song;
Drunk with freedom and sun …
. in lines from Song of Childhood.
With his passion for Australia, life with John Dengate was a wonderful adventure recorded in his polished verses. His ability to write about the foibles of humanity, including himself in aptly chosen and colourful terms was unique. His lampoons of politicians from the 1960s provided a political commentary over those years. His deep interest and incisive observations of people started with his family. He wrote verses about them all including the cats and dogs. He will be remembered for his well loved song Bare Legged Kate' about the struggles faced by a country girl. It was based on his mother Kathleen ' Kit'. Many have sung the Song of the Sheet Metal Worker, about his father from whom he was instructed about the importance of unionism in ensuring a fair share of the profits for the workers. His song and stories about his uncles in My Name's Eric Dengate capture Australian life just after the war was won.
Many were inspired by his workshops on writing about lives of one’s family with his admonition that we own our history. He was passionate about Australian history and his knowledge of the experience of the Diggers in WWI and II was not only encyclopedic, but entertainingly told. He held audiences for hours with his retelling of the details of Australian during the war years. He could often be found in the bar of a folk festival surrounded by avid listeners and it is here he would  be happiest sharing his songs with an interested small group  rather than singing to huge audiences of people wanting to be entertained ... or catering to the tastes of the mindless mob big business likes to rob.
Although he never belonged to any political party, his interests in the individual extended to the lives of politicians of all shades; indeed the history of the devious action or follies of most leaders and members of state and federal parliaments were covered by John's songs in clever parody with hilarious rhymes and curses for the arrogant and greedy.


Bush Music Club Concert Party, 1971 (Bob Bolton photo)

No subject was off limits for John and he wrote with wry humour about every aspect of the life of 'everyman' in the Australian setting including male illnesses such as rectal bleeding and bags associated with bowel cancer. His topics ranged from aspects of our lives rarely found in the text books in songs such as: The Answer's Ireland, The Battle of Castle Hill, Anti Metrics, Ballad of Les Darcy, Big Ben pies and Coopers Sparkling Ale, train trips and in Bill from Erkineville, about the difficulties faced by many workers trying to provide a home and support a family. He engaged with men and women from all walks of life and often made them feel they were his special friends.  The amazing number of tributes that have poured in certainly confirmed  these friendships.


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John Dengate - a rich life
By Tony Smith*

Individual human existence has limits. While we all have a birth and a death, most of us celebrate the fact of our beginnings but resist and regret our ends as though they were not inevitable. Religions have developed ways of trying to take the sting out of death, but paradoxically, as western societies become more secular and rational, it is common to experience death ceremonies that are positive celebrations of the preceding life. 
 
Such was the funeral of John Dengate. Publicly, John was known as a teacher, sportsman, folksinger, busker, songwriter, raconteur, humorist and political activist. Privately, as slides displayed during his recorded rendition of ‘Song of Childhood’ demonstrated, he was a son, a brother, husband, father, grandfather and friend. As John’s son Sean said in his eulogy, his father had a good life, a rich and full life. The secret to having such a life, Sean suggested, was to keep things simple and to place your energies into the things you love. 

For John this meant rejecting the rat race and careerism and eschewing products such as cars and fancy clothing pushed by advertising. It meant giving priority to family and friends and standing firm by the values of working class Australians. 
 
This adherence to things simple required great determination, which John’s marathon running showed he had in abundance. In John’s case a great sense of humour helped keep his priorities in order. Growing up as he did in the years immediately following the Second World War, he was infected with that dry, sometimes bitter sense of humour often associated with the Anzac spirit. While John always managed a wry smile at the world’s general unhappiness, he did not spare himself during personal misfortunes as shown by the self-deprecating humour in songs such as Skin Cancer Blues and Rectal Bleeding Calypso.
John spent his childhood around Carlingford near Parramatta in western Sydney. In the 1950s, this was a semi-rural district with orchards and other small farms. He went to teachers’ training college in Armidale then taught in the ‘Far West’ town of Menindee. He then moved back to the city and taught at the school in the Burnside Homes at North Parramatta. He did casual teaching round the inner city and retired early to concentrate on his interests. Fans and friends are grateful for that decision because it enabled John to hone his song writing skills and put more energy into activism.

Speaking on ABC Radio, folklorist Warren Fahey said that he thought of Dengate as the successor of Henry Lawson. Both Lawson and Dengate had the ability to look at the plight of ordinary Australians and tell their stories back to them. There are distinct parallels in the words of the two poets and Lawson would certainly have enjoyed songs such as Bill from Erskineville, Poker Machine Song, Tab Punter’s Song and The Randwick Races. It is unlikely that the Northern Suburbs Crematorium has seen a coffin covered in wattle flowers before. It seems less likely that it has heard the singing of Lawson’s ‘Freedom on the Wallaby’ and Banjo Paterson’s ‘Waltzing Matilda’.

Jamie Carlin, 2013  (Sandra Nixon photo)

Those attending the funeral were greeted by the strains of the concertina. It is usual to call people attending a funeral ‘mourners’ and there is no doubt that the packed assembly regretted John Dengate’s passing. However, following the example of Dale, John’s wife of almost fifty years and his sons Sean and Lachlan, his friends expressed their love of the man with laughter and occasional applause rather than tears. While a death is always tragic and reason to grieve, John’s legacy has been humour and inspiration. He will be sorely missed, but his words will not be forgotten. Already, folkies are planning tribute concerts that will feature performances of his works and works about him by his many admirers. Another criterion for attributing a good life to someone is that they left the world a better place than they found it. John Dengate certainly did that.

See also:

John Dengate singing ‘Bare Legged Kate’ at the Loaded Dog Folk Club
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIyiOx-74dE&nofeather=True

  
JAM, NSW Folk Federation: John Dengate passes away,
http://jam.org.au/moxie/articles/miscarticles/john-dengate-passes-away.shtml


 Obit: John Dengate 1 August 2013,
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=151740&messages=8

  
Bush Music Club articles & photos
http://bushmusicclub.blogspot.com.au
http://my.opera.com/BushMusicClub/about/


Shoestring Records: John Dengate Homepage,
http://www.shoestringrecords.tv/Australianrootsseries/JohnDengate/dengateindex.html


  *Author of: ‘Master of Dissent: the Music of John Dengate’, Australian Quarterly, 76(2), March-April 2004

                        ======================= 
 
First published in the September 2013 Illawarra Folk Club Newsletter & used by permission.


Saying Goodbye:

I sing my songs and I say goodbye and I leave on the morning train
And I thirst for a private apocalypse as the paddocks thirst for rain.
I think of the stilted, sad good-byes and the handshakes through the years,
And it sometimes seems I have spent my life in a battle to hold back tears.
I struggle against the words ‘good-bye’;
I struggle against the pain:
I write in fear, for the day is near for saying ‘good-bye’ again.
John Dengate


It’s a farewell that you would think our old mate John Dengate had written for his own obituary. In fact he wrote it for another giant in the Australian Folk Scene, Declan Affley when he died some years ago and to me it encapsulates the real emotion that John’s work has always contained.

John died on August 1st and as he was a keen punter (songs such as the Trifecta song
and the Randwick Races reflect this) he would have appreciated the irony of saying goodbye to this world on the horses birthday. He was just two months short of his own 75th birthday.


John  at Bulli, 2009 (Sandra Nixon photo)


John was a particularly good friend of the Illawarra Folk Club and on many occasions performed at our club nights. He always stopped down here when he performed as he didn’t drive nor possess a car. Train was his usual method of transport and it was only natural that both the best and worst aspects of railways appeared in his songs (Train Trip to Guildford, The Apricot Express, The Lidcombe train and the Bus To Broken Hill). Whenever possible he performed at our tripe dinners though I can’t recall him ever writing a song about that delicacy.

I do recall however his generosity of spirit - his songs were there for everyone and he freely shared them. One of my prized possessions is a tape that John made in Alan Musgrove’s lounge room one day in the early eighties. John and Alan had a bottle of whisky (maybe two) and John played as many songs as he could remember, (Alan reckoned that John had forgotten more of his songs than most people had written) Alan recorded them on tape – they were about Bob Menzies, the Vietnam War, Joe Bjelke and a lot of songs I had never heard before (or since)

He also recorded a couple of songs for me in my bathroom (sitting on the dunny- the seat was down) because that was the best acoustics in the house. I’ve thought perhaps I should get a plaque on the door and call it the ‘Dengate Memorial Dunny’. 
 
John was our ‘Folk Legend’ at the Illawarra Festival - When our previous legend, Alan Scott, died almost 20 years ago the club replaced him with John. This meant he was automatically invited to every festival without having to apply. This was a good thing because he was no great shakes at filling in forms. He attended every year until ill health stopped him in 2012 and 2013. He either ran or performed in our memorial concert that we hold annually for his friend Alan Scott.

We will of course be having an annual memorial for John though at this stage we are not sure what form it will take. John’s wife Dale has given us a beer mug that she gave him in their callow youth as a trophy. It is of course an appropriate award for the Woolly Yarns Spinning Competition which John often judged and told a demonstration yarn so that yarn spinning novices knew what it was about. He also enjoyed a cold drink on a hot day, sometimes more than one as I can attest to. (Dale and my wife Bev thought we were bad for each other after a particularly bad ‘solving the problems of the World’ night at Albion Park)
The ‘Tumult and the Shouting’ has died - the packed funeral, the wake at Friends in Hand Pub in Glebe, the poetry the speeches and songs at the wake, the obituaries in all the folk magazines, A major obituary by Warren Fahey in the Sydney Morning Herald and tribute concerts are under way. The legend of John Dengate will however live on.

I know whenever some conservative politician does something outrageous – as they always do, no longer will I get a copy of the Dengate ‘take’ on the subject through the email to share with friends. But I know what folk will say over a beer on the subject - “I wonder what Dengate would have said about that?”

I wonder what Dengate would say about all the fuss that’s now being made of him. He’d probably write a poem or song about it.

Long’ Jim Chapman, one of our club members and a bush poet sent this appreciation to the newsletter;-
He was certainly an inspiration to this old Pom!  He was the bloke who actually remembered me at the next Folk Festival after the one at which I first took the stage - not only  did he remember my name, he remembered my poem! That was a tremendous encouragement, believe me!
Above all Bush  poets I've encountered he was the one who most convinced me that one can create a poem out almost anything! Listening to John reciting taught the lesson that if one had a tale to tell one should up and tell it - tall or otherwise!. Struth did he ever tell some tall ones!”

In case you didn’t catch the Herald Obituary here are some of Warren’s reflections.

He never left home without a pen and paper.

John Dengate was the closest heir to the legacy of Henry Lawson that this country has known. He was a free thinker, poet, artist, teacher, songwriter, singer and street busker, ever ready to recite or sing, and always ready to take the mickey out of politicians, misguided business leaders and any visiting sports team.

Recently, he had become a familiar city sight, playing his tin whistle and singing at the corner of George and Market streets or at Central Station. Although he played guitar, his whistle playing worked better in Sydney’s noisy streets. His beautiful old Irish and bush tunes wafted over Henry Lawson’s ‘‘ faces in the street’’ .  Like Lawson, Dengate enjoyed a drink or three but a few years ago, when he was ordered off the grog, he quit immediately. However, surgery for cancer, a weakened heart and the humiliation of the Aussie cricket team’s defeat by the Poms has dealt him a final wicket.


John Robert Dengate was born on October 1, 1938, and grew up in Carlingford.  Three of his best known songs reflect on his early life: When I Was A Lad in  Carlingford , Bare-Legged Kate, about his mother, and The Song of the Sheet-Metal Worker dedicated to his father, Norman.

There is no doubt that Dengate’s songs will live on. Many have already passed into that hazy territory where the song is known and the songwriter anonymous. He would agree to such musical freedom , especially as most of his songs were set to traditional tunes. Witty satirical verse was his stock in trade and he was brilliant in pressing the point while pressing the funny bone.

Dengate was a republican and loved Australia and its stories but he was never an angry man and preferred to make his point with humour. His last songs included Please Save Me from the Mad Monk  and an attack on Rupert Murdoch’s phone-tapping spree.

He never left home without a pen and paper, scorning computers with their spellchecks and rhyme lists. He wrote thousands of songs, satires and poems and also had a repertoire of hundreds of traditional songs and knew the great Australian poems. His life has been documented in oral history interviews at the Australian National Library, and in three songbooks and various recordings.

John Dengate is survived by Roseann (Dale), sons Lachlan and Sean, daughter-in-law’ Mandy, grandchildren Roisin and Cal, mother Kathleen and, of course, his songs.


Russell Hannah.

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Gone is the seannachie, the satire that raised the blister.
Gone the sharp, intellectual, the schoolmaster we all feared,
The gales of laughter over the pint,
And the tears for the bronze smith’s acid scarred hands.
He’s gone like Declan before,
And like Declan will his voice and face stay with us.
But more of the man lives in his songs,
That agile scalpel wit, barbed ambiguities,
precision of rhyme and metre.
Grieve for this bard, but mourn with pride,
For we have known him.



Vale John Dengate.



John and Jenni Cole Warner.
Murrumbateman.


                     ======================

Bill and I are very sad to hear the news.  One of the things I particularly appreciated about John (and Dale) was how readily they welcomed me into the folk scene.  Also, I often used to see John playing his whistle at Central as I went past in the bus on my way to work.  It was a lovely way to start the day.  The most fitting way to pay tribute seemed to be to follow his example and give a good tune another set of words, and so:

Farewell to John Dengate to the tune of The Wild Colonial Boy (the tune used by Dr Hook - sorry to be so un-folk, but it's the first one I heard.)

There was an Aussie songwriter,
His name was John Dengate.
To those of us who knew him
He was the best of mates. 
He liked a beer or two or three,
When with friends he gathered round
And when he sang his latest song
There was a joyful sound.

Lampooning politicians - it was John's favourite sport.
And there was a song of warning
When skin cancer he caught.
The track, the booze and train platforms
All featured in his songs
And many included a chorus,
So that we could sing along.

John wasn't just a songwriter,
He was a poet too.
He did the best Geebung Polo Club
I ever heard anyone do.
His own verse featured golf clubs
Sending cats to kingdom come
And Scott of the Riverina
Wasn't done better by anyone.

So farewell to our good friend John
And lots of love to Dale.
We'll  miss John at election time
And when politicians fail.
We'll miss his smile, his wicked grin,
His welcome to new Folk.
And so we gather now to say,
"Farewell" to a top bloke.

Jane Scott 2/8/13

                                     ========================


John Dengate
A man of integrity and principle
A man of simplicity and complexity.
A man of fitness in mind and body.
A family man, a friend, a folkie, a poet,
A singer and a modern day Lawson.
A good bloke

Vale John Dengate     Geoffrey W Graham

To Dale and family--Be proud & celebrate

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John Dengate - A tribute

We have few giants alive in Australia, and now we have one less. John Dengate has not however passed into the silence – he has instead embraced his forebears and now provides from a different side of the mortal divide a navigable bridge between the troubled Australia of the present and that of its Irish-Australian past. As he rejoins bare-legged Kate and the peach-pickers of his childhood, the kids at Carlingford for whose cricket games cars would drive off the single-lane bitumen road, his father the orchardist and sheet metal worker, and drinks Coopers Ale with his uncles, sprawling with them on the grass in the sun, he will continue to haunt conservative politicians, bumbling administrators, dodgy bookmakers, corrupt businessmen and tall poppies of all descriptions.

 And he won’t merely do it from the grave, he will do it with the living voice of all those he inspired, who will sing his songs, recite his poems, and create new works spurred on by his example. 

There has never been a more potent songwriter in this country, and nor has there been a more dedicated Australian. He loved this country with a passion for which words are manifestly inadequate, and he spurned with a vengeance cant and toadyism of any colour or dimension.  

 Had he been prepared to sell his genius to the highest bidder, to kow-tow to the sanitized sensitivities of television executives and advertisers, or even to make the slightest effort at self-promotion, his would be a household name across this country.  

Instead, he chose passionately to identify always with Bill from Erskinville and all his battler mates, to spurn compromise and live forever an indominable free spirit.  His is a life to celebrate. Let us do that, and by our actions do justice to his memory.

Keith McKenry 

                                          ========================

The Sydney folk scene is much poorer now that John is gone.

I can remember BMC folkus nights in the 80s, one in particular (just one of many) where John was the featured performer - his political caricatures and satirical songs were a delight. He called that night "No matter how much you stir the dunny can, the shit always floats to the top."


Jennie Richards
  
                                           ========================


Thanks so much for informing us of this sad passage. We have very fond memories of John, having first met him and Dale at Blackheath for a concert; I was doing the opening set and John and Dale invited Judy and me over to their table before performing. Afterwards we enjoyed several song parties at their wonderful house in Sydney. Please convey our condolences to Dale.



Charlie Ipcar and Judy Barrows  (Maine, USA)


                                          ========================

 
I worked at UNSW for three or four years in the early two thousands, and often saw John busking at Central in Eddy Ave. It was always a pleasure to hear  him sing, and he gave out such a positive vibe it was impossible to not to be distracted and taken to a better place, if only for a moment.

Of course singing his songs in Solidarity Choir was fun too.


To his family and friends, I share your loss or this lovely man.

Best wishes,
Col Hesse

                                        ======================== 

In an age where economic rationalism and self interest are presented as the only way to approach life and the community, it serves us all to remember the example John set us.

We have lost our best, but his spirit lives on. Also, the superb body of songs he left us all.

Thanks,

Len Neary in Sydney 

                                         ======================== 


John was one of the most imaginative writers we have ever had in this
country. A genius with words and always with empathy for all people but
vitriol for phonies and parasites.

Henry, Banjo, the Duke and all of the others would be proud to work with
him.

I don't think we will see his like again.

Bob Hart (via Chris Woodland)

                                    ======================== 

Singer, songwriter and close family friend passed away last Thursday 1st August. John Dengate - you will be sorely missed, but your memories and music will live on. There’s at least one agitator in heaven now! 

John Woodland (Facebook)


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From the Office of Director- General of National Library of Australia, - Anne-Marie Schwirtlich.

John was a friend to staff, as well as a musician, artist, teacher and scholar. 

Library staff knew him as an observer, wry commentator and brilliant wit, who commented with insight on society and politics through his writings. His prodigious output of songs and poems documented and described in the tradition of ballad writers and folk singers over centuries. John’s writings and memories were recorded regularly; first by John Meredith, then by Chris Woodland and others. 

He was interviewed by many people who had an interest in the origins of the Australian Folk scene. Many of the nearly 50 hours of recordings made by John are available from the Library’s website at his request, typical of his generous attitude to sharing his work. This record of his achievements is testament to the impact he had on the contemporary performance of folk music in Australia.

John’s influence through his writings has been substantial, and the recordings he made will continue to provide a fascinating insight into our social and cultural history for generations to come.

The significance of his contribution to Australian cultural life will continue to grow.

link to blog article giving list of NLA Oral History interviews with John




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The Legend of John Dengate



There is a song called Train to Guildford. I heard it one night played at The Bush Music Club and I have loved it ever since.



It is one of the few songs that made me rethink what it was to be a songwriter, what topics I could broach, how I could use humor, how to structure verses and the perfection of my rhymes.



Waiting, waiting for the twenty past four to arrive

The twenty past four doesn’t run any more

the next train’s at a quarter to five



Time is money they say

So I must get to Guilford today

Did they say platform nine for the Liverpool line

Do I have to change trains on the way?





It was written by a man called John Dengate.



In 2009 I went to the Illawarra Folk Festival, I was hanging around with some bush poets when I told a stranger about my love affair with this song. My new friend stopped me mid sentence and scanned the room.



The bloke who wrote it is sitting down there,” he said, pointing to a small elderly man sitting at a table.



As a songwriter it is very rare that you get to meet one of your idols, more often than not they are from another country or another generation or even deceased, but for me here was my chance. I walked up to him and stood behind his shoulder.



Excuse me Mr Dengate,” I said, ever careful of my manners. “I just wanted to say how much I love your song Train to Guildford.



Thank you mate,” he replied, giving me a smile.



Around that time I was starting a folk night in Erskineville. The aim of the night was to combine old and young poets and performers on the same stage.



Given how influenced I had become by John’s work, it was important for me to get him to perform on the first night. I felt compelled to share this man with a young audience, to allow them to see all the brilliance that I had witnessed. I asked him over the phone one night and fortunately he agreed.



So that night, armed with his amazing wife Dale and his acoustic guitar he came along and entertained the youngish audience. He played a few traditional songs along with some of his hits like Bill from Erskineville, Bare Legged Kate as well as a recital of The Lanes of Woolloomooloo.



I was SO proud to have him there.



As he was playing I was thinking to myself, “people this IS folk, this is IT! You need to listen!”



And listen they did.



For two years I ran the club. We had singers cover Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and a sway of popular songwriters, however without a doubt the songwriter that was covered the most was John Dengate.



A year later I saw John outside a school where he used to work in Marrickville. I didn’t know he had been a primary school teacher and was buoyed by this, as now John and I had one more thing in common.



We went for a drink that night and John told me about his busking down at Central Station on a Friday morning. A few Coopers Pale Ales later I had agreed to meet him outside the Commonwealth Bank on Elizabeth Street.



At 8 o’clock I arrived. Sure enough John had been there since 6:00 tin whistle in hand. Dressed in an oversized coat he was standing amongst the crowd singing. It was a wonderful scene, here amongst the bustle of the rush hour was one of Australia’s greatest songwriters seemingly oblivious to the chaos of peak hour, and instead standing proudly amongst it all, singing his songs.



I loved it. I stood behind him and leaned against the walls, taking in his perfectly enunciated lyrics and listening closely to the melodies he piped out of his tin whistle.



Often after a song John would turn to me and explain the song’s origins. “That was an old Civil War song,” he would say.



After the busking we retired to a café for a coffee. Once seated our conversations would start small and then build and build momentum. Often it would be a piece of forgotten Australian history that John would bring up, such as the presence of US marines in Brisbane during the Second World War. John would tell stories of barbed wire across Brisbane streets, or skirmishes between the soldiers spilling out of pubs. Although starting in Brisbane in the 1940’s, our conversation would then shift across decades and continents.



Entwined were poets and verses, Shakespearean characters, soldiers, cricket stars and politicians. I could never keep up; every story was as rich and enticing as the last, full of vivid information. But there was just too much and often I would leave our meetings feeling like a soaked sponge in a bucket of water, holding only a fraction of information.



Our meetings became a semi-regular event. Sometimes we would meet for busking, other times we would meet at The Friend in Hand for a pint of Guinness. In the afternoon light we would carry on our conversations, moving from Grafton beer (Jacaranda Juice) to etymology and then across to Papua New Guinea and the Kakoda Trail.



While these conversations were going on John was still for me a singer-songwriter first and foremost. So often I would pester him for stories of songwriting. While addressing my songwriting questions inevitably a host of characters from his past would find their way into his tales.



Duke Tritton once told me,” said John one afternoon, “if the audience can’t understand the 8th word of the 16th verse, you’ve buggered the song up”.



During the school holidays I would pop over to see John and Dale for a cup of tea. As usual the conversation, while starting at school and teaching, would evolve into something else. Soon we were talking about the Catholic influence in the Labor Party in the 1950’s; we would then move onto Gough Whitlam and Pine Gap before doing a complete 360o and begin a conversation on cricket.



I can still remember John’s advice on being an opening batsman: “when the bastard at the other end tries to knock your block off, you just take it on the body and stare him down, as if you want some more.”



So why was he a legend?



For me it was in his songs. His songs are amazing, amazing like very few others are. They are the absolute cream. He used his words with such care it as if they had been sculpted instead of written. They also possess a sing-ability to them that most songwriters would die for. I have seen it and heard it so often, from my own folk club to the stages of the National Folk Festival - when someone plays a John Dengate song the crowd joins in.



His scope as a songwriter is exceptionally broad. There are songs about struggle and oppression, song about underdogs, songs about workers, songs about horse racing and songs about soldiers.



Then there was his humor. Many of John’s most famous songs involve humor, sometimes it was observational humor while often it was political satire. His political satire is arguably without equal and he turned his pen on a vast number of politicians and business figures who have littered the Australian electorates and newspapers for over five decades.




Apart from John as an artist, part of the legend stems from John as a character. He was a man who stood for something. He was a man of principles and beliefs. These beliefs, while permeating his songs and his poems, were also lived out every day by John. He didn’t just write union songs, he stood for unions, spoke for unionism and was proud of it. In the same way he wrote songs that mocked big business and economic rationalism. These were not issues exclusive to John’s songs, they were beliefs he held and adhered to everyday.



Some of the last words John wrote reflect the anti-establishment beliefs he held and which were part of this legend of character.



We won’t surrender, won’t give in, although our hair is graying;

We come from tough rebellious kin…

Sometimes we lose, sometimes we win…

We go on disobeying.



The last time I saw John was during the Easter holidays this year. We were sharing a cup of tea when I asked him, “what are you John? Are you a singer/songwriter? Are you a storyteller? Are you a poet? Are you a unionist? Are you a cricket tragic? Are you rebel? What are you?”



John paused for a brief moment, thought about it and said. “I’m an educator.”



John Dengate, my inspiration and friend died on the 1st of August 2013, just shy of his 75th birthday. I was shocked and saddened when I heard he had passed.



Goodbye Mr Dengate, songwriter, hero, rebel, husband, father, teacher, humorist, satirist, unionist, cricketer, golfer, poet, friend … and educator



Cj Shaw

11th August 2013


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