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Obit: John Dengate (1938-2013) Australia

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Sandra in Sydney 04 Aug 13 - 12:21 AM
Sandra in Sydney 04 Aug 13 - 01:17 AM
JennieG 04 Aug 13 - 01:41 AM
RoyH (Burl) 04 Aug 13 - 05:54 AM
Sandra in Sydney 04 Aug 13 - 06:52 AM
Bruce from Bathurst 04 Aug 13 - 09:03 AM
GUEST,Doug Jenner 04 Aug 13 - 12:05 PM
Sandra in Sydney 05 Aug 13 - 12:43 AM
GUEST,Eric in Adelaide 08 Aug 13 - 08:11 AM
freda underhill 08 Aug 13 - 09:56 AM
Sandra in Sydney 08 Aug 13 - 11:27 AM
Charley Noble 08 Aug 13 - 04:23 PM
GUEST 16 Aug 13 - 02:04 PM
gnu 18 Aug 13 - 05:35 AM
Sandra in Sydney 19 Aug 13 - 07:32 AM
maeve 19 Aug 13 - 08:20 AM
Sandra in Sydney 19 Aug 13 - 12:06 PM
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Subject: Obit: John Dengate, 1st Aug 2013, Australia
From: Sandra in Sydney
Date: 04 Aug 13 - 12:21 AM

4 days ago I lost a dear friend & Australia lost a National Treasure/singer/songwriter/poet/satirist/wordsmith/busker/scourge of politicians & all around good bloke, John Dengate.

Tribute to John from another master songwriter & poet, John Warner (former Mudcatter Jack Halyard)

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.

(the bronze smith was John's father, & Declan Affley was another legend of the folk scene.)

A bit of info about John written for publicity purposes a few years back -

John Dengate has been involved in traditional and folk music since the late 1950s in Menindee, where he was sent on his first teaching appointment. Here he met Brian Mooney, who introduced him to traditional Irish music. However, even in his childhood days he was writing rhymes, reciting Banjo Paterson and was acknowledged as a story teller who could capture everyone's attention.

On his return to Sydney he was introduced to the Bush Music Club in 1961, by his future wife Dale. At the BMC, John was very influenced by John Meredith, who recorded many of his early songs which he was writing almost weekly. Most of these dealt with the political situation of the day and used the Australian idiom or were in satirical vein. Because of the vast number of songs recorded for the National Library archives and his contribution to Australian traditional music, John has often been called a 'national treasure' when being introduced at festivals around Australia and even at Old Parliament House, in Canberra.

His books My Shout and My Shout Again sold out and have become collector's items. His early songs, which were included on recordings with the Bush Music Club and Rebel Chorus, and The Follies of Pollies; Songs About the Australian Way of Strife (1996) have long sold out, but in 2002 a two volume CD John Dengate: Australian Son (Shoestring Records) was launched at the National Folk Festival and is still available.

John has been interviewed & many of his songs recorded for the National Library Oral History Collection.

As Tony Smith said in Master of dissent: the music of John Dengate (AQ: Australian Quarterly 76:22, 38-40, 3/2004) about John's appearance at the National Folk Festival 2004

While the very existence of folk music encourages resistance to neoconservative values, the content of some forms is dedicated specifically to dissent. Among the stars of this festival was Glebe singer-songwriter John Dengate. Dengate is probably familiar to many city workers as a busker on prominent corners, playing Irish and Australian tunes on his tin whistle, with trusty cricket cap open on the footpath. The festival program billed Dengate as a 'living treasure'. He gave two concerts, one in the lower house chamber at Old Parliament House, an appropriate venue for an act described as 'forty years of political dissent' through satirical songs. The concerts were well attended and the audiences were absorbed in Dengate's witty, irreverent lyrics set to eminently singable tunes. The 'living treasure' tag was well appreciated as standing ovations were forthcoming.


Launch of John Denagte's 1st Book, 'My Shout', 1982

Launch of John Denagte's 3rd Book - May 2012

John in action at his local folk club


DENGATE, John Robert.
1.10.1938 - 1.08.2013
Late of Glebe

Deeply missed by his wife Roseann Dale, his mother Kit Bare Legged Kate, sons Lachlan and Sean, Mandy and grandchildren Roisin and Cal, relatives and friends from his days teaching, singing and writing folk songs, busking, and running in Centennial Park.

JOHN'S Funeral Service will be held in the NORTH Chapel of Northern Suburbs Crematorium, 199 Delhi Road, North Ryde on Thursday (8th August, 2013) at 1:15 PM.

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Subject: RE: Obit: John Dengate, 1st July 2013, Australia
From: Sandra in Sydney
Date: 04 Aug 13 - 01:17 AM

oh, no!! a typo in the title - I'll have to get it fixed.

Album of photos of John

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Subject: RE: Obit: John Dengate, 1st July 2013, Australia
From: JennieG
Date: 04 Aug 13 - 01:41 AM

Hard to imagine the Sydney folk scene without John, he will be much missed.

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Subject: RE: Obit: John Dengate, 1st July 2013, Australia
From: RoyH (Burl)
Date: 04 Aug 13 - 05:54 AM

I'm sure I remember John Dengate from my long ago visit to Australia.   Didn't he call himself 'The poet lorikeet'? A great talent.
Apologies if I am remembering the wrong bloke. Condolences to his family. R I P John.

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Subject: RE: Obit: John Dengate, 1st July 2013, Australia
From: Sandra in Sydney
Date: 04 Aug 13 - 06:52 AM

Denis Kevans was the poet lorikeet, but you might have also met John as he was a friend of Bob Bolton.


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Subject: RE: Obit: John Dengate, 1st July 2013, Australia
From: Bruce from Bathurst
Date: 04 Aug 13 - 09:03 AM

John Dengate was a master of the Australian vernacular and the use of colloquialism in his verses was a joy to behold. Born and bred in the north-western suburbs of Sydney (as was I, a few years later), John wrote about the world around him and about the impact of social change from a personal, very human perspective, including some stunningly evocative stories from his own family history.

John wasn't a political dissenter just for the sake of it. He was never going to let politicians get away with pomposity and hubris without a fight ... I mean a 'song'. He fervently believed that the bastards should be doing better than they are, and that meant they're fair game.

We've lost a very fine poet, political satirist, social commentator and mate.

Vale John Dengate

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Subject: RE: Obit: John Dengate, 1st July 2013, Australia
From: GUEST,Doug Jenner
Date: 04 Aug 13 - 12:05 PM

As a poet, songwriter and humorist, John was in a class of his own. As a close mate over 28 years, sharing many songs, drinks, poems and stories, over that time, his friendship was a special gift which enriched my life. Goodbye, old mate.

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Subject: RE: Obit: John Dengate, 1st July 2013, Australia
From: Sandra in Sydney
Date: 05 Aug 13 - 12:43 AM

I'm planning a concert for John at the Loaded Dog in October, & no doubt there will many similar concerts/sessions around Australia.

John was a Life Member of the Bush Music Club & we'll also be celebrating his life & work.

sandra (wearing 2 hats)

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Subject: RE: Obit: John Dengate, 1st Aug 2013, Australia
From: GUEST,Eric in Adelaide
Date: 08 Aug 13 - 08:11 AM

A unique and lovely bloke.......I don't know when they stopped making Aussies like John, but they have, he was the last of his kind, and Australia is much the poorer for it. I had the privilege of sharing a few beers and laughs at various folk festivals with John over the last 30 odd years, applauding his wickedly funny and insightful satirical political songs, wincing at his terrible puns but mainly just sitting there allowing his personal and musical honesty, his unswerving commitment to "keeping the bastards honest" and his compassion for the human condition to make this world, however briefly, seem a better place to have a few beers in.....

John had a major operation to remove a cancerous tumour a couple of years ago, around the same time as another Australian living treasure, the poet and author, Dennis O'Keefe, was also having a tumour removed. John wrote a humorous poem regarding their mutual medical conditions and sent it to Dennis to help cheer him up. For those of you who never had the privilege of hearing John sing or reading any of his poetry, I attach one verse of that poem, it will hopefully give you some small flavour of the man John Dengate was...........

St. Christopher, patron of Catholics who travel,
Said, 'If you drink beer by the keg and the barrel,
You never get cancer because your condition
Ensures you're too pissed to consult a physician,
I once knew two blokes, they were both piano tuners…
Who, every day, swallowed 25 schooners.
They walked under a bus and their end, it was gory…
I fear I've forgotten the point of this story…
Except … unless, you are as lithe as a dancer,
The bus is potentially worse than the cancer.
There are pros, there are cons. There are minuses, pluses,
But, on the whole, I'm more afraid of the buses

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Subject: RE: Obit: John Dengate, 1st Aug 2013, Australia
From: freda underhill
Date: 08 Aug 13 - 09:56 AM

This song by John is wonderful when sung in 4 part harmony. It helped me cope, after the Howard government got in.

    I Can't Abide
    A song by John Dengate ©John Dengate 1998
    Tune: Abide With Me

    I can't abide the government's front bench, send them away to the Germans or the French
    I can't abide Costello's shallow sneer - won't someone make the bastard disappear?

    I can't abide that bloody aweful Kemp, bring back the gallows, the hangman and the hemp
    Take Peter Reith and dump him in the tide. Him I particularly can't abide

    Poor little John deserves our sympathy, born neath the star of mediocrity
    Pat his wee head and send him off to bed, then hide the key lest he abide with me

    I can't abide the government's ministry, Senator Vanstone's worse than dysentry
    Send her away without the least delay - dont pour the tea lest she abide with me

    Sink them the swine, an iceberg would be fine. Far, far away in distant Hudson Bay
    As they go down they'll warble while they drown, flat and off-key, they'll be despised by me

    I can't abide the government's front bench, send them away to the Germans or the French
    Take Peter Reith and dump him in the tide. Him I particularly can't abide

This song has been sung at the wharfies picket lines around Australia, and at support demonstrations. it was also sung at a demonstration against Peter Reith, organised by the Blue Mountains Unions Council, at Wentworth Falls.

    On that occasion Chris Kempster introduced the song with the following words
    Our good friend John Dengate was moved by the singing of the hymn "Abide with Me" as the Titanic slid to disaster. He felt there was a certain resonance with the progress (for want of better word) of the present government, and changed the hymn to "I Can't Abide".
    A little uneasy at changing a hymn, we conferred, and have been advised by St Peter, that under these exceptional circumstances the changes could be sanctioned. He sent his unqualified approval, adding that several of the disciples have done likewise and will try to join in whenever the new version is sung

    John songs the song on the MUA Centenary CD "With These Arms"

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Subject: RE: Obit: John Dengate, 1st Aug 2013, Australia
From: Sandra in Sydney
Date: 08 Aug 13 - 11:27 AM

John's funeral & wake today were very well attended - Dennis O'Keeffe sang Waltzing Matilda at the service & then did far too many songs at the wake as he's only weeks past a nasty bout of chemo & radio which has really knocked him about.

He was only cleared of his cancer a day or so before John died & didn't look well, but he couldn't miss his best mate's funeral. His doctors told him it can take up to 12 months to recover from the chemo & radio, but he'll be well on the way by the time he runs the National Folk Festival Australian Songs sessions in Easter next year, & probably totally recovered by the time he appears at my folk club later in the year.

The funeral service included John Warner's poem, reminiscences by Dale, their eldest son, their young twin grandchildren and a family friend. We were led in one of his songs, & in two of his favourite songs, listened to 3 songs from his CD & watched a slide shows of his life & music. There was a lot of laughter & tears.

Doug Jenner's brother read out a message from him at the Wake.

Old & younger folkies came out of the woodwork from many states & I caught up with friends & acquaintance I normally only see at festivals. I took lots of pics, & I'll be posting some of these & pics by other folks on the Bush Music Club photo website   

I'm hoping I can get copies of some of the reminiscences to post on our blog


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Subject: RE: Obit: John Dengate, 1st Aug 2013, Australia
From: Charley Noble
Date: 08 Aug 13 - 04:23 PM


Thanks so much for keeping us up to date on the loss of our friend. Dengate was a fine songwriter and a wonderful person to share an evening with.

Judy and I got to stay at the Dengates house the last time we were in Sydney, and the evening chats and songs will still bring a smile to our faces for years to come.

Charley Noble

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Subject: RE: Obit: John Dengate, 1st Aug 2013, Australia
Date: 16 Aug 13 - 02:04 PM

At the funeral, John's son Sean delivered a brilliant eulogy which summed the man up to a tee. One of Sean's abiding observations of his father was his ability to keep it all simple: "Don't get distracted from doing the things you love, with the people you love. And according to John Dengate, that's all you need to do to have a good life."

I found myself going down a similar path in my own tribute to him:

The one to leave

Schooners of Coopers
and a golden afternoon before us,
aglow with beer and banter,
Dengate and I share cricket yarns,
and evidence in broken fingers.
In beery mind's eye I picture the wiry John,
head in Kokoda with the Aussie militiamen,
blocking wooden answers
to questions fired down 22 yards,
organised for survival,
And sure of the ball to leave.

Now, in the pub
When he's in free flow,
Timing strokes, punching lines
onto the comic sweet spot,
Middling them Mark Waugh-like
to the boundary fence,
He's not just the life and soul,
He's a whole party in one man,
And he sets the room aglow.
Even so, even then, he knows
Whether to play, or whether to let it go.

Sometimes, many schooners on,
adrift in poetry and song,
you think he's gone. Quite suddenly,
like a bird that sits on water
and instantly isn't there.
Then quick, like the diving bird, he's back,
In his beak a rhyme, a limerick,
a new-spun funny line.
And along with warmth, with humour that you feel,
You also sense a discipline
As strong as Kembla steel

Today, across the continents
came news that he was gone,
so comrades line those schooners up,
Australia toast your son!
For the gifts and the heart of Dengate
make that ceilidh roar,
Sing loud for one of our 'valiant men
That we never shall see more.'
And when in your quiet moments, you open your heart to grieve,
Remember how much of his genius
Was in knowing the one to leave.

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Subject: RE: Obit: John Dengate, 1st Aug 2013, Australia
From: gnu
Date: 18 Aug 13 - 05:35 AM

My condolences to all. Sounds like quite a guy. RIP

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Subject: RE: Obit: John Dengate, 1st Aug 2013, Australia
From: Sandra in Sydney
Date: 19 Aug 13 - 07:32 AM

anon guest 16th Aug, please break your anonymity.

John's obit was published today in the Sydney Morning Herald by Warren Fahey (Mudcatter Bodgie & Guest Warren Fahey.)

Unfortunately the Herald's (lack of) sub-editors swapped the captions leading to Warren calling them a lot of dills - a term I haven't heard used for a very long time. (Definition - a naive or foolish person, Australian/NZ informal)


Lawson heir left mark on folklore
SMH - Monday, 19 Aug 2013 - Page 33

John Dengate

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.

If nothing else, Dengate was pragmatic about his growing catalogue of ailments and used his wry humour to cope. After being diagnosed with atrial fibrillation he wrote a song ending with: '' I suppose that there's worse things in life than giving up the booze, and I know it sounds vindictive ... but I hope the All Blacks lose!''

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.

At 15, infatuated with the boxer Jimmy Carruthers, Dengate became obsessed with the fight game and the old Sydney Stadium boxers. He loved all sports although he claimed to be a rotten sport. His song Sporting Suicide ends with '' Jump off the Gap or turn on the gas tap, if we're beaten by the Poms.''

Dengate was lean, like a greyhound at Harold Park, and he had the stamina of one, too. He ran marathons and estimated he had raced around the Centennial Park circuit more than 12,000 times, but his real marathon was in continuing the spirit of Henry Lawson for well over 50 years.

As a young man, Dengate, a talented sketcher, was torn between art and music, not real options for a working-class boy, so, being a realist, he became a teacher. His first posting in the 1950s was the outback town of Menindee, where he met folk singer Brian Mooney, who '' taught me everything I needed to know about the power of folk song" .

In 1961, Dengate went to Burnside Central School, where he met and soon married Roseann Dale, who introduced him to the Bush Music Club.
There, he met traditional singers who impressed him with their well-articulated singing, so important to story songs. He also met pioneer folk song collectors John Meredith and Alan Scott, who furthered his interest in Australian traditional song and story.

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, sons Lachlan and Sean, daughter-in-law Mandy, grandchildren Roisin and Cal, mother Kathleen and, of course, his songs.

Warren Fahey

(The obituary was accompanied by Kathryn (Kate) Scott's portrait and Bob Bolton's photograph of John playing tin whistle - thanks to both for their assistance - WF).

Copyright © 2013 The Sydney Morning Herald


more photos of John here many more pics to be added.


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Subject: RE: Obit: John Dengate, 1st Aug 2013, Australia
From: maeve
Date: 19 Aug 13 - 08:20 AM

Sandra, thank you for so much information about your friend John. I wish I could have had the pleasure and honor of knowing him. So sorry for the loss of this fascinating and highly skilled man.

Are most of his songs available - songbook, recordings, etc.?

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Subject: RE: Obit: John Dengate, 1st Aug 2013, Australia
From: Sandra in Sydney
Date: 19 Aug 13 - 12:06 PM

Thanks, maeve.

John's first & third songbooks are in print, I have a loan-copy of his second & wish it was still available. Most of his songs are set to well known folk or hymn tunes. His first & second books included dots, the third relies on the www as most of his songs have been recorded for the National Library Oral History collection. I'll send you a copy.

His 1st CD "The Follies of pollies : songs about the Australian way of strife" is out of print, as is the LP "I called him a worship your bastard!" he put out years ago with poet Denis Kevans, but his latest double CD is still available. (ps. the LP title is a line from one of Denis's poems on Side B.)

In my earlier posts I give clickies to some videos. Here's more John Dengate videos & songs on YouTube

Over the past few years one of his friends recorded most of his songs for the National Library's Oral History section, but I haven't been able to find them in the catalogue, unlike all his Oral History interviews. National Library Oral History holdings on John Dengate (1938-2013)


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