||Issue No. 278||26 August 2005|
A Secret Country
Interview: On Holiday
Unions: One Day Longer
Industrial: Never Mind the Bollocks
Politics: Spun Out
Economics: If the Grog Don't Get You ....
History: Taking a Stand
International: The Split
Legal: Pushing the Friendship
Poetry: Simple Subtractions
Review: Sydney Trashed
The Locker Room
Proof in the Pudding
Safeguards Already There
Lorikeet Folds Wings
Blue Mountains-based Kevans built a reputation as "the people's poet" through his close identification with Aboriginals, Irish political prisoners, workers, environmental causes, republicanism and the anti-war movement.
With an Irish Catholic background, where the male side of the family volunteered in both World War One and Two, Kevans excelled scholastically and in sport. He was in the St Joseph's College First XV Rugby team then, two years later, as a junior public servant in the old External Affairs Department in Canberra, was chosen by Sir Robert Menzies for the Prime Minister's Eleven cricket team against the visiting English in the early 1960s.
He wrote many poems on sport, war and politics with a poem on Gallipoli winning the Mary Gilmore Award for poetry in 1959. Legendary folk singer Gary Shearston recording "The Roar of the Crowd" on his seminal vinyl LP "Broadside" as 1960s drew to a close.
Kevans was prominent in both the "Ban The Bomb" anti-nuclear campaign, where his satirical poem "Teen Problems" drew the wrath of The Bulletin magazine, and the anti-war movement, where his "Slouch of Vietnam" poem became the battle hymn of the Vietnam Moritorium Movement.
Kevans mimiced Canberra's Vietnam folly in the Lawson-Paterson tradition of 'I had written him a letter' found in "Clancy of the Overflow". As each American leader arrived on our shores during the war they were greeted with his latest edict : "Welcome Spiro Agnew" was closely followed by "Tell Me Henry (Kissinger) Why I Still Can't Get To Sleep?". The poems were written with laconic wit, irony and Australian vernacular that owed much to the earlier bards. As did his tribute to the suffering of Australian veterans in poems like "Agent Orange, Agent Blue".
Kevans, with his older brother Jacko, who also recently died, were part of the Bush Music and folk song revival period in Australia which began in the mid-1950s with the play "Reedy River" at New Theatre in Sydney. While his brother Jacko stayed with the music tradition his whole life as a performer, Denis excelled at poetry. His involvement with the Realist Writers Group and, influenced by Frank Hardy's "Power Without Glory" and Russell Ward's "The Australian Legend", invigorated him to pursue the Henry Lawson tradition for much of his writing career much to the chagrin of the academic and literary establishment.
Kevans built a strong following amongst Australian workers with endless poems written for and recited on picket lines like "Clowns and other Clowns", "Cockatoo Island", "The Dogman", "Ten Minutes Washing Time", and "The Green Ban Fusiliers".
He wrote "Across The Western Suburbs We Must Wander", a parody of the traditional "Across The Western Plains", to highlight the plight of the evicted tenants of Victoria Street, Kings Cross. Many of the older residents of Victoria Street were on war-time tenancies and were illegally moved with their possessions to the outer Western Suburbs of Sydney in the middle of the night by stand-over men. At the Blue Mountains Folk Festival in the late 1990s Jack Mundey launched an album of Denis Kevan's poems set to music entitled "City of Green -Green Ban Songs and Beyond".
The Kevans legacy will be an enduring one. His verse has been recorded by over 100 local musicians, including Jeannie Lewis and Michael Atherton (from Sirocco), and translated into more than half a dozen languages in anthologies published from Vietnam and Russia to South America. His self-published anthologies were partially funded by royalties from Midnight Oil who used an unauthorised version of the Kevans' poem "Harrisburg Oh Harrisburg" (on the Three Mile Island nuclear incident in 1979) as the lead in track on their "Red Sails in the Sunset". Kevans collaborated with many musicians. His most recent efforts were in conjunction with his long time partner Sonia Bennett on her Wollemi Pine CD of environmental songs.
The Kevans contribution to the peace movement in Australia and globally was also significant. He was a tireless campaigner and performer at benefit concerts over many decades. In the last five years he has twice graced the stage of the Sydney Town Hall to recite at East Timor benefit nights - in November 2000 for the 'Anin Murak' Choir tour from Timor and in April 2004 for the Kirsty Sword-Gusmao Alola Foundation benefit. On both occasions he performed "Your Friends Will Never Forget You", a poem that refers to the Australian Army leaflet dropped over East Timor during World War Two and the betrayal of the the Timorese people by successive Australian Governments. Like many others I can sincerely say in remembering Denis Kevans now "Your Friends will Never Forget You."
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