William Neilson. Bush Poet of Penola. an Anthology of Poems

M A R G I N: life & letters in early Australia, November 2009 | Go to article overview

William Neilson. Bush Poet of Penola. an Anthology of Poems


William Neilson.

Bush Poet of Penola. An Anthology of Poems

Edited by Andrew G. Peake

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

This small booklet gives us a taste of the poetry of William Neilson. It also gives us the opportunity to compare his work with that of his famous nephew. It in addition has a portrait of the 'bush poet' typically bearded and wearing bush clothes, an old hat and carrying a basket that presumably contains his mid-day meal together with a billy for his tea. He is standing in front of a large log and is with some of the employees of his sawmill. It is an unusual view of a poet.

William Neilson was born in Scotland in 1842 and lived most of his life in Penola in South Australia. His brother John Neilson, father of the famous John Shaw Neilson was also born in Scotland He lived for a time in Penola and his son John was born in that town. Penola had a number of other Scottish Australian writers. Adam Lindsay Gordon, Will Ogilvie also were connected in this town.

Newspapers were quickly established in many country towns not least in South Australia. They provided local news and entertainment for the growing literate population. It was in these newspapers that the local poets found an outlet for their verses. Perhaps it was the example of Robbie Burns that inspired them. It would seem that the Neilson family had a tradition of composing verses. Both brothers published in the local newspapers. Not all of the poetry published in newspapers was written by local people; some of the material published was syndicated literary supplements that were added to the local newspaper. Perhaps the one of the best known were those supplements produced by Donald Cameron. There were three main newspapers in the south east of South Australia, two in Mount Gambier and one in Naracoorte and they regularly printed local poems. Writing poems was very much a nineteenth century phenomenon that almost disappeared after the First World War. It may have been because so many young men were killed in that conflict. William Neilson published in these local newspapers from the mid 1870s until his death n 1916. The introduction to this book quotes his obituary:

Although Mr. Neilson received little schooling, he was a deeply read man, especially in Scottish literature, and his poetic compositions were many. Several topical poems by him were published in the south-eastern press. He was very fond of Burn's poetry, which he could quote extensively and was one of the founders of the Burn's Caledonian Society.

At the age of nine he was working a twelve hour day in Scotland. He came to Victoria in 1853 at the age of eleven to join his family. He attended a school for two weeks in Glasgow while waiting for his ship to Australia. This appears to have been his only formal schooling. …

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