The 7th issue of my magazine H/EAR(1981-85) was entitled BEING HERE.
One of its components was a particular take on local art & literature within, one could say, an exploration of the relationship or oscillation of 'the local' & 'the world'.
Returning to materials I'd gathered but never used, since I'd stopped publishing the magazine after the 8th issue, I've realized that even in my exploration of 1960s & 1940s poetics & practice (a juxtaposition I'll elaborate later), in Australia & elsewhere, there's a fascination with the secret history, as it were. I mean 'secret' in the sense of unacknowledged, perhaps even as of Shelley's famous phrase! And
I remain interested in the non-mainstream figures & activities (even though these might be the 'other end of London & New York business', as D H Lawrence wrote in Kangaroo) --a melange of the esoteric & mystical, our own Beats & Surrealists, for example, connected to more or less celebrated rebel & exploratory impulses overseas. This doesnt now imply the mutual exclusivity which characterized my younger undertakings, though points of difference & departure are to be valued (& perhaps to a greater degree in this time of accord & equanimity).The Post Modern opportunity, as I've often commented, really does mean that everything's back in consideration and former contentions have no currency as eternally opposing blocs!
Robert Kenny's essay, A Secret Australia : on the poetry of Ken Taylor (which accompanies the selected poems of the same name, published by Kenny's Rigmarole Books in 1985), begins with a chapter entitled Nostalgia, Minutiae & a Search. That could also be a subtitle for the psychology of my project --& another definition of 'history', per se!
The "secret Australia" coined by Ken Taylor in one of his great poems of the 1960s (& still unacknowledged in the official anthologies), Maurie speaks about a secret Australia while in Iceland, refers both to a nostalgia for & a departure from a place & state of mind. The hospital in the country, the young man dying with cancer are no less actual for the symbols they also are. A companion poem, Maurie and the hotel game, seems even more a metaphor of the anachronism & decrepitude one might dress the older Australia in, and no shock at all to the reader at the possibility that "Old Maurie himself had been the manager of that dreary place"!
Perhaps against the intention of Ken Taylor's phrase, I've allowed it to conflate with something like a 'secret place', --this secret place, Melbourne, which has been my place in the world for twice as long as my southern & west country English homes but without displacing them... It attaches to my other place(s) to form the home one knows the instant one's there, --here & there, continuously...
I intend a series of reconnoitres ramifying the general theme, Being Here, utilizing in part some of the contents of a couple of the H/EAR magazine issues.
In my 1980s 'documenta' project, I attempted to tap the excitement of the '60s as a necessary rejuvination for the later period's end-of-the-world milieu. Now, in 2010, it's time to catch up the '80s' swirl of research, without of course ceasing to attend to the living present!
AS THOUGH A EULOGY, ALAN MURPHY (10/4/22 - 2/11/09)
[When Alan Murphy's wife, Alison, rang me with the sad news of his death, she mentioned the possibility of my saying a few words at the funeral. With that in mind I assembled some notes but, in the event, wasnt called upon. Talking with me afterwards, Alex Skovron, one of his valued collaborators, suggested I publish the notes anyway, which is all that they are. Inevitably I would have improvised upon the notes.]
Condolences to Alison & the family--
Loretta & I got to know Alan through Collected Works Bookshop. I think the first chat I had with him was at the book-launching for Aileen Kelly at the CAE Library --late 90s? early 2000?--
Alan talked with me about poetry, poets, ideas and with Loretta often of Melbourne identities important to both of them, like Artur Turnbull, Ruth Bergner--
One day, a few months back, I asked him if Shmuel Gorr's name meant anything to him. Oh, Shmuel? Shmuel Gorr? Oh yes! And he laughed impishly. We planned to sit down sometime & have a formal talk about such identities as Shmuel & the people he, Alan, knew at Norman Robb's Bookshop, including the poets Keith Harrison & Harold Stewart. He has written about this in his self-published book of poems & reminiscences, Somnambulant in Wetlands (2006)--
Alan was a great enthusiast for poetry & poets. He'd enjoyed Alan Wearne's classes at the RMIT in the mid '90s where he was a classmate of Cassie Lewis, Emma Lew, Jan Stumbles, Claire Gaskin & others. Alan Wearne celebrated him in a poem [Ballade to Alan Gould] about several 'Alan's' of his acquaintance. Alan Murphy also wrote music for another of Alan Wearne's poems [The Stags, from The Lovemakers, 04]--
Alan for many years was an enthusiastic contributor to the Deakin Literary Society's meetings, convened by Brian Edwards, and to Aileen Kelly's poetry groups alongside Fiona Benneton, Hellena Allan, Raffaella Torresan & others. I think he met Ken Taylor there, who was a guest for one or two sessions [perhaps Ken attended at Alan's behest, or was it Ron Pretty arranged his participation?].
Ken Taylor, who sends his deepest condolences & was most upset when I told him the sad news, referred to their mutual Ballarat connection : "I was from the east, he was from the west!" he told me this morning. He had hoped they'd be able to do something together on new Ballarat material : he'd found tapes recently which he thought had perished in the 1983 Macedon fire. He wanted to play them for Alan--
It was Ken who organised the poets to march with him at the Shrine of Remembrance (Melbourne) in 2004, to lay a wreath in honour of the great British WW2 soldier-poet, Keith Douglas. Our detachment comprised Ken, Alan, Jenny Harrison & myself. Alan, of course, was the only genuine soldier among us --though he only wanted to be there as a poet honouring a poet--
Which is what I'm doing today --honouring a man who loved poetry & poets, art & artists, & of course music & musicians --who knew the characters over several decades of Melbourne cultural history, & was one himself--
from Letters to Takamura (2003-04)
Dear Takamura, everything's been said.
Melbourne Autumn neither one thing nor an-
other on spur of oldest continent.
Unlike yesterday gas-fire was today's
constant companion. Grazed like an old
horse beside it --green-tea & black-rye toast.
Consumed the heat. Stared at the cloudless blue
over my neighbour's roof. Drifted in &
out of your story dreaming forever-more's
calender of never-to-know-agains.
You & yours. Me & mine. Annually
the different degrees of mourning will
coup us up. I mean to be positive
now : to be laced by anniversaries --
set on the path as a bright new barrel --
braced by life's hard stuff not lacerated
like a teaching quack's morbid specimen.
And there I was -- drinking with Alan who'd
served in New Guinea before I was born --
appreciating this most curious
intersection of life & death where the
sons & lovers we'd always celebrate
looped around our poets' conversation
as simultaneously real subjects
& metaphor. Could have cried. Laughed instead.
Everything's been said? Clink pint of Guinness
on his light-ale glass. D-Day's sixtieth --
not yet leached of its liveliness. Toast the
poet & soldier Captain Douglas
wasted in France -- twenty-four. Toast the wee
alliance reclaiming ancestor Keith.
In our own ways Ken Jenny Alan me
are equerries of night-seen-through-to-day.
Accompanied the Normandy vets -- placed
our wreath with theirs. Men & women -- not ghosts.
Men & women Takamura -- men &
women again -- at Life's immortal posts.
(27/5 - 21/6/04)
Keith Douglas,1920-44; Takamura Kotaro, Japanese artist & poet, 1883-1956]
Alan Murphy's Somnambulant in Wetlands (the title from his memorial poem for the artist Dawn Westbrook) : Selected Poems, 1987-2006, contains valuable reminiscence of a particular Melbourne scene in the 1960s, some of the roots of which derive from before WW2. Good fortune has made Alan an important link between generations & a witness of past times.
He recalls, "In the early sixties when I began teaching music in secondary schools in Victoria, I met Keith Harrison at a CAE Summer school in Albury. Like me he was also a graduate of Melbourne University and was teaching English in a country High School, if my memory serves. Between lectures or classes we would play recorder trios with another player who, like me, was a member of the Dorian Singers. Leonard Fullard, organist at Christ Church, Sth Yarra directed this group. (.....) From the Albury encounters, back in Melbourne I was invited to play more of these trios, for soprano, treble and tenor recorder, with Keith, and a Harold Stewart, on Sunday afternoons. The venue was Norman Robb's bookshop in Little Collins Street. Robb was a kindred spirit who let us have his space on the Sabbath. Stewart, I learned later, was he who had assisted James McAuley in creating Ern Malley. (Or did Malley re-create McAuley/Stewart?)"
His evocation of those Sunday afternoons is a gem of the lost world :
"With Harold quietly making herb tea after we'd studiously played through, say, Giles Farnaby's three pieces, His Toy, His Dream, His Rest. Keith, confidential, loquacious, would talk dismissively of The Jindies and Rex Ingamells, but warmly of Japanese poetry, Eastern art, and Coomeraswami (as one of the writers they'd both read, blissfully). Harold would read a few of his translations of Japanese haiku, and Keith, some of his Basho poems. They wrote in small bound black notebooks with broad-nibbed black fountain-pens in an exquisite calligraphy."
As he said himself, "These occasions were contemporary [with] but a far cry from those of the social realist artists Aileen Palmer, Ruth & Yosl Bergner, and Jim Wigley : a poet, a dancer, and two painters. Jim & Yosl painted sets for Ruth's dances at the Carlton Kadimah. Ruth would move to Aileen's poems in recitals where she was also performing Jewish dances to my accompaniments on piano or recorder. I also played bamboo flute to her Indian dances, these either folk dances, or, moving to poems by Tagore. Ruth would use the mudras of the Kathakali tradition as experienced by her when working with visiting Indian dancer, Shivaram. They danced together in Sydney and Fiji. I worked as Ruth's accompanist for two years when she ran Saturday sessions in contemporary dance where dancers such as Jack Manual and Arthur [Artor] Turnbull attended; and where Ruth passed on the aesthetics and practices of teachers who'd trained and inspired her in pre-war Warsaw. I was accompanist for these classes, often diverging from set music to improvise at the piano as the group moved to suggestions from Ruth, with performances down the track in mind. Arthur in turn had pupils, among them Retta Hemensley, partner of Kris, poet & proprietor of Collected Works [bookshop]. Retta, an Early Childhood Educator, also assists in the bookshop. Such dance recitals were varied with interludes of short musical items, such as Two Women of Hiroshima, a duo for guitar and recorder especially composed by Felix Werder, and drawing on some images from The Hiroshima Panels. The guitarist was Sadie Bishop, with whom I occasionally gave recitals for the ABC. Ruth's movements interpreted the music written in response to the atomic destruction of a city. Her unforgettable solo dance, The Cry, to a Shostakovitch Prelude was performed in The New Theatre."
Alan's reference to Aileen Palmer's publication of World Without Strangers (by Overland, in 1964), and of the readings "organized at the Palmers' house in Kew", reminds us of her iconic parents, Vance & Nettie, and retrieves all three from the oblivion of passing time. Aileen Palmer's "most powerful poem, Remembering Garcia Lorca, was read by Lorraine Murphy, to my semi-flammenco strumming of the guitar. Aileen's poem marked the 25th anniversary of the poet's death, he, murdered near Granada in August 1936. The Guards of tradition and pain called los Theveeileays, (who never come out but in pairs) Aileen reports here, would murder the gypsies at night. During the Civil War, Aileen and her sister were volunteer ambulance drivers in Spain."
Alan's Tasmanian years, 1968-76, began with his appointment to a music lectureship at the conservatorium, where he "joined The Renaissance Ensemble of the Tasmanian University, who specialized in Elizabethan Songs and the Morley Consort Lessons, perhaps the first ensemble of fixed instrumentation in the Western tradition." (In a footnote he quips, "What a time to leave Melbourne, when Kris Hemensley and Ken Taylor, among La Mama poets, were published; & Glen Tomasetti was singing her folksongs.")
"It was here in Hobart that I first met Jim McAuley, who with Stewart had put together the hoax poems when they worked together in Victoria Barracks. McAuley was now Director of the English Department at the University and organized a series of lunchtime concerts to link in with the students' studies. McAuley took a great interest in our Consort. Elizabethan keyboard music was played by him on spinet at his home, when he wasn't playing jazz on the piano, or perhaps also on the spinet. He would sometimes come to our rehearsals, and on two yearly occasions engaged us to play at his lunchtime soirees at the University."
And so he recounts the years, through the 70s, 80s & 90s, the musician & composer gradually turning towards literature & particularly poetry. No better way to remember him, apart from his poems & compositions of course, in which erudition, humour & formal elegance inimitably combine.
Dear Kris & Retta,
Seasons Greetings & Blessings, & to you both, warmest thanks for your lovely card & thoughts; most moved Kris by your appellation of me as haunter of Collected Works.
Yes I love my visits to you both there, & the nourishing talks we have, sharing ideas, & music from time to time. What a treasure-house I visit! Yes the Aileen/Arcade axis is a vibrant reality.
Ken [Taylor]'s card is one of his attractive seasonal ones, with its images of colour & words. We must get our heads together about planning a trip up to him [Mount Macedon] in the new year. Looking forward to seeing you both in January.
Having run out of Xmas cards, I send this one of Givenchy [Le pont japonais dans le jardin de Monet] & enclose a poem about Susan Kruss's poem & some tangential allusions.
I hope you are both well & have had a bit of a break with the Xmas occasions.
We have had colds, with Alison's confined to the head, & mine, drifting chesty, so the G.P. put me on anti-biotics, a bit of nausea one of the drawbacks to keeping bronchitis at bay.
Should be right in a few days.
Kris, checking my book-shelf I note that I haven't after all, got the two 07 Best [Australian] Poems volumes. If you have them still, put copies aside for me.
Love to you both,
A Response to Susan Kruss's Osage etc.
The poet's Osage haunts me & my history:
My Uncle Fred, of blessed memory, one day
called me into his cabinet-maker's workshop.
'Alan, hold this? You might have a use for it.'
I took the 2 x 2 inch-thick dressed meter
from his sensitive and calloused hands, the ones
that had gonged it, left hand holding it vertical,
the right, giving it a slap so it was a swung bell.
'It's an off-cut piece of Osage Orange,' Fred said,
'a very hard wood that resounds and shines; I've no
use for it now, and I'm cleaning up here.' I struck it,
feeling the weight, left fingers tingling, ears charmed.
Like yours, Susan, faint smell of oranges, the grain
already rich of hue and line. You end saying 'nothing
lives forever, not even trees.'My Uncle, who knew
the meaning of wood, was knelled two months later.
Fred had known I was a recorder-player who'd
had instruments made by another Frederick, that
one called Morgan, reaping a Churchill award,
a local virtuoso winning wide fame as a maker.
Susan, did you know of him, shaper of recorders,
you whose debut book of poems The Meaning of
Wood, might have stirred Morgan, in his decades of
lathe-turning, bore-reaming, mean-tone tuning?
Just as he turned out, to long-term orders, troves of
Bressans, (those Stradsof Baroque trebles), for the
virtuosi, Bruggan, Boeke & Linde, so his fingers woo'd
uncle's Osage wood into a lyrical warbler of a Descant.
Susan you tell of a retiree who was given a shaped piece of
Osage from a tree he'd cut down after lightning cleaved it.
Fred Morgan, of blessed memory, driving back one night
to Daylesford from Ballarat (your home-town & once mine),
hit, fatally, a tree. In your next collection you valiantly hail
the women of Eureka, a timely history of their contribution
just as stockade timbers had done their stout best to prevail.
Notes on the above poem, & others
1. Copy of Osagh from Monet's Garden and other poems by Susan Kruss (Wagtail #61, Picaro Press, Dec '06); see also my sestina poem, Come into the Garden, Who? which refers to Kruss's Monet's Garden poems. See also The Meaning of Wood, and Calico Ceilings - TheWomen of Eureka (Five Islands Press, '04).
2. Fred Morgan was recognized as the leading recorder player in Melbourne from the 60s & 70s on. His career as an instrument maker began humbly when he took over from Ade Monsborough the production of the Pan school descant recorders. After overseas apprenticeship in the craft his range of makes included all the historical & regional types from the voice flute to the Italian Garnassi division recorder, and a Renaissance Alto Flute for a Morley Consort Lesson Ensemble based in Tasmania. He have frequent demonstration talks on the tuning systems and the comparative traditions of woods used by period makers. As a recitalist he worked with his harpsichordist partner Ann Murphy.
3. The Sydney composer Nigel Butterley wrote a piece for harpsichord and sopranino recorder entitled The White-Throated Warbler, a local bird he'd hear in his outskirts suburb. The sopranino's range is an octave above that of the treble F recorder. The descant's range is intermediate, in C.
When he retired they gave him a shaped
piece of osage orange, polished so the grain
lemon to sienna shone. The faint odour of
oranges hung around the wood, sculpted
from the heart of the tree he cut down
after lightning split it in two. One side fell
on a car, students protested, he didn't want
to do it but after years working with trees
he knew there was no hope of saving this one.
In better days its green fruit would drop
inedible but smelling of oranges. He and
the gardener would bowl them down the slope
gathering speed to the front gate. Loss
of the osage orange was a reminder that nothing
lives forever, not even trees, not always.
5. Fred Pollard served in an A.I.F. Tank Regiment in the western desert campaign that led to Rommel's defeat. Back home he left the rag trade (Love and Pollard, who had several Melbourne shops) and with great success took up cabinet-making. (Not so much my uncle as the husband of my cousin, Joyce Pollard, nee Barnett.)
Lovell House, 389 Alma Road, Caulfield Nth, Vic. 3161 Wed. Sept 16 // 09
Dear Kris, So glad to get your letter, which Alison told me was on its way. I've been thinking of you & Loretta, & we hope the radiotherapy goes well. Your family news was quite dramatic, hope it quietly enlivened all concerned.
Did Fleur Adcock come from New Zealand? Alison chuckled over "Cider with Rosie", we'll run it down. Books I've started are "The Slap" Christos Tsiolkas --quite a ride!; "Wanting" Richard Flannagan's latest novel (short listed for the Miles Franklin) & some shorter poems of Hardy (ed John Wain). Alison has just finished "Raising My Voice" by that Afghan woman who dares to speak out -- Malalai Joya.
Another Franklin was Lady Franklin wife of Sir John Franklin the explorer. In 1839 they adopted Mathinna (treated seriously in "Wanting"), a young aboriginal girl, to 'prove savages could be civilised'. It ended tragically. I think the Victorian Ballet Guild did a ballet on the theme, way back in the 1930s here.
Looking forward to seeing you soon. Alison will drive me down to Collected Works. While there we'll arrange a time to come again & have a retrospective talk.
Hope also to catch up with Fiona, & possibly Aileen.
(There's a poet here who writes succinctly & has veiled confessional lines in her work, Anne Parrat.)
Best to you both,
SHMUEL GORR (22-09-31 / 3-09-88)
Journal; July/October, 1983
2nd September, 83
[after Fling magazine launching, ed Jenni Mitchell & Cornelis Vleeskens] I spoke to Mal [Morgan], mentioned Shmuel Gorr --his first reaction, that bullshitting bastard (in the sense of "that incorrigible rogue")-- followed up with the compulsory "though i love him" : "we used to screw the same girl 20 years ago" ---I said i'd found Gorr on my hunt for Max Dunn!-- he didnt know Dunn, tho of course he was aware of Brabazon-- i asked what the Ben Yuri Association was-- he sd it was a group of Jewish writers, painters mainly, who got together to discuss art, philosophy, literature & so on. Mal sd that Shmuel claimed he was a Rabbi, but he hadnt any rabbinical qualifications whatsoever. I remembered what R. A. Simpson had said of Dunn, 'living in a fantasy world.' Mal's few expostulations abt Shmuel Gorr suggested a bird of a feather! He was in Israel in any case, he sd-- digging for treasures.
I asked Mal if the Western Buddhist Association meant anything to him-- he sd it wouldnt have involved Shmuel-- he was much too Jewish for that. He sd he'd ask some of his friends, get his address for me (it wouldnt be any problem). Well, whilst i slumbered this morning, Rett took call from Mal-- i now have [Shmuel's] address in Jerusalem--. I will write for information.
It's not a history i'm involved in, but a mosaic! As I've quipped to Des [Cowley], & Pete [Spence], it's a reinvention of Melbourne. It really is!
7 Sept, '83
(....) [re my work on H/EAR magazine] I'm really putting together the archive, the record, that i've wanted to-- it's actually happening! I was saying to Rett today that i always wanted to be a "historian'"-- & this is the occasion!
The point to be made regarding the '40s painting references is that it's not academic history : it's a history being made right now. That is, it suits us, it meets our requirements, right now! We are its justification! (after W Whitman, 'those who follow...') We are joined with it. "We" i say-- yes, as Melbournite, citizen, soul-mate to Nibbi, Vassilieff, that is migrants, & to Tucker & Lawler, the socialists & the apocalyptics, all those antipodeans who rose to the moment (what Lawlor says so magnificently in his Eliminations, "contemporaneity")-- It's the coalescence of various historical moments-- just as current experimentalism picks up its local forbears, so does current feminism rehabilitate the likes of Clarice Beckett & Joy Hester-- history is something done, is the mobilization of the record.
30 Sept, '83
[after seeing Desiderius Orban show at Niagara Gallery, Punt Road, Melbourne]
(....) Just as Janina [Green] said, the directors are young & friendly-- we spoke to one, Bill-- i sd i'd like to sit down & chat with him, show him my magazine [H/EAR]--
(....)Bill said that the intention of the Australian Surrealism exhibition was to show that there were other painters involved in the movement besides Thake, Purves-Smith, & Gleeson.
Writing our names into visitors' book i noticed "J. Henshaw" & a ph-no. Is that the Godfrey Miller man? i asked! Yes, he sd, we had a Godfrey Miller show on here a while ago. We seem to have missed everything-- on other hand, as Rett sd, it's only in the last year that we've become aware of [all these] Australian modernists. In fact, the past few months of research & visits has been the watershed.
1 Oct, '83
(....) I spent great afternoon in the [Botanical] Gardens. Temp. was low 20s. Summery. I took 2nd Aeon [ed Peter Finch, Wales], G Dowden Letters to English Poets, & Wm Wantling's San Quentin Stranger, accessories to Terry [Gilmore]'s 1966-76 volume [Further]-- & managed to write 3 pages-- developing argument of Terry as "metaphysical"-- relating the Hard Mouths to Visionary poetry, via George [Dowden]'s argument. Sense vs sound. Tracked down the Wantling quote in Terry's afterword to Poetry/ poem (manifesto) in Wantling's book.
I've got the run of the essay worked out now. Importantly the Apocalypse poets will get their first run since the 40s, & 1st mention maybe since Judith Wright's put down. The Apocalypses & Jindy bits will be little gems! And the note on the bankruptcy of Hope & pussyfooting of McAuley, quoting Kenneth Mackenzie (who was Jim Hamilton's big'n years ago), & D.B. Kerr (whose death in action was mourned in Angry Penguins at some length i recall)--.
What i think i've done is to locate the late '60s/early '70s new writing in a local history of modernist/metaphysical argument, & of course to equip it with the logical international references. Began typing it up. Feels good! Oh yes-- plus apposition of '40s war & '60s '70s war environments, similar apocalypse-ism. ]
THE LEVITE PRESS
Flat 34, 52 Hantke Street, Kiryat Hayovel, Jerusalem, Israel
25th. Havshan 5 7 4 4 1st. November
Dear Kris Hemensley,
First of all let me tell you how delighted i was to receive your letter. I was somewhat flattered that I am still remembered in Melbourne Literary Circles. when I lived and worked in my native Melbourne, I could never break 'The Aussie Barrier' - notwithstanding that I am a full-bred Aussie. the fact that I am a deeply observant Jew should make no difference. After all, Australia is a secular State - meaning that Australia has a complete separation of State and Religion (like all Democracies).
Notwithstanding that my fist book of Poems and aphorisms "Out of the Depth" was sent to all Book review Forums, it was only the Adelaide Advertiser that afforded me three or four lines of review - and stated that the Book would have very limited circulation. The others just ignored me. I did have a personal interview write-up in the Literary Supplement of the Age - but as stated just now, it was simply an interview. Meanjin, had the courtesy of returning to me one of my 'Hand Printed' books with a 'SORRY' note.
You who are right in 'the middle of it' in Australia will certainly understand what I am writing about. Of course, there were many Literary friends of mine from all walks of life and cultural Australian backgrounds who were a little in contact with a little of my work, who did enjoy my writings and told me so. One such gentleman was the head of the Australian Literature Department in some College in Geelong, and it wanted to make my small book (mentioned above) as compulsory reading - but his Board of Directors squashed the plan.
But I am 'jumping the gun'. Let me give you a short biographical description of 'the artistic and literary activities' of one Shmuel Gorr, born in Melbourne 1931, in Parkville. Attended elementary school in North carlton. Went through Elwood Central Secondary High School, and then continued till the end at Scotch College in Melbourne.
In 1947 he was the first-ever, Australian-born, Jewish lad to venture overseas to study for the Rabbinate. that was in Cleveland, Ohio. Then he came back home and studied locally. In 1950, the same year as he returned from the States, he proceeded to Gateshead, England, to continue his Rabbinical Studies. In 1952 (January), he returned to his hometown, Melbourne.
At the end of 1952 on completion of his Rabbinical Studies, his father Chaim Gorr (a well-known local portraitist and general artist), passed away. Shmuel Gorr was then forced to enter the family business, GORR & SALLICK, the Australian specialists in Bolts, Nuts, and Washers. This establishment should still be remembered by all Melbourne 'back-yard mechanics'. In 1968 Shmuel Gorr, together with his mother, joined his sister Gwen Gorr, and migrated to the Holy City of Jerusalem, where he has resided till today.
The first four and a half years in Jerusalem were spent working for the Encyclopaedia Judaica. Shmuel Gorr wrote all the articles on Australian Jewish Artists for that prestigious Publication. Then he was transferred to the History Division where he completed articles on the Jewish Communities of Australia. Finally he moved on to the Illustrations division.
Now to Literature and Art:
Shmuel Gorr wrote and had published in the now defunct 'Australian Jewish Herald' his first poems. He was eleven years old at the time. He has never stopped writing since. (The Australian Jewish Herald was the longest-going Jewish Periodical in Australian History, being roughly 88 years old when it closed down in about 1967.)
Shmuel Gorr was an ardent Illuminator and produced many works of art in this Medium. They are to be found in a number of Australian Synagogues, decorating the Holy Arks therein; and in many private collections.
He was founder and editor of the Monthly Journal of the Rabbinical College in Cleveland where he spent a number of years. After his return from England in 1952, he was commissioned to write a unique serialisation of his years as a rabbinical Student in America, Sheparton, and Gateshead (England). This was serialised in an English Religious Jewish Youth Magazine for two and a half years. He plans to edit the lot and have it published as a book. It was started to be serialised in 'The Australian Jewish Herald', but was never finished due to certain factors beyond everyone's control.
During the many years of conducting the family business, Shmuel's creative talents did not become stifled. In 1960 he founded the Australian Jewish Art Museum, BEN URI GALLERIES, which many will recall in Commercial Road, South Yarra. For many years Shmuel worked at making the Institution the Mecca (excuse the expression) for Australian Jewish Artistic and Literary Talent. And so thus it became. Except for the Annual holiday period at the end of the year, the Art Museum managed to present monthly exhibitions of major (and some new talent) Australian Jewish Artists. Also, the exhibitions of overseas Jewish Artists were also brought to Australia for exhibition - and some of the more important ones were taken and shown in all Australian Capital Cities. From some of these Exhibitions a number of works were purchased by the Victorian and Other State National Galleries.
Notwithstanding that Shmuel Gorr was comparatively young when he first ventured out overseas on two occasions, the impressions were strong and lasting. During the years of directing the Ben Uri Galleries (The Australian Jewish Art Museum) Shmuel continued to write Poetry and Prose.
In 1964 the Ben Uri Literary Society (a wing of the Art Museum of the same name) honoured Shmuel Gorr by publishing a selection of his writings - Poetry and Aphorisms. The book was entitled: 'Out of the Depths'. It was published in a limited edition of 1,000.
During this period, Shmuel Gorr had the fortune to make a - what then became - a life long friendship with well-known Australian (Irish born, ordained Buddhist priest in the Zen Order, and the Western World Order) Poet, the late Max Dunn. The friendship was mutually productive. Max unabashedly admitted to stealing bits and pieces from some of Shmuel's Poems. Shmuel learnt from Max Dunn's more sophisticated style of expression and some ground rules in Poetry Writing.
On the death of Max Dunn in 1967/8 Shmuel inherited (stated in his 'Will & Last Testament') the magnificent 'Hand Press' of 1730. Shmuel was elated. No more did he have to plead with publishers. He would learn how to print and publish his own books.
The Ben Uri Art Museum initiated a number of sub-groups... Life classes were conducted weekly; a Literary Group functioned weekly; a Dramatic Group was formed and a number of major productions were also achieved at "Emerald Hill' Theatre in South Melbourne (I think that's its name); a Sculpting Group was formed; and a Musical Group was formed under the leadership of Felix Werder the renowned Music Critic.
For a number of years the Ben Uri Art Museum promoted annually a 'Jewish Arts Festival' during which all Groups thereof participated. This was highly received not only by the public, but also by the many Melbourne professional critics.
One of the younger brilliant artists that was a member of the Ben Uri Art Museum, is a top level graphic Artist by the name of Sidney (Simchah in Hebrew) Fetter. Shmuel gave Fetter a copy of his book "Out of the Depths". That was the beginning of a marvellous partnership which produced a number of magnificent works. Fetter read through the book and produced a number (13) of woodcut and linocut illustrations for Shmuel's Poems. They decided to publish their first joint efort. That was 'MONO POEMS'. Shmuel's 13 Poems, and Fetter's 13 brilliant illustrations. They were ALL printed by hand on Shmuel's 1730 Hand-Press that he had inherited from the late Poet, Max Dunn.
Dr. Ursula Hoff, the Curatoress of Prints - at the time - of the Victorian National gallery, considered the edition more than a book and purchased a copy for the national collection. two more hand-printed Books were together published by Gorr and Fetter... 'Something Happened at Lubavitch' and 'No Haloes'. One more Book was produced on Australian shores, 'The End of Days'. This time the Book was illustrated with relief etchings by the great Australian Artist (residing in Adelaide), Franz Kempf. This work was reviewed to some degree - but again, although it was a very positive review, it was limited in scope, as the critic reviewing the Book claimed ignorance of the contents as it was Judaic in content. The critic said that the contents should be handled by someone acquainted with Biblical Literature - or some such bull-shit.
One important creative production promoted by the Ben Uri Dance Group, was a 'POETRY READING' put to 'MOVEMENT'. A complete production was made at the Ben Uri Galleries - with lighting, and some pieces of back-drop etc. - of a Dance Recital without any Music and purely to the tempo of first class Poetry Reading presented by George Dixon and Lola (I forget her maiden name - she was George's wife), in the background. The critic of The Bulletin came, and later reviewed this presentation. It received a top billing review.
On the basis of that presentation, the whole Dance-Poetry Recital was invited to be presented at Monash University Theatre. that evening's event was highly praised by the critic of the Monash University's Literary magazine. As a further result of the two performances, an enlarged presentation was performed at the 'Emerald Hill' Theatre.
Shmuel Gorr has many Poems in manuscripts which have not yet seen the light. The most prestigious Israeli 'Quarterly Review of the Arts' (Ariel no. 41) in Israel, did a full article on Shmuel and his Poetry. Many Poems never published In Australia (although written there), were published for the first time. Shmuel Gorr continues to write till today. No poet, let alone a Jewish one, can live and create in Jerusalem without experiencing something special in the Holy City of Jerusalem.
To make a living, Shmuel has turned to his other talents to success. he is today working full-time in the field of Jewish Genealogical Research, and is considered the World's leading Jewish Genealogist. He is continually being invited to lecture on this subject, and was also invited to Washington in 1982 to be the guest speaker at a "National Seminar on Jewish Genealogy".
Okay, matey. That's enough EAR-BASHING for anyone to be subjected to. Now I'll read your letter again and see what specific questions you'd like to be answered.
I forgot one BOOK. With the inherited Hand Printing Press that Max Dunn left me, there was much printing pieces of different usage. Also, there was already set up in hand type the complete Poem "The Jewel String of Dipankara". Before leaving Australia, I was determined to publish that original work of my late dear friend Max Dunn. You saw the result thereof.
Max Dunn re-married an Australian woman who he had met at the Buddhist Society of Victoria. At the time when I met Max Dunn I was involved in a major research program (personal, for my own interest) of 'Comparative Religions'. That led a mutual friend to bring Max and I together. Max Dunn had studied the Classical Biblical Hebrew and knew it well. He had made his won translation of 'The Song of Songs' by King Solomon and wrote his own Commentary thereto. He had even sent a copy of that work to the Hebrew University to some professor. I do not recall what the result was. It was through Max Dunn that I was able to make a serious indepth study of the Philosophy of all Schools of Buddhism. I remember Max Dunn once telling me that I was the most learned Jew in the field of Buddhist Philosophy and Theology, and I countered that he was probably the most learned Buddhist in the field of Judaic Philosophy.
By the time I met Max Dunn he had no longer copies of all the books he had printed by hand on his Hand Press. But a few he had, and he presented me with them. Their titles (of those I have) are as follows : 'The Mirror and the Rose', 'Into the Radiance', 'No Asterisks', and 'Portrait of a Country' - a truly Australian Poem.
Max had a keen sense of humour and thrived with young or old company. He was at home with anyone. A truly cosmopolitan man - although a strict Buddhist Priest in his Own conduct. He never ate before noon - the half a day's fast imposed on Buddhist Priests. He had artistic talent and I have two small paintings (unframed) that he presented to me. Once, when we had gone with a few friends for an outing to the bush, Max, unknown to me made a painting of me standing next to a tree whilst meditating the Jewish Afternoon Prayers. A few years later he gave that painting to me.
Till he married he lived at the back of an ancient shop in Toorak Road just down from Chapel Street, diagonally opposite from 'Capital Bakeries'. It was a jungle of bric-a-brac and bits and pieces of everything and anything. (It was a kind of disorderly 'Ye Old Curiousity Shop'.) After he married his wife Joan, they found a modest house in a street which runs parallel to Punt Road, between Commercial and Toorak Roads. I forget its name. There at least, he lived in a very orderly atmosphere. The house was always very well ordered and clean. He had his own little garden in which he worked in the backyard. The house was a wooden one, and it had no front garden at all. It was straight onto the footpath.
To some degree - but not identical - Max Dunn also suffered from the parochialism of Australian attitudes as far as his writings were concerned. He was older and certainly more established than I ever managed to achieve in my native land. Except for 'Portrait of a Country', his most celebrated work, the majority of his works are philosophical and Universal in theme.
To some degree I am a little 'sour' on what did - or in my case, didn't - happen with myself concerning my writings and the Australian critics etc. Either an Australian Jew can consider himself part and parcel of the Australian scene, or he cannot. An Australian Greek, Italian, Lebanese or Jew should be able to write and be accepted with his personal and Australian background. After all (to get a bit prosaic), "There is no 'Universal' without the 'Individual'; and certainly no 'Individual' that does not reflect the 'Universal'".
Notwithstanding that I did come in contact with many local poets, I just do not remember many names anymore. (I just remembered the critic of the 'Bulletin' who reviewed us at Ben Uri Galleries. It was Bill Hannon. Also, the Dance Recital was composed and enacted by Arthur Turnbull. Funny how names just come to one.) I do not remember the name Francis Brabazon. I don't recall, unfortunately, having ever met you in Melbourne. (Obviously my loss.)
There was another 'twilight' character who used to come in and out of the groups I moved in. That was Adrian Rawlins. Truly a 'way out' person. Another group that I had strong contact with early in my career was headed by the eminent Jewel Artist. Matcham Skipper. I was first invited to visit his home - if indeed it could have been called a home. At that time he lived at the back of Russell Street Police Headquarters. It was pretentiously 'done up' to look like old time provincial artistic French Studio-come-home. It was my first real contact with anything vaguely representative of 'Bohemianism'. ALTHOUGH I liked Matcham as a human being (and still do - and we became good friends till I left Aussie), I could not abide his life style. His wife Myra is a fine woman - and a saint - to have lived the life she did at Matcham's wish and bidding.
I followed Matcham out to Montsalvat and used to visit often. My first visits to Matcham Skipper's group at the back of the 'Cop Shop', inspired at least two poems that are printed in my 'Out of the Depths'. They are the ones entitled; "The Endless Wheel", and "The Cosmic Urge". Both are on page 12 of my Book. I also held a number of Poetry Readings at Matcham Skipper's place at the back of the "cop shop".
Well, matey, I think that's about it. I'm being called to come and have my dinner before it gets burnt. I hope I have supplied something of what you actually wanted from me. I am sure I could offer you more, but I think i have given enough material for you to digest and to know whether you want more of what I could give.
ALL the above is straight off the 'top of my head' from memory. I would be more than happy to correspond with you and to send you more of my reminiscences.
Incidentally, from where do you know my cousin Rosa Murdoch? I look forward to hearing from you in the near future with answers/comments etc. to all the above. in the meantime I wish you all the success in the world, and hope some day to have the pleasure of meeting you personally.
Shalom from Holy Jerusalem
(Rabbi) Shmuel Gorr
Journal, 10th November, '09
(....)Alex [Skovron] sd. perhaps i could place my piece [on Alan Murphy] in one of the writers' mags [Melbourne Poets Union or Victorian Writers Centre for example] --But i think the blog will be the place. I said to Alan Pose y'day that i'd go ahead now & publish the letter from Shmuel Gorr --it wd be a kind of tribute to Alan M. -- Alan P. told me he'd only just learnt from his father that Shmuel's sister was in Melbourne from Israel for a few days --his father had given her a copy of the letter --Alan wondered if i'd like to talk to her --could he give her my telephone number? Yes, of course, i agreed-- It's a kind of synchronicity after all.
So today i've received ph-call from Shmuel's sister Riva! Sounded much younger than the 80+ she must be --She asked how old i was --I said i was younger than i sounded --when i said early 60s [to her promptings], she said i was just a youngster compared to her --I said she sounded great, my age! --I got the sense of a vivacious woman, --"Riva means 'a young lass'," she said --"my soul is young forever!" I mentioned Max Dunn. She said, "Max Dunn used to visit us. My mother was jealous. He was older than her but he could stand on his head!"
Shmuel's sister said she'd read the letter, shown to her by Mr Pose. (How that came about is also worth a little story. Talking with Alan P. one day about past decades' Melbourne scenes, I asked him if Shmuel's name meant a/thing to him. He wasnt sure. I described the context & my current interest. He promised to ask his parents. Apparently, the occasion he talked to them coincided with the delivery, out of the blue, of a copy of the Gorr family tree! The upshot of it all was that Shmuel, in various capacities, was known to them &, indeed, there was a tenuous family connection! )
Riva said she found it a sad letter, "what do you think?"
I hadnt thought it was sad but then there are probably nuances of expression which reveal more to a sibling than a correspondent.
Shmuel admits to being 'a little sour' about his experience but to my mind the context is Australian 'parochialism' & not malice. Shmuel Gorr is sardonic & not really gnashing teeth. And he's keen to remember, to record his fraction of the history rather than retire in abjection...
"Incidentally," he asks in 1983, "from where do you know my cousin Rosa Murdoch?" I think now she must have given me or Mal Morgan (coincidentally also known to the Poses) Shmuel's address in Jerusalem.
Research is a funny business, and mess is another. Without mess & concomitant loss there's no 'research'! The original documents are one thing; one's own burrowings & annotations something else again. History is always what one makes of it; and what one brings to it is, midrashically, immediately part of the record.
Alan wondered if I was aware of Adrian Rawlins' publication, Lament For The Makers: 1997 (published Soup, Melbourne, 1998) --he'd googled a reference to Shmuel. Yes indeed, --Rawlins' poem, dedicated "In memoriam John Anderson 1948-97", though I'd forgotten it includes in its roll call, Shmuel Gorr.
The particular verse of the poem is as follows :
"Max Dunn, naughty fibber yet devotee true,
Who, ignoring money, did exactly what he had to do,
Who each day looked the Buddha in the eye
And taught: "Who seeks to know all of the loved will see love die,";
Shmuel Gorr, his pupil, so wild in love yet to devotion meek...
Whose angry death still left him up the creek;
Methinks there's a certain irony in Adrian calling Dunn a 'naughty fibber'! (He speculates in a footnote that Dunn's "fanciful C.V. published in the Penguin Book of Australian Verse (1958) caused him to be dropped from subsequent editions.") And it's ambiguous to me whose 'angry death' --Max Dunn's or Shmuel Gorr's --is referred to in the poem. Rawlins' own fascinating family tree, even as sketched in the poem, is yet another reminder of the importance of his biography and, when written, what a document it will undoubtedly be.
My own googling rewarded me with two reminiscences of Shmuel Gorr in Jerusalem, from colleagues in the world of Jewish genealogical scholarship, penned at the time of his death, published in the journal Search (vol 8, #3, Fall. '88)
Chaim (Keith) Freedman refers to Rabbi Gorr's 1968 "Aliyah to Isreal, together with his mother, and they made their home in Kiryat Yovel in his beloved Jerusalem." He describes Gorr's work for the Encyclopaedia Judaica, Yad Vashem, & the manuscript department at the National Library, & mentions that in 1973, "Rabbi Gorr served in the Israeli army in the Yom Kippur War."
Freedman notes that "Rabbi Gorr's innate fascination with genealogy soon became his profession and he spent the last twenty years of his life immersed day and night in unravelling the complex family relationships of tens of thousands of Jews throughout the centuries..."
Freedman affords a glimpse of Shmuel's daily life : "Rabbi Gorr kept open house for a never ending stream of colleagues, friends and clients. His marathon telephone conversations across the country, his tenacity for seeking out far-flung leads to sources, his vibrant enthusiasm to picture every last link in the chain of Jewish existence, all were integral facets of his personality."
Importantly, "Rabbi Gorr was a staunch adherent of Chabad, revering its leader, the Lubavitcher Rebbe."
Easy then to imagine Shmuel as "a familiar figure in Jerusalem and as he walked the streets downtown he would be greeted by acquaintances on nearly every corner. Many are the anecdotes he told and fond memories held by his friends. His untimely passing is a tragic blow to his life's work in genealogy and leaves a chasm of loss in the hearts of his friends. He is survived in Jerusalem by his mother, Haya Sora (Anna) and sister, Riva."
Another colleague, Charles B. Bernstein, a Chicago attorney involved in genealogical research, recalls that Shmuel Gorr's "bigger than-life persona is unforgettable : the little 'Tevya' cap, the unkempt informal clothing, the Chassidic display of his tzitzit, coupled with the marked Australian accent which in turn was flavored with witticisms, Yiddishisms, and Words of Torah, incongruously juxtaposed with the most familiar American colloquialisms..."
Could a picture improve upon that brilliant & poignant cameo?
6th February, 2010