Celebrate Australia’s national poet in Melbourne

If you will be in Melbourne on 16 June this year, why not join the devotees of Adam Lindsay Gordona at their annual gathering in Spring Street at his statue in Gordon Reserve, alongside Parliament House.

Many people may not have heard of Adam Lindsay Gordon but they have probably heard some of his most famous verse: Life is mostly froth and bubble, Two things stand like stone Kindness in another’s troubles, Courage in your own.

Adam Lindsay Gordon lived almost half his short life in Australia, including 14 years in the south-east of South Australia. When he arrived in Adelaide in November 1853 on the sailing ship Julia, having turned 20 on the long voyage from England, he already had a love of horses and of steeplechase racing.

As a youngster, he had spent some time in Worcester and Cheltenham near the famous hunting region of the Cotswalds, and the Prestbury racecourse where he was mentored by the then leading jockeys and trainers of the day. With a shortage of men, including police, in the colony of South Australia following an exodus to the goldfields in New South Wales and Victoria, Lindsay Gordon, as he preferred to be known, joined up as a police trooper and was shortly afterwards sent to Mount Gambier and then Penola.

After two years in the mounted police, Lindsay Gordon decided to try his hand at horse-breaking, working for several station owners including the Stockdale and Livingstone families, as well as attending local race meetings in the south-east and over the border. Although a capable rider, his short-sightedness led to many spills from horses resulting in accumulated injuries.

While recovering from one particularly bad fall, he again met Margaret ‘Maggie’ Park, whom he married. After residing in a couple of rental properties, the Gordons bought a property near the coast at Port MacDonnell which they named ‘Dingley Dell’. During this time Gordon also met local priest, Father Julian Tenison Woods, with whom he spent many happy hours discussing and reciting classical literature and who became a lifelong friend.

Gordon also befriended John Riddoch who owned Yallum Park Station near Penola. At the end of 1864, Adam Lindsay Gordon had his first poem published by the Border Watch in Mount Gambier. Gordon was becoming known for his horsemanship and his poetical prowess and, as the electors of the district were becoming dissatisfied with one of their representatives, then Attorney-General Randolph Stow, John Riddoch, also a parliamentarian, encouraged Gordon to stand for parliament.

So, on 11 January 1865, Gordon was officially nominated and at a public meeting a week later, Gordon put forward his priorities for attention should he be elected. He must have found favour with the constituents as on polling day 6 March, Gordon beat Stow by three votes to become the member of the Victoria district of South Australia which covered a wide area from the Murray River to the Victorian border.

While Parliament was sitting, Lindsay and Maggie Gordon lived in a house in Penzance Street, Glenelg. The house no longer exists but there is a plaque at No. 58 recognising the site of the house where the Gordons lived. During parliamentary recesses, the couple returned to Dingley Dell. While he carried out his political duties diligently, Lindsay Gordon’s heart was not in it, preferring steeplechase riding, for which he travelled several times to Ballarat.

After two years, Gordon resigned from Parliament. He tried his hand at a couple of business ventures including running a livery stable in Ballarat, and sheep farming ventures in Western Australia, all of which proved unsuccessful. He and Maggie moved to Brighton, Melbourne, from where Lindsay continued his horse racing interests, wrote poetry and swam in the sea.

He also joined the Yorick Club frequented by literary aficionados including Henry Kendall and Marcus Clarke. However, Gordon’s finances were dwindling and when a book of his poems was published he realised he did not have the funds to pay the printer. His lifeless body was found in the tea-tree scrub near Brighton beach the next morning with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He is buried in Brighton Cemetery.

From September 1910, a regular pilgrimage began to Gordon’s grave, at which wattle sprigs were scattered. Following years of fund-raising efforts by admirers, a statue was unveiled on 30 October 1932 in Spring Street, Melbourne (now Gordon Reserve), next to Parliament House. In 1934, ‘Australia’s national poet’ was honoured with a bust in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey, London, alongside a bust of Tennyson. Every year since 2008, there has been an ‘annual gathering’ at the Spring Street statue in June, on the Saturday closest to the poet’s death (24 June 1870, age 37), where admirers come together from far and wide to celebrate the life of the poet, blow bubbles, lay sprigs of wattle, recite poetry and generally mingle with like-minded devotees.

This year, intending participants will meet at Cafe Excello, 99 Spring Street, Melbourne, at 10.30 am for refreshments, then cross the street to the statue at 11 am for speeches (including a tribute to our late patron Prof. Weston Bate and late committee member Dr Helen Dehn), poetry, bubble blowing and laying of wattle.

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