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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Peter Denis Kevans 1939-2005:the battlers' poet

by John Tognolini

Green Left Weekly, the Democratic Socialist Perspective and the Socialist Alliance send our sincere condolences to Denis Kevans’ daughter Sophia, his long-time partner Sonia Bennet and his many comrades and friends over his sudden death on August 23. Denis had two wakes, one before his funeral and one after it. The first was organised at Sydney’s Gaelic Club the week after his death. The second, a week later, was at the Carrington Hotel Ballroom in Katoomba after his well-attended funeral in Leura. More than 200 people came with a guard of honour made up by members of Katoomba’s Poets at the Parakeet and the Blackheath Folk Club.

A flag in the shape of the peace symbol was made for Denis with the top part of the centre stem bearing the Eureka Flag, the bottom part, the Red Flag with a hammer and sickle, the right stem of Golden Wattle, and the left stem the Irish tricolour, representing a United Ireland of 32 counties.

Speakers at Denis’s funeral included his daughter Sophia, who gave the eulogy including how proud he was of his membership of the NSW Teachers Federation. Jack Mundey spoke of Denis’s commitment to socialism from the early 1960s. Sonia Bennett sang “The Valley of the Waters”, and renowned Sydney Irish singer Martin Doherty performed a brilliant rendition of “Joe Hill”. Botanist and poet Wyn Jones said of the title Denis gave himself, Lorikeet, from his poem “Elizabeth the Last” that “he was an eagle of Australian poetry”.

Elizabeth The Last;

I am Australia’s Lorikeet,

And I wrote this very fast,

You are a beaut,

I Thee salute —

Elizabeth the Last.

The funeral MC was shearer and poet Milton Taylor. Some of Denis’s poems were read.


Prime Minster Howard I’ve heard

You met George Bush and the Pope,

I liked the Pope much better,

I only had to kiss his hand.

I’d known Denis for 24 years and first heard his poetry in support of Bobby Sands and his fellow Irish hunger strikers in 1981. I can’t think of a struggle (whether it was defending Aborigines or the East Timorese), a cause (such as when Tim Anderson was framed for the Hilton bombing) or strike that Denis didn’t write about. I remember the many times he was at Cockatoo Island Dockyard during the three-month strike/occupation in 1989 and his support for the MUA at Darling Harbour and Botany Bay in 1998.

Green Left Weekly readers will remember his numerous letters to the paper. There were many times that Denis would recite his poetry to help raise funds at Green Left Weekly dinners.

Denis will be missed, but he lives on through the large quantity and quality of poetry he left us. Denis was in the league of the great Australian poets; he was a Banjo Paterson who knew his Karl Marx. He was the battlers’ poet.

From Green Left Weekly, September 28, 2005.

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