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Monday, July 15, 2019

I'm Back Writing by John Tognolini

“It is quite time that our children were taught a little more about their country, for shame's sake.”
Henry Lawson 1867 – 1922 Australian writer, bush poet and considered Australia’s best shorty story writer.

“So we shall let the reader answer this question for himself: who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed?”

Hunter S. Thompson 1937-2005 American journalist and author, and the founder of the gonzo journalism movement.

At the age of 60, a year after I endured a stroke that nearly killed me on June 28th 2018. I’ve decided to reactivate my blog Togs’s Place.Com. I’ll also get back into producing books.

I write in a style that can be described as Henry Lawson meets Hunter S.Thompson, it’s Gonzo meets Faces in the Street. It’s like the way I play some Johnny Cash songs like the Lenard Cohen, that so upset the Wellington Country and Western Club, when I lived out in the bush town of Wellington, near Dubbo in Central West New South Wales for eight years.

Henry had his faults. He suffered from the racism that afflicted the union movement of his time in the Nineteenth Century Australia, the Worker’s Paradise of British White Australia. Yet when a strong Aboriginal/First Nations Goa Gunggari Wakkawakka Murri Dgin Woman actor and director such as Leah Purcell, adapted his classic moving story, of a women’s isolation in the bush, The Drover’s Wife to the stage. It’s time to take stock of the man’s writing, especially when her adaption of her play has been described Quentin Tarrintino meets Henry Lawson.


Another reason why I like Henry is because I saw Max Cullen play Henry in the Wellington and bought a copy the CD of Dead Poets Talking, the stage show Max devised that had Henry bouncing off A.B. “Banjo” Patterson played by Warren Fahey.


There’s another thing about Henry, I learnt how he lived in the Sydney Inner Western suburb of Petersham. He worked as railway workshops labourer at Sydney’s Western suburb of Auburn and composed his classic poem Faces In The Street when he lived in Petersham’s White Cockatoo Hotel. There is plaque on Petersham Railway Station celebrating Henry. I’ve attached this poem as it is so relevant to Australia today.

The poem yells a strong defiance to the 1890’s Depression. He describes the poverty inflicted on Working People and shows his empathy with them, when they were thrown on the scrap heap in a time when there was no dole or social security. Henry knew what they felt like because he was one of them.

The only fault in the poem, and I say this from 2019 is that he saw Australia as a young country. He did not know of Indigenous Australia and 60,000 year history, the oldest continuous civilisation on Earth. He did not attempt to tap into it, which means challenging the Dispossession of our Indigenous Peoples and institutionalised and cultural racism that inflicts its foul stench in Australia in 2019. Nor did he really have that desire to write of Indigenous Australians except in a paternalistic way. Yet despite his faults, there is many things I admire about him such as that fire in his being to challenge the moneyed classes and the big end of town. He was no saint and I do take him on boots and all but when I point out his mistakes. I write in a style of Henry Lawson meets Hunter S. Thompson.

I remember vividly being told at the University of Technology, Sydney by a journalism lecturer, “This is Australia John, we don’t do that Hunter S. Thompson stuff.” I’ve always looked back on that moment and thought, what a narrow way to write about the world we live in?

Rowan Cahill historian, teacher, and journalist in his review of my fourth book, my 2015 A History Man’s Past, Other People’s Wars I believe sums up my writing in his review.

…………my liking for John Tognolini as a dissident/radical. His latest book is only part of the answer.  The full reason lies in the way Tognolini operates; in a self-directed way. He makes his own spaces for dissident interventions and comment, demonstrating a media savvy that was/is no doubt helped by his academic studies; he has a First Class Honours degree in Communications from the University of Technology, Sydney, gained at a time when the institution had a reputation for producing independent journalists/communicators.  Tognolini publishes his own books. Since 2006 he has run a massive website/blog (Tog’s Place.Com) as a platform for his own writings and commentaries, and also as an alternative leftist news, information and cultural site. The site takes its name from the Cobb and Co way-station run by his Italian grandfather and his Australia-born grandmother (from English/Irish convict parentage) near Castlemaine, Victoria, during the 19th century. Tognolini has also been involved in community radio since 1987, and with the socialist newspaper Green Left Weekly since 1990. He has produced radio documentaries for ABC Radio National/RN.

Tognolini’s independence as an intellectual/communicator is rooted in his employment background;  before becoming a school teacher in 2000, he variously worked as a labourer, scaffolder, rigger, dogman, railway fettler, and painter and docker, and whilst in these employments was a trade unionist. This long and varied employment background means that the language of Tognolini is from the world of public communication, and not from school-to-academia niche worlds; his long and deep immersion in the labouring workforce also means he developed strong self-respect and individuality that have helped him resist/escape the cap-in-hand-defer-to-intellectual-power-elites mode of conduct that tends to come with professional writer training and with academia.

Involvement in unionism, militant unionism in Tognolini’s case, led him to make two documentary films that are worth chasing down, one (1992) on the deregistration of the Builders Labourers Federation in Victoria, the other (with Frances Kelly) on the three-month occupation/strike by militant trade unions of Cockatoo Island Dockyard, Sydney, 1989, in which John was involved. Both substantial films are available on Youtube.

Tognolini does not need peer- reviewing or permission to speak, nor does he need the approbation of pecking orders to comment and create his brand of opposition and dissidence. He does not agonise as to where to act, where to ‘say’. He simply goes out and does/say it, and as I said earlier, makes his own spaces. There is a valuable message, and example, here that I regard highly, and respect.

My stroke and I do mean mine because no one else would want it and I can’t blame them. Apart from nearly killing me, it put my writing on hold including my book production. I then learned of my publisher retiring after his wife’s death. Also, I was just getting settled to living back in Katoomba again after finishing off my ties with Wellington.

I’ve established a new relationship with another publisher and will be reproducing my four published books and will take the opportunity to update them: Singing Johnny Cash In The Cardiac Ward: A personal story about heart disease and music.  That dealt with my six-and-a-half hour heart operation I had October 28, 2011. It was actually two operations, one to replace my aortic valve with a mechanical valve and one to graph my aortic artery (the main trunk from the heart that connects all the arteries). If I did not have these jobs done. I would have been a dead man walking, the victim of a coronary aneurysm and certain heart failure ten months later. It will now become a post-stroke edition.

My A History Man’s Past & Other People’s Stories: A Shared Memoir. Part One: Other People’s Wars will be updated to include the re-election of the Liberal/National Party Coalition with Scott Morrison and Donald Trump’s impending war on Iran and other imperial adventures such in Venezuela.
A History Man’s Past & Other People’s Stories: A Shared Memoir. Part One: Other People’s Wars is a shared history in many ways. It’s where part of my story reflects the people I’ve interviewed with my media work over thirty years.

My interview with retired Australian SAS Warrant Officer Dr Brian Day, who served with the US Special Forces in Vietnam and Cambodia. He was also a founding member of the Australian Vietnam Veterans Association. I interviewed him in 1992 on Anzac, Racism, and the Madness of the Vietnam War.

My interview with Stan Goff, a retired US Army Special Forces Master Sergeant and Vietnam Veteran who served in the US Army up until Haiti in 1996. He became involved in Military Families Against War that was formed when George W.Bush invaded Iraq in 2003.
My question to Veteran Journalist, Writer and Filmmaker John Pilger, at a public meeting in Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains about history being memory in 2008.

My question to Activist, Academic, Writer and Linguist Noam Chomsky, and coverage of his Sydney Press Conference, when he visited Australia in 1995, campaigning for an independent East Timor, then under the murderous Indonesian Occupation.

A shared history in another way too, I argue here that Australia’s Frontier Wars against our Indigenous Peoples should be recognised in the Australian War Memorial. 

I’ll be reproducing my crime satire novel The Mountain City Murders Mountain City Murders is also a story of the untouched bush and national parks around Mountain City: 200 meter high cliffs, temperate rainforests, mountain valleys, Swamp Necked Wallabies, Copper Head Snakes, owls and crime in a World Heritage Area. Mountain City Murders is a 21st Century Power Without Glory dedicated to the great Australian writer Frank Hardy.

In Hardy’s classic Melbourne’s Collingwood is Caringbush and in Mountain City Murders, Mountain City is the Blue Mountains town of Katoomba and The Three Sisters are Tiddas Rocks. Tiddas is a common Aboriginal for sister/s. It also the name of the great Australian Aboriginal women’s band that performed for ten years from 1990-2000, comprised of Lou Bennet Yorta Yorta, Amy Saunders Gunditjmarra and Sally Datsey.

Brothers - Part One: Gallipoli 1915  in this historical novel I have attempted to show the horror of war for what it is. It has been my intent to show the hardship and suffering endured at Gallipoli. I had two uncles there, Stephen Tognolini, Military Medal and Bar, 21st Battalion and Andrew Tognolini, 24th Battalion. They would be joined by their two other brothers John/Jack Tognolini, 57th Battalion Military Medal and Henry/Harry Phillips 60th Battalion on the Western Front in France and Belgium.

John/Jack Tognolini was Killed in Action on 25th April 1918 at the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux in France. The army had his age as 24 years old. As he was born in 1900, he was either 16 or 17.

I will return to the three future volumes to Brothers dealing with the Western Front in the years 1916, 1917 and 1918. After I complete two more parts of his historical series, A History Man’s Past & Other Peoples’ Stories: A Shared Memoir. Part 2: Working People/Blue Collar and Part 3:What Is My Nation? History, Racism, Class & Justice.

John Tognolini

14th July 2019, Katoomba, Blue Mountains.

            Henry Lawson

Faces In The Street - by Henry Lawson
They lie, the men who tell us in a loud decisive tone
That want is here a stranger, and that misery's unknown;
For where the nearest suburb and the city proper meet
My window-sill is level with the faces in the street --
Drifting past, drifting past,
To the beat of weary feet --
While I sorrow for the owners of those faces in the street.

And cause I have to sorrow, in a land so young and fair,
To see upon those faces stamped the marks of Want and Care;
I look in vain for traces of the fresh and fair and sweet
In sallow, sunken faces that are drifting through the street --
Drifting on, drifting on,
To the scrape of restless feet;
I can sorrow for the owners of the faces in the street.

In hours before the dawning dims the starlight in the sky
The wan and weary faces first begin to trickle by,
Increasing as the moments hurry on with morning feet,
Till like a pallid river flow the faces in the street --
Flowing in, flowing in,
To the beat of hurried feet --
Ah! I sorrow for the owners of those faces in the street.

The human river dwindles when 'tis past the hour of eight,
Its waves go flowing faster in the fear of being late;
But slowly drag the moments, whilst beneath the dust and heat
The city grinds the owners of the faces in the street --
Grinding body, grinding soul,
Yielding scarce enough to eat --
Oh! I sorrow for the owners of the faces in the street.

And then the only faces till the sun is sinking down
Are those of outside toilers and the idlers of the town,
Save here and there a face that seems a stranger in the street,
Tells of the city's unemployed upon his weary beat --
Drifting round, drifting round,
To the tread of listless feet --
Ah! My heart aches for the owner of that sad face in the street.

And when the hours on lagging feet have slowly dragged away,
And sickly yellow gaslights rise to mock the going day,
Then flowing past my window like a tide in its retreat,
Again I see the pallid stream of faces in the street --
Ebbing out, ebbing out,
To the drag of tired feet,
While my heart is aching dumbly for the faces in the street.

And now all blurred and smirched with vice the day's sad pages end,
For while the short `large hours' toward the longer `small hours' trend,
With smiles that mock the wearer, and with words that half entreat,
Delilah pleads for custom at the corner of the street --
Sinking down, sinking down,
Battered wreck by tempests beat --
A dreadful, thankless trade is hers, that Woman of the Street.

But, ah! to dreader things than these our fair young city comes,
For in its heart are growing thick the filthy dens and slums,
Where human forms shall rot away in sties for swine unmeet,
And ghostly faces shall be seen unfit for any street --
Rotting out, rotting out,
For the lack of air and meat --
In dens of vice and horror that are hidden from the street.

I wonder would the apathy of wealthy men endure
Were all their windows level with the faces of the Poor?
Ah! Mammon's slaves, your knees shall knock, your hearts in terror beat,
When God demands a reason for the sorrows of the street,
The wrong things and the bad things
And the sad things that we meet
In the filthy lane and alley, and the cruel, heartless street.

I left the dreadful corner where the steps are never still,
And sought another window overlooking gorge and hill;
But when the night came dreary with the driving rain and sleet,
They haunted me -- the shadows of those faces in the street,
Flitting by, flitting by,
Flitting by with noiseless feet,
And with cheeks but little paler than the real ones in the street.

Once I cried: `Oh, God Almighty! if Thy might doth still endure,
Now show me in a vision for the wrongs of Earth a cure.'
And, lo! with shops all shuttered I beheld a city's street,
And in the warning distance heard the tramp of many feet,
Coming near, coming near,
To a drum's dull distant beat,
And soon I saw the army that was marching down the street.

Then, like a swollen river that has broken bank and wall,
The human flood came pouring with the red flags over all,
And kindled eyes all blazing bright with revolution's heat,
And flashing swords reflecting rigid faces in the street.
Pouring on, pouring on,
To a drum's loud threatening beat,
And the war-hymns and the cheering of the people in the street.

And so it must be while the world goes rolling round its course,
The warning pen shall write in vain, the warning voice grow hoarse,
But not until a city feels Red Revolution's feet
Shall its sad people miss awhile the terrors of the street --
The dreadful everlasting strife
For scarcely clothes and meat
In that pent track of living death -- the city's cruel street. 




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