Born in Grenfell, New South Wales in 1867, Henry Lawson is one of Australia’s most well-known and loved writers. Although much of his work was set in the bush, he spent most of his life living in urban areas. He moved around frequently, but spent some time in Naremburn.
He had a hard life – his parents divorced, he struggled with deafness, alcoholism and his own unhappy marriage – but his poetry and prose was published in books, magazines, journals and newspapers during his life and is still popular today.
From June 1906 to January 1907 Lawson lodged with Mrs Isabel Byers in her iron-roofed cottage in Market Street. He described it in a letter to one of his publishers as ‘an unusual little cottage in a little paddock of its own’. He also resided in the area after World War I. Lawson was quite fond of the natural beauties of the area, and in the same letter advised his friend that ‘it would be well worth your time to go to Naremburn about sunset some fine autumn day and wait til the afterglow’.
Because of his alcohol and financial problems he was not very well received by those in the area, though he did quite well ‘singing for his supper’ in the local pubs; he would compose a poem on the spot in return for a drink. After visiting the tavern he would sleep it off in a little cave in Flat Rock Gully, listening to the cascade of the Naremburn Falls. The cave was overrun by noxious weed, but Council staff have now transformed the area from a rubbish dump to a natural space for the whole community. Council frequently organises poetry readings with damper and performances by the local community, held regularly in honour of Lawson and the spirit of the place.
In 1919 the following poem by Henry Lawson was published in Lone Hand magazine:
Twas an old respected settler, in the unrespected days,
Who had land along the North Shore, and - we’ll say his name was Hayes,
And he came there as a young man, when there was great work to do
And his young wife’s name was “Chattie” (and no doubt, she chatted, too).
‘Twas a “small place in the country” – where he went to be carefree –
Out beyond the pleasant suburb that they now call Willoughby;
And a little wood was on it, and the trees were tall and good,
And his young wife used to dream there, so he called it “Chattie’s Wood”.
“Chattie’s Wood” has long since gone, and shops are standing in a row
Where the young wife went a-dreaming in a the days of long ago,
How the pretty name was altered doesn’t matter, anyhow,
But the wife is still remembered, as they call it “Chatswood” now.
- Henry Lawson, 1919