BM nature logo
(click images to see larger ones)
Denis Kevans
Denis Kevans

Denis Kevans (1939-2005)
prepared by Sophia Kevans

Denis at the Domain Denis at The Domain, Sydney
in the early sixties
Australian poet, writer and teacher, Denis Kevans was the voice that turned hundreds of environmental preservation campaigns and human rights concerns into ditties, songs, verse and script.

A Kevans poem became the fiat on any issue, from a local council zoning matter to the stance to take on a foreign war.

Australia’s Poet Lorikeet, Denis was also called the “people's poet" because of his close identification with the workers' movement, Aborigines, migrants, the environment, anti-corruption and sport.

He had a quick wit and wrote many humorous poems, deftly capturing the Australian vernacular.

Peter Denis Kevans was born in Canberra on 15th January, 1939.

He won a scholarship to St Josephs College in Sydney, where he played for the first XI (cricket) and first XV (rugby union).

Denis was selected by Sir Robert Menzies for the Prime Minister's XI, which played the touring English (MCC) team in 1959. Here's an image.

Whilst initially studying medicine, at his father's urging for him to become a writer, he switched courses to complete a Bachelor of Arts and Diploma of Education and a Master of Arts in Australian Literature at Sydney University, while working on building sites and becoming a member of the NSW Builders Labourers Federation. (courtesy of Wikipedia)

In 1982 Denis retired from teaching English and History in Sydney and moved to the Blue Mountains to concentrate on writing.

The mountains’ natural beauty inspired a prolific outpouring of poems about the mountains. Local favourites include

Have you seen your own Blue Mountains that put galleries to shame,
Galleries of Art and Sculpture that are proudest in their fame?
For the Art of fern and flower and the sculpting of the stone,
Is an Art no skill can master but the Mountain’s skill alone.

Denis with guitar Denis with guitar in bushland
between Wentworth Falls and Leura
From his home in Wentworth Falls, he became involved in battles over development projects and poorly-planned schemes threatening conservation.

He wrote bitingly satirical poems about the involvement of local and state politicians, “half-smart thieves”, in shady development deals1.

1  see poem and song: Green Ban Fusiliers, Denis Kevans, 1972. Audio recording: "unionsong.com/u041.html ]

In 1995, he established a long-running monthly poetry performance evening, “Poets at the Parakeet” in Katoomba.

A natural scholar and teacher, he mentored local aspiring poets and reciters - some of whom can still be seen in the mountains and around Australia performing his work.

Denis won many poetry awards during his lifetime and is featured in several anthologies such as:

His poetry has been recorded into song by over 100 singers including pro-conservationist Sonia Bennett, the Honorable Peter Garrett AM of Midnight Oil, and Wentworth Falls locals Margaret and Bob Fagan, as well as Leura poet, singer, song-writer and academic Kate Fagan.

Denis close-up Denis close-up
photo courtesy of PA Cosgrave
Denis’s work has been featured in public places in the mountains for decades. Notably lines from “Passing Mist” are inscribed in a World Heritage sandstone plinth at Echo Point, Katoomba.

As an irreverent dissector of Australian and international politics, Denis was pleasantly surprised by an invitation to recite at an official function for the President of Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams at the Parliament of New South Wales.

Denis lived in Wentworth Falls for the remainder of his life.

In 2009, the Blue Mountains City Council posthumously named a reserve in Wentworth Falls the “Denis Kevans Bushland Gardens” inspired by his poem “Bushland Gardens”. The poem extols the innate beauty of Australia’s native bush. It is a touching tribute as he had regularly walked through the same reserve on his way to the Wentworth Falls town centre.

For several years the Blue Mountains Music Festival held an annual Denis Kevans Memorial Poets’ Breakfast. In 2009, Australian Champion Bush Poet, Milton Taylor, shared this stanza that he penned for Denis:

Salute to Denis K.
As I look upon these mountains in their majesty and grace
And the simple, pure magnificence in joy of nature's face,
I stand where mighty eucalypts reach fingers to the heavens
Immortalised in magic verse – and I thank you, Denis Kevans.

Denis’s daughter Sophia restored his Wentworth Falls home and named it Poet’s Cottage in memoriam. In 2013 the cottage opened as a holiday home for travelers with an interest in poetry and nature.


A few of Denis's Blue Mountains poems

Echo Pt. Plinth Denis with plinth at Echo Pt.
close up of plinth
PASSING MIST
Parched orchids smile to the passing mist,
Mist that’s the memory of a vanished ocean,
Mist that’s tears that have often fallen,
Gleaming on the rock.

Gleaming on the rock
That is the face you cannot remember.

Who is walking in the mist with their sandals in their hand?
Who is crouching to see the orchid smile?
Who pauses to hear the bracelet of notes
Thrown by the harmonica bird at the covered sun?

Whose voices are under the waterfall?
Whose voices are muffled by the mist?
Whose voices drift with the white mist
Passing, like the ghosts of ocean waves?

Denis Kevans and Echo Pt. plinth Denis with plinth at Echo Pt.
that has lines from Bushland Gardens
The pirate honey-eaters spread
the pollen far and wide,
The golden dust of perfumed joy
right down the mountain side.
BUSHLAND GARDENS
The love of all your gardens is a deep love that you hold,
Your randy rhododendrons, and your groves of cypress-gold,
But there are lovely gardens in Blue Mountains that I know,
Australia's bushland gardens where the ferns and flowers grow.

Your gardeners are experts, they deserve a scroll of praise,
And budding blooms of beauty in the bonny beds they raise,
But where the sandstone's gleaming, and the secret waters flow,
Our bushland garden's blooming, and the ferns and flowers grow.

There are flowers of white and crimson, there are cheeky orchids, too,
That stand up on a rocky ledge, to laugh and smile at you,
And patches, hot with perfume, by the sandstone's cooling wall,
Where Australia's bushland gardens grow their beauty for us all.

I love this land, Australia, with its vaulting, mountain vales,
Its waterfalls that talk and sing, the king ferns by the trails,
And the king of moss and myrtle, with its songs of beauty rare,
Is the lyrebird of loveliness who rakes the gardens there.

Where the secret water's streaming, and the diamond droplets fall,
There are bunches of bright flowers clinging to the sandstone wall,
And the water-drops keep sliding down, like sparkling silver gems,
Along the fronds of flowers, and the green ferns' dancing stems.

The pirate honey-eaters spread the pollen far and wide,
The golden dust of perfumed joy right down the mountain side,

They'll find a bush that's blooming in a patch of winter sun,
And plunder honey-lanterns with their wanton little tongues.

Here, in the quiet of noonday, 'neath a hot and burning sun,
Those diamond drops of water will forever sweetly run,
Till hungry dollar-junkies, with their careless greed again,
Turn singing creeks and waterfalls to a putrid, stinking drain.

So keep the waters flowing that have made our gardens here,
These gardens that have flourished for a hundred thousand years,
These lovely, perfumed gardens in Blue Mountains that I know,
Australia's bushland gardens where the ferns and flowers grow.

LEARN ALL THEIR SONGS, SWEET LYREBIRD

Learn all their songs, sweet lyrebird,
The mountain waters sigh,
They rush unbounded through the rocks,
And leap from way up high,
They laugh and gallop through the green,
Their silver manes uncurled,
Learn all their songs, sweet lyrebird,
And keep them for the world.

Their songs are songs of joyousness,
There’s Freedom in their flight,
They slide the curtain of the dawn,
They zip open the night;
Their coloured feathers blazing bright,
My heart’s wings are unfurled,
Learn all their songs, sweet lyrebird,
And keep them for the world.

I love to stand inside the green,
Where Time has charmed the stone,
And hear the rhapsodies they sing,
For me and you alone;
The golden whistlers challenging,
Their songs dance off the walls,
Learn all their songs, sweet lyrebird,
And keep them for the world.

Learn all their songs, sweet lyrebird,
For now, wherever I go,
I see their feathers splashed with blood,
And through the bush they blow;
The savage teeth so needle-sharp,
The insecticides so cruel,
Learn all their songs, sweet lyrebird,
And keep them for the world.

Sweet lyrebird, learn all their songs,
’Cause when they are all gone,
I’ll come and listen to you sing,
And hear their vanished songs;
The thrush, the whistler and the wren,
Where the white, white water is hurled,
Learn all their songs, sweet lyrebird,
And keep them for the world.

THE KING

The falcon drank at the mirror-pool
     On the ledge, high in the air,
While the swirls of water spun their cloth
     Far down on the turrets bare;

And I stood alone as I sang my song
     To the evening's rushes of red.
And what did I see as I moved to go
     By the bones of the gravel bed?

He sat alone like a king of stone,
     And he gazed at the gleaming pool,
And he dipped his head and he splashed the pearls
     Of water into the cool;

He eyed me without moving his face,
     Without moving a feather so trim.
And I stood and I gazed at the falcon of stone,
     For the king of the Mountains, was him.

Then he lifted off with a sheer disdain,
     And he fell through the liquid air,
And the breeze that adjusted his sails again
     Carried him here and there.

He never looked back, nor right, nor left,
     Just journeyed upon his way;
And I cherished the moment in the mountain pass
     When I met the king that day.

Copyright

Denis Kevans' work is subject to copyright. Permission must be sought to reproduce any or part of these poems from his daughter Sophia, who can be contacted through this website or via the Denis Kevans' Facebook page.

References

Biography written by Sophia Kevans with excerpts from the Sydney Morning Herald obituary of Denis Kevans “Witty Voice of a Humane Generation” by Jefferson Lee, September 17, 2005.