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Kenneth Slessor’s Darlinghurst Nights

 Slessor Daringhurst Cover

Slessor Darlinghurst nights. What’s most interesting for me in this is that it shows me how little I know of Slessor‘s context. I’ve always made assumptions about him: a bit of a leftie, a bit of a radical – but this gives me a very different picture.

A couple of weeks ago I promised I’d find the other collection of Slessor’s works from Smith’s Weekly, and here it is. Darlinghurst Nights was first published in 1933 and matches Slessor’s lighter poetry with the illustrations of  Virgil Reilly.

I was hoping it was going to include some of the poems set for HSC students. It doesn’t but it’s still a window into Slessor’s world. The illustrations are curious. Apparently the streets of Darlinghurst are filled with semi-clad girls gazing wistfully from their windows. It seems that the Smith’s Weekly audience were as much entranced by the hope of a whimsical romantic encounter as by the sexy lingerie.

It’s hardly how I’d pictured Slessor or his audience. I’m curious now. Anybody out there got a better contextual handle on this?

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2 thoughts on “Kenneth Slessor’s Darlinghurst Nights

  1. Tom O'Regan on said:

    These poems and drawing are all drawn from the now defunct weekly national newspaper “Smith’s Weekly’ (1919-1950)”. In 1933 Slessor was writing most of the paper’s extensive film pages (including most of its many film reviews). He was also from time to time its leader writer, regular journalist including film journalist, one of its satirists, its film critic, sometimes its fight critic. Producing light verse was integral to Slessor’s ‘job’ as a journalist. Slessor also wrote most of his significant poetry set on the HSC during these 13 enormously productive years at “Smith’s”. Interestingly the light verse writing and the images were often developed in conjunction with each other with Slessor apparently involved in the artists’ conferences at “Smith’s”. So the light verse and the poetry were integrally connected and often developed together. The artist Virgil Reilly was one of the many black-and-white artists and cartoonists working on “Smith’s” alongside Slessor–these artists made “Smith’s” one of Australia’s most visual ‘newspapers’ of the time. Some of those involved in the publication later claimed that “Smith’s” artists like Reilly were the highest paid in the world at the time. For the historical readership of “Darlinghurst Nights” these images would have been seen as images of “Virgil’s Girls”–they were apparently used as pinups. Both Slessor’s biographer, Geoffrey Dutton, and his fellow “Smith’s” journalist, George Blaikie (“Remembering Smiths’, 1966) have interesting discussions of this artist drawing attention to the wistfulness of the images of these girls created by a man with a significant disability who led a pretty sad life. They also point towards Slessor’s public persona of the time: he really was the go to journalist, the jack of all trades persona who could combine serious journalism, antifascist and pro-Aboriginal comment, be party to Chaser style stunts, excite a fair number of writs, do a John Clarke style commentary on the politics of the day, and write some really, really impressive film criticism which deserve republication.

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