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Location: New South Wales, Australia

Born in Yorkshire, raised in Australia. I love Poetry, Guitar (especially Spanish classical & Delta Blues), Tudor, Jacobean and Stuart England, Archaeology & good Ale. I edit The Flea http://www.the-flea.com & The Chimaera (with Peter Bloxsom) http://www.the-chimaera.com, and Shit Creek Review http://www.shitcreekreview.com

Monday, October 02, 2006

Shelton Lea and Jack Dancer


There was a crash pad for Royal George Young Push in Crown Street, Darlinghurst, in 1964. I used to go there a bit as a seventeen year old aspiring beatnik; it was a convenient place to take girls to (suitable venues being hard to find).

Another place I stayed, just down the road, was rented by Anna, who was reputed to have entertained John Lennon and Bob Dylan in 1964: but I never saw them there. I saw a lot of Anna though - she handpicked me from the throng at The Royal George, grabbed me by my turtle-necked sweater and frogmarched me to her flat, where she gave me a close inspection lasting several months. She had long, straight dark hair and looked like Joan Baez. She was very strong, once challenging me to a wrestling match and beating me - though I was big and strong enough - without too much effort.

Anyway, Back to the Crown Street crash pad. Larry "Jesus" lived there, and English Paul, and Adelaide Jeff, and Shelton Lea, and many others. One of my defining memories of this period goes as follows: in the winter of '64, Crown Street (as the pad, a Victorian terrace house, is called) is full of long-hairs, bohemians, Push, artists, poets, beatniks and assorted entourage. It is bitterly cold, so the resourceful inhabitants are demolishing the wooden staircase, handrail and post, step by step, to feed into the fireplace. Eventually there is no staircase left, and the only way to go up or down is by gymnastic feat. The furniture, such as it is, is also disappearing into the fireplace to warm the shivering, ill-fed denizens, many of whom are in various stages of high or low pertaining to alcohol, yippee beans, bi-polar disorder and the rest of it. But one manic figure is unstoppably energetic: Shelton Lea, who leaps from one end of the dive to the other reciting his own poetry in a florid, rhetorical manner. Shelton is already a published poet - much to my envy - and will go on to build a considerable Underground Poetry Career in Sydney and especially Melbourne. At Crown Street and The George he is an italianate-looking curly-haired poetry machine, bright-eyed, unstoppably eloquent.

Now he is dead, as are many from the Days of The Royal George and after. English Paul, Vyda, Trevor, Warren, Jacques, Chuck Cookson, Marcia, Malto, Adrian Rawlins, Brian Raven, Vivienne.

I found this letter in a thread here. I have not yet verified the Ron Silliman allusion:
At 3:59 PM -0700 6/23/05, Ron Silliman wrote: Bard of the back streets Jen Jewel Brown 24jun05

Shelton Lea Poet, publisher and fine-book dealer. Born Melbourne, August 25, 1946. Died Melbourne, May 13, aged 58.

RAPSCALLION, big-hearted mentor and arguably Australia's finest romantic poet, Shelton Lea died peacefully at home in Clifton Hill, Melbourne, on Friday, May 13. He was renowned as the beautiful, charming, dope-smoking wag who was a close mate of Heide's Barrett Reid (poet and librarian) and Sweeney Reed (artist and gallery owner). He lived at Heide for years after John and Sunday Reed died, helping Reid put out Overland magazine.

Last year Lea spoke eloquently on ABC television's Stateline about his experiences as a 16-year-old in Pentridge, helping in the campaign to keep children out of adult jails. Later that year, the Victorian Children and Young Persons (Age Jurisdiction) Act 2004 was passed, effectively extending the definition of child from 17 to 18 in several areas of the law.

Lea lived life on a grand scale. Mystery surrounds the identity of his father, thought to have suffered a breakdown after serving in World War II. His mother came to Melbourne from Perth in 1946 to give birth to Shelton at the Haven, a home for unmarried mothers. The lively boy spent the first 15 months of his life there. One carer remembered him decades later as a delightful child, if a head-banger.

He was adopted into the Lea family of Toorak, famous for its confectionery. At 12 he became "too close" to a chocolate factory worker, who was accordingly fired. Distraught, Shelton told his adoptive father "I fire you" and ran away from home, ending up in various homes for wayward youngsters. He met Aborigines for the first time and was made an honorary black. At 16, he ended up in Pentridge's notorious C Division, where he witnessed rape and murder.

Time in Long Bay, Goulburn and Grafton jails followed. Lea became a skilled pickpocket and cat burglar. He penned love poems and letters for grateful inmates. For a time in the early 1960s he lived with gypsies on the roads of rural Australia. After being thrown out of Kings Cross for manufacturing LSD, he moved back to Melbourne where he met the Heide set through sculptor Joel Elenberg.

In his 58 years Lea had children with three women. Nine books of his poetry have been published. He is known for his articulate, street-smart humour, his gentle love poetry and the mythic, visceral masculinity of his visions. In a country where artists are generally asked what their real job is, he took his poetic calling seriously. A popular reader, he approached performance with an almost Shakespearean bravura. He also published several other poets' books through his imprint Eaglemont Press and ran fine bookshops including, recently, De Havillands in Clifton Hill.

His February diagnosis of Jack Dancer (as he liked to call his lung cancer) left him three months to live. He made the most of it, pushing through the release of his ninth book Nebuchadnezzar (through Black Pepper), while poems from it were accepted by The Age and The Australian.

Nebuchadnezzar was launched by Dorothy Porter at the Rochester Castle Hotel in Fitzroy, eight days before the poet's death. The pub overflowed. Although he had thought he wouldn't have the breath, Lea decided on the night to make a final, moving reading of the title poem. In the voice (with permission) of Aboriginal identity Sonny Booth and dedicated to Booth and Lionel Rose, the work is inspired by the Arthur Boyd painting, Nebuchadnezzar Burning.

Shelton Lea is survived by his partner Leith Woodgate, his children Kaye, Destiny, Danay and Zero, godson Ben, half and adopted siblings, and grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

12 Comments:

Blogger Lorraine Valentine said...

Hi I was a friend of Shelton Lea in the 60's-1970's and I was married to 'English Paul'.
Paul died in Oxford UK in 2005 'death by misadventure'.
He returned to UK in 1971 so it was a long time not connected to the old group of poets.
Paul was involved in the LSD bust and was thought to have grassed up Shelton and Wendy.
I won't go in to details here unless you want to be in contact.
Lorraine X

23 March 2008 at 5:37 am  
Blogger Caratacus said...

Lorraine, we must be thinking of different English Pauls. The one I knew, Paul Clarke, died in Kuranda in 1980; I write about him here and here.

What was the surname of your husband who died in 2005?

I don't know about the other matters you mention

23 March 2008 at 6:44 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

beatnik casbah (cass cumerford) comments (in june 2010)----" i recall 2 english pauls and 3 english allans....there were probably more---many groups didn't know some of other groups so when tales are told characters overlap----but we were SO bloody lucky to have been there then----love to all you survivoirs (?)survivours (?)"----drop into the Piccolo Bar and leave a message for me.....it's always empty lately

1 June 2010 at 9:28 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey lorraine cohen or Dutch Andy!! leave a message here for Mindless and Cass---(petercumerford @ bigpond.com)-----WE MISS YOU. don't wanna die before we catch up.

1 June 2010 at 9:33 pm  
Blogger Lorraine Valentine said...

To Caractacus:
The surname of my "English Paul" was Jolin.

To Anonymus:
Jeez and I thought everyone knew everyone in those day's at Ozzies Piccolo bar.
Love back to you and unfortunately can't make it to the Piccolo as I'm in UK. I may have another visit back late 2011 hope all you survivors are still surviving then!

3 June 2010 at 10:56 pm  
Blogger ants said...

To my dear Lorraine Valentine

You knew nothing of Shelton Lee & you were no friend. I would remember you without trial. Such comments about a man who is no longer here to defend himself coupled with your sad and unfortunate beliefs that Shelton would "Grass" on anyone, to me, emphasizes your lack of relations with the man himself and do nothing for you but prove your need to be something more than the nothing you must be.

25 September 2010 at 11:13 am  
Anonymous Lorraine Valentine said...

Hi Ants I think there is some major misunderstanding going on here.
I don't understand which comments have upset you so much as I have made no other comments about Shelton than the ones on this page
I only remember a really great guy who touched a lot of peoples lives. I understand your loyalty.
It wasn't that I was saying Shelton would grass up anyone, I know he wouldn't and didn't. It was Paul that was accused of grassing Shelton, not the other way around.
However,I don't think we should use Shelton's memory (and blogs of that time)in this negative way, rather keep our memories of him close andnot cause any more division in this world.

2 October 2010 at 9:08 pm  
Blogger Lorraine Valentine said...

SORRY big misunderstanding between me and ants.
I don't understand what your response is about unless it's been read wrong.
Lets just remember our own times with Shelton and keep our memories close, he touched many people in his life, I was just one of them.
It was crazy times and I have so many fond memories.
Pax

2 October 2010 at 9:24 pm  
Blogger Lorraine Valentine said...

Does anyone have a photo of "Cheveralls" "Cheverells"(sp?)
where so many of us lived in the 60's
I have trawled many sites trying to find photos of it.
2 English Pauls, that makes sense...
1 English Allan I knew in the cross died young. The other black Alan as he was known (we were terribly non p.c. in those days), Johnny Patch, I thought the Piccolo was wonderful and full of wonderful people, characters all- best Juke Box ever...

2 October 2010 at 9:37 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I met Shelton in 1980, when he came over to visit my father for an evening, when I was sixteen. I still remember some of the poems he ... what? chanted? certainly not "read out". There was one, In Defence of Drunks and another about waking up next to his dead girlfriend.

He was my hero for the year. I went and saw him at various pubs, the Albion and another down in Johnston street, when he performed.

Then I went out with a friend to spend an evening on magic mushrooms with him at a farm he had with, I forget her name ... Chrissie? Christina? ... with a sauna out the back made of an old milk tin.

And then the very last time, I met him in his book shop at Clifton Hill: I walked in and looked around while he smoked a huge spliff ... eventually, he recognized me and broke into a smile and invited me to the back for tea and another huge spliff. We talked for a couple of hours about this and that and then I left.

It was an honor to have known him.

20 September 2011 at 11:36 pm  
Blogger Caratacus said...

Thanks for this terrific memoir, Anon -- it adds some fascinating flashes to the various perspectives on Shelton that together make up a kind of a composite portrait. Cheers!

27 October 2011 at 11:19 am  
Blogger Caratacus said...

Lorraine -- by "English Allan" do you prehaps mean Alan Heptinstall, who did leather work at Frank's Cafe? He died relatively young a few years ago of lung cancer I think.

27 October 2011 at 11:21 am  

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