All My Love by Anne Brooksbank is a slice of history they didn’t teach us at school about Henry Lawson and Mary Gilmore. Both giants of the Australian literary landscape this “assumption realized” is of a passionate love affair between the two researched from surviving letters between them and begun about 1890. Gilmore did make reference to her unofficial engagement to Lawson, which was sabotaged by his formidable mother the suffragette and publisher of his first book Louise Lawson. But the path of this love was not to be a smooth.
My imagining of Henry Lawson is of that chiseled face and luxurious moustache and a lot of personal pain and suffering, but writing brilliant prose and poems. Mary Gilmore on the other hand is a formidable lady in a magnificent William Dobell painting, a radical socialist whose poem ‘Major General Bennett and his True Men’ known in its edited form as Singapore I read so long ago.
To reconcile the imagined with the play at the Q Theatre in Queanbeyan, with Kim Denham as a sweet as can be Mary Gilmore and Dion Mills as Henry (Harry) Lawson, was a step back from the known, to the supposed, and you can’t help but be swept up in the frustrating aspects of what could have been a perfect liaison. In this unusual telling of the story that takes you from a boarding house to Western Australia, to Paraguay and Patagonia, to London and then back to Australia, with more baggage than Mary Gilmore should have been burdened with and finally Lawson’s death at a young age and that unrequited love niggling all the way, is a mighty big story to encapsulate. But it encourages you back to the writing of both, to seek some evidence, to marvel at their prodigious writing ability and wonder what might have been.