From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Kenneth Slessor

Kenneth Slessor on 3 January 1949
Kenneth Slessor on 3 January 1949
Born(1901-03-27)27 March 1901
Orange, New South Wales, Australia
Died30 June 1971(1971-06-30) (aged 70)
North Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Occupation Poet, journalist
Years active1924–1970
  • Noëla Glasson (m. 1922; dec'd. 1945)
  • Pauline Wallace (m. 1951; dis. 1961)
ChildrenPaul Slessor

Kenneth Adolphe Slessor OBE (27 March 1901 – 30 June 1971) [1] was an Australian poet, journalist and official war correspondent in World War II. He was one of Australia's leading poets, notable particularly for the absorption of modernist influences into Australian poetry. [2] The Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry is named after him.

Early life

Slessor was born Kenneth Adolphe Schloesser [2] [3] in Orange, New South Wales. [1] As a boy, he lived in England for a time with his parents [4] and in Australia visited the mines of rural New South Wales with his father, a Jewish mining engineer whose father and grandfather had been distinguished musicians in Germany. [5]

His family moved to Sydney in 1903. Slessor attended Mowbray House School (1910–1914) and the Sydney Church of England Grammar School (1915–1918), [1] where he began to write poetry. His first published poem, "Goin'", about a wounded digger in Europe, remembering Sydney and its icons, appeared in The Bulletin in 1917. [6] Slessor passed the 1918 NSW Leaving Certificate with first-class honours in English and joined the Sydney Sun as a journalist. In 1919, seven of his poems were published. He married for the first time in 1922. [2]


Slessor made his living as a newspaper journalist, mostly for The Sun, and was a war correspondent during World War II (1939–1945). [1] In that capacity, he reported not only from Australia but from Greece, Syria, Libya, Egypt, and New Guinea. [7] [8]

Slessor also wrote on rugby league football for the popular publication Smith's Weekly. [9]

The bulk of Slessor's poetic work was produced before the end of World War II. His poem " Five Bells"—relating to Sydney Harbour, time, the past, memory, and the death of the artist, friend and colleague of Slessor at Smith's Weekly, Joe Lynch—remains probably his best known poem, followed by "Beach Burial", a tribute to Australian troops who fought in World War II.

In 1965, Australian writer Hal Porter wrote of having met and stayed with Slessor in the 1930s. He described Slessor as:

...a city lover, fastidious and excessively courteous, in those qualities resembles Baudelaire, as he does in being incapable of sentimentalizing over vegetation, in finding in nature something cruel, something bordering on effrontery. He prefers chiselled stone to the disorganization of grass. [10]

Ronald McCuaig was the first to produce an in-depth review of Kenneth Slessor (in The Bulletin in August 1939 and republished in "Tales out of bed" (1944)). [11] The review was favourable, ranking Slessor above C.J. Brennan and W.B. Yeats. It was written a year before " Five Bells", which marked Slessor's move to modernism, a move inspired, according to Rundle and others, by McCuaig. The review therefore covers the pre-modernist parts of Slessor's poetry. [12]

According to poet Douglas Stewart, Kenneth Slessor's poem " Five Visions of Captain Cook" is equally as important as "Five Bells" and was the 'most dramatic break-through' in Australian poetry of the twentieth century. [13]

In 1944 he published his definitive volume of poetry, One Hundred Poems, and from that point on Slessor published only three short poems. Instead of writing poetry, after 1944, and for the rest of his life, Slessor chose to concentrate on journalism and supporting literary projects whose aim was to help develop Australian poetry. [14]

Slessor was a member of The Journalists' Club Sydney and served as its Vice-President 1940–1957, then as its President 1957–1965. A portrait of Slessor was painted by fellow Journalists' Club member William Pidgeon, who painted the portraits of practically every club president up to 1976. [15]


In the 1959 New Year Honours, Slessor was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to literature. [16]

Personal life

Slessor counted Norman Lindsay, Hugh McCrae and Jack Lindsay among his friends.

At the age of 21, Slessor married 28-year-old Noëla Beatrice Myer Ewart Glasson (born 25 December 1893) in Ashfield, Sydney, on 18 August 1922. Noëla was the daughter of Australian soprano and music composer Annie May Colette Summerbelle (1867–1949) and Herbert Edward Glasson (1867–1893). She never knew her father who was executed at the Bathurst Gaol on 29 November 1893, a month before her birth, after he was found guilty of a double—almost quadruple—murder of 24 September 1893. [17] [18] Noëla died of cancer on 22 October 1945. [2] [19]

He married Pauline Wallace in 1951; and a year later celebrated the birth of his only child, Paul Slessor, [7] before the marriage dissolved in 1961.

He died suddenly of a heart attack on 30 June 1971 at the Mater Misericordiae Hospital, North Sydney. His ashes are interred in Rookwood Cemetery. [20]



Vision: A Literary Quarterly, edited by Frank C. Johnson, Jack Lindsay & Kenneth Slessor:

Poetry collections

  • Thief of the Moon, Sydney: Hand press of J. T. Kirtley (1924); limited edition of 150 copies.
  • Earth-visitors: Poems, London: Fanfrolico Press (1926); limited edition of 425 numbered copies.
  • Trio: A Book of Poems, with Harley Matthews and Colin Simpson, Sydney: Sunnybrook Press (1931); limited edition of 75 copies.
  • Darlinghurst Nights and Morning Glories: Being 47 Strange Sights Observed from Eleventh Storeys, in a Land of Cream Puffs and Crime, by a Flat-Roof Professor: and here set forth in Sketch and Rhyme, with illustrations by Virgil Reilly, Sydney: Frank C. Johnson (1931). [21]
  • Cuckooz Contrey, Sydney: Frank C. Johnson (1932); limited edition of 500 copies. [22]
  • Funny Farmyard: Nursery Rhymes and Painting Book, with drawings by Sydney Miller, Sydney: Frank Johnson (1933). [23]
  • Five Bells: XX Poems, Sydney: Frank C. Johnson (1939).
  • One Hundred Poems, 1919–1939, Sydney: Angus & Robertson (1944); revised edition published as Poems, 1957; new edition published as Selected Poems, 1978.


  • Bread and Wine, Sydney, Angus & Robertson (1970).


Plaque, Sydney Writers Walk
  • Australian Poetry (1945)
  • Robert Guy Howarth; Kenneth Slessor; John Thompson, eds. (1961). The Penguin Book of Modern Australian Verse. Melbourne: Penguin.

Individual works


  • Slessor has a street in the Canberra suburb of McKellar named after him.
  • Kenneth Slessor Park in Chatswood in named in his honour; the park features architecture with his poem, "Five Bells". [24]
  • The 1988 musical Darlinghurst Nights is based on his poetry and he is featured as a character.
  • The bells motif in "Five Bells" is referenced at the end of the 1999 song " You Gotta Love This City" by The Whitlams, which also involves a drowning death in Sydney Harbour.
  • Slessor's poetry was chosen to be placed on the Higher School Certificate English reading lists, and was also examined in the final English exam.
  • Kenneth Slessor has a plaque dedicated to him on the Sydney Writers Walk at Circular Quay. [25]
  • The poem "For Kenneth Slessor" was written by Slessor's close friend Douglas Stewart soon after his death in 1971
  • The poem "To Kenneth Slessor" by Peter Skrzynecki is about his relationship with the poet. This poem was featured in the poetry anthology Old/New World. [26]
  • The poem "Time" by David McIlwain explores Slessor's poetry in terms of his life around Sydney Harbour



  1. ^ a b c d "MS 3020 Papers of Kenneth Adolf Slessor (1901–1971)". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 29 August 2008.
  2. ^ a b c d Haskell, Dennis (2002). "Slessor, Kenneth Adolf (1901–1971)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. ISSN  1833-7538.
  3. ^ "Incandescent Ivor Indyk turns down the heat" by Miriam Cosic, The Australian (26 February 2011)
  4. ^ Haft 2011 cites (1908–1910: Slessor 1970, 253[ incomplete short citation])
  5. ^ Dutton 1991, pp. 1–2.
  6. ^ The Bulletin, vol. 38, 19 July 1917, p. 14
  7. ^ a b Stewart 1977, p. 52; Slessor, Haskell & Dutton 1994; Haskell 2002, 16:261;[ incomplete short citation] via Haft 2011
  8. ^ Haft 2011 article cites (1940–1944: Slessor 1970, 67;[ incomplete short citation] Dutton 1991, p. 120)
  9. ^ Headon, David (October 1999). "Up From the Ashes: The Phoenix of a Rugby League Literature" (PDF). Football Studies Volume 2, Issue 2. Football Studies Group. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 August 2010. Retrieved 7 July 2009.
  10. ^ Porter 1965, p. 40.
  11. ^ "Tales out of bed / by Ronald McCuaig | National Library of Australia". Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  12. ^ Rundle, Guy "The Culturestate", Meanjin, 69, 2, Winter 2010, pp. 56–63
  13. ^ Jaffa 1977, p. 20.
  14. ^ Jaffa 1977, p. 22.
  15. ^ Angel, Don (1985). The Journalists' Club, Sydney : founded 1939 : a fond history. Sydney: Journalists' Club. pp. 80, 176, 179. ISBN  0-9596107-2-3. OCLC  15551597.
  16. ^ It's an Honour
  17. ^ "The inquest". The Daily Telegraph (Sydney). No. 4449. New South Wales, Australia. 28 September 1893. p. 5. Retrieved 19 February 2024 – via National Library of Australia.
  18. ^ "The execution of GLASSON". Adelaide Observer. Vol. L, no. 2, 722. South Australia. 2 December 1893. p. 30. Retrieved 19 February 2024 – via National Library of Australia.
  19. ^ "Death Of Journalist's Wife", The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910–1954), 23 October 1945, p. 7, viewed 05 Aug 2018
  20. ^ Haskell, Dennis (2006). "Slessor, Kenneth Adolf (1901–1971)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Archived from the original on 15 November 2022. Retrieved 16 November 2022.
  21. ^ Darlinghurst Nights, The World's News (Sydney), 2 December 1931, page 36; "Darlinghurst Nights" in Book Form, Smith's Weekly (Sydney), 26 December 1931, page 11.
  22. ^ Literary Jottings, The Labor Daily (Sydney), 15 October 1932, page 9.
  23. ^ Art and Humor, The Sun (Sydney), 4 December 1932, page 7.
  24. ^ Kenneth Slessor Park
  25. ^ Sydney Writers Walk, – plaque
  26. ^ Skrzynecki, Peter (2007). Old/New World. University of Queensland Press. p. 321. ISBN  9780702235863.


External links