Poetry awarded

By Benalla Ensign

Benalla’s Roderick Williams has taken out the two top prizes for poetry at this year’s Henry Lawson Festival.

The small NSW town of Gulgong came alive last weekend for the annual festival, which honours the Aussie writer and bush poet.

At the festival Roderick performed two poems, one of which he penned himself at the famous Prince of Wales Opera House.

‘‘I drove 800km to get there and it didn’t stop raining, those raindrops through the car lights were like exploding fireballs, but I had to keep going as the competition was the next day,’’ Roderick said.

‘‘But I got there and did two good performances, the audience was great and I had tears in my eyes, as did some of them.

‘‘It felt fantastic because I was doing it in the beautiful Price of Wales Opera House, the best venue in Australia.’’

At this year’s festival Roderick won his fifth Henry Lawson prize for poetry as well as picking up the audience prize.

‘‘That’s a new initiative where the audience vote on their favourite,’’ he said.

‘‘I won $200 for that, but I donated that back to be used for a children’s award.

‘‘Hopefully it can help get children involved.’’

‘‘When I started writing poetry I never thought I’d be winning prizes for it.

‘‘I only started going to these festivals to be with people who I thought were the essence of what I was writing about.

‘‘I write to tell my stories. The festivals give me an opportunity to write and tell my stories from the bush and from my life.’’

Roderick has not always been a poet and started his professional career as a shearer in Queensland.

‘‘When I quit shearing I became a professional actor,’’ Roderick said.

‘‘I just walked off the boards in North Queensland and went all the way down to Sydney where all the thespians were drinking in the Gladstone hotel.

‘‘That started a new career with me around the corner reading for a play. I was reading at the new theatre in 1969.

‘‘I literally walked off the shearing boards to tread the boards on stage.

‘‘At the end of the 70s I had a bad crash and the way I recovered was by going back to the bush, going back shearing.

‘‘As soon as I went back I started to get offers of acting work.

‘‘So I did plays and was with the Melbourne Theatre Company.

‘‘I was in a production of Pram factory and similar performances, some TV work and I was in films like Burke and Wills and Wills and Burke.

‘‘But I’d always loved poetry. I grew up with it, particularly people like Lawson and Will Ogilvie, Patterson, Mary Gilmore, these great poets.

‘‘Lawson I feel is my spiritual mentor, ever since I was a child. Even-though we were poor after World War II we still had poetry.

‘‘It was always there through mum and dad and we had lots of books I used to read.

‘‘Poetry was always a passion of mine even before I started writing.

‘‘Even in the sheds I’d jump up and recite a verse and everyone would listen.’’

Roderick would become a member of the Bush Poets Association towards the end of the millennium, which is when he got the opportunity to share his work and enter festivals.

Since then he has won several titles at the Tamworth Literary Festival as well as the five first place awards from the Henry Lawson Festival and the recent audience prize.

Roderick is simply happy to be able to share his stories and plans to keep on performing.