Person - Denis Kevans

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PETER DENIS KEVANS (1939 - 2005)

Of interest to ASIO, “poet lorikeet” Denis Kevans was in the cast of Reedy River and performed in a number of folk concerts. He wrote verse and songs, and reviewed plays for Tribune. He joined the Rambleers folk group, its members including Mark McManus and Harry Kay jnr. His last appearances at NT were in a 2004 tribute for Chris Kempster and a Loosely Woven concert in March 2005.

Of Irish-Catholic descent, Denis was the son of a Sydney waterfront tally clerk, and grew up on the Limestone Plains near Canberra. He was educated at St Christopher’s Convent Canberra and won a scholarship to board in Sydney at St Joseph’s Hunters Hill where he played rugby and cricket. So keen was he on cricket he tried to repeat a year. A left-handed batsman, he played with the Prime Minister’s X1 and First Grade at Sydney University where he originally enrolled in Medicine. He switched careers, joining the public service and working in Canberra for the Dept of External Affairs. Two years later he returned to Sydney University where he graduated BA with a teaching certificate. For the next 20 years he was a high school teacher and journalist, and an organiser for the Teachers’ Federation.

A CPA member and on its Arts Committee, Kevans was prominent in ban the bomb campaigns. In the 1960s he was Secretary of the Realist Writers Group; he won the Dame Mary Gilmore Award for poetry in 1962. His poetry, political to communicate with the masses, included the anti-nuclear "Teen Problems" and the anti-war "The Slouch of Vietnam", "Welcome Spiro Agnew, Henry 'Napalm' Kissinger" and "Agent Orange, Agent Blue". On Palm Sunday 1984 he recited "Century of the Child" to an anti-nuclear gathering of 150 000. He was inspired by Jack Mundey and the green bans and was paid royalties by Midnight Oil who used one of his poems about the 1979 Three Mile Nuclear accident.

After living for years in Glebe, Denis by 1984 had moved into a wooden house at Wentworth Falls and recited old doggerel in mountains pubs. His later poetry combined his deep love of the natural beauty of the Blue Mountains with political comment, as in "Concreto" which he recited with panache:

The Mountains are very crooked, very rough job,

Full of cracks, very rough, rough rocks,

Got to fill it up with the concreeto,

Because concreeto is byoo-tee-ful, it's a beautiful colour…grey-ey-ey…

Nice and smoo-oo-ooth…fill up all the cracks with the concreeto,

Make a nice big wedding cake from Lapstone to Mount Victoria,

Nice and smooooth...

A heavy drinker, Denis became overweight and unhealthy. Asked by a priest if he’d made his peace with God, he responded: ‘I didn’t know I’d had a blue with him’. He died on 23 August 2005 in the operating theatre while having heart surgery, survived by his daughter Sophia and his Greek-born ex-wife Yota Krili. The Denis Kevans Bushland Gardens in Wentworth Falls was named for him. Rhyming Verse of Denis Kevans was published in 2020.

His younger brother Jacko (1942-2005) was also a teacher and part of the bush music revival period dating from Reedy River. Jacko played in the bands Monaro Boys and The Larrikins.

Denis Kevans has a Wikipedia entry.


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