For many years now, local bush poet Bill Kearns has made us laugh, performing his humorous rendition of life topics, which he portrayed through comical verse.
Bill grew up on a dairy farm on the Coldstream River and went to Gillett’s Ridge School. He went on to work in the Department of Lands for 20 years and then a multitude of jobs before finishing up in the Public Health Department working at Grafton Base Hospital, relieving those on leave.
“They sent me down to Maclean Hospital for a fortnight and the fortnight turned into six years. I was the manager of Support Services and had about 25 staff, before retiring,” he said.
Bill said that he didn’t begin writing poetry, until around 30 years ago.
“I started off by recording a history of what it was like to grow up on a dairy farm in the 1950s and I challenged myself to write it in verse,” Bill said.
“I thought if it’s in verse, no one can change it.
“So I picked out all the little things that happened on the farm and I made a poem out of each little incident (about 30 poems) and I made six copies of it and distributed it to the family.
“Mum and dad had a copy and they had retired out to the beach and people would come out and they’d have a look and say, “oh, I remember that, can I get a copy of this?
“I started getting requests for copies, so I bit the bullet and had the booklet published – just a small local run.
“I didn’t put people’s names in it; it was just general things about the farm.
“My dad was always called ‘the farmer’ and mum was ‘the farmers wife’ and my brothers and sisters were ‘us kids’, so anybody could relate it.
“A lot of them were humorous, because when you look back on it, they were hilarious, but at the time, that was just life.
“One example was, one dark night when we put our bull back into the yard and when we finally got a torch, we found out it was the wrong bull and he got into a life and death fight with our bull. At the time, we didn’t think it was funny – it was a disaster!
“This book has now gone all over Australia,” he said.
Bill said that his early writings such as ‘Like Grandma Used to Make’ and ‘The Little Bush School’, were just about growing up on a dairy farm.
“I eventually started to branch out, into writing about other more serious stuff,” Bill said.
“I went to a meeting of bush poets, which was held near Urunga, because I wanted to see what other people were writing and to see how mine stacked up.
“I found that I was writing much the same sort of stuff as they were writing.
“I met up with other Australian bush poets and they’re a mad lot. They got hold of me and totally corrupted me. I heard some of the funny things that they were writing, and I was in awe of these people and so I had a go and started focusing on the humour side of it.
“I found out that I did have a talent for writing comic verse and that’s what I’m mainly known for.
Bill said that his poems don’t have big words and he uses his words to create pictures in people’s minds.
“Everyone’s mind is different, so everyone sees a different picture,” Bill said.
“So, what you say has got to be in general enough terms that different types of people will all form their own picture from it – so that’s my strategy in writing for an audience.
The Independent asked Bill what some of his memorable performances have been, so far.
“I’ve performed at the Gympie muster and The Longyard in Tamworth and these are places where you get big audiences,” Bill said.
“I prefer to perform to a big audience because somewhere in that audience, someone will laugh – and laughter is infectious.
“In a small audience everyone is conscious of who they are and who’s around them and you can do the funniest poem, and nobody will laugh.
“I did poems for a lady’s group once and there were 97 people in that group; 96 of them laughed and had a great time and there was one who ‘sniffed’.
“The ‘sniffers’ will always be among us, unfortunately. You’ll always offend somebody.
- Have you come across any interesting characters?
“The people who come up to me after a show, that really related to something that I said in one of the poems.
“Then there those (mainly little old ladies over 80) who come up and say, ‘I’ve got a great joke for you and this would make a great poem’ and they proceed to tell me the joke – and if I did it on stage, I would be arrested.
“I don’t know where some of these little old ladies come from, but I have struck many of them,” he said.
- Some of your work can come across as borderline, or risqué – how do you get away with it and still have them laughing?
“I try and write in simple language. I will drop hints and let people try and work it out themselves.
“I try and write in language that is suitable for a family audience.
“Those family members who are too young – it will go straight over their heads. Those where it doesn’t go over their heads, are old enough to relate to it anyway. That’s where I draw the line.
“I don’t use bad language in the poems or on stage – that’s just not me.
“One example of this would be, one of my poems Stanley and Louisa – a young couple who got heavily into studs and rings and body piercings.
‘But for Stanley and Louisa,
life for them could not be finer,
until passion got the best of them,
in Stanley’s mini-minor.’
“Now a four-year-old would not know what I was talking about, but an adult would know exactly what I’m talking about. If I wrote it down exactly as it happened, warts and all, it wouldn’t be funny, and I would alienate part of my audience.
“Just a few hints, allows people to form their own picture.
“Another thing that I use is called, ‘a dropped rhyme’.
“I’ll be leading up to a word that’s going to rhyme with something and everybody that has worked out what it’s going to be and they’re sitting there in horror.
“An example of this, is in my poem ‘The Senior Cits Meat Raffle’ and all the oldies get into a big fight in the Bowling Club and I’ve said,
‘Johnno’s face was bleeding
from a flying middy glass
and Bessie Laws’s walking stick
was sticking up his nostril.’
Everyone thinks, ‘oh no he’s going to say A…’ and when I don’t it’s funny, because they laugh with relief.
“If I said it, it wouldn’t be funny – that’s just crude and I won’t do that,” he said.
- Have you had any moments on stage, when you forget your lines?
“Everybody that had done bush poetry has had their horror moments on stage when their mind goes completely blank.
“When you’re on stage – there’s nowhere to hide and you’ve got to learn to just ‘send yourself up’ and talk about other things and hope that it comes back, and if it doesn’t, you just do another one.
“You just have to say, “I’ve forgotten the end of it – you’ll just have to buy my book to find out how it ends, and when you find out what it was, tell me,” he said laughing.
- What is the most fulfilling aspect of performing?
“Mainly where I can get an audience to just sit down and forget their cares, get them laughing and give them an enjoyable time and lift their spirits,” he said.
- The year of COVID – how has it been for you?
“At the beginning of the year when I was on stage, I told a lot of people, “2019 was a good year – who had a great one?
“Well 2020 will be better!
“I hope they’ve forgotten I said that!
“I had a pretty full calendar this year. I had the country music festivals, the Tenterfield ‘Oracles of the Bush’ and quite a lot of bus tours coming through Grafton where I go and spend morning tea with them and give them a few poems.
“I’m just a pensioner who has a hobby they enjoy, but I really feel for the people who depend on things like this for their livelihood.
“My first gig since February when all this COVID thing started, was at Whiddon (Residential aged care) Maclean, where I did some poetry for them and talked about bygone days and the little bush schools and who remembers singing God Save the King, before we went in (to class) etc.
“It took me a quarter of an hour to get through the door.
“I had to get sanitised, homogenised and temperature checked and show all my records of immunisation and all that sort of stuff.
“I’m actually writing a poem (at the moment) about people in the aged care home where things got pretty bad during Coronavirus and the lack of toilet paper – but I haven’t finished that one yet.
- What would be one of your favourite poems which would give our readers a bit of a laugh?
“Because most of my audiences seem to be Senior Cit’s, I have written seven (I think) Senior Cit’s poems.
“The same characters are in all the poems and they all have their own personalities and characters; it’s just like the continuing saga of the adventures of the Senior Cit’s.
“There’s the Senior Cit’s: Meat Raffle, Christmas Party, Bus Trip, Bingo Game, Elvis Caper – most of them are on You Tube or people can just Google my name.
“They’re all in my book and I also have four CDs that I’ve produced – but bush poets don’t get rich.
- Do you have a final quote or saying that you would like to share with us?
‘But seriously, my intention is to have a laugh or five.
Life’s too short to be miserable, lets be glad to be alive.
‘Cause some people look like they suck on lemons every day
And they mightn’t live a long time, but God it seems that way.
But the good book says, laughter like a medicine does good
And that’s pretty high authority, so I really think you should.
And you might find your problems will be easier by half
If you take the time to smile each day and try to have a laugh’.
NB Bill’s You Tube video entitled Entrapment – has had 1,314,975 views from all around the world.
For more information: Bill Kearns [email protected]