The Guardian 19 October, 2005


Vale Denis Kevans(1939-2005)

The Australian labour movement, poetry world and folk music scene is mourning the passing of Denis Kevans. Denis died at Sydney’s Westmead Hospital on August 23, 2005 following complications from heart surgery.

Denis Kevans was a vocal and socially active person all his life and strongly expressed his views in poems and music. His was a familiar figure on many a picket line and anti-war rallies.

Denis wrote many poems on a wide range of topics — politics, sport, religion, environment.

Throughout the 1960s Denis was prominent in both the "Ban The Bomb" anti-nuclear campaign and the anti-war movement where his poem "The Slouch of Vietnam" became the battle hymn of the Vietnam Moratorium Movement.

Denis was part of the Bush Music and folk song revival period in Australia which began in the mid-‘50s with the play Reedy River at New Theatre.

His songs are part and parcel of the Australian cultural scene. They have been recorded by over 100 local musicians, including The Fagans, Jeannie Lewis, Michael Atherton from Sirocco. His poems were translated into more than half a dozen languages.

Guardian readers are well familiar with his letters — he was a prolific letter writer and always could find time to comment on unfolding events both in Australia and overseas.

Denis wrote the poem Warfare a long time ago but it sounds as fresh and as timely as when it first appeared:


I heard the people groaning,
And I saw the children cry,
As your million dollar rockets
Burnt, like bungers, in the sky;
Like a moulting borealis,
They drop hissing in the sea,
And the starving children whispered –
‘Mum, I’m hungry, what’s for tea?’

We’ll all miss Denis but as long as his poems are with us, he’ll continue to be a part of our lives.

Back to index page