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February 2017

Lennie Lower, by W.E. ‘WEP’ Patridge.


Lennie Lower was a regular newspaper columnist in Sydney in the 1920s and 30s, writing thousands upon thousands of comic pieces for, among others, Smith’s Weekly, the Australian Women’s Weekly and the Daily Telegraph. He was also the author of Here’s Luck, ‘Australia’s funniest novel’, a book that has reputedly never been out of print.

Lower wrote a follow-up called Here’s Another, which although titled in the same manner as his earlier novel (both were named for traditional Aussie toasts), was contrarily a series of short, comical stories compiled from his various newspaper columns.

Here’s Another is a short and unassuming book distinguished by incredibly wry humour, one-liners and simple observations about the modern world – well, that of 1932, anyway.

Lower was renowned as a ‘legendary’ drinker, and many of his jokes centre around alcohol and gambling:

The perfect job has been found … The Dortmund Physiological Institute has on its wages list fifty workers, who, in the cause of science, are engaged in drinking beer … This must be very jolly for the scientists.

Even advocating for a change to the drinking age –

On two or three occasions I have found the addition of about one-third of a cupful of rum to the feeding milk very effective. Only the best O.P. rum may be used, as babies are very delicately constituted internally.
A better way is for the minder to have four or five cupfuls himself, when it will be found that an extraordinary number of ways of amusing the child will suggest themselves.

His appeal was to ordinary people, regularly satirising the ‘misfortunes’ of the rich.

But Sir Thomas died … Driving his car one day, he had been chasing a pedestrian, and at last, tiring of the sport, he ran over him …
The tyre burst, and Sir Thomas was flung out of the car with such force that he spread all over the wall of a nearby building.
When the horrified bystanders scraped him off, he was dead.

As well as how far removed the wealthy were from the rest of society.

We felt this drought keenly. At Woollahra, our carnations were in a fearful state.

His politics were quite progressive for the time, happily making a mockery of unreasonable beauty standards for women.

The rouge may be applied with a small mop or a trowel, care being taken to scoop any surplus out of the ears.

Lower was fond of mocking conservative social etiquette, in particular after Norman Lindsay, author of The Magic Pudding, spoke in favour of a return to more ‘fashionable’ purity standards. His writing, as noted above, often made serious points about the treatment of women.

Demonstrations of passionate love will be confined to hand-shaking, and then only under proper supervision …
As for women — women will not be permitted at all.

Writing during the Depression, Lower’s columns often focused on matters of money …

‘I am very glad — not for myself alone — that our syndicate failed to draw a prize in the lottery,’ said Mrs. J. ‘The losing of the prize delights me, as all the rest of the syndicate are very annoyed.’

… and other ways to improve one’s lot in life.

Woolgrowing is the laziest occupation in the world, as the sheep does all the growing part and the owner merely goes out at intervals and tears the wool off the sheep.

After a newspaper reported that some local councils were allowing citizens to pay off debts by performing some civic duty, he recommended the following plan:

If the scheme catches on, we are going to paint the outside of the Income Tax Office to cut out our income tax. If the idea becomes fashionable, public servants will have to hack their way into their offices through 14 feet of solid paint.

Of course some of the best and funniest were simple one liners …

Bread is a large number of small holes entirely surrounded by bread.

… and creative word plays.

There is no udder source of milk than the cow, which is an animal with two horns which it never toots.

He often found inspiration in the headlining news of the day:

We are perturbed at a sinister move, moved by the Master Plumbers’ and Sanitary Engineers’ Association.
The association suggests that the populace should have a bath a day.
There’s going to be a civil war when the supporters of the Bath a Day movement start wearing badges with the letters ‘B.A.D.’ on them.

But Lower also looked to other sources of inspiration – for example, Australia’s unique fauna. When a whale was spotted in Sydney Harbour, he dispensed some invaluable facts about the large mammals.

Whales are of various sorts. Sperm whales, hump-backed whales, blue whales, Prince of Wales, New South Wales …

When Sydney’s papers gleefully reported on a Queensland frog that hitched a ride to Sydney on a mail plane, he was there to provide some helpful education to his readers – and of course, a pun or two.

The frog is a strange animal which lives in creeks and croaks.
It also lives on water and hops.

In fact, he often liked to educate the public.

Remember your geometry. A straight line is the shortest distance between a snake and some other place.

Perhaps due to its enduring association with the upper classes, Lower often returned to a favourite topic: his dislike for golf.

We’re sick of golf. We’ve never played; but still, that doesn’t prevent us from being sick.

The context didn’t seem to matter a bit. Somewhat incongruously, in ‘How to Discover a Gold Mine’, the following gem may be found:

Which reminds us of minny golf courses. There are too minny golf courses.

Even the University of Sydney doesn’t escape his distinguished wit. When one of the newly built carillon’s bells was referred to as ‘small in comparison with a larger bell, it is itself large compared with some of the small ones’, Lower wrote the following rather unforgiving poem.

Now, you quite understand, you news readers?
You’re sure that you compree the lot?
The smaller ones are smaller than those that are larger,
And larger than those that are not.

A comedian to the end, Lower died in 1943 at just 44. According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, the renowned Jamaican-American poet Claude McKay in 1963 called him ‘without peer’, yet Lennie Lower remains one of Australia’s most underrated humourists. Honoured by a permanent exhibition in his hometown at the Dubbo Museum and a play based on his life that showed at the Playbox Theatre in 1982, Lower is a treasure of unique and absurd humour that all Australians ought to familiarise themselves with.




References

Croft, Julian and Keith Willey. (1986). ‘Lower, Leonard Waldemere (Lennie) (1903–1947)’. Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Accessed online 16 Feb 2017.

Kirkpatrick, P. (2016). ‘Literary Vaudeville: Lennie Lower’s Comic Journalism’. Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, 16(1), 14.

Lennie, L. (2004 [1932]). Here’s Another. Sydney: Sydney University Press.

Wilde, W., Hooton, J., Andrews, B. (1994). ‘Lower, Lennie’. In The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature., Oxford University Press. Accesseed online 16 Feb 2017.