Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Phil Rush: storyteller, poet and raconteur. Cygnet Festival 2014 (Tasmania)

One of the things I love most about the Australian summer festivals is the opportunity to meet with other people working in the oral tradition.  At the Cygnet Festival 2014 I had the pleasure of meeting Phil Rush.

Born in 1939, Phil worked as a teacher for 36 years. He was drawn to the country and spent most of his teaching years in one and two teacher schools. In the early 80s he took on the job as Educational Consultant for an area that included Rosedale, Malacoota, Tubbut, Omeo, Swifts Creek …  In 1957, alongside the teaching, Phil began working as a Methodist preacher (later the Uniting Church).

With his teaching and work for the church, Phil has been in a great position to refine his craft and absorb stories. No wonder they say, ‘Phil Rush has a story about anything’.

Phil reckons he was a shy boy who hated poetry at school but at 16, decided it was time to ‘speak up’. He discovered the pleasure of memorising and reciting poems and up until 1994 had a head full of Banjo Patterson, Henry Lawson and CJ Dennis. But over the years, these poems have receded and been replaced with original works.

In 1993, Phil moved to the Huon Valley in Tasmania. A few years later, he approached ABC Radio 936 Country Hour with an idea that fell on fertile ears. Since 1994 he has written and recited 927 poems (at the time of our meeting) for broadcast on Fridays. The only times he misses is if its Good Friday or the cricket is on. And for Sunday he’s written 660 true stories, all ending in a poem.

But Phil’s storytelling interests are broad and like many of us, he has a shelf groaning under the weight of global anthologies: Tibetan, Russian, South Pacific, Australian Indigenous, Irish, Scottish, Hawaiian … Still loved by children for his storytelling, Phil took on the task of ‘veteran storyteller’ for the Australian Wooden Boat Festival 2013 (Hobart). Expecting small numbers, he was amazed, when the Festival came to a close he’d told stories to hundreds. He enjoys drawing with soft block chalks as he tells but reckons as an artist, he’s ‘pretty rough’. He must be doing something right to attract such a following!

Phil Rush is best known in the Bush Poetry circles where he recites and MCs. He is acknowledged by the Australian Bush Laureate Awards having had 7 books, 5 poems and a CD in the finals and in 2006 he was awarded Book of the Year with Australian Poems that would Captivate a Koala. He has self-published 20 books and sold over 156,000. I reckon that would have to be some kind of record for selling poetry.

Phil has 75 poems memorised. He keeps a small notebook in his back pocket with the first lines of all of them, just to jog his memory, how long the poem takes to recite and the volume and page number of the publication where it can be found.

Phil and Yvonne Rush left Victoria over 20 years ago – a win for Tasmania! Sitting with Phil at the Cygnet Festival and listening to his story, I was in no doubt I was in the company of a Living Treasure.

Learn more about Philip R Rush HERE

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