The themes John Shaw Neilson wrote about
John Shaw Neilson, was an Australian poet. Slightlybuilt, for most of his life, John Shaw Neilson worked as a labourer, fruit-picking, clearing scrub, navvying and working in quarries, and, after 1928, working as a messenger with the Country Roads Board in Melbourne. Largely untrained and only basically educated, Neilson became known as one of Australia's finest lyric poets, who wrote a great deal about the natural world, and the beauty in it.
Neilson was born in Penola, South Australia of purely Scottish ancestry. His grandparents were John Neilson and Jessie MacFarlane of Cupar, Neil Mackinnon of Skye, and Margaret Stuart of Greenock. His mother, Margaret MacKinnon, was born at Dartmoor, Victoria, his father, John Neilson, at Stranraer, Scotland, in 1844.
John Neilson senior was brought to South Australia at nine years of age, had practically no education and was a shepherd, shearer, and small farmer all his life. He never had enough money to get good land, and like other pioneers he fought drought and rabbits and other pests, receiving little reward for his labours. He died in 1922 having lived just long enough to see his son accepted as an Australian poet. He himself had written verses; one song, Waiting for the Rain, was popular in the shearing sheds, and in January 1893 he wrote the senior prize poem, The Pioneers, for the literary competition held by the Australian Natives Association. In 1938 a small collection of his poems, The Men of the Fifties, was published by the Hawthorn Press at Melbourne.
John Shaw Neilson had little more education than his father. When about eight years old he was for 15 months at the state school at Penola, but he had to leave in 1881 when the family removed to Minimay in the south-west Wimmera in Victoria. There was no school at Minimay then, but four years later one was opened and Neilson attended for another 15 months. There was, however, a Bible and a tattered copy of Burns's poems in the house, and when at the age of 15 a copy of Hood's poems came in his way, Neilson read them all with great joy. Driven out by drought, Neilson's father took his family to Nhill in 1889, and was employed as a farm worker and on the roads. His son soon after began to write verses of which some appeared in the local press and one in The Australasian in Melbourne.
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