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Lower, Leonard Waldemere (Lennie) (1903–1947)

by Julian Croft and Keith Willey

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Leonard Waldemere (Lennie) Lower (1903?-1947), humorist and newspaper columnist, was probably born on 24 September 1903 at Dubbo, New South Wales, son of Sydney Waldemere Lower, pharmacist, and Flora, née Robinson or McInerney. His alcoholic father was a member of the Dubbo Dramatic Society and the town band, and wrote music. Some time after 1910 the parents separated and his mother moved to Sydney and married a businessman C. K. Oades. The anarchic and restless individualism which characterized Lower's career appeared early. He attended Darlinghurst Public School and enlisted for five years in the Royal Australian Garrison Artillery on 14 September 1920. In December next year he deserted and, as 'Leonard Walter Brett', joined the Royal Australian Navy on 12 April 1922. He served as a stoker in H.M.A.S. Brisbane, but again deserted (at Gladstone, Queensland) on 11 August 1923.

For several years Lower carried his swag through Queensland and New South Wales and, while unemployed, slept in the Sydney Domain. About 1928 he began working for Jack Lang's Labor Daily, and later Beckett's Budget and the Daily Guardian, finally working regularly for (Sir) Frank Packer's Australian Women's Weekly and the Daily Telegraph. Sacked by Packer in 1940 for being publicly rude about Nöel Coward, he joined Smith's Weekly for which he had written in the 1930s. On 20 February 1942 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force, but was discharged medically unfit on 29 April, without leaving Australia.

For many years Lower was acclaimed as 'Australia's funniest writer'. Being funny had its costs—small, dark and nervous, he was described as 'serious', 'melancholy', 'morose', a marvellous talker, but someone whom 'one could never get close to', and his drinking was legendary. He wrote in the bar of the Tudor Hotel and many other watering holes, in country hotel rooms where Syd Deamer, editor of the Daily Telegraph, sent him to get him away from the temptations of the city, and from newspaper offices: `head down, leaning against the typewriter, arms hanging straight down, pondering, agonisingly refining' the seemingly effortless comedy.

His one novel, Here's Luck (1930), became a classic of Australian humour. In observing life in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, the battle of the sexes and the generations, low life and 'gimme' girls, and the anarchy of a man freed from the restraints of marriage and work, Lower expressed many of the jokes and fantasies that can be seen in the cartoons and gags of the popular press of the late 1920s. Despite the comic exaggeration, it has been suggested that the novel's hero was drawn from life, which points to Lower's genius as a journalist—his ability to distort the real into the truly comic.

In Sydney on 9 November 1929 Lower married Phyllis Constance Salter; they had no children and moved house constantly within Sydney's inner suburbs. Impulsive by nature, he led a chaotic life. A niece told how he once abandoned his wife (without her fare home) at the theatre—going for 'a quick drink' during the interval he met a ship's captain who was about to sail for Newcastle, and decided to go along. Eventually he returned to Sydney by train. 'Uncle Lennie was not what you would call a considerate husband'.

Lower died in Sydney Hospital on 10 July 1947 of cancer, wisecracking to the end, and was cremated with Anglican rites. Reaction in the press at the time was muted, but his reputation has steadily grown. In 1963 Claude McKay wrote of him that 'for genuine humour and the turns of phrase that proclaimed the artist, Lennie Lower was without peer'. Here's Luck has remained in print. His ephemeral columns for the newspapers were collected several times during his life, and other selections were made in 1963 and 1983. His compound of 'realism, fantasy, absurdity, satire, and sardonic wit' has kept his writing from dating over the last fifty years. In 1972 the Dubbo Historical Society completed the 'Lennie Lower Memorial Room' in the Dubbo Museum; and in 1982 Barry Dickins's play Lonely Lenny Lower was produced in Melbourne and Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Blaikie, Remember Smith's Weekly (Adel, 1966)
  • Southerly, 1958, no 2, 1961, no 3
  • Sunday Telegraph (Sydney), 13 July 1947, 4 June 1972
  • Smith's Weekly (Sydney), 19 July 1947
  • Nation, 14 Dec 1963, 16 Oct 1965
  • Age (Melbourne), 1 Feb, 29 Apr 1982
  • Australian, 29 Apr 1982
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 9 Apr, 4 June 1983
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Julian Croft and Keith Willey, 'Lower, Leonard Waldemere (Lennie) (1903–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lower-leonard-waldemere-lennie-7251/text12561, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 25 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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