By Robert Darroch

Major-General Sir Charles Rosenthal - “Why do they call him Kangaroo?” asked Somers.  “Looks like one,” said Jack.

This article is the second part of a weekly blog which Robert Darroch sends out to members of his Club and other friends)…

MY BLOG LAST week, as I explained apologetically, was a bit self-indulgent

...being, as it was, about my almost life-long obsession – DH Lawrence and Kangaroo

Yet, serendipitously, it has led to something of considerable import

.,.and thereby hangs an interesting sequel tale

Let me start by reminding you of what I said

At the end of last week’s blog, I wrote this:

Perhaps the novel’s most chilling quote sums up Lawrence’s reaction to the political/social situation he found here

He is describing, towards the end of his novel, the outward beauty of Australia – the bush, the coast, the wonderful air, and the surface democracy of Australian society

But, then, he says, sometimes an icy, primeval, wind can come off the land, then...

It is as if the silvery freedom suddenly turned, and showed the scaly back of the reptile, and the horrible paws.

I was said that this quote summed up the essence – the plot - of the novel

...the contrast between the surface “silvery freedom”, and the underlying “horrible paws” Lawrence believed he had found in Australia

I went on to say that the line “The Silvery Freedom, and the Horrible Paws” would be a good title for a book on Australia’s secret armies

I received, in response, an email from from Bruce Thomas, one of our Friday group, remarking on that quote:



Should it not be


“ the scaly back of the reptile, and the horrible claws.”

To which I replied, somewhat off-handedly: “you could be right”

It was not, I at first thought, a particularly important matter

I am getting older, and perhaps a little careless, and maybe I got the quote wrong

(I fetched it out of my memory of a text I have read, perhaps a hundred times)

Maybe Lawrence did write “claws”, not “paws”

...anyway, what did it matter - “paws”, “claws” – so what?

But, later in the day, Sandra (Sandra Jobson Darroch) and I were discussing it

And she remarked – very perceptively, as it turned out:

“Might it be significant, if Lawrence did indeed make that change, and write “paws” for “claws”?

Reptiles, of course, have claws, not paws

And Lawrence knew that

For he was a keen and accurate observer of animal – indeed, reptilian - life

Take, for example, perhaps his best-known poem, “Snake”:

A snake came to my water-trough
On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
To drink there.

In the deep, strange-scented shade of the great dark carob-tree
I came down the steps with my pitcher
And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough before

He reached down from a fissure in the earth-wall in the gloom
And trailed his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied down, over the edge of
the stone trough
And rested his throat upon the stone bottom,
And where the water had dripped from the tap, in a small clearness,
He sipped with his straight mouth,
Softly drank through his straight gums, into his slack long body,

Now, we can take it that Lawrence observed this from nature

(in Sicily, actually, just before he came to Australia)

and that he well knew that reptiles did not have paws

So why did he write, we must now assume deliberately, “paws” instead of “claws”?

Could it, as Sandra suggested, signify something?

First, I went back to the printed text, to check what Lawrence actually wrote

The published version, in both the UK and US editions, certainly reads:  “paws”

Then I went back to the holograph manuscript, to make absolutely sure

(for it could have been a misprint)

And so now from the MS let me quote, verbatim, what Lawrence put down on paper

(not in Thirroul, where he wrote the first version of Kangaroo in June-July, 1922, but three months later in Taos, New Mexico, when he heavily revised the typescript of the original manuscript):

Then gradually, through the silver glisten of the new freedom came a dull, sinister vibration.  Sometimes from the interior came a wind that seemed to her [his wife] evil.  Out of the silver paradisical freedom untamed, evil winds could come, cold, like a stone hatchet murdering you.  The freedom, like everything else, had two sides to it.  Sometimes a heavy, reptile-hostility came off the sombre land, something gruesome and infinitely repulsive.  It frightened her as a reptile would frighten her if it wound its cold folds around her.  For the past month now Australia had been giving her these horrors.  It was as if the silvery freedom suddenly turned, and showed the scaly back of the reptile, and the horrible paws.

So it definitely was “paws”

But if they weren’t the paws of a reptile, what paws did Lawrence have in mind?

those of a dog, or cat, or wombat?

No – it is far more likely that he was referring to the paws of a kangaroo

After all, that is the title of his novel, derived from the nickname given to the main Australian character in the novel, Benjamin Cooley – aka “Kangaroo” (see above)

Yet what did Lawrence - and this is the key question - see in the paws of a kangaroo that was so frightening, so “horrible”?

For both in the novel, and in a later poem (also called “Kangaroo”), he is most complimentary about our national animal

In the book he describes a visit to Taronga Park Zoo, where he sees several kangaroos:

The gentle kangaroos...it wasn’t love he felt for them, but a dark, animal tenderness...

That encounter led him later – in New Mexico - to write a poem about the kangaroo:

Delicate mother kangaroo

Sitting up there rabbit-wise, but huge, plumb-weighted

And lifting her beautiful slender face, oh! So much more gently

   and finely lined than a rabbit’s, or than a hare’s

Lifting her face to nibble at a round white peppermint drop,

   which she loves, sensitive mother kangaroo

Her sensitive, long, pure-bred face,

Her full antipodal eyes, so dark,

So big and quiet and remote, having watched so many empty

   dawns in silent Australia.   

There is nothing “horrible” or sinister about this description of the kangaroo

So where did Lawrence derive his “scaly back and horrible paws” image?

It is not hard to find in the novel something frightening about the character Ben Cooley – “Kangaroo” – the leader of the “Maggies” secret army that lurks behind its front-organisation, “the Diggers Clubs”

Somers – the Lawrence figure in the novel – has a confrontation with Cooley in his chambers one Saturday night

They get into an argument, after Cooley suddenly realises that Somers is trying to extract information from him about the secret army

...in fact, that’s why he’s called on him that night - he’s run out of material, and needs some more information

Lawrence, in the words of his alter ego Somers, describes what happens next:

...Kangaroo’s face had gone like an angry wax mask...he seemed to be thinking hard...at last he lifted his head and looked at Somers... “I am sorry to have made a mistake in you...the best thing you can do is to leave Australia.  I don’t think you can do me any serious damage...I would ask you - before I warn you – not to try”...He had become hideous...a long yellowish face and black eyes close together...He stood up in a kind of horror in front of the great, close-eyed, horrible thing that was now Kangaroo...A great Thing, a horror...as he went out the door...his heart melted in horror lest the Thing should lurch forward and clutch him...Kangaroo had followed, slowly, awfully, behind, like a madman...The huge figure, the white face with two eyes close together, like a spider, approaching with awful stillness...If the stillness suddenly broke, and he struck out!  “Goodnight!” said Somers, at the blind, horrible-looking face...he was thankful for the streets, for the people...dark, streaming people.  And fear.  One could feel such fear, in Australia.

I do not think there can be any question that the “horrible paws” in the quote above are those of the secret army leader, Ben Cooley – “Kangaroo”

I, of course, am convinced that Lawrence encountered an actual secret army when he arrived in Sydney on May 27, 1922

and that his novel Kangaroo is a fictionalised day-by-day record of that encounter

I am also sure that the two main Australian characters in the novel – Cooley and Jack Callcott – are in fact the two main figures in that real secret army, Major-General Sir Charles Rosenthal and his deputy, Major Jack Scott

Scott, via a shipboard acquaintance, apparently met Lawrence soon after he arrived, a friendship was struck up, and later Scott took him to meet Rosenthal, with a view to getting him to write for their front-organisation journal, King and Empire

Lawrence, however, had no intention of doing that

He had other fish to fry

What he wanted to do was to write a novel, set in Australia

and he had decided to string the two of them along in order to extract from them material to put in his novel

Thus on that Saturday night in Sydney

(almost certainly the evening of Saturday, June 17, 1922)

 when Rosenthal and Lawrence had their final meeting

both of them suddenly came to separate and disturbing realisations

...Rosenthal that Lawrence was trying to milk him for information about his secret army

...and Lawrence that Rosenthal was not the jovial, idealistic figure he had hitherto assumed he was

but “something gruesome and infinitely repulsive”

(Lawrence’s realisation sparked off the most famous chapter of the novel – the “Nightmare” chapter, wherein he recalls, vividly, his persecution in Britain during the First World War)

Rosenthal, for his part, realised what a threat Lawrence now posed to them, should he reveal what they had told him about their secret army

...because what he, and Scott, and their accomplices – most of them leading citizens of Sydney and NSW – were doing was highly illegal, verging on treason

(”politics and red-hot treason” Callcott calls it in the novel)

A week or so after that traumatic meeting in Rosenthal’s chambers in Castlereagh Street, Scott was apparently sent by Rosenthal down to Thirroul to confront Lawrence

(Lawrence had been due to spend that Saturday night at Scott’s residence in Neutral Bay, but so shocked was he by his meeting with Rosenthal that he went instead to the Carlton Hotel, where he had his famous nightmare)

In Kangaroo, Lawrence describes (in terms of Callcott coming to see Somers) what happened

It makes chilling reading

When Scott first arrives, Lawrence (for I will now drop the disguise) fears that Scott and Rosenthal have realised what he has been doing, and why he has been so interested in their organisation

...Somers was almost sure he [Callcott] knew all about it, and that he [Somers] had come like a spy, to take soundings

Trying to reassure them, Lawrence tells Scott he has decided to accede to Rosenthal’s demand, and to quit Australia

But Scott is there for something more

Some of the fear he had felt for Kangaroo he now felt for Jack.  Jack was really very malevolent.  There was hell in his reddened face, and in his black, inchoate eyes...He realised that Jack would like to give him a thrashing...It was a bad moment.

Scott gets to the point

            “You’ve found out all you wanted to know, I suppose?”

Lawrence denies that he has done that, and that in fact they had chosen to tell him what they were doing

“You didn’t try drawing us out?...I should have said you did.  And you got what you wanted, and now you’re clearing out with it.  Exactly like a spy...”

Lawrence goes on

            Jack...sat there as if he had come for some definite purpose, something menacing...

He asks Scott

“Then what do you want of me now?”

Scott replies

“...we want some sort of security that you’ll keep quiet, before we let you leave Australia.”

Apparently Lawrence must have promised that he would “keep quiet”  

In the novel Somers, the Lawrence figure, does indeed give such a promise

“You can be quite assured: nothing will ever come out through me.”

The Scott-figure, Callcott, responds

“And you think we shall be satisfied with your bare word?”

Little did they realise, however, that Lawrence was, at that very moment, putting them and their illegal secret army...

(almost literally behind their backs)

...into a novel he was intending to publish, as soon as he left the country

Blithely unaware of this, they apparently decided that he posed no danger to them

relying, perhaps, on their (gravely mistaken) conviction that he would not dare, after their draconian threats, to expose them

 “The milk’s spilt,” says Jack’s naively, “we won’t sulk over it.”

That meeting at Wyewurk in Thirroul probably occurred on Saturday or Sunday, July 1-2, and it was almost certainly his last contact with Scott, Rosenthal and the secret army

He wrote that incident up in chapter 15 of the novel, “Jack Slaps Back”, probably on Monday, July 3

(We know he went up to Sydney the following day to get his steamer tickets and U.S. visas, for he describes in a letter doing so, but found the consulate closed for American Independence Day)

He finished the Thirroul text – the final three chapters – two weeks later on July 15, and posted the manuscript to his agent in New York on July 20, asking for several copies of the typescript to be sent to Taos, where he planned to edit it

All he had to do then was to wait for his boat to America to leave three weeks later, on Friday, August 11

When he did revise the first typescript in Taos in October, he added a new ending, including the “silvery freedom and horrible paws” quote

The novel was published in London and New York a year later, in October 1923

There is some evidence that Lawrence tried to prevent copies of it being sent to Australia

For he certainly retained, probably for the rest of his life, fears of what Scott and Rosenthal might do when they read what he had written about them and their secret army

(“I could have you killed,” Cooley had told Somers, at one point during their final encounter)

In fact, Lawrence never returned again to his home-land, England, except for brief visits

However, in Mexico, a year or so later, someone apparently tried to break into the house he was staying in

(no doubt local burglars)

But Lawrence was terrified, and rushed into his wife’s room crying:  “They’ve come, they’ve come.”

And some years later he was staying on an island off the Mediterranean coast when he suddenly decided that they had to leave quickly, as he had a fear he was being tracked down

Needless to say, they didn’t come after him – as far as we know

and eventually he felt safe enough to put both Rosenthal and Scott in subsequent works

(Lawrence was chronically short of models for his characters, for he was almost incapable of inventing anything)

Rosenthal he portrayed again as a Danish artillery major in his novella, The Virgin and the Gypsy

(Rosenthal was an artillery officer of Danish extraction)

And Scott he portrayed as an impotent secret army aficionado in the second version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover

(entitled John Thomas and Lady Jane – the version that the most recent film of the Lady Chatterley plot was based on)

The latter was a particularly cruel portrayal

For Scott was also impotent, due to a wartime trauma

(In Kangaroo, the Scott figure, Jack Callcott, “can’t get his pecker up”)

In that version - which was not published in Lawrence’s lifetime (nor was The Virgin and the Gypsy) - Lawrence called him Jack Strangeways

...and, indeed, Jack Scott in real life had some most peculiar ways


PS – I am very grateful to both Bruce and Sandra for this insight.  I had, as I said above, read that quote many times, and had never picked up Bruce’s point – and thus did not realise, as Sandra last week did, that it was almost certainly a reference to Rosenthal, and the secret army.  It is a sobering thought how much can turn on a single word of a manuscript – indeed, on three letters:  a “p’ instead of “cl”.

(Should anyone should want to know why Scott was so strange, you can go to our DHLA website – http://www.cybersydney.com.au/dhl - and click, first, on “Kangaroo”s secret army plot”, then on “PART 1 – September 1972-March 1990”, then highlight that text and go to your FIND tool and search for the date 17/5/76. That and the subsequent diary entry for 9/6/76 will tell you more about William John Rendell Scott – one of the most fascinating and significant people in Australian history [he also has an entry, under his name, in the online Australian Dictionary of Biography, written by my friend and colleague, Dr Andrew Moore].)