February 2011
Page 2

Talk delivered by Robert Darroch to the Marickville Historical Society

Ring a ring a rosie
A pocketful of posies
a-tishoo!, a-tishoo!
We all fall down.

Today I am here to talk about Sir Charles Rosenthal, known for most of his life as "Rosie".

The nursery-room poem I began with has sinister overtones. "Rosie" is thought by some to refer to a red rash that victims of the plague first evinced. Posies were the Middle-Age's only protection against infection. The plague brought on sneezing. And, inevitably, they fell down, dead.

Rosenthal - Rosie - also has some sinister undertones to his life story. But I will return to that aspect of my topic in a moment.

Meanwhile, you would be perfectly justified in asking why I am talking to you today. What brought me here?
I have scant connections with Marrickville. When I was a young reporter I was sent out to cover a meeting of Marrickville Council. I turned up at Marrickville Town Hall, only to find the council met in Petersham Town Hall.

My mother used to come to dances at Marrickville Town Hall (and I think the Marrickville Strutters, who used to put on these occasions, only recently gave up their strutting).

I once played school Old Boys tennis at the excellent lawn tennis courts at Marrickville Tennis Club.

Our DH Lawrence Society holds its AGM at Minhs, further up Marrickville Road in Dulwich Hill (and a very good Vietnamese restaurant it is, too).

I helped found the Glebe Society, and I know when I see - as I do around me today - a suburb, like Glebe, that is coming up in the world.

And I am very familiar with the yum cha restaurant next door to this Herb Greedy Hall, and I hope that some of you will join us there after this talk.

Yet my knowledge of Rosenthal's links with Marrickville is also limited. I know he was connected with the nearby Holy Trinity church in Dulwich Hill, which, although he may not have designed it (his entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography is apparently wrong in this regard) is where he often officiated as choirmaster and organist.

He had a strong association with church architecture, and for some years he was responsible for that aspect of Anglican church activity in northern NSW. He was also closely associated with architectural work in the Blue Mountains, and built war-memorial arches at Lawson and Blackheath, where he also laid the foundation stone for the Blackheath Golf Club. He designed some fine residential buildings in Sydney, including the outstanding Darnley Hall in Elizabeth Bay.

Originally born in Berrima in 1875, the son of a Danish


father and Swedish mother, he was articled to a Melbourne architect, and got his first job in Perth as a draughtsman. He
later worked in Coolgardie where he also pursued his interest in music, and particularly lieder. He had a fine bass voice, which went well with his manly, robust figure.

Though he had an entrepreneurial streak, he did not, apparently, have much of a head for figures, and his first bankruptcy led him to quit WA in 1898. Remarkably, he returned overland to Melbourne by bicycle, alone, across the Nullarbor plain (without tyres!). His physical abilities and bravery - foolhardiness even - became a byword in his later life.

Very early on he became interested in military matters, and was an artillery officer in the militia well before the First World War. He was also interested in aviation, especially how it might be used for artillery "spotting" in war. Around 1901 he moved to Sydney with his wife and three sons, working in partnership with another architect, before striking out with his own practice. He also pursued his military and musical interests in Sydney. However, it was the war that made his reputation as a military leader and later in politics.

Today, this is averred to in his entry in the ADB (which, I might add, I did not write).

Robert Darroch signing a copy of his
DH Lawrence in Australia

I quote its second-last paragraph: "Rosenthal may have been a part-model for the authoritarian ex-soldiers' leader Benjamin Cooley in DH Lawrence's novel, Kangaroo (London 1923). Rosenthal had been the founding secretary in 1921 and later president of the King and Empire Alliance, with which Lawrence had been in contact, probably through WJR Scott."