Randolph Stow

Brief Biography

Julian Randolph Stow was born in Geraldton, Western Australia, in 1935. He followed his education at the University of WA with lecturing in English Literature at the Universities of Adelaide, WA and Leeds. He has also worked on an aboriginal mission as an anthropoligist and as a patrol officer in the Trobriand Islands. Since 1966 he has lived in England.

His novel To the Islands won the Miles Franklin Award in 1958. He was awarded the Patrick White Literary Award in 1979.


A Haunted Land 1956
The Bystander 1957
To the Islands 1958 (revised in 1982)
Tourmaline 1963
The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea 1965
Visitants 1979
The Girl Green as Elderflower 1980
The Suburbs of Hell 1984

Act One 1957
Outrider: Poems, 1956-1962 1962
A Counterfeit Silence: Selected Poems of Randolph Stow 1969

Midnite: The Story of a Wild Colonial Boy 1967

Australian Poetry 1964

Eight Songs for a Mad King 1969, libretto
Miss Donnithorne's Maggot 1974, libretto

To the Islands 1958

Dustjacket synopsis:
"To the Islands, set in the far North West of Western Australia, is no simple clash between the old and the new. Instead, Stow has chosen for his hero an old man, Stephen Heriot, who for many years has run a mission station for aboriginals. He has reached a crisis in his life where the simplicity of his ideals has exploded into chaos and love has been twisted into hate. His journey towards self-discovery and the islands of the dead, accompanied by the faithful aboriginal Justin, brings Heriot through suffering to a greatness he had always been capable of but had never reached. Stow depicts both characters and background with equal brilliance and understanding."

"One of the rare novels that immediately establishes itself as having an original life of its own..." - Maurice Richardson, New Statesman
"He is in fact a real novelist...It is of course absurd to attempt to deal with a work of this quality in a few words" - John Davenport, The Observer

First Paragraph:

A child dragged a stick along the corrugated-iron wall of a hut, and Heriot woke and found the morning standing at his bed like a valet, holding out his daylight self to be put on again, his name, his age, his vague and wearying occupation. His eyes, not yet broken to the light, rested on the mud-brick wall beside his bed, drifted slowly upwards to the grass-thatched roof. From a rafter an organ-grinder lizard peered sidelong over its pulsing throat.

From the Pan paperback edition, 1962.

This novel won the Miles Franklin Award in 1958.
The book was substantially revised and reissued in 1982.

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The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea 1965

Dustjacket synopsis:
"In 1941, when his admired twenty-year-old cousin Rick left to join the army, Rob Coram was six. Geraldton and the sheep stations owned by his numerous relatives formed his world. The war, remote in place and interest, seemd hardly farther away than Australia - a country Rob had heard of without realizing he lived there.

"During the next eight years everything was to change for Rob, Rick came back from the war, disillusioned and restless. Rob himself began to outgrow the unquestioned beliefs of his family, yet realized with helpless love that much of what he was losing was to find him most precious.

"Semi-autobiographical, yet not a self-portrait, this story of a boy growing up as part of an Australian clan in a small town and the country around it marvellously evokes a sense of the identity of Australia, its history and its fate."

First Paragraph:

The merry-go-round had a centre post of cast iron, reddened a little by the salt air, and of a certain ornateness: not striking enough to attract a casual eye, but still, to an eye concentrated upon it (to the eye, say, of a lover of the merry-go-round, a child) intriguing in its transitions. The post began as a square pillar, formed rings, continued as a fluted column, suddenly bulged like a diseased tree with an excresence of iron leaves, narrowed to a peak like the top of a pepperpot, and at last ended, very high in the sky, with an iron ball. In the bulge where the leaves were, was an iron collar. From this collar eight iron stays hung down, supporting the narrow wooden octagonal seat of the merry-go-round, which circled the knees of the centre post rather after the style of a crinoline. The planks were polished by the bottoms of children, and on every one of the stays was a small unrusted section where the hands of adults had grasped and pulled and send the merry-go-round spinning.

From the Penguin paperback edition, 1982.

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Visitants 1971
Cover illustration by James Marsh

Dustjacket synopsis:
"The setting of Randolph Stow's stunning new novel is Papua in 1969. On a remote island strange disturbances have occurred: the inhabitants have taken to destroying their villages and crops, there have been disappearances and murders, a cargo cult is celebrated. There is talk of UFOs and visitors from stars. The culmination has been the hideous suicide of a Patrol Officer, sent to the island to conduct a census. An enquiry is now being held, and it is the narrations of the five chief witnesses, two white and three black, of which the novel is composed.

"As the statements of the witnesses interweave, a powerful picture emerges of the confrontation between two very different cultures, and the victor is not necessarily that which considers itself the more advanced. Mysterious, allusive and haunting, Visitants is a triumph."

"A marvellously strange, lyrical and powerful novel" - Publishers Weekly
"Visitants has been worth waiting for. It is his most subtle, profound and exciting novel...One of those rare books one immediately wants to read again" - Geoffrey Dutton, Sydney Bulletin
"Short, lyrical and at the same time deeply meditated, written by a poet who never poeticizes but knows all the resources of the language. He is a writer who commands our attention and respect" - Frank Tuohy, Times Literary Supplement
"With Patrick White and Thomas Keneally, Randolph Stow is one of a trio of Australian novelists who make most of their English counterparts seem trivial and anaemic...there are few stronger or more original talents in fiction today" - Francis King, Spectator

First Paragraph:

On 26 June 1959, at Boianai in Papua, visitants appeared to the Reverend William Booth Gill, himself a visitant of thirteen years standing, and to thirty-seven witnesses of another colour. At 6.45 p.m. Mr Gill, an Anglican missionary, glanced at the sky to locate the planet Venus. He saw instead a sparkling object, 'very,very bright', which descended to an altitude of around four hndred feet. The craft was shaped like a disc, perhaps thirty to forty feet across, with smaller round superstructures, and had on the underside four legs pointing diagonally downwards. Uppermost on the disc was a circular bridge, like the bridge of a ship, perhaps twenty feet in diameter.

From the Picador paperback edition, 1981.

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This page and its contents are copyright © 1999-2001 by Perry Middlemiss, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

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Last modified: March 24, 2001.