50th Anniversary of They're a Weird Mob

Humphrey McQueen looks back at 50 years of a novel and the film it spawned:

They're a Weird Mob leapt out of Australian bookstores from November 1957. By Christmas, the first edition of 6000 had sold out. Five reprints followed by the end of February and by 1981, the book had sold half a million copies, making it Australia's best-selling novel.
I have a feeling he's probably talking about Australian sales here. In a recent piece on Neville Shute's On The Beach, Gideon Haigh states that the book sold 100,000 copies in the first 6 weeks. These are world-wide sales and unfortunately Haigh doesn't give any final figures. But you would have to suspect that, at least following the sucess of the subsequent film version, Shute's novel would have passed 500,000. Beyond the sales figures, however, it was the timing of the novel's publication that helped to impinge it on the nation's consciousness.
Weird Mob appeared just after the vernacular had triumphed on stage in Ray Lawler's Summer of the Seventeenth Doll in 1955. O'Grady's prose lacked the vibrancy of Doll's colloquialisms, as in "getting a sea breeze off the gutter". Nor did Weird Mob aspire to the lexical wit of Let Stalk Strine in 1964 from "Professor Affabeck
Lauder" (A. A. Morrison), resplendent in his "gloria soame". Instead, A Weird Mob was "slanguage"-based. "Mate" or "matey" appears on an average of once for each of its 200 pages, on top of a chorus of "Howyergoin' mate orright?". O'Grady confirmed prejudices about the workers' twang -- "ut" for "it" -- at a time when proper people said they voted for Mr Menzies because he spoke so "naicely". That class divide has dissolved. The ABC would not have allowed many of its current presenters to go to air in 1957. Australian English now has a few Italian inflections.
The novel was a product of its times, and, as McQueen puts it: "Today, both novel and subsequent film can seem little more than curiosities. Yet, they offer a place from which to ponder the recasting of our daydreams, and nightmares." As a final note, in the middle of this piece, McQueen states that "O'Grady churned out 17 more novels" after They're a Weird Mob, which I find to be a rather peculiar turn-of-phrase. I know what he's getting at; he's taking a sly shot at what he considers to be O'Grady's hack work. Eighteen novels in 24 years (he died in 1981) doesn't seem all that bad to me. Plenty of novelists these days - especially those that tend to the genre side of the street - produce as much, if not more. Not all of it is of the highest quality, but it is still possible for them to achieve a quite reasonable hit rate. For most of the piece in question McQueen is quite appreciative of O'Grady's pioneering work. And yet he has to take this dig at him without backing it up. Strange.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on November 21, 2007 9:53 AM.

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