May 2009 Archives

We are sated of songs that hymn the praise
Of a world beyond our ken;
We are bored by the ballads of beaten ways,
And milk and water men;
We are tired of the tales that lovers told
To the cooing, amorous dove;
We have banished the minstrelsy of old,
And the lyric of languid love,
While we stand where the ways of men have end,
And the untrod tracks commence,
We weary of songs that poets penned
In pastoral indolence.
The sleepy sonnet that lovers make
Where weeping willows arch
Cannot the passionate soul awake
Of men who outward march.
Our harps are hung in the towering
And the mulga low and gray
Our ballads are sung by every breeze
That flogs the sea to spray;
We want no lay of a moonlit strand
No idyll of daisied mead,
For the rhymes that our hearts can understand
Are the rhymes that our hearts can read.

First published in Jarrahland Jingles: A Volume of Westralian Verse 1908

The Bushrangers, a play ; and other Poems.
By CHARLES HARPUR. Sydney : W. R. Piddington.

This little volume is the work of a true poet, and one whom we should be inclined to place in a high position among English poets, although the work of any pretension in the volume, as regards length, is a failure - for Charles Harpur.

Like many of the finest poets of England, Mr. Harpur has written a very poor play, poor in reading, and we should judge poor on the stage, if it should ever be produced there, in its present dress. The principal character, Stalwart, the leader of the bushrangers, is drawn indeed with some completeness of individual character, but he is the only " individual" in the play, all the rest passing before the reader as mere sketches. Some beautiful poetry is here and there uttered by Abel, the young settler, but it somehow seems not to be appropriate, and rather jars on the sense than otherwise. Ada, Abel's betrothed, is described by Abel and Stalwart as beautiful and gentle, but the poet fails in conveying a distinct individuality of her to the reader. The talkings and doings of the minor characters do not arouse any interest. We should doubt, from this specimen, Mr. Harper's ability to produce a fine or even a good play-but he may console himself with the reflection that many of the highest poets have equally failed in this particular kind of poetry.

On the other hand, we do not think that some of the smaller pieces of the volume have been excelled in the beauty and life of true poetry by but a very few of the finest poets.

Mr. Harpur's powers as a descriptive poet are of a very high order, and there are many passages in this volume that will be quoted and re-quoted year after year. " The Creek of the Four Graves" is a very fine piece of narrative and descriptive poetry combined, and would alone entitle the author to be held a true poet. And the pieces entitled " The Bush Fire," " Morning," " A Poet's Home," " The Manifold Hills," " The Leaf Glancing Boughs," are entitled to the same praise, but in a less degree.

Another prominent feature of Mr. Harpur's poetry is a fine appreciation of the harmonies existing between the mind of man and the sights and sounds of nature. The pieces already named each exhibit this feature, "A Poet's Home," and " The Creek of the Four Graves," perhaps in the highest degree. The sonnet headed " Poetry," a perilous theme in weak hands, evinces Air. Harpur's fine sense of what true poetry is, and is itself a beautiful specimen of it. " The Voice of the Native Oak," " Emblem," "The Dream by the Fountain," and others also may be named.

Mr. Harpur has in the volume several specimens of amatory poetry, but we cannot speak quite so highly of them ; although beautifully written, they seem to us to want heart. The females depicted are creatures of the poet's imagination, rather than true women.

Some fine patriotic pieces are included in the collection, " My Political Belief" being perhaps the one in which Mr. Harpur most clearly puts forth his patriotic feelings, and a very beautiful sonnet it is. Scattered through the volume are a few misanthropic bits of poetry, which read so curiously after the utterings of his own heart that we cannot but think they were written when Mr. Harpur gave way to a temporary a la Byron feeling, once so common with English poetasters, who could copy, but had no power to give utterance to original thoughts.

Mr. Harpur is quite a master of the art and mystery of writing good sonnets, but the only ballad in the collection, "Ned Connor," although effective enough for a second-rate writer, is scarcely worthy of him.

After a careful reading of the whole volume, we cannot but hope that Mr. Harpur will yet consecrate his genius to some enduring work of a longer and more ambitious character than these brief and fugitive pieces, worthy alike of his powers and of the magnificent country of his birth. The man who could write the "Creek of the Four Graves" could surely write a larger work of the same high merit.

First published in The Maitland Mercury, and Hunter River General Advertiser, 14 May 1853

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

Roll of the Dice

Garry Disher is touring the US promoting his new novel Blood Moon and, while in California, met up with Lee Goldberg - author of the Monk TV- tie-ins - who got something of a pleasant surprise when he took his visitor out to dinner.

The long-awaited release of the film adaptation of Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee is almost upon us, and in the "Australian Book Review" weblog Peter Rose introduces a review of the film, by Brian McFarlane,  which will appear in the June 1 edition of ABR.

 Australian sf/fantasy/horror writer Richard Harland looks to be on the verge of making it big with his new novel Worldshaker, and has put together a very comprehensive set of webpages detailing all he has learnt about the writing and publishng business.  As he introduces them: "These tips are for genre writers not literary writers, for storytellers not writers of semi-autobiographical memoirs."  But there is bound to be something for everyone here.

Angela Meyer attended the Emerging Writers' Festival in Melbourne recently and reports on what she found there.

Sally Warhaft, the editor of "The Monthly" magazine resigned recently, and now a new editor has been appointed: he's 23. Pavlov's Cat thinks he's going to struggle.

The "Readings" weblog provides us with a link to Richard Flanagan's closing speech at the Sydney Writers' Festival.

100 Australian Poems 4.0: "The Sick Stockrider" by Adam Lindsay Gordon

I don't have much to write about this poem as I covered it in a couple of posts last year as a part of my "Classic Year" reading.  The fact that it fits into both these collections says a lot about its ability to impress even at this distance. 

Text: "The Sick Stockrider" by Adam Lindsay Gordon

Author bio:  Australian Dictionary of Biography

Publishing history: Originally published in the "Colonial Monthly" in January 1870.  Subsequent appearances are too many to mention. 

 Next five poems in the book:

"My Other Chinee Cook" by James Brunton Stephens

"Bell-Birds" by Henry Kendall

"Are You the Cove?" by Joseph Furphy ("Tom Collins")

"How McDougal Topped the Score" by Thomas E. Spencer

"The Wail of the Waiter" by Marcus Clarke

Note: this post forms part of my series on the poems contained in the anthology 100 Australian Poems You Need to Know edited by Jamie Grant.  You can read the other posts in this series here.

TV Adaptation of The Slap


"The Age" is reporting that Christos Tsiolkas's latest novel, The Slap, is set to be adapted for the small screen by Matchbox Pictures. The current aim is for the book to be adapted over eight episodes - one for each major character in the book - and for it to be screened on ABC TV. Two pluses in my view.

But it's early days yet and just because a film project has been announced is only the first of many steps along the way to it appearing on the crystal tube. 

Will Elliott Interview

Will Elliott had great success with his debut novel, The Pilo Family Circus, and now has his second book about to be released.  This new one, Strange Places, is a memoir, with the main subject being Elliott's schizophrenia.  The author spoke to Owen Richardson in "The Age".

In his late teens and early 20s Elliott underwent two psychotic episodes, the second of which ended with his being diagnosed as schizophrenic. Now 30, Elliott hasn't experienced a relapse and has decided to tell the story, at some cost to his present comfort.

"To go back and immerse myself in it, and especially the first symptoms in the early days, it was embarrassing for me," Elliott says. "It was the opposite of pleasant nostalgia, to keep going back over that and checking that it was all arranged properly was the worst part for me. I don't know how it is going to be having other people reading these intimate and not exactly flattering details."

One of the things Elliott says he is uncomfortable about revealing is his conviction that various members of his family were a threat to him; at one point he was on his way to see his father and put a pair of scissors in his pocket in case he got attacked, and there was a long period when he thought the song lyrics his older brother was writing for their heavy metal band were a series of attacks on him.

Appealingly but rather unreasonably, perhaps, Elliott is worried about how this might come across: "You could argue that that was just a symptom and not a sign of ill character, but it still makes me feel a bit squeamish."

Karen Miller Interview

 Karen Miller is the author of the "Kingmaker, Kingbreaker" and "Godspeaker" series of fantasy novels.  Back in March she spoke to the "Blogging the Muse" weblog.

TH: It has been said that a writers, each time they achieve one goal, such as publication, simply trade up to a succession of new sets of problems. At this stage in your writing career, how do your concerns differ from when you were just starting out?

KM: Well, being an aspiring author is in fact quite a simple, uncomplicated thing. All your energy is focused on getting the nod. That's not to say it isn't hard, because it is. It's hard, it's often disheartening and painful. But there's a clarity of purpose to it. So before I was published, all I thought about was: Will I ever be good enough for someone to say yes?

Then someone said  yes, you're good enough, and that was  mindblowing and wonderful and actually very empowering.  As a result,  here are the things I worry about now, in no particular order:

Have I got complacent? Am I repeating myself? Can I make my next deadline? Is this book an improvement on the last one? Will I disappoint my existing readers? Will I find new readers? Am I justifying my publishers' faith in me? Can I deliver what I told them I can deliver? Should I be thinking about the next potential project? How long will it be before I can't think of anything new to say? Should I be doing more  blogging and stuff? Is there really a bias against women writers in spec fic or am I losing my mind? My new book's coming out -- is it going to bomb? Will everybody hate it? Will it finish my career? People are going through tough times, does that mean my life as a full time writer is over?

I have no idea if other writers worry about this stuff. I only know that I do, and sometimes I feel quite overwhelmed.

Peter Carey Watch #11

Regarding His Illegal Self 

Katy Guest reviewed the new paperback edition in "The Independent": "A consumate plotter, the multi-Booker-winner Peter Carey packs a lot of distance and a great deal of stuff into this teeming novel about a boy's childhood."

Matthew Condon discusses the novel with Carey at the Adelaide Writers' Week on Slow TV - Part 1 and Part 2.

Parrot and Olivier in America

Carey's next novel, Parrot and Olivier in America, will be published in Australia by Penguin in November, ahead of its international release in 2010.  There isn't much news out about it but the Penguin Books news letter has some details (see the April 29, 2009 entry). 

Australia's Review of Copyright and Territorial Publishing Rights

In January this year Carey published an essay in "The Age" arguing against any relaxation of the current copyright and territorial publishing arrangements covering the Australian publishing industry. 

You can read also Carey's submission to the government inquiry. (PDF file.)


Canadian short story author Alice Munro has won the third Man Booker International Prize, for which Peter Carey was shortlisted.

In my last "Peter Carey Watch" I mentioned that the Scottish national opera company was performing an opera based on Carey's short story "Happy Story", and now "The Age" is reporting that "composer Brett Dean, who lives in Melbourne, and his librettist, Amanda Holden, who lives in London" have mostly finished a three-act opera based on Bliss.

The Australian National Portrait Gallery has made available Lewis Morley's photographic portrait of the author, dating from 1989.  

Carey's laptop, upon which he composed True History of the Kelly Gang, is part of "The Independent Type: Books and Writing in Victoria" exhibition which is currently on show at the State Library of Victoria.

Australian Bookcovers #162 - Cherry Ripe by Carmel Bird


Cherry Ripe by Carmel Bird, 1985
(Power Press edition, 1985)

The State of the Weblog

For the past couple of weeks I've been attempting to get this weblog back into shape and, while it's not fully there yet, it is slowly coming back to life.  New entries are being posted, comments are now available and the look and feel of the blog are not too bad.

Of course, there are problems: a lot of old entries are still not available and old comments are going to remain unavailable for some time.  I was also worried for a while that Bloglines (the RSS reader) wasn't picking up the correct feeds but even that seems to have sorted itself out today. I still have to somehow send a message to the 47 or so subscribers I had to my old weblog to move their subscriptions over to this one.  Just another item on the to-do list.

Other than that, the new software has the added advantage of better control of screen size and allows "tagging", which will hopefully allow me to track my entry subjects better.

I have no idea how long it will take to re-instate all the old entries, but it certainly is a good advertisement for ensuring my back-ups are up to date.

2009 Kibble and Dobbie Awards

A couple of Australian literary awards slipped under the radar over the past month; I put it down to just trying to keep the weblog afloat. Anyway, the shortlists for the 2009 Nita Kibble and Dobbie Encouragement Awards have been released.

"The Nita Kibble Literary Award is an annual literary prize for the best Australian book of fiction or nonfiction classifiable as 'life writing' for Australian women writers." (Wikipedia)  The shortlisted works are:

Births Deaths and Marriages: true tales - Georgia Blain
An Exacting Heart: the story of Hephzibah Menuhin - Jacqueline Kent
The After Life: a memoir - Kathleen Stewart

The Dobbie Encouragement Award is for a first work by a female writer, and the shortlists works are:

Arthur Boyd: a life - Darleen Bunjey
Addition - Toni Jordan
Fugitive Blue - Clare Thomas

The winners of both awards will be announced on Wednesday 3 June 2009.

Poem: The Spirit of Poetry by George Essex Evans


All things are Hers. Concealed or manifest,
   Found or unfound, Her Spirit lives in each --
Dumb till the Master-Soul its secret guessed
      And gave its silence speech.

All things are Hers. She is the Crystal Queen
   Of all men's vision, and the moving breath
Which through the greyness of the sordid scene
      Gloweth and quickeneth.

She is the flower-maid of the dreaming noon,
   The goddess of the temple of the night;
Where the berg-turrets gleam beneath the moon
      She builds Her throne of white.

She knows the Battle-Hymn of mighty wars
   When wind and ocean thunder on strand.
She knows the song the lonely river-bars
      Sing to the listening land.

Armoured and helmeted and spurred for fight
   She fires men's hearts to right the bitter wrong;
Yet sits She weaving of a summer night
      Flowers of a bridal song.

She gives the temper that has made men great
   And fashioned heroes out of common clay,
And welded firm into a mighty State
      The tribes of yesterday.

Youth's radiant vision, and the dreamy dawn
   Of the soft lovelight in a maiden's eyes,
And holiest joys of motherhood, are drawn
      By Her from Paradise.

She knows the Wheel-Song of the Stars that run
   Their glittering courses through the blue abyss.
Ere the round earth fell flaimg form the sun
      Her spirit was, and is.

She is the Phoenix, ever making true
   The dim tradition of the misty morn.
The crucible of science gives anew
      Her fairy form re-born.

All things are Hers -- but not with equal word
   Dowers She the pilgrims of the sacred shrine.
Only the Great Interpreters have heard
      Her melodies divine.

All things are Hers, and so to Her I bring
   Songs of the dreams that haunt me on my way --
I who scarce hear the rustle of Her wing
      Borne on the wind away!

First published in The Secret Key and Other Verses by George Essex Evans 1906

Reprint: Araluen Kendall by F. W. Hosken

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"We were young when you were with us, life and love were happy things
To your father and your mother, ere the angels gave you wings" - ( Kendall )

The recent death in Sydney of Charlotte Kendall, the widow of the poet Henry Kendall, and her burial in the grave where he lies in Sydney, recalls the fact that their first child, Araluen, who died in 1870, aged 13 months lies buried in a neglected grave in the Melbourne General Cemetery. The story of the sickness and death of this little child who was named after the New South Wales stream whose beauty always lingered in the poet's memory, and whose death inspired one of his most beautiful and pathetic poems provides one of the saddest pages of Kendall's life. In 1860 he migrated from Sydney to Melbourne hoping that away from dissolute companions he might successfully battle against his inherited weakness for drink, and trusting also as Melbourne was at that date much larger than Sydney, that he might find more scope and encouragement for literary work. He received so hearty a welcome that a fortnight later he sent for his wife and baby daughter. A home was secured opposite the Carlton gardens, and for a time his prospects were bright. Mr George Robertson heartened him by arranging the publiation of "Leaves from an Australian Forest," the appearance of which was afterwards described by Alexander Sutherland as "one of the most memorable events in Australian literature." He found many who, through admiration of his genius were anxious to assist him, and numerous poems from his pen appeared in the columns of "The Argus," "The Australasian," and other Melbourne papers. The income thus derived, however, was fitful, and his peculiar temperament and unsteady habits precluded his engaging either in ordinary journalistic work or other constant employment. He was soon forced to leave the Carlton house, and moved with his wife and sickly baby, first to a cheap tenement in Fitzroy, and then to a still cheaper one in Collingwood. Bowed down by poverty, disappointment, and anxiety, all his good resolves melted away. He became more and more unsteady, less capable of work and ultimately the wretched family were forced to hide their heads in a tiny cottage in Swan street, Richmond, where little Araluen, notwithstanding the assiduous attention of Dr Nield, after much suffering died on February 2, 1870. Mrs Kendall afterwards said that the wailing notes of the dying child haunted her husband throughout all the rest of his life. He wrote -
"In dreams I always meet
The phantom of a wailing child."
The poverty stricken poet was unable to pay for his child's burial, and in his reminiscences he wrote -
I only hear the brutal curse
Of landlord clamouring for his pay,
And yonder is the pauper's hearse
That comes to take a child away
Apart, and with the half grey head
Of sudden age, again I see
The father writing by the dead
To earn the undertaker's fee.
Little Araluen was buried in what was then known as "No Mans Land," in the north east corner of the Melbourne General Cemetery, near the corner of Lygon and Macpherson streets. Lovers of the poet know well the pathetic, heart-broken farewell of the parents to the little grave.
"Take this rose and very gently place it on the tender deep
Mosses where our little darling, Araluen lies asleep,
Put the blossoms close to baby. Kneel with me, my love, and pray,
We must leave the bird we've buried, say good bye to her to-day.
In the shadow of our trouble we must go to other lands,
And the flowers we have fosteredl will be left to other hands."
"Ah! the saddest thought in leaving baby in this bush alone,
Is that we have not been able on her craie to raise a stone,
We have been too poor to do it, but, my darling, never mind -
God is in His gracious heaven, and His sun and rain are kind;
They will dress the spot with beauty, they will make the grasses grow;
Many winds will lull our birdie, many songs will come and go.
Here the blue-eyed Spring will linger, here the shining mouth will stay
Like a friend, by Araluen, when we two are far away."
Alas, the little grave has remained untended ever since. It has recently been traced by Mr. Goddard, a member of the Australian Literature Society who discovered that in the same allotment are buried no fewer than 10 other little pauper babies, their ages ranging from 10 days to 10 months. I would suggest that lovers of Kendall in Melbourne might well undertake the responsibility of putting the grave in order, and erecting a simple marble tablet on the grave of his so dearly loved and mourned baby girl, and so fulfil the heart-longing of the poet when he wrote:-
"Let us go, for night is falling, leave the darling with her flowers;
Other hands will come and tend them - other friends in other hours."
First published in The Argus, 22 November 1924 [Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

100 Australian Poems 3.0: "Taking the Census" by Charles R. Thatcher

Charles Thatcher's poem, "Taking the Census", contains a number of elements that most of us would see as being indicative of the character of early Australian settlers from Europe: humour, resilience and a healthy disrespect for government.

The narrator of the poem has bribed the local census-taker for a look at the "papers" of his fellow townspeople;  he doesn't say why, but we can just assume he likes to snoop on his neighbours.  As he originally suspects, the local ladies are lying about their ages:

Miss Fluffen says she's thirty-two,
   But to tell such a story is naughty,
She's a regular frumpish old maid,
   And if she's a year old she's forty.

Which leaves me feeling positively ancient. 

But it's not just their ages that people lie about: a washerwoman puts down her occupation as a "clear starcher", the chemist's assistant becomes an M.D., and no less than three hairdressers transform themselves into "professors".  None of them are too happy with the government collecting this data and, mischievously, attempt to circumvent the process at each turn.  A trait that is still evident today, as the census-recorded religion of "Jed Knight" attests.

But it's the last couple who provide the humour of the piece. The census-taker visits "two girls,/Who are noted for cutting rum capers" and who live in "an elegant crib".  They've left their occupations blank on their forms and find it vastly amusing that they would be asked to supply one: "..young man, shove me down as a milliner."  Well, yes. The modern reader will have little doubt about these young women, nor, I suspect, did the poem's original readers.

Text: "Taking the Census" by Charles R. Thatcher

Author bio: Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB)

Publishing history: another poem that's difficult to track.  ADB states that Thatcher was born in Bristol, England, in 1831 and arrived in Australia in 1852.  He left Australia in 1869 and died in Shanghai, China, in in 1878. The first publication of this poem is listed as being in The New Oxford Book of Australian Verse edited by Les Murray in 1986.  Thatcher appears to have self-published two or three collections of his verse in the late 1850s and 1860s, so it might be that this poem appeared in one of those.  Failing that, it would have appeared in a newspaper or magazine of the time, but I can find no record of it. 

 Next five poems in the book:

"The Sick Stockrider" by Adam Lindsay Gordon

"My Other Chinee Cook" by James Brunton Stephens

"Bell-Birds" by Henry Kendall

"Are You the Cove?" by Joseph Furphy ("Tom Collins")

"How McDougal Topped the Score" by Thomas E. Spencer

Note: this post forms part of my series on the poems contained in the anthology 100 Australian Poems You Need to Know edited by Jamie Grant.  You can read the other posts in this series here.

National Library of Australia Newspaper Digitisation

I've posted a couple of times about the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitsation project and now Gideon Haigh in "The Age" has published a piece about the same project.  His essay delves deeper into the differences between it and the Queensland based Austlit national bibliographic enterprise, and introduces us to some of the top text correctors.

As I've mentioned previously, the digitisation process aims to provide digital text versions of old Australian newspapers via OCR (Optical Character Recognition).  The problem is that the standard OCR process produces a large number of mistakes, so the National Library decided to go down the "open-source route", championed so well by Wikipedia, and allow users to fix the text online.

In the international library community, digitisation of old newspapers so that they can be keyword searched is a supercool area. But the NLA's system would be taking this to Brangelina-like coolness by, politely and sotto voce, soliciting members of the public to participate in ironing out the wrinkles in the digital text. What happened next is pretty damn amazing. "What's that movie?" says Cathy Pilgrim, the program's manager. "Field of Dreams? Well, we built it and they did come."

So they - the Australian public - did. Once word began spreading - among genealogists, amateur historians and online library users - the trickle became a flood. Right now, a community of about 3000 far-flung souls are turning on their computers for up to 50 hours a week and tidying text prepared by optical character recognition (OCR) software, as well as subject tagging and even annotating it.

The most prolific of these contributors is Julie Hempenstall who, as of today, has corrected 185,952 lines.  I reckon I've done a fair bit and I've only corrected some 3,293 lines.  It's a vast difference, and I have no idea how she's done it.

2009 NSW Premier's Literary Awards Winners

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The winners of the 2009 NSW Premier's Literary Awards were announced in Sydney last night.

The winners were:

The Christina Stead Prize for Fiction
Joan London - The Good Parents

The Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-fiction
Chloe Hooper - The Tall Man: Death and Life on Palm Island

The Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry
LK Holt - Man Wolf Man

The Ethel Turner Prize for Young People's Literature
Michelle Cooper - A Brief History of Montmaray

The Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children's Literature
Urusla Dubosarsky & Tohby Riddle (Illustrator) - The Word Spy

The Community Relations Commission Award
Eric Richards - Destination Australia: Migration to Australia Since 1901

The Gleebooks Prize
David Love - Unfinished Business: Paul Keating's Interrupted Revolution J

The UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing
Nam Le - The Boat

The Play Award
Daniel Keene - "The Serpent's Teeth"

The Script Writing Award
Louis Nowra and Rachel Perkins and Beck Cole - "First Australians"

NSW Premier's Translation Prize and PEN Medallion
David Colmer

The full shortlists for each award are available here.

In addition, The Boat by Nam Le was named Book of the Year, and the People's Choice Award for Fiction went to A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz.

Australian Bookcovers #161 - Holden's Performance by Murray Bail

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Holden's Performance by Murray Bail, 1987
(Penguin edition 1988)
Cover painting: detail from The Tram by John Brack

2009 Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelists

Each year the "Sydney Morning Herald" presents awards to those it considers to be Australia's best young novelists - young here being under 35. The paper announced this year's winners over the weekend:

Nam Le, author of The Boat
Alice Nelson, author of The Last Sky
Kevin Rabalais, author of The Landscape of Desire
Steve Toltz, author of A Fraction of the Whole

2009 Commonwealth Writers' Prize Winners Announced

Christos Tsiolkas has been announced as the winner of the 2009 Commonwealth Writers' Best Book Prize for The Slap.  Mohammed Hanif was awared the Best First Book Prize for his novel A Case of Exploding Mangoes.  This year's prize-giving ceremony was held at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival in New Zealand on Saturday May 16th.

The overall winners of the main prizes - Best Book and Best First Book - are chosen from the winners of these categories from each of the commonwealth regions.  You can see the full list of shortlisted titles in each region here.

Poem: Brunton Stevens by George Essex Evans

The gentle heart that hated wrong,
   The courage that all ills withsood,
The seeing eye, the mighty song
   That stirred us into Nationhood,
      Have passed. What garlands can be spread?
      The Prince of Courtesy is dead.

The power that touched all human chords
   With wit that lightened thro' the years
Without a sting, whose tender words
   Unsealed the fountain of our tears -
      Ah! bow the heart and bend the head -
      The Prince of Courtesy is dead.

Great Singer of the South, who set
   Thy face to Duty as a star,
Though, in hushed skies of violet,
   Thy throne of kingship gleamed afar,
      Shall not the toil of common days
      And nobler lustre to thy days!

O Mighty Voice, whose words shall stand -
   When all our songs have ceased to be -
Steadfast, the watchwords of our land,
   The guide and torch of Liberty!
      The Master-Poet called afar,
      And thou at last hast found thy star!

First published in The Secret Key and Other Verses by George Essex Evans, 1906

The Long Goodbye

There's a new suburb to be built on the banks of the Maribyrnong River in Melbourne and writer Michael McGirr wants it named after the poet John Shaw Neilson, who lived in the area for many years. Sounds like a plan to me.

Anson Cameron was so taken by the theft of Picasso's Weeping Woman from the National Gallery of Victoria in the mid-1980s that he decided to write a novel about it, and quickly discovered that "the rumours were more valuable to me than the truth."

A while ago it was a musical version of Thorn Birds, and now it's Picnic at Hanging Rock getting the treatment. I'm thinking they can use "Anything Can Happen" by the Finn Brothers, or "The Great Gig in the Sky" by Pink Floyd, or maybe even "Waiting for the UFO's" by Graham Parker.

Peter Carey is moving publishers. He stayed with the University of Queensland Press from The Fat Man in History in 1974 until True History of the Kelly Gang in 2000. "When Carol Davidson, who was publicity director and then publisher at UQP, became sales and international publishing director at Random House Australia in 2003, Carey went with her. " Davidson has now left Random House and Carey has decided to move to Penguin's Hamish Hamilton list where he joins such authors as Tim Winton and Robert Drewe.

Angela Meyer, of the "LiteraryMinded" weblog, makes a guest appearance on the "Flashlight Worthy" weblog and lists the Australian fiction that has shaped her literary tastes.

Michael C has been reappraising grunge fiction over on his weblog "Eurhythmania". That's such works as Christos Tsiolkas' Loaded, Andrew McGahan's Praise, and Justine Ettler's The River Ophelia.

Reprint: Honour Her: Queensland's Poetess: Our Unofficial Laureate

Upon an iron balcony above the city streets,
All day the pale sick woman lies; across her idle feet
A striped rug from Arabia, and in her slender hands
The magic book that tells her tales of undiscovered lands.

It takes courage to make of one's disability a spring-board by which to leap into the realm of pure romance. This stoic grit is what Mrs. Mabel Forrest has been showing these last two years and more, weaving her fantasies while she lies like another Heine, on her couch, and dyeing the stuffs of her imagination with her own heart-blood.

Only a little groan escapes her lips -"Upon an iron balcony above the city streets, all day the pale sick woman lies." The noise of the street below drowns that brief cry of the heart of a true poet living in our midst. Her own brave music drowns it.

But the people of Brisbane must not allow this gallant poetess of Queensland, our unofficial laureate, to toil on and on without some act of recognition simply because she refuses to be beaten by ill-health, and still sings on of love and beauty with such buoyancy of genius that we should never suspect the heavy and continuous handicaps which she carries with the blitheness of another R.LS. lt was said long ago, with a tinge of sorrow rather than of bitterness, "A prophet hath no honour in his own country"-until he is dead. But we have become a little wiser from the mistakes of the past. We refuse to deny honour to genius because it is contemporary and alive. Only a few months ago Australians from every part of the Commonwealth sent their salutations to Mary Gilmore on her 68th birthday.

Mabel Forrest is like her fellow poets, James Brunton Stephens and George Essex Evans, Queensland born. She knows the bush with all the intimacy and sureness of a native. She has in many a poem thrown the glamour of her poetry over creek and scrub. She not only knows but can weave into a sweet symphony the names of the bush flowers and the bush birds. For this reason all lovers of the open air in sunny Queensland are indebted to the poetess who has found in Nature's highways and by-ways so much fragrance, colour, and grace. Mabel Forrest turns her very handicaps into song. Yet sometimes she grows wistlul and weary-what wonder? Lavishly, has she scattered the largess of beauty around our lives. Surely it is only a sincere proof of our gratitude to cheer her in her physical weakness with a substantial token of goodwill.

The appeal on behalf of Mrs. Forrest has been made on behalf of a small committee in Brisbane, and has been signed by Zina Cumbrae-Stewart (president of the National Council of Women), as chairwoman, and Merna Gillies (president, Town and Country Women's Club), as hon. secretary.

First published in The Courier Mail, 25 November 1933.

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for these pieces.]

Biography of Mabel Forrest: Australian Dictionary of Biography

Michael Gerard Bauer Interview

Last week "The Australian Writer's Marketplace"  conducted an online forum with YA author Michael Gerard Bauer and they have now posted some highlights of that session on their website.

Kate: How conscious are you of the influence of your locality when writing? 
MGB: Quite a bit. I taught at Marist Brothers in Brisbane and I based the school setting for "Don't Call me Ishmael" on that. I felt the Ashgrove location a great deal in The Running Man and made a conscious decision to use the real suburb and street names in the story because it was based on some childhood memories of growing up there.

Robyn: Do you think having been a teacher has helped you as a writer, and if it has, what have you found most valuable about it?
MGB: Yes, definitely. I think it gave me a good understanding of the people I was writing about. I certainly couldn't have written ishmael as well without drawing on my teaching years. During teaching I also read lots of YA books and loved them. Now when I visit schools to talk I feel very comfortable in that environment.

Bauer's 2006 novel Don't Call Me Ishmael won the 2007 New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards, Ethel Turner Prize, and the 2008 Festival Awards for Literature (SA), Children's Literature Award.


100 Australian Poems 2.0: "The Beautiful Squatter" by Charles Harpur

Charles Harpur's poem "A Beautiful Squatter" is a strange little affair and rather out of character for the poet.  I've always been of the view that Harpur wrote very much in the European style - or, at least, what I suspect that style to be - rather than in a quintessential Australian bush ballad style.  This impression is partly due to his writing period, from 1833-1868, which precedes the work of Lawson (1887-1922) and Paterson (1885-1941), and partly due to the way he handled his subject matter.

He looked at the Australian bush with an eye that would not have been out of place in the Old World.  If you read "Dawn and Sunrise in the Snowy Mountains", for example, you don't get much of a sense that the poet is describing an Australian scene, in fact it could quite as easily have been written about Switzerland or the Rockies.  ("..And now, even long before/The Sun himself is seen, off tow'rds the west/A range of mighty summits, more and more/Blaze, each like a huge cresset, in the keen/Clear atmosphere.") This may well have been due to the fact that Harpur was inventing his poetry as he went with few other major contemporaries to follow, imitate or lead.  It's not the bush I think of when I remember Harpur, it's love sonnets, and mood pieces rather than balladic tales and poems to be recited round a campfire.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not criticising Harpur for this, just trying to put him in context.  He did write "The Creek of the Four Graves" in 1845 which describes the death and burial of four men in the bush, killed in a skirmish with local aboriginals.  But this is a long contemplative piece: a novel rather than a short story. 

Which is why "The Beautiful Squatter" is so different from his other work.  The squatter of the title, riding through the bush, comes across two young Aboriginal women sitting under a tree by a creek. He seduces them with tales of "dampers and blankets quite new", and, while this is not stated explicitly, gets rather intimate with at least one of them.  The women return to their camp where the story of their encounter comes out, the local mob get a group of men together and the squatter is "waddied to death in the bloom of his charms."

The story is reasonable enough and the humour of the poem is directed towards the squatter rather than the indigenous natives, which might have been the expected course.  Yet even they are sketched in caricature, which is very different from the dignified, elusive natives of "Creek".  The poet doesn't judge or take sides here, however, and maybe he meant this poem as a sort of warning to the whites not to treat the Aborigines as play-things and chattels.  If so he was remarkably ahead of his time.

In a 1980 essay titled "The Aboriginal in Early Australian Literature", Elizabeth Webby states that Harpur had written other pieces about Aboriginal suffering ("A Wail from the Bush" and "Ned Connor. A Tale of the Bush" as two examples) which showed understanding of the problems of Aboriginal-White conflict.  As she says in her essay: "It seems appropriate that it should be the Irish, with their own history of invasion and usurpation, who were in the van of opposition to white oppression of Aboriginals" (Southerly, March 1980, p58).

"The Beautiful Squatter" may not be a prime example of the bulk of Harpur's work but it does deal with some issues he covered in other poems and is still an amusing piece.  The poet definitely had to be included in this collection.

Text: "The Beautiful Squatter" by Charles Harpur.

Author bio: Australian Dictionary of Biography

Publishing history: the poem was originally published in "The Weekly Register" on 15 March 1845 under the title "Squatter Songs, No. 1".  It was then included in The Poetical Works of Charles Harpur in 1984, and subsequently in such anthologies as Old Ballads from the Bush (1987), The Sting in the Wattle (1993), The Penguin Book of Australian Ballads (1993), and Australian Verse: An Oxford Anthology (1998).

Next five poems in the book:

"Taking the Census" by Charles R. Thatcher

"The Sick Stockrider" by Adam Lindsay Gordon

"My Other Chinee Cook" by James Brunton Stephens

"Bell-Birds" by Henry Kendall

"Are You the Cove?" by Joseph Furphy ("Tom Collins")

Note: this post forms part of my series on the poems contained in the anthology 100 Australian Poems You Need to Know edited by Jamie Grant.  You can read the other posts in this series here.

Reading Notes: Dying Inside by Robert Silverberg

The recent re-issue of Dying Inside, Robert Silverberg's classic sf novel from the early 1970s, and the subsequent excellent reviews it started to garner, prompted me to check my bookshelves to see if I had a copy. I did, and as soon as I dragged it off the shelf I realised I knew next to nothing about it.

The edition I have is a Ballantine Books paperback from October 1973. It's a US edition with a cover price of $1.25, a slight crack in the spine, and a minor 1cm by 1cm water stain (coffee?) on the first four or five pages. And I have no idea of when or where I bought it.

Generally such US editions wouldn't come into my hands unless I had bought them directly from the States (which I did a bit of in the 1970s) or from a second-hand bookstore. Paperbacks of this kind were considered to be fairly disposable by used-book sellers so it would normally have an Australian price in pencil on an inside page, or in ink on the cover. I can find no evidence of either of those.

I have no idea how long the book has been in my possession, but I can safely say I've never read it before. I knew of it but Silverberg was never one of my big favourites back then. Not that I disliked him, it's just that I was interested in other writers at the time.

So this book is a peculiar one: it's possible that I've had this book for over thirty years without reading it. And that leads me to wonder if there are others on the shelves that date from that time, lying lost and forgotten. I wouldn't be at all surprised.

By the way, the reviews linked to above are pretty accurate: it's a damn good read.

Review: A Decent Ransom by Ivana Hruba

decent_ransom.jpg Ivana Hruba
258 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Bernadette Gooden

A Decent Ransom is a fascinating first adult novel from Ivana Hrubra that takes us deep into the psyches of the main protagonists. It is the story of a simple kidnap plan that goes horribly wrong because our inner lives can be so different to outward appearances and physical realities.

Set in a large country town or the outskirts of a city in Australia it is the story of Phoebus, a 15-year-old boy who lives with his brother Kenny, a young adult, in an isolated farmhouse. They are marginalised kids from a background of abuse and poverty. Abandoned by their parents and abused by an uncle, they fend for themselves working at a truck stop. Phoebus has left school and is basically Kenny's domestic slave, subservient to his needs. Kenny is a borderline psychotic who behaves wildly, egged on by substance abuse. However, there is a lot of love between them. They only have each other.

They have befriended two young Chinese prostitutes, Janelle and Lien. Kenny is in love with Janelle. Wanting to start a better life for them all he comes up with a plan to kidnap a local woman, Kathryn, and extract a ransom from her rich husband, Rupert.

Things start going wrong when Rupert won't pay the ransom.

The story is told through the eyes of Phoebus, Janelle, Kathryn and Rupert. We are taken into their thoughts and the truths about their lives, which are not what they appear to be from the outside. Phoebus and Janelle convey the character of Kenny to the reader. His character, actions and philosophy on life drive the story and affect everyone in it, but he never speaks for himself as the others do.

Finely layered and compelling, this is a well-written thriller about the rich inner landscapes that can exist in bleak surroundings. Hrubra does particularly well developing the relationship between Phoebus and the kidnapped woman. He looks after her and protects her through to the end, even though he is aware that she has an agenda he doesn't agree with to get revenge on her husband.

How often is there an enormous difference between what we think and what we say and do? This is conveyed particularly well in the book by Janelle, whose beautiful expression of her yearnings and inner feelings to her self is contrasted in the story with how she is perceived. She has a poor command of English and a degrading job as a dancer and prostitute in men's club with a mind that resonates with hope and love and poetry.

In A Decent Ransom the fates of all the characters, driven by madness, greed, love, revenge and hope for something better, come together within a clever plot that moves with humour and pathos to a satisfying conclusion in this well crafted and totally absorbing story.

2009 Melbourne Prize

Each three years the Melbourne Prize cycles through its main categories of Urban Sculpture, Literature and Music.  2009 is the turn of Literature and entries for the prize are now open.

You might recall that in 2006 the main prize was won by Helen Garner, with Dead Europe by Christos Tsiolkas winning the Best Writing Award.

This year the judges have added a Civic Choice Award to the other two.  This is an award that will be voted on by the general public after the accouncement of the Best Writing Award finalists.  That announcement will take place on or about 8 November.

The judging panel for the two major awards consists of: Hilary McPhee, Brian Matthews and Mark Rubbo.

Criteria for the Melbourne Prize: "The Melbourne Prize for Literature 2009 is for a Victoian author whose body of published/produced work has made an outstanding contribution Australian literature and to cultural and intellectual life. The author's work can include all genres and forms for example, fiction, non-fiction, essays, plays, screenplays and poetry."

Criteria for the Best Writing Award: "The Best Writing Award 2009 is for a piece of published or produced work of outstanding clarity, originality and creativity by a Victorian writer, 40 years or under.  The work can be any genre or form for example, fiction, non-fiction, esays, plays, screenplays and poetry."

Film Adaptation of Mao's Last Dancer Update

In the midst of an interview with Mao's Last Dancer author, Li Cunxin, in "The Australian", Pia Akerman reveals that the film adaptation of the book wil be released in October.  Accord to the Internet Movie DataBase, the film will be directed by Bruce Beresford, from a script by Jan Sardi, and featuring Bruce Greenwood, Alice Parkinson, Kyle MacLachlan and Chi Cao.  And, in keeping with the unwritten rule that all Australian films must have a part for Jack Thompson, he appears here as a US Federal Judge. 

Australian Bookcovers #160 - Homesickness by Murray Bail

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Homesickness by Murray Bail, 1980
(Penguin edition 1985)
Cover photograph by Mike Hollands

Current State of the Weblog

After all the problems encountered last week we seem to be back up and running again.  A lot of the historical entries are missing and I will attempt to re-instate them over the coming weeks (it may well take a lot longer than that) and the look and feel of the weblog isn't as I would like it. 

Comments are a problem and are not working as I'd like.  Until I can get that part of the weblog's back-office administration together old comments will also be missing.  Hopefully that shouldn't be too long.

Reprint: Gordon's Earliest Works

On 28th November 1923, "The Argus" newspaper in Melbourne published the following letter.


 Sir, - While inspecting some early copyright records in the Commonwealth Copyright Office, an interesting fact with regard to the works of Adam Lindsay Gordon was discovered. It has always been considered that Gordon's first book (that is, excepting his pamphlet "The Feud," of which only 30 copies were printed at Mount Gambier, in 1864) was "Sea Spray and Smoke Drift." All the authorities from Sutherland onwards state that "Sea Spray and Smoke Drift" preceded "Ashtaroth" by some months, and F. Maldon Robb, in his introduction to the Oxford edition of Gordon's poems, published in 1913, not only repeats this assertion, but also states that the names of Gordon's books, as set out on his monument in the Brighton Cemetery, are "in the order of their publication."

 It is particularly interesting and important therefore to find from the copyright entry under the Victorian Copyright Act of 1809 that "Ashtaroth" was published nine days before "Sea Spray and Smoke Drift." The entries are amongst the earliest under this act, being numbers 25, 26 and 27, the occasion being the publicattion of "Bush Ballads," and the date of entry June 25, 1870, which as lovers of Gordon will remember, was the day after his death. Copyright in all three works was applied for and obtained by Clarson, Massina and Co., which is curious by reason of the fact that the name of George Robertson appears on the title page of "Sea Spray and Smoke Drift" as publisher. No doubt the lack of success which attended it (only 100 copies having been sold) resulted in that firm's handing over their rights to the printers and publishers of Gordon's other two works.

 The entries in the register of copyrights are as follows: -"Asharoth," published June 10, 1867; (26) "Sea Spray and Smoke Drift," published June 19, 1867; (27) "Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes," published June 23, 1870. The confusion with regard to the order in which the works appeared is due to the fact that Gordon published them so close upon one another, and on the title-page of each, instead of giving his name, stated that each was "by the author of" the other work. That Gordon intended "Ashtaroth" to take precedence of "Sea Spray and Smoke Drift" seems certain, for when he published "Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes" he stated on the title page that it was "by the author of Ashtaroth."

 For the discovery of the entries in the copyright register, and also for assistance in research I am indebted to Mr. A. D. Osborn, cadet cataloguer in this library.

 -Yours, &c.,

Librarian in charge of the Commonwealth National Library.

Nov. 27.

 And the next day, the following reply was printed.


 Sir, - I was much interested in the letter from Mr Kenneth Binns to-day with regard to the order of publication of Gordon's poems. Mr. Binns is perfectly correct in saying that all the authorities state that "Sea Spray and Smoke Drift" was published before Ashtaroth but it may be interesting to your readers to know that the correct dates were published by Mr. E. Wilson Dobbs of this city, in an article he wrote for A. G. Stephen's "Bookfellow" in February, 1907. I wrote to Mr Wilson Dobbs some weeks ago asking him for the evidence on which he based his dates, and he replied that he had temporarily mislaid his notes, but that he had gone carefully into the matter at the time, and thought his dates would be found to be correct. This has now proved to be the case, and while we are all indebted to Mr. Osborn and Mr. Binns for tracing the evidence which has settled the question for all time, it is only right that the earlier work of Mr. Wilson Dobbs should also be mentioned. In connection with this matter, may I mention that I had adopted Mr Wilson Dobbs' dates for the bibliography of Australasian poetry and verse which I am preparing, which is to he published by the Melbourne University Press next year. The number of separate volumes and editions recorded is now nearing 2,500, but it is possible that a fair number of volumes may not have been traced. Some of these may have been privately printed, and others so little advertised that practically they were private issues. I should be glad to receive the names of volumes from authors and their friends, and I should also like to get into touch with collectors of Australiana who have specialised in poetry. In particular I should like to see a copy of "Thoughts," by Charles Harpur and "Ephemera, an Iliad of Albury," by J. O'Farrell (John Farrell), both of which are among the rarer volumes of Australian verse.



Church street, Hawthorn,

Nov. 28.

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for these pieces.]

Note: the volume that Percival Serle refers to was A Bibliography of Australasian Poetry and Verse: Australia and New Zealand which was published by Melbourne University Press in 1925.

Australian Bookcovers #159 - Coda by Thea Astley


Coda by Thea Astley, 1994
(William Heinemann Australia 1994 edition)
Cover design by Jarrett Skinner and cover inset illustration by Drew Aitken

Poem: A Dedication by Adam Lindsay Gordon

They are rhymes rudely strung with intent less
   Of sound than of words,
In lands where bright blossoms are scentless,
   And songless bright birds;
Where, with fire and fierce drought on her tresses,
Insatiable summer oppresses
Sere woodlands and sad wildernesses,
   And faint flocks and herds.

Where in dreariest days, when all dews end,
   And all winds are warm,
Wild Winter's large flood-gates are loosen'd,
   And floods, freed by storm,
From broken-up fountain heads, dash on
Dry deserts with long pent up passion --
Here rhyme was first framed without fashion --
   Song shaped without form.

Whence gather'd? -- The locust's glad chirrup
   May furnish a stave;
The ring of a rowel and stirrup,
   The wash of a wave;
The chaunt of the marsh frog in rushes,
That chimes through the pauses and hushes
Of nightfall, the torrent that gushes,
   The tempests that rave.

In the deep'ning of dawn, when it dapples
   The dusk of the sky,
With streaks like the redd'ning of apples,
   The ripening of rye.
To eastward, when cluster by cluster,
Dim stars and dull planets, that muster,
Wax wan in a world of white lustre
   That spreads far and high.

In the gathering of night gloom o'erhead, in
   The still silent change,
All fire-flush'd when forest trees redden
   On slopes of the range.
When the gnarl'd, knotted trunks Eucalyptian
Seem carved, like weird columns Egyptian,
With curious device, quaint inscription,
   And hieroglyph strange.

In the Spring, when the wattle gold trembles
   'Twixt shadow and shine,
When each dew-laden air draught resembles
   A long draught of wine;
When the sky-line's blue burnish'd resistance
Makes deeper the dreamiest distance,
Some song in all hearts hath existence, --
   Such songs have been mine.

First published in Some Australian Poets: Selections from the Works of Adam Lindsay Gordon, Henry Clarence Kendall and James B. Stephens edited by Alexander Sutherland, 1897

Reprint: Among the "Shockers": Mr. Fergus Hume's Vogue

Mr. Fergus Hume, the author of "The Mystery of a Hansom Cab," whose death in England has been reported, helped, inadvertently to make another man's fortune. The other man, however, eventually became insolvent. Mr. Hume, who came to Melbourne in the 'eighties, was a barrister with a taste for mystery stories. In 1887 his book, "The Mystery of a Hansom Cab," was published in Melbourne and it caught the public fancy. Within about one month 10,000 copies of the book were sold in Australia, chiefly in Melbourne.

An astute German resident of Melbourne bought the English rights from Mr. Hume for £100. He took the book to London, where it experienced another extraordinary success. Within about three months 300,000 copies were sold, and the foundations of a useful fortune were laid for the enterprising German. But he had found a taste for "shocking," and he proceeded to establish what he called the Hansom Cab Publishing Company. The vogue of the "shilling shocker" had just come in; and the lucky publisher set out to "shock" as many readers as he could. He published, among other popular "shockers" Hugh Conway's "Called Back," which thrilled many a maidenly bosom in the quiet 'eighties.

But "shocking" as a fine art declined, and with it the publisher's fortune, and in due course the Hansom Cab Publishing Company went into liquidation Mr. Hume himself made very little money from his book, although later it was dramatised. Only a few years ago it was translated to the screen. His later books did not enjoy the same popularity as "The Mystery of a Hansom Cab," and Mr. Hume spent the last years of his life in comparatively poor circumstances.

He may have had some indirect influence upon the development of the modern "thriller," but that is doubtful. Still, if Mr. Hume did not found a school, he lost a fortune, and he enjoyed for a time the fickle favour of the public.

First published in The Argus, 14 July 1932

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

Note: you can read an electronic version of The Mystery of a Hansom Cab by Fergus Hume on Project Gutenberg.
Fergus Hume page on Wikipedia.

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