August 2009 Archives

2009 Ned Kelly Awards

The 2009 Ned Kelly Awards were presented in Melbourne on Friday night as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival.

The shortlisted works were previously posted here.

The winners of the 2009 Awards were:

The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper

First Fiction
Ghostlines by Nick Gadd

Deep Water by Peter Corris and
Smoke & Mirrors by Kel Robertson (tie)

S.D. Harvey Award
"Fidget's Farewell" by Scott McDermott

Lifetime Achievement
Shane Maloney

tall_man.jpg ghostlines.jpg deep_water.jpg smoke_mirrors.jpg

Poem: Hints in Season by Mrs Edward Caudle

Alas! what sore discomfiture poor scribblers labor under,
In every contribution the printer makes a blunder,
Errata constantly appear; while editorial sages
Declare that needful hands are unattainable for wages.
"All frantic rush for yellow ore," they ruefully exclaim,
"Disordering our city and exposing us to blame:
Did Bendigo, or Ballarat, or the Echunga Diggins,
Approximate old England, th' inimitable Dickens
Might issue " Household Words" in vain: aye, gentles, I avow it;
And if my ipse dixit's doubted, crave of Doctor Hewitt
The genuine opinion of his literary frater:) --
Could any human intellect presiding o'er a paper
Indulge its daily readers with a faultless publication,
While such a mania prevails? is their interrogation.
In justice to Victoria's press -- a suff'rer though I be too --
In favor of its Editors I must record my veto.
Oh! unpropitious epocha for literary men.
When nuggets, dust, quartz specimens, quite supersede the pen --
When social wrong lives unredressed; schemes worth consideration,
Are liable to sad mistakes, and oft non-publication.
Last Thursday morn the Herald made me use in one production
Instead of "consternation" the uncanny word "construction."
The Argus, in a rhyming scrap, with much chagrin I read,
Excluded my expression "heart" and substituted "head;"
But notwithstanding these and many errors here untold,
Attribute all to their true source:- Insatiate thirst for gold!
While speaking of this yellow fever -- (pry thee, no misprint)
I wish the Government would take a well intentioned hint :-
Contagion, fearful, fatal peril lurks insidiously
In fetid stagnant pools, which shock the nerves olfactory
Of Melbourne's doomed inhabitants; - aye, doomed I boldly say.
If these contaminations still pollute the public way!
Men of Victoria, arouse! destruction's seeds will sorely yield
Prolific harvest! -- Pestilence prepares to reap the field!
Death onward stalks with giant stride, insensible to pity,
Shaking his dart exultingly o'er this neglected city
Awake, I say, to action ! nor suffer the historic page
To chronicle your Town's perdition from its golden age!
And now, kind Editors, grave senators, good citizens, excuse
The unsophisticated candour of an English woman's muse,
Who having Melbourne's weal at heart would fain behold it flourish,
And mourns that such infectious germs its fertile breast should nourish,
Who hopes to see its literature assume a loftier rank --
The Arts and Sciences succeed the present mental blank.

First published in The Argus, 6 October 1852

Out in the Street

James Bradley is rather pleased to see that Steven Amsterdam's novel Things We Didn't See Coming has won the Age Book of the Year Award and remembers doing something similar with his novel The Deep Field.

And Stephanie Campisi sees some similarities between Amsterdam's cover and one used for Italo Calvino's If On a Winter's Night a Traveller.

The "Overland literary journal" weblog points out that a recent "Australian" newspaper article by Carmela Baranowska was originally published in their journal, reprinted with permission but with no acknowledgement. Overland is a not-or-profit journal and really does need these things noted. 

And the Overland blog is aiming to be all-poetry all-the-time during the 2009 Overland Poetry Festival, as poetry totally takes over their weblog: 4-13 September.

"Ripping Ozzie Reads" weblog is starting a series of posts from their author contributors about First Book Sales and then, later, on Career Planning.  First off the rank is Rowena Cory Daniells's piece about how her first book, Capped!, was written and plucked out of the slushpile by Scolastic.

"The Guardian" newspaper, obviously troubled by the books on the Man Booker longlist, decided to run its own poll of its readers and have now come up with a shortlist of 6.  Australia's M.J. Hyland made the cut, though you have to be aware that this list only allows for books that are currently available in the UK.  Cheryl Morgan notes that only 794 people nominated in the poll and makes the point that having a free vote allows for vote-stacking. 

Jeff VanderMeer has a book lined up to launch at next year's Worldcon here in Melbourne.  Appropriately it is an anthology of sf stories with Australian links. 

A little while back I mentioned that I had been interviewed by George Dunford for a piece he was writing for The Big Issue.  That edition has now come and gone and George has now made the full piece available on his weblog.

Reprint: The Yorick 2. - Letters of Marcus Clarke Part 1

In 1879 George Gordon McCrae was working his eyes out in the Melbourne Patents Office -- he drew machinery in detail, anatomical improvements (?) for locomotives, collapsible permabulators, buckets with double bottoms to them, barbers' chairs, omnibus brakes, hat-irons, armor for Blucher-boot heels, windmills, wire ropes, scissors-and-knife combinations, hand-saws: their like and their unlike.

His evenings in Hawthorn (at that time, a widely-spaced village, decorated with trees and grass to walk upon) gave him the relaxation he needed.

Out of office hours he wrote "The Man in the Iron Mask," "The Story of Balladeadro" and "Mamba the Bright-eyed;" followed, in 1883, by "A Rosebud from the Garden of the Taj."

"Out of office hours" has been written advisedly; because W. Hicks, McCrae's chief, looked with an Arctic eye upon literature in Australia; and, should any person have dared to jingle in the department he administered, that person should have jingled incontinently out again.

Good man, Hicks.

Nevertheless, not through lack of watching, he failed of his prey; so the poet remained a poet (that is, a practising one) only during intervals spent at his home. One slip: McCrae had taken Marat with Corday and written a drama round them -- a drama full of cries, punctuated by blows from the guillotine. The subject obsessed him; and, in the office, he drew instead of a digger's cradle, the great-bladed instrument drizzling magenta ink.

Marcus Clarke arrived on the edge of lunch-hour; and the two were examining the picture when Hicks walked in.

Hicks's vocabulary, however limited, was equal to the occasion: the drawing was destroyed, and McCrae and his friend went out. On their way they laughed down the passage; and the chief's door slammed in protest against the insult.

A week later Marcus poked his head into McCrae's room; but George held up his hand so that the visitor fell back. Immediately he appeared again, his beautiful eyes shining like those of an angel.

"'Ow's 'Icks?" he exclaimed, and vanished from the apartment.

A few of Clarke's letters addressed to G.G. McCrae:--
(a) Showing his happy carelessness:
25th June, 1877.
Dear McCrae, -
Once I wanted to write about Holland. I borrowed a book and left it for three years. I now return it with many thanks.
Always truly yours,
Marcus Clarke.
P.S. - It is not my habit to return books, but I, to-day, found this one (which I thought I had lost) quite by accident.
George Gordon McCrae, Esq.

(b) An offer to help his friend, and a chuckle at Hicks:
Dear McCrae, -
Can you trinquer at the house of the light wine of the country and converse to me of the Charlotte si noble si douca, at the hour of 4 p.m.?
I will be at the Bibliotheque at my devoirs.
Et M. Hicquer?
Thine, M.C.

(c) Still trying to help his friend; still interested in "Charlotte":
Dear McCrae, -
Still in Purgatory. Syme wants a picture for the Christmas double number of the ILLUSTRATED NEWS. He is not satisfied with present design. I mentioned your name and he said he would be only too glad if you would do it. His idea at present is: a girl gathering wattle blossoms or some such things for Christmas decorations -- large double colored supplement.
Why not see him? Pay is good. "Charlotte" has got to the library. I will send her up the first time I am in town.
Truly yours,
Marcus Clarke.

(d) Through Clarke's influence, Ada Ward (then playing at the Melbourne Theare Royal) agreed to produce McCrae's drama: the piece went into rehearsal, but Miss Ward's elopement cancelled its performance:
Dear McCrae,--
Can you make an appointment to have a yarn? I don't care to call at the office on private business during office hours, after recently unfolding my mind to Mr. Hicks on the subject of his communication with the late Attorney-General.
I think that I can get "Charlotte Corday" played for you -- that is, if it is an acting play, and not a reading tragedy. You might bring it, but write first to name hour, as I might miss you.
Truly yours,
Marcus Clarke

First published in The Bulletin, 6 February 1929

Note: the second part of this essay wil be published next week.

Michael Duffy Interview

the_tower.jpgBack in July I posted about the serialisation of an abridged version of Michael Duffy's novel The Tower appearing in "The Sydney Morning Herald".  That novel has now been published and the author has been interviewed by Karen on the "AustCrime Fiction" weblog.

AUSTCRIME:  Good crime fiction seems always to address issues of social concern - no matter what period in history the books come from.  What issues do you think really should have a light shone on them?  Are there any particular issues you were trying to draw upon in THE TOWER?

MD: Globalisation (see above) and post-natal depression. When I decided to make Troy a pretty ordinary bloke in his early thirties, I looked around for a plausible reason why his life might become upset. Problems with marriage are pretty high on the list for many people at that age. In this case it's Anna's (his wife's) long-running post-natal depression and how it destroys the emotional and physical intimacy they once had, and how he finally responds to that.

AUSTCRIME:  Are you planning a next book featuring Troy and McIver?  What other characters do you see reoccuring from THE TOWER?

MD: I'd like to do a series in which Troy matures, which is something we don't see in a lot of crime series but which I think they're well suited for. I'd be very keen in a second book to get Susan Conti, a detective in The Tower, into the Homicide Squad where she will work closely with Troy. It was my original intention that she be a more major figure in this novel, but unfortunately it became too crowded.

Tom Keneally Watch #8

Review of Schindler's Ark

"The Guardian" has been running a series of reviews of past Booker winners and recently it became Keneally's turn.

Keneally doesn't flinch from this horror. He has, in fact, an eye for detail that will break your heart. A suitcase out of which tumble "gold teeth still smeared with blood". A 10-year-old girl who "carried her terror unsupportably, the way adults will, unable to climb on to a parental chest and transfer the fear." A female prisoner who provides weekly manicures for a camp commandant. These sessions resemble the ones that she used to give in the Hotel Cracovia before the war, right down to the polite small talk. The only major difference is that the commandant always sits with a loaded revolver at his elbow. One day she asks why it is there. "In case you ever nick me," he tells her.

I could pick out any number of similar brushstrokes that show the repulsive darkness of the Holocaust. But the triumph of this book is that it also shows the light in its masterful portrait of Oskar Schindler.


After he wrote Schindler's Ark in the 1980s, Keneally sold a lot of his papers associated with the novel to a dealer.  Those papers were subsequently acquired by the State Library of NSW in 1996.  Just recently, while working her way through all the papers in the six boxes, a researcher came across a copy of the actual 13-page list compiled by Schindler.

Keneally has been mischievously been suggesting that current Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull should join the Labor Party, citing Billy Hughes as a precedent.

It should be hardly surprising that Keneally has made the list of the top 100 Irish-Australians.  He's there alongside Ned Kelly, Redmond Barry, Les Darcy and Fanny Durack.

The author has recently appeared at the Salisbury Writers Festival discussing classes for writers, amongst other things, after previously appearing at the Byron Bay Writers' Festival discussing Jane Austen, and also about sport, writing and just about anything else he could think of.


Keneally was interviewed by Luke Slattry for "The Australian" nespaper.  I reported on that interview here

Morris Gleitzman Interview

Morris Gleitzman has just published a new novel, Grace, and is interviewed in "The Age" by Michael Lallo.

Belief is the theme of his latest novel, Grace, about an 11-year-old girl whose family is torn apart by a Christian cult. Gleitzman is no longer religious - he describes himself as a humanist now - but is at pains to state his book is not an ''anti-religion'' tale.

''I'd been thinking about that stage of life when we start to think a bit for ourselves and get a sense of how the world works,'' he says. ''What we took to be true - the immutable truths of our childhood, the opinions, attitudes and beliefs of our parents and other adults - we're maybe starting to question some of them. A lot of parents welcome this, but I think they're put on the spot a bit because their authority is being challenged.''

It's tempting to believe Grace was inspired by a certain Christian sect that has been in the news lately. But it's not. Rather, Gleitzman interviewed several former members ''from a range of fundamentalist communities'' and read many books and articles to better understand their experiences.

Melbourne Writers' Festival Reports #3

Angela Meyer tries something a bit different for a festival report.

Justine Larbalestier finds that she's being asked all the wrong questions by aspiring writers, but has come up with a good question in return.  

Sherryl Gwyther went along to hear Professor Alan Fels discuss the topic of parallel importation of books and quickly came to relaise that he was looking at the whole thing from a free-marketer's perspective.  

Dee White also attended the Parallel Importation panel and was a bit amazed no authors were invited to take part in the formal section.  Morris Gleitzman did ask a question from the floor.

Evie Wyld is writing for the Random House blog about the festival and confesses that she's never bene to Melbourne before.  Tsk tsk.

Bronwyn Parry dropped in to the Davitt Awards on Friday night and attended a few items at the festival but seems to have been on the publicity road for a while.

Andrew of the "Librarian Idol" weblog spent his time at the YA and childrens section of the program and writes about what he found there.

Estelle catches up with Jessa Crispin on the Melbourne Writers Festival blog.

Richard Newsome Interview

billionaires_curse.jpgFirst time author Richard Newsome, winner of the 2008 Text Prize for Young Adult and Children's Writing for his book The Billionaire's Curse, is interviewed by Fiona Purdon for "The Courier-Mail".

The Billionaire's Curse started more than a decade ago as a bedtime story Newsome developed for [his children] Sam and Ruby. To help him remember the ever-expanding plot Newsome started writing down the events and the book slowly evolved.

For eight years the author "fluffed around" writing "bits and pieces" and then three years ago the family, who had been living in Sydney, moved to Brisbane and Newsome quit his high-flying career in the media to write full time.

His wife Kath worked in public relations full-time and Newsome gave himself two years to write and polish the manuscript. In between school pick-ups and drop-offs and household chores Newsome would churn out about 1500 words a day.

Once he finished the manuscript he gave himself a year to get it published. He sent it to about 15 British agents and was rejected by all of them.

"The rejections all came back at the same time, every day I would go to the post box at the same time and see a rejection slip, it was very depressing," he says.

Reprints: The Banning of Redheap by Norman Lindsay

Novel by Mr. N. Lindsay: Request for Banning

''I have not read the criticism referred to of a novel by Mr. Norman Lindsay entitled 'Redheap,' and I am therefore unable to express an opinion on it," said the Minister for Public Works (Mr. Jones) in the Legislative Council yesterday, in reply to Mr. Richardson, who asked whether the State Ministry would request the Commonwealth authorities to ban the book. "The question of the banning of a book," added Mr. Jones, "appears to be a Commonwealth and not a State matter."

Mr. Richardson. - I take it that you mean to do nothing.

Mr. Jones. - You would not ask me to form an opinion of a book from a criticism. If the book comes under my notice I shall read it. The author is an old personal friend of mine.

First published in The Argus, 17 April 1930

"Redheap" Banned: Mr. Norman Lindsay's Novel

CANBERRA, Wednesday - The entry into Australia of Mr Norman Lindsay's novel, "Redheap," has been prohibited on the grounds that passages in the book are indecent or obscene. The announcement was made in the House of Representatives to-day by the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Forde), in reply to Mr. Keane (V), who asked whether Mr. Forde was aware that the novel contained serious reflections on the morality of a certain country community in Victoria.

"This book has had very careful consideration," added Mr. Forde. "Although at first sight it was a book against which strong objection could be raised, it was recognised that it was the work of an Australian author, and there was admittedly the greatest reluctance to ban an Australian book unless such a course was absolutely necessary."

Mr. Forde said that in the opinion of the three responsible officers of the Trade and Customs department, who read the book, and whose duty it was to make a recommendation to him, the book came within the meaning of "blasphemous, indecent, or obscene works or articles," and its importation must be prohibited. After reading the book and considering the opinions of the officers of his department and of the Commonwealth Solicitor-General, he agreed that the importation of the novel in its present form must be prohibited.

First published in The Argus, 22 May 1930

Banning of "Redheap": Trades Hall Protest.

The banning of certain books and publications by the Customs department led to a discussion at a meeting of the Trades Hall Council last night, when a protest was made against the suppression by the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Forde) of Norman Lindsay's novel "Redheap."

The following motion was agreed to -

"That this council believes that any ban on literature is a retrograde step, and endorses the principle that all books freely circulating in England should be admitted into Australia, and that this decision be conveyed to the Federal Cabinet for its endorsement."

First published in The Argus, 23 May 1930

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

According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography: "In April 1930 Faber, London, published [Lindsay's] novel Redheap, based on life at Creswick during his boyhood. In May the government prohibited the book entering Australia --16,000 copies had to be shipped back to London. The ban remained until the late 1950s, although the book was readily available in England, and in the United States of America under the title Every Mother's Son (1930). An Australian edition was not published until 1959."

Melbourne Writers' Festival Reports #2

The "Australian Dark Fiction" weblog has listed all the sessions with a possible interest for Australian Horror Writers Association.  There are a lot of them.

The "Jabberwocky" weblog reports on Bernard Schlink's opening address from last Friday. As did Kathryn Daley, who also went along to see Raimond Gaita, Alice Pung, Steven Carroll and Antoni Jach, and David Kilcullen with Julian Burnside.  "The Nuke Strategy Wonk" weblog was there as well for the Kilcullen/Burnside session.

"Rough Review" weblog was interested in YA writers Kate de Goldi and Archie Fusillo.

Rather than sitting in the audience, Anthony Eaton sat on a panel with Margo Lanagan and seems to have had a good time.

Angela Slater made a flying visit to the festival for the weekend, saw lots of good stuff and caught up with some old friends.

The "Readings" weblog reports on a number of ex-RMIT writing students who are appearing at MWF, and also lists the bestselling books at the festival.

"The Age" newspaper's Jason Steger reported on panels looking at "the question of the relationship between fiction and history and the dynamics therein."  And Francis Atkinson from the same paper went along to hear Scott Westerfeld and China Mieville discuss their work, YA and science fiction.

Berlin-based litblogger Jessa Crispin had trouble deciding on a book to bring to Australia and immediately regretted not bringing the book she first thought of.  To compensate she raided a local bookshop, which I've always thought of as being excellent therapy.

2009 Text Prize for Young Adult and Children's Writing Winner

Yesterday I posted about the 2009 Text Prize for Young Adult and Children's Writing shortlist and today here's the winner:  Leanne Hall for her manuscript This is Shyness.

Text Publishing has the official announcement and Readings has a photo of Hall with last year's winner, Richard Newsome, in their Carlton store. 


2009 Queensland Premier's Literary Awards Shortlists

The shorlists for the 2009 Queensland Premier's Literary Awards have been announced

Fiction Book Award

Wanting by Richard Flanagan, Random House Australia (Knopf)
The Lieutenant
by Kate Grenville,Text Publishing
The Boat by Nam Le, Penguin Group (Australia)
Ransom by David Malouf, Random House Australia (Knopf)
The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, Allen & Unwin

Non-Fiction Book Award

Gough Whitlam
by Jenny Hocking, Melbourne University Publishing
The Tall Man: Death and Life on Palm Island
by Chloe Hooper, Penguin Group (Australia)
Lives of the Papunya Tula Artists
by Vivien Johnson, IAD Press
Shadowed Days
by Garry Kinnane, Clouds of Magellan
Manning Clark: A Life
by Brian Matthews, Allen & Unwin

Emerging Queensland Author - Manuscript Award

Bone Mother
by Pamela S. Douglas
The Knock Knock
by Rachel Rutter
Off the Grid
by Inga Simpson
Young Liars and Other Stories
by Chris Somerville

Unpublished Indigenous Writer - Arts Queensland David Unaipon Award

Which Way? by John Davis
Aprons and Stock-whips by Alfa Emily Geiszler and Maryann Lazarus
Magpies by Jeanine Leane
Only a Bridge by Ngitji Ngitji Mona Tur
The Boundary by Nicole Watson

Film Script - Pacific Film and Television Commission Award

Cedar Boys by Serhat Caradee, Cedar Boys Pty Ltd
Mary and Max by Adam Elliot, Melodrama Pictures Pty Ltd
The Last Ride by Mac Gudgeon, Last Ride Pty Ltd
Mao's Last Dancer by Jan Sardi, Last Dancer Pty Ltd

Television Script - QUT Creative Industries Award

False Witness by Peter Gawler, Screentime Pty Ltd
K9 - Regeneration - Episode 1 by Shane Krause and Shayne Armstrong, Metal Mutt Productions Pty Ltd
East West 101 - Just Cargo - Episode 9 by Michelle Offen, Knapman Wyld Television Pty Ltd
Underbelly - A Tale of Two Cities - Judas Kiss - Episode 9 by Felicity Packard, Screentime Pty Ltd
My Place - 1978 - Mike by Nicholas Parsons, Chapman Pictures Pty Ltd

Drama Script (Stage) Award

Realism by Paul Galloway, Currency Press
Frankenstein by Lally Katz
The Great by Tony McNamara, Currency Press
The Modern International Dead by Damien Millar, Currency Press
The Messenger: The Play by Ross Mueller, Currency Press

Poetry Collection - Arts Queensland Judith Wright Calanthe Award

Aria by Sarah Holland-Batt, University of Queensland Press
The Striped World by Emma Jones, Faber and Faber
Divine Comedy: Journeys Through a Regional Geography by John Kinsella, University of Queensland Press
The Other Way Out by Bronwyn Lea, Giramondo Publishing

Australian Short Story Collection - Arts Queensland Steele Rudd Award

Her Father's Daughter by John Clanchy, University of Queensland Press
The Rip by Robert Drewe, Penguin Group (Australia)
The Bird in the Egg and Other Stories by Steve Holden, Ginninderra Press
The Boat by Nam Le, Penguin Group (Australia)

Children's Book - Mary Ryan's Award

Possum and Wattle: My Big Book of Australian Words by Bronwyn Bancroft, Little Hare Books
Little Blue by Gaye Chapman, Little Hare Books
The Camel Who Crossed Australia by Jackie French, HarperCollins Publishers Australia
Darius Bell and the Glitter Pool by Odo Hirsch, Allen & Unwin
Pearl Verses the World by Sally Murphy and Heather Potter, Walker Books Australia

Young Adult Book Award

Into White Silence
by Anthony Eaton, Random House Australia
The Beginner's Guide to Living
by Lia Hills, Text Publishing
Sprite Downberry
by Nette Hilton, HarperCollins Publishers Australia
My Candlelight Novel
by Joanne Horniman, Allen & Unwin
A Small Free Kiss in the Dark
by Glenda Millard, Allen & Unwin

Science Writer Award

Small Wonders: how microbes rule our world by Idan Ben-Barak, Scribe Publications
Pasteur's Gambit: Louis Pasteur, The Australasian Rabbit Plague and a Ten Million Dollar Prize by Stephen Dando-Collins, Random House Australia (Vintage)
Darwin's Armada
by Iain McCalman, Penguin Group (Australia)
Evolution's Edge: The Coming Collapse and Transformation of our World by Graeme Taylor, New Society Publishers
Hendra and the bats by Ian Townsend, ABC Radio National

History Book - Faculty of Arts, University of Queensland Award

The Collectors of Lost Souls: Turning Kuru Scientists into Whitemen by Warwick Anderson, The Johns Hopkins University Press
Churchill and Australia by Graham Freudenberg, Pan Macmillan Australia
Travels in Atomic Sunshine by Robin Gerster, Scribe Publications
Darwin's Armada by Iain McCalman, Penguin Group (Australia)
Stella Miles Franklin by Jill Roe, HarperCollins Publishers Australia

Literary or Media Work Advancing Public Debate - The Harry Williams Award

The Drugs Scourge by Michael Crutcher and Matthew Fynes-Clinton, "The Courier-Mail"
Code of Silence by Sarah Ferguson, ABC Four Corners
The Tall Man: Death and Life on Palm Island by Chloe Hooper, Penguin Group (Australia)
Quarterly Essay - Last Drinks: The Impact of the Northern Territory Intervention by Paul Toohey, Black Inc
Crisis for Children by Ian Townsend, ABC Radio National

The winners will be announced at the State Library of Queensland on Tuesday 8th September.

Australian Bookcovers #174 - Picnic Races by Dymphna Cusack


Picnic Races by Dymphna Cusack, 1962

Wrapper design by C.A.M. Thale

(Heinemann edition 1962)

2009 Davitt Award Winners

The winners of the 2009 Davitt Awards were announced in Melbourne on August 21st. "The Davitt Awards (named in honour of Ellen Davitt (1812-1879) who wrote Australia's first mystery novel, Force and Fraud in 1865) are presented by the Sisters in Crime Australia association. The awards are presented for Australian crime fiction, by women, for both adults and young adults."


Chloe Hooper, The Tall Man (Penguin Books Australia)


Catherine Jinks, Genius Squad (Allen & Unwin)


Malla Nunn, A Beautiful Place to Die (PanMacmillan)


Katherine Howell, The Darkest Hour (PanMacmillan)

[Thanks to the AustCrimeFiction weblog for the details.]

2009 Text Prize for Young Adult and Children's Writing Shortlist

Back in June I posted about the Text Prize for Young Adult and Children's Writing sponsored and run by Text Publishing in Melbourne.

What I missed last week was the announcement of the shortlisted works:

Concentrate, The Brothers Groth

This is Shyness, Leanne Hall

Wildfire, Joanne Schoenwald

I Ran Away First, Nicole Trope

The winner was due to be announced yesterday at the Melbourne Writers' Festival.

Melbourne Writers' Festival Reports #1


The Melbourne Writers' Festival has been running for three days now and the blog reports are coming in thick and fast.  Much more so than last year I think.

Lisa Hill, of the "ANZ LitLovers LitBlog" started her festival on Saturday wandering along to see the Andrea Goldsmith interview, and then Kate Grenville and Ann Michaels.  Lisa also rounds out her reports by commenting on the venue and giving details of what she bought at the book stalls.  This is an engaging technique which gets the reader involved in Lisa's day - even down to the rissotto at Young and Jackson's. 

Lisa backed up on Sunday with a full non-fiction day: Margaret Simons and Jeff Sparrow on the media, Les Carlyon and Antony Beevor on history as narrative, and then Biography and Autobiography, which seems to have had a rather male-dominated panel.

"Speakeasy", the Australian Writers' Marketplace blog, went along to hear Penguin publisher Robert Sessions speak for an hour, and wished it had been two.

Stephanie Campisi  found herself feeling like a dullard for asking "an extremely circumspect (although not intentionally) question" to China Mieville, who responded politely.  Stephanie saw him again at the post-session signing and seemed to straighten it out.

Kelly Gardiner asks the right questions - why do they let people ask long, boring questions in author sessions?

Angela Meyer has been, seemingly, running flat-out since the first party, the Grenville and Michaels session, Mieville and Lanagan, and the Sparrow and Simons session.  Don't worry that you're getting multiple viewpoints on the same festival sessions.  That's part of the fun and interest.  Everyone looks at things slightly differently.

Jo Case from Readings attended the Ian Buruma alternate keynote address and came away with "the impression that he's one of the most sensible speakers I've heard in a long while."  Buruma's speech was featured on this morning's ABC radio "Book Show".

And, of course, we can't go past the reports by Estelle and Frenchelbow on the Melbourne Writers' Festival weblog.

I know it's hard, but do try to keep up.

2009 Age Book of the Year Award Winners

The winners of "The Age" Book of the Year Awards were announced at the Melbourne Writers' Festival opening event on Friday 21st August.

The winners were:


Things We Didn't See Coming - Steven Amsterdam (Sleepers)


Down to the Crossroads: On the Trail of the 2008 US Election - Guy Rundle (Penguin)


Better than God - Peter Porter (Picador)

Steven Amsterdam also won Book of the Year, which is basically the best of the best.  Last weekend I heard that the publishers of Things We Didn't See Coming were rather over-the-moon about the novel's shortlisting.   They may not draw a sober breath for a week after this win.  And good luck to them.  For a small press to pick up a major award such as this with their first published novel says a lot about their publishing nous. 

Poem: The Poet's Visitors by P. Luftig (Peter Airey)

Kling-ling-ling-ling! They'll be breaking
   That poor bell-rope clean in two.
Would to Heav'n the Deuce were taking
   All the noisy, ringing crew!

"Boy! Who makes that row appalling?"
   "Sir, an ancient, dowdy dame,
Wrinkled, crinkled, comes a-calling;
   Wisdom is the lady's name."
"Boy! To sober statesmen send her
   Or to sages grey" (I said)
"They may possibly attend her --
   As for me -- I'm sick in bed."

"Boy, who's there?" "A frowsy, frigid,
   Rusty-dress-enveloped dame,
With an aspect stern and rigid --
   Madame Frugal is her name."
"Tell her that I'm not at leisure:
   She would bid me scrape and save;
Songs and flowers are all my treasure --
   Songs and flowers are all I crave."

"Boy! who's there?" "A young and slender
   Smiling dashing sort of dame,
Blest with eyes of bluest splendor,
   Freedom is the lady's name."
"Let her in! But, stay -- the darling
   Seems to chirp and chatter so --"
"Sir -- she's loud as any starling."
   "Starling? -- Thunder! Let her go!"

"Boy! Who's there?" "A damsel jolly,
   Gay of dress and light of mien,
Laughs and says her name is Folly --"
   "Folly, boy -- the Poet's Queen!
Bid her go, thou blockhead? Never!
   For where'er the poets roam,
Folly's faithful subjects ever,
   When she calls we're always home."

First published in The Bulletin, 3 March 1900

2009 Children's Book Council of Australia Awards Winners

The winners of the 2009 Children's Book Council of Australia Awards have been announced.  You can read the full shortlists here

Book of the Year - Older Readers
Tales from Outer Suburbia, Shaun Tan (Allen & Unwin)

Honour books:

Into White Silence, Anthony Eaton (Woolshed Press, Random House Australia)
A Rose for the Anzac Boys, Jackie French (HarperCollinsPublishers)

Book of the Year - Younger Readers
Perry Angel's Suitcase, Glenda Millard and illus. Stephen Michael King (ABC Books)

Honour books:

The Wish Pony, Catherine Bateson (Random House Australia)
Then, Morris Gleitzman (Viking, Penguin Group Australia)

Book of the Year - Early Childhood
How to Heal a Broken Wing, Bob Graham (Walker Books)

Honour books:
Leaf, Stephen Michael King (Scholastic Australia)
Tom Tom, Rosemary Sullivan and illus. Dee Huxley (Working Title Press)

Book of the Year - Picture Book
Collecting Colour, Kylie Dunstan (Lothian Children's Books, Hachette)

Honour books:

Home and Away Matt Ottley and text John Marsden (Lothian Children's Books, Hachette)
The Big Little Book of Happy Sadness, Colin Thompson (Random House Australia)

Book of the Year - Eve Pownall Award for Information Books
Alive in the Death Zone, Lincoln Hall (Random House Australia)

Honour books:

The Word Spy, Ursula Dubosarsky and illus.Tohby Riddle (Viking, Penguin Group Australia)
Simpson and his Donkey, Mark Greenwood and illus. Frane Lessac (Walker Books)

Two Hearts

Sophie Cunningham of the "Meanjin" blog and Estelle of "3000 Books" were both at the Aireys Inlet Festival of Words and seemed to have a good time.  Sophie's central thought about the festival rings true: "...I sold a lot of copies of my book and was struck, once again, about how much more effective these small festivals are at selling books, and by how many of the audience had read the authors appearing over the weekend, in preparation for hearing them."

The Melbourne Writers' Festival blog has kicked off with intros by Estelle of "3000 Books", Frenchelbow, Louise (Festival Administrator), Nina (Development Manager), Helenka (Festival Manager), and Jane (Volunteer Co-ordinator).  I wonder what the difference is between a Manager and an Administrator.

This isn't Australian but Australian writers certainly need to know about it, and rejoice at the news.   [Thanks to Lee Goldberg for the link.] 

I normally follow a whole raft of weblogs - Australian and international - using the RSS reader Bloglines.  Somehow or other, over the past month, Justine Larbalestier's weblog has stopped appearing, so I've missed a lot of the discussions about her latest book and the problems associated with the US edition cover.  In a nutshell, Larbalestier's novel Liar features a protagonist "Micah [who] is black with nappy hair which she wears natural and short."  The proposed US cover featured a white girl with long straight hair.  The author was rather annoyed with that decision and said so loudly.  Now it appears that the US publishers have relented and Larbalestier is very pleased with the result.

Reprint: A Literary Group: Melbourne 60 Years Ago by Nettie Palmer

It is a wise child, they say, that knows its own father. There are signs that literary Melbourne to-day is getting wisdom and discoveiing its forefathers. In the 'sixties and 'seventies there lived a number of writers with more unity than any in Melbourne since then. After having been forgotten among us for many years these writers are now once more in the forefront of our minds. The work that several of them did was never published in book form, but there were others who provided us with the beginnings of our permanent work. Writers of fugitive or permanent type, they met together, with a shared enthusiasm, and to look back at their period is to be invigorated by the spectacle. It is becoming more possible to look back. Within recent years there have been complete volumes of Kendall and Gordon, and quite lately the original and very long version of Clarke's "Term of His Natural Life'' has appeared in a book as heavy as a dierctory. Again, two years ago there was a revival of interest in the poet R. H. Horne, called "Onion" Horne in honour of his chief epic poem, of which there was an Australian edition. Others in the group were journalists who had significance in their time, and who did their part in recognising letters as a craft. Such men Gordon had in mind when transposing his own experience he wrote "The Sick Stockrider":-

Even the yarns Jack Hall invented, and the songs Jem Roper sung:
-And where are now Jem Roper and Jack Hall?
George Gordon McCrae.

Some day a solidly imaginative history may be written round this group of 1870 or so, and if it succeeds in including not only those four names of well-known writers, but also some that were, for all their human significance, ephemeral, this success will partly be due to the attentiveness of another distinguished writer and onlooker of the day, George Gordon McCrae. Round about 1870 McCrae, a civil servant, was working on a poem of his own, "The Man in the Iron Mask," but he was in touch with the other writers and following their fortunes. Looking back those figures seem to us to be as firmly established as milestones, which for us they are. In their own eyes, though, they were as frail as sea-foam - they had no hold on life at all. It was because of a desire to give some continuity and steadiness to literary life in Melbourne that the Yorick Club had been formed in 1868, with Marcus Clarke, then aged only 23, as secretary. The club attracted anyone who wrote. It soon included Gordon, and later Kendall. Horne had, I think, by this time returned to England after 17 years in Australia, but his personality still lingered in men's minds, and McCrae particularly kept in touch with him.

Here you had, then, the Yorick Club of Melbourne. Marcus Clarke had by now been several years in Melbourne. Beginning as a bank clerk he had found that his arithmetic was too imaginative, too merely suggestive, to yield to the exact results required by a stern directorate. His talents pointed to journalism. Here again he was to be horrified by a demand for some degree of literalness. Writing brilliantly enough as theatrical reporter for "The Argus," "he one night took it upon himself to criticise a performance which, owing to the indisposition of the chief performer, did not come off." He found himself no longer on the staff, but he continued as a contributor, writing also as the "Peripatetic Philosopher" for "The Australasian." Versatile, precocious, brilliant, he ran a satirical journal, "Humbug," in 1869, gathering together the best wits of the day and evoking what otherwise would have remained unwritten. Kendall was with him in this to some extent, but when it broke down - and it could not last long - Kendall went to Sydney, and Clarke made his famous journey to Southern Tasmania, gathering material and impressions for his gigantic serial that was to run - or rather to hop intermittently - through the "Australian Journal" soon after.

Kendall, Gordon, and Clarke.

As for Gordon he came and went. A note, he wrote to Clarke in Melbourne has been often quoted:-

Yorick Club.
Dear Clarke. - Scott's Hotel, not later than 9.30 sharp. Moore will be there. Riddock and Lyon, Baker and the Powers, beside us; so if "the Old One" were to cast a net - eh? - Yours,

It is Improbable that their wickedness consisted of anything worse than poverty. In nouveau riche Melbourne of 1870, though,poverty was peculiarly unbearable. Writers, moreover, were not, resigned to it. They actually expected to make a living as wriiters. In later periods that expectation, in our commercial civilisation, has almost always been abandoned. Poets have made their living at anything else, from shopkeeping to teaching or politics, and have done their real work, their life-work, in what time they could call their own. To this attitude Kendall, Gordon, and Clarke were not resigned. Undeterred by the record of Poe's treatment in America, they were astonished, as Kendall put it, by

the lot austere
That waits the man of letters here.
Before the end of 1870 Gordon was to declare his assets at 1/ and put a bullet through his brain. Kendall died some years later exhausted by the struggle. Clarke, barely 35, died in 1880, his death being directly due to a succession of financial troubles, not wholly his own, with which he ought never to have been burdened. The fact is that the literary group had not recognised the nature of the plutocracy in which it lived. Money was to them an unnecessary evil, a matter for jest or for despair. When it was a jest, they formed a new club, the Cave of Adullam; "to this only a very select body of members was admitted, the selectness in this case necessitating that a member should be happily impecunious, and, if possible, be hunted by the myrmidons of the law.'' When it was not a jest - well, we can follow the actual brief lives, and the deaths, of Gordon, Kendall, and Clarke.

Such were our literary "fathers." ln a sense they died leaving no posterity; we have begun again on another footing, both financial and literary. Yet if they were alive to-day some of their phrases, some of their liveliest hopes, would be our own; and the world they lived in was this Melbourne that we know.

First published in The Argus, 31 May 1930

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

The subject matter of "Are You the Cove?" by Joseph Furphy is probably about as slight as you can get.  The poem relates the encounter between a swagman and a squatter, and centres around a conversation in which the swaggie tries to figure out if the squatter is the right person to speak to regarding a place to sleep for the night.

It's not one that I could relate to at all until I looked up the meaning of the word "cove" in The Macquarie Dictionary of Australian Colloquialisms (1984).  The word is defined there as "1. a man; 2. a boss, especially the manager of a sheep station", the second definition of which I had never come across before.  So the swagman is attempting to ascertain if the squatter is the station manager; presumably he might then be able to ask permission to "doss" for the night.  If you wanted to stretch the point you could argue that the poem details the strained and suspicious relationship between squatters and men of the road, but it still comes across as a bit thin to me.

Joseph Furphy is a strange choice for a collection of this sort.  He is mainly known as the author of Such is Life under the pseudonym of "Tom Collins".  His poetry career was rather short and Austlit only lists some 28 poems under his name, which leads me to thhink this might be a favourite of the editor's.

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

Author bio: Australian Dictionary of Biography 

There are also a number of posts on this weblog regarding Furphy, his poetry and his life, which can be found here.

Publishing history:  First published in The Poems of Joseph Furphy (1916) which was edited by Kate Baker and included a foreword by Bernard O'Dowd.  The volume, containing only 26 works in 56 pp, appeared four years after the writer's death in 1912.  If it was published during Furphy's lifetime I can find no record of it.

Next five poems in the book:

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

"The Wail of the Waiter" by Marcus Clarke

"Where the Pelican Builds" by Mary Hannay Foott

"Catching the Coach" by Alfred T. Chandler ("Spinifex")

"Narcissus and Some Tadpoles" by Victor Daley

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.

2009 John Button Prize Shortlist

The shortlisted works for the 2009 John Button Prize have been announced

Those works are:

Chloe Hooper: The Tall Man -- Death and Life on Palm Island (Penguin)
Marcia Langton: "The end of `big men' politics" (Griffith Review)
Margot O'Neill: Blind Conscience (UNSW Press)
Geoffrey Robertson: The Statute of Liberty -- How Australians can take back their rights (Vintage Books)
Galarrwuy Yunupingu: "Tradition, Truth and Tomorrow" (The Monthly)

The full longlist can be found here.

The John Button Prize, "created in memory of the late Industry Minister, Senator and writer, awards $20,000 to the best piece of non-fiction writing on politics or public policy in the previous 12 months."


The CAL Scribe Fiction prize

At the other end of the age scale from the John Marsden Prize is the CAL Scribe Fiction Prize, which is sponsored by Scribe Publications and the CAL Cultural Fund. The prize will be awarded to "an unpublished manuscript by an Australian writer over 35. The winner will receive $12,000 and a book contract from Scribe. We are now accepting submissions: the prize is open to any writer over 35, who may or may not have been published before."  Entries close on 15 October, and the word count is 40,000 to 120,000 words.

Sort of an anti-"Australian"/Vogel Award, I guess.

2009 John Marsden Prize for Young Australian Writers


George Dunford has written to let me know about the 2009 John Mardsen Prize for Young Writers that is run by "Express Media". According to the website:

Poetry and short story winners under 18 will receive $500 each. 18-24 year olds in first place will gain $2500 for short story and $1000 for poetry.

All first place winners will be printed in the December issue of Voiceworks.
Second and third place winners, and those with honourable mention will be published on the Express Media website.

Entry is now free for all applicants under 18.
And for 18 -24 year olds, the $10 entry fee includes free Express Media Membership plus an exclusive monthly newsletter on events, grants and competitions.

Entries close 5pm Friday 28th August, 2009.

Entry forms are available on the website as well.

Reprint: Book Censorship: Minister Rejects Requests

The Minister for Customs. (Mr. White) yesterday declined to accept a suggestion made by a deputation from the Workers' Education Association that he should present a return to Parliament detailing the list of books banned in the Commonwealth.

Mr. White said this would give undeserved prominence to these books. The percentage of books retained by the department was very small indeed but extraordinary publicity was given to those which were held up even temporarily.

Urging relaxation of the regulations governing censorship of literature, Mr. George Fitzpatrick, who represented the W.E.A., requested the Minister to give consideration to the practicability of appointing a committee representing the booksellers, book buyers and the university of some other cultural body, and that where censorship was considered necessary, it should be done through the courts as, was the English custom, and not by arbitrary action.

Mr. Fitzpatrick said that three copies of "Britain and the Soviets" and one of ''China's Red Army Marches," had been seized. The copy of the latter had been withheld for a couple of months, although the book was obtainable from booksellers by the public. He pointed out that the association was a non-profit making body and the holding up of books had a serious effect on sales.

The Minister said there was much misconception regarding censorship. Some delay was unavoidable but an alternative system such as that suggested by Mr. Fitzpatrick, involving committees in various States, would mean longer delay, even if effective. One authority to decide whether certain literature was indecent or seditious was preferable to action in six States.

Regarding seditious literature, the Minister said that there could be little objection to the liberal view taken by the Attorney-General's Department whereby only, books which advocated and incited civil war within Australia were excluded. In special cases, where universities or bona fide students made special application, permission was given to release books which came within the terms of prohibition. Protests against prohibition were frequently premature and were, due to misunderstandings.

First published in The Canberra Times, 26 September 1936

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

2009 Indie Award

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The Independent Bookshops in Australia make the Indie Awards each year.  As the website says:

Now in its second year, The Indie Book Award is all about Australian independent booksellers showing the strength of their support for Australian authors and celebrating the very best of Australian writing.

Panels of expert judges (all avid readers and indie booksellers) choose winners in the four categories. These four category winners form the shortlist and independent booksellers from across the country then vote to select the best of the best - the top-polling book will be announced as The Indie Book of the Year for 2009. The author of the winning book will receive prize money of $15,000.

The four category winners have now been anounced as follows:

Fiction - Jasper Jones, by Craig Silvey
Debut Fiction - The Virtuoso by Sonia Orchard
Non-Fiction - The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper
Children's Book - Pearl Verses the World by Sally Murphy, illustrated by Heather Potter

The Indie Book of the Year winner will be announced on Monday, September 28

Australian Bookcovers #173 - Heatwave in Berlin by Dymphna Cusack


Heatwave in Berlin by Dymphna Cusack, 1961

(Pan edition 1963)

Litblogs in "The Big Issue"

George Dunford, who blogs at Hackpacker, has a piece in the latest edition of "The Big Issue" titled "Click Lit".  It is based on a couple of interviews George undertook with Sydney-based author James Bradley and me - and I never cease to be amazed at how much better everyone else sounds.  I do refer to Jessa Crispin as "the queen of lit-blogs", which, even on reflection, is still right. 

Andrew Croome Interview

Andrew Croome's novel, Document Z, won last year's "Australian"/Vogel Award and has now been published by Allen & Unwin.  The book tells the story of the Petrov Affair, the defection of a couple of Soviet agents in Australia in the 1950s. The author is interviewed by Madeline Healy for "The Courier-Mail" who finds he discovered a lot of material in the national archives.

A royal commission was ordered by Menzies and the documents, which were never publicly released, were alleged to provide evidence of an extensive Soviet spy ring in Australia.

"You go through those archives in Canberra," Croome says, "and end up finding the most amazing documents. There are newspaper articles of anything reported at the time, lists of objects in houses because ASIO had rented safe houses, and even diaries of every moment of Petrov on certain days.

"I found it all fascinating. Getting closer and closer to the original files made me realise it was a great story. I came across a person called B2 who is mentioned in the book - and that's how he was mentioned in the files."

Croome says the files revealed spy codes and ASIO monitoring activities in the 1950s.

"There is a whole lot of spy talk in the files such as 'shadowing operations' and 'reliable citizens'.

"There were code names everywhere and it was great to read all of that."

Poem: The Drovers in Reply by Edward Dyson

We are wondering why those fellows who are writing cheerful ditties
Of the rosy times out droving, and the dust and death of cities,
Do not leave the dreary office, ask a drover for a billet,
And enjoy 'the views,' 'the campfires,' and 'the freedom' while they fill it.

If it's fun to travel cattle or to picnic with merinoes,
Well the drover doesn't see it--few poetic raptures he knows.
As for sleeping on the plains beneath 'the pale moon' always seen there,
That is most appreciated by the man who's never been there.

And the 'balmy air,' the horses, and the 'wondrous constellations,'
The 'possum-rugs, and billies, and the tough and musty rations,
It's strange they only please the swell in urban streets residing,
Where the trams are always handy if he has a taste for riding.

We have travelled far with cattle for the very best of reasons--
For a living--we've gone droving in all latitudes and seasons,
But have never had a mate content with pleasures of this kidney,
And who wouldn't change his blisses for a flutter down in Sydney.

Night watches are delightful when the stars are really splendid
To the sentimental stranger, but his joy is quickly ended
When the rain comes down in sluice-heads, or the cutting hailstones pelter,
And the sheep drift with the blizzard, and the horses bolt for shelter.

Don't imagine we are soured, but it's peculiarly annoying
To be told by city writers of the pleasures we're enjoying,
When perhaps we've nothing better than some fluky water handy,
Whilst the scribes in showy bar-rooms take iced seltzer with their brandy.

The dust in town is nothing to the dust the drover curses,
And the dust a drover swallows, and the awful thirst he nurses
When he's on the hard macadam, where the wethers cannot browse, and
The sirocco drives right at him, and he follows twenty thousand.

This droving on the plain is really charming when the weather
Isn't hot enough to curl the soles right off your upper leather,
Or so cold that when the morning wind comes hissing through the grasses
You can feel it cut your eyelids like a whip-lash as it passes.

There are bull-ants in the blankets, wicked horses cramps, and 'skeeters,'
And a drinking boss like Halligan, or one like Humpy Peters,
Who is mean about the rations, and a flowing stream of curses
From the break of day to camping, through good fortune and reverses.

Yes, we wonder why the fellows who are building chipper ditties
Of the rosy times out droving and the dust and death of cities,
Do not quit the stuffy office, ask old Peters for a billet,
And enjoy the stars, the camp-fires, and the freedom while they fill it.

First published in Rhymes from the Mines and Other Lines 1896

Combined Reviews: The Shallow End by Ashley Sievwright

shallow_end.jpg Reviews of The Shallow End
Ashley Sievwright
Clouds of Magellan

[This novel was shortlisted for the Best First Book award in the South East Asia and Pacific region of the 2009 Commonwealth Writers' Prize.]

From the publisher's page:

It was one of the most perfect days, only just warm enough, an ever so slight breeze I could see in the hairs on my arm and in the flutter of the flags across each end of the pool but couldn't feel. It must have been the exact temperature of my blood.'

On a cloudless afternoon, a man dives into a crowded swimming pool and disappears. Is it murder, a staged disappearance or alien abduction?

The Shallow End -- a steady freestyle commentary on sex, celebrity and suntanning.


Lou Swinn on 3RRR: "Ashley Sievwright is a really entertaining writer and this book is super easy to read. It's an internal story as much as anything, about loss and blame and guilt, and how people can pass in and out of other people's lives. There is plenty of philosophising on the ways that people communicate, and on how we point the blame, and about the way society operates...Sievwright has a nice way of putting things, and he builds this drama quietly and subtly, towards an interesting conclusion."

Diane Stubbings in "The Canberra Times": "The Shallow End offers a sharply amusing, often acerbic commentary on contemporary Australia, particularly in terms of the debilitating relationship that has developed between society and the media, a lack of critical engagement on one side and the veneration of the lowest common denominator on the other, working to the detriment of both."

Richard Watts in "Canvas" magazine.
Scott Abrahams in "Southern Star".

Reprint: Australia and Men He Sang

Australians to-day are fighting on the other side of the world with songs on their lips redolent of the Australian bush and that cheery optimism that its bushmen breathed from the early days of British settlement in this land, but the songster is dead. Andrew Barton Paterson's life ebbed to its close in Sydney this week, but the verses of "Banjo"' Paterson will continue to live because they pulsate with an essentially Australian vitality and their fresh originality leaves them undated. We do not know whether this celebrated Australian poet died well endowed in this world's goods, indeed, we would be surprised if any Australian poet had received such material recognition in his generation, but he has enriched and stimulated the lives of millions of his countrymen and has bequeathed to them a legacy and cheerfulness that will be the prize of generations yet unborn.

It is too often the fashion of the literati to despise the poet who achieves popular fame and to see little poetic merit in verses which are on everybody's lips. This common tailing of our university products, who too often also are blind to merit in aught that arouses Australian national fervour, would be particularly astray in its customary attitude if applied to the works of "Banjo" Patterson. There was about them a lightness that their lilt enhanced, but as the lines raced over the open "countryside, raced fie and braved flood, leaped fences and swam billabongs, they carried true poetry in word and phrase, in thought and expression. The Stockman and the swagman, the shearer and the squatter, the men of the outback who blazed the trail and made the present greatness of this country possible - these are the figures which flit merrily through his writings. They were also very largely the subjects that Henry Lawson also revelled in, but whereas Lawson's work was often imbued with a sadness that was perhaps characteristic of Lawson himself, indomitable laughter rang out of Paterson's men and women. They left their troubles behind them as his riders left their fences, by taking them in long, lofty strides. So, the spirit of Paterson's verse has come to be an attitude of life characteristic of the Australian wno has almost adopted "Waltzing Matilda" as a national anthem. He sang of Australians whose dress has changed and whose manner of transport is faster to-day than in the last two generations, but their spirit is the same, That spirit which Paterson saw in the Australians as war correspondent in the Boer War has been intensified in the Great War and flowers to-day again as the Australians take the brunt of the attack in the battles over African sands. The shearer who once tramped the dusty roads with a bluey on his back may to-day travel with his mates in a motor car, but within his breast his heart beats like that of the inconsequential Clancy. For every type that Paterson portrayed, mode of life has undergone inevitable change, but they are Australians and their Australian characteristics are not only influencing the outlook of Australia in the affairs of the world but are playing their part in shaping world history.

First published in The Canberra Times, 7 February 1941

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

Note: A.B. ("Banjo") Paterson died on 5th February 1941


Are litblogs going to replace book review pages in the mainstream media?  I very much doubt it.  Jeff, on the "Overland" blog, ponders that very point.  He does make a statement - "A review in a Saturday paper would traditionally reach even the non-bookish -- or, at very least, alert them to the existence of a particular title." - which I'd disagree with, but it's hardly fair pick out one sentence and criticise that.  Especially as he later says: "If we care about writing, we need to find ways to make literature relevant to the world around us, to link the books we review to the concerns of others, and to build the litblogging readership into something more general."  Which I do agree with.

Sophie Cunningham, editor of "Meanjin", went along to the Byron Bay Writers' festival at the start of August and writes of what she found there.

In a post that is probably of more interest to bloggers than readers, Ariel, on her "Jabberwocky" weblog, asks "Do good blog posts come in small packages?"  Some of her Gen Y friends contend that they won't read a long post no matter what it's about.  As she says: "I don't know if I agree that form necessarily dictates content. It's true that it's nicer and easier to read long pieces in print; but one of the huge benefits of new technology is that it provides a forum for intelligent discussion and exploration of all kinds of topics, without the writer needing funding to create a platform for communication, or to place their story with the right editor at the right time, with the right angle and style for the chosen publication."  Form only dictates content when the form enforces space restrictions.  Twitter posts that are restricted to 140 characters are, by necessity, simplistic.  Direct and to the point, yes, but it's hard to mount an argument about a topic or alert people to detailed lists in only 140 characters.  Some URLs run to more than that.  Must write on this more at a later time.

Estelle, of the "3000 Books" weblog is off to the Aireys Inlet Festival of Words this weekend and will then be blogging the Melbourne Writers' Festival on its weblog.  Be nice to have that energy again.

2009 Ned Kelly Award Shortlists

The shortlists for the 2009 Ned Kelly Awards have been announced.

The nominees are:

Best first fiction
Ghostlines, Nick Gadd
Crooked, Camilla Nelson
The Build Up, Phillip Gwynee

Best Fiction
Bright Air, Barry Maitland
Deep Water, Peter Corris
Smoke & Mirrors, Kel Robertson

Best True crime
The Killing of Caroline Byrne, Robert Wainwrights
The Tall Man, Chloe Hooper
A Question of Power, Michelle Schwarz

The SD Harvey Short Story
Fidget's Farewell, Scott McDermott
Farewell My Lovelies, Chris Womersley
Fern's Farwell, Bronwyn Mehan
Farewell to the Shade, Cheryl Rogers

The SD Harvey Short Story category is a new award this year.  The details of the award, and SD Harvey are given on The Crime Writers of Australia website. (Seems you have to start your story's title with an "F" to get nominated this year.)

But seriously, the awards will be presented during the Melbourne Writers' Festival, on Friday 28th August at 7:00pm.  The venue: Festival Club, Australian Centre for the Moving Image on Flinders Street.  The event is free, so be early, find a spot by the bar and make friends with a brew or two. I'll be the ugly one down the back.

Review: Deception by Michael Meehan

deception.jpg Michael Meehan
Allen & Unwin
284 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Michael Freedman

Deception, Michael Meehan's third novel, is an interesting exploration of familial secrecy, and in particular how the curiosity of youth can uncover skeletons long since buried and forgotten, disrupting and perhaps destroying ancestral ties. The title refers to a place name, but an undercurrent of the novel is deception as a simple noun, the state of being deceived. Unfortunately, some readers may consider that the real deception in the novel is that being perpetrated on them.

According to his publisher's website, Michael Meehan's debut novel, The Salt of Broken Tears, won the 2000 Christina Stead Award for Fiction. This is a novel "The Age" apparently considered "a masterwork". It would be interesting to compare that work with this one, because this novel has the potential I believe to frustrate some readers, and delight others.

Meehan's protagonist, Nicholas, is a young law student who finds himself in the unfamiliar streets of Paris in the late 1960s. For those readers who detest John Grisham-like legal thrillers, Nicholas' status as a law student plays little part in the story. Rather, this is a story of a young man trying to uncover the skeletons in his family tree, and learning as much about himself in the process.

The language used in the novel, particularly the dialogue spoken by the protagonist's French relatives, comes across as quite flowery and overdone. This may be because the characters are actually supposed to be speaking French, and the dialogue in the novel may actually be a direct translation, but as a literary device it is peculiar at best, and offputting at worst. Similarly, the author's descriptions and metaphors, at times brilliantly vivid, can also be ostentatious and overly clever. For the most part, Meehan avoids unnecessary effulgence, but this is unfortunately not a trap he stays away from altogether.

Notwithstanding dialogue problems, Meehan's characters are wonderfully written. Julia, Nicholas' partner-in-crime, has a focused determination to uncover the family history to the sacrifice of everything else. Lucien is a former academic Nicholas meets on the streets of Paris, who while extremely knowledgeable on apparently all things has quite a severe personal hygiene problem. As a result of said problem, Lucien has been barred from virtually every library or museum in Paris, quite an achievement. Nevertheless, and somewhat paradoxically, Lucien is probably the most sympathetic character in the novel.

It is Nicholas' aunts that provide the real frustrations, both to Nicholas and the reader. They all speak in the same way, the overly flowery language referred to earlier. There are four of them, and they seem to be peculiar, demented, unwilling to provide any of the information Nicholas' is seeking about his family, or all three. It is not a coincidence that the novel is at its most interesting when Nicholas is conversing with Julia or Lucien, or even Monsieur Jalabert, the family lawyer. Jalabert is a wonderfully vivid character, who at times provides Nicholas with useful information and at other seems completely disinterested in the whole business.

It would be unfair to describe Deception as a bad novel -- Meehan is clearly a very talented writer, and at times the novel demands the reader's attention and threatens to not let go. At other times, however, it does exactly that. Perhaps that is the real deception.

Reprint: Book Censorship: Attack by Authors: Australian Methods Denounced

Christina Stead, and Nettie Palmer, the Australian delegates to the Congress of Writers for the Defence of Culture, presented a report strongly protesting against the Australian book censorship, declaring that taking advantage of the distance from Europe the Government was banning books which would keep the Australians in touch with the potential English and European thought. Customs officials, even if scarcely able to read their own name, were empowered to ban what books they chose. The report declared the censorship was in the hands of the Minister for Customs and military gentlemen, who were not in the front rank of literary men, and demanded that the worth of books should be judged by Australian literary readers, and not politicians.

They urged the Congress to send a protest at once.

First published in The Canberra Times, 27 June 1935

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

2009 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards Shortlists


The shortlists for the 2009 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards have been announced.

The shortlisted works are:

Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction

The Pages - Murray Bail (Text)

Dog Boy - Eva Hornung (Text)

The Boat - Nam Le (Penguin)

The Slap - Christos Tsiolkas (Allen & Unwin)

Breath - Tim Winton (Penguin)


Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-Fiction

The City's Outback - Gillian Cowlishaw (UNSW Press)

Arabesques - Robert Dessaix (Picador)

The Tall Man: Death and Life on Palm Island - Chloe Hooper (Hamish Hamilton)

House of Exile: The Life and Times of Heinrich Mann and Nelly Kroger-Mann - Evelyn Juers (Giramondo)

Darwin's Armada - Iain McCalman (Viking)


C.J. Dennis Prize for Poetry

The Golden Bird - Robert Adamson (Black Inc)

Fishing in the Devonian - Carol Jenkins (Puncher and Wattman)

The Other Way Out - Bronwyn Lea (Giramondo)


Louis Esson Prize for Drama

Realism - Paul Galloway ((Melbourne Theatre Company/Currency Press)

Goodbye Vaudeville Charlie Mudd - Lally Katz (Malthouse Theatre)

The Modern International Dead - Damien Millar (Griffin Theatre Company/Currency Press)


The Prize for Young Adult Fiction

The Two Pearls of Wisdom - Alison Goodman (HarperCollins)

The Beginner's Guide to Living - Lia Hills (Text Publishing)

Something in the World Called Love - Sue Saliba (Penguin)


The Alfred Deakin Prize for an Essay Advancing Public Debate

Death in the Mountains - Lisa Clifford (Macmillan)

Neither Here Nor There: Italians and Swiss-Italians on the Walhalla Goldfield 1865-1915 - Annamaria Davine (Italian Australian Institute)

And Be Home Before Dark - Roland Rocchiccioli (Hardie Grant Books)


The John Curtin Prize for Journalism

The Guards' Story - Peter Cronau and Quentin McDermott (Four Corners, ABC Television)

The Penalty is Death: Inside Bali's Kerobokan Prison - Luke Davies (The Monthly)

A Week in Kinglake - Michael Vincent (ABC Radio)


The Prize for Best Music Theatre Script

Poor Boy - Matt Cameron and Tim Finn (Melbourne Theatre Company/Currency Press)

Shane Warne The Musical - Eddie Perfect (Token Events)

Metro Street - Matthew Robinson (Arts Asia Pacific, Power Arts and STCSA)


The Prize for Science Writing

Pasteur's Gambit - Stephen Dando-Collins (Vintage)

Climate Code Red: The Case for Emergency Action - David Spratt and Philip Sutton (Scribe)

The Rise of Animals: Evolution and Diversification of the Kingdom Animalia - Patricia Vickers-Rich (JHU Press)


The Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript by an Emerging Victorian Writer

Sufficient Grace - Amy Espeseth

Like Being a Wife - Catherine Harris

The Sunlit Zone - Lisa Jacobson


The awards presentation will be held on Tuesday September 1st.

Australian Bookcovers #172 - Say No to Death by Dymphna Cusack


Say No to Death by Dymphna Cusack, 1951

(Heinemann edition 1951)

2009 Age Book of the Year Shortlists

The shortlists for "The Age" Book of the Year Awards have been announced.

The shortlisted works are


Things We Didn't See Coming - Steven Amsterdam (Sleepers)

Look Who's Morphing - Tom Cho (Giramondo)

Butterfly - Sonya Hartnett (Hamish Hamilton)

Cooee - Vivienne Kelly (Scribe)

Ransom - David Malouf (Knopf)



The Tall Man: Death and Life on Palm Island - Chloe Hooper (Hamish Hamilton)

Darwin's Armada: How Four Voyagers to Australasia won the Battle for Evolution and Changed the World - Iain McCalman (Viking)

The Red Highway - Nicholas Rothwell (Back Inc)

Gough Whitlam: A Moment in History - Jenny Hocling (Miegunyah Press)

Down to the Crossroads: On the Trail of the 2008 US Election - Guy Rundle (Penguin)



The Golden Bird - Richard Adamson (Black Inc)

True Thoughts - Pam Brown (Salt Publishing)

Divine Comedy - John Kinsella (University of Queensland Press)

Fire Season - Kate Middleton (Giramondo)

Better than God - Peter Porter (Picador)

The winners of the awards will be announced on Friday August 21st during the Melbourne Writers' Festival. 

Quote: The Pleasure of Poetry

Poems are not read like novels.  There is much pleasure to be had in taking the same fourteen-line sonnet to bed with you and reading it many times over for a week.  Savour, taste, enjoy.  Poetry is not made to be sucked up like a child's milkshake, it is much better sipped like a precious malt whiskey.  Verse is one of our last stands against the instant and the infantile.  Even when it is simple and childlike it is to be savoured.

- The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry, pp xxii-xxiii

Susanna de Vries Interview

Brisbane author Susanna de Vries has a new book, Females on the Fatal Shore, just out which has a number of elements that could be taken as a re-telling of the Lady Diana Spencer story.  In this case, however, the book is set in 19th-century rural Queensland, and is just one of the stories featured.  The author spoke to Fiona Purdon of "The Courier-Mail". 

"It's an era of aristocrats, it's a very structured society, the Georgian society, and Stephen [Lamprell Spencer] did the unforgivable: He married a seamstress and he became seriously religious," de Vries says.

"He wanted to make a lot of money in Australia and then go back to England and show his family he had made good.

"But he bought too many cattle runs and then suffered depression. Australian history is full of boom and bust stories."

2009 World Science Fiction Convention

As I write the 2009 World Science Fiction Convention, Anticipation, is being held in Montreal, Canada - and, no, I'm not there for a number of reasons.

If you're interested in getting a taste for a worldcon without actually being there then may I suggest you have a look at the ConReporter weblog which is covering the event in some depth.

And don't forget that the Worldcon moves here in September 2010.

Poem: To * * * * * *: Written for an Album by Iota

Oh! read these verses with indulgent eyes,
And since they're written for the book you prize,
Let them presume a vacant page to find
'Midst the chaste wreath, cull'd by your tasteful mind.

England's fam'd poet, when he made that pray'r *
To one he said he lov'd, like you perhaps fair;
Wish'd that her heart a vacant spot retained,
Where he might write the flame he felt, or feign'd.

Not mine that wish - I've been too long the sport
Of wayward Fate, and seldom I resort
Where beauty smiles; there's danger in her eye;
And, since I cannot fight, I always fly.

Australia now contains as sweet, as fair,
As lovely features as are found elsewhere:
But though 'tis sweet to gaze on beaming eyes,
I shun their glances and avoid surprise.

I could but love the loveliest - well for me,
Since fortune frowns, that my own heart is free;
Free as the life I lead, since now I roam
From wild to wild, and cannot boast a home.

You perhaps think all must love - well! be it so -
I love - I am not mad-not now - oh! no;
I love - sometimes to write my thoughts in books,
And gain a sunny smile from beauty's looks,

The thought now cheers me - perhaps when I'm forgot,
And roaming distant from this happy spot ;
That eyes, like yours, as brilliant, looks as fair,
May chance to linger for a moment there.

* See Moore's Poems - " Lines written for a scrap book."

First published in The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 31 July 1830

Clive James Watch #13

Reviews of The Revolt of the Pendulum: Essays 2005-2008

Adam Mars-Jones in "The Observer": "The arguments in Cultural Amnesia had been enriched by a long process of fermentation and filtering. The Revolt of the Pendulum is a much more ordinary book, a standard collection of reviews and oddments, though it recycles from the magnum opus in the opening essay about Karl Kraus. It's also more revealing about the civil war between cultivation and blokeishness inside Clive James, the inner aesthete and the inner mocker. Down-to-earth intellectual is not the easiest role to take on."

Lynn Barber in "The Telegraph": "Not all the essays in this book are about Clive James, though a surprisingly high proportion of them are. But the meatier offerings are book reviews written for The New York Times, the TLS, or an Australian periodical called The Monthly. (Nowadays he largely avoids "the second-rank literary editors of London" and their proclivity for 'lively copy'.) There is an excellent essay on "Kingsley and the Women" which draws on personal knowledge of the Amis family, and an affectionate portrait of Robert Hughes, again using personal knowledge. (Though James claims to despise literary gossip, he is very good at it.) But most of the time his criticism is devoted to showing off."

Sam Leith in "The Spectator": "Pendulum, eh? Well, there's certainly something swing- ing back and forth here. Two years ago, lest we forget, Cultural Amnesia came out -- all 900-odd pages of it. Now here's Clive with another fat wedge of 'essays', some of which are essays, and some of which are more recognisable as old book reviews and feature pieces for newspapers. In the section marked 'Handbills' he reproduces pieces he's written to promote his stage shows; in 'Absent Friends', addenda to obituaries...It seems rather a monumental way of presenting ephemera, but it emerges piecemeal in this book that James is starting to hear the guy with the scythe and the persistent cough. He's thinking about how he'll be remembered. He's building monuments to himself. "

James Mitchell on the "Independent News and Media" website: "Most essayists and columnists are used to their work being considered ephemeral: their timely pieces, briefly entertaining and informative, froth and disappear, deservedly...Clive James is an exception. The variety is amazing; the wit is sharp but seldom painful; the sheer enjoyment of learning something new - and communicating that knowledge and pleasure - all mark him apart."

Essay by James

"The Necessary Minimum" - James on poet Dunstan Thompson for "Poetry" magazine July/August 2009.

One-Man Show

James is taking his current one-man show to Edinburgh in mid-August and then to other parts of the UK up till November.  The full schedule is on his website.


The August issue of the "Australian Literary Review" included James's poem "Aldeburgh Dawn", and in reply, Guy Rundle proceeded to tear it to bits on Crickey:

Why do people keep publishing this stuff? It's not as if James doesn't give us a clue -- in his unentertaining novel The Remake, he has a stocky character named 'CJ' jogging around a track. Who's that guy someone asks? Writer, someone replies, "his poetry sounds like reproduction furniture looks."

The fact that this line is exact and telling suggests James's tragedy: he's a gag writer and whatever lightning-strike gave him that skill simultaneously foreclosed the capacity to do something else. The more he strains to take the world seriously (witness his 900 page Cultural Amnesia, a self-serving book of drive-by essays, dedicated to Aung Sung Suu Kyi, among others) the more awful the result.

Stephen Romei, editor of the "Australian Literary Review" discusses it all on his weblog, "A Pair of Ragged Claws".


As James begins his one-man show at the Edinburgh Festival, he is interviewed for "The Independent" by Christina Patterson:

The problem with interviews, however, is that you don't get to write them. Well, I do, obviously, but he doesn't. "If you'll forgive me," he says, in the tone of a politician preceding a blistering attack with the phrase "with all due respect", "it's a very approximate form of getting at what someone means. And, in my case, I like to think I do it for myself. To that," he adds, "the argument is 'you're just asking to construct your own image' and the answer is, 'well, yes'." Clive James is also, clearly, a brilliant bunch of arguments. He's a brilliant bunch of questions, a brilliant bunch of answers, and soliloquies and theories and counter-theories. No need for an interviewer, really, except that I'm here and I'd quite like to do it.

So why, I ask, desperate to chip in, does he submit himself to a process he describes as "agonising"? "When I'm on the road doing a stage show," he says, "I owe something to the impresario. And I want to fill the house. And a one-man show doesn't fill itself automatically. But left to myself, I probably wouldn't do it. I find that I can write it better." Gee, thanks. Actually, I've no doubt that Clive James could write it better. This, after all, is the man whose TV reviews for The Observer were read even by people who didn't watch TV, the man whose hilarious memoirs have all been bestsellers, the man whose book of essays, Cultural Amnesia, was hailed by J M Coetzee as "a crash-course in civilization". But an interview, to state the absolute bleeding obvious, is a different thing. It's not a monologue, it's an encounter, written by somebody else. And of course it's "approximate". Isn't all journalism approximate?


 James didn't actually want to be the next Oxford professor of poetry.


The Novelist's Art

We may as well give up the attempt, then, to write down just what we say as we say it, except now and then in a phonetic script for students. How do you pronounce "castle," for instance? Whatever you reply, you will add, "of course." Is it "cassel," "cahsel," or something in between? No matter. We shall hardly trouble to indicate it if we put you in a novel. What we may hope to do, though, is to entrap some of your characteristic words, some of the metaphors that come naturally to you, your colloquialism, your rhythm of speech, your slang. Modern novelists of the sincerer sort, including some in Australia, have been aiming at just this kind of idiomatic rendering of their characters' speech and thoughts. And what they have got for their pains has been more kicks than ha'pence. Pained rule-of-thumb critics have remarked severely, "This author shows at times that he can write sound English, while at other times he seems to have no idea of it." On examination we find that the "unsound" passages are usually those that take infinitely more trouble to write. It would be easier to express the random thoughts of a banker or a farmer in formal phrases than to discover what Beethoven called "unbuttoned" rhythms for them, and to suggest them in racy words.

To return to "cobbers." The word is not in the Oxford Dictionary yet, at any rate in its "concise" edition, but it undoubtedly will be. The Oxford Dictionary is always putting out its tentacles for new words. That fine octopus, with its splendid appetite, issues S.O.S. lists inviting the whole world's collaboration. On one recent list we were invited, as usual, to give an instance of the use of several Australian words: could anyone quote an instance of the word "eucalyptian" earlier than 1870? of the word "eucalyptis-green" before 1923? Well, can anyone do this? And does the Oxford Dictionary know that one of our poets has used the word "eucalyptive" instead of "eucalyptian"? Even if it does, the dictionary would not express preference. The next request, undated, is for an instance of the phrase, "Fernshaw gums," which strikes me as strange, because almost every bush district could be used in the same way. The final word in the list is not introduced to please the magistrate. Here it is, "fair (=absolute, Australian)." Do you know that word, in "a fair scorcher"? Not the same word, you see, as in "a fair bit." Perhaps you can supply the Oxford Dictionary with an early instance of its use. (You are kindly requested to send in your quotation on slips measuring 6in. by 4in.) Perhaps the clearest use of "fair" is in this emotional comment, of which unfortunately I cannot give the date:- "Australia, the only country where you can call a dark horse a fair cow and be understood." I would suggest that to "cut out" such slang would be a sin, except to cut it six inches by four, for preservation in that most hospitable dictionary.

First published in The Argus, 6 June 1931

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

Note: the first part of this essay was published here last week.

100 Australian Poems 6.0: "Bell-Birds" by Henry Kendall

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[It's been a while since I last posted in this series. Put it down to real life intruding, and once I fall off the treadmill it can be hard to get back on it again.]

By any criteria Henry Kendall's "Bell-Birds" must rank as one of the most popular poems written in Australia's literary history.  Austlit, "The Australian Literature Resource", lists 32 entries in its publication history; possibly ranking only with Dorothea's Mackellar's "My Country", Paterson's "Waltzing Matilda" and one or two others in its universality.  And yet it is not a poem I remember from my childhood - the Paterson and the Mackellar certainly, but not this one.

There is a lovely lilting feel to this work.  The rhymes generally read as occurring naturally (though a query may be made against "sedges/ledges" in the first verse), and the flow and rhythm are reminiscent of a warm, lazy spring day. 

If, as seems reasonable, Kendall wrote this a year or so before its publication in his collection, Leaves from Australian Forests, in 1869, then he was probably living in New South Wales at his happiest.  This was prior to his disastrous sojourn in Melbourne, the death of his young daughter and his descent into bankruptcy and mental illness.  There appears to be no despair or despondency in this work, only the wonder of nature and joy of life.

According to Wikipedia, Bellbirds are so-called "because they feed almost exclusively on the dome-like coverings of certain psyllid bugs, referred to as 'bell lerps', that feed on eucalyptus sap from the leaves", and not because of their distinctive tinkling, bell-like sound.  And yet Kendall refers to "The notes of the bell-birds are running and ringing."  Ringing, yes, but certainly not running.  But this is a minor quibble about a poem that deserves its place in any collection of classic Australian poetry. 

Text: "Bell-Birds" by Henry Kendall

Author bio: Australian Dictionary of Biography 

There are also a number of posts on this weblog regarding Kendall, his poetry and his life, which can be found here.

Publishing history: This poem was first published (so far as we can tell) in Kendall's verse collection, Leaves from Australian Forests, in 1869.  Subsequently it appeared in The Oxford Book of Australasian Verse in 1918 (and its later editions), and in Selections from Australian Poets compiled by Bertram Stevens in 1925. After that it was reprinted in just about every major retrospective Australian poetry anthology. 

Next five poems in the book:

"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

"Where the Pelican Builds" by Mary Hannay Foott

"Catching the Coach" by Alfred T. Chandler ("Spinifex")

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.

2009 World Fantasy Award Nominees

The nominees for the 2009 World Fantasy Awards have been released.  These awards recognise outstanding achievements in the fantasy genre for the 2008 calendar year. They are jury judged in a similar manner to the Nebula Awards, and differ from the reader determined Hugo Awards - the other major awards in the sf and fantasy fields.

This year's awards will be presented at the 2009 World Fantasy Convention which is being held over the weekend of October 29 - November 1 in San Jose, California.

This year the following Australian works have been nominated:

Best Novel: Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

Best Collection: Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan

2009 Age Short Story Competition

The 2009 Age Short Story Competiton is now open.  Closing date for the competition is October 2, 2009 with the winners being announced in December this year.  First prize receives $3000, second prize $2000, and third prize $1000.  In addition, first, second and third place-getters will have their stories published in the paper over summer.  Full details are available on the paper's website.

Come in Spinner by Dymphna Cusack and Florence James, 1951
Jacket illustration from the cover of The Home magazine, 1 February 1938
(Angus and Robertson edition 1988)

Combined Reviews: This Is How by M. J. Hyland

this_is_how.JPG Review of This is How
M.J. Hyland
Text Publishing

From the Publisher's page

From the author of the Man Booker-shortlisted Carry Me Down comes a novel of remarkable power and resonance.

When his fiancée breaks off their engagement, Patrick Oxtoby leaves home and moves into a boarding house in a remote seaside town. But in spite of his hopes and determination to build a better life, nothing goes to plan and Patrick is soon driven to take a desperate and chilling course of action.

This Is How is a mesmerising and meticulously drawn portrait of a man whose unease in the world leads to his tragic undoing. With breathtaking wisdom and an astute insight into the human mind, award-winning M.J. Hyland's new book is a masterpiece that inspires horror and sympathy in equal measure.


Justine Jordan in "The Guardian": "As in previous novels, Hyland tells her story in a supercharged present tense, tremblingly aware of physical detail; the book is heavy with dialogue, yet we are never told about tone of voice, while actions are continually observed from the outside rather than experienced from within (the most striking example of disassociation being the times Patrick hears himself speaking aloud). The reader, as a result groping for emotional bearings, enters fully into the tension of Patrick's inner self, his claustrophobic sense of being subject to the physical world yet isolated from its meaning. He can apprehend events, but not how they are connected. In its most extreme form, this dislocation is to be his undoing...Bleak yet moving, mercilessly dispassionate yet shot through with kindness and wit, it is a profound achievement."

Julie Myerson in "The Financial Times": "I confess I read on hoping that this mystery might be solved for me. How and why did Oxtoby end up like this? Is it to do with his mother, his family, or even that much referred-to toolkit of his? Why did he drop out of university? I wondered whether all the ominous clues that Hyland had scattered might finally amount to something, and explain why an awkward but apparently benign social misfit became a murderer...But novels are strange beasts, and you can't always know how one is going to affect you. I finished This is How feeling slightly short-changed, disappointed that I'd somehow been denied a solution to the mystery that its author had set up...Three or four days later, however, Hyland's white-hot prose was still smouldering in my head and I found myself intensely, almost helplessly, moved by Oxtoby and his tragedy."

Lucy Atkins in "The Times": "There is no fanciness to Hyland's prose. Everything -- first person, present tense -- is controlled and precise. In the second half of the book, Patrick's claustrophobic world becomes unutterably grim, but it never feels less than completely real. If you are looking for light entertainment, this is definitely not it. But when it comes to social complexity and nuance, Hyland is compelling."

Jane Shilling in "The Telegraph": "Hyland mentions Albert Camus as one of her literary inspirations, and Oxtoby shares with Camus's Meursault - and with a rogue's gallery of literary anti-heroes, from Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov to Sebastian Faulks's Engleby -- a deformation of the personality that isolates him from the banal warmth of ordinary human discourse. But he lacks the existential hero's grandiose sense of glee at his separateness. Every word of Hyland's narrative ---observed with the bright, deranged precision of a Richard Dadd painting - resonates with Patrick's tragic awareness of what he lacks."

Rebecca Starford in "Australian Book Review": "Patrick Oxtoby is sure to resonate with audiences. But there is a sameness about his character that will disappoint some readers. Hyland has not ventured far from safe territory and once again navigates that bewildered interiority that has become her trademark. Familiar, too, is the grim, grey social milieu. It would have been good to read a more strenuous examination of this world, about which Hyland is clearly equivocal, and to learn how this contributes to Patrick's development; but this element remains ill defined, and as with How the Light Gets In leaves an impression of superciliousness which may be unintended."

Short Notices

Bruno Moro on "": "Written in the first-person, Hyland begins by describing the minutiae of daily life in small-town Ireland, only to then tackle the big themes -- justice, responsibility, morality, salvation -- the list is as long as you want it to be. More importantly for me, there is a delicate emotional line that runs through -- we somehow grow to care for this awkward, flawed protagonist, even when we perhaps should not."

Anita Sethi in "The Independent": "This is a compassionate, disturbing novel, tragically showing a human learning to appreciate life only when his own has been incarcerated."


The book has its own dedicated website.

The author discussed her novel with Ramona Koval on ABC Radio National's "Book Show".

Parallel Import Restrictions - The Federal Government Considers

Further to the Productivity Commission report on Parallel Import Restrictions comes the news that the issue was widely discussed at the ALP National Conference over the weekend. "The rhetoric at the conference certainly sounded more in line with the writers than the publishers' views, but key ministers did not join the debate." 

The Federal Government is considering its position and has set up a Labor Party working group to report back in a month.

The successful conference resolution on the issue stated: "Labor believes that the government should give priority to encouraging Australians to keep on buying Australian books and to maximising the economic, cultural and creative viability of Australian literature and Australian book industries."

But conferences are one thing, government decisions another.

Tom Keneally Profile

As he awaits the publication of not one but two books over the coming weeks, Tom Keneally is profiled by Luke Slattery in "The Australian".

The sources for Keneally's novels are often historical, and he typically weaves fiction's thread through history's fabric. The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith was inspired by the true story of the mixed-race Jimmy Governor. It was "the neatness of the events as they existed in history" that appealed to the author. But he was also alert to the tale's contemporary moral resonance. Written at the time of the 1967 referendum on allowing the commonwealth to make laws for Aboriginal people, and published in 1972 at the height of the protest movement, Jimmie Blacksmith was as a conversation with its time.

Keneally is not, in this sense, a writer of period-piece historical fiction. It is not so much the pastness of the past as its presence that interests him. Academic historians often deride historical fiction with what Keneally believes is some justification, but he defends history as a legitimate subject for fictional treatment. "I like to choose the small, salient, marginal event that can light up history in fiction, light up the past and light up the present," he says.

He gives ex-Prime Minister John  Howard a good serve as well.

Keneally's novel The People's Train is out today.  And his new non-fiction work, Australians, will be released by Allen & Unwin on September 1st.

Poem: "Gone Bung!" by E. Newton McCulloch

There's a capital expression
Which -- to make a slight digression --
   Had Australia for its birthplace, though it's in the Saxon tongue.
For beautiful simplicity
In showing up duplicity
   Of every sort, you cannot beat the phrase, "Gone Bung!"

When "a wild cat scheme's" promoted,
And eventually floated,
   Through the pertinacious way in which its praises have been sung
By some papers interested,
Do the "lambkins" who invested
   Ever fully grasp the meaning of the words, "Gone Bung?"

When a man has made his money
By a " lucky spec.," it's funny
   Just to hear his brother-climbers, who are on a lower rung,--
"If it hadn't been for me, Sir,
"Where the devil would he be, Sir ?
   " Why, if I'd not stood his friend, Sir, he'd have just ' Gone Bung.' "

We have all heard, too, of nations
That won't keep their proper stations
   In the World's rank, but must "go the pace " - especially the young
Why they throw away their chances
And they ruin their finances
   By insensate emulation, with result -- "Gone Bung ! "

I might moralise for hours,
Were it not for failing powers
   (Though don't think that I'm referring to my powers of brain or lung,
As they never have been stronger).
But I can't write any longer,
   For the ink-pot's nearly empty and my pen's "gone bung!"

First published in The West Australian, 17 September 1894

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Heroic fantasy in the modern style. A fantasy that is laced through with noirish elements, and excellent characterisations. First book of The First Law trilogy.

 Where Have You Been? by Wendy James
What happens when a sister returns after being missing, presumed dead, for twenty years? James enhances her reputation as one of Australia's rising literary novelists.

 Wyatt by Garry Disher
Disher's anti-hero is back after an absence of ten years with a gritty, fast, noirish struggle for survival. All the best aspects of Disher's work are on display here.



 Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
A Young Adult steampunk novel set at the start of an alternate history First World War. Fast-paced, intriguing and totally captivating.



 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Dick's novel of the near future when the difference between human and android is barely discernible. One of the great all-time sf titles.



 American Journeys by Don Watson
Watson journeys into the heart of America, by train and car. There he discovers the best, and the worst, of humanity and society.



 Ghostlines by Nick Gadd
2009 Best First Novel at the Ned Kelly Awards. Murder in the art world involving political intrigue and business corruption in Melbourne.


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