October 2009 Archives

Poem: The Printer's Love by Anonymous

We love to see the blooming rose,
   In all its beauty dress'd;
We love to hear our friends disclose.
   The emotions of their breast.

We love to see a ship arrive,
   Well laden to our shore
We love to see our neighbours thrive --
   And love to bless the poor.

We love to see domestic life
   With uninterrupted joys --
We love to see a youthful wife
   Not pleased with trifling toys.

We love all these -- yet far above
   All that we ever said,
We love what every Printer loves --
   To have Subscriptions paid.

First published in The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal, 16 July 1836

Kingdom of Days

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Angela Meyer, who blogs at "LiteraryMinded", writes about her thoughts on how to make a successful panel item at a literary festival.  This is mainly done from the POV of the chair of a panel but you can also pick up a lot of tips about how to be a useful member.  Just one thing to be added to the chair's role: don't allow one panelist to dominate.  I've seen too many instances of a panel topic being ruined by one member deciding that that very hour was the best time to spruik their new book, magazine or film.

A few weeks back I stated that Steampunk was the next New, New Thing.  Now Anne Rice, she of the so-so Interview with a Vampire, now says the next big thing will be angels.  I hope not. I wasn't overly impressed with Elizabeth Knox's The Vintner's Luck about ten years ago.  Jessa Crispin linked to this book, and if that's an exmaple of an up-coming trend I'm heading back to westerns. Not that I've got anything against westerns, you understand.

George Dunford seemed rather enthusiastic early on regarding the new Marieke Hardy story being delivered by SMS.  Not so much anymore, possibly due to the fact that Fairfax, the publishers of "The Age", have made the first 5 episodes available online.  He's also not that sure about the delivery.  And Adam Ford is not so sure it's good value or a reasonable "first".

Tom Keneally Watch #10

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Reviews of Australians: Origins to Eureka

australians.jpg    Marian Quartly in "The Brisbane Times": "Historians tend to argue that novelists don't write real history, but Keneally's work denies this. His detailed demonstration that the making of Australian democracy is part of world history places this work as an original contribution to Australian historiography. His knowledge of the roots of English and Scottish radicalism and Irish republicanism enables him to locate transported convicts and their crimes within networks of resistance whose significance is global."

"Boomerang Books" weblog (reprinted from "Australian Bookseller & Publisher" magazine): "Is Tom Keneally a novelist who also writes history, or a historian who also writes novels? The question is academic, but his skills as a novelist certainly explain how he can convincingly mould a cast of literally thousands of characters together into compelling social history. In the introduction to his latest offering, subtitled Origins to Eureka, Keneally pledges to tell 'the stories of a number of Australians from the Pleistocene Age to 1860'."


Keneally in conversation with Brian Johns for SlowTV. This video was recorded at the Melbourne Writers Festival this year.

Reviews of The People's Train

James Urquhart in "The Independent": "Thomas Keneally's 26th novel shares the military fascination of his recent works while reaching as far back as his 1982 Booker Prize-winning Schindler's Ark for comparable historical weight...Keneally hints at a sequel to this impressive odyssey, taking Artem through the horrors of the civil war. That might allow more space for examining the anguished ethics of the revolutionary project, sidelined here by the bold sweep of history."

Edward McGown in "The Telegraph": "Keneally's most famous work, Schindler's Ark, made fresh the horror of the Holocaust by centring on the contained, moral crisis of one man. Here, the author consciously abstains from the pleasures of a taut narrative focus. The People's Train is a disjointed work whose digressions are sometimes frustrating. However, the novel succeeds in casting an uneasy spell."

Marcel Theroux in "The Financial Times": "The novel is pacy and packed with incident, but the welter of detail tends to overwhelm the characters. They're all rather sketchily drawn. Even the supposedly heroic Samsurov comes across as doctrinaire and one-dimensional -- a square-jawed homo sovieticus like the ones seen driving tractors on Soviet-era posters."

Lesley Chamberlain in "The New Statesman": "The People's Train combines a fluency of narrative with woodenness of thought. It is that rare thing: a novel with too much action, and too little attention paid to language and style...Reading any text is a kind of detective assignment, and I found myself scouring these pages for the reason Keneally chose this particular subject matter. I arrived at the following hypo­theses. First, that he did so in order to remind an Australian readership what was happening in their country -- as far as the workers' movement was concerned -- in the run-up to 1917. The author sees the story as one of limited worker protests, attracting sporadic middle-class sympathy (principally from spirited women) as well as a great deal of police brutality, and a let-down on the part of the Australian Socialist Party."


Keneally pitches in to protest against a reality television show being filmed at on a local historic site.

Reprint: Henry Lawson Warned Us of This by Denton Prout

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Prophetic Verse Written Many Years Ago Has a Striking New Meaning Today

In the reams of matter which has been written about the peril now confronting our country there has been one strange omission. Not one mention has been made of the man, who more than any other, attempted time and time again to wake us from our complacency, to bestir us to action, to prepare us for the ordeal we must endure.

The man, of course, is no longer living. He has been dead for 20 years. But his voice and his spirit are with us today, and the warnings, the unheeded warnings, he uttered 30 and 40 years ago now have a grim topicality. His name?

Henry Lawson.

Here, for example, is an extract from a poem published in a collection of verse issued in 1905 (the actual date of writing was much earlier) :

"By our place in the midst of the furthest seas we were fated to stand alone
When the nations fly at each other's throats let Australia look to her own;
Let her spend her gold on the barren west, let her keep her men at home;
For the South must look to the South for strength in the storm that is to come."

Topical? But wait, hear the next verse:

"Now who shall gallop from cape to cape, and who shall defend our shores
The crowd that stands on the kerb agape and glares at the cricket scores?
And who will hold the invader back when the shells tear up the ground
The weeds that yelp by the cycling track while a nigger scorches round?"

Compared with that attack, recent remarks by our leaders about our lack of realism are mild indeed. Let us hear Lawson a little further, however:

"And is it our fate that we'll wake too late to the truth that we were blind,
With a foreign foe at our harbour gate and a blazing drought behind."

For the present-day Sydneyite suffering from the water shortage this must make wry reading.

But this is not all. In a poem entitled "Australian Engineers," Lawson pleaded for expansion of local industry, spoke of the boys who

"Long for the crank and belting, the gear and the whirring wheel.
The stamp of the giant hammer, the glint of the polished steel.
For the mould and the vice and the lathe - they are boys who long for the keys
To the doors of the world's Mechanics and Science's mysteries."

Dipping at random into poems such as "The Heart of Australia," "The Vanguard," "In the Storm That Is to Come," "Here Died," "The Star of Australasia," and "At the Beating of a Drum," one is amazed at Lawson's foresight.

Away back in the days of the Russo-Japanese war he realised the significance of Russia to this country:

"Hold them, Ivan! staggering bravely underneath your gloomy sky;
Hold them, Ivan! we shall need you pretty badly by-and-by!
Fighting for the Indian Empire, when the British pay their debt.

"Never Britain watched for Blucher as he'll watch for Ivan yet!
It means all to young Australia -- it means life or death to us,
For the vanguard of the White Man is the vanguard of the Russ."

Today the importance of Russia's struggle to the British Empire is universally recognised, and, notwithstanding varying political ideals, a bond of friendship is being woven between the USSR and Britain which augurs well for the future.

The Department of Information has been criticised, rightly or wrongly I do not know, for the insipidity of its efforts to arouse our people to action. Why has use not been made of the works of our national poet? His works are vibrant with the sturdy democracy, the forthrightness, the patriotism, that will bring us victory.

Despite his criticism of his fellow countrymen, Lawson knew that Australian would fight to the last to save their homeland:

"When the city alight shall wait bynight for news from a far-out post,
And men ride down from the farming town to patrol the lonely coast
Till they hear the thud of a distant gun, or the distant rifles crack,
And Australians spring to theirarms as one to drive the invaders back.

"But they'll waste their breath in no empty boast, and they'll prove to the world their worth,
When the shearers rush to the Eastern coast, and the miners rush to Perth.
And the man who fights in a Queenscliff fort, or up by Keppel Bay,
Will know that his mates at Bunbury are doing their share that day."

Today, with the enemy near our shores; we need courage and patriotism and faith in our common people such as Henry Lawson possessed. And before we turn to the task before us let us hear one last word from this great Australian:

"Fear ye not the stormy future, for the Battle Hymn is strong,
And the armies of Australia shall not march without a song;
The glorious words and music of Australia's song shall come
When her true hearts rush together at the beating of a drum.

"We may not be there to hear it 'twill be written in the night,
And Australia's foes shall fear it in the hour before the fight.
The glorious,words and music from a lonely heart shall come
When our sons shall rush to danger at the beating of a drum.

"He shall be unknown who writes it; he shall soon forgotten be,
But the song shall ring through ages as a song of liberty.
And I say the words and music of our Battle Hymn shall come
When Australia wakes in anger at the beating of a drum."

First published in The Argus, 21 February 1942

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

2009 NSW Premier's History Awards Winners

The winners of the 2009 NSW Premier's History Awards have been announced.  You can read the full list of shortlisted titles here.

The winners were:

Australian History Prize ($15,000)

Travels in Atomic Sunshine: Australia and the Occupation of Japan, Robin Gerster (Scribe)

General History Prize ($15,000)

The Collectors of Lost Souls: Turning Kuru Scientists into Whitemen, Warwick Anderson (Johns Hopkins University Press)

Multimedia History Prize ($15,000)

A Northern Town, Rachel Landers and Dylan Bowen (Pony Films)

NSW Community and Regional History Prize ($15,000)

Up on the Hill: A History of St Patrick's College, Goulburn, David Bollen (UNSW Press)

Young People's History Prize ($15,000)

Captain Cook's Apprentice, Anthony Hill (Penguin)

Melina Marchetta Interview

pipers_son.jpg    Melina Marchetta is the author of 4 major YA novels so far: Looking for Alibrandi, Saving Francesca, On the Jellicoe Road, and Finnikin of the Rock, All of these novels have won the author major awards: she won the Children's Book Council Book of the Year Award, Book of the Year: Older Readers for Alibrandi in 1993, and for Francesca in 2003; Finnikin won the Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIA), Australian Book of the Year for Older Children in 2009, and Jellicoe Road was the winner of the Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature in 2009. So any new work by the author is greatly anticipated.

Marchetta's next work is titled The Piper's Son and will hit Australian bookstores in March 2010. In the lead-up to that book launch, the author is interviewed by Kirsten Hubbard on the "YA Highway" weblog.
Why YA?

When I write, I don't think of audience except for myself. I'm my audience. But in saying that I love that young people read my books. I didn't realize how important it was to me until adults went around saying that Jellicoe was too complex for young people. It's not complex at all. You just can't skim read it.

I've said before that there is such a lack of pretension in novels written about young people and I love the community of writers and publishers. I'm not sure where The Piper's Son will fit in, because it's a sequel to Francesca, but they're older and it's about the next generation as well. But I think my YA readership is aged between 13 and 80 something so I have the generations well covered.

Do you believe your publishing journey has been more challenging as an Australian author?

I think all publishing journeys are challenging. Of course it takes long to have recognition overseas. I received a bit of notice with Francesca in the US and have a bit more with Jellicoe, and there is a small fan base in Germany, Italy and Indonesia, but my readership is very different here in Australia. My first novel, published seventeen years ago (Looking for Aibrandi) was studied by senior school students as part of the school curriculum and became an award winning film so I've always had a profile in Australia.

You can read more about the author and her works on her website.

Reprint: Mr. "Banjo" Paterson: Arrival in Melbourne

Mr. A.B. Paterson ("Banjo"), who represented the "Sydney Morning Herald" and "The Argus" at the front in South Africa, returned to Australia on Thursday. He arrived at Adelaide in the s.s. Wilcannia, and came on to Melbourne by the   express, which arrived on Saturday. He was received at Spencer-street by a few friends, who were glad to welcome him home, and delighted to see that he was in very good health. Though he intended to continue the journey to Sydney, he was prevailed upon to remain, and he surprised and delighted a large gathering at the Cafe Chantant at the Exhibition building late on Saturday night by appearing on the stage and reciting two humorous little war poems of his own. The first was the one he wrote on board the transport going to South Africa, "There's Another Blessed Horse Fell Down." The second was founded on the army phrase, "Fed up." Mr. Paterson explained that when the men had had enough of the war they said they were "fed up of the war," they were "fed up" on being shot at, and "fed up" on getting nothing to eat. This paradox raised a hearty laugh, which was renewed at the end of the three little verses written on the theme.   In celebration of the event, patrons of the cafe had each to pay 6d. towards the hospital debt fund before being allowed to go out. Mr. Paterson intends to give a course of war lectures in Australia, and has concluded arrangements to that end with Mr. R.S. Smythe.

First published in The Argus, 10 September 1900

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

Australian Bookcovers #183 - Kickback by Garry Disher


Kickback by Garry Disher, 1991
Cover by Siren
(Allen & Unwin edition, 1991)

Wyatt series #1

[Last week's bookcover was mistakenly noted as being #1 in the series.]

The ABR Favourite Australian Novel Poll

The "Australian Book Review" has decided to conduct a poll to decide the list of Favourite Australian Novels.  Fully aware that various similar polls have been conducted over the years, they especially want to point out that this poll relates to NOVELs, not general books, not poetry collections and not memoirs, biographies and the like.  And it relates to AUSTRALIAN novels. So we might finally get a poll of Australian readers that doesn't feature a certain hobbit travelogue in first place. ABR is asking people to vote for a SINGLE novel in the poll, which seems the best approach. 

I always think these are worthy ideas, so long as someone else organises them.  I would reckon, if you were to ask me, that Winton will probably end up on top with another one or two by him in the top ten.  Beyond that, it's anyone's guess.

Anyway, although I can't see it mentioned on the blog post, entries close on December 15. You can vote via email or you can print off the form and mail or fax it in.  There are prizes - 99 Popular Penguins being the first of them. So vote early, vote...well, once would be best. 

Combined Reviews: Reunion by Andrea Goldsmith

reunion.jpg    Reunion
Andrea Goldsmith

From the publisher's page

Old friendships are expected to maintain their shape despite distance, lovers, careers, new friends. But twenty years is a long time.

Ava is an internationally acclaimed novelist who carries with her a lifetime of secrets.

Helen, a brilliant and dedicated molecular biologist, is faced with unexpected moral dilemmas as she finds herself drawn into bioterrorism research.

Conrad is a philosopher with a popular media profile and a desire for a much younger woman.

And Jack, whose career has stalled in the light of his long unrequited love for Ava, is a scholar of the history and culture of Islam.

It is Ava's husband, Harry, a man for whom the others can barely conceal their disdain, who has drawn them back to Melbourne where they first met at university.

As they deal with the reality of their present lives and their memories of the past, none will be unchanged by the reunion. And not everyone will survive.

Andrea Goldsmith has created a story of love, power, friendship and betrayal that is as gripping as it is exquisitely insightful.


Kirsten Alexander on ABC Radio National's "The Book Show": "Like the best of Iris Murdoch's novels, Reunion creeps up on you after the fact. In this novel, we meet a man who sleeps with a neglected schoolgirl. We meet a woman who is without remorse for her repeated infidelities. And we meet a woman who puts her work before her friends, even when her best friend is dying...On paper, you'd agree that's a pretty reprehensible bunch and yet they are our main characters, and Goldsmith tells her story through them. More than that, she writes them as flawed but endearing, mostly likeable individuals. She doesn't moralise, she doesn't judge. Some of her characters come unstuck as the result of their behaviour but only temporarily, and never without the possibility of redemption...Reunion is an interesting, commendable novel with breadth and wisdom that is enormously attractive."

Jennifer Levasseur in "The Australian": "It's a mystery why Andrea Goldsmith is not a household name...Her latest offering should be welcomed with the excitement that greets the best Australian novelists working today. It is baffling that her previous five novels, which include Facing the Music and Under the Knife, are out of print. Aside from being a rigorous thinker, a deft juggler of the complexities of human experience, a wordsmith and a loving chronicler of place, she tells a damn good story...Reunion, like all good science and art, invigorates. Rather than trying to divorce the cerebral from the mundane, Goldsmith shows people living lives of the mind while getting on with buying pasta, remembering old flames, worrying over which tram to take, reciting poetry, having sex and drinking too much...As in life, Goldsmith's characters have all shades. They are honest and deceptive, disciplined and deluded, obtuse and charming, embarrassingly earnest and pragmatic."

Judith Armstrong in "Australian Book Review": "As the past catches up with and merges into the present, the writing comes into flower but retains its essential dependence on the minutiae that have drawn us into these personal but exposed lives. Not only does Goldsmith excel at the interior monologue, she makes us visualise architecture and interiors, feel the variations in the weather, taste the ripeness of a cheese. At the same time, she inserts the textural details into a larger background, be it historical, geographical, political or ideological. The world she builds up in painstaking yet light strokes is entirely convincing, both in novelistic terms and also in its realistic portrayal of Melbourne from the 1970s to the present."

Short Notices

Jo Case in "The Monthly: "Andrea Goldsmith's new novel is truly exciting. Like its brilliant protagonists, Reunion is passionate about ideas, dissecting them thoroughly and hungrily...[it] is dense with ideas that never overpower its characters and plot, but instead drive them with a seemingly instinctual logic."

"Boomerang Books" weblog: "Reunion is a story of friendship and love, power and betrayal, all played out against some of Melbourne's well-loved landmarks (Carlton bookshops, cafes, and Melbourne University, among others). This is no fast-paced page-turner though, as Andrea Goldsmith subtley and sensitively investigates what goes on beneath the action. It's the inner lives of the characters that she explores on these pages -- their doubts, fears, joys and obsessions."

"Australian Mothers Online" website: "Goldsmith's words are so thought-provoking that there are endless topics of discussion that arise from this story of 4 fairly ordinary friends. She explores love and relationships on many levels -- committed, enduring love; unrequited love; the effects of betrayal on love and love squandered."


Jo Case, of "Readings Monthly", talks to the author.

Magdalena Ball on "The Compulsive Reader" website.


"Slow TV" has video of Goldsmith in conversation with Drusilla Modjeska.

Lisa Hill saw the author being interviewed by Michael Williams at the 2009 Melbourne Writers Festival.

Poem: The Press Shall Be Free! by Anonymous

You may talk of your glorious freedom,
   Your laws, and your charters of Right;
But where are they now when we need 'em,
   Alas! have they all ta'en to flight?

Shall we suffer the tyrants to drive us,
   Who call ourselves Britons and free;
Shall we suffer them now to deprive us
   Of the standard of true liberty.

What! shall the Republic of letters
   By the chains of oppression be bound;
Shall opinion be galled by their fetters,
   And sink into darkness profound!

Arise! if there's spirit among us,
   Shall we turn from the contest and flee;
Arise against those who would wrong us,
   Hurruh! for the Press shall be free.

The Press shall be free, for we prize it --
   We are not afraid of a frown.
The truth! we shall never disguise it,
   Hurrah! we will not be put down.

First published in The Argus, 1 May 1849

Cross My Heart

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If you're interested in paper and books as physical objects then you need to be acquainted with Ampersand Duck and her weblog.  Funny name, really interesting and informative stuff.  For her latest adventure, Ms Duck contemplates the Museum of Printing in Queanbeyan and how its denizens would have reacted to a recent TV program featuring Stephen Fry and the Gutenberg Press.  Missed that one.  Must follow it up.

Justine Larbalestier is out and about promoting her new novel Liar.  If you can't get to see her (check her weblog for where she'll be next - mainly the US at this time) then you can take in her guest-blog on the "Teenreads" weblog.

And speaking of liars, Spike - the blog of the Meanjin Quarterly - asked the editors of Allen & Unwin, who blog under the Alien Onions banner, what lies they had told about their reading habits. There are the usual Tolstoy and Joyce fibs, but I especially liked the following: "I wrote my essay on The Old Man and the Sea after watching the movie - and I still haven't read the book."  I've also done that. Well, not writing an essay, but fibbing about a book in high school that I hadn't read knowing full well that I had only seen the film adaptation.  Actually, the Onions should read the Hemingway: it's short, very silly and probably gives a good indication of the man's style.  Read it and cross another Nobel prize winner off the list.  Silver linings, etc.

[This is now becoming a habit - I choose the title of these posts early in the week, even before I have anything to write about, and then come across interesting web links that fit the title perfectly.  I can hear the theme music from "The Twilight Zone" playing softly, somewhere...] 

Estelle, of "3000 Books", is getting worried that she's reading novels with similar subjects. To figure it out she set up four novels in a diagram, with connections showing the similarities.  But it's only 4 Estelle.  If it was 10 or 20 then I really would be worried.  Sometimes a reading program will take you down one path for a while, you just have to be sure you don't stay on it for too long.

ABC TV current affairs reporter, Leigh Sales, lists her best book to film adaptations.  Looks like a good list - even though I haven't read all the books - nor have I seen all the films.   No lies here: of the five entries on the list, I've read two of the books and seen four of the films. One entry fits neither of these categories.

Margo Lanagan purrs over the upcoming edition of her novel Tender Morsels - actually it's the Shaun Tan cover art she purrs over.

D.M. Cornish answers a question from a reader regarding how he keeps writing when he doesn't know where to go or what to do.  His comparison of the process being like getting an injection seems a good one.

John Birmingham is working on the redraft of his upcoming novel, After America, and realised that one of the book's narrative arcs had changed so much in the rewriting that he was able to scrap the original's whole opening chapter.  Not one to throw anything away he's published it on his weblog.  As he puts it: "So here you go, something you almost never get, raw copy ripped bleeding from the original manuscript before an editor had even had a chance to get to work on it with a scalpel."

N+1 magazine has identified what it sees as an emerging "new strain within the Anglo-American novel." [Strains now?  Not genres?]  Not sure the same thing is happening in the Australian novel.  Is BBQ a "strain"?

2009 NSW Premier's History Awards Shortlists

The shortlisted works for the NSW Premier's History Awards were announced in early October.  The winners will be presented on Tuesday 27th October.

The shortlisted works in each category are:

Australian History Prize ($15,000)

Travels in Atomic Sunshine: Australia and the Occupation of Japan, Robin Gerster (Scribe)
Shattered Anzacs: Living with the Scars of War, Marina Larsson (UNSW Press)
Stella Miles Franklin: A Biography, Jill Roe (Fourth Estate)

General History Prize ($15,000)

The Collectors of Lost Souls: Turning Kuru Scientists into Whitemen, Warwick Anderson (Johns Hopkins University Press)
Becoming African Americans: Black Public Life in Harlem, 1919-1939, Clare Corbould (Harvard University Press)
Treason on the Airwaves: Three Allied Broadcasters on Axis Radio during World War Two, Judith Keene (Praeger Publishers)
Darwin's Armada: How Four Voyagers to Australasia won the Battle for Evolution and Changed the World, Iain McCalman (Viking)

Multimedia History Prize ($15,000)

Bombora: the story of Australian surfing, Paul Clarke, Greg Appel and Nick Carroll (Bombora Films)
A Northern Town, Rachel Landers and Dylan Bowen (Pony Films)
First Australians, Rachel Perkins, Beck Cole, Louis Nowra and Darren Dale (Blackfella Films)

NSW Community and Regional History Prize ($15,000)

Up on the Hill: A History of St Patrick's College, Goulburn, David Bollen (UNSW Press)
'Was thinking of home today...': North Sydney and the Great War, Ian Hoskins (North Sydney Council)
A History of Sydney's Darling Harbour, Wayne Johnson and Roger Parris (Sydney Harbour Foreshore)

Young People's History Prize ($15,000)

Krakatoa Lighthouse, Allan Baillie (Penguin)
Captain Cook's Apprentice, Anthony Hill (Penguin)
The Night We Made the Flag, Carole Wilkinson, illus by Sebastian Ciaffoglone (Black Dog Books)
Lighthouse Girl, Dianne Wolfer, illus by Brian Simmonds (Fremantle Press)

Reprint: We Really Like Common-Place People by Jean Campbell


Favourite Characters Are Those Most Easily Recognised; Are There Any in Australian Stories?

When Mr. H. G. Wells was in Melbourne one of his admirers was the Prime Minister (then Attorney-General), Mr. R. G. Menzies. In the course of his speech at the Melbourne P.E.N. Club dinner he said in effect:-

"However great Mr. Wells's later works may be; however fascinating his excursions into the future, in my opinion it is by such immortal characters as Kipps and Mr. Polly that his name will live. I consider that the essence of the novelist's art is in the creation of recognisable characters, and I feel convinced that in, say, 200 years' time Kipps and Mr. Polly will still be recognised on the streets."

Mr. Menzies might have added the names of little Bealby, of lovable Uncle Ponderevo, of young Mr. Lewisham. They, too, are living flesh and blood wrought by Wellsian magic, yet reborn every day everywhere and walking the streets by the thousand in this very city -recognisable by you and me. Quite likely, you are Kipps or possibly Mr. Britling; quite likely I am Bealby.

That, too, was the secret of Dickens's enormous popularity, the popularity which, despite the flippant superiority of certain so-called "bright young people" and the eyebrow raising of that somewhat unreal tribe known as "high- brows" still exists. Mr. Micawber, Pickwick, Aunt Betsy, Peggotty, Mrs. Gummidge, Mr. Jingle -- all of them owed their appeal not to their oddities that made them different from other people but to those many qualities which made them just ordinary men and women. They possessed -- no, let us speak in the present -- they possess "the common touch."

But what about Australian fiction? Have any of our novelists so far created characters whom, once you have closed the book, you are likely to meet at any time strolling down the street, behind a grocer's counter, driving a lorry, hitting the keys of a typewriter in some small office? Of course our novelists have created grocers' assistants, lorry drivers, typists, and representatives of many other callings, noble and ignoble. The point is: has their delineation been sufficiently masterly to enable their men and women to stand alone without the support of the covers of a book? Have they "the common touch"?

There is only one test, and that is the acid one: whether or not the bulk of the reading public -- and by "reading public" I do not mean your scholar who reads Xenophon for pleasure, nor yet that inverted literary snob who boasts that he never looks at anything but an Edgar Wallace, but, again to use an Americanism, "just folks" -- whether or not the latter is familiar with the character, could say in the course of everyday conversation: "Isn't Jim just like dear old So-and-so in So-and-so's book!" And the person spoken to will immediately know dear old So-and-so and see the likeness instantly. Unless this has come to pass Australia has not yet given birth to the novelist who is endowed with the Wellsian -- or Dickensian-magic of character making.

Do not cite "Dad and Dave"; do not cite "The Sentimental Bloke." The former have escaped beyond the orbit of this discussion -- they have become national institutions like the koala, the Sydney Harbour bridge, and Captain Cook's cottage; while "The Bloke" forfeited the right to inclusion by being fashioned in a "pome" instead, of in a novel in the orthodox way.

Someone might possibly cite Richard Mahony, and with certain justification, because Henry Handel Richardson, beyond all argument our greatest novelist, has given us such an amazingly complete picture and penetrating analysis of the tragic Richard. Here, surely, you might say, is a character that can walk alone.

Exactly. And that is why Richard Mahony will never be recognisable by the people among the people -- he walks alone. In Mahony the author drew an individual whose tragedy lay in the very fact that he lacked what all those others , whom we mentioned earlier abundantly possessed: "the common touch"; and Henry Handel Richardson's art, soul searing though it is, is not, and possibly never will be, for any but the comparative few. She is not the novelist "of the people."

And what of our Katharine Pritchards, our Xavier Herberts, our M. Barnard Eldershaws, our Brian Pentons?

They have without doubt done literature in this country tremendous service. They have by their books made it known at home and abroad. But -- has one of their characters escaped from the printed page into the hearts of readers, into the crowds that travel to and from business every day, so that at any time you might pause and think: "I know that chap, don't I?" and then laugh to yourself, remembering that of course you were thinking of an Australian-born Kipps or Mr. Polly?

Or is it that an Australian Wells -- or Dickens -- has himself yet to be born?

First published in The Argus, 1 July 1939

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

Note: it's always "he" isn't it?

2009 Walkley Award for Non-Fiction

According to Wikipedia: ''The annual Walkley Awards, under the administration of the Walkley Foundation for Journalism, are presented in Australia to recognise and reward excellence in journalism."  One of the categories in the awards list is that of Best Non-Fiction Book.

The longlist of books for that award have now been released:

Graham Freudenberg, Churchill and Australia, Pan Macmillian
Peter Hartcher, To The Bitter End, Allen & Unwin
Jenny Hocking, Gough Whitlam: A Moment in History, Melbourne University Press
Mary-Rose MacColl, The Birth Wars, University of Queensland Press
David Marr, The Henson Case, Text Publishing
Iain McCalman, Darwin's Armada, Penguin
Sally Neighbour, The Mother of Mohammed, Melbourne University Press
Matt Peacock, Killer Company, ABC Books
Gerard Ryle, Firepower, Allen & Unwin
Robert Wainwright, The Killing of Caroline Byrne, Allen & Unwin

A shortlist of 3 books will be released on November 9, with the winner announced at the annual Walkley Awards dinner on November 29.

TV Adaptation of The Slap: Update


Back in May this year I posted about a possible TV adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas's novel, The Slap.  At that time I said that it was early in the development process and just because it was being looked at didn't indicate that it definitely would go ahead.

Now, however, it appears that the book is certain to appear on our television screens next year as ABC TV's Acting Head of Drama, Amanda Higgs, has indicated that development will commence in November.

As the article points out: "This year, The Slap has won the Commonwealth Writer's Prize, the Australian Book Industry Book of the Year award, the Victorian Premier's Literary Award, the ABA Book of the Year and the Association for the Study of Australian Literature Gold Award."

Just a Thought: Chloe Hooper

In the spirit of the current Victorian spring racing carnival - if the Prime Minister's Literary Awards were a handicap event how many pages penalty would Chloe Hooper's The Tall Man have accumulated by now?  Enquiring minds, etc etc...

As a reminder, this book has already won the following non-fiction awards: NSW Premier's Literary Award, Australian Book Industry Award, Indie Award, Davitt Award, Ned Kelly Award, John Button Prize, Victorian Premier's Literary Award, and Queensland Premier's Literary Award.

Reprint: Joseph Furphy Memorial

Unveiled at Yarra Glen

YARRA GLEN, Sunday--An Interesting ceremony took place at Yarra Glen yesterday afternoon, when a memorial plaque to Joseph Furphy ("Tom Collins"), Australian poet and author, was unveiled. The ceremony, which was attended by more than 200 persons, took place at the Yarra Glen State school, on the site on which Joseph Furphy was born in 1843. Furphy's only surviving sister (Mrs Stewart) was present. Mr J W Lawrey, chairman of the memorial committee, welcomed the visitors, and expressed pride that such an author had been born in Yarra Glen. The speakers included the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly (Mr Everard), the director of education (Mr J. McRae), Messrs G. M. Wallace, R. H. Croll, F. T. Macartney, Sullivan, Nettie Palmer, and Dr Huebener. The unveiling of the bronze plaque was performed by Mr Vance Palmer, who spoke on the value of Joseph Furphy's works to Australia's literature.

Mr. McRae spoke of the courage expressed by Joseph Furphy in his works, and of the very real picture of Australian life given in his book "Such Is Life." Mrs. N. S. Allen sang Furphy's Christmas Hymn, and Miss Joan Brunt recited his poem "Breaking the News." 

Tribute was paid to Miss Kate Baker, East Melbourne, who suggested the memorial. 

First published in The Argus, 1 October 1934

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

Note: Joseph Furphy was born on 26 September 1843 and died on 13 September 1912. 

David Malouf Watch #1

Reviews of Ransom

Alberto Manguel in "The Australian": "Ransom, his first novel in 10 years, it must be said at once, is (however abused the word) a masterpiece, exquisitely written, pithy and wise and overwhelmingly moving, constructed with invisible, successful craft that leaves the reader wondering how in the world it has been done... All of Malouf's books might bear the title of his early masterpiece, An Imaginary Life: in each, an individual (the poet Ovid, Frank Harland in Harland's Half-Acre, Jim Saddler in Fly Away Peter, Gemmy Fairley in Remembering Babylon) weaves together, from the bewildering tangle of the world, the strands of a self-portrait through which the reader can make sense of our inherited chaos. Every life is imaginary, in that each one of us must imagine it in order to live it out fully."

Peter Rose in "Australian Book Review": "Ever since [An Imaginary Life], Malouf's characters, mostly men, often young, have been drawn to 'the very edge of things'. Not for him the promiscuous alliances or metropolitan mires of an Iris Murdoch or Philip Roth or Alan Hollinghurst. So often, paired or alone, his characters slip away from the centre, 'relegated to the region of silence'. The effect, in Malouf's superb prose, is usually transformative. To paraphrase Ovid, these exiles will be separated from themselves and yet be alive."

"Boomerang Books" weblog: "If someone has a strong interest in classic literature, history, or is even drawn to fantasy novels (often built up from myth and history, and notions of honour) they will probably treasure this, as will anyone who enjoys literature on a sentence-level. Malouf's rendering of Ancient Greece is gorgeous, fantastical, and yet earthly, humble, and relatable."

The book was also discussed on ABC Television's "First Tuesday Book Club".


Malouf was interviewed by Ramona Koval on ABC Radio National's "Book Show", and, while the audio is no longer available, the website does carry a transcript of the interview.

Rosemary Sorenson discovers where Malouf's love of Homer originated, for "The Australian".


Malouf offered his thoughts on the 2009 Man Booker Prize, prior to the announcement of the winner, finding he couldn't choose between the Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and J.M. Coetzee's Summertime.

The Brisbane-based Expressions Dance Company used Malouf's memoir 12 Edmonstone Street as an aid for remembering childhood experiences.

The author was recently at the Sprung writers festival in Albany, Western Australia.

Australian Bookcovers #182 - Death Deal by Garry Disher


Death Deal by Garry Disher, 1993

(Allen & Unwin edition, 1993)

Wyatt series #3

[Somehow got this one out of order.]

A Pardon for "The Breaker"?

breaker_morant_portrait.jpg    "The Age" newspaper is reporting today that a push is underway to obtain a pardon for Harry "Breaker" Morant.

Morant, along with Peter Handcock and George Ramsdale Witton, were court-martialled and convicted, in January 1902, of the murder of a number of prisoners of war during the Boer War in South Africa. Morant and Handcock were executed by firing squad on 27th February 1902. Witton's sentence was commuted and later overthrown.

In 1979 Kenneth Ross wrote a play, "Breaker Morant", based on the incident. The play was later adapted for the screen by Bruce Beresford with Edward Woodward as Morant, and Bryan Brown as Handcock.

As well as being a soldier and horseman, Morant was also a poet, of reasonable quality, in the bush ballad style popular in Australia in the late 19th century.

The bulk of his poems (about 60 in all) were published in The Bulletin. These poems were collected and published in one volume in 1980. The most poignant of these being "Butchered to make a Dutchman's Holiday", written while Morant was waiting for his death sentence to be carried out.

This latest push for a posthumous pardon is based on a call for a re-examination of the trial proceedings, with the argument being that Morant and his co-accused were not allowed a reasonable period to prepare their case and were not allowed to call certain witnesses in their defence. The release of Witton in 1904 after a review of the case would tend to lend some credence to the new arguments. There seems to be little doubt that Morant did commit the acts of which he was accused. The question that remains is whether or not he was just "following orders" from the British High Command - though this was later dismissed as a legitimate defence during the Nuremberg Trials following World War II - and whether he was executed in order to ensure that the incident and the policies around it would be "hushed up" and forgotten.

It is interesting to note that Morant and Handcock remain the only two Australians ever convicted of war crimes.

The Grocer's Apostrophe - "Reserve's"

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And it's not just the apostrophe.  Why use full stops in some places but not in others? 

Poem: The Lost Poet by Nellie A. Evans

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He was born to stir the spirit of his race to tears and laughter;
He was born to be the writer and the singer of his age.
For he had the gift in keeping, and the generations after
Should have held his name, "The Deathless," as a glorious heritage.

His the gift of dream and wonder, his to see with clearer vision
Through the old pretence and fashion, to the heart of Hidden Things;
But his people stood before him, and they barred the gift's fruition,
And they told him of the madness that such dreaming ever brings.

They had words to crush the yearning of the high ambitious spirits,
And they held his spirit downward as it struggled to the light;
And they whispered to each other, "'Tis the madness he inherits
From the Father and the Mother; let us guide his steps aright."

So they dragged him slowly downward -- he was young and very lonely,
And he turned him from the starway, and he made their cares his own,
And then -- Ah, shall we blame him, if he sunk a short while only
To the level of his kindred, for the wrong was theirs alone.

Then he woke as if from slumber, but the starry path was hidden,
And the spirit world was shrouded, and he sought its light in vain.
And the gift of song went from him, as it came to him, unbidden;
He had turned to meaner worship, and he might not sing again.

So he bade farewell for ever to the glowing spire and steeple,
To the strong blue hills a-shimmer, to the brightness of the sun,
And he left the youth behind him, that was slain by his own people,
In a grave rose-piled and hidden, and the poet-life was done.

Then he wandered forth a rover, and the dark and silent spaces
Never knew the sound of singing by its magic lay uncrossed;
But the wrong went up to heaven, and the angels bowed their faces,
And the stars were veiled and hidden for the poet who was lost.

First printed in The Bulletin, 24 December 1908


Might be time to get some "John Birmingham for Senator" buttons out and about.  Gamers of the world unite.

Sherryl Clarke offers some writing advice, based on a quote from Australia's latest Nobel Laureate, Dr Elizabeth Blackburn: "Chance favours the prepared mind".  Actually it's pretty good advice for just about anything. Ranks up there with golfer Tom Watson's: "The more I practice the luckier I get".

Lisa Hill recently visited the township of Maldon in Central Victoria as part of the Henry Handel Richardson celebration weekend.

George Dunford has signed up for Marieke Hardy's new publishing venture in association with The Age newspaper.  I'd be interested to see how it turns out, though at a rate of about $5.55 for about 1,400 words, the asking price is a little steep.

Reprint: Obituary: The Late Mr Charles Harpur

A few weeks ago we noticed in the columns of a provincial paper an announcement which was invested with a peculiar and sorrowful interest. It was a notification of the death, by consumption, of Mr. Charles Harpur, who has been called "the father of Australian poetry," and who was generally and justly looked upon as a man of genius. For the last thirty years the name of the deceased has appeared from time to time in association with verses having, in many instances, original power, and, in every case, a pure and elevated tone of thought. Some of his lyrics -- "Under the wild figtree," for example -- are as natural as wood notes, and a few of his higher flights, such as the "Creek of the Four Graves," remind the reader of the strength and solemnity of Wordsworth. "The peace and power of hills," which some one finely attributes to the latter poet, seems to have passed, on more than one occasion, into the writings of Mr. Harpur. The genius, however, of the Australian poet was undoubtedly native, although it appears to have been shaped by a long aud reverent study of Milton, the elder Coleridge, and the bard of the "Excursion." His blank verse is modelled on Milton's; and there is a fitfulness of rhythm in his lyrics,which instantly recalls to the memory certain passages of "Christabel." Notwithstanding the influences implied here, several of his poems contain verses and lines whose syllables must have been caught from the wild and waste places of nature only. The stanzas on the "Wail of the Native Oak," and "An Aboriginal Deathsong," are peculiarly waifs of the Southern wilderness; the latter piece reading like a Keene from the lips of the blacks themselves. These, and other verses of their class are filled with that sense of vastness and spectral silence which the mind cannot help associating with the Australian forests; and which Mr. Harpur, of all writers, has been the most successful in describing. The genius of the deceased was not confined in its expression to poetry alone. He was an eloquent, if not an elegant prose writer; and some of his essays in the domain of aesthetics evince a really high critical faculty. We may note, for example, the papers on Chaucer and Shelley, which appeared in this journal about eighteen months ago. Mr. Harpur was born at Windsor in the year 1818,and he died at Euroma, in the Moruya district, on the 9th of June last. His youth, having been passed in the dark early days of the colony, was doubtless, as his frieuds assert, an unsettled one; and possibly, as a consequence,his education suffered. After leaving the Hawkesbury district, the poet spent some years with his brother Joseph, on the Hunter, near Singleton. In the latter locality many of his most beautiful pieces were penned; and it was there that he married. Mr. Harpur subsequently moved to Sydney, where he met and formed a lasting friendship with the late Mr. Deniehy. During his stay in this city he was also on intimate terms with the present Colonial Secretary, and with Mr. Duncan, then editor of the Australian. These gentlemen assisted the poet, who seems to have been of a wayward and restless nature, in many of his later undertakings; and it was mainly due to their influence that he obtained a situation under Government in the capacity of Gold Commissioner. The site allotted as the field of his official labors caused him to move to Euroma, near Moruya, where he continued to reside up to the date of his death. In 1860 a scheme of retrenchment was carried into effect by the Government, and several of the gold commissioners, including Mr. Harpur, had their salaries struck out of the estimates. The poet felt this blow keenly, and from that date his health -- never of the best -- began to decline. The sorrow, however, which hastened his end was caused by the death of a favorite son, who had shot himself accidentally while on a holiday excursion. Mr. Harpur never rallied after the last mentioned event. His life appears to have been one full of trouble; and there is no doubt that he suffered deeply from what appeared to be the neglect of the public. But all his expression was marked with a brave and persistent hope, and it must have been very trying to witness the spectacle of his strong spirit flickering away into the dark, notwithstanding its courage, its capacity for endurance, and its patience under the heaviest trials.

First published in Sydney Herald, 7 July 1868

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

Note: Charles Harpur was born on 23 January 1813, and died on 10 June 1868.

The formatting here is as it originally appeared. You have to wonder at the ability of the readers of early Australian newspapers to be able to read such small print, published in such slabs. I have to suspect that newsprint was scarce and it was more a matter of words per page rather than anything else.

second_father.jpg    Domenico Cacciola
Second Father: An Insider's Story of Cops, Crime and Corruption
University of Queensland Press, 218 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Michael Freedman

Regrettably, for the longest time it seemed that the words "Queensland Police" and "corruption" were synonymous. Seemingly, "racism" is also a word that is indelibly imprinted in the annals of the Queensland police force. This is certainly the impression gained from reading former Queensland cop Domenico Cacciola's memoirs of his time on the force, curiously titled The Second Father. (This has nothing to do with corruption, but simply refers to the fact that Cacciola is the eldest of four boys). It is to be hoped that since Mr Cacciola's experiences, things have changed.

As these are memoirs, the author follows the usual course of devoting the initial chapter to his early life, before writing about his experiences with Queensland police from Chapter 2. From a fresh-faced rookie, Cacciola spent 35 years in the service of Queensland Police until his retirement in July 2001. On his account, the intervening years were excruciating, the narrator seemingly spending more time fighting corruption from within his own Force than fighting crime outside it. Clearly, it is not easy being an honest cop inside a den of thieves.

Perhaps Cacciola's closeness to his family allowed some respite from the horrors he was facing at work, but it is worth reflecting that he was at times working undercover. There was a limit to how much he could confide in his family. The loneliness and isolation must have at times been unbearable. It speaks volumes about Cacciola's character that he was able to make it through the other side without succumbing to bitterness and regret.

In his preface, the author tells us that names and identifying characteristics have been altered for some of the characters in the story. While this is no doubt a necessary evil, if for no other reason than to avoid legal problems, it struck me as ironic that, in a tale about a honest cop adrift in a sea of corruption, certain information was altered or, presumably, withheld altogether from the reader. This aside, however, the author delivers what appears to be a warts and all account of a life spent in a state of mistrust of a number of his colleagues and supervisors. Once it became clear that Cacciola was an honest cop, the mistrust became mutual.

At no stage is the impression given that Cacciola's skills, while no doubt considerable, lie in writing. On the basis of The Second Father, it seems difficult to imagine a gripping novel coming from the author's pen. A gripping autobiography, however, is easier to imagine because that fully describes The Second Father. Partly, this is because of the material, which with the recent Melbourne gangland murders and consequent allegations of gangland corruption, is quite topical. Being in constant physical danger from those in whom Cacciola should be able place significant trust automatically conveys an element of excitement. But I think it is in the author's honest, straightforward, "leave nothing out and let the reader come to his or her own conclusions" approach, that makes The Second Father more than simply memoir. It is a cautionary tale for the naïve, a reminder that power corrupts and the more power a person has the greater the avenue for that corruption. Even for someone who is aware of the extent of the corruption allegations against sitting and retired Queensland police officers (who can forget the Fitzgerald inquiry) Cacciola's words are an eye-opener.

Upcoming Literary Festivals

Here are a couple of upcoming literary festivals that you might be interested in over the next few weeks.

"The Flight of the Mind: Writing" and the creative Imagination will be held over the weekend of October 24-25 at the National Library Theatre in Canberra. the keynote speech will be delivered by Geraldine Brooks and the weekend program includes Steven Conte, Rodney Hall, Andrea Goldsmith, Brian Dibble, Mark McKenna, Michael Morton-Evans, Felicity Packard, Kevin Brophy, Claire Thomas, Judy Horacek, Lisa Gorton, James Bradley, Terri-ann White, Mabel Lee, Peter Goldsworthy, Sophie Cunningham, Aviva Tuffield, Peter Pierce and Alex Miller.  There is also a pre-conference dinner on the Friday night.

The Second Toolangi Festival will take place over the same weekend (October 24/25) in Toolangi, near Healesville in Victoria's Yarra Valley. The festival is designed to commemorate C.J. Dennis who lived in or near the town between 1908 and 1938, when he died.  The full program of the festival is available.  I'm aiming for the Sunday.

Reprint: A Letter to the Editor of The Argus by Nettie Palmer



Sir, - While valuing a certain astringent and challenging quality in your reviewer's comment last Saturday on a recent Australian anthology, I cannot think that his description of Gordon's "Sick Stockrider" should pass. He writes: - "It is a sketch in galloping anapest." That is to say, it is written in the rhythm of Browning's "How They Brought the Good News," or of Gordon's own swiftly racing lines, "To the Wreck." But Gordon was too good a bushman, too good a horseman, too good a verse-writer to cause a sick man - a dying man - to meditate in "galloping anapest." The lines of "The Sick Stockrider" move unmistakably in a quiet amble; "And the station children playing overhead." -Yours, &c.,      


Kalorama, Feb. 27.

First published in The Argus, 2 March 1935

Note: this letter is replying to a review of an Australian poetry anthology, The Wide Brown Land, which was reprinted here last week.

Tom Keneally Watch #9

Reviews of The People's Train

peoples_train.jpg    Patrick Allington in "Australian Book Review": "...Keneally builds terrific momentum by drawing on extraordinary events: the Russian Revolution and the onset of World War I.  If the scaffolding of this novel is now and again exposed, that is something historical fiction can never fully overcome."

Francesca Beddie in "The Australian": "Fortunately, it is in Paddy's stories that Keneally rescues his novel from becoming an idealised account of socialist aspirations. We experience episodes of the arbitrary violence that punctuates the history of Russian communism. These depictions are sharp, surprising and brutal. They need to be there."

Mike Crowl in "The Otago Times": "The historical sequence approach of the novel means there's little real interplay between the characters; those who get involved with each other often slide out of view without a sense of loss to other people...And the large cast becomes a welter of names for the reader to contend with, even though a few are recognisable for their later part in history."

"Readings" website: "Based on a true story, THE PEOPLE'S TRAIN brings the past alive and makes it resonate in the present. With all the empathy and storytelling skills that he brought to bear in SCHINDLER'S ARK, Tom Keneally takes us to the heart of the Russian Revolution through the dramatic life of an unknown, inspiring figure."

"Femail.com.au" website: "In The People's Train, Tom Keneally is able to effortlessly weave historical fact with fictional imaginings. His ability to capture these moments in time leave an indelible mark on the reader's consciousness. Whether it be the small town feel of sleepy Brisbane in 1911 or the passion and energy of the Russian Revolution, Tom is a master of conveying time and place. His characters are fully realised with their virtues and foibles on display. Once again the Booker Prize winning novelist, Tom Keneally has shown that he's one of Australia's leading writers."

Phil Shannon on the "Green Left Review": "... if the [promised] sequel has the historical integrity and thoughtfulness as The People's Train, it will be worth waiting for."


Re The People's Train: Keneally discusses the novel with Margaret Throsby on ABC Radio National's Classic FM; and Rosanna Greenstreet of "The Guardian"; and Des Houghton of "The Courier-Mail".


Keneally discusses The People's Train on a Random House video.

Australian Bookcovers #181 - The Bamboo Flute by Garry Disher

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The Bamboo Flute by Garry Disher, 1992

(Angus and Robertson edition, 1992)

Combined Reviews: Things We Didn't See Coming by Steven Amsterdam

things_we_didnt_see_coming.jpg    Things We Didn't See Coming
Steven Amsterdam
Sleepers Publishing

[This novel won the 2009 "Age" Book of the Year Award for Fiction as well as being selected as the "Age" Book of the Year.]


Venero Armanno in "The Australian" finds comparisons with Cormac McCarthy's The Road: "With the tone and premise set, Amsterdam leads readers into a sort of other-world of what might have happened if everything really had gone belly-up at the door to the 21st century. The links between these individual short stories are the situation and narrator, who starts out as a boy being driven away from civilisation by his parents and is later a man trying to deal with every lousy turn the broken world throws up...Amsterdam's vision is sunnier than the one McCarthy presents in The Road and many readers will find his style more accessible. His prose and storytelling is minimalist without crossing into the territory of a Raymond Carver or Richard Ford, and each of his stories benefits from being so carefully crafted, the reader feels few words, images or characters could have been pared back more. This makes for a fascinating and extremely readable collection that presents a dismal view of our future coupled with an intrinsic belief there is good to be found in almost all abysmal situations." He concludes by calling it "a challenging and impressive debut".

Emmett Stintson in "The Monthly": "While the nine sections comprising the work can be read as discrete stories, they are enriched by points of convergence and a shared context. And context is everything in Amsterdam's book, since everything occurs in a world hovering on the brink of various ecological cataclysms, Malthusian catastrophes and full-blown apocalypses. In this sense, Things We Didn't See Coming is doubly hybrid, fusing literary and science fiction - a union that has also been explored by such writers as David Mitchell, Neal Stephenson and Alasdair Gray...The prose is also generally restrained, yet the language intensifies when characters reach an epiphany, creating some moments of actual beauty - a technique that invigorates these powerful experiences."

Martin Shaw for the "Readings" website: "When I was given the opportunity of reading Things We Didn't See Coming in manuscript form last year, it was one of the most breathtaking experiences of my reading life. Fittingly I think for the extraordinary journey that is this book, the publisher has chosen not to give anything away in its packaging. Amsterdam, we are informed, is 'a writer living in Melbourne'; there is no descriptive blurb on the back cover, nor is there a table of contents for anyone assuming that it is a short-story collection (a novel in linked stories sums it up better)...A quite simply astounding book, and surely destined to become a contemporary classic!"

Angela Meyer on "LiteraryMinded": "Things We Didn't See Coming is a series of vignettes, from different stages of the unnamed protagonist's life in a dystopian alterno-present/future. It is a post-apocalyptic story, but told in a hard-boiled, yet highly resonant literary style. The sentences are sharp, the character is hard and the environment is one of rapid change and ruin -- but throughout there is also deep resistance. The book acts to massage you at your core, and every secondary character met along the way (no matter how fleeting) leaves a poignant stain on character and reader...It's a completely refreshing literary work from an Australian writer who I predict huge things for."

Andrew Doyle on "The Enthusiast" weblog: "In its modern incarnation, the apocalypse has been more thrilling and varied. Gone is the single event; now we have a multiple choice question sheet's worth of ways to end our time on earth. Wild weather, falling towers and Central America returning the favour of biological warfare. Melbourne imprint Sleepers, best known for its Almanacs of local writers, has released one of its first books on this very topic. Things We Didn't See Coming looks at the world through the modern catastrophic lens and imagines a startling reality...Above all, Amsterdam creates real worlds and real people. None of the characters or scenarios seem too far-fetched, nor do they lack human emotion."


Sarah L'Estrange spoke to Amsterdam on ABC Radio National's "The Book Show".

Kevin Rabelais interviewed the author for the "Readings" weblog.


Stephanie Campisi was quite taken by the book's cover and noticed a similarity between it and books by Emily Arsenault and Italo Calvino. Not that she's implying any copying, just an amusing co-incidence.

The author provided "The Age" with an essay describing how writing the book allowed him to organise his thoughts and to exorcise some of his worries about the future.

The book has its own dedicated website.

Poem: George Essex Evans by J. Bufton

Singer of pearl-purl songs,
   Beneath thy sunlit skies;
Gone from the wrecks and the wrongs
   And loosed from the toils and the ties,
   Fled as the morning mist flies,
      Sung are thy songs.

Singer of earnest strains,
   Set free, O bard, are thou;
Snapped are life's cords and its chains,
Soothed are its griefs and its pains;
   Fair are the bays on thy brow,
      A fadeless wreath.

Singer of deathless fame
   Born of the bardic race,
Never shall perish thy name,
Ages thy worth shall acclaim;
   Australia hath pledged thee a place
      Deep in her heart.

Singer of joys and tears,
   Thy harp yields to thy crown,
Dread not the stream of the years,
   Fear not their flowing or frown,
   Sleep in immortal renown,
      Honoured and loved.

Singer of gain and loss,
   Of Queensland's fallen sons;
Bard of the star and the moss,
Rest in the shade of the cross,
   Rest while Eternity runs,
      And sing God's songs.

First published in The Mercury, 20 November 1909

Queensland poet George Essex Evans was born on 18th June 1863 and died on 10th November 1909.

Review: Everything Beautiful by Simmone Howell

everything_beautiful.jpg    Simmone Howell
Everything Beautiful
Pan Macmillan, 277 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Bernadette Gooden

This is a delightful story about the gaining of self-worth in adolescence, the time in your teenage years when you begin to see through your confusion and self-consciousness to the beginning of who you really are and what you might be able to achieve.

Sixteen-year-old Riley Rose has been causing trouble at home. She has lost her mother to cancer and has had to adjust to a new school, in a new town and her father's new girlfriend, all in a short space of time. She has been doing poorly at school, drinking and experimenting with drugs and sex, and been arrested. She is an overweight Lolita Goth chic, has a poor self-image and she is also sick of everyone being in her face and telling her what to do and how she feels. In other words, she's at a bit of a crisis crossroad.

Even with all these problems, her intelligence and humour shine through as she tells us her story. She is an instantly likable and sympathetic character, especially to the 99.9% of girls who weren't born prom queens.

Her father and his born-again Christian girlfriend decide to send her to a religious holiday camp, Spirit Ranch, hoping that teambuilding exercises and spiritual counselling will help her to sort out her problems. Unfortunately, she and her best friend Chloe have planned a big night out at Ben Sabatini's party, on at the same time. Ben is the boy that Riley is in love with, and she and Chloe hatch a plan so that Riley can run away from the camp and attend the party.

When Riley gets to the camp, however, she is confronted by a group of kids who, in there own ways, are having just as tough a time sorting themselves out as she is. They are Fleur, the conceited, self-centred beauty, Craig the jock and Sarita, overprotected and stifled. Siblings Bird and Olive have to pay their own way by working at the camp and the other kids are hateful to Riley because she doesn't believe in God. The other main character is the wonderful Dylan, a boy with a mysterious past that has landed him in a wheelchair, bitter and untrusting.

Riley thinks all the adults are hypercritical holy rollers and finds herself intrigued by the rebellious Dylan. As they all get to know each other, they get to know themselves too, and the story is beautifully structured and well written. There is the added mystery of the contents of the abandoned Fraser homestead on the property, which is a magnet for the kid's curiosity.

This is a story about having an open mind and celebrating individual difference. It also deals with the differences between what kids want to do for themselves and what their parents want them to do. When Riley is feeling confused or upset she often takes us back to memories of what her mother said to her when she was alive, trying to get guidance from that and missing her mother's understanding of who she is.

The story builds up to great climax and resolution for the characters that is realistic, emotional and satisfying. Every character grows up quite a lot, even some of the adults!

I loved this book and gave it to my fifteen-year-old daughter to read, which she did without putting it down. She loved it too. There can be no greater praise for teenage fiction than parent-child agreement on its quality and merit. A very good read for teenagers, however there are drug taking, drinking and sex references. I found them totally realistic to the world my teenagers live in, and it is shown in the story that self-destructive behaviour has its consequences. These topics are handled in a very balanced way by the author. If you are a parent thinking of buying this book for a very young teen, you may wish to read it first.

"The Coming Dark" by Angela Slatter

Angela Slatter has conducted a round-table discussion, with a number of Australian up-and-coming sf&f writers, on the following topic: "We've had the apocalypse penciled in for a while now, so how are some of us going about documenting the coming dark? How is our changing, frayed environment affecting the writing of authors on our side of the literary divide?" 

Taking part are Deborah Biancotti, Kaaron Warren, Peter Ball and Jason Fischer and the final result appears in "The Internet Review of Science Fiction".  As Angela introduces it: "Funnily enough, the day we finished this was the day the dust storms started and the sun turned red - some of Deb Biancotti's photos of the apocalypse are there too."

2009 Nobel Prize for Literature

By now you will have heard that Romanian-German author Herta Müller has been awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize for Literature.  I don't know anything about her which is not overly surprising.  I think most readers in the Western world will feel the same way.  One weblog that doesn't, and didn't, is The Complete Review which managed to pick the winner in advance.  

Pretty fair effort I'd say.

Reprint: An Australian Anthology: Mediocrity in One Volume

"The Wide Brown Land." a New Anthology of Australian Verse, chosen by Joan Mackaness and George Mackaness (Sydney: Angus and Robertson); 4/6.

This anthology is striking evidence of the poverty of literary criticism in Australia. An anthologist must be, to some extent, a critic, for his choice is an expression of taste and his anthology a guide to reading. One looks for standards from an editor of poetry. The poet may publish whatever he cares to; the task of the anthologist is to select from the mass of verse such writing as is worthy of republication. Perhaps not more than 5 per cent, of the work here collected would find a place in any English anthology of verse. But criticism in Australia has been lamentably indulgent, evading its responsibility with the specious argument that because Australian writers have not had time to write good poetry they should be excused for writing bad poetry.

"The Sick Stockrider," the only poem of Gordon's included in the anthology, belongs to the history of land settlement rather than to the history of poetry! It is a sketch in galloping anapests; not a poem. Yet it is incomparably better than much of the verse in "The Wide Brown Land," for it has the saving grace of rough vigour. If Gordon did not write like a poet he certainly felt like one. But why Zora Cross should be represented by six poems when a writer of the stature of C. J. Brennan is allowed only two poems is Incomprehensible. Nor is there any critical justification for four sets of verses by Myra Morris when a writer of the delicacy of Kenneth Slessor is allowed only one poem - and that, a poor one. Miss Mackaness, one of the editors, has reprinted two of her own verses and five of Louis Lavater's, but Furnley Maurice, who does take poetry seriously, is dismissed with two. The book is full of such critical inconsistencies and errors.

The guiding principle of selection, notably in contemporary work, seems to have been the pretty. Such lines as--

Buy a bobbin!
There goes Robin
Tying time to a daisy's yoke!

which are from one of Zora Cross's poems, may be quoted as an illustration. That is not poetry; it is word-spinning. Many of the other verses are conventionally descriptive; not accurately descriptive, which is a virtue, although not the complete function of poetry. Poetry should interpret some aspect of life by its appeal to the mind and the senses. By that rough standard most of the work here republished stands condemned. The delicate work of Shaw Neilson, the austerity of Brennan, the fantasy of Hugh McCrae, and the ardent spirit of Mary Gilmore are obscured by the depressing mediocrity of the book as a whole.

First published in The Argus, 23 February 1935

Note: you can read the full text of Gordon's poem, "The Sick Stockrider".  The Melbourne critic Nettie Palmer wrote a letter to the editor of The Argus, the following week, commenting on this review.  That letter will be reprinted here next Wednesday. 

Empty Sky


Trawling the backwaters of the world wide web, as I am wont to do, can mean you come across some very intriguing spots.  One such wander recently took me to "The National Book Foundation" and their page of book covers from 60 years of The National Book Awards.  And scolling down I saw this.  I've got a bit of a connection with Bendigo, with a brother and mother-in-law both living there, so I'm paratially aware of the history of the town's name: "The name of Bendigo Creek derives from an employee of the Mount Alexander Run, an ex-sailor or bullock driver who was handy with his fists and nicknamed Bendigo after the Nottingham prize-fighter, William Abednego Thompson, generally known as "Bendigo Thompson". Bendigo Creek was named after him, and the Bendigo Goldfield after the creek." - Wikipedia.  So how did Louis L'Amour come to use the town's name as a book title for one of his many westerns?  Did he ever visit Australia? Or maybe he just dragged it up from the depths of his memories about gold-rushes?  Or maybe he just trawled an atlas looking for likely names.  Old-school surfing? 

Pip Newling has been spying on her fellow commuters.  I've been known to do this as well.

Justine Larbalestier wonders why it is possible to remember such book titles as The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, yet to struggle to recall When You Reach Me.  She's not alone with this.  You only have to hang around the front counter of any reasnable bookstore and listen to the conversations between customers and the sales staff. And I'm not poking fun here.  We all struggle - why do you think I have this weblog anyway?

"Adelaide from Adelaide" took her kids to Spain and gave each of them a book to sketch in on their holidays. My wife and I make it a point of ensuring the kids each have a notebook for their overseas trips.  It allows them to paste in photos, postcards, wrappers, and stickers, and to write up what they've seen and done each day.  Trouble is, my 16-year old demands one of these now. At least I know they'll last.

Andrew Kelley asks: "What's a not-for-profit university press doing publishing the memoir of an underworld figure?"  In case you're not across this - i.e. if you don't live in Melbourne - Andrew is talking about this bloke.  And it's a good point he raises. It's not a book I can see myself rushing out to read.

Jonathan Strahan contemplates his future as an editor of science ficton in Australia.  Even getting to the point of thinking about what it would take to edit a fiction-based magazine again.  I reckon he'd have to give up the day-job and dive in head-first. Big commitment.  One or the other, I'd say.

Angela Meyer is in Ubud, Bali, for the Writers and Readers festival there.  And it looks like a good one to get to at some time.

2009 Man Booker Prize Winner

Hilary Mantel's novel, Wolf Hall, was last night named as the winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize.  I'm not sure the UK bookie's will be too happy as this novel was the favourite for the award almost since the time it was published.  Coetzee's Summertime was probably the other work to be in major contention.

Mantel won from the  following shortlisted works:

A.S. Byatt The Children's Book
J.M. Coetzee Summertime
Adam Foulds The Quickening Maze
Hilary Mantell Wolf Hall
Simon Mawer The Glass Room
Sarah Waters The Little Stranger

Reprint: Obituary - Mr. T. A. Browne (Rolfe Boldrewood)

MELBOURNE, December 31.

The death was reported to-day of "Rolfe Boldrewood" from the effects of gastric influenza. Thomas Alexander Browne, who wrote under the name of "Rolfe Boldrewood," was the eldest son of the late Captain Sylvester John Browne, of the East India Co.'s service. He was born in London in 1828, and arrived in New South Wales with his father in 1830. He was a pioneer pastoralist in the Port Fairy district from 1844 to 1856, and afterwards engaged in squatting pursuits in southern New South Wales. In 1869 he abandoned pastoral pursuits owing to the prevailing droughts. In 1870 he became a police magistrate and goldfields warden in New South Wales, a position he held until 1895, when he retired to live in Melbourne. Mr. Browne was best known by the name under which he wrote, "Rolfe Boldrewood." He was the author of numerous stories of Australian life, some of which were of very high literary quality. His best known work is "'Robbery under Arms," which was published in 1883. In this story he gathered together all the bushranging traditions of New South Wales, and wove them into a tale which, for real pathos, vivid description, and sustained interest, has seldom been approached by any Australian writer. The verisimilitude of the tale was such that, to many, Starlight and the Marstons were living personalities. His other works did not reach the standard of "Robbery under Arms," but they were very popular, as they contained first-hand descriptions of the old overlanding and digging days, and the wild life of the backblocks generally. He published, in all, some 18 stories.

First published in The Mercury, 1 January 1910

Note: I had to check the date of this newspaper article twice to ensure I had it right - and I did - and I find this obituary highly amusing, though I doubt that Browne felt the same way. He actually died some five years later. The obituaries from that time aren't much different.

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

Note: Rolf Boldrewood was born on 6 August 1826 and died on 11 March 1915.

Australian Bookcovers #180 - The Stencil Man by Garry Disher


The Stencil Man by Garry Disher, 1988

Cover illustration: Desolation, Internment Camp, Orange, NSW by Ludwig Hirschfeld Mack

(Imprint edition, 1988)

Note: not the greatest reproduction, but the best I have.

Gerald Murnane Interview

barley_patch.jpg    Probably best known for his haunting novella, The Plains, Gerald Murane has published rather few volumes of fiction - about 7 in a 35 year writing career - and none since Emerald Blue in 1995.

Murnane was awarded the Patrick White Award in 1999 and was given an Australia Council emeritus award in 2008.

Now he has released Barley Patch from Giramondo Publishing and he has been interviewed by Simon Caterson of "The Australian".

Murnane uses fiction to reach for a truth beyond simple storytelling. Barley Patch is a book about another, more perfect book never destined to be written, one, perhaps, that is ultimately impossible to create. It is like a big, polished stone thrown into the babbling brook of ordinary novels.

"Must I write?" is a question the author says he has pondered for decades. "I have several times, not in sadness or despair, just given up writing fiction," he says. "The main reason (is) that I didn't have anything important to say. Several times from the 1990s I would say, 'That's it, I've written enough.' "

Murnane disarmingly concedes he has had a "chequered" career, often switching publishers and producing books that attracted international and scholarly attention, especially in Sweden and Germany, but didn't make him much money.

He says his current publisher, Ivor Indyk, has revived his writing career. Indyk's imprint, Giramondo Press, republished Murnane's first book, Tamarisk Row, in 2008, together with an essay collection Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs.

Barley Patch is his first new full-length work of fiction since 1995, and he is relishing the freedom he now has with Giramondo. "Given the impossible chance to do things differently, I wouldn't have tried so hard in earlier years to write long books or short pieces; I would have allowed things to take their own shape and their own length. Of course, the publishers would not have indulged me when I was younger the way Ivor has."

Poem: History of a Printer by Anonymous

"Blest Invention, alone to God the praise!
For gifting man this noble art to raise;
From thee what benefits do men possess?
Our Nation's Bulwark is -- the BRITISH PRESS!"

At ten years old (as if to raise my fame)
My father placed me in a wooden frame
In my left hand he clapt an iron stick
On which brass rule was often heard to click. 
Though I'm not skill'd in Greek or Latin lore,  
Nor ancient Hebrew used in days of yore,
With due submission I inform my betters.
That I can boast I am a man of letters.
Bred to the bar, though I ne'er studied law,
I well could espy every deed I saw; 
And though no Christian merchant, Turk, or Jew,  
I've dealt in pearl, and oft in diamond too.
And, though unskill'd in aught of pastry art,  
In making pie I oft have had my part.
This, too, I own, whatever my condition,
That I have often practis'd imposition
When numerous lines and columns have appear'd
In hostile proof, I've prick'd them in the beard
With bodkin keen, as poinards were of old, 
Which vile assassins oft employed for gold.
I am no traitor, but depend upon't,
I've form'd and placed French cannon in the front;
With English too, I've hit them in the nick,
And chased whole thousands with one shooting-stick.    
In forming lines it oft has been my pride,
Into a town to pour a whole broadside
Oft at the gallows have I tugg'd and sweat,    
And with a mallet heavy metier beat.
A galley slave near fifty years I've been,
And at the stocks my hands wore often seen;
But still, to show my history's not ill paged,
At cards and balls I've often been engag'd.
Though never rich, I yet have had my horse,  
But found by doing so my case was worse;
For, when with others in the chase I've join'd,
I've met with crosses that have hurt my mind.
When author's works by me were looked o'er,
I've lock'd them up to publish them the more. 
And, though no doz, this my assertions true,
'I've been a pointer and a setter to;
But not a spaniel, for I ne'er could lick
The foot of him who dared attempt to kick.  
Howe'er an author did his language dress,
In varïous forms I've sent it to the press
But hard's the fate of poor unlucky I,
My father taught me in damp sheets to lie;
Yet, when the tympans and the platten bell,
They form'd new lines for other folks to tell.  
Although neglected at my grammar schools,
I've paid obedience to the chapel rules;
And yet, to prove that I was not uncivil,
I always spoke in favour of the devil.

   But now no more the brazen rule doth click,
Nor well-adjusted line adorn the stick;
No more I see the chapellonions sit
To try their causes and exert their wit.
While the gav pitcher jovially would pass,
From ass to pig, from pig again to ass;
And thus one truth most other truth surpasses,
I've drank with pigs, and often fed with asses,
So when astray from either sty or stall,
And they on me would in their trumping call,
I pledge my soul as witness of the deed,
I ne'er forsook them in the time of need;
Unless indeed I'd set up every space, 
And caused myself to have an empty case.
At present I have set up every letter.
My copy's out and I've imposed the matter;    
And when my cuter form returns to clay,
Preserve, O GOD! my inner form I pray;
If I perchance, and there can be no doubt,
Have made a double or have left an out,
The error's trivial, 'tis with us as common
As noisy tongue is to a scolding woman.
My case being out and nothing to distribute, 
Should some kind ass or generous pig contribute,
To fill my case, in thinking I'll be proud,
And bray and grunt my gratitude aloud.  
If to some wood-hole I am doom'd to go,
To end my days in misery and woe,
Where tyrants rule with cruelly replete,
Ah! dread abode -- the poor man's last retreat,
'Midst dire oppression, anguish, pain, and grief,
Without a friend to yield the least relief ;
Then haste, kind Death, in pity to my age,
And clap the FINIS, to my life's last page.
May heaven's great Author my foul proof revise,
Cancel the page in which my error lies
And raise my form above the ethereal skies.


No more shall copy bad perplex my brain ;
No more shall type's small face my eye-balls strain;
No more the proof's foul page create me troubles,
By errors, transpositions, fonts and doubles;  
No more to overrun shall I begin;
No more be driving out or taking in;
The stubborn Pressman's frown I now may scoff;
Raised, corrected, finally worked off!

First published in The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 17 March 1842

I Wish I Were Blind

Ampersand Duck savors the pleasures of re-reading, but not too soon.  She keeps a list of books she wants to return to over the years and has a sense in her head of how long the interval between reads needs to be.  There is also the point, that she makes, that the reader you are now is not the reader you were last time you tackled that book.  Which is something I'd agree with but which I am finding less and less applicable as I move further into middle-age.

Two weeks ago my post in this category was titled "You Can Look (But You'd Better Not Touch)" and reading Scott Westerfeld's blog today I realised I should have used that title for this post instead.  Ah, well, this song-title will have to suffice.

John Birminghan's gone and done himself some damage, making typing difficult and painful.  Needing to churn the words out he has invested in "MacSpeech Dictate", some Apple software that transcribed speech into written text.  Easy, right?  Well, no actually.  John struggled early to come to grips with the software but seems to have got the hang of it now.  As we used to say in the software trade - and as he readily admits he should have done - RTFM.  And yet I never seem to do that.

Lisa Hill is getting into Gerald Murnane, in particular The Plains and Inland. I haven't read Inland but The Plains is one of the strangest, more interesting short novels published in Australia.  I state in the comments section that it has some sf elements, Lisa contends that Murnane is more about intellectual paradoxes.  I'll just have to go back and re-read it.  And isn't that what all these discussions are about?

Andrew McGahan Interview

wonders_godless_world.jpg    Andrew McGahan is best known for his Miles Franklin Award-winning novel The White Earth, and for Praise, which won the author the "Australian"/Vogel Award in 1991.

His latest novel, Wonders of a Godless World, has just been released and you can see a promotional trailer for the book here.

From the publisher's page: "The witch, the virgin, the archangel, the duke and an orphan meet in the extraordinary new novel from the award-winning Andrew McGahan -- an electrifying, tumultuous story of inner demons, desire and devastation, a powerful and apocalyptic tale that sweeps the reader from the beginning of time to the end of the earth."

Leading up the release of the book, Jo Case interviewed the author for the "Readings" weblog.
Wonders of a Godless World is heavily reminiscent of myth or fairytale: its population of archetypes, the element of parable, the magic realist or fantastical element. What drew you to using this form? Was it your intention to create a kind of contemporary fable?

Actually, my intention at the very beginning was just to find some way to indulge my schoolboy fascination for unusual natural disasters. Originally, I was trying to come up with a story that involved no human characters at all, instead using only the forces of nature interacting in a kind of wordless planetary drama. I couldn't make that idea work, but then the orphan and the foreigner emerged. The orphan -- a girl freakishly in tune with the planet and its processes, but so out of tune with humanity that she can't talk or even remember her own name. And the foreigner -- a man utterly out of tune with the planet and doomed time and time again to die in natural disasters, and yet whose own outrage always brings him back to life. From there, all the weird and interesting stuff about Earth that I originally wanted to explore could be played out in the relationship between these two.

But having allowed humans into the picture, I was still keen to keep them at a distance. Hence no one is allowed a name or any normal dialogue or even, when it comes to the five or six peripheral characters, much individual personality. So yes, because of that the story takes on an otherworldly or mythic or fairytale tone, and I was happy to go along with it, but it was more of a side-effect than a central purpose.

Reprint: "The Banjo's" Poems

Mr. A. B. Paterson is modest with much right to be otherwise, which is more than can be said of many poets. The title which he has chosen for his book, "The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses" -- is as unpretentious a designation as we have seen for a collection of really admirable poems. In his preface to the volume Rolf Boldrewood expresses the opinion that "this collection comprises the best bush ballads written since the death of Lindsay Gordon." We are prepared to go a little further and say that even Gordon is less widely known in Australia than Paterson, certainly, but as "The Banjo," the pen name under which the talented author of "The Man from Snowy River" has hitherto hidden his identity. It strikes one at first as somewhat strange that in his book Mr. Paterson omits to mention his identity with "The Banjo;" but on consideratlon it becomes apparent that the man who wrote "The Geebung Polo Club," "Clancy of the Overflow," and "The Man from Ironbark" needs no other introduction whatever name he may afterwards choose to write under. There is no mistaking the swing of his verses. Perhaps no Australian poet has a wider local fame than Mr. Paterson. The four bush ballads just mentioned, not to speak of others, are to be heard all over Australia -- in every station hut from Cape York to Wilson's Promontory, from Cape Palmerston to Shark Bay -- wherever the white man has settled the swinging rhyme of "The Man from Snowy River" is familiar to everyone who has ever spent a night at a camp fire. Mr. Paterson has done well to give this fine piece of composition the place of honour. Though it is not easy to discriminate between several of his best poems, there is no mistaking the grandeur of his narration of how the Snowy River rider turned back the mob of wild horses when every other man, including the famous "Clancy of the Overflow," had fain confessed himself beaten. This man from Snowy River, though only "a stripling on a small and weedy beast," that was--

Something like a racehorse undersized,
   With a touch of Timor pony -- three-parts thoroughbred at least --
And such as are by mountain horsemen prized --
was more than a match for experienced stockmen of more imposing stature and greater age, for --
When they reached the mountain summit even Clancy took a pull,
   It well might make the boldest hold their breath,
The wild hop scrub grew thickly, and the hidden ground was full
   Of wombat holes, and any slip was death.
But the man from Snowy River let the pony have his head,
   And he swung his stockwhip round and gave a cheer,
And he raced him down the mountain like a torrent down its bed,
   While the others stood and watched in very fear.
And after the stripling on his pony had run the mob single-handed
   Till they halted cowed and beaten, then he turned their heads for home,
And alone and unassisted brought them back.

His hardy mountain pony he could scarcely raise a trot,
   He was blood from hip to shoulder from the spur;
But his pluck was still undaunted and his courage fiery hot,
   For never yet was mountain horse a cur.

Small wonder that lines such as these should stir the hearts of men who recognise in them scenes from their own lives and moments of enthusiasm.

Then "The Geebung Polo Club" has been quoted and parodied times out of number. It has even attracted the notice of English papers devoted to the noble sport, and has been quoted verbatim for the appreciation of readers who could wonder at, though they might not understand, the conditions under which that famous match was played between the Geebungs and the "Cuff and Collar Team," when both teams died in their heroic efforts to beat each other. Mr. Paterson thus discloses the result of that fateful contest--

By the Old Campaspe River, where the breezes shake the grass,
There's a row of little gravestones that the stockmen never pass,
For they bear a rude inscription saying, "Stranger, drop a tear,
For the Cuff and Collar Players and the Geebung boys lie here."
And on misty moonllght evenings, while the dingoes howl around,
You can see their shadows flitting down that phantom polo ground;
You can hear the loud collisions as the flying players meet,
And the rattle of the mallets, and the rush of ponies' feet,
Till the terrified spectator rides like blazes to the pub --
He's been haunted by the spectres of the Geebung Polo Club.
We might go on quoting indefinitely from the other half-hundred poems in the book without wearying our readers, but justice to the author and the publisher requires a halt. It is sufficient to say that there is many an hour's delight in "The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses" for everyone who loves the Australian bush and bush life. But we would fain give one closing extract, from "Clancy of the Overflow," as an admirable picture of the romantic side of the drover's life--
In my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of Clancy
   Gone a-droving down the Cooper where the Western drovers go;
As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing,
   For the drover's life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.
"The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses;" by A. B. Paterson. Sydney: Angus & Robertson. London: Y. J. Pentland.

First published in The Brisbane Courier, 1 November 1895

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

You can read the full text of the following poems:
"Clancy of the Overflow"
"The Geebung Polo Club"
"The Man from Ironbark"
"The Man from Snowy River"

And you can read the full text of the poetry collection reviewed here at Project Gutenberg Australia.

Peter Carey Watch #12

News of Parrot and Olivier in America

As seems usual these days, Carey's next novel will have a staggered publication schedule across Australia, the UK and the US, with different covers in each region.

The Australian edition will be published by Penguin on 26th October. Their description of the book:

parrot_and_oliver_aus.jpg     Olivier is a young aristocrat, one of an endangered species born in France just after the Revolution. Parrot, the son of an itinerant English printer, wanted to be an artist but has ended up in middle age as a servant.

When Olivier sets sail for the New World - ostensibly to study its prisons, but in reality to avoid yet another revolution - Parrot is sent with him, as spy, protector, foe and foil. Through their adventures with women and money, incarceration and democracy, writing and painting, they make an unlikely pair. But where better for unlikely things to flourish than in the glorious, brand-new experiment, America?

A dazzlingly inventive reimagining of Alexis de Tocqueville's famous journey, Parrot and Olivier in America brilliantly evokes the Old World colliding with the New. Above all, it is a wildly funny, tender portrait of two men who come to form an almost impossible friendship, and a completely improbable work of art.

The UK edition will be published by Faber & Faber on 4th February 2010. The publisher's blurb from Amazon UK reads:

Olivier is a French aristocrat, the traumatized child of survivors of the Revolution. Parrot the son of an itinerant printer who always wanted to be an artist but has ended up a servant. Born on different sides of history, their lives will be brought together by their travels in America. When Olivier sets sail for the New World, ostensibly to study its prisons but in reality to save his neck from one more revolution -- Parrot is sent with him, as spy, protector, foe and foil. As the narrative shifts between the perspectives of Parrot and Olivier, and their picaresque travels together and apart - in love and politics, prisons and the world of art -- Peter Carey explores the adventure of American democracy, in theory and in practice, with dazzling wit and inventiveness.
The US edition will be available on 20th April 2010 from Random House. The Amazon US blurb reads:
From the two-time Booker Prize-winning author: an irrepressibly funny new novel set in early-nineteenth-century America.

Olivier -- an improvisation on the life of Alexis de Tocqueville -- is the traumatized child of aristocratic survivors of the French Revolution. Parrot is the motherless son of an itinerant English engraver. They are born on different sides of history, but their lives will be joined by an enigmatic one-armed marquis.

When Olivier sets sail for the nascent United States--ostensibly to make a study of the penal system, but more precisely to save his neck from one more revolution--Parrot will be there, too: as spy for the marquis, and as protector, foe, and foil for Olivier.

As the narrative shifts between Parrot and Olivier--their adventures in love and politics, prisons and finance, homelands and brave new lands--a most unlikely friendship begins to take hold. And with their story, Peter Carey explores the adventure of American democracy with dazzling inventiveness, and with all the richness and surprise of characterization, story, and language that we have come to expect from this superlative writer.

An excerpt of this novel will be published in Granta 108: Chicago. Which seemed to amuse Victoria Lautman who asked Granta editor John Freeman how it came to be included.

Review of His Illegal Self

Although this review by Janette Turner Hospital was originally published in February 2008, it seems to have become available on The Monthly website just recently: "The strength and beauty of Carey's novel lies in the perspective of his very young protagonist. Che is bewildered, frightened, vulnerable, wise, completely loveable. His grandmother, protectively, had banned both TV and newspapers from his universe, so Che has had to assemble his history and his identity from overheard fragments and from furtively collected newspaper clippings."

Review of My Life as a Fake

The "Fantasy and SiFi Fiction" weblog is a bit in two minds about the book, calling it "a strange, multi-layered journey through a man's past, his artistic inspiration and his products, both illusory and real." And later: "Overall the pace of the book is varied and, here and there, one feels that Peter Carey has over-complicated things and thus detracted from the directness that could have achieved increased impact."


Carey talks to John Freeman of Granta magazine but his upcoming novel in a video interview.


In my last "Peter Carey Watch" I mentioned that Melbourne composer Brett Dean was working on an opera based on Carey's novel Bliss. "The Financial Times" is now reporting that Dean has premiered some of the components of that opera at the Cabrillo Music Festival, in Santa Cruz, California. And "The Age" is reporting that Opera Australia will take the opera to the Edinburgh Festival in 2010.

While not about Carey directly, this history of the Faber & Faber publishing house does mention him; referring to the author as one of the "big bankers for the publisher".

In case you keep track of these things, a signed, first-edition of The Big Bazoohley was auctioned recently on eBay for $US24, and a signed, first-edition of Tristran Smith is currently running at $56.53.

Parallel-Importation Restrictions on Books

While not being specifically about the ongoing Australian debate about the parallel-importation restrictions on books, this piece about the history of the UK publishing house Faber & Faber makes a very telling point:

Stephen Page, the current CEO of Faber & Faber, thinks British publishing is caught in the endgame of the death of the net book agreement in 1995. This enabled supermarkets and large retailers to heavily discount prices. "It decimated the independent booksellers and drew everyone into a much more mass market conversation based around bestsellers, which has not been good news for a publisher like Faber," he says. Price has become the way to attract buyers and so from top to bottom the margins were squeezed.

Pro-abolitionists will dismiss this as not being applicable or just plain wrong. But, surely, if it happened there it will happen here.

Online Fiction: The Heart of the City by Garth Nix

Garth Nix's short story, The Heart of the City, is featured in the Summer 2009 issue of Subterranean magazine, and the site has also made it available online.

Currently Reading


 Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie
The second book in the "First Law" series. Epic fantasy written to honour the honour and explore the standard fantasy tropes, as well as to poke more than a little fun at them at the same time. A big book, but still a page-turner.



 How it Feels by Brendan Cowell
A debut novel from a multi-talented author/actor/director. A coming-of-age novel which might well be semi-autobiographical.


Recently Read


 Monster Blood Tattoo: Factotum by D. M. Cornish
The third book in the MBT series. Will we finally find out who Rossamund really is? And will we be sad to leave this fully-realised fantasy world? I suspect the answer will be "yes" to both.



 Rendezvous at Kamakura Inn by Marshall Browne
Browne's first novel in a new series, this time featuring a Japanese detective, Inspector Aoki. This novel finds the inspector investigating an old murder in a snowed-in remote Japanese retreat.



 The City & The City by China Miéville
Miéville's Hugo Award winning novel of two cities inhabiting the same physical location. A murder mystery with hints of classic sf/fantasy memes, from Dick to Borges, but in a European setting.

 Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child
The 13th Jack Reacher novel. Suicide bombers on the New York subway and international terrorism mixed with hard-boiled action makes for an interesting brew.



 The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
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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