December 2009 Archives

Poem: Yule Fever by C. J. Dennis


Note: it's that time of year when I head off for a few days up-country with the family for all things festive. I'll be back before the end of the year. In the meantime here's a poem from C.J. Dennis which captures some of the essence of the frenzied rush to Christmas.

I must go down to the shops again, to the crowded shops go I
And all I have is a long list of the gifts that I must buy,
And a few bob in the old kick and a mere spot of credit;
For he'll trust me, so the boss said, but I hate the way he said it.

I must go down to the shops again, for the call of Christmastide
Is a stern call and a hard call that may not be denied.
And all I ask is a fair choice at reasonable prices
And a hard heart for bland blokes with blandishing devices.

I must go down to the shops again. There's gifts for Mum and Dad
And Jim's gift and Joe's gift and toy for Peter's lad.
Then all I want are gloves for Clare? And June? I'll send her roses,
And -- who's next? The list says -- I've lost it! Holy Moses!

But I must go down to the shops again, to the shops and the milling crowd
On a hot day and a fierce day when the skies know ne'er a cloud;
And all I ask is a fair spin 'mid the masses overheating
And the loud bawl of the bored babe, and the toy drums beating.

I must go down to the shops again, for I would be counted still
With the kind coves of the free hand in this season of goodwill;
And all I ask is a stout heart to carry on undaunted
While we scour town for the salt-pot that we know Aunt Annie wanted.

I must go down to the shops again, for they'll ply me, sure as fate
With the pink tie and the puce sock, and I must reciprocate.
But all I ask is a long seat when the weary trek is finished
And enough left for the Yule feast ere the bank-roll be diminished.

First published in The Herald, 4 December 1935

Reprint: The Libretto of "Moustique" by Henri Kowalski


Sir,- It seems to me, considering some suggestive lines which appeared in the Herald, that the impression is that the name of Marcus Clarke was unduly used by the author of the libretto of "Moustique." The words of the songs of the first act are his, and in the second act, until the romance of Queen Venus, "In days of old," that is to say, two-thirds of the work is signed Marcus Clarke. The dialogue differs from the original, and this for a cause that I explained, namely, that Marcus Clarke died before he flnished the work, leaving in my hands the portion indicated above, and the plot of the last act. Coming back to Paris after my first travel in Australia, I gave charge to two French authors, MM. Pagol and E. de Monlieu, to terminate the libretto accordingly with the plot of the eminent deceased. This was done, and in 1883 "Moustique" was played in French at the Alcazar Royal, of Bruxelles. The critics on that occasion thought that the French libretto had an English character, and was written on the Gilbert and Sullivan models and in complete opposition to the Parisian conventional manner. The name of Marcus Clarke was pronounced, and the Paris Figaro. Gaulois, Evenement, whose notices were afterwards reproduced in succinct manner by the Melbourne newspapers, related the opinion of the Belgian and French press. I should be very much annoyed if the public could suppose that I made a free use of a name representing a talented Australian writer; on the contrary, I thought that the feeling and judging of the European press should receive a sanction in these colonies; that is to say, that the English character of the "libretto" should be more appreciated than the French one which is purely the copy of the idea of Marcus Clarke, if not literally word for word what he left in my possession. I regret that the English translation of the French part was badly done in this country. I acted only with the greatest desire to see the name of Marcus Clarke applauded with mine. I acknowledge that my deficiency in the English language did not permit me to see at first reading that this translation was made by hands not thoroughly acquainted with theatrical objects, if with French; and the hurried way in which my opera was produced did not allow me to correct or to diminish the roughness of the words.

I am proud of the success of my music, and I regret sincerely that, in my desire to gain a new victory for my regretted friend Marcus Clarke, I was left alone without advice, though I do not forget the help that some artists gave me in correcting themselves their parts, in making more scholarly the accents in their proper place.

You will accept this letter, Mr Editor, as a proof of my sincere desire to decline any responsibility about the writing of advertisements and any premeditation, when I was anixous to place the name of Marcus Clarke, as the true creator of the imaginary story that is played just now under the title of "Moustique."

I am, &c, H. KOWALSKI.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 11 July 1889

Note: this is the third of three pieces I've reprinted here over the past week regarding this production. The first of these can be found here, and the the second here. It's best they are read in order.

This was the piece I originally intended to reprint as I thought it provided a bit of an insight into one of Clarke's last works.  But, after re-reading it, I realised it couldn't stand on its own - hence the second piece, which is the review this letter comments on.  And then I realised I needed to provide a bit of context, hence the reprint last Wednesday of the initial notice of the play.

Australian Dictionary of Biography entry for Marcus Clarke

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

Australian Bookcovers #191 - Chain of Evidence by Garry Disher


Chain of Evidence by Garry Disher, 2007
Cover design by Chong
Text Publishing edition, 2007

#4 in the Challis series

Poem: Next Door by Henry Lawson

Whenever I'm moving my furniture in
   Or shifting my furniture out --
Which is nearly as often and risky as Sin
   In these days of shifting about --
There isn't a stretcher, there isn't a stick,
   Nor a mat that belongs to the floor;
There isn't a pot (Oh, my heart groweth sick!)
   That escapes from the glare of Next Door!
   That Basilisk Glare of Next Door.

Be it morn, noon or night -- be it early or late;
   Be it summer or winter or spring,
I cannot sneak down just to list at the gate
  For the song that the bottle-ohs sing;
With some bottles to sell that shall bring me a beer,
   And lead up to one or two more;
But I feel in my backbone the serpentine sneer,
   And the Basilisk Glare of Next Door.
   The political woman Next Door.

I really can't say, being no one of note,
   Why she glares at my odds and ends,
Excepting, maybe, I'm a frivolous Pote,
   With one or two frivolous friends,
Who help me to shift and to warm up the house
   For three or four glad hours or more,
In a suburb that hasn't the soul of a louse;
   And they've got no respect for Next Door!
   They don't give a damn for Next Door.

First published in The Bulletin, 18 February 1915

Reprint: Amusements: "Moustique" at the Opera House

All things considered, Mons Henri Kowalski amd the others concerned in the production of "Moustique" can have no cause to complain of the reception accorded the new work last night. The first act went off amid enthusiastic applause, and it gave good promise for the later part of the work. The concluding two acts were not found so entirely pleasing as the first, and the interest and excitement gradually dwindled. There are two reasons for this weakness of the latter part of the opera. Mons. Kowalski appears to have been unable to cope with the difficulties of sustaining the power of his music, and the book, it must be confessed, is tame. The libretto is ascribed to the late Marcus Clarke, but it is difficult to believe that any literary man could have turned out writing which is at once deficient in point and grace, and verses which are next to impossible to sing. The words for the chorus are particularly trying, and some of the lyrics flow as smoothly as they should. That there is good work in the opera   cannot be denied, and the enterprise of the management in making way for a piece which is almost purely a local composition, should be encouraged. The music at any rate is invariably light and sparkling, partaking as it does of the Offenbachian school, and it contains some pleasing and catching compositions, albeit, there is in it an occasional reminiscence. The orchestration is not so able as it might be, but the music ripples along gaily from start to finish. One of the most tuneful airs in the piece is allotted to the representative of Queen Venus, the head of a number of ladies who live on an island in a state of single blessedness. This is a waltz song in the first act. It is extremely taking and pretty, and it was deservedly encored last night. Another charming song is that given by Moustique in this act, "I am the merry little Moustique," which was also vociferously re-demanded, thanks in no small degree to the pure voice and winning manner of Miss Flora Graupner, for the words of this song are enough to perplex any artist; they are about as hard to articulate as can well be imagined. In the finale to the first act there is a very graceful quintette and chorus. The opening chorus of the second act, "Work, work," is effective. It is immediaitely followed by the best number   which is rightly given to Moustique. This is a song in which the little hero describes life in Spain, Germany, and France. It is eminently bright and catching with its tambourine accompaniment and dance, and, magnificently rendered by Miss Graup-ner, it is likely to become popularr. The duet for the tenor and soprano in this act is exceedingly pretty. One of the best bits in the opera is in the final act. This is a quartette which parodies the Miserere scene from "II Trovatore," and there is a capital quintette, as well as a sparkling drinking song for Moustique.  It may be argued that the piece is not without its resemblances to Sullivan, Planquette, and   Cowen, but " Moustique," or at least the music of it, fulfils its purpose in being exhilirating and easily comprehended of the multitude.

The story is slight in the extreme, and,as already indicated, deals with the presence of a party of tourists on an island hitherto peopled only by damsels who are vowed to celibacy. Their resolution when put to the test is soon broken and Queen Venus and Captain Cook, Madame Manunis and Medisohn - whose names explain their characters - resolve to exchange a single life for that of prospective matrimonial bliss. The only one who is left out in the cold is Moustique, a young midshipman, after whom the opera is named. The piece, however, as it stands is rather like "Hamlet" minus the Prince of Denmark. There is little enough of Moustique in all conscience. The part, regarded either from a dramatic or musical standpoint, is an indifferent one. Moustique is banished from the stage during the finale to the first act, and he is seen only at fitfiul intervals throughout the opera. The other characters are much more in evidence, and the music of the part is not nearly so captivating as that of the other soprano part, Queen Venus.Tthis circumstance is all the more to be regretted, since Miss Flora Graupner, whose voice is pure, sweet, and soft, sings with delightful ease and felicity of expression. And, what is rare amongst ladies of the operatic stage, she acts uncommonly well into the bargain. She is neat, dapper, full of life, and she is never self-assertive. She sings the part to perfection, and she acts it with so winning and delicate an air that "Moustique" should find favour on account of the thorough excellence of this impersonation, if for nothing else. Miss Graupner has a beautiful voice, a pretty presence, and rare acting ability - a combination of good qualities which should ensure her a successful career. Miss Lilian Tree as Queen Venus, sings effectively, and she was greatly applauded last night, but she seemed a little strained, and her voice showed signs of over-exertion. Mr Henry Bracy sang, as he always does with ease and sweetness, and greatly strengthened the cast. The tenor part, however, is not so strong as might be desired. We could well afford to listen to Mr Bracy's pleasing voice and clear enunciation in one, or two more songs than those at present set down for him. The comic business is shared by Miss Clara Thompson and Mr John Forde,   both of whom are as amusing as may be. The cast of the principal characters, it will thus be seen, is not a large one, but it is more than competent. The opera went quite smoothly last night, when the conditions of such a production are taken into consideration. The hitches were trifling, and, such as they were, will doubtless be remedied at once. The scenery, by Mr. George Campbell, is pretty. The best scenes are those of the first and third acts - an island with a seascape, and the temple of Vesta respectively. The second act - the interior of a schoolroom - does not allow the scenic artist much opportunity. The male characters are attired in more or less modern costumes of all civilised nations, while the ladies in the first act wear classical dresses. The latter were not well draped last night. They should hang in graceful lines and not look so much like bundles. The dresses are right enough, but they require to be worn properly. Hovvever, as we have said, such matters as this will in all probability be speedily rectified. There was a large audience, the dress circle being particularly well-filled. There was the usual profusion of bouquets presented to the performers, and after the second act Mons. Kowalski was handed an address and a baton in addition to wreaths from various clubs. Such demonstrations of feeling are all very well, but to our   thinking, they are more in keeping at the end of the run of a piece than at its commencement.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 3 July 1889

Note: this is the second of three pieces I'm reprinting here over the next week regarding this production. The first of them can be read here.

Australian Dictionary of Biography entry for Marcus Clarke

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

Events at the Wheeler Centre

And speaking of the Wheeler Centre, they have released their first calendar of literary events starting in February with "A Gala Night of Storytelling" on February 13th at the Mebourne Town Hall, kicking off 6:00pm.

"Twelve of Australia's best writers come together for an intimate night of storytelling, each reflecting on those tales that have been handed down to them through the generations, each giving voice to an inheritance of wisdom, of understanding, of identity.

"With contributions from Chloe Hooper, Paul Kelly, Cate Kennedy, Judith Lucy, Shane Maloney, David Malouf, John Marsden, Alex Miller, John Safran, Christos Tsiolkas, Tara June Winch and Alexis Wright this will be a literary event like no other."

Looks like being a good one.

2010 CAL Scribe Fiction Prize

Back in August I posted about a new Fiction Prize for unpublished manuscripts for Australian writers over 35.  This prize is sponsored by Scribe Publications and the CAL Cultural Fund and carries a monetary reward of $12,000 along with a publishing contract with Scribe.

The longlist of authors has now been announced as follows:

George Dunford
Angus Gaunt
Leah Kaminsky
Jonathan Marshall
Maris Morton
Meg Mundell
Andrew Nette
Jane Sullivan
Niki Tulk
Jen Webb

"The entries submitted by these ten writers will now be judged by Dr Kerryn Goldsworthy, writer and editor; Mark Rubbo, Managing Director of Readings; and Aviva Tuffield, Fiction Acquisitions Editor at Scribe."

The shortlisted will be announced in early February and the winner on 18th February at the Wheeler Centre for Books, writing and ideas in Melbourne.

Note: a couple of names you might recognise there: Jane Sullivan is a journalist for "The Age" and George Dunford, who blogs as Hackpacker and who interviewed me for "The Big Issue" back in August.

Reprint: "Moustique" at the Opera House

This evening, at the Opera House, will be produced a comic opera in three acts, written by the late Marcus Clarke, and composed by Henri Kowalski. During the year 1880 the author and composer collaborated with an idea that their joint work should be fanciful and out of the common run. With this object in view "Moustique" was written and composed. Briefly told the plot is as follows:- A number of men, having become tired of the matrimonial thrall, resolve to emigrate and seek seclusion in some out of the way spot. Accordingly they set sail under the guidance of Captain Cook, jun., and eventually land upon an island which they imagine is uninhabited. Travelling with the party is the boy Moustique, who explores the island, and discovers that it is peopled solely by females. Consternation ensues among the tourists when they learn this intelligence; and their fears are further augmented upon hearing that any man found upon the island must suffer death before sunrise on the succeeding day.

Later on the women of the Virgin Isle appear on the scene, headed by their Queen Venus, and her Minister of Affairs. They discover the intruders, and vow to wreak vengeance upon them. Moustique, however, is spared on account of his youth. Finally love conquers the hearts of the manumitted maidens, and they succumb to Cupid's influence. Marriage is   reverted to, misogyny banishes, and it is to be hoped "all live happily for ever afterwards." The cast of the new piece contains the names of Miss Flora Graupner - in the title role - Miss Lillinn Tree as Venus, and Miss Clara Thompson, Mr. John Forde, Mr. William Stevens, and Mr Henry Bracy. Special interest is attached to this production, from the fact that it is the first representation of an important dramatic musical work by a celebrated author, whose stage writings were always graceful, and by a musician who is much esteemed in local circles.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 July 1889

Note: this is the first of three pieces I'm reprinting here over the next week regarding this production. Hopefully all will become clear soon.

Australian Dictionary of Biography entry for Marcus Clarke

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

Australian Bookcovers #190 - Snapshot by Garry Disher


Snapshot by Garry Disher, 2005
Text Publishing edition 2005

#3 in the Challis series

Best SF/F Short Story Collections of the Decade

Western Australian editor and anthologist, Jonathan Strahan, was interested to find 5 genre entries amongst the list of the A.V. Club's "10 Best Short Story Collections" of the '00s.  Interested enough in fact to consider what might be the "10 Best SF/F Short Story Collections" of the '00s.

Included in Jonathan's list are the Australians:

Black Juice by Margo Lanagan
Oceanic by Greg Egan

Di Morrissey Interview

silent_country.jpg    Di Morrissey is the author of some 17 novels, starting with Heart of the Dreaming in 1991. Along the way she has published such works as Blaze, The Reef, The Valley, Monsoon and The Islands. Her latest novel is titled The Silent Country, and as it appears in local bookshops she has been interviewed by Madeline Healy for "The Courier-Mail":
Morrissey, a former journalist, has written 17 books, most of which have made it to the Australian bestseller lists and a number of which are set in the Outback.

"Once I've got the place I just go there and people generally tell you stories and you hear stories," she says.

She has travelled to, and set her books in, Hawaii, South America, Vietnam and throughout Australia many times.

"You can't write about a place if you haven't been there," she says. "It's my journalistic background."

Morrissey began her writing career as a cadet at Consolidated Press before heading to London's Fleet Street. She spent eight years working on TV's Good Morning Australia, putting the writing career on the backburner, until she took the plunge and moved to Byron Bay to write.

"I have a writing cabin in Byron Bay with a little wooden hut out the back and I also have a house on the river about four hours out of Sydney," she says.

"I can work anywhere but it is nice to have a space where there are no distractions. You are more focused."

Morrissey's books are steadfastly set outside of major cities, a choice she has made because of her love of rural landscapes.

"I like to write about the colours of the Outback," she says.

"Getting off the bitumen and walking to the special places with indigenous guides is what I like. And to see it through their eyes is a real honour."

Poem: The Bard of Toolamine by Edward Dyson

We had a bard at Toolamine,
   And Toolamine was well content,
For Flayer said that very fine
Was every high, Miltonic line
Flung from his pen, as 'twere a note
Emitted from the mellow throat
   Of some big, brazen instrument.

His poems were anonymous --
   It was the poet's modest whim
To blush unseen. We made no fuss,
For no one seemed to care a cuss,
Until a city scribe with views.
Who read one day the TOOLA NEWS,
   Excitedly discovered him.

And then the wondering world was sure
   There lurked somewhere at Toolamine
A bard whose poems would endure
While there was English Literature --
One worthy of the splendid past,
Whose pearls of poesy were cast
   Before the dull, unheeding swine.

This Flayer was a man of might;
   HIs pen had swept an overplus
Of Austral bardlets out of sight,
And one was famous. Over night
Of him the critic made a joke,
And in the morn the bard awoke
   To find himself grown infamous.

He said the poet he had found
   The ravages of time would flout;
The thunder of his rhyme would sound
In ears unborn the world around.
But no one else could understand
How he was great, why he was grand,
   Or what his stuff was all about!

Still little critics took their cue
   From Flayer, and in ecstasy
They cried how beautiful, how true,
How old, and yet how strangely new,
How wonderful, almost divine,
Was this great bard of Toolamine --
   Whoever this great bard might be.

While Flayer praised, and quoted much
   To prove the mystic poet's worth,
The clamor of the crowd was such
That now the bard his latest clutch
Of verses signed, and so we knew
That Gonoff was the poet who
   Was set apart to shake the earth.

Of city critics twenty-three
   To Toolamine as pilgrims went.
We roared their antics grave to see
Before the bard, beneath a tree,
The township idiot was he,
The efforts of whose lanky Muse
The editor of TOOLA NEWS
   Had printed just for devilment!

First published in The Bulletin, 20 September 1906

Best Books of the Year 2009 #7 - "The Telegraph"

"The Telegraph" newspaper has published its picks of the best books of 2009.

Barry Humphries chose: Ordinary Thunderstorms by William Boyd, The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham by Selina Hastings, and Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada.

Sue Perkins and Lucasta Miller both chose Summertime by J.M. Coetzee.

Reprint: Review of "Around the Boree Log" by C. J. Dennis

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aroundboreelog_small.jpg    If he has not supplied a long-felt want, John O'Brien has at least seized a long-waiting opportunity in giving us a book of verse about Irish-Australians. In Around the Boree Log (Angus and Robertson) the Caseys and the Careys and the O'Neils go about upon their lawful occasions - their lovemaking and toiling, their prayers and arguments, very true to life, and much as they are going about these things to-day in every country town from Bungaree to Babinda.

The truly erudite reviewer in whom the passion for esoteric art has become almost a complex, would not be in the least degree satisfied with Mr. O'Brien's verses. There are so many things that they are not. Compared with the Iliad, for example, they show a regrettable lack of epic afflatus. Of Shakespearean tragedy, of Byronic gloom, of lush Swinburnian verbiage, they bear no trace. Indeed, though appearing under an Irish name, they have not the most distant relationship to the work of, say, W. B. Yeats or David Mellee Wright or "A.E."

Yet, in spite of what they lack, John O'Brien's verses may be greatly admired and well praised for what they are. They are Australian first - bush-Australian, and not just city-Australian, which, in its better qualities at least, is much like city-anywhere-else. They are Irish-Australian, of course. These Hanrahans and Callaghans and McEvoys could hardly be anything else: tenderhearted, sunny-tempered, loyal and pious children of "little Irish mothers." But they are pure Australian too: good mates, good workers, full of a healthy humor and a capacity for enjoyment that most of the world just now seems to have lost. They are very faithful pictures that John O'Brien presents; and many a reader, who remembers well his country town with its "Church upon the Hill" and its "Father Pat" and its "Young O'Neil," who

   Squatted down upon his heel
   And chewed a piece of bark.

will be deeply grateful to the author for reintroducing so many delightful friends.

And the verse which makes us acquainted with these jovial fellows is just as unpretentious as they are. It is in the direct Lawson-Paterson line mainly - unaffected talk about Australians, much as they would naturally talk about themselves. Yet, if his subject needs eloquence, the author can rise to it. But he in best at his simplest, in the pathos of "Making Home" and "Vale, Father Pat," the happy humor of "The Old Bush School" and "At Casey's After Church," or in the sheer rollickiing farce (true to life, all the same) of "Said Hanrahan" and "The Careys."

Possibiy, if Paterson had never strummed his Banjo, John O'Brien would never have sung to us as he does; that doubles our debt to Paterson. Yet there is much that is straigbt-out O'Brien in this book, much honest entertainment and pure fun. It is well worth while to read of "The Trimmin's on the Rosary," so continually on the increase that

   in fact, it got that way
That the Rosary was but trimmin's to the trimmin's, we would say;

or of the bishop who

Sat in lordly state and purple cap sublime
And galvanised the old bush church at Confirmation time,

and, in the course of his examination, demanded of the raw bush lad from Tangmalongaloo,

"Come, tell me why is Christmas Day 'the greatest in the year?"
But Christian knowledge wilts, alas, at Tangmalangaloo.


The ready answer bared a fact no bishop ever knew -
"It's the day before the races out at Tangmalangaloo."

It is all good fun; the kind of fun that calls up the happy chuckle rather than the loud laugh.

And the bush is there, enveloping its people with the bird-song and the flower-scent that the townsman Marcus Clarke could not discover. At times it is colorful, too

I've seen the paddocks all ablaze
   When spring in glory comes,
The purple hills of summer days,
   The autumn ochres through the gums.

Whatever it is not, this verse of John O'Brien's may well be admired for what it is - for its kindly humor, its gentle pathos, its honest pictures of one phase of country life and its good Australian sentiment. The book will find an army of readers all through Australia: but it is to be hoped, for the author's own sake, that his too-ardent admirers will not
hail him, upon his present performance, as a Great Poet. That he obviously does not pretend to be. For an honest rhymester, who seeks merely to entertain his public, to be hailed as a Great Poet is a vain and unprofitable thing; if it be persisted in it becomes a pathetic and an embarrassing thing, for which the helpless author is in no way to blame. As a book of healthy, happy verse, moderately well constructed and full of entertainment, Around the Boree Log should be judged, and commended. As such, it is a welcome addition to Australian literature.

First published in The Bulletin, 29 December 1921

Reprint: On Memory's Shelves by B.M.

If the shades of Banjo Patterson, Henry Lawson, Billy Hughes and many other noted men of the past were to return to Sydney to find something to read they would look for an old friend - Syd McCure.

They would be disappointed, for Sydney McCure no longer sits in his high-backed chair in Angus and Robertson's lending library, He has taken his chair home with him to Rose Bay after 62 years with the firm.

He has also taken a host of memories.

There's the memory of gentle, soft-eyed Henry Lawson.

"Henry . . . poor old Henry. He hardly ever looked at a book. I've no idea what he read," Mr. McCure told me as we sat on his sun porch the other day.

"He used to come into the library and stand there spouting poetry. I'd hustle him out, but I never heard him use a profane word.

"One day he came to me and said, 'Syd, we haven't had a row for a long time. This will never do.' But he never looked at a book. His poetry was all within him."

Billy Hughes, the Little Digger - what did he read?

"Oh, a good thriller always interested him. That and a humorous book. He loved P. G. Wodehouse."

It is strange to think of the doughty little Australian chuckling as he sat hunched over the doings - of Bertie Wooster and the inimitable Jeeves. It seems out of character.

Another frequent visitor was Banjo Paterson, but, like Lawson, he displayed little or no interest in the books on the shelves.

And so, as we sat drinking tea, the names rolled past in their ghostly parade.

A father of Federation, Sir Henry Parkes: "Would just browse among the books - showed no special preference."

Sir George Reid, State Premier: "Thrillers."

Admiral Sir Harry Rawson, State Governor: "Good novels and biographies."

Sir Julian Salomons, Judge: "Fiction, escape reading."

Leading members of the judiciary, apparently, always had a strong leaning towards thrillers.

And how has the public taste changed since 1892, when there was a school on the site of David Jones' main store, and Castlereagh Street consisted mainly of livery stables and horse bazaars?

For the better, apparently, factual and biographical books are enjoying greater demand than in the last 60 years, and their popularity is approaching that of fiction.

Syd McCure, at 75, and not looking much over 50, still takes a swim every day, drives his car and fully expects to fulfil a prophecy by Billy Hughes by living on lo live "to beat Methuselah."

First published in The Sun-Herald, 15 August 1954

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

John Kinsella on the Power of Poetry

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Western Australian poet John Kinsella is currently co-editor of Stand (UK), international editor of The Kenyon Review (USA), consultant editor to Westerly (Western Australia) and correspondent for Overland (Victoria), all of which, you would think, would keep him rather busy.  But he still finds time to write essays, such as his recent piece, "Vermin: A Notebook", for the Poetry Foundation.

Driving down to the city this morning, we saw five or six emus crossing the road in an area of national park where I hadn't seen emus before--not once in a lifetime of driving that way. It was a remarkable and invigorating sight as they plunged into the wandoo woodlands of Western Australia, negotiating their way through the spiky hakeas and parrot bush.
On a personal level, it came as a kind of foil for the weekend-that-was--a complex amalgamation of environmental affirmation and also witnessing of horrific environmental crime. The sort of experience that leaves you wondering if any form of environmental activism has any chance of succeeding, yet nonetheless also convinced that there is no choice about acts of resistance. Without them, the environment has no chance.

And writing a statement like this is part of a process of creating poems that hopefully resonate in different ways and in different contexts, and extend what is a particularly local debate into the wider dialogue of which, sadly, it is also part. The compulsion to witness in poetry, the desire to overcome a feeling of crushing failure, and the need to create a cautionary tale that is more than propaganda--all this goes hand-in-hand with a volatility and (maybe overly) emotional reaction to the situations as they happen.

Australian Bookcovers #189 - Kittyhawk Down by Garry Disher


Kittyhawk Down by Garry Disher, 2003
Allen & Unwin edition, 2003

#2 in the Challis series

2009 Aurealis Award Shortlists

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The shortlisted works for the 2009 Aurealis Awards have been announced.  These awards are presented to the best Australian sf and fantasy across a number of categories.  The shortlisted works are:

Best Science Fiction Novel

  • Andrew McGahan, Wonders of a Godless World, Allen & Unwin
  • Sean Williams, The Grand Conjunction, Astropolis Book Three, Orbit

Best Science Fiction Short Story

  • Peter M. Ball, 'Clockwork, Patchwork and Ravens', Apex Magazine May 2009
  • Peter M. Ball, 'To Dream of Stars: An Astronomer's Lament', Abyss & Apex Magazine October 2009
  • Christopher Green, 'A Hundredth Name', Abyss & Apex Magazine #31
  • Greg Mellor, 'Defence of the Realm', Cosmos #25
  • Mike Resnick & Lezli Robyn, 'Soulmates' Asimov's September 2009

Best Fantasy Novel

  • Peter M. Ball, Horn, Twelfth Planet Press
  • Trudi Canavan, Magician's Apprentice, Orbit
  • Glenda Larke, The Last Stormlord, HarperVoyager
  • K.E. Mills, Witches Incorporated, HarperVoyager
  • K.J. Taylor, The Dark Griffin, HarperVoyager

Best Fantasy Short Story

  • Christopher Green, 'Father's Kill', Beneath Ceaseless Skies #24
  • Ian McHugh, 'Once a Month, On a Sunday', Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #40, Andromeda Spaceways Publishing Co-operative Ltd
  • Tansy Rayner Roberts, 'Siren Beat', Roadkill/Siren Beat, Twelfth Planet Press
  • Angela Slatter, 'Words' The Lifted Brow #5
  • Lucy Sussex, 'Something Better than Death', Aurealis #42, Chimaera Publications

Best Horror Novel

  • Peter M. Ball, Horn, Twelfth Planet Press
  • Honey Brown, Red Queen, Penguin Australia
  • Stephen M. Irwin, The Dead Path, Hachette Australia
  • Tracey O'Hara, Night's Cold Kiss, HarperCollins Publishers Australia
  • Kaaron Warren. Slights, Angry Robot Books

Best Horror Short Story

  • Felicity Dowker, 'Jesse's Gift', Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #40, Andromeda Spaceways Publishing Co-operative Ltd
  • Christopher Green, 'Having Faith', Nossa Morte, February 2009
  • Paul Haines, 'Wives', X6, Coeur de Lion Publishing
  • Paul Haines, 'Slice of Life - A Spot of Liver', Slice of Life, The Mayne Press
  • Andrew J. McKiernan, 'The Message', Midnight Echoes, Australian Horror Writers Association

Best Anthology

  • Alisa Krasnostein (editor), New Ceres Nights, Twelfth Planet Press
  • Keith Stevenson (editor), X6, Coeur de Lion Publishing
  • Jonathan Strahan (editor), Eclipse 2, Night Shade Books
  • Jonathan Strahan (editor), Eclipse 3, Night Shade Books
  • Jonathan Strahan (editor), The New Space Opera 2, Harper Eos

Best Collection

  • Deborah Biancotti & Alisa Krasnostein (editors), A Book of Endings, Twelfth Planet Press
  • Greg Egan, Oceanic, Gollancz
  • Paul Haines & Geoff Maloney (editors), Slice of Life, The Mayne Press
  • Robbie Matthews & Donna Hanson (editors), Johnny Phillips Werewolf Detective, Australian Speculative Fiction

Best Illustrated Book/Graphic Novel

  • Nathan Jurevicius, Scarygirl, Allen & Unwin
  • Bruce Mutard, The Silence, Allen & Unwin
  • Emily Rodda & Marc McBride, Secrets of Deltora, Scholastic Australia
  • Madeleine Rosca, Hollow Fields, Seven Seas Entertainment

Best Young Adult Novel

  • Kate Forsyth, The Puzzle Ring, Pan Macmillan
  • Cassandra Golds, The Museum of Mary Child, Puffin Books
  • Glenda Millard, A Small Free Kiss in the Dark, Allen & Unwin
  • Scott Westerfeld, Leviathan Trilogy: Book One, Penguin
  • Sean Williams, Scarecrow, HarperCollins Publishers Australia

Best Young Adult Short Story

  • Joanne Anderton, 'Dragon Bones', Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #39, Andromeda Spaceways Publishing Co-operative Ltd
  • Sue Isle, 'Paper Dragons', Shiny #5, Twelfth Planet Press
  • Ian McHugh, 'Once a Month, on a Sunday', Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #40, Andromeda Spaceways Publishing Co-operative Ltd
  • Tansy Rayner Roberts, 'Like Us, Shiny #5, Twelfth Planet Press
  • Cat Sparks, 'Seventeen', Masques, CSFG

Best Children's Novel

  • Deborah Abela, The Remarkable Secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen, Random House Australia
  • Kate Constable, Cicada Summer, Allen & Unwin
  • Jen Storer, Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children, Penguin/Viking
  • Gabrielle Wang, A Ghost in My Suitcase, Puffin Books

Best Children's Illustrated Work/Picture Book

  • Graeme Base, Enigma, Penguin/Viking
  • Anna Fienberg (author), Kim Gamble (illustrator), Tashi and the Golem, Allen & Unwin
  • Pamela Freeman (author), Kim Gamble (illustrator), Victor's Challenge, Walker Books Australia
  • Dan McGuiness, Pilot and Huxley, Omnibus Books
  • Gregory Rogers, The Hero of Little Street, Allen & Unwin
The winners will be anounced at a ceremony at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts in Brisbane on Saturday 23 January 2010.

Poem: Poets by James Gregor Grant

Poets are a joyous race,
   O'er the laughing earth they go,
Shedding charms o'er many a place
   Nature never favoured so.
Still to each divinest spot,
   Led by some auspicious star,
Scattering flowers where flowers are not,
   Making lovelier those that are.

Poets are a gifted race!
   If their gifts aright they knew;
Fallen splendour, perished grace,
   Their enchantments can renew.
They have power o'er day and night,
   Life, with all its joys and cares --
Earth, with all its bloom and blight
   Tears and transport - all are theirs!

Poets are a wayward race!
   Loneliest still when least alone,
They can find in every place
   Joys and sorrows of their own.
Grieved or glad by fitful starts,
   Pangs they feel that no one shares,
And a joy can fill their hearts
   That can fill no hearts but theirs!

Poets are a mighty race!
   They can reach to times unborn,
They can brand the vile and base
   VVith undying hate and scorn!
They can ward Detraction's blow --
   They oblivion's tide can stem --
And the good and brave must owe
   Immortality to them!

First published in The Argus, 3 April 1849

Combined Reviews: Wonders of a Godless World by Andrew McGahan

| 1 Comment
wonders_godless_world.jpg    Wonders of a Godless World
Andrew McGahan
Allen & Unwin

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.


On an unnamed island, in a Gothic hospital sitting in the shadow of a volcano, a wordless orphan girl works on the wards housing the insane and the incapable. When a silent, unmoving and unnerving new patient -- a foreigner -- arrives at the hospital, strange phenomena occur, bizarre murders take place, and the lives of the patients and the island's inhabitants are thrown into turmoil. What happens between them is an extraordinary exploration of consciousness, reality and madness.

Wonders of a Godless World, the new novel from Miles Franklin-winner Andrew McGahan, is a huge and dramatic beast of a book. It is a thought-provoking investigation into character and consciousness, a powerful cautionary tale, and a head-stretching fable about the earth, nature and the power of the mind. It is utterly unlike anything you've read before - it will take you by the shoulders and hold you in its grip to its nerve-tingling finale.


Kerryn Goldsworthy in "Australian Book Review": "...this book is not going to be to everyone's taste, but readerly preserverance is rewarded...It is not a difficult read in the way that Brian Castro's or David Foster's dizzying pyrotechnics can be difficult, but it is still a bit of a struggle to sort thorugh the levels of reality and realism, such as they are, and the reader is haunted by a sense that she has missed some vital clue...Whatever else it is, this novel is an impressively sustained feat of imagination."

Geordie Williamson in "The Australian": "Whether McGahan is writing about racial hatred or deviant sexuality, his primary rhetorical gambit is bluntness. His direct and resolutely pedestrian language can lend a discomforting intensity to taboo subjects, a feeling akin to having your gaze held firmly for a few seconds too long. But prose can suffer as much from excessive plainness as too much filigree...while Wonders of a Godless World is too sophisticated to be the kind of dull allegory in which symbols have obvious, time-worn meanings, its characters lack the necessary freedom to act and choose outside the strict dictates of the form."

Short Notices

Sanchia Hovey on the "" website: "This book is totally unexpected and you won't be able to put it down. It's a thriller, an environmental plea, a book about madness, mind control, nature, space travel and just what it means to live forever."

Tania McCartney on "Australian Women Online" website: "From the opening pages of Andrew McGahan's latest fictional offering, we are bombarded with the dichotomy -- and parallels -- between ugly and beauty, whether it be aesthetic, figurative, primal, tangible, archetypal, human or metaphysical -- it's there, peeping from every placid or tumultous corner...Happily, there are also plenty of moments where the reader is drawn anxiously to the page - or more accurately - unwilling to even close the page and so miss the possibilities poised to erupt. Like the thundering volcano that features heavily in the lives of its characters, Wonders of a Godless World is sure to awaken the senses of anyone who cares to dip into its explosive pages - and however much you enjoy the novel, it will certainly give you something to rumble about for a long time to come."


Jo Case on the "Readings" website.

Fran Metcalf in "The Courier-Mail".

Jane Sullivan in "The Age".

Peter Mares on ABC Radio National's "The Book Show".


YouTube book trailer:

Best Books of the Year 2009 #6 - "The Guardian"

"The Guardian" newspaper, like its counterpart "The Observer", asked a number of authors, writers, poets and editors to chose the best books of the year for them.

Anthony Browne chose Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan, calling it "strange and beautiful."

Peter Carey chose the final volume of The Paris Review Interiews, stating "The four volumes together will make a generous gift for anyone who writes or reads. One volume would be not too shabby either."

Hilary Mantel picked This Is How by M.J. Hyland: "Maria Hyland is like no one else writing today; her work is spare, ungiving, a challenge. At the same time, it is deeply humane."

David Peace included The Death of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave in a long list of his best.

Simon Schama considered that Nam Le's The Boat "has (at least) three stories that will shake you through and through."

Reprint: Letter to the Editor: Mr. Marcus Clarke on Tasmania

| 1 Comment

Sir,-In a colonial periodical, the Australian Journal, a tale appears in parts, entitled "His Natural Life," by Marcus Clarke, the scene of which is laid in Tasmania. That lucubration purports to be an historical novel, descriptive of unutterable horrors attending penal discipline when Tasmania was a penal colony. This "smart" writer, in pandering to that widely prevailing and debased taste of sensationalism, which battens on Newgate Calendar literature, has gone so far beyond the bounds of truth or probability, as to render his pages offensive to Tasmanians, and even inimical to the interests of the colony.

It is well known that our Victorian neighbours never lose an opportunity of pointing the finger of derision at this colony for its having been made the depot of England's criminals; and were it desirable that this ridiculous sentiment of scorn should be intensified and extended, no more fitting instrument could be found for the purpose than the writer in question.

Mr. Clarke's great aim in his weak story seems to be that of painting Tasmania, to within a very recent period, as a very Pandemonium of horrors, crime, and suffering, such as no other part of the globe ever bore; and what may give the matter the stamp of credence among some of the readers of the Australian Journal, is the fact of the writer having paid this colony a visit last year, ostensibly for the purpose of making notes from the Crown records of crime and punishment. With this object he visited Port Arthur, and it is for the Commandant of that station to say how far his horrifying descriptions agree with the records to which he may have had access.

It would appear from "His Natural Life" that the most dehumanising atrocities were of most common occurrence at Point Puer, and that "baby-convicts" were frequently driven to commit suicide in order to escape from the persecution of the fiends placed in charge of them. It is accepted as a truism that human nature is much the same all the world over, and, therefore, that petty tyranny and heartless brutality occasionally made their appearance at Port Arthur, is only to be expected, as they did in aforetime in America, and other of England's penal settlements. It is quite a different thing when, from the heads of departments down to the most petty constable, all are described as being very fiends incarnate.

It is fresh in the minds of your readers, how, not long since, our walls were covered with posters announcing the advent of this story, and this is the stuff the smart writer foists upon us. Without doubt, it will find excited admirers among your Pollys and Biddys - "them as has feelin's, 'motions, and senterments of Christyuns, although they didn't be born with silver spoons in their mouths" - while not a few tears may be shed with the broom in one hand and the Australian Journal in the other.

Tho following is an example from this remarkable tale:-" An unlucky accident had occurred at Point Puer that morning, however, and the place was in a suppressed ferment. A refractory little thief named Peter Brown, aged ten years, had jumped off the high rock and drowned himself in full view of the constables. These 'jumpings off' had become rather frequent lately, and Burgess was enraged at one happening on this particular day of all days. If he could by any possibility hare brought the corpse of poor little Peter Brown to life again, he would have soundly whipped him for his impertinence."

And again:

"Unfortunately, when Dora went away, Tommy and Billy put into execution a plan which they had carried in their poor little heads for some weeks.

"I can do it now,' said Tommy. 'I feel strong.'   " 'Will it hurt much, Tommy?' said Billy, who was not so courageous.

"'Not so much as a whipping.'

" 'I'm afraid ! Oh, Tom, it's so deep ! Don't leave me. Tom !'

"The bigger baby took his little handkerchief from his neck, and with it bound his left hand to his companion's right.

" 'Now I can't leave you.'

"'What was it the Lady that kissed us said, Tommy?'

" 'Lord have pity on them two fatherless children!' repeated Tommy.

" 'Let's say it, Tom.' "

"And so the two babies knelt down on the brink of the cliff, and, raising the bound hands together, looked up at the sky, and said, 'Lord have pity on us two fatherless children' ! And then they kissed each other, and 'did it."

Mr. Clarke's deplorably imperfect sense of the value of literary truth has been strikingly displayed on very many occasions, especially so in a geological controversy with myself in the columns of the Australasian last year, when his lamentable failing made him look painfully ridiculous in the eyes of those who know him, and are acquainted with geology. But because a man with a rage for writing is afflicted with an infirmity, are we on that account to tolerate in silence such a wholesale libel ? He may screen himself under the plea of fiction, but the attributes of historical fiction are considered to be derived from the actual truth.

Mr. Clarke came to Tasmania unannounced; sojourned unnoticed, and departed unmissed. No fetes were given, no triumphal arches were erected, and no banquets were spread to do him honour. Can the remembrance of this oversight have anything to do with the origin of his false statements and ungenerous reflections? There must indeed be a sad paucity of material for the makers of colonial books to work upon, when they must needs rake from the vaults of the past those things which belong exclusively to it, and which had far better be forgotten. Assuming even that the statements of this writer had about them a shadow of truth, I would ask what good can result from such harrowing details, save that of selfishness in increasing the sale of his books, and gratifying a debased appetite for sanguinary sensationalism ?

Possibly Mr. Clarke may think these remarks not a bad advertisement. If, however, the sale of a few extra copies of the publication will counterbalance the indignation that must be felt among Tasmanians for his pernicious fiction, he is quite welcome to such an addition to his purse.

Let our Sydney neighbours be warned lest this writer pay them a visit to make Notes. Let him not have access to Cockatoo Island unless it be under the auspices of the Crown, as most likely there would appear, as a sequel to "His Natural Life," "His Unnatural Death."

A little advice in conclusion. Let Mr. Clarke follow in the footsteps of those great fictionists he professes so much to admire - to forsake prostituting his pen by pandering to unwholesome and depraved tastes - to set an example of healthy, entertaining, and instructive colonial literature, and then he will have the satisfaction of knowing that he is not only useful in his generation, but that he stands a fair chance of leaving his mark on the scroll of Australian history.

Yours truly,


Hobart Town,

April 15th, 1871.

First published in The Mercury, 19 April 1871

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

Note: they don't write letters like this anymore.

Samuel Henry Wintel has an entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Best Books of the Year 2009 #5 - "Library Journal"

The "Library Journal" has released its selection of Best Books for 2009. 

On the main list they have chosen Wanting by Richard Flanagan, describing it as follows:"Acclaimed Australian author Flanagan draws on the tragic history of Tasmania's aboriginal people, polar explorer Sir John Franklin's ill-fated final expedition, and Charles Dickens's unhappy marriage to meditate on the devastation wrought by people convinced that repressing their 'wants,' or desires, is the foundation of civilization. Elegant and astonishing."

Reprint: "Steele Rudd" Dead


Creator of Dad, Mum, and Dave

"Steele Rudd" (Arthur Hoey Davis), selector, bushman, engineer, and surveyor, but best known as the author of "On Our Selection" and other books of the series, died yesterday in the Brisbane General Hospital, aged 67 years. His place in Australian literature was definite and no Australian writer attained a greater measure of popularity. He was bom at Drayton (Q.) in 1868. He was the son of Mr. Thomas Davis, of the Darling Downs. In his boyhood he worked on sheep and cattle stations. He went to Brisbane in 1886 to enter the Civil Service of the State as a clerk in the office of the sheriff. He was under-sheriff in 1902-3, and later was secretary of the Queensland Royal Commission which inquired into the Normanton-Cloncurry railway. His first stories of the bush were published in Brisbane newspapers, but soon he became a contributor to the Sydney "Bulletin."  It was the publication of "On Our Selection" that won him immediate popularity in Australia and in New Zealand. His rugged characters who toiled under a blazing sun, fighting drought and pests for a living from the soil - Dad, Mum and Dave - rough of speech, honest of purpose, and kindly of heart, lived as vividly as did   any character of Dickens. They lived through the pages of all books of the series, shouting the boisterous humour of the far outback to make tens of thousands laugh. "On Our Selection" was a stage success abroad and it was screened as both a silent and a sound picture.

Mr. Davis is survived by three sons and one daughter.

First published in The Argus, 12 October 1935

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

Jack Thompson and C.J. Dennis


That fine Australian actor, Jack Thompson, gave a reading of C.J. Dennis poems yesterday in association with the release of a CD of his readings of the poet. I received notification of the event only a few days ago and wasn't actually sure I was going to be able to make it. I'm glad I did.

The reading took place in St Francis Church in Lonsdale Street in Melbourne's CBD. Described by the priest currently in charge of the church as the oldest building in Melbourne still being used for its original purpose, it was a strange location for a poetry reading.

Surrounded by prayer candles and paintings of the Stations of the Cross about 250 people listened to Thompson reading selections from Dennis's The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke. He started by talking about his love of Dennis's words, and, in particular, those words that are no longer in widespread use. Words such as "cliner" (a young unmarried female), "Gorspil-cove" (a priest), and "glarrsy" (the glassy eye) - Thompson's favourite - were lovingly explained and expounded upon. You could tell the man was in love with the words, and the way they were used.

Although the CD release includes a range of Dennis poems, on this day Thompson restricted himself to just three selections from The Sentimental Bloke: "The Intro", "Doreen", and, my favorite, "The Play". He finished off with "Clancy of the Overflow" by Banjo Paterson, a personal favourite of his, and a phrase of which sits as the tagline for this weblog. All were warmly greeted by the audience with laughter in the right places and generous applause at the end.

"The Age" reported on the event in today's edition.

Australian Bookcovers #188 - The Dragon Man by Garry Disher


The Dragon Man by Garry Disher, 1999
Cover design: Nada Backovic
Allen & Unwin edition, 1999

#1 in the Challis series

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