Reprint: The Australian Author by Laura Bugue Luffman


A writer in the "London Mercury" calls attention to the fact that the Australian writer finds himself placed on the horns of a dilemma. As a patriotic citizen, his first aim is to reach the hearts of his own countrymen through the medium of the Australian publisher. It is only natural that he should also yearn for wider publicity, and turn longing eyes towards the reading public of the Old World. Here arises the dilemma -- how to realise both laudable ambitions. He finds to his dismay that a book published in Australia rarely meets the eye of the English reader. What is the cause? Briefly, that the Australian novel which, under different conditions, might have been numbered among the "best sellers," remains unknown because Australian publishers do not advertise sufficiently in the British Press. With things Antipodean booming in England, and social success on the crest of the wave, the expression of the Australian mind is comparatively unknown. The "London Mercury" points out that the valuable outline of Australian literature by Netty Palmer [sic], published in Melbourne, which "ranks with Stopford Brooks' Primer of English Literature," is unknown in the Motherland. This, the first outline that has ever appeared, would prove a most valuable guide to English students, although the title might possibly provoke the inquiry, "Does an Australian literature exist?"

Of books and writers there are no end, but has Australia existed long enough to present to the world the special type which constitutes a national literature? There is nothing invidious in this question. When we consider the centuries of conflict, endeavour, achievement, of strife, between nations, and factions, and religions, of passionate thirst for particular ideals, of romantic happenings, which have been the inspiration of European literature, we are forced to realise that, great as has been the material progress and high endeavour of the Australian people, they cannot, in the short space of their history, look for inspiration from similar sources. Descriptive novels dealing with sectional interests -- bushranglng, pioneering, mining, shearing, convict days -- do not represent the nation as a whole. The birth of the soul of Australia must precede that of its literature. In the process of its evolution, the books which are "milestones on the road" should prove of deep interest to all English-speaking readers -- if, and it is a large if -- they could only got hold of them.

It is noteworthy that Mrs. Palmer takes the year 1900 for her starting point, excluding such descriptive writers as Marcus Clarke and Rolf Boldrewood. These were replaced by "the intimate and natural short story," of which Henry Lawson proved himself a master. She contends that the quality of the novel since 1920 is that of the short story -- "vigorous and abrupt without the suavity of the conventional novel." Among "the personal" books dealing with the life of adventure, she mentions Mrs. Gunn's "We of the Never Never." This delightful book is, happily, well-known in England, as are the novels by "Ada Cambridge," and a few tales of the "gold rush." The intense interest in the new outlet for the spirit of adventure felt in England in the early fifties caused the demand for any sort of story which told of kangaroos, and kookaburras, and the vicissitudes of the early settlers. The library of the British Museum possesses files of yellow local newspapers wherein are printed letters sent by proud parents which they have received from adventurous sons. These constitute a true record of the beginnings of Australian hlstory.

Mrs. Palmer finds the Bush Ballad well established at the close of the nineteenth century, "although the value of its work lay in its zest rather than in its style." A great deal of Australian verse has been produced by women, but "the best cradle song" has been written by a man, and "two men have produced the best child poem." On the other hand, "the best prose stories for children have been written by women." We regret Mrs. Palmer did not mention in her outline "The Education of Clothilde," which was published as a serial eighteen or twenty years ago, and, strange to say, has not yet appeared in book form.

It is regrettable that such a valuable guide as Mrs. Palmer's outline should not be in the hands of oversea readers. The British public, which is as ready to follow sympathetically the literary progress of Australia as to pay homage to its material development, fails for lack of opportunity. We look forward confidently to the day when books by Australian writers will be advertised side by side with those of the "best sellers" of Great Britain. A llttle more enterprise on the part of Australian publishers is all that is required.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 August 1926

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

Note: the Nettie Palmer work referred to here is Modern Australian Literature, 1900-1923 which was published by Lothian in 1924, and reprinted - though I am not sure if it was in its entirety - in Nettie Palmer: Her Private Journal Fourteen Years, Poems, Reviews and Literary Essays published by UQP in 1988.

The Education of Clothilde, by Sydney Partrige and Cecil Warren, was serialised in The Leader newspaper beginning 3 November 1906.  It does not appear to have been reprinted.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on March 5, 2010 11:05 AM.

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Poem: To Jean Curlewis. (Ethel Turner's Daughter) by Zora Cross is the next entry in this blog.

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