July 2010 Archives

Poem: Animus Non Mortalis Est by "Christophus" (George Essex Evans)

   Where are they now? --- the poets of all time,
   Who charmed the world with melody and rhyme,
      And thoughts sublime and deep.
Think'st thou they have expired ? No. He who said  
Their torch is quenched, and they are cold and dead,
      Hath lied--they do but sleep. 

   And in another purer atmosphere,
   Their songs shall peal more sweetly and more clear
      Than e'en they did on earth,
And gath'ring strength from what we cannot see
Shall swell in one great burst of harmony,
      With wider nobler girth.

First published in The Queenslander, 10 March 1883

Nightime in the Switching Yard

Craig Silvey has been longlisted for the 2010 Dylan Thomas award for his novel, Jasper Jones.  This award "is open to any published writer in the English language under the age of thirty".

Angela Savage interviewed Garry Disher at the recent Crime and Justice Festival, which I would have gone to, except I was in Adelaide for my father's birthday - one ending in "0", so it was a tad important.  I especially liked the bit in Angela's post: "I also asked Garry about how his approach to the latest Wyatt novel changed or was influenced by the Challis and Destry novels he has written, and he suggested he has become better at 'layering' his writing."  Why did I like it?  Because it was a question I suggested to Angela, leading up to the event.  I sent it in an email and forgot to post it to her blog.  My apologies Angela.  But I'm glad it got asked, and answered.  Shane Maloney reckons Disher's Wyatt is the best Australian crime novel ever written.  A big call, as they say in the classics.

Kate Holden, author of In My Skin, had a Wikipedia page created for her.  Trouble was, it was taken down very shortly afterwards as it was deemed, by someone as "...doesn't indicate importance/significance."  You never know who these people making these judgements really are.  They tend to be people who either delight in deleting stuff they don't think is worthy, or who have no knowledge of the subject matter and therefore consider it unimportant.  Don't get me started.  I have fought these battles.  They tend towards the mindless and very, very irritating.

In the middle of 2009, Steve Grimwade (currently director of the 2010 Melbourne Writers Festival) released Literary Melbourne, a collection of prose and poetry which provided a literary and cultural view of the city of Melbourne.  And now Kathleen Noonan wonders whether Brisbane has a distinctive literary voice as well.  Best way to find out: produce something similar to Grimwade's anthology and see what happens.

The "International Noir Fiction" blog remembers an Australian crime novel written in the style of Jim Thompson and Ken Bruen, namely Dark Angel by John Dale.  The author won Ned Kelly awards for this and his other novel, The Dogs are Barking.  I'll have to try to track them down.  But Dale isn't forgotten entirely, he's appearing during the 2010 Melbourne Writers Festival.

Dirt Music Film Adaptation

We've reported on this before, and probably will again.

Philip Noyce, out doing the publicity rounds for his latest film Salt is also talking about his adaptation of Tim Winton's novel Dirt Music.  It appears that Russell Crowe is definitely on board as the male lead - replacing a role originally slated for Heath Ledger - and, according to Noyce, has been producing music for the film for the past few years.  And, no, I won't comment on that last piece of news.

The Internet Movie DataBase has a listing for the film but all details about cast and crew are behind their paywall.

Reprint: Letter to the Editor: Lawson - Bush Poet

Sir - Kindly allow me space to state that I, too, consider it a distinct libel to say that Lawson was not a bushman, and positively inaccurate to attribute his bush ideas as borrowed from strangers. I, personally, knew Lawson, and although I admit he was a very poor horseman, in other respects he was most typical of the bush. He was born near Gulgong, reared on a small selection, migrated to Sydney, dissatisfied with city life, drifted out to Bourke, humped his swag down the Darling, headed for Queensland, reached Wanaaring, Hungerford, and Thargomindah, worked in the shearing sheds en route, and again got back to Bourke, wrote a local poem about "Watty Braithwaite," but never got out that far again. I think his late years were spent on the Yanco irrigation areas. I believe his first 25 years were spent exclusively in the bush. His writings, in my opinion, leave no doubt whatever as to his being a bushman (not a horseman), or I should more correctly state "swagman," meaning one who carries his swag. The name of his first book, "While the Billy Boils," is characteristic. "To an Old Mate," "Out Back," "Sweeney," "Coming Home," "Middleton's Rouseabout," "Andy's Gone with Cattle," and many others that I cannot at present quote from memory. "The City Bushman" is a tilt at Banjo Paterson, which by no stretch of imagination could be applied to Lawson. I believe Lawson's characters are all live ones (no creations); and in most cases are his own practical experiences, hence they are true in every detail, thereby lies the strength and realism not to he found in any other Australian writer. Previous to Lawson's appearance, most of our scribes were horsemen, Gordon, Boake, Paterson, Ogilvie, &c. I am a thorough bushman, with 50 years' bush experience, mostly Queensland, and I am satisfied no other writer is dearer to the hearts of bushmen than Lawson. - I am, sir, &c., 


Winton, November 29.  

First published in The Brisbane Courier, 8 December 1927

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

Note: you can find the text versions of the poems mentioned in this letter on the Project Gutenberg Australia site.

This letter was written in response to a report on a lecture about Henry Lawson, and follows a similar letter reprinted here.

2010 Davitt Awards Longlists

The longlists for the 2010 Davitt Awards have been released. "The Davitt Awards (named in honour of Ellen Davitt (1812-1879) who wrote Australia's first mystery novel, Force and Fraud in 1865) are presented by the Sisters in Crime Australia association. The awards are presented for Australian crime fiction, by women, for both adults and young adults."

The winners in each category will be announced at a special awards dinner to be held in Melbourne on Saturday 28th August.

The longlisted works are: 

Adult Fiction
Sharp Shooter by Marianne Delacourt
Forbidden Fruit by Kerry Greenwood
Red Dust by Fleur McDonald
Steel River by Antoinette Eklund
Dark Country by Bronwyn Parry
The Labyrinth of Drowning by Alex Palmer
Too Many Murders by Colleen McCulloch
A Beautiful Death by Fiona McIntosh
Siren by Tara Moss
Gene Thieves by Maria Quinn
Gladiatrix by Rhonda Roberts
Move to Strike by Sydney Bauer
Pearl in A Cage by Joy Dettman
Bloodborn by Kathryn Fox
The Killing Hands by PD Martin
The Devil's Staircase by Helen Fitzgerald
Riding High by Emma Boling
Red Queen by H.M. Brown
Ghost Child: The Past Is Always Close Behind by Caroline Overington
Black Ice by Leah Giarrantano
Pestle & Mortar by Carol Gibson

Children's and Young Adult Fiction
The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks
Genius Wars by Catherine Jinks
Liar by Justine Larbalestier
Hedgeburners: An A~Z Mystery by Goldie Alexander
Pop Princess by Isabelle Merlin
Cupid's Arrow by Isabelle Merlin
Conspiracy 365 - January by Gabrielle Lord
The Walk Right in Detective Agency - Bad News for Milk Bay by Moya Simons
The Walk Right in Detective Agency - On the Case The Walk by Moya Simons
The Walk Right in Detective Agency - Mischief Afoot by Moya Simons

True Crime
Lady Killer: How Conman Bruce Burrell Kidnapped and Killed Rich Women for Their Money by Candace Sutton and Ellen Connolly
A Greater Guilt: Constance Emilie Kent and the Road Murder by Noelene Kyle
Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly by Sue Bursztynski
Salvation - The True Story of Rod Braybon's Fight for Justice by Vikki Petraitis
Hotel Kerobokan: The Shocking Inside Story of Bali's Most Notorious Jail by Kathryn Bonella
Lambs to the Slaughter by Debi Marshall
Blood Brother: Justice at Last by Robin Bowles
Outside the Law 3 by Lindy Cameron (ed)
Forensic Investigator: True Stories from the Life of a Country Crime Scene Cop by Esther Mckay

Jonathan Strahan Interview

jonathan_strahan.jpg  West Australian Jonathan Strahan is a nominee for a 2010 Hugo Award in the category of Best Editor, Short Form. Leading up to the announcements of the winners at the World Science Fiction Convention in Melbourne in September, Jonathan was interviewed by Ian Nichols in "The West Australian". (And, no, that is not a photo of me.)
Strahan's love of science fiction and fantasy started when he was a child but his involvement in the scene began when he walked into a little bookshop in Subiaco looking for a copy of Larry Niven's The Integral Trees, and was introduced to the world of fandom. That was in 1984. In 1990 he became part of the editorial team at the seminal small-press magazine Eidolon and he has been an editor for 20 years, working with some of the most famous names in the business, such as Jack Dann, his co-editor on Legends [of Australian Fantasy], and for many publishers. And now he has been nominated for a Hugo, the highest accolade in the world of science fiction, as best short-form editor for the third time, at the World Science Fiction Convention, Aussiecon 4, to be held in Melbourne in September.

The first time he was nominated "it was a bolt from the blue . . . I was floating for weeks". This time it's a home convention.

"It's an honour," he says. "There will be many people I know in the audience; my whole family will be there. If I win, it will be special." All three of the Australian nominees for the Hugo Awards are from WA, including Shaun Tan, who is also a guest of honour.

2010 Man Booker Prize Longlist

The longlist for the 2010 Man Booker Prize has been announced.

The longlisted works are:

Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in America (Faber and Faber)
Emma Donoghue, Room (Pan MacMillan - Picador)
Helen Dunmore, The Betrayal (Penguin - Fig Tree)
Damon Galgut, In a Strange Room (Grove Atlantic - Atlantic Books)
Howard Jacobson, The Finkler Question (Bloomsbury)
Andrea Levy, The Long Song (Headline Publishing Group - Headline Review)
Tom McCarthy, C (Random House - Jonathan Cape)
David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Zacob de Zoet (Hodder & Stoughton - Sceptre)
Lisa Moore, February (Random House - Chatto & Windus)
Paul Murray, Skippy Dies (Penguin - Hamish Hamilton)
Rose Tremain, Trespass (Random House - Chatto & Windus)
Christos Tsiolkas, The Slap (Grove Atlantic - Tuskar Rock)
Alan Warner, The Stars in the Bright Sky (Random House - Jonathan Cape)

Carey as the only previous winner and two Australians on the list in Carey and Tsiolkas.  Though I'm wondering if Australia might just be able to claim another connection with Paul Murray's Skippy Dies.  Must check that one out. 

Reprint: Letter to the Editor: Lawson - "City Bushman"

[In October 1927 F. Bennett, in connection with Australian Authors' week, gave a speech in Brisbane that described Henry Lawson as a "town bushman".  Last week I reprinted a summary of that speech from The Brisbane Courier, and followed that up with a letter in reply. 

[Bennett then repeated the main thrust of his argument about Lawson at the November 1927 meeting of the Queensland Authors' and Artists' Association, which received a mention in The Brisbane Courier on 19th November 1927.  The following letter appeared in the same paper a few days later.]

Sir, - At the November meeting of the Authors' and Artists' Association, held in the Women's Club rooms on Tuesday, 15th inst-, a report of which appeared in your issue of Saturday last, Mr. F. Bennett, when reading a sketch from the pen of the late Henry Lawson, is alleged to have stated that Lawson must not be taken seriously as regards the bush -- he was a "town bushman." From whence does Mr. Bennett derive his information? Is it not a parrot-like reiteration of the sentiments expressed by a Mr. A. G. Stephens in a recent issue of the Brisbane "Daily Mail,", when the latter gentleman commented on the home and family life of our late lamented author? Among other things, Mr. Stephens is reported to have stated that Lawson never wrote true to the Australian bush-he was a townsman, and got most of his information of bush life, and methods from travellers, &c. That is not so, and no person should know the character and eccentricities of Lawson better than Mr. Stephens. The late author rarely spoke to any one, and certainly never sought information from strangers. He was a morose and lonely wayfarer at all times. Why this personal attack on Henry Lawson? As to his not having been a bushman, did not the Sydney "Bulletin," in commenting on one of his books of short story, class his stories as "wedges cut clean out of real life." Again, does Mr. Stephens or Mr. Bennett remember the comments of that paper on another of his publications. "How real he is, how natural, how true, how strong"? And will they still continue to place their opinions against what is probably the highest authority in Australian literature, and maintain that Lawson was "not a bush- man, and wrote not of the bush"? If so, sir, I should strongly advise these gentlemen to read on, and see what David M'Kee Wiight had to say, under date September, 1918, on the life and merit of Henry Lawson:- "Henry Lawson is the first articulate voice of the real Australia. ... He knows men and women -- his men and women. In the world's loneliest places he has grasped hard hands alive with heroic meaning.

... He was born in a tent on the Grenfell goldfield in 1867, and spent his boyhood on old mining fields and on a selection his father had taken up. ... He has lived the life that he sings, and seen the places of which he writes; there is not a word in all his work which is not instantly recognised as honest Australian. The drover, the stockman, the shearer, the rider far on the skyline, the girl waiting at the slip- rails, the big bush funeral, the coach with flashing lamps passing at night along the ranges, the man to whom home is a bitter memory, and his future a long despair, the troops marching to the beat of the drum, the wilderness of the Never-Never -- in long procession the pictures pass, and every picture is a true one, because Henry Lawson, has been there to see with the eyes of his heart. At 21 Lawson, was probably the most remarkable writer of verse in Australia ... Of Lawson's place in literature it is idle to speak. Something of what Burns did for Scotland, something of what Kipling did for India, he has done for Australia. ... If permanency is to be looked for anywhere, it is in vital, red-blooded work such as Lawson's -- work that came so straight from the heart that it must always find a heart to respond to it. All Australia is there, painted ,with a big brush in the colours in which its people see it. - I am, sir, &c.,

FRANK WALKER. Kelvin Grove, November 22.

[Mr, Bennett was quite correct in saying that Lawson was not a bushman. Lawson never claimed that he was. Because eulogistic remarks have been made of some of his poems and some of his stories, that does not make Lawson a bushman or a bush poet. The fact that, without experience, he wrote so correctly of one phase of bush-life does not detract from his merits; rather it adds to them.-Ed. "B.C."]


More Than a Sentimental Bloke by C.J. Dennis and John Derum,  1990
Design/Production: Di Quick
New South Wales University Press edition 1990

Interview with Christos Tsiolkas

the_slap.jpg   The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas has been published in Britain to a number of rather glowing reviews. A while back he was interviewed by Tom Shone from "The Times":
"I think Australian writing has been locked up in the shadow of the English and the Irish," he says. "In the sense that Australians don't want to write the Australian novel, they want to write the perfect English novel or the perfect Irish novel. What I love about the Americans is that they have found an English that is distinctly theirs." He could as easily be talking about his own declaration of independence with The Slap, a tremendously vital book in every sense. Completed at a gallop, it fairly crackles along, juiced up with novelistic licence and peeled-eyeball candour, the characters driven by their appetites into a thrilling, vital approximation of what it is to be alive. When he handed the book to his editor, she got back to him in just three days. It should have told him something.

"I had no idea [The Slap] was going to take me to Lexington Avenue. I really didn't. Trying to stand back, I'm interested in why it has proved so popular. I wonder what it says about contemporary writing -- can you be popular without being populist? Can you write for a large audience in a way that allows you to do the best work you can that is not condescending?"
The interview is titled "Novel of the year?" which might be a good pointer come Man Booker longlist time.

Poem: Progress by Anonymous

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Steadily, steadily, step by step,
   Up the venturous builders go:
Carefully placing stone on stone,
   Thus the loftiest temples grow.

Patiently patiently, day by day,
The artist toils at his task away;
Touching it here and tinting it there,
Giving it ever, with infinite care,
A line more soft, or a hue more fair;
Till, little by little the picture grows,
And at last the cold canvass glows
With life and beauty and forms of grace,
That ever more in the world have place.

Thus, with the poet, hour after hour,
   He listens to catch the fairy chimes
That ring in his soul; though with magic power
   He weaves their melody into rhymes.
Slowly, carefully, word by word,
   Line by line, and thought by thought,
He fastens the golden tissue of Song,
   And thus are immortal anthems wrought.

Every wise observer knows,
   Every watchful gazer sees,
Nothing grand or beautiful grows,
   Save by gradual, slow degrees;
Ye who toil with a purpose high,
   And fondly the proud result await,
Murmur not, as the hours go by,
   That the season is long, the harvest late.

Remember, that brotherhood, strong and true,
   Builders and artists, and bards sublime,
Who lived in the past and worked like you,
   Worked and waited a wearisome time;
Dark and cheerless, and long their night,
   Yet they patiently at their task begun;
Till lo! thro' the clouds broke the morning light,   
   Which shines on the soul when success is won!

First published in The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser, 9 November 1867

Excitable Boy

It really is time I resurrected this Friday feature as I trawl through the by-ways and backwaters of the intertubes, looking for wacky and interesting stuff.  Well, okay, it may not be interesting to you, just to me.  We have to be clear on who's running this show.

Oh, and in case you haven't noticed, I've changed the song titles.

I really like the "Letters of Note" weblog.  It posts scans of letters from one notable to another, often with very funny results.  Who, for example, would have thought that Enid Blyton would feel compelled to write, in 1964, to then Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies about some derogatory remarks he made about a book of hers.

Narelle Harris is the author of The Opposite of Life, a Melbourne-based vampire novel.  She told the "Campaign for the American Reader" weblog what books she was reading.  This was posted in December 2009, so loko on this as a Christmas list.

The "Detectives without Borders" weblog loved Peter Temple's Jack Irish novels and The Broken Shore, and then discovered the South African-ness in the author's novels Identity Theory and In the Evil Day.

The Bookhugger weblog posed the questions: "When using real places and real historical figures in your fiction, do the familiar elements make it easier for the reader to focus on the core of the story? How do you stop it becoming a distraction? And do you take liberties to meet the needs of the story?"  And James Bradley, amongst others, had answers for them.

Nicholas Jose, who was general editor of the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature, was asked by the "Five Books" weblog to name his top five Australian novels.  Interesting list as well.

And lastly, here's a weird name for a weblog: "I Wish I was Ern Malley". Seems to have died, unfortunately.

2010 John Button Prize Shortlist Announced

The John Button prize has been named in honour of the late Senator and Industry Minister and is given "to the best piece of non-fiction writing on politics or public policy in the previous 12 months."  Judging is by a panel of nominated persons.

The shortlisted works for the 2010 prize are:

Paul Kelly, March of Patriots
Noel Pearson, Radical Hope
Peter Sutton, The Politics of Suffering
Laura Tingle, "Tensions escalate over Rudd's kitchen cabinet"

The winner of the prize will be announced at the Melbourne Writers Festival on September 3.

Reprint: Letter to the Editor: Henry Lawson

Sir,- Henry Lawson was not a gloomy poet. I have seen it written over and over again that Lawson thought only of gloomy things; and wrote accordingly. The trouble with half the critics would-be high-brows -- who presume to talk airily about Henry Lawson is that they have never read his poetry at all, or if they did they have failed to grasp what on earth he was writing about. The truth and nothing but the truth was in Henry Lawson. Anyone who ever saw the man, and looked into his eyes, knew that he was the personification of truth. Lawson wrote the truth and the truth evidently is unpalatable. Breezy, expansive jingles about the outback are all very fine for school readers, and as propaganda for immigrants, but they don't express the soul of the toilers whom Lawson wrote for. Armchair criticism always fails in its purpose because it is invariably superficia and always conventional. As an ardent admirer of Lawson's works, I resent the imputation that the man had a gloomy outlook. Of course, if the truth is gloomy well then Lawson was gloomy; but the unfortunate part is that the conventional souls in our midst don't understand the truth of things and don't want to understand it. Your brilliant sub-leader on "Intolerance" furnishes the argument I desire to put forward. So long as Bishop Barnes is willing to stand up in his pulpit and talk trite trash, in which neither he nor half his congregation believe, he is accepted as a popular preacher and the conventionalists hail him as a heaven-inspired genius. Once he gets down to the truth of things and states it openly, fearlessly, and courageously, he is bitterly attacked. It is exactly the same with Dean Inge, known throughout the length and breadth of the Empire as the "gloomy dean." The truth is unpalatable; we don't want to hear it, and the man who utters it is assigned to oblivion by supercilious critics whose composition prevents them from getting down to bedrock and seeing the heart of things -I am, sir, &c.


Kangaroo Point, October 19

First published in The Brisbane Courier, 21 October 1927

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

Note: this letter was written in repsonse to a report on a lecture about Henry Lawson, reprinted here.

D. M. Cornish Interview

monster_blood_tattoo.jpg   D. M. Cornish, author of the "Monster Blood Tattoo" novels Foundling and Lamplighter was interviewed by the people at "The Enchanted Inkpot" weblog.
Ello - I am a true fan of the Monster Blood Tattoo series. From the title of the series to the intricate details of your world building, I am completely overwhelmed with admiration. The thing about this series is that it sinks into your psyche and you just can't forget it. The Half-Continent is filled with amazing and frightening monster, but some of your human characters are even more frightening. Where did all these creatures come from? How did you create them? Did you have a lot of nightmares when you were younger?

DMC - Well, firstly, thank you for such encouraging praise! As to where all the beasties both human and non come from, I can not rightly say. Certainly a wide cross-section of influences have played their part, from Star Wars and Doctor Who, LotR, Narnia, the Cthulhu Mythos and all that, through manga (Akira, Orion, Appleseed, Ghost In The Shell for example), and of course all the real and wonderful horrors of real creation - the slimy, thorny, snaggle-toothed critters lurking in the oceans and hidden places. Really, as I sit to write/draw a beastie for a text, I find myself making it up in the moment, with ideas swirling and coagulating as need dictates. I do not think I have more than the usually share of nightmares - my dreams are certainly very vivid, often with a strong narrative that will link one dream to the next through a night's sleep.

Ello - I understand that it took you 10 years to create the Half-Continent. What was those 10 years working on this world like? Were you surprised to find the world you were creating was coming so incredibly to life?

DMC - I reckon it has been about 18 years since I first began to pointedly create what has eventually become the Half-Continent - and I am creating it still. There have been moments when I have indeed realised and been very grateful to have (after so long a period of invention) a setting functioning well enough to employ in a story. Then I wonder to myself, How on earth did this happen? It was certainly a very natural evolution, an often unconscious expression of some urge turning away inside me.
The third novel in the series, Factotum, will be released in Australia in October this year.

Beautiful Malice Extract

beautiful_malice.jpg    Allen & Unwin, the Australian publisher of Beautiful Malice by Rebecca James, have made available an extract from the start of the novel.

The keynote in the admirable lecturette on Henry Lawson, which was delivered by Mr. F. Bennett, B.Sc, in connection with Australian Authors' Week, at the Old Normal School yesterday morning, was the poet's sympathy with the down-trodden.  

In all Henry Lawson's writings, both prose and poetry there is strong evidence that he sympathised with the workers; that he thought their cause was right, though he had no love for the professional agitator. A man is not often found who takes his politics from his mother-in-law, but those who knew Mrs. M'Namara, owner of a second-hand bookshop in Castlereagh-street, Sydney, and a most pronounced Labour symnathiser, will readily subscribe to the view that Henry Lawson fell under her spell. When one reads his "Faces in the Street" - which the lecturer described as the Australian "Song of the Shirt" - his mother-in-law's influence may be traced in his references to the "Red Revolution," but the poem, though presenting an exaggerated picture, is lifted to the sublime by the tender compassion and burning indignation, against oppression which throbs through every line.

Many people hold the belief that Lawson was a bush poet, but the lecturer disclosed that Lawson only made one trip to the outback, and that he had no real love for the country. That one trip was Lawson's sole claim to be the interpretor of the men of the "out-back." His observations on that one occasion furnished him with local colour, but most of his bush stories were collected from bushmen who came to Sydney on a periodical "spree." Comparing Lawson with "Banjo" Paterson, the lecturer pointed out that Paterson wrote from the point of view of the drover and of the squatter-men of some education and means -- to whom "the bush" was the gateway to a probable affluence; whereas Lawson pictured the svvagman, and a town swagman at that, a man with little education, no means, and no possibility of a future competence, however modest. Hence his outlook was a gloomy one, and this is illustrated in his description of the life of the far Western worker :-

In stifling noons when his back was wrung
By its load, and the air seemed dead,
And the water warmed in the bag that hung  
To his aching arm like lead,
Or in times of flood, when plains were seas, 
And the scrubs were cold and black,     
He ploughed in mud to his trembling knees,      
And paid for his sins out-back.

Mr. Bennett said that Lawson could attack great questions and wide issues. In "The Star of Australasia" Lawson was seen as no mere shallow writer of superficial jingle. He loved his fellow men and pitied their griefs, but he was not blind to their weaknesses, nor to his own. He yearned to help them, but could do no more than svmpithise, and this he showed in all his work.

Dr. T. W. Robinson presided over a large audience chiefly consisting of senior scholars of primary schools.

First published in The Brisbane Courier, 19 October 1927

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

Note: I fear the "senior scholars of primary schools" would have learned far more about Mr. F. Bennett, B.Sc, and his politics, than about Henry Lawson from this lecture.  You will see that praise is given only when Lawson tackles "wider issues", which is really code for "things that matter", ie anything other than workers, swagmen and country people who are merely people "with little education, no means, and no possibility of a future competence."

Needless to say I'm not the only one who thought this.  Letters to the editor, regarding this view of Lawson, will follow over the next week or so.

The poetry which starts "In stifling noons..." is taken from the poem "Out Back", which you can find, along with the text of "The Star of Australasia", here.

Australian Bookcovers #219 - Favourite Poems of C. J Dennis


Favourite Poems of C. J. Dennis by C.J. Dennis, 1989
Cover illustration by Brendan Akhurst
Child and Associates edition 1989

Margo Lanagan Short Interview

margo_lanagan.jpg   Margo Lanagan, Sydney-based author of Tender Morsels, talks to "Spike", the Meanjin magazine blog:
Do you write full time or do you have a 'day job'? How does this help/hinder your writing?

Oh, I have a day job, three days a week technical writing, currently for the University of NSW. It helps because it keeps a trickle of money coming in; also because it stops me climbing into my own navel and disappearing totally inside myself and my own obsessions. It makes me converse with more normal people. It makes me go on trains and buses and acknowledge that there are other people in the world, with lives that are different from, but just as important as, my own. And many of those lives don't have books in them; or they have enormous textbooks in them (MACROECONOMICS or MUSIC AND EMOTION) rather than novels or short-story anthologies.

On the other hand (whine), it takes up a lot of TIME, you know? When I could be writing works of genius. And completing them so much faster. Or so I tell myself.

However, day job work tends to make me more efficient - and possibly, even, more productive, I hate to admit - because I have to plan, and organise myself around an already-given shape to the day. If I start with nothing, I can just faff away whole weeks looking sideways at the work-in-progress and not doing anything about it.

2010 Prime Minister's Literary Awards Shortlists

Ate the end of last week, the shortlisted works for the 2010 Prime Minister's Literary Awards were announced.  In the past the awards have been presented solely in the Fiction and Non-Fiction categories.  This year the extra categories of Young Adult and Children's Fiction have been added.

The shortlisted works are:


Summertime by J. M. Coetzee
The Book of Emmett by Deborah Forster
The Lakewoman by Alan Gould
Dog Boy by Eva Hornung
Ransom by David Malouf
Lovesong by Alex Miller
As the Earth turns Silver by Alison Wong


The Water Dreamers: The Remarkable History of Our Dry Continent by Michael Cathcart
Strange Places: A Memoir of Mental Illness by Will Elliott
The Colony: A History of Early Sydney by Grace Karskens
The Life and Death of Democracy by John Keane
The Blue Plateau: A Landscape Memoir by Mark Tredinnick
The Ghost at the Wedding by Shirley Walker

Young Adult Fiction

Stolen by Lucy Christopher
The Winds of Heaven by Judith Clarke
Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God by Bill Condon
The Museum of Mary Child by Cassandra Golds
Swerve by Phillip Gwynne
Jarvis 24 by David Metzenthen
Beatle meets Destiny by Gabrielle Williams

Children's Fiction

Cicada Summer by Kate Constable
The Terrible Plop by Ursula Dubosarsky and illustrator Andrew Joyner
Just Macbeth by Andy Griffiths and illustrator Terry Denton
Mr Chicken goes to Paris by Leigh Hobbs
Running with the Horses by Alison Lester
Star Jumps by Lorraine Marwood
Mannie and the Long Brave Day by Martine Murray and illustrator Sally Rippin
Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children by Jen Storer
Harry and Hopper by Margaret Wild and illustrator Freya Blackwood

The winners in each category will be announced sometime, but, as in previous years, the relevant department seems a little coy about publicising the date of that announcement.  

Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts Peter Garrett released the shortlists at Readings Bookshop in Carlton, and you can see some pictures of that event here.

"The Australian's" literary weblog, "A Pair of Ragged Claws", had a few comments about the lists, as did James Bradley on his "A City of Tongues" weblog.

The recent passing of "Banjo" Paterson inclines us to wonder how many of the company of balladists who flourished in the 90's and early 1900's remain. In the period mentioned their name was legion. A new star seemed to flash, every week -- many suddenly went out.  How would the younger generation today react if it read those virile verses which once held such a vast audience? Maybe the writers would be regarded as ultra-sentimentalists in these hard-boiled times.

In the 90's, when the ballad boomed, the various States were passing through crises in their development. There were few secondary industries, wages were low, and work scarce. Economically, Australia was in a bad way and the balladists were the voice of Australia, in her anguish, or seeking relief in happy songs, such as those of The Banjo and Will Ogilvie, whose death preceded Banjo's by some months.

Another well-known ballad writer is Edwin J. Brady, who wore a red, piratical beard in those earlier days. He is very much alive at Mallacoota, and has just been awarded a subsidy by the Literary Fund to write a novel... His songs of the sea are front-rankers. And much of his knowledge came from his close association with ships along the Sydney waterfront. In the days of Lawson, Daley, Quinn, and other old-time balladists.

Another surviving writer of verse is Randolph Bedford, now living in Brisbane, where he represents the Maranoa electors in the State Parliament. Better known as a brilliant prose-writer, he often burst into verse of a remarkably vivid and robust type; but he has not written for a long time.

Roderic Quinn, regarded as the grand old man of the balladists, is evergreen, and writes fine verse still, though not as prolifically as in the days when he wrote "The Hidden Tide." His close friend, Bob Cassidy, "Gilrooney" in the "Bulletin" pages, seems to be evergreen, too.

A Lost Art.

Many years ago "Gilrooney" was droving with "Riverina," another outback balladist, whose name is Cecil Winter; and, strangely enough, this long-legged outbacker, who told me in a letter before I met him that he had never seen the sea, went to the war with the New Zealanders and married a New Zealand girl. His home is at Bluff, and he often breaks into song.

Only one old-timer survives of the New Zealand ballad writers, John Barr, who won his spurrs and the ear of the'"Bulletin" with his verse, "The Gaslight on the Beer." He conducts a page of verse and prose in a Sydney paper under the title, "The Shanty on the Rise." Bartlett Adamson, though a Tasmanian, came into prominence when in New Zealand, and is still writing verse.

The striking fact is that there are no recruits to this company of old, no sons to carry the banner. Ballad-writing seems to be a lost art. There are, of course, those who declare it never was an art; that it was just an outburst. But it spoke for its time.

Essex Evens, the Queensland poet, who won fame and a substantial cheque when he landed the prize for the Commonwealth Ode, may also have unconsciously written the death-knell of the ballad. It may be a wrong conclusion, but it seems likely that Federation killed the ballad, just as it cleaned up the "pushes" from the street corners of our cities.

Under Protection, work became plentiful. In his book. "Jonah," Louis Stone showed how the larrikins were absorbed into industries which sprang up. So with the balladists. There was more for them to do in other walks of life and many of the evils of which they wrote had vanished. It was Henry Lawson who declared that, while he was working as a telegraph linesman in New Zealand, "he was too healthy to write," a remark for which the "Bulletin" reproved him. He meant he was too healthily tired at the end of his day's work. So with other balladists. Verse-writing requires time and detachment.  

The popularity of the ballad was astounding; many a man on the track got free beers in country "pubs" by claiming to be one or other of the lesser lights of verse writers and reciting verses, which seemed to offer conclusive evidence of identity. At any rate he entertained his wayside listeners, and he might do it today, for in the bush the ballad still finds an audience.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 29 March 1941

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

2010 Man Booker Prize Lead-In

When the judges for the 2010 Man Booker prize were announced back in December last year, the press release stated that the longlist, or Man Booker Dozen (12 or 13 titles), would be released some time in late July.  A couple of weeks in other words.  And I'm wondering if this year might be a "genre" year for the prize.

Peter Temple's Miles Franklin Award-winning Truth was released in the UK in hardback in January, and in paperback in July, so that one should be eligible.  For a while there I thought that China Mieville's The City & The City might have had a chance, but a quick look at Amazon UK shows it was released in May 2009, so it was eligible last year.

Or maybe I'm getting as confused as everyone else about books that cross the boundaries between literary forms. Looking back on it now can anyone tell me how "magic realism" differed in any great way from "fantasy"?  Does anyone write in the "magic realism" genre any more? And where does David Mitchell's work fit?  Is The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet a straight historical novel (which would imply that it's a front-runner) or a slightly fantastical alternate Japan that title and synopsis seems to point at (which implies it doesn't have a hope)?  I have no idea.  

For a number of years I spent the early part of each year building a list of shortlist "possibles" for the Booker, scanning the UK book reviews looking for highly-praised works, or searching for future releases of past winners.  And each year I built up a list of about 50-60 books that I thought might have a chance.

But not this year.  I've been too busy with extra-curricula activities and haven't got the faintest idea of who is in the running.  It will be good to be able to scan the list and say "Who's that...?" It might actually make it a bit interesting for a change. 


Pickering's Salute to the Sentimental Bloke by C.J. Dennis, 1978
Illustrated by Larry Pickering
Angus and Robertson edition 1978

2010 Australian Book Industry Award Winners

The winners of the 2010 Australian Book Industry Award were announced on June 30th, but the full list of winners has taken a little while to appear on the Australian Publishers Association website.

The full list of winners:

Chain Bookseller of the Year
WA Dymocks Garden City (Booragoon)

Independent Bookseller of the Year

Vic Readings Books Music Film Carlton

Specialist Bookseller of the Year
WA Boffins Bookshop

Bookseller Marketing Campaign of the Year
Shearers Bookshop, for The Truth Hurts

Small Publisher of the Year
Scribe Publications

Publisher of the Year
Allen & Unwin

Distributor of the Year
United Book Distributors

Publisher Marketing Campaign of the Year
Murdoch Books, for The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, written by Stieg Larsson

International Success of the Year
Allen & Unwin, for The Slap

Illustrated Book of the Year
Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Garden Companion, written by Stephanie Alexander, published by Penguin Australia

Biography of the Year
Bart: My Life, written by J.B. Cummings, published by Pan Macmillan

General Non-Fiction Book of the Year
Australians: Origins to Eureka, written by Thomas Keneally, published by Allen & Unwin

Book of the Year for Younger Children (age range 0 to 8 years)
Baby Wombat's Week, written by Jackie French & illustrated by Bruce Whatley, published by HarperCollins Publishers Australia

Book of the Year for Older Children (age range 8 to 14 years)

Parlour Games for Modern Families, written by Myfanwy Jones & Spiri Tsintziras, published by Scribe Publications

Literary Fiction Book of the Year
Jasper Jones, written by Craig Silvey, published by Allen & Unwin

General Fiction Book of the Year
Truth, written by Peter Temple, published by The Text Publishing Company

Newcomer of the Year (debut writer)
Piano Lessons, written by Anna Goldsworthy, published by Black Inc.

Book of the Year 2010

Jasper Jones, written by Craig Silvey, published by Allen & Unwin

You can read the full shortlists here.

Poem: The World's Way by Anonymous

At Haroun's court it chanced, upon a time,
An Arab poet made this pleasant rhyme:

"The new moon is a horseshoe, wrought of God,
Wherewith the Sultan's stallion shall be shod."

On hearing this his Highness smiled, and gave
The man a gold piece. Sing again, O slave !

Above his lute the happy singer bent,
And turned another graceful compliment.

And, as before, the smiling Sultan gave
The man a Shekah. Sing again, O slave!

Again the verse came, fluent as a rill
That wanders, silver-footed, down a hill.

The Sultan listened, nodded as before.
Still gave the gold, and still demanded more.

The nimble fancy that had climbed so high.
Grew weary with its climbing by and by.

Strange discords rose, the sense went quite amiss;
The singer's rhymes refused to meet and kiss,

Invention flagged, the lute had got unstrung,
And twice he sang the song already sung.

The Sultan, furious, called a mute, and said:
"O Musta, straightway whip me off his head!"

Poets! not in Arabia alone
You get beheaded when your skill is gone.

First published in The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser, 3 May 1887

Reprint: An Australian Novel: Review of "Jonah" by Louis Stone

In "Jonah," Mr. Louis Stone has given us an excellent novel. He has taken a phase of Australian life which has been rather neglected by local writers, and laid his setting in the slums of Sydney of a few years ago. Jonah, the deformed hero, is a sort of Napoleon of the gutter, the leader of a "push" in Waterloo, who has within him great possibilities. At first he is represented as an unsocial, unmoral outlaw, superior to his fellows only in force of character and enterprise, but later the half understood promptings of the paternal instinct lead him to marry the mother of his child, and turn him to honest work. Fortune and his own native abilities raise him higher and higher, but his wife cannot rise with him, and yearns for the gutter out of which she was lifted. Jonah turns for consolation elsewhere, but even here he is doomed to disappointment, for the object of his affections is selfish and mercenary, and proves to be in effect a murderess, as she has supplied his drunkard wife with liquor. So Jonah is left, his success turned to dust and ashes destined never to gain his heart's desire.

However, our interest in the plot is not confined to Jonah's career. Mr. Stone knows his subject, and writes with humour and observation, and a great deal of kindliness. His theme is often squalid, and the surroundings often repellant, but the author, without idealising, does not lay undue insistence on the unpleasant. There is the delightful idyll of Pinkey, factory girl, and "Chook," once leader of a push, whose savage soul is transfigured and tamed by a passion cleaner and sweeter than any he ever dreamed of, and who becomes a respectable, if somewhat bellicose, greengrocer. Then there is Mrs. Yabsley, the indomitable and great-hearted washer-woman who shares her good fortune with her neighbours, and submits to their imposition with open eyes out of sheer generosity. There is Paasch, the old German cobbler fiddler, broken by Jonah's ruthless progress; Mrs. Grimes, the wife of a drunkea ex-bank manager, who buries her refinement and her shame in the slums; Mrs. Partridge, Pinkey's idle and greedy step-mother, and a host of others. Mr. Stone will have no mere lay figures, and the smallest character, in his pages has a distinct individuality. The author is to be congratulated on this novel, which is a valuable and original contribution to Australian fiction. (Published by Methuen and Co.)

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 14 October 1911

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

Film Adaptation of The Eye of the Storm by Patrick White: Update

Back in February I posted about Fred Schepisi's film adaptation of Patrick White's novel The Eye of the Storm. At that time the production was in the planning stages and final filming wasn't actually guaranteed.  Now, according to Peter Craven in "The Australian", filming is currently underway with Charlotte Rampling, Judy Davis and Geoffrey Rush in the main roles.

Like all of White's novels The Eye of the Storm is intensely dramatic and like some of them (The Tree of Man, Voss) -- though less obviously -- the medium it calls out for is film because White, like Thomas Hardy long before him, and William Faulkner in the middle distance, had the kind of dramatic imagination that wasn't confined to the bare boards of the theatre. Everyone will know the stories of how Joseph Losey wanted to film Voss, with Maximilian Schell or Max von Sydow as the self-immolating and Schopenhaurian explorer, and how he failed to get the money, so that White was reduced to rages in which he would overturn tables like a latter-day Lear in Sarsaparilla.

In fact, The Eye of the Storm is a kind of King Lear story and White toyed with the idea of calling it "Darker Purpose" in honour of the old dominator who wants to crawl unburdened towards death but who provokes two of his children to throw him out into the storm and, indeed, to seek his death.

The difference is that White, in life, saw himself and his sister as Goneril and Regan, the murdering children, wanting the parent (their mother) dead. And if Elizabeth Hunter has a vision of "the mystery of things", as if she were God's spy, it comes from the calm at the heart of the storm, the eye, not from the maddening grief that finds in the storm its objective correlative.

So The Eye of the Storm is an antipodean King Lear writ gentle and tragicomic, almost Chekhovian, with a female protagonist and "wicked" siblings who might be two halves of a Jungian wholeness (though they are sharply enough characterised in themselves).

Australian Bookcovers #217 - A Book for Kids by C. J. Dennis


A Book for Kids by C. J. Dennis, 1921
Cover by C. J. Dennis
Angus and Robertson edition 1983

Sue Woolfe Interview

sue_woolfe.jpg    Sue Woolfe, author of Leaning Towards Infinity, was interviewed this evening on the ABC TV program "Talking Heads". You can read the transcript of the interview here.

Poem: Ballad of the Ban by C. J. Dennis

ln recent weeks, though most other civilised countries admit them freely, Australian political and bureaucratic censors have banned world famous plays, films, books, and now, a British-born woman whom Britain herself has no power, or desire, to exclude.

Tho' censorious sages, in fierce moral rages
On History's pages press, heavy of hand;
When it comes to suppressin' we are, we're confessin'
A boon an' a blessin' to this pious land.
A Savonarola, a Cromwell, whose mole a
Poor artist saved whole, a Comstock or a Knox--
These were hefty joy-biffers; but, classed as sin-sniffers
Our temp'rament differs. We're out of the box!

We're pure politicians; we feels our positions;
We feels that conditions in this 'oly land
Is clean, if bucolic. All frivolous frolic,
All views vitriolic, if furrin' is banned.
Tho' merely elected, we feels we're expected,
When sin is detected approaching our shore,
To sieze it an' sock it; before they can dock it
We ruthlessly lock it outside of our door.

With horror we're smitten when Britain, admittln'
The stuff that is written by sin-sodden blokes,
Condones evil-livers. It gives us the shivers;
Our righteousness quivers to hark at their jokes.
They falsely befriend us an' seek for to send us
Them works wot would end us in dreadful desire.
Tho' we scarce understand 'em, ere ever they lan's 'em
We scans 'em an' bans 'em an' burns 'em with fire.

Tho' tardy at dealin' with evils revealin'
The need for appealin' to local reform,
We're apt to get winkin' an' bashfully shrinkin'
When critics unthinkin' starts raisin' a storm.
We're good at forgettin' that murder an' sweatin'
An' startin'-price bettin' leaves much to be done.
The land may be swimmin' in sin over- brimmin' ...
But books, plays an' wimmin', we bans 'em like fun.

We bans 'em! We bars 'em ere ever they lan's 'em.
Then, "CENSORED!" we bran's 'em. An' dooty is done.

First published in The Herald, 13 November 1936

Reprint: Poetry: A Mirror of Thought by O. Farquhar

Much has been said in these columns lately regarding poetry -- its decline, appreciation, etc. Have you ever been in a mirrored restaurant, especially on a dull, miserable day, and watched the very varied occupants of the tables, the sad-looking, or sometimes artificial flowers, the crude pictures on the walls, the paper-covered lights, etc., then looked round the mirrors, and seen all these things reflected? Everything you have been looking at only a moment before is changed by the glamour of reflection. The lights look like one version of fairyland, the flowers look as if they were growing there; that dull-looking girl with the snub nose and prominent teeth is shown in animated conversation with a friend; only the animation is noticeable. That shabby, genteel man is reflected, but without his shabbiness, and so one could go on enumerating the subtle changes the mirror seems to make.

To my mind the true poet, like the mirror, reflects with the same effect the people's thoughts. What a sense of satisfaction we derive when we seen portrayed in good verse some thought we have vaguely felt, yet could not find suitable words to express. We like it, we preserve it, and sometimes memorise it. Of course we know there are some people who cut out every piece of printed matter   which they see cut up into lines beginning with capital letters, but they are few. I myself read most verse I see; but if the first stanza offends my ear I generally stop there, unless out of curiosity I try to discover why it was printed.

Most of the Australian verse I have read from any one pen (probably I have not read a quarter of that published) reflects the thoughts of either the illiterate, the larrikin, the underdog, the bushman, the ardent admirer of Greek mythology, the high brow airing his wide vocabulary, or the person who is fond of "Blah." When I was younger I often felt timid in the company of the last-mentioned, and wished I had adopted a more exaggerated form of pronunciation; but since hearing our late beloved King George speak (per medium of the radio) I have been thankful I did not do so.

When we do get an Australian poet (and we will) who is able to reflect the thoughts of all classes in good, plain, simple English, we shall find that he will be acclaimed our national poet, and that a keen interest in poetry will not then be lacking.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 28 November 1936

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

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Rankin's new crime series, following on from the very successful Rebus novels. As good as ever.



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