October 2010 Archives

Poem: Warning to Essex Evans by A. Meston

   By the earth and by the Heavens
   I do warn you, Essex Evans!
   That your Muse must cry a halt,
   For your history is at fault!   

   We can stand your Welsh halloo
   With its cockadoodledoo!
   And your Taffy-land conceit
   O'er the Maori men's defeat,
But 'twas not the Cymric playing that surprised them!    
   It was not the legs or brains
   Of the Welshmen held the reins;
It was just the awful language paralysed them! 

   Why, the Irishman and Scot
   Merely hatched a graceful plot,
For with them the Maori men were not in danger;
   In every friendly fight,
   These man are too polite
To take laurels from a guest, or from a stranger! 

   But what I wish to say
   In a peaceful sort of way,
Is something; that will kill your little story
   Of the Cymric warriors bold,
   Who in desperate days of old
"Laid the Roman legions out in all their glory."

   That statement is a teaser
   For Tacitus and Caesar,
   Agrícola and Galgacus! 
   Would Evans try to make us
Believe this poet's tale of sportive omen?
   No Roman sighted Wales! 
   Never saw its hills and dales! 
No Roman saw a Taffy, and no Taffy saw a Roman! 

   'Twas the Caledonian Britons
   Who fought without the mittens! 
Who faced the Roman phalanx and strewed the land with slain! 
   In the Pict and Scot we trace 
   The old death-defying race
Who baffled back the Norseman and the fiery-crested Dane.

   Now just warn your playful Muse
   With that ancient piece of news,
When the first King Edward murdered all the poets found in Wales! 
   As their failings now are yours,
   For old history assures,
They were killed for writing poems telling wild historic tales.

First published in The Brisbane Courier, 21 December 1905

Note: On 16 December 1905 the Welsh Rugby Union team defeated the touring New Zealand All-Blacks 3-0 at Cardiff Arms Park.  This was the only loss on tour for "The Originals" and George Essex Evans, being a true Welshman, glorified the victory in verse (see below) in The Brisbane Courier on 20 December, 1905.  Archie Meston issued his poetic warning to Evans the next day.

ONE FOR WALES by George Essex Evans

   O, the Thistle and the Rose,
   They are nursing knees and toes,
And the fiery-hearted Shamrock has gone under,
         But the gallant little Leek
         Had the unexpected check
To fall upon the Silver Fern like thunder.

   From the land of Silver Fern,
   Land of heather, rock, and burn,
Where wild rivers watch the snow-crests towering o'er them,
         Came the conquering " All Blacks,"
         Full of brand-new football knacks,
And Saxon, Scot, and Celt went down before them.

   But the mountains blood is strong
   In the land of war and song,
And the stormy hills of Wales are old in story;
         And with stubborn heart and stout
         Tuffy laid the Maori out,
As he laid the Roman Legions in their glory.

First published in The Brisbane Courier, 20 December 1905

Australian Books to Film #52 - The High Commissioner


The High Commissioner, 1968 (aka Nobody Runs Forever)
Directed by Ralph Thomas.
Screenplay by Wilfred Greatorex, from the novel by Jon Cleary.
Featuring Rod Taylor, Christopher Plumer, Lilli Palmer and Camilla Sparv.

Reprint: 40 Years of Blurb by L. T. Sardone

Sometime during 1913, Gelett Burgess, U.S author and illustrator, coined the word "blurb" to describe a short commendatory notice of a book. Eleven years later the word was admitted to the "Oxford English Dictionary."

The origin of the term is hard to trace, but the slang expert, Eric Partridge, is inclined to the view that it may be a corrupted combination of "splurge" and "blah.'

Whatever its origin, the fact remains that the blurb, plus its closest associate, the book jacket, has become a major selling medium in contemporary literature.

The dust-jacket idea seems to have originated with London booksellers somewhere about 1833, but it was not until the 1890s that Australian publishers began using detachable book jackets, on the back of which were advertised other publications.

One such volume was a book of Paterson's, "The Man from (Snowy River and Other Verses," published in 1895 by Angus and Robertson. The brown jacket shows a sketch of The Man himself astride his horse, drawn by Frank P. Mahony.  

Although from then on an increasing number of Australian books carried dust-jackets, the development in this country was gradual. World War I was a major obstacle to progress.

In the early 1920s, American publishers began to pay special attention to dust-jackets, buying the work of leading artists and finding a standard place for the blurb on the inside flap.

The work of U.S. artist designer McKnight Kauffer was particularly in demand.

Kauffer appears to have been largely responsible for the growth of the dust-jacket collecting craze. For several years during the 1920s people in Australia and other countries bought books, primarily (and sometimes exclusively) with the idea of mounting the jackets in albums.

The trend of the Australian jacket closely followed the English tradition for many years, for local publishers rarely felt inclined to risk cash on elaborate jacket blocks.

However, with Australia's ever increasing interest in reading, particularly since World War II Australian publishers have begun to pay closer attention to jackets, striving -- in the case of novels -- for a happy medium between the more conservative English design and the rather sensational accent of some American houses.

Now, it is not unusual for an Australian publication to carry a varnished four-colour jacket with half-tone photograph, attractive lettering and surrounds. Blocks for such a jacket, at the present time, cost about £100 each.

Among the earliest artists associated with Australian book-jackets were Frank Mahony -- best remembered for his work on Lawson's "While The Billy Boils," Paterson's verse, and Ethel Pedley's "Dot And The Kangaroo" -- and George Lambert, who did a fine illustration for Ogilvie's "Fair Girls And Grey Horses," in 1902.

Norman Lindsay, of course, did the jacket for his well-known classic, "The. Magic Pudding," and he, with Percy Leason, did jacketing and covers for Lawson's works. Hal Gye did jackets for the works of C. J. Dennis, among which were "Glugs of Gosh," "The Sentimental Bloke," "Ginger Mick," and, in association with David Low (now of the "Manchester Guardian"), "The Bloke And Doreen."

Edgar A. Holloway did considerable jacketing here during the 1920s and 1930s, and more recently the work of Francis Broadhurst, William Constable, Adrian Feint and Virgil Reilly is note-worthy.

With no other form of literature is the jacket of more importance than in connection with children's books. Nowhere, either, is it more essential that author, illustrator and publisher work in close co-operation.

Here the book-jacket really comes into its own, for a child's first impression is rated highly, and the cover will be seen before the book's contents.    

Illustrators responsible for the jackets of some best-selling Australian juveniles are Rhys Williams ("Verity, of Sydney Town") and Pixie O'Harris ("Pixie O'Harris's Fairy Tales''). The   aboriginal jacket illustrations of Elizabeth Durack, "The Magic Trumpet" and others, have also been well received.

Worthy of special mention, too, are the jackets executed by Margaret Senior, Walter Cunningham and John Singleton in a nature series published by John Sands. One of these, "The Story of Karrawingi the Emu," by Leslie Rees, and an historical cavalcade, "The Australia Book," by Eve Pownall, won Australian Book Society prizes in their respective years of publication.

However, Australian book jacketing (and, for that matter, blurb-writing) has not been notable for its overall excellence. Many garish and shoddy productions have found their way into our bookshops.

They have lent point to the claim of some book collectors that dust-jackets are an irrelevancy, which could well be sacrificed so that books could be sold more cheaply.  

But the standard has been steadily improved in recent years.

Although no great attention might be given to an exhibition of Australian bookjackets, there seems no reason why one should not be attempted.

An annual exhibition of book jackets has been sponsored by the Book Jacket Designers' Guild, Inc., in America, since 1948. For some years past, too, the American Institute of Graphic Arts has helped to improve U.S. standards of jacketing by holding exhibitions in New York City titled "Fifty Best Book Jackets of the Year."

Something along these lines might go a long way towards stimulating interest in book jacket illustration and design here-with improvements in the standards of both.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 26 September 1953

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

Australian Bookcovers #231 - The Island in the Mind by Rodney Hall


The Island in the Mind by Rodney Hall, 1996
Cover painiting: Julia Ciccarone, "The Urgs" (detail) 1996
Macmillan edition, 1996

National Book Award Finalists

The finalists for the 2010 National Book Awards have been released.  These awards are "presented annually to American authors for literature published in the prior year."  Normally I wouldn't mention these given their restrictions to American authors, but this year Peter Carey has been nominated for his novel Parrot and Olivier in America.

I won't go into the reasons why Carey finds himself eligible for this award, but there is probably some rule about residency over citizenship.  You may recall that Shirley Hazzard won this award in 2003 for her novel The Great Fire.

The award website has a page dedicated to Carey's novel, including an extract from the book.

The other works nominated for the Fiction prize are:

Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon
Great House by Nicole Krauss
So Much for That by Lionel Shriver
I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita

The winner of the award will be announced on November 17.

Sean Williams Interview

force_unleashed_2.jpg   Adelaide writer Sean Williams has been writing authorised novels within the Star Wars universe for some time now. His latest, The Force Unleashed II, was released at the beginning of October in the US. He spoke to George Ivanov, in a 2-part interview, about how this all came about, and why he still does it:
What attracted you to write in the Star Wars universe and what sustains your interest in it?

I love a good space opera adventure story. There's no point in hiding it, and no shame in admitting it. Star Wars gives me a chance to play with a bunch of wonderful toys without having to worry too much about how it all works. (There is part of me that always wants to sneak a bit of real science in, just to keep it relatively grounded, but I am very aware that this not what Star Wars is all about, as opposed to, say, the Doctor Who I also loved as a kid, which is very much about hammering home the scientific method, if hidden behind a lot of hand-waving.) So preposterous plots, huge set-pieces, iconic characters, humor, romance - Star Wars has it all. Brilliant.

One of the things I love perhaps a bit too much about working in the extended universe is just how large and baroque the EU has become. A lot of it remains internally consistent and rigorous - amazingly so, in fact - but there are nonetheless so many threads that haven't been tied off, so many places and beings that have been mentioned only once, that I can't help but want to come to their aid, to lift them out of obscurity, to remind readers that this is a rich and varied galaxy full of wonders and terrors both. Sometimes I get into trouble with my editors for being too obscure, but I figure it's a risk worth taking. And always, among the millions of fans of the EU, there's at least one who appreciates the effort.

Australian Bookcovers #230 - Captivity Captive by Rodney Hall


Captivity Captive by Rodney Hall, 1988
McPhee Gribble edition 1989

Poem: The World's Heroes by "Christophus" (George Essex Evans)

We see the world's great heroes stand
   With steadfast hearts and shining shields;
Their fame is wafted o'er the land--
   The victors of a thousand fields.

The victors of a thousand fields
   Where moral courage won the day;
No dimness mars those shining shields--
   Their fame shall never pass away.

But had I some great poet's lyre  
   To stir the inmost souls of men
With passion's strength, with notes of fire,
   And write high thoughts with poet's pen,

I'd sing not of those names of pride
   Whose fame has o'er the welkin rung,
But of the millions who have died
   Unknown, unnoticed, and unsung.

All the world's heroes! Can we know?
   Those countless throngs who move along
Firm in the path they have to go;
   Who choose the right and spurn the wrong?  

Each noble thought, unselfish deed,
   Can never fade -- can never die;
The world may pass on without heed,  
   But angels write it down on high;

'Tis writ on scrolls of fire above, 
   And holy angels gently say:
"The record of each deed of love
   Can never fade or pass away."

The world rolls on and time declines
   With every day, with every hour;
Truth like a star eternal shines
   And goodness blossoms as a flower.

Yet, though unnoticed and unknown
   Some humble hero sinks to die,
His record stands in heaven alone,
   And heavenly records cannot lie.

First published in The Queenslander, 6 March 1886

Reprint: Australian Authors IV: Miles Franklin by Aidan de Brune

Thirty years ago literary circles in Australia were astounded by the publication of an extraordinary book, written by a girl of sixteen, Stella Miles Franklin. The title of the book was audacious -- "My Brilliant Career." The "brilliant career" of a girl of sixteen might have meant any thing -- a reading of the book itself shows that it meant a great deal. The story is in the form, partly, of fiction, and partly of autobiography, and it bears on every page the imprint of sheer genius. It throbs with a passionate love of the Australian bush, and particularly of horses, and with an equal passionate hatred of the cruelties of life endured by the people on the land, particularly by the women. It is the first statement, and to this day it remains the greatest statement, of the case for Australian bush womanhood.

In a preface to the book Henry Lawson said:-- "The description of bush life and scenery came startlingly, painfully real to me; and I know that, as far as they are concerned, the book is true to Australia -- the truest I ever read. She has lived her book, and I feel proud of it for the sake of the country I came from, where people toil and bake and suffer, and are kind."

The youthful author herself says in her introduction: -- "This is not a romance. I have too often faced the music of life to the tune of hardship to waste time in snivelling and gushing over fancies and dreams. .... Do not fear encountering such trash as descriptions of beautiful sunsets and whisperings of wind. We (999 out of every 1,000) can see naught in sunsets save as signs and tokens whether we may expect rain on the morrow. There is no plot in the story, because there has been none in my life, or in any other life which has come under my notice."

But the last chapter swells to a magnificent paean of youth's brave challenge to the world: -- "I am proud that I am an Australian, a daughter of the Southern Cross, a child of the mighty bush. I am thankful I am a peasant, a part of the bone and muscle of my nation, and earn my bread by the sweat of my brow, as man was meant to do.    

"Ah! my sunburnt brothers -- sons of toils and of Australia -- I love and respect you well, for you are brave and good and true. I have seen not only those of you with youth and hope strong in your veins, but those with pathetic streaks of grey in your hair, large families to support, and with half a century sitting upon your work-laden shoulders. I have seen you struggle uncomplainingly against flood, fire, disease in stock, pests, drought, trade depression, and sickness, and yet have time to extend your hands and hearts in true sympathy to a brother, in misfortune, and spirits to laugh and joke and be cheerful.  

''And for my sisters a great love and pity fills my heart. Daughters of toil, who scrub and wash and mend and cook, who are dressmakers, paperhangers, milk-maids, gardeners, and candle-makers all in one, and yet have time to be cheerful and tasty in your homes, and make the best of the few cases to be found along the dusty track of your existence. Would that I were more worthy to be one of you --- more a typical Australian peasant -- cheerful, honest, brave!      

"I love you. I love you. Bravely you jog along with the rope of class distinction drawing closer, closer, tighter, tighter around you. A few more generations, and you will be enslaved as were ever the moujiks of Russia. I see it, and know it, but I cannot help you. My ineffective life will be trod out in the same ground of toil. I am only one of yourselves, I am only an unnecessary, little bush commoner. I am only a -- woman!

"The great, sun is sinking in the west, grinning, and winking knowingly as he goes, upon the starving stock and drought smitten wastes of land. Nearer he draws to the gum-tree, scrubby horizon, turns the clouds to orange, scarlet, silver, flame, gold!  Down, down he goes. The gorgeous, garnish splendour of sunset pageantry flames out; the long shadows eagerly cover all; the kookaburras laugh their merry mocking good-night; the clouds fade to turquoise, green, and grey; the stars peep shyly out; the soft call of the moke-poke arises in the gullies! With much love and good wishes to all -- Good-night!  Goodbye!  Amen!"  

The MS. of "My Brilliant Career" was taken to England by Earl Beauchamp, then Governor of New South Wales, and it was published by Blackwood, of Edinburgh. Like many another fine Australian book it has been allowed to go out of print, and copies are now quite unobtainable. Perhaps it will be re-issued by one of our Australian publishing houses soon. Meanwhile, what happened to Miles Franklin? She went abroad, and has been lost to Australia for more than twenty years. She threw herself into organising work for the Feminist Movement in the United States of America, wrote thousands of newspaper and magazine articles, and made speeches in every State of the Union. When the war broke out she went to Salonika with the Scottish Women's Hospital. After the war she had a most responsible position as secretary of the housing committee in London. In all these years of great organising achievement she   was definitely lost to Australian life and letters.  

Now she has returned to her native land. A year ago a book appeared, "Old Blastus of Bandicoot," under her name. The book is modestly described as an ''opuscule," but all the old fire and dash is there. John Dalley, in the Sydney "Bulletin," sums up what many other critics have said about this book: "The characterisation's the thing. Nothing so good has been done in any previous novel about the Australian bush."

This year the Endeavour Press will print and publish in Australia a sprightly detective story by Miles Franklin, entitled "Bring the Monkey!"-- modestly described as a "light novel." Is that, then, the whole story of Miles Franklin? We shall see. Is it likely, or possible, that a writer of such power and sheer genius as the author of "My Brilliant Career" should have been silent for more than twenty years?

Miles Franklin will not admit it, but whether she likes it or not people are identifying her with the mysterious "Brent of Bin Bin," whose books (published by Blackwood, of Edinburgh, be it noted) are acknowledegd to be the finest presentation in fiction of the Australian outback epic which have yet been written. "Brent of Bin Bin" loves the bush and understands horses, and hates injustice to bush women, as only the author of "My Brilliant Career" and "Old Blastus of Bandicoot" could love, and understand, and hate.

The "Brent of Bin Bin" triology ("Up the Country," "Ten Creeks Run," "Back to Bool Bool") are already Australian classics. Despite the fact that they are difficult to obtain, as are most Australian books published overseas, they have gone into numerous editions, and are hailed by a multitude of discerning readers as being absolute portents for the future of the Australian novel -- a real and true portrait, not a caricature, of outback life.

If Miles Franklin is also "Brent of Bin Bin," then she is the greatest Australian bush novelist alive. And if she is only Miles Franklin of "My Brilliant Career" and "Old Blastus of Bandicoot" she takes second place to one writer alone -- the tremendously gifted and mysterious author who writes in Miles Franklin's manner under the pseudonym of "Brent."

First published in The West Australian, 22 April 1933

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

2010 Man Booker Prize Winner

Howard Jacobson has been awarded for the 2010 Man Booker Prize for his novel The Finkler Question.

The general view was that C by Tom McCarthy was the lead-in favourite.  But it's rare for favourites to get up in a "race" of this sort.

Jacobson has published 11 novels since 1983, which seems like a fairly leisurely rate.  He has often been spoken of as one of those British novelists on the fringes of the literary establishment, more known for his comic rather than literary values.  I've always thought of him as being a latter-day version of David Lodge, though with Lodge at 75 and Jacobson at 68 there isn't the generational difference that I would have thought.  In any event, comic novels normally don't win big awards in the UK, so this was a bit of a shock.

Most of the pre-prize coverage in Australia looked to Peter Carey winning his third prize, after winning in 1988 for Oscar and Lucinda and in 2001 for True History of the Kelly Gang. Actually, looking at those two wins you'd have to think that Carey was a shoe-in for 2014.  Which, given his normal publishing schedule, would mean it will go to his novel after next, whatever that may be.  

As you might expect there has been a lot of coverage of the prize:

"The Guardian" - with video
"The Telegraph" - tie off, shirt unbuttoned, looks like a big night ahead
"The Australian" - looking very serious
"The Age" - let me guess, this photo wasn't taken in London a few days back? Fair enough, much better this than a "tired and emotional" mise en scene.

Australian Books to Film #51 - You Can't See Round Corners


You Can't See Round Corners 1969
Directed by David Cahill.
Screenplay by Richard Lane from the novel by Jon Cleary.
Featuring Ken Shorter, Rowena Wallace, Carmen Duncan and Judith Fisher.

Reprint: To the Editor of the Argus: Norman Lindsay

Sir - Mr. Norman Lindsay, whom so many of us admire in spite of himself, does ill-service to the memory of the late Dame Nellie Melba by repeating a remark probably made by the great singer in a moment of passing exasperation. If any Australian citizen was ever consistently loyal to Australia it was Melba. She loved the people of this country, and she was as proud of this land of her birth as she was of her career. That Melba deplored certain aspects of Australian life as much as does Mr. Norman Lindsay is perfectly true. She, too, longed to find her fellow-countrymen genuinely interested in the things that are ultimately of more importance than a football final. Australia, as a whole, has not yet learned to look upon her painters, poets and musicians as individuals of essentail value to her development as a nation, a fact of which Melba was sadly aware. She was not the only one who has given utterance to an opinion delivered more in sorrow than in anger; nevertheless she not only truly loved her fellow-countrymen, but also believed firmly in their artistic destiny. -

Yours, &c.,


East Melbourne, Nov. 30.

First published in The Argus, 1 December 1931

2010 Nobel Prize for Literature

You will by now be aware that the Peruvian writer, Mario Vargas Llosa, has been awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature.  Heard of the award and also heard of the recipient, which is probably a change for the past couple of years: Herta Müller in 2009 and J.M.G Le Clézio were not the most well-known names going around.

Llosa becomes the first writer in Spanish to win the award since Octavio Paz in 1990, and becomes the eleventh writer in that language to do so, following José Echegaray in 1904, Jacinto Benavente in 1922, Gabriela Mistral in 1945, Juan Ramón Jiménez in 1956, Miguel Ángel Asturias in 1967, Pablo Neruda in 1971, Vicente Aleixandre in 1977, Gabriel García Márquez in 1982, Carmin José Cela in 1989 and Paz in 1990.

And a lot of them I haven't heard of either. 

I used to worry about that once.  But, now as I'm getting older, I've just come to the realisation that there's only so much time available for reading amongst the rest of life's demands, and we do the best we can with the time we are allotted.

Should I be doing more?  Probably.

Will I? Probably not.

I'm just happy I sort of know who Llosa is.  Makes me feel I've achieved at least something.

Wikipedia List of Nobel laureates in Literature page.

Australian Bookcovers #229 - The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville


The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville, 2008
Cover photograph by Randy Olson.  Cover design by Chong.
Text Publishing edition, 2008

Poem: An Echo by "Christophus" (George Essex Evans)

In the harmony of ages floating from the dreamy Past,
In the old romantic legends where the seeds of song were cast,
In the pleasant fields of Fancy, whence the flowers of genius sprung,
Can we find a path untrodden? Can we find a song unsung?
Lamps of Genius burning brightly thro' the mists of bygone days,
With the light of strong endeavour ever mingling with their rays;
Dreams of dreamers, chants of singers made immortal in their song,
With a soft and tender cadence, or a passion fierce and strong;
Like the chimes from distant belfries, like the restless winds that blow
Northwards with tempestuous fury, southwards musically slow;
Like the thunderous roar of breakers bursting on a rocky strand,
Or the rhythmic rippling river murmuring softly thro' the land;
Sinking, soaring, swelling upwards sound their melodies sublime --
Sound the Voices of the Ages echoing thro' the Halls of Time.  
What is left us? Shall we wander midst the fields their feet have prest!
Sing again the songs they sang us in their passion of unrest!
Sing of Nature, 'neath whose influence all the poet's instinct stirs --
Feels the throbbing of his pulses beat in unison with hers;
When the Dawn's gray veil of vapour falls before the face of Day,
And the arrows of the sunshine drive the shadowy night away;
Like a goddess in her splendour, robed with many a roseate hue,
In the mantle of the morning, jewelled with the guttering dew!
Softer in the calm of sunset, mellower where the eye may see
Placid purple clouds, like islands, floating in a golden sea,
When the crimson-tinted sunlight sinks and pales in waning rays
And like rush of many waters come the thoughts of other days;
Till the creeping mists grow deeper and the evening air is still
With the awe of solemn shadows hanging darkly on the hill;
Till with wide and rapid pinions sweeps the Spirit of the Night,
And our thoughts are carried onwards in the current of its flight,
Through the wreathing mists of darkness where the midnight reigns alone
From the regions of the Finite to the bars of the Unknown.

All our songs are but the echoes of the chants long heard before;
All our loves and our ambitions like the wavebeats on the shore,
Coming, going, passing, ending with their restless hopes and fears,
Till at last in silence buried in the cenotaph of years.

First published in The Queenslander, 9 July 1887

Reprint: Australian Authors III: Bernard Cronin by Aidan de Brune

Bernard Cronin, president of the Society of Australian Authors, is one of those stalwart "professional" writers whose books command a world sale; but unlike some of the other Australian authors of this class, he has not gone abroad to live and work in exile, away from the source of his inspiration.

He accepts the challenge which the Australian bush offers to writers of major fiction.

"The writer in the Old Country," he has stated, "finds his scenery, as it were, ready made for him. In this country it is definitely not to be found upon the surface of things. One has to dig deeply to become aware of the very great natural beauties of the Australian landscape. Real treasure is mostly of the buried variety. To my mind there is more character in an old Aussie gum tree than in any other tree I ever heard of. Incidentally, I should say that that much abused genius, D. H. Lawrence, came closer to an understanding of the spirit of the Australian landscape than any other writer, local, or imported, has yet done. He is the first scribe definitely to sight the real genii of the bush."    

We may take this to mean that Bernard Cronin is intrigued by Australia as a literary theme, but he does not "sentimentalise" his subject.

"Our trouble is that we lack real breeding, and crudeness is a poor scaffold for the Arts. Further, the indifference of our rulers to the absolute need to develop a national soul has not made matters any better. Hansard will never make this country aware of the sublimities of human destiny. We need to see Australia from her own standpoint, and with her own individuality. The Arts are our only hope of salvation."

By this last phrase our fierce realist is revealed as an idealist, after all. The title of his new book, "The Sow's Ear," which will be published this year in Australia, shows that the author is concerned with making something fine from our "crude" material. The story is set in the Tasmanian timber country, in the days before the war. It is a ruthless exposure of the tragic life of young girls enslaved by the system of marrying without love, at the command of domineering parents. The heroine longs for something better, but must accept her fate. In her passionate desire to escape from the bondage of the bush, she works to win for her two little daughters the chance in life which was so bitterly denied to herself.

Bernard Cronin's novels all have this "fierce'" quality. He has aimed at exposing what he considers to be wrong, stupid or uneconomic. In this sense he is the strongest of the Australian writers who wish to make us aware of our short comings, so that we may eliminate them, and become a truly civilised nation.

He is fully equipped for the literary task which he has set himself. He came to Australia forty years ago, at the age of six years, in charge of the captain of the old Orient steamer Austral. On the way out he nearly killed an able seaman, who was painting the ship's side, holding to the deck with one hand. Young Cronin jumped with both feet on the sailor's hand, "just to see what would happen." The sailor let go, but was providentially rescued.      

Perhaps it was this impish spirit of curiosity that eventually led Cronin to become a writer, and to jump, figuratively, upon the fingers of his Australian readers. "I am not really pugnacious," he says, "but I resent with violence anything that strikes me as being cheap." He tells us that he began to write as soon as he learned that a pencil may be sharpened by biting it.

He decided to become a farmer, and entered the Dookie Agricultural College. In 1901 he was dux of the college and gold medallist. He then had jackeroo experience on Kewita Station, South Gippsland, and Ulupna Station, in the north-east of Victoria, before taking up cattle farming on the north-west coast of Tasmania, where he remained for ten years. His experience there has provided him with material for nearly a dozen novels and serials, and innumerable short stories.

He has published the following novels: "The Coastlanders," 1918; "Timber Wolves," 1920; "Bluff Stakes," 1922; "Salvage," 1923; "Red Dawson," 1927; "White Gold," 1927; "The Treasure of the Tropics," 1928; "Dragonfly," 1928; "Toad," 1929; "Bracken," 1931; and, in conjunction with Arthur Russell, "Bushranging Silhouettes," 1932. Six of these novels have been issued by London publishers in cheap editions -- a sure proof of their popularity.

Now living in Melbourne, Bernard Cro nin has revealed the humanitarian impulse which lies below his "fierceness" by his work for the Derelict Society, which he founded in conjunction with Gertrude Hart. He is also the founder of the Society of Australian Authors, and has shown a very great zeal in striving to remove the handicaps under which our writers have to work. "There is much to discourage the Australian writer," he says. "Nevertheless, he holds steadily to his job. He hopes that the pioneering work which he is doing will prove an invaluable foundation for the generation of writers to come. Give him the support of his own Government and public, and he will win to wider distinction inside a decade. But he'll win through, anyway."  

When Australian authors have finally won recognition from their own people, the name of Bernard Cronin will stand high in the roll of honour of those who have fought for this objective.

First published in The West Australian, 15 April 1933

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

Note: interesting last paragraph.  I'd tend to say that Bernard Cronin has been largely foregotten.

Australian Books to Film #50 - Dad and Dave: On Our Selection


Dad and Dave: On Our Selection 1995
Directed by George Whaley.
Screenplay by George Whaley and Geoffrey Atherden, from the stories by Steele Rudd.
Featuring Leo McKern, Joan sutherland and Geoffrey Rush.

Reprint: Australian Authors: Work of the New Society

The Society of Australian Authors, which has now a membership of 87, is the outcome of a meeting on January 28, 1928, of the Derelicts Club, founded in Melbourne in 1920 by Gertrude Hart and Bernard Cronin. It was resolved that the Derelicts Club be re-named the Society of Australian Authors, those present to form the basis society. The membership was then 32, and a club symbol, designed by Will Dyson, was adopted. The president elected was Bernard Cronin, vice-presidents Gertrude Hart and Louis Lavater, and secretary Arthur Goode.

In July the society conducted an essay competition for young Australians on the subject of an Australian work of fiction, the prizes totalling £19. Over 100 entries were received, and the winning essays, on publication, won favorable comment. A similar competition will probably be held yearly.    

At the suggestion of the society, the Booksellers' Association of Victoria agreed to introduce where possible as permanent features of the trade, two innovations--an all-Australian counter and the issue of an Australian catalogue, which, it is expected, will be generally adopted shortly. During the year the society gave all the assistance it could to Sir John Quick in the compiling of like Selective Bibliography, on vhich he is at present engaged. Applications for advice were received from a large number of young writers, and in every case a helpful reply was sent, as it is felt that by these means the society is fulfilling one of its main functions.

Among the members of the society are Mr. F. Anstey, M.H.R., Charles Barrett, Judge Beeby, E. J. Brady, Mary Grant Bruce, Bernard Cronin, Elsie Cole, Erie Cox, G. Cockerell. C. J. Dennis, Louis Esson. Sir Robert Garran, Mrs. Aeneas Gunn, Gertrude Hart, Marion Miller Knowles, Louis Lavater, Myra Morris, Marie Pitt, Alec Pratt, Sir John Quick, J. M. Walsh, and Blamire Young. The South Australian members are Fred Mills (Twinkler") and William J. MacDonald.

The main objects of the society are to join in common cause persons actively engaged in the promotion of Australian letters; to advance the literary interests of its members, both in Australia and overseas; and to provide an authoritative literary centre to which visiting men of letters may apply when desirous of being informed as to Australian writers and Australian literary effort.

First published in The Advertiser, 15 November 1928

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

Australian Bookcovers #228 - The Secret River by Kate Grenville


The Secret River by Kate Grenville, 2005
Cover photograph by Alexandra Szalay. Cover design by Chong
Text publishing edition, 2005

Extract: Three Famines by Tom Keneally

Three Famines by Tom Keneally

"In his new book, Three Famines, Tom Keneally investigates mass starvations in Ireland in the mid-19th century and in Bengal and Ethiopia in the mid and late 20th century. Here he considers just how far hungry people will go to stay alive."

Extract in The Australian

David Malouf Watch #3

Reviews of Ransom

Psita Chakravarty In "The Telegraph" (Kolkatta, India): "He tells his story with a vital immediacy, picking out details in his lucent prose. The sharp edges of experience are made to gleam with a peculiar intensity. Malouf treats of lofty characters and situations...If at times he borders on the overly sentimental, the emotional impact of the story remains undiminished. For Malouf's readers share with his lead characters that most powerful thing -- the knowledge of mortality."

On the "A Momentary Taste of Being" weblog: "Ransom is a short book, an exquisitely carved book, a book of deep and harrowing emotion and a reminder of what is important in life.  I suspect that this is one of those books that will speak more to age than to youth--more to those who have had children and who know what it would feel like to make Priam's journey."

Anne Moore on the "Inform Enlighten Entertain" weblog: "In the original text, this ransom is mentioned in a few lines. Malouf takes that moment and opens it up, creating a character who discovers his humanity in the enemy's embrace. This is a lovely read."

Donald Brown in "The Quarterly Conversation": "Malouf delivers a lesson on how the novel, against epic conventions (or, perhaps, as social equality vs. hierarchy), aspires to a glimpse of individuality that is meaningful because we have to imagine it as our own, as something we too have seen and contain. We are both Priam marveling at Somax's way with an anecdote and Somax marveling at his daughter-in-law's skill. The fact that Somax also mourns a dead son is the kind of novelistic coincidence that lets us suspend disbelief for a purpose. We want to see that the grief Priam faces in outliving a son can be borne, must be borne, by all parents so afflicted, whether a ruler or a cartdriver. This lesson we might suppose we already know. But Priam doesn't, and seeing him grasp it is one of the payoffs of Malouf's account."

Also reviewed on the "Bibliojunkie" weblog.

Ransom has been shortlisted in the Fiction category of the 2010 Prime Minister's Literary Awards.

Various Ransom book covers:

ransom.jpg    ransom_uk.jpg    ransom_us.jpg
Australia  United Kingdom  USA

Review of An Imaginery Life

On "BookCrossing": "Malouf has created a raw yet beautifully poetic novel. Malouf has artfully (almost cryptically) delved into the contemporary arguments 'How does one determine barbarian and civil' and 'How to inhabit a place without occupying it'? More powerfully, he shows how one man can loose himself in while being a member of a prestigious society yet discover himself on the outside of the known world and know the life he is supposed to live."


Malouf wrote about the power of music for "The Sydney Morning Herald".

In June, David Malouf was a guest of a fund-raiser for "Australian Book Review". Chong was there and reported on it for Crikey.  He was asked to take some photos of the event but wasn't pushy enough to get the best shots.  He decided to draw the writer instead.  A better solution in my mind.

For the BBC, Nick Bryant chose Malouf as one of eight "Famous Australians you've never heard of." For the BBC audience that is.

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