November 2010 Archives

Australian Bookcovers #235 - Heartsease by Lee Harding


Heartsease by Lee Harding, 1997
Bluegum edition 1997

Poem: "Aye Atque Vale" by Mary Hannay Foott


One last salute; and then the long farewell!
   Sad silence of the Old Man Eloquent!
   The Soul, expatriate, strikes its time-bleached tent,
Departing, in the Farther Land to dwell.

Not flawless, it may be, the record stands --   
   He was but mortal. Yet, true Citizen,
   All his long life he served, with speech and pen,   
His Country, not himself; and with clean hands,
   Empty of lucre, he waves Adieu to men.

First published in The Queenslander, 2 May 1896

Reprint: Australian Authors VIII: Vance Palmer by Aidan de Brune

When you begin reading any book or magazine story written by Vance Palmer, you may do so with the comfortable feeling that you are going to be well satisfied when you reach the end. There is nothing erratic about his literary work; it is level, flawless and polished, like a table made from Queensland silky oak by a cabinet-maker who takes pride in his trade. Vance Palmer is an accomplished journeyman -- a craftsman in words who has served his apprenticeship thoroughly, and has mastered his trade, giving you guaranteed good value for money when you buy what he has made with his pen. "A typical Vance Palmer four-square yarn," means a story well constructed, written with care, with no loose ends in the plot, and no slovenly phrasing. His name on a book is a trade mark that you can trust.

Discussion of the major Australian novelists of to-day invariably begins with the brilliant constellation of women writers who have come to the fore in recent years. Henry Handel Richardson, Brent of Bin Bin, Katherine Prichard, Velia Ercole, Barnet Eldershaw, G. B. Lancaster, Alice Rosman, Helen Simpson -- a surprisingly strong list of Australian writers -- to begin with, all known and respected in England and America -- and all women! The discussion turns to men writers. Invariably someone says, 'Well, there is Vance Palmer. . . ' His name comes first to mind. With Dale Collins and Jack McLaren he has presented the Australian theme to English and American readers in a certain virile, straight forward, sincere and unassuming way that lacks the wild emotional force of the woman writers but is no less convincing and genuinely Australian for that. Here is the Australian male in literature, modern but capable and full of a quiet strength, as he is in life.

Like the "Champion Ringer" famed in western shearing sheds, Vance Palmer comes from Queensland. He was born in Bundaberg, the sugar-town at the mouth of the Burnett River. In his early and impressionable youth he must have seen the picturesque gangs of Kanakas cutting the tall green cane and singing their deep-voiced Island songs as they flashed the broad cane-knives, in the sunlight. He would have seen, too, the white labourers, the roughest-mannered but physically the most perfect speciments of masculinity to be found anywhere on the earth, arriving at the cane fields after shearing sheds were cut out, for a few months' big pay and desperately hard work, "cane-slogging." Perhaps he saw fights and riots between Kanakas and white labourers, or watched great muscled timber fellers, stripped to the waist, sweating in the sun as they cleared the jungle from the Isis scriblands, revealing the rich, red volcanic loam where in more and more sugar cane was to be planted. Perhaps, too, he went to the Sand Hills, where the Burnett River flows out to the ocean, and watched the gulls planing over the dunes where another young native of Bundaberg, Bert Hinkler, made and flew box kites the size of aeroplanes even before the triumphs of Wilbur Wright and Bleriot. And no doubt in the Burnett River young Palmer caught eeratodi, the archaic fish that can live out of water, and are found only in that stream.

Colour, strength, romance, during the impressionable age of childhood gave him a background for his writing which he has never lost, for all his later sophistication and urbanity, and world-travelling, and painfully acquired "literariness." Asked recently to express an opinion on Australia as a literary theme. Palmer replied:

"A man can only write about the life he knows. If he is an Australian he will naturally take his themes from his own country. I have written countless magazine stories set in places as far apart as China and Mexico, but I wouldn't attempt any serious work set in those countries -- they don't stimulate my deepest interest. Australia can provide all the themes required by any writer who knows his country."

There is a brave and heartening declaration from one who has travelled all the world, and proved himself a master of the literary trade! Vance Palmer has been four times to London on literary business, and once on the business of the A.I.F. He spent a year travelling through Russia and Siberia, in the days before the revolution, incidentally learning much about his job of writing from the works of the great Russian masters, Tolstoi, Gorki, Dostoevski, Poushkin -- all geniuses of narrative style and psychological insight. He has sojourned in the colourful East, and has lived through the uncertainties, terrors and comedy of a revolution in Mexico. Yet always he has returned to Australia, and in his serious work it is always of Australia that he writes. His early days in Bundaberg, and at the Ipswich Grammar School (Queensland's "Athens"), the days which he spent as a jackeroo on a Western Queensland cattle station, and what he noticed when living on the edge of the crashing surf at Caloundra, near Brisbane, or during the year which he spent recently on Green Isand, near Cairns, on the Barrier Reef -- these essentially Australian experiences have given him and will continue to give him, the inspiration for his best work.

His books, like those of all the best Australian authors, are difficult or impossible to obtain from Australian book sellers; who will offer you, instead, English "throw-out" lines if you ask for decent reading matter. Something will be done about this, no doubt, when Australian publishing gets firmly established. The best of Vance Palmer's novels, all recently published in England, are "The Man Hamilton" (1908), "Men are Human" (1930), "The Passage'' (1930), and "Daybreak." "Men are Human" and "The Passage" were "Bulletin" prize-winners. A collection of his short stories, entitled "Separate Lives," was published in 1931; and a book of plays entitled "The Black Horse" was issued in 1924.

He is one of the foremost of the gallant band who are endeavouring to convince the Australian public that Australia as a country is interesting to read about. "It will probably take a lot of writing, of the highest class," he says, "to convince Australians that their life is as interesting as any other."

Vance Palmer's work is of the "highest class," and we are proud of him for that reason.

First published in The West Australian, 20 May 1933

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

D. M. Cornish Interview

factotum_au.jpg   Factotum, the third book in D. M. Cornish's Monster Blood Tattoo series has now finally been published. The author spoke to the "SFRevu" website:
SFRevu: The story you've written--about Rossamünd Bookchild and his path to self-knowledge, in a fascinating world full of exotic individuals, monstrous dangers and astounding settings--is a true epic. How did you set about writing this adventure?

Cornish: One word at a time, forming into one sentence at a time, gathering in to one paragraph at a time, slowly accreting into a chapter, into an entire novel. Writing feels like internal juggling, like there is a thousand balls in the air and I have to keep each one up or all will fall.

During the whole process I have been very aware of making sure my style of writing in some way fitted the setting, that the texts read in some part as if they may have well come from the Half-Continent themselves, that they were written by a denizen of that place - which in a way I suppose they are.

SFRevu: What sorts of stories influenced or inspired you, specifically in terms of TFT?

Cornish: Hmm, no surprises, the first to be named is Mr Tolkien's little set, LotR, in close combination with Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast novels: E.R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros, H.P. Lovecraft's The Curious Case of Charles Dexter Ward (and everything else he has ever written), Frankenstein, anything by Kafka, Mr Steinbeck's Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday, Steppenwolfe by Hesse, The Last of the Mohicans and Deerstalker by James Fennimore Cooper, King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard, The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (and everything else he has done), Poe, Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein, Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Having C.S. Lewis's Narnia series read to me as a child, and also his book Out of the Silent Planet and the two other books that are a part of that series. Batman: The Dark Night Returns by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson, Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo, Elektra: Assassin by Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz, Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock, Homer's Iliad, anything by Ms. Austen (except perhaps Mansfield Park - I like her when she is being less acid), all the wonderful monsters in Orion by Masamune Shirow, Nausicaä by Hayao Miyazaki, Master & Commander by Patrick O'Brian (and the entire Aubrey/Maturin series - though only after a reviewer in the Washington Post mistook him as an influence on my writing when reviewing Foundling (TFT Book 1)).

Let's see, what else? Avenues & Runways by Aidan Coleman, Our Language by Simeon Potter, Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. I could go on and on but I have to stop somewhere...
Other book covers:
factotum_uk.jpg  factotum_us.jpg
UK edition  US edition

Australian Books to Film #55 - Mary Poppins


Mary Poppins 1964
Directed by Robert Stevenson.
Screenplay by Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi from the Mary Poppins novels by P. L. Travers.
Featuring Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, David Tomlinson and Glynis Johns.

2010 Walkley Awards Shortlists

The Walkley Awards are presented each year for exellence in Australian journalism.  In particular, "the Walkley Book Award celebrates excellence in non-fiction literature and long-form journalism. The shortlist for this award has just been released:

Chris Hammer, The River: A Journey Through the Murray-Darling Basin (Melbourne University Press)

Paul Kelly, The March of Patriots: The Struggle for Modern Australia (Melbourne University Press)
Shirley Shackleton, The Circle of Silence: A Personal Testimony Before, During and After Balibo (Murdoch Books)

The winner of this award will be announced on Thursday 9th December in Melbourne.

Australian Bookcovers #234 - Waiting for the End of the World by Lee Harding

Waiting for the End of the World
by Lee Harding, 1983
Jacket by Fil Barlow
Hyland House edition 1983

Poem: The Bard of Furthrest Out by Henry Lawson

He longed to be a Back-Blocks Bard,
And fame he wished to win --
He wrote at night and studied hard
He sent in "stuff" unceasingly,
But couldn't get it through;
And so, at last, he came to me
To see what I could do.

The poet's light was in his eye,
He aimed to be a man;
He bought a bluey and a fly,
A brand new billy-can.
I showed him how to roll his swag
And "sling it" with the best;
I gave him my old water-bag,
And pointed to the west.

"Now you can take the train as far
As Blazes if you like --
The wealthy go by motor-car
(Some travellers go by bike);
They race it through without a rest,
And find it very tame --
But if you tramp it to the west
You'll get there just the same.

"(No matter if the hour is late,
The morning goes Out-Back),
You do not need a dog nor mate,
You'll find them on the track.
You must avoid such deadly rhymes
As 'self' and 'elf' and 'shelf'.
But were it as in other times,
I'd go with you myself.

"Those days are done for me, but ah!
On hills where you shall be,
The wattle and the waratah
Are good to smell and see.
But there's a scent, my heart believes,
That 'travellers' set higher
Than wattle -- 'tis the dried gum leaves
That light the evening fire.

"The evening fire and morning fire
Are one fire in the Bush.
(You'll find the points that you require
As towards the west you push.)
And as you pass by ancient ways,
Old camps, and mountain springs,
The spirits of the Roaring Days
Will whisper many things.

"The lonely ridge-and-gully belt --
The spirit of the whole
It must be seen; it must be felt --
Must sink into your soul!
The summer silence-creek-oaks' sigh --
The windy, rainy "woosh" --
'Tis known to other men, and I --
The Spirit of the Bush!

"So on, and on, through dust and heat,
When past the spurs you be --
And you shall meet whom you shall meet,
And see what you shall see,
You need not claim the stranger's due,
They yield it everywhere,
And mateship is a thing that you
Must take for granted there.

"And in the land of Lord-knows-where --
Right up and furthest out --
You find a new Australia there
That we know nought about.
Live as they live, fight as they fight,
Succeed as they succeed,
And then come back again and write
For all the world to read."

I've got a note from Hungerford,
'Tis written frank and fair;
The bushman's grim philosophy --
The bushman's grin are there.
And tramping on through rain and drought --
Unlooked for and unmissed --
I may have sent to furthest out
The Great Bush Novelist.

First published in For Australia (1906)

Reprint: Australian Authors VII: Dulcie Deamer by Aidan de Brune

Dulcie Deamer has had an adventurous life. She was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1890, her father being a doctor.

She never went to school, her mother being her sole teacher. At the age of eight she was allowed the unrestricted run of her father's fine library, and she read the novels of Lord Lytton and Sir Walter Scott, abhorring -- as she confesses -- all "children's" books. Her hobbies were natural history and archaeology, and whatever books she wanted on these subjects were bought for her. From the very beginning, any information she could obtain concerning the Stone Age drew her like a magnet. She disliked dolls, adored animals, and preferred trees and flowers to the society of other children.

At eleven she began to write verses. A year later her family moved to Featherstone, a tiny bush township in the North Island, and here for five years she ran wild, riding unbroken colts, shooting, learning to swim in snow-fed creeks, and going for long, solitary rambles of explora- tion through the virgin bush. It was here in the thick scrub, where there was always the risk of encountering wild cattle or a wild boar, that what she describes as ''memories of the Stone Age" came to her. And so, when the newly-started 'Lone Hand" magazine startled Australasia by offering a prize of 25 pounds for the best short story submitted to it, Dulcie Deamer, then 16, sent along her first serious prose effort -- a story of the savage love of a cave-man.

It won -- and altered the whole course of her life.

For some years previously her parents had been training her for a stage career. This original idea was not abandoned. At 17 Dulcie Deamer was touring New Zealand with a little company playing melodrama in all the back-block townships. It was thus she met her future husband, Albert Goldie, who was at that time business manager for one of Williamson's companies.

A whirlwind courtship ended in a marriage in Perth, Western Australia -- the bride being not yet 18. Then came a tour of the Far East, with Hugh Ward's London Comedy Company, which her husband was then managing. Here all manner of adventures befell the young actress-authoress. A bomb was thrown into her carriage in the streets of Bombay, where anti-British rioting had broken out.

Luckily it failed to explode. She was caught in another riot in the Temple of Kali, in Calcutta, and only saved by the intervention of a Brahmin priest. A fat Bengalese millionaire, hung with necklaces of pearls the size of broad beans, nearly succeeded in trapping her into his harem, and in China she saw execution grounds littered with freshly severed heads.

These excitements provided material for
an Indian novel, which was published in New York, which city she visited when she was 21. In the meantime a book of her collected Stone Age stories had been published in Sydney, and three sons had been born to her.

In the following years she visited Lon
don, Paris, and Rome, and her family had increased to six. During a second visit to the United States she was involved in strike riots in the vicinity of Chicago, and had to run for her life from a couple of bayonet charges, when the military were called out, the strikers having turned the street cars loose under their own power, and started to wreck the suburb with torn up paving stones. Previously to this she had been booked to sail on the ill-fated Titanic, but had changed her plans at the last moment, and taken passage on the Olympic, sailing four day sooner. To gain experience on this voyage she travelled steerage with thirteen hundred imigrants from every European country.

She was again in America during the
Great War, and witnessed all the frenzies of Yankee excitement on Armistice Day.

Immediately after the war three of her
novels were published in London and New York-- "Revelation," "The Street of the Gazelle," and "The Devil's Saint." Her work is strongly coloured with imagination. "Revelation" and "The Street of the Gazelle" deal with Jerusalem in the time of Christ, "The Devil's Saint" is a mediaeval romance dealing with witch-craft and black magic.

Finally she returned to Sydney, which
she had for long regarded as "home." Here she settled down to journalism, but by no means had finished with adventures, one of which was a visit to the famous Homebush abattoirs, disguised as a man, for no woman is allowed to witness the actual killing.

During the last few years a de luxe
edition of her short stories ("As It Was in the Beginning") was published in Melbourne, with illustrations by Norman Lindsay, and a volume of her poems ("Messalina") has recently been brought out in Sydney. She has now turned her attention to play writing, her first play being produced last year. She hopes to contribute screen stories to the newly established Australian film industry. She has written a number of serials for Australian papers, and is now engaged in a new long novel, which will be published in Australia by the Endeavour Press towards the end of the year.

First published in The West Australian, 13 May 1933

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

Film Adaptations of Australian Novels

Australian author Max Barry recenty noted that the possible film adaptation of his novel Machine Man looks like being a little closer to actually happening.  The deal now has director Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler) and writer Mark Heyman (Black Swan) on board.  Barry is quietly confident but realises there are still a lot of hurdles to jump over yet.  An earlier novel, Jennifer Gvernment, was optioned by George Clooney's production company sometime back in 2002, and that film has yet to get off the ground.

Kathy Charles's first novel, Hollywood Ending, has been optioned by producers Ralph Singleton and Joan Singleton.  The title has been changed to John Belushi is Dead, which was the title of the book's US edition.

2010 Patrick White Award

David Foster has been announced as the winner of the 2010 Patrick White Award.

According to Wikipedia: "The Patrick White Award is an annual literary prize established by Patrick White. White used his 1973 Nobel Prize in Literature award to establish a trust for this prize.

"The $25,000 cash award is given to a writer who has been highly creative over a long period but has not necessarily received adequate recognition. Such writers are automatically eligible without the necessity for submissions."

Previous winners of the award have included Beverley Farmer, David Rowbotham, Jannette Turner Hospital, and Gerald Murnane.

Foster's most recent novel is Sons of the Rumour.  The author also won the Miles Franklin Award in 1997 for The Glade within the Grove.

In his acceptance speech on the weekend Foster got stuck into a particular author living in Australia who he believed showed "no class" in continuing to contest literary awards when he had already won two Bookers and a Nobel.  Although the author in question was not named it's not too diffcult to figure out who Foster was referring to.

Australian Books to Film #54 - The Green Helmet


The Green Helmet, 1961
Directed by Michael Forlong.
Based on the novel by Jon Cleary.
Featuring Bill Travers, Ed Bedley, Sid James, and Nancy Walters.

Australian Bookcovers #233 - The Web of Time by Lee Harding


The Web of Time
by Lee Harding, 1980
Cover by Steph Campbell
Cassell Australia edition 1980

Roger McDonald Interview

Please tell us about your latest novel...

When Colts Ran began differently from my other novels. It did not grow out of itself in the same way. Its parts originated in long stories, almost novellas, with a variety of main characters. First there was a failed novel about a runaway boy (Colts) and his bumptious mentor, an old soldier (Major Buckler). I finished that novel ten years ago; it was about to be published as "To the Night Sky" when I backed out because of a nagging feeling that I had failed to bring it to a proper finish. Over the next decade parts of what became When Colts Ran were published as stories in "The Bulletin", "Best Australian Stories", and "Making Waves: Ten Years of the Byron Bay Literary Festival". Another part won the O. Henry Prize as one of the best twenty stories published in the USA (2008). The accolades encouraged me to bring them together but they had much more in common than a collection of short stories. Then I'd written a story about a rugby playing minister who became a quadriplegic, and another about two boys who witness a horrific car accident. They became part of the mosaic.

Colts, the runaway boy, the title character, passes through the seven ages of man in this novel - he is present in every chapter from adolescence to old age, watching, walking away, coming back, reliable, unreliable, losing himself in drink and dreams, while rousing love, affection, and sometimes terminal exasperation. Colts is my hymn to the virtues of failure, the way life has of conveying hope while "singing of despair" (to adapt Cyril Connolly's phrase on F. Scott Fitzgerald).
While not actually a "book trailer", the book's publisher has released a video of the author talking about the book:

2010 Prime Minister's Literary Awards

Completely slipping past me last week was the announcement of the winners of the 2010 Prime Minister's Literary Awards.

The shortlists were released back in July, so it has taken some time to decide on the winners. I fully realise that the Federal election was held in the interim but state based Premiers' awards seem to be able to get their acts together on this sort of thing.  These awards risk becoming an irrelevancy if they aren't taken seriosuly enough.  Set up a schedule and stick to it.

The winners:

Dog Boy by Eva Hornung

The Colony: The History of Early Sydney by Grace Karskens

Young Adult
Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God by Bill Condon

Star Jumps by Lorrane Marwood

Great God be thank'd, that there are men like thee,
Who ever rise, in sovereignty of mind,
Lifting against the oppressors of our kind
The voice of genius, -- still most sovereignly,
When boldest waxeth their arch-villainy,
Who, with the tyrant's purpose, are combined;
I thank Almighty God, who intertwined
Justice and truth with man's nobility,
For such as thou, true poet! Nothing can
Enhance the gusts of joyance now that thrills me,
In knowing how thy heart beats in this cause;
Or what I owe thy kindness, Halloran.
Would mingle in the feeling which so fills me
With happy thankfulness, and pure applause.

First published in Australasian Chronicle, 24 January 1843

[Note: you can read Henry Halloran's original sonnet here.]

Reprint: Australian Authors VI: "Banjo" Paterson by Aidan de Brune

If the Commonwealth Government were to appoint an Australian Poet Laureate there can be no doubt that the first holder of that high office would be Andrew Barton Paterson, known far and wide as "Banjo" Paterson. His name is a household word. More truly than any other of our numerous Australian poets, he has expressed the spirit of this land in verse.

"Banjo" Paterson, now nearing seventy years of age, is the undisputed Dean of Australian, poetry. His verses, since they first began to appear in the "Bulletin," fifty years ago, have been receited throughout the length and breadth of the land, in shearing sheds, at bush concerts, wherever two or three Australians have gathered around a camp fire. The rollicking rhythm of his ballads, the apt phrases, sometimes slangy, sometimes high poetry, have brought joy to hundreds of thousands of readers and listeners.

While poets of high-falutin "schools of thought" have piped in their thin and genteel voices to meagre audiences of bored listeners, this robust singer of the wide plains and monutains of the bush laud has "bestrode them like a Colossus." The people, with their true instinct to recognise what is sincere in art, have given "Banjo" Paterson the applause which only a major poet can command. Over 100,000 copies of "The Man from Snowy River" have been sold. Probably there is not a man, woman, or child in Australia who does not know at least some of Banjo Paterson's verse by heart.

Australia's Poet Laureate has had an interesting and varied career and a wide experience of both bush and city life. He was born in 1864 at Narrambla, Xew South Wales, and was educated at the Sydney Grammar School. He practised as a solicitor for fifteen years before deciding to take up journalism, when his verses were beginning to make him famous.

"The Man from Snowy River" was published in book form in 1895, and from that time his position as a national songster was assured.

He was editor of the "Evening News" for five years, and acted as correspondent of the London "Times" on sugar-growmg, pearl-diving, and Australian subjects generally. When the Boer war broke out, he went to South Africa as Reuter's correspondent.

On the outbreak of the Great War, in 1914, he volunteered for active service wilh the A.I.F. Though over military age, he was given the rank of major, joined the Remount Unit, and saw service in Egypt and Palestine.

He has travelled extensively outback, particularly in Central Australia and the Northern Territory, where be went buffalo shooting. In one of his verses he describes typical buffalo country:

   Out where the grey streams glide,
      Sullen and deep and slow,
   And the alligators slide
      From the mud to the depths below,
   Or drift on the stream like a floating death 
   Where the fever comes on the south wind's breath
      There is the buffalo..

In addition to "The Man from Snowy River" he has published "Rio Grande's Last Race," and "Saltbush Bill," besides a novel entitled "An Outback Marriage," and a humorous book entitled "Three Elephant Power." He has also edited a collection of "Old Bush Songs."

Now, after a silence of many years, he has ready a new book of poems, which will be published before Easter, by The Endeavour Press, with illustrations by Norman Lindsay. The most popular poet and the greatest illustrator in Australia will thus collaborate for the first time in the pages of a book, though it was Norman Lindsay who designed the original cover for "The Man from Snowy River."

The title of the new verses is "The Animals Noah Forgot." In a foreword the poet explains that the native bear refused to go in the Ark because Noah did not carry a stock of gum leaves-- and the platypus refused because he was afraid of being trodden on by the elephant!

Most of the poems deal in a humorous, but very understanding way, with the Australian bush animals.

The wombat, for example:

   The strongest creature for his size,
      But least equipped for combat,
   That dwells beneath Australian sides is Weary Will the Wombat.

The Platypus, who "descended from a family most exclusive":

   He talks in a deep unfriendly growl
      As he goes on his journey lonely;
   For he's no relation to fish nor fowl,  
   Nor to bird nor beast, nor to horned owl.
      In fact, he's the one and only!

The bandicoot, who "will come to look at a light, and scientists wonder, why":

   If the bush is burning it's time to scoot
   Is the notion of Benjaimn Bandicoot.

The flying squirrels:

   Never a care at all Bothers their simple brains;
      You can see them glide in the moonlight dim
   From tree to tree and from limb to limb.
      Little grey aeroplanes.

These few quotations show that none of the poet's old brilliance of phrase has been lost. Besides descriptions of the bush animals, there are poems on shearers, bullock drivers, cattle dogs, and a rattling good ballad of the Army Mules, which would be a credit to Rudyard Kipling, if that Dean of English Poets had rhymed it.

The multiude of admirers of Australia's national poet will welcome his "return to form." The young poets of the post-war generation might well study this book, and take a lesson from one of the "Old Hands" at the game of versifying. It is only by sheer hard work and a constant observation of men and nature that poetry euch as "Banjo" Paterson's, which looks so easy, is written.

My literary work? Well, about fifty to sixty serials, under various nom de plumes in London and New York -- some dozen of them only appearing in book form. Not until I had completed the walk around Australia, and had settled down in Sydney again, did I attempt to make use of my partiality for crooks and their works. My first story on these lines was "Dr. Night," published in the "World's News." Then followed "The Carson Loan Mystery" published by the N.S.W. Bookstall Company, Ltd., of Sydney. A little later the "Daily Guardian" (Sydney) ran "The Dagger and Cord" as a serial, and immediately it ended in the newspaper Messrs. Angus and Robertson, Ltd., published it in book form. Then, in the columns of the "Daily Guardian" followed "Fingerprints of Fate" (published by Angus and Robertson, Ltd., under the title of "The Shadow Crook"), and "The Little Grey Woman." Since then I have devoted myself more particularly to serial writing, under my own name and nom de plumes, totalling in all fourteen stories. My amusements? Two absorbing ones. Writing mystery stories and entreating federal politicians to foster a national Australian literature. The first easy -- the other apparently very difficult.

First published in The West Australian, 6 May 1933

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

Note: The last paragraph of this essay is a strange one: why did de Brune think it necessary to include his own literary bibliography?  As a means of implyig he knew what he was talking about?  Given that he had a partial biography published the previous week in this same series of articles, you'd have to think that he had a certain number of words to fill about Peterson and ran a tad short.

Poem: Come Ye Home by C. J. Dennis

On Sunday, November 11, the Shrine of Remembrance to Victoria's fallen soldiers was dedicated in Melbourne.

Listening (said the old, grey Digger) . . .
With my finger on the trigger
   I was listening in the trenches on a dark night long ago,
And a lull came in the fighting,
Save a sudden gun-flash lighting
   Some black verge.  And I fell thinking of lost mates I used to know.

Listening, waiting, stern watch keeping,
I heard little whispers creeping
   In from where, 'mid fair fields tortured, No-man's land loomed out before.
And well I knew good mates were lying
There, grim-faced and death-defying,
   In that filth and noisome litter and the horror that was war.

List'ning so, a mood came o'er me;
And 'twas like a vision bore me
   To a deeper, lonelier darkness where the souls of dead men roam;
Where they wander, strife unheading;
And I heard a wistful pleading
   Down the lanes where lost men journey: "Come ye home!  Ah, come ye home!"

"Ye who fail, yet triumph failing"
   Ye who fall, yet falling soar
Into realms where, brother hailing
   Brother, bids farewell to war;
Ye for whom this red hell ended,
   With the last great, shuddering breath.
In the mute, uncomprehended,
   Dreamful dignity of death;
Back to your own land's sweet breast
Come ye home, lads -- home to rest."

Listening in my old bush shanty -
(Said grey Digger) living's scanty
   These dark days for won-out soldiers and I'd not the luck of some --
But from out the ether coming
I could hear a vast crowd's humming
   Hear the singing, then -- the Silence.  And I knew the Hour had come.

Listening, silent as I waited,
And the picture recreated,
   I could see the kneeling thousands by the Shrine's approaches there.
Then, above those heads low-bending,
Like an orison ascending,
   Saw a multitude's great yearning rise into the quivering air.

Listening so, again the seeming
Of a vision came; and dreaming
   There, I saw from out high Heaven spread above the great Shrine's dome,
From the wide skies overarching
I beheld battalions marching --
   Mates of mine!  My comrades, singing: Coming home!  Coming home!

"We who bore the cost of glory,
   We who paid the price of peace,
Now that, from this earth, war's story
   Shall, please God, for ever cease,
To this Shrine that you have lifted
   For a symbol and a sign
Of men's hearts, come we who drifted
   Thro' long years, oh, mates of mine!
To earth, my brothers' grieving blest
Now come we home, lads -- home to rest."

First published in The Herald, 12 November 1934

Note: today is Remembrance Day.

Tim Flannery Interview

when_colts_ran.jpg   Roger McDonald's previous novel, The Ballad of Desmond Kale, won the Miles Franklin Award in 2006, so each new book will be greeted with a high degree of expectation. His most recent novel, When Colts Ran, is now published by Random House. The author spoke to "Booktopia":
here_on_earth.jpg   Tim Flannery, best known for his book The Weather Makers and for his time as Australian of the year in 2007, has released a new title, Here on Earth. On the eve of its release he spoke to Kathleen Noonan from "The Courier-Mail":
In a new and ambitious book launched recently, Here on Earth: An Argument For Hope, Prof Flannery sets out to chart two histories: the twin stories of our planet and our species. But when he talks about the future of the planet, mining and climate change is never far from the conversation.

In the book, he quotes American ecologist Aldo Leopold: "One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen."

So, how do the Tim Flannerys of the world stay optimistic in a world of wounds?

In other words, how do scientists looking at the devastating impact of humans on the planet's ecosystems, notably climate change, and not become raging, throw-their-hands-in-the-air pessimists?

He says narrow horizons and short time frames are always misleading and we need to take a long view to see the truth path of our evolutionary trajectory.

"I am hopeful because I am taking the long view. In writing this book, despite the challenges we now face, I feel optimistic for the future for our children and grandchildren. It's only by seeing the planet in that way can you see the potential for hope."

Prof Flannery, the mammalogist and palaeontologist, environmentalist and global warming activist who in 2007 was named Australian of the Year, has spent a lifetime examining the destruction of land and sea. This is his first major work since The Weather Makers in 2005, which argued that, if climate change was not slowed, it would cause mass species extinctions.

Yet, the new book is Prof Flannery's most hopeful writing yet. He says if we survive this century, future prospects will be enhanced.

The book was launched by actor Cate Blanchett in Sydney, and you can watch a video interview with the author from ABC Radio National Breakfast.

Poem: Sonnet by Henry Parkes

Who would not be a poet - to seclude
Himself in a bright, starry solitude,
   Away from earthly wretchedness, at will;
Where no unlovely thing might present be,
To dim the light of ideality,
   And Nature's glories might surround him still?
Who would not be a poet - to be blest
With the rich thoughts which they in words have drest:
To feel the fire of their undying hopes,
   To see all beauty with their gifted sight,
To hang o'er Byron's, Campbell's, Milton's, Pope's,
   And Spencer's page, with their divine delight?
Who would not e'n a poet's woes possess,
T' inherit that wild power which beautifies distress?

First published in Australasian Chronicle, 1 June 1841 

Reprint: Australian Authors V: Aidan de Brune

(Related in an interview.)

Fifty-four years is a long way to look back upon, to a little village some few miles outside Montreal where, I am informed, I was born. I have little knowledge of the event, and but little more of the long trek to Zululand, where my father escorted his family when I reached the age of four years. More distinctly, I remember my Zulu playfellows, and the long, long trek to Cape Town, where I was sent to school, at the age of nine.

A family council, when I reached my fourteenth birthday, decided that I would be an ornament to the priesthood, and I departed for London, en route for Maynooth. At that time England, and the United States of America, were awakening to the new jouralism, under the respective guidances of Harmsworth and Hearst. I was attracted, and a great longing to tread the inky way possessed me. In consequence, I stayed in London, completing a sketchy education at night schools, and haunting the newspaper offices of the city by day. To my gratification -- and the surprise of many of the major journalists of that period -- I found within a few months that I could earn bread at it, with, an occasional flavouring of cheese and jam.

Short story writing had long attracted me -- my first fiction story had appeared in a Cape Town newspaper before I reached eleven. In London I found corners in magazines and journals open to my efforts, and this editorial encouragement had disastrous effects on my future; I determined to be an author. I started a magnum opus and -- to buy paper and ink -- cultivated sensational love-story writing in periodicals of the Family Herald Supplement type.

On the outbreak of the Boer War I found I had sufficient money in the bank to pay my fare home -- to South Africa. A fight has always attracted me, and amid the wide-spread battleground of South Africa I found adventure sufficient for an ordinary lifetime. I returned to London with a 100,000 words novel on the war, but publishers are always unkind, ever those of the present century.

My arrival in London was only the jumping-off place. The United States of America was an alluring vision on the horizon -- and I strode for the foot of the rainbow. I landed in New York with exactly nineteen shillings and three-pence in my pocket; a great belief in my own powers; and a store of imagination that won me past the very lax immigration laws of that period.

Followed a period of wandering up and down a country then in the making, and almost as big as Australia. I worked at anything that came to hand, and when work failed to materialise, I was the perfect hobo. Even to-day I remember what particularly hard boot-leather was provided for the train-guards.

And all this time I was writing stories and articles -- and all the time editors and publishers were filling the U.S. mails with my returns. By the time I had reached twenty-five I claimed to have the largest and most varied collection of 'The Editor regrets . ..." in the known world.

Still, I would write. Chance gave me the opportunity to practice journalism, and for a time I walked the streets of big cities, a full-blown reporter. Again the wide spaces called -- I think it was a minor revolution in Panama. Anyway, I went south, to see Spanish America. Some hundreds of days of wild adventures -- the night spent in scribbling; and I awoke to the fact that some thousands of dollars had accumulated in New York to my credit.

I was a capitalist!  Naturally, my first thought was to see the world -- up to then I had only partially surveyed Canada, South Africa, England and the United States. The Orient called, but I had no intention of wasting money on fares. In Frisco a friendly master-mariner offered to ship me before the mast of a befouled, much-wandered cargo boat -- and I jumped his offer before he had time to get sober. Then I learned something of the Pacific, as a sailing-pond, and a good deal of the many and varied nationalities it contains. While at Singapore I said good-bye to the vessel, but forgot to take farewell of the captain. He didn't trouble to find me -- I suppose because I had forgotten to collect wages owing me.

Deciding to explore China, by good luck I came into the graces of a high official of the Empire. With him I visited large tracts of that country then unknown to white men. Back to the United States, my head filled with facts and fictions, determined to settle down and become a respectable member of society.

By the time I reached New York again I had less than a dollar in my pocket. Two days spent in examining and approv- ing the alterations made in the city during my absence, and I bethought myself of the treasury -- and the hotel bill that was steadily mounting. Full of thought, I wandered down to the doors of a well-known publishing house -- and hesitated. What had I for sale?  It took more than two hours, pacing the block, to frame a satisfactory plot for a serial. Then I chose an editor -- and bearded him in his lair. How I put it over, I don't know; but I do know that I came out of that building with a commission to write a fiction serial then only existing in my mind -- and what was more to the point, with half-payment for the story in my pocket. That story was written in thirteen days -- I'm always fond of 'unlucky thirteen' -- and I was up 250 dollars. Then and there, on a busy side walk, during the busiest hour of the day, I elected myself a serial writer for the great United States of America -- and up to a certain point I made good on my self election.

Through all the earlier days of my life I had been fascinated by crooks -- although at that time I was not using them as material for stories. Opportunity offering, I obtained a place on a newspaper, developing a flair for crime investigation (of the newspaper kind). Now followed some years of peace, my days being devoted to journalism and my nights to fiction writing. Just about the time my banker recognised my entry to his establishment with a welcoming smile, I broke down in health.

Eighteen months of neurasthenia -- more than half that time helpless on a bed. American doctors sent me to England. There the fraternity declared me a hopeless case. Perhaps to get me off their hands with the least trouble, they decided that my only hope was a voyage to Australia. Hospital attendants carried me on board ship, but at Port Said I walked ashore to see the sights. By the time I reached Fremantle, I had decided there was still room in this world for me. I looked at the western capital, and decided that the country was good; also that doctors were bad guessers.

The wander lust urged again, and for quite a time I travelled most of the southern parts of the continent. Then came the war, and I joined in the Great Adventure.  Again back to Australia, with an earnest desire to see those parts of it I had previously missed. At that time certain gentlemen were forming the Sydney 'Daily Mail.' One day I wandered into Mr. Gay's offices, and announced that I proposed to walk around Australia, and would he pay for articles on the trip? Mr. Gay was blunt. First he told me exactly how many kinds of fool I was to think of such a trip; then came to an agreement with business-like promptitude. Within a few hours I had gathered together what I thought necessary for an 11,000 miles trip, and had left Sydney. Two and a half years later I came to Sydney again, having in the mean time visited nearly every port on the extensive coastliue. More to the point, I had proved possible a trip quite a number of Sydney wise-heads had declared to be sheer suicide.

First published in The West Australian, 29 April 1933

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

Australian Books to Film #53 - High Road to China


High Road to China, 1983
Directed by Brian G. Hutton.
Screenplay by S. Lee Pogostin and Sandra Weintraub Roland, from the novel by Jon Cleary.
Featuring Tom Selleck, Bess Armstrong, Jack Weston and Wilfred Brimley.

Reprint: Mark Twain's Poem

Mark Twain has been moved to write a poem on Australia. In a lecture the other night he said:-" I have a poem. I have written a poem only once in 30 years. I have now written one of four stanzas, and when I had the inspiration I knew it was time. I always have an inspiration to write a poem -- once every 30 years. I felt that sort of feeling the night I landed here. The time was up. The inspiration was ripe. If I am going to write a book about this trip round the world, why a book of such a character ought to have some poetry in it. I felt that. So I was looking round tor a subject. First I thought of Sydney Harbour, but then I thought maybe somebody has attended to it. Then I thought that would be rather large for me -- rather above my poetical stature. Then I thought of the fauna of Australia -- the remarkable examples that exist here and don't exist anywhere else in the world. They have been written about and written about in prose, but they ought to be written in poetry. I thought that would be a very good scheme. I made a list of them and began."

There seems to have been some difficulty. Twain continued:- "I began on one, on the-poem. I have not got the list complete yet. I have got down a lot. I have got emu, kangaroo, jackass, or laughing jackass, and the bell bird, and so on. I have a lot of those, and then I have a list also of the extinct ones-the wonderful extinct ones like the dodo, the boomerang, and the great moa, and the larrikin. I can say now that the most difficult thing in the world to do is to write poetry when you don't know how. You see it is the rhymes that make the trouble, for if you get the sense right, why then there is no word that will rhyme with it. If your rhymes rhyme then there is no sense in it.

      "Land of the ornithorhynchus." 

That's a pretty one -- it is rhythmical and graceful. If I had a child I would name it after it.

      "Land of the ornithorhynchus,
         Land of the kangaroo,
      Old ties of heredity link us." 

But the thing would not work out.  The humourist said: "And there you are. You see I am right against a dead wall. You can see there is nothing in the world that will rhyme with ornithorhynchus. Kangaroo? Nothing rhymes with kangaroo. Of course, you can slyly let it off without rhyme, but it would fail. I gave that up. I'll let it out by contract. I thought I would offer a prize for it -- chromos, or something like that. I started another way:

      "Land of the fur-tailed rabbit,
      Land of the boomerang."

There it is the same thing. You can't find a rhyme for rabbit and another rhyme for boomerang. Boomerang don't rhyme with anything but boomerang. I saw the difficulty. You must start on a simple basis

      "Come forth from thy oozy couch,
      Oh ornithorhynchus dear,
      And great with cordial cheer
      The stranger that longs to hear
From thy own, own lips the 'tail' of thy origin all unknown,
Thy misplaced bone where flesh should be, and flesh where should be bone."

The Sydney Star could get no more of the poem, for the audience would not stop laughing.

First published in The Mercury, 2 November 1895

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

Poem: A Dream of the Melbourne Cup by A. B. "Banjo" Paterson

A Long Way After Gordon

Bring me a quart of colonial beer
And some doughy damper to make good cheer,
   I must make a heavy dinner;
Heavily dine and heavily sup,
Of indigestible things fill up,
Next month they run the Melbourne Cup,
   And I have to dream the winner.

Stoke it in, boys! the half-cooked ham,
The rich ragout and the charming cham,
   I've got to mix my liquor;
Give me a gander's gaunt hind leg,
Hard and tough as a wooden peg,
And I'll keep it down with a hard-boiled egg,
   'Twill make me dream the quicker.

Now that I'm full of fearful feed,
Oh, but I'll dream of a winner indeed,
   In my restless, troubled slumber;
While the nightmares race through my heated brain
And their devil riders spur amain,
The trip for the Cup will reward my pain,
   And I'll spot the winning number.

Thousands and thousands and thousands more,
Like sands on the white Pacific shore,
   The crowding people cluster;
For evermore it's the story old,
While races are bought and backers are sold,
Drawn by the greed of the gain of gold,
   In their thousands still they muster.

And the bookies' cries grow fierce and hot,
"I'll lay the Cup! The double, if not!"
   "Five monkeys, Little John, sir!"
"Here's fives bar one, I lay, I lay!"
And so they shout through the live-long day,
And stick to the game that is sure to pay,
   While fools put money on, sir!

And now in my dream I seem to go
And bet with a "book" that I seem to know --
   A Hebrew moneylender;
A million to five is the price I get --
Not bad! but before I book the bet
The horse's name I clean forget,
   His number and even gender.

Now for the start, and here they come,
And the hoof-strokes roar like a mighty drum
   Beat by a hand unsteady;
They come like a rushing, roaring flood,
Hurrah for the speed of the Chester blood!
For Acme is making the pace so good
   They are some of 'em done already.

But round the track she begins to tire,
And a mighty shout goes up: "Crossfire!"
   The magpie jacket's leading;
And Crossfire challenges fierce and bold,
And the lead she'll have and the lead she'll hold,
But at length gives way to the black and gold,
   Which right to the front is speeding.

Carry them on and keep it up --
A flying race is the Melbourne Cup,
   You must race and stay to win it;
And old Commotion, Victoria's pride,
Now takes the lead with his raking stride,
And a mighty roar goes far and wide --
   "There's only Commotion in it!"

But one draws out from the beaten ruck
And up on the rails by a piece of luck
   He comes in a style that's clever;
"It's Trident! Trident! Hurrah for Hales!"
"Go at 'em now while their courage fails;"
"Trident! Trident! for New South Wales!"
   "The blue and white for ever!"

Under the whip! With the ears flat back,
Under the whip! Though the sinews crack,
   No sign of the base white feather:
Stick to it now for your breeding's sake,
Stick to it now though your hearts should break,
While the yells and roars make the grandstand shake,
   They come down the straight together.
Trident slowly forges ahead,
The fierce whips cut and the spurs are red,
   The pace is undiminished;
Now for the Panics that never fail!
But many a backer's face grows pale
As old Commotion swings his tail
   And swerves -- and the Cup is finished. 

And now in my dream it all comes back:
I bet my coin on the Sydney crack,
   A million I've won, no question!
"Give me my money, you hook-nosed hog!
Give me my money, bookmaking dog!"
But he disappears in a kind of fog,
   And I woke with "the indigestion".

Note: Today is Melbourne Cup Day, the 150th running of the race.

The subtitle "A Long Way After Gordon" means that, in the poet's estimation, the verses are not the equal of Adam Lindsay Gordon's racing poetry.  The poem was published in The Bulletin just prior to the running of the 1886 Melbourne Cup. All the horses referred to in it, with the exception of Acme, started in the race, which was won by Arsenal.  Trident finished fourth.

Australian Bookcovers #232 - Displaced Person by Lee Harding


Dislaced Person by Lee Harding, 1979
Hyland House edition 1979

2010 World Fantasy Award Winners

The winners of the 2010 World Fantasy Awards (for work published in 2009) were announced at the annual World Fantasy Convention, held in Columbus, Ohio, over the weekend.

China Miéville backed up his Hugo Award win, for The City & the City, here in Melbourne in early September with a win in the Best Novel category. 

Sydney writer Margo Lanagan won the Best Novella category for "Sea-Hearts", and West Australian Jonathan Strahan won in the Special Award - Professional category for his work editing anthologies.

The 2011 World Fantasy Convention will be held in San Diego, California, and the 2012 convention in Toronto, Ontario.

Kate Morton Interview

distant_hours.jpg   Kate Morton, author of The Shifting Fog (aka The House at Riverton) and The Forgotten Garden, now has her third novel, The Distant Hours, published this week by Allen & Unwin. She was interviewed recently by Rosemary Sorensen for "The Weekend Australian".
The Distant Hours begins with a prologue quoting a (fictional) classic tale called The True History of the Mud Man, written by the father of three spinster sisters living in the crumbling Milderhurst Castle in Kent. Then, the story's narrator, Edie (who Kate admits is in many ways much like the author), begins her part of the story.

"It started with a letter," she writes. "A letter that had been lost a long time, waiting out half a century in a forgotten postal bag in the dim attic of a nondescript house in Bermondsey." Going on to muse about the sighing of thwarted messages and letters that eventually "make their secrets known", Edie then laughs at herself, pleading with the reader: "Forgive me, I'm being romantic."

"It's not a self-conscious decision to write the way I write," Edie's real-life creator says. "It's what I like to read, so it's very natural to me. Before The Shifting Fog I'd written pretty crappy manuscripts, but when I wrote that one, I had no expectations of publication. I'd just had a baby (Oliver, now six), and I can be very honest, my thoughts and expectations about publication had dried up.

"As I was writing it, I said to Davin [her husband] many times, "This is really fun, but no one is ever going to want to read this. It's for me.' "

A video trailer for the novel has been produced:

Currently Reading


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



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


Recently Read


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



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



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

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



 The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
Heroic fantasy in the modern style. A fantasy that is laced through with noirish elements, and excellent characterisations. First book of The First Law trilogy.

 Where Have You Been? by Wendy James
What happens when a sister returns after being missing, presumed dead, for twenty years? James enhances her reputation as one of Australia's rising literary novelists.

 Wyatt by Garry Disher
Disher's anti-hero is back after an absence of ten years with a gritty, fast, noirish struggle for survival. All the best aspects of Disher's work are on display here.



 Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
A Young Adult steampunk novel set at the start of an alternate history First World War. Fast-paced, intriguing and totally captivating.



 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Dick's novel of the near future when the difference between human and android is barely discernible. One of the great all-time sf titles.



 American Journeys by Don Watson
Watson journeys into the heart of America, by train and car. There he discovers the best, and the worst, of humanity and society.



 Ghostlines by Nick Gadd
2009 Best First Novel at the Ned Kelly Awards. Murder in the art world involving political intrigue and business corruption in Melbourne.


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