March 2011 Archives

Reprint: Death of Sumner Locke

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Sumner Locke, the well-known Australian novelist, passed away yesterday morning in a private hospital at Kogarah after giving birth to a son, and the event will be learned with widespread regret. Early this year, whilst rehearsing her rustic farcical comedy, "Mum Dawson, Boss," with Mr. Bert Bailey, at the Criterion Theatre, she laughingly remarked that she had but two ambltions in life -- to produce a play and to produce a son. Her heart's desire was realised with her last breath. The pathos of her unexpected end is increased by the fact that her husband, Sergeant L. Elliott, A.I.K., is at the front.

Sumner Locke was the daughter of a Church of England minister, who named her after Archbishop Sumner, and she was born in Queensland. Though slight and small of figure, her mental energy was extraordinary, so that quite early in life she made a name as a journalist, and by her success with her humorous bush story, ''Skeeter Farm." During her brief career she visited London, and on the way from the railway terminus to her lodgings read an advertisement offering a large money prize for an original story. She wrote it during the same day, sent it in, and carried off the prize! Another of her remarkable feats was the writing of a rustic American novel, "Samaritan Mary," which was accepted and published in the United States, where it enjoyed a remarkable success, before ever she had set foot in the country. The young authoress not only possessed imagination, as illustrated by the above achievement, but wrote with amazing facility, and had other novels ready for publication when she visited New York a few months ago. Finding that the Atlantic was a closed route, she relinquished her intention of revisiting London, where she had made many literary friends, and returned to Sydney last August. This brilliant woman has brothers at the front, sisters in London and Victoria, and a sister, Mrs. G. M. Burns, wife of the former M.P. for Illawarra, in Sydney.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 October 1917

Note: Sumner Locke (1881-1917); and the son mentioned above became the novelist Sumner Locke Elliot (1917-91).

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

Australian Bookcovers #250 - Brilliant Creatures by Clive James

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Brilliant Creatures
by Clive James, 1983
Jacket design by Craig Dodd reproducing a deatil from Botticelli's "Primavera"
Jonathan Cape edition 1983

Poem: Words by A. M. Y.

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Words are lighter than the cloud-foam
   Of the restless ocean spray;
Vainer than the trembling shadow
   That the next hour steals away.
By the fall of summer rain drops
   Is the air as deeply stirred;
And the rose-leaf that we tread on
   Will outlive a word.

Yet, on the dull silence breaking
   With a lightning-flash, a word,
Bearing endless desolation
   On its lightning wings, I heard.
Earth can forgo no keener weapon,
   Dealing surer death and pain:
And the cruel echo answered
   Through long months again.

I have known one word hang star-like
   O'er a dreary waste of years,
And it only shone the brighter
   Looked at through a "mist of tears;"
While a weary wanderer gathered
   Hope and heart on life's dark way
By its faithful promise shining
   Clearer day by day.

I have known a spirit calmer
   Than the calmest lake, and clear
As the heavens that gazed upon it,
   With no wave of hope or fear;
But a storm had swept across it,
   And its deepest depths were stirred
Never, never, more to slumber--
   Only by a word.

Words are mighty, words are living;
   Serpents with their venomed stings,
Or bright angels, crowding round us
   With heaven's light upon their wings.
Every word has its own spirit,
   True or false, that never dies;
Every word man's lips have uttered
   Echoes in God's skies.

First published in The Queenslander, 24 November 1883

Versatile Writer of "Rhymes From the Mines"

I never could quite understand the Australian neglect of Edward Dyson.  

Dyson was a man whose work, it would be expected, would be far more popular than that of Gordon, Kendall, Boake, Eden, or most of the old school of ballardists. And for this reason. That, whereas Gordon was much of a scholar and wrote for the lovers of horses, Kendall for the lovers of sweeter rhymes, and Boake for the harsher critics and men of the cattle country, Dyson set the scene of his rhymes in the bowels of the earth, in the mines, and among the men that worked them.

And it is because of the number of Australians who have either worked, or are working, in gold mines, and who, therefore, have snatched something of their atmosphere and their lure, that it is only natural to imagine that readers of Australian poetry would turn to Dyson.

Such, however, has not been the case, and 'Rhymes From the Mines' has become an all but forgotten book. What a pity is so!

Recently the Eastern States weeklies and other periodicals that boast a literary page made frantic endeavors to, obtain and publish all the information available on promising Australian poets. Everyone, from Barrington and Wentworth to Louis Lavater, was included in the list -- with


That exception was, of course, Edward Dyson. Not one of the papers mentioned the name of the Melbourne poet, who died only two or three years ago, and whose output was probably the largest of any Australian writer.

Why most of those who were included in the list should have been given precedence over Dyson it is difficult to see. The merit of his work is unquestionable, which is more than can be said for many of the honored ones.

Why is it, then, that Dyson, the rhymer from the mines and the


has been forgotten? ls it that his themes are out of date? Scarcely, for goldmining is a bigger industry today than it was when Dyson was at his top. Droving, the outback, and the unpopulated vastnesses of Boake, Gordon, and Paterson are fast fading from memory. Industry is choking the romance that was in them; and they live only in the verses of the old balladists. But goldmining shows no sign of a premature death. The men, the mines, the work and the worries in the fight for the yellow metal are as real to-day as they were the day Dyson first lifted his gifted pen. And it is only the interest in them that seems to have died. Perhaps it is that in a thing so closely connected with the grind for daily bread the men of Australia can find little romance. And even the rhymes of Dyson will not drag them from their apathy.

Dyson occupied a middle period between the present day and the


He spent his boyhood in the vicinity of the Ballarat and later the Bendigo rushes. He shook his "shaker" with the alluvial chasers that followed the rushes; and saw the passing of the old dryblower and the coming of the deep quartz mining. He knew this mining business as few, if any, writers have done. And even if there are among us the pedants that would cavil at the paucity of his classical allusions the fact remains that he gave us a wonderful picture of his period, as clear cut as a canvas by Longstaff.

Nor was it only in his verse that Dyson did this. His story, "The Golden Shanty," still stands as a classic of goldfields color and humor; and what is more it has the merit of a true and sound basis that was conceived from actual happenings in the Castlemaine district.

Dyson left the mines when he was still a comparatively young man and found a job in a factory. That remarkable little collection of stories, "Fact'ry Hands," was the outcome of his change, and it was this book that led him to the "Bulletin" and his success as a freelance journalist.

How many freelance men could boast that they had made a decent living at the game? Very, very few. But Dyson could. His paragraphs were gems of wit humor, and sarcasm.

Twelve hours a day he worked writing everything in longhand (until the day of his death he scorned a type-writer) and his industry was tremendous.

He would often start the day with a political quip. As soon as he finished he would probably get to work on a ballad, follow with a few humorous pars., and then, if the time remained, run off a short story. Australia has yet to produce a writer whose versatility could rival Dyson's.

Ideas for cartoons, a few joke blocks, personalities, articles on drama or sport, all came within the scope of his ability, and it is little wonder that he became the most popular paragraphist of his day.


And yet, strangely enough, his diversity of subject and the rush with which his work was executed did not cause it to suffer. Every line that left his desk was worthy of the name of Dyson, and his meanest paragraph showed the same finish as a completed story.

Why Dyson should be slipping into oblivion is incomprehensible. Perhaps, with the passing of these crazy years of hustle and bustle, men may have more time to think and the poet will receive his true estimate.

Meantime, apparently, his name must live only in the brilliant work performed by his younger brother, Will Dyson, for whom the dead poet did so much.

First published in The Sunday Times (Perth), 17 May 1936

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

Great Australian Authors #41 - Ethel Turner

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Ethel Turner.jpg

First published in The Bulletin, 15 April 1899

2011 Indie Awards

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Each year the Independent Booksellers of Australia vote for their favourite books of the previous year.  No shortlists are released but the winners were announced a few days back.

Best Fiction
Bereft by Chris Womersley (Scribe)

Best Non-Fiction
The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do (Allen & Unwin)

Best Debut Fiction
Rocks in the Belly by Jon Bauer (Scribe)

Best Children's Book

Mirror by Jeannie Baker (Walker Books)

The organisation also makes an award for their favourite overall book of the year, which this time went to The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do.

Australian Bookcovers #249 - The Chosen by David Ireland

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The Chosen by David Ireland, 1997
Cover photograph:Wild Light. Cover design: Julie Rovis
Viking edition, 1997

2011 Miles Franklin Award Longlist

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The nine novels on the 2011 Miles Franklin Award longlist have now been announced.

The novels are:

Rocks in the Belly, Jon Bauer, Scribe Publications
The Good Daughter, Honey Brown, Viking
The Mary Smokes Boys, Patrick Holland, Transit Lounge Publishing
The Piper's Son, Melina Marchetta, Viking
When Colts Ran, Roger McDonald, Vintage
Time's Long Ruin, Stephen Orr, Wakefield Press
That Deadman Dance, Kim Scott, Picador
The Legacy, Kirsten Tranter, 4th Estate
Bereft, Chris Womersley, Scribe Publications

The reduced shortlist will be released on 19 April 2011, with the winner being anounced in Melbourne on 22 June 2011.

Poem: On My First Poetical Aspirations by Henry Halloran

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I found that others had some natural gift,
The pencil's treasures, or the charmed ear,
Or eloquence of tongue, which far and near
Might find admirers,--and I strove to sift
My own weak self, and seek amidst the drift
And waste of youth, some talent to revere;
And as I grew into my sixteenth year,
Within my spirit stirrings strange and swift
Began to wake, with tears and musings-sad:
I wander'd through the woods, and by the sea,
And in retired places linger'd long,
Until I thought my brain was growing mad,
For sighs of grief, and agonies of glee,     
Came to my lips, and gather'd into song.

First published in The Colonist, 21 May 1835

Reprint: S.A. Poets and Their Verse by L. H. Rye

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A search extending over the past eight years has revealed more than 120 volumes of verse written by 74 different South Australians.

Five of them -- Alfred T. Chandler, Adam Lindsay Gordon, John Shaw Neilson, Charles Henry Souter, and Agnes L. Storrie -- have done such good work that selections from their verse have been included in the "Oxford Book of Australian Verse."

Included among the others are Henry Arthur, who has published nine volumes (many of which received a flattering reception from the British press); Leon Gellert, who stands at the head of Australia's soldier poets, and deserves a place in any Australian anthology, yet has been unaccountably overlooked; Ruth M. Hawker, whose work deserves to be much better known than it is; and Charles Rischbieth Jury, who is likely to attain a high place in English literature, if his future work fulfils the promise shown in that already published.

Five Great Poems

Only five South Australian poems can with any degree of certainty be said to be worthy to rank with the best or their kind in English literature. Jury's long dramatic poem. "Love and the Virgins," is written in blank verse of high poetic worth that reminds us of the "Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Comus," and it compares very favorably with the exquisite classical plays of Bridges. Gordon's "Rhyme of Joyous Garde" is undoubtedly finer than anything of its kind in Tennyson, and is the only work which shows Gordon to have had what Carlyle considers the most necessary attribute of genius -- "the infinite capacity for taking pains." Neilson's "Petticoat Green" approaches more nearly than any other poem written in Australia to Shelley's ideal of "all high poetry" -- "Veil after veil may be withdrawn, and the inmost naked beauty of the meaning never exposed." Arthur's "Sunflower" is a truly delightful lyric reminiscent of Blake in its sheer simplicity; and Ruth Hawker's "Death the Drover," is a hauntingly melodious lyric woven around a country metaphor applied in a manner that suggests De La Mare's "Nod."

Wide Range Of Subjects

Occasional verse receives a disproportionately large share of attention, and it is needless to say that it constitutes the bulk of ephemeral verse of a very low order. The subjects range from events of world interest, such as are described in Robert Caldwell's "Celestial Glow" (on the explosion of Krakatoa), to events of local importance, like those dealt with by "D.C." in "A Retrospect and a Fore cast" (in which the political history of the day is reviewed). Indeed, the history of the State, including the vagaries of its climate, can be traced with reasonable accuracy in the occasional verse published; the reader, however, cannot but feel that most of it had been much better expressed in prose.

When we turn to the verse of greater worth, we find that the narrative form predominates. The drama has a large number of followers, most of whom, fortunately, have left only fragments; Jury is the only writer to use it with success, and his "Love and the Virgins" is of value not so much for its dramatic as for its lyrical qualities. But it is in the ballad that South Australian writers excel and can lay claim to rank with England's best. Gordon is unsurpassed in the longer ballad; while Souter and Neilson excel in the shorter ballad, such as "Irish Lords'" and "Julie Callaway."

The Poet As Philosopher

No poet can be truly great in every line of a long poem; and the lesser poets achieve greatness only in isolated fragments of their work. This is especially true of the better South Australian writers. Every poet is a thinker and strives to work out for himself, in a more or less definite form, a philosophy of life. The "purple patches" in his work are fragments of his philosophy. South Australian verse is unusually fertile in this fragmentary philosophy; in fact, this and the prevalence of the ballad form are its predominant qualities.

No writer has achieved anything as definite and complete as some of the English poets like Shelley and Browning have: but then no writer has been able to devote his entire life to literature as the greater Englishmen have. Only one South Australian has met with any considerable financial success from the publication of his verse: C. J. Dennis caught the popular fancy with "sentimental"' verse during the war; but it is noteworthy that his best work is contained in the "Backblock Ballads," which is by no means his most popular volume. Gordon's verse, which must have made comparatively large sums of money since his death, brought him only additional financial obligations during his lifetime. Most of the earlier writers published by private subscription; and since Gordon's death writers have seen the necessity of depending on other sources for their living.

Philosophy Of Life

However much Gordon may excel his fellow-countrymen in fame, he lags far behind some of them, especially Cocks, Arthur and Ruth Hawker, in the development of a philosophy of life. Baffled by the incomprehensibility of the riddle of death, Gordon occasionally sees the light and counsels us to "question not" but to concentrate on helping others and bearing with fortitude our own burdens. This is the pinnacle of Gordon's philosophy of life. Shaw Neilson, too, has little philosophy to give us: he is a singer who feels rather than knows, and for him the joy of living and loving is sufficient. Jury is as yet content to be a singer and does not pretend to any great knowledge of life's mysteries. Gellert can think only of the horrors of war: his sensitive imagination sees nothing but blood -- "The scythe of Time runs red" -- and his work contains no satisfactory solution of the problem war has presented to him. Of all those who wrote on religion, Nicholas J. Cocks alone can claim to have produced real poetry; he accepts the Christian philosophy of life. Arthur worships beauty, and arrives at the same fundamental belief that Keats evolved -- that Beauty and Truth are identical and, as the "Ode to a Nightingale" shows, eternal. Ruth Hawker's ideas are gradually crystallised until finally she has a glimpse of that "eternal reality" which for Shelley and Swinburne was the only reality in a world of change and decay. But it is only a glimpse.

Essentials Of Great Poetry

Although South Australian verse contains at least the chief elements of great poetry, in not one instance are they fused into a single poem, or even into the works of any one author. The three chief essentials of great poetry are melody, perfect harmony between thought and rhythm, and the evolution of a more or less complete philosophy of life. By the latter is meant the power to give to others some sense of compensation for life's sorrows, the belief in the eternal reality as an anchor in life's sea of transience.

Melody there is. Gordon achieves it often, usually when he is most like Swinburne. Harmony there is, also: Shaw Neilson and Jury are masters in that, particularly in the entrancing lightness of "Love's Coming" and in the solemn stateliness of the blank verse in parts of "Love and the Virgins." But if, as most of our writers tell us, all things of earth are evanescent, and death is inevitable, we may ask with Neilson, "What of the gates in the distant sky that the elder seers have seen?" Gordon dare not look behind the veil: Neilson "can only dream in a heavy way as a peasant can;" Jury says, "More wisely would I muse; but more I know not." The minor writers alone are sure of themselves; but, with the exception of Ruth Hawker, none has arrived at a satisfying ultimate solution with any degree of conviction. In this respect she towers above all others; but she has written so little of outstanding merit that she cannot claim to be the greatest even of South Australian poets.

In spite of many defects, however, and although South Australia has produced no poet who can, in the sum of his works, rank even with England's second-rate poets, the fact remains that in the brief century of the State's history much has been achieved and a deal of good verse has been written which is worthy to survive.

First published in The Advertiser, 10 March 1934

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

2011 New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards Shortlists

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After some reported problems with releasing the shortlists for the 2011 New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards, mainly due to the upcoming election in that state, the nominated works have now been announced.

Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in America, Penguin Group (Australia)
Stephen Daisley, Traitor, The Text Publishing Company
Lisa Lang, Utopian Man, Allen & Unwin
Alex Miller, Love Song, Allen & Unwin
Kristel Thornell, Night Street, Allen & Unwin
Ouyang Yu, The English Class, Transit Lounge Publishing

Malcolm Fraser & Margaret Simons, Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs, Melbourne University Publishing
Anna Krien, Into the Woods: The Battle for Tasmania's Forests, Black Inc
Tony Moore, Death or Liberty: Rebels and Radicals Transported to Australia 1788-
, Murdoch Books Australia
Ranjana Srivastava, Tell Me The Truth: Conversations With My Patients About Life
and Death
, Penguin Group (Australia)
Maria Tumarkin, Otherland, Random House Australia
Brenda Walker, Reading By Moonlight: How Books Saved a Life, Penguin Group

Susan Bradley Smith, Supermodernprayerbook, Salt Publishing
Andy Jackson, Among The Regulars, Papertiger Media Inc
Jill Jones, Dark Bright Doors, Wakefield Press Pty
Anna Kerdijk Nicholson, Possession, Five Island Press
Andy Kissane, Out to Lunch, Puncher and Wattmann
Jennifer Maiden, Pirate Rain, Giramondo Publishing

Michelle Cooper, The FitzOsbornes in Exile. The Montmaray Journals 2, Random House Australia
Cath Crowley, Graffiti Moon, Pan Macmillan Australia
Kirsty Eagar, Saltwater Vampires, Penguin Group (Australia)
Belinda Jeffrey, Big River, Little Fish, University of Queensland Press
Melina Marchetta, The Piper's Son, Penguin Group (Australia)
Jaclyn Moriarty, Dreaming of Amelia, Pan Macmillan

Jeannie Baker, Mirror, Walker Books Austraila
Libby Gleeson & Freya Blackwood, Clancy and Millie and the Very Fine House, Hardie Grant Egmont
Cassandra Golds, The Three Loves of Persimmon, Penguin Group (Australia)
John Heffernan, Where There's Smoke, Omnibus Books
Sophie Masson, My Australian Story: The Hunt for Ned Kelly, Scholastic Australia
Emma Quay, Shrieking Violet, Scholastic Australia

Shirley Barrett, South Solitary, Macgowan Films
Glen Dolman, Hawke, The Film Company
Michael Miller, The Hero's Standard, Knapman Wyld TV, SBS
John Misto, Sisters of War, Sisters of War Pty Ltd
Debra Oswald, Offspring, Southern Star Entertainment
Samantha Strauss, Dance Academy, Episode 13: Family, Werner Film Productions

PLAY AWARD ($30,000)
Patricia Cornelius, Do Not Go Gentle, Fortyfivedownstairs
Jonathan Gavin, Bang, B Sharp - Belvoir Street Downstairs Theatre
Jane Montgomery Griffiths, Sappho...In 9 Fragments, Malthouse Theatre; Currency Press
Melissa Reeves, Furious Mattress, Malthouse Theatre
Sue Smith, Strange Attractor, Griffin Theatre; Currency Press
Anthony Weigh, Like a Fishbone, Bush Theatre Co, London; Sydney Theatre
Co/Griffin Theatre; Currency Press

Winner to be announced 16 May.

Ali Alizadeh, Iran: My Grandfather, Transit Lounge Publishing
Anh Do, The Happiest Refugee, Allen & Unwin
Maria Tumarkin, Otherland, Random House Australia
Yuol Yuol, Akoi Majak, Monica Kualba, John Garang Kon & Robert Colman, My Name is Sud (Soo-d), Blacktown Arts Centre
Ouyang Yu, The English Class, Transit Lounge Publishing

Stephen Daisley, Traitor, The Text Publishing Company
Ashely Hay, The Body in the Clouds, Allen & Unwin
Lisa Lang, Utopian Man, Allen & Unwin
David Musgrave, Glissando: A Melodrama, Sleepers Publishing
Gretchen Shirm, Having Cried Wolf, Affirm Press
Kristel Thornell, Night Street, Allen & Unwin

The winner and shortlist to be announced on 16 May.

BOOK OF THE YEAR ($10,000)
Chosen from among the winners of the awards. To be announced 16 May.

Given for a work not readily covered by the existing categories, or in recognition of a
writer's achievements generally. To be announced 16 May.

The winners in each category will be announced on 16 May, the first major event of the 2011 Sydney Writers' Festival (16-22 May).

Archimedes and the Seagle by David Ireland, 1984
Cover illustration by Ray Condon
Penguin edition 1986

Poem: Hugh McCrae and Shaw Neilson by Olive Willey

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When Hugh McCrae takes up the pen
The sweaty centaurs stamp and prance,
Their hooves come thund'ring down the glen
And scatter green-clad dryads' dance;  
At maid and knight in sweetheart love
A satyr sneers from dark dim cave,
A dragon snatches bleeding glove
And makes a mock of manhood brave;  
Hugh drains the bowl of Rhenish wine
And calls to dance Elizabeth,
The 'cellos sigh for Columbine
And Hugh is not afraid of death;
But Neilson's songs much sweeter are
With ecstasy of springtime wine,
No ugly thought will ever jar
The tenderness of love divine
When Neilson sings of man and maid;
He sings of cherries red mid green
And all the wonders that shall fade
When summer brown comes in as queen;
The light that shines on orange trees
From realms rarely seen by men,
Is caught in Neilson's ecstasies
And prisoned by his poet's pen,
And music from the further spheres
Where man's sublimal love is born
Has cut his bonds of human fears
And made him strong who was so worn,
And there among the shadows cool
Where stood the gentle water bird
In reeds about the silver pool
His Maker's Voice he clearly heard.

First published in the Western Mail, 27 February 1947

2011 Barbara Jefferis Award Shortlists

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The Barbara Jefferis Award is presented to "the best novel written by an Australian author that depicts women and girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society". Previous winners have been Feather Man by Rhyll McMaster in 2008, The Spare Room by Helen Garner in 2009, and The China Garden by Kristina Olsson in 2010. 

The shortlisted works for the 2011 Barbara Jefferis Award have been announced. The shortlist comprises:

The Good Daughter by Honey Brown (Penguin Books/Viking)
Like Being A Wife by Catherine Harris (Random House/Vintage)
Sustenance by Simone Lazaroo (UWA Publishing/UWAP)
Indelible Ink by Fiona McGregor (Scribe)
Come Inside by G.L. Osbourne (Clouds of Magellan)

The winner will be announced on Saturday 9 April 2011.

Reprint: When a Poet Edited a Sydney Daily by Claude McKay

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A poet as editor of a daily newspaper is unlikely in the present day. But Sydney once had one, none other than A. B. Paterson, whose galloping rhymes, "The Man From Snowy River," "The Geebung Polo Club" and others, won him immense popularity. The atmosphere of the newspaper Paterson edited is conveyed in this sketch by one who breathed it. The paper was the old "Evening News," then published on the site of the State Theatre of to-day.

Banjo Paterson was my first Sydney editor on the "Evening News," for many years now in the newspaper cemetery,

His sanctum was "an office mean and dingy," a roller-top desk taking up most of the space in it. The pigeon holes were stuffed with all manner of discarded junk and the writing surface of the desk littered high with old proof sheets, out-of-date newspapers, opened and unopened, leaving him little elbow room at his near-submerged writing blotter pad.

He had an habitual look of bewilderment and how he got out that galley was indeed the inexplicable. For anyone less attuned to what the tempo of evening journalism could be would have taken some finding.

If the paper had waited for "Banjo" it would have had to be an annual. However, in a leisurely sort of way the sub-editor persuaded three, sometimes four, editions to reach the streets each day.

It was generally a one-story title and that was turned out by Tom Spencer, the star reporter who unfailingly was assigned to the day's biggest news item. (Tom was the son of the Spencer who wrote "How MacDougall Topped the Score"').  

Paterson hated being left to himself. Whoever went into his room was welcomed like a long-lost brother. He would lean back comfortably in his chair as much as to say that time was no object and settle himself down for a yarn. If a man from outback came in with a cattle dog it wasn't long before the dog sensing the situation curled itself up and was asleep.

The general manager of the "Evening News" was Walter Jeffrey (?) who passed his days reading Conrad and writing himself of the sea. He had sailed before the mast and tous looked as though he would be very happy with a pot of paint, a brush and some chalking smartening up a schooner.

At peak hours of the paper he and Paterson would be together exchanging confidences of far horizons, Paterson, "the sunlit plains extended" and Jeffrey palm-fringed islands of the South Seas.

A social historian would have delighted in the atmosphere of the "Evening News" in those first few years that opened this century. The split-second speed of afternoon editors of today was unknown in the place. The paper had a comfortable supremacy in evening sales and advertising. "The Star" was far more pronouncedly moribund. There wasn't a twinkle in it.

The "News" had three leaders who wrote little essays on subjects remote from daily life and they were all them out of the office by 10 a.m.

They were a hangover from the Victorian era. Peace and humility were the established order. Hurry was indecent. Writers, such as they were, were there. Literary hacks had the shabbiness of Grubb Street and the parsimonious "Evening News" was their last refuge.

Worse days we were told had been before. The legend of Alfred Bennett, an earlier proprietor, hung heavily over the office.

But a story of an unbroken spirit of his day sustained us even in our blackest moods. It was related of the time when the building that housed the paper was being erected. Alfred Bennett was regarding the facade from across the street. He had left a niche for some symbolic figure of the power of the Press to embellish it. Pondering what it should be, he espied one of his down-at-heel reporters, whom he gruffly hailed.

"I was thinking of Caxton and his Press," he said after curtly explaining his probIem. "Perhaps some suitable coat of arms would be better. What are your views?"

"A coat of arms, I should suggest, sir," said Meyers.


"Yes, sir, I think the Earl of Warwick's arms would be most appropriate."

The Earl of Warwick's arms are The Bear with the Ragged Staff.  

"Banjo" Paterson introduced a cartoonist to the "Evening News" in Lionel Lindsay (now Sir Lionel). There were thus two cartoonists of the daily Press, the other Hal Eyre, of the old "Daily Telegraph," father of the present cartoonist of "The Sydney Morning Herald."  

Lindsay ran an amusing series of drawings captioned, "Places I have never visited."  Rome, according to him, had its seven hills and on each he   posted a barrel organ grinder with his monkey. This nearly caused an international incident. Dattillo Rubbo, a fierce artist and Garibaldian, challenged Lionel to a duel. His letter offering the choice of weapons to Lionel was a masterpiece of inflamed patriotism.  

Nothing happened or occurred in the columns of the "Evening News"; everything "transpired." You could never, however you tried, or twisted syntax, avoid it. The sub-editor would have his way. At long last I had "transpire" put on the index expurgatorius. It came about by my reading a short story by Morley Roberts in which a character appeared, "like a third-rate reporter transpiring at every pore." I gave it to the sub-editor to read.

The sub-editor was a gourmand. Every banquet to which a reporter was called in Sydney he attended. No ticket for one ever got past him. He got rounder and ruddier until his doctor warned him off the perils of the table and put him on a strict diet.

He sadly told "Banjo" of the blow.

"I am not to cat cabbage, Barty," he wailed. "I'm fond of cabbage, dished up and cut across, with pepper and butter. And I'm fond of mashed potatoes, with plenty of pepper and butter. I'm ordered to have neither. I think," he added reflecting on this fate, "I can give up cabbage, Barty, but I can't, I can't (Caruso sob), I can't give up mashed potatoes!"

Paterson, his long weather beaten face lighting with that attractive, humorous smile of his, used to repeat poor W. Leighton-Bailey's tale of woe.

We all had a great affection for "Banjo." And "linesmen," of whom I was one, were glad he began life as a lawyer. For he marked our contributions with a professional fee -- a paragraph, 3/4; a short cross- head, 6/8; half a column, half a guinea; a column, a guinea.

Still, as an editor, it would occur to me how true he must have thought it that, "a bush man's life has pleasures that the townsman never knows."

First published in The Sunday Herald, 9 November 1952

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

2011 Commonwealth Writers' Prize Regional Winners

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The regional winners of the 2011 Commonwealth Writers' Prize have been announced.  Australia is covered by the South East Asian and Pacific group.  The winners for that region in 2011 are:

Best Book
That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott (Australia)

Best First Book
A Man Melting by Craig Cliff (New Zealand)

The full shortlists are are available by following the links here.

The overall winners of Best Book and Best First Book will be decided from amongst the regional winners, and the results will be announced during the Sydney Writers' Festival in May.

Literary Cartoon #5

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First published in The Bulletin, 9 April 1925

Hazel Rowley (1951-2011)

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hazel_rowley.jpg    Hazel Rowley, the Australian biographer, has died in New York at the age of 59.

Rowley was born in Lodon and migrated to Adelaide, South Australia, with her family at the age of 8. She achieved a PhD in French from the University of Adelaide before moving to Melbourne and lecturing at Deakin University.

She is probably best-known in this country for her biography Christina Stead, published back in 1993. Following this publication, she moved to the US where she tackled, with much success and praise, a biography of
Richard Wright in 2001, and then Tete-a-Tete: The Tumultuous Lives and Loves of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, in 2005, before writing her most recent biography of the Roosevelts, Franklin & Eleanor. She was due to tour Australia celebrating the publication of this book, before she suffered a series of strokes and a heart attack that led to her death. She will be greatly missed.

Australian Bookcovers #247 - City of Women by David Ireland

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City of Women by David Ireland, 1981
Cover illustration by Helen Semmler
Allen Lane editon 1981

Poem: Bury the Bard by Henry Halloran

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(In Memory of the late George James Macdonald, Esq.) 

      Bury the Bard in the forest wild,
            For he loved it well; 
And his heart through all changes was undefiled, 
And gloried wherever great Nature smiled,
            O'er mountain or dell. 

      Bury the Bard where the wild birds sing
            On the sunny slopes,-  
And where the bright flowers in myriads spring,--
Too soon, alas! to be withering,
            Like his Heart's fond hopes.

      Bury the Bard where the emus graze
            At the dawn of day,--
Where the crested pigeon her beauty displays,
And the Kangaroo stands in wild amaze,
            With her shadow at bay.

      Bury him friends, -- and gently spread,
            And with pity dear,
The earth o'er the Poet's beloved head:--
And stranger, if thou hast a tear to shed,
            Deny it not here.

      The dreams of a golden youth betray'd;--
            How oft they betray!
Men found him dead in the forest glade;
By an old dead tree he had knelt and pray'd,
            And pass'd away.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 14 February 1852

Note: George J. Macdonald (1805-51) was born in England and arrived in Sydney in 1826. He appears to have spent the bulk of his adult life in public service.  He died in the Swan Hill area of Victoria but details of his death are unclear.

Reprint: A Genius: Henry Handel Richardson by "I. L."

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London cables of this week seem to indicate that a great Australian writer, long neglected in her own country, may at length come to be regarded here at her true value. In no Australian authors' week has her praise been sung; only a handful of us have read her books; it is safe to say that nine out of ten reading Australians have not till now even heard her name. But, just an a comparatively neglected English writer has leapt into the ranks of the best sellers as the result of recent praise by Mr. Baldwin, so, let us hope, our fellow countrywoman may be made an Australian best seller by the cabled praise of the English critics. Not that English critics now praise her for the first time, but that this is the first occasion on which reverberations have reached this side of the world, through so popular a medium as the daily Press. The cables repeat tributes to her last book, "Ultima Thule," which must gladden those who have read and recommended and urged the recognition of her earlier work.

The "Observer" critic, Gerald Gould, says, "If our age has produced a masterpiece at all this is a masterpiece. It is a work of genius, strong and triumphant." Sylvia Lynd, herself a writer of great merit, says: "I have come on nothing like this in years of book reviewing." The cabled news, as published in a daily paper, continues. "Ultima Thule" is the last volume of a trilogy, of which the first two volumes were "Maurice Guest," and "The Ordeal of Richardson Compton." This last is quite erroneous. "Ultima Thule" does complete a trilogy, of which the general title is "The Fortunes of Richard Mahony." The first volume was published in 1917, and bears the subtitle, "Australia Felix." The second appeared in 1925, and is called "The Way Home." The first volume is concerned with life on the Ballarat gold diggings in the eighteen-fifties, the second with life in Melbourne and in England during the 'sixties and 'seventies. "Ultima Thule" she had hoped to publish early last year - - it has been delayed till the beginning of this. "Maurice Guest" is the title of one of her books -- the other title cabled must be due to mutilation of messages.


Her first book, "The Getting of Wisdom," also referred to in the cables, is a story of school life in Melbourne, and was published in London in 1908. Of this book, Gerald Gould, the critic of the "Observer" says in his book, "The English Novel of To-day": "The best of all contemporary school stories, is, I think, "The Getting of Wisdom," by Henry Handel Richardson, a woman."

In 1912 she published "Maurice Guest," a story of musical students in Leipzig. Gould says of it in the same volume that it is "a book unique in kind and yet of great influence. Nobody ever has succeeded, and nobody ever will succeed, in writing another book at all like it, and I do not know that it ever attained much general fame, but it has been widely read among writers, and the patient thoroughness of its technique has cer-tainly served for an example and a standard. The most striking thing about it is its combination of traditional objectivity in treatment -- what one may call its old masterlines, with modernity of theme." And there have been other writers and critics who have given similar testimony. In 1925 "Maurice Guest" was re-issued, with a preface by Hugh Wal-pole, who says of it: "This memorable novel is one of those few whose influence has been persistently important and fruitful. With the certain exception of the works of Mr. E. M. Forster and the possible exception of Miss Dorothy Richardson's 'Miriam,' there has been no work by a modern English novelist that has so deeply and persistently influenced the writing of the younger generation. It is one of the most truthful novels that has ever [...] who are so alive that once you have met them they never leave you again."  

Continental reviewers have added their praise, and several years ago Carl Van Vechten, the American writer, declared: "Henry Handel Richardson is the one indubitable literary genius that Australia has produced."

To return to the trilogy, which to Australians is probably the most important, it may suffer temporarily from the fact that the first volume has long been out of print. Probably the only place where it can be read in Sydney is the Mitchell Library, where copies of all her books may be found. But, if Australians have any pride at all in the achievement of a fellow-Australian, surely there will go forth such a demand from Australia that Messrs Heinemann will be compelled to reprint that first volume, or better still, perhaps, to publish all three in one of those omnibus volumes that are becoming so popular. Australians have bought freely John Galsworthy's Forsyte Saga. Can we not hope that they would also buy this Australian saga?


The writer of this article, who had long been interested in these books, determined, when visiting England in 1927, to find out, if possible the name and something of the history of Henry Handel Richardson, for, strange as it may seem, nothing was known beyond the fact that that name was a pen-name, that the writer was a woman, and that, from the evidence of her books, she must have lived in Victoria.

An introduction to Mr. C. S. Evans, the manager of Heinemann's, resulted in a pro-mise to forward a letter to her. He could not tell her name, he said -- she had asked her publishers not to disclose it. All that was learned was that she is the wife of a very well-known man. The letter was duly written and forwarded, and a very courteous reply was received, which led to a second letter and second reply. But still she did not tell her name, although she told sufficient about it and her early life in Victoria to make it possible, perhaps, to identify her if one had cared to pursue the matter. But the only thing to do then seemed to be to respect her wish. She said that she was born in Melbourne, went to school there, and left at about the age of eighteen to study music at the Leipzig Conservatorium, as at that time it was a matter of uncertainty whether she would not take up music as a profession.  

She has been back to Australia only on occasional visits, but adds that she still looks upon herself as an Australian, and that it is consequently very gratifying to her to read that the writer had said to her of the two volumes of the Fortunes of Richard Mahony and to know that they are appreciated in her native country. She says further: "But I should like to ask you and other Australian readers to remember that the tone of these works, and the moods they reflect, are not my own personal views and feelings, but those of the early settlors and colonists who still lived, as it were, with a foot in each country, the old and the new." I said earlier that she did not tell her name-this is hardly correct, as she did say that Richardson is her maiden name-it is her present name and identity, only that she evidently wishes to withhold. She also said that she hoped her publishers would reissue the first volume of Richard Mahony when the third one appeared, and this hope we in Australia may, if we will, help to make fruitful.

We have neglected her work in the past. Whether booksellers or public are to blame, or both, it is unprofitable now to discuss, but each must help the other if the reproach is to be removed. A writer in the "Bulletin" several months ago, in a fine notice of Maurice Guest, said that it would probably depend on the reception here of her forthcoming book whether she continued to write of her native land. Happily that is not so -- the fact that she steadfastly refuses to reveal her identity shows that she writes not for recogniton, but because she must. To her and to her ultimate reputation our present appreciation or indifference may matter little - it is we who are on trial, not she. But the attitude of Australians to this gifted child of Australia may mean a great deal in the encouragement or discouragement of young Australian writers here for whose future she expressed great hope. 

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 February 1929

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

Note: one line in this article was duplicated in the version that appeared in the original paper.  I have removed it and replaced it with "[...]".

Australian Books to Film #56 - The Tree

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The Tree (2010)
Directed by Julie Bertucelli
Screenplay by Julie Bertucelli from the novel Our Father Who Art in the Tree by Judy Pascoe
Featuring Charlotte Gainsbourg, Morgana Davies, Marton Csokas and Aden Young.

Reprint: Good Stories of Artists and Authors

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"I Recall: Collections and Recollections," by R.H. Croll. (Robertson & Mullens, Melbourne).

This bright book by a Victorian strongly resembles another, one of the best of its kind, lately produced in London by the popular Sir Edward Marsh, a valued official who yet found time to know everybody of note in the artistic or literary world. A more complete panorama of Melbourne life, in those aspects, during the past half century, than that presented by "I Recall." can hardly be imagined.

Mr. Croll, a youth from Stawell, was early into the Public Library of Melbourne. But the public positions that he has filled take up half a page of the book. As a sample, he was president of the Anthropological Society and of the Field Naturalists' Club, Registrar of the Council of Public Education, and secretary of the Australian Academy of Art, while the list of journals for which he has at some time written runs into about six dozen!

The author seems to know little of Adelaide; but he has been really friendly with men that we know well. In fact, one of his quaintest stories was located by C. J. Dennis in this city. A new reporter with picturesque ideas, was sent to deal with atragedy, and his narrative began thus- "Mind the blood and brains," said the courteous constable, as he opened the door to our representative.

But perhaps the best literary story is of the incredible verse which appeared in Williamson's book of poems, "Purple and Gold." Archibald Strong had objected to one of lines, and pleasantly suggested six variations, The printer (in London) put in the whole lot as a complete new verse:--

Rainbows made by spring of leaves,
Rainbows touched by Spring to leaves,
Woven irises of leaves,
Made by Spring of rainbow leaves,
Consecrated rainbow leaves,
Vernal iridescent leaves.


It has been called "the only piece of true Celtic mysticism written by an Australian."'

As to M. J. MacNally, now an Adelaide resident, there are many quaint stories of his early and more riotous days.

Mr. Croll has been called "the only man in Australia who "writes by Act of Parliament." The fact is that his presswork and verse would have infringed regulations when he was a public servant, and an Order-in-Council, duly gazetted, authorised his freelance works.

But he is thankful that he did not take up journalism. "Much brilliant and capable writing is printed every day: yet, of its brilliant and capable producers, it would be safe to say that not one in ten ever comes into the literary field with a volume."' he says. Whereas this public servant (now retired) has written books of travel and verse, and valuable biographies of Shirlow, Tom Roberts, and Sturgess. He also helped to edit an Australasian Anthology.

First published in The Advertiser, 23 September 1939

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

Note: the original review was accompanied by the David Low caricature of R. H.Croll, as reprinted here.

Australian Bookcovers #246 - Burn by David Ireland

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Burn by David Ireland, 1974
Cover photograph of Sergeant Reg Saunders, from the Australian War Memorial
Sirius edition 1989

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