July 2011 Archives

Poem: Bond or Free? by Ruth M. Bedford

| No TrackBacks
Let others, if they will, rehearse
The easy freedom of "free" verse;
I gladly serve in my brief time
The lovely tyranny of rhyme.

Let those who scorn restriction find
A formless country to their mind:
I still observe in numble awe
The sculptured limits of the law.

First published
in The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 October 1933

It is fortunate that in this centenary year, when our thoughts are ready to turn towards the past, a portrait of the chief creative interpreter of our past has been presented to the National Gallery. We are told simply that this portrait of Henry Handel Richardson, the novelist, is by Eaves, R.A. Nothing has been said as to the period of the portrait. Was it painted in youth or maturity? In neither case could it be without great interest, for if this writer had never written a line she would still have been a striking personality, a composer of distinction, and with features, in all the photographs that have been preserved, early or recent, reminiscent in general of the familiar portraits of Dante. Not for nothing was she given such a literary ancestry, with its character of indomitable will. Her greatest work, the trilogy called "The Fortunes of Richard Mahony," was the task of 15 obscure years, and it was only with the publication of the final volume, "Ultima Thule," in 1929, that its quality and importance became everywhere acknowledged. Everywhere is not too strong a word to use for the extent of its fame; the trilogy has had large English and American editions, has been published in several European languages, and in a world of mere seasonal novels has been recorded by important critics in the literary histories and encyclopaedias of Europe. A great character study, a great tragedy, a great pageant of colonial life, "The Fortunes of Richard Mahony" comes before us here and now in this last aspect chiefly.

The trilogy is concerned not with Australian life as we Australians know it, but with the colonial period. Richard Mahony, restless, restive in new, difficult conditions, was the colonist always, and unwilling to become anything else. It is through his eyes that we see the pageant of Australia Felix-in the 'fifties and 'sixties, mostly on Ballarat; in the 'seventies round "Marvellous Melbourne." Richard Mahony, the struggling storekeeper, then the rising doctor of Ballarat, R. Townshend-Mahony, the doctor, who, having made a fortune by some gold shares, had built himself an expensive home at Elsternwick, so far out of town that he named it "Ultima Thule" -- at no time did either Mahony surrender himself to the life growing round him so fast. He was still the unimpressed new arrival. From first to last of the trilogy he vibrates to the old saw: Coolum, non animum, mutant, qui trans mare currunt. True this was for him. He had no power to change his mind to suit the antipodean clime. To find representations of settlers who have not this rigid hostility, we go to others of our novelists. The quartermaster in "A House is Built" turned from fighting with weevils on the high seas to the providoring of the miners, and felt at home. There were at least certain branches of "The Montforts" to whom Australia meant their native air. Again, in Mr. Brian Panton's recent and considerable book, "Landtakers," the settler from Dorset makes gradual contact with this new world, though it takes him 20 years to become its willing prisoner; his mind became changed. Finally, in an Italian novel, set in the sugar country round Innisfail (Q.), a present-day character from Italy says simply, "coming into a new world a man must make himself it new mind"; and he has effected this partly by forgetting his doctorate of laws and becoming for the time a lorry-driver. Divers images of content, promptly or gradually gained; but Richard Mahony resembles none of them.

Through his restless eyes we see the difficulties, the contrasts, and changes of early Victorian days. The author never makes the mistake of forcing her character to toe the line with the history books. The Eureka Stockade had its historical importance; to Richard Mahony it was merely an irritating little disturbance that involved the prospects of a younger friend." Melbourne in the 'fifties was a lively enough spot, but not once does Richard Mahony remind himself that he is in "Melbourne of the 'Fifties." He goes through with it, but has not even a modicum of the "naive receptivity" possessed by the irresponsible Purdy, who for a time is the Sancho to his Quixote. They ride down from Ballarat together.

The brief twilight came and went, and it was already night when they urged their weary horses over the Moonee Ponds, a winding chain of brackish waterholes. The horses shambled along the broad, hilly tracks of North Melbourne; wearily picked their steps through the city itself. Finally, dismounting, they thrust their arms through their bridles and laboriously covered the last half-mile of the journey on foot. Having lodged the horses at a livery stable, they repaired to a hotel in Little Collins street. Here Purdy knew the proprietor, and they were fortunate enough to procure a small room for the use of themselves alone.

But next day in the bustle of the dusty city Richard is all preoccupation with the annoying law case that has brought him to town, all irritation with the disrespectful law clerks and underlings who speak of him as "just a stony-broke Paddylander." In spite of his marriage soon after to a young woman who, for her part, is sturdily content to be an Australian and share the ups and downs of the new place, Richard still has his eyes on the ends of the earth. Like the more hapless of the gold diggers, he had been, after all, a mere fortune hunter in coming to the new world. Their "loveless schemes of robbing and fleeing" were not more loveless than his own. In a different material, and not more calamitous.

For a Melbourne reader to-day it is hard to say which of the three volumes, with the sub-titles, "Australia Felix," "The Way Home," and "Ultima Thule," is the most interesting. The city lives again in embryo, or, rather, in babyhood, the Melbourne of 1854, in passages of the first volume:

Towards five o'clock he took his seat in an omnibus that plied between the city and the seaside suburb of St. Kilda, three miles off. A cool breeze went; the hoofs of the horses beat a rataplan on the hard surface; the great road, broad enough to make three of, was alive with smart gigs and trotters.

Well, to-day they have made three of it, and with trees and bitumen they have checked the dust which was its frightful- ness, whether the wind blew up or down it. Mahony's goal in St. Kilda was a low stone villa, surrounded by verandahs, in the midst of tasteful grounds; "the drive up to the door led through a shrubbery, artfully contrived of the native tea-tree." We have changed all that, it seems. St. Kilda's was, perhaps, the first bayside council to treat the tea-tree as a noxious weed and faithfully wipe it from the landscape.

In "The Way Home," we have a more settled Melbourne. Settled, yet often on sand, since fortunes in shares were made and lost every year -- as Richard's own fortune was. A man of his time, Richard comes in for once on a high tide with some "Australia Felix" shares he had forgotten. He drops his practice, builds a fine house, with hygienic nurseries, and an especial eye to the library, sends to London for books that can now be expected within the six months, and gives himself to the fine confused thinking common to those who were staggered by Darwin and his fellow writers in those turbid years. Meanwhile, Melbourne opened many doors to him. It was the period before the land boom. They were beginning to build not merely solid villas, but stuccoed Italian palaces the owners having money to burn.

With the third volume, and Richard's fortune gone again, we have glimpses of Melbourne through the eyes of an anxious doctor, seeking a new suburban practice in middle age, but where? Ruefully he turned his back on the sea at St. Kilda and Elsternwick, the pleasant   spot of earth in which he once believed he had found his Ultima Thule; gave the green gardens of Toorak a wide berth -- no room there for an elderly interloper!-- and explored the outer darkness of Footscray, Essendon, Moonee Ponds.

What finally decided him on the pretty little suburb of Hawthorn -- after he had prowled round, to make sure he would have the field to himself-was not alone the good country air, but a capital building lot, for sale dirt-cheap. The solid two story brick house he built there, with the last of his money and the first of his borrowings, should stand in its high-shouldered way at some corner in that pretty little suburb still.

As for Henry Handel Richardson, to whom, after all, we owe all these far-reaching hints and solid decors of the past, she was born somewhere in Victoria parade, East Melbourne, which is not a mile across from that National Gallery in which her portrait will soon be housed. Essentially Australian in outlook, for all her long residence abroad, she has portrayed, in Richard Mahony, one who deprecates and distrusts the place and the life that she herself trusts and understands. Her new book, due for publication in the English autumn, will include many short stories set in the country of her childhood and youth, and others set in the Germany she knew in the 'nineties, the Germany of "Maurice Guest."

First published in The Argus, 18 August 1934

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

2011 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards Shortlists

| No TrackBacks
The shortlists for the 2011 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards have been released.

The lists are:

CJ Dennis Prize for Poetry

Swallow, Claire Potter
The Taste of River Water, Cate Kennedy
This Floating World, Libby Hart

Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction

Five Bells, Gail Jones
When Colts Ran, Roger McDonald
The Roving Party, Rohan Wilson
Bright and Distant Shores, Dominic Smith
The Amateur Science of Love, Craig Sherborne
That Deadman Dance, Kim Scott

Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-Fiction

A Private Empire, Stephen Foster
Delusions of Gender, Cordelia Fine
My Blood's Country, Fiona Capp
Into the Woods, Anna Krien
Good Living Street, Tim Bonyhady
An Eye for Eternity: The Life Of Manning Clark, Mark McKenna

Prize for Writing for Young Adults

The Life of a Teenage Body-Snatcher, Doug MacLeod
Graffiti Moon, Cath Crowley
The Three Loves of Persimmon, Cassandra Golds

Louis Esson Prize for Drama

Sappho... in 9 fragments, Jane Montgomery Griffiths
Do not go gentle..., Patricia Cornelius
Intimacy, Raimondo Cortese

The winners in each category as well as the Best Book overall wil be announced on September 6th.

Australian Literary Monuments #33 - Henry Handel Richardson

| No TrackBacks

Henry Handel Richardson stamp issued by Australian postal authorities in 1975.

2011 Man Booker Prize Longlist

| No TrackBacks
The longlist for the 2011 Man Booker prize has been released.

The longlisted works are:

The Sense of an Ending
, Julian Barnes (Jonathan Cape - Random House)
On Canaan's Side, Sebastian Barry (Faber)
Jamrach's Menagerie, Carol Birch (Canongate Books)
The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt (Granta)
Half Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan (Serpent's Tail - Profile)
A Cupboard Full of Coats, Yvvette Edwards (Oneworld)
The Stranger's Child, Alan Hollinghurst (Picador - Pan Macmillan)
Pigeon English, Stephen Kelman (Bloomsbury)
The Last Hundred Days, Patrick McGuinness (Seren Books)
Snowdrops, A.D. Miller (Atlantic)
Far to Go, Alison Pick (Headline Review)
The Testament of Jessie Lamb, Jane Rogers (Sandstone Press)
Derby Day, D.J. Taylor (Chatto & Windus - Random House)

The shortlist will be released on 6 September and the winner announced on 18 October.

Comments: a number of new authors and publishers here.  No Australian that I've noticed. Hollinghurst has won before, and Barnes and Barry have been previously shortlisted.  I haven't been keeping an eye on the possibilities this year so I really have no idea who might get the gong.  Interestingly, The Guardian reports that Hollinghurst has been installed as 5-1 favourite by the bookmakers William Hill, though the actual site has it at 4-1.

Reprint: Study of a Great Novelist

| No TrackBacks

HENRY HANDEL RICHARDSON - A STUDY, by NETTIE PALMER. Sydney and London: Angus & Robertson.

It is fitting that the first long critical study of Henry Handel Richardson, considered by many discerning students Australia's greatest novelist, should be written by Nettie Palmer.

Mrs. Palmer has made a long study of this author, knew her personally, and is herself an Australian writer of discrimination and merit.

The study proceeds in biographical order, so that in the first chapter we have a clear idea of the groundwork of the trilogy from the chronicle of the Richardson family in Australia. It is followed by six chapters dealing in detail with the contents of each of Henry Handel Richardson's books.

Mrs. Palmer's close study of her author is balanced and candid, and leaves the enthusiast still able to debate whether H.H.R. merited the praise of Somerset Maugham, who called "Maurice Guest" a great novel in the sense that Tolstoy's novels were great, or whether Arthur Adams, then editor of the Red Page of the "Bulletin," can be forgiven for calling "The Fortunes of Richard Mahony" a "dull chronicle, written apparently by a retired grocer."

First published in The Argus, 12 August 1950

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

2011 Australian Book Industry Awards Winners

| No TrackBacks
The winners of the 2011 Australian Book Industry Awards were announced last night.  You can read the full shortlists here, the winners were:

The Lloyd O'Neil Award for outstanding service to the Australian book industry
Awarded to Margaret Fulton

The Pixie O'Harris Award for distinguished and dedicated service to the development and reputation of Australian children's books
Awarded to Elizabeth O'Donnell

Book of the Year 2011
The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do (Allen & Unwin)

Publisher of the Year 2011
Allen & Unwin

Chain Bookseller of the Year 2011
Dymocks Hobart

Small Publisher of the Year 2011

Scribe Publications

Independent Bookseller of the Year 2011
Shearers Bookshop

Distributor of the Year 2011
United Book Distributors

Specialist Bookseller of the Year 2011
Boffins Bookshop

Publisher Marketing Campaign of the Year 2011

In memory of John Cody (Random House)
Random House
For Torment

Bookseller Marketing Campaign of the Year 2011
Riverbend Books and Teahouse
For Riverbend Foodies

International Success Award 2011
Penguin Group Australia
For Once, Then and Now trilogy

Newcomer of the Year 2011
The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do (Allen & Unwin)

Illustrated Book of the Year 2011
Our Family Table by Julie Goodwin (Random House Australia)

Literary Fiction Book of the Year 2011
Bereft by Chris Womersley (Scribe Publications)

Book of the Year for Younger Children 2011
Noni the Pony written and illustrated by Alison Lester (Allen & Unwin)

Book of the Year for Older Children 2011
Conspiracy 365 by Gabrielle Lord (Scholastic Australia)

Biography of the Year 2011 - joint winner
The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do (Allen & Unwin)

Biography of the Year 2011 - joint winner
How to Make Gravy by Paul Kelly (Penguin Group Australia)

General Non-Fiction Book of the Year 2011
True Spirit by Jessica Watson (Hachette Australia)

General Fiction Book of the Year 2011

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton (Allen & Unwin)

Flying Visits: Postcards from the Observer 1976-83 by Clive James, 1984
Picador edition 1985

Poem: Mary Gilmore by Jim Grahame

| No TrackBacks
   "A writer wrote of the hearts of men,
      And he followed their tracks afar,
   For his was a spirit that forced his pen
      To write of the things that are."
                          Henry Lawson.

Where the WORKER flounces the mantelpiece
   Or fringes the kitchen shelf,
Where hessian doors hide earthen floors,
   And the crockery-ware is delf,
There lies her book in a sacred nook,
   And it tells of the things that are,
From one seaboard to the next seaboard;
   For the writer has travelled far.

There's a grey-haired widow on Yanko Creek
   And a young wife out on the Bland,
Who feel the strength of the word she wrote
   Like the grip of a helping hand;
They have far more heart for the washing-day,
   More ease on the bright bush-track,
As to and fro' to the creek they go
   And carry the water back.

There are some that trudge with the bullock teams
   When their men go out for wool,
Who have learnt at night and can read and write,
   Though they've never been to school;
But it is not a novel or magazine
   That is most in' the rough brown hand;
Youth turns with age to her thoughtful page
   That they both can understand.

The squatters' wives have their novelettes
   And their stories of Araby,
With a trip to Sydney now and then,
   And a gimpse of the rolling sea;
They give small thought to the rough bush homes
   And the sorrows and pleasures there,
As they ponder the latest fashion notes
   And the dresses their sisters wear.

The women of hut and tent and camp
   Are in Mary Gilmore ken;
For she knows the lives of the bushmen's wives
   As our Lawson knew the men.
The Digger's bride from the other side
   Finds many a line to quote,
And many a homesick heart is cheered
   By the strength of a word she wrote.

First published in The Bulletin, 14 June 1923

Reprint: Mary Gilmore: Australia Old and New by Nettie Palmer

| No TrackBacks

We are accustomed to thinking of Australia as new, and so it is.

   "Last sea-thing dredged by Sailor Time from space"

is the first line of a famous sonnet on Australia by Bernard O'Dowd. Yet there have been moods, and there have been groups of people in which Australia has seemed to be already old, old with the oldest sorrows and views of the old lands. With some such mood affecting a group of people, the project of "New Australia" arose in the 'nineties, and Mary Gilmore, as a girl, was touched by that emotion and joined in the project. The idea of "New Australia" was not a reform here in Australia. It was a project of escape from conditions and limitations here. Led by William Lane, a large number of men and women sailed from Australia for Paraguay, where the Government had granted a tract of land for their colony, to be run on Socialistic lines. Mary Gilmore, an energetic and enthusiastic young teacher had expressed to Lane her interest in his ideas. He challenged her, saying that if she was as interested as that she would join them. She accepted his challenge, and joined the expedition. Later on she married one of the other members, and their son was born in Paraguay. The conditions of the settlement of "New Australia" and of its later born brother, "Cosme," are now a matter of history. The difficulties out-weighed the benefits; that is most people's conclusion. The result was failure; that is generally accepted. And yet Mary Gilmore is not alone in saying that the whole costly experience was well worth whatever any one put into it. To her it meant an extraordinary deepening of her youthful years, and nothing that happened later has been able to weaken her faith in life. Most of us hope that, whatever else Mary Gilmore may write, she will not fail to give us memoirs of her Paraguay years. She has always had an ear for names and an eye for the perception of character. Memoirs written by her would have a ring and vigour about them, full of meaning both to those who knew her dramatis personae and to those who did not. She has already shown her flair for this kind of reminiscence in notes and short sketches. I think particularly of the notes appended to her most recent book of verse, "The Tilted Cart." Modestly put out as a book of verse for recitation, "The Tilted Cart" carries with it a priceless appendix of annotations to the poems.

These notes are an account of recollected details from Mary Gilmore's childhood in a country district of New South Wales.  To this day she is chiefly associated with Goulburn, where she often lives.

A Woman Poet?

Returning, then, to our Australia, which we must call old, because it is not newer. Mary Gilmore settled again about 1900. Not that such an active woman is ever "settled." Her life is always being drawn out of her by the constant demands of others. Her poems are written in snatched leisure, not in a large calm. The wonder is that they are written at all. Mary Gilmore has seemed to make a principle, almost, of this expenditure of energies, dreading the extreme alternative, that of being a fixed stone and gathering moss! Perhaps a tiny recent poem of hers expresses what I mean -- and much more. It is:--

   The Tenancy.

   I shall go as my father went,
      A thousand plans in his mind,
   With something in hand unspent,
      When death lets fall the blind.

   I shall go as my mother went,
      The ink still wet on the line:
   I shall pay no rust as rent
      For the house that is mine.

There you have a characteristic poem of Mary Gilmore's, brief yet full. She never writes as if she remembered that verse was paid for at so much a line, never spins a single thought out to make a long piece that would look imposing!  But such a poem, of course does not show the whole of Mary Gilmore. It leaves out her most characteristic quality, that of a woman. I have been blamed sometimes for writing of "women poets," as if that were something less than "poets" in general. Perhaps I should have balanced it by using some expression like "men poets," which I dislike somehow. What I meant by a woman poet, though, is a poet who gives what a woman only could give. Mary Gilmore has done this again and again. Her early book of verse, "Marri'd," had for its title poem something that came as a revelation; just a few simple verses by a woman who feels restlessly happy in the sense of keeping house for the man she loves:

   And feeling awful glad
   Like them that watched Siloam,
      And everything because
      A man is coming home!

Public Spirit.

When we feel that some one is public-spirited, we do not mean that they move in the limelight. They are usually too busy for that. Mary Gilmore has been public-spirited in countless ways, showing it both in definite acts and in an attitude of mind, a "preparedness." Sometimes she has used her pen, availing herself of what power would accrue to a conspicuously signed protest or advocacy. At other times she has used the personal influence that is hers after a long life of usefulness and creative activity. For the moment I shall name only three of her definite activities. The first has to do with her own Goulburn. There is a certain conspicuous hill which she, in common with many others, was anxious to have preserved as a memorial site. From descriptions, one gathers that the hill as it stands is a natural monument, conspicuous from overlanding trains, and easily made emphatic by a light on its summit at night. To have such a place reserved in perpetuity as a memorial seems simple and desirable enough, but every one knows that the simple and desirable things are usually attained "not without dust and heat." Mary Gilmore, by Press and other publicity, fought for the reservation of that hill. A second effort of hers that is remembered was the organisation of a public funeral for Lawson. She would say that this was the work and act of many people, and that all Australia desired it, and this is, in one sense, true; but such an act needs a definite pressure exerted at the right instant, and Mary Gilmore was able to see the right moment for that pressure and the right way of using it. The last instance of her public spirit, apart from her literary spirit, that occurs to my mind is a recent series of articles contributed to a powerful daily urging the development of interest in our blacks and their ways -- before it is wholly too late. Pointing out how this American mind has been enriched by the consciousness of the Hiawatha legends, she emphasised the need for collecting at least our aboriginal names before all their meanings and associations are forgotten. Her poem, summing up what we have lost, ends with the stanza:-

   But we, we have cut down our once green tree,
      The blossom of the past fails sere. . . .
   O that the blind would see!
      O that the deaf would hear!
   O that some brave spirit of a branch soon bare
   To save its last lone leaf would dare.

Near and Far.

Mary Gilmore's varied life has been filled with interests from near and far. Like others who returned from New Australia, she has enriched the life of our own country by means of her experiences. In a brilliant sonnet she has contrasted the two kinds of life, the wide-spreading and the small and dear. The sonnet begins with a description of some vast view across South American plains :  

    I have known distance and have drank of it!

It concludes on a tender, intimate note, naming home-loved places like Gundary, and remembering childish joys when she would go  

    To see the sun dance up on Easter morn.

She has not allowed her interests to become thinly cosmopolitan; she has never forgotten to draw nourishment from her own soil. One more thing she has remembered -- her Scottish and Irish ancestry. The home of her childhood was, as she says, among the old Scottish and Irish settlements. Her father spoke the Gaelic, and her own interest in words has always been intense. Fortunately, she has never let that be her whole interest. To her the words, after all, are only an exquisitely varied medium for expressing her rich experience of life. Her three volumes of poems and her well-known book of essays have by no means held all her published work. It is time for another book, collecting what poems have been appearing in fugitive form. One hears word, also, of varied work in manuscript awaiting publication. If this appears soon, 1928 will be a happy year in Australian letters.

First published in The Brisbane Courier, 10 March 1928

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

Australian Literary Monuments #32 - Mary Gilmore

| No TrackBacks


Mary Gilmore stamp issued by Australian postal authorities in 1973.

Reprint: In Review: "Old Days; Old Ways

| No TrackBacks
This book, from the pen of Mary Gilmore, who, of course, needs no introduction to Australian readers, is one of recollections. "The writing is so personal," she explains, "that at times it seems almost something of an impertinence to thrust it upon others." Yet, impertinent or not, it is quite acceptable, and, what is more, it is justified by the reason she advances that she has ''the hope that before it is too late it may cause some who are near the passing to look back and remember, and others to gather up and keep that remembering."

Mary Gilmore's opening sentence is captivating, for it contains a wealth of meaning and food for thought. After reading the few words, many there will be who'll stop to remember, and with a sigh probably exclaim, "I know. I know."

"When butter was sixpence a pound children ate dry bread, or bread and dripping," the author wrote.

There is a veritable wealth of reminiscence in "Old Days; Old Ways," and the author, studiously, it seems, refrains from unnecessary elaborating. And all through one feels the presence of the better-known Mary Gilmore, the poet.

("Old Days; Old Ways," by Mary Gilmore, from the publishers. Angus and Robertson, Sydney.)

First published in The Sunday Times (Perth), 8 July 1934

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

Australian Bookcovers #265 - Glued to the Box by Clive James

| No TrackBacks

Glued to the Box: Television Criticism from the Observer 1979-82
by Clive James, 1983
Picador edition, 1983

2011 Australian Book Industry Awards Shortlists

| No TrackBacks
The shortlists for the 2011 Australian Book Industry Awards have been released.  These awards are presented each year by the Australian Publishers Association.

The shortlisted works are:

Chain Bookseller of the Year 2011
NSW/ACT Dymocks George St Sydney
Qld Dymocks Brisbane
SA/NT Dymocks Adelaide
Tas Dymocks Hobart
Vic Hill of Content Bookshop
WA Dymocks Garden City (Booragoon)

Independent Bookseller of the Year 2011
NSW/ACT Shearers Bookshop
Qld Riverbend Books and Teahouse
SA/NT Imprints Booksellers
Tas Fullers Bookshop Hobart
Vic The Avenue Bookstore
WA The Lane Bookshop

Specialist Bookseller of the Year 2011
NSW/ACT The Children's Bookshop Beecroft
Qld The Library Shop
SA/NT ALS Library Services
Tas Stories Bookshop
Vic Books for Cooks
WA Boffins Bookshop

Bookseller Promotional Campaign of the Year 2011
Pages & Pages Booksellers Mosman, for Book Busking
Riverbend Books, for Riverbend Foodies
Shearers Bookshop, for How to Make Gravy

Small Publisher of the Year 2011
Black Inc.
Bolinda Publishing
Melbourne University Publishing
National Library of Australia
Scribe Publications

Publisher of the Year 2011
Allen & Unwin
Hachette Australia
HarperCollins Publishers Australia
Penguin Group Australia
Random House Australia
The Text Publishing Company

Distributor of the Year 2011
Alliance Distribution Services
Harper Entertainment Distribution Services
Macmillan Distribution Services
Random House Australia
United Book Distributors

Publisher Promotional Campaign of the Year 2011, in memory of John Cody
Allen & Unwin, for The Happiest Refugee, written by Anh Do
Allen & Unwin, for House Rules, written by Jodi Picoult
HarperCollins Publishers Australia, for Lazarus Rising, written by John Howard
Penguin Group Australia, for How to Make Gravy, written by Paul Kelly
Random House Australia, for Jack Reacher, written by Lee Child
Random House Australia, for Torment, written by Lauren Kate

International Success of the Year 2011
Allen & Unwin, for Tales from Outer Suburbia
Hachette Australia, for The Red Tree
HarperCollins Publishers Australia, for The Innocent Mage
Penguin Group Australia, for Once, Then and Now

Illustrated Book of the Year 2011
A Food Lover's Pilgrimage to Santiago De Compostela, written by Dee Nolan, published by
Penguin Group Australia
Bill's Basics, written by Bill Granger, published by HarperCollins Publishers Australia
Our Family Table, written by Julie Goodwin, published by Random House Australia
Quay, written by Peter Gilmore, published by Murdoch Books
Real Food Companion, written by Matthew Evans, published by Murdoch Books
Yiwarra Kuju: the Canning Stock Route, written and published by the National Museum of

Biography of the Year 2011
Ben Cousins - My Life, written by Ben Cousins, published by Macmillan
How to Make Gravy, written by Paul Kelly, published by Penguin Group Australia
Lazarus Rising, written by John Howard, published by HarperCollins Publishers Australia
The Family Law, written by Benjamin Law, published by Black Inc.
The Happiest Refugee, written by Anh Do, published by Allen & Unwin

General Non-Fiction Book of the Year 2011
Here on Earth, written by Tim Flannery, published by The Text Publishing Company
Power Trip: The Political Journey of Kevin Rudd, written by David Marr, published by Black
Street Fight in Naples, written by Peter Robb, published by Allen & Unwin
The Changi Brownlow, written by Roland Perry, published by Hachette Australia
True Spirit, written by Jessica Watson, published by Hachette Australia

Book of the Year for Younger Children (age range 0 to 8 years) 2011
All Through the Year written by Jane Godwin & illustrated by Anna Walker, published by
Penguin Group Australia
Feathers for Phoebe, written & illustrated by Rod Clement, published by HarperCollins
Publishers Australia
Maudie and Bear, written by Jan Omerod & illustrated by Freya Blackwood, published by Little Hare
Mirror, written & illustrated by Jeannie Baker, published by Walker Books
Noni the Pony, written and illustrated by Alison Lester, published by Allen & Unwin
The Legend of the Golden Snail, written and illustrated by Graeme Base, published by Penguin Group Australia

Book of the Year for Older Children (age range 8 to14 years) 2011
Conspiracy 365, written by Gabrielle Lord, published by Scholastic Australia
Graffiti Moon, written by Cath Crowley, published by Pan Macmillan
Shakespeare's Hamlet, illustrated by Nicki Greenberg, published by Allen & Unwin
Museum of Thieves: The Keepers Book 1, written by Lian Tanner, published by Allen & Unwin
Now, written by Morris Gleitzman, published by Penguin Group Australia

Literary Fiction Book of the Year 2011
Bereft, written by Chris Womersley, published by Scribe Publications
How it Feels, written by Brendan Cowell, published by Picador
Rocks in the Belly, written by Jon Bauer, published by Scribe Publications
That Deadman Dance, written by Kim Scott, published by Picador
The Legacy, written by Kirsten Tranter, published by HarperCollins Publishers Australia

General Fiction Book of the Year 2011
After America, written by John Birmingham, published by Macmillan
At Home with the Templetons, written by Monica McInerney, published by Penguin Group
Campaign Ruby, written by Jessica Rudd, published by The Text Publishing Company
I Came to Say Goodbye, written by Caroline Overington, published by Random House Australia
The Distant Hours, written by Kate Morton, published by Allen & Unwin

Newcomer of the Year (debut writer) 2011
Into the Woods: The Battle for Tasmania's Forests, written by Anna Krien, published by Black Inc.
Poh's Kitchen, written by Poh Ling Yeow, published by HarperCollins Publishers Australia
The Bark Cutters, written by Nicole Alexander, published by Random House Australia
The Family Law, written by Benjamin Law, published by Black Inc.
The Happiest Refugee, written by Anh Do, published by Allen & Unwin

Book of the Year 2011
Bereft, written by Chris Womersley, published by Scribe Publications
How to Make Gravy, written by Paul Kelly, published by Penguin Group Australia
I Came to Say Goodbye, written by Caroline Overington, published by Random House Australia
Lazarus Rising, written by John Howard, published by HarperCollins Publishers Australia
The Family Law, written by Benjamin Law, published by Black Inc.
The Happiest Refugee, written by Anh Do, published by Allen & Unwin

The award winners will be announced on Monday 25th July, 2011.

Poem: In Memoriam: Marcus Clarke by Henry Kendall

| No TrackBacks
The night winds sob on mountains drear,
Where gleams by fits the wint'ry star;
And in the wild dumb woods I hear
A moaning harbor bar.
The branch and leaf are very still,
But now the great grave dark has grown,
The torrent in the harsh sea-hill
Sends forth a deeper tone.
Some sad, faint voice is far above,
And many things I dream, it saith,
Of home made beautiful by Love
And sanctified by Death.
I cannot catch its perfect phrase;
But, ah, the touching words to me
Bring back the lights of other days ---
The friends that used to be.
Here sitting by a dying flame,
I cannot choose but think with grief
Of Harpur, whose unhappy name
Is as an autumn leaf.
And domed by purer breadths of blue
Afar from folds of forest dark,
I see the eyes that once I knew ---
The eyes of Marcus Clarke.
Their clear, bright beauty shines a space;
But sunny dreams in shadows end,
The sods have hid the faded face
Of my heroic friend.
He sleeps where winds of evening pass,
Where water songs are soft and low ---
Upon his grave the tender grass
Has not had time to grow.
Few knew the cross he had to bear,
And moan beneath from day to day.
His were the bitter hours that wear
The human heart away.
The laurels in the pit were won:
He had to take the lot austere
That ever seems to wait upon
The man of letters here.
His soul was self-withdrawn. He made
A secret of the bitter life
Of struggle in inclement shade
For helpless child and wife.
He toiled for love unwatched, unseen,
And fought his troubles band by band,
Till, like a friend of gentle mien,
Death took him by the hand.
He rests in peace! No grasping thief
Of hope and health can steal away
The beauty of the flower and leaf
Upon his tomb to-day.
The fragrant woodwinds sing above
Where gleams the grace of willow fair;
And often kneels a mournful love
To plant a blossom there.
So let him sleep, whose life was hard;
And may they place beyond the wave
This tender rose of my regard
Upon his tranquil grave.

First published in The Bulletin, 3 September 1881

2010 Australian Literary Society Gold Medal Winner

| No TrackBacks
The winner of the 2010 Australian Literary Society Gold Medal was announced in Melbourne on July 5th.  The winner was Kim Scott, for his novel That Deadman Dance.  This is Scott's third major award for this book, following his win in the Miles Franklin Award and as regional winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize.

You can read details of the shortlisted works here.

Reprint: Marcus Clarke

| No TrackBacks

The bibliography of Marcus Clarke, apart from his innumerable journalistic articles, is convincing proof that hard work may go with hard-living. Within 15 years, that is from the age of 20 to his death at 35 (fifty years ago to-morrow), he produced four novels, some thirty tales, a dozen comedies and burlesques, and many pamphlets, including the notorious one on "The Future Australian Race."' But for all this prolific output only one book lives, the novel he almost accidentally began and almost heedlessly completed, "For the Term of His Natural Life.'' The nature of his pamphleteering may be judged from the summing up of his "Future Australian Race": "The conclusion of all this, therefore, is that in another 100 years the average Australian will be a tall, coarse, strong-jawed, greedy, pushing, talented man, excelling in swimming and horsemanship. His religion will be a form of Presbyterianism; his national policy a Democracy, tempered by the rate of exchange." Most of his prognostications are absurd; the only prophetic note for 1931 is in his Parthian shot- "a Democracy tempered by the rate of exchange." Among his bush sketches "Pretty Dick" holds a place in anthologies as his best, but the tendency to exaggeration, especially of pathos, mars most of them. His poetry has been condemned as album verses. His most poignant verses are indeed to be found in a poem under that heading:

   So some poor tavern haunter steeped in wine,
      With staggering footsteps through the streets returning,
   Seeing through gathering gloom a sweet light shine
      From household lamp in happy window burning,
   May pause an instant in the wind and rain
      To gaze on that sweet scene of love and duty,
   But turns into the wild, wet night again
      Lest his sad presence mar its holy beauty.

Two charges have been laid against Marcus Clarke. The first derives from his brilliant preface to Gordon's Poems, which some have alleged to be a hopeless misreading of the bush. "What," he asks, "is the dominant note of Australian scenery? That which is the dominant note of Edgar Allan Poe's poetry -- weird   melancholy. . . . The Australian mountain forests are funereal, secret, stern. Their solitude is desolation. They seem to stifle in their black gorges a story of sullen despair," and so on.

The late F. M. Robb, of Melbourne, editor of the Oxford Gordon, supports Marcus Clarke. "We have known sleepless men, not easily moved by fear, camped out at night on the slopes of its unpeopled mountains, waking their sleeping fellows to cry, 'For God's sake, speak to me,' so awful has the indescribable silence become that the desolation and mournfulness of it seem to have been concrete and living, and as if moving to smite and fell one with a blow."   "This," he adds, "is true and will remain true until our scenery has become humanised and made accessible and near and familiar as the akes and valleys and hills and meadows of the Old World have been made by the love and music and vision of generations of poets.'' In the other charge Marcus Clarke is taken to task for telling the story of Port Arthur in convict days in a great but un-Australian novel, which has done Australia much harm. "It depicts life in British prisons controlled by British officials, and has no more relation to ordinary colonial life than the diary of a governor of Dartmoor would have to the life of a Devonshire farmer." But surely only stupid people could gain a false impression of Australia at this time of day from Marcus Clarke's tremendous novel. If the convicts were not Australians, neither were the pioneers, and "Geoffrey Hamlyn" would be as little Australian as "For the Term of His Natural Life," which, at least, has added a phrase to our Australian vocabulary. It must be freely admitted that the novel has its grave defects. The brutalities and degradations are all founded on facts to be found in the convict annals of Tasmania, but the novelist who gathers them all together within the ambit of his single story strains to the breaking-point our sense of probability. The initial improbability lies in the series of events that lead up to the transportation of Devine or Dawes. "Nor was there any necessity for so desperate an expedient as a mutiny on the convict ship as planned by Sarah Purfoy, seeing she could have far more easily have freed her lover by having him as her assigned servant after the voyage. Nor are these the only flaws. The death of Mrs. Vicars and Sylvia's loss of memory are too "pat" for the creation of the false impression that Frere and not Dawes was the hero of the marooning episode after the seizure of the Osprey at Hell Gates. Sylvia's marriage with the stony-hearted Frere is also an artistic flaw of the most obvious kind. Dawes himself, whose sufferings accumulate relentlessly one on the other, as on Oedipus in Greek tragedy, is a shadowy figure. Besides, Marcus Clarke does not mitigate the atmosphere of gloom and brutality, as Shakespeare knew how to do, by making the gloom the more impressive for the gleams of contrast. Yet when all these defects are marshalled -- defects enough one might think to damn the book -- the merits of the novel are greater, and because of these it has prospered. It cannot rank among the great novels of the world because of the patent defects in its construction, but, as Green says, "it is one of the most powerfully written novels in English." Not only does Dawes become terrible in his sufferings, but some of the minor characters are intensely alive, and some of the incidents intensely dramatic. Sarah Purfoy is real flesh and blood. Gabbett's struggle during the mutiny with Frere, and afterwards with the sailors, is thrilling. No less so is the ruse by which Frere gains the captured pistol from Kavanagh in the Sydney barracks. The story itself moves on to its irresistible end with the murky velocity of Macbeth, leaving the normal world behind as it traverses the shades.

The late Lord Rosebery, who, during his brief visit to Australia in 1884, befriended the novelist's widow, wrote to Hamilton Mackinnon, the editor of the memorial volume, "Long ago I fell upon 'His Natural Life' by accident, and read it not once nor twice, but many times at different periods. Since then I have frequently given away copies to men whose opinions I valued, and have always received from them the same opinion as to the extraordinary value of the book. There can, indeed, I think, be no two opinions as to the horrible fascination of the book. . . . To me, I confess, it is the most terrible of all novels, more terrible than 'Oliver Twist ' or Victor Hugo's most startling effects, for the simple reason that it is more real. It has all the solemn ghastliness of truth." "I fancy," he added in a note to Mrs. Clarke, "that your husband's works are not sufficiently appreciated in Australia. ... I cannot but believe that the time will come when Australians will feel a melancholy pride in this true son of genius . . . and in England you may find that, like another power in letters, not dissimilar in genius -- I mean Emily Bronte -- he may have made up to him in posthumous honour what was lacking in his lifetime." Lord Rosebery's expectation has not been belied. The star of Marcus Clarke has risen from the mists that vexed it while he lived, to become one of the luminous fixed stars in our literary firmament.

First published in The Brisbane Courier, 1 August 1931

Marcus Clarke was born in London in 1846 and died in Melbourne in 1881. 

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

Note: you can read a number of Clarke's works courtesy of Project Gutenberg Australia.

Australian Literary Monuments #31 - Marcus Clarke

| No TrackBacks

Marcus Clarke stamp issued by Australian postal authorities in 1973.

Reprint: "A Writer of Books": Sent to Gaol for Vagrancy

| No TrackBacks
In his memorial poem on Marcus Clarke, the late Henty Kendall sung of --

     "The lot austere
   That ever seems to wait upon
   The man of letters here."

but probably Kendall, pessimistic as he was, would scarcely have dreamt of the fate accorded Gustav Huton at the City Court yesterday. Huton described himself as a "writer of books" in the watchhouse charge sheet, but Plain-clothes Constable Colby accused him of being a vagrant and a maker of fies on the banks of the Yarra.  Huton, it appears, constructed a mia-mia at the foot ot Government-house hill some days ago, and it has been his habit since to build fires and otherwise imperil the public weal. He wore long hair, and a longer overcoat, and Corby informed the Court that these covered a multitude of defects in the way of dirt and tatters.

"I may not look respectable," observed the accused, "but I can write you a good book."  

"What is he?" asked Mr Cook, the chairman of the bench, while Messrs. Lancashire, Andrews, and Cherry, the remaining J.P.'s, regarded prisoner with evidentinterest.

"You do not understand; all of you. You think me a wretch and all this, but I can write you a first-class book. Marie Corelli isn't in it with me; only the department took all my money from me, and, your Worships, allow me to correct one little error. The sergeant here said that I was up last time for vagrancy. That is not true; it was for threatening to commit suicide, about the most stupid charge the police could invent. I think I have pretty clearly explained my position," concluded the accused, but the Bench evidently failed to comprehend the explanation, and sent "the writer of books" to gaol for 12 months. 

First published in The Argus, 22 April 1897

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

2011 Prime Minister's Literary Awards Winners

| No TrackBacks
The winners of the 2011 Prime Minister's Literary Awards were announced last week.

The winners were:

Traitor by Stephen Daisley

The Hard Light of Day: An Artist's Story of Friendships in Arremte Country by Rod Moss

Young Adult Fiction
Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley

Children's Fiction
Shake a Leg by Boori Monty Pryor and illustrator Jan Ormerod

You can read details of the shortlisted works here.

From the Land of Shadows by Clive James, 1982
Cover illustraion by Hollyhead
Picador editon, 1983

Poem: George Essex Evans by J. Bufton

| No TrackBacks
Singer of pearl-purl songs,
   Beneath thy sunlit skies;
Gone from the wrecks and the wrongs
   And loosed from the toils and the ties,
   Fled as the morning mist flies,
         Sung are thy songs.

Singer of earnest strains,
   Set free, O bard, are thou;
Snapped are life's cords and its chains,
   Soothed are its griefs and its pains;
   Fair are the bays on thy brow,
         A fadeless wreath.

Singer of deathless fame
   Born of the bardic race,
Never shall perish thy name,
   Ages thy worth shall acclaim;
   Australia hath pledged thee a place
         Deep in her heart.

Singer of joys and tears,
   Thy harp yields to thy crown,
Dread not the stream of the years,
   Fear not their flowing or frown,
   Sleep in immortal renown,
         Honoured and loved.

Singer of gain and loss,
   Of Queensland's fallen sons;
Bard of the star and the moss,
   Rest in the shade of the cross,
   Rest while Eternity runs,
         And sing God's songs.

First published in The Mercury, 20 November 1909

Note: George Essex Evans died in Toowoomba, Queensland, on 10 November 1909.

See other mentions of Essex Evans on Matilda, and on Rhymes Rudely Strung.

Reprint: "The Secret Key": George Essex Evans's New Book

| No TrackBacks

Only a few weeks ago the "Queenslander" published one of the most remarkable evidences of the revenue of time that has occured in the literary world of Australia. The late John Farrell had written in unappreciative words of the poems of George Essex Evans, and when it came to the erection of the Farrell memorial the verses selected from Australian work for inscription upon it were those of the Queensland poet. Of the three verses of this poem the second is here given -- given as one of the best things in the way of memorial verse ever penned in our land:

   Build him no mockery of stone,
      Nor shame him with your idle praise;
   He liveth in his work alone
         Through all our days.

   Sleep, heart of gold, 'twas not in vain
      You loved the struggling and the poor
   And taught in sweet yet strenuous strain
         To battte and endure.

Before this John Farrell incident there was a general demand for a new book from Evans, but when the Sydney papers announced the selection of the Queenslander's work for the purpose stated the demand became a clamour, in New South Wales at least. The handsome volume now to hand from Messrs. Angus and Robertson is the result. This book contains about sixty pieces all in the best style of the poet, and of these the Commonwealth Ode (which was awarded the fifty guinea prize by the Commonwealth Government), and about twenty other poems have not hitherto apppeared in book form. This book should determine George Essex Evans's place in Australian literature up to the present time, and though the writer believes that the poet's great work has yet to be done, there is in "The Secret Key and Other Verses" sufficient to enshrine him in the hearts of all lovers of literature, to say nothing of the lovers of Australian literature. Evans would prefer to be judged on the common plane of letters, for letters in the wider sense have no restricting ambit of parish or continent. Before going to the new material which is now put within covers for the world to praise or blaspheme -- and the world will assuredly do both -- the writer has no hesitation in saying that gleaming from out of the two hundred and odd pages, there is one imperishable gem, "The Song of Gracia," written nearly twenty years ago, but evidently written under an inspiration. It has within it the finest elements of thought and poetic beauty, as well as an ineffable delicacy of expression.   Few Australian writers have approached it. It was written when Evans was a very young man, struggling into recognition with his virile, if somewhat crude, songs -- songs which smashed down occasional opposition of the intellect and went straight to the heart. And now to refer to what will to the general mass of readers be new work. "The Secret Key," from which the title of the volume is taken, is a fine bit of constructive thought, with the gorgeousness at times of Marlowe, and yet with a polish which indicates careful inner criticism -- a rather dangerous thing with one whose mission is to create. This poem -- probably it will be extended some day -- we may give as illustrative of the latest of the poet's work:

   There is a magic kingdom of strange powers,
   Thought-hidden, lit by other stars than ours;
   And, when a wanderer through its mazes brings
   Word of things seen, men say: "A poet sings."
   Its gates are guarded in a sterile land ---
   Mountain, and deep morass, and shifting sand;
   Storm-barred are they, and may not opened be
   Save by the hand that finds the secret key.
   That key, some say, lies in the sunset glow,
   Or the white arc of dawn, or where the flow
   Of some lone river stems the shoreward wave
   In shuddering silver on its ocean grave.
   Some say that when the wind wars with the sea,
   In that stern music, one may find the key;
   Or, in green glooms of forests, where the pine
   Uplifts her spear amid great wreaths of vine,
   Or, where the steaming mist's white rollers climb
   The dark ravine and precipice sublime ---
   A filmy sea that twines and intertwines
   Wreathes the low hills, and veils the mighty lines
   Of sovran mountains, crimsoned and aglow
   In crystal pomp, crested with jewelled snow;
   But still, with souls afire, men seek that land,
   And die in deep morass and drifting sand.
   To those alone its iron gates are free,
   Who find, within their hearts, the secret key;
   For Earth, with all the colour of her day,
   Is not their country --- that lies far away.

"That" in the last line is italicised. Another work of much power is "The Sword of Pain." This was written after Evans had gone through a serious opera-tion in the Toowoomba Hospital, but there is nothing sordid in the work; in deed, it glows with magnificent imagery and preaches a sermon of spiritual beauty and eternal confidence. All that is well shown in the concluding lines:

   Behold I saw in purest air afar
      A great light dawn and widen and increase,
   With white flame crested like a perfect star,
      Above the Sword of Pain -- the Crown of Peace!

Again, among the new things is "Cymru," which men of Welsh blood will read for its splendid expression of the history of their land, and all who relish a great flow of sustained energy and brilliant work will revel in, because it gives them these things. Take these three poems, "The Secret Key," "The Sword of Pain," and "Cymru,'' and it will be difficult to find their equal in all that has been done in our land by the poets living or those who are taking their rest. But the things named do not make the volume; there are other things, old friends and new, which appeal to the heart and to the intellect. There are the philosophies of the poet and his simple songs, and his railings at conditions, and sometimes his scoldings, and the bulk of that fine narrative poem, "Loraine." From "Out of the Silence" the first four verses are given:

   Here in the silence cometh unto me
      A song that is not mine,
      With wash of waves along the cold shore line,
   And sob of wind, and rain upon the sea.
   It is the song and message of the dead!
      Around my soul to-night
      I feel the kinship of the Infinite,
   I hear the sound of voices that are fled.
   And as beneath the viewless angel's wing
      Bethesda's pool was stirred.
      My heart is troubled by the mystic word
   Of one who through my soul and lips would sing.
   There is no note of wailing in the strain,
      But resonant and deep,
      Out of the vastness, doth the music sweep,
   Into the silence dieth it again.

The poem is altogether beautiful, and it would be a joy to further quote. Those who enjoy Evans's more earthy key will find him in "The Average Man," "A Commonplace Song," " The Wheels of the System," "Ode to the Philistines," and in other places. The apostrophe to Toowoomba, "The Mountain Queen," is in the style of a laureate, but none the less a good thing. Taking the book by and large, it well deserves the best welcome Australia can give it, and it may be remarked that it comes just at a happy time, at a time when folk are puzzled what to send to friends in or out of Australia. What better Christmas gift could there be from a Queenslander than the fine work of a Queensland poet, work of which every Queenslander and every Australian may be proud of, so filled is it with dignity and with charm.

First published in The Queenslander, 29 December 1906

Note: you can read the full text of The Secret Key and Other Verses by George Essex Evans courtesy of Australian Digital Collections from The University of Sydney.

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

Combined Reviews: Glissando by David Musgrave

| No TrackBacks
glissando.jpg    Glissando
David Musgrave
Sleepers Publishing

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2011 Prime Minister's Literary Award - Fiction category.]

From the publisher's page:
When looking back over his life, Archie Fliess has got some understanding to do. So begins his sprawling reflection, from the day the fortunes of two brothers change when they're taken to be the rightful owners of their granfather's property in country NSW. Along their journey they're introduced to an odd collection of family and caretakers, who don't always have the boys' best interests at heart. Archie becomes embroiled in the mystery surrounding his grandfather's life, as their two stories of disappointment and failed ambition unravel.

Glissando travels along many threads with a playful, philosophical voice in a style reminiscent of Sterne's Tristram Shandy and White's Voss. It has a burlesque bravado similar to Steve Tolt's Fraction of the Whole. It's an Australia classic, a satirical romp of epic proportions.


Geordie Williamson in "The Australian": "Don't, whatever you do, mistake David Musgrave's first extended prose fiction for a novel...Recall instead the satires of Pope, Swift, Rabelais and Thomas Pynchon: parodists, whose intentions could not be more serious, storytellers whose characters are not facsimiles of the human so much as super-sized grotesques, scintillating minds on stilts...But Glissando is also something apart from these. Satire on the European model requires a shared moral framework, an unspoken agreement about what a culture's philosophical underpinnings may be. In these pages, an eccentric Viennese architect named Wilhelm Fliess arrives in rural NSW during the middle years of the 19th century, hopeful of building a house based on designs far from Europe's deadening norms. In keeping with his high-minded Mitteleuropean ideals, Wilhelm has legal documents drawn up to ensure that the traditional owners of the land he purchased will not be dispossessed...Like its great progenitors, Glissando is a work bursting with erudition on matters as various as architecture, music, gastronomy and psychoanalysis. It locates itself in a literary tradition two millenniums old. And yet, there are times when Musgrave leaves the reservation of morals and mores, abandons the blend of knockabout physical farce and pure intellectual play typical to such satire, and goes walkabout. He knows the alien nature of Australian experience has the potential to upset every Western assumption, however wittily stated or nobly deployed."

Genevieve Tucker on her "reeling and writhing" weblog: "Glissando is remarkably close to its name in its inception and execution: a ripple across strings previously played by others, to largely dramatic effect, with a melancholic afterglow...The strings have been noted by others - Murnane and White come to mind (think plains, hidden properties, maps, remarkable houses, Voss-like travels, a melancholy narrator.)...The problem with this book to me, if there is one at all (and I think I'm nitpicking when I say this), is that dipping into such a potent mix carries the hazard of producing a pastiche from the contents. I think Musgrave manages to avoid this, but it is a narrow escape...It is pretty much imperative that one has read Voss before reading this, and reading Gerald Murnane's The Plains wouldn't hurt either. Having read David Marr's biography of Patrick White just prior was, for this reader, one of those remarkable reading coincidences - is it accident that the Fliess grandfather is a great collector, as was one of White's uncles at the fabled Belltrees? I don't think so. That music has a dying fall indeed."

Lisa Hill on the "ANZ LitLovers" weblog: "There is no doubt about it: Australian writing has become much more interesting lately. For a while there our literary fiction was in danger of drowning in heavy-handed lyricism, with novels so weighed down by a sludge of symbols and metaphor that the hapless reader could hardly wade through it all. One after the other first-time novelists emerged from their respective creative writing schools in the same mould; it was not a good time to be a keen supporter of Australian literature!..But the recent crop of first time writers seem to be offering something new and playfully inventive. Glenda Guest entertains with magic realism in Siddon Rock, and now David Musgrave has come up with Glissando, a wonderfully comic pastiche deliberately drawing on literary traditions both familiar or obscure. "

Madeleine Smith for "Readings" bookshop: "As the title suggests, Glissando is a musical piece of writing, gliding effortlessly from one pitch to another. David Musgrave is a Sydney based poet-turned-novelist, and his talent for rhythm and imagery are apparent on every page. Told with wit and sharp humour, particularly when describing a series of fanciful and surreal theatre performances, Glissando is a story that shines with elegant prose, philosophical musings, and interesting snippets of early Australian colonial history."

Kimberley Chandler on "M/C Reviews" website: "The text is lyrical and descriptive, playful and beautifully structured. It is obvious that Musgrave's talent as a poet has been a strong driving force in the structure and development of this book."

Glissando was shortlisted for a 2011 New South Wales Premier's Award in the category of New Writing. The judges had this to say about the book: "This comic pastiche of a novel is a marvellous and witty tale of young Archie and his half-brother, Reggie, orphans who grow up fostered by the bizarre Madame Octave in an absurdist outback Australia peopled by exaggerated characters, hymned by wild music and ruled by ironic situations...While Musgrave plays shamelessly with literary allusions, Colonial history, food critics, obsessive architects, and our view of Australia as a tabula rasa to be built on, there is serious intent in his writing when he speaks of Australia's black history and the lack of restitution in a pre-Mabo world. This is a thoroughly contemporary novel, where the Theatre of the Absurd becomes real life, and where events point a wise finger at our national illusions."


Bookseller and Publisher
Jo Case for "Reading" bookshop.

Reprint: Letter to the Editor: George Essex Evans

| No TrackBacks

Sir, - In your interesting sketch of G. Essex Evans in to-day's issue you omit all reference to his residence in Gympie, in the latter eighties. He was then land agent there, and I came in frequent contact with him -- we both boarded at May Villa, kept by Mrs. Rowe. We became intimate, and I remember perusing the manuscript of his poem, "The Repentance of Magdelen Despair," at his request. It was published in the Queenslander. I noticed some erasures in the first sheet. He suffered from acute deafness at that time, and it was my custom to pour into his ears some liquid from a bottle. He was always genial, but quiet. He was full of pluck, as on one occasion he gave an obnoxious boarder a richly deserved thrashing. He introduced some collie dogs, which were kept in the back yard. He was, I think, a dog fancier. I found him rather sensitive. On one occasion he asked me to scan some poetry he had composed, but as I was writing a letter to catch the evening mail I asked him to wait a few minutes. He didn't return, however. He made many friends in Gympie, and his early death was much regretted. He was a great poet, and, as a man, strictly just and fair in his judgments.

- I am. sir. &c


Sandgate, October 14. 

First published in The Brisbane Courier, 18 October 1927

Note: the "sketch" referred to in the first sentence of this letter can be read here.

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


The Crystal Bucket: Television Criticism from the Observer 1976-79 by Clive James
Cover photograph by Peter Williams
Picador edition, 1982

Peter Salmon Interview

| No TrackBacks
coffee_story.jpg   Peter Salmon is an Australian writer now living in England, and his first novel, The Coffee Story, will be released later this week. The publishers, Hachette, describe it as "A wild, caffeine-fuelled deathbed confession of love and betrayal that spans four continents." The author was interviewed for Readings bookshop by Kabita Dhara.

Coffee, its production and consumption, obviously plays a major role in your novel. There are beautifully evocative passages describing the roasting and grinding and preparation of the perfect cup of coffee, and some of your characters have an encyclopaedic knowledge of coffee. Where did your particular interest in coffee come from? And how do you brew your perfect cup?

Legend has it my first words were 'cup coff' so it was obviously there pretty early. And working at the wonderful Readings in Lygon Street cemented the love. It really is the best drink in the world. As for the perfect cup, the best coffee I've ever had was the coffee I had in Harar recently - a superb coffee is taken for granted, and any family that beckons you to join them will always have a glorious cup for you. I hate tea, by the way. Just so you know.

You have a very distinctive style. Which books and writers do you think have influenced you stylistically? And which books and writers do you look to for inspiration?

As I said, I'm not a lover of the 'well-crafted novel' - I like a book that is not afraid to digress, to obfuscate, and do the odd thing that annoys the reader. I really like the strange ... Books like Memoirs of My Mental Illness by Judge Schreber, and The Robber by Robert Walser (best opening lines ever - 'Edith loves him. More on this later.'). Plus Proust and Henry James, both of whom are far stranger than they are given credit for. But I guess if there is one book that informs The Coffee Story more than any other, it's The Book of Daniel by E.L. Doctorow - frankly, I owe him most of the royalties. Don't tell him though. Please.

Poem: Sonnet by Catherine Helen Spence

| No TrackBacks
When will some new Australian poet rise?
   To all the height and glory of his theme?
   Nor on the sombre side for ever dream ---
Our bare baked plains, our pitiless blue skies,
'Neath which the haggard bushman strains his eyes
   To find some waterhole or hidden stream
   To save himself and flocks in want extreme!
This is not all Australia! Let us prize
Our grand inheritance! Had sunny Greece
More light, more glow, more freedom, or more mirth?
   Ours are wide vistas, bathed in purest air ---
   Youth's outdoor pleasures, age's indoor peace;
Where could we find a fairer home on earth
   Which we ourselves are free to make more fair?

First published in The Register, 8 January 1903
It takes more than two generations to create a distinctive national character, but we can see, even in that time, that something has been done. The patronising judgment of a leading English journal 30 years ago that the Australian was merely the Englishman in a warm climate, and with more primitive conditions, would not be repeated now. Our climate, in spite of its drawbacks of excessive heat and dryness in summer, is a better one than that of the British Isles, and our conditions can be modified and improved by Australian enterprise and Australian commonsense. Federation must play a part in the development of patriotism, and in time it will lessen the jealousy of the states with regard to each other, though in early days it may appear to intensify it. It is, perhaps, when we travel abroad, and came upon the seed of the eucalyptus planted in California or near Rome, or have a sight of wattle bloom grown in an English hothouse, that the strong ties that bind us to our fair Southern Land are most keenly felt. But what is the figure that the Australian makes in the literature which is indigenous to its soil? Henry Kendall and Marcus Clarke and Adam Lindsay Gordon struck the keynote of pessimism; and in prose as well as in verse the deadbeat, the remittance man, the gaunt shepherd with his starving flocks and herds, the free selector on an arid patch, the drink shanty where the rouseabouts and shearers knock down their cheques, the race meeting where high and low, rich and poor, are filled with the gambler's spirit and cursed with the gambler's ill-luck, fill the foreground of the picture of Australian life. There are occasional episodes more cheerful and more tender, but the impression given to the outside world is that in the fight with Nature, which is man's task everywhere, he is oftener worsted in Australia than anywhere else. Misfortune is more picturesque than prosperity. Balzac said vice was better for literary purposes than virtue, and there is a modern wave of pessimism in literature which is felt all over the world. Australia, being the most distant place where the black sheep of the family can be sent, has been utilized for the relegation of the unfit -- who may come back for another tug at the paternal pursestrings -- and the remittance man, who is promised pecuniary help so long as he remains where he is sent; and these may be called picturesque, but they are neither useful nor ornamental.

Australia's splendid climate has tempted hundreds and thousands of delicate men who could not live and work in England to make the change to the antipodes, in many cases with the greatest success. In all the professions, especially in the Church and in the press, Australia's intellectual life has been enriched by tbe labours of such men, whom nothing but health would have induced to leave the land of their birth. Dr. Andrew Garran, who died last year at the age of 75, had 50 years of good work on the press -- of Adelaide first, and then on that of Sydney -- and in the New South Wales Legislaure, after having wintered in Madeira, where there was no work to do, and where there was a depressing population of invalids. No one had a higher idea of the pleasantness of Australian life, or of the greatness of the Australian future, than this veteran journalist to the end of his life. We should not take the opinions of wealthy Australian travellers picking out the English summer, going to the most lovely spots, moving from place to place, and impressed by the completeness and the finish of all the arrangements made for their comfort, but we should see how young Australians who have to live all the year round in London, in Manchester, or in Edinburgh, long for the bright skies, the pure air, the grand vistas of their native land. The tales told "While the Billy Boils" are not all tragedies. There are deadbeats all over the world, more's the pity, but the Australian tramp is not so wretched as the tramp where the rain it raineth every day, or where frost and snow intensify the pangs of hunger and the need of shelter and fire.

No one would think in reading the poems and sketches which are said to be so characteristic of Australia that the prevalent note of Australia is good humour and commonsense. This is what Mr. Percy Rowland, writing in The Nineteenth Century for September, after some years' residence in Australia, emphatically declares; but, curiously, he says that though there is so much good humour, there is not much original humour. Our omnibus drivers and cabbies have not the skill in repartee of the Irish jarvie or of the London bus driver. But he owns that we can appreciate a joke when we hear it, and that is a step in the right direction. We are still sensitive to outside criticism -- the Americans were so up to their great civil war -- but if Anthony Trollope revisited us from the Shades he would not find Australians so addicted to blow as they were. We had not a civil war -- we had a financial crisis which did us much good. The Australian is a born speculator, sprung from a race of speculators; but since the crisis enterprise has been directed more towards production, and there have been continuous, varied, aud patient experiments, individual and co-operative, to make the best and the most of the soil and the climate and the labour we have. Where is there a more patient, polite, or good-humoured crowd than in Australia? Visitors from England and foreign countries at the inauguration of the Commonwealth in Sydney, and at the opening of the Federal Parliament by the Duke of York in Melbourne, could not admire too much the orderly, well dressed, cheerful, crowds who waited hours on the line of march. Even our race meetings command the praise that they are managed better and are more respectable than such gatherings elsewhere. Why should our poets and storytellers ignore the joyousness of Australian life, the eagerness with which outings are organised for old and young for both sexes, not only excursions by day but moonlight trips in summer, where the billy is boiled and simple fare is eaten with relish? How few think that the ubiquitous sandwich sacred to picnics, and such hospitality as is open to slender means, was introduced by Lord Sandwich, an inveterate gambler, to prevent the high play in which he delighted being interrupted by the impertinence of supper? An epigram of the time couples him with a brother peer, Lord Spencer, who also made an innovation, but his was in dress:--

   Two noble lords whom, if I quote,
      Some folks will call me Sinner;
   The one invented half a coat,
      The other half a dinner.

Ralph Nickleby may keep the memory of the Spencerian literature, but the sandwich will live as long as the Sandwich Islands, which also had their name, from the worthless First Lord of the Admiralty. Australia has one great handicap- - to use an appropriate phrase, for the horse-loving Commonwealth -- in its prolonged and excessive droughts, but these are not universal: and the enterprise and the patience and the capital of the Australians will minimise the evils when they can be dealt with, and their prudence will lead them to leave hopeless districts   severely alone. We want, as Matthew Arnold says of life, "to see Australia steadily and to see it whole." The one-sided pictures which our pessimistic poets and writers present are false in the impression they make on the outside world and on ourselves. They lead us to forget the beauty and the brightness of the world we life in.

First published in The Register, 22 November 1902

Note: this piece was originally published as an editorial in the Adelaide newspaper without a byline.  However, the piece was later reprinted in Catherine Helen Spence, UQP, 1987.

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

Currently Reading

The Troubled Man

The Troubled Man by Henning Menkell
Menkell's last "Kurt Wallander" novel. As the detective investigates the disappearance of his daughter's future parents-in-law he encounters dark clouds everywhere, including his own life, past and future.



Shatter by Michael Robotham
This 2008 Ned Kelly Award winner is an excellent thriller featuring a revenge-seeking ex-army killer, and a physically and mentally scarred psychologist who races to avoid being the next victim.


Recently Read

Odd and the Frost Giants

Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
Gaiman's coming-of-age story about a crippled boy and his attempt to save Asgard from the Frost Giants.


Goldilocks Enigma

The Goldilocks Enigma by Paul Davies
Davies's investigation into why the universe is like it is - "weak", "strong" and "final" anthropic theories all get a going over.


The Devil and Sherlock Holmes.jpg

The Devil and Sherlock Holmes by David Grann
A collection of Grann's journalism featuring tales of murder, madness and obsession. Varied but generally fairly interesting, and sometimes just plain bizarre.



Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Gladwell's investigation of why some people are more successful than others. Interesting but not up to his previous work.



The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin
Rankin's second novel featuring his new detective Malcolm Fox of The Complaints. There are echoes of Rebus here, but it still has some way to go to reach those heights.


Bomb, Book and Compass

 Bomb, Book and Compass by Simon Winchester
The amazing tale of Joseph Needham and his exploration of the history of China. The story is very interesting even though the writing is somewhat flat.



 The Lost City of Z by David Grann
The story of Percy Fawcett's obsessive search for a lost city in the Amazon. It cost him his life in 1925 but he might just have been right.



 The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Grossman's take on the "magician-in-training" fantasy sub-sub-genre. Starts off being rather derivative but slowly morphs into something very interesting.



 The Years That the Locust Hath Eaten by Marjorie Quinn
The long-delayed publication of the memoirs of Sydney poet Marjorie Quinn. An intimate portrait of the Sydney literary scene between the wars and one woman's struggle for a literary life.


About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from July 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

June 2011 is the previous archive.

August 2011 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Monthly Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.23-en