February 2012 Archives

Reprint: "Poems" by Charles Harpur

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We are glad to see the works of the late Charles Harpur rescued from their fugitive and disconnected state of existence, and given a fair chance of long life by being collected in a substantial and presentable volume. Those who now read his works for the first time will be surprised that a man who had advanced so far in the path of lyrical achievement should be so little known, and so seldom referred to. Considering the outcry that is so often made against Australian poets, on the ground that their work is simply English poetry transplanted; that it lacks the voice, colour, and flavour of Australia, and that it might as well have been written anywhere else, for aught of characteristic spirit it has absorbed from its surroundings; it is, indeed, surprising that this writer, who fulfilled just such requirements as are desiderated in such strictures; who was, in truth, all compact of the very essence of his environment; is not more fondly cherished and more proudly pointed to as a genuine representative of Au tralian song. Our reading public may at least rely upon this, that the future historian of Au tralian literature will take large account of Charles Harpur as one of the true pioneers of poetry on this continent; not merely treading in other men's paths, but impelled by his own inward force to traverse new regions, with no guide but his own spontaneous muse. It has been remarked by critics that Harpur lacks smoothness, and it is impossible to deny that almost any man of culture and versatile talent could take many of his verses and "lick them into shape." But we question very much whether they would gain anything by the polishing process. In many passages there is something pleasingly sturdy in the very uncouthness of the mode of expression. There is not a page in all the book, however bristling with discords, in which the highly developed poetic temperament does not overcome the obstacles of speech through sheer force of earnestness, and through a communicative vividness of imagination that compels the reader to feel that he is under the sway of a genuine master. It has been said, in excuse for the roughness of his speech, that

   All of his aptest years were passed
   In primal solitudes wild and vast;

but it seems to us that this rather supplies the clue to his excellence than the excuse for his defect. In no other school could he have acquired such capacity of observation, such mastery of nature in all her moods, or such an intenseness of what we can only call "insight," which is the most authentic mark of the true poetical genius. In what other school could he have learned to use such an expression as we have italicised in the following quotation?--

   Instinctively, along the sultry sky
   I turn a listless, yet inquiring, eye;
   And mark that now with a slow, gradual, pace
   A solemn trance creams northward o'er its face.

What other mode of culture could have given him the power to conjure words into vehement noonday heat? as when he writes--

   For round each crag, and o'er each bosky swell,
   The fierce refracted heat flares visible,
   Lambently restless, like the dazzling horn
   Of some else viewless veil held trembling over them.

In what book could he have learned to note and so to express one of the signs of a coming storm? as thus--

   Why cease the locusts to throng up in flight,
   And clap their gay wings in the fervent light?
   Why climb they, bodingly demure, instead
   The tallest spear-grass to the bending head?

What university curriculum could have enabled him to improve upon such a passage as this from his "Address to the Comet of 1843?"--

            And when the flaming steps
   Of thy unspeakable speed, which of itself
   Blows back the long strands of thy burning hair
   Through half the arch of night
, shall lead thee forth
   Into the dim of the inane, beyond
   Our utmost vision; all the eloquent eyes
   Now open wide with welcome and with wonder --
   Eyes tender as the turtle's, or that speak
   The fervent soul and the majestic mind;
   All these, alas ! --- all these, ere thou once more
   Shalt drive thus fulgently around the sun
   Thy chariot of fire, fast closed in dust
   And mortal darkness, shall have given for aye
   Their lustre to the grave.

We regret that we have not space for extended criticism, or for such sufficiency of quotation as might enable us to justify our estimate of the book. We heartily commend it to all lovers of Australian literature, and as heartily join the aspiration which concludes Mrs. Harpur's pathetic dedication of her late husband's work to the Australian people--that it may "be found not unworthy to take a place in the literature of every English-speaking community."

First published in The Queenslander, 13 October 1883

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

Australian Bookcovers #295 - Conference-ville by Frank Moorhouse

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Conference-ville by Frank Moorhouse, 1976
Cover photograph by Maikka Trupp. Cover design by Mary Callahan.
Picador edition, 1996

Best Books of the Year: Locus Recommended Reading List

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Locus styles itself "the magazine of the Science Fiction and Fantasy field", so items on their list can safely be said to fit those genres, plus young adult, horror, supernatural etc etc.

Their Recommended Reading List for 2011 includes the following Australian entries:

Novel - Science Fiction
The Clockwork Rocket by Greg Egan

Young Adult Books
Eona by Alison Goodman
Goliath by Scott Westfeld

Yellowcake by Margo Lanagan
Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts
Matilda Told Such Dreadful Lies: The Essential Lucy Sussex by Lucy Sussex

Anthologies - Original

Ghosts by Gaslight edited by Jack Dann & Nick Gevers
Eclipse Four edited by Jonathan Strahan
Life on Mars: Tales of the New Frontier edited by Jonathan Strahan

Anthologies - Reprint
The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Five edited by Jonathan Strahan

"Moth's Take" by Isobelle Carmody
"Catastrophic Disruption of the Head" by Margo Lanagan

Short Stories
"The Beancounter's Cat" by Damien Broderick
"The Shadowwes Box" by Terry Dowling
"Mulberry Boys" by Margo Lanagan
"The Patrician" by Tansy Rayner Roberts
"All You Can Do is Breathe" by Kaaron Warren

My apologies if I've missed anyone.

Poem: The Poet Heart by Emily Bulcock

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Lest through grey days all gleams depart
God gave to man the poet heart.
The heart that stores, for darkened hours,
The sunshine and the scent from flowers,
The fragrance of the morning breeze,
And weaves them into melodies!
None but himself may hear the song:
He hears it all his sweet life long.
Folks wonder why he should be gay
Who trudges on his lonely way:
They only see a desert track,
A weary form, a heavy pack.
And yet, for him, green places smile,
And unseen choirs the way beguile.

Others, less dowered, may glimpse at times
The fairy dell -- hear sweet flower-chimes!
For every man a poet is --
When life's supremest gifts are his!
But in the clangor of the mart,
Swiftly men lose the poet heart.
But he who drinks of beauty deep
Can hush his fiercest griefs asleep,
And when the Calvary way is long
He turns to pluck some flower of song!

First published in The Bulletin, 9 December 1922

Empty-Handed Heart

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If you've ever wondered how you should write a book pitch for a publisher then check out John Birmingham's latest.

Writing's hard, we know that.  But do you really have to do it day after day in the same clothes?

The C.J. Dennis poem "Wheat" was recently recited at an Australia Day festival in Cootamundra.  It was chosen as 2012 is the Australian Year of the Farmer.

Clive James is back reviewing television for "The Telegraph" - always a good thing.

James Bradley has been noticeably absent from the blogging field for the past couple of months, but it looks like he's back now.  And, by the way, he's been a tad busy in the meantime.

And Chong is back from Paris checking out Petty (that's Bruce, not Tom), and listening to the "Lexicon Valley" podcast, which sounds rather interesting.  I struggle to keep up with the ones I already listen to but this one might force itself in anyway. 

Reprint: "Angry Penguins" Will be Angrier: Hoaxers Scored

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Last week "The Mail" told the story of Ern Malley, the poet "discovered" by Mr. Max Harris, and introduced to the literary public in 30 pages of the "Angry Penguins."

This week it can be told that the Ern Malley poems were one afternoon's work for two Sydney University graduates, now in the Army, who set out to debunk pretentious modern poetry because, they say, "its devotees are insensible of absurdity and incapable of ordinary discrimination."

How the works of Ern Malley were deliberately concocted without intention of poetic meaning or merit was told by their authors to "Fact," a section of the supplement to the Sydney "Sunday Sun."

The Malley writings were published in a special "Ern Malley" commemorative issue of the Ade- laide literary journal, "Angry Penguins," which ranked the fictitious Ern Malley as "one of the two giants of contemporary Australian poetry," and devoted 30 pages to an allegedly posthumous poet who had never lived.

The "works of Ern Malley," were written in collaboration by two Australian poets, James McAuley and Harold Stewart.

Stewart, who lived at Croydon, New South Wales, is a corporal at present in a military hospital. He is 27.

Lieutenant McAuley, A.I.F., lived at Homebush. He is 26.

Both are from Sydney, where they were educated at Fort Street High School, and attended Sydney University. They are attached to the same Army unit stationed at Melbourne.

The identity of Ern Malley and the merits attributed to the writings under that name provoked Australia's most remarkable literary controversy.

Co-authors McAuley and Stewart this week made the following joint statement and explanation. "We decided to carry out a serious literary experiment. There was no feeling of personal malice directed against Mr. Max Harris, co-editor of "Angry Penguins."

"Nor was there any intention of having the matter publicised in the press.

"For some years now we have observed with distaste the gradual decay of meaning and craftsmanship in poetry.

"Mr. Max Harris and other 'Angry Penguin' writers represent an Australian outcrop of a literary fashion which has become prominent in England and America.

"A distinctive feature of the fashion, it seemed to us, was that it rendered its devotees insensible of absurdity and incapable of ordinary discrimination.

"Our feeling was that by processes of critical self-delusion and mutual admiration, the perpetrators of this humorless nonsense had managed to pass it off on would-be 'intellectuals' and 'Bohemians' here and abroad as great poetry.

"Their work appeared to us to be a collection of garish images without coherent meaning and structure, as if one erected a coat of bright paint and called it a house.

Testing a Theory

"However, it was possible that we had simply failed to penetrate to the inward substance of these productions. The only way of settling the matter was by experiment.

"It was, after all, fair enough. If Mr. Harris proved to have sufficient discrimination to reject the poems, then the tables would have been turned.

"What we wished to find out was, can those who write and those who praise so lavishly this kind of writing tell the real product from consciously and deliberately concocted nonsense?

"It was our contention, which we desired to prove by this experiment, that they could not.

"We gave birth to 'Ern Malley.' We represented Ern through his equally fictitious sister, 'Ethel Malley,' as having been a garage mechanic and an insurance salesman who wrote but never pub- lished the 'poems,' found after his tragic end at the age of 25 by his sister, who sent them to 'Angry Penguins' for opinion.  

"We produced the whole of Ern Malley's tragic life work in one afternoon with the aid of a chance collection of books which happened to be on our desk -- the Concise Oxford Dictionary, collected Shakespeare, dictionary of quotations, etc.

"We opened books at random, choosing a word or phrase haphazardly.

"We made lists of these and wove them into nonsensical sentences.

"We misquoted and made false allusions. We deliberately perpetrated bad verse and selected awkward rhymes from Ripman's rhyming dictionary.

"In parts we even abandoned metre altogether and made free verse cacaphonous. Our rules of composition were not difficult --

"1. There most be no coherent theme, at most only confused and inconsistent hints at meaning held out as a bait to the rader.

"2. No care was taken with verse technique except occasionally to accentuate its general sloppiness by deliberate crudities.

"3. In style, poems were to imitate not Mr. Harris in particular but the whole literary fashion as we knew it.

"Having completed the poems, we wrote a very pretentious and meaningless 'preface and statement' which purported to explain the aesthetic theory on which they were based.

"Then we elaborated the details of the alleged poet's life. This took more time than the composition of his works.

What it Proves

"Mr. Harris and Mr. John Reed, co-editors of 'Angry Penguins,' Mr. Harry Roskolenko, American poet in the United States Forces, who had some 'Ern Malley' poems published in New York in an anthology of Australian verse he collected, and others, accepted these poems as having considerable merit.

"However, that fact does not, as it might seem to do, prove their complete lack of intelligence.

"It proves something far more interesting. It proves that a literary fashion can become so hypnotically powerful that it can suspend the operation of critical intelligence in quite a large number of people.

"We feel that the experiment could have been equally successful in England. Apparently it was in America to the extent that the publisher was taken in.

Growth of School

"A literary movement such as the one we aimed at debunking began with the 'dadaist' movement in France during the last war.

"This gave birth to the 'surrealist' movement, which was followed in England by the 'new apocalypse' school, while the Australian counterparts are 'Angry Penguins.'

"This cultism resembles on a small scale the progress of certain European political parties.

"An efficient publicity apparatus is switched on to beat the big drum and drown opposition.

"Doubters are shamed to silence by the fear of appearing stupid or -- worse crime -- if anyone raises his voice in protest, he is mobbed with shrill invective.

"The faithful, meanwhile, to keep their spirits up, shout encouragements and slogans, and gather in groups, so as to have no time to think.

"For the Ern Malley poems there cannot even be as a lost resort any valid surrealist claim that, even if they have no literary value, which it has been said they do possess, they are at least 'psychological documents.' They are not even that.

No Literary Merit

"They are the conscious product of minds intentionally interrupting each other's trains of free association; and altering and revising them after they are written down.

"So they have not even psychological value.

"And, as we have already explained conclusively, the writings of Ern Malley are utterly devoid of literary merit as poetry.

"James McAuley.

"Harold Stewart."

Corporal Stewart, subsequently added:-- "The first three lines of the poem, 'Culture Is Exhibit,' were lifted straight from an American report on the drainage of breeding grounds of mosquitoes.

"They were quoted to indicate that they had been lifted as a quotation.

"The alleged quotation from Lenin heading one of the poems. 'The Emotions Are Not Skilled Workers,' is quite phoney."

Among the writers named in 'Who is Ern Malley?'' conjectures were Professor J. L. M. Stewart, of Adelaide University, who is also a detective novelist, Michael Innes,   Douglas Stewart (Sydney writer and poet) and "Angry Penguin" Max Harris.

First published in The Mail, 24 June 1944

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

Combined Review: Whispering Death by Garry Disher

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whispering_death.jpg    Whispering Death
Garry Disher
Text Publishing

From the publisher's page:
Hal Challis is in trouble at home and abroad: carpeted by the boss for speaking out about police budget cuts; missing his lover, Ellen Destry, who is overseas on a study tour.

But there's plenty to keep his mind off his problems. A rapist in a police uniform stalks Challis's Peninsula beat, there is a serial armed robber headed in his direction and a home invasion that's a little too close to home. Not to mention a very clever, very mysterious female cat burglar who may or may not be planning something on Challis's patch.

Meanwhile, at the Waterloo Police Station, Challis finds his offsiders have their own issues. Scobie Sutton, still struggling with his wife's depression, seems to be headed for a career crisis; and something very interesting is going on between Constable Pam Murphy and Jeanne Schiff, the feisty young sergeant on secondment from the Sex Crimes Unit.

In his sixth Peninsula murder mystery, Garry Disher keeps the tension and intrigue ramped up exquisitely on multiple fronts, while he takes his regular characters in compelling new directions. Disher is a grand master of the police procedural, operating at the peak of his craft.


Sue Turnbull in "The Age": "Disher is a fine writer about place and also people. Challis, in all his testiness and kindness, is a carefully crafted senior policeman in charge of a disparate group of juniors, each of whom has their moment in the spotlight as they go about the business of policing.

The business this time includes the spraying of derogatory comments on the ostentatious gateposts of the nouveau riche (''A cashed-up bogan lives here''), a bank hold-up and a devious female cat burglar who almost runs away with the show (shades of Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth Salander?)."

Bernard Carpinter in "New Zealand Listener": "...double Ned Kelly Award-winner Garry Disher brings all this [story] to vivid life with great characterisation, dialogue and plot movement, and a fair amount of shrewd wit. Excellent."

Graeme Blundell in "The Australian": "Disher works like a biographer, calmly attempting to assemble order in his characters' chaotic lives. Disher cares about their interlinked worlds as much as he does about labyrinthine plots, fetishised violence and the showy brainwork of his coppers. As always this grand master propels us methodically yet elegiacally."

"Mysteries in Paradise" weblog: "WHISPERING DEATH affirms that Garry Disher is a master storyteller, a tight and consummate plotter, a writer who could sit on any international podium along with richer and more famous crime fiction writers."

Karen on the "CrimeSpace" weblog: "WHISPERING DEATH is written in that beautifully dry, laconic style that Disher has bought to these police procedurals. He also does such a great line in caustic social commentary - be it in Challis having a go about politicians or to the nature of the graffiti showing up on those enormous (perfectly ridiculous really) property entrances that seem to have become the scourge of the tree / sea change areas. Graffiti with a social conscience and a particularly fine sense of the humour."

Bernadette on the "Fair Dinkum Crime" weblog: "Sometimes in fiction long-running characters feel like they're in a kind of suspended animation so that each time we meet them they're having the same problems (such as an unresolved sexual tension between two characters). Disher allows his regular characters to move on in their professional and personal lives in a way that is very natural and more satisfying for the reader, though it probably means the author has to work harder to find new sources of suspense and tension in each story."

"Australian Crime Fiction Database" weblog: "Suffice it to say that it is a very solid police procedural novel that crime fans will enjoy immensely. I am a little biased because I have enjoyed the previous Peninsula mysteries and am a long-time Disher fan."


You can read the first chapter of the novel on the author's website.

Reprint: Literary Hoax: "Doctorates" Awarded

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SYDNEY, July 2. - The degree of Doctor of Science in Oxometry has been awarded to the hoax poet, Ern Malley, by the Sydney University Oxometrical Society. Copies of the degree have been given to the two former Sydney University students, Lt James McAuley and Cpl Harold Stewart, who wrote the poems, which were published in the Adelaide literary magazine "Angry Penguins" and hailed by the magazine's editor, Max Harris, as the work of a giant of contemporary Australian poetry.

The real authors have confessed
that they thought their Malley poetry was nonsense. The word "oxometry" is not to be found in any dictionary but is defined by Mr R. N. Bracewell, president of the society, as "'very pretentious talk." The emblem of the society is a bull.

Mr Bracewell said that McAuley
and Stewart had shown a commendable, impartial attitude in conducting an investigation into the oxogenic structure of some contemporary poetry.

The affair has been laughingly
hailed in university circles as Australia's greatest literary hoax. Lt McAuley is a frequent contributor of lyric poetry to many Australian literary journals, and Cpl Stewart, who is at present a patient in a military hospital near Sydney, is also a capable poet.

The American poet, Harry Rosko
lenko, who is at present in Australia with the US Army, selected two of the Ern Malley poems for inclusion in the Australian poetry number of the American magazine "Voices." When the Malley hoax was revealed Roskolenko claimed that the hoaxers had hoaxed themselves by writing poems of which they could feel proud, but so far neither McAuley nor Stewart has appeared anxious to claim serious recognition for their masterpieces of debunking.

First published in The West Australian, 3 July 1944

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

Australian Bookcovers #294 - Dark Palace by Frank Moorhouse

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Dark Palace by Frank Moorhouse, 2000
Jacket painting: Priestess of Delphi by John Collier, 1891
Knopf edition 2000

Kate Grenville Interviews

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kate_grenville.jpg    As Kate Grenville's latest novel, Sarah Thornhill, is published in the UK, she is undertaking a ranging book tour of the UK and Ireland. She spoke to Stephanie Cross of "The Independent":

Opening in 1816 on New South Wales's Hawkesbury River, Sarah Thornhill picks up where The Secret River left off, and reunites readers with the Thornhill clan. The head of the family, a figure based on Grenville's own forebear, was a thief "sent out" from London to Australia, there becoming a successful farmer. The exact details of Grenville's ancestor's story are lost to history, but the fictional Thornhill is involved in the massacre of Aborigines.

For Grenville, the trilogy has been a very personal undertaking. "The Secret River began because, at the age of 50, I suddenly realised I knew nothing about how my own family had got its foothold in Australia," she explains.

And to Andrew Williams of the Metro website:

What is your new book, Sarah Thornhill, about?

It's set in colonial Australia and it's about a woman who discovers an ugly family secret concerning a massacre of aboriginal people and what she does about it.

You've written about this subject before - why are you interested in it?

When I was growing up we weren't taught these aspects of Australia's past - it was all about pioneer heroes. It's no good trying to ignore it - let's look at it and acknowledge the wrongs committed in the past. One well-documented case is the Waterloo Creek massacre in New South Wales in 1838, one of the very few cases that came to court. Perpetrators of massacres weren't often caught - and if they were, they were often let off. This massacre involved aboriginal women and children being chained neck-to-neck, taken up a hill and shot. Their bodies were burned. This aspect of our history needs to be acknowledged and my way of addressing it is by writing books.

Not everyone is so keen to acknowledge it, are they?

No. A little while ago, we had something called the 'history wars' in Australia, in which two schools of historians were at each others' throats - one group said aboriginal people died out due to measles. The problem with finding written evidence is it was in no one's interest to write: 'We went out and shot 12 aboriginal people today.' However, they did write things such as: 'We went out with our rifles and dispersed the natives.' The word 'dispersed' comes up again and again in the records and you can guess it probably meant we shot at them and shot some of them.

And also to Eileen Battersby of "The Irish Times":

The sparky, intelligent Grenville is direct and, though she remains on the polite side of blunt, a realist who speaks her mind. There is a likable energy about her and a curiosity about everything. Her daughter, Alice, has recently graduated from a combined arts and science degree - "Can you imagine? What a fabulous mixture of information" - and is currently minding baby sloths.

Grenville reads widely and carefully and misses little. "It's not easy being a writer, it's not easy being a woman writer and it's certainly not easy being an Australian woman writer." Her prose is deliberate and carefully weighted. She explains the difficulty of coming of age in Australia at a time when history had an official version that deleted many of the uglier facts. "We were horrified by the Nazis and by the Afrikaners, and yet we had our own crimes that we had not dealt with. And you have to remember that when I was young - I was born in 1950 - most Australians still regarded England as home. Imagine that: 'home' a place you had never been to. We were far closer to Asia than to Europe."

She took an arts degree at Sydney University and, true to the ritual adhered to by generations, set off for England, where she worked at a number of jobs, including film editing, and even developed a short-lived version of an English accent. But, as she says, "I am an Australian", and it seems she was fated to be a writer: her father had written three books in his retirement, and her mother provided a valuable legacy of stories, "stories that didn't always have all the facts, so I had to find them".
Australian, UK and US bookcovers:

SarahThornhill-aus-cover.jpg    SarahThornhill-uk-cover.jpg    SarahThornhill-us-cover.jpg

Poem: The First Great Australian Poet by Charles Harpur

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Glorious His lot whom Poesie shall name
   Her first High Priest in this so sunny Clime,
Though thereby clothed as with a Robe of Flame! --
   With her Creations of the Olden Time
   Much conversant, and by their bulk sublime
Moulding new matter, let him build to Fame;
Quarrying from Nature's everlasting frame
   The scultured beauty of his lofty Rhyme.
   Then mirrored ever in his polished page
Shall grow his Countrywoman's lustrous eyes;
   And Future Patriots a righteous rage
Thence catch or simulate -- the Brave, and Wise,
And Lovely, so, beneath his native skies,
   Hallowing his Memory from age to age.

First published
in The Weekly Register of Politics, Facts and General Literature, 3 May 1845

Reprint: Mystery of Poet Stirs 'Varsity: Challenge Over Ern Malley

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Mr. Brian Elliott, lecturer in Australian literature at the Adelaide University, has challenged Mr. Max Harris to prove the existence of Ern Malley, a poet "discovered" by Harris,

The mystery of Ern Malley is causing concern in literary circles not only in Adelaide, but through out Australia. The reason is that the poems are good, whoever wrote them. Some of them were included in the anthology of Australian verse collected by the American poet, Harry Roskelenko, and published in New York by Henry Vinnal.

An alleged life story of Malley, together with all his poems, appears in the latest issue of "Angry Penguins," published by Reed & Harris. 

Mr. Elliott was asked to review this issue for the Adelaide University Union publication "On Dit." 

He sent, instead, a "Batrachic Ode," the first letters of each line of which spell "Max Harris Hoax.'' With the ode was a letter to the editor in which he said. 'I promised to review the new "Angry Penguins" for you. The task is beyond my humble capacity. I ask you to forgive me. Some splendid poems (e.g., Davies' about Joshua) are bound to be eclipsed in the "Darkening Ecliptic," by Ernest Lalor Malley. This sequence of poems, some of which I understand, fires me to passionate admiration."

Seventeen Poems

In a postscript Mr. Elliott added: 'Malley is the goods. Nothing better has been written since the "Vegetable Pie." 

"The Darkening Ecliptic" consists of 17 poems. They are published in "Angry Penguins" with an introduction and a biography of Malley by Max Harris.

Harris says:-- "Recently I was sent two poems from a Miss Ethel Malley, who wrote saying they were found among her brother's possessions after his death on July 23, 1943. Someone suggested to her that they might be of value, and that she send them to me for an opinion.

"At this stage I knew nothing about the author at all, but I was immediately impressed that here was a poet of tremendous power working through a disciplined and restrained kind of statement into the deepest wells of human experience."

Story of Life

Harris adds that at his request, Miss Malley then sent him, from Sydney, the complete manuscripts of her brother's poems, together with a letter telling her brother's life story as she knew it.

The introduction then quotes verbatim from the letter. According to this Malley died of Graves disease at the age of 25. He was born at Liverpool, in England, on March 14, 1918. Their father died of war wounds in 1920, and the family then came to Australia.

They lived in Petersham (a Sydney suburb), and Ern went to the Petersham Public School and the Summer Hill Intermediate High School.

In 1933 he left school and went to work as a mechanic in Palmer's garage, on Taverner's Hill. Later he went to Melbourne, where his sister believed he was selling policies for the National Mutual Life Insurance Co., living in a room by himself in South Melbourne. Later he returned to Sydney, where he died.

The letter ended with, "As he wished, he was cremated at Rookwood."

Appear Genuine

Adelaide University students who have seen the original of this letter and the original poems say that if it is a hoax it is an elaborately prepared one, as these documents appear to be genuine.

"On Dit," in commenting on the controversy, says: "Superficially, Malley's work and opinions could be taken as belonging to Mr. Harris -- they are in true Penguin's style.

"Mr. Harris sincerely insists that he is not hoaxing anyone: there is nothing to gain from doing so; but on close examination Malley has left clues of literary knowledge which to the learned and initiated indicate Adelaide as the source of the poems, and if not Harris then a close friend of his."

Professor Mentioned

Mr. Elliott said today that he was firmly convinced that Max Harris wrote the poems.

He said that he had heard a rumor that they might have been written by the professor of English literature (Professor J. I. M. Stewart).

"'I think it absolutely incredible," he said. Students who discuss the rumor that the poems may be the work of Professor Stewart point out that he is keenly interested in modern poetry.

Professor Stewart is also the detective novelist Michael Innes. He said today that he had heard of Em Malley and of Max Harris, but he did not wish to comment on either of them. 

First published in The Mail, 17 June 1944

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

Hilary McPhee Interview

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hilary_mcphee.jpg    Continuing Jason Steger's literary lunches, this past week he spoke with Hilary McPhee, who, in 1975, founded McPhee Gribble publishers with the late Di Gribble.

The last time I saw Hilary McPhee was at a distance. It was October at the funeral of Di Gribble, her great friend and cohort in the publishing company, McPhee Gribble. She looked - not surprisingly - stricken with grief.

The two were in the vanguard of Australians trying to break the British grip on domestic publishing. They acquired rights from the US, tried to build a list of books in translation and first published writers such as Tim Winton and Helen Garner.

''It's very hard,'' she says now, ''when a friend who has been an absolutely critical part of your life is no longer there. Her daughter Anna, my god-daughter, is very like Di, very forthright. I said to Di before she died that she'd left us with Anna, 'who is going to remind us of you all the time because she's so like you'. In manner and character.''

Reprint: Letter to the Editor: Angry Penguins Defended

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Sir: In the public interest, we, the undersigned Australian authors and others vitally interested in Australian creative talent and the advancement of Australian art and literature, record our vigorous protest against the recent prosecution in Adelaide of one of the editors of the journal Angry Penguins for publishing "indecent, immoral, and obscene" writing.

A prosecution of such a kind is not in the public interest, and operates only to handicap and embarrass literary and artistic expression. Further, it brings the Australian community into ridicule. No sensible person would claim that Australian literary journals and publications have had any injurious effect upon the Australian moral standards, but, in any event, the common sense and experience of the public afford adequate safeguards. It is both the right and the duty of the artist to express honestly what he feels and sees in life, and freedom to do so is at the very root of humanity and genuine democracy. It is among the foremost freedoms which the United Nations are at war to preserve.

In signing this protest we are not committing ourselves in any way to an endorsement of the merit of the work appearing in Angry Penguins; we are concerned only to uphold the right of its contributors and pub- lishers to freedom of expression. (Signed):


Sir: The recent prosecution of Angry Penguins on the grounds of obscenity is a slur on our cultural and democratic tradition, and must be denounced by all those to whom the Atlantic Charter's freedoms have any real meaning at all. Many people may disagree with the material to be found in this journal, but no qualified person can possibly dispute its claim to be treated as a serious literary production without the slightest tendency towards salacious or pornographic writing. As a contributor to a number of Australian publications, I can state emphatically that if Angry Penguins deserves to be prosecuted then the same thing undoubtedly applies infinitely more to nine-tenths of the magazines and books now to be found on every news-stand. - ALAN MARSHALL (Caulfield.)

First published in The Argus, 26 October 1944

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

Australian Bookcovers #293 - Grand Days by Frank Moorhouse

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Grand Days by Frank Moorhouse, 1993
Cover photograph by Alan David-Tu
Macmillan edition 1993

Margo Lanagan Interview

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sea_hearts.jpg    Margo Lanagan has just published her new novel, Sea Hearts, her first since Tender Morsels in 2008. The author was recently interviewed by Gabrielle Wang.

What is your daily writing routine?

Get up as early as possible and, before I'm awake enough to attack myself with criticisms, start writing (I write the first draft of everything longhand, in biro on lined bank-weight paper). If I can get in a couple of hours before breakfast, that sets me up for a productive rest-of-the-day.

Breakfast, then head off to my rented Writing Room, two blocks from my house. Install myself there, immerse myself again. I still aim for ten pages a day - I'm not allowed to beat myself up about it if I don't make the count, but I do have to try. I've found that if I'm on a roll and write substantially more than ten pages, I'm in fact stealing words (and likely slightly sloppy words) from the next day.

Sometimes the ten pages are done by 11am, sometimes it takes a full 8 hours to get them. Whatever's happening, don't let anxiety leak into the process. Keep it as enjoyable and hopeful as possible. Writing snacks: raw carrots, Vita-Weats, anything crunchy - but low fat (don't want to get sleepy!) - I literally chew my way through plot glitches. If I can, stop writing at a point in a scene where something interesting's about to happen, to make it easy to start again next day.

Literary Cartoon #11 - "Toujours Tripe" by David Low

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Toujours Tripe.jpg
First published in The Bulletin, 19 March 1914

Poem: Books by Suzanne Halling

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It's very queer.
One moment I am here,
Then I open my book
And disappear --
Though you look and look
I am nowhere near.
Would you like to know
Where I go?
I've opened the treasure chest of Time,
Flinging wide his jewels sublime.
For I seize the endless wealth of the ages,
Spilled for delight on the magic pages.
I'm stepping the winding paths of chance,   
That lead to the City of Lost Romance.   
I'm breathing Adventure's mountain air,   
Climbing lone heights with courage rare.   
Swift visions fade, brave voices call,
Down from the stars bright thoughts softly fall.
Sorrows that choke, joys that make all things right,
Laughter and tears -- what! Now say "Good-night."
So soon?
Why the moon
Is still low
When its light's shed
Down on my bed,
I shall look
Once again
At my book.

First published
in The Sydney Morning Herald, 7 March 1931

Reprint: "Rolf Boldrewood" in New Zealand: An Interview

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Says the Christchurch Press: -- Mr. T. A. Browne, to give "Rolf Boldrewood" his proper title, occupied for a number of years various positions in the civil service of' New South Wales. He recently retired, and is now engaged in the pleasant occupation of "seeing New Zealand." While in Christchurch he was the guest of Mr. Justice Denniston, and a member of our staff had an interview with the notable author.


Mr. Browne said that he became a squatter away back in the fifties, but relinquished this pursuit after the severe droughts of 1866 and '68, which caused him heavy losses. In April, 1871, he was appointed police magistrate and goldfields commissioner at Gulgong, near Mudgee (N.S.W.), and during his first five years in that position the diggers of Gulgong turned out 16 tons of gold from the great alluvial field, and he had to settle all the disputes arising out of the winning of that quantity of the precious metal. He held the appointment for ten years, and then had charge of Dubbo, a circuit town of New South Wales, and in the centre of a large agricultural and pastoral district. There were some goldfields near and around Dubbo, and the Tomingley gold field arose while he was there. Though it was not a large field there were several very rich claims, and it was a curious coincidence that he made the acquaintance again on the Manapouri between Sydney and Auckland lately of a Mr. Sullivan, whom he met in 1882 as a miner on that field, who had made his fortune, sold out his shares, and was off to America and Ireland to see his friends. After serving at Dubbo for three years Mr. Browne was appointed to Armidale, New England, New South Wales. He was there not quite a year when he went to Albury as chairman of the Albury Crown Land Board, which office he retained for two and a half years. He was shortly afterwards appointed police magistrate and goldfields warden at Albury, where he remained until June, 1895, when he retired from the civil service of New South Wales, and went to reside in Melbourne.


In answer to a question as to the time when he began his literary work, Mr. Browne said that it was in 1866 when he was by himself on his station on the Murrumbidgee, and was laid up for some time in consequence of a kick he had received from a horse. He sent his first contribution to the Cornhill Magazine. It was entitled "A Kangaroo Drive," and was published in that magazine. A short time afterwards another tale was published called "Shearing in the Riverina." When he accepted the appointment of police magistrate he commenced to write tales descriptive of the various phases of Australian country life for the Australian weekly papers. His first tales were published in the Town and Country Journal and the Australasian. "Robbery Under Arms" was written at Dubbo. It was published in the Sydney Mail in 1881, and attracted a good deal of attention. So much interest, indeed, was taken in it that the proprietors subsequently republished it in the Echo, and it was considered, said Mr. Browne with pardonable pride, a good and true picture of certain phases of Australian life, such as could only have been written by an author who had lived all his life in the country. The story was published in book form by Macmillan and Co., who have altogether issued ten books from Mr. Browne's pen, all of which have met with marked success. Only one story was completed before its publication was commenced. He generally sent along weekly chapters, which he wrote leisurely, either while travelling or when at home, in the evenings or before breakfast.


Touching upon some of the phases of Australian life, depicted so graphically in the books referred to, Mr. Browne remarked that bushranging was very much a thing of the past in Australia. The larger areas of pastoral territory were now fenced with wire, and rendered it difficult for people to cross the country. The police organisation of New South Wales and Victoria was very complete, and there was thus a smaller chance of criminals escaping or carrying on their business as portrayed in "Robbery Under Arms." Besides, the police were largely recruited from natives of the colony, who were more efficient in the way of riding and tracking than the Australian police of British birth; in fact, they were quite as good riders and trackers as the outlaws themselves. "Rolf Boldrewood" considered that the New South Wales police were the most efficient body of men of their kind in the world. They were under an admirable system of supervision.


Mr. Browne had next a few words to say concerning Australian literature and art, the present state of which he thought was very promising. New writers had sprung up of considerable merit, and they now had A. B. Paterson, who had written ballads of a high order of excellence. No doubt Henry Lawson's ballads deserved praise, though they appeared to be too much on the sundowners' side, and he was too fond of attributing the men's woes to the attitude of the wicked squatter. Mr. Browne, however, thought that "The Man from Snowy River," &c., were quite the best since the time of Gordon, and in some respects were nearer to Australian color than Gordon's works. In art they had Frank Mahony, who illustrated Australian tales and poems as none but a born Australian could do. He was very happy in his subjects, and in figures and animals his work was quite artistic. There were several literary aspirants, both male and female, of considerable excellence, who showed signs of becoming successful, and altogether Australian art and literature appeared to have a bright future before them.


Our visitor observed that he had visited the South Island of New Zealand some years ago, and from what he had seen upon this present visit his impressions were extremely favorable in every way. He considered the colony, in the matter of climate, soil for pastoral and agricultural purposes, superior to a very large portion of either Victoria or New South Wales. It was far better watered, and there was a better average rainfall, and it would sustain a larger population on a smaller area. He had, he said, just come from Akaroa, which was a most lovely spot, and he bad not seen finer pasture in all his life. He was quite surprised at the growth of the cocksfoot. He regarded this old French settlement as a most suitable place for people of means who wished to lead a quiet life, for they would have the advantages of beautiful scenery and a fine soil. In concluding the interview Mr. Browne remarked that he anticipated publishing several more books on Australian and colonial subjects, and it was very probable that he would write something about New Zealand.

Published in The Inquirer and Commercial News, 5 June 1896

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

2012 Indie Awards Shortlists

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The shortlists for the 2012 Indie Awards have been released.  These books are chosen by Australian independent booksellers and the winners will be announced on March 14th.

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks (Harper Collins)
The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman (Random House)
Foal's Bread by Gillian Mears (Allen & Unwin)
Five Bells by Gail Jones (Random House)

Worse Things Happen at Sea by William McInnes and Sarah Watt (Hachette)
Notebooks by Betty Churcher (MUP)
After Words: Post Prime Ministerial Speeches by Paul Keating (Allen & Unwin)
A Private Life by Michael Kirby (Allen & Unwin)


Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett (Hachette)
All That I Am by Anna Funder (Penguin)
The Roving Party by Rohan Wilson (Allen & Unwin)
Watercolours by Adrienne Ferreira (Harper Collins)

The 13-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths & Illus Terry Denton (Pan Macmillan)
The Jewel Fish of Karnak by Graeme Base (Penguin)
The Little Refugee by Anh & Suzanne Do & Illus Bruce Whatley (Allen & Unwin)
The Coming of the Whirlpool: Ship Kings 1 by Andrew McGahan (Allen & Unwin)

Australian Literary Monuments #35 - Colin Thiele

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Memorial to Colin Thiele (1920-2006) in Eudunda, South Australia

2012 Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature

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The first of the year's awards kicks off with the announcement of the ahortlists for the Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature.

Fiction ($15,000)

Anna Funder, All That I Am (Hamish Hamilton)
Gail Jones, Five Bells (Vintage)
Alex Miller, Autumn Laing (Allen & Unwin)
Kim Scott, That Deadman Dance (Picador Australia)
Dominic Smith, Bright and Distant Shores (Allen & Unwin)
Rohan Wilson, The Roving Party (Allen & Unwin)

Nonfiction ($15,000)

James Boyce, 1835: The Founding of Melbourne and the Conquest of Australia (Black Inc.)
Fiona Capp, My Blood's Country (Allen & Unwin)
Jim Davidson, A Three Cornered Life: The Historian W.K. Hancock (University of New South Wales Press)
Mark McKenna, An Eye for Eternity, (The Miegunyah Press)
Hazel Rowley, Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage (Melbourne University Press)
Brenda Walker, Reading By Moonlight: How Books Saved A Life (Penguin Books)

Poetry ($15,000)

Jennifer Compton, Barefoot (Picaro Press)
Diane Fahey, The Wing Collection: New & Selected Poems (Puncher & Wattmann Poetry)
Les Murray, Taller When Prone (Black Inc.)
David Musgrave, Phantom Limb (John Leonard Press)
Tracy Ryan, The Argument (Fremantle Press)
Petra White, The Simplified World (John Leonard Press)

Drama ($10,000)

Nicki Bloom, A Cathedral
Elena Carapetis, Helen Back
Duncan Graham, Wolf Hunger

Young adult fiction ($15,000)

Georgia Blain, Darkwater (Random House Australia)
D. M. Cornish, Monster Blood Tattoo Book Three: Factotum (Omnibus Books)
Ursula Dubosarsky, The Golden Day (Allen & Unwin)
Scot Gardner, The Dead I Know (Allen & Unwin)
Doug MacLeod, The Life of a Teenage Body-Snatcher (Penguin Books)
Vikki Wakefield, All I Ever Wanted (Text Publishing)

Children's literature ($15,000)

Aaron Blabey, The Ghost of Miss Annabel Spoon (Viking)
Kate Constable, Crow Country (Allen & Unwin)
Bob Graham, A Bus Called Heaven (Walker Books)
Rosanne Hawke, Taj and the Great Camel Trek (University of Queensland Press)
Norman Jorgensen (illustrator James Foley), The Last Viking (Fremantle Press)
Lian Tanner, The Keepers: Museum of Thieves (Allen & Unwin)

Unpublished manuscript
($10,000, plus publication by Wakefield Press)

Henry Aybee, The Red Hat: An Australian Gothic Novel
Belinda Broughton, The Sparrow
Rachael Mead, The Sixth Creek
Margaret Merrilees, The First Week
Rob Walker, Tropeland

The winners will be announced on March 3, during the Adelaide Festival.

Reprint: Rolf Boldrewood's New Book

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A little studious mystification is practised by "Rolf Boldrewood" in his latest work. "My Run Home" may be either fiction or a scrap of biography, and the reader, on first taking the book in hand inclines to the latter supposition. It is rather wickedly fostered by the author in many ingenious ways. No word of preface, no suggestion of a date, rewards the inquisitive searcher, although the hero of the personally-related   narrative is "Rolf Boldrewood" himself. But we presently conclude, from internal evidence, that the novelist is at his recognised craft, and has determined to clothe with all the vraisemblance he can a breezy tale of the impressions and experiences of a young Australian on his first visit to the motherland. As for dates -- if a fiction writer need be worried about such details -- we must certainly cast back awhile for the   period of the narrative. Cremorne is still in full swing, and the hero, shoulder to shoulder with other stalwart Australians, enjoys the excitement of fighting his way out of that place of entertainment, vanquishing the assembled representatives of British rowdyism. It is but legitimate patriotism in an Australian writer to see that things go prosperously for the Australian abroad. At one page also the redoubtable Tom Sayers appears, to vanish again too soon, which sets the reader wondering whether the hero of Farnham fight really did live to see the steamships Massilia and Kaiser-i-Hind afloat. But such chronological queries are of small moment beside the fact that Rolf Boldrewood tells his tale with a light-hearted freshness and vigour which make him easy and pleasant reading. There used to be no one like Captain Marryat or Charles Lever for clearing the hedges and ditches of a story, and Rolf Boldrewood, who has a sure seat and steady bridle hand, sets himself to emulate their straight-going. His narrative progresses at a gallop, without pause or check, and with little of the descriptive work which often becomes a tedious conventionality. The equestrian simile is specially apt in this case, because the book is liberally studded with rough-riding feats and stirring episodes in the hunting-field -- subjects upon which the author writes as one who knows. The story of how the Australian hero proves his horsemanship upon "The Pirate" is related with some graphic touches, and as amplitude of workmanlike detail. Equally spirited is the narrative of Rolf Boldrewood's run with the Galway hounds, for the scene shifts appropriately to Ireland, the Elysium of dare-devil riders. A thread of love interest is interwoven with these adventures, but it does not command chief attention. The story of how Rolf Boldrewood escaped from the toils of the mercenary Isidora, and wedded open-hearted "Cousin Gwen" instead, is of subsidiary interest to the pictures of sporting life. The book, which is a recent addition to Macmillan's "Colonial Library," reaches us through Messrs George Robertson and Sons.

First published in The Argus, 24 July 1897

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

Debut Novel: The Rook by Daniel O'Malley

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the_rook.jpg    A new debut novel, The Rook, by Australian author Daniel O'Malley is picking up some good coverage from critics and readers alike (it currently has an Amazon rating of 5 stars). Lev Grossman, in "Time" magazine, lists the novel as one of the seven books he's looking forward to in 2012. "Publisher's Weekly" gave the novel a starred review (no link as you have to be a subscriber to see any content on their website), and "Library Journal" described it as: "Part suspense, part dark humor, this debut is rumored to be one of those up-all-nighters." Which isn't too shabby.

The author has his own website set up for the book and there is a Youtube video:

Australian Bookcovers #292 - Forty-Seventeen by Frank Moorhouse

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Forty-Seventeen by Frank Moorhouse, 1988
Cover illustration by Helen Semmler
Penguin edition 1988

Carrie Tiffany Interview

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carrie_tiffany.jpg    It's been a while since we've heard from Carrie Tiffany. In fact it's been seven years since she published her first novel, Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living, to widespread acclaim, including being shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award and Orange Prize. Now she's back with her new novel, Mateship with Birds, and Susan Wyndham interviewed her for "The Sydney Morning Herald" and "The Age".

''I don't go round making up stories,'' she says. ''There's so much narrative in our lives.'' For her, writing is ''an act of collage, free association, memory, noticing and putting things together. I don't write in a particularly linear way. When I've amassed a certain amount of material I print it out, put it on the floor, move the furniture, walk around it and think, where are the connections?''

With a masters degree in creative writing and success as a fiction writer, she still works full-time as a journalist for an income but also for ideas and a love of the land and its people. She has written for "The Victorian Landcare Magazine" for 15 years and when we talk she is working on a government white paper on biodiversity and ''a weeds thing''.

''It takes me into a world that is interesting,'' Tiffany says.

''I'm not sure about a career as a writer. I'm not interested in novels set in coffee shops.''

Literary Cartoon #10 - "Unsolicited Praise"

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Unsolicited Praise.jpg

First published in The Bulletin, 17 February 1921

Poem: Old and New by Emily Bulcock

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O singers of this later day -- the harvest is not reaped.
New fields are yours for gleaning in fuller radiance steeped.
Science brings daily marvels stirring the sluggish mind,
Opens new gates to wider thought -- so tarry not behind.

Leave Lovelace to his Phyllis, Wordsworth his Lucy meek,
Beauty still loves to linger on girlish lip and check.
Deem not all splendid things are said -- though many a harp was strung,
Though pioneers of poesy such varied songs have sung.

All wonders that were theirs are yours, and doubly yours to-day.
The magic harps they played on more fully stringed ye play,
And nature though she gave them rich spoil of virgin years  
Still keeps some new, late secrets -- meant only for your ears.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 January 1930

It happens to all of us who love books and possess a few. One day we are discussing some matter, and find our selves saying, "By the way there's something about it in that book by X. I'll show it to you." We go over to the right shelf, put our fingers on the right spot (for we could find the book in the dark) and draw out something very like a vacuum. No, there was not exactly a physical gap on the shelves, or we should have noticed our loss before. The book is gone but its neighbours, with perhaps some obscure humanitarian impulse, have closed in making an unbroken row as if all were well. Yet all is not well! That apt allusion in X's book cannot be verified to-day, nor for many days. The next following discomfort will be some "long, long thoughts," as you try to remember who on earth ever borrowed precisely that book. The general result is a feeling that if X's book can go without warning, we live in a shaken and unsure world, not to say universe. Why, we ask, did we ever consent to lend any book at all!

Well, why did any book lover ever lend books that were loved'? Simply because he loved them, and because he was delighted to find some one who seemed eager about them. The impulse is so natural. A garden enthusiast, going round his beds with a friend, nearly always enjoys taking scissors and a basket and giving the friend an armful of flowers. It blesseth him that gives, for plentiful flowers should not die on their stalks. In the same way, books left standing on their shelves gather nothing but unhousewifely dust. If passed from hand to hand they seem to live again, so, when a friend comes glancing along my shelves and suddenly pounces on a book, crying, "Well, I   didn t know A.E. had collected his early prose into a book!"' I am delighted. The one reply is "Please borrow that book for as long is you like. I want it back some day, for reference, and because it completes a small group of Irish books.   But there is no hurry." That is what you feel, very sincerely. Rather than let a book stand uviisited for a long time you would let it be perilously promenaded in your friend's pocket or even worn out a little by being read in trains. For a book is less than a book if it is not being read.

A Fallacy.

Gazing, though, at that new lock on your shelf, you wonder what made you ever imagine that all books, when lent out, would return. Your root idea, as lender, was that all borrowers were book lovers, and all book lovers had book consciences. Yet you knew that book-borrowers are merely human. They do not steal books, they use them, they pass them on temporarily, to other friends, who do the same... Sometimes they love a book outright, simply that. As for your loss, all lenders of books have had the same experience. Charles Lamb complained of it, though he just managed to forgive Coleridge on account of the splendid marginal notes he added to the books he borrowed. If and when the book did return home, these notes would have increased its worth. Other book-lovers have written of their losses, sometimes even attempting a rueful complacency. One said, thanking his borrowers -

   For oh, they've eased me of my Burns  
   And freed me from my Akenside.

Any one who could fun, while in such woe would surely dance at his own funeral.

Returning Borrowed Books.

Most of us have occasions when we rouse ourselves to plan the recovery of our lost treasures. Sometimes it is worth the attempt. The first thing to do, and it is best done in the salutary days near the 1st January, is to purge your own shelves of borrowed books. There is no need to go to extremes in this act, sending back half-read books that you borrowed only last week. The thing is to go through your shelves and make sure that none of your friends' books are mildewing on your shelves when they ought to be mouldering on their own. A borrowed book is a visitor not a resident, not even a "permanent" boarder.  Clear all borrowed books off your conscience then. Next, renew your annually broken vow to keep a list of all the books you lend and the names of the borrowers. This is a repugnant job, but it will save you an excess of brain-cudgelling before the year is out. Next, why not try to reclaim some of the books you lightly cudgelled your brains over last year? Perhaps you can suddenly remember, now, who it was that went away with De Regnier's poems about Versailles tucked under her arm. Perhaps some train of reasoning will make it clear to you what friend's friend will be now in possession of those out of print poems by Vaughn Moody!' But who could possibly have taken that signed novel given you months ago by your friend who wrote it?

Missing Books.

Yet your sifted memory and your borrower's memory may both fail to reinstate such and such a book on your hungry shelf. I once tried something systematic, but don't recommend the experiment to any one else. Missing some books that I both desired and needed, I thought I would send my bookish friends a round-robin, not through the post, but using the power of the Press. It was hard to decide which column of the huge daily would best receive my modest advertisement. I thought of board and lodging, for indeed I had house room to offer my strays. Then the wanted columns beckoned, but they all wanted to buy or sell. The lost and found? But my books were neither. At last I decided on "Missing Friends," the agony column! I simply asked if friends who had borrowed any of my books would return them before I moved away. There was only one response, and that a harrowing one. A rather new acquaintance, to whom I had lent some unimportant and ordinary novels only a week before, returned them all by next post, and of course never borrowed anything again. Meanwhile the lost and necessary books, the rare and irreplaceable ones, remained where they lay, too many of them (as the sad- dest of phrases puts it) "forgotten like a crust behind a trunk."  

Unreturning Books.

There is, of course, one simple way out of it all, One of the New Year resolutions could be to lend no more books on any account. That would attack the trouble at the root. The answer is that it is not worth it. The prospect would be unbearable. Imagine showing a friend round your bookshelves and never dropping into the natural old form of words: "Do please borrow anything that interests you." In saying those words, of course, you know that you are pronouncing the death warrant of a percentage of the books that pass out through your door. Yet you know too, that such books as survive will be living more fully than if you hoarded them undisturbed behind glass doors. The Melbourne Public Library has a Latin epigram in praise of books stamped on every bookcover. Its last word is "peregrinantur": books are meant to wander, to go on pilgrimages. Even if some fall by the wayside and are lost, they will have escaped from oppressive indoors, care that is only a dignified form of neglect. Ask any decent book, with its covers still holding it together, and it will certainly tell you that it wishes, in Nietzsche's phrase, to "live dangerously." Let us all lend our books then, and sometimes even borrow them! 

First published in The Brisbane Courier, 5 February 1927

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

Combined Reviews: The Digger's Rest Hotel by Geoffrey McGeachin

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diggers_rest_hotel.jpg    The Digger's Rest Hotel
Geoffrey McGeachin

[This novel won the Best Novel category at the 2011 Ned Kelly Awards.]

From the publisher's page:
In 1947, two years after witnessing the death of a young Jewish woman in Poland, Charlie Berlin has rejoined the police force a different man. Sent to investigate a spate of robberies in rural Victoria, he soon discovers that World War II has changed even the most ordinary of places and people.

An ex-bomber pilot and former POW, Berlin is struggling to fit back in: grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder, the ghosts of his dead crew and his futile attempts to numb the pain.

When Berlin travels to Albury-Wodonga to track down the gang behind the robberies, he suspects he's a problem cop being set up to fail. Taking a room at the Diggers Rest Hotel in Wodonga, he sets about solving a case that no one else can - with the help of feisty, ambitious journalist Rebecca Green and rookie constable Rob Roberts, the only cop in town he can trust.

Then the decapitated body of a young girl turns up in a back alley, and Berlin's investigations lead him ever further through layers of small-town fears, secrets and despair.

The first Charlie Berlin mystery takes us into a world of secret alliances and loyalties - and a society dealing with the effects of a war that changed men forever.


Angela Savage on her weblog: "The characters are brilliantly drawn, not only Berlin and Green, but a large ensemble cast, which includes the hotelier's family at the Diggers Rest, soldiers in the Bandiana barracks, a dodgy tent boxing troupe, Wodonga's alcoholic doctor, a resident Chinese family, the local constabulary, and others like Berlin, permanently damaged by a war whether they fought in it or not...If I have any criticism of the book it's that Berlin is too much of a good bloke -- his exchange with Neville Morgan, the Aboriginal war veteran, seemed a bit too enlightened for the era. Then again, it's Berlin's depth and decency that enables McGeachin to deliver such a heartbreaking finale to this wonderful book."

Christopher Bantick in "The Weekly Times": "Authentic is a word that comes to mind with this very dyed-in-the-wool novel...McGeachin has an ear for Aussie lingo and he blends it seamlessly into a bottler of a book...This is a book that is hard to fault."

Karen on the "AustCrime" weblog: "The information that came with this book highlights how the author has used the stories of his own father's wartime experiences as both an airman and a POW in Europe, as well as his childhood recollections of growing up in country-town Australia. It's a very realistic portrayal of country Australia - be it in the late 1940's or even more recently (well in this reader's memory anyway). Balance that small-town, closed environment, and the changes that are coming over a society traumatised and profoundly changed by the war and those who did and didn't return, against the individual story of one man who was so profoundly affected by events in Europe, and well, you end up with something that's entertaining, moving and affecting."

Bernadette on the "Fair Dinkum Crime" weblog, about reh audiobook version of the novel: "The historical aspects of the novel are extremely well done; feeling authentic through the use of interesting details but not overblown with evidence of the author's research. Everything from the rationing that the country was still experiencing to the kinds of foods that might have been served in a country pub at that time to the photographic equipment and techniques utilised by the adventurous female photo-journalist that Charlie encounters during his investigation are both accurate and woven into the story seamlessly. Some of the less pleasant aspects of life during the time are also well depicted including the fairly shabby treatment of anyone who wasn't white. It really did feel like I was transported back to the time, a factor helped I think by the excellent narration of the audio book in which the language and slang were pronounced to fit in with the period...With down-to-earth, very believable characters and a strong, enveloping sense of place and time The Digger's Rest Hotel is a top notch work of historical crime fiction."


Kieran Weir on 891 ABC Adelaide.

Joseph Thomsen on ABC Radio Victoria.


You can read an extract from the novel on the publisher's website.

Reprint: Letter to the Editor: Did "Worser" Become "Wowser"?

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Sir, -- An item in the issue of the Queensland "Worker" of 30/6/47 interested me, as I consider I am connected with the origin of the word "Wowser."  

My version of the word's origin is that it came to light in 1898. There was a huge number of unemployed in Sydney and through the country. The Government Labour Bureau was in Chalmers St., close to the Chalmers Church, and opposite the old Exhibition Building in Prince Alfred Park.

Men mustered at the Bureau by the hundreds like forlorn sheep. Many of us joined the Surplus Labour League, and held meetings in the park and addressed the crowd of unemployed.  

A committee of 10 was elected, five were a working part, and when any one of the five got work others of the committee stepped up and filled the vacancy.

Mr. G. H. Reid was Premier, and received many deputations. To the first one he gave us £500 for food, and at a second another £500-- £1000, 200 pairs of blankets, and sent hundreds of men to the country clearing the Boganj Scrub on railway work and other places.

I got work for a couple of months and went back to the Bureau, and one morning was conversing with a man behind the church who was very dissatisfied with the actions of the committee and condemning them tooth and nail. I asked him where they did wrong and what they should do to improve conditions. I told him there would be a meeting in an hour's time and asked if he would be there. He said, "Yes." I found out his name. I was the third speaker, and after generalities I came round to those who would not help to make things better. I looked at the man and asked if there was a Mr. Phillips in the crowd. He did not answer. I looked in a different direction and repeated the question with no reply. I looked again in the direction of the man, adding, "I know he is here as I am looking directly at him," and he answered, "Yes."

I asked if he remembered the conversation we had behind the church that morning. He said, "Yes."

I said, "You complained that the committee had done nothing right and you mentioned things they should do, and I am asking you to come on the platform and tell the crowd what they should do to better conditions."

I asked him to come up several times and he refused. I then opened out on him, describing him for what I thought he was, and finished up by telling him he was not a "betterer"-- one who helped to make conditions better -- but that he was a "worser," one who made conditions worse.

We had a freelance who reported our meetings to the press, and whether the word "worser" was blurred and not plain and distinct I do not know, but the word came out WOWSER, maybe a printer's error.

I have heard Mr. John Norton many times while delivering election addresses using the word "wowser," and admit he popularised it.

The late Mr. C. J. Dennis also claimed he had something to do with its origin, stating he had used that word more than two years before Mr. Norton. My uttering of the word "worser" was in 1898, and I can place the time by an entry of wages in a book I have.


Broadwater, Richmond River, N.S.W.

(P.S. -- I feel very pleased to say I am a member of the grand old A.W.U. since the amalgamation of the Rural Workers' Union, and my ticket number is No. 47004.)

First published in The Worker (Queensland), 18 August 1947

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

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