March 2012 Archives

Poem: To an Impecunious Poet by J. S.

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Oh, sigh not for the power of kings,
   For transient is a royal crown;
The truth of which a poet sings
   Through every age is handed down.

And sigh not for the wealth of gold,
   Could gold unlock the secret door
To that wide world which you behold?
   Could king command your magic lore?

First published
in The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 December 1936

Reprint: Slang and the Coining of Words

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One of the minor results of the Great War has been the addition to the English tongue of a great number of new and strange words, some of which, ugly and useless, are doomed to die on early death, but others will undoubtedly pass into the currency of the language. Some persons profess to look with considerable displeasure on the coining of words, treating all strange words as slang. There could not be a greater error. Of all the languages of the world, the English has the greatest power of assimalating to and incorporating with itself, all useful words with which it comes into contact. We cannot treat Englisn as we treat Greek and Latin, as a sacred treasure from which nothing must be taken, and to which nothing must be added. English is a living and growing speech, constantly expanding, and always ready to incorporate with itself any useful word. It borrows, it steals, it assimilates, and asks no questions about the origin. It is the only language that does this to any extent, and this indication of immense vitality is probably due to the great success of the British in colonisation, and to their world-wide association with other races. No language has influenced its growth so much as Greek has done, but practically all the languages of the earth have administered to its wants. Just as new worde are being constantly added to the language, so time has taken curious liberties with other words which, classic in the days of Shakespeare, have become obsolete or are regarded as slang. To refer in polite society in these days to a man on a drinking bout as being "on a bender" would be to leave oneself open to the charge of using slang. Yet in the days of Allan Ramsay it was the correct expression. The word "flunkey," as signifying a servile attitude towards somebody in a higher position, is slang, yet it was classical English when used by Thackeray and Carlyle. Thousands of such useful   words have been lost to the language chiefiy because they have been used loosely and incorrectly, and have lost their original meanings. Excepting in our Law Courts, for instance, the word "nice," as indicating a point of keen or fine distinction, is seldom heard in its proper sense, but is loosely used to mean something pleasant.

Quite recently a little book was published by the Lothian Book Publishing Co., Ltd., of Melbourne, entitled "Digger Dialects." Its author, Mr. W. H. Downing, late of the 57th Battalion of the A.I.F., set out to collect all the words of Australian slang that were born during the war, and he has compiled a glossary of probably 1500 words or more. The booklet naturally is interesting to a student of literature, but it certainly must not be taken for what it purports to be, because many of the words are of British origin, many of them were in the argot of the underworld in Australian cities years before the war occurred, and some of them owe their origin to America, which, of all countries in the world, is richest in descriptive slang, and has passed more words than any other English-speaking country into the currency of the language. It is, perhaps, an impossible task to expect anybody to compile a complete glossary of the plundered words that became part of the language of the soldiers. Some of them were, undoubtedly of French descent, but they were so distorted by faulty pronunciation that they have ceased to bear even the remotest likeness to their parents. For instance, the word "napoo" sounds like the name of a character in a Gilbert and Sullivan opera, but it is the English rendering of the French phrase "il n'y a plus," and it is used to express any gradation of lacking from being absent to complete annihilation. "Toot sweet," from the French "toute de suite," betokens extreme urgency. Things that gave pleasure to the soldier linguist were "tray bong," whilst "tray beans" expressed the sense of goodness. ''Dud," in the classical English of two centuries ago, was a useless rag, and in the soldiers' dialect it came to mean something worthless, as, for instance, a shell that had failed to burst. "Stunt" is a particularly ugly word that seems to have crept into the language through American theatrical companies, but it now serves a useful purpose as representing some arduous enterprise or work, or some smart aerial evolution. "Camouflage" is probably the most useful word that has been directly stolen from the French, and it has now passed into every day speech, and especially that of politics, to which it fas no application in its original meaning.  

Perhaps the best compilation of Australian slang is to be found in the poems of C J. Dennis, yet many of his words, such as "clobber," meaning clothes, and "monicker," meaning a name, are well, known in the argot of East London. English slang, as a rule, is not descriptive, and while Australian slang is occasionally expressive it falls far short of those word-pictures which are presented by the really first-class slang of America, such as "high brow" to represent a man of learning, or "you're on the freight train" as a suggestion that one is slow on the "up-take," another useful American term. Turning to "Digger Dialects" we find a cigarette described as "a-coffin nail" or "a consumption stick."   A "deep thinker" is one who was late in enlisting, and a "rainbow"--we believe that is of English origin--represents one who joined the colours at the time of the armistice, or after the storm. To represent the various nuances of the state of drunkenness the "Digger" had several repressions, such as "blithered," "inked, "oiled," "molo," and "stunned," whilst the hard drinker was "a steady lapper," and his orgy was "a beer-up." A. "sin-shifter" was an army chaplain, and probably originated from the American cowboy term of "sin-buster." Unfortunately the origin of the words is not given, and slang falls very flat and unprofitable unless it conveys its own meaning, or its origin is appropriate., We know that an English pound-note is called a Bradbury, because Mr. Bradbury is secretary to the Treasury which issued the notes. But why is a "'Tired Theodore" a long-distance heavy shell? A "bucking horse," as meaning a sovereign, seems plain enough, but why should an Australian shilling be called "a rat and fowl"? The words "brass" and "tin," signifying money, are as old as Dickens, and such words as "dough" and "sugar" are much more typically Australian. "Tinkle-tinkle" for an effeminate man, "treacle-miner" for a man who boasts of his wealth or position, a "washout" representing a failure, and "a wind-bag," to describe a braggart, carry their own meanings, but why should a military cross and a military medal be called "Machonochie"? And why should the Queen's head on a coin be called "Mick,"' or "to take to the tall timber" be used as a term meaning to abscond? The rhyming slang such as "Almond rocks" for socks, or "Babbling brook" for an army cook, is even more absurd and tantalising. There appear also to be many nice distinctions in the slang terms, and some of them, such as "parakeet," meaning a staff-officer, because of the red tabs on the uniform, are expressive. Many of the words will die, and deserve to die, but others will be included in future dictionaries, and will add to the wealth of the richest language in the world, though, certainly, not the easiest to master or the most musical to speak.

First published in The Queenslander, 27 March 1920

Note: you can read C.J. Dennis's glossary of slang here.

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

2012 Miles Franklin Award Longlist

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The longlist for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award was released last night. 

The list is:

Blood by Tony Birch
Spirit of Progress by Steven Carroll
Spirit House by Mark Dapin
The Precipice by Virginia Duigan
All That I Am by Anna Funder
Sarah Thornhill by Kate Grenville
Five Bells by Gail Jones
Foal's Bread by Gillian Mears
Autumn Laing by Alex Miller
Cold Light by Frank Moorhouse
Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett
The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman
Animal People by Charlotte Wood

Seems like a pretty good list - decent mixture of old and new, M and F, etc, etc.  Also good to see that the main award website was updated in a timely manner.

The shortlist will be announced on May 3, and the winner on 20 June.

Combined Reviews: Cold Light by Frank Moorhouse

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cold_light.jpg    Cold Light
Frank Moorhouse
Random House

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page:
It is 1950, the League of Nations has collapsed and the newly formed United Nations has rejected all those who worked and fought for the League. Edith Campbell Berry, who joined the League in Geneva before the war, is out of a job, her vision shattered. With her sexually unconventional husband, Ambrose, she comes back to Australia to live in Canberra. Edith now has ambitions to become Australia's first female ambassador, but while she waits for a Call from On High, she finds herself caught up in the planning of the national capital and the dream that it should be 'a city like no other'. When her communist brother, Frederick, turns up out of the blue after many years of absence, she becomes concerned that he may jeopardise her chances of becoming a diplomat. It is not a safe time to be a communist in Australia or to be related to one, but she refuses to be cowed by the anti-communist sentiment sweeping the country. It is also not a safe time or place to be 'a wife with a lavender husband'. After pursuing the Bloomsbury life for many years, Edith finds herself fearful of being exposed. Unexpectedly, in mid-life she also realises that she yearns for children. When she meets a man who could offer not only security but a ready-made family, she consults the Book of Crossroads and the answer changes the course of her life. Intelligent, poignant and absorbing, Cold Light is a remarkable stand-alone novel, which can also be read as a companion to the earlier Edith novels Grand Days and Dark Palace.


David Marr in "The Monthly": "With Cold Light Frank Moorhouse brings home a mighty, 25-year project. Australians love a three-decker novel, but nothing on this scale has been tried in this country for a long, long time. Moorhouse has taken us on a strange voyage through the psyche of Australia. We've laughed. We've cried. We've had our differences. After all these years and pages we know ourselves and our place in the world better. It's no small thing...That Edith Campbell Berry has no entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography seems a curious oversight. She has worked with great men, observed great events at firsthand and subjected all she has experienced to habits of self-examination drummed into her during her rationalist childhood in Jaspers Brush, on the NSW south coast. True, she is a bit of a prig and rather earnest. She gets about in gloves. But she is brave, original and good...One of the most memorable scenes of Cold Light is Edith breaking with Sir John Latham over beef Wellington at the Melbourne Club. Her old mentor and fellow rationalist had ended up the only man on the High Court to back Menzies' Communist Party Dissolution Act. After having this out with him in the club's gloomy dining room, they never speak again. Such pluck. Years later a note in an intelligence file about this 'dressing down' would see her in good stead with a new regime in Canberra."

Jo Case on ABC Radio National's "The Book Show": "Frank Moorhouse's trilogy of novels about Edith Campbell Berry is surely one of Australian literature's finest achievements...Cold Light is a study in apparent contradictions. A character-driven novel that also features a city--Canberra--as one of its main characters. Storytelling on a grand scale that uses small details (like the significance of desk management) to speak volumes about its characters and setting. A novel that is joyful, devastating, deeply touching, wickedly funny--and smuggles in serious political messages with the entertainment."

Jonathan Shaw on his "Me Fail? I Fly!" weblog: " know, I can't say I enjoyed the book. It's the third volume of a trilogy and maybe I should have read the other two books first. As it was, there seemed to be an inordinate amount of recapping, an awful lot of 'As you know, Bob'. I expect that if I'd read the other books, these would have been less irritating, and I might have had greater tolerance for Edith's frequent ruminations because of a clearer sense of them perhaps as charting her mental journey. She ruminates on on her ideal capital city, on the nature of love, on the lessons to be learned from the League of Nations. I've got nothing against ruminations, but I couldn't find anything wise, witty or provocative in Edith's - I don't think I've ever been so bored in a book that I still wanted to keep reading."

Peter Pierce in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Few Australian novelists have dealt so subtly and extensively with politics as Moorhouse - few have dealt with it at all. He is not afraid to cut and paste from the historical record. He is alert to the 'seductions of the Great Cause', whether the league or the CPA, and to the shifting ground between allegiance and betrayal...There are fine set-pieces in a narrative that takes time but does not drag: Menzies's speech in parliament to introduce the act to ban the party; the shocked, disbelieving and all-too-soon-dissembling reaction of party members when they learn of Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin in the 'secret speech' to the Soviet Party Congress. These are enlivened by cameos: of a lordly Whitlam, of Holt - 'the man who had no smile, only a salesman's grin'...Cold Light is a distinguished example of what Peter Brooks called 'the novel of worldliness'. Some characters exert power but, in their milieu, diplomacy, secrecy, gossip and knowingness are the currency. Much as they seek to shape society, theirs is a hermetic enclave, sealed by old memories, debts and obligations of revenge. Thus one forgives Edith's confession 'god knows she had a lot of caviar in her day'."


Patrick Arlington for "Readings".

John Purcell on the "Booktopia" blog.

Andrea Hanke on the "Fancy Goods" weblog.


The author talks about his book for Random House Book Talk:

2012 Barbara Jefferis Award Shortlist

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One of the awards that I missed seeing mentioned recently was the 2012 Barbara Jefferis Award, the shortlisted works for which were announced on March 8th, International Women's Day.

Too Close to Home by Georgia Blain (Vintage)
When We Have Wings by Claire Corbett (Allen & Unwin)
All That I Am by Anna Funder (Hamish Hamilton)
Five Bells by Gail Jones (Vintage)
Foal's Bread by Gillian Mears (Allen & Unwin)
Cold Light by Frank Moorhouse (Vintage).

The following titles were highly commended:
This Too Shall Pass by SJ Finn (Sleepers)
Act of Faith by Kelly Gardiner (Angus & Robertson)
Black Glass by Meg Mundell (Scribe)

Many thanks to Lisa Hill at the ANZLitLovers weblog for the details.

The winner will be announced in May.

Reprint: Fair Dinkum - It's All Right (So Canberra Says)

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CANBERRA, Wed.-- Federal Parliamentarians have varied views on the use of the term "Fair Dinkum."

Three of them to-day commented on the statement in New York by the Australian Consul-General (Mr. C. V. Kellaway) that the term was not a common expression among Australians.

Mr. W. M. Hughes (Lib.. N.S.W.): The expression is purely Australian and has of course been much more general than it is to-day. After the first World War it was much more common than it is to-day, but it is still understood by all Australians. Those who don't understand it - well whatever they are they are not Australians.

Mr. L. Haylen (Lab., N.S.W.): "Fair Dinkum" is part of the Australian speech and it is certainly part of the Australian literature. It was immortalized by C. J. Dennis, and was used long before that. It is an honourable label and one of our own words wherever it came from.

Dame Enid Lyons (Lib., Tas): The expression still has a meaning in Australia, but it has become unfashionable. Its period of greatest use was after the last war.

First published in The Courier-Mail, 11 November 1948

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

2012 Miles Franklin Award Speculation Continued

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Further to my speculation last week as to a possible longlist for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award comes Stephen Romei in "The Weekend Australian" with a few other suggestions.  He adds:

What the Family Needed by Stephen Amsterdam
Spirit House by Mark Dapin
The Life by Malcolm Knox
The Cook by Wayne Macauley
Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett
Animal People by Charlotte Wood

Only three of which I know anything about.

Seven Poor Men of Sydney by Christina Stead, 1934
Jacket illustration: Near the Docks 1949, by Sali Herman
Angus and Robertson edition 1978

M. L. Stedman Interview

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light_between_oceans.jpg    It seems to be the time of the debut Australian novelist. After the publication of The Rook by Daniel O'Malley a few weeks back we now have The Light Between the Oceans by M.L. Stedman, an Australian author living in London. Seems publishers on both sides of the Atlantic were rather keen on this one. The author was interviewed for "The Age" by Linda Morris.
In the US, Stedman procured a ''high six-figure'' for this, her first novel-length manuscript, a rare book that crosses literary and commercial fiction. ''It was wild, just so far beyond my experience and imagining. I have no explanation for it,'' she says of the bidding war. Stedman interviewed each interested publisher, clear-eyed and stubborn in her intent to find someone who recognised her endeavours to explore life's eternal questions about truth, redemption and the nature of happiness for a broad readership of women and men.

Her belief in the authority of the reader lies partly behind her attempts to maintain relative anonymity in the wake of her mass-market success.

Her official biography comprises a single line: ''M.L. Stedman was born and raised in Western Australia and now lives in London.'' Even her first name, Margot, is concealed.

And, yes, there is a book trailer:

Poem: C. J. Brennan by T. Inglis Moore

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Here in the kindly earth is laid away
   Him whom we loved, the spirit Titan-large,
With thoughts that strained within the bounded clay
   To infinites beyond earth's hidden marge:

Hostage of sadness, mighty soul confined
   In oubliettes of gloom and pain apart,
Till death's last ransom freed the restless mind
   And stilled the passion of that fiery heart.

No more shall he return, trembling, from tryst
   With Beauty, held remote from the world's throng,
And from her fervent lips divinely kist
   Draw forth his syllables of timeless song.

To him her lucid loveliness she hated
   In forest dells and legended romance,
So that he wandered all his days, ensnared
   By questing dreams, illumed with mystic trance.

His spirit, like a mountain high, august,
   Clove with its sharp desires the sky's blue rim,
And sombre crags of wisdom strong out-thrust
   Above the depths with light's excess grown dim.

The sun's white arrows pierce the serried trees,
   And splintered fall athwart the mauve-splashed boles
To mingle with dark-frondaged mysteries,
   The shine and shadow of his changing souls.

There far below the abyss, runnels plash
   In rippling melodies, and waterfalls
Flute rondos of delight, till drowned by clash
   Of thunder echoing from the mountain walls.

With night come chants of doom, while demon bands
   Hold cloudy revel under red-eyed Mars;
But still inviolate the mountain stands
   With head enskied, crowned with unconquered stars.

First published in The Bulletin, 12 October 1932

Reprint: Australian Poets: Voices from the Past by D. J. Quinn

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The recent correspondence in the "Herald," on the subject of the late Chris Brennan's poems sent me rummaging among old Press cuttings for a copy of an article, entitled "Poets and Poetry in New South Wales," which I compiled for the "Sydney Mail" 27 years ago. The article took its origin in what seemed to me a surprising piece of news I had stumbled upon, namely, that the output of verse in Australia exceeded per head of population that of any other country; and I felt that a public largely indifferent to the claims of poetry might still be interested to learn something about the diligent band of versifiers who had earned for us such a measure of pre-emience in this department of letters.

Reading that article now in the light of history, one gets the impression that those were halcyon days for poets, whether major or minor. "Banjo" Patterson, with 40,000 volumes sold, and Henry Lawson, with 17,000, loomed large in the public eye. Ogilvie (then absent from Australia) had several thousands to his credit. It was comparatively easy to get good verse printed and paid for, and publishers were almost benevolent in their regard for budding authors. Publishers to-day, alas! frown daily at the very mention of the word poetry.


Not that everything was couleur de rose 27 years ago.

   Whose picnics on Parnassus,
   Need not look for cakes and ale.

Our poets for the most part were ill-requited in the matter of rewards. One or two felt rather bitter about this neglect. Roderic Quinn, one of our sweetest singers, was not disposed to quarrel with the public on that account. "There has been a large amount of grumble," he said, "over the fact that Australian poets have not had adequate rewards, but with our small, almost stagnant, population, how can we hope for anything better? The circumstance that we are not a 'home' people is also bad for the poets. The sunlight, the beaches, the surf, and the harbour draw us out of doors, and we 'live' poetry instead of reading it." It was his opinion that Sydney Harbour, artistically and poetically, exercised a more potent influence over the people than any number of books or poems.

Discussing public taste in poetry, J. le Gay Brereton thought that here, as probably in all English-speaking countries, there was it distinct preference for what was melodramatic rather than for what was poetic. He had no quarrel with the bush or the horse poem. One could have good ballad or bush poetry of a definite Australian nature, but he should be sorry to see poetry limited to those subjects. In his opinion, a great deal of the stuff accepted as Australian poetry was not poetry at all. "The Australian," he said, "has an ear which catches up a swinging measure; give him that and a topic which he enjoys and he is liable to be deceived into thinking that the result is not only poetry, but even good poetry."


Chris Brennan, who was considered our leading exponent of poetry, properly so-called, "knew nothing of the public." His appeal was to a small cultured circle. "Who are the public" he parried when I ventured to ask if poems printed in the conventional manner with titles, capitals, and punctuation marks, would not be more likely to attract readers. "Poetry requires that the reader should be in training for it-keyed to it. For that reason, probably, people read prose; it is so much easier and human nature has a loveable tendency to slackness."

Mr. Brennan readily satisfied my curiosity on other points. He was an entertaining talker.

"I'm afraid I am very unpatriotic." he said. "I've written nothing about the horse or the swagsman. As far as 'national' traits go, I might have made my verses in China.

"I know nothing of 'poetic pains.' Writing poetry is a job like any other. One of the essentials to writing real poetry is to put in three or four hours at the desk every day. The popular idea about dashing off a poem in a fine frenzy is but an amusing piece of credulousness on the part of the public. Poets themselves have encouraged this idea ever since they began to write. They are beginning to see, however, that 'inspiration' is not enough, that a good deal of thought and self criticism is also required.

"Some people say I have not the afflatus, that I have made myself write poetry. I am prepared to agree with that to a certain extent. Poetry and criticism are two ways of getting a lot of fun out of life. Any man with a certain amount of literary ability may now and then produce a set of polished verses which it might be difficult to distinguish from real poetry.

In New South Wales we have produced a certain amount of poetry. There are achievements in verse to the credit of Kendall and Daley, and in this particular sphere good work is being done at the present time by Mr. Roderic Quinn and Mr. Brereton.

The great poet has not arrived yet, but Australia will welcome him-when he is dead, probably.

The ideal Australian poet will be a man of genius, possessing abundant wealth, with strict guardians to regulate his mode of living, and occasionally to lock him in a room supplied with writing materials."


Of the fourteen writers featured in my "Sydney Mall" article (which ran to three pages), Patterson, Roderic Quinn, John Sandes, E. J. Brady, Colonel Kenneth Mackay, Hugh McCrae, and Miss Ethel Turner (Mrs. Curlewis) are still with us; the others, Henry Lawson, Brennan, Brereton, Arthur Adams, P. E. Quinn, T. W. Heney, and Miss Agnes Storrle (Mrs. Kettlewell) have joined the great fraternity of poets in the shades.

Mr. Patterson, who had just retired from the daily grind of a city newspaper office to his native bush, asked to be excused from inclusion in a "personal detail" article. "I have a great objection to the personal element being dragged into literature," he wrote. "The best poetry as a rule was written by men who were bad characters, and I do not think it concerns the public at all how or why a man writes." On the principle that the play of Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark would be no play at all, I had to make shift without any help from the most popular of our bards.

Henry Lawson was the most elusive man I ever tried to catch up with. I had followed his trail for a couple of weeks when a note left at one of his haunts brought to the "Herald" letter-box "An Answer," written in pencil on the back of an advertisement form. "Dear Quinn," it ran, '"I could meet you and tell you the same old piffle (rot), or you could write an interview without meeting me at all. But if I told you the truth the paper would not dare print it if you dared to write it. I'll tell you something worth while later on."   Encouraged by this "answer," I redoubled my exertions to get into personal touch. When at last I did run him to ground he could do no more than sing me snatches of song and shuffle his feet to a dancing measure. With his pinched features and tall spare frame, he seemed to me a tragic figure. There was a time when the author of "In the Days When the World Was Wide" had the world at his feet. But Fortune is a fickle jade, and much prefers a lover to a master.


Overshadowed by his younger brother Roderic, P. E. Quinn was content to play the role of critic rather than of poet. It was his belief that the days of the poets were numbered. "The race" he said "is losing its singing power not that it lacks the qualifications of art and expression, but because the impulses that made great poetry are not to be looked for now." To his mind science was taking the place of poetry in satisfying the imaginative needs of man. The poet had no special message now. As Macaulay predicted poetry was declining with the advance of civilisation. A world movement in the direction of humanitarianism was manifesting itself and its needs would be satisfied by legislation. Poetry might retain its place among the arts, and that which was transcript of the emotions of the romantic period in the life of individuals might always be appreciated, but as the expression of the spirit of the age poetry would lose its significance. Of course, no one could foresee what tricks fortune might play upon us. Here in Australia we might experience some national crisis or discipline which would act as an incentive to national poetry. Nobody could tell.

Roderic Quinn did not share his brother's outlook. Despite Macaulay's dictum, despite the fact that we had weighed the sun and discovered a new planet, he was confident that world interest in poetical productions would remain as steadfast as ever. The more science discovered the broader would be the base whereon man would build his temple of imagination.

Whether Roderic will outshine his brother P.E. as a seer only time will show. What appears to be unquestionable at the moment is that poetry readers are dwindling in number. Publishers go as far as to say that "Poetry is dead."

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 December 1936

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

2012 Miles Franklin Award Speculation

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Sometime later this month we should see the announcement of the longlist for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award.  It's always a difficult task speculating on which novels will be included.  There are those that are left off due to their content, or publication date, and there are the "roughies" that come out of the pack: the neglected, the forgotten and the first-timers.  Any attempt at speculation here is probably doomed to fauilure, but I'm dumb enough to make at least the semblance of a list. 

The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey
All That I Am by Anna Funder
Sarah Thornhill by Kate Grenville
Five Bells by Gail Jones
Foal's Bread by Gillian Mears
Autumn Laing by Alex Miller
Cold Light by Frank Moorhouse
Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett
The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman
Sweet Old World by Deborah Robertson
Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany
The Roving Party by Rohan Wilson

That's an even dozen.  Given my past performances I'm suspecting that only half of these will make it.

Discussion of Christopher Brennan, Part 3

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The following is the third of a three-part discussion of the works of Christopher Brennan that took place in the pages of The Sydney Morning Herald during 1936.  It began with a report of a lecture by Hilary Lofting, and continued with an essay by John Sandes on the merits, or otherwise, of Brennan's poetry.



Sir,-In last Saturday's issue, under the heading "Literary Misapprehension," Mr. John Sandes says: "Mrs. Mary Gilmore wrote in a letter to the Editor of the 'Herald': "The desire to see Christopher Brennan published in enduring form is equally a desire to see Australians stand face to face among the writers of the world." Then he adds, "It may surprise Mrs. Mary Gilmore to learn that Chris. Brennan's poetical work, or, at any rate, a large part of it, was published by subscription in Sydney."

May I reply that it is no surprise to me, as I bought several copies of this collection, as well as of the smaller book. But these are but a portion of his work, and it was to a complete edition of all he did that I referred, and because no partial collection can give him the standing in Europe that his scholarship should command. Mr. Sandes in his article does not mention either Brennan's published prose or his lectures -- which even in notes were literature. It was in the desire to see all this published that I wrote the letter referred to by Mr. Sandes; and this Is, I am told, the aim of the executors. I have been told that the volume in contemplation will be about four times as large as the (sectional) one that was published by subscription.

I am, etc.,


King's Cross. Sept. 7.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 10 September 1936



Sir,-Mrs. Mary Gllmore's letter in your issue of September 10 covers the ground in relation to the partial collection of Brennan's poetry mentioned in Mr. John Sandes's intensely interesting article. May I, as the lecturer from whose words this discussion sprang, add that I also have known this partial collection for many years, that I, in fact, read my excerpts from it at the fellowship address in question?

The theme of that address was that a "complete" collection of the work of an Australian major poet should be made available before its absence becomes a present reproach and a future loss to Australian Imagination and scholarship.

I am, etc.,

HILARY LOFTING. Sydney, Sept. 12.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 15 September 1936



Sir,-There has been much wild talk and there has been much lip service about Australia's greatest poet. We think that those of our readers who were friends of Brennan in his life, and the still larger number to whom he is an honoured name, will be glad to realise that there is no call for lamentation over the prospective loss of his work.

Brennan, before his death, had the insight to make one of his dearest and loyalest friends, R. Innes Kay, his literary executor, and Mr. Kay's loyal and thorough stewardship has prevented any ill-judged, sporadic, and inaccurate publication of Brennan's work, and has prepared the public for the edition of the forthcoming Brennan omnibus. The editing of this omnibus will be in the hands of a committee, Messrs. R. Innes Kay, J. J. Quinn, and C. H. Kaeppel, with Miss Kate Egan, treasurer, and Miss K. Donovan, secretary, It will include every surviving thing that Brennan has written, with the possible exception of his lectures on the Homeric question and his compositions in German, which have now only an antiquarian interest. The omnibus would have appeared long since, but for the difficulty in securing a small portion (not more than ten per cent.) of Brennan's work that was in the hands of others. But the committee felt, and rightly, that the omnibus should be definitive.

There is another matter to which with great happiness we refer. All lovers of Brennan's work have noted the irresistible songfulness of some of his lyrics. No one has noticed it better than Mr. Horace Keats. It has been our privilege to hear his first scores of "The Wanderer" cycle. Properly to appraise them, would, we think, take a Strangways. We would only say we recall the singing fairy of "Midsummer Night's Dream," and, that hearing them, we heard the fusion of two artists-the poet and the musician. That these gems of art will be heard in England and America it is good to know, but we may be acquitted of any parochialism if we are avowedly glad that they will be heard first in Australia -- at the forthcoming series of lectures on Brennan, all of which will conclude with selections from the Wanderer cycle, played by Mr. Keats and sung by his gifted wife, so well known by her platform name, Miss Barbara Russell.

I am, etc.,


Hon. secretary, Chris Brennan Committee.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 16 September 1936

Note: this last letter was originally published on this weblog on 6 April 2011.  I've reprinted it here as it fits the rest of the discussion.

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

Australian Bookcovers #298 - Room Service by Frank Moorhouse

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Room Service by Frank Moorhouse, 1985
Cover by Helen Semmier
Penguin edition 1987

Literary Cartoon #12 - "He Knew"

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b19080730-He Knew.jpg

First published in The Bulletin, 30 July 1908

Poem: The Forlorn Author by Ambrose Gates

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I met a long, gaunt, shiv'ring being;
   So deep his woe, my heart's core bled;
   His feet's encasements' base had fled,
   Nor did his batter'd hat his head
Prevent the weeping cloud from seeing.

When sympathy on 's plight had touched,
   "I am an author, sir," he said,
   And aching were his eyes of lead;
   He heavily sigh'd and stayed his tread,
Then spake, and at his vitals clutched --

"Sweet youth was mine, and exultation
   That did unto my brian a seat
   Among immortals! yet meat
   Years past I've lack'd: all journals greet
My screed, but pay -- on publication!"

First published
in The Bulletin, 2 May 1903

Johnny Strikes Up the Band

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Margo Lanagan jumps from one Writers' Festival to another; after being lauded at the Adelaide Writers' Week she's now off to Australian Writers' Week in Beijing.

Peter Carey with tatts representing his two Booker wins? Footballers do it, so why not writers?  I was going to say "I'd like to see that", but given the body locations of some of these tattoos I'm not so sure.

The big news this week on the e-book front concerns an "erotic" novel by Australian writer Amanda Hayward titled Fifty Shades of Grey.  Trouble is, as John Birmingham points out, it's really just re-packaged fan fiction.

Max Barry likens blogs to one-day cricket - dying but not quite dead.  He has a point.

Nicola Moriarty is the third sibling in her family to become a published author.  With a surname like that we can only suspect some sort of a "conspiracy".

D.M. Cornish has news about two new books he's working on: "The second is a proper novel that the more I work on it, the more I feel might stretch out into the usual fat, multi-volume "epic" (for want of a better word) I found myself stumbling into with MBT."

John Kinsella worries that restricting the teaching of Australian literature to a designated "canon" is a mistake.  I'd agree with that. Kinsella doesn't say we shouldn't teach the classics, just that we should be willing to add works when and where needed.

Discussion of Christopher Brennan, Part 2

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The following is the second of a three-part discussion of the works of Christopher Brennan that took place in the pages of The Sydney Morning Herald during 1936.  It began with a report of a lecture by Hilary Lofting, and will conclude next week with letters to the paper in reply to the essay below.


A Literary Misapprehension.


Mr. Hilary Lofting, in addressing the Fellowship of Australian Writers on July 15 on the poetry of the late Chris. Brennan, stated, according to the report in the "Herald" next morning, that "there is no published collection of his works." Mrs. Mary Gilmore, who is herself a well-known authoress, in referring to the statement by Mr. Lofting, wrote in a letter to the Editor of the "Herald". "The desire to see Christopher Brennan published in enduring form is equally a desire to see Australians stand face to face among the writers of the world." It may surprise the lecturer, and also Mrs. Mary Gilmore, as well as the reading public in general, to learn that Chris. Brennan's poetical work, or, at any rate, a large part of it, was published by subscription in Sydney, shortly before the war, by G. B. Philip and Son, Pitt-street. A few copies of it are still available at the publishers' well-known bookshop.

Turning over a mass of old letters and papers recently, this present writer came across a cutting from a Sydney morning newspaper. The cutting was printed early in the fateful year 1914. The journal itself has since passed away, or, perhaps, it might be more truthfully said of it, in the words of another great poet, that it

    " . . . has suffered a sea-change into something rich and strange."

The cutting contained a review article entitled "Three Poets," "An Appreciation." It dealt with "Poems" by Christopher Brennan, The Witch Maid" by Dorothea Mackellar, and "The Three Kings" by Will Lawson. The reviewer, in introducing the three, remarked that "they had little in common except for the share that each of them manifested in those inborn qualities of sympathy, reflection, intuition, depth of feeling, sensitiveness to beauty, and gift of expression, which help to make the poet as distinct from the verse-writer." He went on to observe that the poetical works of the three poets were "as dissimilar from each other as a Tschalkowsky symphony, a group of Schubert's "Lieder," and a collection of Sousa's marches -- but they all have poetry in them."


There is no lack of enthusiasm for Chris. Brennan's poetical merits in the review. "Mr, Chris. Brennan's large and handsomely-produced volume," we read, "brings together a mass of poetic work the composition of which has extended over many years. The author has long since established his claim to be recognised as a writer of marked originality, whose deep thought is set forth in an ornate diction, jewelled with far-sought words and phrases, that not seldom dazzle the reader so thoroughly that it is difficult to make out the outline of the idea under the rich and glittering dress in which it is presented. Mr. Chris. Brennan's poetry is not easy reading. His appeal is to the lettered few. Not at the first, or even at the second, reading will the line and mass of his thought emerge from his verse, but gradually there dawns on one an impression that this poet's plummet goes down to the profundities -- that he takes soundings in a mighty ocean where the purely lyric poets never venture. A huge discontent with the present ways of living looms up with menace. One might say that the Celtic temperament of the poet has -- blended with it -- something of the old Hebraic denunciatory fire."

That Judgment seems to be in general agreement with the opinion of Mr. Hilary Lofting that "one had almost to study Brennan's verse before one could like it." The reviewer, however, goes on to show that the poet is not always obscure and also that at times Chris. Brennan wrote not only with Hebraic fire, but also with the prophetic gift of one of those old Hebrew seers. Take, for instance, those typically Brennanesque verses ending with a prophecy the fulfilment of which at the present time, more than twenty-two years after the critique was printed, appears -- not only to the members of the Rositrucian Order at Perth, who are bent on building an asbestos tower from which to view the conflagration, but also to many millions of other people -- to be dismally imminent.

The first line of the first verse shows that the piece was written in the poet's youth. Here are the verses, sombre and powerful in thought, vividly clear in expression, assuredly indicating "a huge discontent with the present ways of living":

   The yellow gas is fired from street to street,
      Past rows of heartless homes and hearts unlit,
   Dead churches, and the unending pavement beat
      By crowds -- say, rather, haggard shades that flit.

   Round nightly haunts of their delusive dream,
      Where'er our paradisal instinct starves,
   Till on the utmost post its sinuous gleam
      Crawls on the oily water of the wharves.  

   Where Homer's sea loses his keen breath, hemmed
      What place rebellious piles were driven down --
   The priest-like waters to this task condemned
      To wash the roots of the inhuman town!

   Where fat and strange-eyed fish that never saw
      The outer deep, broad halls of sapphire light,
   Glut in the city's draught each namelss maw --
      And there wide-eyed unto the soulless night.

   Methinks a drown'd maid's face might fitly show
      What we have slain, a life that had been free,
   Clean, large nor thus tormented-even so,
      As are the skies, the salt winds and the sea.

   Shall we be cleansed, and how? I only pray
      Red flame or deluge may that end be soon.

That last line stands out stark and grim at the present crisis in the history of civilisation.

The reviewer in his notice comments: "Unlike a great deal of the poetry in this volume, that passage is perfectly straightforward. And it opens vistas. It grips the mind." That cannot be denied. But it is the grip of horror, not of pity. How differently Tom Hood has treated the same "motif" in those lines that begin

   Take her up tenderly,
      Lift her with care.
   Fashioned so slenderly,
      Young, and so fair.


The reviewer reports that there are four long poems in Chris. Brennan's book, the parts of each being loosely connected together by a central idea epitomised in the title. Also there is a set of epilogues. He picks out specially "The Wanderer," because, he says, in it the central thought is clearer, as well as nobler than in the others, while the diction is at the same time less heavily loaded with illusion and more apt in helping the reader to comprehend the complex of scenes, ideas, and emotions, that the author conjures up. "Yet even this poem," he says, must be read again and again before its full meaning beats into the mind. The reflections of an old man with a lifetime of memories behind him -- memories of wife and child long dead, memories of hunger and cold, and everlasting struggle -- arouse clear-cut mental pictures, and the poignant sympathy that is, in fact, a shivering realisation that what the poet describes may be the lot of any one of us some day." Then he adds: "Yet one has sudden glimpses of a new outlook'" and he quotes these lines from "The Wanderer":

   You at whose table I have sat, some distant eve,
   Beside the road, and eaten, and you pitied me,
   To be driven an aimless way before the pitiless winds;
   How much ye have give, and knew not, pitying foolishly!
   For not alone the bread I broke but I tasted, too.
   And you unwitting live, and knew the narrow soul
   That bodies it, in the landmarks of your fields,
   And broods dumbly, within your little season's round
   Where after sowing comes the short-lived summer's mirth.

   And after harvesting the winter's lingering dream,
   Half memory and regret, half hope crouching beside
   The hearth that is" your only centre of life and dream;
   And, knowing the world how limitless and the way how long
   And the home of man how feeble and built on the winds;
   I have lived your life, that eve, as you might never live,
   Knowing and pity you if you should come to know.

Here is the reviewer's summing-up of the poet's message: "That passage conveys the impression somehow that one has been living in a narrow box and that the bottom has suddenly dropped out of it, precipitating one that the immensities. We find in this poem that profound dissatisfaction with life as it is today, which is the moving spirit of all evolutionary progress, and also a noble craving to fight againnst the powers of evil. There is no happiness in inertia. Energy for the strenuous upward climbing, and courage for the combat -- these are the themes of Mr. Brennan's muse."  

Within the past few days this present writer held in his hand, in the publishers' bookshop, one of the large handsomely produced volumes of Chris. Brennan's "Poems" referred to in the old, faded, yellowing "appreciation." It awakened poignant memories. It is the same book, but it was not the identical copy of it that was received two and twenty years ago, "With the compliments of the publisher -- For Review."

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 September 1936

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

Combined Reviews: Foal's Bread by Gillian Mears

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foals_bread.jpg    Foal's Bread
Gillian Mears
Allen & Unwin

[This novel has been shortlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page:
The long-awaited new novel from the award-winning author of The Grass Sister tells the story of two generations of the Nancarrow family and the high-jumping horse circuit prior to the Second World War. A love story of impossible beauty and sadness, it is also a chronicle of dreams 'turned inside out', and miracles that never last, framed against a world both tender and unspeakably hard.


The sound of horses' hooves turns hollow on the farms west of Wirri. If a man can still ride, if he hasn't totally lost the use of his legs, if he hasn't died to the part of his heart that understands such things, then he should go for a gallop. At the very least he should stand at the road by the river imagining that he's pushing a horse up the steep hill that leads to the house on the farm once known as One Tree.

Set in hardscrabble farming country and around the country show high-jumping circuit that prevailed in rural New South Wales prior to the Second World War, Foal's Bread tells the story of two generations of the Nancarrow family and their fortunes as dictated by the vicissitudes of the land.

It is a love story of impossible beauty and sadness, a chronicle of dreams 'turned inside out', and miracles that never last, framed against a world both tender and unspeakably hard. Written in luminous prose and with an aching affinity for the landscape the book describes, Foal's Bread is the work of a born writer at the height of her considerable powers. It is a stunning work of remarkable originality and power, one that confirms Gillian Mears' reputation as one of our most exciting and acclaimed writers.


Owen Richardson in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Gillian Mears was never merely promising: the short stories she published and the Vogel-award-winning The Mint Lawn, all written when she was still in her 20s, showed a talent already working at a high level. In all these books, there was the vitality of a young writer but it was managed by the intelligence and control of a fully mature artist. The Mint Lawn, in particular, is already a contemporary classic and its follow-up, The Grass Sister, kept the standard. It's been 16 years since that last novel. Time and energy have been given over to the battle with illness recounted in her matchless personal essays published in Heat. With Foal's Bread, it's good to see one of our best writers is back in the game...One of the things this book is full of is country myth and superstition - the knowledge of people living at some distance from modern life. Foal's Bread, we learn early on, is something like a little slice of bread a foal has in its mouth when it is born: 'His hands tried to describe the shape and size of the mystery. Fact is, no one knows what it is exactly. In a high-jump foal, it's a sure sign he'll go the heights; for a galloper, fast.' And as the book progresses, it turns out not only to be a mystery - one of the unknowable workings of the world - but a symbol of survival."

Helen Elliott in "The Age": "When a writer of the calibre of Gillian Mears publishes her first novel in 16 years, it's time to sit up straight and take note. Mears wins awards with everything she publishes: the Vogel, the regional Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the Steele Rudd Australian Short Story Award are all notches on her belt. Foal's Bread is another...It is the story of how Noah and Roley, sustained by the high hopes and intense love of youth, set about married life in the cruellest decades of last century. It is the 20th century but life is not far removed from pioneering life. Geographically, the story is contained within a small country district of New South Wales, where annual shows with serious equestrian events are the highlight of the year...Foal's Bread is, gloriously, about horses and the people who are in thrall to them...Another notch, Gillian Mears."

Lisa Hill on the "ANZ LitLovers Blog": "Foal's Bread is not a book to 'enjoy', but I suspect that it will be one of the most talked-about novels of this publishing year. Mears is renowned for her cathartic style and for the way she has 'cannibalized' her own life in her fiction. How readers will interpret that remains to be seen, but it's a very powerful book. Press on through the early bits, it's worth it."

"Whispering Gums" weblog: "Reading this book reminded me a little of reading Tim Winton's Breath. Mears does for horse high-jumping what Winton did for surfing. She made me feel the joy and beauty of the jump, of pushing oneself to achieve just that little bit more in a risky sport, of having a dream that keeps you going, of doing "the impossible". Mears, like Winton, knows her subject inside out, and you feel it in her writing."

Carmen Callil in "The Monthy": "Gillian Mears's new novel tells the story of the Nancarrow family of One Tree Farm, subsistence farmers in rural New South Wales. Its heroine Noah ('Noey') is 14 when the novel begins in 1926; her daughter Lainey is a grandmother as it comes to a close in our century. There is a mother-in-law of monstrous proportions, aunts, children and neighbours, all placed in a horse-jumping and farming community as vividly Australian as anything celebrated in the poems of Les Murray. And uncles: after reading Foal's Bread uncles can never seem the same to any niece...Many moments jar but it's all worth it: this is a powerful, intricate novel of true originality. We must take such an individual voice as it comes, and be grateful for it."

Kim on the "Reading Matters" weblog: "It's a story about love, sex, joy, sadness, jealousy and ambition. It's about complicated families and the ways in which history often repeats itself within those families. It's about the hardship of living on the land in the years between the wars, of milking cows and breeding horses, despite floods, drought and raging bush fires. But above all it's about aspiring to better things -- and chasing dreams...This probably sounds like a soap opera, but Mears refrains from emotionally manipulating the reader. Indeed, the novel is completely free of sentiment, but somehow, in giving her narrative such a strong sense of time and place, you get so caught up in the mood of Foal's Bread that it's hard not to care for the people she writes about. "


ABC Radio National's "The Book Show".

Pip Newling from "Readings".

Book Guru on the "Booktopia" weblog.

"Fancy Goods weblog.

Susan Johnson in "The Advertiser".

Discussion of Christopher Brennan, Part 1

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The following is the start of a three-part discussion of the works of Christopher Brennan that took place in the pages of The Sydney Morning Herald during 1936.  It begins with a report of a lecture by Hilary Lofting, a Sydney journalist and brother of Hugh Lofting (author of the Dr Doolittle books), about the Australian poet Christopher Brennan (1870-1932).

"Only Major Poet": Christopher Brennan

"Christopher Brennan is our one major poet, and there is no published collection of his works. It is a standing disgrace."

This statement was made by Mr. Hilary Lofting, the author, at a meeting of the fellowship of Australian Writers at the Shallmar Cafe last night, when he pleaded for recognition of the poetical talents of the late Christopher Brennan.

Mr. Lofting said that Brennan had been a member of his household during one of the last years of the poet's life. One had almost to study Brennan's work before one could like it.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 16 July 1936

And in response:

Christopher Brennan: To the Editor of the Herald.

Sir,-In his address to the Fellowship of Australian Writers, Mr. Hilary Lofting said: "One had almost to study Brennan, work before one liked it." Then, striking a comparison, he offered the supplementary remark that it needed three hundred years of Shakespeare to be liked. A quip, droll enough to have made old Chris shake his sides, if he had been there to hear it.

Later on in the evening, Mr. Lofting specified it as being "our job to read and know Brennan . . . " a splendid idea for those who can spare themselves "that time which never can return." But, "extra jocum," one cannot govern taste; because no man considers rightly who is unable to think for himself. Moreover, genius owes nothing to testimony; or, if it does, we might subscribe to a new maxim, "Poeta fit non nascitur." In the present case it seems certain that Brennan will come to his fame with a merry wind. During the period of his life, he was a very dear and lovable man; one who, in the words of Edward Gibbon, "multiplied his own experience by reading and reflection, and lived in distant ages and remote countries."

I am etc.


Camden, July 17.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 July 1936

And then:

Christopher Brennan and Fame

Sir, - In regard to his letter in this morning's paper, there is no one more capable of assessing the place of Christopher Brennan, either personally or in his prose and poetry, than Hugh McCrae, and it is always a delight when he writes of anyone. But may I seem to differ and yet go further than Mr. McCrae, and say that perpetuity rests, not on genius, but on rag paper? Genius dies, books perish, but rag endures. Because of this I last week formulated a proposal to the Fellowship of Australian Writers that it initiate a movement for a subscription rag-paper edition of Brennan's complete works. Perhaps there might be a conference arranged of heads of all the bodies interested in scholarship, art, and literature, so that something universal could be done. Brennan was a scholar as well as a writer, and art should be represented in all our commemorating and perpetuating books.

I am, etc.,


King's Cross, July 20

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 July 1936

Followed by:

Chris Brennan.

Sir, - The recently published remarks of Mr. Hilary Lofting as to Chris. Brennan and the subsequent correspondence appearing in your columns are very encouraging. They give, not more heart -- for it is a labour of love for the man as much as his work - but more promise to the writer and Mr. J. J. Quinn in their joint labour already well advanced, of the publication next year of as complete an edition of Chris's prose and verse as the reluctance of some who survive him to produce his books and manuscripts will permit. It is hoped soon to give your correspondents and others interested in the publication of Chris's works an opportunity of displaying that interest in a practical manner. Every time I read in the Press enthusiasms from admirers of Brennan's verse, I am reminded of an occasion when Chris's intellectual attainments being exclusively in eulogy, the late A. G. Stephens stamped angrily about the grass saying, "Why doesn't somebody say what a lovable man he was?" We shook hands. In conclusion, may I ask for leave, publicly, to thank Mr. Hugh McCrae for his letter.

I am. etc.,


Sydney, July 24.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 July 1936

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

Note: This discussion will continue on Friday with a long reply by John Sandes

2012 Indie Award Winners

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The winners of the 2012 Indie Awards were announced over the weekend.  These awards are presented each year by an association of Australia's Independent Booksellers.

The winners were:

The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman (Random House)

Worse Things Happen at Sea by William McInnes and Sarah Watt (Hachette)


All That I Am by Anna Funder (Penguin)

The Little Refugee by Anh & Suzanne Do & Illus Bruce Whatley (Allen & Unwin)

All That I Am by Anna Funder was also awarded the Indie Book of the Year.

You can read the shortlisted works here.

The Everlasting Secret Family by Frank Moorhouse, 1980
Cover photograph by Maikka Trupp.  Cover design by Mary Callahan.
Picador edition 1996

Caricature #14 - "Harold Mercer"

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Poem: The Poet to be Yet by Arthur H. Adams

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Not he who sings smooth songs that soothe --
   Sweet opiates that lull asleep
   The sorrow that would only weep;
   There are some spirit-stains so deep
That only tears may wash away.

Not he whose lays thrill fiercely till
   The soul is sick with surfeiting,
   Such passion flies, and leaves its sting,
   Till through the body quivering
The wearied dull pain throbs again.

Not he whose glad voice says "Rejoice!"
   For whom no clouds o'ercast the sky;
   Whose god is in his heaven so high
   That this dull world he come not nigh:
Life is no sun-kissed optimist!

But he who Sorrow's presence knows,
   Who hears the minor chords beneath
   The song of life, and feels the breath
   Upon his cheek of quiet death,
Yet stirs and sings of life and love.

Who in his suffering yet can sing;
   With that calm pathos in his face ---
   The hopeless yearning of the race ---
   Can chant the faith that holds its place,
Upsurging through each sore heart's speech;

Who, though his heart bleed, onward leads;
   Who knows eternal is our quest,
   Yet bids us toil and strive --- not rest ---
   Who looks life o'er and takes its best ---
This is the poet to be yet!

First published in Maoriland and Other Verses by Arthur H. Adams, 1899.

Reprint: Authorship: Local Discouragements by Arthur H. Adams

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Everybody knows "Punch's" famous advice to those contemplating matrimony, "Don't!"  

The same curt reply must be made in all sincerity to those who are contemplating entering the bonds of Australian authorship. Marriage without means is everywhere regarded as a foolish proceeding, fraught with the probability of disaster. So it is with Australian authorship. Yet there are, strange to say, practising authors in Australia. The itch for writing may explain this paradox; for the real author would write at the North Pole for the pleasure of expressing himself, even if he knew that no eye, save that of a seal, would ever glance at his pages. Australia is a poor country for authorship; and in the arts literature has been, and probably will be, the poor relation of genius. It is true that a subsistence can be made; but it is doubtful whether any writer in this continent has achieved even a modest competence from the sole product of his typewriter. The earnings of the most important profession, that of letters, are meagre and intermittent; and, what is just as important, the writing profession is looked down upon by all worthy citizens. So low down in the scale of importance is the author in Australia that in the honours conferred by the King I cannot remember even an O.B.E. that has been gazetted to an Australian author, unless, of course, he his gained that honour outside   of Australia. No Nobel literary award has ever reached this country.  


What authorship we have in this continent is due to the help of journalism or publicity work; and I know only two poets who are able to publish their works as they should be published. The plight of our authentic Australian authors is too well known to need particularising; our poets die in poverty or are kept alive by the kindness of friends or of the State. Yet our poets are the most important people in the six millions of our inhabitants; they are the voices of Australia; and their songs are the most vital things In our lives. By our poets and our novelists shall we be judged by posterity; and our anthologies will remain immortal while mere prosperous citizens will be forgotten.

One fine thing for which the Director of Education of this State is to be lauded, is the insertion in the school books of our education system of the poems of this land of ours. No longer are the school children taught "The boy stood on the burning deck," but the finest poems in the Australian language. And it is my belief that as these children grow up they will hand down to their children the fine things produced by our poets for eternity. Recently I was asked by a Western Australian blind institute for some of my poems and those of other Australian bards to be translated into the newer Braille type. Hitherto only English verses had been included in the library for the blind.

In order to exist as an author it is necessary to call in the aid of extraneous help. Journalism is the crutch by which most of us manage to exist; and judicially used it is a valuable help. But usually the poet finds that poetry (in Australia) does not pay; and who can fault him when he marries and has to keep a family? The goal is a distant one for the poet or the novelist and the best he can look forward to is a modest competence, though so far I have not found a single poet who has earned enough to retire upon his exiguous gains from Australian literature. The rest of us have to stick to journalism.


There is one important disability that affects all Australian authors, a handicap that is not observable in other English-speaking countries. This is the inherent prejudice of our reading public against Australian novels. The reason is that the reader does not really want to read about his own country. The English novelist is sure of an audience when he writes about England, and similarly the American novelist. Those oversea novelists have not to range the globe to obtain acceptance by the publishers; the majority of English and American authors can set their scene in their own land. The Australian reader prefers the wild west of America to our equally interesting wild west of Australia. There is something exotic in big, broad- brimmed hats of the cowboy that the Australian lacks in the slouch-hat; the stockwhip is a less romantic weapon than the six-shooter. We regard our own country as a dull field for fiction, thought that prejudice is happily dying out. There is, naturally, no romance in the Australian country town or the selection, no romance for us who live in those places; though, of course, romance is everywhere and more so in Australia than in Texas. If an average reader were offered the choice of a novel set in Bourke or one in Piccadilly, the London novel would be chosen. We think we know all about Bourke, perhaps because the right interpreter of Bourke has not yet been born.

Another prejudice that must be killed to give the Australian author his chance is the fact that we meet our local authors and know them too well. Most of them are engaged in journalism; none of them are well off. How can a reporter on a newspaper produce a work of genius? I know no Australian novelist who can afford even a Ford. The Autralian author remains permanently within the employee class, with a few exceptions.

The Australian author has not only to produce readable novels of his own country, but he has to meet a very stern competition against the flood of imported novels. He needs a tariff preference against the imports from America and England. One does not want a high tariff against imported novels, but there should be some arrangement, such as that suggested in regard to the film releases, a percentage of Australian works to be displayed on the booksellers' counters, among the imported fiction. Yet books cannot be bought as boots are. If the Australian reader does not want to read the books of his own country, heaven help us; and that is the only place whence help can come.

As for publishing Australian books in London, there is one important draw-back, the British income tax. I have suffered severely from that impost. I have for many years paid three income taxes, and the British impost is not light. So serious is the aspect that I have told my London literary agents to stop the impending publication of a cheap edition of two or my books; the small profit I would expect is not worth it. The British income tax would swallow my small earnings.  

Yet we novelists and poets go on; we cannot help ourselves.  

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 10 September 1927

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

Combined Reviews: The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman

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street_sweeper.jpg    The Street Sweeper
Elliot Perlman
Random House

From the publisher's page:
How breathtakingly close we are to lives that at first seem so far away.

From the civil rights struggle in the United States to the Nazi crimes against humanity in Europe, there are more stories than people passing each other every day on the bustling streets of every crowded city. Only some survive to become history.

Recently released from prison, Lamont Williams, an African American probationary janitor in a Manhattan hospital and father of a little girl he can't locate, strikes up an unlikely friendship with an elderly patient, a Holocaust survivor who had been a prisoner in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

A few kilometres uptown, Australian historian Adam Zignelik, an untenured Columbia professor, finds both his career and his long-term romantic relationship falling apart. Emerging out of the depths of his own personal history, Adam sees, in a promising research topic suggested by an American World War II veteran, the beginnings of something that might just save him professionally and perhaps even personally.

As these two men try to survive in early twenty-first-century New York, history comes to life in ways neither of them could have foreseen. Two very different paths - Lamont's and Adam's - lead to one greater story as The Street Sweeper, in dealing with memory, love, guilt, heroism, the extremes of racism and unexpected kindness, spans the twentieth century to the present, and spans the globe from New York to Melbourne, Chicago to Auschwitz.

Epic in scope, this is a remarkable feat of storytelling.


Kirsten Tranter in "The Monthly": "Perlman draws extensively on historical records and includes pages of suggestions for further reading. This is fiction, but fiction that deliberately blurs the boundaries between story and history. At the book's heart is an urgent imperative akin to Henryk's: the desire to reveal to anyone - to everyone, to the world - the truth about the Holocaust and the realities of the camps. 'Tell everyone what happened here,' is the last statement of one character, Rosa Rabinowitz, hanged at Auschwitz for her part in a failed uprising. This line re-surfaces and echoes throughout the novel."

Jay Parini in "The Guardian": "The Australian novelist Elliot Perlman does what all good novelists do: reports on the trials of being human in a world that wishes to frustrate every good deed and punishes with consummate cruelty every sin, however slight. The central character in his first novel, 1998's Three Dollars, was made homeless by a financial collapse far beyond his control. In Seven Types of Ambiguity - the title a nod at William Empson - we meet as many narrators whose already unstable lives are knocked off course by one man's abduction of his ex-girlfriend's young son. In his latest, The Street Sweeper, two disparate protagonists struggle to find a footing on desperately uneven ground...Epic is a word that one must use carefully. But this is an epic, in scope and moral seriousness. The story spans half a century, with scenes in New York, Melbourne, Chicago, Warsaw, and Auschwitz. It's mainly a book of memories, but as Perlman reminds us in the opening lines: 'Memory is a wilful dog. It won't be summoned or dismissed but it cannot survive without you.' He could be talking to himself here, as he embarks on a journey that invites us to learn something about how we mismanage our lives, and how when one door closes, another opens. In all of this, 'The trick is not to hate yourself. No matter what you remember.'"

Luke May for "Readings": "Listen. Listen carefully. Shlofmayn kind, shlofkeseyder - for Perlman's new book is not a Yiddish lullaby, but one of the most compelling Holocaust tales since Schindler's Ark. It's been eight years since Seven Types of Ambiguity - that grand epic rivaling The Corrections in its dealings with the fissures between morals and the ability to live - and now we have a new marathon of a book that is every bit as complicated and masterful."

Leyla Sanai in "The Independent": "Weighing in at 550 pages, Perlman's novel may look intimidating, but it's an accessible albeit harrowing read. Perlman has used real history as its basis, drawing on both the racist atrocities which galvanised the US civil rights movement, and on the inhumane crimes of Nazi Germany. Adam's father taught him about the horrific violence that preceded and followed the Brown vs Board of Education case in the US courts which led, eventually, to the end of segregated schools. Adam's boss's father is horrified by a 2007 decision by the Supreme Court to end affirmative action for disadvantaged black kids, and is disgusted by Columbia inviting bigots to speak under the aegis of 'freedom of speech'. Meanwhile, Adam teaches his students about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Nazi-era German Lutheran pastor who drew parallels between the treatment of blacks in the US and that of Jews in his country...Perlman's novel is no mere re-hashing of history, and although the Holocaust details are devastating, they are not gratuitous. The contemporary characters' concerns, meanwhile, are often those we share - Lamont aches for his child; Adam his girlfriend."

David Gates in "The New York Times": "It seems meanspirited to fault so morally and politically righteous a novel for merely literary sins. Its most explicit theme is the necessity of remembering and retelling the stories of the oppressed, the persecuted, the murdered: principally the Jews before and during the Holocaust and African-Americans before and during the civil rights movement. No decent person could argue against this necessity; on the other hand, no decent writer should have to repeat variants of the line 'Tell everyone what happened here' 12 times in two pages of a scene at Auschwitz; it takes on the robotic affect of the People's Microphone at an Occupy rally, and it loses force with each use."


Booktopia interviews Elliot Perlman:

Jane Sullivan in "The Sydney Morning Herald".

"Ten Terrifying Questions" from Booktopia.

Sophie Elmhirst in "The New Statesman".

"The Book Show" on ABC Radio National.


Random Book Talk featuring Elliot Perlman:

ALS Gold Medal Longlist for 2012

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The longlist of works for the 2012 Australian Literature Society Gold Medal has been released.

The nominated works are:

Steven Amsterdam, What the family needed (Sleepers)
Christopher Edwards, People of the Earth (Vagabond Press)
Diane Fahey, The Wing Collection: new & selected poems (Puncher & Wattman)
Anna Funder, All that I am (Penguin)
Gail Jones, Five Bells (Random House)
Gillian Mears, Foal's Bread (Allen & Unwin)
Alex Miller, Autumn Laing (Allen & Unwin)
Favel Parrett, Past the Shallows (Hachette)
Eliot Perlman, The Street Sweeper (Random House)
Gig Ryan, Gig Ryan: New and Selected Poems (Giramondo)
Jaya Savige, Surface to Air (UQP)

A shortlist wil be released in April with the winner announced at the Association for the Study of Australian Literature Conference in Wellington, New Zealand, starting on 4 July.

Reprint: "Tussock Land"

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Under the not very attractive title of "Tussock Land: a romance of New Zealand and the Commonwealth" (T. Fisher Unwin), Mr. Arthur H. Adams tells a story of some note. His hero is one King Southern, a youth with artistic feelings and ambitions, with a love for beautiful things, and with a desire to do beautiful things, with an ambition that is strong enough to urge him to scorn delights and live laborious days -- with, in short, all the qualifications of a genius, except the power of expressing genius. King Southern has also an infinite capacity of loving. The only person he does not love is his father, who is dimly represented as an austere person with direct and narrow views. King Southern loves his mother, but his love is not so strong as to prevent the possibility of his neglecting her for years on end. He loves every beautiful girl he knows in New Zeaiand. Slenderly equipped in point of education, he leaves New Zealand en route for Paris, via Sydney. He is first to educate Sydney -- a mission popular, we are led to believe, in New Zealand. He is to acquire all knowledge attainable in Sydney, leaving in return some serviceable information, and then he is to go on to the old country and electrify artists there, and to do great work himself. The only part of this journey which he effects is the visit to Sydney. Here he works like a man and falls as an artist. He finds after long trial that the pith of the artist is not in him; that he can daub a little and play the dilettante a little, but that not to him belongs the power of making the canvas speak poetry. The daily papers of Sydney, it appears, wisely encourage him to believe that he is a failure, and this verdict, demonstrably correct, is at last accepted by him. Accordingly he goes back to New Zealand and becomes a successful lawyer in the bush. The book is agreeably and cleverly written. It is in some places intensely human, not merely local. It presents a vivid sketch of a not uncommon character -- the youth who starts out to conquer tho world, and who returns home convinced of his own weakness.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 11 June 1904

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

Tales of Mystery and Romance by Frank Moorhouse, 1977
Cover by Helen Semmier
Angus and Robertson edition, 1977

Interview with Deborah Robertson

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sweet_old_world.jpg    Deborah Robertson's debut novel, Careless, in 2006, received a lot of attention. It was the winner of the Nita Kibble and Colin Roderick awards; shortlisted for the Age Book of the Year Awards, the NSW Premier's Literary Award, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, Australian Book Industry Awards, Western Australia Premier's Book Awards an the Miles Franklin Award; and longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and the Orange Prize. A formidable list. And now the author has released her second novel, Sweet Old World. She spoke to Susan Wyndham:
Writing the novel wasn't simple, either. ''I didn't really know what it was when I wrote it the first time,'' Robertson says. It began as the story of three sisters who collaborate to make a baby - one gives an egg, one her womb and the third, infertile sister would raise the child.

''I worked on that for a year, 18 months,'' Robertson says. ''I'd been writing in Perth and turning my wheels and not getting any traction and I thought, OK, I'll upset the apple cart and see what happens.''


Her next move, in 2009, was from Perth to Melbourne.

''It just had to be a big city and I wanted weather as radically different from Perth as possible but not Tasmania. I was trying to make things as hard as possible for myself. I think I write best when things are extreme or I'm in a particular period of intensity in my life. I sort of carve books out of myself.'' She achieved her aim. Living alone in Fitzroy North, she became completely absorbed in her work.

''This is the hardest book I've ever written in ways I could never imagine, probably because of the intense solitary nature and the fact that nothing around me was familiar,'' she says. ''It was essentially a convent life but the devotion was writing. It burned away the last of my illusions about what would be expected of me in a committed writing life.''

Poem: The Scenic Part of Poetry by Charles Harpur

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What's poetic, I ask, if a green Wood is not --
   A green Wood by balmy winds stirred?
And a Runnel that slides with a flash from its grot,
   And a trill like the song of a bird?
And we prize them when pictured by Poesy, more
   Than we did, when old outlying things,       
Because they are brought as it were to our door
   By the spells of the Bard while he sings.    

What's poetic I ask, if a Tempest is not,
   With its dragon-winds bellowing by,
And its thunder-flames seething out, hissingly hot.
   As from fissures and flaws in the sky?  
And we prize it, when pictured by Poesy, more  
   Than we did, when its terror was known,
Because its dread face looketh in at our door
   In its beauty and grandeur alone.

What's poetic, I ask, if the Ocean is not,
   Or in storm, or when calmly it sleeps,
Lying wide as the heaven whose face is begot
   Again in the womb of its deeps?  
And we prize it, when pictured by Poesy, more
   Than we did, when around us it wrought,
Because over thenceforth it lies at our door
   As a mighty possession of thought.

First published in The Empire, 28 October 1857

It has been suggested to me by a well known collector of Australian letters that my recollections of my father, Charles Harpur, the poet, would be of interest to many. I have a very good memory, and events that took place when I must have been very young stand out clearly in my mind. As I was not seven years old when my father died, part of what I shall put down has been told to me by my mother and others.

When we were children we were never tired of listening to my mother telling us stirring incidents that happened on the Araluen goldfield in the days of its prosperity. Among other things my mother told us was that my father, as gold commissioner, was treated like a prince by the hundreds of gold-diggers on the field at the time; also, that his word was law in all things -- there could be no appeal against his ruling. He must have been wise and just, as my mother said there was very little real trouble among the gold-diggers at the time.


When Araluen was on the wane, my father was transferred to Nerrigundah goldfield -- it was always called "The Gulf" in those days. My father had to go and take up his duties at "The Gulf" but my mother remained at Araluen with her children until he had made a home for us. He selected about 500 acres of land on the banks of the Tuross River at Eurobodalla, and called the property Euroma, which I believe, is a black's name. He had a comfortable house built, and a garden and orchard laid out and planted. As the result of my father's forethought, we had a lovely garden and a fine orchard in bearing long before there was another in the district.

I must tell how we had to travel from Araluen to Eurobodalla, about 75 miles -- nothing in these days, but an awful journey at that time. My mother said the road was little better than a rough bridle track. Only saddle and pack horses could be used. There was quite a party of us, consisting of my father and mother, my brothers, Washington and Charley, our nurse Bella (who had been with mother for years), and Mr. Glover, a young man that my father was taking with him to manage and farm the land at Eurobodalla. All of them were riding. There were two or three pack horses. One which Mr. Glover was leading had two Chinese baskets slung across its back. In one was my sister Ada, who was about four years old and in the other my brother Harold, about six years old. I (the writer) being at that time one year and six months old was carried by my father in front of him all the way to Moruya, our first stopping place. A few miles out of Moruya we were met by Mr. Caswell, the police magistrate and his wife, at whose house we spent the night. The next day we continued our journey to our new home. My mother said she was delighted with it as she never expected anything so nice in such a short time.


There was great excitement in the district shortly after this. The Clark gang of bushrangers was reported to be in the hills, and would be sure to stick up "The Gulf" as there was a large amount of gold on hand just then. Most of the storekeepers and hotelkeepers were gold buyers. My mother and servants gathered up their money and valuables, and my mother and Bella hid them in the garden. Mr Glover brought his wife up to our place for the night, so he could look after us all. My brothers were melting lead and making bullets and talking excitedly about the brave things they were going to do if the bushrangers came. Quite a number of men had mustered at our place to proceed to "The Gulf" to help to protect it against the bushrangers. At that time it was nine miles from Eurobodalla to "The Gulf," over a rough track winding around the mountains. Years after a road was made over the mountains, which shortened the distance between the two places to six miles.

The party of horsemen could only ride at a slow pace, so it was after dark before they arrived at "The Gulf". The bushrangers had already attacked Nerrigundah, and had shot a young policeman named O'Grady dead. A stone monument to Constable O'Grady's memory was erected near the old police station. The leader of the gang, Tommy Clark, went into the store of Pollock, one of the largest gold buyers, and demanded the key of the gold safe. Mrs Pollock had it in her hand at the lime, but instead of giving it to him she threw it out into the dark street, saying, "Go and find it." I believe that as he raised his gun angrily she said, "Would you be coward enough to shoot a woman?" Just then my father's party and other men arrived, and they drove the bushrangers to the hills again before they had time to get the haul of gold they expected. My father and a number of others followed them all that night, exchanging shots with the bushrangers several times, but the country was so wild and mountainous that they lost them before daylight. However, the bushrangers never appeared in the district again.


The first great trouble came into my father and mother's lives not long after this. My brothers, Washington and Charlie, were out duck shooting with a number of other boys. When they were about to return home, Charlie, who waa only 13 years old, stood on a log to mount his horse, and pulled his gun up after him. It went off, and shot him through the heart. I have never forgotten that dreadful evening. Even now, when I think of it, I can see my brother Washington galloping wildly home, screaming "Charlie's shot! Charlie's shot!" Washington was only a young boy, and the awful shock at seeing the brother he loved so dearly, dead in a minute before his eyes almost unbalanced his mind for the time. From this   time, my father was a changed man. Instead of being kindly and loving, he became stern and silent, and as children do not understand grief we grew to be rather in awe of him. I have often wondered since if we had had the courage then to let him know how we missed his loving ways, would he have thrown his brooding sorrow off a little for our sakes.

My mother has told me that my father was not unduly worried by the office of gold commissioner being abolished, as Sir John Robertson had assured him that as soon as his health was restored he would receive an appointment as police magistrate, and Sir John was always a man of his word. Unfortunately my father's health did not improve, and was now causing a great deal of anxiety. He had to take frequent journeys to Sydney, often accompanied by my mother, to see his doctors.  

Soon he became too ill to go anywhere. I can remember clearly the night he died. My brother and sister and myself were taken out of our beds by our nurse, Bella, and, going into my father's room each of us kissed him. I can see my mother standing at the head of the bed on which my father lay, but I think what impressed itself most on my memory was seeing Mr. Glover kneeling at the foot of the bed sobbing bitterly. I stood on a chair with Bella's arms around me, and she was saying over and over again: "Oh, the poor fatherless darlings."

Most who have written about my father's life seem to imply that he was most improvident, and a poor business man. No man could leave a fortune behind him on a salary of eight or nine hundred a year. My father left no debts, an unencumbered farm, a well- furnished, comfortable home, which I am sure was much better than most would have done on the same salary, although he was a poet.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 August 1929

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

Combined Reviews: Five Bells by Gail Jones

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five_bells.jpg    Five Bells
Gail Jones
Random House

[This novel was shortlisted for the 2011 Victorian Premier's Literary Award and the 2012 Festival award for Literature (SA), and has been longlisted for the 2012 Australian Literary Society Gold medal.]

From the publisher's page:
On a radiant day in Sydney, four people converge on Circular Quay, site of the iconic Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Each of the four is haunted by memories of the past: Ellie is preoccupied by her experiences as a girl, James by a tragedy for which he feels responsible, Catherine by the loss of her beloved brother in Dublin and Pei Xing by her imprisonment during China's Cultural Revolution. Told over the course of a single Saturday, Five Bells describes vividly four lives which chime and resonate. By night-time, when Sydney is drenched in a rainstorm, each life has been transformed.


Stella Clarke in "The Australian": "This new novel establishes Gail Jones as one of Australia's finest authors. Beyond storytelling, her art consists in a remarkable ability to release life from numbing habit. Her prose is poetic and infinitely pleasurable, imbued with a rare capacity to awaken. She reconciles what is richly human with mundane and alienating aspects of our sophisticated world...Five Bells is a brilliant work, both explicitly Australian and insistently cosmopolitan. Though vivid images of harbour and opera house pervade the narrative, triggering exquisitely rendered perceptions, Jones's Sydney is a global hub and her literary allegiance exceeds national boundaries. Jones is unafraid of making bold statements with her writing. Five Bells pays beautiful homage to modernism and self-consciously translates its enduring gifts into a contemporary Australian context. As with James Joyce's Ulysses and Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway, Five Bells takes the space of only one day. As it draws to a close, the elegiac tones of Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man are soulfully transposed on to the darkening harbour scene. The book is most emphatically anchored, however, in the agonised, brooding lyricism of one of Australia's best-known poems."

Jack Nicholls in "Meanjin": "Jones' novel is inspired by the 1939 Kenneth Slessor poem of the same name, and shares its elegiac tone and Sydney Harbor setting. The story follows four diverse characters through a sunny day in the city. There is Ellie, the optimist; James, the depressive; Catherine, the practical Irish tourist, and Pei Xing, serene survivor of China's Cultural Revolution. The fifth 'bell', a child, makes a fleeting appearance at the end...Each of the protagonists is grappling with loss - dead children, dead parents, dead siblings. At its heart, Five Bells is about how different people respond to grief. Some people accept it and move on, some people flee it, and some people are frozen by it...A story like this stands and falls on its characterisation, and for me this was where Five Bells stumbled. Particularly so with James; who came across as more fantasy than real man. An emotionally sensitive intellectual, with the dishevelled charm of an 'aging rock star', his pronouncements on sex are romantic to say the least: 'women didn't realise this: that the noise a man made when he came was of gratitude, simply to have been admitted'."

Peter Pierce in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "Jones does not shirk coincidence, any more than Dickens did, believing that our fates are inextricably if inexplicably entwined. This is how Jones eloquently states her view of the matter: "Strange how time seemed now and then to reverse, patterns to slip over and resume in another life." Gently reinforcing this notion are recurrent motifs of the novel, among them snow, James Joyce's story The Dead and the clepsydra. These are things apparently so different that Jones makes congruent...Five Bells is a taut, intricately organised short novel yet gives the impression of expansiveness. It moves with the confidence and mastery that mark Jones as one of the most distinguished of a vintage bunch of contemporary Australian novelists. She tells compelling stories that only at first, and superficially, seem strange or improbable. They are of the private and personal kind, the stuff of memory, regret and sometimes renewal."

Jem Poster in "The Guardian": "The novel's setting reflects Jones's recent move from the west coast of Australia to the east. Sydney's quayside and opera house provide the focal centre of a narrative that draws together four very different characters, charting their thoughts and movements through a single day in the city. ..This is an unapologetically literary novel, insistently highlighting its own rootedness in the modernist tradition: Pound and Joyce are invoked, along with Wallace Stevens, Faulkner, Nabokov and (in the novel's borrowed title) the Australian poet Kenneth Slessor. But the presiding spirit, never explicitly acknowledged but implicated at every turn, is Virginia Woolf. The deepest correspondences here are undoubtedly with Woolf's fiction and in particular - in the narrative's tracing of intersecting lives across a busy city during the course of a single day - with Mrs Dalloway."

Alice Nelson in "The West Australian": "Earlier this year, I received my advance copy of Jones' latest novel, Five Bells. I love Jones' work so much that it is impossible for me to adopt a reviewer's posture here...As soon as Five Bells arrived in the mail, I took the phone off the hook, made a pot of mint tea and opened to the first page with a delicious thrill. Those first lines, that knowledge that you are in safe hands. Those sentences filled with such resonant, profound depth that they seem to open the world up a little, to enlarge possibility...When I closed the book later that evening, I felt that in some strange way, in her story of four strangers whose lives fleetingly intersect, Jones had captured the unarticulated arc of my own life, of all of our lives."


Fiona McGregor for "Readings".

David Gaunt for "Bookseller+Publisher".

Magdelana Bell on "The Compulsive Reader".

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