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Reprint: Our Own Writers: Poets Alive by Nettie Palmer

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Anxiously watching the course of poetry as it comes into existence among us, I feel that its chief writers have been endangered by two precipices -- on the one hand that of wishing to display a little learning and to write as a gentleman instead of as a human being; on the other hand, that of saying, "I'm just writing about the bush so the more slapdash the better; there's nothing literary or intense about the bush!" These twin heresies have persisted in surprising places but our genuine writers falling into neither of them, have pressed straight on in the belief that they are free to write about "the whole of life" to the best of their power.

Poetry at its rarest remains "the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge." It is true that the adequate presentation in prose of our experiences has required an adult type of organisation in publishing and reviewing-an organisation beginning to appear. It is true that it has required also an adult, unhesitating stance on the part of the prose writer, usually a novelist. But we can hardly suggest that poetry, because of its more primitive form of publication to-day is more childish than prose. It was childish in olden times to write histories and prescriptions in verse; and many bad kinds of verse writing to-day are childish in the worst sense.  It was childish to do what the late Ella Wheeler Wilcox did, for of her it was written, "She says in verse what most of those who think with her have already said in prose." It has been childish here, too, when one good bush yarn after another, deserving to be told and retold round the camp fires until it became a brief prose masterpiece, was drearily flattened into a yard or two of jog-trot verse instead. We can contrast the limping, padded fourteener lines characterising most of these episodes in verse with the crisp prose of Lance Skuthorpe's tiny fantasy, "The Champion Bullock-driver." A prose theme dragged needlessly into verse is certainly childish, but it is not poetry.

The Poetic Idea

How does a poet decide what is fit for poetry? Onlookers may use someone's serviceable dogma: "An idea fit for poetry is on idea which, if turned into prose, still craves to be expressed in verse." Our popular balladists of the past only in the rarest instances have expressed genuinely poetic ideas; usually we must turn to those less known poets that have arisen since. Certain of these have indeed attempted to capture that finer spirit of knowledge. O'Dowd has been a significant growing-point of our literature and he has his successes. I think it is interesting and not accidental that when four of our poets published books last year each had published poems quite 30 years ago. Perhaps the spectacle of Hardy, Bridges, and now, Yeats, able to "burn brighter toward the setting sun," has begun to destroy the wicked old doctrine that no man can write poetry after 40. If Yeats had supposed that when the first flush of romantic youthful lyricism had left him his poetic expression was over, we should never have had those later miracles in which a mature man thinks aloud with his whole being.

Of William Baylebridge's recent book of sonnets, "Love Redeemed," I have written already a little. There came also Furnley Maurice's "Melbourne Odes," perhaps the eighth book by this poet. A new departure in their freedom and diversity, these odes were definitely "signed" by the poet, who published an unsigned collection, "Unconditioned Songs," in 1913.  Furnley Maurice in other volumes, such as "The Gully," approached themes diffcult in themselves. If English "rural" poets are in danger of falling upon commonplaces when they now write of nightingale or daisy, these subjects each having had epithets limpetted to them for centuries, our poets have so far on opposite difficulty. They have yet to find even the barest words for the prolonged yodel of the magpie, or for the whipbird's note like a single plash into a pool. See how Furnley Maurice balances a famous refrain on the paradoxical word "soft":-
   The softness of a Kookaburra's crown,  
      The wind puts softly up and solely down
   His eyes of love that almost humanly speak        
      Peering in softness o'er that murderous beak!    

In "Melbourne Odes," using the same freshness of attack he has set himself to suggest a modern city, its literal rectangles of street and building, its noise and glare, then the contradiction of its soaring towers and over those towers the more incredible sky.

Macartney and Shaw Neilson  

Frederick Macartney's "Hard Light" was written in a serviceable anger, his Dr. Fell being a place, Darwin. Using many lyrical forms and varieties of mood he finally tears himself away. Under his scornful touch the region with its subtle tortures and oddly beautiful mitigations is made alive, as it could hardly have been by songs of direct praise. There is a clearcut intensity in this hard light, making the reader glad to look up the poet's earlier books. The fourth of last year's books was Shaw Neilson's "Collected Poems" -- all the poet is willing to acknowledge -- and we can only guess at a postscript. It is curious to remember that Shaw Neilson began as one of the balladists in the 'nineties though not at ease in that galley. Then came some of his velvet-smooth lyrics with their suggestion of escape from a Mallee township into a world of conservatories, but soon he found his own poise, and it came from the very "poor country" he had best known.

   The blue cranes fed their young all day-how far in a tall tree!
   And the poor, poor country made no pauper of me.

His runaway rhythms are delicately his own:-
   When thou art gone a little way
      I am in a cold fear:
   The day like a long sickness is,
      And I count the moon a year.

   I fool it on the mist, - the heart
      Renounces liberty.

These four poets, working apart, would probably agree in their literary outlook. Probably, too, if Robert Fitzgerald were to publish a new collection. It would have some harmony with them. Fitzgerald has a robustness, while at the same time being the chief Australian to adapt the rhythms of the later Yeats.

There are movements in another direction. For instance, Bertram Higgins's most significant poem, "Mordecaius Overture," has gradually penetrated the inquiring literary consciousness. While disagreeing with some of his dogmas as a guide to writers less creative than himself -- for he has taught them to reject images from the life around them, as if what had never yet found expression were already outworn -- I cannot "disagree with" his work itself, which is difficult, original, and profound. (A little foreigner once gave me, as his reason for going to Sydney by train, "I do not agree with the sea.") Higgins's explicit influence has been in the direction of a rather sterile intellectualism, producing sharpshooters and not singers, but his example has been salutary where it has not been overwhelming. His associates, who in most instances would choose to be called his followers, include two who have published in book form -- Edgar Holt and Clive Turnbull, each with passages of individual brilliance interrupted by pieces so frankly in the manner of T. S. Eliot, as to be intended surely as studies.  The course of this movement is impossible to foresee, and a guess is made no easier by the presence, on the circumference, or another poet of great skill, D. P. McGuire. One thing is clear, it wears no kind of moleskins; as for the alternative the belltenner, what form would it take in 1935?

First published in The Argus, 16 March 1935

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

Reprint: Roderic Quinn's Poems

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Roderic Quinn many years ago forsook the study of law and the practice of school teaching for the flowery paths of literature, and since then has poured forth a stream of verse, much of which contains the pure gold of poetry.  He is now near his grand climacteric, and as is fitting has issued a volume, of his collected poetry. All his best-known and most appreciated efforts are included. 

Here in this book are to be found A Grey Day and The Camp Within the West, which date back to the last century, but have retained, their interest for all amateurs of Australian verse. The Lotus Flower and The Seeker also have long been widely known. They have a quality that seems likely to ensure their permanence. But, for many, Quinn's poems of the free life of the West will have the stronger appeal. The toast of the men in the Out-east camps - 
   Last with this-may their hearts discover,       
      On every track that the outcast tramps,   
   A friend in need and at need a lover,
   Green grass round them and kind stars over           
      And dreams of peace in their western camps.  
A virile roughness in the verse that would have been condemned by the Victorians is counted a virtue now, and grandsires and grandsons, will have to settle the question on the heights of Olympus. A fine volume closes with a noble poem, The Soul of the Anzac.  Our copies of both publications come to us from Mr, W. H. Hurd, bookseller and news agent, Wilson street, Burnie. 

First published in The Advocate, 24 December 1920

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

Reprint: Our Own Writers: Novels From Nowhere by Nettie Palmer

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Significant prose appeared in Australia later than poetry. If in the last decade the novel has arrived with a strange rush, it had been preceded by 50 years in which the joke about our huge crop of spring poets was as monotonous as the mother-in-law joke in America. Furphy, Lawson, Barbara Baynton -- a few names of story writers stood out like islands in an ocean of balladry. This lag in prose was caused, I would cautiously suggest, largely by external conditions. For the novelist there existed no vehicle at all, but it was possible for almost any competent verse-writer to be published in some journal, the awful truth being that he has consistently been paid by the line, by quantity, instead of quality, with every incentive to pad; and all honour to those who have kept sound and terse! After appearing in a journal, a poet could fairly easily publish his work in book form -- at his own expense, of course, for that is expected of a poet. It costs less to produce, in the usual small edition, the comparatively few words of a poet, stringing down the page like a small mob of cattle, than to publish the sixty, eighty, or a hundred thousand words of a novel and to put that novel into effective circulation. The publishing of poetry can be an amateur matter: to publish novels steadily, a country needs to be more professional in its publishing habits, a little more grown up. Even when our novels of the past decade were actually published abroad, they were more or less well circulated here and helped to change the whole literary outlook.

No Audience in Advance

What novels were these? One after another, they were so unexpected, and their writers' names usually so little known, that it was natural to call them novels from nowhere. Not that they lacked marks of their origin: from Katharine Prichard's "Working Bullocks" in 1925, to F. D. Davison's "Man Shy" three years ago or Brian Penton's "Landtaker's" last year, each one belonged to some part of this huge and varied country. If they came from nowhere, it was that they came like rain from a blue sky. As Joseph Furphy said roundly about his "Such Is Life," they were definitely not written in answer to numerous requests. Our novelists had no eager audience in advance. Perhaps the same blank was felt by a novelist in Russia before Gogol and Goncharov; perhaps it was felt in America a hundred years ago, when Fenimore Cooper timidly began his literary career, I understand, by writing society novels set in the drawing-rooms of London, where he had never been. What it was that turned him bravely in the direction of the Redskin I don't know, but there it was, and his books made it seem natural for Americans to expect something interesting; from their country. With us the age of such a discovery is still in the present. Those of our novelists whose books are something more than imitative commercial products have had to write without models, and to descry their own patterns of life in this chaos; their work has indeed been

    All carved out of the carver's brain.

Attempting what had not been touched before they had to be original or perish, and they have not perished.

If one names a certain few of these, it is because their influence as part of what has been called the "literature of direction," has been so important. In these notes I can only suggest how our literature has begun to develop and perhaps indicate a few growing points. As a novel of "direction" as well as for its own greatness, H. H. Richardson's, trilogy, "The Fortunes of Richard Mahony," stands out; the only trouble is that it could not arrive several decades earlier. In Australian novels the literary pace was set in the nineties -- with no guarantee of maintenance -- by a novelist like Boldrewood, who for all his robust qualities had a "colonial" attitude and observed the conventional formula of the happy ending. If at that time we had had an H. H, Richardson, somewhat as South Africa had as her literary initiator, Olive Schreiner, the doors of opportunity for our genuine literary expression would almost certainly have been forced open long ago, and publishing houses would have become active far sooner. As it is, the existence of the Mahony trilogy has made publishers less reluctant to handle Australian books of literary quality, and readers less automatic in their demand for a happy ending at all costs. It used to be assumed, at least by publishers, that an Australian novel would give its characters plenty of physical adventures, plenty of "out-west," but no complex adventures of the spirit. That we are just beginning to live that down is due largely to the world-wide respect for H. H. Richardson, who, after her great European success with "Maurice Guest," thought it worth while to give 15 years to the construction of a novel on Australia's major historical problem -- that of the immigrant in all his resistances, faced by this new country in all its early crudities.

A True Prospector

The literary courage of a novelist like Katharine Prichard it is impossible to express except in comparing her with a prospector in the desert, and having only a few tools. In "Working Bullocks" she first found her true tune, weaving into her prose the bush sounds and words and little songs that nobody had known how to combine before, and thus presenting her illusions -- a bullock team in a jarrah forest, men working in a timber mill, lovers picnicking in a drowsy hillside noon. Her style is a very subtle web, but because she constructs it out of dead leaves and sticks as well as diamonds, its quality has often gone unnoticed. Her successive books have opened one window after another upon our scene; one of them, indeed, as an admirer wrote in a recent book, "Haxby's Circus," "moves like a gaily coloured beetle across the Australian panorama"; but to suggest as Professor Hancock did some time ago that Miss Prichard has merely covered our geography with descriptive writing is to miss her fathomless and unfailing human sympathy.

Novels from nowhere

There was F. D. Davison's beautiful small book, "Man Shy," cunningly reviewed once by Elzevir in such a way as to astound you when he at last revealed that the attractive, tragic little heroine was a wild cow. In an American edition just out there is no ambiguity, for the title is "Red Heifer." There were those unexpected books of crowded adventures and reminiscences, chronicles of the early days in the romantic Snowy River country, by Brent of Bin Bin: "Up the Country " and "Ten Creeks Run." Several years have passed since M. Barnard Eldershaw's decorative and four-square novel of old Sydney, "A House Is Built," was followed by a smaller canvas, "Green Memory," but this composite author has not said her last word. Leonard Mann's war novel, ''Flesh in Armour," in itself would justify a surmise that we were now adult: in his fearless adherence to invigorating fact and his few passages of lyrical ecstasy this writer shows that the novel is not his master, but his biddable slave.  

If like many people I am unwilling to believe that poetry should yield any of its real territory to prose, still I am convinced that the production of imaginative prose literature is necessary to any country to-day. What is a novel? "The development of character through narrative" is a definition that will serve. We need interpretation in such a form, and we are gradually getting what we need.  Our novelists are now, if not encouraged, at least permitted to write in the fullness of their talent. Some of their books, in a secondary function, may, like "Man Shy," act as our ambassadors abroad. 

First published in The Argus, 9 March 1935

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

Reprint: Vance Palmer: An Appreciation by K.S.P.

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Vance Palmer, who has won the first prize offered by "The Bulletin" for a serial this year, is a Queenslander, although he is at present living in Victoria. Last year he was also a prize dinner in this competition; and his recent novels and stories have been of such exceptional quality that no one is surprised at their success.

His many friends winner and admirers will be delighted, for Vance Palmer is one of those Lamb-like men whom everybody loves. His kindliness and charm of manner are reflected in his writing; as also the tranquil depths of his austere mind and sensitive humor. He has written poems and plays, essays and novels, the best known of which are: "The Forerunner" (poems), "The Black Horse," a one-act play, "The Man Hamilton," a novel, and "Men Are Human" to be published in book form presently.

After wandering about the world a good deal in his youth, inspecting a revolution in Mexico and journeying across Siberia to call on Tolstoy, Mr. Palmer lived some years in London, Paris and New York, contributing yarns of adventure and more serious sketches to the "Munsey Magazine," "Adventure," "The New Age" and other reviews. In 1913 he married Miss Nettie Higgins, a niece of Justice Higgins, herself a poet and critic of distinction, and renouncing dazzling prospects in England and America, came home to devote himself to a knowledge and expression of his own country and people.

So capable a craftsman might have made the easy fortune which is to be had by churning out horrors or cowboy romances. But Vance Palmer is an idealist, the most generous and single minded of men, and so devout in his service both to literature and this country that he has given the best he is capable of in his books always.

First published in The Daily News (Perth), 26 March 1930

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

Note: I wonder if the "K.S.P." here is Katharine Susannah Prichard.

If the achievement of Bernard O'Dowd in the development of Australia's literary life was to reconcile what I have had to call the belltopper and the moleskin, there have been other poets, slightly more recent in their activities, whose achievement it has been to take such a reconciliation for granted. As writers, both the hesitating colonial gentleman and the robustly crude bushman were to be followed by those who were neither childish, like the first, not adolescent, like the second, but adult. Australia, to a writer in this modern vein, does not seem, as America to Henry James, a meaningless and dreary place of exile. It is not a colony to exploit but a home and he grows up in it naturally and critically.

Consider in this light William Baylebridge, a writer so typical, such a symbol, that we should have to invent him, though we should hardly be clever enough. Like O'Dowd, this poet is conspicuous for a certain dignity and austerity, but these of a type all his own, differing from O'Dowd's more and more as you penetrate the stately avenue of words. His important book of 123 sonnets, "Love Redeemed," has just been published and made accessible in the ordinary way. One mentions this matter of publication because for more than 20 years this writer has been apt to appear in limited editions, privately printed, subtly circulated, very remote -- more remote even than the usual poetry in a "practical" community like ours. One further point is that when Baylebridge began to write -- his first book of poems appeared, I think, in 1912 -- and for long afterwards, he used the name of William Blocksidge. Those who read Baylebridge and therefore want more of him should not make the mistake of passing by a book with Blocksidge on the title page.  

An Individual Type

William Baylebridge presents throughout a peculiarly unswerving literary type. Whether writing in the strict sonnet or the most untrammelled of free verse, whether making verse or prose, he is always himself, a composite, an amalgam from his personal heritage and experiences, but above all, and at great distances of time, a unity. In diction he shows an eclectic archaism liable to be fused, very thoroughly with a racy modern slang, as in the prose of Shakespearian soldiery. His sensuous images, when concerned with landscape, are sometimes general, as if taken from a common poetic treasury, but taken with this poet's own strongly conceived purposes and rhythm ever in mind:

   The wind, that sedulous shepherd of the sky
      Has driven his flocks to their Hesperian fold
   To water them where pools how lucent lie!  
      And wash their purple fleece in lakes of gold.

Sometimes again his images spring from an individual vision which his style endows with a universality. In another of the new sonnets there is a characteristic passage where the very name of the wind, having a slight extra syllable, shakes the line: -

   Oft lo! on some veiled hint, the southerly woke
   And stirred the silence.

Baylebridge's ideas and sometimes his verse forms are heavily tinged with German literary influences which he experienced in his youth; influences of the more epigrammatic and lyrical sort. Some of his brief early lyrics in "Moreton Miles" were surely influenced by Heine.   As for his prose style, at least in fiction, I have an admission to make. There is only one man whose work, from its style and subject-matter, I was once inclined to ascribe to Baylebridge. That was Mr. A. W. Wheen, whose "Two Masters," an unforgettable short story of the war, appeared perhaps 10 years ago in the London "Mercury" and has often been reprinted in anthologies and as a small chapbook. The man who found he could not serve two masters was a soldier in the Australian forces, who, on account of his intimate knowledge of German, was detailed as a spy. Behind the German lines he involuntarily makes the most intimate friendship of his life, the two men leading and thinking together in excitement and joy. When the hour strikes for the work he has come to   do, the spy cannot bring himself to complete it, but walks out into a barrage on No Man's Land. This story, with its dignity and fullness was not, after all, by Baylebridge author of "An Anzac Muster," with its chain of stories. Mr. Arthur Wheen, also an Australian, is an author in his own right, and as a translator has been responsible for perhaps the most famous of all German war-books. The   resemblance in style between the two writers is remarkable, to judge from "Two Masters." Striking, too, was the coincidence that two Australians should be so closely intimate with German literary expression.

Epigram and Essay

For the rest, Baylebridge's prose style in epigram and essay is his own. In a curious book of related fragments, called "National Notes," he set down part of his credo some years ago. If I have called him the examiner perhaps some of these notes will go far to explain why, though the same questioning -- not wistful, like O'Dowd's, but rather an assured challenge -- pervades his poems, too.  

    The time has arrived for a judicious examination of our convictions, our principles, our dreams.

    Leave the past and live in the present; in the mind of the present even must the past be conceived. Let not the present live at the cost of future.

    We would fling large gifts, fling gifts with both hands into the abyss of the future.

Baylebridge very early evolved for himself a diction that seems always competent to express his particular view of life -- vigorous yet subtle; a diction nobody else could use. With the sweep of Elizabethan rhetoric, yet with the vision of a new country always before his eyes, he can use old, robust words and make them his own: some of them being rather Latin words that peered into English, centuries ago, and then withdrew, words we could have done with very well. "The utile canons," he writes in one sonnet, and then --

   Who lifted man from earth ignores his fuss,
      His queasy coils of overconsciousness,
   Strong Nature, working out of sight in us, 
      Compels us, without choice, to her redress 
   Upon this flesh Nature descends and thrills it, 
      Thrills it with godlike impulse, makes it one
   With the energy that quickens heaven and fills it:
      Through this, through love, the will of God is done.
   The lover through and through then touches being,
      Explores the abyss of self, stands in amaze --
   The affined one too. And both, in that deep seeing,
      A thousand years beyond each other gaze --     
         And gather into a moment, goal of goals,
         The myriad dreams of their prenatal souls. 

I have been led on to transcribe the whole sonnet! It is for the reader to see how the man who uses half-forgotten, yet vivid, words, such as "queasy coils" and "affined," can somehow handle, in verse, a prosy word such as "fuss" and make it work hard and well. If may be said, indeed, that Baylebridge wears neither the Victorian's belltopper nor the bushman's moleskins. His costume, worn as naturally as a bird wears its feathers, has something of the Elizabethan about it, a hint of inconspicuous Australian khaki, yet the general contour of modern man. If he has suffered as well as gained by being an Australian, it is in this way, that to be a writer in this country is to be a disregarded person engaged in a freak occupation, and there may creep into the words of even the boldest and least apologetic of poets a slight note of isolation, a take-it-or-leave it obscurity of phrase. Past any such obscurities, however, comes flooding Baylebridge's strong assurance that we can share in the whole of life; that we are not, as the phrase goes, cut-off and isolated, but here, and ready for the future.

First published in The Argus, 2 March 1935

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

Reprint: Baylebridge's New Poems

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Although he has lived in Sydney for the last 20 years, since returning to Australia from England, William Baylebridge is Brisbane-born and educated, an old pupil of the East Brisbane State school and the Brisbane Grammar. He is the greatest poet Queensland has produced.

Baylebridge's poetry is frequently very obscure, but his lines are as polished as an agate; and he is one of the few really accomplished writers of poetry in Australia. His latest volume is entitled "Sextains"; and, like, all that he has published of recent years, it has been issued from his own private Tallabila Press, beautifully printed and delicately bound. In this work Mr. Baylebridge is as keen a craftsman as he is a poet, always a lover of the beautiful.

What he calls 'Sextains' are poems of six lines, each complete in itself. In the sonnet he has no equal in Australian poetry, although many of those in "Love Redeemed" are obscure in meaning and full of the conceits of the 17th century poets, who have had on him a curiously marked influence. In the same way he has made himself a master of the sextet, a vehicle of verse that is rarely used because of its rhythmic difficulties and its need for compression. Mr. Baylebridge has collected 40 of them. That entitled "The Miracle" is an illustration of his mastery of this kind of verse:

   My heart: its birds away, its branches bare,
      Swooned in eclipse; the wind through these that sighed,
   Chill-breath'd, seemed 'burthening, in some lost despair.
      Its perished music and its withered pride.
      You laughing came: it woke; and flowering wide,
            All Spring was there!

All are like that: lines of intense beauty, but obscure in meaning until you seek it out. However obscure he may appear to some readers, he is certainly not slovenly. He knows what he wants to express, and he will search until he has found the one word that will serve the purpose. Like the poetry of Chris Brennan, it is not popular, but popularity is not one of the things that William Baylebridge has ever sought.      

"SEXTAINS," by William Baylebridge (private Tallabila Press, Sydney).

First published in The Courier-Mail, 28 January 1939

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

Looking back over our hundred years, as we have lately been taught to do, we may be struck by the appearance of maturity, or at least of "grown-upness," in the early figures that chiefly catch the eye. Ladles in large and formal dress, gentlemen in belltopper and appropriate whiskers; houses with the term"gentleman's residence" written all over them-these are what we see when we pore over a record such as E. M. Robb's "Early Toorak and District," or that more recent treasure trove, "Georgiana's Journal." Each man described was a gentleman, a mister Whether in a town mansion or a station homestead he would never forget the social order; he and his friends, exiles from far-away countries would ever attempt to reproduce and sustain the ways of the different world they had left. Fashions in clothes, art, or literature would take some time to arrive here, and they would be all the more respected. Culture was something imported at great expense. If you painted, your subject -- unless it were a portrait or unless you were the sensitive Georgiana Mccrae -- would be a stag by a Yorkshire ford or an angel in Italy. If you wrote, literature was something abstract, a commentary on what had been brought to you by the mail; you wrote with your blinds down, your eyes averted from the scene. Or if, indeed, you decided to write some chapter of colonial experiences, a Peter Possum's Portfolio or Christopher Cockle's experiences you were carefully facetious and wrote as a Gulliver in Lilliput; in short, you were a belltopper.

Two solid books on Australian literature written in 1866 by G. B. Barton for   the International Exhibition in France -the whole thing is incredible enough -- show us the literary intentions of the period. One called "Literature in New South Wales" is devoted to specimens of work, but apart from Wentworth's early verse and a long descriptive poem by Charles Harpur there is little to make a reader remember that he is in a new country. There is distinct avoidance of atmosphere, the prose is rhetorical, abstract, above all imitative and sterile. Barton himself has unusually constructive ideas and a forthright style in the companion volume he even lays down propositions and makes demands still ahead of us in 1934 -- that we ought immediately to have literary and general reviews, build- ing up an intellectual life of our own. When he said that we needed more vigorous and firsthand intellectual experiences he knew what he was asking, for had he not been reading through all that had been produced here? He seemed to suggest that it was not enough to keep the world safe for imported belltoppers; that, in fact, we needed to grow up. Indeed those early writers, as we now see them, perhaps unkindly, seem like children playing "Father." They were not grown up; too many of them were for avoiding the real problems of this new world and of life in general. As colonials, not yet Australians, they were for making a fortune and going home with it.

The Old Bush Songs

Meanwhile, outside the view of these litterateurs, certain people were beginning to grow up. Bushmen in moleskins, scrambling for wood and water and the means of existence, miners and bullock-drivers, overlanders and informal explorers of all sorts -- these were the youth of Australia, their words the expression of a fumbling adolescence. You sometimes hear them still if you find one of the old bush songs, in its half comical roughness, suggesting a boy's voice breaking. Outrageous as they must have seemed to the frock-coated gentlemen, whose own words were a preservative of recognised cultural commodities, these old songs often harked back to more ancient traditions, those of the broadsheet ballad and its mysteriously anonymous predecessors. These bush songs are disappearing. Having an inkling of one of them, I asked more than once if any wireless listener could reclaim it, and this was recently done by taking the words down gradually from the memory of an old man who had not heard or sung them for 50 years.  This song without an author has a theme as old as the Crusaders at least-that of the young woman willing to dress as a page and go with her lover to the wars, the crusade of the bush being the industrial struggle. The transposition is grotesque, but by no means a parody; there is at least adolescent seriousness.

    Oh! hark, the dogs are barking,
      I can no longer stay.  
   The men they are out mustering,    
      I heard the squatter say.
   I am off down to Yanko,
      Though it's many a weary mile,
   And I'll meet the Sydney shearers    
      On the banks of the Condamine.

   Oh! Willy, lovely Willy,
      I'll go along with you,  
   I'll cut off all the auburn fringe  
      And be a shearer, too.  
   I'll shear and keep your tally, love,
      While ringer-o you shine,  
   And I'll wash your greasy moleskins out
      On the banks of the Condamine.

   Oh, Nancy, dear, oh, Nancy,
      With me you cannot go.
   The squatter he gave orders, love,
      No woman should do so.
   For your delicate constitution
      Is not equal unto mine.
   To stand the constant tigering
      On the banks of the Condamine.

There may be variant readings, there may be more verses; but such is the Condamine ballad, arising from the moleskins, the bushmen. Between the gentlemanly, retarding rhetoric of writers such as Richard Rowe and the rough-and-tumble illiteracy of these eager campfire balladists, how was a literature to emerge? Gordon, for all we can regret in him, did at times, as in "To the Wreck," achieve almost an impossible reconciliation of the two; but a genuine literature would have to discard more than it could retain from such beginnings. It would retain from the derivative sterility of the colonial gentleman only his respect for our literary inheritance: "Let us not lightly cast aside anything that belongs to the Past, for only with the Past can we rear the fabric of the Future." It would retain from the inconsequence of the balladists their feeling for romance, "quod semper, quod ubique"; also the spirit of a new comradeship, of what Lawson in his stories was to call mateship, and what Tom Collins in "Such is Life," was to make the corner-stone of his philosophy. This was only at the close of the last century when for the most part the gentlemen had discarded frock coats and belltoppers in favour of unimposing sacs and felts, while the bushmen, glowing self-conscious in regard to their naive songs, were represented by deliberate verse-writers, who used and adapted their refrains. Someone was needed to appreciate at the same time the two origins,   the belltoppers and the moleskins; to show that there was an exercise for intellect, for subtlety, for discrimination, in our own ways and works.  

An Expatriate's Lament

Did some colonial literary gentlemen, aghast at the prospect, write these words?:

An Australian to excel, has just ten times as much to learn as a European. We lack the deeper sense. We have neither taste nor tact nor power. How should we have them? Our crude and garish climate, our silent past, our deafening present, the constant pressure about us of unlovely circumstance, are as void of all that nourishes and prompts and inspires the artist, as my sad heart is void of bitterness in saying so!

No, the writer, of course, was Henry James, and he began with "An American," yet the parallel holds. When in another passage, writing to W. D. Howells, he lamented, as a restless expatriate, that America had no ivied churches, no Eton, no Westminster, no Royal Courts, no -- the list was enormous -- he asked, "With all these absent what is left?"

"What remains," said Howell stoutly, "what remains for us is simply the whole of life"; and he went on writing moderately well, his quiet novels that gave heart to later Americans to write better ones. The whole of life! Who was to show us that we too could share in the whole of life, and were not mere fugitive colonials clinging to a spot on its circumference? We have not been without our seers.

First published in The Argus, 16 February 1935

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

Reprint: Review

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POEMS AND SONGS by HENRY KENDALL. Published by J. R. Clarke, 356, George-street, and printed by F. Cunninghame, 184, Pitt-street, Sydney. 114 pages, 8vo.

We are always happy to receive fresh flowerets for the Chaplet of Australian Poesy, and it is thus with feelings of unaffected pleasure that we take up the neat little volume of poems recently published by Mr. Henry Kendall, some of whose compositions (distinguished by their smoothness of versification and elevated turn of thought) have already appeared in these columns. Mr. Henry Kendall is a poet of much promise, a native of New South Wales, whose inborn genius has already gained for him a respectable standing as a colonial writer, and who is, doubtless, destined, at no very remote period, to assume an honourable place amongst the constantly increasing ranks of British authors. Already the English Athenaeum has made favourable mention of the name of this young Australian, and has quoted a set of verses written by him -- doing justice to the abilities of the youthful aspirant after fame, and encouraging him to proceed onward in the toilsome ascent of Mount Parnassus. It is an old adage -- so old that it remains embalmed in the idiom of a dead language -- that "A poet is born -- not made," and Mr. Kendall would certainly appear to be one of the fortunate few who may fairly advance his claim to be so described. The forty-five poems which are now placed before the public in this little work are an incontestable proof of the talent of the author -- of his passionate love of the sublime and beautiful, and of his ambition to give utterance to thoughts that may long live in the stately rhythm and sonorous cadences of the English tongue. One very pleasing characteristic of his writings is the the obvious fact that he delights to draw his imagery from Australian scenery, and is evidently thoroughly familiar with its distinctive peculiarities, and its many singular beauties-and deeply impressed with that vague and dreamy tone of thought generated by a personal contemplation and consideration of all that is to be seen in the wilds of the bush, whether in the pathless solitudes of the interior or in the woody mist-laden glens of our picturesque coast scenery. Mr. Kendall resided, we believe, for some time in the beautiful southern district of Kiama, and expatiates with all a poet's enthusiasm upon the glorious scenery with which that secluded and lovely locality everywhere abounds; its rugged barrier of mountains, its pleasant, rolling hills, verdant valleys, pretty homesteads, and sparkling streamlets something rather unusual in Australia), seem to have awakened in the soul of the young Australian all the spirit of poetry. In the third poem of the series he thus expresses himself in language which will give the reader a very fair idea of his style.

      Kiama slumbers robed with mist
      All glittering in the dewy light
         That, brooding o'er
         The shingly shore,
      Lies resting in the arms of night!
      And foam-flecked crags with surges chill,
      And rocks embraced by cold-lipped spray,
      Are moaning loud where billows crowd,
      In angry numbers, up the bay.
      The holy stars come looking down
      On windy heights and swarthy strand;
         And Life and Love --
         The cliffs above --
      Are sitting fondly hand in hand!

The following poem on "The Muse of Australia" contains some very fine lines, and will be read with pleasure, although it is not entirely free from a degree of carelessness and obscurity which might have been beneficially avoided, especially in the second stanza. The first verse appears to us to be, as a description of scenery, particularly graphic and well expressed:

   Where the pines with the eagles are nestled in rifts,
   And the torrent leaps down to the surges,
   I have followed her, clambering over the clifts,
   By the chasms and moon-haunted verges.
   I know she is fair, as the angels are fair,
   For have I not caught a faint glimpse of her there;
   A glimpse of her face, and her glittering hair,
         And a hand with the Harp of Australia!    

   I never can reach you, to hear the sweet voice
   So full with the music of fountains!  
   Oh, when will you meet with that soul of your choice,  
   Who will lead you down here from the mountains!  
   A lyre-bird lit on a shimmering space,  
   It dazzled mine eyes, and I turned from the place,
   And wept in the dark for a glorious face,
         And a hand with the Harp of Australia!

Mr. Kendall has written, we perceive, several poems in which he has idealised the war songs of the aboriginal natives, and thrown a veil of poetry over much that in the actual facts of savage life cannot but be homely and unpleasing, if not absolutely barbarous. In this he has done no more than avail himself of a poet's license -- seizing the more picturesque points as they presented themselves, and passing over all that interfered with the more ideal. Viewed in that light "Kooroora," "Urara," and "Ulmarra" are poems that will not be read without some considerable pleasure. The "Song of the Cattle Hunters," "The Wild Kangaroo," "The Barcoo," and "The Opossum Hunters" are pieces of far greater merit, and contain many passages evincing powers of description, and a degree of thought which would do honour to a much more experienced writer. Mr. Kendall is always pleasing where he depends solely on his own unassisted powers, and only fails when he adopts the ideas and mannerisms of other writers. This he does sometimes (perhaps unconsciously) in a style that cannot be approved of. The grand, quaint metre of Edgar Poe has, doubtless, a peculiar charm in its rhythmical cadence, but his obscurities are defects which it is impossible to justify, and therefore most undesirable to imitate. It is also, we must here remark, much to be regretted that the poem entitled "The Maid of Gerringong" should not have been carefully revised for the author before it went to press. It contains (on page 92) lines which are mere adaptations from the second, third, and fourth stanzas of a poem that appeared in the Nation newspaper about fifteen years ago -- the exquisite beauty of which doubtless captivated the taste of the youthful writer until imagination and memory must have become absolutely blended together. The lines we refer to are as follows :

   Did the strangers come around you, in the far-off foreign land!
   Did they lead you out of sorrow, with kind face and loving hand!
   Had they pleasant ways to court you-had they silver words to bind?
   Had they souls more fond and loyal than the soul you left behind?
   Do not think I blame you, dear one! Ah! my heart is gushing o'er
   With the sudden joy and wonder, thus to see your face once more,  
   Happy is the chance which joins us after long long years of pain;
   And oh, blessed was whatever sent you back to me again!

name of the author is unknown to us, but it was printed under the signature of "Mary."  

It is always more agreeable to praise than to censure, however gently, and we have thus much pleasure in concluding this notice by republishing Mr. Kendall's admirable poem "The rain comes sobbing to the door," which is, to our taste, one of the best in the whole book.


   The night grows dark, and weird, and cold; and thick drops patter on the pane;
   There comes a wailing from the sea ; the wind is weary of the rain.
   The red coals click beneath the flame, and see, with slow and silent feet,
   The hooded shadows cross the woods to where the twilight waters beat!
   Now fan-wise from the ruddy fire, a brilliance sweeps athwart the floor;
   As, streaming down, the lattices, the rain comes sobbing to the door:
         As, streaming down the lattices,
         The rain comes sobbing to the door,

   Dull echoes round the casement fall, and through the empty chambers go,
   Like forms unseen whom we can hear on tip-toe stealing to and fro,
   But fill your glasses to the brims, and through a mist of smiles and tears,
   Our eyes shall tell how much we love to toast the shades of other years!

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 October 1862

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

One of the major features of the exhibition of Australian books, which is, perhaps, the most interesting and surprising facet of Australian Authors' Week, is the number and importance of the volumes written by women.

The list of those who have won recognition, both at home and abroad, is long, and, considering our short literary history, and the even shorter time that has elapsed since women entered this field, imposing.

Victorian-born Henry Handel Richardson (Mrs. J. G. Robertson) is one of those whose names first leap to mind when a survey of Australian literary endeavor is being made. Critics in England and America were quick to notice and acclaim the splendid work in her first novel, "Maurice Guest," published in 1908, and those who praised her in those early days had their prophecies more than borne out when the three books making up her famous trilogy, "The Fortunes of Richard Mahony," appeared.

This author's work lacks the sensational pages and meretriciously "clever" touches that would undoubtedly make it better-known among that great reading public which can provide a novelist with ocean-going yachts and several cars, or condemn her to comparative financial obscurity.

But by a relatively small audience-- numerous enough overseas to be important--Henry Handel Richardson is regarded as an outstanding figure, one whose writings will undoubtedly remain when more talked-of books are sifted out on to the dust-heap of mediocrity.

In Helen Simpson we have another woman whose reputation in her own land pales beside the acclaim her books have brought her in other English speaking countries. Miss Simpson, although she has written for the stage, is best known by her novels. "The Woman On the Beast" was a particularly fine example, both of her ability as a story-teller and of her craftsmanship. "Boomerang," a novel that could be compared with any book written by a woman of recent years, won her the distinction of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for 1931. Her latest book, "Saraband For Dead Lovers," will be no disappointment to admirers of her talent.

Other Famous Figures

The name of Katherine Susannah Pritchard is better known in this country, as is her work, than that of either Henry Handel Richardson or Helen Simpson. "Coonardoo," joint winner with "A House is Built" of the first Bulletin Novel Competition, brought her name well before the public, but even before that she had made her own circle of admirers with earlier novels.

Possibly no book written by an Australian, and very few written by any woman, has met with the unanimous praise that critics gave to Miss Christina Stead's "Salzburg Tales" on its publication in London. It was compared, and not unreasonably, in scope and understanding and craftsmanship with the most famous classic collections of its type. The "Salzburg Tales" is certainly a splendid achievement, and one that, even without Miss Stead's later book, "Seven Poor Men of Sydney," would qualify her for an eminent position in the ranks of contemporary writers.

Success came to G. B. Lancaster with the publication of "Pageant," one of the most colorful and capable of Australian historical novels. This book sold extraordinarily well not only in the Commonwealth but overseas, and, as a picture of the Tasmania of a bygone day, has certainly given the author a definite place in Australian letters.

Mention has been made of "A House is Built." This novel of early Sydney was the work of two women, Marjorie Barnard and Flora Eldershaw, and is an excellent piece of work, and a fine kaleidoscope of the era with which it deals.

Poetry and Criticism

To do full justice to the fine work that has been done, and is being done, by Australian women in literature would demand a book rather than a short article. Still unmentioned are novelists of the calibre of Winifred Birkett, whose "Earth's Quality" was recently reviewed by us, Henrietta Drake-Brockman, author , of "Blue North," Mary Marlowe, and, among the writers of juvenile books, Ethel Turner and Mary Grant Bruce.

Then there are the writers of verse: Mary Gilmore and Dorothea MacKellar, whose names have become household words, and Zora Cross, some, of whose best sonnets have not yet achieved their full recognition. Nor, in a country sadly lacking in critical standards, should Nettie Palmer be overlooked. Mrs. Palmer's flair for work of good quality, her honesty of outlook, and genuine critical ability place her in that numerically inconspicuous, outnumbered band of Australian critics who know.

First published in The Australian Women's Weekly, 13 April 1935

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

Reprint: David McKee Wright by J. Le Gay Brereton

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I think I have not hated any man. -- Dark Rosaleen.

David McKee Wright once told me that he tried to make his poems "simple, sensuous, and sweet." It was an accident of memory, as well as a natural bias, that made him substitute sweetness for passion in the Miltonic trinity, but all readers of "An Irish Heart," his most important published collection, will agree that he achieved remarkable success in his aim. Simplicity is everywhere, in the definite outlines, the honest thought, the dreams that unfold like green leaves the clear expression. And no less noticeable is the profusion of his sensuous imagery that makes us see, hear, and touch what he describes -- for example, the

         Winged palace of delight,
      Against the pale sky lifting green
         Its soaring peaks of malachite;

And the whisper and murmuring mirth when --

      The tall trees talk
      Where the dry leaf laps the stalk,
      And the summer wind goes by,
      Making a laugh and a sigh;

And the light touch of soft lips when the fairy was gracious to blind Ryan--

      Och, she kissed like a butterfly's wing,
      When it touches a weed on the wall.

And sweetness seems the most essential of all his poetic qualities, for it is the constant expression of what was naturally in his heart. It is in his quiet love of beautiful things, his tender humour, his faith in human nature, his hopes for the future of mankind, and the musical modulations of his verse. And sweetness does not exclude passion; but, in Wright's poetry, is often the fine savour of the heady wine. Passion with him is not violent, however deep, however exquisite. Everything seems to be magically softened and transfigured, and realities have the charm of what is at once remote and familiar, like fresh and clear reflections, or memories recovered and represented in dreams. He can be forceful, but he never lacks artistic delicacy. He handles words with the same sure and caressing touch with which I have seen him lifting and turning the unset gemstones which he loved for their colour and form and lustre.

As a metrical artist, he made an exceedingly valuable contribution to our national literature. The Australian muse had been too often slatternly, a virago carelessly singing a heartstirring strain in an uncultivated voice. Wright was skilled and careful, and could take liberties with his metres without clumsily doing them injury. Influenced definitely by the modern school of Irish poets, chiefly W. B. Yeats, he could vary stress and quantity in weaving a lovely wavering pattern of words. And sometimes as the voice lingers over a series of long syllables, one feels how he must have delighted in the sounds that he dropped with that reiterated emphasis:

      'Tis far away and far to keep,
      And winding is the road,
      And I have fifty fields to reap
      With white corn sowed.

Those who have heard him repeat or read verses that he appreciated will know just how the music of his own poems can best be rendered. A soft voice was his, answering consciously to every wave of the verse as an exultant swimmer feels himself rise and fall to the full rhythm of the sea.

Perhaps from his Irish fairies he learned something of his suave manner and his insidious speech, for, city-dweller though he was, there was something of the faun about him. Irresponsible, impulsive, warm-hearted, and humorously tolerant, he moved among men, but how different was their world generally from his. Where they saw stone walls and rigid barriers, he ran with the shee over the green hills and felt the freedom of the wind. Holding the leafy wealth which is given to those who have kissed the lips of the good people, he was careless of worldly riches. An indefatigable worker, producing vast quantities of marketable literary and journalistic ware, he was able to win money though he could never keep It. Meticulous in his handling of verse, he was blithely careless of his handling of money. One afternoon, when I was lunching with him rather late, he cashed a cheque for me to save me the trouble of going to the bank. That, for him, was the end of the transaction. He forgot about it. Many a long month afterwards he sent me the cheque. Imploring me to tell him how it had come Into his possession, and apologising for having neglected to apply it for some charitable purpose. Those who knew him will understand. He was well paid for his work, and he was lavish in reward of those who did him service. So genorous a man must needs die poor, for he lived as though he possessed the purse of Fortunatus. He has left a fine heritage for all Australians, no doubt; but it is in the delicate workmanship of precious verse.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 11 February 1928

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

Reprint: The Unread Australian by C.J. Dennis

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Refusal to recognise one's country's faults (said the small bald monologist) is no part of any man's patriotic duty; if, indeed, patriotism is a quality still to be commended.

We Australians have recently been told by a friendly American, whose opinion we are forced to respect, that we are in no sense to be regarded as a book-loving people, since, in the matter of libraries, we are behind the nations and behind the times.

To other native Australians whose early environment was such as mine, this statement may come as a shock to their national pride, and call for some readjustment of values. In every home that I occupied as a youth in the Australian hinterland there existed a library or at least a fairly well-stocked book case; and so it was in the homes of my intimate friends. Thus I assumed, rather indolently, that these were typical Australian homes.

This belief was further strengthened by a statement then current that, in the matter of verse, if not of other literary matters, Australians bought (and presumably read) more books in proportion to population than any other people. That statement received wide publicity and general credence in my young days, and we rather plumed ourselves upon it. Today I have grave doubts about it.

Upon my removal to the city (went on the monologist, helping himself from my cigarette case), I naturally consorted with rather bookish men - men who took some interest in modern literature and had at least a passing knowledge of the major classics. Not that we were intellectually snobbish in any degree. On the contrary, such attention as we gave to the reading of books (chiefly for pleasure) we regarded as a quality shared by all fellow Australians of average intelligence. Again, this was a rather lazy assumption, born of national pride, that we took little pains to justify.

And side by side with this assumption, was that other one - so easily acquired in those days and in the environment I inhabited - that Australians were the salt of the earth, unequalled in intelligence, initiative, commonsense, sterling honesty and freedom from trammelling tradition. For tradition appealed to me at that time, never as a source of inspiration but ever as a handicap to a mentally bright and freedom-loving people.

This rabid Australianism was not perhaps altogether a bad thing at that period; for its exaggerated tendency did help to combat a certain anti-Australianism in regard to industry and manufacture that was concurrently rife in many quarters.

Do not assume, however, that since then I have swung to the other extreme and slunk into the slough of a sense of national inferiority. Far from it. My opinion of my fellow Australian is still high, but it is qualified by chastening experience.

I do not know if or how my book-loving friends of the old days awoke to a measure of disillusionment that served to temper and sanely modify our exaggerated patriotism. To me the awakening came with a series of shocks hotly resented at the time.

The first shattering explosion came, I remember, when an artistic friend, returning after a long sojourn abroad, referred to Australia ("His own Australia," I remember thinking) as "an almost purely agricultural community with a very limited appreciation of literature and an artistic and aesthetic sense that was almost negligible."

I fiercely denied the charge and began to argue warmly. But as he cited instance after instance, made point after point, I found myself seeking excuses. Then, realising that the necessity for excuse betrayed a losing case, I fell sulkily silent while he proceeded to harrow my tenderest susceptibilities with bitter home-truths.

After that I began, so to speak, to sit up and take notice. I began to make inquiries, to employ private tests and engage in devious and secret questionnaires that left me wondering how and where I had acquired my estimate of the well-read Australian.

Somewhere about that time I heard and accepted the true tale of the eminent Victorian pastoralist who, about to entertain an honored visitor from overseas, decided to install a library to impress his distinguished guest. Having erected costly shelves, his next move was to telegraph to a city bookseller for "half a ton of books."

That is an instance, exaggerated slightly if you like, of the average Australian's attitude toward books as a means even of pleasurable relaxation.

And by average Australian I do not refer only to the sport-loving artisan or clerk or shop hand but also to the professional man, the merchant, and to many others regarded as our leading citizens both in town and country.

The truth may be unpleasant to many, but the fact remains that, as a nation, Australia is not a book-loving land. And I know that librarians, publishers and booksellers will support that truth.

The luxury of reading is, after all, rather an acquired taste, and if the average busy Australian has failed to acquire it, that is not so much to his own discredit as to that of our educators, our leaders of thought and, in a measure, to our Governments.

By the way (concluded the monologist) are those imported cigarettes in your case? Thanks. I'll smoke my own; they're Australian.

First published in The Herald, 30 June 1934

Reprint: Larrikins' Laureate by J.K.E.

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C. J. Dennis has the distinction of being one of the few in Australia (or anywhere else) who has made a living by writing poetry. "The Sentimental Bloke" went into five editions in three months. In less than 18 months it sold 66,145 copies.

How this and other successful books of verse by the same author came to be written, and something of the man who wrote them, are described in 'The Making of A Sentimental Bloke," by Alec. H Chisholm (Georgian House, Melbourne, 10/6). Strangely enough Dennis, "the laureate of the larrikin," was a country-bred boy. He was brought up very strictly by two maiden aunts in Laura, South Australia. Mr. Chisholm suggests that the contrast between his up-bringing and his subsequent literary output is not without its psychological significance. However, at 17 he was standing on his own feet and discovering values for himself. He became junior clerk to a solicitor, was for a time on the staff of the "Critic," a social weekly and then at the age of 29 founded an illustrated journal, "The Gadfly" -- devoted to cheerfully malicious comment on the Australian scene at large, and in particular to light satirical verse by its editor, C. J. Dennis."

Financial difficulties ended that venture, but not before it had given him an avenue to express his undoubted talent for verse-writing. In 1908 an artist friend, Hal Waugh, established him at Toolangi, 40 miles east of Melbourne, and here he lived for the remaining 30 years of his life. A few years later he met Mr. and Mrs. J. G. Roberts, who introduced him to a fraternity of writers and artists whom they entertained at their home at Sassafras. He had already published his "Backblock Ballads" (1913) and a few verses that were the forerunners of "The Sentimental Bloke." But the publication of that book in 1915 gave him immediate security and confidence for the future. His subsequent output, "Ginger Mick," "The Glugs of Gosh," "Doreen," and other books contributed to his popularity.

C. J. Dennis's own contacts with the types of people in his books was perhaps more slight than his skill in delineating them would suggest. Mr. Chisholm suggests that he drew some inspiration from Louis Stone's novel of larrikin life, "Jonah" (1911). Stone is quoted as having said: "That man Dennis is a scoundrel. He has taken his ideas from my book. I should like to meet him and tell him what I think of him!"

Original Creations.

Nevertheless, Dennis's characters were original creations, and whatever literary derivations he might have made from Stone's book or elsewhere cannot detract from his own achievement. In addition, he gave permanence to the type of larrikin slang current at the time. In later years he married and lived in his quiet hills home at Toolangi, where the spirit of the bush-bred boy found peace and happiness. These years produced his final volume, "'The Singing Garden" (1935).

"Dennis," writes Mr. Chisholm, "developed a sustained and sustaining interest in the sunlit world about him... Wild birds were not subjects for study, but 'mates' and, in some instances, 'personalities.' Two especially solemn-looking kookaburras became known as Bernard O'Dowd and Archie Strong, after a couple of eminent literary figures in Melbourne." Here, because Dennis was unable to visit Melbourne himself, Masefield went to see him. Of Dennis at the time of his death, Masefield said: "A charming fellow and a delightful host...Poetry with such a universal appeal, reaching all classes of readers, must have great merits."

While one wonders what is his appeal to the present generation, it is interesting to note that one of the latest additions to the Australian Pocket Library was "The Songs of A Sentimental Bloke," with the original illustrations by Hal Gye.

First published in The West Australian, 21 September 1946

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

Reprint: Queen of the Colonnies by Nettie Palmer

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Reading with great interest the description given in the "Courier" by "Nut Quad" of a voyage in 1861 from England to Australia, it did not take long before the name of the ship, "The Queen of the Colonies," roused quite another train of thought. To me, there will always be two n's in "Colonnies," because here, at Caloundra, the name is spelt so, carved on a tree. The tree is a shaky-looking old pandanus palm, exposed to the weather on the very edge of Moffatt's Headland. Those palms, though, seem to have the nine lives of a cat, holding on to the flimsiest of sandy soil long after their umbrella-like roots have been exposed to the air. The "Queen of the Colonnies" tree, then, embedded in grass and clay, may live there for centuries yet, if it is left untouched.

Nothing threatens its life, probably, so much as its extraordinary interest. People go to look at it, with its deeply carved inscription, and an impulse seems to make them want to knock the tree about; to carve something else on it, perhaps their own initials; or even to knock it down, though this has not been done yet. This tree's inscription goes back to the year before "Nut Quad's" description. In 1863 the "Queen of the Colonnies" was sailing in, when there was a death on hoard. For some reason it seemed better to have the burial on land so a boat put off for Moreton Island and the funeral took place there. When the boat set out on its return journey to the ship though it met with bad weather, so bad that it was driven right across to the mainland and wrecked near Caloundra Head. The boat's crew carved the name of their ship and the year 1863 on the tree. So far as as I can hear, they got away quite safely in the end, and the worst misfortune that happened to them has been that ever since every kind of false version of their adventure has been given. I may have some mistakes left in my version but at least I have given the barest bones of the story, and can hardly be far wrong. I have heard ten different accounts of it, I think. One, for instance printed last year in a Sydney paper with a photograph or the tree as it is at present, stated that the skipper's wife was buried at the foot of the tree, and that the boat was returning to the ship from Caloundra Head when it was wrecked. If this had been so, surely this inscription would have had some suggestion of an epitaph about it. At any rate, the other version does seem nearer the truth, and in any case it's a very exciting tree, standing there and staring over at South America.

Preservation of the Tree

What people now ask is, Who will guarantee the preservation of that tree? It stands on what is private property, I believe, but it is a place where everyone walks. It might be destroyed at   any time, as so many such accidental monuments are. What is the procedure for preserving them? They are best kept on their real position, though they would probably be safer in a museum. If they are to be left where they stand, with all the interest that is rent by their environment, I think they need to be put under some one's special care. It would be a loss to our already rather thin historical sense if such a link with the past were lost to Australia. Yet everything threatens it, from the universal small boy with his active tomahawk to the storms beating up from all sides on such a promontory.

Other Voyages

The account given by "Nut Quad" of life on such a sailing ship was very vivid, and makes our present-day voyages seem very artificially protected. I daresay there are a good many families in Australia which have kept a record of such a voyage. I can think of two: One is a voyage diary kept by a relative of mine, and presented in typescript to members of the family on the fiftieth anniversary of his arrival in Australia. Read such a journal, you are struck chiefly, I think, by the sense of adventure that sustains whole groups of travellers. Not even the bad food, and the fact that it was doled out in a ration which each group had to cook for themselves, could outweigh the romance of porpoises and flying fish and the New Australia. In the second volume of "The Fortunes of Richard Mahony" there is another account of such a voyage, not given in detail on the way, but with the conditions sketched while the boat as in port. One thing that we find hard to grasp now is that you took your cabin furniture with you, including a carpet, if you wished to be comfortable. If you brought a carpet home with you on your cabin floor nowadays, you'd merely be suspected of trying to evade the Customs.

The Spirit of Adventure.

In those days people carried to sea hearts that were both more adventurous and more anxious than ours are now. Not that we are always safe, but there is a sense of travelling to scheduled time, a fortnight behind one ship, a fortnight in front of another, and the waves seem to be ignored -- to say nothing of the winds, whose co-operation was done without long ago. If it is dangerous to go to sea now, that is because every way of living has its dangers. After the Titanic disaster, Joseph Conrad, the lover of solid old wooden sailing ships, wrote explaining that if people went to sea in a ship like a large-sized biscuit tin they might expect to be stove in by an iceberg! Most of us, though, are cheerfully willing to be hypnotised by the sense of safety on board a huge liner. It is only people of far inland countries, like Central Europeans, who have ever asked me nervously about the voyage from Australia, "and can you bear to be for five weeks in constant danger of death!" One can bear it. The "Queen of the Colonnies" bore it for something like five months. It is good to remember the courage and energy of those days. Will we seem as courageous, 70 years hence, when our descendants are flying overseas and wondering how we stood the boredom of a five-weeks' voyage?

First published in The Brisbane Courier, 10 December 1927

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

Reprint: Australian Essays

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The occasional essay is a medium which is not much cultivated in Australia, probably because of lack of opportunity. Still, we can quote some good examples. For example, the gift has been exhibited by the late Sir Archibald Strong, Professor Murdoch, Mr. F. C. Phillips, and others of whom by no means the least is Mr. S. Elliott Napier. Mr. Napier is the author of several pleasant books of which we cherish grateful memories. But many will think that in this one he is at his best. The art of the occasional essay consists in taking any peg upon which to hang a light disquisition; sometimes merely humorous, sometimes with series implications. Here we have "the hansom cab" of literature so employed.

There is a range of reading and a happy allusiveness which reconcile one to Mr. Elliott Napier, even in apparent inconsistencies. Brains, he says, will always conquer brawn in the long run. School sport is in danger of being overdone. Travel, rather than school or sport, is the most educative influence. But he allows that it is not for all to travel, and that cricket, in which he would no doubt include other forms of sport, has played a great part in establishing and maintaining the ties of Empire. "For in this respect every 'test' team is a more efficient band of ambassadors than any that the chancelleries have known." Collecting antique allusions to the game of cricket, Mr. Elliott Napier has discovered that in its infancy a serf was pressed into the office of wicket-keeper, "a position which one would have thought to be eminently suitable for a knight, considering the advantages of his customary defensive armour plate." That is true, but in those days there were no appeals.

In his essay, "The Loveliest Lyric in the Language," Mr. Elliott Napier enters difficult country, and traverses it with signal success. In the conventional view, even of the British themselves, the British are a heavy, cloddish people, insusceptible to the spiritual claims of beauty. Yet even in the very materialistic ages the ability to turn a graceful lyric was part of the normal equipment of anyone who aspired to be someone. It was the better equivalent of the modern after-dinner orations. Jacobean profligates composed dainty and delicious verse. But these were agreeable play-things. Mr. Elliott Napier, rightly in our opinion, puts his money on Keats. He places his favourites in the following order:

(1) "Ode to a Nightingale."

(2) "Grecian Urn."

(3) "Melancholy."

(4) "Autumn."

Had we been the judges, we should have bracketed (1) and (2) as a dead heat, and placed "Autumn" third. But it is difficult to decide.

Quite one of the best things in the book is a parody on Macaulay's criticism of the poems of Robert Montgomery. In this case, Shakespeare is the target, and the travesty is admirably sustained. Shakespeare, an uncouth yokel, coming from nowhere, presumes to write plays for the stage. They are stuffed with colloquialisms, ungrammaticisms, solecisms, plagiarisms, anachronisms, verbosities, and neologisms. One queen might have said, "I am not amused." Another, her ancestor, might have said, "I was." These essays renew our hopes for the Australian essay. (Angus and Robertson; price 6/.)

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 29 October 1932

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

Reprint: An Australian Poet by Zadig

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Arthur Albert Dawson Bayldon is unquestionably one of the most remarkable men in Australia. He belongs to that great strange company Australia has succeeded in winning from the old world, men like Marcus Clark and Brunton Stephens and Adam Gordon, men who become more Australian than the Australians, and who voice our deeper feelings and aspirations better than we can ourselves. Bayldon has written some fine verse. Some of his sonnets may be placed side by side with all but the greatest. Here are a few lines entitled 'To Poesy," from the first Australian volume of poems, published in 1897: --   

   These vessels of verse, O Great Goddess, are filled with invisible tears,
   With the sobs and sweat of my spirit and her desolate brooding for years;
   See, I lay them -- not on thine altar, for they are unpolished and plain,
   Not rounded enough by the potter, too much burnt in the furnace of pain;
   But here on the dust, in the shadow, with a sudden wild leap of the heart,
   I kneel to tenderly kiss them, then in silence arise and depart.

The following sonnet on Marlowe is very

   With Eastern banners flaunting in the breeze,
   Royal processions, sounding fife and gong,
   And showering jewels on the jostling throng,
   March to the tramp of Marlowe's harmonies.
   He drained life's brimming goblet to the lees.
   He recked not that a peer superb and strong
   Would tune great notes to his impassioned song,
   And top his cannonading lines with ease
   To the wild clash of cymbals we behold  
   The tragic ending of his youthful life;
   The revelry of kisses bought with gold;
   The jest and jealous rival and the strife;
   A harlot weeping o'er a corpse scarce cold,
   A scullion fleeing with a bloody knife.

The Man.

But the most interesting thing about Bayldon is himself. He is a man of great energy, unquestioned ability. And yet a certain childlike simplicity seems to quite unfit him for the struggle of life. Some men have the ability that succeeds. Bayldon has the ability that fails. This is what he recently said in a New South Wales weekly of his own varied life in Australia during the last twenty years:

To enumerate the various parts I have played would take a column. A few of marked contrast will give an inkling of my many experiences. I have been a private secretary and a swagman; a rouseabout and a phrenologist; a fancy swimmer, an editor, and a canvasser of a comic monthly; teacher of English composition and clothiers' agent among kanakas; platform lecturer on Buddhism and Irish subjects, and a tea-traveller; bock canvasser and motto-writer; insurance agent and picture-dealer -- and hundreds of other things.

Yet Bayldon is a man of high character, fine appearance, insinuating address, and is still five or six years on the right side of fifty. Nature has dowered him with many gifts, but she has denied him the gift of succeeding-as the world understands success. And yet there are a few men in Australia -- and I am proud to be one of them -- who would rather spend a night with Bayldon than with the King of England. For Bayldon, in spite of bis failures, in spite of the buffetings to which a hard business world has subjected his gentle spirit, carries the gold of poetry in his heart. The world may despise him, and society may know him not, but God has laid his finger upon his brow. He is in very truth of that great company of noblemen who receive, as Burns put it, the patent of their nobility direct from Almighty God.

A Strange Meeting.

I will never forget the night I first met Arthur Bayldon. It was very late, and I was walking home alone. A young man over-took me, introduced himself, said he knew me, had heard me lecture, and at once dived into a long and involved metaphysical harangue on the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, and other small matters. I walked on in silent amazement. His voice was a fine one, and he knew how to use it. He had also, as I could see by the light   of an occasional lamp, finely chiselled features, and a flashing eye. Arrived at my residence he stood at the gate and continued his monologue. After this had gone on for about a couple of hours, I ventured to remind him that it was about 3 o'clock in the morning. He regarded the observation apparently as an irrevelance. What in the name of reason had that insignificant fact to do with the problems of God and immortality? I had, however, to assure him as   politely as possible that, although philosophy was interesting, sleep was imperative, and eventually he departed.

Poet and Book Canvasser.  

I got to know him more intimately afterwards. He came to the town for the double purpose of selling his first volume of poetry and giving exhibitions in fancy swimming. He played both parts admirably. Some of his poetry was excellent, and his swimming was superb. But it was in his capacity of canvasser of his own books that he used to shine most brightly. As a poet   his place is comparatively humble; as a book-canvasser he certainly stands alone, towering above all the motley crew like a veritable colossus. Once he gained entrance into a house his book was as good as sold -- sometimes to every member of the family. For he had a masterful manner, and an arresting gift of eloquence. "Do you love poetry?" he would ask insinuatingly. When the answer was negative or affirmative, he would at once proceed to pour himself out on the subject. '"Poetry," he would cry, standing in the middle of the room gesticulating, "is the voice of God in the heart of man. As Shelley has said, poets are the unacknowledged legislators of mankind." And then would follow what was really powerful and dramatic oration on all the poets, ancient and modern, dead and alive. The family, as a rule, would be entranced, and an hour or two later the exhausted rhetorician would sally forth, carrying with him the names of perhaps half-a-dozen subscribers in his pocketbook, and leaving behind him a memory never to be effaced. The book, when ultimately supplied, was not specially good value, but the oration itself was worth double the money.

A Queensland Newspaper Office.

In time Bayldon and I became very good friends. Indeed, he was one of many striking personalities who used to foregather at the office of the paper I was then con- ducting. Amongst these were Frank Morton, well known to readers of the Sydney "Bulletin," Mr. Rogers, a gentleman who had strange mania for writing books, and who was reputed to be connected with the great Coleridge family, Theodore Wright, a mysterious philosopher who was distinguished by the length of his hair and an unfaltering belief in astrology; Adam Tramp, who was then, as now, an anarchist of anarchists, and occasionally William Kidston, who is now Premier of Queensland. On one occasion I had a very heated argument with Theodore Wright. I had been expressing my profound belief in the monistic philosophy of Professor Clifford when Mr. Wright exclaimed:- "You are utterly mistaken. There is not one substance in the universe; there are three substances, matter, soul, and spirit."

"What is the difference between soul and spirit?" I asked.

"You would not understand if I told you," he replied. "You will have to evolve to a higher plane before you can understand."

"But," I said indignantly, "that is an assumption. If you cannot define your words, you have no right to use them."

"My dear fellow," replied Wright, half-sarcastically, "definitions of those higher things can only be understood by those sufficiently developed to comprehend them. Could I expound philosophy to a dog?"

This was too much. Accordingly, assuming an air of great seriousness, I replied: "Mr. Wright, the everlasting spirit which permeates the universe has made known to me at this very moment a new truth. That truth is that there are four substances in the universe -- matter, soul, spirit, and poojah."      

"Nonsense," cried Wright, "what do you mean by poojah? It's only a word."  

"Ah," I replied, "I cannot define it -- to you -- you have not sufficiently developed."

"But what is it at all?" he cried, forgetting himself.

"Can I expound philosophy to a dog?" I thundered. "No, sir. You will have to develop first. And so I again declare that there are four substances in the universe -- matter, soul, spirit, and poojah, and the greatest of these is poojah." In many subsequent metaphysical arguments I have found "poojah" exceedingly convenient.

About a Sense of Humour.

On another occasion an incident occurred which I am not likely to forget. Mr. Bayldon was aware of his own gifts, though in this he showed a certain childlike sympathy which made it almost attractive. Many of his friends, including myself, had denied him the gift of humour. This gave him a great deal of pain, and I have frequently heard him trying to prove by long process of reasoning that be possessed a wit of a very high quality -- a fact which almost demonstrated its utter absence.

"No gift of humour!" he would cry indignantly, "why I'm full of it. I frequently lie in bed o' nights laughing, hours on end."

"What at?" I once asked.

"Just at things in general," he replied. "I can see humour everywhere. There is humour in the wagging of the little tail of a dog."

One day, however, he happened to say something droll, and I observed: "Why, Bayldon, you've a sense of humour, after all."

He was beside himself with joy. "You have recognised the fact at last," he cried, jumping up and taking me by the hand. "Ah, I knew you would, I knew you would."

At this moment I had to go to a butcher near by and purchase a leg of mutton, which I had promised to take home on my bicycle. Bayldon followed, exclaiming all the way: "What kind of humour have I got -- like Swift, or like Sterne, or like Lamb?"

I entered the shop, secured the leg of mutton, got it well wrapped up in paper, and, attaching it to my bicycle, mounted and rode off. But Bayldon followed. I went fast. He followed suit. I went at considerable speed. He ran alongside. And all the while he was besieging me with questions as to the peculiar characteristics of the humour I had suddenly discovered that he possessed. In consequence of my endeavours to get away from the poet, and the poet's endeavours to detain me, the bicycle began to sway erratically from side to side of the street, and, before I was aware of it the mutton emerged from its wrappings and proceeded in all its nakedness to sway violently before the eyes of men and women. "I unconditionally withdraw the compliment." I cried, jumping from my bicycle, "if either of us had the faintest ghost of any sense of humour in our soul this spectacle would be the death of us." I then fled to a secluded spot and wept. 

First published in The Western Mail, 23 July 1910

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

Reprint: Australian Writers: To the Editor of the Herald

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Sir,--"The life austere" still too often waits upon the man of letters in Australia. Literature is the least remunerative of the arts, and very few of our authors can make enough by their pens to secure themselves against hard times. It is pleasant to see the well-named "Fellowship of Australian Writers" doing what it can to assist and to enlist help for a brother craftsman. Mr Arthur Bayldon is well known as a conscientious literary artist--a poet, critic, and writer of short stories--and those who know him personally can testify that he is a man of high ideals, fired with an almost defiant spirit of independence. He and his wife, brave comrades, have never asked for the help that they have sorely needed. Long wasting illness has worn the poet down and reduced his earning power. The "Fellowship" is arranging for him a benefit (under the patronage of his Excellency the Governor and Lady Game), and 'Steele Rudd,' with characteristic generosity, has placed at its disposal one of his cheerful comedies, "McClure and the Poor Parson." Laughter is worth more than usual at this season, and it is to be hoped that those who need cheering-up, as well as those who have at heart the interests of Australian literature, will see and seize their opportunity.

I am, etc.,

Basil Garstang

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 November 1930

Note: Basil Garstang was a pseudonym of John Le Gay Brereton.

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

Reprint: A Chat with Mr. Fergus Hume

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The author of a book that has sold to the extent of 300,000 copies in England alone, not to mention an enormous sale in Australia and America, and that has been so much talked about as "The Mystery of a Hansom Cab," may fairly claim a niche in the temple of, at least, ephemeral fame. Consequently, hearing of Mr. Fergus Hume's arrival in England from Australia, a representative of the Sunday Times waited upon him with the object of "drawing him out."

Mr. Fergus Hume, we are told, is a young man, in his twenty-fifth year, with a bright intelligent face, keen eyes, a dark moustache, and of middle height. His manner is quiet and unassuming, and his accent in speaking is somewhat provincial.

"I have been just twelve days in London," says Mr. Hume, " but have seen very little of it as yet, though I am just longing to see all the sights. But we -- that is, my friend Philip Beck and I -- have been working so hard to finish the adaptation of my new book, 'Madame Midas,' as we want to produce the play, for copyright purposes, before the publication of the book on July 7."

"That will be sharp work."  

" Ah, thank goodness, the play is now finished."

"'Madame Midas' is also a story of Australian life, is it not?"

"Yes; and chiefly concerned with the mining interests in the Colony. You see, Farjeon and Marcus Clarke, our two Australian novelists, have dealt with the Australia of a past day -- the rougher times of the Colony. But my desire is to picture the Australia of to-day, to destroy a common impression in England that the miners are still the lawless haphazard diggers of the past, and to convey a true knowledge of the mining industry, which is now carried on on the most scientific principles. To this end I spent some weeks at the Midas mine -- one of the best conducted and most promising in the Colony -- and studied the whole scientific system of gold mining, so as to make my story as realistic as possible. My heroine I have partly drawn from life, being a lady who has become famous in Australia on account of her gold-mining successes. She is an owner of many mines, and works them herself, and in the colony she is known as 'Madame Midas.' Of course, the incidents of the plot, though in the main based on fact, are highly-coloured and elaborated according to the requirements of the story. The first part is laid at the mines, and subsequently the story deals with the stock and share markets in Melbourne. There is an interesting case of poisoning, and the heroine's love story is quite romantic."

"Is the story dramatic?"

" I think so--very. And it is also, I hope and believe, a great advance in every way on 'The Mystery of a Hansom Cab.' That book I wrote when I was very ill and hard-up, not very encouraging conditions for an unknown author to write under; and I know there is consequently some very slippery writing in the book. It was six months before I could get any publisher to take it up, and then a Mr. Trischler, who was connected with a publishing firm in Melbourne, took a fancy to the story, and undertook to arrange for its publication. The Melbourne publishers expected only five hundred would be sold in six months, but Mr. Trischler believed in the book, and an edition of 5000 copies was accordingly printed. These were sold out in eleven days, and the type having been distributed it was two months before the second edition came out, and then they soon sold 30,000 copies. So successful was the book that Mr. Trischler formed ' The Hansom Cab Publishing Company,' and, publishing the book over here, they have made no end of money out of it."  

"I trust you have shared financially in this success?"  

"I can't complain; they gave me a good sum down for the copyright, though had I known that the success was going to be so immense, I would never have parted with the book. However, for 'Madame Midas' they have given me very handsome terms, and I need hardly say how anxious I am about its success. I should hate to be known as a 'one book man.' Consequently I have put my best into this work."  

"Was the 'Hansom Cab' your first literary work?"

"No. I had been dabbling in literature for some time, though intended for the law, and engaged in a lawyer's office. While living in New Zealand I wrote several stories for the newspapers, and one of these--a psychological romance--attracted some attention. Then I wrote two or three plays for Australian theatres, one of which, 'A Woman Scorned,' was produced by Miss Marie de Grey."

"Are you a native Australian?"

"No, but I have lived in the Colonies since I was two years old. My parentage is a mixture of Scotch and Irish. Till I was twenty-one I lived in New Zealand, where I was admitted to the Bar, but never practised as a barrister, and for the last three years Melbourne has been my home, and there I have spent my time between literature, the law, and the Stock Market."

"And now you are fairly launched on the career of a novelist?"

"And playwright. In that connection I have entered into a partnership with Mr. Philip Beck, the actor, who has been playing in Melbourne for the last two years, and who has just returned home with me. The play of 'Madame Midas' is our joint work."

First published in The Maitland Mercury, 18 August 1888

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

Reprint: Gaeity Theatre. "Mystery of a Hansom Cab"

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Another change in the programme was made on Saturday night. Several dramatised versions of Mr. Fergus Hume's sensational Australian novel have been witnessed before in Brisbane, but Mr. Taylor, in dealing with "The Mystery of a Hansom Cab," as told by the novelist, has succeeded in investing the story with a new interest. The principal incidents of the plot are brought prominently into view; and enough is made of the side issues to impart to many of the scenes the amount of comedy necessary in plays of this description. The result is a thrilling, yet at times amusing, comedy-drama. Throughout four acts, comprising close upon a dozen scenes, the interest is well kept up, and when in the final scene, Madge learns the truth at last, Sam Gorby brings the villain Fitzgerald to justice, and all ends as the audience has all along hoped it would end, no one gives a sigh of relief that all is over. Of the representation it is only necessary to say that it was really a good one. The members of the company have played so long together that there are no hitches in a first night's performance. All the resources of the actor were brought into play by Mr. Charles Taylor, who was seen now as Sam Gorby, the cool calculating detective, then as the ludicrous new chum swell, and again in the guise of a Jew insurance agent. Miss Ella Carrington ably filled the rule of Madge Frettleby, a typical Australian girl, and with Mr. Taylor shared the honours of the evening. The other members of the company gave efficient support. The drama was suitably staged, and the tableau in the first act, showing the hansom, cab, the horse, the driver, the victim, and the murderer, was sufficiently realistic for all purposes. The "Mystery of a Hansom Cab" has been repeated throughout the week.

First published in The Queenslander, 2 April 1892

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

Reprint: Furnley Maurice. A Many-Sided Poet by Nettie Palmer

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Sometimes we are forcibly reminded that Australia is as big as Europe-without-Russia, or bigger. We remark that to send a letter from Brisbane to Melbourne is like writing from London to Madrid, or further. Then we notice that a book, which is quietly published in Melbourne, seems to Brisbane like something foreign, or, indeed, does not seem anything at all, since it is probably unknown. The poet who usually has chosen to be known as "Furnley Maurice," then, has published four sizable books of poems, but none of those books has made him known to Brisbane, and it is necessary to announce them as if they were new.

Four Volumes (1) "Unconditioned Songs."

The first book of Furnley Maurice's poems was not even published under his pen-name. In 1913 this book, "Unconditioned Songs," appeared anonymously, published by S J. Endacott, of Melbourne. The point of mentioning the publisher's name is that, for want of an other, it was taken to be the author's. I remember quite well seeing some striking lyrics from that book quoted in "T. P. Weekly" as the work of "S. J. Endacott Melbourne." So that was all the poet got for his anonymity! The book had considerable recognition, some reading it for the intenser of its little lyrics, and some for the sympathetic child songs. As for the title of the book, I take it to mean that the songs were -- what they were, fresh, free, not written to order. Here is a "Song":--  

   Give me rivers to cool my hands,
   Give me hills for stay!  
   I have a fear an' a little fear
   I hurt my love to-day.    

   There was no word, only those eyes
   Looked dim with smothered pain,
   A little thing an' a little thing,
   But it breaks my heart in twain!  

The noticeable quality in the whole book was freshness. It was as if you had found some opals in the rough, still in the matrix: it made the poems in many other books seem only like cut glass. Scattered through "Unconditioned Songs" there were, as I have mentioned, a few delightful songs about children, one giving a picture of a tiny boy in some sort of rocking-cart--

   Off to Carpentaria,
   Ireland, and Samaria,

and his tiny downfall. These verses were significant, for it was out of their big brothers that the second large book that Furnley Maurice published was made.

(2) "The Bay and Padie Book."

The whole title of this book was, "The Bay and Padie Book, Kiddie Verses."  The intention was modest; a collection of simple little songs and meditations arising naturally out of a happy suburban home, with its typical joys and sorrows. Two little boys are, I suppose, the heroes -- sometimes also the villains. The book has passed through at least four editions, and I am not sure that its rearrangement in the last of them has left a particularly jolly piece in the front. It was a sort of inspired catalogue of delights, each verse ending,

   Oh, what a lot of lots of things
   For little boys to do! 

Other pieces have more realisation of the occasional hardness of life: days in bed with a cold, baths when heads have to be washed and soap gets in a person's eyes, days when you're playing in the garden and nothing goes right, the wind blows toys away, pussy runs off, and

   Something comes and compradicks
   Everything I play ....  
   Daddy, God's been 'noying me
   All this day!

The book has two distinct kinds of poems in it -- those supposed to be said or thought by the children, which are printed in ordinary type and those that are grown-ups' meditation about the children, printed in italics. This distinction is important, but rather hard to sustain the two kinds overlap here and there. There was that one where the little boy came in quietly and told his mother that he had been out to the pool in the paddock, and "The sky was in the pool!"  You are conscious of the awe in the words: it is not a poem for children, for all its actuality. A "Kitchen Lullaby" makes a good song for a very tiny child to hear, and another isolated quatrain makes an evening song of its own:-  

   Half-past bunny time,  
      'Possums by the moon,
   Tea and bread and honey time,
      Sleep time soon.

(3) "Eyes of Vigilance."

If Furnley Maurice has been best known, in recent years, by the "Bay and Padie Book," his name, ten years ago, was associated with one remarkable poem, first published by itself in 1916, later included in his solid book, "Eyes of Vigilance," which appeared in 1920. That poem was called, "To God, from the Weary Nations," and was first published during the war. It was a piece of dignified musing, an ode with some superb lines, and a fine movement: a poem that met with heartfelt appreciation from many who felt the same, but were doomed to remain inarticulate. It uttered what we have all felt since, if not at the time: the pity of war!' It gives a realisation of

   The foe that lies in death magnificent, and cries, with mystic faith,
   All men are brave and bright and somewhere loved.

Republished in "Eyes of Vigilance," the war being over, the long poem was called, "To God from the Warring Nations."   Professor Walter Murdoch in his second version of an Oxford Anthology of Australasian Verse, printed, "To God, from the Warring Nations," in full, an extraordinary tribute of praise to a poem of such inconvenient length for an anthology.

The rest of "Eyes of Vigilance," which makes a large collection, circles, on the whole, round the theme of that longest poem. There is a large group of sonnets, most of them about the war, and its crashing into the life of man. Here is a sestet:-  

   These shall return; The mountains and the haze,
   The blue lobelias ledging all the lawns,
   The pixies, the lost roads, and the sun-blaze,
   These waters surge to-morrow to this shore --
   All these things shall return with other dawns
   But pity to the heart of man no more.

There was another sonnet, though, published in January, 1918. It was daringly called "Peace, 1918," and throbbed with a lovely radiance of hope. It took for an image a room, and a woman in it with kettles shining and polished, everything in order. In the last line she spoke, "The Prince may come to-night!" And that was written in the darkest of moments that did, after all, just come before the dawn.

(4) "Arrows of Longing."  

Of the fourth book it seems hardly fair to speak at all, and yet it contains much of Furnley Maurice's best work. The trouble is that it was published in an expensive and very limited edition, of which probably only a very few copies are left. Some few of the best poems in it have crept into an anthology or two, but what the public needs is a volume of Furnley Maurice collected from all four of his published books, and including the best of what he has written, even since "Arrows of Longing," that large and well-filled book, was published about 1921. If, in "Eyes of Vigilance," Furnley Maurice had been somewhat tendencious, propagandist, in "Arrows of Longing," he is propagandist for beauty only. Perhaps in the early book his theme was pity, and in the later one beauty. It is when he gives this beauty a local habitation that he names her best: -

   The drifts of forest light;
   Trees in a stormy night;
   Bush echoes, ocean's unresolving tone  
   Or groups of falling chords, melting to one;
   The softness of a kookaburra's crown
   The wind puts softly up and softly down;
   His eyes of love that inmost humanly speak
   Peering in softness o'er that murderous beak!

Perhaps it is for these intense glimpses of beauty in natural things which many have "seen without seeing" that we welcome Furnley Maurice most. It is only right to add that with all his poetical vision he has also a rare wit, and that his critical prose at its highest is very effective indeed. His influence on his fellow writers has all been in the direction of building up a body of literature that should be recognisable as our own,"racy of the soil." A small book of essays, "Romance", published a few years ago, expressed some of his literary opinions.

First published in The Brisbane Courier, 24 December 1927

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

Reprint: Furnley Maurice. Passing of a Poet by R.G. Howarth

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Furnley Maurice, whose real name was Frank Wilmot, has just died in Melbourne. One has to live in Melbourne, perhaps, to understand fully the high literary reputation that is his there. But whatever else may be said, it must be acknowledged that for many years he had been a force in poetry and criticism -- not to speak of publishing, for at the time of his death he was manager of the Melbourne University Press.

If he is known at all widely here, it is for his fine poem "To God: from the Warring (originally "Weary") Nations," written in 1917; for his children's verse, "The Bay and Padie Book," and for his more recent "Melbourne Odes," one of which gained the prize in the Dyer Centenary   Competition.

Other noteworthy publications of his are "Romance," a collection of literary essays, and the two successive books of verse, "Arrows of Longing" and "The Gully," which are patriotic poems in the truest sense. He once co-edited and published a magazine called "The Microbe" -- clearly a Rossetti culture!

Anthologists, when they consider his work, seem mostly to seize on a piece about a dust-bin, which, if nothing else, will assure him the popular immortality of the back-lane romancer.

Differing Opinions

There are detailed and, I think, generous appreciations of his work in Green's "Outline" of Australian Literature, and Morris Miller's bibliography of the same. My own impression, stamped deeper by a number of readings at various times, is that while his unconventionality in thought and form is admirable, his total achievement considerable, he belongs to the   "Phoebus Car-out-of-control" school of poets. As Ben Jonson said about Shakespeare (or didn't he?), he should have put the brake on. In other words, he wrote too much too fast, and almost any one of his longer pieces would bear reshaping, rephrasing, and certainly condensation. This may more readily be believed when I mention that he commonly let himself go in free rhymed verse -- which could often well stop anywhere. His early poems, according to Morris Miller, were remarkable for "brevity of words." That may have been because he began writing under the influence of O'Dowd.

It is too soon, however, to attempt to estimate Furnley Maurice fully. Perhaps his best merit is that he is a poet who can be read by all. What poet could wish more? 

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 28 February 1942

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

Reprint: Louis Stone. His Forgotten Novels by Nettie Palmer

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Lately I have been re-reading Louis Stone's novel, "Jonah," first published in 1911. The chief impression it leaves is a secondary one, a feeling of sadness that such fine work should be ignored and forgotten. For it is ignored; people will be saying that they wished Australia had produced a novel about larrikin life in Sydney, a novel which would show our larrikin emerging from push life, and becoming a commercial magnate, a novel showing the contrast between sordid, slumming Sydney, and the exquisite movement and colour of the harbour; well, here is the novel they dreamt of, and they have not read it. I feel inclined to take them on a personally conducted tour through its subtly wrought chapters.

A "Written" Book.

"Jonah" is a book in which every page, as a novelist said to me lately, "feels written." What that means is, I think, that the words are not slammed down in a hit-or-miss fashion. The author has felt aware that he has only, let us say, about ninety thousand words to use, and that there must be no waste pages, no dead paragraphs, no words that are mere counters. Perhaps his best drawn side character is Mrs. Yabsley, the good humoured, selfless old charwoman who becomes Jonah's mother-in-law. The careful drawing of Mrs. Yabsley is a specimen of what I mean by "writing"; every word is faithful to its task, thus:

Mrs. Yabsley came to the door . . . and surveyed Cardigan-street with a loving eve. She had lived there since her marriage 20 years ago, and to her it was the pick of Sydney, the centre of the habitable globe. She gave her opinion to every new-comer in her tremendous voice, that broke on their unaccustomed ear like thunder:

"I've lived 'ere ever since I was a young married woman, an' I know wot I'm talkin' about. My 'usband used ter take me ter the play before we was married, but I never see any play equal ter wot 'appens in this street, if yer only keeps yer eyes open. I see people as wears spectacles readin' books. I don't wonder. If their eyesight was good, they'd be able ter see fer themselvs instead of readin' about it in a book. I can't read myself, bein' no scholar, but I can see that books an' plays is fer them as ain't got no eyes in their 'eads."

The matter does not end there with Mr. Yabsley's dogmatic statement. The author makes you feel that you really do see that street through Mrs. Yabsley's lively, interested eyes. This Cardigan-street is a Sydney variant, perhaps, of the street known as "Little Lon" in Melbourne, celebrated variously by Louis Esson and C. J. Dennis. It is the street of pushes, stray hawkers, family rows ex- pressed out of doors, feuds, struggles, love making, bargaining; yes, it does give you a contempt for people in spectacles staring at a book! Then you suddenly remember that this is all being brought before your mind through the pages of a book, a book extraordinarily weil written. You realise again that the art of letters is a consider- able one.

Jonah Himself.

In very many novels, especially those in a bizarre setting, the hero is negligible, a mere figure-head, as we say, or a tailor's dummy. Not so with "Jonah," whose real name, used in commercial circumstances as time went on, was Joseph Jones. The reader finds no difficulty in believing that Jonah really was a powerful character, powerful in physique and in personality. His physical deformity accompanies our thoughts of him: we remember his tragic tramp and his over-long arms, remember them especially when Jonah is torn between two sets of motives. You feel he is a spirit in prison: yon can even believe in his passion and talent for music, although his only instrument is the mouth organ he won in a shilling raffle. It is important to emphasise this power of Louis Stone's to portray an artistic temperament: very few novelists can make you believe for a moment in the "artists" they describe. Can't we all remember novels in which we are assured that the hero was a wonderful painter, the despair of all rivals alive or dead, and how we felt that nothing less than some "habeas corpus" of his canvases would make us believe for a moment that this dull person ever knew how to mix paint at all? As for the musician in an ordinary novel, with his power of binding his audience in a spell, whatever he played, we usually want to tell him to go and break stones. Jonah does not come before us as a skilled musician, not a prodigy of any sort; but we do believe that he cared for music, and that it was real to him. Parallel to this, we believe in his bewildered physical power and his business shrewdness. Jonah's rise in life through skilled use of advertisement and publicity at a time when such things had not been exploited as they are to-day makes very interesting reading, like a development of some chapters in the early part of H. G. Wells' "The World of William Clissold." Jonah began as assistant to an old-fashioned cobbler, but felt that he was getting no further on. Borrowing a little money, he started an opposition business just across the road. At first he got no custom, his former boss was known, and he was not. Soon, though, hearing his wife say how cheap some baby's bonnet was at four and   eleven, he asked if it would really have been dearer at five shillings:-

"Why don't yer say five bob, an' be done with it?" said Jonah.

"But it ain't five bob; it's only four and eleven," insisted Ada, annoyed at his stupidity.

"An' I suppose it'd be dear at five bob?" sneered Jonah.

"Any fool could tell yez that," snapped Ada.

This discussion bore fruit in Jonah's cynically practical business head. He advertised flamboyantly that he would mend men's shoes for 2/11, and women's for 1/11, while his former chief's old dingy sign, from which "the paint was peeling, still said: "Gent's, 3/6; Ladies. 2/6." In addition, Jonah announced a "While You Wait" service, and bribed a friend to come in and read a newspaper, and spectacularly wait. The miracle was done! In a while Jonah had a special trade sign, and a chain of shops, through Sydney suburbs. It is only after this that he draws breath and emerges, for one of two brief episodes, on the Harbour; you then realise that you have been in Sydney all this time, seeing the tapestry from the wrong side -- the seamy side.

Jonah's Mates.  

Yet that wrong side, was not all sordid. Jonah's friend of his early push days, known as Chook, was a youth with a pretty wit, and his idyllic little love affair holds very genuine sweetness to the very close of the book. ' And humour -- humour of the heavy, farcical kind in his foolish, selfish, step-mother-in-law; humour of delicate moments in his relations with his sweetheart, Pinkie, with her pale face and hair the colour of a new penny. Chapter by chapter, the episodes of their developing life are charming, and also solid. At the end of the book, though, comes the question of why these episodes do seem to float away from the mind. In some books, the framework is so firm and well balanced that at the close you see every episode even more clearly than while you were reading it. In others, the close means a breaking up. "Jonah" is not quite "fitly framed together"; that is its weakness, in spite of all its other strength. Every chapter is rather too much like a separate still-life study, though not "still" within the boundaries of the separate, lively chapter! The story does not quite carry all the characters along in its sweep: when Jonah takes up his new commercial existence, Chook is never mentioned again except in his wholly separate environment. You never hear Chook mentioning Jonah's rise in life, or comparing it with his own struggles as a green- grocer. You never hear Jonah wishing he had lived on with Chook. They are separated, watertight, further from each other than Cardigan-street was from the Habour. Still, Chook and Pinkie and the rest remain as excellent sketches. The whole book is a sketch-book of types very difficult to capture, and we feel they have been saved for us between the covers of "Jonah." It is a book that certainly ought to be republished and well distributed.

First published in The Brisbane Courier, 7 January 1928

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

Reprint: Obituary. Mr Louis Stone

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Mr. Louis Stone, novelist, who died at his home at Randwick on Monday, at the age of 63 years, was the author of "Jonah," a story which dealt with the life of the larrikin element of Sydney of about 30 years ago. It was first published in London in 1911, and re-published in 1933. Mr. Stone was also the author of "Betty Wayside," which was published in London in 1914. He retired from the Education Department a few years ago, for health reasons. He had been first assistant at the Coogee Public School and a teacher at the Sydney Boys' High School. Mr. Stone came to Australia with his parents when 12 years of age, from Leicester, England, where he was born. After some years in Brisbane, he came to Sydney in 1885. He entered the Education Department. Mr. Stone was a fine musician. His wife, formerly Miss Abbie Allen, was a pianist and a member of a prominent musical family. Mrs. Stone survives him.

The funeral took place yesterday to the Randwick Cemetery after a service at the home conducted by the Rev. A Morris who also officiated at the graveside.

The chief mourners were Mrs Stone (widow), Messrs. A. T. Allen, F. W. Allen, S. Allen, Wilfred Allen and Roy Allen (brothers-in-law), and Miss  Dora Allen (sister-in-law)/ Others present included  Messrs. H. W. Moffitt, T. A. Lawler, J. Wolinski, W. H. Woodward, Scarlett, Mr. and Mrs. William Moore, Messrs. Roderic Quinn, Mick Paul, Green, Davies, C. Kinsela, A. Woolland, W. Lawson, H. and H. W. Webb, Wallace, P. Waterman, Miss Jean Wallace, Mr. and Mrs. H. Julius, Messrs. L. Cutler, W. Barnes, Thornton, Oates, Smedley, Bosward, Mason, Proud, J. Fitzgerald, Mesdames Mooney, N. Lindsay, Green, Flowers, Gibb, Messrs. Singleton, Homer, Martin, C. Morrisby, Misses H. Holloway, Russell, McKern, E. Dwyer, Soutar, Garrett, B. and E. Bubb, Warren, Bertie, and Sabine, Dr. Mackaness, Mesdames Fossell, Buettel, Craig, and Chapman, Messrs. G. L. Dwyer, O. and W. Young, W. S. Russell, and Brown.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 September 1935

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

   When I am gone, I hope it may be said
   His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.

             -- Hilaire Belloc.

Many years ago now Henry Kendall, that lost child of a mellower civilization, bewailed the hardships which befall "a man of letters here." There is no New Grub street in Australia, but the reporters' room of a newspaper, and the ledger of a city firm here and there might tell of inkier servitudes than those of Gissing's sombre heroes in the murk of London's literary underworld. "Genius," says one critic finely, "though it may often desire money and fame, is never silenced by the lack of either," and there is always a comfortable tradition that poets will be poets in spite of us. What is there to hinder a man dashing off a three volume novel on his Saturday afternoons or late nights at the office? Tolstoy, who had an austere belief in the sweat of the brow, would even have held that an author was the better for it. Australian writers, however, have not flourished under these conditions; and it is even beginning to be suspected that leisure, or, in other words, the assurance of an income, is a favourable condition for good literary work. Few men, in setting out to write a masterpiece, can quite free themselves from the ignoble anxiety of how they and their dependants are to live in the meantime. In Australia the settled income is still almost exclusively associated with families newly enriched by commerce, which circles; however valuable their contributions to trade, have not often displayed leanings to literature. The would-be man of letters, bereft both of the princely patron of old and the unearned increment which is his substitute in older civilizations, relies for his leisure on democracy's interest and appreciation. Has democracy any interest and appreciation for Australian literature?

Views from a Bookshop.

Adelaide booksellers, deep in preparation for Australian Authors' Week, expressed varying opinions on the question. Mr. F. W. Preece, President of the Associated Booksellers of Australia and New Zealand, was, unfortunately, too ill to be interviewed; but Mr. E. H. Lowe, secretary of the Adelaide Association, who is also the manager of the Methodist Book Depot, suggested that if Australians did not appreciate Australian books after Authors' Week it would not be the book sellers' fault. He explained that in Melbourne the Associated Booksellers were working through press, platform, and wireless, and had given prizes for a "slogan." The competition had resulted in such bright ideas as 'Buy books by Australian writers now and by and by,' and 'Australian writers write the right books; buy one by one.' Adelaide booksellers clung to the Adelaide tradition that dignity and dulness were not synonymous, and preferred a quieter poster. They were all supporting Authors' Week in proportion to their smaller numbers, and relied on a joint advertisement and window displays of nothing but Australian books to capture the bookbuyers' interest.

As manager of the Methodist Book   Depot, Mr. Lowe could not express an opinion on the general attitude to Australian books. He could only indicate the attitude of Methodists, which was to show interest in books by ministers' daughters, but restricted enthusiasm in other directions. "Take," he said, "this fairy book by Pixie O. Harris. It is a delightful thing, but we can't sell it. Our people do not care for fairy tales. We can sell any number of Bible stories and copies of "Pilgrim's Progress," but fairy tales sent out for children's prizes are almost invariably returned. In fact, we don't send them now. The novels of Miss Dorothy Langsford have a great sale among our people."

Speaking, not as the manager of the Methodist Book Deport, but as a bookseller of wider experience, Mr. Lowe held that there was a distinct prejudice against books by Australian writers. "Unless there is some strong personal interest, or interest in the historical events described, Australian readers don't want them."

At Tyrrell's.

Mr. S.J. Stutley, happily at home in the bookish and delightful atmosphere of Tyrrell's, Limited, responded in a manner befitting the surroundings, which always seem to suggest that even in this hasty and commercial age there is still room and leisure for talk on general ideas. "I suppose," he said candidly, "that you know as well as I do what the public's attitude has been to Australian literature, It has been apathetic. It is only just lately, since the war in fact, that bookbuyers have realized that Australians can write. Now Angus & Robertson have printed at least half a dozen novels, which have been as well received as English novels of the same type, and as well read as if they had been published in England with all the advantages of the advertising of well-organized publishers. In England, too, the tide has turned. At least two leading firms of publishers, Hodder & Stoughton and Hutchinson's, have representatives in Australia, keeping a lookout for Australian novels.  

"A good example of changed, conditions is the fate of Katherine Susannah Pritchard's "Working Bullocks." That is a really fine thing, outstanding among Australian publications. Her "Pioneers" met with very meagre success. This is a much more mature work, showing real   power, and it has been readily recognised both in Australia and England. It is a novel of the dairy districts, and very realistically written. Jonathan Cape, who brought out the English edition, wrote asking her to tone down the expressions used in some of the dialogue, but she cabled, in effect, "What I have written, I have written," and they thought so highly of the work, that they accepted her ruling. We have just cabled to England for more copies-- a thing most rare with an Australian novel-- and have received a reply that more are being printed so that apart from its Australian success it has made an impression in England." Mr. Stutley touched on Australian publishing, and expressed the opinion that at present it was best for Australian writers to publish in Australia, with the prospect of an English edition if their venture proved successful. It was the hardest test. The Platypus series of cheap reprints were going to make a difference, he thought, to the Australian prospects.

Fairy Books and Others.

Mr. J. Morley Bath, manager of Rigby's, Limited, is one of the most enthusiastic workers for Australian Authors' Week. He believes intensely in encouraging Australian writers, and shows his belief very practically by publishing their books. The Australian text books published by Rigby's are well known, and include works by A. Grenfell Price. Gordon L. Wood. M.A., and Cyril M. Ward, M.A. Their publications, however, are often in lighter vein, and Mr. Bath, rejoices in the distinction of being Pixie O. Harris's "Fairy Publishers," and appearing in her marginal illustrations complete with bowler hat. umbrella and wings. He also published Maud Renner Liston's "Cinderella's   Party"' Mr. Bath has been most anxious that Adelaide should do its part in Australian Authors' Week, and has worked hard in the cause.

Missing Colour.

Mr. B. B. Beck, of Cole's Book Arcade, has seen many changes in the public taste for books, and is now slow to predict. He thinks, that the readers he is most in touch with care little for Australian, or even for English books, compared with the American novel.    

"There," he said, "they find picturesque scenery, the romantic events of two wars, the glamour of Red Indian life, and adventures among primitive conditions. We have as yet no distinctly Australian colour. Most of the novels written here might be written about any part of the continent. Mr. Gask, the dentist, writes detective stories, which are translated into three or four languages, but they are translated because they are detective stories, not because they are Australian. Mrs. Doudy's "Magic of Dawn" sold because of the interest in historical events connected with it. We have as yet no distinctly Australian architecture, no Australian costume even. Australian readers will read more Australian books when they have the interest of strong local colour."  

From all of which the aspiring Australian author may or may not, draw comfort.  

First published in The Register, 10 September 1927

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

Reprint: Nobel Prize Suggested for WA Novelist

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West Australian novelist Katherine Susannah Prichard, of Greenmount, has been nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature.

Confirming this today, author John K. Ewers said that the WA section of the Fellowship of the Australian Writers was invited by the Nobel committee of the Swedish Academy to nominate a candidate.

English professor Alan Edwards of the University of Western Australia readily consented to support the nomination which was sent to Sweden a fortnight ago.

Professor Edwards said that he could think of no Australian writer who better deserved the honour than Katherine Susannah Prichard.

"A very large meeting of the fellowship unanimously endorsed this opinion," said Mr. Ewers.

It is believed that the invitation to the WA Fellowship came as a result of an article by Mr. Ewers in a Melbourne weekly paper last December titled.- "Why not a Nobel Prize for Australian Writers?"

* Katherine Susannah Prichard, widow of WA Victoria Cross winner Hugo Throssell, has become a world figure in literature. Some of her work has been translated into French, Russian, Polish, Czech, Slovak, Hungarian and Afrikaans. Four of her novels have been published in America. She won a £1000 competition in London in 1915 with The Pioneers. Working Bullocks was published in 1926. In 1928 she shared first prize in a Bulletin competition with Coonardoo.

First published in The Daily News, 15 March 1950

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

Reprint: Who Knows the Mind of a Skag?

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Sydney's bookstalls, already bursting at the sides with violence, laughter and sex, are now carrying no fewer than 25 kinds of magazine grouped under the general description of "science fiction". A year ago there were only six, and two years ago only three.

This phenomenon, among others, is being discussed by upwards of 200 men and women from many parts of Australia at the third annual Science Fiction Convention, which was officially opened yesterday in Sydney.

Most of the magazines now on sale look as though they have arrived from Outer Space. In fact they have come from the United States, by way of Britain.

Science fiction, broadly, is a story that begins something like this:

"Two hours before the vessel plunged into minus point, building up for a hundred and fifty   parsec jump through hyperspace, Captain Jack Warren was so high on narcol he couldn't read his own manifest . . . it was too late. The skags had taken over control of the ship."

Around the world there are now about 50 such magazines in 15 languages, and about 40 of them originate in the United States.

However, the deluge into Australia does not mean that the number of Australian followers has increased so suddenly.  

There is simply a bigger variety of the magazines available here. The dollar restrictions since 1940 have blocked American publications, but now they are being reprinted in Britain.

An executive of a large wholesale magazine distributing firm in Sydney told "The Sun-Herald":

"We're testing the market. In this State the Westerns are dropping back a bit in sales and science fiction is taking their place in popularity, but not yet spectacularly.

The Professors Can Relax

"A few of the science fiction magazines are really just crude Westerns dressed up in space-suits and swimming costumes. But many are far from moronic -- even some with the sexiest or most gruesome covers.

"Those covers are only a come-on. The writers, it seems, won't pander. Trouble is," he added regretfully, "the readers som times have to be pretty bright to understand them.

"In America the publishers have had to issue a couple of books which are virtually popular science dictionaries, so that new s.f. fans can know what they're reading about."

Some of the Australian readers hardly ever need a glossary, for quite a few are honours graduates in physics, mathematics and engineering.

Professors used to relax with a crime story. Now the hand gropes on the bed-side table for "Astounding Science Fiction," "Galaxy," or "If". After all, this new reading is itself detective fiction of a sort.

An American high priest of the cult declares that it can render a great public service by "pointing out the probable results of present trends in science, and then letting the reader decide whether that's what he wants."

But the British novelist J. B. Priestley, after confessing recently that he had read "a good deal" of American science fiction, went on to denounce a current trend in the stories.

"Having ruined this planet," he wrote bitterly, "we take destruction to other planets. It is a move undertaken in secret despair, in the wrong direction . . .

'The rocket ships no longer represent man's triumphant progress. They merely show him hurrying at ever-increasing speeds away from his true life as a spiritual being."

A reasonable-voiced supporter of science fiction, Mr. Vol Molesworth, director of the Futurian Society of Sydney, makes this reply:

"The idea of embodying scientific ideas in fictional form fills an urgent educative need. It's not new. It started with the Socratic Dialogues."

Purists apparently date the birth of modern science fiction at about 1926. Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, to their mind, were not sufficiently scientific in their predictions.

They declare that fantasy is strictly different from science fiction, and even when they admit that the two are usually merged in the magazines they add that science has had a habit of overtaking intelligently conceived fantasies.

They Exchange Fanzines

In Sydney a small group of the more enthusiastic readers formed the Futurian Society on the eve of the World War I. To borrow one another's magazines and books and hold their abstruse discussions, these addicts met on Thursday nights in a coffee shop.

Last year they made their present clubrooms in an old Darlinghurst factory, visited fairly regularly by about 100 enthusiasts.

Similar groups exist in the other capitals, and there are lesser groups about the Sydney suburbs. Between some rival groups there is even admittedly a certain amount of bad feeling.

This week-end, in Federation Hall, Philip Street, the Science Fiction Convention is fascinatedly tracing out paths man's future may take.

A B.Sc. and two B.A.'s have given addresses in a symposium on The World of To-morrow. ("If you want to see the future, look at yesterday and to-day", was a sober keynote); and to- night there will be a "variety" session.

The membership of the organised science fiction groups in Australia, the convention visitors learned, is still small but it's growing. And there is no doubt about the members' keeness.

At least 15 of the groups circulate their own papers, some roneoed and some printed, containing reviews, comment and amateur science fiction.

"Fanzines" (fan magazines), these are called, as distinct from prozines, or professional magazines.

Yes, they adore new words, these science-minded students of strange goings-on in strange worlds along the time-space continuum -- and not all the words, certainly, are strictly scientific.

Back, for example, to the story of Captain Jack Warren's adventures, which ends:

"When last heard from, K'Gol and his skag companions had settled down to conferring with terrestrial scientists, making and discarding countless plans to revive the Rigel culture, and drinking narcol . . .

"Who knows the mind of a skag?"

First published in The Sun-Herald (Sydney), 18 April 1954

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]
For years I have heard people grumbling, asking vaguely for some one to write books about the Australian pioneering that was not just a struggle with drought in the Never Never. They have asked why some of the dignified, complex lives of the prouder kind of pioneer were not put on record. They have asked for an account of settlement in some of the mountainous coastal districts. To this the only answer was that every writer must write as it is given to him to do. Paul Wenz, the Frenchman, describes an Australian that is bare by, with, and for sheep. Lawson describes life on the track with swagmen and shearers of the 'nineties or so. And now, at last, before it is too late, comes a chronicler giving us the persons and places that have so often been desired. The book is "Up the Country," its author, signing himself "Brent of Bin Bin." The book is something between a novel and reminiscences, rather formless and with an overcrowded canvas; and life bubbles up through it at every part. The region is somewhere in the S.E. of New South Wales, Snowy River country, the author loving every curve of it.

"Up the Country."

The modest title of the book is confirmed by the preface, where the author says that "if only half a dozen genuine old pioneers commend the verisimilitude of their story as here writ down I shall be rewarded extravagantly in excess of my desserts." Brent of Bin Bin surely has his reward. Old pioneers, both in his own lovely district, "where the winds and the streams are made," and in all places like it by aspect and history, will surely say he has achieved "verisimilitude." More than that, he has achieved something like ecstasy, a communicable delight in fine memories.

The book could be called, like some old-fashioned romances, by the names of its chief families. "The Pooles and the Mazeres, or Laughter and Tears" (such books always had a sub-title). But, no, I am wrong in suggesting that "Up the Country" is an old-fashioned book, with its characters seen as if through the wrong end of a tele- scope. Its characters may wear crinolines, but their hearts and speech are young, contemporary. Here is some of their talk:

"You've mourned long enough for poor Emily now. You oughtn't to waste your life any longer. It's a pity for you to be an old bachelor when you see the kind of husbands many women have to put up with."

"That's all very fine, but who'd I marry? I can't go mashing after one of those little squeaking girls that I see about."

That very modern horror of flappers! The second speaker was the hero of the book, Bert Poole. A glorious figure of a bushman, from boyhood to middle age, capable, alert in all his senses, the mainstay of the country-side, Bert Poole was adored by every one of the girls (little squeaking ones and older), and imitated by all the men. If Brent of Bin Bin had done nothing but render the personality of Bert Poole, and make it credible, his book would have been worth writing. But such a man is incomplete without his environment, and that is given, too, his environment, human and physical.

Bush Ecology.  

There is a rather new branch of science called "ecology." It must have existed long years ago without being defined: it was the basis of every bushman's power. An English scientist described ecology recently in this way:

An ecologlst is a field-naturalist, who concentrates attention on the relations between one species and another, on their reactions to their environment, on their numbers, birth rates, death rates, and movements. He has to know a little of everything. When an ecologlst says, "There goes a badger," he should include in his thoughts some definite idea of the animal's place in the community to which it belongs, just as if he had said, "There goes the vicar!"

So much for ecology in general. Now let us see what the ecology of Bert Poole and his friends amounted to:  

Every nook of Eagle Hawk Gullies was familiar to them, it having been their playground ever since they bestrode a horse. They were not to be deceived by any beast or bird that ran, flew, swam, crawled, or burrowed in its environs. Brands were a superfluous means of identification: one glance at a cow or colt and they could make an affidavit as to its dam or sire on points.

Or again, of Bert himself:

He could glance at a forest giant and tell which way it would fall to his axe, and how many slabs it would yield to fashion his habitation. ... He could canter over a stretch of country and estimate how many acres it contained, and how many beasts it would graze. . . . There wasn't a beast from the Upper Murray to the Murrumbidgee that he didn't know by the cut of its jib, and no bird could call to its mate, nor outline its wing on the sky at dusk or dawn, without his reading it like the alphabet.

Not an ecology quite satisfying to the pure scientist, perhaps, but something much nearer to it than that of the average specialist, for the bushman had to "know a little of everything"; often he knew a great deal.

A Book of Adventures.

Being a chronicle of two families and their more significant neighbours, the book's high lights shine on those events that would be most inevitable to whole clans. It opens on the waters of the Great Flood, when brave, charming Mrs. Mazere insisted on crossing the river to help a sick woman. Bert Poole and a young mate rowed her over; strong men stood on the banks imploring her not to take such a risk. She won through quietly, and her consistent courage has been part of the district legends ever since. Another high light shone on an attack by bushrangers, in which Bert Poole, at first misunderstood, then glorified, came out very strong indeed. Then there was the tragedy of lovely Emily Mazere, drowned in her golden youth, a blow for the whole district. These events bind the district-life together, but the background is even more strongly drawn. There is the account of the rival clergymen when they first came to the district. Kind Mrs. Brennan was ill when the priest was to come, so Mrs Mazere, an Anglican, threw open the Mazere homestead of Three Rivers, and every one came to the service. Mrs. Brennan sobbed with joy, saying to her husband:

"There niver was nor could be such a woman agin as my dear Rachel Mazere. Now, ye listen to me, Timmy bhoy, whin next her heretic bishop comes to the district he spinds a noight in all honour at Brennan's Gap..."

She had to wait years, but it is part of the history of Bool Bool that the bishop was nearly smothered in the Brennan's goose-down bed, the only one of its succulent floculent proportions up the country. Thereafter it became customary for the chief of the Church of England when he came to spend a night in great state at Brennan's Gap, and for his colleagues to return the courtesy at Three Rivers.

The Homesteads.

"Up the Country" is a book of homesteads, huge, growing places with as many inhabitants, year in year out, as one of the country houses in Tolstoy's books. But there were no peasants:-

When war, gold rushes, or over-speculation affected the price of stock or wool, the squatters would be flush of money, or strapped for it, according to the swing of the pendulum. But they always had plenty of blood-horses to ride, prime beef to eat, fruit, eggs, cheese, butter, and vegetables, and were able to do their own work if put to it, whether building a new habit or habitation.

It seems necessary to quote at some length like this to show the racy idiom that pervades the book, alternating, unfortunately, with some heavy journalese now and then. "Flush of money or strapped for it" -- that runs very well; such phrases have been lived with.

Finally, it may be mentioned that, as "Bool Bool" is an old settlement in the Mother State, its frontier district is Queensland, whose gold rush takes in its wake many undesirables. So that was Queensland's function then! She has outlived it.

First published in The Brisbane Courier, 2 March 1929

Note: it was not until the 1950s that the author of this, and subsequent novels, was identified as none other than Miles Franklin.

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

Reprint: Book Review. Miss Zora Cross

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When Mr. Roy Bridges startled "The Times" into reviewing his "Vale of Tyre" at great length, Australian reviewers took heart of grace, realising that a notable novel, written in Australia and published in London was a possibility. When, more recently, Mr. Dale Collins published the most enthralling story of adventure at sea since "Treasure Island," it became possible to claim a great novelist for Australia. Ever since, one picks up a novel by an Australian author with a sense of pleasurable anticipation which is quite illogical and quite often unjustified. In a population of less than six millions, carrying, perhaps, a larger proportion suffering from cacoethes scribendi than is usual in older countries, it is absurd to expect a very large number or a very high percentage of literary successes. We have, considering population, an amazing number of better than average versifiers and minor poets; we have two or three really good novelists. That is a literary record of which a young and sparsely populated country may well be proud. Yet a reviewer may perhaps be forgiven for deploring the publication of second and third rate novels by Australians, as tending to lower a standard set proudly high by Australia's literary pioneers.

Perilously close to this category of second-rate Australian novels falls unhappily, the latest effort of Miss Zora Cross. With every desire to be sympathetic and encouraging toward an author who has written much good and almost good verse, it is impossible to write enthusiastically of this novel, "The Lute Girl of Rainyvale." Its central theme is Art (with a large capital), yet one of the characters is made to say of an early Lindsay drawing "Has anyone in Australia such an art treasure? Has anyone in this world? I like to think not." London, which recently saw and passed judgment upon a representative Lindsay collection, is likely to smile indulgently at such naive hero-worship as that. Furthermore, London (assuming that London reads "The Lute Girl of Rainyvale") will draw from these pages a strange picture of Australia as a whole and Queensland in particular. Many of the characters are Chinese; educated Chinese, who are made to fit with an appearance of complete naturalness into an Australian background. A stranger would be likely to receive the impression that wealthy Chinese of collecting habits and sauve manners were a normal feature of the Australian landscape. Throughout Miss Cross shows a knowledge of many highly interesting chapters of Chinese mythology, and for this reason alone many readers will find a curious charm in the book.

"The Lute Girl of Rainyvale," by Zora Cross. Hutchinson's, London. 7s. 6d. From Albert's, Ltd.

First published in The Western Mail, 6 August 1925

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

Reprint: Catherine Spence: Pioneer Journalist

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One of the finest pioneers Australia ever had was a woman journalist, Catherine Spence, yet she lived and did her work one hundred years ago, when women journalists were regarded with suspicion and as a race to be discouraged.

To be sure, for 30 years Catherine Spence used her brother's name to sign her articles, but she had a message, and she was determined to deliver it without being side-tracked by any irrelevant nonsense about what sex one ought to belong to.

Her message was a strange one for a woman of that day; she believed passionately in democracy, and she believed even more passionately that democracy could not exist without proportional representation, or "effective voting," as she preferred to call it.

It was to the campaign for proportional or preferential voting, which nowadays we take so much for granted, that she devoted the whole of her long life, sparing neither time, energy, money, nor health to bring it about.

Catherine Helen Spence is identified with Australia as a whole by the cause to which she dedicated her life; she is identified with South Australia and the city of Adelaide in many ways besides.

In a sense, she grew up with South Australia, for the colony was only three years old when she arrived there with her family in 1839 at the age of 14.

She was born at Melrose, on the Tweed, in Scotland, in the romantic neighborhood of Abbotsford and Sir Walter Scott. One of her earliest memories was of the funeral procession of the great novelist winding its way to Dryburgh Abbey, where so many of her own family were buried.

"I account myself well born," she says in a memorable sentence, "for my father and mother loved each other. I account myself well descended, going back for many generations on both sides of intelligent and respectable people. I think I was well brought up, for my father and mother were of one mind regarding the care of the family."

A better description of gentle birth could hardly be devised.

Her father was David Spence, a lawyer, and her mother, Helen Brodie, daughter of one of the most enterprising farmers in Britain.

Young Catherine, who was fifth among eight children, had a happy childhood, and for those days an exceedingly good education.

Languages were well taught, and a love and a discriminating taste for good books were stimulated and encouraged along with the more "womanly" pursuit of fine needlework.

Catherine, indeed, was set fair for an academic career, with Edinburgh as her goal, when her gentle, incurably trusting father was ruined by wheat speculations. With recovery impossible, David Spence, fortified by a gift of £500 from his wife's people, took his family to Adelaide.  

Their early years in this hard, raw, new colony were extremely difficult, and David Spence lived only six years longer.

For some months after they landed, the family lived in a tent on Brownhill Creek, and sold milk from their small herd of cows.

During this period they lived chiefly on rice -- it was the only cheap food, and Spence bought a ton of it. Later he got the job of Town Clerk of Adelaide at £150 a year, but lost it again with thc break-up of the municipality.

In 1843, to help the family finances, Catherine went out as a governess at sixpence an hour, and the knowledge that she had 5/- a week to put into the common fund restored her sense of independence and dissipated her shyness.

Meanwhile, she was writing for the Press, a modest beginning with stray verses and an occasional letter to the "South Australian," anonymous, of course.

Later she ran a small school, with the help of her mother and sisters, but in 1850, when she was 25, she gave up teaching and turned to novel-writing.

In all she wrote seven novels, and though fiction was never more than a by-product of her intensely busy existence, her writing is competent and professional, and she has her own distinct and not unimportant place in the development of Australian literature.

Her first two books, "Clara Morison" and "Tender and True," were published in England, and though well reviewed netted their author only £50 between them. The third, "Mr. Hogarth's Will," into which she wove her ideas about voting, yielded £85, but this included serial rights in the Melbourne "Telegraph."

Her best novel, and her last, "Handfasted," was never published at all; it was submitted for a prize of £100 offered by the "Sydney Mail," but the judge "feared it was calculated to loosen the marriage tie -- it was too socialistic, and consequently dangerous!"

In 1859 Catherine received the inspiration for what was to be her life's work.

The English philosopher John Stuart Mill had written a pamphlet advocating Thomas Hare's scheme for proportional voting, and, fired with enthusiasm after reading it, Catherine lost no time in getting her own views on the subject into print.

At that time she was Adelaide correspondent for the Melbourne "Argus" (under her brother's name), but the "Argus" showed no enthusiasm for their employee's new ideas; it recognised them as ingenious, but said it was definitely committed to block voting and that was that.

Two years later, when telegraphed news services made Catherine's work as correspondent unnecessary, she began to write a series of letters to the Adelaide "Register" on her pet theme, signed with her initials.

Her brother John encouraged her to write a pamphlet, and got it printed under the title of "A Plea for Pure Democracy." It was described by John Stuart Mill, Thomas Hare, and other authorities as the best argument from the popular side that had been presented.

Through the kindness of friends, Catherine was enabled to visit England and Scotland in 1865. During her visit she met Thomas Hare himself, and Rowland Hill, then better known as a post-office reformer than as a pioneer of effective voting, and the great Mill also, as well as George Eliot and many less dazzling celebrities.

She and Mill enjoyed each other's society very much, but her meeting with George Eliot was something of a fiasco, and Catherine gives an amusing account of it in her autobiography. George Eliot apologised handsomely years later for her brusqueness, which was caused by ill-health, and Catherine never ceased to regard her, together with Jane Austen, as one of her favorite English novelists.

By this time, of course, Catherine Spence was a well-known public figure, and her services were in demand in Adelaide for all sorts of reform projects.

She was a pioneer in the fight to provide destitute children with normal home lives instead of allowing them to be herded together in institutions; and for 14 years she worked hard to help make the foster-parents scheme under the Boarding-Out Society the success it undoubtedly became.

The movement spread to other States and to New Zealand, while a little book Catherine wrote on the subject, "State Children in Australia," reached the desk of the Under-secretary of State in the British Government and greatly influenced the preparation of the Children's Bill that came before the House of Commons in 1908.

Public speaking was another activity for women pioneered by Catherine Spence. She began in a modest way with travel and literary talks, but later on branched out into preaching and political speaking. She had abandoned the gloomy Calvinism of her forefathers, with its doctrine of predestination, and had joined the Unitarian Church, whose pulpits were open to women ministers.

Catherine was frequently in demand as a preacher, not only in Adelaide, but in Melbourne and Sydney, and later in America.

An address given at the Unitarian Church in Sydney on the subject of International Peace gave her the opportunity to express her disapproval of the South African War, and she was described (by the Sydney "Bulletin") as "the gallant little old lady who has more moral courage in her little finger than all the Sydney ministers have in their combined anatomies."

As one might imagine, Catherine had little time in her life for romance; she had two offers of marriage in her whole life, both of which she declined. She said in later years that though she had often envied her friends the love of their children, she had never envied any of them their husbands!

Books, pamphlets, and articles on all sorts of subjects poured from her tireless pen. She was a pioneer of educational reform in South Australia, and wrote a notable little book on civics called "The Laws We Live Under" for use in State schools.

She was a foundation member of the Adelaide Hospital Commission and gave help to women's suffrage movements.

She was guardian time and again throughout her long life to the orphan children of friends or relations; she kept up her literary studies and taught herself Latin; and all the while "carried her flag" for proportional representation up and down the continent, speaking at meetings, and travelling under all sorts of discomfort and hardships.

In 1893, at the age of 68, she left for a lecture tour of America as a Government Commissioner and a delegate to the World's Fair Congress in Chicago. Her visit was an enormous success, and her passport to the hearts of progressive Americans was the fact that she came "from Australia, the home of the secret ballot!"

This incredible woman, nearly 70 years old, travelled up and down the United States, addressing meetings, preaching from pulpits, and giving interviews to the Press. She met many famous people, including Henry George and Oliver Wendell Holmes, as well as the young Helen Keller, about to take her university degree.

One homely little touch is the way Catherine was impressed by the superiority of American domestic arrangements, even 56 years ago. She speaks of a terrace of 40 houses in Brooklyn, all warmed by central heating from one furnace, with hot water laid on, lifts, and "cupboards everywhere, ensuring the maximum of comfort with the minimum of labor."

On her return to Australia she had the satisfaction of seeing women in South Australia given the vote, and she herself was the first woman to seek election in a political contest, standing unsuccessfully as a candidate for the Federal Convention in 1897.

Her candidature aroused great interest and gave the cause of proportional representa- tion further impetus, especially with the example of Tasmania, South Africa, and Belgium before the world.

By 1902 effective voting had taken shape at least in the form of a Bill introduced into the South Australian Legislative Council, and by 1909, the year before her death, her goal was in sight, though she was not to witness the final victory.

Catherine's mother had died in 1884 at the age of 97, and though Catherine remained cheerful and active, she never really recovered from the blow. At the age of 84, still young in heart and forward-looking, she sat down to write her autobiography, but left it unfinished at the point at which her mother had died. She herself died at Norwood, in South Australia, in April, 1910, and her autobiography was finished by her friend and colleague, Mrs. Jeanne Young, and published by the Adelaide "Register," for which she had written so long.

Mrs. Young's words are her most fitting monument: "No truer friend, no better helper, no more sympathetic worker on behalf of the distressed, the deserted, and the destitute ever lived than the 'Grand Old Woman of Australia.'"

First published in The Australian Women's Weekly, 16 September 1950

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

Reprint: A Distinguished Australian Woman

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It is rather amusing in reading the list of distinguished Australians whose portraits are to be placed in the Commonwealth Gallery, to find not one woman's name.

It is true that, in the making of Australia, the women who have contributed the most are those whose names are unknown to the public, though their memories are enshrined in the hearts of friends and families. They are women who have quietly taken their share of the burden, and walked shoulder to shoulder with their husbands through all the dangers of a new land; they are pioneer women who have bravely faced, and are still facing, the hardships and loneliness of the bush; they are the women who have worked unobtrusively at the making of good citizens; and for such women the nation itself is a monument, for without their part, the nation could not have come into being.

But out of the whole brave army of silent women there are a few who stand out as leaders, and those names are known to all. They are the women who have cut a path through the network of prejudice, and "blazed the trail" for their sisters following on behind them; and they have earned the right to the title of "distinguished Australians."

The first of these names which will come to every mind is that of Catherine Helen Spence, the "grand old woman" of Australia. Our State Children's Relief Departments stand in every state as an undying monument to Catherine Spence, and generations of children throughout the years will have cause to bless her name, which is known throughout the world. There was never politician yet who more nobly earned a place amongst the "distinguished Australians."

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 29 May 1912

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

No Books.

The problem of what to do with our books in an ordinary house, where no room is set apart for a library, is a very real one. Books have an exuberant habit of increasing by compound interest, and people who like a place for everything, and everything in its place, come to consider an overflow of books as just so much rubbish to be removed. People of that temperament, though, have their own remedy, a very sound one, if only it is used in time. The good old way, the simple plan: If you don't want to be faced with difficulties about books, don't have any books. Refuse to collect them, either for yourself or your family. Ignore them. Evict them. Personally, I don't know how this is done. I couldn't do it, but I know there are homes where books are simply eliminated; I have seen them; we have all seen them. You look round a room and see tables, chairs, flowers perhaps, a gramophone perhaps, but no disturbing element in the form of books. With regard to books, the room is as bare as the back of your hand. Now I call that masterly: ingene solitude. Those who actually love, books, the disturbers of our mental peace, may deplore the barrenness of such rooms. Perhaps in some moods I do so myself. Still, one must admire the consistently bare surface presented to the eye and mind. "They make a desert and call, it peace." Somehow it's hard to find ex- pressions of unmixed admiration for the achievement of bookless calm! Yet I repeat it; the achievement is masterly, and I don't know how it is done.

Books As Upholstery.

Once or twice it has happened to me, as it may happen to the best of us, to stay in a house where the choice of books was simply inexplicable. One was the home of a wealthy widow, who had just had her whole house redecorated and refurnished. The room where I slept had a elaborate fireplace, and the mantelpiece had several little brackets and shelves at the sides. The shelves could not be left empty, but they would not hold large books; besides, this was a bedroom, unfit for large tomes. The upholsterer had evidently realised this; for he had supplied, along with the elaborate mantelpiece, twelve inches of short books to fill each of the shelves. The most becoming series of books that would fit those shelves happened to be the series known as the Temple Classics, bound in soft green kid, very delightful. Twelve inches of those books gave you quite a selection. Three volumes of Dante, three of Sterne, two of Matthew Arnold, Abelard, and Heloise, a good deal of Carlyle, "much riches in a little room"' indeed! The trouble was, though, that the upholsterer had gauged the space on the shelves so well that none of the books would come out. He had also, I fancy, chosen them "classical" in hopes that nobody would ever want to take them out, as he did not want them disturbed. As for me, I felt that I now knew the meaning of the words, "spirits on prison."

Another Solution.

You can deal with books by refusing to deal with them at all, that is by abolishing them. You can solve the problem by treating them as upholstery and never reading them. Other people, again, though fond of books, honestly dislike seeing them about a room. It is a distaste that I cannot understand, but I suppose some people feel the same about their friends, enjoying their existence, but not wanting to be made aware of it too often. Lately I came across this description, for instance, in Wells' book, "The World of William Clissold." The writer is describing his simple and delightful study, and says:  

There is a large cupboard in which books are hidden, for the backs of modern books, if they are displayed, talk overmuch.

So you hide them in a cupboard, where they might be rifles, or jam-pots, or old boot ! So if you, enter that room, admitted to be a study, you would not be aware of the presence of books at all!  Most of us have seen rooms that came to be called "study," in which there actually were no books; probably a drawer containing fishing-tackle was their nearest approach to the material of meditation. But Clissold has books, and has a comfortable home for them, only he condemns them to lie concealed. His reason is that the backs of modern books are too blatant, and perhaps that is true. We have learnt the ways of reclame too thoroughly. Every book is its own advertisement right up to the day of its death, especially since the glaring jackets have been made so attractive that people seldom have the courage to discard them. Well, Clissold solves the problem to his own satisfaction; a book should he read but not seen. He is entitled to his own choice.

More Positive Pleasure.  

All these solutions, it will be noticed are negative. They are ways of treating books so that we are almost untroubled by them. What about people who enjoy the troubling things? Even apart from their contents, for instance, French books are probably the most troublesome of all, for they are bound in thin paper. The theory is that you are a wealthy person with a well-established library and a pretty taste in bind-ings. What you want, then, is a well-printed book on good paper; to you the temporary binding, which the book wears when you buy it, is negligible, as you intend to have the book bound at once by your ancestral book-binder. He will use the special morocco or calf, or half-calf (I always wonder which end of a calf they use for that), which will agree with all the other volumes in your collection. Good.  But most people are not like you; the paper cover in which a book is born is good enough for them. The book falls to pieces soon; so much the better for the booksellers. And besides, how attractive those French books can be in their fresh paper covers! Leaving aside those that are in covers with pictures, there are those enormous series in an inconspicuous lemon-yellow. No, not, "yellowbacks." This binding can cover anything from the sermons of Bossuet to the latest word by Proust's successors; the point is its fresh attractiveness. Somewhere in his novel of Paris life, "The Ambassadors," Henry James grows positively lyrical about those yellow books, comparing them with a mass of fresh fruit, ripe and enticing. You feel they are coloured by the sheer presence of vitamines. Who could bear to hide such treasures in a cupboard? Besides, the lettering on their backs is discreet; their delicate personality it is that beckons. And Henry James was not alone in feeling that enticement.

When Books Take Charge.

So far I have discussed people who know how to keep books in their place. Is the reverse picture too gloomy to be borne? Shall I tell you what a home is like when books take control, hold the helm, steer the car, wield the lash, and sa forth? Well, this is the way it goes. You move into a new house, even temporarily. You. find there is only one bookshelf, and you construct another, which should be more than enough, as you will not spend more than a few months here. In three months' time, what has happened? Well, the few books you had when you came are still there, but unnoticeable, among the hundred or so more that have accumulated. "Like breeds like"; is that it? Some of the new ones are real acquisitions; you will never part with them. Others are horrible accidents that have occurred to you because So-and-so wanted to try to convince you of double-tax, or auto-ventriloquism, or how to make wine from papaws. What does one do with books like this? That, I admit, is a real problem. One can't take them up and write on the flyleaf, "To Mary, with love," because then Mary will read the book as from you, and will imbibe its doctrine as yours and tell her friends you're a double-taxer who lives on papaw wine. The thing to do with these books in the end, I suppose, is to dump them very anonymously somewhere. Meanwhile, they help to crowd our real books off the two small shelves. Suddenly some one wants to look up something in the small Shelley that is always being submerged by heavier books: small Shelley lurks darkling. Every consultation of him is a crisis:  

   Lest storms should overset the leaning pile
   Deciduous, or its own unbalanced weight.

Cowper's haystack knew all about our book problems. Meanwhile, by facing those dreadful risks of collapse and of flooding, we have at least a small Shelley at hand, and can read aloud a chapter of James Stephens' "Crook of Gold" when "the world is too much with us." We have some poems and novels that their writers have sent us, and that no one can be allowed to borrow. We have above all the sense of abundant life, the overflowing life of the mind, that the visible presence of books can really give. I admit that it is a disturbing presence, but a seed, in the ground is also disturbing when it insists on germinating. After all, some one else must put the case for the swept and garnished room, devoid of books. I cannot put it fairly, for I am too willing that books should have it all their own way.

First published in The Brisbane Courier, 20 August 1927

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

"The Man Who Loved Children" by Christina Stead. (Peter Davies, London).  

Australian-born Christina Stead, in "The Man Who Loved Children," has written an extraordinarily good novel of the disharmonious life of an American family.

It is a grim story set in an atmosphere of hatred, a realistic presentation of a ruthless egocentric and his unfortunate, harassed wife, who quarrel brutally and bitterly in front of their children.  

But it has many amusing moments: the dialogue, of which there is a great deal, is witty, strikingly original, and some of the situations are riotously and robustly comic.  

Sam Pollit, a fantastic figure, dominates the book. Head of a Scientific Department in Washington, he is a boastful buffoon, an idealistic egoist, who struts and performs before the appreciative audience of his six young children. He is forever talking, demonstrating bis love for the children, whining for sympathy against the im- possible conduct of their mother.

The mother, Henrietta, belongs to a wealthy family of Baltimore people, but, like the other Collyers, is wasteful, improvident and unreliable. She is a beautiful, headstrong creature when she marries the handsome, good-living widower, Sam Pollit, but marriage soon changes her. Finding Sam ungenerous with his money, she quickly gets in the toils of moneylenders, and for the rest of her life is dunned by them, always borrowing more to pay off interest, never having enough money for household expenses, always deceiving Sam about where the money goes.

At the beginning of the book the Pollits are living in a lovely, large house outside Washington, a house belonging to Henny's father. Here Sam revels in the garden, the little menagerie he has, and, of course, always the children. Henny, condemned to do the housework and the children's mending, complains bitterly, never speaks to Sam, lives on cups of tea, curry and aspirin, and has frequent trips to town to enjoy the company of a young admirer.

Then Sam, who is an anthropologist, is sent on an expedition to Malaya. His ways so irritate the head of the expedition that numerous complaints are made to Washington, with the result that, on.his return, Sam is suspended without pay. But worse is to come. Henny's father dies hopelessly in debt, and the Pollits have to move out of their grand home and take a tumbledown old house in a poor district outside Baltimore.

Here, while Sam potters happily about with his growing children, repairing, pulling down, and making himself generally a handyman, Henny frets, sells all her treasures to get money to meet the demands of the usurious lenders, and becomes more and more desperate.

All the time frightening quarrels go on, quarrels that lead Henny to the verge of insanity, that make Sam feel more righteous than ever. The end, of course, is tragedy for Henrietta, but some promise of a future for the overbearing Sam.

That is the bare outline of the book, but there is much more in it than that. It is a novel over which Christina Stead must have slaved to provide the right quality of scene, dialogue, characterisation. Her Sam Pollit is a memorable, larger-than-life figure, a contemptible character if ever there was one, yet a man whom we cannot wholly despise. Henrietta, on the other hand, is drawn as a rather sympathetic character, but we cannot keep patience with her dramatics, her threats of murder and suicide, and her flamboyant show of self-sacrifice.

The children are only sketched in on this large-size Pollit canvas, but their inclusion adds life and color to the picture.

The only gentleness in the book is in the chapters about the adolescent Louie, Sam's child by his first marriage, an ugly, clumsy girl, a slovenly drudge in the house, who yet has some thing of the poet in her, has her soul uplifted by her devotion to her teacher, and is the only one of the children to draw completely away from her domineering father.

It is on Louie that the atmosphere of hate in the house has the greatest effect: Louie precipitates the inevitable tragedy.

Besides the Pollit household, Miss Stead brings a number of other characters into the story--Sam's sisters, the large Collyer family, Louie's mother's relations, all oddities; and the more prosaic figures of the neighborhood, and Sam's office cronies and enemies.

Miss Stead is a writer with remarkable literary creative power. With this novel she comes to the peak of her career, assumes a place among the greatest novelists of the day. "The Man Who Loved Children" is a book that merits unqualified literary appreciation as well as providing rich and original reading entertainment.

First published in The Advertiser, 13 September 1941

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

Reprint: Our Australian Poets: Henry Halloran by Zadriel

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"I wish I had some of the versifying talent of Halloran," exclaimed Sir Thomas Mitchell (he was then engaged on the translation of "Camoens"). "I would make this a rhyme, not a prose transalation, as I must now call it." "Mr. Halloran?" I rather queried than said. "Yes; he is in my office. I call him our colonial Lovelace, or Davenant; but I expect he will make a name for himself." "Unless," I answered, "He might have too many sheep on a Shenstone's Leasowes. Don't you think, Sir Thomas, we have poetry enough?" "No. We never have had, nor never will have too much of the right sort. Poetry is the grand purifier of the wave of intellect which keeps seething and boiling around us. We owe more to our poets than we do to our prose writers, just as a Christian would know more of the Psalms than he would of any other portion of the Scripture." "Give me the songs of a nation and I shall know know how to rule it," said a great man, and if the more elaborate works of Campbell or Burns, or of Moore were forgotten, "Ye Mariners of England," "Scots Wha Hae," or the "Sweet Yale of Avoca," would be remembered as long as our language is spoken." Here," said an old and valued friend to me, who had been long prostrated by that terrible affliction, a nervous disorder, "here I have received more benefit from those few lines of good old quaint and pious George Herbert than I have from the Pharmacopiae. Shall I repeat them to you?" "Do."

   Who would have thought my withered soul
      Should have recovered greenness?
   It was gone quite underground, as flowers depart
      To see their mother-root, when they have blown
   Where they together all the hard weather
      Dead to the world, kept house unknown.

   And now in age again I live and write;
      I once more smell the dew and rain,
   And relish versing. Oh! my only light,
      It cannot be that I am he
   On whom thy tempests fell all night.

I have never had the pleasure of reading Mr. Halloran's poems in a collected form, nor do I even know whether they have been published; but from the different fugitive pieces of his which I have met with in the colonial newspaper press, he is a poet of no mean order; more classical, I should say, than artistic, breathing a deep spirit of refinement, which is the more remarkable as he wrote at a time when the grossest sensuality was the order of the day. Like most men who are not compelled to depend upon their pen for subsistence, there is nothing paradoxical in his effusions; there is an easy, quiet flow of gentlemanly, good humored musical rhyme, more of the Corinthian than the Doric about it, more of the urbe in rure than the rus in urbe, and, above all things, possessing the rare merit of modern poetry-- that is, of being understood. When I first saw Mr. Halloran, he was in a carriage; when I last saw him he was in a carriage; and I sincerely trust that he will ascend Parnassus in the same vehicle, and get crowned, too, as one of first who stepped boldly forward as a purifier of the public taste.

First published in The Queenslander, 10 April 1869

Reprint: The Late Mr. Henry Halloran, C.M.G.

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The death of Mr. Henry Halloran, C.M.G., occurred on the 19th instant at his late residence at Mowbray, Ashfield. As a very old colonist, the name of Mr. Halloran has long been familiar in New South Wales, his frequent contributions to the press, and his readiness on all occasions to use his gifts for the celebration of any event of public interest having won for him a place among the poets of Australia. Mr. Halloran was a native of South Africa, having been born in 1811 at Capetown, where his father was rector of the grammar school and chaplain to the forces. After some residence in England he came out to this colony, entering the Survey Office in 1827, and continued in the Civil Service for a period of 51 years, when he retired on a pension, having risen to the position of Principal Under-secretary, in which he was considered to have shown remarkable administrative ability. In 1841 he married the eldest daughter of Mr. Underwood, of Ashfield Park, and has left a numerous family to mourn their loss. Mr. Halloran was an intimate friend of Charles Harper, Henry Kendall, and other notable men in the early days of literature in the colony. His funeral took place on Sunday last in the presence of a large number of friends. The remains were deposited in the family vault in the burial ground attached to St. John's Church, Ashfield.

First published
in The Illustrated Sydney News, 27 May 1893

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

Reprint: The Australian Poets' Poet

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Some years ago the Melbourne "Argus" took a plebiscite of its readers in order to discover was regarded as the greatest poet. The first votes went in order to Adam Lindsay Gordon, Henry Clarence Kendall, and "Banjo" Paterson, while Victor Daley got only 49 votes compared with Gordon's 459. However democratic the method may be, the proper places of our poets on the slopes of our Australian Parnassus can hardly be decided by a referendum. It is just thirty years since Victor Daley died, and in the interval Gordon's bust has been placed in Westminster Abbey. But the lapse of years has not changed the verdict of Bertram Stevens. -- "Though Daley never appealed to so large an audience as the ballad-writers he was the writer best beloved of the writing clan." There is something fine and delicate in the tones and undertones of Victor Daley that has appealed irresistibly to our younger singers. If Edmund Spenser has been called "the poets' poet" in the noble sequence of English song, so in the briefer annals of Australian verse Victor Daley has earned a similar title by virtue of his two slender volumes of exquisite poetry -- "Dawn and Dusk" (1898) and "Wine and Roses" (1911). Daley is a lyrical poet, pure and simple, and though he experimented in "His Mate" with the ballad it was only to discover that he had picked up the wrong instrument. For "His Mate" is not a ballad, after all, but a mystic parable on the text, "I was thirsty and ye gave me drink." Victor Daley did not belong to the school of galloping rhymesters. He belonged to the tribe of Coleridge, Swinburne, Rossetti, and W. B. Yeats. The love of words and the concord of sweet sounds was in his bones. His imagination minted lovely imagery as the poet only can and a versifier never. He has no lesson to teach us unless it be to glimpse the flying skirts of evanescent Beauty and pursue her to her ethereal palaces. No Australian poet before him created so many of those images which only a poet conceives. His verse is woven of rainbows. It proves nothing any more than a strain of sweet music from the horns of Elfland. Daley lived in the realm of pure poetry where everything is transfigured as in a golden sunset. His themes are the joys of youth and sighs for youth's passing.

He sings a convivial song, too,
but with a difference. It has none of the "clinkum -- canikin -- clink" of Shakespeare's tavern ditty, yet it has a fine extravagance of its own.  

   If beings of mythology
      Could live at my commands,
   Briareus I'd choose to be
      Who had a hundred hands;
   And every hand of mine   
   Would hold a pint of wine.

   And of those beakers ninety-nine
      With white wine and with red
   Should brim for dear old friends of mine.
      The living and the dead. 
   By Pluto, there would be
   A noble revelry!

   Then let us unto Bacchus sing
      Evoe! up and down--
   For Bacchus is the wisest King
      Who ever wore a crown;
   His vine-leaves hide from view
   More wit than Plato knew.

Bacchanalian poets have written
in this strain while leading abstemious lives, but Daley lived his poetry too much for that enviable achievement. Although his second book is called "Wine and Roses" Daley is rarely the poet of the pot. When he sings of wine he does it with the pathetic grace of Omar --

   Very often when I'm drinking
      Of the old days I am thinking,
   Of the good old days when living was a joy.
      When I see folks marching dreary
   To the tune of Miserere --
      Then I thank the Lord that still I am a boy.

The poems where we really
savour the quintessential Daley, the gossamer-weaver, are such as this-- "Sunset, a fragment." Who, we ask, can sing of sunset with any freshness? Daley certainly does when he sings --

   Down in the dim sad West the sun
      Is dying like a dying fire.
   The fiercest lances of his light
      Are spent; I watch him drop and die
   Like a great king who falls in fight;
      None dared the duel of his eye
   Living, but, now his eye is dim,
   The eyes of all may stare at him.

And then we have the simple
intensity of "Passion Flower" with the same thought at its root as Leigh Hunt's "Jenny Kissed Me"

   Choose who will the better part,
   I have held her heart to heart;
   And have felt her heart-strings stirred,
   And her soul's still singing heard,
   For one golden haloed hour,
   Of Love's life the passion-flower.
   So the world may roll or rest--
   I have tasted of its best,
   And shall laugh while I have breath
   At thy dart and thee, O Death.

Many of Daley's original meta
phors have a haunting beauty. So he speaks of the insect Homer "singing his Iliad on a blade of grass." The funeral procession of a dead girl winds along "like a black serpent with a snow-white bird held in its fangs." And who can mistake the Celtic glamoury of the simile of the sun sinking "like a peony drowning in wine," which comes from an exquisite poem "A Sunset Fantasy," one of his very best, a poem which surely answers his own description --

   A scented song blown oversea,
      As though from bowers of bloom;
   A wind harp in a lilac tree
      Breathed music and perfume.

We seek in vain in Daley for profundity either of passion or of philosophy. He bears the heart of a boy, kindling to the raptures of youth echoing its sadness and revealing its undying charm. His strange poem "Ponce de Leon" expresses his longing to voyage with that conquistador of the Floridas.

   "Grieved am I, senor, and sorry,"
      Very courteously it said,
   "But I may not take you with me --
      But I only take the Dead.
   These alone may dare the voyage,
      These alone sail on the quest,
   For the fount of Youth Eternal,
      For the Islands of the Blest."

It was Daley's aspiration to write "songs and sonnets carven in fine gold." Of the eight sonnets he preserved the best is ''Anacreon," ending --

   There's honey still and roses on the earth
   And lips to kiss and jugs to drain with mirth,
   And lovers walk in pairs, but she is gone . . .
            Anacreon, Anacreon.

Daley's verse owes little to our Australian scenery beyond its golden sunshine. It seems rather to be an emanation from the Celtic wonderland, the true home of his spirit -- "His best verse," said Strong, "has peculiar grace and distinction, and sometimes achieves an almost Heinesque quality, as when he addresses his soul,"

   Be still and wait, O caged immortal Bird,
      Thou shalt be free;
   Not all in vain hast thou the voices heard
      Of lives to be.
   Be still and wait! No being that draws breath
      Thy bounds can set;
   Though God Himself forget thee, Faithful Death
      Will not forget.

Zora Cross has characterised Daley's verse with the same fine perceptiveness which marks his own laurel tribute for the brow of Kendall--

   Song was his friend and by a lyric thread
   He drew the waggon of Romance this way,
   And tossed her laughing spells about our day,
   That we might know pure Beauty had not fled,
   Old Poesy his wine and Rhyme his bread.
   Much did he find to share with mates born gay
   In blithe Bohemia that heard him play
   Harps of the wind full-stringed by fingers dead;
   A singing dreamer in a singing land,
   His jesting lips gave mirth to Death -- not tears. 

First published in The Courier-Mail, 18 May 1935

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

Reprint: Victor Daley's Last Work

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Most of the work in Victor J. Daley's
"Wine and Roses," is so good as to deserve to be called splendid. There is every evdence of a fine poetic sense of things, graceful reflectiveness and truth and moderation of statement. Probably no recent book of poems published in Australia is of quite equal merit. There is in much Australian verse a kind of rather obvious insurgent note, a tendency to arraign the scheme of things which seems founded more on personal feeling than on philosophy -- a flavour of wilful pessimism which seems incongruous in a new country. Nothing is more marked, at any rate, among the male writers than an absence not so much of the religious tone but of the spirit of reverence, and of the awe and mystery of things which feeling has furnished the mould for the highest and most lasting achievements. But it is plea- santly evident in Daley's work. He has an appreciation of the wonder of life and the universe, and has to a degree escaped the desiccating influence of the "Bulletin" school, which is frequently excellent in technique but burdened with its "passion" and cynicism.

The opening poem is on "Romance.":--

   Right grim gods be Reality and iron-handed Circumstance.
   Cast off their fetters, friend! Break free! -- and seek the shrine of fair Romance.
   And when dark days with cares would craze your brain, then she will take your hand,
   And lead you on by greenwood ways unto a green and pleasant land.

There may be a suggestion of jingle, but it is a graceful piece of work. The "Spring Song," too, is buoyant and beautiful:--

  "I am the Vision and the Dream
      Of trembling Age and Yearning Youth;
   I am the Sorceress Supreme.
      I am Illusion; I am truth.

   I am the queen to whom belongs
      The royal right great gifts to give;
   I am the Singer of the Songs
      That lure men on to live and live."

In "Players" there is the same perception of
underlying, beauty:

  "The things that are; the things that seem--
      Who shall distinguish Shape from Show?
   The great processional, splendid dream
      Of life is all I wish to know.
   There lives -- though Time should cease to flow,
      And stars their courses should forget--
   There lives a grey-haired Romeo,
      Who loves a golden Juliet."

"The Old Bohemian" has a touch of
Thackeray, for whom Daley seems to have much regard, and whose spirit he has largely caught:

  "Where are the songs -- the talk --
      The friends that used to be?
   I with my shadow walk
      At last for company."

Quotation, however, does not do justice to
the sustained beauty of this book, which will charm not only those who like observance of form but all, whether their tastes be simple or cultivated, who like the spirit of poetry. It is a good book of poems that can keep a reviewer reading till midnight, but these poems did that. They are excellent work and attain high water mark for literary and artistic execution. The book contains a well-written memoir of the author, who died in 1905, a victim to consumption. The get-up of the volume could not be better, paper, print, and everything being of the first class. (Sydney: Angus and Robertson.)

First published in The West Australian, 22 April 1911

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

Reprint: Edward Dyson

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Prominent amongst the early band of bush balladists developed by the Sydney "Bulletin" and yet with a distinctive note of his own is Edward Dyson. A. B. Paterson, Henry Lawson, John Farrell, and Edward Dyson, it has been said, all graduated in the same school, that of journalism and the Sydney "Bulletin" was their nursing mother. John Farrell is the oldest member of this little group, Edward Dyson is the youngest. Like Lawson, Dyson has written wore notable work in prose than in verse, but his poems constitute a unique contribution to the literature of Australia.

''There is a certain similarity of style running through the whole four," says Henry G. Turner, of this group, in "The Development of Australian Literature," and though they frequently view the same subject from a totally opposite standpoint, the influence of Adam Lindsay Gordon, of Bret Harte, and of Brunton Stephens is in them all." Apart from their common interest in singing in differing strains of the life of the bush, Dyson is distinguished from the other members of this group in the peculiar inspiration he drew from the mines and the miners in the days when it was possible to invest mines and mining fields with a poetical glamour. Dyson is also distinguished by a genial humour, which in his prose run to the broadest farce.

In an account he once wrote of his methods of work, Edward Dyson asserted that he went though "a process of soakage and seepage." He said that he allowed his experiences to soak for years in his memory before he attempted to draw upon them for use in fashioning stories and verses, as he held that experience needed the mellowing influence of time before it acquired literary value. His variegated literary output must therefore be regarded as the evidence of a rich and varied experience which has "soaked and seeped," in his own geological metaphor, through the personality of the writer.

Edward Dyson was born at Morrison's, near Ballarat, in 1865. His family had come to Australia in 1852 and were in the thick of all the gold rushes of the period. Shortly after Edward's birth the family moved to the big mining field of Alfredton. Later moves carried the family to Melbourne, Bendigo, and Ballarat until, when Edward was 11 years old, they were back at Alfredton again. In the meantime the big mines had closed down and the worked-out shafts and abandoned workings excercised a peculiar fascination for the young Dyson, to be reflected in such of his later work as "The Worked-out Mine," with its--

  "Above the shaft in measured space
      A rotted rope swings to and fro,
   Whilst o'er the plat and on the brace
      The silent shadows come and go.

   And there below, in chambers dread,
      Where darkness like a fungus clings,
   Are lingering still the old mine's dead,
      Bend o'er and hear their wisperings." 

Other experiences of this period when Dyson actively shared the adventures of the youngsters of his age, are no doubt reflected in the rollicking boys' story - "The Gold Stealers," in which Waddy forms a counterpart of Alfredton. Before he had reached 13, Dyson had set out to explore the world as assistant to a hawker, his adventures in this capacity providing the raw material for his later story "Tommy the Hawker." Returning to Ballarat, he worked for a while as whim boy, his recollections of this life providing the foundations for his most effective poem, "The Old Whim Horse," paralleled by Dyson's own dream, as he sang:--

  "See the old horse take, like a creature dreaming,
      On the ring once more his accustomed place;
   But the moonbeams full on the ruins streaming
      Show the scattered timbers and grass-grown brace;
   Yet he hears the sled in the smithy falling,
      And the empty truck as it rattles back,
   And the boy who stands by the anvil, calling;
      And he turns and backs, and 'takes up slack.'"

Later mining at Clunes and Bungaree, on the alluvial field at Lefroy in Tasmania, and then back as a trucker in a deep mine, and afterwards at battery building in Victoria, Dyson became familiar with every detail of the mining life of the period. This experience is all reflected in his first book of poems ''Rhymes from the Mines and other Lines," published in 1896. In "The Trucker," in particular is a vivid account of the life of the lads which Dyson had shared:

  "Yes, the truckers' toil is rather heavy grafting at a rule --
      Much heavier than the wages, well I know:
   But the life's not full of trouble and the fellow is a fool
      Who cannot find some pleasure down below."

And in "The Prospectors" he paints the characteristics of a type that is by no means extinct to-day:--

  "We are common men with the faults of most, and a few that ourselves have grown,
   With the good traits, too, of the common herd, and some more that are all our own;
   We have drunk like beasts and have fought like brutes, and have stolen and lied and slain.
   And have paid the score in the way of men -- in remorse and fear and pain.
   We have done great deeds in our direst needs in the horrors of burning drought,
   And at mateship's call have been true through all to the death with the Furthest Out."

It has been said that Dyson's poems, on their first appearance, suffered by comparison with those of Paterson and Lawson because his mining songs lacked any distinctive Australian note, but it is certain that the vivid realism, the genial sense of humour and the kindly human understanding which inspires these simple poems will ensure that the best of them will live.

In his prose work Dyson has achieved a number of successes. "Fact'ry 'Ands" and "Benno" were responsible for the creation of characters which have become as well-known as the most famous characters of Dickens. The characterisation is fine throughout, but the humour runs to the broadest farce.

"Below and On Top," and "The Missing Link," contain some of the best of Dyson's short stories. With "In the Roaring Fifties," a more ambitious novel, published in 1906, Dyson was less successful than with his lighter sketches. Many other short stories have not yet appeared in book form.

Altogether Edward Dyson has been responsible for a notable addition to the literature of Australia. He has opened new veins and exploited them according to their peculiar requirements. Lacking the imagination which would have raised his creations to the higher levels of literature, he has shown himself a faithful recorder of much that is interesting and a versatile and adaptable craftsman. Living wholly by his craft he has shown that it is possible even in Australia to devote a life to writing and manage to live.

First published in The Morning Bulletin [Rockhampton], 12 January 1931

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

Reprint: The Adventures of a Push

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"Benno; and Some of the Push," by Edward Dyson. (N.S.W. Bookstall Co., Sydney.) In his "Fact'ry "Ands," Mr. Dyson proved himself a master craftsman in the handling of Australian slum slang; and in continuing his comic history of a Melbourne paper-bag factory, he displays an even more copious vocabulary of language, that would tax the philological understanding of Professor Max Muller himself. Nevertheless, what might have been less intelligible to the linguistic pundit than Sanskrit in Assyrian cuneiform character, is probably quite easily understanded of the people constituting a Little Bourke-street push. Even when not absolutely lucid to a reader whose slum dialect education has been somewhat neglected, the language of Benno and his pals is always patently expressive and picturesquely forceful. Thus, for example, one may not know the precise meaning of the following exordium -- "G'out, yer monkey-mugged slum mungrool, yer'll cop yer doss" -- but no reader is liable to misconstrue it as a flattering eulogy or a polite invitation to afternoon tea. Mr. Dyson's factory hands are, of course, wildly, grossly exaggerated; but they are not intended to be more than expressive and suggestive caricatures. Their ruggedly rhetorical vituperation and cryptic verbiage lend force and point to situations and incidents which, despite a not inconsiderable flavouring of humour, would sound somewhat flat in decorous English. It is true that the vraisemblance of the dialogue is somewhat marred by the rigorous exclusion of the larrikin's pet adjective and substantive and of his most vigorously damnatory expletives -- but that was virtually unavoidable. A taste of Mr. Dyson's quality may be given, however, in respect to a desperate fistic duel between rivals in the affections of a flirtatious "donah." The Helen who had caused this war, it may be explained, was from the hue of her capillary attractions known as "Ginge." Thus speaks the jealous factory knight:

 "It's all fixed up, Mills."  

 "Wot! as she guv yeh brusher?" cried the packer.  

"No blinded fear. Ginge know's w'en she's got a good thing. The fight's 'ranged 'tween me 'n th' other bloke. We fight the prelim to the Bull Green 'n Coffee Hogan scrap et th' Smithers St. Hathletic room, Monday night fortnight, catch-weights, for harf a Jim 'n a five bob side wager-eight rounds, one t' win. Markis o' Queensbee rules, four ounce gloves 'n regerlation trunks. Prelimery starts punctooal at eight. Prices, two, one, and a tizzie. We've both signed harticles."  

"Good e-nough !" said the packer. I mus 'ave a deener's worth iv that."

Anyone who wishes to part with a "deener" can get for the money the whole worth of Benno and his push, whose adventures, it may be explained, have previously been chronicled in the "Bulletin. They are unmistakeably Bulletinesque.

First published in The Western Mail, 9 September 1911

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

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.]

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.]

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.]

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.]

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.]

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

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.]

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.]

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.]

Reprint: "Poems" by Charles Harpur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First published in The Queenslander, 13 October 1883

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Testing a Theory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What it Proves

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

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

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

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

Growth of School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Literary Merit

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

"So they have not even psychological value.

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

"James McAuley.

"Harold Stewart."

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

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

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

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

First published in The Mail, 24 June 1944

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

Reprint: Literary Hoax: "Doctorates" Awarded

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

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

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

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

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

First published in The West Australian, 3 July 1944

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seventeen Poems

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

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

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

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

Story of Life

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

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

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

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

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

Appear Genuine

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

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

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

Professor Mentioned

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

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

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

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

First published in The Mail, 17 June 1944

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

Reprint: Letter to the Editor: Angry Penguins Defended

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

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

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


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

First published in The Argus, 26 October 1944

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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

Published in The Inquirer and Commercial News, 5 June 1896

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

Reprint: Rolf Boldrewood's New Book

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

First published in The Argus, 24 July 1897

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

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

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

A Fallacy.

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

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

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

Returning Borrowed Books.

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

Missing Books.

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

Unreturning Books.

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

First published in The Brisbane Courier, 5 February 1927

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Broadwater, Richmond River, N.S.W.

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

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

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

It is on record that once, when in England, William Morris Hughes was asked what the Australian climate was like. "First tell me," he rapped out, "what the climate of Europe is like!" Put the Australian landscape in place of its climate, or beside it, and you have the case for a poet or artist who has to deal with its extraordinary varied problems. What is the Australian landscape? Is it that of Tambo or Ballarat or the Blue Mountains or Broome? As well ask if the European landscape is that of Brittany or Spain! When a poet, therefore, is known as an interpreter of our landscape, we may well ask, "Which landscape?'" and be glad to hear that he has confined his aims, to the treatment of one region. That is task enough and to spare. Henry Kendall was the first and most eager of our definite landscape painters in words, and it is important to remember, as Mr. A. G. Stephens points out in a recent critical review of this poet's work, that what he absorbed was "the natural spirit of the southeast coast of Australia, between the mountains and the sea." Kendall knew that country in New South Wales especially, but all his descriptive work would be at home in the same kind of seaboard country in Southern Queensland -- what is known as the South Coast and the North Coast. (This naming seems to me unfortunate as it is in New South Wales, too.)   When I told people that I lived on the North Coast in Queensland, they began looking at the map near Cape York!  At the same time it is droll to hear Queenslanders speaking of the "Northern Rivers," just south of the Queensland border).

Kendall's Bush.

For the moment I do not intend to look at Kendall primarily as a poet, quoting his work that was highest as poetry. What I want to follow is his skill in rendering a landscape that was his to interpret for the first time. Before him, Harpur had done some astonishing and vigorous work, but the field was hardly touched by him. Enter Kendall, born at Ulladulla, in the timbered ridges, a dozen miles from the sea; he was taken later to the watered district of the Orara and the Clarence Rivers. He knew the harshness of the timber-getters' lives and the realities of sheep farming; but the whole scene was for him impregnated with beauty. His first boyish poems evoked a scene that was full of waterfalls, fern gullies, birdsong, and brilliance, brilliance without harshness. This is from "Morning in the Bush":

   Amongst the gnarly apple-trees, a gorgeous tribe of parrots came
   And, screaming, leapt from bough to bough like living jets of crimson flame;
   And, where the hillside-growing gums their web-like foliage upward threw,
   Old Nature rang with echoes from the loud-voiced mountain cockatoo;
   And a thousand nameless twittering things, between the rustling sapling sprays,
   Went flashing through the fragrant leaves, and dancing like to fabled fays.

So Kendall wrote in his youth, full of zest and enthusiasm and a straightness of purpose. It is pleasant, too, to see the length of those lines, which happened to suit the purpose of this poem. He had evidently never heard of payment by the line, a habit which causes so many verse-makers to split each line down the middle, so as to make it two! Just try splitting the lines in this poem, and printing each one as two, and see how the whole verse thuds and thumps along. In quoting these particularly vibrant lines I have hardly suggested the most characteristic Kendall, the Kendall who wrote in lyrical metres of bellbirds and mountain dells, and who used the sweetest and most liquid of the native names to make refrains for his songs. I use the expression "mountain dells," not that it is the best for our landscape, since the word "gully," with its association of depth and contrast, has replaced it in Australia; I use it because Kendall used words like "grove" and "glen," and "dell" so often. His tools, after all, were those of another country. The marvel was that with them he shaped a landscape that we can all recognise. I am not sure that Kendall even used the word "bush" as we do when we say "the bush." Yet it is an old enough word. You'll perhaps remember that it was used by no less a talker than Mrs. Nickleby herself when she once became reminiscent about one of her early admirers: "And he went to Australia and got lost in a bush with some sheep. I don't know how they got there. . .-"So Dickens knew of "the bush" since he allows his Mrs. Malaprop-Nickleby to trip over it. But if Kendall does not master the use of indigenous words and terms so as to drench them with poetry and draw them into his singing lines, he has, after all, mastered the landscape itself:

   And lucid colours born of woodland light,
   And shining places where the sea-streams lie.

Those lines he wrote, in a famous sonnet of despair, using them to name the themes that he had once hoped to render. But the lines are more than names, they are a poem in themselves; such a poem, to be impressive, need not be long.

    In small proportions we just beauties see.

Our Own Poet.  

Poetry does two things for us. It brings beauty to us from everywhere, from Xanadu, Cathay, Avalon, from the skies: it also brings us to beauty, showing us what is in the life around us. Just now I was reading another sonnet of Kendall's, and its simple words seemed as if spoken by some one with a poet's heart, beating anywhere, let us say, between Noosa and the Tweed. Here it is:--

   Sometimes, we feel so spent for want of rest,
   We have no thought beyond. I know, to-day,
   When tired of bitter lips, and dull delay,
   With faithless words, I cast mine eyes upon
   The shadows of a distant mountain-crest
   And said: That hill must hide within its breast
   Some secret glen, secluded from the sun . . .
   O mother Nature! Would that I could run
   Into thy arms, and, like a wearied guest,
   Half blind with lamps and sick of feasting, lay
   An aching head on thee. . . . Then, down the streams
   The moon might swim, and I should feel her grace
   While soft winds blew the sorrows from my face,
   So quiet in the fellowship of dreams.

There are indeed such secret glens in our coastal ranges for those who will take time to seek them out. Their lovers will say their names over, beginning, maybe, with Bon Accord Falls, that place of superb contrasts -- dizzy heights, and finest ferny detail; delicate birdsong, and the soaring of a wedge-tail eagle over the gorge. But each of us can find different names for the secret glens, or remember others that are nameless. In doing this we have touched the very sources of Kendall's poetry.

First published in The Brisbane Courier, 13 October 1928

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

Reprint: Henry Kendall

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The first half century of Australian history produced little creative artistic work. Wentworth, when he was at Cambridge, wrote a very fine poem, in which he sounded a note of Australia's future greatness, and predicted the rise of some "Austral Shakespeare, whose living page, to nature true, may charm in every age." That poem, however, beautifully correct as it may be, lacked any emotional impulse. The first really genuine poetic piping was heard in 1845, when Charles Harpur, a native of Goulburn, the city that has just celebrated its centenary, wrote a little book of sonnets. The sixties saw the rise of Gordon and Kendall. They were two poetic stars that burst out of the literary darkness about the same time, the one in Victoria and the other in New South Wales. Brilliant as Gordon was, revealing the influence of both Swinburne and Browning, he was not so musical as Kendall, and not so subtle and humorous as Brunton Stephens, who, like the rich and delicate Essex Evans, belongs to a later period. Henry Kendall is probably the most musical of Australia's poets. It is nearly sixty years since he began to sing his brave woodland notes. His poem "To a Mountain" is Australia's   masterpiece. No other Australian poet has reached the towering heights of arcadian grandeur that Kendall trod, nor has any other poet touched our woodland scenery with the same exquisite colouring. He wrote in an age, however, when Australia had little inclination for art, and he felt the hardships occasioned by a small and always insecure income until in his later years the late Sir Henry Parkes, one of his first admirers, secured for him a position in the Government service which was both congenial and remunerative. Unfortunately Kendall did not long enjoy his ease, falling a victim to consumption in the year I882, at the age of 41 years. At different times Kendall's poems have been published in different sections in different volumes, but these have now been gathered into one very fine edition, entitled "The Poems of Henry Kendall" (Angus and Robertson, Ltd., Sydney), to which Mr. Bertram Stevens has contributed a short biographical note. The new volume contains the poems included in the three volumes published during Kendall's lifetime, those not reprinted by Kendall, but included in a collected edition of 1886, and a number of poems now printed for the first time, having been secured from the Kendall manuscripts in the Mitchell Library. The new volume contains nearly 400 pages, and although all the poems are not of the same high standard yet Kendall mostly wrote with the inspiration of the true artist, and his best pieces will certainly have an enduring place wherever English poetry is read. Our copy is through Mr. J. H. Thomson, Queen-street.

First published in The Queenslander, 6 November 1920

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

The number of Australian women writers is no less remarkable than their virility. With the possible exception of Ethel Turner (Mrs. H. Curlewis), who has not published a book for some time, most of those who were writing well twenty and more than twenty years ago are producing good work still -- Mary Gilmore, Stella Miles Franklin, Louise Mack, Mrs. Ada Holman, Dora Wilcox; and of a younger generation of writers, Dulcie Deamer, Vera Dwyer, Ella McFadyen, Nina Murdoch, and Katherine Susannah Prichard, to mention a mere handful.

Many of them began to write as children. At sixteen, Dulcie Deamer leapt into fame by winning a prize for a short story competition. Her novels, historical (not Australian), have been serialised by the Hurst Syndicate, and she, too, continues to write as well as ever; in the case of her verse, with gradual improvement. Katherine Susannah Prichard was born in Fiji, educated along with Elsie Cole and other women writers when young, at South Melbourne College where poet Bernard O'Hara taught her. She won Hodder and Stoughton's prize for a novel, "The Pioneers," in 1915, and her work his steadily increased in power since "Coonardoo," which won the first "Bulletin" novel competition with "A House is Built," is, possibly, her finest piece of work.

Vera Dwyer, a protegee of Ethel Turner, as are Ruby Doyle and other Australian women writers, was a remarkable child writer. In a recent novel, "In Pursuit of Patrick," despite immature passages in it, she proved that she can write a successful adult story. Hitherto her work was mainly for children.


Many Australian women, who started well at home, have done even better abroad -- Helen Simpson and Alice Grant Rosman, for instance, Dorothy Cottrell, one of Mary Gilmore's several "discoveries" -- (Daniel Hamlyn, a winner in the second "Bulletin" novel competition and a promising woman writer-is another), wrote her successful novels 'Singing Gold" and "Earth Battle" here. Colour is the chief characteristic of them, and her first attempt, "Singing Gold," is distinguished in this respect.

Other Australians have published abroad without leaving home. One of the most interesting of these is the daughter of Dowell O'Reilly, Eleanor Dark, who wrote originally as Patricia O'Rane. She is still very young, and though the wife of a busy doctor, manages to keep the torch of a little literary group burning brightly in Katoomba. Nina Lowe, an excellent short story writer, who during the war edited a cookery book for the Red Cross, which netted £500, is a member of the group. Mrs. Dark's last book, "Prelude to Christopher," was published here. Mary Kelaher, whose novels were first serialised in the "Woman's Mirror," and who almost might be termed a "dlscovery" of the late editor, Mr. Bert Toy, is station bred and has given us people of a life she knows. Another young writer, Georgia Rivers of Melbourne, has produced many novels. "The Difficult Art" (of a young girl growing up) is a most unusual book. Jessie Urquhart brought out her first book here many years ago, and is now publishing in London; but she will not, I think, do her best work until, like Alice Grant Rosman, she relinquishes journalism for fiction. Amongst new names, Mary Mitchell's stands out. She achieved a London success with "Warning to Wantons." But this book is not Australian and is of little importance to us here. She could write, I imagine, a good Australian society novel, for which there is a waiting public.


Recent literary competitions have revealed some new women writers, chief of these being Velia Ercole, Marjorie Barnard and Flora Eldershaw, the latter joint authoresses of "A House is Built."

Henry Handel Richardson was introduced to Australlans by Nettie Palmer, herself an able essayist and critic. Born in Melbourne, the daughter of an English doctor, and educated at the Presbyterian Ladies' College there, Henry Handel Richardson went to London, when she was eighteen, to study music. She took up fiction writing instead and for years worked and published practically unnoticed save by her own contemporaries, few of whom, in the realm of fiction, have equalled her in style and form of production. Fame came with her last book, "Ultima Thule." This is by far her best effort, lucid and sincere. It completes a trilogy of books dealing with the fortunes or rather misfortunes of Richard Mahoney, a doctor who did not like being a doctor. There are faults to be found from an Australian point of view with "Ultima Thule," the whole action of which takes place in Australia; but few in the presentation of it. The writer, unlike Galsworthy, who never rises above blood-heat, allows each of her characters their own temperature. Many may, however, question the worth of such details of a failure's life. But the writer is not at home outside tragedy. "The Getting of Wisdom," a look for girls, fails to awaken interest.


Because of the influence of Ethel Turner, Australians have done well in the portrayal of children. Too much stress cannot be laid on the fact that Ethel Turner, from the moment she opened the door of an Australian house and showed the world what we were really like, has been a guiding star for the best. She has not been able to give us adults as real as her children, but the germ is there. Born in England, Ethel Turner came as a child to Australia and was educated with her sister, Lilian and Louise, and Amy Mack, at the Sydney Girls' High School. She was very young when "Seven Little Australians" first appeared.  The children in this book are, in their way, as immortal as "Alice," and it is only some inferiority   complex of Australians that has not recognised it, nor realised how much more real the children of "The House of Misrule" are than Anne of Green Gables. Many women have followed Ethel Turner -- Mary Grant Bruce, Constance Macanass, Elizabeth Powell, a younger writer, May Gibbs found a little fairy world all her own. Of late years, Dorothy Wall has achieved some recognition.

A number of imaginative women writers are immersed in journalism. Myra Morris, Nora Kelly, Margaret Fane, E. M. England, Lyn Lucas, a relative of E. V. Lucas, D. L. Waraker, being a few. The two latter have produced good one-act plays. Miss Lucas, a Brisbane writer, won Carrie Tennant's play competition. It would be unfair in a survey of women writers not to mention Miss Tennant's name, for, while she conducted her little theatre, she did a good deal to encourage Australian playwrights. Doris Egerton Jones and Dorothy Tobin have done creditable work in longer plays.

Our women writers have no mean sense of humour when they like, though it cannot be termed a strong feature of their work. Winifred Birkett, a younger writer, who has published a couple of books, has developed this side pleasingly; and so, too, has Mary E. Lloyd, whose humorous work was praised by that discerning critic, the late A. G. Stephens. "Three Goats on a Bender" Miss Birkett named her humorous story; Miss Lloyd, "Susan's Little Sins."

All of our women writers are well read, none very keen about sport, though golf and tennis and sometimes dancing play a part in their leisure moments. All are earnest, sincere workers.

I have left Mary Gilmore, whose hobby might well be "the finding of new writers," to the last. She holds a unique place both in our hearts and our literature. For years through helping others, young and old, she delayed publication of her reminiscences, "Old Days Old Ways," an important contribution to our literature now delighting everyone. Her poetry will mean more to posterity than her prose, I think. She has published several volumes, the subjects ranging over a wide field, from charming little lyrics to lovely lullabies.

There are many others, who might well have been noticed, but all of these mentioned have published books either abroad or at home, and not one but will repay the reader's perusal.

Our women aim at truth in writing just as the men do; and this is characteristically Australian. We do not need to read Russian literature to inspire us to realism. Our country, born of suffering and hardship, has shaped our character, and out of it is coming a literature entirely different from any other. Women are doing their share in the building up of this national literature just as they did their share towards the making and shaping of the nation itself.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 April 1935

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

Reprint: Little Mother Meg by Ethel Turner

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Those who read '"Seven Little Australians" and "The Family at Misrule," by Ethel Turner (Mrs. H. R. Curlewis) will be delighted with her latest book,"'Little Mother Meg." It is a sequel to   the other two, and, if there are degrees of com- parison, is even more attractive than its predecessors. The pathos of the story is cleverly set off with fine touches of humour, and exquisite accounts, of the doings of the younger members of the House of Misrule. Meg's husband has lost his private income through the failure of a mine, and was obliged to throw up his position in the hospital owing to an affection of the eyes. He visits Heidelberg, where a specialist cures him, and returns, to work up a practise, with a debt of £600 to work off. His patients increase very slowly, and he and Meg have to practise all sorts of devices in the pursuit of economy, but their little baby boy sweetens the hard struggle against adverse circumstances. A turn in the wheel of fortune came when the doctor cured the daughter of a rich squatter from Queensland. The little girl had lost her reason some years before, owing to a fall from a horse. One day she wandered Into the paddocks at Misrule, and set fire to a heap of leaves. The fire caught her dress, and she was badly burnt. The shock seemed to undo the mischief which had, been caused by the fall from the horse, and, under the skilful care of Meg's husband, she is eventually restored to health, both in mind and body. The love affairs of Nellie, who is now some 18 years of age, make the romantic parts of the book, and are very naturally woven into the story. In the end she becomes engaged to Edward Twynam, a recent arrival from England. The story is delightfully told, and the characters are so life-like that one reaches the end with a sigh of regret, as for a departing friend. It is to be hoped that the author will soon add another sequel to the present series, which has delighted thousands of readers. The book is published by Messrs. Ward, Lock, and Company, and comes to us from Mr. E. W. Cole, Sydney and Melbourne.

First published in The Australian Town and Country Journal, 5 November 1902

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

This volume is the legacy which Mr. Sladen has left behind him upon his departure for Europe. It may be accepted as a convincing proof of the sincerity of his attachment to Australia that he informs us in the preface that he makes no attempt "to pose as an Australian." Just now attention has been drawn in some of the leading English papers to Australian poetry, especially to Gordon's works. It is eminently desirable that no such opinion should gain ground as that the author of the little book before us is accepted as a satisfactory representative of the native Australian school of poetry. It was, we believe, Sydney Smith who first reviewed at home a volume of poems from this part of the world. That volume contained a couplet borrowed from Bishop Hall's account of himself --

   I first adventure, follow me who list,
   And be the second Austral harmonist.

Since then, in addition to a very few in Australia who have written good verses and two or three who have earned a reputation for poetic genius, poetasters and rhymesters, good, bad, and indifferent, have rushed into print. They have saturated magazines and newspapers with bad rhymes and halting measures. They have taken the pains to manifest in public their lack of thought and their ignorance of rhythm. They have had nothing to say, and they have said it in sentences, more or less ungrammatical, which, being printed in Iines with capital initial letters, they have styled poems. Sometimes the "verse" has been blank -- very blank, but in other cases doggerel has been the rule. It is hard to decide which of these forms of poetical insanity is the worse, but the former sometimes enjoys the advantage of being easily translated into common sense. Of all such offenders as we have been describing Mr. Sladen is perhaps the worst, as he may be reckoned the most conspicuous. One can excuse half-educated people who want to lisp in numbers, for it is a small matter to them that the numbers are wanting. They have not had the advantage of an intimate acquaintance with the great Greek or even the great English masters. It is simply through vanity or ignorance of their incapacity that they rush in where angels fear to tread. But what shall we say of a man who has had a University education, who comes from one of the most classical schools of English thought, who can muster a whole army of letters after his name, who has occupied a position on the professorial staff of a University, and who may for all these reasons be assumed to have some acquaintance with the best that is known and thought in the world-- what shall we say of him when, with but slight claim to the poetic gift and with no special message to speak, he pours out from an apparently inexhaustible treasury volume after volume of inane jingle which has neither the soul nor the semblance of poetry? Mr. Sladen has no excuse for inflicting so much trash upon a long-suffering public. Here and there may be found evidence that if he took sufficient trouble he might produce verses which could be read without causing mental and physical distress to the reader; but such indications are rare. Judged by the great mass of his compositions in the volume before us he may well be taken as the exemplar of the pseudo-Australian school of pseudo-Australian poetry which must do so much -- if its efforts have any fruit at all -- to imperil the reputation of colonists for taste, common sense -- nay, even for sanity. We are, unfortunately, unable to say which of the many pieces in the volume before us would be in Mr. Sladen's opinion a good specimen of his powers, but we can hardly be wrong if we take the title-poem as a fair example. Here are some lines. It will be noticed that this is not a rhymed measure ; neither is it blank verse :--  

   A poetry of exiles -- we are exiles
   From the heirlooms and cradle of our race,
   Its hallowed scenes of trials and of triumphs,
   Its battlefields, its castles, and its graves.
   We cannot go to some thatch-roofed farmhouse
   Or garret in a ruin overhanging
   The high street of a mediaeval town,
   And say, "'Twas here that first his eyes saw light
   Who won the famous victory," or pause,
   With head uncovered, by the battered tomb
   Of one who gave a nation liberty.

Now, what is there in this that could not have been said just as well in prose? What is there that might not just as well have been left unsaid? The metrical system has not yet been discovered which will enable the reader to scan these lines with any degree ot comfort to himself. Walt Whitman has written a poem which contains verses wholly composed of the names of towns strung together without connectives. We now acknowledge that he might have inflicted upon us something still more unmusical. Here are some expressions and lines taken at random as we turn over the leaves. What does Mr. Sladen mean when he says--

               See the leagues of corn
   From Adelaide's broad bosom to honest labour born? 

We grant him "leagues of corn" as the privilege of poets to use loose English, but "Adelaide's broad bosom" is rubbish. We don't grow wheat in our streets, and the expression would be not a bit more poetical were he to say "South Australia's bosom." The climax of absurdity is reached when a sane man, with all his wits about him, can speak about leagues of corn being born from a bosom! Mr. Sladen will, we hope, be duly grateful to us for in some measure aiding him to reach the goal of his ambition. Here are some lines taken from an address "To Longfellow and America:"--    

   I think that the noblest future for an Austral bard would be
   To become to all Australia what thou wast across the sea:
   To have her youth's flower round him in an University; 
   And to have the whole dominion ringing with his poetry.
   Such is my heartfelt ambition, bright and distant as, a star,
   Possible, as God ordaineth all things, yet how far, how far?
   I can but with eye unfalt'ring fixed upon the lofty goal
   Struggle upward, purifying with the very toil my soul. 

We have no hesitation in saying that Mr. Sladen does struggle, and we have every wish to believe that he purifies his soul; but is this the best way to go about it? The last verse of this same piece is refreshing in its generosity-

   Take this tribute that I offer for thy mighty sleeping son;
   Take it freely, for I love thee as if I myself were one
   Of thy sons and his alumni, in the body as in will;
   Would that I could come to lay it where his wearied head lies still.

We have already dwelt more upon "A Poetry of Exiles" than its intrinsic worth warrants. In fact, from the perusal we have given the volume, the only compositions that contain some tolerably good rhymes, linked to a fair amount of common-sense ideas, are "To Australia" and "A Bush Flower." If space were not a consideration we might lay almost every page in the book under contribution for examples of either no thought, pure nonsense, or bad verses. We cannot, however, omit to quote a piece entitled "Adelaide."

   Five miles out from the Semaphore the ship at anchor lies,
   Steam up, about to bid adieu to our dear native skies.
   So far her course has hugged the shore, but when she sails to-night
   She'll stand out for the open sea from the Great Austral Bight.
   It was not until Adelaide was sinking out of view
   That all the lonely bitterness of leaving home we knew,
   But when the last Australian port was fading on our lee,
   Then! not till then, we realized that we were on the sea.
   Adieu, dear native skies, adieu! It will be long ere we
   Meet other skies as mild and bright where'er on earth we be.
   Adieu, dear native land! adieu, home of our childhood's joy,
   And home of freedom, peace, and mirth, without the base alloy
   Of want and sin that poverty and crowded millions bring
   To the beloved and puissant isle from which we boast to spring;
   Our home, where every man may have his cottage or his farm
   And, unconcealed, hold any creed he chooses with- out harm.
   Fare you well, Adelaide, farewell ! Just as we leave your shore
   Hundreds are floating to your quays to share the bounteous store
   You have for every willing hand which breaks your fertile soil,
   A proper palm for honesty and certain crown for toil.

This "poem" scans execrably, and closer inspection shows its absurdity. The reader will notice that it is the ship at anchor which is about to bid Adelaide adieu. In the first verse she is still at anchor; in the next she has started on her voyage. Probably the last two lines of that verse are a mystic way of telling us that the ship was beginning to roll, but how and where does Mr. Sladen expect to '"meet other skies"? What does he mean by --

  And, unconcealed, hold any creed he chooses with out harm?

Does every man in Adelaide hold his creed without harm, or is it his creed that is without harm, or does he choose without harm? And, next, whom might he or it harm -- himself, the creed, or his neighbour? "A proper palm for honesty" is good, but it has no particular meaning. And what about the hand which breaks fertile soil? Touchstone, when criticising Orlando's poetry, said, "I'll rhyme you so eight years together -- dinners and suppers and sleeping-hours excepted; it is the right butter-woman's rank to market.' It may be rather dangerous to say so, but we cannot forbear asserting that there is nothing to prevent anybody from being an "Austral bard," a la Mr. Sladen. Here is a "mere trifle," "an ill- favoured thing, but mine own," which we have much pleasure in offering to Mr. Sladen for the second edition of his book. It might be called "Adelaide's Reply," and would run thus:--

   Fare you well, Sladen, O, farewell! Just as you leave our shore
   Hundreds are praying for your sake that you poetize no more.
   You have a sadly nimble pen, which wounds our gentle heart --
   A silly trick of scribbling which has no regard for art.

First published in The South Australian Register, 17 April 1884

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


Sir,-There has been some talk in London about New South Welshmen wishing to change the name of their colony. If it be true Aurora -- Dawn, or Auroria -- Land of Dawn, might be offered as a suggestion for the renaming, just as Italy was called Hesperia, i.e., land of the evening star (Hesperus). New South Wales has then, at any rate, substantial claims to be considered the "Land of Dawn."

(1). It is the furthest east of the continental possessions of the Empire upon which the sun never sets.

(2). As the mother of all the Australian colonies, she is the Dawn-land of the Greater Britain in the Antipodes.

(3). In Australia, first of the continents of the world, there has been no war and no want. This may fairly be called the dawn of the Millennium -- the promise of a new epoch for the world, and in New South Wales as the oldest colony this new dawn of course began.

Douglas B. W. Sladen

First published in The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), 22 November 1887

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

Reprint: The Art and Humor of Hal Gye by C. J. Dennis

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In this article Mr. C. J. Dennis, the well-known author, pays a tribute of friendship to Mr. Hal Gye the noted "Bulletin" artist and cartoonist, whose work helped to make"'The Sentimental Bloke" famous throughout Australia. The services of Mr. Gye have been secured by News Limited, and he will arrive in Adelaide next week.

"A philosopher is a man who sits in an easy chair and lectures upon how to sit in easy chairs to a man who hasn't one."-- Hal Gye.

This remark, flung casually at a self-satisfied friend who had been deploring at length the strange unrest of the masses, illustrates one phase of Hal Gye's many-sided nature. He is something of a philosopher himself, but an easy chair is certainly not his native habitat.        

Rather, calling to mind his work in a dozen Australian papers, one is led to picture him as a restless spirit, skipping from point to point, cracking jokes and tickling ribs till the gravest cannot forbear to smile. Then he pauses to deliver a mock-serious epigram upon the folly of laughter, and departs with a chuckle to spread merriment elsewhere. Puck is his playmate. And, without malice, they whisper together in odd corners and devise fresh japes for the entertainment of a weary world.

Had he lived in earlier years I can imagine Hal Gye only as a brilliant court jester who died suddenly at a very early age after having caricatured the King, made an epigram about the Prime Minister, and written fantastic verse upon the manners of the court. Even the dainty watercolor, done to please the beautiful princess, would not have saved him. Kings are notoriously humorless.                                

Fortunately for Hal, the average Australian has a keen sense of humor, and it is mainly as a humorous artist in black-and-white that he has won an enviable reputation in this country and beyond.  

South Australia Gains Great Artist.

When he goes to Adelaide to take his new position as chief artist on "The News" South Australia may congratulate itself upon having gained at the expense of the rest of the Commonwealth. 

For many years his pictures have appeared regularly in "The Bulletin" and other Australian journals. His work as a book illustrator is widely known, and if his watercolors and colored-drawings have not won equal recognition it is because of a queer modesty that will not permit the humorist to display the work of his more serious moments. Even his most intimate friends have seen but few of these dainty pictures which possess a poetic feeling rare even in the work of much better known colorists. Some of his colored book illustrations (those done for "The Glugs of Gosh") are hung in the Sydney National Gallery; a few private collectors possess examples of his work, but otherwise Gye the artist in color has yet to arrive.

It is as an artist in black-and- white that he is best known, and in this class of work his caricatures and cartoons are the most popular. His gift for swift caricature is indeed remarkable. Never deliberately cruel or offensive (except maybe to the super-sensitive or the ultra-vain), they manage to catch so much of the subjects' real character -- that indefinite "some- thing" which is so elusive to the average painstaking artist -- that they become not merely distorted portraits, but true character studies achieved in a spirit of pure fun. I doubt if there is another artist in Australia to-day who can accom- plish this quite so well as Hal Gye.

His cartoons -- political, sporting, and whatnot -- have much of the same spirit. Never labored and certainly never dull, they express a light-hearted gaiety that is too often lacking in the work of many another artist who designedly sets out to be mechanically humorous.

Spontaneity is their keynote; he catches humor as it flies, and emeshes it in quaint lines before it has time to escape.

Hal Gye began work in-- of all places on earth -- a solicitor's office in Melbourne. The Law of Torts and the artistic temperament failed, however, to find much in common, and soon after Gye's employer and the head clerk and the most important client had been crudely caricatured on blotting pads relations became strained. Harold Neville Gye the law clerk was a lamentable failure, but after a year or two of study under the late Alec Sass, Hal Gye the artist began to be talked about. His quaint pictures appeared in various Australian papers, and when Will Dyson went to England Gye was naturally chosen to take his place as "The Bulletin's" theatrical caricaturist in Melbourne.

Publishing "The Sentimental Bloke."

It was about then that I first met him, and some years later, when I had completed "The Sentimental Bloke," I decided promptly that he was the one man to do the quaint illustrations I had in mind.

We foregathered and talked things over in his studio. The book had been already refused by two Melbourne publishers, and our hopes were not bright. Finally, I decided that if we could induce some kind publisher to issue a subscription edition of a few hundred copies we might reap a profit of ten or even fifty pounds.  

Very carefully we planned an elaborate "make-up" of the book, even to the title-page and wrapper, and sent it to Messrs. Angus & Robertson, of Sydney, with our suggestion for a modest subscription issue. Their reply was prompt brief, and dignified.  

"Dear Sir," they wrote, "We are publishers, not printers and binders."

But they immediately applied balm to our wounded dignity by suggesting a regular market edition of 5,000 copies, and a scale of fees for the artist far beyond the wildest dreams in the little back-street studio. The book was published shortly after that, and sold, to our bewilderment and, as the good Pepys has it, to our great content. Since then Hal Gye has illustrated every book I have published, besides those of many other writers, including "Banjo" Paterson and Will Ogilvie.

Except, perhaps, those he did for "The Glugs of Gosh," I like best of all Gye's quaint and dainty illustrations to "The Bloke." They have been reproduced in many places since, and their next appearance will be upon crockery from the pottery works of Messrs. Grimwade & Co., historic potters, of Stoke-on-Trent, in England.    

Among other distinction, Hal Gye holds that of being the only artist who has, with the full knowledge and consent of the Prime Minister, held up the business of Australia, while he sketched.    

It happened during the reign of William Morris the First. The Prime Minister had agreed, none too willingly, to pose upon the floor of the House during a sitting while Gye sketched him from the pressbox. A nod from the artist was to be the signal that the sketch was completed.

Thrice during his speech, the Prime Minister glanced hopefully toward the pressbox, only to be greeted by a ruthless headshake and a commanding frown. Thrice he obediently spoke on, tackling his subject from another angle and indulging new oratorical flights. Finally a gracious nod from the artist gave him release; he wound up with a fiery peroration, and sat down. And none among the Federal members knew at the time that they had listened for five minutes to that flowing Welsh oratory solely that an autocratic artist might be served.

I never have, though I should like to have, heard what Mr. Hughes thought of that caricature when it appeared. He, too, has a quaint sense of humor.

Gye's Quaint Philosophy.  

"The average man," says Hal Gye, "goes to work to earn money to buy his wife hats and dresses to keep her quiet while he goes to work to earn more money to buy her hats and dresses."    

Gye never goes to work. The result of his alleged labor too obviously bears evidence that he has had a thoroughly good time in its accomplishment. He would have you smile with him or at him, as you please, so long as you do smile. And the average man aforesaid may find in those drawings respite from that vicious circle and a bright spot in a workaday world.

On occasions, when drawing fails to carry on the fun, Gye has been known to break into verse. But rarely, and only when Puck suggests it. That airy trifle "Hot Summer Nights," published to "The Bulletin" some time ago, has by now become almost a classic. And there are others.

Adelaide is fortunate in securing the services of such a jester at her court. I feel that the queen will find no cause to frown, nor the Prime Minister any need to grow uneasy. Even the pageboys may. be permitted to titter, and the King, I hope, will never consider it expedient to order anything with boiling oil in it.

Still, if it be possible that there exists in Adelaide a citizen so seized with his own importance in the scheme of things, so obsessed with his own great work, with abnormal vanity that friendly advice cannot lessen nor gentle banter repress. I fear that he will have to submit to a measure -- a very mild measure, really -- of (what shall we say?) chastening candor.  Self-revelation is made easy when assisted by a Gye. I know. He has caricatured me.  

Still, he is ever gentle in his methods, and always prefaces the operation with the comforting remark, "Now, this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you." 

First published in The Mail, 16 June 1923

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

Reprint: C. J. Dennis and His Verse by D.E.

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SELECTED VERSE OF C. J. DENNIS. Chosen and Introduced by Alec H. Chisholm. Angus and Robertson, Sydney.

Perhaps the most remarkable success-story in Australian writing is that of the late C. J. Dennis, told by his biographer, Mr. A. H, Chisholm, in an introduction to this selection of Dennis's verse.

In 1914 "The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke" was rejected by a Melbourne publisher, so Dennis, in 1915, sent the manuscript to Angus and Robertson and said he was "pretty confident" of obtaining about three hundred subscribers for a five-shilling edition.

Angus and Robertson issued the book on their own judgment and sold 66,148 copies in eighteen months in Australia and New Zealand. Editions were also published in Britain, Canada and U.S.A., and the story was filmed and dramatised.

Ginger Mick, a cobber of The Bloke, was the subject of another small book of verse, which sold 42,349 copies in less than six months.

Here was success seldom achieved by poets. Other books such as the clever satirical "Glugs of Gosh," the children's book, "Roundabout," and sequels of "The Bloke" followed.

Now Mr. Chisholm, in his careful selection from Dennis's "nine books, a booklet and a leaflet," has given readers the chance to decide whether the large sales of 35 years ago were due to passing fancy or some universal and lasting qualities.

It seems likely that Dennis will still be very popular, for although his verse is only of slight literary value it has, especially in the vernacular verses, novelty of expression, salty humour, a pleasant rhythm, robust- ness, and the sentimentality that is often so obvious in the "tough guys" of literature, whether they be Melbourne larrikins or Hemingway's "he-men."

In addition, Dennis tells a story well.

Adult readers will find plenty of pungent satire in the fantasy of the dealings between the Glugs and Swanks of Gosh and the Ogs of Podge; while children reading "Cuppacumalonga" and "The Ant Explorer" will surely want to read other poems which Mr. Chisholm has not included in this selection, especially "The Long Road Home," "The Band," "Hist!" and "You and I."

Naturally the first poem in the book is the famous "Australaise," so popular with Diggers in World War I.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 10 February 1951

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

Reprint: The Novel in Australia by Nettie Palmer

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Let it be granted from the outset that the number of good novels written in Australia has been small There are causes for this, mostly discreditable though not all discreditable to the same people; there is no time to discuss these causes now. What I wish to demonstrate is that if we reduce our list of good Australian books to a minimum leaving only the best what we reach is a nugget of surprisingly high quality.

Some Early Nuggets  

The novel in Australia has proceeded not in an even jog, but perhaps more suitably by a series of kangaroo hops. Taking "Geoffrey Hamlyn," Henry Kingsley's book, written with a very colonial outlook, but genuine for the period as the first of our novels, we can take with much more enthusiasm, "Robbery Under Arms," by Rolf Boldrewood, as our second. It is hard to say whether this remarkable book has received more good or harm from its title. Certainly this title has won it very many readers, who will not have felt cheated of what it made them expect for it is a rattling good story. Other possible readers, though, who would be interested and delighted by a genuine pastoral about early days in New South Wales, would never guess what pockets of quiet beauty lay in a book with such a truculent title. It is one of those rare books that can please on several different counts -- as an adventure story, as a sketched historical background, and as a sound psychological novel.  Here and there the moralising becomes a little too heavy for the tale to carry but most of it is caught up naturally in the even flow of the narrative, which is in fine and enexaggerated vernacular, without dropped aitches or other irritating apostrophes to spot its pages. Every one wants to have "Robbery Under Arms" in the house, and the only hindrance to this is that it is always being borrowed by people of all ages. It is a pity that for so long it has been published only in a paper-covered edition, and with small print, and misprints into the bargain. Boldrewood wrote a good many books afterwards but he is chiefly thanked and remembered for that one. When I think of good novels in Australia I like to think that most of them are not far from the line of development that would be suggested by reading "Robbery Under Arms."    

Some Successors

It was a long time before the simplicity and naturalness of that book was again reached. Boldrewood's own later books were affected by his consciousness that they were written for overseas publishers and public. Marcus Clarke's "The Term of His Natural Life," with all its glamorous power, was a "made" book. Then came Mrs. Campbell Praed, in the 'nineties, with her easy-flowing books now almost forgotten. Some of them, like "Longleat of Koralbyn," are set in Queensland, but the locale is only suggested by occasional dust and heat, and the writer shirks the whole problem of making her Queensland live in the readers' sight. The books might be set some Ruritania, a lively enough place, only non-existent.  

Meanwhile, Australia was developing few novelists, but a great many short story writers, of whom it is enough to name Louis Becke, Price Warung, Henry Lawson, and Albert Dorrington. For many years it has seemed that only short stories would ever be published again (and those only in fugitive form): any novels that appear have had every sort of circumstantial opposition to ovecome.

Novels After 1900

Past this opposition pushed Miles Franklin, with her one striking book, written about the age of 20, "My Brilliant Career.'' This bit of ironic autobiography, set in an up-country township of the drearier sort, was expected to lead to more, but Miles Franklin's actual career took her away from fiction to the offices of a Women's Labour Bureau, in Chicago. Perhaps some day she will be able to repeat her early success, looking through the opposite end of life's telescope. Her novel appeared about 1900, and soon after came Randolph Bedford's two novels, "True Eyes and the Whirlwind," and ''The Snare of Strength." The first is a novel of the picaresque type, a useful kind for expressing the nomadic youth spent by many Australians before they find their life work. It includes vivid glimpses of Broken Hill in the early days, a place something like the present Mt. Isa. "The Snare of Strength" passed from Parliament House, Melbourne, to a dairy-farming district, and to mining in North Queensland. Bedford's work is never without a fine gusto. A nearly forgotten novel, yet one that had a strong, if acrid, life of its own, was Barbara Baynton's "Human Toll," full of bush tragedy. As if to show that our life is full of varied aspects, came Louis Stone's "Jonah," a Sydney story of young larrikins, done with sincerity. Out-of-print, out-of-print that is what one has to lament about all these books! Many novels deserve to die in their year of birth, but what of those that have permanent quality? We can only beg for new editions.

A Novelist Abroad

So far the books mentioned have been written in Australia. Perhaps the best known novel written while its author was abroad is "Maurice Guest," by Henry Handel Richardson. Few readers would know that the author of that brilliant story of music-student life in the Leipzig of the 'nineties was Australian, but her subsequent books leave no doubt on the matter. "Maurice Guest," published in 1909, was revised in a fourth edition in 1922. Meanwhile, a great Australian trilogy had begun to appear, "The Fortunes of Richard Mahony," the author having revisited Australia about 1912 to verify impressions. The fortunes, at first very meagre, were laid first in the early mining days on Ballarat; the Eureka episode lightens on the skyline. Melbourne develops into "marvellous Melbourne." The decade of the 'seventies is passed, in the second volume, among the hurried opulence of newly-rich Melbourne. The third volume, not yet published, will carry on the dates and little further. The writer's knowledge of the period-costumes, food, and customs is immense but the "Fortunes" is never a mere costume novel: there is character all through. All Henry Handel Richardson's novels, even those whose setting is wholly Australian, are better known in Europe than here, and are discussed at length in German and Scandinavian literary encyclopaedias and reviews, In America too, they have received deep attention. Victoria is fortunate to have found such a chronicler, more fortunate than it knows as yet. Brisbane of the early days still awaits some such interpretation. Some future novelist will, perhaps, base his story on the splendid material in "Tom Petrie's Reminiscences."  

Contemporary Novels

Meanwhile, the thin but invigorating stream of novels by writers who have lived continuously in the country they describe has gone on. The books of Katherine Susannah Prichard, appearing at pretty wide intervals are the fruit of an intense devotion to her subject matter. Her gifts are mainly two: first, that of brilliant impressionism, then a rare power of writing group-scenes. One thinks of the opal miners in her second book, "Black Opal," standing about chaffing one another and discussing the universe, every man of them alive. Or, in her latest book, "Working Bullocks," there are the groups of timber-getters camped by the road for a smoke-oh, or the unforgettable, hot, timeless Sunday evenings   spent by a big bush family and its visitors on a veranda beside some trees of ripe loquats. Such scenes are too difficult for most novelists, who shirk them: yet they enrich a book immensely, and the reader feels that our everyday life is full of unsuspected charm. So far, Katharine Prichard's novels have been each set in a different spot of Australia -- the tall timber of South-east Victoria, the opal fields in Western New South Wales, and the sawmilling country in the south of Western Australia. It is said that her next locale will be the northern inland of Western Australia, a place very wild, very remote, and yet, seen from within, quite a complex commonwealth. (Reading over this list of regions I can only feel how wretchedly inconvenient our Australian names are: a mere mention of latitude and longitude! Are we too big to think about? It will take many years for many of our names to become easy and vivid.)  

There is little space left for some recent Queensland books. People will at least have a chance to see and hear of these during the next week's exhibition. Zora Cross' "Daughters of the Seven Mile" has lately been followed by a ''Sons of the Seven Mile," which is now available in book form. Such books put on record the changing years of a South Queensland district. The four novels of M. Forrest have that special quality which readers of her verse would expect -- a power of painting in words the rich details of Queensland's unexplored landscapes. A type of West Queensland station life that is rapidly passing away has been given in a simple and devoted picture by the author of "Cronulla," which appeared three years ago.

To me the most satisfactory definition of a good novel seems "the revelation of character through narrative," but the character need not be only human. There is also the character of a country. Every good novel perforce breaks up new ground -- the author is giving part of himself away, revealing his personal vision of "men, coming and going on the earth." As Mr. Randolph Bedford pointed out lately in a brilliant bit of satire, the average publisher likes words written to a formula, to please a public which dislikes anything new. "It loves to read some old friend it recognises, so that it can say, 'How original it must be, because I know it so well.' "

The really creative books I have mentioned have had another and a more genuine kind of originality. In making Australian life and character their theme they have had to overcome so many incidental difficulties that their impetus has had to be genuine and self-sustained all through, or it would have collapsed. Some day, when a novel about life in Indooroopilly seems as natural as one about Piccadilly, we shall thank those who turned the first sods so fruitfully.

First published in The Brisbane Courier, 15 October 1927

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

Reprint: Australian Poetry: To the Editor of "The Mercury"

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Sir, - I have elsewhere called attention to the widely exaggerated estimate of our local verse on the part of a Sydney coterie, and their fierce resentment of English criticism. In the "Daily News" of September 14 there is a long and severe review of Mr. Essex Evans's "Secret Key." Some faint praise is given, but mostly the reviewer (Mr. John Maxefield), is very rough on Australian poetry as a whole. "As generally happens in a book of Australian poems, a full third of the 'Secret Key' is mere thundering rant, with no particular meaning, no sense of poetic style, only a delight in rapid movement, as though the writer were gotten upon a pegasus, and galloped full tilt, devil take the hindmost." Again, "He is not a poet, he is not a creator, he sees with an ordinary vision, he does not think, he does not deeply feel, but he has studied the art of writing, and can make his emotions plain, even musical." In all twenty-five lines are quoted in justification of praise or blame. Out of half a dozen long notices of Australian verse recently given in London papers, this is the most severe; and, though in a measure we have provoked it by such rejoinders as Mr. Baydon's in the Christmas number of Steele Rudd's magazine. I think it is unjustifiably severe.  

-Yours, etc.,  


First published in The Mercury, 28 October 1907

Note: I'm unsure whether the "it" in the last sentence above referes to the English review or Mr. Baydon's rejoinder.

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

Reprint: Kendall's Poems - Letters to the Editor

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Sir,-I hope you will kindly insert these few lines, in the hope that they may exite some interest on a subject that really gives me concern. I, with several others (I believe), felt very sorry that the attendance last night at the Temperance Hall was so sadly scanty. This seems to have been greatly caused by an unpropitious evening having been chosen for Mr. Sheridan Moore's readings; but another great hindrance was, such a high price of admission having been asked, at least, for the best seats. Even that, perhaps, would have been met, had the claims to public notice here of the very interesting youth whose talents furnished, or were to furnish, the chief subject of the evening's entertainment, been put more forcibly before that public. In that case, many, as myself, would have gladly made an effort, and then the collection would have told a very different tale. Now, Sir, if Mr. Moore would be inclined to redeliver the readings, with a little attention to the above points, also trying to obtain the Temperance Hall for the bare expenses, much encouragement might be given, not merely to a worthy family, but also to the cause of our young men, thus aiding them in the prefermce of a careful cultivation of the talents with which Heaven has endowed them, to allowing them to run to waste on folly and dissipation. An attention to these few remarks will oblige.

Sir, yours respectfully,

18th April. A LOVER OF POETRY.

P.S.-Would not it do as well if Mr. Kendall would act as reader for his own works? 

First published in The Empire, 22 April 1861

And in response:



SIR,-Allow me, partly by way of reply to the letter of "A Lover of Poetry" in your to-day's issue, and partly for the information of the public, to state that my discourse, not a mere series of readings as "A Lover of Poetry" hints, on the actual and probable poetry of Australia, had been advertised for three weeks before its delivery; that the prices were fixed to suit the means of every person disposed to support native literature -- to wit, 4s., 2s. 6d. and 1s.; and that it was never anticipated the visit of his Excellency the Administrator of the Government, to the Victoria Theatre, would have the effect of turning the current of native support away from my discourse. I am perfectly willing to re-deliver that discourse, or rather to make a better effort, if the public care to hear me. I should, indeed, prefer to hear Kendall read a selection from his own poems if the extreme sensibility of the gifted young man would allow him to do so; but Kendall happens to think far less of his poems than I do, a circumstance which will not detract from their merits or his character.

I am, &c., &c.,  


First published in The Empire, 23 April 1861

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

Reprint: Prefatory Remarks on The Sonnet by Charles Harpur

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The Sonnet is, perhaps, the best metrical form yet invented for the terse embodiment of any truth which is spherical by reason of its comprehensiveness, or which is great and general enough to be simple, and thence amenable to the brevity of treatment almost aphoristic. Nor is there any better form for the musical setting forth of any strikingly individual idea, or fact, or love-fancy. It is also eminently suitable as a vehicle for literary compliment, or biographical incident, and when spirited with the light of some memorable event, or by the stirring influence of some heroic name, it may indeed, as in the hands of Milton, become "a trumpet," and thence a fit medium for blowing "soul-animating strains" into the ears of all men.

But apart from its subject there must, in the mere construction and vehicular capacity of the Sonnet, be always exhibited an absolute mastery over means. This, I say, is an indispensable requirement, admitting of no incompleteness either of thought or expression;   no slip-slop, no inversion purely for rhyme's sake; not even one superfluous word. Its very metrical mode and set limits admit of no "beating about the bush." Nay, the subject of it must be handled so bravely and openly as to make directness of treatment a result inevitable. And thus a perfect sonnet will be as it were a microcosm -- whole in itself, both in form and spirit the spherical mould and integument of a spherical subject -- the one exactly enclosing the other, without either diffuseness or over compression, and so shutting it up for ever in a "measureful content."  

Moreover, the untransgressible limits of the sonnet often tend to induce that closeness of expression, and that sublimation of imagery which are proper to the highest kind of enduring poetry, namely, that kind which is suggestive rather than decscriptive, or which by a few select images, intensified in the putting, suggests infinitely more than could be circumstan- tially described, or otherwise than wearisomely; and which, therefore, while it amply recompenses the imagination of the reader, exercises it as well, and thereby quickens and strengthens it for direct conception upon its own account, or as an individual and self-sustained faculty. And, having, as I think, this tendency, of course these exact limits prevent in an equal degree that verbal delusion of the sense which is the besetting weakness of most modern writers, both in a verse and prose. Not but a well- phrased amplification in the manner of setting forth a thought may be sometimes advisable. If novel, or many-sided, or somewhat obscure from its very comprehensiveness, it may even demand a double draught of expression. But to flood it with words, however well chosen or elegant in themselves, is not to clarify, but simply to drown it. Nay, though in itself as vivid and nimble as a sunbeam, it may be dulled and deadened, like an ill-mixed potation, by a few irrelevant or superfluous words -- or even by one word, if it should happen to be at all repugnant as well as needless to the sense.

Ordinary readers object to the Sonnet on account of its shortness and individuality. It is not long enough, nor many-featured enough to produce, or minister to, popular excitement. With the modern novel -- pampered many it is only a poetic "nobbler"-- an apology for a dram. It has not grip enough for their coarse mental cravings - and apropos of this - A country Englishman was partaking of some fruit with members of a family of my acquaintance, which consisted of two sorts -- some nectarines of exquisite flavour, but singularly small, and a quantity of large slipstone peaches of so bad a quality as to be almost tasteless. But after demolishing two or three of the nectarines at a mouthful, the countryman was observed to give them up with a look of some disappointment, and devote himself exclusively to the peaches. He was asked the reason why-for, said his questioner, the nectarines are excellent, but the peaches scarcely eatable. "Ess," replied the clown, "the nectons be main good loike -- but then there be no grip on 'em." Quantity rather than quality was evidently the ticket for him. And the literary taste of those readers who cannot relish the Sonnet merely because it is short and one-thoughted, is every whit as rustical, not to say vulgar, as was this fellow's gastric appetite, all their pretensions to refinement notwithstanding.

In most of the ensuing sonnets the arrangement of the rhymes is somewhat different from the run of them in that form which has been adopted from the Italian poets by many of the best writers of the Sonnet in English. But in devising this different arrangement of the rhymes, I have been actuated by no mere desire to innovate upon a usage so imposingly established. In the pure Italian form the reduplication of the rhymes is upon the whole, as it appears to me, not only too distant, but too couplet- like in their recurrence, to tell thoroughly well; and to follow out this form, in one of its varieties, so far as to rhyme the ninth and fourteenth lines (as is often done by Wordsworth) is tantamount in English to not rhyming them at all. It is perceived to be a rhyme only by the eye -- and by the eye itself only upon trying back. On the other hand, the old English or Shaksperian mode of constructing the Sonnet is obviously defective in oneness, both as to artistic appearance and musical effect, it being indeed, but a series of three separate quatrains based upon a closing couplet. Hence the rhyme-arrangement in this form is manifestly an unsuitable one. It is not sufficiently carried through, inter-currently, to impress either the ear or the eye with a feeling of wholenes and homogeneity, however single-thoughted and individual in itself (when critically after-considered) may be the subject of the poem. Now the form in which the first three, and several other of the ensuing sonnets, are written, partakes somewhat of both the forms above referred to, and after having carefully tried it by my own ear, I do verily believe that it is a better compacted one than either, and altogether fitter for the English Sonnet, or rather the Sonnet in English.

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 7 November 1866

You can read the 10 sonnets, which then followed this piece, here.

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

Sir, - A new generation blots out or forgets the one that is passing. This is particularly true of writers as individuals, yet by some curious requirement of the human mind writers are supposed to individually provide fertile tracts of personal story or anecdote to a greater degree than even painters. Sculptors are not in it with either, this perhaps because their art is more confined by rule, in spite of Epstein than the others. The field is already a full one in Australia, even though it is but a few years since Kendall wrote and Gordon rode. But the flower of the field will never be gathered unless we seriously begin to put on record what this one was and what that one said. Shakespeare is an example. Though a library has been written on him and his work, much of it is based on deduction, and who knows yet whether Shakespeare was Shakespeare or Bacon, Oxford, or someone else? Consequently I have suggested, as he is our outstanding poet and the son of one whose recollections had been collected for more than three quarters of a century, that Mr. Hugh McCrae be asked to give a series of talks or lectures, not so much on the books as on the personalities of writers as known to him, as well as on those recorded by his father. We want the living man and woman along with the written word as a part of our national remembrance.

For instance, we could never know why Conrad wrote his remarkable yet confined English unless we were aware that he was a Pole and therefore had a definition of English based on a first knowledge of Polish -- a knowledge that gave fluidity to the otherwise constricted.

Consequently, with your permission, I put forward my suggestion publicly in the hope that others will support it.

I am, etc.,  

Mary Gilmore

First published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 11 December 1929.

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]
Sir - The Prime-Minister has ridiculed effectively the quaint charges of pro-Comunist bias splattered against the Advisory Board of the Commonwealth Literary Fund in Parliament by Messrs. Keen and Wentworth. Without exposing in detail the garbled inaccuracies of our local McCarthys, may I, as a member of the Board, add a few simple facts?

1. As a matter of principle, in aiding Australian literature by the grant of literary fellowships and the sponsoring of books for publication, the Advisory Board makes its recommendations to the Fund Committee solely on grounds of literary merit. The political opinions of the writers are quite irrelevant, and are treated as such. I can vouch for the fact that in seven years' service on the Board I have never once known such political considerations influence its literary decisions.      

2. It would be impossible to operate the literary Fund except on the basic principle of the complete freedom and integrity of Australian writers.            

3. Writers aided by the Fund have naturally held a wide variety of political opinions -- Right, Centre, and Left, including Communist. As a matter of fact, from 1940 to 1952 the Fund has awarded 50 literary fellowships, and only in 5 cases, to the best of my knowledge, the holders may be Communists, i.e. one out of every ten. Since 90 per cent of the fellowship holders have been non-Communists, the allegation that the Board has been biassed and given special preference to Communists is obvious nonsense.    

4. Its absurdity is proved even more strikingly when we note that, of the 30 books published with the Fund's sponsorship since 1940, in not one single case has the author or editor been Communist.        

5. Not only are there no Communists on the Board itself, but in any case the final decisions upon its recommendations are made by the Committee of the Fund, consisting of Mr. Menzies, Sir Arthur Fadden, Dr Evatt, and Mr. Scullin. The charge that these gentlemen direct "pro-Communist" propaganda answers itself.  

6. Within its limited sphere the Fund has done, as Mr. Menzies indicated, valuable service for Australian literature. It has made possible the writing or publication of books which are important contributions to our poetry, novel, short stories, drama, descriptive writting, biography, and scholarship. Its Pocket Library Series made available a variety of books that would probably not have been otherwise reprinted. It would be a tragedy if political ebullitions were allowed to interfere in any way with its literary functions.

7. Finally, it might be added that members of the Advisory Board devote substantial time and labour to its work. This is especially true of its Chairman, Mr. Vance Palmer, who has a very long and honorable record of unselfish service to Australian literature in addition to his outstanding achievement as a creative writer, critic, and exemplar of the highest literary standards. In contrast, moreover, with Government advisers in economics, censorship, and other fields, the Board members have freely given their services as literary advisers for years without any payment. They may reasonably object, however, to their present reward of calumny, however Gilbertian to those who know the facts.  


First published in The Canberra Times, 2 September 1952

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

Reprint: Hugh McCrae: Poet and Author by D. P. McGuire

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He is tall, and his grizzled hair is greying, and he has a great power of joy in him and a great gentleness. It is difficult sometimes to believe that he is a man with physical bonds and physical necessities; one believes in fairies when one knows him, and one believes, too, in those things which Arnold spoke, sweetness and light. And yet he is very human. One hears his mighty shout of laughter, and sees him holding up all the people in Pitt street, while he enjoys a huge joke; his length doubled across the footpath, his arms poised like birds. I do not think I have ever known any one who enjoyed a joke as much as Hugh McCrae; and no one who has learnt the art of life so fully and finely. He is not a rich man; he is probably very poor, but be is unbelievably endowed with quips and cranks and jollities, and deep, enduring joy that cheats the angels.        

I met him first in an office. I went in with fear and trepidation, expecting to be reviewed in order by some dour and solemn editor. McCrae was the editor. He came in, and I am sure that his embarassment was greater than mine. We fidgeted together, he with a bundle of manuscripts, I with my hat. There were little, intermittent bursts of speech, and long, awkward silences. It lasted a whole 10 minutes. Then suddenly we got over it. I do not know why, but I think it was some glow from the man's spirit. I felt warmed and happy in a very strange way. We marched off down the street, we went to lunch, we marched back up the street, we yelled at one another so that people turned to stare at us. It was four days before I realized that I had some matter of business to settle with him.  

Hugh McCrae is the most exquisite writer we have known in Australia. A poet of ardent sensibilities, and a delightful grace of utterance, he will be remembered as some of the early English poets are remembered, by those who rejoice in pure light and undefiled diction, and the clear song that is like bird's voices.

   Here will I lie
   Under the sky,   
   Green trees above me,
   All birds to love me . . .
   Nature and I.   

   Wish me good den
   And leave me then . . .
   This sweet forest wind   
   Is more to my mind       
   Than cities or man.

   And in the morn I will see born
   That does dappled young,
   Whose father was sung
   To death by the horn.

   Here will I lie
   Under the sky,
   Green trees above me,
   All birds to love me,
   Nature and I.

The whole is a perfect ''lyric cry;" and the third verse especially, is as faultless as Shelley's

   "He will watch from dawn to gloom
   The lake-reflected sun illume
   The yellow bees in the ivy-bloom."


McCrae is one of our first masters of prose, too. No one in English literature has come nearer in spirit and method to Yorick Sterne. Naivette and subtlety, sentiment and a sudden, swift gleam of intellectual passion temper his expression; and though he, himself, declares that he has only a gift for phrasing, and that his argument wavers, his prose is crystal-clear and steel-sure.  

Nothing better than the 'Du Poissey Anecdotes" has been done in Australia. I sincerely doubt that any English book in the manner has been better done since the eighteenth century. Yet the volume is almost unobtainable. I am told that a great number of copies have been destroyed -- because there was no sale for them. And the book shows a freshness and savour, a sauvity and charm, a delicate sophistication that no living writer approaches. I open it entirely at ran-dom.  

"On Wednesday, October 4, Du Poissey and I took boat and rowed up the river to Cropley Lock, where we dined under the tree; upon buttered chickens and orange marmalade.

All at once, in the middle of our meal, he looked up, and, pointing with his finger to the sky, exclaimed:-"Do you see the cloud that's almost in shape like a camel?"            

Whereupon I, not to be outdone, replied in the words of Polonius:-- "By the Mass, and 'tis like a camel indeed."

"Methinks it is like a weasel", quoth Du Poissey.      

"'It is backed like a weasel," said I.  

"Or," continued Du Poissey, "like a whale?"

"Very like a whale," exclaimed I, and burst into a fit of laughing.

"Sir," said he, "this is most childish . . . can it be possible that you have no opinions of your own?"  

"Why," I replied, "these are neither your opinions nor my opinions. They are not even the opinions of Shakespeare, but the opinions of Hamlet and Polonius."

"Sir,'' said Du Poissey, "I quoted nobody. What has happened is simply this:- Looking up in the air just now I saw a curious cloud, which I remarked upon as being a little like a camel; you immediately agreed with me; but, because I had doubts of your sincerity, I now pretended that the cloud had taken the formation of a weasel and you had the assurance to say so too.This kiss-breach kind of conversation would serve to madden a saint, yet I was not unwilling to give you another chance, wherefore I declared the cloud --"

My patience having come to an end, I would not allow him to continue, but, looking at him very fiercely over some buttered chicken, challenged him to say another word.        

He grew silent in a moment, and a little later expressed his sorrow, "not that I have been rude to you, but that you have been rude to me." I am afraid the quotation is a long one; but it will convey more of the significant savour of McCrae's writing, than a dissertion of mine.

It is, perhaps, a sufficient justification for an Australian authors' week, that this jolly book should have passed with notice from no more than a score or so of McCrae's countrymen. It makes one desperate. All about us, we hear opinionated ignorance talking of our art with a dreadful air of despair; deploring the barrenness of the natives; and neglecting a writer who is conceivably of a very high rank, and is certainly of that class for whom an especially delectable corner of Elysium has been reserved, because they have been gentle and kind, and have lived only with beauty. 

First published in The Register, 10 September 1927

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

Reprint: Enchanted World Of Hugh McCrae

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"The Ship of Heaven," by Hugh McCrae. (Angus and Robertson, Sydney. 21/-).

Seventy years ago, in
Hugh McCrae's father's time, a trifle like this would have been served up as a pantomime, in which form it would have been a huge success, and printed -- if printed at all -- on cheap paper, unbound, and sold for a shilling at the show. It would have been sentimentally remembered for a year or two and forgotten thereafter.

Why should we be expec
ted to take "The Ship of Heaven" seriously as poetry? Certainly it is full of a whimsy flimsy Hughie McCraesiness which is delightful in a fairy-moonlight-and-spoilt-boy mood. And Mr. McCrae has a ready sense of the theatre, plays charmingly with notions, writes first-rate verse when he wants to, and has the right sense of music and mystery. But it is all so eighteen-eightyish! There would not be a hope in life of any commercial company taking on a thing like this, even if the Independent Theatre did put it on in Sydney-- with music by Alfred Hill-- and the effect was charming (it may have been).

There is a solemn aspect
to this. Mr. McCrae has his followers and they are idolaters. True, his best work has appeared, and we ought not to expect more of it. But this is a sentimental descent, and there was always too much sentimentality in his poetry. If Australian readers respond to this kind of appeal, then it means not merely that they have failed to progress in half a century or more: it means that they have regressed. For in 1880 or 1890 they would have known how to value a performance like "The Ship of Heaven."

First published in The Advertiser, 15 September 1951

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

Reprint: Our Own Writers: O'Dowd, the Questioner by Nettie Palmer

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Who was to gather up the two strands of life in Australia -- which I have perforce called the belltoppers and the moleskins -- and make from them something new? Who was to show us as a coherent group instead of fugitive colonials? Such questions are answered by the name of a poet whose great work has been to put revealing questions. Through all his books Bernard O'Dowd makes demands and challenges. His first book, with its austere, democratic chants in the barest of ballad stanzas, was called not "Downward," as printers so often have it, but "Dawnward?" the query being not only in the title, but wistfully pervasive:

   Flames new disaster for the race
   Or can it be the Dawn?

His earliest and most famous sonnet, "Australia," which has been strangely described as aggressively patriotic, deserves rather to be called an ode written in time of doubt:

   Last Sea-Thing dredge by Sailor Time from space,
   Art thou a drift Sargasso, where the west
   In halcyon calm rebuilds her fatal nest,
   Or Delos of a coming Sun-God's race?

Not much positive swashbuckling there. Indeed, throughout his questioning poems that have appeared over several decades, O'Dowd is hardly more confident about this Terra Australis Incognita than was Robert Burton, three centuries before him. Burton, too, suggests both sides: "Antipodes (which they made it a doubt whether Christ died for)"; and "whether that hungry Spaniard's discovery of the Unknown South Land be as true as his of Utopia .... it cannot choose but yield in time some flourishing kingdoms to future ages." For the matter of our being antipodes -- "the underworld," as the Oxford Dictionary condenses it -- O'Dowd uses a gesture of some warmth. Aware, as a child or a scientist is, that a ball has no up or down, he laughs, with a moment's swagger, at the traditional north, the top of the map, from which all blessings must for ever drop down. Cannot the south, perhaps, prove a source of renewal?

   Antipodeon? Whew! We are the top,
   The fountain . . . .

So begins the sextet of a brilliant sonnet in the fourth of his books, "The Seven Deadly Sins." But it is in the fifth book, "The Bush," with its single, long poem in a striking ten-line stanza of his own, that O'Dowd has put his questions about Australia at full length; solemnly, whimsically, now by allusion, now by sensitive and powerful descriptive passages; again and again with the movement of high poetry, so that, as cannot be shown here in this crumble of prosy comment, the ideas are "carried alive into the heart by passion."

A Significant Link

This questioner-poet brought to his ever-growing task a hoard of curious learning and an almost tactile sensitiveness to a landscape that had hardly begun to be frankly seen and recorded in words. In possessing these two gifts, one recondite, the other intimate, he recalls, not for the first time, the Irish poet A.E., whose twin passions for agriculture and for Hindoo religions have been hit off by James Joyce in a satirical dramatic passage of "Ulysses." Joyce pictures A.E. as a fantastic mythical figure exclaiming "Patsypunjaub!" and so expressing the two sides of his being. O'Dowd, firmly based in the realities of the land that bred him, yet having his head in "The Silent Land," with its overtones, linked the academic writers and the bush bards. Drawing down upon Australia in "The Bush" all the Utopian prophecies,

    Bacon foretold her, Campanella, More,  

He is aware, too, of our yearly spectacle, north to south,

   ..... the Wattle River, rolling,
   Exuberant and golden towards the sea;

O'Dowd weaves past and present into patterns that are continually repeated, yet never the same. He has shaped his urgent questions over and over, never content with a single answer. Is this unknown south land, indeed, to give flourishing kingdoms to succeeding ages? Then what is a flourishing kingdom? Is it perhaps like this?

   There, lazy fingers of a breeze have scattered
      The distant blur of factory chimney smoke
   In poignant groups of all the young lives shattered
      To feed the ravin of a piston-stroke!

What is a flourishing kingdom to be?

   No corsair's gathering ground, no tryst for schemers
      No chapman Carthage to a huckster Tyre,
   She is the Eldorado of old dreamers,
      The Sleeping Beauty of the world's desire!

But here arises a question of another sort. Beauty? In his curious and brilliant preface to Gordon's poems, Marcus Clarke wrote, "In Australia alone is to be found the grotesque, the weird, the strange scribblings of Nature learning how to write" -- no other beauty. Was Barron Field's horrible old verse wrong in granting that this fifth part of the earth was redeemed, from that utter failure with which he had forced it to rhyme? And was Aldous Huxley right in his instructive use of an Australian phenomenon for a mere gruesome measurement of time?

   The time of waiting began. Each second the earth travelled 25 miles and the prickly pear
   covered another five rods of Australian ground. 

Macabre, grotesque, unlovely to alien eyes;- that was Australia. O'Dowd accepts Clarke's challenge, recognises the degree of honesty in his vision, shares it and transcends it. Without reluctance, he upholds the tragic quality in the land- scape that has confronted him since his birth:

   Out of the heights what influence is pouring
   Thin desolation on your haunted face? 

Again he dreads that alien forces should seek

   To drown the chord or purifying sorrow
   Born ere the world, that pulses through your trees.

Born ere the world. With such a statement O'Dowd meets the more serious and persistent charge that is made against a new country, especially against the newest of all -- the simple charge of being new. Chesterton and Belloc, for instance, in book after book, have casually mentioned an "a priori" detestation of us as crude, empty, dull. At best we are to such onlookers a bad joke; but no, they would never subject themselves to the pangs of looking on. At most, they may now glance at America, which certainly started off before us; and what do they see there?

Perhaps Herny James could still tell them, with another of his comprehensive sighs. (And for America let us read, again, "Australia.")  

   There is in America no State in the European sense of the word, No sovereign, no court, no
   personal loyalty, no aristocracy, no church, no clergy, no army, no diplomatic service, no
   county gentleman, no palaces, no castles, nor manors, nor old country houses, nor
   parsonages, nor thatched cottages, nor ivied   ruins; no cathedrals, not abbeys, nor little
   Norman churches; no great universities, nor public schools; no literature, no novels, no
   museums, no pictures, ...

This was written perhaps 50 years ago, but we are still much newer than America was then. The charge is valid: a new country has none of the mellow gifts of age. How, then, can it live?

A Whimsical Discussion

It is a poet who answers, moving on a plane where Time is not the mere calen- dar. "For Troy hath ever been," and the great themes of human love and   strife reappear

   Across each terraced aeon Time hath sowed
   With green tautology of vanished years.

That tautology, that strange inevitable repetition, can save us. "The towers that Phoebus builds can never fall." But here, in the poem, the argument rather shifts, and the verse from being a poetic utterance becomes a discussion, whimsical and bizarre. To one who looks back from that great day when we shall all be contemporaries together, this newest continent, says the poet, will seem no younger than Babylon. Readers of the future will readily confuse Euripides with the Australian, Gilbert Murray, his translator; they will confuse "Elzevir," the Australian critic, with Longinus who counselled Zenobia.... The verses become full of names, sometimes wittily handled; but it was :Elzevir" himself who protested, when "The Bush" first appeared, that he was like a fly in amber -- but in the cloudier part of superb amber, he might have added. For those wayward and cloudy stanzas in this poem are outnumbered by others of a golden clarity; and in many passages O'Dowd's almost legal statements of both sides, both possibilities, have given a profundity that this poet could achieve in no other way.

The questioning poet, O'Dowd has been accustomed to remember the phrase of one who guided his youth, Walt Whitman. 'The poet is the Answerer." The man of law, O'Dowd, may well have remembered that it is only by the zig-zag of questions that you arrive at a verdict. He leads toward our answer. 

First published in The Argus, 23 February 1935

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

Reprint: Letter to the Editor: More Than a Poet by T. Inglis Moore

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Sir. -- Since Bernard O'Dowd died a few weeks ago, may I, as a memorial tribute, supplement Dr. Todd's interesting lecture on O'Dowd by touching on a few aspects of the poet which he expressly excluded from his formal survey.  

O'Dowd was more than a fine poet. He was a significant figure who has historical importance in two ways. He was the first Australian poet to be an intellectualist and thus founded the tradition of an Australian poetry of ideas which was continued by Brennan, Baylebridge and FitzGerald. He was also the prophetic spokesman of his age, the era we call "the nineties." He expressed passionately its faith in democracy, social justice, and the Utopian dream of a great Australia in the future. Speaking for his contemporaries, Professor Walter Murdoch praises O'Dowd's "songs of democracy that stirred us like trumpets in the opening years of the century." O'Dowd was one of the foremost creators of a national tradition that his influenced Australian thought and literature ever since.  

Certain weaknesses of O'Dowd's earlier poetry, such as rhetoric and a limited verse form were justly pointed out by Dr Todd. There defects were, of course, recognised by critics of O'Dowd's day and discussed in my own study of O'Dowd. It is fair to add, however, that the tendency to generalise shown by O'Dowd is the same as that shown by English poets of the eighteenth century. So, too O'Dowd had, like Pope, a gift of expressing abstract ideas in striking epigram. He had none of Pope's technical perfection but was a more original thinker. Poetry or not, in both cases this epigrammatic expression is excellent writing in its genre. In O'Dowd's work it showed acute intellect at work and an unusual breadth of thought.  

It is starting the wrong hare of course, to discuss whether O'Dowd was a "great poet," since no reputable critic -- and least of all, the modest and unaffected poet himself -- ever claimed such a title for him. "Great poets" are rare. They do not grow on gooseberry bushes. There have been none in Australia, and in England during this contury there have been possibly only two - Yeats and Eliot. O'Dowd at his best -- and a poet must be judged by his best work, not his lapses -- was a fine poet. That is enough. This assessment is accepted generally in Australian literature.

Indeed, it goes wider, since some of the strongest tributes to O'Dowd came from the American critic, Hartley C. Grattan, who praised O'Dowd as one of the four outstanding literary representatives of his epoch, a significant figure in Australia, and the creator of "powerful poetry." In his later work O'Dowd sang with a true lyrical impulse. Instead of rhetoric, he used simple language, varied verse forms, and flexible rhythms. The best parts of "The Bush," the sonnets, and "Alma Venus," like the earlier "Young Democracy," are excellent poetry by the strictest standards.

The fiery personality of Bernard O'Dowd, the idealist and the crusader, made itself felt in his earlier days. When I knew him in his later years I was struck by his mellow wisdom, tolerance, and lovable charm. Above all, one felt in him the sincere nobility of mind expressed so forcibly in his poetry. We have been honoured in having such a fine spirit as one of the makers of the Australian tradition.

First published in The Canberra Times, 7 October 1953

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

Reprint: Observation as an Art: An Open Mind by Nettie Palmer

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The happiest people I know, at any age of life, are those who can observe and be startled by what they see or hear. Some people, so the intelligence testers tell us, are of a mental age of 14, and stay there, never developing nor learning. Very sad, of course, but to me it is even sadder to see people, who, while apparently quite well educated and intelligent, cannot notice anything for themselves. They would be happier and live more richly if their minds were, in a sense, emptier and more receptive. "I had rather forge than furnish my mind," said Montague (though I can never manage to find where he said it). Well, the forging of the malleable mind should be a continuous process: on the other hand, the minds that are furnished with conventional "suites" and the kind of pictures that are sold with dining-room sets are soon over-full. Windows and doors are shut to protect these precious possessions from dust and robbers. There is no entrance for new ideas or interests. Some minds are permanently furnished in this way at an incredibly early age. I would suggest that they need the alternation treatment: to be flung into a melting-pot and forged, over and over again. The melting-pot is, of course, life, experience, art as an interpretation of life. How many people can experience life and its revelations? I am not speaking, for the moment, of what we call deeper revelations, given to a poetic mind; but how many can even, without prejudice, observe?

Bad Observation.

To observe is to surrender to your environment, letting it show you what it can. Most observers are not passive enough. They put a landscape or a city or a group of people through some test of comparison, instead of taking it for what it is. They look at some wild landscape and contrast it, not with some other virgin region (if they must draw a contrast), but with some idyllic, cultivated, possibly unvisited spot. I have heard people say that the Bon Accord Falls, in the Blackall Ranges, were not as beautiful as a cherry orchard in Kent, which, incidentally, they had never seen. I don't quarrel with them for admiring imagined cherry orchards, if that refreshed their mind; but I feel that, when faced with the rich glooms of the Bon Accord precipices and forest, they already had enough to fill their minds for the time. It is hard, indeed, to concentrate steadily on any wonderful experience so as to carry it with us afterwards as a pure vision:

   For each day brings its petty dust
      Our soon-choked minds to fill,
   And we forgot because we must
      And not because we will.

But when we allow our impressions to be blurred in the beginning by making irrelevant comparisons, the "petty dust" has all too easy a task: There is almost nothing for it to cover up.

So much for the registering of beauty. What about observation as applied to matters of what is called every-day interest? How many of us can know what to look for if we go to a new place which has a civilisation unlike our own? Can we go with a mind open enough to guess at the essential quality of what we see; or are we merely intent on measuring, let us say, Italy or Ceylon, by our own habitual standards of what is important in daily life? Lately, I was reading some travel notes by the solid American novelist, Theodore Dreiser, Dreiser, whose chief quality has always been that of a detailed registrar of American life, if any one has appeared objective, unbiassed, coldly observant; Dreiser has been so; that was in America, But now he goes to Russia, not as a novelist, but as a journalist, and writes his impressions. The first batch of them that I saw contained a long, pained account of living in some Moscow flat, where he had to go right to the bottom of the building for his bath. From this he drew the darkest conclusions as to Russia's psychology and future. Excellent; but if he had lived, in the same, inquiring way, in London, he would have found London County Council model flats where, in a group of buildings containing hundreds of flats, there was simply no bathroom at all. Not that that proves anything in particular either; there was water laid on, with basins, and there were some public baths not far away. But Dreiser would logically need to apply the same type of American plumber's test to all countries instead of merely to Russia. In London he would never think of making such a test. There-fore I say he was observing the wrong things about Russia; he was losing that power of detached observation that had been his at home in America. He condemns many things in American life, yet accepts its standards after all, as against those of any country that he sets out to study. He is like a mother who scolds her own little boy with steadiness and vigour, but after all thinks there are no other little boys in the same street with him. This does not make her a