I will cross Australia

Journal: 093

November is Brona’s AusReading Month. Also Non-Fiction November, Novellas in November and MARM, but one thing at a time (I hope I get to MARM). Not to mention I am a month behind with my North America Project, for which this month I am reading … I’m not sure I even have anything suitable downloaded, though I did buy Light from an Uncommon Star by Ryka Aoki to feed my SF addiction.

So, AusReading Month. Bron is having a Voss readalong. Week 1 was meant to be Voss in Sydney, meeting Laura and getting ready to depart, but I listened on to his two farmstays – at Rhine Towers in the Hunter (north of Sydney) and then Boyle’s in the Darling Downs (south east Queensland) which is to be the stepping off point of his expedition inland.

In my head I bookmarked Voss saying, “I will cross Australia from top to bottom, I will know it with my heart”. I have at hand the Penguin Modern Classics copy I inscribed to Milly nearly 40 years ago, but I can’t find those words, which are the perfect expression of how I feel about crossing and re-crossing Australia.

Patrick White (1912-1990) is an interesting/unlikely person to be writing the perfect Australian novel. He was born into Australia’s ‘landed gentry’, the squattocracy, with grazing properties throughout NSW, but particularly in the Hunter Valley. He was sent away to boarding school in England then returned home for some years jackarooing on family properties. Especially Walgett in 1931 (David Marr p. 109) which feeds into Voss (1957), and which, along with his service in North Africa during WWII, are his only experiences of desert life. I attempted to cheat by checking Wikipedia but parts of White’s entry appear to be wrong or incomplete.

On his return home – and Australia had hardly been that, up till then – from WWII with his life partner, Greek/Egyptian Manoly Lascaris, they took up a hobby farm on the outskirts of Sydney which is ridiculously blown up into the pair being the Adam and Eve of Australian bush pioneering in The Tree of Man (1955).

Voss is supposedly based on the story of Ludwig Leichardt, of his final, failed attempt to cross the continent from the Darling Downs to the Swan River (basically, from Brisbane to Perth) in 1848. White, inspired by the desert paintings of Sidney Nolan, researched Leichardt from the safety of Sydney. Marr writes:

White came to the Australian desert through Nolan’s eyes… In his magpie fashion White searched for the historical details he needed for the book. He found accounts of Aboriginal painting and ritual in the Mitchell Library. For life in early Sydney he drew on M Barnard Eldershaw’s A House is Built [itself an historical fiction written only 20 years earlier] and Ruth Bedford’s Think of Stephen, an account of the family of Sir Alfred Stephen… Chief Justice of NSW in the 1840s when Voss made his journey into the hinterland.

Marr p. 316

My initial impression is that we are seeing Voss’s actions but Laura’s mind. Here she’s speaking to Voss:

‘You are so vast and ugly,’ Laura Trevelyan was repeating the words; ‘I can imagine some desert, with rocks, rocks of prejudice, and, yes, even hatred. You are so isolated. That is why you are fascinated by the prospect of desert places, in which you will find your own situation taken for granted, or more than that, exalted …’

‘Do you hate me, perhaps?’ asked Voss, in darkness.

‘I am fascinated by you,’ laughed Laura Trevelyan, with such candour that her admission did not seem immodest. ‘You are my desert!’

With Voss we, Australians, asked our greatest writer to write our central story, one man alone against the vast interior, not one that he knows from experience but which he knows from all the Australian writing that preceded him. We had a shot at it once before, asking the outsider, DH Lawrence to write The Boy in the Bush. Both are fine marriages of Bush Realism and High Modernism, but it is Patrick White’s which has stuck.

What else?

The photo above, sunset at Pardoo, is of me (of course) heading home from Darwin after four weeks getting an engine rebuild. Most of which time was spent – by the truck – sitting, waiting for its turn to be worked on, which is standard in these post-Lockdown, labour shortage days. It ran nicely, which is the main thing, and maybe uses less fuel, it will take me a while to tell.

I left Psyche in that medical cliche – stable – which is a good thing, except when you (she) feel the urge to jump up on a table and dance. She doesn’t read me regularly, though her main carer does (Hi, Sienna) but she doesn’t like me to underplay how much mobility she’s lost, or how much energy even simple actions now take.


Recent audiobooks 

Eden Robinson (F, Can), Son of a Trickster (2017)
Patrick White (M, Aus/NSW), Voss (1957)
Robert B Parker (M, USA), Now & Then (2007) – Crime
Sally Hepworth (F, Aus/Vic), The Mother-in-Law (2019) – Crime
Adele Parks (F, Eng), Lies Lies Lies (2020) – Crime

Currently Reading 

Dorothy Hewett (F, Aus/NSW), The Toucher (1993)
Corey J White (F,USA), Killing Gravity (2017) – SF
Tricia Sullivan (F,Eng), Dreaming in Smoke (1998) – SF

AWWC Oct. 2022

Wed 05Elizabeth LhuedeWriter, teacher, farmer’s daughter: Jessie Maria Goldney
Fri 07Stories FTAJessie Maria Goldney, A Daisy Crushed (short story)
Wed 12Jonathan ShawLesbia Harford
Fri 14Stories FTALesbia Keogh, “Angel” (short story)
Wed 19Bill HollowayMiles Franklin in America
Fri 21Stories FTAMiles Franklin, The Old Post (short story)
Wed 26Whispering GumsCapel Boake: Three short stories, and more
Fri 28Stories FTACapel Boake, The Necessary Third (short story)


28 thoughts on “I will cross Australia

  1. I haven’t read Voss (shame on me if it is indeed our ‘central story’) but as soon as I saw the title of your post pop up in my inbox, I jumped on it, in anticipation of something of your travels/ work, which I always enjoy reading about. It’s funny, your work provides a changing landscape and mine is the complete opposite (four plain walls in a counselling room, one clock, three chairs, and a small table with the obligatory box of tissues).

    Liked by 1 person

    • One man alone against the outback is our central myth, though where that leaves the 90% of the population who aren’t men or aren’t in the outback is another story. Yes, we could have better and more representative myths but where would that leave politicians looking to boost their images by association.
      As you might imagine, the idea of being employed in an office fills me with horror (and yet I spend while days without leaving my study).

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I really should read Voss again, as I’m sure my response would be very different to that I had when I was 18. I loved it then, but I can’t really recollect what my friend and I really made of it then in terms of its place in Australian literature.

    I’m glad Psyche is stable, but am sorry she is in such a situation.


    • Stable seems at the moment the best Psyche can hope for, though she certainly wishes for more energy. Still, treatments for MS are getting better all the time.

      As an audiobook I found Voss less dense than I remembered, or than I found while looking for quotes. The reading has a real flow to it and I see I’m up to p.200 of 450 without really noticing. I am scornful of White’s knowledge of Australia outside of Sydney, but his writing is so wonderful that I forgive him everything.


      • “too much of a realist”. Maybe. But it’s important I think to realise White is writing mostly about writing. Though his experience of the desert is not insignificant, his great achievement with Voss was to reimagine and re-present the central myths of Australia – the dead heart, the lone bushman – from his study in inner Sydney.


  3. So sorry, can you explain again why you’re not up to your eyeballs in work? All I ever hear is how there is a shortage of truck drivers, and that’s why there’s so much inflation. We’re demanding things, and shipping/trucking can’t keep up with the demand, thus prices go up. Or is it that you only do a certain kind of load?


    • The manager at Banjo Station held my load for four weeks while my truck was repaired and then made sure I was loaded/unloaded over the weekend, which is some indication there’s a shortage of trucks.
      The cost of fuel has doubled over the Covid years but so has the amount I get paid and therefore so has my gross margin. Hence I am able to work just as hard as I want to (and I’m still away more than Milly likes).
      The real reason prices are going up is because ‘everyone’ believes they’re going up, which gives suppliers cover to increase their prices and therefore their margins and dividends.


      • But there was a while back when you were crossing your fingers you would get a load. Or is it that you’re looking for loads in a specific place so you’re never running empty?


      • I don’t have regular work any more, so I’m always waiting for something interesting (and high paying) today I’m quoting on Perth to Katherine then Kununurra to Melbourne (think San Diego to Winnipeg then Moose Jaw to Talahassee)


  4. I’m doing those three challenges, but not MARM as I don’t have anything of hers outstanding right now. As you know, I covered all three challenges in one go with Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, so am feeling smug now (I’ve finished another nonfiction and a novella/nonfiction since, though). I’m glad Psyche is stable. I have a dear friend who has lost much of her mobility and energy reserves through an autoimmune condition and it’s heart-breaking.


    • I think I have something for MARM, we’ll see. If Melanie’s comment motivates me to work harder I may not have time to write posts. I don’t do the other challenges (and I mostly read non-fiction only by accident).
      I wasn’t aware how much Psyche was feeling the loss of energy, so I’m glad I had the chance to stay with her – it’s a big, ongoing problem.


  5. Loss of energy and mobility is what Gillian Mears found so very frustrating too, so I’m glad that Psyche is feeling stable at the moment.

    Thanks for your comments on Voss too. You are our modern day Voss, criss-crossing the country and deserts in search of….


    • What am I in search of? Am I Milly’s desert? The desert in which lies the bones of her dreams. She’s more than a bit worried the desert will take my bones (I can think of worse endings).

      Psyche soldiers on. A doctor told her her energy levels are just one fifth of what they were.


      • PW would be proud of the bone/desert imagery!

        From what I can ascertain so far, Voss, underneath all his grand visions & pomposity, is just another human being in search of a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging and someone who gets his story. I suspect a desire for freedom is something you might share with Voss too.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I haven’t read Voss. Our reading group just finished the year with My Aunt’s Story. It is in 3 parts, parts 1 and 3 were quite good but part 2 goes right off into dreams? thoughts, fantasy and all group members struggled. I wish we had chosen Voss instead. The Aunt’s story scored as the least enjoyed book of the year by about 90 book club members over several groups.


    • There is some dream stuff in Voss too, and I’m only up to chapter 5. But I was prepared for this theme, although I don’t know what he is trying to say about the blurring of reality and dreams and consciousness and unconsciousness. Some incredible, beautiful imagery, but he is a puzzle indeed.

      Liked by 1 person

    • All that stream of consciousness in Modernism, there were bound to be dreams. The problem with audiobooks is that you can’t skip over them. I had to write up An Aunt’s Story for my degree, it’s ok though it heads off at strange angles. White writes a convincing (not quite maiden) aunt.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s