Australian Grunge

Journal: 056

Melanie at Grab The Lapels and I are planning to buddy read and review Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap (in about four weeks) and I thought I would provide some background about Tsiolkas’ writing, hence the title of today’s Journal.

But let me first say here just how angry I am that WordPress have steamrolled the introduction of block editing. Like all modern editors WordPress of course knows much better than I what I am attempting to achieve. I used to use HTML to produce single spaced lists. The new editor is happy for me to do this. In draft. And then publishes the list double spaced. I pay them for my business site and if I can’t produce simple posts with lists and pix on my phone then I will take my business to someone who can.

Yes I am sure there is a block for single spaced lists and blocks for photos. But I drive trucks 15 hours a day for a week or ten days at a time; apart from audiobooks I am barely reading; my Blog Unread folder is backing up alarmingly; and I just can’t be stuffed learning yet another new system.

And before I go on I must say thank you to Karen at BookerTalk who has dedicated a lot of her posts this year, and much time and energy commenting, to WordPress features and the new editor.

Back to Tsiolkas. He was born in 1965, in Melbourne, and went to school at Blackburn High – as did two of my kids, Psyche and Lou, a decade later. His parents were migrants from Greece. He’s gay. His first novel was Loaded (1995). The Slap (2008) was his fourth.

I wrote an essay on Loaded and Australian grunge in 2005:

The work of a number of young authors published for the first time in the 1990s, commencing with Andrew McGahan (Praise, 1992) and including Justine Ettler (River Ophelia, 1995), Linda Jaivin (Eat Me, 1995) and Christos Tsiolkas (Loaded, 1995), has been given the label Australian Grunge.

“At the Melbourne Writers Festival in 1998 the Aust.Lit. discusssion group including McGahan, Fiona McGregor, Jaivin and Tsiolkas “all remonstrated at how hateful they found the label and how they did not wish to be associated with it.”

Grunge seems to have been a fashion that passed. Internationally it had its antecedents in Beat (William Burroughs) and Punk (Kathy Acker). Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting came out in 1993. In Australia we had William Dick and Mudrooroo in the 50s and Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip in 1977, but that’s about it. What druggy, inner-suburban novels have I missed?

I wrote a bit about Loaded. How about:

Loaded is even more pernicious. Sex between men mocks the whole notion of mateship – the great bond that unites and succours the ‘legends’ in the bush. Ari struggles with his identity as a man, as a man in Australia, and as a man of Greek extraction. “I’m a man I say in a deep drawl. And I take it up the arse. Of course you do, she answers, you’re Greek, we all take it up the arse.”

Jaivin, who was older than the others, and whose Eat Me was actually middle class erotica, quickly produced a couple of ‘grunge’ novels to take advantage of her unexpected notoriety. If you ever see Rock ‘n Roll Babes from Outer Space give it a try, it’s quite amusing.

The others moved on. McGahan wrote one more and then his next was a police procedural. The next of Tsiolkas’ that I read was Dead Europe (2005). I seem to remember an Australian gay man in Athens and then up in the mountains seeking out rellos.

At this point I am down about 30 cm – maybe 50 lines by 12 words across, so 600 words. Despairing sigh. Karen! Where’s the word count?

I was going to write something about the books I listened to this last trip, but they were boring, why bother. Yesterday I started four and DNF’d them all, one after 10 hours that wasn’t going anywhere, two I just didn’t like, and one by a Palestinian-American that was hopeless, ie. completely bereft of hope in the face of the Zionist juggernaut.

WA has tightened up its Covid rules once again for travellers from Melbourne and so I am back in isolation. I always thought I could survive solitary confinement if I had enough books. Now I am not so sure.

I’ve copied the lists of current reading from an earlier Journal, which I’ll overwrite. If they stay single spaced they’re in, if not they’re out. But of course WordPress knows I don’t really want two empty lines before the lists (or perhaps it’s simply against the rules). Now where the hell are Tags and Categories.

Recent audiobooks 

Yelena Akhtiorskaya (F, USA/Ukraine), Panic in a Suitcase (2014)
Lauren Francis-Sharma (F, USA/Trinidad), ‘Til the Well Runs Dry (2014)
Elizabeth Aston (F, Eng), The True Darcy Spirit (2015) – Romance
Charles Willeford (M, USA), New Hope for the Dead (1985) – Crime
Erle Stanley Gardner (M, USA), The Case of the Crying Swallow (1947) – Crime
Erica Jong (F, USA), Fear of Dying (2015) DNF
Susan Abulhawa (F, Palestine/USA), The Blue between Sky and Water (2015) DNF
Erica Ferencik (F, USA), Into The Jungle (2019) DNF
Joy Fielding (F, USA), All the Wrong Places (2019) – Crime DNF

Currently reading

Christos Tsiolkas, The Slap
Martin Boyd, The Cardboard Crown

There is a GAN, revisited

Voss

I mentioned recently that I had seen Jonathan Franzen named as the Great American Author, on a 2011 Time cover I think, and that has led me to revisit the subject of the Great Australian Novel. There is a GAN was one of my earliest posts, and on re-reading I find there is not much I wish to change, at least not in what I say, but two books I have read since then (April 2015) cry out to be included. So my top 10 Great Australian Novels are now –

Voss (1957), Patrick White

Such is Life (1903), Joseph Furphy

The Swan Book (2013), Alexis Wright (review)

Benang (1999), Kim Scott (review)

The Pea Pickers (1943), Eve Langley (review)

The Man Who Loved Children (1940), Christina Stead

The Timeless Land (1941), Eleanor Dark

The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney (1930), Henry Handel Richardson

The Unknown Industrial Prisoner (1971), David Ireland (review)

An Australian Girl (1890), Catherine Martin (review)

The books I had to make room for were The Swan Book and Benang. Everything Alexis Wright writes is soaringly original, invested with poetry, love of language and Indigenous culture. That is true too of Benang though some of Scott’s other works are more prosaic.

And I’ve included too Eve Langley who in 2015 languished in the long list, not so much for The Pea Pickers, which I love, but for her whole body of work, 4,200 pages, largely unpublished, but samples of which Lucy Frost (ed.) used to produce Wilde Eve.

Dropped out were My Brilliant Career/My Career Goes Bung by Miles Franklin, who when young was an original, inventive, exuberant but still thoughtful writer; Loaded by Chris Tsialkos who I think is only a middle ranking author in middle age when I thought he might be much more; and The River Ophelia by Justine Ettler, a work which I still rank very highly but which perhaps is insufficiently mainstream to be one of the ‘greats’.

Voss clings to top spot. White, I get the feeling, is being treated as less and less relevant, but he was a giant of Modernism, in Australia and in the world. Each of his works on its own has substance and his body of work more so. He teaches us how to write and how to write about Australia. Coincidentally, the Voss cover comes from a SMH article Australia Day 2015: Jason Steger picks his top 10 (here).

Furphy is White’s opposite, a working man, a man of the bush, an autodidact, the author of a single work. And yet what a work! Its fiery, mad prose anticipates James Joyce by a quarter of a century.

Stead, like White has a significant body of substantial work. I’ve named The Man Who Loved Children, though my favourite is the thoroughly American Letty Fox: Her Luck (and I still have a couple of big ones left to read). Looking back at the list I see that I have largely avoided romances – just An Australian Girl at no. 10 – is that prejudice do you think? Perhaps I should have named For Love Alone.

That question applies too to Henry Handel Richardson. The Fortunes trilogy is certainly a fine work and made Richardson’s reputation but Maurice Guest is probably more thoughtful and better written.

The question for Dark is, Is The Timeless Land trilogy a great work or ‘merely’ an important one? It is such a landmark in our acknowledgement of the prior rights of Indigenous people in Australia that it is hard to judge its qualities as literature. But Dark’s qualities as a writer and early modernist were made apparent (to me) when I reviewed Waterway last year.

The Unknown Industrial Prisoner is another work important for being a landmark. Urban, industrial, postmodern, it marked a step up from pre-War social realism.

Which brings us to one of my favourites, An Australian Girl, a very C19th romance with lots of German and moral philosophy in an Australian setting.

And still I haven’t found room for Thea Astley or Elizabeth Jolley, or as Steger reminds me, Elizabeth Harrower, nor for Peter Carey whose Oscar and Lucinda at least, deserved consideration, nor for another Steger choice Marcus Clarke’s For the Term of his Natural Life.

I look around my shelves, as I often do, and realise that just as I left out Langley last time, this time I have left out (again!) Gerald Murnane. The post can stay as it is but if I were to pick one of his works it would be Border Districts, an intensely thoughtful work about memory, but again, I haven’t read them all.

The question I have in my mind though, is who among our young, and even not so young writers might challenge for inclusion on this list. Or a different/related question, after The Swan Book what is the best novel so far of the C21st? I’m inclined to say Heather Rose’s The Museum of Modern Love. Or is it, like The River Ophelia, too narrowly focussed to be a ‘great’. And do I even read enough new releases to be able to offer an opinion. Probably not!

Miles Franklin, Majorie Barnard

Miles-Franklin-The-Story-Of-A-Famous-Australian-Marjorie-Barnard-OzSellerFast

Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin was born on her maternal grandmother’s property in the high country of southern NSW in 1879 – there’s a line I could write in my sleep, this might be my 25th Miles Franklin post – after an epic ride by her mother through the snow from the Franklin property at Brindabella, south of present day Canberra, up into the mountains to the Lampe property at Talbingo.

Marjorie Barnard was 18 years younger (ADB). As I wrote a week or two ago, the two met in the early 1930s at the Fellowship of Australian Writers when Franklin returned from years abroad, in Chicago and London, to keep house for her recently widowed mother in Carlton, an inner Sydney suburb, where she stayed for the rest of her life.

Barnard’s Miles Franklin: The Story of a Famous Australian was published in 1967, thirteen years after Franklin’s death in 1954, and three years after the release of her papers though she doesn’t appear to have made much use of them. This is a strictly literary biography with some reference to Franklin’s childhood and only such references to Franklin’s years in Chicago and London as Barnard gleaned from conversation with that unreliable witness, Miles Franklin.

The best references for Miles Franklin’s years abroad, apart from Jill Roe’s great work, are Verna Coleman’s Her Unknown (Brilliant) Career (Chicago) and Sylvia Martin’s Passionate Friends (London). Colin Roderick, who did have the advantage of Miles Franklin’s papers – in which he himself appears in a less than glowing light – also wrote an MF biography, though as I’ve written elsewhere, not one worth reading.

Barnard and Franklin moved in the same circles for twenty years so Barnard knew her well and it is this acquaintanceship which informs the biography and Barnard’s reading of MF’s works, rather than any great research.

[Franklin] was spirited and provocative in conversation but her audacity smacked of the 1890’s. All her daring had an antique air. She was, and remained, an enfant terrible. She might have shocked people by her forthrightness fifty years ago. She obviously thought that it would shock them still and felt a little snubbed when it did not.

Because she was vulnerable, Miles was secretive. There were other reasons too. She loved a mystery and used it partly as display and partly as cover… She was fiercely virginal yet even to the end of her life she was habitually flirtatious… She wanted to cut a figure in the world of literature, she wanted to hide… I am tempted to say that, like the spoilt child she once was, she still wanted everything her own way. The child lived on in the woman and was bitterly hurt by life.

All Franklin’s best work is rooted in her adolescence, in her exile from her families’ stations in the high country and in the lives of the men and women of her grandparents’ generation who pioneered that country.

Franklin achieved instant success with My Brilliant Career (1901), wrote two follow-ups in the next couple of years without being published, wrote the mediocre Some Everyday Folk and Dawn (1909) and then as far as Barnard is concerned, disappeared from view for decades.

In fact, Franklin was in the US from 1906 to 1915, where she wrote two books of which Barnard seems entirely unaware The Net of Circumstance (1915) and On Dearborn Street (1981); then in London and Serbia during WWI – which she reported on extensively I think, though again Barnard is unaware, and I’ve seen no evidence that MF ever revisited this writing to have it collected; and then London, with one visit home around 1927, until about 1932 [I’m writing without access to Roe!] when she returned to Sydney for good.

Barnard devotes the first couple of chapters to Franklin’s family and childhood with most of the material drawn from Franklin’s own writing, Childhood at Brindabella (memoir), and My Brilliant Career and Cockatoos (autobiographical fiction). She deals briefly with Franklin’s failure to find a publisher for My Career Goes Bung, and then moves on to the (mistaken) heart of her thesis ‘Thirty Years in Exile’. Barnard looks to Ignez, the heroine of Cockatoos and the absent centre of Back to Bool Bool for an explanation.

The days in [the USA] were, in so far as the development of her special talents were concerned, wasted. She had fallen among reformers, and that for an artist is more fatal than for a merchant to fall among bandits. Her heart was frozen by a secret tragedy. [Back to Bool Bool]

MF did fall among reformers, the National Women’s Trade Union League of America, and had to deal with the tragedies of the loss of her singing voice, which she had hoped to make her first career, and of the death back in Australia of her nearest sister, but she also continued to write both then and in London after the War.

I have written elsewhere that these were her middle years stylistically when she attempted contemporary fiction at which she proved to be less than good. Barnard treats the work written around 1925 and published much later as Prelude to Waking as Franklin’s first attempt at returning to writing after a long hiatus.

Perhaps this book had to be written to get Miles into the habit of writing again. It did not have to be published.

I’m not clear whether by 1967 it was known for sure that Brent of Bin Bin was Miles Franklin. Barnard surmises that ‘he’ was and goes on to analyse in some depth the five books of the Up the Country saga published under the Brent of Bin Bin name, and then the books published under Franklin’s own name: Bring the Monkey, Old Blastus and her crowning achievement, All That Swagger, all written in the space of ten years from 1926 to 1935.

At that point inspiration dried up. There followed her collaboration with Dymphna Cusack, Pioneers on Parade (1939), a biography of Joseph Furphy and a book of essays, Laughter not for a Cage arising out a lecture series at UWA, Perth. Franklin in fact quite often gave public talks in these last 20 years, but her career as a novelist was over.

This is a flawed work, the biographer too close to her subject, but nevertheless probably remains the best and most comprehensive treatment of Franklin’s work.

 

Marjorie Barnard, Miles Franklin: The Story of a Famous Australian, Hill of Content, Melbourne, 1967 (the cover above at the time of writing, is from a UQP reprint, but I will replace it with a photo of the dustjacket of my own first edition when I eventually get home).

For more of my (and other bloggers’) reviews and writing about Miles Franklin go to my Miles Franklin page (here)

Melbourne and Sydney

This post went up yesterday as a guest post on Whispering Gums’ Monday Musings series.

Norman Lindsay

In the 1870s and 1880s Melbourne was both Australia’s largest and wealthiest city and its literary centre – around figures like Marcus Clarke, George McCrae (son of Georgianna), Adam Lindsay Gordon, Henry Kendall, Ada Cambridge, Tasma.

What I want to discuss here is the movement of the literary centre to Sydney and how that worked out, during the first half of the twentieth century. This is an opinion piece rather than the result of any great research so feel free to add to what I say and to correct my mistakes.

Sue (Whispering Gums) has always been interested in the women of this period of Australian writing, and over the past few years we, the Australian Lit.Blogging community, have done a lot to establish in our own minds at least, who the women writers were and to review their work. On my blog, I broke Australian writing into ‘Generations’ more or less in line with HM Green’s ‘Periods’ in his History of Australian Literature, so: Gen 1 1788-1890, Gen 2 1890-1918, Gen 3 1919-1960.

Gen 2 and the first years of Gen 3 were characterized by being both Sydney-centred and seriously misogynist. Gen 2 covered the years of the Sydney Bulletin magazine’s greatest influence, Federation, rising nationalism, WWI.  The Bulletin‘s stable of writers: Henry Lawson, Banjo Patterson, Steele Rudd, Joseph Furphy and a host of bush poets, and the drawings of Lindsay Norman (who moved up from Melbourne after leaving art school) followed by the War reporting of Keith Murdoch and CEW Bean left us with an indelible image of ourselves as resourceful bushmen, and larrikin fighting men. An image which both excluded women and around which they had to work.

The Bulletin openly scorned home life and dismissed the popular women writers of the previous generation as ‘Melbourne-based romance writers’.

“The Sydney Bulletin liked to believe that in ‘virile cultures’ where ‘home-life [had] not become so all absorbing: ‘men live and struggle and fight out in the open most of the time. When they go to their homes they go to beat their wives…’{3 Nov. 1888} According to the Bulletin, home life trammelled a man’s spirit and sapped his masculinity. And it robbed him of his independence.” Marilyn Lake, 1986

This bled into Gen 3 and the Lindsay-led Sydney Push of the 1920s, an antipodean Bohemia where women were only of use as models and for sex.

For those of us over say, 50 our history, including such literary history as got past the anglophile gatekeepers, was written and taught by returned servicemen, and they very much bought into the myths of the lone bushman, mateship etc. So it is important to realise that there is another history, that of strong, independent women, which is not taught. In the 1890s both Melbourne and Sydney had vibrant women’s movements focussed on (white) female suffrage, yes, but also on domestic violence, temperance, and women’s welfare. The Melbourne movement coalesced around Annette Bear and Vida Goldstein, and Sydney around Rosa Scott and Louisa Lawson, and Lawson’s newspaper, Dawn.

Miles Franklin is the prime example of a woman writer who was influenced by the nationalism of the Bulletin but wrote with a definite pro-woman and anti-marriage slant. After the publication and instant success of My Brilliant Career in 1901 Franklin was taken up by Rosa Scott, and then subsequently fell in with Goldstein’s lot when she moved to Melbourne and became life-long friends with Melbourne suffragists Mary Fullerton and Mabel Singleton. Her fictionalised biographies My Career Goes Bung and Cockatoos describe her year in the Sydney literary set, living with Scott, flirting with AB Paterson, and meeting Lindsay and (Bulletin editor) Archibald.

Franklin lived overseas for many years, from 1906 to the 1930s and when she came back for good, to her mother’s house in Sydney it was to a changed literary scene, one dominated by women. During the 20s women had been excluded from the Sydney Push’s literary magazine, Vision and maybe only Zora Cross with her erotic poems fitted in with the times. Anne Brennan, daughter of drunken poet Christopher Brennan, who hung around the Lindsay push for grog and sex, and tried to write, tried to fit in and failed. Christina Stead was tempted to join the Push, but her compulsion to earn enough to flee overseas saved her.

The Melbourne scene gathered around Nettie and Vance Palmer. Vance, originally a Queenslander, tried hard to be a writer in the Bulletin tradition but hasn’t stood the test of time. They were friends with Louis and Hilda Esson and with the poet Maurice Furnley. But more importantly Nettie and Hilda had been at school together at Melbourne’s Presbyterian Ladies College, and subsequently at university. Hilda had been neighbours with Katherine Susannah Prichard’s family and introduced KSP to Nettie. Earlier alumni of PLC included Vida Goldstein and Henry Handel Richardson who of course wrote about the school in The Getting of Wisdom.

Nettie, a poet and scholar, maintained an enormous correspondence with a great many Australian writers and was important in maintaining links with expatriates like Richardson.

Sydney women wrote from their homes, isolated from each other until the formation of the Fellowship of Australian Writers in 1928 by Mary Gilmore, Steele Rudd and John le Gay Brereton. Later in the 30s the FAW’s most prominent members were Miles Franklin, Marjorie Barnard and Frank Dalby Davidson [Sue says I should include here that the FAW’s first female president was Flora Eldershaw in 1935].

So what can I say about that fixture of Australian life: Melbourne-Sydney rivalry. Melbourne ‘had’ Katherine Susannah Prichard, but she was living in Perth; Henry Handel Richardson, acknowledged for years as Australia’s best writer, but long since based in England; (the late) Joseph Furphy, writer of the Great Australian Novel, Such is Life; and Nettie Palmer.

Sydney, by the outbreak of WWII, had a blossoming of writers: Kylie Tennant, Marjorie Barnard, Flora Eldershaw, Dymphna Cusack, Eleanor Dark, Ernestine Hill, and Patrick White just setting out. You be the judge.

 

For a compilation of posts on Australian (mostly) women’s writing up to 1960 see

theaustralianlegend, AWW Gen 1, 1788-1890 (here)
theaustralianlegend, AWW Gen 2, 1890-1918 (here)
theaustralianlegend, AWW Gen 3, 1919-1960 (here)

AWW Gen 3 Week Summary

Australian Women Writers Gen 3 Week 12-18 Jan. 2020

Grace Cossington Smith
Artist: Grace Cossington Smith

Another successful ‘Gen’ week negotiated – thank you all, readers and writers – without the benefit of holidays this time, as I drove from Perth to Albany (WA) to Goulburn (NSW), picked up my new trailer somewhere in the wilds north of Windsor, outside Sydney, ran empty to Melbourne, had a day off to visit mum, loaded, and here I am in Adelaide, Sunday night, ready to top up in the morning and head home.

Each time we do a Gen week, I find surprising both the gems we discover and the major works we fail to get to. My list of the major works of the Australian Women Writers Gen 3 period, from the end of WWI to the end of the 1950s, would include –

Henry Handel Richardson, The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney (trilogy)
Katharine Susannah Prichard, Coonardoo and Working Bullocks
Christina Stead, Seven Poor Men of Sydney and For Love Alone
M Barnard Eldershaw, A House is Built
Eleanor Dark, Prelude to Christopher and The Timeless Land
Miles Franklin, All That Swagger
Kylie Tennant, Ride On Stranger and The Battlers
Cusack & James, Come in Spinner
Eve Langley, The Pea Pickers

I think that’s close to chronological order. Anyway that’s a pretty powerful list and we didn’t get to any of them. Yet I’m happy with the books we did cover and I think between us we chose books that illustrated the principal themes of Gen 3 – Modernism, Social Realism (Socialist Realism for Communists) and Pioneering. And the hidden gems? Well definitely Zora Cross and Dorothy Cottrell.

So, in the lead up to and over the course of AWW Gen 3 Week we saw the following reviews/posts –

Eleanor Dark, The Little Company, ANZLitLovers
Ruth Park, A Fence Around the Cuckoo, Travellin Penguin
Dora Birtles, The Overlanders, Luvvie’s Musings
Drusilla Modgeska, Exiles at Home, wadh
Cathy Perkins, The Shelf Life of Zora Cross (biog.), The Resident Judge
Monday Musings on Christina Stead, Whispering Gums
Dorothy Hewett, In Midland Where the Trains Go By (poem), Brona’s Books
Jean Devanny, Sugar Heaven, ANZLitLovers
Myrtle Rose White, No Roads Go By, wadh
Mena Calthorpe, The Dyehouse, Brona’s Books
Dorothy Cottrell, The Mysterious Box, Jessica White
Park & Niland, The Drums Go Bang, Whispering Gums
Monday Musings on Christina Stead (2), Whispering Gums

There are more reviews in the AWW Gen 3 page, as many as I can find that we’ve done over the years, including most of the ‘major’ works above, plus ‘Related Posts’ particularly the many posts Whispering Gums has done on 1930s writers, plus all the major literary prize winners (that I can dig up) for the period.

Christina Stead and Miles Franklin have pages of their own – Franklin (here) and Stead on ANZ LitLovers (here). Let me know if you do an AWW Gen 3 (or 2 or 1) review, or have done and I’ve missed it, and I will add it to the appropriate page. I’m currently working on a big post(s) on Daisy Bates and her The Passing of the Aborigines but I might let it rest for a while before I put it up. And then there’s Ernestine Hill, more Stead, more Eleanor Dark, Dorothy Cottrell’s The Singing Gold to find, so much to do!

At this stage I’m thinking we’ll do more Gen 3 next year and I’d like to take the time to look a little closer at the boundary between Gen 3 and Gen 4. I’ve tended to conflate Gen 4 and Baby Boomers, but just as much of ‘our’ music is by people ten years older than us, eg. The Beatles, so, I think, many of those writers we regard as ‘oldies’ like Tom Keneally, David Ireland and Thea Astley probably properly belong by style and subject matter in Gen 4.

Thank you all again, and it’s back to ‘normal’ reading for a while, well until a challenge catches my eye or ANZ LitLovers Indigenous Writing Week sneaks up on us again.

The Drums Go Bang, Ruth Park & D’Arcy Niland

Australian Women Writers Gen 3 Week 12-18 Jan. 2020

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The Drums Go Bang, a joint memoir of their early married life in Sydney during WWII (which is not mentioned) by writers Ruth Park and D’Arcy Niland, has been one of my favourite books these last 50 or 60 years (my review). Sue/Whispering Gums has reviewed it for AWW Gen 3 Week


5196458931233f4484f27c9c6eed10e1 Whispering Gums

Volume 1 of Ruth Park’s autobiography, A fence around the cuckoo, … was published in 1992. The drums go bang, written collaboratively by Park and Niland, was published in 1956 and covers the first five or so of these years to just after the publication in 1948 of The harp in the south. Read on …

Exiles at Home, Drusilla Modjeska

Australian Women Writers Gen 3 Week 12-18 Jan. 2020

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The 1930s were remarkable years in Australian cultural history. Women were producing the best fiction of the period and they were, for the first and indeed only time, a dominant influence in Australian literature. (Modjeska, opening lines)

My own opinion is that women dominated Australian literature from the end of WWI till the rise of the baby boomers, ie. throughout Gen 3. Though I guess from 1939 on we should factor Patrick White in there somewhere.

Exiles at Home: Australian Women Writers 1925-1945 (1981) is probably the single most important work on this period, certainly as an overview, though Nettie Palmer’s contemporaneous writings are also enormously valuable. HM Green devotes 550pp to ‘Fourth period 1923-1950’ but he is so discursive that it is difficult to use him for anything but referencing (History of Australian Literature, Vol.II).

Modjeska regards the 1920s as a bit of a desert for Aust.Lit, a hiatus between the glory days of Bulletin nationalism and the blossoming of women’s writing in the 1930s. I don’t totally agree with her though it is certainly true that the best women writers of the 1920s were overseas. Miles Franklin was in London and began her Brent of Bin Bin series in 1928; Henry Handel Richardson, also in London, was at the height of her career and had published five novels, including all of The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney, by 1929; Christina Stead, the best writer of this generation left Sydney for London in 1928, with A&R refusing to publish the stories that became The Salzburg Tales. But by March 1930 Miles Franklin was able to write to Alice Henry, “Australia seems to be throwing up writers like mushrooms.”

For the women of the thirties writing and publishing were in some respects easier, if only because there were enough of them to offer each other a network of intellectual and emotional support …

mostly through letter writing, most famously to and from Nettie and Vance Palmer, but also through organisations such as the Fellowship of Australian Writers around Marjorie Barnard, Miles Franklin (back in Sydney in 1935) and Frank Dalby Davidson.

Until the FAW, women had been deliberately excluded from writers’ societies and salons.

The major literary group of the twenties was clustered around Norman Lindsay and the magazine Vision which was edited by Frank Johnson, Kenneth Slessor, and Norman’s son Jack. These writers were part of Sydney’s bohemian group and their lifestyle left very little room for women.

The saddest case was Anne Brennan, daughter of the (alcoholic) poet Christopher Brennan. She apparently had an unnatural relationship with her father, fell into prostitution, hung around the Lindsay push for grog and sex, was derided by Jack Lindsay when she told him she wished to write, though one or two published pieces showed great promise, and was dead at 32 of consumption (TB).

Zora Cross was another. Her sensual poems published in 1917 and 1919 created a sensation. The push were all excited that a woman might write about sex but otherwise treated her as a joke, and she retreated into timidity (The Resident Judge has a promised posted a review of her life, which I’ll repost tomorrow).

Christina Stead as a young women was drawn by Vision and the idea of bohemian life, but luckily was too driven by the idea of getting to London to attempt to join in. In For Love Alone (1945) she calls the magazine ‘the Quarterly’ with “drawings of voluptuous, fat-faced naked women …”. But by then she is able to recognise its misogyny for what it was.

A woman writer involved with the Sydney Bohemians who appears to have been relatively unscathed, is Dora Birtles, not mentioned by Modjeska, who with her boyfriend was suspended from Sydney Uni in 1923 for the love poetry they wrote about each other. Her father forced them to marry, she went adventuring, they met up again in Greece and lived happily as writers/journalists ever after (ADB)

Modjeska says middle class women writers stayed home. But especially outside Sydney – and this seems a very Sydney-focussed book – they mixed in more serious circles, with workers and socialists. One who did though (stay home), was Marjorie Barnard, who took a history degree with honours in 1919, but was not permitted by her father to take up a scholarship to Oxford. She became a librarian, writing with her friend, teacher Flora Eldershaw. As M.Barnard Eldershaw they won the inaugural 1928 Bulletin Prize with A House is Built, jointly with Katharine Susannah Prichard’s Coonardoo.

At the centre of this generation of women is Nettie Palmer, who gave up her own career as a poet to support her husband, novelist Vance Palmer (or not to overshadow him, he already had feelings of inadequacy about Nettie’s monied and influential family). She was seemingly friend and correspondent with them all, and over the course of the 20s and 30s she became one of Australia’s principal literary critics. Her prize-winning essay Modern Australian Literature (1924) was “the first critical essay and survey of twentieth century Australian literature.” Both she and Vance worked to express a specifically Australian aesthetic.

Unlike her husband, unlike many of her writer friends, and of course most particularly communists like Stead and Prichard, Nettie Palmer rejected socialism in favour of a liberal humanism. She was blind, as many well-meaning upper middle class people are, to the constraints of class, “she avoided the avant-garde; beneath her rhetoric of a national culture, she was advocating the acceptance of a bourgeois cultural form.”

Nettie’s list of correspondents was extensive and many, particularly writers remote from the centres of Australian literature, like Richardson in London and Prichard in Perth, gave her credit for holding the Australian writing community together. But it is also telling whom she left out. She did not correspond with HM Green who had his own circle of correspondents, nor with Dulcie Deamer, “Queen of Bohemia”, nor with any of the Lindsay set. She wrote to writers, and particularly younger writers, she thought she could bring round to her own way of thinking.

In her letters Nettie Palmer made it clear that she expected progressive writers to present a public front that was united. It is in this respect that her bossiness is most evident.

One of Nettie’s ‘friends’ (it took them from 1930 to 1935 to get to first names) was Marjorie Barnard who was shy and for a long time had no other contact with writers outside her M.Barnard Eldershaw collaboration . It was Nettie who persuaded her to take up writing full time, Nettie who introduced her to politics, but also Nettie who came over all head prefect when Barnard turned to Pacifism at the beginning of WWII.

MBE’s third novel, The Glasshouse (1936) is their first set in the present, and it discusses both feminism and class, as well as the difficulties of being female and a writer. The later Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow (1941 ) goes on to discuss the duty of the writer to society.

Eleanor Dark, more confident than Barnard and with intellectual, supportive husband and parents, was another Palmer correspondent who “reveals a similar pattern of moving towards a self-conscious exploration of the social situation of the writer and of the social function of literature.”

Although she has earlier discussed Stead’s move to Europe as motivated by her desire to be at the heart of Modernism, which in Paris in the 30s she was, Modjeska fails to mention Dark’s importance in the introduction of Modernism into Australia.

By this time I am at p.100, out of 257, and you are worn out. Because of its importance to this week’s theme, I have attempted to summarize rather than review. Exiles at Home is a very dense work, full of information and analysis. If you are at all interested in this period, find a copy and read it.

 

Drusilla Modjeska, Exiles at Home: Australian Women Writers 1925 – 1945, Sirius, Sydney, 1981


Australian Women Writers Gen 3 Week

I hope you are all well into your Gen 3 reads. Let me know when you’ve done a review, particularly if you think I might not otherwise see it, and I’ll share it or at least make sure it’s included in the end of week wrap and that it’s linked from the AWW Gen 3 page.

Reviews to date –
Eleanor Dark, The Little Company, ANZLitLovers
Ruth Park, A Fence Around the Cuckoo, Travellin Penguin
Dora Birtles, The Overlanders, Luvvie’s Musings
Monday Musings on Dymphna Cusak, Whispering Gums
Monday Musings on Christina Stead, Whispering Gums
Mary Durack Poem, Whispering Gums
Brenda Niall, True North: The story of Mary and Elizabeth Durack, Whispering Gums
M Barnard Eldershaw, Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, ANZLitLovers
Kylie Tennant, The Battlers, ANZLitLovers

Best Reads 2019

Image result for 1919
NYT: What John Dos Passos’ 1919 got right

In May this year I set out to rectify the absence of current Australian fiction in my reading (here) but only ended up with the disappointing Wintering by Krissie Kneen . Still, I did manage to get to a few, the best being a tie really between

Behrouz Boochani,  No Friend but the Mountains
Gerald Murnane,  A Season on Earth

Other notable new releases included Hearing Maud by Jess White and Hollow Earth, John Kinsella. But it’s pretty clear that the most notable were the ones I didn’t read, Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe and Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Much Lip, followed at some distance by the intriguingly reviewed Pink Mountain on Locust Island by Jamie Marina Lau (here/here). And no, The Weekend is not on my list.

Before I go on, the photo above is from a story in the New York Times, 29 Dec 2019 (here) on John Dos Passos’ great trilogy USA, made up of The 42nd Parallel, 1919, and The Big Money. I have long believed that USA is THE Great American Novel, but it’s also a long time since I read it. Time I did again.

There’s a reason that Dos Passos’s Depression-era modernism seemed suddenly relevant. The present was coming to look a lot like the past… Dos Passos … had written a linguistically adventurous national portrait for a precarious age—his, and ours (Matt Hanson, NYT)

So, Best Reads –

1969

There were 17 novels published, the least worst of them are –

Martin Boyd, The Tea-Time of Love
Mena Calthorpe, The Defectors
Dymphna Cusack, The Half-burnt Tree
William Dick, The Naked Prodigal
George Johnston, Clean Straw for Nothing (1969 Miles Franklin winner)
Tom Keneally, The Survivor
Sumner Locke Elliott, Edens Lost
Jill Neville, The Love Germ (She falls in love with an Italian anarchist in Paris ’68)
Darcy Niland, Dead Men Running (ANZLitLovers)

R Geering wrote A Review of Christina Stead. ALS have a review (here), I’m going to have to give in and take out a subscription
Les Murray, The Weatherboard Cathedral (poetry)

1919

About the same number of books published as in 1918 – forty something. No notable novels, though I’ll list a few for form’s sake. And Archibald, the owner/editor of the Bulletin died.

Randolph Bedford, Aladdin and the Bush Cocky
Ewart, ? (writing as Boyd Cable), The Old Contemptibles
Beatrice Grimshaw, The Coral Queen
Marion Knowles, The Little Doctor
Ethel Turner, Brigid and the Cub
Paul Wenz, Le Pays de Leurs Pères

Chasing up The Old Contemptibles – the British Expeditionary Force of 1914 (the old regular army, which by the end of the year had been wiped out on the Western Front) – I discovered via the Oxford English Dictionary that ‘Boyd Cable’ is Ernest Andrew Ewart (here).

1869

Eight books

Marcus Clarke, The Peripatetic Philosopher (Essays)
Marcus Clarke, with GA Walstab, Long Odds
Henry Kendall, Leaves from Australian Forests (Verse)
Louisa Meredith, Phoebe’s Mother (in the Australasian, 1866, as Ebba)

I have the Kendall, maybe one day I’ll open it.
Ebba is here, if I get time I’ll start correcting it. According to AWWC website, this is Chap.1 and the remaining chapters are on the Australian Newspaper Fiction Database. When I tried, the link wasn’t working, but you could try here.

1819

One book last year, three this year, one next year, then a gap.

Field, First Fruits of Australian Poetry
Vaux, Memoirs of James Hardy Vaux
WC Wentworth, A Statistical, Historical and Political Description of the Colony of New South Wales and its Dependent Settlements in Van Dieman’s Land

The first novels are more than a decade away, by Mary Grimstone (ADB). Yes Australia’s first novelist was a woman. I’d better add her to the AWW Gen 1 page. According to Trove, her first, Louisa Egerton: or Castle Herbert (1830) may be at two libraries, and her second, Woman’s Love (1832) may be available to read online from the University of Tasmania.

 

Joy Hooton and Harry Heseltine, Annals of Australian Literature, 2nd Ed., OUP, Melbourne, 1992

EOY 2019

Journal: 042

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Well, I hope you all had a pleasant Christmas. The Resident Judge did a post on the origins of the day (here) which, as I might have discussed before is neither the anniversary of Jesus’ birth nor of any supposed census, but I guess it was handy for the Romans to tie in with the winter solstice.

I ate very well at Ludmilla Agnes’ festivities and by the time I got to the pavlova, cheesecake and cheese platter I was struggling. Everyone else must have been too because there was pavlova for breakfast. I caught a taxi home and rode my bike back in the morning to pick up my ute, so that’s my exercise for the holiday break.

A pleasant end to a good year. A very easy year. Since I stopped getting work from Sam & Dragan there’s been no one to push me along and I’ve dropped back from one round trip a fortnight to one every three weeks. With a concomitant drop in income. So, no more breaks. Hopefully, by the time this post is up I’ll be on my way back to Melbourne [No I’m not]. And then in the new year, I’ll get another trailer, to run as a B-Triple, effectively a road train.

I’ve done my reading stats for the year past and they are as follows –

Books read: 159 (down from 208 last year. You do fewer kms, you listen to fewer books)

Gender balance: Male authors 84, Female 75

Author from: Australia  47, USA  51, UK 36, Europe 19, Asia 4, Other 2
The ‘Other’ were both South America. Sorry Canada, Sorry Africa.

Genre: Non-fiction 14,  Literature  44, General 43, SF  21, Crime/Thriller 37

Year: 2010-19  67,  2000-9  25, 1960-99  37,  1900-59  17, pre-1900  13

There were 16 new releases, more than I expected, and to whatever commentary I’ve made over the past week or so I must add that Behrouz Boochani’s No Friend but the Mountains was absolutely bloody exceptional.

A lot of the US crime/thriller etc. reflects what is available from the library, but Cockburn (my fourth suburban library in ten years) have a good selection of classics and lots of ‘hard’ SF which I enjoy, though I’m probably getting near the end now. I’ve started an Audible account, so ‘all’ I have to do is hook my phone up to the truck radio, and that with Borrow Box will make a difference next year. I hope.

[Inserted later]

Posts for year: 85
Reviews: 60 (Authors Women/Male: 31/29).  Other/Journals: 25
Included in the above, I posted 14 times for AWW Gen 2 or Gen 3 Week, 6 of those were reposts or guests.
I reviewed/wrote about Indigenous writers/subjects 6 times, David Ireland 5 times.
Of the 60 books reviewed, 46 were Australian, 1 Indian, 2 Japanese, 4 US, 5 UK (and all those C19th), 1 Irish, 1 French

[end insert]

Kate W has nominated her ten best reads for the decade (here) which is more than I’m going to do, but I am willing to declare that the best Australian book published in the last ten years is The Swan Book (2013) by Alexis Wright, which will be a classic forever.

For those of you planning (well) ahead, my 70th birthday in Paris (in 2021) is off. Too hard for too many of my immediate family. A shame, because friends had already said they planned to be there.

Now, reminder time:

Australian Women Writers Gen 3 Week 12-18 Jan. 2020

Basically, we will be discussing Australian women who began writing between the World Wars. The following year, we will discuss the later Gen 3-ers who got going before the 1960s.

The themes of the Gen 3 period are: Modernism, Social Realism, Pioneering

If you need inspiration, check out the AWW Gen 3 page (here) which has an Introduction and long lists of authors, reviews, posts and related reading.

After that there’s Gen 4, my and Sue and Lisa’s generation, the Baby Boomers, and then Gen 5. Kate W, Kimbofo what’s your lot called? We should have some good ideas about how to define the literature that was being written as we became young adults. Write and tell me what you think. I actually can’t name a lot of Gen 4 women off the top of my head – Helen Garner definitely, but then …

I think (now anyway) that Gen 5 will begin with Grunge in the early 1990s. So Justine Ettler, Linda Javin (who’s actually a baby boomer), Nikki Gemmell.

It’s probably hard to pick a new generation while it’s actually getting underway, but I think Gen 6 may have started in the last few years with the rise to prominence of  dystopian.Lit typefied by The Natural Way of Things.

And where does Indig.Lit fit in?  Anita Heiss, Alexis Wright, Kim Scott have been going for longer than just a few years, so they’re more than just Gen 6. There are some who claim that they are separate from Aust.Lit. That’s possible, and maybe up to them, but Ellen van Neerven and Claire Coleman for instance would seem to be also very much mainstream Gen 6 by my definition – but of course, the trend to dystopian is world-wide.

Happy New Year!

Currently ‘Reading’ (for AWW Gen 3 Week):

Drusilla Modjeska, Exiles at Home
Myrtle Rose White, No Roads Go By
Ernestine Hill, The Great Australian Loneliness
Daisy Bates, The Passing of the Aborigines
Dymphna Cusack, Jungfrau

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The end of a long day

What an Accountant Thinks About

Journal: 041

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I suppose you are like me and when you get an idea for a post, if you try and write it out in your head it takes off in unexpected directions. So it was when I began spinning out What an Accountant Thinks about when he Drives a Truck, I found I was off with the fairies ‘writing’ about drugs.

As a young man, even as an anarchist university student in the sixties, I was anti drugs. I don’t care what other consenting adults do, as we used to say, but I left school with fairly Calvinist opinions about sex, drugs, and work. I won’t say any more here about Fancy, my high school girlfriend, but she had a hard time of it, and I spent years reconciling my self-image and my actions. So, drugs. There was plenty of dope and LSD around, and at a further remove, heroin. All of which I was offered, but none of which I was tempted to try.

Likewise, once I had dropped out of uni to be a truck driver (rather than a hippy – I like working) I avoided as much as possible overnight work, which, if you spend all day loading, is impossible without drugs. If I had to do Melbourne-Sydney, a constant stream of high-speed trucks on 880 kms of narrow winding road, I would either get away early, grab 3 or 4 hours sleep, and get in mid-morning, or I would take my time and get in a day late.

By the time of the accident at Bungaree, I had been an interstate driver for four years – I was an old hand, we were all in our twenties back then. Les, my employer, made me take some time off and I pottered around doing odd driving jobs out of Stawell and making desultory attempts to revive my failed marriage to the Young Bride, who with her girlfriend, was off her face on Valium.

Les finally offered me a job on the Adelaide shuttle which did a round trip Melbourne Adelaide every day with two drivers based half way at Nhill. So every lunchtime I would leave Nhill, run down to Melbourne, swap trailers, and by midnight I would be back in my company flat above a shop in the main street, while Terry, a local, went on to Adelaide, swapped trailers, and was back by lunchtime. Our old ex-Ansett Kenworth was doing 5,000 miles – 8,000 km – a week.

This went like clockwork until Terry got a council job and I was partnered with a young lunatic from nearby Horsham who wouldn’t keep the schedule, but kept pushing the changeover time back towards evening, so that I had to drive all night and he could drive during the day. I fronted him. He gave me a handfull of pills. I took them, and kept taking them for another four years. Prescription amphetamines.

I lost my Victorian licence, moved to Adelaide and eventually to Perth. The buzz of driving across Australia, through the day, through the night, for days at a time. A literal buzz. Scalp vibrating, hair standing straight up. Half a briquette, a few shakers, a small Coke (glass bottles in those days) every two hours through the night. Coffee for breakfast. Food optional.

When I met Milly I had been awake six days and was barely coherent. Even after sleep. The disconnect, that is the lag, between thought and speech was noticeable. The other disconnect I was born with. I weighed the same as I did in school, ten and a half stone (70 odd kgs. I’m not double that yet but I’m working on it). Milly and Psyche settled me down. I tried sales work. Drove a bit more. Rolled another truck, Milly pregnant with Lou. Gave it away. Bought a milk round, travelled in truck parts, started a course at Perth Tech in Transport Administration. Found I enjoyed book work and the following year enrolled in an accountancy degree at Churchlands CAE, which by the time I graduated had been subsumed into Edith Cowan Uni.

So for 20 years I worked, briefly, as an accountant, then as a transport manager. As PCs came in I slid across into software development, transport and small business systems, mostly self-employed, started an MBA, did half an MBus in Logistics which I turned into a Grad.Dip., became a partner in a container cartage business, which failed, and there I was, 22 years ago, Gee our youngest in the last year of high school, back truck driving again. Without drugs! I drive long hours, 14, 15, 16 a day, but every night, from 10.00pm to 5.00am, I’m in bed asleep.

And now of course I’m working for myself again. I have a big spreadsheet on my desktop at home, which started out recording my nights away for the taxman, and now has columns for kms, fuel, revenue and expenditure. I can tell you my revenue per km, and therefore my gross margin, is higher than I expected. I’m holding fuel down to below a dollar/km targeting fuel economy, lighter loads and discount retailers (currently the cheapest diesel in Australia is a truckstop in Ceduna in the far west of South Aust.). Tyres and repairs come in at 30c. But do I do my own tax and company accounts? No way! I pay someone who does it for a living.

I might have mentioned somewhere else I was having two weeks off for grandfather stuff while Gee was in Germany for a conference. Only as back up for Milly, but a teenager and 2 primary school age kids use up a lot of energy. As it happened, the other grandparents carried most of the load. On Friday I picked up some freight, there was a big family do Saturday, and as I was about to leave I realised I’d left it too late to borrow any audiobooks from the library. A few hours on Proj. Gutenberg and this is what I came up with –

Rider Haggard, King Solomon’s Mines
Willa Cather, Alexander’s Bridge
Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent
George Sand, Devil’s Pool
G&W Grossmith, Diary of a Nobody
Thomas Hardy, Return of the Native
Virginia Woolf, Night and Day
Willa Cather, O Pioneer
Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders

I’m in Melbourne now and I’ve listened to the first five, ok, four, Diary of a Nobody was both too tedious and too embarrassing to go on with. Rider Haggard was good fiction with some jarring racism; Alexander’s Bridge was brilliant but inexplicably, halfway through the reader changed from a softly spoken young American, to an older, stumbling, Australian with a genius for mis-emphasis and the book was destroyed. The Secret Agent had a different reader for every chapter, but also a different protagonist, and so the reading went ok. I’ll write it up when I get home. Devil’s Pool was the nicest love story I’ve read for years, and I’ll write it up too.

A couple of others, the chapters are coming up in the wrong order, which I hope I can fix. I might start the trip home with Woolf then go on with Hardy or Moll Flanders. We’ll see.

Recent audiobooks 

Ian Rankin (M, Sco), A Question of Blood (2003) – Crime
Graeme Simsion (M, Aus/Vic), The Rosie Result (2019)
Leo Tolstoy (M, Rus), War and Peace (1869)
Stephen White (M, USA), The Program (2002) – Thriller
Will Self (M, Eng), Shark (2014) – Literary. DNF
Mark Twain (M, USA), The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) – YA
David Weber (M, USA), On Basilisk Station (2004) – SF
JD Robb (F, USA), Calculated in Death (2013) – Crime/SF

Currently reading

Charlotte Wood, The Weekend
Lionel Wigmore, The Long View
Jessica Anderson, Tirra Lirra by the River
Marie Munkara, Every Secret Thing
Peter Goldsworthy, Wish
Heather Rose, Bruny
AB Paterson, An Outback Marriage
Walter Scott, Waverley
David Ireland, The Flesheaters