Australian Women Writers Gen 4

Pat Brassington*

In 2017, in my introductory post for AWW Gen 1 Week I wrote:

Gen 4, the baby boomers, the great wave of writing beginning in the sixties, more men than women, though we could name Helen Garner, Janette Turner Hospital, Thea Astley.

Gen 5 finally brings us a more cosmopolitan Australia, beginning with the Grunge movement in the 1990s – Justine Ettler of course and many others.

Gen 6, too early to say, I think, except that we are experiencing a wave of great Indigenous Lit which interestingly at least some of its practitioners say is separate from Oz Lit.

I’m surprised that that is still close to my current thinking, though in fact the second wave of Indigenous Lit (after Frank Davis, Mudrooroo and Oodgeroo Noonuccal) begins in the 1990s coinciding with Gen 5, with Kim Scott’s True Country (1993) and more importantly, Benang (1999), and Alexis Wright, born 1950 but started writing late, with Plains of Promise (1997).

So let us stick to the definition for Gen 4 that I gave at the end of Gen 3 Week: women who began writing in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. As I have discussed before, those who began writing in the 1960s were not Baby Boomers at all, but rather the new writers we boomers took up as we approached and entered adulthood.

Below is a list of all the women of this generation that I could locate and the name and date of their first novel (using a Table block for the first time). As you go through note how few of them are born even as late as 1950. Novelists it seems debut mostly in their thirties and forties.

AuthorFirst WorkYear
Thea Astley (1925-2004)Girl with a Monkey1958
Nancy Cato (1917-2000)All the Rivers Run1958
Pat Flower/Bryson (1914-1977)Wax Flowers for Gloria (Crime)1958
Elizabeth O’Connor (1913-2000)The Irishman1960
Patricia Carlon (1927-2002)Circle of Fear (Crime)1961
Mena Calthorpe (1905-1996)The Dyehouse1961
Nene Gare (1919-1994)The Fringe Dwellers1961
Elizabeth Kata/Katayama (1912-1998)A Patch of Blue1961
Gwen Kelly (1922-2012)There is no Refuge1961
Nancy Phelan (1913-2008)The River and the Brook1962
Jessica Anderson (1916-2010)An Ordinary Lunacy1963
Oodgeroo Noonuccal (1920-1993)We Are Going: Poems1964
Suzanne Holly Jones (1945- Harry’s Child1964
Betty Collins (The Copper Crucible1966
Shirley Hazzard (1931-2016)The Evening of the Holiday1966
Jill Neville (1932-1997)Fall Girl1966
Neilma Gantner/Sidney (1922-2015)Beyond the Bay1966
Sue Rhodes (Now You’ll Think I’m Awful (NF)1967
Thelma Forshaw/Korting (1923-1995)An Affair of Clowns1967
Diane Cilento (1932-2011)The Manipulator1968
Lynn Foster (1913-Blow the Wind Southerly1969
Germaine Greer (1939- The Female Eunuch (NF)1970
Barbara Vernon (1916-1978)Bellbird1970
Hesba Fay Brinsmead/Hungerford (1922-2003)Longtime Passing1971
Barbara Hanrahan (1939-1991)The Scent of Eucalyptus1973
Barabara Brooks (1947-Just the Two of Us1974
Colleen McCullough (1937-2015)Tim1974
Jill Hellyer (1925-2012)Not Enough Savages1975
Anigone Kefala (1930s-The First Journey1975
Hilde Knorr (1917-2009)Shoemaker’s Children1975
Marilyn Lake (1949-A Divided Society (NF)1975
Anne Summers (1945-Damned Whores and God’s Police (NF)1975
Bobbi Sykes (1943-2010)Black Power in Australia (NF)1975
Lucy Walker (1917-?)The Runaway Girl (Romance)1975
Anne Brooksbank (1943-Mad Dog Morgan1976
Helen Hodgman (1946-Blue Skies1976
Anne Parry (1931-The Land Behind the World (YA)1976
Glen Tomasetti (1929-2003)Thoroughly Decent People1976
Christine Townend (1944-Travels with Myself1976
Faith Bandler (1918-2015) (Indig.)Wacvie1977
Helen Garner (1942-Monkey Grip1977
Colleen Klein (1921-The Heart in the Casket1977
Lee Cataldi (1942-Invitation to a Marxist Lesbian Party (P)1978
Jennifer Rankin (1941-1979)Earth Hold1978
Gabrielle Carey (1959-Puberty Blues1979
Kathy Lette (1958-Puberty Blues1979
Margaret Jones (1923-The Confucius Enigma1979
Pauline Marrington (1921-A House Full of Men1979
Blanche d’Alpuget (1945-Monkeys in the Dark1980
Robyn Davidson (1950-Tracks1980
Beverley Farmer (1941-Alone1980
Beatrice Faust (1939-Women, Sex and Pornography (NF)1980
Elizabeth Jolley (1923-2007)Palomino1980
Maria Lewitt (1924-Come Spring1980
Gabrielle Lord (1946-Fortress (Crime)1980
Barbara Pepworth (1955-Early Marks1980
Dale Spender (1943-Man Made Language (NF)1980
Natalie Scott (1928-Wherever we step the land was mined1980
Leonie Sperling (1934-Coins for the Ferryman1981
Mary Gage (1940-Praise the Egg1981
Glenda Adams (1939-Games of the Strong1982
Jean Bedford (1946-Sister Kate1982
Janet Turner Hospital (1942-The Ivory Swing1982
Aviva Layton (1933-Nobody’s Daughter1982
Barbara Brooks (1947-Leaving Queensland1983
Sara Dowse (1938-West Block1983
Georgia Savage (The Tournament1983
Janine Burke (1952-Speaking1984
Dorothy Johnston (1948-Tunnel Vision1984
Valerie Kirwan (1943-Wandering1984
Amanda Lohrey (1947-The Morality of Gentlemen1984
Olga Masters (1919-Loving Daughters1984
Jennifer Rowe/Emily Rodda (1948-Something Special (Childrens)1984
Marion Campbell (1948-Lines of Flight1985
Moya Costello (1952-Kites in Jakarta1985
Stephanie Dowrick (1947-Running Backwards Over Sand1985
Kate Grenville (1950-Lillian’s Story1985
Carol Lansbury (1929-1991)Ringarra1985
Jan McKemmish (1950-2007)A Gap in the Records (Crime)1985
Gail Morgan (1953-The Promise of Rain1985
Anna Murdoch (1944-In Her Own Image1985
Margaret Barbalet (1949-Blood in the Rain1986
Nancy Corbett (1944-Floating1986
Anne Derwent (1941-Warm Bodies1986
Suzanne Falkiner (1952-Rain in the Distance1986
Jennifer Dabbs (1938-Beyond Redemption1987
Marion Halligan (1940-Self Possession1987
Judith Clarke (1943-2020)The Heroic Life of Al Capsella (YA)1988
Jill Dobson (1969-The Inheritors (YA/SF)1988
Nora Dugon (Lonely Summers (YA)1988
Lolo Houbein (1934-Walk a Barefoot Road1988
Ruby Langford (1934-2011) (Indig.)Don’t Take Your Love to Town1988
Kay Schaffer (1945-Women and the Bush (NF)1988
Renate Yates (Rural Pursuits1988

Hooton & Heseltine, Annals of Australian Literature, 2nd ed. which was my source (mostly), finishes at 1988, so no 1989. One author I deliberately left out, who wrote mostly in this period, was Barbara Jeffris whose first novel came out in 1953 and whose husband bequeathed a valuable annual award in her name for “the best novel written by an Australian author that depicts women and girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society.”

WG, who grew up in that place and at that time, must read Betty Collins’ The Copper Crucible (1966) “This intense tale of political unrest and seduction takes place in an isolated mining town in North Queensland [ie. Mt Isa]”

Quite a number of these women are listed as founding members of the Australian Society of Authors, which I found was begun in 1963, born out of an initiative by the Fellowship of Australian Writers in Sydney, which felt that it and other writers organizations were too state-oriented. The ASA administers a number of awards including the Barbara Jeffris Award above.

You might think that the theoretical underpinning of AWW Gen 4 is Postmodernism, and that is partly true, though the postmodernist period in Art and Literature is generally dated 1970-2000. Here is one definition

Postmodernism is an intellectual stance or mode of discourse defined by an attitude of skepticism toward what it describes as the grand narratives and ideologies of modernism, as well as opposition to epistemic certainty and the stability of meaning.

Wiki, 7 Mar 2021

You need to understand that the professor for my course at UCQ, John Fitzsimmons, was rightly critical of my grasp of the tenets of postmodernism and all I can say is that is true too of most authors, who seemed to take to it as a fashion, or waves of fashion – including the author in the work, works about the work being written, adopting Magic Realism from South America – and not as a theoretical underpinning.

For me though, this generation is defined by the wonderful optimism of youth born into post-War prosperity which exploded into the 60s with new fashions, new music, new drugs, the Pill, Women’s Lib, the post-Communist politics of the anti-Vietnam War movement, widely available university educations, the Space race, hippies, and in Australia waves of immigration from Southern Europe which obliterated for ever our ‘white picket fence’ Anglo-centricity. And which ended a couple of decades later with the realities of earning a living, bringing up children, and in the unrestrained selfishness unleashed by the undoing of “Big Government” by Thatcher and Reagan (and Keating and Howard).

While you (and I) prepare our reading for next January, I’ll address the Gen 4 period off and on throughout the year. I have an essay on Clive James’ sarcastic take on postmodernism, The Remake (1988) to reprise; and I also must review Obsolete Communism: the Left-Wing Alternative (1968) by Daniel Cohn-Bendit, and maybe even Terry Eagleton, Marxism and Literary Criticism (1976). And then, I should probably squeeze in Doris Lessing and maybe Iris Murdoch to compare with our Australians. We’ll see, my ambitions quite often exceed my abilities (and the time available).


Pat Brassington (1942- ) is a Tasmanian artist, described as “surrealist”, working in the field of photomedia. The image at the top is from ARC One Gallery and I don’t have a name or a date for it.

A Literary Tour of the Mallee

Sue/Whispering Gums a year or so BC set me the task of devising a literary tour of the Mallee – the northwest corner of Victoria, a triangle bounded by the Murray River to the north and northeast, the South Australia border to the west and let’s say to the south the 36th parallel, so a line from a bit north of Route A8 to the Murray north of Echuca.

This country is all sand over limestone, rainfall around ten inches (250mm) per year, and of course mallee gums along all the roads and throughout the desert national parks which comprise probably half its area. In the towns and around farms the most common trees are sugar gums, peppercorns (introduced from South America, probably via California) and jacarandas (ditto) and along the river, river red gums. Though I should probably include red flowering gums (from WA) which schools seemed fond of planting.

I am struggling to identify the region’s Indigenous people. It seems the Wergaia occupied the main part, with a number of other groups along the river, before they were forced onto Ebenezer Mission to the south and then, later to Lake Tyers way over in eastern Victoria. The Indigenous people along the river most likely retreated to the NSW side which was much less settled.

The arable country was broken up into square mile (640 acre) blocks in the 1890s and allocated to selectors on easy terms – as long as they established a home and began clearing and fencing they could repay the government over 40 years. Most farms were mixed sheep and wheat (though my grandmother’s family, the Coxes, had a Clydesdale horse stud at Culgoa). Mum was indignant to learn at school that the Mallee was flat when she could see that it had hills, albeit gently rolling sandhills which when stripped of cover move across paddocks engulfing fences and becoming the source of choking sandstorms.

The Mallee country along the Murray, known as Sunraysia, is heavily irrigated for citrus, stone fruits and grapes. As we all learnt at school, irrigation was begun in 1887 by the Chaffey brothers. There is no other fresh water except bore water which was ok when we lived at Murrayville but was elsewhere mostly salty. During the Depression channels were built to carry water from reservoirs in the Grampians (a couple of hundred kilometres south). These were replaced by pipelines in 2010 which, as we are learning, greatly reduces water to the environment, though I’m pleased to hear Green Lake (one of a number of ‘Green Lakes’) near my grandfather’s old farm south of Sea Lake is once again being filled for recreation and to preserve the surrounding woodlands (mainly sheoaks from memory).

Sea Lake is named for Lake Tyrell, a large salt pan and one of a number throughout the Mallee, most notably Pink Lakes near Underbool, between Murrayville and Ouyen.

The tour for the Gums begins in Melbourne where they wave goodbye to younger Gums and head out through the western suburbs towards Bendigo. Bourke and Wills set off in this direction on 20 Aug. 1860, camping the first night at Moonee Ponds (about 10 kms out) so the flamboyantly incompetent Robert O’Hara Bourke could ride back into town to farewell (again) opera star Julia Matthews (Frank Clune, Dig, 1937), and maybe because a number of the wagons were bogged and/or broken down. The expedition with its 27 camels and six wagons passed a little east of Bendigo after 6 days and reached Swan Hill – where they camped at Booths & Holloway’s Station – on 6 Sept. (Alan Moorehead, Cooper’s Creek, 1963) And from there they headed north into eternal notoriety (and are much criticised for their incompetence in the first chapter of Such is Life).

There had been two earlier explorers through the Mallee. Major Mitchell in 1836 came down the lower reaches of the Murrumbidgee to its junction with the Murray (between Swan Hill and Mildura), down the Murray to the junction with the Darling (just west of Mildura) and then back up the Murray – where he attacked and killed a party of local Kureinji and Barkandji peoples at Mt Dispersion (so-named by him) on the NSW side of the river – to the Loddon, past Swan Hill, from whence he headed south. (Mitchell wrote his own account of these expeditions but there must be others).

In 1838 Joseph Hawdon drove a mob of cattle almost the entire length of the Murray River, on the Victorian side until Mildura, eventually delivering them in Adelaide (Joseph Hawdon, The Journal of a Journey from New South Wales to Adelaide, 1952).

Meanwhile, the Gums have probably stopped already to have coffee with Michelle Scott Tucker, author of Elizabeth Macarthur, who lives that way, not far out of town. In the distance they can see the looming shape of Mt Macedon, named by Major Mitchell on his way home, and just past it Hanging Rock (Joan Lindsay, Picnic at Hanging Rock, 1967). Still not 100 kms out of Melbourne, we should mention Kyneton, home (for a while) of turn of the century authors Joseph Furphy and Tasma, and a little further on Malmsbury, the setting for Tasma’s Uncle Piper of Pipers Hill (1888). Closer to Bendigo, and off the highway a bit, are old gold mining towns Castlemaine (Mt Alexander in Catherine Helen Spence’s Clara Morrison, 1854) and Maldon, childhood home of Henry Handel Richardson. In Bendigo my cousin Kay gives the Gums a tour of the School of Mines’ famous domed library, then it’s back on the road and at last we’re in the Mallee.

From here I’m a bit lost, not as to where to go: Big Desert Wilderness Park (no glamping, sorry WG) , Pink Lakes, Lake Tyrell, the Murray River, Wycheproof where the steam trains once ran down the main street (which fascinated me as a boy); but what books I can reference.

My Auntie Win wrote an account of the early days of Berriwillock (south of Sea Lake): Winifred Nixon, While the Mallee Roots Blaze, 1965. My father’s books include another account of early settlement: Allan Keating, And then the Mallee Fringe, 1983. Fiction seems a bit light on. Two courtesy of Lisa/ANZLL are Bill Green’s Small Town Rising (1981) and Wearing Paper Dresses (2019) by Anne Brinsden. I gather Sophie Laguna’s The Choke is set on the river but further east. There must be stories set at Lake Boga, where Milly’s grandmother’s boyfriend worked on Catalinas during the War, or Mildura or somewhere. Help me out!

In 2019 I wrote a post about Sea Lake, which is when the idea of a literary tour came up, and there followed a quite extensive discussion. Sue put up Mallee Boys (2017) by Charlie Archbold, which seems to be yet another set on the river. Lisa put in the hard yards and “consulted Peter Pierce’s Oxford Literary Guide to Australia” for the following list:
Boort: (80 km west of Echuca) birthplace of poet, short-story writer and novelist Myra Morris, 1893
Chinkapook: (a tiny locality between Ouyen and Swan Hill) John Shaw Neilson’s family farmed here. Also mentioned in Douglas Stewart’s poem about the 1917 mice plague ‘The Mice of Chinkapook’
Hattah (between Mildura, Ouyen and the river): Ben Eggleton was a ranger in the national park and wrote such titles The Bull Ant Country (1980) and The Little People of the Kulkyne’(1983). Alan Marshall often visited [his The Aborigines’ Grave appears to be set there]. Mary Chandler wrote ‘Tribal Lands to National Park, 1980.
Murrabit (on the Murray, 50 km upstream of Swan Hill): Rolf Boldrewood had a sheep farm there from 1858 until forced to sell out in 1863. JJ Healy, Literature and the Aborigine in Australia (1978) makes the case that Boldrewood covers up the realities of squatter/Aboriginal confrontation in his fiction and dates this from his time in the Western District in the 1840s. But Boldrewood would also have had to deal with local Indigenous people at Murrabit.
Red Cliffs (40km south of Mildura): Site of the largest of the soldier settlement schemes after the Great War. Mary Chandler wrote its history in Against the Odds (1979). See also Marilyn Lake, The Limits of Hope (1987).
Sea Lake: John ShawNeilson and his father took up uncleared land north of Sea Lake in 1895 and saw ‘rabbits by the hundred thousand’, before moving after 5 years to 2400 acres at nearby Chinkapook (parish of Eureka).

Poems set in the Mallee generally, include: CA Sherard, Lost in the Mallee (1884), Nancy Cato, Mallee Farmer (1950), and Tractor Driver in the Mallee; by Cyril Goode (ADB).

I checked Nancy Cato’s All the Rivers Run (1958) and it’s set just outside our area, at Echuca, as are parts of Furphy’s Such is Life and Rigby’s Romance.

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Picture credits: Map is a screenshot from Google Maps. Bendigo TAFE library by Kay Smith.

Invasion Day, 2021

AWW Gen 3 Week Part II 17-23 Jan, 2021

The Timeless Land.... eleanor dark ..1960

If the government is going to censor the ABC, our national broadcaster over the use of ‘Invasion Day’, not to mention spending $10 mil on advertising its preferred ‘Australia Day’, then you can guess which side I am on.

Australians will know Watkin Tench as an officer well inclined towards the local inhabitants of the Sydney region and as the best-known chronicler of the first days of white settlement (here and here). I had occasion to re-read my reviews of his accounts in connection with Neil@Kalaroo’s well received review of The Timeless Land, and extracted the following dates. The first fleet arrived in Botany Bay on 18-20 Jan, 1788; moved to neighbouring Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) on 26 Jan; and proclamations were read declaring the eastern half of New Holland (Australia) a British colony on 7 Feb.

Australia became a nation on 1 Jan, 1901 – though still a subsidiary of London within the British Empire; white women became full citizens at the following national election, in 1902; and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islands people were admitted to citizenship in May 1967.

But we choose the day which celebrates the foundation of Sydney and the dispossession of the Eora, Cadigal, Guringai, Wangal, Gammeraigal and Wallumedegal people initially, and eventually, of all the Aboriginal nations.

So it’s apt for today that I re-use the cover image from my – or more correctly, Neil’s – last post. And, it’s a good image too for this summary of what has been an excellent Week, by participation, by variety of books discussed, and by my favourite part of the week, your engagement with the discussion of underlying themes.

I wish particularly to thank Sue/Whispering Gums and Brona/Brona’s Books for their enthusiasm and work. I think between them they may have put up more posts than I did. Here’s the list –

The Australian Legend
Late Modernity, and introduction to the Week (here)
Kylie Tennant, Tell Morning This (here)
Christina Stead, The Little Hotel (here)

Whispering Gums
Vance Palmer, The Future of Australian Literature, 1935 (here)
Monday Musings: Realism and Modernism (here)
ML Skinner, The Hand (here)
Dymphna Cusack, A Window in the Dark (here)
Monday Musings: Contemporary Responses to Coonardoo (here)

Brona’s Books
Eve Langley, The Pea Pickers (here)
Ernestine Hill, My Love Must Wait (here)
Katharine Susannah Prichard, The Wild Oats of Han (here)

ANZ Litlovers Litblog
Katharine Susannah Prichard, Coonardoo (here)
Kylie Tennant, Ride on Stranger (here)

Nathan Hobby
Katharine Susannah Prichard in the 1940s and 50s (here)

Buried in Print
Eleanor Dark, The Little Company (here)

Book Around the Corner
Eleanor Dark, Lantana Lane (here)

Neil@Kalaroo
Eleanor Dark, The Timeless Land (here)

The Resident Judge of Port Phillip
Julie Marcus, The Indomitable Miss Pink (here)
Dymphna Cusack, Say No to Death (here)

There are two or three reviews pending. Jessica White has stopped packing for her imminent move from Brisbane to Adelaide to read Ruth Park’s “the huge Harp in the South. It’s wonderful!” And she may also later review Marjorie Barnard’s The Persimmon Tree, which was her original intention. I’ll repost or guest post those when they come up.

Sue, last I counted, was at page 82 of an Elizabeth Harrower (20pp last weekend, 2 per day during the week and 50 on Sunday) and I’ll repost that too. All posts/reviews are added to my AWW Gen 3 Page, of course, and any you review during the coming year(s) I will mention as I see them or you bring them to my attention.

I had been thinking about Gen 0 for next year – writers like Mary Wollstonecraft and George Sand say, who may have influenced the thinking and writing of our Gen 1 – but I will give in to the momentum generated by this week and go on to AWW Gen 4. We will say, for now anyway, women writers of the 1960s, 70s and 80s and work on a proper definition during the year. This is the period when Modernism gives way to Post-Modernism, not well understood by me or by many writers – who fall back on the formulas of books about the book being written, novelists in their own novels, and the fashion of Magic Realism.

Thank you again for your participation. If I have missed any reviews, or you have older reviews I haven’t included in the AWW Gen 3 Page, let me know. I really feel like I have missed at least one and for that you have my heartfelt apology.

Now, 10 minutes later (10 minutes after posting, that is) I remember. The Resident Judge reviewed Say No to Death, Dymphna Cusack (and referenced this Week) and late last year she wrote up a life of Olive Pink – a truly Independent Woman in the Outback in the 1940s. Links in the list above.

Look out for Lisa’s Indigenous Literature Week (July) and Eleanor Dark Week (August), Brona’s AusReading month (November). Is November MARM (Margaret Atwood Reading Month) again? I will try and be better prepared. What have I missed? I was going to have a little dig at Emma’s love of north western USA crime novels, but here’s something a little different – a six week course on writing detective fiction in Wisconsin (here).

Addendum (2): What have I missed? Kim/Reading Matters is hosting Southern Cross Crime Month (here) in March for Aust and NZ crime fiction, AND she is right now writing up a review of Dorothy Hewett’s Bobbin’ Up. Look for it during the coming week.

Late Modernity

Australian Women Writers Gen 3 Week, Part II, 17-23 Jan. 2021

I have in my ‘possession’ an essay entitled The Solid Mandala and Patrick White’s Late Modernity by Nicholas Birns. I say in my possession when in fact it has been residing under an icon on my screen for some months and I forget how it got there. Downloaded from a letter from Professor Brother-in-Law maybe. Birns I’m pretty sure is a US academic and editor or past editor of the literary journal Antipodes. The essay itself is an extended discussion of the definition of ‘Late Modernity’ which is of some relevance to our upcoming AWW Gen 3 Week, Part II.

Late modernity as understood in this piece is composed of two key aspects. One is the dominance of the innovative, labyrinthine Modernist aesthetics developed in the previous generation – the generation born in the late nineteenth century, that of Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and, most important for White’s text, T.S. Eliot – and inherited by the second-generation modernists, writers like White who were born in the first two decades of the twentieth century. The other is the political predominance of welfare state models and a strong public sector that provided significant employment. These two aspects are contrasted with the era of neoliberalism of the postmodern era (roughly 1970 and after) …

You’ll remember of course I have defined Gen 3 as the period from the end of WWI to the end of the 1950s. Now, it is very easy to argue that the 1950s in Australia extended well into the 1960s, and certainly that was true of my own white, rural, middle class, teenage years. But I am sticking with 1960 as the changeover from Gen 3 to Gen 4 because The Beatles; southern European immigration; the anti-Vietnam War movement; the Pill; Women’s Lib; and because it seems to fit with a changing of the guard from the mostly women writers of the inter-War years to a new generation around Thea Astley, Thomas Keneally, Helen Garner and David Ireland say.

These issues of periodisation indeed present many pitfalls. When dealing with the near past, people of different generations have different perspectives upon not only the nature of the near past but its degree of proximity; the very idea of a near past implies some people still living for which that past is still a part of active memory …

Ain’t that the truth! I am very passionate about my lived experience of ‘the sixties’ – which occurred I must say mostly in the early seventies.

Much as I deplore the end of the ‘welfare state’, I struggle to see its relevance to the literature of Gen 3. Indeed much of the writing in the Social Realism stream is to do with the failure of the state to provide the underclass with meaningful welfare (or employment), and to the largely middle class modernist stream it is irrelevant. An example of the former might be Say No to Death and the latter, Waterway. However, Birns argues that

… Waldo Brown and his brother Arthur, the co-protagonists of The Solid Mandala, are people who, in the late modern paradigm, however tormented and limited their lives are in individual terms, are provided a firm social foundation by their polity, and that this is an important factor in comprehending the novel and their place in it.

Waldo is I think employed by the Library, with a sense of security only a distant memory today. I am not going to argue with him (Birns) and indeed was more engaged by how he differentiated between this period and its successor, contrasting the conservatism and security underlying Late Modernism with the following generation of Regan/Thatcherism and globalism now generally contained in the catch-all “neo-liberalism”, and the cultural commodification of post-modernism. Subjects for another day! And how we are going define the end of Gen 4 I have no idea.

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Nicholas Birns, The Solid Mandala and Patrick White’s Late Modernity, Transnational Literature Vol. 4 no. 1, November 2011.
http://fhrc.flinders.edu.au/transnational/home.html


AWW Gen 3 Week, Part II. I will start putting up reviews in the next day or so. Quite a number of you are planning to contribute, not all on the same day I hope, and I am quietly confident that with the two I have ready, I will be able to put up a review/guest review/repost each day for the week. Off the top of my head we will have Kylie Tennant, Christina Stead, Marjorie Barnard, Eve Langley, KS Prichard, Ernestine Hill, Elizabeth Harrower. Bloggers I haven’t spoken to can drop me a line here. And there will be a summary after the end of the Week with links to everyone’s reviews. I’m back at work as of yesterday, through to about 25 Jan, so hopefully I’ll be able to use Invasion Day to do my write-up.

Since AWW Gen 3 Week last year (here) I have put up the following posts (Woolf and Sackville-West are of course English but their works are central to the modernist project).

Katharine Susannah Prichard, The Pioneers (1915) (wadh)
Daisy Bates (theaustralianlegend)
Daisy Bates, The Passing of the Aborigines (1938) (wadh)
Miles Franklin, Bring the Monkey (1933) (wadh)
Marjorie Barnard, Miles Franklin (1967) (wadh)
Dymphna Cusack, Jungfrau (1936) (wadh)
Dymphna Cusack, Say No to Death (1951) (wadh)
Melbourne and Sydney (theaustralianlegend)

Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out (1915) (wadh)
Vita Sackville-West, All Passion Spent (1931) (wadh)

Sue (Whispering Gums) has three posts scheduled under the Bill Curates banner over the next week or so. If you miss them there’ll be links in the end-of-week summary.

Best Reads 2020

Last year I had a photo to illustrate John Dos Passos’ great USA, so this year, belatedly, I have the Spanish Flu, which apparently originated in Kansas, USA not that anyone would ever point fingers (story accompanying photo here).

I’m envious of the (few) new releases I read in 2019, there was nothing like that that caught my attention this year past, though at least I finally got to Too Much Lip (so so) and Pink Mountain on Locust Island (pretty good). My stats say I read 6 books from 2019/20 but none stuck, well except for the idiosyncratic The Sorrow of Miles Franklin beneath Mount Kajmakčalan. I have just purchased and made a start on Elizabeth Tan’s Smart Ovens for Lonely People. She is a fine (Western Australian) writer, quirky and funny, and if you haven’t yet read Rubik you really should.

If you care about the latest books, Kate W of Booksaremyfavouriteandbest lists her favourites for 2020 (here) and THE 2020 List of Lists (here). Of course the real best read of 2020 was every newspaper and newsletter (NYT, Palmer Report, HuffPost, Truthout, Guardian) in the days after 3 Nov. It is hard to believe that a man so unselfconsciously stupid was able to win even one election.

But if like me you like your books to season for a while here are the (Australian) Best Reads for half centuries past –

1970

There were 18 novels published, including one Patrick White, and two or three other interesting works –

Jessica Anderson, The Last Man’s Head
Dianne Cilento, The Hybrid
George Johnston ed., The World of Charmian Clift
Geoffrey Dutton, Tamara
Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch
Cynthia Nolan, A Bride for St Thomas
Oodgeroo Noonuccal, My People (verse)
Barry Oakley, A Salute to the Great McCarthy (football!)
Sayers ed., James Bonwick, Western Victoria – will review “soon”
Dai Stivens, A Horse of Air (1970 Miles Franklin Award winner)
Patrick White, The Vivesector

1920

A hard year for readers. The number of books published was down 4 or 5 on 1919, none of the novels stands out. Louisa Lawson died and amongst the births were Gwen Harwood, Leo McKern (Rumpole!), Oodgeroo Noonuccal, and Colin Thiele.

JHM Abbott, The Castle Vane
AH Adams, The Australians
Louis Esson, Dead Timber (a collection of plays)
Vance Palmer, The Shanty-keeper’s Daughter
Pyke (?), Coles Picture Book
Conrad Sayce, The Valley of a Thousand Deaths (also designed Winthrop Hall, UWA)
Arthur Wright, A Rough Passage

1870

Nine books (8 last year), including two novels, one famous! Adam Lindsay Gordon died. Mrs Gunn, Henry Handel Richardson and Ethel Turner were born.

Martin Cash, The Adventures of Martin Cash (convict, bushranger)
Marcus Clarke, For the Term of his Natural Life
Adam Lindsay Gordon, Bush Ballads & Galloping Rhymes
John R Houlding, Rural and City Life (by “Old Boomerang”)
Maitland, The Higher Law (English author, English book)

1820

Nothing much to see here. One book. Joseph Banks died, Raffaello Carboni was born (his book on his experience of the Eureka Stockade is excellent and I really must get myself another copy).

John Oxley, Journals of Two Expeditions into the Interior of New South Wales (available free on Proj Gutenberg (here))

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

Thinking in a Regional Accent

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Thinking in a Regional Accent: New Ways of Contemplating Australian Writers is a recent essay by WA academic, Tony Hughes-d’Aeth in the ABR which I no longer get, but a copy of which was sent by a friend. HdA was the editor of Like Nothing on this Earth, a compilation of WA Wheatbelt writing which I reviewed a few years ago, so he is an advocate for investigating ‘regional difference’ when analyzing Australian writing.

But what is regional difference? Certainly, one feels that regional
difference is at most a weak factor when compared to the forms of
difference that most occupy us today: race, gender, class, ethnicity, and, increasingly, sectarian political affiliations.

Yet regional difference is one of the first things I look for in a novel, and the failure or success of the author in delineating it is often where I begin my criticism. I like my novels to be grounded in a particular location, for the author and the reader, to know where they stand.

For [Marxist critic Raymond Williams], what emerged under the name of ‘regions’ in nineteenth-century Britain was essentially a geographical spatialisation of class. Regions were economically subservient peripheries of production. This meant that, for Williams, regional consciousness was a form of class consciousness. With this in mind, it is interesting to go back to how accents work in Australia, where they follow class rather than regional lines.

Is this true in Australia, about class and regions? Not really. Not that I don’t think class is important for understanding Australian writing. The different perspectives of Lawson and Paterson for instance are not just urban and rural; they are the polar opposites of working poor and landed gentry.

So what are Australia’s literary regions? HdA speaks as a Western Australian and the regions he cites are within WA, but I think the first important divide is urban – Melbourne and Sydney really, but if you like, that sliver of coast from Adelaide to Brisbane to which clings 80% of our population – and the rest, the Outback which occupies so much of our imagination. And a close second of course comes Melbourne and Sydney, as in Melbourne v Sydney.

After those two, it is clear the states themselves are regions. Much of our literature is state based. I imagine that Gerald Murnane could have written in Perth, or Thea Astley could have in South Australia (but maybe not that Patrick White could have written outside of Sydney) but the point is they didn’t. Their novels are firmly situated in the places they knew. And if regionalism has any meaning then the bodies of writing around those places is different from the writing around other places.

Probably different cities, different regions have a different feel and that permeates the writing (Lisa yesterday wrote about the imporatance of cylcones in Queensland). But also writers work together and influence each other; and increasingly writers pass through the universities and so are influenced by the writers they find there – Elizabeth Jolley, Kim Scott, John Kinsella in WA (though not all at the same uni) – how could they not be?

The WA Wheatbelt is not really my home region, though I live on the edge of it, and work there, and drive backwards and forwards through it, and so experience a sense of familiarity when I read works which are not just plonked down there but which explore what it means to be in that place – from the memoir A Fortunate Life, to Dorothy Hewett’s fictional Muckinupin, to Arthur Upfield’s spell at Burracoppin, to The Fringe Dwellers, to Jolley’s The Well, to the poetry of Kinsella and Charmaine Papertalk-Green.

Hughes-d’Aeth also discusses regional literature in a slightly different sense

.. it has been inspiring to watch the Wirlomin Noongar grouping (Kim Scott, Clint Bracknell, Claire G. Coleman, and others), who trace their belonging to the south coast of Western Australia, become a nodal point of Noongar cultural and language renaissance, and seriously influence the national imaginary.

Noongar country and the Wheatbelt are more or less the same geographically (the former includes Perth and the latter extends north a little way into Yamaji country and excludes the heavily forested south-west corner), but ‘Wheatbelt’ is such a White concept that I have trouble treating them as one. Do Indigenous Lit and White Lit belong in the same region? Same space, opposite perspectives.

Cutting back across the emergence of bio-regionalist sensibilities in literature and criticism has been the advent of second-wave Indigenous authors like Alexis Wright, Kim Scott, and Tony Birch and of the powerful insinuation of the concept of ‘Country’ into wider Australian discourse

I hadn’t thought of these writers as ‘second-wave’. I guess the implication is that Jack Davis (1917-2000), Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker) (1920-1993) and Mudrooroo (Colin Johnson) (1938 – 2019) were the first wave. Davis and Johnson were from WA, were there others over east?

“.. literary regionalism is a critical stance that I find myself adopting,
whether I want to or not” is not Hughes-d’Aeth’s conclusion, but I think it makes a good one.

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Tony Hughes-d’Aeth, Thinking in a Regional Accent: New Ways of Contemplating Australian Writers, Australian Book Review, Nov. 2020, no. 426.

Lisa/ANZLL – Cyclone Country: The Language of Place and Disaster in Australian Literature (here)

Brona’s AusReading Month 2020

November 2020, which is to say now, is Brona of BronasBooks eighth annual AusReading Month. Hopefully it will also be remembered as the month the USA stepped back from the brink of Fascism and, more cheerfully, it marks 20 years of international cooperation in space with the continuous occupation over that time of the Space Station. (And don’t you think Brona’s map is ‘brave’. Taswegians are vowing vengeance as I write.)

Celebration: What Australian books have I read over the past year? After filling last year’s bingo card. I started the new AusReading year with Banjo Patterson’s An Outback Marriage – “It was as if he gathered up all his knowledge of bush life and carpentered it up into a longer tale than those in his bush verses… The novel is cynical and shallow.” Miles Franklin didn’t like it! Despite the fact that she had been asked for advice during the writing.

During 2019 I featured the work of David Ireland and in December I read his The Flesheaters. Then it was time for wrapping up (Best Reads 2019) and on to Australian Women Writers Gen 3, with one extremely important Australian work in between, Chris Owen’s Every Mother’s Son is Guilty on Aboriginal massacres by police and settlers in northern WA.

The AWW Gen 3 Week summary, with all your contributions, is here. I personally read Exiles at Home, Drusilla Modjeska; and No Roads Go By, Myrtle Rose White. Then back to undirected, all over the place general reading. First, Melbourne arts student Jamie Marina Lau’s Pink Mountain on Locust Island which I greatly enjoyed; my own notes on Daisy Bates, followed by her The Passing of the Aborigines; another Gen 3, Jungfrau by Dymphna Cusack; then right back to Gen 1 with Sisters by Ada Cambridge.

It’s April, Covid-19 has struck, I’m in a motel outside Darwin in quarantine getting lots of reading done, and even a little exercise. I read Virginia Woolf, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, three Willa Cathers and finally Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Much Lip. I think I’ve moved on to my daughter’s apartment in Darwin when I read the predictably disappointing Bring the Monkey by Miles Franklin, because my next review is of The Black Line which she and I watched together.

I’d forgotten that David Ireland slipped over into 2020 with John ‘Fourtriplezed’ providing a guest review of Bloodfather. Back home, a brief respite from Covid, the 1987 short story collection, The Babe is Wise, then Second Wave in Melbourne and I am back in isolation, seemingly forever, but working, constantly driving backwards, forwards, Melbourne, Perth, though still doing some reading. Marjorie Barnard’s biography of Miles Franklin; Patrick White’s novella collection, The Cockatoos; a bit of recent history, The Hand that Signed the Paper, Helen Demidenko; Choc.Lit for ANZLL’s Indigenous Literature Week, Not Meeting Mr Right, Anita Heiss, and also her compilation, Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia; two for ANZLL’s Thea Astley Week, Drylands and Collected Stories; a Karenlee Thompson short story, Grace; a bit about Christos Tsiolkas before Melanie (GrabTheLapels) and I buddy read The Slap; a Macedonian novel featuring Miles Franklin (that must count as Australian); Jessica White’s A Curious Intimacy; my son Lou’s review of Thea Astley’s A Kindness Cup; Katharine Susannah Prichard’s The Pioneers; a YA, Melina Marchetta’s Saving Francesca; and that’s it.

Anticipation: This will be brief. I’m currently reading and will review later this month Melina Marchetta’s not-YA novel The Place on Dalhousie. After that I have hundreds of unread Australians in my TBR including The Cardboard Crown from which I keep getting distracted, but near the top of the list, friends have recently given/loaned me Trent Dalton, Boy Swallows Universe; Bill Green, Small Town Rising; Mudrooroo, Tripping with Jenny; Jean Devanny, Sugar Heaven; Elizabeth Jolley, The Orchard Thieves, An Accommodating Spouse, Lovesong and the memoir, Central Mischief. I also have two Miles Franklin’s to dig up, The Net of Circumstance and Pioneers on Parade as well as all her unpublished/uncollected short works and journalism. If the plague is ever behind us I might shout myself a trip to Sydney and the Mitchell Library.

Promotion: There are two items under this heading. First of course is Australian Women Writers Gen 3, Part II Week on this blog 17-23 Jan, 2021, which is back a little compared with last year but I suspect I’ll be working right up to Christmas so that gives me a few days extra to prepare.

As I wrote last year, Gen 3, 1919-1960, which covers the period from the end of WWI to the beginning of the sixties, is the story of White Australians clustered in a few cities on the arable fringes of a hostile continent. I said there were two main strands to Gen 3, ‘Social Realism’ and ‘Modernism’, but there was a third, ‘Pioneering’ which followed on the Bush Realism of Gen 2 and which emphasised the role of families in the Bush, and therefore of women, as a reaction to the misogyny of the Bulletin’s Lone Hand myth (AKA the Australian Legend).

At the edges of any movement and in this case between Gen 3 and Gen 4 there are always writers on the cusp. I haven’t given enough thought to Gen 4 yet, and you guys might help, but it is in essence those writers we baby boomers began to read as we reached adulthood, corresponding to the revolution in popular music represented by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, musicians born 10 or so years before us, and to Women’s Lib, the pill, de facto marriages, cheap universal tertiary education, the anti-War movement. So, Thea Astley, first novel 1958; Elizabeth Harrower, first novel 1957; and so on through to Helen Garner, first novel 1977. The theoretical background should be post-modernism though I’d be surprised if that was influential in Australia before the 1970s.

I plan to read Kylie Tennant’s Tell Morning This which, speaking of cusps, was published in 1967. But I hope also to get to The Great Australian Loneliness (1937) by Ernestine Hill which I think is central to how Australians saw themselves ‘back then’. Look on the AWW Gen 3 page for authors and the reviews I’ve so far collected.

My second ‘promotion’ is I plan a deep reading of Joseph Furphy’s great work Such is Life, following in the footsteps of Brona (Moby Dick) and Lisa Hill (Finnegan’s Wake), with posts, probably monthly, throughout the year.

I have a 1999 edition annotated by FD Glass, R Eaden, L Hoffman & GW Turner, though unfortunately IMO the annotations take the form of end notes. I’m not sure yet how I’ll break the 7 chapters, 297 pp into 12 sections but I hope that by the end you, and more especially I, have a better understanding of this wonderful, idiosyncratic work.

That’s another year in summary for me. I don’t think I can manage a Bingo card. Thank you Brona, and good luck. From the chatter around it sounds like you already have lots of participants.

BronasBooks: AusReading Month 2020 (register here)

Madura Sunrise

Journal: 058

Yesterday morning I woke up way out in the desert at Madura, 600 km after the last town, Penong SA, 525 km to the next, Norseman WA, and another 725 km after Norseman to Perth (map). I made it home around 8.00pm but couldn’t face another 3 or 4 hours getting my last trailer in, so that cost me most of this morning. Now, after lunch and a glass of wine, I can finally attend to my bloggerly duties.

The good news is that while I was on the road Victoria announced that it had got on top of its second wave Covid outbreak and was coming out of lockdown. The next good news was that the WA’s hard border was down and that visitors would be allowed in from states without ongoing infections. The bad news was that this doesn’t yet include Victoria and that, unlike the citizens of both Vic and WA, truck drivers who travel between the two must continue to self-isolate. Still, I have my fingers crossed for Christmas.

[Just then, I wrote something, deleted it and somehow deleted the previous paragraph with it. Luckily, Undo worked just fine. Did we always have Undo?]

Otherwise, I had an unremarkable trip. It rained. It’s rained every trip for as far back as I can remember. At least with the coming of spring the rain seems a bit warmer. And I saw two Mallee Fowl. In the Mallee (north western Victoria). I’ve seen them a few times over here in the west, going into mines in mallee scrub country, but despite all the years I lived there, this was the first time I’d seen them in Victoria. Which leads me to where are the great flocks of cockatoos, galahs and rosellas that we used to see as kids? I still see some of course, but nothing like we used to, nor magpies. Every other bird these days is a crow. I blame glysophate.

That’s the reading/listening for three trips or six weeks down there, representing maybe half a dozen half-considered and abandoned posts, mostly because by the time I sit down at my computer I’ve forgotten all the arguments with which I was going to dazzle you. But two American books to which I listened on the way home made me think some more about ‘the Independent Woman’.

The Independent Woman in Australian Literature was, I’m sure you all know by now, the title of my M.Litt dissertation. Its thesis is that Australian women writers developed an archetypal heroine who eschews marriage in favour of career, that this is an alternative to the male archetype – mates in the bush/brave, larrikin Anzacs beloved of politicians; and that this archetype seems peculiarly Australian though with possible antecedents in early English Lit.

What started me thinking was Robert Heinlein’s Beyond this Horizon (1942). The principal theme of the work, as was so often the case with Heinlien, is supermen – in the Nietzschean sense – but here the hero meets a woman who might be his equal, including in the wearing of guns. His response is, “You’re not one of those independent women, are you?” before wrestling her to the floor, taking away her gun, and forcing her to accept a kiss. At which she falls in love with him and becomes the mother of his (super) children.

Next up was a Danielle Steel, Power Play (2014), which was less formulaic than I had feared. We follow two CEOs of major corporations who have very contrasting years. One, a woman, long divorced is both competent and moral; the other a guy with a wife who gave up being a lawyer to be his perfect helpmeet, who sleeps with his young women employees, and who has a second family in another city. Interestingly, the guy has a woman chairman of the board who forces him to resolve the two wives thing (Spoiler: they both leave him).

It is my opinion, though without going to the trouble of collecting actual evidence, that US writers shy away from allowing their women too much independence and almost invariably have them, in the end, deferring to men. Prime example: Marge Simpson. Possible exception: Willa Cather.

In my next post, later this week (touch wood), I’ll address Brona’s #AusReadingMonth2020 and also my coming Australian Women Writers, Gen 3 Part II Week (second or third week of Jan. 2021).

Recent audiobooks 

Gene Wolfe (M, USA), The Land Across (2013) – SF (sort of)
Kevin Wignall (M, Eng), The Traitor’s Story (2016)
John Grisham (M, USA), Sycamore Row (2013) – Crime
Jacqueline Winspear (F, Eng), In This Grave Hour (2017) – Crime
Jenny Siller (F, USA), Iced (2000) – Crime
Mark Twain (M, USA), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)
Nick Spalding (M, Eng), Love and Sleepless Nights (2012) – Comedy?
Neil White (M, Eng), Next to Die (2013) – Crime
JD Robb (F, USA), Born in Death (2006) – SF/Crime
Edith Wharton (F, USA), A Son at the Front (1923)
Lee Child (M, Eng), A Wanted Man (2012) – Crime
Ben Lieberman (M, USA), Odd Jobs (2013)– Crime. DNF
Petra Durst-Benning (F, Ger), The Glassblower (2014) – Hist.Fic
Gaston Leroux (M, Fra), The Mystery of the Yellow Room (1908) – Crime
Bradford Morrow (M, USA), The Forgers (2013)– Crime. DNF. Boring
F Herbert, B Ransom (M, USA), The Ascension Factor (1988) – SF
Unknown (M, Eng), Beowulf (700?)
Danielle Steel (F, USA), Power Play (2014)
L Ziepe (F, Eng), The Morning After the Wedding Before (2019) – Comedy
Bruce Porter (M, USA), Snatched (2016)– NonFic.
Mickey Spillane, M Collins (M, USA), King of the Weeds (2014) – Crime
Robert Heinlein (M, USA), Beyond this Horizon (1942)– SF

Currently reading

KS Prichard (F, Aust/Vic), The Pioneers
Melina Marchetta (F, Aust/NSW), Saving Francesca
Melina Marchetta (F, Aust/NSW), The Place on Dalhousie
Georgette Heyer (F, Eng), The Grand Sophy

Recent Purchases

Zorah Neale Hurston (F, USA), Jonah’s Gourd Vine
Elena Ferrante (F, Ita), The Lying Life of Adults
Sally Rooney (F, Eng), Conversations with Friends
Haruki Murakmi (M, Jap), The Wind-up Bird Chronicle
Thomas Pynchon (M, USA), V
Ursula Le Guin (F, USA) The Unreal and the Real Vol.s 1,2

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!