Autofiction

Don’t worry, this is not a lesson, I just want to think out loud a bit about why fiction which may or may not be a direct transcribing of the author’s journals is my favourite type of writing. My starting point will be Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends, which I have just read – or re-reread, a lot of the situations seemed familiar – but where will we go from there? Rooney’s other works, An I-Novel, Miles Franklin, Eve Langley, Jane Austen (why not?).

Even before going on I realise I’ve left out Justine Ettler and her discomfort with the reception of The River Ophelia, paralleling Franklin’s discomfort with the reception of My Brilliant Career 90 odd years earlier, and with the same consequence. Sales were suspended.

Let’s say autofiction is a work where the author bases her – I seem to have only offered female examples – protagonist on herself but puts her in situations which the reader cannot know are real or fictional. By all means improve or dispute my definition, but that is where I’m starting.

The way the term is used tends to be unstable, which makes sense for a genre that blends fiction and what may appear to be fact into an unstable compound

New York literary critic Christian Lorentzen, 2018 (Wiki)

And the reason I like autofiction so much is: writers whose objective is to be writers don’t bother with too much story-telling, they just put themselves on the page with all the skill they can muster; the protagonist subjects herself to intense introspection; the writer is writing what she knows, no energy is spent on invention (where this leaves my other love, Science Fiction is a question for another day).

Sally Rooney (1991- ) has now released three works: Conversations with Friends (2017), Normal People (2018), Beautiful World, Where are You (2021). In Conversations Rooney takes her third year at uni (Trinity College, Dublin) and explores friendship, sex and love through the protagonist, Frances, her friend and lover, Bobbi, and an affair with the married, older actor Nick. I’m guessing she uses an ‘affair’ because she wishes to avoid the clumsiness of young love/first sex, though this is the first time Frances has had sex with a man.

Normal People I’ve lent to someone, my daughter probably, but basically Rooney offers an alternative coming-of-age (to Conversations), starting at the end of high school with Marianne and Connell, taking them to Trinity College, and then taking Marianne through some masochistic relationships without ever losing sight of Connell. One day a literary biography well tell us (or my grandchildren more likely) what truths, or not, this is based on.

Beautiful World, Where are You reads like a transcription of Rooney’s diary now she is a wildly successful writer, though no doubt she has just taken her present position and around that woven four different ways of dealing with being 30.

Minae Mizumura (1951- ) is a Japanese-American writer whose An I-Novel (1995) is mostly the thirtyish Minae and her sister Nanae talking on the phone about their life in America wishing they were in Japan. The I-novel is a Japanese form of autofiction dating back at least to the early 1900s. Of the novelists I’ve named only Mizumura and Justine Ettler used their own names for their protagonists, which for some (not me) is a necessary part of autofiction.

Justine Ettler (1965- ) wrote Marilyn’s Almost Terminal New York Adventure (1996) and then The River Ophelia (1995), though you can see they were published in reverse order. Marilyn is a straight autofiction first novel, but The River Ophelia is an astonishing exploration of Justine’s subjection to sadism. Ettler became so upset about the assumption that it was autobiography that she stopped both books being sold (see my interview with her).

Miles Franklin (1879-1954) wrote My Brilliant Career (1901) when she was a teenager, probably writing chapters and reading them out to amuse her friends as she describes in her subsequent works. Sybylla is Miles and Possum Gully is Thornford, the small farming community near Canberra (then a village) where she grew up, but the story is just a story, or sequence of stories, as Miles who was very prudish, imagines ‘love’ or more often the disagreeableness of ‘love’, and caricatures her family and fellows without thought for their reactions on seeing themselves in print.

Following MBC’s success, at least with everyone who didn’t know her, Miles wrote two follow-ups, The End of My Career (1902) and On the Outside Track (1903) both re-presenting the same ‘facts’ but framing MBC as a spoof autobiography written by a fictional author who just happened to have the same name, Sybylla Melvyn, as the protagonist of the new work. Very postmodern when Modernism had hardly got under way. Sadly, both were refused publication, and so Miles withdrew MBC from sale “until ten years after her death”.

The End was subsequently revised and published as My Career Goes Bung (1946) – more in my next post on the Australian Women Writers Challenge (13 Apr.) – and On the Outside Track was re-written as Cockatoos (1954), the best of her autobiographical works in my opinion, to fit in with the Brent of Bin Bin series (which is based on generations of Miles’ mother’s family).

Eve Langley (1904-1974), probably the most lyrical Australian author ever, wished to live in the Bush as a character out of a Henry Lawson story, and so she and her sister ‘Blue’ famously adopted men’s clothing and went out into eastern Victoria as itinerant farm workers. Eve kept a journal for every year and when, in dire straits in New Zealand during WWII she heard of the upcoming Prior Prize she wrote up her first journal as a novel, The Pea Pickers (1942), the story of a woman wanting the love of a man but determined to preserve her independence. One of Australia’s great novels won one third of first place, £100, promptly spent by her husband.

Her second journal became White Topee (1954) and the New Zealand journals (no.s 6 -12) were edited down by Lucy Frost from about 3,000pp to the 300 page and tremendously sad Wilde Eve (1999).

Ok, we’re nearly at the end and it’s reading a bit (a lot) like a lesson. Sorry. Let’s consider Jane Austen (1775-1817). I’ve loved Austen’s writing all my adult life. She doesn’t exactly write autofiction, and her works, brilliantly written of course, are not introspective. But I suspect that her first work, Love and Freindship, and also Sense and Sensibility, arose out of her time at boarding school, 1785-86. Silly girls telling each other stories of ‘love’. Pride and Prejudice is clearly Jane and (older sister) Cassandra given the romances that life (or their own preferences) denied them; the Austen parents lampooned affectionately as Mr and Mrs Bennet, and love sought, found, withdrawn etc. Then as Jane matures so do her heroines.

Re-reading, as you must when you’re your own editor and proofreader, suggests this conclusion: that earlier and many current writers, eg. Rooney, base characters on themselves, but that autofiction is the self-conscious placing of a character representing the author into a fictional setting, resulting in a close interrogation of the author’s character.

The Australian Women Writers Challenge

Journal: 082

I like last year’s logo, though one of my friends thinks poor Miles (it is of course Miles Franklin’s silhouette) is losing all her thoughts, or all her sense more likely, out the top of her head. We don’t have one for this year, and we are using the heading from an earlier year again. We – I say we, as I am now on the AWWC editorial team, with the site’s founder, Elizabeth Lhuede, and Sue (Whispering Gums) – will try and update the site’s appearance as we go along.

Over the past ten years they have built up a considerable database of reviews of Australian women’s writing (a lot of it contemporary of course); and also Elizabeth has been/is building an archive of out of copyright stories and novels. To complement that, I hope I can consolidate the work we have done here with AWW Gens 1 2 and 3 – which is roughly the period AWWC will cover from now on – onto the AWWC site as well.

Those of you who enjoyed the challenge of setting -and meeting – a target, may still, I hope will, post reviews on the Facebook page Love Reading Books by Aussie Women. I know, it’s not the same thrill as being mentioned in Summaries.

My reason for writing this post is to encourage conversation about the site. The reviews database needs a lot of work to make it friendlier to update and to search on. We are concentrating on the ‘magazine’ side at the moment – I think it’s looking good, don’t you – but we will definitely get back to the database side, though perhaps ‘eventually’ rather than ‘soon’.

For those of you I haven’t persuaded to subscribe, I will put up a list each month of the previous months posts.

AWWC February 2022

DateContributorTitle
Wed02Elizabeth LhuedeA new year and a new focus
Wed09Michelle Scott TuckerAustralia’s First Women Writers
Fri11ELElizabeth Fenton, The Journal of Mrs. Fenton (extract)
Wed16Bill HollowayLouisa Atkinson, Gertrude the Emigrant (review)
Fri18wadHLouisa Atkinson, Gertrude the Emigrant (extract)
Wed23Whispering GumsEarly Australian women writers, 1: Primary sources
Fri25ELLouisa Anne Meredith, Voyage out, 1839 (extract)

I’m thoroughly enjoying being part of AWWC, the to and fro as we get stuff sorted, and the contact with other bloggers as I source guest posts. I’ve always dreamed of being involved with a literary magazine and this is pretty close.

Somehow, the gaps in my real work have aligned to allow me to get well ahead with my AWWC posts and even a little ahead with posts here. Today, as I write, is Sunday. Last week I did a milk run up north, with a final delivery east of Marble Bar (Australia’s hottest town, on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert), had radiator problems, got going using black pepper as ‘Bars Leak’, then broke down again almost directly outside Volvo, Port Hedland. They, despite being booked a fortnight in advance, replaced my fan, fan belt and pulleys while I waited and got me on my way home.

Yesterday, the Milly’s Moving project had me up a ladder painting; and tomorrow I will be (on Monday I was, you know what I mean) on my way again, first with a machine to Kalgoorlie and then a road train load back up past Marble Bar to Telfer.

The wet season (Summer) means roads up north are routinely under water – though not to compare at the moment with the east coast – the photo is of the Shaw River between Port Hedland and Marble Bar, and there’ll probably be a couple of more crossings between Marble Bar and Telfer.

[Weds night as I post this I am stuck in Port Hedland waiting out Cycllone Anika which is due to cross directly over Telfer, my destination, some time tomorrow.]

Just to slip in a literary reference, Ernestine Hill took a detour to Marble Bar (1932 ish), I think on her way back from Darwin to Port Hedland. Nullagine, 90 km of barely driveable dirt road south, was then the principal town of the region, and I believe Hill heard in one of Marble Bar’s many pubs about the escape of the Rabbit-Proof Fence girls back to Jigalong which came under Nullagine’s jurisdiction, and so made her way to Jigalong to meet them (The Great Australian Loneliness, 1937).

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Recent audiobooks 

Helen Garner (F, Aus/Vic), Stories (2019)
Suzanne Collins (F, USA), The Hunger Games (2008) – SF
Suzanne Collins (F, USA), Catching Fire (2009) – SF
Suzanne Collins (F, USA), Mocking Jay (2010) – SF
Claire Fuller (F, Eng), Bitter Orange (2018) – more drama than Crime

Currently Reading:

Doris Lessing (F, Eng), Shikasta (1981) – SF
Madelaine Ryan (F, Aus/Vic), A Room Called Earth (2020)

More for the TBR:

Speaking of Milly’s Moving, I took some bags of clothes to a local Anglicare and, having not been in a secondhand store since Covid, came out with 13 books, for less than the price of one new one, nearly all Virago Modern Classics. Hopefully, you can tell me where I should start.

Eliot Bliss, Saraband (1931)
F Tennyson Jesse, The Lacquer Lady (1929)
Laura Talbot, The Gentlewoman (1952)
MJ Farrell (Molly Keane), The Rising Tide (1937)
Rosamond Lehman, Invitation to the Waltz (1932)
EM Mayor, The Squire’s Daughter (1929)
EH Young, Jenny Wren (1932)
Elizabeth Jenkins, The Tortoise and the Hare (1954)
Ellen Wilkinson, Clash (1929)
Rosamond Lehman, A Note in Music (1930)
May Sinclair, The Three Sisters (1914)
Sunetra Gupta, A Sin of Colour (1999)
Hanif Kureishi, The Bhudda of Suburbia (1990)

AWW Gen 4 Roundup

AWW Gen 4 Week, 16-23 Jan 2022

During this week Lisa/ANZLitLovers posted a review of The Penguin Best Australian Short Stories (1991). Because of the year it came out, it contained a number of interesting and relatively unknown stories by AWW Gen 4 authors. Lisa was hopeful that there would be authors she did not know, but no such luck. However it did serve to remind me of a short story collection I reviewed a couple of years ago, The Babe is Wise: Contemporary stories by Australian women (1987).

I’ll put the table of contents down the bottom rather than here in the middle of the post, but the question Lisa has put in my mind is who are Judy Duffy, Lallie Lennon, Carolyn von Langenburg, Vicki Viidikas, Sue Chin, and a number of others? And yes there is a story from our ‘new discovery’ Margaret Barbalet. I wish now I had made this book my Gen 4 project.

We had another successful week – thankyou all for your contributions – and we began, I think, teasing out the ways in which Gen 4 is both different from and a continuation of Gen 3. Social Realism I must say seems to have come to a dead stop, probably with the works of Frank Hardy in the 60s and 70s. Or do you think there are elements of Social Realism in Monkey Grip?

Here’s all the posts for the week, including a few I did in the lead up (generously defined)

The Australian Legend
Australian Women Writers Gen 4 (here)
More Gen 4 Stuff (here)
The Bluebird Café, Carmel Bird (here)
West Block, Sara Dowse (here)
Reaching Tin River, Thea Astley (here)
AWW Gen 4: Postmodern? (here)
Monkey Grip, Helen Garner (here)
Snake Cradle, Roberta Sykes (here)

Lisa Hill/ANZLitLovers
The Visit, Amy Witting (here)
Orpheus Lost, Janet Turner Hospital (here)
Blood in the Rain, Margaret Barbalet (here) plus quite a bit of background on Barbalet
The Penguin Best Australian Short Stories, Mary Lord ed. (here)
One Bright Morning, Wendy Scarfe (here)

Kimbofo/Reading Matters
The Orchard Thieves, Elizabeth Jolley (here)

Brona’s Books
Collected Stories, Shirley Hazzard (here)

Sue/Whispering Gums
Monday Musings: Reflections of a 1970s feminist (here)
Blood in the Rain, Margaret Barbalet (here)
‘Epiphany in Harrower’s “The Fun of the Fair”‘ by Emily Maguire (here) [We classified Harrower Gen 3 but WG’s review of Maguire’s interesting essay straddles Generations]

Marcie McCauley/Buried in Print
Rereading Dale Spender (here)

Jessica White
The Whispering Wall, Patricia Carlon (here)

Naomi/Consumed by Ink
The Spare Room, Helen Garner (here)

All these will be listed on the AWW Gen 4 page, along with any others you let me know that you have done (don’t worry about links, just give me names so I can find them) or that you might do in the future. Over on the other side of the world I know Naomi/Consumed by Ink has just read Garner’s The Spare Room and Melanie/Grab the Lapels was not sure if she was going to read Jolley’s The Well. Would love your reviews guys. As I write, a message has flashed across my screen that Lisa has put up one more – goes to look – “Just scraping into the last day of Bill’s week” she begins, which is probably what caught my attention. Wendy Scarfe, I’ll add it now. You’re a champion, Lisa.

Next year we’ll ‘do’ AWW Gen 5, which is to say everyone who’s left. Ok, Australian women who began writing in or since the 1990s. A very important part of Gen 5 is the rise of Indigenous Lit to the leading edge of Aust.Lit generally, so that is a discussion I want to have, but without cutting across Lisa’s longstanding commitment to showcasing Indig.Lit each July (coinciding with NAIDOC Week).

The Babe is Wise: Table of Contents

My Hard HeartHelen Garner
ScarsJudy Duffy
The Plain Clothes ManLyn Hughes
A Lover of Nature and Music and ArtBarbara Hanrahan
MaralingaLallie Lennon
Whatever it TakesMeredith Michie
Brown and Green GiraffesOlga Masters
The GameJudith Woodfall
The DugongJudith Wright
IncubusMolly Guy
My Sister’s FuneralRobin Sheiner
The Test Is, If They DrownKate Grenville
Behind the GlassSue Hancock
TravellingJoan London
Hitler’s DriverCarolyn van Landenburg
Hibakusha’s DaughterFay Zwicky
The Midnight ShiftGillian Mears
Marie and SuzieMarianne Szymiczek
TongueJanet Shaw
Judith. 510 PiecesJudith Lukin
IreneGeorgia Savage
Vegetable SoupCarmel Killin
Darlinghurst PortraitVicki Viidikas
Bella DonnaMary Anne Baartz
Buttercup and WendyCarmel Bird
As Time Goes ByBeverley Farmer
In Defence of Lord ByronIlona Palmer
Write Me, Son, Write MeThea Astley
The MincerMargaret Barbalet
Scratch at the Dark SoilSue Chin
My Father’s MoonElizabeth Jolley

AWW Gen 4: Postmodern?

AWW Gen 4 Week, 16-23 Jan 2022

AWW Gen 4 is (Australian women) writers who were first published in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. I have written elsewhere that the changeover from Gen 3 was marked by the end, in Australia, of a white, Anglo monoculture – where our major ‘other’ was the large Irish Catholic, largely working class, minority. Gen 4, then, begins with waves of ‘Mediterranean’ immigration, from Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia and Lebanon; the ‘youth culture’ of the sixties; Womens Lib; Civil Rights; a release from the sexual constraints of the 1950s; much greater access to tertiary education, and indeed to late secondary education; and a widely shared prosperity which, by the end of the eighties had crashed headlong into the neo-liberalism of Regan and Thatcher (and of Keating and Howard), though it was another couple of decades before we began to recognise what we had lost.

I have a problem in that I enjoy reading Lit. Theory but very little of it sticks. There is no doubt though that at the beginning of the period, the majority of writers were still working in the Modernist tradition (see last year’s Late Modernity), and that the ideas of Postmodernism, post-structuralism, post-colonialism being explored overseas, were both poorly understood and only slowly taken up.

Clearly postmodern works like Thomas Keneally’s A Dutiful Daughter and David Ireland’s The Unknown Industrial Prisoner, both 1971, were beacons in a sea of conventionality.

Keneally, (Bethany’s Book) and probably every other author at least once, pissfarted around with the idea of conflating the book being read and the author of the book being read with the book and author being written about (which Miles Franklin did earlier and better in My Career Goes Bung); and my feelings about Peter Carey’s taking up of the fashion of Magic Realism, beginning with Illywhacker (1985) don’t bear repeating.

Putting the author into the work always seemed to me to be a straight riposte to the ‘Death of the Author’, and pointless after it had been done once; MR was a fashion that worked when used sparingly but soon became every aspiring author’s new toy. If you want more, the ALS Journal has an interesting review of Maria Takolander’s Catching Butterflies: Bringing Magical Realism to Ground (2007)*.

Other aspects under the postmodern umbrella are irony, unreliability, commercialism, pop culture. Modernism was a serious project to understand the nature of writing and of the self; without the politics of feminism and post-colonialism, postmodernism is largely a cop out, promoted by the left and taken up joyously by the right as cover for their aversion to truth telling.

The first writer in our Gen 4, in more than one sense, is Thea Astley, whose first work, Girl with a Monkey, came out in 1958. Leigh Dale says that while Astley’s fiction is post-colonial in that much of it is concerned with the consequences of the colonisation of Australia, and particularly of course, Queensland –

Astley’s novels have a tendency to reject the recuperation of resistance that has been the major task of much post-colonial literary and cultural criticism, and to emphasise both the devastation caused by colonialism on indigenous populations, and the lasting refusal of colonial regimes to recognise the causes or effects of that devastation.

This is understandable, both because she is a pioneer in the recognition of the violence done to Indigenous peoples, and because “the recuperation of resistance”, establishing that the Indigenous were more than just victims, is the task, in the first place, of Indigenous writers.

Astley was an innovator in her subject matter, but in her writing she was concerned to write in the Modernist tradition, seeking reassurance from Patrick White, and most similar probably in the denseness and precision of her writing to her contemporary Randolph Stow. Still, I noted in my recent review of Astley’s Reaching Tin River (1990) that Astley had clearly, over time, absorbed some of the tropes of postmodernism, playfulness say, allowing two characters 70 years in time apart, to be in some way aware of each other.

Two other AWW Gen 4 writers I’ve reviewed this year are Sara Dowse and Carmel Bird. Bird was the recipient of the 2016 Patrick White Award. The judges wrote: “Using elements of the Gothic, fantasy and fairy tale as easily as realism, Bird can be surreal, quirky and macabre, but also humorous, humane and warm.” I struggled with the postmodernism of The Bluebird Café (1990) but that might have been just me. I gave Milly Bird’s The Family Skeleton (2016) for xmas. How that will go I cannot say.

Dowse I’ve run into a couple of times in the newspapers. In reviews of work by Australian poet Kate Jennings, and US feminist Shiela Rowbotham, Dowse revisits her own time as an activist in the sixties and seventies. In the period covered by West Block (1975-76) Dowse is already bogged down attempting to get women’s policies past an unfriendly (Fraser/Liberal) government. But there was a time of hope before that.

[Kate Jennings’] Trouble has brought it back: the demos, the passion, the laughs, the daring. Subtitled Evolution of a Radical, the book is a selection of Jennings’s writing from 1970 to 2010. The first entry is the raw, spitting speech Jennings hurled at a 1970 Vietnam moratorium rally on the front lawn of Sydney University – the opening salvo of Women’s Liberation in Australia. Did we actually speak like that?

That day, at that moment, I was 850 kms down the road, with the Melb Uni contingent listening to similar speeches in Treasury Gardens prior to the March – 100,000 people or more, all the length of Bourke St. What a day!

My first review for the Week will be Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip (1977). The women’s movement for Garner’s Nora is already just a hum in the background, women living co-operatively, but still seemingly at the beck and call of men.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this period, the beginning of adulthood for many of us, appears to you. And please, let me know in Comments what you hope to read (and review!).

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References:
Leigh Dale, Colonial History and Post Colonial Fiction: The Writing of Thea Astley, Australian Literary Studies, 1 May 1999 (here)
Karen Lamb, “Yrs Patrick”, Southerly, Vol 72.1 2012
Sara Dowse, Trouble, Age, Melbourne, 23 April 2010
Sara Dowse, Days of Hope, Inside Story, 17 December 2021 (here)


“Maria Takolander’s ambitious project, Catching Butterlies: Bringing Magical Realism to Ground, seeks to clear up the confusion surrounding the literary term ‘magical realism’, an oxymoron which Takolander says has become ‘a dumping ground for the convenient disposal of any fiction that deviates from or experiments with the rules of realism’ …

Takolander goes on to argue that using MR to represent the spirit lives underlying Indigenous cultures is necessarily inauthentic. The reviewer (and I) disagree:

“However, rather than suggesting that reality itself does not exist, [non-European authors] propose that there are other ways of experiencing it. Such magical realist authors recognise and expose the cultural clashes, merges and changes in postcolonial situations, and express it through magical realism. Such works are not, or not necessarily, ‘inauthentic’ because they present twentieth-century versions of indigenous cultures.

Tanja Schwalm, Review of Maria Takolander, Catching Butterflies: Bringing Magical Realism to Ground (2007) in Australian Literary Studies, 1 June 2009.

Best Reads 2021

Storming the Capitol. 6 Jan 2021. Photo Jason Andrew NYT

The best read of 2021 was definitely any report of the failure of Donald Tr#*mp to retain the presidency of the USA. However, I don’t have much doubt Republicans will return to power and once there will begin some years of neo-Facism (see the New York Times editorial of 1 Jan 2021 – “Every day is Jan. 6 now”).

If you want a Best (Australian Political) Read for 2021 try Bernard Keane’s Lies and Falsehoods: The Morrison Government and the New Culture of Deceit (I’ve read excerpts in Crikey).

Now on with books which we might actually read, or you might actually read. As usual, I read very few new releases. The best which accidentally jumped out of me at the bookshop were An I-Novel by Minae Mizumura (USA/Japan), How We Are Translated by Jessica Gaitán Johannesson (Eng/Sweden) and Another Day in the Colony by Chelsea Watego (Australia/Indigenous). I’m sure I’ll come across others eventually.

Fifty years back we are in AWW Gen 4 territory, though I’m afraid the best books are by guys –

1971

There were 20 novels published, 18 the previous year – those are astonishingly small numbers don’t you think – most of them unmemorable; and a couple of interesting non-fiction which I still own.

Kenneth Cook, Piper in the Market Place
Dymphna Cusack, A Bough in Hell
Geoffry Dutton & Max Harris, Sir Henry, Bjelke, Don Baby and Friends (NF)
Frank Hardy, The Outcasts of Foolgarah
Donald Horne, But What if there are no Pelicans
David Ireland, The Unknown Industrial Prisoner (review)
George Johnston, A Cartload of Clay (Memoir)
Thomas Keneally, A Dutiful Daughter (review)
Cynthia Nolan, Paradise, And Yet (Verse)
Elizabeth Salter, Daisy Bates (NF, review)
Kylie Tennant, The Man on the Headland (Memoir)
Barbara Vernon, A Big Day at Bellbird (yes, that Bellbird!)
Judah Waten, So Far No Further

1921

The number of books published is slowly picking up after the War, but at around 40, you could probably have read them all if you had to. I’ll list all the novels plus a few others.

CEW Bean, Vol I,II, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918
Marie Bjelke-Petersen, Dusk (Popular Romance)
Dulcie Deamer, Revelation
CJ Dennis, A Book for Kids (Childrens)
Mary Fullerton, Bark House Days
Agnes Gwynne, The Mistress of Windfells
Ada Holman, Sport of the Gods
Arthur Lynch, O’Rourke the Great
Mary Marlowe, Ghost Girl
Maurice Furnley, Arrows of Longing (Verse)
Bernard O’Dowd, Alma Venus! (Verse)
Ida Outhwaite, The Enchanted Forest (Childrens)
AB Paterson, Collected Verse
KS Prichard, Black Opal
Steele Rudd, We Kaytons (S/Stories)
JM (James) Walsh, Tap-Tap Island (illus. by Percy Lindsay)
Arthur Wright, Fettered by Fate

1871

Six authors for eight books, just one novel (by the author of The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn)

Marcus Clarke, Old Tales for a Young Country (S/Stories)
Henry Kingsley, The Boy in Grey
Richard Rowe, Episodes in a Obscure Life (Memoir, Goodreads)

1821

Nothing

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

Tarella down a Rabbit Hole

Journal: 079

When Katharine Susannah Prichard (1883-1969) went up to Tarella Station – north of Wilcannia in the deserts of far western NSW – in 1905 to be governess for a year, she was to find herself not the only writer sitting down to dinner each night. Tarella was owned by E. Quin, and his oldest daughter, Tarella, but universally called Ella, six years older than KSP, was already a published author.

This came up when I was reading KSP’s autobiography Child of the Hurricane but I was reminded of it more recently during a few drinks with KSP biographer Nathan Hobby, and decided to follow it up.

Searching on Trove for ‘Tarella’ brings up some references to the station (for instance, here) but searching on Ella’s pen name ‘James Adare’ brings up a number of stories published in the two or three years before KSP’s year on the station. So , for instance ‘How the Mighty are Fallen’, a funny story about a Bishop on an outback station who goes missing each evening (Queenslander, 30 Apr 1904).

KSP herself wrote a fictionalized and highly romantic account of her journey to and stay on Tarella, in the form of letters to her mother, ‘A City Girl in Central Australia’, serialized over six issues of New Idea the following year (1906). Sadly, Trove doesn’t seem to have New Idea, and the extensive AWWC story archive has no Prichard at all (She’s under copyright until 2039).

In her only mention of Ella’s writing, KSP is pretty dismissive, and there is no hint they ever compared notes. Tarella Quin subsequently had some children’s stories published plus two adult novels, A Desert Rose (1912) and Kerno: A Stone (1914),.

There was another ‘connection’ between Ella and KSP. Ella’s younger sister, Hazel was in the same year at PLC* Melbourne as Hilda Bull (and Nettie Palmer), and Hilda was KSP’s next door neighbour, best friend, and former primary school classmate. The Quin family had a second property on the edge of the Dandenongs, on the outskirts of Melbourne where they would often spend the summer – and in fact KSP returned home with them after the summer of 1904/5 – but it is not recorded that KSP knew the Quins prior to being employed.

Also in that PLC year was Ida Rentoul, the ‘fairy’ illustrator who went on to illustrate at least one of Tarella’s children’s books, Gum Tree Brownie and Other Faerie Folk of the Never-Never (1907). Years ago when I wrote about Ida’s older sister Annie, I gave her the writing credit for Gum Tree Brownie. Of course I no longer have the source for that. Annie Rattray Rentoul went on to Melbourne University and then returned to PLC as a teacher. A reader of that post gives this sad postscript to Rentoul’s life

Back in 1978, [unnamed] worked at Mont Park Psychiatric Hospital. There was a patient there named Annie Rentoul. Annie was mocked by the patients and some of the staff when she said that she was an author. She went everywhere with a huge handbag. The handbag was often hidden by other patients and uncaring staff, causing her great distress.

I spent weeks researching Annie’s claim of being an author. Ida Rentoul-Outhwaite was easier to find; she was a formerly well known children’s book illustrator. Eventually I found the information; Annie wrote the words; Ida painted the illustrations.

I remember being so excited and couldn’t wait to let Annie know what I had found, but … Annie had died a few days earlier.

I wept for this poor woman who was treated so unkindly in a huge mental health institution.

Madeline Keil, 8 Oct 2018

The last rabbit hole brought up by searching ‘Tarella’ that I want to mention is a quest by the Age (Melbourne) in 1933 to name The Fifty Best Australian Novels. This story was written up by Vivian Smith, in the Australian Literary Studies Journal, 1 Oct 1989.

Following a piece in the Age in Feb, 1933 on the Fifty Best Modern English Novels, readers were asked to write in with their 50 best Australians. Such is the sad state of our knowledge of our own literature, that the staff writer (editor?) begins with:

At first sight it would appear to be a difficult task to choose the fifty best Australian novels published since 1900. Memories of For the Term of His Natural Life, The Recollections of Geoffrey Hamlyn, Robbery Under Arms and a few others float before the mind: one is tempted to conclude that fifty genuinely Australian novels have not been published. Such, however, is far from the truth. Here is a list of over forty novelists whose work, produced since 1900, may legitimately claim consideration on its merits as being more or less permanent contributions to English literature [my underlines].

Unexpectedly, the women appear to make the more impressive showing. Pride of place may perhaps be given to Katharine Susannah Prichard, who has claims to be considered our greatest present-day novelist.

No.s 1 and 2 on his list are KSP’s Working Bullocks and Coonardo; then, 3. M Barnard Eldershaw, A House is Built; 4,5,6 the three books of Henry Handel Richardson’s, The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney; followed by 7. either Maurice Guest or The Getting of Wisdom; 8. Helen de Guerry Simpson “with her gigantic novel” Boomerang; 9,10. Dorothy Cottrell’s Singing Gold and Earth Battle; 11, 12. Miles Franklin, My Brilliant Career and Old Blastus of Bandicoot; and 13. Mrs Aeneas Gunn, We of the Never Never; before we get to any guys.

I’ll list the first 15 (authors) of the first letter writer, because they are interesting (ie. I largely agree with them): 1. Miles Franklin, My Brilliant Career; 2. Tom Collins [Joseph Furphy], Such is Life; 3. Louis Stone, Jonah; 4. Barbara Baynton, Human Toll; 5. AB Paterson, An Outback Marriage; 6. KS Prichard, The Pioneers; 7. HH Richardson, Maurice Guest; 8. Arthur Adams, The Australians; 9. Brent of Bin Bin, Up the Country; 10. Bernard Cronin, Bracken; 11. Ion Idriess, Madman’s Island; 12. Velia Ercole, No Escape; 13. FD Davidson, Man Shy; 14. DH Lawrence, Kangaroo; 15. DH Lawrence and Molly Skinner, The Boy in the Bush.

Yes, Vance Palmer does get a run, but well back in the field; and also Martin Mills [Martin Boyd] for The Montforts; Henry Lawson, Joe Wilson and his Mates; and Dulcie Deamer, As It Was in the Beginning; along with quite a few others now long forgotten. The two most prominent women to miss out were Rosa Praed, Lady Bridget in the Never Never Land (1915), and Ada Cambridge, Sisters (1904). Eleanor Dark, Christina Stead, Dymphna Cusack, Kylie Tennant were still a year or two away from sweeping all before them.

To end, one discursive correspondent who wins me with “a single book, a masterpiece in its way, Such is Life, by Tom Collins”, has the sentence which captured my search: “Prominent Australian novels of more recent years have been Deadman’s, by Mary Gaunt, Kerno, a Stone, by Tarella Quin, Boomerang, by Helen Simpson, Black Opal and Working Bullocks, by perhaps the ‘livest’ of our novelists, Katharine Prichard …”


You are no doubt wondering, where’s Dragan? He hasn’t rung me again, and perhaps really only had me in mind for covering the serious shortfall in drivers willing to put up with crossing the Nullarbor and the constant commitment to Covid testing and isolation that requires. We’ll see.

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Nathan Hobby, The Red Witch: A Biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard, due out from Melbourne University Press, 3 May 2022.

PLC. Presbyterian Ladies College, Melbourne. See also: The Getting of Wisdom, Henry Handel Richardson

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Dragan’s Back

Journal: 078

There are still wildflowers out in the desert, the last remnants of Spring in amongst the usual grey green scrub and red dirt. But as I never stop to take photos (of flowers, trucks are another matter) you must make do with the kangaroo paw on my balcony which is doing well for a change.

And I’ve been seeing lots of desert. After a blue with the last company I worked for – they booked me for a three day job then ‘forgot’ to tell me it was cancelled – I had a few weeks at home, and in desperation called … Dragan. Sam and Dragan and I spent a pleasant afternoon in the lunchroom swapping war stories and the upshot is Dragan will keep me going with work within WA (and yes, he’s already pressuring me to cross the border to do changeovers. But no way, Jose).

Last weekend I went up to Wiluna, 600 km north of Kalgoorlie and literally the last town on the edge of the dead centre – the Little Sandy Desert or the Gibson Desert – and then 50 km past the end of the bitumen. That was a warm up. As soon as I got home I was off to a mine 100 km past the end of the wheatbelt, past Wave Rock, and then follow the dirt road towards Norseman 80 km, turn north maybe 30 km, and locate the turnoff to a new mine – and if you miss it you’ll be back in phone range in only two or three hours.

This weekend, for a different carrier, I’m going 450 km on a corrugated dirt track out from Kalgoorlie. If I miss that mine … well, I’ll be carrying a satellite phone so hopefully someone will come and find me. (The view from my office window is a bit different from your facebook pic of footprints in the snow in suburban Birmingham. Hey Liz.)

Not driving put a damper on my audio reading, so once I was back on the road I was listening to books without a break in between. There’s some in the list below that I really should have reviewed. Margaret Atwood’s On Writers and Writing was of course for MARM, but I couldn’t get anything from it without notes. She’s a lovely speaker but spent a chapter on ‘my childhood’, then six chapters, from a series of talks she gave somewhere, seemingly on the relationship of writing to religion. Lost me!

I re-listened to Anne Tyler’s Clock Dance so I could comment at least a little bit knowledgeably on Liz Dexter’s review (here) and thoroughly enjoyed it. BIP recommended Cory Doctorow to me some time during MARM. Little Brother is a YA novel of 17 year olds in San Francisco fighting back against the surveillance state and the ridiculous powers awarded in panic to Homeland Security. We have done and continue to do the same thing here (award obscene powers to the security apparatus, that is. No one’s fighting back that I can see). Worth reading. But the best was from the late master, Peter Temple. White Dog is a murder mystery, a tragedy, a tour through Melbourne and Victoria, and a romp around country racecourses.

Of the ‘Currently readings’, ie. books made the old fashioned way with words on paper, These Old Shades was a just a few hours with an old friend. The Young Fur Traders, a very old friend, I have already reviewed; and the other three will be written up sooner rather than later.

My North American Project

I admit I did not use that three weeks off the road to advance this project as far as I should. But, I own Their Eyes Were Watching God, so that will be my January read. I’ll put up a review after AWW Gen 4 Week, probably on Mon 31 Jan. My February read is The Autobiography of Malcolm X. There’ll be a review (from me) and also a guest post from Melanie (Grab the Lapels), at the end of the month, of her experience reading and teaching it.

For March and April I had better see what Canadians I can obtain, through the library system, or from Audible. See the list of books I’m working from (here). I’ve just been re-reading your comments, we might have to make it a two year project!

Let’s say I go with Nalo Hopkinson – BIP, Naomi – help! – which one? Midnight Robber, The Salt Roads, Falling in Love with Hominids. And then perhaps both of Richard Wagamese, Indian Horse and Eden Robinson, Son of a Trickster. One of them later in the year.

Back in the US I have on my shelves Octavia Butler’s Kindred, so that’s in, but for the sake of balance I can probably only squeeze in one of Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, The Color Purple and Maya Angelou, before we get Louise Erdrich and US First Nations. That gets us to 8 reads, so four to go. Maybe Esi Edugyan (Can), but I’m struggling – I’d really like both an older and a leading edge US First Nations. There is more to do. And more arm-twisting from you, probably.

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Recent audiobooks 

Louis de Bernieres (M, Eng), So Much Life Left Over (2018)
Kate Atkinson (F, Eng), Transcription (2018) – Hist.Fic (WWII)
Anne Tyler (F, USA), Clock Dance (2018)
Margaret Atwood (F, Can), On Writers and Writing (2015) – NF
Peter Temple (M, Aust/Vic), White Dog (2003) – Crime
Cory Doctorow (M, Can), Little Brother (2008) – SF
Janet Evanovich (F, USA), Curious Minds (2016) – Crime
Richard Flanagan (M, Aust/Tas), Death of a River Guide (1994)
JM Coetzee (M, Aust/SA), Elizabeth Costello (2003)

Currently reading

Georgette Heyer (F, Eng), These Old Shades
RM Ballantyne (M, Scot), The Young Fur Traders
Simone de Beauvoir (F, Fra), The Inseparables
Tsitsi Dangarembga (F, Zim), This Mournable Body
John Kinsella (M, Aust/WA), Pushing Back (short stories)

Weeks & Months

AusReading Month 2021

Given that I read/listen to around four books a week, it was really no problem to fill in the 9 squares of Brona’s AusReading Bingo Card (notional this year, as far as I can see), though finding the time and energy to write 9 full reviews is another thing altogether.

I read these books to fill my bingo squares:

Western Australia

Randolph Stow, The Merry-Go-Round by the Sea (here)

Victoria

Max Barry, Jennifer Government (here)

South Australia

JM Coetzee, Elizabeth Costello (brief summary here) I have since read Nicholas Jose’s Essay, “A Manual for Writers: Elizabeth Costello”. I agree with Jose that Coetzee is addressing the reader throughout on the subject of writing, and I only wish I had made time to sit down with a paper copy of EC to write a fuller (or, as WG would have it, more fulsome) review. Jose makes the interesting point that while there was no female writer of that generation in Australia like EC, there were two in/from Africa, from whence Coetzee had just emigrated, Doris Lessing and Nadine Gordimer. But it is Jose’s final para which I must applaud –

There is now a great female Australian novelist appearing on the world stage. Her name is Alexis Wright and she is real. Her heritage is Waanyi from the lower Gulf of Carpentaria. In her world humans, animals, birds, fish and spirit beings are one and she tells those stories in another reinvention of what the novel can be in extreme times … I imagine Elizabeth Costello would be surprised and pleased by this development.

Tasmania

Richard Flanagan, Death of a River Guide. Look, I read it a week or so ago but I won’t be writing a review. I don’t rate Flanagan as Lisa does (here) and I’ve already criticised him enough (here).

Years ago I watched a movie, Italian I think, where a man is about to be hung from a bridge. He dives into the water, escapes, has various adventures. Yet, as the movie ends we see him dangling from the noose. It was all a daydream in the last seconds of his life. And that is more or less how this novel is framed too, the recollections of a man trapped beneath the water and drowning. Flanagan has a tendency to fill out his Lit Fiction with action sequences. I don’t know why, and I think it is unnecessary.

Australian Capital Territory

Sara Dowse, West Block (here)

New South Wales

Murray Bail, Eucalyptus (brief summary here)

Queensland

Thea Astley, Reaching Tin River (here)

Northern Territory

Ok. I cheated. A few months ago I won the movie Top End Wedding in a giveaway on Lisa’s ANZLitLovers. Having an unexpected weekend without work, I sat down to watch it. It’s not a Rom.Com, though I suppose that’s the genre it belongs with, so much as a series of reconciliations. Lots of fun, a few tears, and acres of amazing scenery as Lauren and Ned tear around the northern part of the Northern Territory on improbable dirt roads (there are highways!) and, sadly, not a road train to be seen.

They find Lauren’s mother, Lauren’s mother finds her mother and of course they find each other.

I own a few other NT movies, all with amazing visuals – Ylongu Boy, Ten Canoes, and Australia’s first colour movie, Jedda (on VHS so I might never see it again). I toyed briefly with the idea of doing a movie Bingo card, but that was just so I could pair SA and Bad Boy Bubby, which I think is great. And also the one movie I watch every couple of years, from WA, Dingo in which a trumpeter from the bush goes to Paris to play with the incomparable Miles Davis.

Indigenous

Tara June Winch, The Yield (here)


Now on to related more equally important things, Australian Women Writers Gen 4 Week. I can’t be sure I’ll be on holidays but let’s say the week from Sun 16 Jan to Sun 23 Jan, 2022.

The definition we are using for AWW Gen 4 is women who began writing in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. The Australian Women Writers Gen 4 page gives you a complete list of writers and their debut novels/works but think: Thea Astley, Jessica Anderson, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Shirley Hazzard, Helen Garner, Robyn Davidson, Elizabeth Jolley, Janette Turner Hospital, Sara Dowse, Kate Grenville, Ruby Langford and theorist/activists like Germaine Greer, Anne Summers, Marilyn Lake, Bobbi Sykes.

I unknowingly (unthinkingly) made a start on AWW Gen 4 with my review of Sara Dowse’s West Block, and on reflection I think there are elements of that novel which will prove typical, but I’ll try and write up a more comprehensive introductory post in the next few weeks. (Maybe – but see also Reaching Tin River).

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Nicholas Jose, A Manual for Writers: Elizabeth Costello, in Belinda Castles ed., Reading Like an Australian Writer, New South Publishing, Sydney, 2021

 

AusReading Month 2021

Journal: 077

This weekend past, I did another road train load to Koodiadery, the new mine north of Newman, and 1450 km north of Perth. I’m sure you’ve noticed, fuel is up 30 cents/litre in the last few months, and with the amount of fuel I use pulling three trailers, the whole exercise is beginning to get a bit marginal, really marginal without the income from a return load. Interestingly, pulling just one trailer, usually with a wide load, I get paid almost as much and use a lot less fuel.

I unloaded late Sunday then slept and had a leisurely breakfast at a nearby truckstop (Auski, Munjina). The contractor I went up for couldn’t or wouldn’t load me home, but another contractor, Anthony, who’s been giving me machinery work got me not one but three loads out of a really isolated mine west of Tom Price (Look at the map: the mining township Tom Price is the dot north of Paraburdoo, and the mine, x marks the spot, is within the circle, 40km west of Tom Price).

My first load was a roller to be dehired in Karratha. So just one trailer, the back trailer with ramps.

Running east-west through that loop of roads is the Hammersley Range, rugged, beautiful and about 50% pure iron ore. There are dirt tracks through to Karratha but it’s easier to drive round via Paraburdoo – Nanutarra, the only bitumen road between the Great Northern Hwy and the North West Coastal Hwy.

As it happens, either way is about 600 km, so after dropping off the roller, I kept going clockwise to where the NWCH and the GNH connect, south on the GNH through Munjina, and then back in to Tom Price via the Karajini National Park.

My next load, tomorrow (Weds) morning is two or three trailers to Roy Hill, about 350 km each way, then on Thursday I get to load home.

Right now (Tue. evening) I’m parked in the Tom Price road train assembly, with Mount Somethingorother (pictured) behind me and a surprisingly attractive and verdant sewage pond across the road before me.

I’m not really up to much for Brona’s AusReading Month but I am thinking about what Bingo squares I can fill in. I’ve been reading, and am yet to write up, a Canberra/ACT novel; Brona, I think the ‘free square’ should be Indigenous, and for that I’ll say The Yield; NSW I can cover with Eucalyptus; Victoria with Jennifer Government; WA with The Merry-Go-Round by the Sea, which I really must write up soon; and for SA I have just finished listening to Coetze’s Elizabeth Costello (which contains not one word about SA, but that’s where the great man lives).

So that leaves NT, Tas and Qld. Guys, I don’t like your chances.

Murray Bail, Eucalyptus (1999). I was impressed when I first read it, but was less so this second time round. I’m not going to pick on Bail’s geography, anywhere in NSW (not too far) west of the Great Divide will do. You don’t need a synopsis. This very short novel is a fairy tale, and many princes attempt to meet the ‘king’s’ conditions to be granted the hand of the princess, Ellen. Ellen, while not expressing opposition to this process, has her own ideas. As the most boring of her suitors gets closer to winning her hand, she goes into a decline. But of course a handsome prince comes along and all is well. I enjoyed the conceit at the story’s heart, that the condition to be met is the naming of every tree, and we learn a lot about them as we go along; but is Bail anti-woman? Not on the basis of this novel. I think he has Ellen subvert the process very nicely.

Max Barry, Jennifer Government (2003) is a novel of a dystopian (that word again!) future where Australia is a colony of the USA; all services are provided by for-profit corporations, including the police; and in the place of surnames people have the name of their employer.

I have just started re-listening to this, in the hope of writing a proper review. So, I’ll just say here that the plot begins with a lowly merchandising guy, Hack Nike, being tricked into having to murder 10 purchasers of Nike’s new shoe range – to enhance their desirability. He reports this to the police who take over and carry out the murders, but incompetently. There’s a Texan guy who just wants to go skiing who ends up in New Zealand, employed by an NRA assassin squad; and Jennifer Government – yes, she’s employed by the government – must track them all down. It’s lots of fun. I don’t know why I had never heard of it before Emma (in France) twisted my arm to buy a copy. And the thing I enjoyed most is that you’d be cruising along in this American crime satire and suddenly you’re hit with Melbourne street names.

JM Coetzee, Elizabeth Costello (2003) I don’t know what to do with this, it all went completely over my head. Elizabeth Costello, in her seventies by the end of the C20th, is the most important Australian writer of her generation. She gives/listens to a series of 8 speeches, spelled out in excruciating detail, which build up via a patronising chapter on the novel in Africa, vegetarianism, animal liberation, some ‘brave’ comparisons between factory farms and the Holocaust, to a full-fledged discussion of the nature of god and heaven. There’s some interesting stuff about the novel, including who should write what. But I wasn’t convinced by the femaleness of Coetzee’s protagonist, and I was bloody annoyed having to listen to his arguments for (and psuedo arguments against) the existence of god.

As I said, in the morning I’m loading for Roy Hill, which the more attentive of you will remember was the station (before Gina bought it and turned it into another iron ore mine) where a hundred plus years ago Daisy Bates’ husband Jack was manager. It’s occurred to me to wonder whether Jack went back to Roy Hill after the failure of his cattle venture with Daisy; and whether he, or their son Arnold, may have had anything to do with Daisy’s station nearby, Glen Carrick (Ethel Creek), in the years before she sold it. More research for when I retire.

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Recent audiobooks 

Evan Currie (M, USA), The Heart of Matter (2012) – SF
Nelson Mandela (M, SA), Conversations with Myself (2010) – NF
Tara June Winch (F, Aust/NSW), The Yield (2019)
Margaret Atwood (F, Can), Surfacing (1972)
Max Barry (M, Aust/Vic), Jennifer Government (2003) – SF
Lee Child (M, Eng), Bad Luck and Trouble (2007) – Crime
Sarah McCraw Crow (F, USA), The Wrong Kind of Woman (2020) – Hist.Fic. (the 1970s!)
Murray Bail (M, Aust/NSW), Eucalyptus (1999)
JM Coetzee (M, Aust/SA), Elizabeth Costello (2003)

Currently reading

Robert Sheckley (M, USA), Can You Feel Anything when I do This?
Sheri S Tepper, The Gate to Women’s Country

1976

Journal: 075

1976 is in the air right now as those of you who read for #19xx Club put up your reviews. The three years centred on 1976 are not years I remember in any detail, but on 17 December 1977 I met Milly and things took a turn for the better (and for the more lucid).

I was living, sort of, in Stawell, 140 miles west of Melbourne. It must be about the year we switched to kilometres. The young bride had left me and was either living with her aunt in Melbourne or we’d scraped up the money to send her to join her mum and dad in Holland. The caravan we’d lived in was sold and I was sleeping in the car, camping at a mate’s place, spending odd nights at the Bricks Hotel. Or working. I had two old trucks but for much of the year neither of them was on the road.

For a while I had a job doing changeovers at Nhill, up the road a bit from Stawell, halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide. The company had a flat above a shop in the main street, a nice old Federation building, I still go past it from time to time, or did before Covid. I would watch Days of Our Lives until the truck got in from Adelaide after lunch, run down to Melbourne, swap trailers, be back before midnight, handing over to Terry who did the Adelaide half. It was a cruisy job and paid all right, but the police in Horsham, the next major town, knew me, knew when to expect me. I started to accumulate points and soon I didn’t have a Victorian licence.

Of course drivers then always had a second licence, in my case from South Australia, so I took one of my old trucks to Murray Bridge, outside Adelaide, and began running Adelaide – Sydney. If that involved crossing the top left hand corner of Victoria I would just hold my breath, or go the other way, through Broken Hill, and anyway, after three months I had my Vic licence back.

Mostly I remember being young and stupid and single and broke. My hands perpetually black from pulling apart and putting back together one old engine or another. Or changing tyres. Old rag tyres, overloaded and run for too long, would blow at the drop of a hat. I don’t think I bought my first set of tubeless steel radials until the following year.

What I don’t remember is reading, I don’t even remember where my books were. They’d followed me round in boxes for years, weighing down one side of the caravan, perhaps I left them for a while at mum and dad’s, anyway I’ve still got them.

What would I have read if I could afford new books? Le Guin’s most recent was The Dispossessed (1974) and before that The Word for World is Forest (1972) which I think I read for the first time a few years later with Milly. John Sladek was writing mostly short stories. His most recent novel was The Muller-Fokker Effect (1970). Robert Sheckley, my third equal favourite writer, hits the jackpot with The Status Civilization, brought out by Gollancz in 1976.

What about Australians? I didn’t really make a start on them until the 1980s. Any purchases I made in those days, and for many years after except for a few special exceptions, David Ireland and Peter Carey mostly, were necessarily second hand.

I’ve since read most of the best of 1976 I think. Here’s a list (hopefully you’ll have forgotten by the time I re-use it for my 2026 end of year) –

Kenneth Cook, Eliza Fraser
Robert Drewe, The Savage Crows (review)
David Ireland, The Glass Canoe (review)
Elizabeth Jolley, Five Acre Virgin (short stories)
Thomas Keneally, Season in Purgatory
Frank Moorhouse, Conferenceville
Gerald Murane, A Lifetime on Clouds
Christina Stead, Miss Herbert (The Suburban Wife) (review)
Patrick White, A Fringe of Leaves

So, I’ve reviewed three, definitely read the White and probably the Moorhouse. I own Five Acre Virgin, so that’s a start. I’d like to own the Murnane. A Lifetime on Clouds is his second and I don’t think I’ve ever heard the name before, ditto Season in Purgatory, but then Keneally writes so many (it was his twelfth in twelve years). Interesting that Cook and White wrote about the same historical figure in the same year.

That was my 1976, a year of desperate poverty and youthful optimism. I was never going to be a successful owner driver on zero capital, but it was fun trying. I lasted four years, and four years (mostly) without a boss is worth working at.

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Recent audiobooks 

Anne Tyler (F, USA), The Beginner’s Goodbye (2012)
Christina Dodd (F, USA), Wrong Alibi (2020) – Crime
Kim Kelly (F, Aust/NSW), Her Last Words (2020)
Dervla McTiernan (F, Ire), The Scholar (2019) – Crime

Currently reading

Mudrooroo (M, Aus/WA), Tripping with Jenny
Sheri S Tepper, The Gate to Women’s Country