More Gen 4 Stuff

Journal: 065

Just three trips so far this year and here I am in iso again – my 14 days will be up on the 13th – Milly’s come round a couple of times to sit on the balcony, luckily for me she had stuff she wanted to talk about. Milly rarely makes her point directly but it’s clear she wants me to spend more time in Western Australia, and she doesn’t mean in iso where I’m no good to anybody. I’m the senior gut in our family – that’s probably the most Freudian typo I’ve ever made – and I’m needed. I’ve written this before. Long distance truck driving as escapism – there’s a thought two of my ex-wives would heartily endorse and now it seems a third (the second actually) is joining them.

I’m not going any further down that line. My excuses for running east-west are that I have regular, good-paying work and I see Mum (sometimes) who has exactly zero family left living in Melbourne. No doubt it will be discussed more in these next three weeks with two of my brothers coming over, and Gee’s wedding, and me being FREE to go out! My birthday lifts me up a category and I should get my first vaccine shot in the last week of the month. I was tested yesterday, negative again, I suppose there’ll be a few more before this is finally over.

And to go back one Journal, I’m walking (a bit) more and I’m feeling better for it, though not any lighter.

On to more AWW Gen 4 stuff. The picture above is from Sue Rhodes’ Now You’ll Think I’m Awful, from the days when young men went out with ‘nice’ girls but only married good girls. I was going to ask you if you could identify the illustrator, whose style looks familiar. I eventually found it but I’ll put it down the bottom in case you want to guess.

I think I have Melanie/GTL persuaded to do a review for next year which led me to think about what are the most important authors/works during the first part of the period. Numero uno would have to be Thea Astley whose early works are –
Girl with a Monkey
(1958)
A Descant for Gossips (1960)
The Well Dressed Explorer (1962)
The Slow Natives (1965)
A Boat Load of Home Folk (1968)
The Acolyte (1972)
A Kindness Cup (1974)
We have two reviews of A Kindness Cup just on this blog, but I hope I can get reviews of all the others as well.

Astley is important for her writing and for her willingness to deal with the big issues in Queensland – corruption and racism. Bobbi Sykes and Faith Bandler who both grew up Black in Queensland, are important because they deal with those issues first hand. I have Sykes’ Snake Cradle and I think I’ll make that one of my reviews for AWW Gen 4 Week, though I would also like to get hold of Bandler’s Wacvie, for Lisa/ANZLL’s Indigenous Lit.Week in July.

Of the other novelists, Mena Calthorpe, The Dyehouse, and Nene Gare, The Fringe Dwellers, are interesting but look back to the Social Realism of the previous generation; Nancy Cato, Elizabeth Kata and others are popular (no reason not to review them!); which leaves Jessica Anderson and Shirley Hazzard; poets Bobbi Sykes and Oodgeroo Noonuccal; and of course the seminal non-fiction works of Germaine Greer and Anne Summers (and the less seminal Sue Rhodes).

Please don’t feel I’m being prescriptive. If the books on your shelves, or which catch your fancy, are from authors I haven’t named, or from the latter half of the period, then go for it, especially the late 70s which includes Monkey Grip and Puberty Blues. And more poetry, the only poetry review I can think of so far was from Brona: Dorothy Hewett’s In Midland When the Trains Go By. Apart from the two above, my list has Glen Tommasetti and Lee Cataldi, and I am sure there are others.

Hopefully, at some stage before we begin writing for Gen 4 Part II, we will have a handle on the principal themes and underlying literary theory for this generation. Lots of homework needed!

Heading for home. Sunrise, Yalata SA, Feb. 2021

Recent audiobooks 

Peter Turnbull (M, Eng), A Dreadful Past (2016) – Crime
Laura Marshall (F, Eng), Friend Request (2017) – Crime
Rob Hart (M, USA), South Village (2016) – Crime
Eric Barnes (M, USA), The City Where We Once Lived (2018) – SF/Dystopian
Elizabeth Gilbert (F, USA), City of Girls (2019) – 1940s Hist.Fic. and good despite that
Sebastian Barry (M, Ire), The Secret Scripture (2008)– DNF. Shortlisted for the Booker, but the reader, Wanda McCaddon’s strong accent as an old Irishwoman was unlisten-to-able

Currently reading

Charlotte Bronte (F, Eng), The Professor
Charlotte Bronte (F, Eng), Jane Eyre
Catherine Helen Spence (F, Aust/SA), Clara Morison
Helen Garner (F, Aust/Vic), Cosmo Cosmolino
Bill Green (M, Aust/Vic), Small Town Rising
Fergus Hume (M, Aust/Vic), Madame Midas
Joseph Furphy (M, Aust/Vic), Such is Life
ETA Hoffman (M, Ger), Mr Flea
Carmen Laforet (F, Esp), Nada

Ans. Illustrator: John Endean. (The chapter heading is “Cheez, Love, Yer a grouse-lookin’ shiela”, a line I may or may not have used myself)

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.

Madame Midas, Fergus Hume

Reading Matters’ Southern Cross Crime Month, March 2021

When Kim at Reading Matters announced Southern Cross Crime Month I had a C19th century Australian detective novel at the back of my mind but struggled to bring it into the light. It was not Ellen Davitt’s Force and Fraud (1886) which Lisa and I both reviewed on its publication in book form for the first time in 2017. Nor was it Madame Midas which I found serendipitously in my ‘new books’ TBR pile; it was of course Hume’s much more famous The Mystery of the Hansom Cab (1886), which seeing as it is not on my shelves I must have borrowed, probably as an audiobook.

The cover notes say Hume self-published The Mystery of the Hansom Cab in Melbourne, where it sold 20,000 copies. He then sold the copyright in London, where it was also a success, in fact “the best-selling mystery novel of the Victorian era”, for £50, and never received another penny. He went on to write 140 novels and a small number of plays.

Fergusson Wright Hume (1859-1932) was born in England, raised and educated in New Zealand, came to Melbourne in 1885 or 6 and returned to England in 1888 (ADB). For the short time he was here he shows a remarkably intimate knowledge of Melbourne life and of underground mining at Ballarat. But he betrays himself in the opening chapter when two French convicts escaped from New Caledonia drift in their stolen boat to the coast of Queensland.

A bleak-looking coast, with huge water-worn promontories jutting out into the sea, daring the tempestuous fury of the waves, which dashed furiously in sheets of foam against the iron rocks.. At the back the cliffs rose in a kind of semi-circle, black and precipitous, to the height of about a hundred feet… At the top of these inhospitable-looking cliffs a line of pale green betrayed the presence of vegetation, and from thence it spread inland into vast rolling pastures ending far away at the outskirts of the bush, above which could be seen giant mountains with snow-covered ranges.

The Madame Midas of the title is a real woman, known to the author, Alice Cornwell, who owned and made a fortune from the Midas Mine in Ballarat. Clare Wright devotes her Introduction to her, another Independent Woman to add to my list, though here she has the name Mrs Villiers. As it is an important part of the plot that Villiers defrauds and deserts her, it is no wonder the real husband sued Hume. Unsuccessfully apparently.

Although The Mystery of the Hansom Cab was reputedly the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet (1887) Madame Midas is not a detective novel. Prior to Sherlock Holmes it was common for the role of detective to be split amongst a number of characters, see Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White (1860) for instance, but even that is not really the case here. About halfway through the novel Villiers attacks his estranged wife and steals from her an enormous gold nugget. Mrs Villiers knocks him down but we know he was still alive later in the night, after which he disappears, and although various people’ including the police, look for him, life goes on.

The two French escapees are a Parisian playboy convicted of poisoning his mistress, who adopts the name Gaston Vandeloup and a big, mute man, unable to read or write, or understand English, whom Vandeloup is constantly worried will reveal his secrets. After we have been introduced to Mrs Villiers and her mine, which is following a promising lead – the bed of a stream buried eons since which contains alluvial gold – the two Frenchmen turn up and are given jobs, Vandeloup as office manager.

Villiers is hanging around Ballarat looking to intimidate his estranged wife into sharing with him her new fortune, after having run through the fortune she inherited from her father. And we get to meet the pretty and innocent Kitty, daughter of a non-conformist minister. There’s also a family of travelling players who pop up as needed, and various others, mostly upper-middle class loafers and socialites.

Vandeloup persuades Kitty to fall in love with him, takes her to Melbourne, but puts off marrying her because the big prize is Mrs Villiers, if Villiers is finally gone. Mrs Villiers makes her fortune and moves to a big house in (Melbourne bayside suburb) St Kilda previously featured in The Mystery of the Hansom Cab. After a year Kitty and Vandeloup break up and Kitty ends up living with Mrs Villiers. Kitty plans to poison Mrs Villiers to stop Vandeloup from marrying her, Vandeloup plans to poison Kitty. Someone puts poison in a glass by Mrs Villiers’ bed. Her companion Selina drinks it and dies.

I won’t tell you any more. It’s an entertaining enough story, with the expected convoluted ending, of general rather than literary fiction quality, but an interesting view of Melbourne after the goldrushes when it was for a while the richest city in the world.

A note for Emma/Book Around the Corner, Fergus Hume’s early novels were apparently inspired by the works of French detective fiction pioneer Émile Gaboriau (1832-1873) who was at that time very popular in Melbourne (in translation).

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Fergus Hume, Madame Midas, self-pub. Melbourne, 1888. My edition Text Classics, Melbourne, 2017.

Small Town Rising, Bill Green

Note: This review talks about rape and sex with children.

A couple of years ago a post of mine about the Mallee (Victoria’s semi desert north-west, if I haven’t made that clear by now) inspired Lisa/ANZLL to buy and read Small Town Rising. She then sent it on to me and now I’ve read it. For that reason I went back to her review before writing my own – I am sometimes careful about what I say. Lisa’s verdict was “This is a well-intentioned novel but there are some flaws.” My verdict is that this is a racist and misogynist book, which should not be excused for being of its time -1981 – and I intensely disliked reading it.

Bill Green (1940-2011) grew up in the Mallee, went away to school at Geelong College, worked in Australia and overseas as a journalist before settling in a small country town down south (Camperdown, Vic) with his wife and children. I look that stuff up because I always wonder what sort of feel the author has for his subject.

Now, to be fair to Lisa I think the author’s intention was to shine a light on small town racism, not something we generally think about in Victoria. And that he was just totally ham-fisted about it. There’s an Indigenous family, the Stirlings, – who might “pass for white” – living in town. The local police sergeant would like to pin something on them. There’s an Aboriginal community living in a camp on the NSW side of the river. The sergeant would like to stop them hanging around the town and Mayor Blossoms is willing to go along with him. Doctor Cavett, thinks ‘something should be done’ about police racism. His son John aged about 11, is friends with Chasa, the youngest Stirling.

Green is uninhibited about the racist language used by the cops, the mayor, and anyone else they rope in for assistance and we might put that down to that’s just the way people speak (unfortunate but true). Where he comes completely unstuck is in his treatment of women. He has a thing about legs. Girls barely in their teens have short skirts and long legs; a girl getting a lift home lets her skirt ride up which the driver, the doctor I think, totally gets off on; a teacher in her twenties sits so that her 11 and 12 year old pupils can see up to the tops of her stockings. The same teacher, called in to babysit, wrestles with John in his bed, and goes back for a second go when he, did I say he’s only 11, gets an erection.

This is all made worse by the author’s third person omniscient point of view which means we get told what everyone, mothers and daughters, victims and perpetrators are thinking.

The plot is basically this: John and Chasa do various YA things. John thinks more about sex than an 11 year old should. The mayor’s daughter Kay, in John and Chasa’s class at school, wanders away from an evening picnic…

[Mayor Blossoms] had flushed and shifted uncomfortably as the boong had passed his girls in their short dresses. Their long straight legs were beginning to give them problems: Kay’s especially. He had seen her looking at the boong as he passed.

Once in a childish game he had moved his hands beneath her knickers and over the tiny perfection of her buttocks. It could have been an affectionate fatherly caress, but he now thought of it as uncontrolled masculinity. Her cry of delight had affronted and frightened him.

… When Mayor Blossoms comes looking for her, Kay’s lying on the river bank some metres from Linny, Chasa’s older brother. The mayor rushes at Linny, treading on his daughter, and Linny understandably dives in the river. Kay says nothing happened. The doctor determines Kay is still a virgin and is unmarked (except for the bruise caused by her father). Linny is charged with molesting her.

The police sergeant gets up a party to burn down the Aboriginal camp on the other side of the river, ie. not in his jurisdiction. Chasa’s sister aged maybe 14, is invited to the movies by her young boss, who takes her home and rapes her. She tells her parents, who have been expecting it to happen sooner or later, and she’s not sure she feels terribly bad about it. The next picnic Kay is at she invites John down the river bank and they do some mutual touching inside knickers etc. Chasa goes missing. Life goes on.

I’ve thought a bit about the setting and it’s probably the early 1960s (John goes to see a re-release of The Maltese Falcon which first came out in 1941), and that Strong Lake is most likely based on Swan Hill, which as it happens I occasionally visited at that time, from my grandparents’ farm, and remember seeing Aboriginal people in the street and sitting in the parks, the only place in Victoria I ever did so.

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Bill Green, Small Town Rising, Macmillan, Melbourne, 1981. 167 pp. Cover illustration – it wraps around the back -‘Monto in Landscape’, Gil Jamieson (1978) [as it happens, Monto is in Queensland, near Bundaberg, and 2,000 km north of the Mallee]

see also: A Literary Tour of the Mallee (here)

Unstoppable AWW Gen 3

Journal: 064

I’m working, in Melbourne loading to go home. The photo above is me getting loaded last week in Perth. Apparently the wreck – it appears to have blown a steer tyre and dived off the road into a culvert – was worth buying and bringing over for parts. And I’m organised, I have/had reviews ready for Monday and Thursday posting through to next week. But, you my friends keep posting AWW Gen 3 relevant reviews, so I’ll put this up on Saturday (at the moment I’m typing on Tuesday) with the appropriate links.

That brings up the question Why? Nearly everyone who comments here will have seen them already. Well, firstly just to reference them all in one place. But also, because the few people who comment – and I think that is about 15 here, 20 max. – are only a tiny proportion of the people who read blogs. It constantly astonishes me how tight, and how relatively small, the community of people who read and comment on each other’s blogs is.

The three posts are:

Whispering Gums: Elizabeth Harrower, The Long Prospect (1958)

Harrower, it seems to me writes in a similar vein, and similar settings, to Eleanor Dark. Modernist, Sydney, Middle-class life.

“Oppression and tyranny, power and manipulation in human relationships are the stuff of Elizabeth Harrower’s writing, at least in my experience of it, and so I found it again in her second novel The long prospect.” Read on …

Reading Matters: Dorothy Hewett, Bobbin’ Up (1959)

Hewett is an interesting author, very mainstream Gen 3, a Communist brought up middle class (on a Western Australian wheat farm) writing about the working class, and I’m glad Kim chose to review her.

“.. not really a novel; it’s more a collection of short stories focused on a bunch of diverse characters, all female, who work together at a woollen mill in Sydney during the 1950s.” Read on …

ANZLitLovers: Modernism, a Very Short Introduction, by Christopher Butler … and Christina Stead

Now, this post is dated Nov. 2016 so don’t ask me why it was in my head to include it in this spot. But having got this far, and given all our discussions of Modernism in relation to Gen 3, I commend it to you.

“So, to Modernism, A Very Short Introduction first of all, because Christina Stead is a great modernist and most of us could use a little help in understanding her work.  Alas, she does not get a mention in this little book of only 102 pages, so you will have to make do with my interpretations and extrapolations…” Read on …

And because I can, one more truck photo

It’s Saturday now, or near enough, and I’m on the way home, pulled up for the night 300 km from the WA border. I’ll be home Sunday, touch wood, and once I’m unloaded will take a month’s holiday, or at least, 2 weeks iso then two weeks with whichever of my family make it over to celebrate my daughter’s wedding.

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.

Cosmo Cosmolino, Helen Garner

On Melbourne summer mornings the green trams go rolling in stately progress down tunnels thick with leaves: the bright air carries along the avenues their patient chime, the chattering of their wheels.

I might stop my review right there. How Melbourne is Helen Garner!

I should have stopped there. The much praised Cosmo Cosmolino, as far as I was concerned, was almost completely incomprehensible. Not the individual words and sentences, not of course Garner’s always perceptive accounts of Melbourne inner suburban share-house life, but where the hell was she going with it.

My Text edition (not the one pictured – the Text edition has a boring black cover with a few stars) has an Introduction by Melbourne biologist and radio presenter Ramona Koval, which I didn’t read, two short stories – Recording Angel (25pp) and A Vigil (27pp) – and then Cosmo Cosmolino (217pp).

Recording Angel

The narrator is unnamed. Let’s call her Helen. Helen’s friend Patrick lives in Sydney with his wife and son. On a visit Patrick tells Helen he has brain cancer. Helen is devastated.

.. Patrick recited my life like a poem he had learnt by heart; and over the years of our friendship I had come to endure his version without open rebellion ..

They discuss Helen’s friend Ursula who Patrick had filed under ‘Became an Alcoholic and a Prostitute’ and who threw herself under a tram after the death of her daughter. A visit or two later and Helen is at Patrick’s to support Natalie while Patrick undergoes an operation. The night before, they talk and talk. After Patrick comes out of the operation the two women gape “with shock and fear at the foot of the bed” then rush out of the hospital.

A Vigil

Kim was hanging on by a thread, taking pills, waiting endless months for her father to come down from Queensland, pay her uni fees, take her away. Raymond, living with her, or in the same house anyway, uses her

The nightdress was twisted up round her waist and her skin was loose, like old sacking. She had about as much life in her as a half-deflated dummy, but without complaint she opened her legs, and he kept his face turned away, to avoid her breath.

Raymond stays away for four days, at his brother’s in a rooming house in another part of the city. When he comes back he passes Kim’s mother in the street, a man tagging along. Ursula. Kim is dead. He finds her, still in bed, her face flyblown, and rushes back to his brother’s, where Ursula finds him a few days later to drag him to the funeral. And then to be punished.

Cosmo Cosmolino

Janet has an old two storey terrace house that used to be a vibrant share-house. Those years are long gone. She’s been married. The stain is still on the wall from the saucepan of beetroot soup she flung at him as she told him to get out. Now she works from home with a battered typewriter, making a living knocking out short pieces for magazines, the decaying house an albatross around her neck. Over the years she had ..

retreated before chaos, closing doors as she went, leaving timber half-stripped and plaster unpainted, until only in the kitchen was any kind of order maintained.

Maxine “lived in a shed and called herself a carpenter”. For money she did cleaning, ironing, mowing. But the property she lives on is sold, and she is homeless. She ends up at Janet’s, in the shed at the end of the garden.

And there’s a guy, Ray, who is taken in the same day, down from the North where his brother, Alby, has fed him stories of communal living, half naked women, food always on the table in vast quantities. He takes Alby’s old room, upstairs at the back. Is disappointed to discover they buy their food separately, and eat at different times, hurriedly, “in a kitchen corner, or bowed over a newspaper at the white table”.

So far, so Helen Garner. But the story develops a fanastical element. Where did that come from?

Something tells Maxine that she will have a baby. Fathered by Ray.

Janet swallowed. ‘And – Ray does know about this, I suppose?’
‘Perhaps not with his conscious mind, yet,’ said Maxine. ‘That depends on the number of his incarnations.’
‘Sorry?’ said Janet.
‘Oh, everybody,’ said Maxine, ‘at some stage has to do a spell on earth.’…
‘I know it sounds strange at first’ … ‘See – angelic beings aren’t necessarily aware of their status.’

Ray, on the other hand (being a Queenslander) “knows Jesus”. Sure, Garner is making fun of them, but somewhere along the line she buys into it.

Life goes on. Maxine makes a ‘bride’ out of straw and Ray’s best shirt (a doll with magic powers) which assumes an importance I don’t understand. Ray somehow gets a job, saves money, hides a grand at the bottom of his dirty clothes basket. Maxine gets involved with a pyramid scheme for getting rich. ‘Borrows’ Ray’s grand and blows it on the scheme. Alby arrives with a truckload of worthless second-hand furniture. Maxine floats away in a cloud of jonquils.

If an author, as Garner has done here, declares a collection of pieces to be a novel, then that is how I will read it. But these pieces don’t speak to each other at all. If this is a novel, then as far as I am concerned, it is a failed novel.

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Helen Garner, Cosmo Cosmolino, first pub. 1992. My edition Text, Melbourne, 2012. 283pp.

Clara Morison, Catherine Helen Spence

Every time I read an excellent book off my own shelves – and it happens surprisingly often – I wonder what took me so long to get to it. I guess, despite Lisa/ANZLL’s glowing review of Spence’s Mr Hogarth’s Will, I expected Clara Morison to be stodgy. Dear reader, I was wrong.

In my recent review of Charlotte Brontë’s The Professor I made some references to Clara Morison but a better comparison would be between Catherine Helen Spence and Elizabeth Gaskell. Mrs Gaskell (1810-1865) was English and grew up in rural Knutsford, Cheshire (see Cranford). Her faith was Unitarian and the young women in her novels are principled and concerned with the poor. Catherine Helen Spence (1825-1910) was born in Scotland and came with her family to Adelaide, South Australia in 1839, when she was 14 and the new colony, famously settled without convicts, was barely begun.

Spence was brought up in the Established Church of Scotland but converted to Unitarianism around 1854. She chose not to marry and while she does not seem to choose that path for her heroines, as Miles Franklin did for instance (50 years later), one of Clara Morison’s cousins, Margaret, does seem to stand in for Spence, with her outspokenness, independence and desire for ongoing education. Interestingly, in her review of Spence’s A Week in the Future (1888) the Resident Judge connects the author’s utopian views back to George Eliot. But I haven’t read/retained enough Eliot to make the connection myself.

This, as you might have guessed, is Clara’s story, told in the third person and mostly, but not always limited to her point of view. Spence is an accomplished writer and the novel whizzes along for all its 400 pages despite a good deal of philosophy. In that sense it’s a very C19th novel and its failure to be ranked with the similar works of Brontë and Gaskell and Eliot is all to do with our (Australian) failure as readers over the past century and a half, not any inherent weakness in the novel itself.

Clara, living in Edinburgh with her father and older sister, Susan, has been educated not so much above her station as above her gender, and has served as her father’s intellectual companion while neglecting to pursue the womanly arts. When he dies, she is left destitute. Her uncle determines that he will retain Susan as governess for his children and that Clara will be sent out to South Australia with a letter of recommendation and £10 in her purse. In Chapter II which “will probably be missed for it only describes a long voyage”, she, aged about 19, sets out from Leith in the autumn of 1850.

Over the course of the novel we get to know quite well an interesting variety of characters. Clara had been born into to that upper stratum of the middle class which is educated and has an independent income. So for her, much of the novel is to do with how she manages with little or no money. Positions as a governess are much harder to find and keep than she, or her uncle expected, and at one stage and I think for more than a year, she is employed as a general servant, by a tolerant lady willing to train her up from complete incompetence.

Of course she is in love with a good man, Mr Russell, who is both patently above her present station and who in any case has a secret fiancee of his own, living with his mother, back home. This fiancee is now 26 and waiting less than patiently for Russell to make his fortune and return. Interestingly, the right age for marriage comes up a few times and it is generally held that a woman is not on the shelf until at least 25.

The other main characters, and there are probably at least a dozen, all depend on their own efforts to maintain or improve their position in society, that is, they must work for their living, and they range from well off businessmen and farmers, and their wives and children, to the lower middle class men in her boarding house who subject her to ‘witticisms’, to the plainly destitute, including an abandoned single mother. And then there are the Elliots, 2 brothers and 3 sisters, all educated, living together just above poverty. Margaret Elliot studying law alongside her brother, not with any hope of ever being able to practice, but simply for the pleasure of the intellectual accomplishment.

The other ‘stream’ of the book is mining. One of the Elliot men and the fiance of one of the sisters work in administration at ‘the Burra’, the prosperous copper mine 100 miles north of Adelaide. But the big problem for Adelaide is that the goldrushes have begun, first at the Turon (Bathurst, NSW) then in neighbouring Victoria, at Mt Alexander (Castlemaine), Bendigo and Ballarat. All the men, the Cornish miners at Burra, the working men, the professionals, the businessmen make plans to sail to Melbourne or simply to walk the intervening and largely unsettled 400 miles.

Spence paints vivid pictures of an Adelaide peopled almost entirely by women, and via letters and conversation, of Melbourne with its wide avenues and dirty, unregulated back lanes; of the goldfields; of daily life when the mail is nearly always lost, when ships can’t sail because they’ve lost their crews; of the SA Police having to provide an escort for gold back to Adelaide to prevent the complete collapse of the South Australian economy.

Spence was later a formidable player in the political sphere, and she was clearly paying attention in the early 1850s. This is an absorbing book and highly recommended.

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Catherine Helen Spence, Clara Morison, first pub. 1854. My edition Seal, 1971 (not the one pictured). 408pp.

see also:
Catherine Helen Spence (ADB)
CHS, A Week in the Future (my review) (the Resident Judge)
CHS, Mr Hogarth’s Will (ANZLL)
S.Magery ed., Ever Yours, C.H. Spence (ANZLL) (ANZLL) (the Resident Judge)

The Professor, Charlotte Brontë

In 1846 and 1854 respectively, two women, both aged about 30, one, English, from Yorkshire, and one, Australian, from Scotland, submitted their first novels for publication. The former, an immature work, was rejected and was only published, posthumously, a decade later. The latter was published immediately and was for a long time regarded as the finest work written in Australia. The two novels, both portraits of and by young, educated women, without money or family support, forced to seek positions abroad as teachers, and which I just happen to be reading simultaneously, are The Professor and Catherine Helen Spence’s Clara Morrison.

Charlotte Brontë published Jane Eyre a year after The Professor was rejected and has been famous ever since. Spence was a fine writer, tireless reformer, the mother of Suffragism in Australia, and a champion of women’s rights throughout the Anglosphere, but her writing, being Australian, remains in obscurity.

I implied otherwise above, but Brontë’s protagonist is a young man, William Crimsworth. Though when this novel is later re-written as Villette (1853), the protagonist, a teacher at an academy for young ladies in fictional Villette (Brussels), is once more a woman, Lucy Snowe.

The Professor begins with a letter from Crimsworth to a former Eton schoolmate, never subsequently mentioned, setting the scene for what follows. Basically, Crimsworth is parentless, in the care of two upper class uncles, who offer him, one, a living (that is as a clergyman) and the other, “one of my six cousins, his daughters, all of whom I greatly dislike. I declined both the Church and matrimony.”

Instead he takes a position with his older brother Edward, a wealthy mill-owner, as a clerk, in order to learn about Trade, in the town of X— in —-shire (which is annoying enough to read, but far worse to have repeatedly read to you). The brothers don’t get on; another mill owner, Hunsden takes an interest in William; basically gets him the sack; and recommends that he seek employment in Brussels where he, Hunsden often has business.

The date is nowhere specified except as before railways –

This is Belgium, reader. Look! don’t call the picture a flat or a dull one–it was neither flat nor dull to me when I first beheld it. When I left Ostend on a mild February morning, and found myself on the road to Brussels, nothing could look vapid to me…

I gazed often, and always with delight, from the window of the diligence (these, be it remembered, were not the days of trains and railroads).

Charlotte and Emily Brontë, then aged 26 and 24, went to Brussels as teachers in 1842. Going by what railway history I can discover, Charlotte’s novel must be set in the 1820s. I’m guessing she did this so that she could take her protagonist through a decade or two without ending up in the future.

William Crimsworth, then aged about 20, is recommended to a live-in position in a boys school by a friend of Hunsden’s, and after some months is offered an extra couple of hours teaching per day at the girls school next door. And so, finally, Charlotte can begin to write from her own experience.

..shone on by the full light of the large window, were the occupants of the benches just before me, of whom some were girls of fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, some young women from eighteen (as it appeared to me) up to twenty; the most modest attire, the simplest fashion of wearing the hair, were apparent in all; and good features, ruddy, blooming complexions, large and brilliant eyes, forms full, even to solidity, seemed to abound. I did not bear the first view like a stoic; I was dazzled, my eyes fell, and in a voice somewhat too low I murmured, “Prenez vos cahiers de dictee, mesdemoiselles.”

The principal of the girls school, Mlle Reuter, a good looking woman maybe 10 years older than Crimsworth, begins to pay him a lot of attention and he finds himself falling under her spell, a spell which is broken when he overhears her discussing with the principal of the boys school, M. Pelet, their planned marriage. Until he gets on his high horse with Pelet, and he gets on his high horse with nearly everyone eventually, he really is a very immature boy, Crimsworth is often teased by Pelet about Mlle Reuter and asked to compare her attractions with those of the young women in his classes. In fact the author spends a great deal of time (or ink) on the appearance of the girls, while the boys school is quite forgotten.

Crimsworth doesn’t mix much with the female teachers, but is one day asked by Mlle Reuter to include as a pupil in his English classes a young Swiss woman, Mlle Henri, well educated but who due to poverty is forced to teach lace mending – a situation quite analogous as it happens to that of Clara Morison. From this point Mlle Henri gradually takes over the novel. Crimsworth begins to take an interest in her. The aunt who is her only support dies. She’s fired and it is some months before Crimsworth can locate her again. And so we have made our way over the course of a year to Chapter XXV, the last.

Frances Henri is of course likeable, but more importantly she is independent. Charlotte Brontë was 38 before she consented to marry her father’s curate and within 10 months was dead, of complications arising out of her pregnancy. On her return from Brussels she had attempted to open a school with her sisters, but it failed to attract any pupils.

In this last chapter Mlle Henri and Crimsworth marry. They both continue to teach. He earns rather more than she, through his private pupils, so she determines to open a school. With his support. It is successful. After three years she delivers him a son, but just one. And she continues to teach and run the school! Brontë is upending every stereotype of Victorian-era women. Eventually they sell up and return to England and live happily ever after in a big house in —shire, 30 miles from X— and within walking distance of the estate of their good friend Hunsden.

I have Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography of Charlotte Brontë, which I will try and read this year, and also I will listen to Jane Eyre again and carry out my plan for a family review – a sort of symposium I guess – which Milly and the kids were keen to do before Covid-19 intervened.

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Charlotte Brontë, The Professor, first pub. 1857. My version: Isis, 2019, read by David Thorpe. 10 hrs 40 min.

Such is Life (02), Joseph Furphy

Such is Life (01)

One of my intentions in doing this slow read is to make the argument that Such is Life is the first major modernist text in Australian and one of the first in World Literature. As seminal in Australian Lit as Ulysses was later to be in English.

The predominant view of Such is Life would have it as Bush Realism, showing us real Aussie bush workmen from the late C19th. Of course it does no such thing – there are not many working men then or now able to converse at length on world affairs, philosophy and literature, in English and in Latin. Furphy’s project in fact was to disrupt the tropes of bush life, the Bulletin version of what it is to be Australian, AND to disrupt the tropes of writing about Australian life.

To further my argument, today I am reading a 2003 essay by Stephen Cowden, Colonialism, Nationalism, Modernism: Rethinking Furphy’s Such is Life . Cowden argues that the 1890s saw the end of Victorian certainties; the rise of Socialism and Feminism (Suffragism); and saw too for the first time the working classes and rural battlers being written about by writers of their own class, writers like Furphy, Henry Lawson and Miles Franklin.

So, when we left Tom he had caught up with some bullocky mates, one of whom was his old schoolmate Steve Thompson. They are discussing where to camp for the night. The Riverina has just returned to drought and the only grass and water has been fenced off by the local landowners who tend to regard bullockies as the enemy rather than as their partners in getting wool to market. The feeling is reciprocated – this is very much a novel of class struggle (see quotes from Cowden below).

It is also a novel of digressions, and most of the plot, such as it is, is carried forward in the yarns the men tell each other, so that characters and episodes rise and fall in importance and often without forewarning.

In this context, some men roll up heading the other way, and of course stop to talk. One of them is Warrigal Alf who is later important (and not to be confused with Nosey Alf), then comes along McNab, a fencing contractor, who talks Tom into trading horses with him. An exchange in which Tom for once comes out on top. The new horse is misleadingly named Cleopatra (hint: it’s not a mare) which “will necessarily play a certain part in these memoirs”.

There is one more point I need to make before we let the teams move on to their camp for the night and that is that most Australians swear almost constantly and Furphy has great fun with this without ever writing an actual swearword. So …

“You got Nosey Alf, an’ Warrigal Alf, an’ (sheol) knows how many other Alfs.”
“I ain’t (adj.) fool enough to believe in curses.”
“Well,” said Price emphatically, and qualifying every word that would bear qualification ..

The Palmers’ abridgement (see below) made the mistake of removing much of the ‘swearing’ and thus much of the humour.

The men break down the fence to the ‘home’ paddock and after a long and philosophical discussion about what makes a gentleman – Willoughby, travelling with them, is an English gentleman entirely without funds (or saleable skills), but a nice bloke – fall asleep under the wagons while the bullocks help themselves to feed and water. In the morning they are roused by a worker from the property and scramble to get their cattle out before the arrival of the foreman; Tom finds Cleopatra likes to buck; a bullock has to be dragged out of the dam; they hitch up and head off; one wagon becomes bogged, is towed out; and then another …

Thirty-six picked bullocks planted their feet and prised, and a hundred and seventy feet of bar chain stretched tense and rigid from the leaders’ yoke to the pole-cap. The wagon crept forward. A low grumble, more a growl than a bellow, passed from beast to beast along the team – sure indication that the wagon wouldn’t stop again if it could be taken through. The off front wheel rose slowly on the harder ground; the off hind wheel rose in its turn; both near wheels ploughed deeper beneath the top-heavy weight of thirty-eight bales –
“She’s over!” thundered Cooper …

The wagon slowly settles on its side and the wool – which goes about six bales to the ton – must be laboriously reloaded by hand. And so we reach the end of Chapter 1, 50pp supported by 36 pages of annotations, so I still have some reading to do!


Such is Life was first published by the new books division of the Bulletin magazine in 1903. It was immediately recognised for the masterpiece it is but gained no great readership. A second edition (using sheets left over from the first) was brought out by Furphy’s literary executor, Kate Baker in 1917 with an Introduction by Vance Palmer. In 1937 Jonathon Cape of London published an abridged version with Vance Palmer named as the ‘editor’ although the actual abridging was done mainly by Nettie Palmer and daughter Aileen (Such is Life, Abridged!). Angus & Robertson then brought out an unabridged version (pictured above) in 1944 and only then was the novel’s future assured. The most recent version apparently is from Text, 2013 (here).

“The opening page of [Such is Life] is thus one which suggests an openness to an exploration of the ‘relation between reading, interpretation and writing’ (Devlin-Glass et.al, 315), which, as other commentators have noted, anticipates the high modernist literature of writers like James Joyce.” Cowden p. 152

“Socialists argued that unemployment, poverty and criminality, were not failings of individual ‘character’, but were a product of the immiseration created by capitalism. In its day this link offered a profound and fundamental challenge to ideas about ‘character’ which were cornerstones of Victorian morality.” ibid p.153

“Furphy clearly saw these acts of sabotage [thefts from landowners] as a form of working class resistance, and hence the newness of his perspective is both literary and political; in a political sense he is trying to work out on an intuitive basis how a different form of morality might operate. In a literary sense he is trying to work out a new way of telling a story that will reflect this” ibid. p.156

50:32 belahs. Bilaar is a Wiradhuri word used for several [types of] trees. Here is it probabably a sheoak (casuarina). There are annotations for everything! I give this one as an example because I have written quite often in the past that there are no Indigenous people in SIL, so one of my tasks over this year is to see how correct that assertion is. I can’t believe there weren’t Indigenous communities along all the rivers. There are now and there were in the 1950s when I was a boy. I must also mention that the rider on Cleopatra when Tom obtained it was an Indigenous man working for McNab.

McNab. The edition I am reading renders this M’Nab, but as with Miles Franklin I am certain this comes from older printing presses not having a raised lower case ‘c’ (and nor does WordPress).

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Joseph Furphy, Such is Life, first pub. 1903.

FD Glass, R Eaden, GW Turner, L Hoffman eds, The Annotated Such is Life, by Joseph Furphy, Halstead Classics, Sydney, 1999. 297pp (plus 170pp notes and annotations).

Stephen Cowden, Colonialism, Nationalism, Modernism: Rethinking Furphy’s Such is Life, Kunapipi, Vol 25 (2003) (here)

Miles Franklin, Joseph Furphy (here)
theaustralianlegend, Such is Life, Abridged! (here)