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

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

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


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

The Mysterious Box, Dorothy Cottrell

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

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Jess White, author of Hearing Maud, currently doing a writer-in-residence gig in Munich, and valued contributor to Gens 1 and 2 has for Gen 3 come up with the romantic figure of once well-known best-selling author, Dorothy Cottrell.


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Cottrell was born in Picton, NSW in 1905 and contracted polio five years later. She spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair. This didn’t stop her from attending art school, moving to her uncle’s farm and becoming a crack shot with a rifle, eloping with her uncle’s bookkeeper to Dunk Island, moving back to Sydney to make money from her drawings, and then to American to escape the tax office. Read on …

The Dyehouse, Mena Calthorpe

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

 

Mena Calthorpe was one of many writers in this period to join the Communist Party She left, but remained a passionate socialist and this informs the writing of The Dyehouse (1961). Brona of Brona’s Books has written a perceptive account of this important work which has been brought back to the notice of the reading public by Text Classics.


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Written with unerring skill and insight, The Dyehouse is a masterly portrait of postwar Australia, when industrial work was radically transformed by new technologies and society changed with it. Mena Calthorpe—who herself worked in a textile factory—takes us inside this world, vividly bringing to life the people of an inner-Sydney company in the mid-1950s: the bosses, middlemen and underlings; their dramatic struggles and their loves. Read on …

 

 

 

No Roads Go By, Myrtle Rose White

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

No Roads Go By

Twenty years ago this week, Gee had finished year 12, done a very good IB as it turned out and was with me in the truck. We went up to Moree and Brisbane then back to Sydney. My next load was to Moomba in northern South Australia and she had to finalize her university preferences, so I dropped her off to catch the bus to Melbourne from outside Central Station, and went off to load.

My diary for 12 Jan 2000 says that we booked her on Greyhound for $48; I dropped my front trailer at a transport yard in Strathfield; and most concerningly, that when I fuelled up I topped up my radiator which was “leaking from tap – lower RH side”. The following morning a 20 ft container was craned on and I was on my way, over the Blue Mountains – I stopped at Lawson PO to pay some bills – and out through Dubbo.

Slept at Emmadale, got fuel at Little Topar, roadhouses in the desert either side of Wilcannia, topped up my radiator again, found the alternator belt was broken. Got one in Broken Hill.

The customer, Keith Thompson, a famous trucking operator from Castlemaine, Vic, told me I was running late, which was true, and that I would have to go “the short way” on dirt roads via Tibooburra, instead of the long way round on bitumen to Port Augusta and up the Strezlecki Track (map).

The road to Tibooburra was mostly gravel, just the tops of the hills bitumenized. There I turned west onto a dirt road out to Cameron’s Corner – where the borders of NSW, Qld and SA meet, “walked around corner marker to all 3 states. Much evidence of Millenium celebrations”. Slept.

The only map I had was a map of Australia. I was following a faint dotted line which should take me past Merty Merty Station. The ‘road’ itself on the SA side was just wheel tracks in the sand through the scrub. Up I would go, veering left up each sandhill, turn back to the right at the top, and down onto a claypan baked hard in summer, look for the opening on the other side, occasional mobs of cattle to keep me on my toes. For three hours. You can only imagine my relief when I came on a very old sign post pointing to Merty Merty, a few miles on my left and Innaminka 110 on the right. I pressed on, guessed that I should turn right onto the Strezlecki, towards the columns of thick black smoke, was soon at Moomba – where I waited 8 hours due to the crane being broken down. Then, back south, towards the distant Flinders Ranges and civilization, “9.00 pm. Tea, Elsewhere Pub, Lyndhurst. 2 stubbies!”

This is the country of No Roads Go By (1932), the fictionalised memoir of a young woman whose husband took her and their young child from Adelaide to manage a cattle property in remotest outback South Australia in the years leading up to WWI. Myrtle White’s “Mrs Brown” is a city girl like the more famous Mrs Aeneas Gunn of We of the Never Never (1908) though White’s ADB entry says she was born in a tent near Broken Hill and brought up in rural Barossa Valley. White quotes Boake’s famous poem to push the connection: Out on the wastes of the Never Never/That’s where the dead men lie!

I have written elsewhere that Gen 3 had two new streams – (urban) Social Realism and Modernism – and also that many authors, particularly men, continued with the Gen 2 themes of nationalism and bush realism verging on romanticism. But during the Gen 3 period women writers, and indeed rural women generally, made a concerted effort to carve out for themselves a place in men’s bush myths. And they did this by promoting a new myth (in the original sense of archetype rather than falsehood) of the equal partnership of women with men as settler/farmers.

In the 1970s [historians such as] John Hirst [and] Judith Godden recognized that the myth of the independent bushman had been ameliorated by the general adoption of a Pioneer myth, where men tame a hostile environment to carve productive farmland out of unwelcoming bush; a myth which incidentally validates their right to be seen as the creators, and therefore the valid owners, of this land. Although it is sometimes argued that women are absent here also, Jemima Mowbray shows that during the Centenary and Sesqui-centenary celebrations of the 1930s women actively asserted their place in the opening up of the Australian bush to settlement. While Mowbray agrees with Godden that ‘the middle-class virtue of domesticity is the primary virtue celebrated within the Pioneer Woman myth’ (2006, p.4 of 20) she also emphasizes that popular representations of pioneer women show that they, as much as the men, were forced to overcome the loneliness and hardships of pioneering. (That’s me quoting from my thesis The Independent Woman in Australian Literature, 2011)

One (literary) outcome of this movement was the satirical Pioneers on Parade (1939), by Miles Franklin and Dymphna Cusack (Miles believed she, as Brent of Bin Bin, and Steele Rudd had invented the genre of Pioneering Lit.). But I’m afraid I’m yet to read it.

This Australian myth, or story, of women sharing the hardships and responsibilities of farming equally with men continues to need to be asserted right up to today – and was for instance, part of Michelle Scott Tucker’s stated motivation for reevaluating the role of Elizabeth Macarthur in the opening up the Australian wool industry.

So No Roads Go By plays, or played, an important part not just in selling the romance of the outback, in which all Australians like to believe, but in asserting women’s role in what is often pictured as an almost totally male domain. Although, like Gunn, she mostly plays the frail little wifey.

There is not much to the story, but it’s competently written, and White had a few other books published on the back of it. Interestingly no people or places are named, so her husband is The Boss and her daughter, Little’un. If the station itself is not Merty Merty, then it’s pretty close. One ‘lost’ stockman is clearly drinking at the Tibooburra pub.

She endures shocking heat in primitive houses, with dust storms, rolling sand dunes, a rabbit plague, and seven years of nothing to eat but beef and dried vegetables. Is pregnant two times, more than a days travel from the next house let alone the next doctor, and so must must spend months in ‘the city’ (Adelaide).

Little’un is quickly at home in the bush, but the two sons born during the course of the book are sickly. The author herself never seems comfortable, not surprisingly, with the help unreliable and The Boss away mustering for weeks at a time. The stockmen seem to be mostly white, and the local Indigenous people* are barely mentioned. Late in the book White says that there is very little evidence there ever were any.

 

Myrtle Rose White, No Roads Go By, first pub. 1932, illustrated by Elizabeth Durack 1954, this edition (pictured above) Angus & Robertson, reprinted 1956

see also:
Jemima Mowbray, Examining the Myth of the Pioneer Woman (pdf here)

I was motivated to find this among my father’s books after Sue/Whispering Gum’s recent post, Random thoughts from the mid-1930s (here). Sue is also contributing two Monday Musings on Christina Stead to AWW Gen 3 Week. The first is (here).


*The people of this area are probably Wadikali (or Evelyn Creek mob) of the wider Yarli language group, but I can’t find websites for them under these names.

Sugar Heaven, Jean Devanny

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

Lisa has reviewed the 2002 scholarly edition of Devanny’s working class classic to provide a lucid account of both the novel and its theoretical underpinnings.


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Last week there was a substantial donation from an Australian mining magnate to the bushfire relief effort. While all donations are much needed, reactions varied, from approval of the philanthropic gesture, to outrage that our economic system enables an individual to be in a position to give away $70 million. Read on …

The Shelf Life of Zora Cross, Cathy Perkins

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

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Zora Cross has been one of the big surprises of AWW Gen 3 for me. I guess each generation of writers has ‘unknowns’ who prove to be tremendously interesting and Cross is one of those. This repost is from historian and blogger, Janine The Resident Judge of Port Phillip.


The Resident Judge of Port Phillip

“Twenty pounds and you shall have her” and thus were the publishing rights for Songs of Love and Life transferred from a small self-publishing bookshop to that of the publishing behemoth, Angus and Robertson in 1917.  This book of sixty erotic love-sonnets was to become a literary sensation, going through three reprints and selling a respectable 4000 copies. Its author,  27 year old Zora Cross, wrote about love and sensuality from a woman’s perspective – something shocking in 1917. Read on …

Exiles at Home, Drusilla Modjeska

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


Australian Women Writers Gen 3 Week

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

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