Lady Bridget in the Never Never Land, Rosa Praed

 Australian Women Writers Gen 1 Week 15-21 Jan. 2018

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So we begin Australian Women Writers Gen 1 Week. If you are posting, or have posted previously, a review of a work by a Gen 1 woman, put a link in Comments below and I’ll include it in the AWW Gen 1 page. In preparation over the past month or so I have put up:

AWW Gen 1 page
Annabella Boswell’s Journal review
Dale Spender, Writing a New World review
Australia’s First Women Writers, Michelle Scott Tucker

The AWW Gen 1 page contains a short overview of the period (women who began writing prior to the 1890s and the Bulletin years) – the Dale Spender review contains a longer overview – and a list of all the women writers of the period with links to their ADB biography, reviews of their work, essays about their work and in some case links to where their work may be found on-line.

So far I have 19 21 writers, seven of whose novels I have reviewed; links to reviews by Brona (Brona’s Books), MST (Adventures in Biography), Lisa (ANZLitLovers) and Jessica White; posts about authors by Sue (Whispering Gums), Nathan Hobby, Jess again (and again!), Narelle Ontivero, Morgan Burgess; links to ‘third party’ essays like Illawarra Historical Soc., The Letters of Rachel Henning: Have we been conned? (Read it, it’s fascinating). And more is promised!

Onwards, to Lady Bridget. Rosa Praed (1851-1935) was born into ‘comfortable’ circumstances on one of her father, Thomas Murray-Prior’s Queensland cattle stations, the third of eleven children (ADB). She was educated at home, by her mother and tutors.

In October 1857 Rosa was at a corroboree which presaged the massacre of seven members of the Fraser family, and one black worker, on neighbouring Hornet Bank Station (map), in retaliation for the usual ‘dispersal’ of the traditional inhabitants and misuse of their women. Following the massacre, posses of white settlers, in which Murray-Prior was prominent, virtually wiped out all the local Yiman people.

Oldest son, William Fraser who had been away at the time of the massacre, returned and began murdering black people – without hindrance from the police – at every opportunity, including two men exiting Rockhampton courthouse where they had just been acquitted. Astonishingly, Fraser is the model for Colin McKeith, the hero of this novel.

Murray-Prior moved his family closer to Brisbane and in the 1860s was Postmaster General in a series of colonial governments. Rachel Henning, one of my Gen 1 list, writes of him, ” I suppose it does not require any great talent to be a Postmaster General. I hope not, for such a goose I have seldom seen. He talked incessantly and all his conversation consisted of pointless stories of which he himself was the hero.”

In 1872 Rosa was married from Government House at St John’s Church of England, Brisbane, to Arthur Campbell Bulkley Praed, a younger son of an English banking and brewing family. After an unhappy couple of years on Campbell Praed’s station on Curtis Island near Gladstone (400 km north of Brisbane) the couple went to live in England where Rosa Praed became well-known as a writer. In 1897 Rosa gave up on the marriage and began living with Nancy Hayward, a psychic medium.

Rosa Praed never returned to Australia but drew heavily on her life there, and on her correspondents, including her father, whose attitudes she later repudiated, for her stories (see Patricia Clarke, A Paradox of Exile: Rosa Praed’s Lifelines to her Australian Past here).

Lady Bridget in the Never-Never Land begins with journalist Joan Gildea talking to her friend Colin McKeith, a Glaswegian of humble antecedents, who has taken up property on the ‘Upper Leura’ in outback Queensland, and is a member of the Legislative Council (established in 1860 after Queensland became separate from NSW in 1859). It is not stated but I’m guessing the action takes place in the 1880s*.

All place names are fictionalised so Queensland is Leichardt (after the explorer), Brisbane is Leichardt’s Town, and Joan has a house on ‘Emu Point’ in a bend of the ‘Leichardt River’ downstream from Parliament House and the Botanical Gardens.

Hornet Bank is north of Wandoan, good country on the coastal side of the Great Dividing Range. The local river is the Dawson which runs into the Fitzroy and comes out on the coast near Rockhampton. But Patricia Clarke says that the locality of ‘Leura’ is further north and inland, semi-desert ‘Never Never’ country based on Rosa’s sister’s home, Aberfoyle Station. The (mostly dry) rivers up there stay west of the Great Divide and run into the Gulf, so Praed may have made a mistake with her geography when she has the ‘Leura River’ coming out on the east coast.

Lady Bridget O’Hara is the impecunious daughter of a late Irish Earl, living off her wits and the generosity of titled relatives. She is friends with Joan and to escape a failed love affair in England comes out to Leichardt in the party of the new Governor. McKeith, a solitary and hard-nosed bachelor, is introduced to Bridget by Joan, falls heavily in love and persuades her to marry him, which she does in scenes reminiscent of the author’s own wedding.

Lady Bridget is tiny and vivacious with unruly curls, a horsewoman and a singer, sounding very much like a Miles Franklin heroine. Praed was 28 years older than Franklin, but in 1915 when Lady Bridget came out Franklin had just finished writing On Dearborn Street and their heroes have a striking similarity – both insist on their ‘wholesomeness’, ie. both are virgins. And this in fact is a strong theme in early Australian writing, both men’s and women’s.

At this point in my reading, Bridget and McKeith have just spent the night in a rough hotel after coming up the coast for a couple of days in a steamer, all in separate rooms! McKeith is planning for their “first night” to be camping out under the stars on their journey inland. I have paused because Praed has raised two points of tension and I want to write about them before I see how they are resolved.

Firstly, Bridget has married McKeith because he fits her image of a strong, independent man, but also because she is in desperate need of financial security. Praed’s novels are full of discarded, no-longer convenient marriages and I’m agog to see how this one turns out. Bridget suggests to McKeith’s bemusement “that you and I are as incongruous as the duck and the kangaroo”, quoting from the Edward Lear nonsense poem.

Secondly and far more importantly, McKeith’s strong man image is based in large part on his ill usage of and hatred for blacks and Bridget is disgusted by this and says so. And yet she marries him. Len Platt in Race and Romance in the Australian Novels of Rosa Praed here suggests that Praed’s reputation as a radical may not be deserved, and that in particular she is half-hearted in her condemnation of both McKeith’s racism and his violent opposition to trade unionism. Let’s read on …

Bridget and McKeith travel by train inland to the terminus at ‘Fig Tree Mount’ and there transfer to a buggy for the 250 miles home, with Moongarr Bill, the head stockman, and two black workmen, Wombo and Cudgee. As they depart McKeith is jeered by ‘unionists’ on the hotel veranda, who turn out to be men he’s just sacked:

“Mister Colin McKeith? – you can take it from us boys he’s the meanest cuss that ever downed a harmless nigger…. Ask him what the twenty-five notches on his gun stand for?”

“And I tell you what it is, Steve Baines. There’ll be another notch on my gun, and it won’t be for a nigger, if you give me any more of your insolence.”

Another man grabs the reins of the lead horse and is whipped for his trouble; and among the flying insults Bridget learns that McKeith employs a good looking young widow, Mrs Hensor, as housekeeper for the stockman’s quarters.

Fifteen months later memories of the honeymoon drive have faded. Mrs Hensor will not take orders from Bridget, drought is setting in, union shearers are striking, the government has sent armed ‘specials’ to protect employers of scab labour. A dray bringing supplies to the McKeiths has been ransacked and the horses killed; McKeith, returning from town with a police inspector and a visitor, finds Bridget has given aid to Wombo and his new bride against his direct orders; he whips Wombo and drives the couple off the station.

But! The visitor is her old lover from England, Willoughby Maule, who had left her to marry an heiress who had then conveniently died. McKeith and the inspector must go to a neighbouring station where fighting is expected. Bridget has refused to talk to McKeith about her former life as a social butterfly and now he is eaten with jealousy, but must leave her and Maule together just when he and Bridget are at daggers drawn.

This sounds melodramatic, but Praed is better than that and the last third of the novel is a convincing  portrayal of two egotistical people at cross purposes through misunderstanding and miscommunication. The harm that McKeith’s jealousy causes reminds me of Henry Handel Richardson’s Maurice Guest. Of course I won’t tell you how it ends but I do think Praed lets McKeith off lightly. Yes he is scarred by the murder of everyone in his family, but Praed, once she introduced this into the story, should have dealt with it front on, not incidentally.

Overall though, Lady Bridget in the Never-Never Land is both an insightful study of a man tortured by love and an illuminating view of times past.

 

Rosa Praed, Lady Bridget in the Never-Never Land (first pub. 1915), Pandora, 1987, my copy on kindle from Project Gutenberg here


*Re the period of the novel: Praed mentions abandoned diggings at ‘Fig Tree Mount’. Gold was first mined in Queensland at Charters Towers in 1872. The Great Shearers’ Strike which led to the formation of the Australian Labor Party was in 1891. Praed has McKeith lose his seat in an election won by the Labor Party, about a year after his marriage, which could only be 1899 when the world’s first, albeit short-lived,  minority, Labor government was formed.

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Best Reads 2017

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Nov. 7 2017 was the centenary of the “October Revolution”, the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks in Russia

I read a few new releases in 2017 though nowhere near enough to have an informed opinion about the “best”. Still, they were all very good.

Heather Rose, The Museum of Modern Love (review)
Kim Scott, Taboo (review)
Claire G. Coleman, Terra Nullius (review)
Jane Rawson, From the Wreck (review)
Odette Kelada, Drawing Sybylla (review)
Sarah Goldman, Caroline Chisholm (review, interview)
Tony Hughes-d’Aeth, A Literary History of the Wheatbelt (review)

The further back we go the better informed less uninformed I am, though as it turns out there is only one review (by me, two by Nathan). So, here are my lists for 50, 100 and 150 years ago drawn from Annals of Australian Literature.

1967

There were 17 novels published (23 in 1966), none really notable and some mildly interesting non-fiction.

Dymphna Cusack, The Sun is not Enough
Shirley Hazzard, People in Glass Houses
Thomas Keneally, Bring Larks and Heroes
KS Prichard, Subtle Flame (Nathan Hobby)
Kylie Tennant, Tell Morning This
Donald Horne, The Education of Young Donald (autobiog.)
Marjorie Barnard, Miles Franklin (biog.)

1917

33 books published, about the same as 1916, including 9 novels and some relatively notable verse and short stories. Australia Felix was the first book in the Richardson’s Fortunes of Richard Mahoney trilogy.

Barbara Baynton, Cobbers (s) (review, biography)
Randolph Bedford, The Silver Star
Marie Bjelke-Petersen, The Captive Singer
Capel Boake, Painted Clay
CJ Dennis, Doreen (v)
CJ Dennis, The Glugs of Gosh (v)
Sydney de Loghe, Pelican Pool
SG Fielding, Australia AD 2000 or the Great Referendum (one copy on Amazon!)
Mary Marlowe, Kangaroos in King’s Land
Adela Pankhurst, Betrayed (play)
AB Paterson, Saltbush Bill (v)
Tarella Quin, Paying Guests
Henry Handel Richardson, Australia Felix
Steele Rudd, The Old Homestead (s) (biography)
Steele Rudd, Steele Rudd’s Annual (magazine 1917-1923)
EL Grant Watson, The Mainland

Writers born in 1917 included Nancy Cato, Jon Cleary, Frank Hardy, Sumner Locke Eliott (whose mother, Sumner Locke died), James McAuley, D’Arcy Niland.

1867

15 books published including 6 novels, much better than the previous year – four books, no novels.

James Bonwick, John Batman, Founder of Victoria (bio)
Charles de Boos, Fifty Years Ago
Matilda Evans (Maud Jeanne Franc), Emily’s Choice (Nathan Hobby)
John Houlding (Old Boomerang), Australian Capers
Thomas McCombie, Frank Henly or Honest Industry Will Conquer
Edward Maitland, The Pilgrim and the Shrine
James Neild (Cleofas), A Bird in a Golden Cage

Henry Lawson was born – I don’t recognise any of the others.

1817

James Bonwick was born and that’s it. I have my father’s copy of Bonwick’s Western Victoria: The Narrative of an Educational Tour in 1857 which I will add to my TBR.

Have I reminded you about Australian Women Writers Gen 1 Week 15-21 Jan. 2018?

 

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

see also:
Robert Graham’s Voline: The Bolshevik October Revolution (here)

Taboo, W.E. Harney

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In putting away Kim Scott’s Taboo after reading and writing it up for my last post (here) I saw I had another Taboo, a gift as it turns out from my father to his father for Christmas, 1944, the first book by white bushman cum writer Bill Harney (1895-1962) who mixed closely with the Indigenous people of northern Australia, in the cattle and fishing industries, and at the time this book was written, as a Native Affairs patrol officer.

Let me be clear that it is not my intention to endorse the views contained in this book, nor to offer it as alternative to Scott’s, but rather to make a critical reading of an old-fashioned account by an ostensibly sympathetic observer of peoples maybe only one generation removed from the “old ways”.

Harney’s Taboo is a collection of stories with an extended Introduction by the anthropologist AP Elkin (ADB). Elkin, in his time a noted defender of the rights of Aborigines, writes:

… Harney has lived in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, for about twenty years, contracting, trading and working at this, that and the other. From the moment he realized that the natives, though different from us, were human like ourselves, he has taken a sympathetic and intelligent interest in them, seeking to understand them.

He goes on to speculate on the causes of ‘aboriginal depopulation’, citing ‘clashes’, introduced diseases, and ‘psychological’: “the upsetting of that balance or equilibrium between man, his fellows and nature, which had been developed in the course of centuries” and which the coming of the white man brought to a sudden end.

… almost every story in this book is a concrete illustration of the change wrought in the natives’ manner of life by contact with the white man and his ways, and of the disastrous consequences.

Reverie: Harney sits on the beach with trepang curing, watching an old man singing dreamtime songs to children, and muses on similarities between cultures. “Their numerous customs, so like our own, point to a common origin.”

Cananda: A legend of love and jealousy recorded in the hope it may never be forgotten, tied to a story told by a white trader on a sailing vessel in the Gulf, of hearing the spirit of a man cry out overhead at the moment of his death a hundred miles away.

The Law:  A harsh story of Ramajerrie who refused to be a stockman but instead lived by raiding the bosses’ cattle, who took leniency as a sign to continue, so his little band of marauders were shot up and the survivors tricked into eating poisoned flour; and his son Ngiaroo, who was sceptical of traditional law and was killed for failing to give up his wife to an elder, while his killer, who did respect traditional law, is sentenced to jail.

The Secret: The sad tale of a man who saves the life of the policeman arresting him out of fear of being blamed, and is honoured for it; then saves the life of a little white girl through his own bravery, but is cursed and left to die for making her cry.

And so we go on with stories and photos and a great deal of Aboriginal language and knowledge. Stories of laws abandoned because traditional punishments are illegal under white man’s law; stories of white men misusing the law to prevent their ‘house gins’ being claimed in traditional marriages; and over and over again, stories of Indigenous people being murdered in the name of justice, or more often, just to prevent them from living and hunting on cattle pasture, which of course includes all the best water:

Nugget was of a different clay from Jack; he was a hard man. Pity help the native who crossed his path. Some of them tried it once, but he gave them a feed – rice flavoured with arsenic; and …

people heard of the murder [of Jack], and a body of white men with a policeman in charge started out in pursuit of the killers – a punitive expedition, the strong chasing the weak, killing all that came in their way, the innocent as well as the guilty. [The Good Samaritan]

I think however, that in his own mind at least, Harney’s thesis is that the Aborigines are/were a primitive (but interesting) people giving way to a superior civilization,

Of course, we smile at these simple people, with their foolish superstitions; nevertheless, I have found that behind their ideas is a deal of logic. [The Mumba]

And he is fair enough to point out that “we once hung camphor bags around children’s necks to keep away sickness” and that a great many whites wear the crucifixes and medallions of their own superstitions.

Let us end with Justice, the story of a man whose mother was chased over a cliff when he was a babe in arms, was brought up ‘white’, visited the city, but in his home town –

… saw natives led about on chains, prisoners for some paltry offence, being given a feed of half-cooked rice and then a drink of water just before they got to town, so that, as they marched down the street, the people were amazed at the way they were treated – they looked so full. The knowing ones laughed at the joke – the police did well out of the native arrests, as they received one shilling a feed per man.

He saw, “and being intelligent, understood”, and ran away to the bush, raising the “standard of revolt, carrying death to the white man in its trail”, until he and his little band were chased down and killed.

So these are stories which were current, no doubt well known and thought unexceptional, when John Howard (1939- ) was a boy and yet which, when they were revived and substantiated during his prime ministership, he mendaciously labelled as a “black armband” view of history.

 

W.E. Harney, Taboo, Australasian Publishing Co., Sydney, 1943

see also my post on Ion Idriess and particularly his novel Nemarluk which is from the same period and general location (here)

 

Some Everyday Folk and Dawn, Miles Franklin

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Some Everyday Folk and Dawn (1909) is Miles Franklin’s second published novel. It’s set where it was written – at Penrith (called Noonoon in the novel) now an outer western suburb of Sydney, but then a separate country town where Franklin’s parents had moved after leaving their farm at Thornford and where Miles lived with them for part of 1904, three years and two unpublished novels after her runaway success with My Brilliant Career. In her Introduction, Jill Roe says that Franklin …

… has two main things to say, and says them in typically forthright style. The first is that marriage is a material question and should be treated as such. The second is that women are citizens in their own right, and should take their responsibilities seriously. Both points relate to the position of women and debate about it in Australia in the early twentieth century, and reflect Franklin’s increased feminist awareness and commitment.

Roe also points out that we should do well to take notice of Franklin, rather than second wave feminists – she instances Anne Summers’ Damned Whores and God’s Police, but I would add Kay Schaffer – who see women in early Australian society as oppressed or irrelevant.

By contrast, Franklin presents a progressive, self-respecting and even prosperous female culture which is well aware of the strengths and weaknesses of newly attained political status, participant in, rather than victim of, social forces.

Finally, Roe says, while we should not read fiction as documentary, Franklin writes an ‘astonishingly accurate’ account of electioneering in Penrith during the NSW 1904 state election, the first in which (white) women were permitted to vote, though maybe in stressing local issues, she underplays the Conservative’s great fear of the rise of Labor and Socialism.

So, the story. Dawn is an attractive young woman, living with her Grandmother Clay who has a large, old house on the banks of the Noonoon (Nepean) River, and who takes in paying guests, mostly over summer. The other members of the household are Carry – another young woman who shares housekeeping duties with Dawn, Mrs Clay’s brother ‘uncle’ Jake, who doesn’t do much, and Dawn’s grubby younger cousin, Andrew. The narrator, an older woman – thirtyish it later turns out, but grey haired – lately retired from the stage, has had to wait till autumn to become a boarder, so there are no summer staff – cooks and waiters and so on – and only one other guest, Miss Flip, “an orphan reared by a rich uncle”. Then there’s Mrs Bray, neighbour and gossip and Ernest Breslaw, a handsome young man, previously acquainted with the narrator, who appears serendipitously to rescue her from a rowing accident.

The unnamed narrator is an observer and occasional meddler in the action. She has a heart condition and is recuperating from a nervous breakdown after heartbreak. Miles was only 25 when she wrote this, but this foreshadows breakdowns she was to suffer herself – notably after the death of her sister only a few years later, and on her return from Serbia near the end of the Great War – and also the breakdown she ascribes to her heroine Bernice Gaylord in Gentlemen at Gyang Gyang (review) written two decades later.

As in nearly all Franklin’s fiction there is a matriarch who is central to the action and usually from the NSW high country. In this case it is Grandma Clay, whose late husband had been the driver/operator of the mail coach servicing ‘Gool Gool’ (Tumut), the nearest town to Sybylla’s grandmother’s property in My Brilliant Career.

The various story lines are: the narrator’s attempts to match Dawn up with Breslaw, with more discussion on making a sensible match, rather than no match as in say My Career Goes Bung; Miss Flip’s “uncle” proves to be no uncle; and on choosing/voting for a good candidate rather than a particular party.

Franklin always struggled with plots but her descriptions are wonderful. And evocative – when I was little my grandparents’ farm didn’t have electricity, a lot of the outbuildings were thatched, horses were still used, cows were handmilked and grandma made her own cream and butter. Franklin writes of the daily ritual of pulling apart and washing the cream separator, which grandma would do in the outside laundry. It’s all so familiar (and I’m so old!). Here she describes the trains pulling through Penrith and heading up the mountain to Katoomba:

The little town retained a certain degree of importance as one of the busiest railway centres in the state, and its engine-sheds were the home of many locomotives. Here they were coaled, cleaned and oiled ere taking their stiff two-engine haul over the mountains to the wide, straight, pastoral and wheat-growing West; and their calling and rumbling made cheery music all the year round, excepting a short space on Sundays; while at night, as they climbed the crests of the mountain-spurs, every time they fired, the red light belching from their engine doors could be seen for miles down the valley.

Romances go as romances go; Grandma Clay is concerned about the perils of girls  marrying ‘up’; Dawn is inclined to marry any local yokel rather than be stuck at home; and the anti-marriage sentiment is mostly in the context of the election – men expecting that the women of the household will vote as directed (by them).

In fact, most of the book centres on the election, and when it was eventually published 4 or 5 years later, Franklin requested that publicity be directed at the women’s suffrage campaign in England where women were not to receive the vote fully until 1928.

There’s unfortunately quite a bit of gratuitous racism of the “even a gin wouldn’t behave so badly” variety, or the woman campaigner whose children were left to run about “so untended as to be indistinguishable from aboriginals”, and even if these are typical men’s views, Miles makes no attempt to counter them.

The incumbent makes his pitch to men in the bar where he can buy their votes with free grog, while the women mostly support the opposition candidate who is for temperance – a strong stream in the women’s movement when drunken husbands were a major problem. “The men on the Ministerial side were nearly gangrene with disgust, because, as one put it, “nearly all [the opposition candidate’s] men were women”.

Dawn becomes overwrought when one man, a neighbour, goes down the pub and leaves his wife to give birth alone, until Grandma comes to the rescue, and takes it all out on Ernest, who must be mollified by the narrator:

“Can you not grasp that she was irritated beyond endurance with the unwholesomeness of the whole system of life in relation to women, and that for the moment you appeared as one of the army of oppressors?”

After this, the “uncle”, whose perfidy has become known, is tarred and feathered (literally!) by Dawn and friends. Shades of #Harvey Weinstein, they tell him,

“Yes, good women have to continually suffer the degradation of your type in all life’s most sacred relations. They have to endure you at their board and in their homes, and leering at their sweet young daughters …”

Then the election. Miles is more concerned with women voting, and parliament therefore having to consider their interests than in who actually gets in. Then as now, there was no real difference in their policies, nor in the self interest of members on both sides. Interestingly, on the night following, the newspaper office has a scoreboard in the window, just as we do today on television, with the names of winners going up as they are declared elected.

The story glides slowly to its natural end. Miles Franklin is not a natural story-teller and this is a typically awkward account of love making (in the old fashioned sense!) though for once she has marriage on her mind, she was only 25 after all.What little narrative tension there is is in Dawn’s choice of suitor. But Franklin believes very strongly that the groom should be as pure as the bride and this limits her choices somewhat.

Overall, Franklin’s detailed account of electioneering and town meetings, of ‘everyday folk’ serving the railways and farming on the banks of Nepean, paints a brilliant picture of a few, important months in the life of one of Australia’s oldest white settlements.

 

Miles Franklin, Some Everyday Folk and Dawn, first pub. 1909. This edition Virago, London, 1986 with introduction by Jill Roe. Cover painting, detail from “Cove on the Hawkesbury”, Charles Condor.


For links to all my other Miles Franklin posts I’ve replaced my Miles Franklin Central post with a page – ‘Miles Franklin’ in the menu overhead – or click here

Bohemians at the Bulletin, Norman Lindsay

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Illustration: Henry Lawson reproves Bert Stevens [clerk]
The founding of the Sydney Bulletin in 1880 by JF Archibald (and John Haynes, who does not appear to have played a part in its day to day operations), as a magazine of news, comment, short stories and poetry, marked a turning point in Australian nationalism, expressed in its banner “Australia for Australians” – famously changed in 1886 to “Australia for the White Man”. In 1894 Archibald employed AG Stephens, already a well-known literary critic, who began soliciting and commissioning literary works for his famous ‘Red Page’:

What readers could expect in the ‘Red Page’ was a potpourri of articles, reviews, extracts, letters, paragraphs, anecdotes and notes, occasionally with photographs or cartoons. The poem of the week, starred to indicate its quality, appeared in a top corner and in the bottom corner might be blunt, cruelly witty advice to rejected contributors. Stephens’ common practice was to spark controversy by attacking an established writer, such as Burns, Thackeray, Kipling, or Tennyson, thereby enticing correspondents as varied as Christopher Brennan or George Burns to attack and counter-attack, sometimes over weeks. It was heady stuff. (ADB)

In 1901 Norman Lindsay, then aged 21, came to the Bulletin as an illustrator, from Melbourne where he had been at art school. Although already married, he fancied himself as a carouser, a Cassanova, and produced endless drawings of naked women. Later in life he wrote some interesting fiction, mostly semi-autobiographical and boastful of his conquests, and of course the wonderful children’s book, The Magic Pudding (1918) prized by generations of young Legends.

In 1911 Lindsay went to England for a while and returned suffering a nervous breakdown -which he is happy to talk about in this book – which led him to buy Springwood in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney where he was to spend the rest of his life, and which was the setting for the movie Sirens (1994) starring Sam Neill (as Lindsay), Elle Macpherson and a young Hugh Grant.

In Bohemians at [orginally ‘of’] the Bulletin (1965) Lindsay writes short sketches of his interactions with Archibald, Stephens and some of his fellow contributors. Lindsay admires Archibald with whom he is largely in accord – including on the related subjects of buxom 14 year old girls and the entrapment of men by Rape Laws – and ends his piece on Archibald with:

We know that Archie endowed Australian art with the Archibald Bequest and bestowed on Sydney the splendid Archibald Memorial fountain, the only truly fine monument the city possesses… But he wrote his personality deeper on this country’s culture when he sought for and published the best poetry and prose and draughtsmanship it could produce, and fostered in it the spirit to envision life in its own terms and not on any culture borrowed from other countries.

On the other hand, Lindsay didn’t get on with AG Stephens and the things he writes about him are mostly spiteful – Stephens scuttling back to his office in the face of danger, and so on. Henry Lawson, Lindsay did not know very well, mostly seeing him as angry presence dashing in and out of the Bulletin offices, or cadging money for grog, and in fact he knew Bertha (Henry’s estranged wife) better, as she managed a picture gallery for George Robertson next door to Angus & Robertson’s bookshop:

I was holding a one-man show at the gallery, and happened to be in Mrs Lawson’s small office, finishing a pen sketch which had been commissioned, when she dashed in exclaiming breathlessly, “I can’t go out there. He’s only come in here to annoy me.” I glanced out to discover that “he” was Henry Lawson, who was going around making a pretence of looking at the pictures …

Steele Rudd, Lindsay met just the once (oddly, as Rudd lived in Sydney from 1903-08) seeing him as a yokel, though he was in fact a senior clerk in the Qld Public Service, but at least has this to say of him:

In his Dad and Mum and Dave and Joe he created idiosyncratic characters … and not just types as Lawson did with his Bills and Jims and Andys, who are all out of one mould, indistinguishable as personalities from each other.

With Banjo Paterson, an ‘aristocrat’ according to Lindsay, he was much more in sympathy and they would go horse riding together, having stables, paddocks (and grooms!) at their north shore properties.

I can’t ever recall discussing literature with him, nor did he place any accent on his contribution to it, which was a considerable one, and now seen in its significant relation to a national culture. By the fine quality of his ballads, he compressed into a few years the bridge between the folk-lore ballad and major poetry which the early Scotch and English balladists made for the great Elizabethan poets.

There are other once notable and now largely forgotten writers – Victor Daley, Rod Quinn, Jack Abbott, Bernard O’Dowd, Randolph Bedford, Hugh McCrae, Louis Stone (whose novel Jonah I must read) – many of whom Lindsay knew well. Lindsay is knowledgeable about poetry, as I am not, and gives a lively account of a period – more than a century ago now – which was still central to the study of Australian literature when this little book came out in the sixties.

He ends with thumbnail sketches of ‘Tom Collins’ (Joseph Furphy) and Miles Franklin, whom he met only briefly. Of Furphy, to whom Lindsay must have been introduced soon after he arrived at the Bulletin, he writes “I don’t remember a single thing he said”, though he does remember the fuss AG Stephens made publishing Such is Life and the great expectations he had for it.

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Miles Franklin in 1902 by Norman Lindsay

But Miles definitely made an impression!:

I came across gaping at this bright vision of girl in such a drab and dusty setting, and was introduced to her by A.G. [Stephens] – Miles Franklin! reality far outshone fancy’s portrait of her inspired by her novel [My Brilliant Career], and I went straight up in the air, bubbling an extravagant tribute to that work.

I have written before that Stephens, fearing Lindsay’s predatory disposition, would not let Lindsay see her downstairs, so he “never saw Miles again till she returned to Australia, and we were both middle-aged”, when she tells him he was the one member of the Bulletin staff whom she wished to meet, which he says he does not believe. However, in her own work, My Career Goes Bung or Cockatoos, I forget which, she has him present her with a book of his sketches (Jill Roe says the book was by Stephens but signed by Lindsay who had illustrated it). Strangely, this brief meeting, or at least its sequel, is described/imagined also by Kylie Tennant who has Franklin running into Barbara Baynton at a tram stop outside the Bulletin offices, by which time Franklin is carrying a box of chocolates.

 

Norman Lindsay, Bohemians at the Bulletin, first pub. 1965. This edition Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1980.

see also:

Bertha Lawson, My Henry Lawson, Frank Johnson, Sydney, 1943 (review)

Richard Fotheringham, In Search of Steele Rudd, UQP, Brisbane, 1995 (review)

Penne Hackforth-Jones, Barbara Baynton: Between Two Worlds, Penguin, Melbourne, 1989 (review)

Kylie Tennant, “Miles Franklin: Feminist whose men were men”, SMH, 23 Jul 1974.

Poetry Slam, Lawson v Paterson (here)

Human Toll, Barbara Baynton

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Barbara Baynton (1857-1929) was born and grew up in the Hunter Valley region of NSW, well watered farming country a couple of hundred km north west of Sydney, but in her late teens began working as a governess further out and in 1880 she married Alex Frater, older brother to some of her charges, and they took up a largely uncleared property near Coonamble in western NSW, “the nearest neighbour a day’s ride away.” Frater was often away and eventually he ran off with Baynton’s niece who was helping in the house, leaving Baynton with three children to support. Over time, Baynton got a divorce, moved to Sydney, married Dr Baynton and so on (more here) and began writing, under the influence of the Bulletin’s AG Stephens.

The intense isolation and fear that Baynton felt, alone in the bush in the outback, is reflected in all her (relatively few) stories, and it is often remarked what a bleaker view she brings to the mostly male Bulletin school with all its mateship and good cheer in adversity.

By 1909 when her only novel (or novella, it’s 180 pp),  Human Toll was published, Baynton was a widow, living in London. Stephens was not available to provide advice or editing as he was for Bush Studies (1902), her earlier collection of short short stories, which I think had all appeared in the Bulletin during the previous decade, and this might account for the structure of the story being relatively difficult to follow, although individual passages are often excellent.

Human Toll commences with a little girl, variously Lovey, Ursie and Ursula, already motherless, coming to terms with the death of her father. She is on a remote, semi arid sheep property in the care of her father’s mate Boshy and an Aboriginal couple Nungi and Queeby. Boshy wishes to continue as the girl’s guardian but their nearest neighbour – yes, “a day’s ride away” – Cameron and his daughter Margaret come and take her (and all the father’s papers). Ursula is sent to Cameron’s sister, a widow in a small country town, who also has the care of Cameron’s son Andrew, a few years older than Ursula, to attend school.

The widow marries a grasping Presbyterian preacher, Mr Civil. Andrew often has to stand between Civil and Ursula when the former is handing out punishments. Boshy sometimes comes to town and later provides the money for Ursula to attend boarding school. Mrs Civil dies and Civil becomes ‘nicer’ to Ursula when he thinks she might inherit her father’s property (which Cameron seems to have taken over), or Boshy’s mysterious “fortune”.

Spoilers: It all comes to a head at a town dance when Andrew ignores Ursula, gets drunk, and in the morning is found to have “married” Ursula’s friend, Mina. Mina is thrown out of home and Andrew and Palmer, his brother in law, take the two girls back to the original property (where Nungi now has a new and less amenable wife). There the two young woman – with no love at all lost between them – are abandoned; Nungi refuses to continue seeing to the sheep; his new wife is of little assistance around the house; Mina has a baby which she attempts to kill; Ursula runs off with the baby and becomes hopelessly lost in the bush.

Human Toll makes clear – by contrast – how much Australian fiction is written with a niceness, a middle class sensibility, that underplays people’s essential selfishness. Ursula is your ordinary moral, right-thinking heroine but all the supporting cast are nasty and brutish. Cameron apparently steals Ursula’s property; the preacher lives off the money Cameron pays for Ursula’s support, and later enters her bedroom:

He advanced to her, misled by her passiveness. She aimed a heavy blow at his leering face with the candlestick, but he dodged it, and, terrified of a noisy scene, he rushed to his room.

The townspeople are all at each other’s throats, though at least at the dance, they enjoyed themselves:

Then Neddy Neale, dragging his dazed partner, swished past where Palmer and Ursula stood. Gus Stein, with Pat the Jew’s daughter and Andrew with Mina, still kept the floor, but now the rat-tat-tat accompaniment knuckled from the bottom of a tin dish by Dave Heeley, Neale’s drover mate, till, tired out, even he ceased.

Then the dancing husband of the singer, importuned, momentarily disengaged his partner to grab his concertina, and with this resting on the girl’s back, he kept the dancers going, till he, though much encouraged, wearied. Dry-throated and panting, some of the wine-maddened performers tried to hoarsely bellow independent tunes, which in turn yielded to impotent yells.

The one great difficulty is that throughout, all speech is rendered as dialect, and between a childish Ursie, the Aussies, the Aborigines and the Germans, this is often quite hard to follow.

The novel ends with an astonishing tour de force, a stream of consciousness, over 20 or so pages, as Ursula struggles, increasingly crazed by thirst, disoriented and incoherent, through the bush:

What a most peculiar thing that was, the leaning tree which earlier she had passed – oh, surely long ago – days and weeks ago; and why did she pass it? Why? she wondered, and her enfeebled mind rested in this futile query. Oh – screaming – she knew why. She was lost in the Bush, and, as long ago she called, “Andree, Andree!” Now, now, she was growing like a child. A child! Worse, for when a child she had conquered herself …

Baynton was a writer for only a brief period of her life, and this is a shame. She apparently commenced another novel, a comedy of manners set in England, which would at least have provided an interesting contrast to her earlier work, but it was never published.

 

Barbara Baynton, Human Toll, first pub. 1909, republished in Barbara Baynton, edited by Sally Krimmer & Alan Lawson, UQP, Brisbane, 1980

see also:
Barbara Baynton, Between Two Worlds (1989) by Penne Hackforth-Jones (here)
Barbara Baynton, Squeaker’s Mate – a comparison with Henry Lawson’s Water Them Geraniums (here)

Australian Women Writers Gen 1 Week

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AWW Gen 1 Week, 15-21 Jan. 2018, is an opportunity to discuss the first generation of Australian Women Writers. First though to be clear, I love and support the AWW Challenge, but this is NOT one of their events (though I think they’re happy for me to do it). I hope you will use the period between now and then to read/review works from this period, putting a link in the Comments below. Then on 15 Jan I will launch an AWW Gen 1 page  to serve as a resource into the future.

I guess the definitions of generations or schools in writing, or any artistic endeavour, are arbitrary, especially at the edges, but I define Gen 1 as those Australian writers who began writing prior to the 1890s and the Bulletin. The fiercely nationalist (and misogynist) Sydney Bulletin and its writers were pretty scathing about this first generation, based mainly in Melbourne, whom they dismissed as anglophile and in the case of the women, purveyors of romance.

But in fact, that first generation were as conscious as their successors of the need to define what it meant to be (a white) Australian – people of British descent but rapidly acquiring independence throughout the latter half of the C19th, and with Melbourne one of the richest cities in the world. The women writers were often fiercely feminist, suffragists and outspokenly anti-marriage (anti men’s domination of marriage), one of the reasons they provoked such outrageous attacks from the Bulletin.

My other generations are as follows. Feel free to argue!

Gen 2, the Bulletin crew, mostly men, but including Barbara Baynton.

Gen 3, in many ways the glory years of women’s writing in Australia, starting with Miles Franklin (who published from 1901 to 1956), KS Prichard, Christina Stead, Kylie Tennant, Eve Langley, Barnard and Eldershaw, Dymphna Cusack, Florence James, Elizabeth Harrower. Lots of social realism from the women, while the men mostly harked back to the Bulletin years (as some still do).

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.

But to get back to Gen 1, to get us started I will over the next few weeks reread and put up a review of the seminal text on early Australian women’s writing, Dale Spender’s Writing a New World: Two Centuries of Australian Women Writers (1988).

The Australian Women Writers Challenge have put up an excellent site (here) where they are listing all books by women, available online, sorted by decade, up to the 1930s. And in an earlier post (here) I listed the main authors and those few books from this period which have been reprinted, mostly thanks to the efforts of Dale Spender –

Catherine Helen Spence (1825-1910)

Clara Morrison (1854) Seal Books, 1971
Mr Hogarth’s Will (1865), Penguin, 1988
A Week in the Future (1889), Hale & Ironmonger, 1988 (Review)

Louisa Atkinson (1834-1872)

Gertrude the Emigrant: A Tale of Colonial Life by an Australian Lady (1857), Canberra School of English & Australian Scholarly Editions Centre reprint, 1998

Ada Cambridge (1844-1926)

The Three Miss Kings (1883), Virago, Modern Classics #244 (Review)
A Marked Man, Some Episodes in his Life (1891), Pandora, 1987
Sisters (1904), Penguin, 1989

Tasma (Jessie Couvreur) (1848-1894)

Uncle Piper of Piper’s Hill (1889), Pandora, 1987
A Sydney Sovereign, short stories, Imprint, 1993 (Review)

Catherine Martin (1848-1937)

An Australian Girl (1894), Pandora, 1987 (Review)
The Incredible Journey (1923), Pandora, 1987

Rosa Praed (1851-1935)

The Bond of Wedlock (1887), Pandora, 1987 (Review)
Outlaw and Lawmaker (1893), Pandora, 1987
Lady Bridget in the Never-Never Land (1915), Pandora, 1987

Mary Gaunt (1861-1942)

Kirkham’s Find (1897), Penguin, 1988 (Review)

So, to steal a line from Lisa at ANZLL, bookmark this page, pop the date into your reading diary and drop back here with a link to your review when you’re ready!