Back to Bool Bool, Miles Franklin

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Back to Bool Bool (1931) is the sixth and final novel Miles Franklin wrote as Brent of Bin Bin, though it was the third of the three initially published by Blackwoods (see here). Now I’ve read them all, it’s difficult to understand Blackwood’s decision, as Back to Bool Bool makes frequent references to the stories that precede it, particularly Cockatoos, but also to Gentlemen of Gyang Gyang. Prelude to Waking, as I’ve already discussed, although nominally a Brent of Bin Bin book, forms no part of the family saga.

The ‘back to’ of the title (we don’t have any noun for back to’s other than back to, do we?) references the celebrations surrounding the centenary of white settlement in the township of ‘Bool Bool’ – the name Franklin uses for Talbingo, her birthplace in the southern NSW ‘high country’ -based loosely, according to Roe, on the (nearby) Tumut centenary celebrations in 1924.

The ‘back to’ is used as a device to reunite characters/descendants from previous books in the series. It takes place in the year following Gentlemen at Gyang Gyang and 20-25 years after Cockatoos. Coolooluck station at Bool Bool is the home of Erik Labosseer, brother of Sylvester at Gyang Gyang Plains. Labosseer is the name Franklin uses for the Lampes, her mother’s family. (Sylvester’s principal property is on the NSW western plains, as was Franklin’s uncle Gus Lampe’s, and in researching this review I read in Roe that Franklin visited him there, at Peak Hill near Dubbo, in 1905).

I wrote in my review of Cockatoos that “Ignez [Milford] and some of her more serious friends gather out of the reach of bothersome aunts and parents to discuss books and to read excerpts from their own writings.” Ignez is of course Miles, loosely fictionalized. The two most important of her friends are her cousins Dick Mazere and Freda Healey. They are dobbed in to their parents for skipping work, and maybe even behaving immorally, by Dick’s self-righteous older sister Blanche. By the end of Cockatoos all three have escaped overseas to become writers.

Back to Bool Bool begins with two ships returning to Australia. On one, a luxury liner, are, separately, a Major-General who is descended from both the Poole and the Mazere families; Mollye, a famous opera singer; and Judith Laurillard, an actress.

Maj.-Gen. Sir Oswald Mazere-Poole, KCMG, MP, seeking adventure, his wife staying behind in London, was watching the last of his fellow passengers board:

A graceful figure swathed in veils, carrying bouquets … This must be the actress. “Not heavy enough in the brisket for a caterwauler,” was his summing-up, redolent of early environment.

[A woman] of splendid height, with pale-blue eyes and florid skin, who walked with swinging gait, taking all glances auspiciously without affectation … This was the Australian, if he knew anything. Her size and features protruding from beneath the fashionable skull-cap proclaimed one of the Brennans of Bool Bool … inevitably Molly, descendant of Timothy and Maria of The Gap, one of the old pioneering families.

On the other ship, a transport for migrants – “assisted passengers – people pushed off their densely populated native island because no longer necessary to feed either manufactories or battlefields” – are Dick, now a poet, and Freda, a go-getter who has been working in the USA. They become friends on board without realising they are cousins until they meet again in Sydney.

Both the Healeys and the Mazeres have retired from their farms at Oswald’s Ridges to cottages in Sydney, as had Franklin’s parents in real life. Dick’s mother has died and his father has remarried, his new wife content to leave the housekeeping to her unmarried step-daughters Blanche and Philippa, both in their 40s. Franklin is scathing about the house-proud Blanche’s devotion to make-work, taking out, you must feel, some of the frustrations she herself felt about having to live at that time with her mother.

There is also a younger sister, Laleen who, wishing herself to become a writer, looks to Dick as a bulwark against Blanche’s insistence on practicality. Here Freda, who has come over for dinner, gets Laleen to come outside to talk,

“It doesn’t take much persuading for Laleen to leave work to others.” Blanche’s voice followed, infuriating Laleen.

“I’d easily do the work if you’d get out of the way.”

“While I’m the one in the position of responsibility I must see that things go right.” Blanche’s housekeeping was never done under a bushel. Certain of her indispensability, she was everywhere, bustling, and fault-finding if possible.

This quote reminds me that Franklin appears to have added something to her writing, maybe she’d been reading Christina Stead. Anyway, she sets up “walls of speech”, not monologues as Stead does, but long unattributed scraps of conversation, often at cross purposes, which are very effective at conveying the impression of a crowded room.

Everyone I’ve mentioned so far (except the actress), and many more I haven’t, meet at the Mazere’s in the months before the back to. Mollye, who is mostly away in the country on a concert tour, takes an apartment in the city and makes it available to Dick as a quiet place for him to write, away from the annoying Blanche. Sometimes Freda or Laleen meet him there. Blanche follows them suspecting immorality.

There’s lots going on. Mollye is keen on Dick, Dick is keen on Freda, Freda is planning a fling with the Major-General, Laleen is keen on Mollye’s secretary Nat, Nat is keen on all the girls. Dick has taken up Christian Science, which I think Miles was introduced to by Vida Goldstein in Melbourne in 1904, and we are subject to some preaching. Miles, always happy to praise herself in the third person, is prominent in her/Ignez’s absence. Freda says to Dick:

Do you remember when Ignez Milford used to take us to She-Oak Ridge to write in the old cockatoo days of Oswald’s Ridges? I used to love you with all my childish affection.”

“I used to worship Ignez in the same way, I guess.”

“How long did you remember her? You were nearer maturity.”

“Faded in the stress of events. She was a brave, vivid creature.”

“Not coarse enough to battle from an environment so removed from art. My own case has been similar. Let’s hope Laleen escapes.”

Franklin still skirts around sex, but for the first time, with Bernice in the previous book and Freda in this one, we have principal characters with ‘a past’. Bernice gets married off, but in Back to Bool Bool, Freda and the Major General plan an affair which they discuss at some length.

Gradually, all the actors, including for some reason Judith Laurillard, make their way to the high country for the week of celebrations. Dick has an extended stay on Coolooluck about which he has dreamed throughout his exile, and is roped into writing something for the back to; Mollye of course is to sing; Nat whips up local musicians into an orchestra; Peter and Bernice from the previous novel make a cameo appearance.; Laleen is universally acclaimed as the latest Emily Mazere, the beauty who drowned on the eve of her wedding to Bert Poole (way back in Up the Country); Laleen and Nat announce their engagement.

The denouement, when it comes, is signalled early, is sidestepped, we breathe a sigh of relief, and then it crashes in, from another direction altogether, and we are devastated.

 

Miles Franklin, Back to Bool Bool, first pub. Blackwoods, 1931. This edition, Angus & Robertson, 1956

For other Miles Franklin posts and reviews go to:

An overview of the Brent of Bin Bin series (here)
Miles Franklin Central (here)

Gentlemen at Gyang Gyang, Miles Franklin

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Gentlemen at Gyang Gyang (1956) is the fifth Brent of Bin Bin novel chronologically, though it was the sixth and last published. The ‘Gyang Gyang’ of the title refers to the station (grazing property) Gyang Gyang Plains where the action is set – the ‘Gentlemen’ are the workers on the station – which is in turn named for the ubiquitous gang-gang cockatoos.

I read this and the final Brent of Bin Bin novel, Back to Bool Bool, on my kindle while I was away – they’re not formatted (or proof-read) very well and I ended up reading in landscape to make the lines wrap properly. I will review this one direct from kindle but have located via Abe Books good copies of both – I’m a book collector at heart, just masquerading as a reviewer – and should have them in my hands before I review Back to Bool Bool and wrap up the series.

Apart from Prelude to Waking, which I can see now forms no part of the high country families saga either stylistically or by subject matter, the Brent novels were written in the order I have discussed them, in the latter years of the 1920s. Jill Roe writes that GGG, full name Gentlemen at Gyang Gyang: A Tale of the Jumbuck Pads on the Summer Runs, is the novel of Franklin’s return to Australia, “and should be read as such”. In February 1928 Franklin, who had returned from England the previous year to care for her parents in Sydney, “caught the night train for Cooma and beyond”, to spend time with her Lampe (Labosseer in this series) uncles, firstly at ‘Gooandra’ in the Monaro high plains north of Kosciuszko, then for two months on the western slopes of the Great Divide, at Talbingo where she was born. Here she wrote both GGG and the first draft of Back to Bool Bool.

That she was there shows in both her detailed descriptions of the country, the setting for GGG is based on Gooandra, and in the knowledge she displays of the then dominant wool industry.

Gyang Gyang Plains station is maintained by Sylvester Labosseer to provide summer feed for sheep from his ‘home’ property in central NSW. The living conditions are relatively primitive, but summers in the highlands are mild, and since the death of his wife, Labosseer has preferred to spend much of his time there. Peter Poole, his foreman, is a grandson of the legendary Bert Poole (Ten Creeks Run) and apart from a tendency for unexplained ‘walkabouts’ is a true chip off the old block. The villain of the piece is Cedric Spires, a womaniser (of course) who appears to have a hold over Poole and is his rival for the affections of …

Bernice Gaylord, an artist (and a beauty), who had been the lover of another artist in Paris until he left her and broke her heart –

had reached a dead end which she mistook for the end of all things. The doctors spoke of a strained heart and hinted at TB, a diagnosis welcome to Bernice. it camouflaged her secret and explained the suspension of her career to her family and the Australian public interested in her unusual promise, which had suddenly dried up.

This is as close as we get to a Franklin figure in this novel. Roe writes that MF too had returned to Australia with supposed health problems that were really a cover for stress.

Gaylord, who is Labosseer’s god-daughter, has been invited to spend the summer at Gyang Gyang Plains while she recovers her health. Camping out on the side verandah, walking and riding around the property, she not only recovers her health, and develops a healthy interest in Peter Poole, but also recovers her motivation to begin painting again.

This is an excuse for Franklin to get on a hobby horse she has hitherto concealed – naturalism in art:

There were those who maintained … the Australian atmosphere could not be painted, it was too brilliant; the life could not be convincingly told in fiction, it was too monotonous and lacking in that kind of action which the elementary reader calls plot. The need was for painters and novelists, as well as the ungifted, to break out of  the established rut … a fresh contribution must be made to technique.

In short, over summer Gaylord produces a portfolio of portraits and landscapes that ‘revolutionise’ Australian painting.

We could point Franklin towards the late C19th Heidelberg school of Australian Impressionism (who would be brave enough to direct her gaze to more current movements like cubism or surrealism!) and towards those writers roughly contemporaneous with Streeton et al whose work redefined realism in Australian writing – Lawson, Baynton, Rudd, Furphy and, yes, Franklin. But now, a year or so short of 50, she really was a very old fashioned woman.

Franklin proceeds by “possuming”, that is discursively or by story telling, with plenty of description, at which she excels. Here, Gaylord gets inspiration:

She walked out in the dew-drenched tussocks under the gums standing like snow queens in perfumed bridal dress. Never was such colossal yet honeyed loveliness for miles, and miles, and miles, She was out of herself with joyous excitement.

The men on the isolated station are all fascinated at having a beautiful woman in their midst; the publican’s daughters do their best to put forward their own attractions; various rural catastrophes threaten and are averted; as in all the best romances, true love is achieved at the last possible moment.

In 1928 Franklin submitted GGG to the Bulletin‘s novel competition for that year* under the further pseudonym ‘by Australian Born’ and that was the last that was seen of it for nearly 30 years.

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Gang-gang cockatoo, photo JJ Harrison

Miles Franklin, Gentlemen at Gyang Gyang, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1956

For other Miles Franklin posts and reviews go to:

An overview of the Brent of Bin Bin series (here)
Miles Franklin Central (here)


*The joint winners of the 1928 Bulletin prize were A House is Built by M. Barnard Eldershaw and Coonardoo by KS Prichard.

Prelude to Waking, Miles Franklin

Preludeto Waking

Prelude to Waking (1950), the fourth in the Brent of Bin Bin series, is in many ways an anomaly. Stylistically it belongs to an earlier period of Franklin’s writing; none of the (relatively few) characters is connected with the families of the earlier novels; and it is set in England. Even to the extent that Australia plays a part, it is the NSW western plains, not the southern highlands.

It is difficult to imagine how Miles Franklin survived, as a writer, the quarter century between the extraordinary success of My Brilliant Career (1901), which she wrote as a teenager, and the success of her first two Brent of Bin Bin novels, Up the Country and Ten Creeks Run, written when she was nearing fifty. And yet she wrote continuously throughout that period. In the novels written immediately after My Brilliant Career, but not accepted for publication until many years later, rewritten as My Career Goes Bung and Cockatoos, her youth, her growing ability as a writer, and above all her optimism after that initial success bubble through. Slowly, that optimism must have faded into a grim determination.

Franklin read widely and thought about her craft. After leaving Australia in 1906 she attempted to adapt her idiosyncratic style to modern trends, not the avant garde (Joyce’s Ulysses came out in full in 1922) but at least to mainstream middle class English and American writing. Prelude to Waking is a ‘Mayfair’ novel which Franklin had been working on in the mid 1920s, and is her second novel with a male narrator after On Dearborn Street (unpublished till 1981) which she wrote in 1915 at the end of her Chicago years. Prelude must have been important to Franklin as her insistence on including it in the Brent of Bin Bin series held up the publication of the final three books in the series for another twenty years.

Franklin wrote innumerable plays, none of them ever performed, and one other novel, Bring the Monkey, a Dorothy Sayers-type mystery, in England, in this middle period of her writing, before going on to the bush realism style which was so much more acceptable to both her publishers and the Australian public. Roy Duncan in his Introduction to On Dearborn Street writes, “The five works [of this middle period], hidden away and virtually unknown over sixty years, reflect Miles Franklin at her most fluent and uninhibited.” Nevertheless, he describes Prelude as an instance of “interesting ideas embedded in artistic failure”.

In On Dearborn Street the narrator is not much more than a cipher, only there as a foil for Sybyl, the Miles Franklin character, as she works through her difficulties with the idea of marriage. According to Duncan, Franklin’s “larger proposition – which can be seen in terms of her total output – [is] that man is a destructive animal and that woman must save him by leading him to a renunciation of the flesh”. Prelude to Waking has a similar theme but the male narrator is stronger, with the result that we have not one but two ‘Miles Franklins’, the male lead, Nigel Barraclough, and the female lead, Merlin.

Nigel, or Niggeh as Merlin calls him – “Oh, let me call you Niggeh. With your fair complexion it will be a lark and show the dear negroes that we don’t mind” – is writing a Mayfair novel, and the implication is that we are reading the novel which he is writing, but that is never made clear. The novel’s subtitle is A Novel in the First Person and Parentheses apparently implying we sometimes go back to earlier events; and the dedication is “To England’s Genius Cracks” which, despite frequent references to them in the text, was not where the light came in, not for me anyway.

The novel begins with Merlin coming to Nigel’s shabby Mayfair flat in about 1925 to propose that they represent their friendship as a liason. In the subsequent ‘parantheses’ we learn that both are war heroes, Nigel a brave company commander and Merlin “had achieved the Balkan Fronts during some of the first great battles and retreats” (MF was actually vocally anti-war, and a volunteer hospital orderly for 6 months well behind the Serbian frontlines); and both are married to other people. Nigel has a sexy Spanish opera singer wife who so frightens him that he must live in London while she lives in Paris, and Merlin has married an elderly bachelor, Hugh de Courtenay la ffollette , the better to avoid having to marry anyone else.

Franklin has a seeming aversion to plots, or to any plot other than watching the Miles Franklin figure, in this case Merlin, maintaining her independence through numerous proposals; and Prelude is no exception. We go back to 1919, London after the War. Nigel is living in a rooms above a cobbler’s shop, Merlin is running a little cafe (a reference to the Minerva, a cafe owned by women, where MF worked during the War). Merlin’s father Guy, a widower sheep farmer from the Bogan River region of NSW, is living with her while her brother, also Guy, runs the farm. The closest we get to the earlier novels is that Guy sometimes takes his flocks to mountain pastures during times of drought.

Nigel has visited Russia at the end of the War and back in London gives a public lecture with a glowing account of the October Revolution. By this he is rendered unpopular and is sent to tour the South Pacific for a while, including an extended visit to Guy jr. which of course he reports to Merlin and her father (Franklin’s best writing is always of the bush):

Mile by mile we caressed that wide, strange country, whose silence has a voice, and whose eerie beauty, before man has defaced it, captures the senses as does that of no other land I have seen. Out on the ridges I could still see the leaves of the bimby box gleaming like silver; the soft grey waters of the Bogan and Namoi gliding noiselessly past coolabah, yarran and belar in the perfume of the native mignonette; the flower-carpeted plains quivering in the sunlight, undulating to the mirage that ever retreated before the traveller. Already my heart gnawed to be there again.

Nigel, Merlin and Guy are invited by Merlin’s friend Lady Courtley to a house party at Snippington Manor, the de Courtenay home. Taking with them both the cockney cobbler (above whom, as I have said, Nigel is currently living) and the cobbler’s son who is being educated at Eton. While the cobbler teaches various lords trick shots at billiards, Merlin is pursued by the various lords, including de Courtenay’s nephew, who is in turn pursued by Pamela Clutterbuck-Leeper, “a wanton, politely called a siren”, and so it goes on.

Meanwhile, Franklin’s politics are all over place. She was always snobbish about her place in the squattocracy and here she seems to be mostly on the side of the aristocracy. If it’s intended to be ironic I didn’t catch it. She, or at least Nigel, is pro the Bolshevik Revolution, but anti the Irish Republicans. As always, she is anti the nouveau riche, in this case War profiteers, and in one place goes so far as to suggest an English Revolution, yet she has Merlin publish an essay extolling the virtues of the British Empire.

I’m not going to recommend that you read this yourselves, I couldn’t imagine anyone reading Prelude to Waking for enjoyment, but it was interesting to see Franklin attempting to progress her craft as a writer, while tying herself in knots with her unfashionable ideas about chaste male-female relationships.

I recently gave in and purchased a Kindle Paperwhite. The Brent of Bin Bin series is available from Amazon as one book, for $1.00 from memory. I found it easy to read, though with some silly spelling mistakes – mostly from b and h being transposed at the beginning of words – but found it simpler to revert to the real book to look up particular passages.

 

Miles Franklin, Prelude to Waking, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1950. The cover shown above is of my copy, a first edition.

For other Miles Franklin posts and reviews go to:

An overview of the Brent of Bin Bin series (here)
Miles Franklin Central (here)

Miles Franklin Central

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It’s become clear that I need one central place which links to all my Miles Franklin material. Following a tip from Lisa (ANZLL) I have added the tag ‘Miles Franklin’ to all the  posts in which she appears – that’s Miles not Lisa – which hopefully makes them more searchable by Google. I have listed below as much as I can come up with of work by and about Franklin, in the order in which it was written, and added links as appropriate. At some date I’ll transfer this to a ‘page’, but not straight away.


Miles Franklin was born at her maternal grandmother’s property, Talbingo, in the highlands of southern New South Wales, on 14 October 1879, the eldest child of Australian-born parents, John Maurice Franklin and Susannah Margaret Eleanor Franklin, née Lampe (Roderick  gives her mother’s names as Margaret Susannah Helena). Her christian names were Stella Maria Sarah Miles, and she was generally known as Stella. Her siblings were Ida Lampe (‘Linda’), Mervyn Gladstone, Una Vernon (died aged 6 months), Norman Rankin, Hume Talmage (‘Tal’) and Laurel.

Franklin was educated privately at the Franklin property, Brindabella from 1887-89 then at Thornford Public School, until she was 16.

She died on 19 September 1954 at Seacombe Private Hospital, Drummoyne, NSW. The cause of death was given as heart attack, chronic myocarditis and pleurisy. She was cremated and her ashes were scattered at Jounama Creek, Talbingo, since submerged by the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme.

Franklin left the bulk of her estate to fund the Miles Franklin Literary Award for ‘the Novel for the year which is of the highest literary merit and which must present Australian Life in any of its phases …’. From its inception in 1957 the Miles Franklin has grown to be Australia’s most important literary award. In 2013 women writers and publishers instituted another annual award named after Franklin, the Stella Prize for writing by Australian women in all genres.

Fiction

My Brilliant Career (1901)

The End of My Career (1902 – unpublished) see My Career Goes Bung

On the Outside Track (1903 – unpublished) see Cockatoos

Some Everyday Folk and Dawn (1909)

The Net of Circumstance (1915) by Mr & Mrs Ogniblat L’Artsau

On Dearborn Street (1981), Review

Merlin of the Empiah/Mervynda (1925 – unpublished) see Prelude to Waking

Up The Country (1928) by Brent of Bin Bin, Review

Ten Creeks Run (1930) by Brent of Bin Bin, Review

Back to Bool Bool (1931) by Brent of Bin Bin, Review

Old Blastus of Bandicoot (1931)

Bring the Monkey (1933)

All That Swagger (1936)

Pioneers on Parade (1939) with Dymphna Cusack

My Career Goes Bung (1946), Review

Prelude to Waking (1950) by Brent of Bin Bin, Review

Cockatoos (1954) by Brent of Bin Bin, Review

Gentlemen at Gyang Gyang (1956) by Brent of Bin Bin, Review

Non-Fiction

Essays

Too many to list. See ‘essays, sketches’ in the Index, Roe, 2008

Journalism

Life and Labor (1911-15) Journal of NWTUL

How the Londoner Takes his War (1916) by Dissenting Diarist, here

Ne Mari Nishta: Six Months with the Serbs (1918), here

Joseph Furphy: The Legend of a Man and His Book (1944) with Kate Baker

Laughter, Not for a Cage (1956)

Childhood at Brindabella (1963)

Jill Roe ed., My Congenials, Miles Franklin & Friends in Letters (1993)

Paul Brunton ed., The Diaries of Miles Franklin (2004)

Plays

Roe lists 31 plays by Franklin. I won’t list them all here unless I start reading them. A couple of interesting ones: ‘By Far Kaimacktcthalan’ deals with her time in Serbia in WWI; and ‘The Ten Mile’ after a number of iterations became the novel Old Blastus of Bandicoot.

Biographies

Marjorie Barnard, Miles Franklin (1967)

Verna Coleman, Miles Franklin in America: Her Unknown (Brilliant) Career (1981)

Colin Roderick, Miles Franklin: Her Brilliant Career (1982), Review

W. Blake, Miles Franklin: Novelist and Feminist (1991)

Sylvia Martin, Passionate Friends (2001), Review

Jill Roe, Stella Miles Franklin: A Biography (2008), ANZLL Review

Essays

Colin Roderick, ‘Brent of Bin Bin’, The Australian Novel, Wm Brooks, Sydney, 1945

Henrietta Drake-Brockman, ‘Miles Franklin’, Australia Writes, T. Inglis Moore ed., Cheshire, Melbourne, 1953

Verna Coleman, Foreword, My Career Goes Bung, A&R, Sydney, 1980

Roy Duncan, Introduction, On Dearborn Street, UQP, Brisbane, 1981

Elizabeth Webby, Introduction, My Brilliant Career/My Career Goes Bung, A&R, Sydney, 1990

Posts

Miles Franklin was angry about her schooling (14.06.15), here

Such is Life, Abridged! (03.02.16), here

Miles Franklin’s War (25.04.16), here

Brent of Bin Bin, Miles Franklin (02.09.16), here

Miles Franklin, Canberra, the Griffins (12.12.16), here

Cockatoos, Miles Franklin

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Cockatoos (1954) is the third novel, chronologically, in the family saga Miles Franklin wrote under the alias Brent of Bin Bin (more here). In Australia cockatoos  come in great flocks to scratch seed from the ground and Franklin uses the term, and its diminutive, cockies, derogatorily, to describe poor dirt-farmers scratching a living from the soil.

Cockatoos was re-written from the unpublished On the Outside Track which Franklin had written in 1903 in a second failed attempt to distinguish the author from the heroine after the embarrassment of her first novel, My Brilliant Career (1901), being taken as autobiography – the first attempt was The End of My Career, also not published until much later as My Career Goes Bung (1946).

As Franklin’s third attempt at writing the story of her ‘coming of age’, or fourth counting the re-writing to bring the main characters into line with the earlier books in the saga, Cockatoos demonstrates much greater maturity in both writing and characterisation, while still retaining the verve of her early years.

For Cockatoos the setting moves from the NSW high country of the first two novels in the saga to the plains south of Goulburn, and the small farming community of Oswald’s Ridges, representing Thornford where Franklin grew up. The period is the end of the C19th, years of drought and of colonial enthusiasm for the Boer War, when Franklin was in her late teens. The central figure, Ignez Milford, is despite Franklin’s concerns, still largely autobiographical. (‘Ignez’ was apparently a nickname for Agnes).

Oswald’s Ridges was indebted to Ignez Milford for adding spice to the daily round. Her lively and unconventional ideas caused commotion among tamer fowl. She had taken it into her head to have a musical career and her parents had weakened to let her come  as far as Goulburn to study… for safety Ignez had been deposited with the Mazeres and the Healeys. She parcelled her time between the houses to obviate any jealousy and to divide the wear and tear of her presence.

The Mazere and Healey families, along with the Pooles, are at the centre of the previous books in the saga, and we last saw Ignez, briefly, as a young girl during the search for a missing child in Ten Creeks Run. Sensibly, Franklin avoids further embarrassing her parents by leaving them up country and having Ignez live with relatives.

In addition to musical gifts Ignez was an avid reader and took a precocious interest in politics. She despised the usual small talk of women so that they censured her as unsexed … “I hope you’re going to vote for woman’s suffrage at the next election,” she observed on Sunday evening at tea after church… She had been reading the work of Lady Windeyer and Miss Rose Scott and ardently espoused their platform*.

The  novel covers the interactions of maybe 20 young people – in their late teens and early 20s – children of farmers, scions of the early squatting families and visitors from up the country, and it is difficult to keep track of their names, let alone their relative social standings, religion – protestant or Catholic, and all their second-cousin type connections to the ‘first families’ of the earlier novels. Ostensibly, this is a novel of who is keen on whom, keenly observed and interesting in its own right, but as a student of Miles Franklin I am more interested in Cockatoos as a new view of her adolescence. Franklin had a strong but unusual contralto voice and she discusses at length the loss of her (potential) career as an opera singer:

Thumping on the piano was permissible only when no household task awaited. Practice in the mornings bordered on immorality… Circumstances physically and mentally were against her development as an artist…

Ignez herself did not yet know that her ambitions were impossible. She could assimilate theoretical knowledge in any odd moment and her inner resources were so fertile she was not easy to frustrate. She withdrew into daydreams for her real being. Every paragraph in the newspapers concerning writers, singers, and other artists was savoured.

Luckily she is also both a reader and a writer. In My Career Goes Bung Sybylla’s old teacher advises her: “… be Australian. It is the highest form of culture and craftsmanship in art to use local materials. That way you stand a chance of adding to culture.” In Cockatoos Ignez confides to a friend: “… I want to write too. There’s so much hypocrisy in books. I want to write one that’ll show up the humbug… Just for a lark I’ll write a skit on the romances in books.” Ignez and some of her more serious friends gather out of the reach of bothersome aunts and parents to discuss books and to read excerpts from their own writings. Ignez invents a bush heroine, Nita, with a ‘smudge on her nose’, and so we see the genesis of My Brilliant Career.

It’s interesting too, to see Franklin who despite numerous ‘promising’ relationships remained unmarried all her life, at this time of flirting and young love. Here Blanche, a ‘good’ girl, discovers that young men are attracted by more than womanliness:

Now Ignez, who wanted to have a public career and parade on the stage, who argued with men about women’s rights and asserted that she had the right to exercise her brains, who said that women should ride astride and had been seen galloping with her undergarments exposed, was finding special favour.

Though Ignez herself is quick to warn off any of the young men who want to engage in ‘silliness’. “If you or anyone else came to see me in the silly way it would be useless, as I’m going to London to study music. I wouldn’t marry even if a prince asked me.”

As always, it is a delight to see Australia of more than 100 years ago described by someone who was actually there. At a concert in Goulburn Franklin is scathing about social distinctions, “The old bush town in the hollow clung to its English County recipe as faithfully as circumstances permitted”. Then “the festival of favourites began with the local glee club disguised as darkies in imitation of Yankee jokes that were puerile in the first place.” But finally, Ignez gets to listen to another contralto, an up and coming Australian, and realizes that her own “bullfrog” voice is the real deal. “The volume of her unwieldy organ frightened her that she might be a freak … Now she sat rapt, released into a larger self.”

England declares war on the Boers, and many of the young men are eager to join up. Franklin is anti-war, as I wrote last year in Miles Franklin’s War, and Ignez is scathing, “I’d never marry a man who had been slaughtering other men. It would make me creepy.”

Ignez goes up to Sydney to get advice about training her voice. She sees a prostitute run over by a tram and is sickened when men justify recourse to prostitutes as an outlet for their ‘urges’. When the business partner of her city connections corners her and kisses her she is distraught and rushes off to the high country to be reassured about the ‘facts of life’ by her cousin Milly, young wife of Bert Poole, the central figures in Ten Creeks Run. This concern about being kissed is in all Franklin’s coming of age novels, despite the fact that the latter two were re-written when Franklin was in her 40s or 50s.

Nita: The Story of a Real Girl is published without Ignez’s knowledge and so we see again the reactions of Franklin to being famous, lauded by Sydney society, and of her family and  neighbours to seeing themselves in print. Ignez is more concerned about her voice which has failed through being over-strained, but the money from royalties is welcome, and may permit her to visit a specialist in Paris. Her parents permit her to accompany family friends to London. This generation of the youth of Oswald’s Ridges is growing up and leaving. Two boys won’t be returning from South Africa, another is on his way to the USA, one girl is helped out of poverty to become a nurse, others find husbands.

Cockatoos is an important work. It is both a perceptive view of country life in NSW at the turn of the C20th and a lightly-fictionalized memoir of the adolescence of one of our best early authors.

 

Miles Franklin, Cockatoos, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1954

see also:
Brent of Bin Bin, Miles Franklin (here)
Miles Franklin, Up The Country (here)
Miles Franklin, Ten Creeks Run (here)


* Mary Elizabeth Windeyer (1836-1912) and Rose Scott (1847-1925) were foundation members of the Womanhood Suffrage League of NSW. The obvious feminism of My Brilliant Career led to Franklin being invited to stay in Scott’s harbourside home in 1902 (and to Scott’s less than flattering portrayal as Mrs Crasterton in My Career Goes Bung).

Women – well, white women – gained the right to vote in NSW and Australian elections in 1902. The vote Franklin is referring to might be the first referendum on Federation in June 1898 (Suffragists were mostly on the Yes side).

Triple Choice Tuesday (and other stuff)

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My 85 yo mum is finally moving from the family home to a retirement village a couple of suburbs away in eastern suburbs Melbourne, so I spent last week over there helping her to come to grips with moving – it’s her 12th or 13th move but the first one without dad – and packing up dad’s books. I now have a (physical) TBR which I will never finish, an astonishing number of books about Australia in WWI, a lot of books in average condition which my grandfathers had been given in their schooldays, and a small number of books dating back to the C18th.

Other online friends have been doing it hard in similar situations recently, but my father had a ‘welcome’ death a couple of years ago after being almost completely paralyzed by a stroke 18 months earlier, following 25 years of active retirement on a good income and surrounded by grandchildren. He was very protective of his books and this was the first time I had set hands on all but a few of them. I will probably post more when the boxes arrive here and I start opening them, but for instance I am now the proud owner of a very early (1930s) Mickey Mouse which he had as a child and which I had never seen before. And in case you’re worrying on her behalf, mum has three other sons nearer-by to help on moving day and, to the extent their wives allow, to rescue other family treasures which might else be lost through this necessary downsizing.

Being in Melbourne meant I also got to catch up with Michelle from Adventures in Biography whose (first) book is nearly done, and with Lisa (ANZLL) and spouse, for the first time, for a pleasant lunch and to exchange books. We may have set each other a challenge as she is expecting me to find the good in David Ireland’s recent The World Repair Video Game and I have presented her with Joseph Furphy’s Rigby’s Romance which was excised from the more famous Such is Life.

All this activity – and of course I had a son and plenty of friends to lunch with as well – meant that I got behind in my writing. And work didn’t help by expecting me to run up to Kalgoorlie almost as soon as my plane landed back in Perth. However, I have done the reading for my next couple of posts – a Kim Scott, and a really obscure Catherine Helen Spence I came across in Yarra Cottage Books, Warrandyte – and I thought today I would use up the ‘offcuts’ of a post which I did for Reading Matters after Kim, a London-based Australian who has been blogging forever, wrote asking me to contribute to her on-going series, Triple Choice Tuesday.

Her letter asked for a short personal history plus “three books under the following categories, and explain why you’ve chosen them”:  

A favourite book
A book that changed your world
A book that deserves a wider audience.

I thought that would all be pretty easy and knocked out an answer on the evening of the day she wrote. In fact, my only problem was that I was spoiled for choice. From when I was little, I had my own bookcase, and every book had its place on the shelves. I could lie in bed and recognise each book and recall the story it told. So I had lots of favourite books, and I have continued adding to them in the fifty years since, so that they threaten to overwhelm my whole apartment, not just my bedroom.

Even now, revising this before pressing Publish, I realise I completely failed to consider another long time favourite – one which my father had as a boy also, though I didn’t know it – Kenneth Grahame’s 1895 evocation of a childhood summer, The Golden Age. Anyway, I hung on to my answers for a while and of course ended up rewriting them. Here then are two which ended up on the cutting room floor.

A favourite book: Beau Ideal by PC Wren

Beau Ideal was the first of the Beau Geste trilogy I owned, though I subsequently accumulated a whole shelf of PC Wren novels with their grey cloth covers from second-hand bookshops in the sixties and seventies. Wren’s old fashioned mix of honourable behaviour, British stiff upper lip, militarism and class consciousness obviously had something to say even to me – a draft resister and an anarchist/socialist – but what got me, what gets me every time, is that Beau Ideal is a love story, the story of the hopeless love of a ‘nice American boy’ for Isobel, who is pledged to John Geste, and who for Isobel’s sake must go back into the Sahara to find John who is a prisoner of the French Foreign Legion.

A book that changed my world: The Iron Heel by Jack London.

I was introduced to Fabian socialism by my librarian at Blackburn South High in fourth form (year 10) but a year or so later Nana, my father’s very prim and proper mother, gave me The Iron Heel, thinking no doubt it was another harmless adventure story like London’s White Fang. It is in fact both the first great dystopian novel and a communist analysis of the inevitable end of Capitalist democracy through the rise of the Oligarchy, the Iron Heel, overseeing the destruction of the middle classes and the splitting of the working class into a small, privileged caste of tame-cat unionists and a large underclass of impoverished under-employed (sound familiar!), and so I was converted to revolutionary socialism, which for a while during those Vietnam War years seemed not only logical but achievable.

The novel takes the form of an autobiography written by the wife of the leader of the revolutionaries, recovered and annotated centuries later when the Revolution has finally succeeded and ushered in the Brotherhood of Man. London makes a very unconvincing woman but it’s still an important novel and a “truer prophecy of the future than Brave New World” according to George Orwell.

A book that deserves a wider audience: The Pea Pickers by Eve Langley

I was always going to choose The Pea Pickers which will one day be acknowledged as one of Australia’s four or five great novels.

To see what I did write for Kim, go to Reading Matters (here).

PC Wren, Beau Ideal, John Murray, London, 1928
Jack London, The Iron Heel, Penguin Classics, 2006, first published 1908
Eve Langley, The Pea Pickers, Imprint Classics, 1991, first published 1942 (Review)
Miles Franklin, My Career Goes Bung, 1946 (Review)
Catherine Martin, An Australian Girl, 1890 (Review)

Miles Franklin: Her Brilliant Career, Colin Roderick

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My late father had retired by the time I was doing my Masters so I kept him busy with a list of the books that I was having trouble finding and he would scour Melbourne’s second-hand bookshops. Consequently my Miles Franklin shelf includes half a dozen biographies and a whole string of Aust.Lit. overviews, from HM Green’s A History of Australian Literature to Clement Semmler ed., 20th Century Australian Literary Criticism.

My Miles Franklin biographies are:-

Jill Roe, Stella Miles Franklin: A Biography (2008) which I got (new) for my birthday when it came out in the final years of my 7 year struggle to finish.

Marjorie Barnard, Miles Franklin (1967)

Colin Roderick, Miles Franklin: Her Brilliant Career (1982)

Verna Coleman, Miles Franklin in America: Her Unknown (Brilliant) Career (1981)

W. Blake, Miles Franklin: Novelist and Feminist (1991)

Sylvia Martin, Passionate Friends (2001)

Miles Franklin, Childhood at Brindabella: My First Ten Years (1963)

Not to mention her diaries and letters and importantly, all the essays introducing republications of her work, for instance Elizabeth Webby in My Brilliant Career/My Career Goes Bung, A&R (1990) and Roy Duncan in On Dearborn Street, UQP (1981).

Jill Roe’s is of course the most comprehensive, but the others have their uses and Verna Coleman’s is very good on MF’s time in Chicago. Sue (Whispering Gums) warned me off the Colin Roderick some time ago but I was reading it late at night, just to get it out of the way really, while some recent MF posts were fresh in my mind, and it was quickly obvious that she was right. Roderick’s disparagement of Franklin is so blatant, sexist and disagreeable that I thought I would write about it.

Colin Roderick (1911-2000) was an important figure in Australian literary circles and a vigorous promoter of Australian Literature. He was editor at Australia’s premier publishers, Angus & Robertson, 1945-65, and a director from 1961-65, foundation professor of English at James Cook University 1965-76, and was appointed to the inaugural judging panel of the Miles Franklin Award under the terms of MF’s will, which position he held until 1991, “when he resigned in acrimonious circumstances over the definition of what constituted a work of Australian fiction.” (Pierce)

In his obituary for Roderick (presumably in the Age of 16/6/00 – Dad has cut it out) Peter Pierce writes that “Roderick began a remarkable career as an author in 1945, with The Australian Novel. This was followed by critical and biographical works on Rosa Praed (1948), Miles Franklin (1982) and ‘Banjo’ Paterson (1993). The height of Roderick’s literary scholarship is represented by his impeccably edited, multi-volume collections of Henry Lawson’s verse and prose.”

I have Dad’s copy of The Australian Novel with his name and the year 1947 (it must have been set for Teachers’ College) inside along with the price (10/6) and the obit cutting. Miles Franklin has supplied a Foreword which includes:

… extracts from the literature of the British Isles and other parts of Europe, included in the class readers of my mother’s and grandmother’s times, were treasure trove to me before I was twelve. A little later came the discovery of Australian writers like Marcus Clarke, Rolf Boldrewood, Gordon and Kendall… Fuller enchantment came with Lawson, Paterson, and others not so prominent.”

So, no women writers for young Miles.  In 1945 Roderick was a Gympie, Qld school teacher but he had an MA and this book was his path to a doctorate. In fact, only two pages of it are his and the remainder consists of 19 extracts from Australian novelists, 11 men and 8 women. Without payment. Roe writes, “when Roderick told Miles he was doing it for the good of Australian literature but expected to get a D.Litt. for his efforts, she set about organising a boycott.” This petered out and all the authors or their estates gave grudging permission – no doubt many of the anthologised novels were out of print.

Roderick was an early advocate for the Brent of Bin Bin books, and though of course she never acknowledged her authorship of them, Miles was inclined to cut him a little slack. In the small world of writers and publishers in Sydney they inevitably met quite often but never had a good relationship.

According to Roe, “whereas [Barnard’s biography] sought to elucidate the legend, Roderick tried to demolish it. (No doubt Roderick was shocked to discover from her papers [released 10 years after her death] what Miles really thought of him.)”

At the time of her death in 1954 Franklin was a writer of the Pioneer school, and decidedly out of fashion, but the rise of second-wave feminism in the late sixties, aided by the release of a film version of My Brilliant Career in 1979, made her anti-marriage heroines relevant again. Dozens of editions of My Brilliant Career were released around the world, My Career Goes Bung was reissued a number of times, and in 1986 even Some Everyday Folk and Dawn was ‘rescued from obscurity’ by Virago.

This seems to have made Roderick – who was after all a far north Queenslander – uncomfortable. He had Miles pigeon-holed as rural, out of date and eccentric and to apply to him the ‘psychology’ he is fond of applying to Miles, he was probably miffed to have lost his hold over her re-burgeoning reputation.

When it comes to the chronology of Franklin’s family and of her life as a writer, Roderick’s biography is detailed and interesting – Roe remarks that Roderick had first access to MF’s papers but fails to acknowledge them – but when it comes to analyses of Miles’ character and writing, Roderick uses pop psychology and perhaps his (unacknowledged) unhappiness at his portrayal in her letters to paint an unflattering and inaccurate picture. Some samples:

[her] unshakeable conviction of physical inferiority and lack of physical attraction… converted her into a skittish coquette stringing two or three men along simultaneously and a synthetic man-hater… It forced her to become a defensively bellicose propagandist for feminist causes. (p.14)

To be a proper woman she needed to submit to a man:

One of her American suitors might with a sure instinct express his intention of putting her across his knees. Had one of her Australian beaux done so in 1899 [the American would not have needed to, ie. she would already be married]. (p.72)

… she spent the best years of her life as a lackey to dominating women who were natural obsessed feminists. (p.75)

The blighting of Miles Franklin’s career was the result of indiscipline during her literary infancy … When she had put the finishing touches on the ebullient perturbations of her adolescence, they fell into the wrong hands. So did she. [This] was to lead her into a quagmire of irrelevant and wasteful New Woman militancy. (p.76)

And so it goes on. Roderick gives no credit at all to Franklin’s lifelong devotion to women’s and charitable causes, nor to her important contribution to women’s writing during the years of first wave feminism; and of course the one book he does credit as ‘literary’ is that homage to men’s endeavours, All That Swagger (1936).

The final lines of My Career Goes Bung are: “Was a woman’s refusal to capitulate unendurable to masculine egotism, or was it the symptom of something more fundamental?” It was certainly unendurable to Colin Roderick.

 

Colin Roderick, Miles Franklin: Her Brilliant Career, Rigby, 1982

Colin Roderick, The Australian Novel, Wm Brooks, Sydney, 1945

Sue at Whispering Gums: Who is Colin Roderick? (here)