It is 116 years since Charles Harpur, Australia’s first poet of real eminence, died with his own collection of his works unpublished. Except for a couple of small selections – the most recent of which, made by Adrian Mitchell in 1973 and containing only about 120 pages of the poetry, was the most comprehensive – and the infamously corrupt 1883 ‘collection’, it has remained so. This has been a blot on the reputation of Australian critical and academic workers and a loss not only to Australian literature but to Australian history. Now Elizabeth Perkins, of the English Department of James Cook University, has handsomely remedied a long injustice.
The task was a difficult and long one – as Mitchell saw it would be in making his own selection. Though Perkins lays little emphasis on the difficulties of collating, editing and preparing from the Mitchell Library manuscript collection the 977 pages of verse the book contains, a task from which Mitchell recoiled as ‘enormously demanding’, the book stands as a critical and scholarly achievement for which we ought to be properly grateful.