I can’t let you have my ‘papers’ because I don’t keep any. My mss are destroyed as soon as the books are printed. I put very little into notebooks, don’t keep my friends’ letters … and anything unfinished when I die is to be burnt. The final versions of my books are what I want people to see …
(Patrick White, reply to Dr George Chandler, Director General, 9 April 1977, National Library of Australia, MS 8469)
Patrick White repeated these stern denials for the rest of his life, and the world believed him. He even denied the existence of these papers to his biographer, David Marr, with whom he otherwise cooperated over many years. White’s partner of forty-nine years, Manoly Lascaris, maintained the fiction until he died in 2003, entrusting the remaining papers and the nearly 200 condolence letters he received after White’s death to long-term agent, literary executor and friend, Barbara Mobbs. Mobbs – with Manoly the only witness to a scattering of White’s ashes at Centennial Park – also kept her counsel, and perhaps added to the mystique by her refusal to ‘talk’, even when pressed by scholars, curators and the press.
But from the moment Barbara Mobbs emailed me on 16 August 2006, calmly writing ‘you might be interested in the material on the attached list. Nobody has seen this …’, it became clear that White had not ‘destroyed’ everything, that he had left a rich – if far from complete – archive to posterity, that the archive had been lovingly cared for in the intervening years, and that Mobbs was willing to ignore White’s written, if somewhat ambiguous, instructions to destroy unpublished material in favour of placing it with Australia’s premier repository of White’s published works and unpublished letters.