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Hadgraft's legacy

by
September 2007, no. 294

By the Book: A literary history of Queensland by Patrick Buckridge & Belinda McKay

UQP, $45 pb, 390 pp

Hadgraft's legacy

by
September 2007, no. 294

The ten essays in this volume revisit the achievement of the late Cecil Hadgraft, whose Queensland and Its Writers, published nearly fifty years ago, is a masterly and non-doctrinaire exposition of a century of writing in Queensland. Hadgraft was one of the pioneers of the teaching of Australian literature at a time when academics trained in British traditions joked about what the hapless students of local literature were going to study beyond the third week of term. I will always be grateful to Cec Hadgraft for teaching me not only about the variety of Australian literature but also about the diversity and value of what had been written in my own state. So too, I imagine, is Patrick Buckridge, one of the editors of this volume.

The curiously titled By the Book is a welcome aid to the study of Queensland literary culture, past and present. So why a history of regional literature? Is Queensland literature really different from other Australian writing? The editors are prepared, to the point of defensiveness, for scepticism, and they justify the enterprise on the plausible grounds that Queensland is different. This has nothing to do with red­neckery, political conservatism or any neo-Romantic myth of a ‘state of mind’, but everything to do with ‘demographic decentralisation’, the history of settlement and its implications for relations between colonising and indigenous populations. The professed willingness, stated in the introduction, to interrogate ‘the myth of difference’ itself in a history of literature in rather than for Queensland promises well, but it is disappointing that few of the contributors, apart from Todd Barr and Rodney Sullivan in their lively piece on late twentieth-century Brisbane writing, actually engage with this key area of postcolonial literary studies. Apart from a group of thematically organised essays (indigenous writing, children’s literature, travel writing), the history is arranged according to region, with chapters on Brisbane past and present and its hinterland, the Darling Downs, central, western, and north Queensland. This arrangement inevitably (as the editors acknowledge) means that writers such as Vance Palmer, Thea Astley, and Judith Wright appear in several chapters.

By far the longest essay is the first, Buckridge’s own, its ambitious subject being a century and more of literature written in and about Brisbane. This is a stimulating piece of traditional literary history, informed by a keen sense of political and institutional history, and giving particular attention to poetry. I imagine that he was introduced to colonial verse, as I was, by Hadgraft, who delighted in the effusions of Charles Frederick Chubb, the Bard of Ipswich:

Gregory Kratzmann reviews 'By the Book: A literary history of Queensland', edited by Patrick Buckridge and Belinda McKay

By the Book: A literary history of Queensland

by Patrick Buckridge & Belinda McKay

UQP, $45 pb, 390 pp

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