For the poet W.S. Graham, running away from Scotland ‘with my money belt of Northern ice’ at the age of nineteen, London was the ‘golden city’ in his poem ‘The Night City’. Graham ‘found Eliot and he said yes // And sprang into a Holmes cab. / Boswell passed me in the fog / Going to visit Whistler who / Was with John Donne …’ For other poets in this anthology, London is a ‘noisome sewer’, as Cowper tells us in an extract from his long poem ‘The Task’. John Wilmot, earl of Rochester, after a night of wine and ‘grave discourse / Of who fucks who, and who does worse’, goes out into the cool of St James’s Park to find among the trees ‘nightly now beneath their shade / Are buggeries, rapes, and incests made’, and that there is a great congress of sexual activity of all walks of London life.
For a brief period, Australian art enjoyed unprecedented popularity in London, which became home to a large expatriate community of artists such as Sidney Nolan, Arthur and David Boyd, Charles Blackman, and Brett Whiteley. This ‘Antipodean Summer’ is vividly portrayed in Pierse’s critical account. He reveals that the success of these artists depended upon the support of a handful of art patrons, notably that of the art historian Kenneth Clark, the flamboyant young director of the Whitechapel Art Gallery Bryan Robertson, and the Australian expatriate art dealer Alannah Coleman. Nolan’s solo exhibition at the Redfern Gallery, Robertson’s ground-breaking Recent Australian Painting (1961), and Coleman’s Australian Painting and Sculpture in Europe Today (1963) were also crucial to the success of Australian artists. These exhibitions provided a counterpoint to the much-critiqued Tate Gallery survey exhibition, AustralianPainting: Colonial, Impressionist, Contemporary (1962–63).
Until recently, there was a prevailing attitude that to succeed as a professional author one had to go into exile. The small Australian market could not support a writing career; it was necessary to travel abroad and court a larger readership. Because Australia was a British colony, the obvious destination was London, heart of empire.