From the earliest days of white settlement, Australians have made the voyage to Britain. Many stayed for long periods and some forever. Prominent among the more permanent residents were writers, prominent not only in terms of numbers but also because it was they who in large part created the stories and legends of Australians abroad. Some left without regret, lambasting their local world as ‘suburban’, hostile to originality and creativity. But Australian writers were not only denizens of a small, narrow society. They also lived in an English-speaking imperial world constructed in terms of metropolises and provinces. Thus Australian writers went to Britain in search of better opportunities for publication, wider markets for their wares, and to become part of a critical mass of writers, critics, intellectuals in a more complex, variegated society. When nationalist fervour was strong, local attitudes to expatriates could be ambivalent if not hostile. In 1967 Christina Stead was named by the Britannica Australia Award for Literature Committee as ‘the outstanding novelist of this day’ but was not given the prize because it was noted that she had not lived in Australia for forty years and that her contribution to literature had little reference to Australia.
New understandings of expatriate writers
From a Distant Shore: Australian Writers in Britain 1820–2012
by Bruce Bennett and Anne Pender
Monash University Publishing, $39.95 pb, 286 pp, 9781921867941
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