Australian Literature

Kate Grenville’s Lilian’s Story is one of the great Australian novels of the last thirty years. When it was first published in 1985, it was immediately hailed as a masterpiece. The original cover carried a recommendation by Patrick White, Nobel laureate and the greatest writer of any kind Australia has produced. White said ...

Most Australians, if asked to name a date they associate with the name Gough Whitlam, would say ‘11 November 1975’. Steven Carroll subverts this expectation at the outset ... ... (read more)

The shortlist for the 2011 Miles Franklin Literary Award, which included Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance, was controversial because it consisted of only three novels, all w ...

‘For our house is our corner of our world … If we look at it intimately, the humblest dwelling has beauty.’
Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (1958)

Houses, and their domestic spaces of intimacy and negotiation, s ...

It’s Raining in Mango: Pictures from the Family Album was first published in 1987, on the eve of the bicentenary of white settlement in Australia, when many versions of the story of Australia were advanced and debated. Thea Astley’s book presents a family, the Laffeys, as a microcosm of the national story. It is a novel made up of stories told by Connie ...

The physiotherapist I saw for a pinched nerve in my back not long ago turned out to be an avid reader of fiction. She would work her way through the Booker shortlist each year. But she wouldn’t read Australian novels. As she pummelled my knotted flesh, I wondered if this was the right moment to admit that I was a person who wrote such things. She explained that, having moved to Australia from South Korea as a twelve-year-old, she had been made to write essays at school about a book called A Fortunate Life that she found as painful as I was finding her pressure on my spine.

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The reissue in one volume of three of Ruth Park’s much-loved novels The Harp in the South (1948), its sequel Poor Man’s Orange (1949), and the prequel Missus (1985) is welcome. The trilogy completes the family saga, taking the Darcy family from its emigrant beginnings in the dusty little outback towns where Hughie and Margaret meet and marry, to their life in the urban jungle of Surry Hills, then for-ward to the 1950s when the next generation prepares to leave the slums for the imagined freedom of the bush. These are Australian classics, but classics of the vernacular, of the ordinary people. They should never be allowed to disappear from public consciousness.

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The year was 1911. Four months after beginning work on a new novel, Henry Handel Richardson admitted to herself the ambitious scope of her new project: ‘I have another Colosse on hand, & it begins to grow, though slowly.’ This aptly nicknamed project was eventually to become the trilogy we know as The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, which was to occupy its author for the next twenty years. Length is not synonymous with ‘greatness’, of course.  At almost eleven hundred printed pages, some readers have resented its bulk. At the same time, relatively few have had the opportunity to read the original volumes. Others have been puzzled by its combination of naturalism and allegory, and many more have been struck by an epic quality in its scope and vision. Kylie Tennant assured her readers in 1973 that ‘should any TV producer ever … take the great myth of Richard Mahony into the television medium, a new generation would discover that Mahony is not just a piece of Victorian literary furniture, but has the same weird power to grip an audience as Hamlet or Lear. For if ever there was a myth figure it was Richard Mahony.’ Richardson herself believed that her intention had been ‘to treat the chief features of colonial life in epic fashion’. Dorothy Green argued in 1970 that the novel should be seen as ‘not merely an emigrant novel of early colonial Victoria, but … [as] a part of the intellectual history of European civilisation in the nineteenth century.’ Even so, Michael Gow condensed this epic into a 66-page, two-act, domesticated playscript, performed at the Brisbane Powerhouse and the Melbourne CUB Malthouse in 2002.

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The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature (Second Edition) edited by William H. Wilde, Joy Hooton, and Barry Andrews

December 1994, no. 167

‘Those bastards at Oxford,’ Barry Andrews fulminated ten years ago (he had in mind one or two in particular) ‘are trying to make us cut 200,000 words from the book!’ The ‘book’ was the first edition of the estimable The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature. The ‘bastards’ had miscounted and the text survived more or less in full. Now, nine years after its first publication, the Companion has appeared in a revised edition with an extra 200,000 words, not there by way of compensation, but rather to cope with the brilliantly successful publicity campaign for Australian writing during the last decade. Bill Wilde and Joy Hooton remain as editors, Barry having died in 1987.

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‘If you can’t say something nice,’ my mother always said, ‘don’t say anything at all.’ (I pinch this opening gambit, shamelessly, from Kate Grenville’s Self-Portrait in the last ABR, and hope she does not mind; imitation is the sincerest form etc.) Apropos of parental expectations regarding niceness-or-silence, however, I am reminded of a remark of Elizabeth Jolley’s: ‘I think my mother wanted a princess, and she got me instead.’

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