Monday musings on Australian literature: Australian Living Treasures
Over the weekend, the list of Australian Living Treasures was updated. This has to happen every now then because, you know, our living treasures have a habit of dying eventually, which rather disqualifies them from the list!
I’ve chosen to write this post this week for two reasons. The most obvious one is the updating of the list over the weekend, but the other reason is that this week that contains International Women’s Day, which is a good week to highlight the place of women in our culture. And for me a good place to start is our women writers.
Well, now, how many Australian women writers – and by writers I mean novelists and poets, those people who use their imagination to hold a mirror up to humanity – do you think appear in the current list? ONE*! Yep, Colleen McCullough is the ONLY female novelist included in the list. FOUR men are included, novelists Thomas Keneally, David Malouf and Tim Winton, and poet Les Murray. (I won’t discuss here the other significant fact, that only around 30 of the 100 treasures are women.)
I have no problems, of course, with the inclusion of Keneally, Malouf and Winton. Good writers all, who have excellent track records not only with their writing but with their wider contribution to public thought on significant political, ethical and environmental issues. But, only one woman? And that, a woman who, though popular, would not be the first to spring to our lips when we think of significant Australian women novelists. Moreover, she’s had her share of controversy that may suggest her contribution to our society is not of the ilk of Keneally et al. But that’s something you can check out yourselves to make up your own minds. She is though, to use a word commonly applied to women, feisty, and that is not a bad thing.
But where, for example, is Helen Garner? Her body of fiction and non-fiction has, from the time she first hit the bookstands a few decades ago, made us think and argue about literature, values and ethics. And what about Kate Grenville? Or, Marion Halligan? Or … well there are many other Australian women writers with significant bodies of work but they are JUST NOT WELL KNOWN and there’s the rub … because this list is a popularly voted list coordinated by the National Trust of Australia. And so the story continues … if you don’t get the airplay, you don’t get well-known and if you don’t get well-known, you don’t get the airplay …
This is, I know, a simplistic post on a complex issue … but sometimes simple does the job.