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Australia Post’s new set of Living Legends

January 23, 2010
Australian Legends of the Living Word, stamps

The six on the stamps (Courtesy: Australia Post)

Does the choice of writers for Australia Post’s Australian Legends of the Written Word look a little one-sided to you? Here is the list:

The Guardian books blog – Australian writers’ stamps send the wrong message – suggests so, and has a bit of a discussion going on the topic. I’m inclined to agree. I was trying to list the 6 recipients for my co-diners at lunch yesterday and, having remembered a few, started running through other possibilites. Helen Garner? No, I’m sure she wasn’t there. Alexis Wright? No. Kate Grenville perhaps? No. And so on … you get the drift. Personally, I’d have Bryce and Colleen outta there, and would have instead some of the names I’ve mentioned – or any of the many others I could think of. But then, this is “legends” and I suppose Bryce and Colleen have earned that right if only by dint of their recognition in the popular imagination of Australians who buy their books by the droves. Who am I to argue with that?

And just for a different approach to the topic, Australian ex-pat journalist and bookblogger in London, kimbofo at Reading Matters has asked her readers who they would choose for British authorial legends. You might like to think upon that too…

10 Comments leave one →
  1. January 24, 2010 09:43

    Re. Personally, I’d have Bryce and Colleen outta there …

    Ya, my first reaction was, “Only one woman — and it’s Colleen McCullough? Colleen McCullough?” followed by pretty much the rationale you’ve got here: “I suppose a lot of people know who she is. She’s made an impact.” Bob Carr apparently likes her: “Then there is McCullough, whom he boldly rates as the planet’s best living female novelist.” ( )

    On the subject of Courtenay, the Publishing Perspectives website recently put up an interview with the buyer for a New York bookshop specialising in international literature, and he said this: “For example, the author I have always gotten the most requests for whose work is unavailable in the United States is the Australian Bryce Courtenay. Despite Courtenay being one of the bestselling authors in the English-reading world, until Idlewild began selling imports from the U.K., the only title of his I could offer customers was The Power of One.” ( )

  2. January 24, 2010 10:12

    I think I recollect Bob Carr’s liking McCullough – but then doesn’t he also admit,to reading very little Australian literature? At least I seem to recollect some hoo-ha about that coming out of the Sydney Writers Festival? Makes you wonder!

    • January 24, 2010 20:00

      I tried a search with ‘bob carr australian literature’ and found someone claiming that Carr had said he “didn’t have time” to read Australian writers. Whether that’s true or not I don’t know. He seems to have found time for Patrick White.

      • January 24, 2010 21:04

        I can’t find it either now … but I do recollect the little controversy. It may not of course have been justified, and could very well have been a bit of beat up so perhaps I should not be too quick to cast aspersions.

  3. Sidney permalink
    January 26, 2010 01:26

    My husband loves McCullough’s Rome series; he’s something of a history buff and was surprised, pleasantly, by how thorough her research was. A search indicated that this Bob Carr enjoyed the same series. I haven’t read them though they get left out in my pile frequently – I did read the Thorn Birds years ago and that sort of put me off a bit.

    The only other author on the list I’ve read is Winton.

    • January 26, 2010 09:47

      Yes, actually, I do believe the Rome series is very good if you are into historical fiction and that period – she is certainly ahead of the other Australian female bestsellers. BUT if I had to choose a female writer for the “living legends” I’d choose others and by criteria that would be just as valid, I think, as those used to choose other non-bestseller legends like David Malouf. Bob Carr – ex premier of NSW – is a keen reader but that wouldn’t on its own endear me to his choices! However, as I said, I believe your husband is perfectly justified in liking that series! (Just in case he needs my approval!!) I’ve only read Thornbirds too – fun at the time as I recollect (I read it back in 1983) but it’s not one of those books that stuck!

      However, YOU might like to put David Malouf and Peter Carey for a start in your TBRs. Malouf is a beautiful writer – I’d recommend all of his that I’ve read (and I’ve read five of his ten novels) – and Carey is one of those writers like Atwood who experiments with a wide range of styles and genres (though I haven’t seen him do sc-fi). I’ve read four or five of his novels.

      • Sidney permalink
        January 27, 2010 01:47

        I have lots of trouble coming up with lists of best writers or books myself. I’m not sure why. If I start I can do ok until I think of some different way of looking at it and then think my whole list is wrong. Eventually I’ll read the Rome stuff – I’m not personally that drawn to romance which, for me, was big in the Thorn Birds.

        I’ll put Malouf and Carey (a comparison to Atwood is great for me as I find her really interesting and for that very reason) on my list. It’s so long though …

  4. January 27, 2010 07:35

    Yes, Sidney, I agree re lists of bests – they really are just points in time things aren’t they? And, add Malouf and Carey to your lists (we did one or two Careys on BGL but perhaps that was before you joined?) but I won’t look for reviews of them in the near future!

  5. January 27, 2010 10:59

    Surely Les Murray should have a place on this list. “Freddy Neptune” is a wonderful novel in verse. Then Elizabeth Jolley, Thea Astley, and Murray Bail. and so on.

    • January 27, 2010 13:32

      Fair point Tony – I guess they don’t think of poets – and neither did I when I was thinking about it! I’m afraid though that Jolley and Astley are out as these are LIVING legends otherwise I would have been on both my high horse and my soap box. Bail is a good option too though perhaps not prolific enough for legendary status I suspect.

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