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Monday musings on Australian literature: Writers from South Australia

July 25, 2011
Mortlock Wing, State Library of South Australia

Mortlock Wing (1884), State Library of South Australia

In the decade from the late 1960s to the late 1970s, South Australia, under premier Don Dunstan, was Australia’s most progressive state. I won’t list all the achievements – you can read them in the Wikipedia article linked on his name – but there were big social justice ones including the recognition of Aboriginal land rights, decriminalisation of homosexuality, and abolition of the death penalty. Dunstan was also known for supporting the arts … and South Australia became a mecca for anyone interested in the arts. Things have changed now, as they always do, but the Dunstan legacy remains in the Adelaide Festival Centre, probably Australia’s first real multi-purpose arts centre.

The state also hosts an internationally recognised arts festival, the Adelaide Festival of the Arts, and Australia’s oldest writers’ festival, the Adelaide Writers Week, which has run for over 40 years. And yet, most Australians would probably be hard-pressed to name writers from the state. In fact, probably the best known writer now living in the state is J. M. Coetzee! A great writer, but in my state-focused posts I like to look at writers’ formative years …

And so who? Well, I’ll name a few but I must admit I couldn’t think of many myself:

  • Barbara Hanrahan (1939-1991) whose The scent of eucalyptus I reviewed some months ago. That book – autobiographical fiction – is an idiosyncratic (but universal too) evocation of an early-mid twentieth century Adelaide childhood. She was also an artist of note. But, she is no longer alive.
  • Peter Goldsworthy (b. 1951) whose Three dog night I read, and enjoyed,  before I started blogging. He is also a poet, librettist and screenwriter. His daughter, Anna Goldsworthy, has written a well-reviewed memoir, Piano lessons (which is on my virtual TBR).
  • Colin Thiele (1920-2006) who wrote primarily for children – for the late primary-early secondary years. He is most famous for his novel Storm Boy which was made into a highly successful movie by another of Don Dunstan’s initiatives, the South Australian Film Corporation. I don’t usually include children’s writers in my lists but his writing is so evocative of South Australian landscapes that it seemed wrong to omit him.
Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia

Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia

South Australia, like each state, has a distinctive geography, which ranges from its golden Mediterranean-like south to its arid north, with lakes, mountains and pockets of lush green in between. I’ll end with an excerpt from a Peter Goldsworthy poem titled “Yorke Peninsula, Easter”:

Returning to childhood.
To fields of sweat and dust,
scraps of eucalypt,
wheezing crows.

To the backyard of summer,
the brown brown grass of home.
(excerpted from The Australian Poetry Library)

Several well-known Australian authors currently live in South Australia – including Brian Castro and children’s writers, Mem Fox and Gillian Rubinstein – but I’d love to hear of any other (reasonably) contemporary South Australian writers.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. July 25, 2011 6:46 pm

    I think that Anna Goldsworthy is from SA.

  2. July 25, 2011 6:50 pm

    And so are writers from the Wakefield Press stable: Stephen Orr (Time’s Long Ruin) Philip Jones (Ochre and Rust) and Amy Mathews. Eva Horning??

    • July 25, 2011 10:02 pm

      Ah thanks muchly for these Lisa … Eva Hornung is one of those who has lived (still lives?) there but was born in Victoria. Still she may have spent more years there so is worthy of being called South Australian? I haven’t read any Orr (though he’s on my list) so will check him out. I’ve not heard of Amy Mathews so will check her out too. Re Philip Jones, I did come across some other non-fiction writers that I knew of but decided to focus on fiction writers. I’m glad to have these names … SA is a favourite state of mine.

  3. July 25, 2011 10:12 pm

    Hmm, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a crow wheeze, but then again I’ve never lived in the country proper either 😉

    After my stellar efforts with your last post, I’m ashamed to admit I’ve read none of these! :S

    • July 25, 2011 10:35 pm

      You should be ashamed! But you are saved by your perceptive comment re the crows. I nearly made a comment to that effect in the post. I liked the other images in the poem but I really don’t know what he means by “wheezy crows”. Maybe someone else will appear here and enlighten us.

  4. July 27, 2011 3:59 pm

    Your post makes me think of The King’s Speech therapist Lionel Logue. He was born in Adelaide, SA. His father owned a brewery there. I admit I haven’t read any works by these writers, but heard of them, esp. J. M. Coetzee. Thanks for an informative post, whisperinggums.

    • July 28, 2011 12:25 am

      Oh thanks Arti. It hadn’t registered with me that Logue was from Adelaide.

      Given your book and movie interest I’d love you to read Coetzee’s Disgrace and see the movie – and tell me what you think!

  5. July 28, 2011 2:09 am

    Can’t help with the South Australian writers but I must say the library and landscape photos are both gorgeous 🙂

    • July 28, 2011 10:14 am

      Ha … I thought they might please those for whom South Australia means little. I love that golden landscape shot. In the distance is Kangaroo Island … a place I plan to visit one day but on this occasion we could just gaze from afar.

  6. August 3, 2011 1:50 pm

    Sean Williams, science fiction writer and NYT top ten alumni, myself (she says humbly), Lian Hern – a fantasy and historical writer with Hachette, very big seller. Ummm… all contemporary. So there you are!

    • August 3, 2011 5:02 pm

      Well thank you Phillipa. Not being a big reader of sci fi and fantasy I am clearly out of the loop re the wider world of Aussie writers. I need to lift my game!

  7. August 3, 2011 7:56 pm

    Well, I’m just sayin’ we are here…tucked away and feverishly beavering away at our various genres. I am a mere tadpole compared to Williams and Hern. They are big names in their fields and solid earners for their publishers.

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