Monday musings on Australian literature: on 1923: 2, The Platypus Series

My first post in my Monday Musings 1923 series featured an update on the 1880-established NSW Bookstall Company, which, you may remember, focused on supporting Australia’s writers and readers by publishing Australian books and selling them for just one shilling each. In 1923, another publishing initiative appeared on the scene, Angus and Robertson’s Platypus Series.

This series, though, is a little more complicated. In 1923, as far as I can gather, the books were published by Angus and Robertson under their own imprint. Then, from 1924 to 1929, some, though maybe not all, were published under a different Angus and Robertson imprint, Cornstalk Publishing, before returning to Angus and Robertson in 1930. Through all this, however, it remained the Platypus Series.

So now, let’s get to 1923, to November in fact, when newspapers started reporting on receiving the first 8 books in a new series of books from Angus and Robertson. They all reported that seven of the books were classics, with the eighth, J.H.M. Abbott’s historical novel, Sydney Cove, being new fiction. The books, at half-a-crown (2/6), were more expensive than Bookstall’s 1 shilling.

The articles made some other interesting points, prime of which concerned the economics and profitability of publishing. Western Australia’s The Beverley Times, put it particularly clearly:

The publishers suggest that they [the books] could not have been turned out in Australia had not Henry Ford’s methods been applied to their manufacture by a Sydney firm of printers and binders. “More power to the elbow” for the venture has kept thousands of pounds worth of work in “this country,” and good Australian books which have perforce gone out of print have been made available with more to follow. 

Most articles reported on the “mass production” used to produce the books, though only some referenced Henry Ford. Some quantified the amount as £10,000.

Many of the articles, like those writing about the NSW Bookstall Company, commended Angus and Robertson for, as Sydney’s The Sun wrote, “catering for the local market by encouraging the local author”. Some added their own flavour to their description of the series. Victoria’s The Ballarat Star, which described Angus and Robertson as “one of the firms that believes in Australian literature for Australians”, provided its own perspective on the state of Australian literature:

We are, as a nation, rearing our own literary atmosphere. It is not a hasty progress, but it is in sound lines, and when a firm of the standing of Angus and Robertson, of Sydney, can find that it pays to keep Australia to the front in the matter of the “making of books,” well, there is encouragement for the authors also.

And I did love The Sydney Stock and Station Journal‘s little admonition to readers, that there are “other volumes in preparation — sixteen promised by next February, so you can’t growl about the high cost of good reading any more”. But, it’s The Sydney Morning Herald which provided the most information about the Series’ overall plans. It advised that “at least 84 volumes are contemplated”, across several categories – “For Boys and Girls,” “Fiction,” Poetry,” and “Miscellaneous” – and concluded that from what they knew “it is clear that anyone who purchases the series will acquire much of the most characteristic literature that Australia has produced”.

Platypus Series books, 1923

The first eight books in the series were published in 1923:

  • J. H. M. Abbott, Sydney Cove
  • Henry Lawson, Joe Wilson 
  • Henry Lawson, Joe Wilson’s mates
  • Amy Eleanor Mack, Bushland stories, stories for children
  • Amy Eleanor Mack, Scribbling bus
  • Louise Mack, Teens: a story of Australian school girls  
  • Louis Mack, Girls together (a sequel to Teens
  • Ethel C. Pedley, Dot and the kangaroo

Most of the articles discussed the books, but tended to say the same things – whether due to syndication or publisher’s press release, I’m not sure. One of the repeated comments was that the set included “five of the best School Library and Prize books ever written”. That’s a big call. “Ever written” in the world? In Australia? And which were the five? None make it clear. But it sounds good.

While many of the articles gave a little extra information about the new book, Abbott’s Sydney Cove, The Ballarat Star, cited above, wrote more than most on the other books, saying that the two Henry Lawson’s were ‘fine specimens of what the London “Academy” well termed the “artless art” of Henry Lawson’. It also praises Louise Mack’s two books – both for their writing and for being Australian:

She makes the Australian school girl really live, and in her two books — Teens and Girls together which is a sequel— any Australian children will revel because it is their own atmosphere free from artificiality, and redolent of the Australian school life, which is so different from that of England or America. One of these days outsiders who try to write school stories of Australia will have to go to Miss Mack and Ethel Turner, and Ethel Pedley and Amy Mack, and many others of our Australian girl writers for Australian atmosphere.

I love the idea that “outsiders” might want to write Australian school stories, but, regardless, this is lovely praise. It then describes Louise’s sister Amy’s books as “two daintily written kiddie stories, written evidently from the sheer joy of writing”, and says that ‘one of the brightest little things in the Bushland stories is the “Bird’s Alphabet.” It is a lesson inside a story for the author had to drag in the scientific name for the familiar silvereye (“Zosterops”), to complete the Alphabet”. And, it commends Pedley’s Dot and the kangaroo as having a “flavor” of Lewis Carroll, and being “a delicious story of the Australian bush inhabitants and their quaint and wonderful ways”.

Finally, while several articles commented on the value of publishing Australian authors for Australians, Sydney’s The World News made this very clear when it praised the initiative “for everyone knows it is far less risky to sell British and American books, and much more profitable, than publishing works by Australian authors”. That said, it was apparently in the Platypus Series (in 1924) that Anne Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables made her first appearance in Australia! Just saying.

Photo credit: From Rolf Boldrewood’s A Sydney-Side Saxon 1925 (via Abe Books)

Other posts in the series: 1. Bookstall Co (update)

Monday musings on Australian literature: First Nations Australia speculative fiction

This post is my first contribution to Bill’s (The Australian Legend) Australian Women Writers Gen 5 Week 15-22 January. Gen 5 encompasses women who have been writing from the 1990s to now. Bill argues that two major trends characterise this era: “the rise and rise of Indigenous Lit” and “writing which in earlier days would have clearly been SF – but which now is generally characterised as Climate Fic., Dystopian, or less frequently, Fantasy/Surreal/Postmodern.” With this in mind, Bill decided that AWW Gen 5’s focus would SFF – Science Fiction/Fantasy.

Given Bill observed that First Nations Women are writing in this genre, I have decided, for this post, to combine the two trends. It won’t be comprehensive, but more in the spirit of providing an introduction or overview. Here goes …

I have seen various terms applied to SF, or what I prefer, though Bill doesn’t, to call Speculative Fiction. Introducing their anthology, Unlimited futures, Ellen van Neerven and Rafeif Ismail speak of Visionary Fiction, which Wikipedia explains is not “science fiction” because it is driven by “new and uncanny experiences (mystical, spiritual and paranormal) in the neural web”. Wikipedia quotes Michael Gurian, who was one of the first to promote the genre on the web. He defines visionary fiction as “fiction in which the expansion of the human mind drives the plot. Where science fiction is characterized by storytelling based in expanded use of science to drive narrative, visionary fiction is characterized by storytelling based in expanded use of mental ability to drive narrative.” So, it may not be traditional SF, but I believe it can be encompassed under the speculative fiction umbrella, particularly as First Nations people see it.

Claire G Coleman, Terra nullius

The other main term I want to share, I found in BookRiot, in their 2020 article, “Explore Indigenous Futurisms with these SFF books by Indigenous authors”, by Danika Ellis. Ellis, who also uses the umbrella term, Speculative Fiction, writes that “Indigenous Futurisms” was coined by Dr. Grace Dillon, professor in the Indigenous Nations Studies Program at Portland State University. It was inspired by Afrofuturisms, which explores speculative fiction through an African diaspora lens. Ellis explains that “depictions of Indigenous people in mainstream media has often placed them in a historical context, not recognizing the Indigenous cultures and individuals of today, never mind the future. Indigenous Futurisms imagine Indigenous people into every context: space travel, fantasy worlds, alien invasions, and more.” BookRiot’s list includes Claire G. Coleman’s Terra Nullius (my review) and Ambelin Kwaymullina’s young adult novel The interrogation of Ashala Wolf. Ellis makes the point that:

Indigenous Futurisms brings a much-needed perspective to a genre that is often uncritically colonial, whether it’s fantasy rooted in Medieval England, or space travel that celebrates conquering new worlds.

Good one. Not being a reader in this genre, I hadn’t clocked this.

Meanwhile, closer to home, last June The Conversation ran a review by Yasmine Musharbash of This all come back now: An anthology of First Nations speculative fiction, which was edited by Mykaela Saunders. This anthology, you will have noticed, uses the term Speculative Fiction, and Musharbash accepts this, offering her understanding of the genre:

In my view, speculative fiction – the narrative exploration of “what-ifs”, the creative probing into latent possibilities, the imaginary voyaging into potential futures – is the genre of our times. We are on the brink of … something. Environmentally, for sure. But also socially, politically, economically. 

What this something is, when it will happen, how it will shape the future: these are the questions at stake. 

This all come back now, she says, is the “first Australian anthology of First Nations speculative fiction”. This might be so, but of course First Nations Australians have been writing speculative fiction for some time. Musharbash discusses what characterises this anthology as “First Nations”, and says the first thing is “Country with a capital C, in that very First Nations sense of something utterly fundamental and intimately related to the self, is centrally present across these pages. Many of these stories are fully immersed in Country.” This is not surprising, nor, really is the other recurring element she identifies, humour. I have mentioned before First Nations humour and its particular flavour. Musharbash describes the humour as being cheeky, and often “bitter-funny”.

First Nations Australia SFF

I wrote above that First Nations Australians have been writing speculative fiction (SFF) for some time, and I’ve reviewed a little here on my blog, including Coleman’s Terra nullius, and Ellen van Neerven’s “Water” (my post), which is included in This all come back now. Coleman, in fact, is making this space a bit of her own, with two more novels, The old lie (Bill’s review) and Enclave (Bill’s review), published

Book cover

Before them was Alexis Wright with Carpentaria (my review) and, more obviously, The Swan book (Lisa and Bill). Bill describes this latter as being set “some time in the future after the countries of Europe have been lost in the Climate Wars”. It is still on my TBR.

However, there are several other writers whom I’ve not read or reviewed (yet) on my blog, like Karen Wyld and Alison Whittaker. Another is Ambelin Kwaymullina, who is best known for her YA speculative fiction series, The Tribe. Six years ago, she wrote a post, titled “Reflecting on Indigenous superheroes, Indigenous Futurisms and the future of diversity in literature on the loveozya blog. She starts with a strong argument about how Indigenous writing has been measured, against Western concepts, and addresses that colonisation aspect I mentioned above. She also addresses the point I have heard Alexis Wright make about “magic”, and takes it further:

In Australia and elsewhere, Indigenous peoples have also long been able to interact with the world in ways that the West might label as ‘magic’, but this is because the West often defines the real (and hence the possible) differently to the Indigenous cultures of the earth. There are many aspects of Indigenous realities that might be called ‘speculative’ by the West (such as communicating with animals and time travel). There is also much in Western literature that Indigenous peoples regard as fantasy even though it is labeled as fact, including the numerous negative stereotypes and denigrations of Indigenous peoples and culture contained within settler literature. 

Another good challenge to our worldview. She too references Dillon’s “Indigenous futurisms”, explaining that it describes “a form of storytelling whereby Indigenous peoples use the speculative fiction genre to challenge colonialism and envision Indigenous futures”.

Kwaymullina argues that there’s a growing Indigenous presence in speculative fiction, including in YA and Children’s fiction, and names some writers – Teagan Chilcott, Tristan Michael Savage, graphic novelist Brenton McKenna, and the young Aboriginal people responsible for NEOMAD (my post).

So, an exciting time for the genre and for literature in general, but I’ll close here …

Have you have read any First Nations (anywhere) speculative fiction? If so, care to share?

Monday musings on Australian literature: on 1923: 1, Bookstall Co. (update)

Last year I wrote a series of posts about 1922, drawing primarily from Trove. I enjoyed doing it, and have decided to repeat the exercise this year, and perhaps continue annually, to build up a picture of the times. My first 1922 post was about the NSW Bookstall Company which was established in 1880, but which around 1904 began publishing and selling Australian books for one shilling each. When I started my 1923 Trove search, this company featured heavily, so I’ve decided to lead off with an update of it.

Now, I noted last year, that the company’s longstanding managing director, A.C. Rowlandson, had died that year, but that the company planned to continue. During this year’s research, I found that in 2000 the University of Melbourne’s Baillieu Library put on an exhibition titled “Sensational Tales: Australian Popular Publishing 1850s-1990s”. One of the “tales” concerned the NSW Bookstall Co. They confirmed that the Company had “helped make writing a viable occupation for a generation of Australians, a number of whom – including Norman Lindsay, Vance Palmer and ‘Steele Rudd’ – achieved lasting reputations”. However, they also say that the Company’s publishing program did decline after Rowlandson’s death, and that it issued fewer than 70 titles between 1924 and 1946. By the end of World War II, the Company had “reverted to being a retail distributor of books and magazines”. How much of this decline was due to Rowlandson’s death and how much to changing times, they don’t say, but, from what I’ve read of him, I suspect the former played a role, as Rowlandson was clearly a powerful and inspirational force.

Anyhow, on with 1923. I plan to share the fiction that I’ve identified as published by them in 1923. What is interesting is not just who the Australian authors were and what they were writing, but what the reviewers and commentators were saying about both the company and the specific books, and what it all reveals about Australia’s literary environment of the time.

Bookstall Series books, 1923

Although the University of Melbourne’s exhibition notes the company’s decline, it was still going strong in 1923:

  • Vera Baker, The mystery outlaw (pub. 1920, and 1923)
  • Capel Boake, The Romany mark
  • Dale Collins, Stolen or strayed
  • Arthur Crocker, The great Turon mystery
  • A.R. Falk, The red star
  • J.D. Fitzgerald, Children of the sunlight: stories of Australian circus life
  • Jack McLaren, Fagaloa’s daughter
  • Jack North, A son of the bush
  • Ernest Osborne, The plantation manager
  • Steele Rudd, On Emu Creek
  • Charles E. Sayers, The jumping double: a racing story
  • H.F. Wickham, The Great Western Road

Most of these authors are male. Indeed, Capel Boake and Vera Baker seem to be the only woman here.

I found several references for most of the books listed above. Some were not much more than listings, and some seemed to be somewhat repetitive (which could be due to syndication and/or drawing from publisher’s publicity. It’s hard to know without deeper analysis.) However, there was also some more extensive commentary.

First though, as you can probably tell from the titles, the books tend to be “commercial” or genre books, most of them adventure with some mystery thrown in. One of my 1922 posts focused on the time’s interest in adventure, so I won’t repeat much of that except to say that many of the reviewers/columnists talked about “thrills”, “exciting reading”, fast pacing, and the like. The majority of the novels are set in the bush, reflecting our well-documented ongoing interest in outback stories. But A.R. Falk’s detective novel The red star, is set in Sydney. The Brisbane Courier’s reviewer (23 June) argues that Australian writers hadn’t “developed the field of detective fiction to any extent”, which is interesting given its popularity now. This reviewer praises the book saying that Falk had “written a far better detective story than the majority of those that are imported”. S/he says that “the fight between detectives and a clever gang of thieves and murderers is told in a very convincing manner” and that while “the ending, perhaps, is forced” the story “takes a high place among current detective fiction”.

That’s higher praise than some of the books received at the hands of our reviewers. J.Penn tended to write a little more analytically. I haven’t been able to identify who J.Penn is, but s/he wrote a new books column in Adelaide’s Observer and Register titled “The Library Table”. S/he generally praised Ernest Osborne’s The plantation manager but did note a weakness at times for ‘making people “talk like a book”‘ (Observer, 5 May) and was critical of Steele Rudd’s On Emu Creek which s/he felt lacked the satirical edge of his Dad works. S/he writes that “Steele Rudd is firmly convinced that his readers will find sufficient fun in the mere fact of some one being humiliated or hurt, without the author’s having to worry to hunt for words” (Register, 19 May). The Murray Pioneer and Australian River Record (3 August) described On Emu Creek as humorous but qualified this with “the reader may be pardoned if he fails to see in the more recent books the same rich vein of humor that characterised the earlier chronicles of the Rudd family” while The Age (5 May) was gentler, calling it “an agreeable story, without any affectation of style, and containing points of humor”

Penn described (Register, 21 April) Dale Collins’ Stolen or strayed as ‘a “shilling shocker” of modern Australia’. Set mostly on the Murray, “it is,” writes Penn “a joyous yarn, and, as generally happens nowadays, the literary style is more than worthy of the tale it unfolds”. Interestingly, though, Collins’ book generated more disagreement than most. The Queenslander (12 May) was less impressed, saying that “neither the workmanship nor the characterisation show any especial ability” and The Sun (22 April) said that “It is a story just good enough, so far as construction is concerned, to lead one to hope that the author will do much better some day.”

Overall, several reviewers commented along the lines of Perth’s Western Mail (26 April) reviewer, who said, regarding Stolen or strayed and The planation manager, that “both books will no doubt be read with avidity by those who care for stories of this kind”. This is fair enough given these readers were Bookstall’s target market.

Now, some quick observations, before closing. I was interested that some reviewers seemed to give the whole plot away, which we don’t see now. Also, I’ve not (yet) been able to identify several of the authors, but a few were also journalists – like Dale Collins and Jack North – and some used pseudonyms, like Capel Boake about whom I’ve written before.

Finally, despite what seemed to be qualified praise for many of the books, it’s clear that the endeavour was valued for providing a career for Australian writers and illustrators at a time when they struggled to get published. And, as Hobart’s Mercury (18 August) wrote

Beyond question, they are more than worth the money, the thing most prejudicial to their success being the gaudy “Deadwood Dick” types of covers in which they appear.

Trove (et al) under threat

You all know how much I rely on Trove. Back in 2016 I wrote a post in support of it when its survival was threatened. Well, it’s under threat again, and Lisa posted on it today. She references an(other) article in The Conversation that addresses not only the situation for the National Library of Australia and Trove, but other significant national cultural institutions like the National Film and Sound Archive and the National Gallery of Australia. These services and institutions are the lifeblood of academics, writers, journalists and other researchers (professional and general). Their role is to acquire, preserve and make available our heritage. They are not dispensable. They are essential.

Monday musings on Australian literature: Some New Releases in 2023

Maintaining tradition, my first Monday Musings of the year once again focuses on “new releases”. As before, it is primarily drawn from the Sydney Morning Herald. Jane Sullivan and the team do a wonderful job of surveying publishers large and small, but I have added a couple of my own! Also, as this is Monday musings on Australian literature post, my focus is Australian authors in areas of interest or relevance to me. Click on the SMH link to see the full list, which includes non-Aussies, Aussies I haven’t selected, plus additional info about many of the books.

As usually happens, some books listed here were listed last year but, for some reason, were not published on schedule.

Links on the authors’ names are to my posts on those authors.

Fiction

I have read a very small number from last year’s list, but a few more are on my TBR and will be read this year. (Indeed, one is almost finished right now!) Here’s this year’s selection:

  • Kim E. Anderson, Prize (Pantera Press, April)
  • Tony BirchWomen and children (UQP, November)
  • Stephanie Bishop, The anniversary (Hachette, April)
  • Benjamin Stevenson, Everyone on this train is a suspect (Penguin Random House or PRH, October)
  • Trent Dalton, untitled (Fourth Estate, October).
  • Gregory Day, The bell of the world (Transit Lounge, March)
  • Robert Gott, Naked ambition (Scribe, May)
  • Kate GrenvilleAlways greener (Text, July)
  • Toni Jordan, Prettier if she smiled more (Hachette, April)
  • Leah Kaminsky, Doll’s eye (PRH, September)
  • Melissa LucashenkoEdenglassie (UQP, October)
  • Catherine McKinnon, The great time (Fourth Estate, August)
  • Rachel Matthews, Never look desperate (Transit Lounge, September)
  • Drusilla Modjeska, Ways of being (PRH, November)
  • Kate Morton, Homecoming(A&U, April)
  • Graeme SimsionCreative differences (Text, January) 
  • Tracy Sorensen, The vitals (Picador, second half 2023)
  • Christos Tsiolkas, The in-betweens (A&U, November)
  • Pip Williams, The bookbinder of Jericho (Affirm, April)
  • Chris WomersleyOrdinary gods and monsters (Picador, second half 2023)
  • Alexis Wright, Praiseworthy (Giramondo, April) 
  • Emma Young, The disorganisation of Celia Stone (Fremantle, September) 

SMH lists many books under Crimes and Thrillers, but this is not my area of expertise. So, I’m going to leave you to check SMH’s link if you are interested, and just bring a couple to your attention. They tell us that “the ever-popular small town with dark secrets plot gets a good work-out” in:

  • Lucy Campbell, Lowbridge (Ultimo, July); 
  • Nikki Mottram, Crows Nest (UQP, February)

I mention them because UQP and Ultimo are worthwhile independent publishers. Dervla McTiernan has another book coming out, and there’s more, as I said, if you are interested.

SMH also lists Debut Australian fiction, including some the result of “heated auctions” and some winners of manuscript prizes:

  • Mikki Brammer, The collected regrets of Clover (Viking, May): sold in 23 countries
  • Andre Dao, Anam (PRH, May): won the Victorian Premier’s fiction award for an unpublished manuscript 
  • Pip Finkemeyer, Sad girl novel (Ultimo, October)
  • Annette Higgs, On a bright hillside in paradise (PRH, July): won the 2022 Penguin literary prize
  • Megan Rogers, The heart is a Star (Fourth Estate, May)
  • Molly Schmidt, Salt River Road (Fremantle, November): won the City of Fremantle Hungerford prize
  • Aisling Smith, After the rain (Hachette, May), won the Richell prize
  • Michael Thompson, How to be remembered (A&U, March)
  • Dianne Yarwood, The wakes (Hachette, March)

Short stories

  • Carmel Bird‘Love letter to Lola’: Eighteen stories and an author’s reflection (Spineless Wonders, May)
  • J.M. CoetzeeThe Pole and other stories (Text, July) 
  • David Cohen, The terrible event (Transit Lounge, June).
  • Laura Jean McKay, Gunflower (Scribe, October)

Non-fiction

SMH includes a wide range of new non-fiction books, so this is just a selection.

Life-writing (loosely defined, and selected to those focused mainly on the arts and activism)

  • Belinda Alexandra, Emboldened (Affirm, April): novelist on some women who saved her after she ran from home in terror
  • Ryan Cropp, The life of Donald Horne (Black Inc, August): biography
  • Robyn Davidson, Unfinished woman (Bloomsbury, October): Tracks author’s memoir
  • Marele Day, Reckless (Ultimo, May): novelist’s memoir about her long friendship with an international fugitive 
  • Helen Elliott, Eleven letters to you (Text, May): journalist/critic on her younger years
  • Deborah Fitzgerald, In search of Dorothea (Simon & Schuster, August): biography of Dorothea Mackellar
  • Martin Flanagan, untitled (PRH, no date): journalist’s memoir on his time at a Catholic boarding school
  • Anna Funder, Wifedom (PRH, July): biography of Eileen Orwell, George Orwell’s ignored-by-biographers wife
  • Louise Hansen, Smashing serendipity (Fremantle Press, February): Binjareb Nyoongar woman’s story of her fight against violence and racism
  • Susan Johnson, Aphrodite’s Island (A&U, May): novelist on a year with her mother on the Greek island of Kythera
  • Krissy Kneen, Fat girl dancing (Text, May): third in her memoir series
  • Sarah Krasnostein, On Peter Carey (Black Inc, June): from Writers on Writers series
  • Matthew Lamb, Frank Moorhouse: A Discontinuous Life (PRH, December): biography of Moorhouse, proponent of the “discontinuous narrative” 
  • Frances Peters Little, Jimmy Little: A Yorta Yorta man (Hardie Grant, April): daughter on her First Nations’ musician father
  • Priya Nadesalingam with Rebekah Holt, Back to Biloela (A&U, October): on the refugee family’s ordeal on Christmas Island and final return to Biloela
  • Sam Neill, Did I ever tell you this? (Text, March): actor’s memoir
  • Matt Preston, Big mouth (PRH, November): billed as “a rock’n’roll memoir of death, guns and the occasional scandal”.
  • Jeanne Ryckmans, Trust: A fractured fable (Upswell, August): memoir and detective story 
  • Emmett Stinson, Murnane (MUP, August): biography of Gerald Murnane

SMH also lists biographies and memoirs on/by politicians but, again, I’m taking a break from parliamentary politics, so check SMH’s link, if you are interested. However, I will note that journalist Chris Wallace’s Political lives (NewSouth, February) is based on her interviews with all living 20th-century Australian prime ministers and their biographers. That second part increases its interest for me.

There are also two whistleblower stories coming out: Bernard Collaery’s The trial: Defending East Timor (MUP, late 2023) on being prosecuted, with “Witness K”, by the federal government for allegedly breaching the Intelligence Services Act, and David McBride’s The nature of honour (PRH, no date) on his facing prosecution for exposing alleged war crimes.

History and other non-fiction (esp. racism, sexism, environmental issues)

  • Kate Auty, O’Leary of the Underworld (Black Inc, February): examines a massacre
  • Victor Briggs, Seafaring (Magabala, April): history, with First Nations perspective
  • Chanel Contos, untitled (Macmillan, no date): “a radical rethinking of what yes means when it comes to sex”. 
  • Megan Davis, Quarterly Essay On the Uluru Statement from the Heart (Black Inc, June): First Nations
  • Osman Faruqi, The Racist Country (PRH, August): racism
  • Clementine Ford, I don’t (A&U, October): challenges accepted ideas about marriage
  • Stan GrantThe Queen is dead (Fourth Estate, May): “pull-no-punches” look at colonialism, the monarchy and its bitter legacy for First Nations Australians
  • David Marr, A family business (Black Inc, October): history, First Nations focused
  • Shireen Morris and Damien Freeman (ed.), Statements from the Soul (Black Inc, February): First Nations issue
  • Lucia Osborne-Crowley, Maxwell (A&U, second half of 2023): on Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial and its implications for reparative justice
  • Grace Tame and Michael Bradley, Cancelled (Hardie Grant, September): on cancel culture.
  • Ellen van NeervenPersonal score (UQP, May): racism
  • Penny van Oosterzee, Cloud Land (A&U, February): on the tropical rainforest of northern Queensland
  • Justyn Walsh, Eating the earth (UQP, July): “an incisive celebration and a critique of modern capitalism”
  • Dave Witty, In search of lost trees (Monash University Publishing, May): meditation on nature

Poetry

Finally, for poetry lovers, here’s what they list, but there are more if you go to the relevant publisher websites:

  • Stuart Barnes, Like to the Lark (Upswell, February)
  • Bonny Cassidy, Monument, (Giramondo, October)
  • Amy Crutchfield, The Cyprian (Giramondo, September): 2020 winner of the Gwen Harwood Poetry Prize,
  • Madison Godfrey, Dress rehearsals (A&U, March): verse memoir about “a decade of performing womanhood in a non-binary body”
  • John Kinsella, Cellnight (Transit Lounge, April): verse novel
  • John Kinsella, Harsh Hakea (UWA Publishing, February): collected poems, volume 2
  • Kate Larsen, Public.Open.Space (Fremantle, July): debut collection after a decade working as an insta poet
  • David McCooey’s The book of falling (Upswell, February)
  • Kate Middleton, Television (Giramondo, October)
  • S.J. Norman, Blood from a stone (UQP, November): verse memoir about the legacy of violence towards women
  • PiO The dirty t-shirt tour (Giramondo, August): verse account of a US poetry tour
  • Omar Sakr, Non-essential work (UQP, April)

And, one final surprise – we do expect to see the winner of Finlay Lloyd’s 20/40 Prize in November. That could be anything – but whatever it is, it is sure to be worth waiting for.

Anything here interest you?

Monday musings on Australian literature: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2022

For around 10 years I devoted my last Monday Musings of the year to the Australian Women Writers Challenge, which most of you will remember was instigated by Elizabeth Lhuede in 2012 in response to concerns in Australian literary circles about the lack of recognition for women writers. As I explained last year, it would be changing tack in 2022 to focus on past and often under-recognised or overlooked women writers, from the 19th- and 20th-centuries. By the end of the last year, we felt that much of what we had aimed for in the original challenge had been achieved, with women writers seeming to be well-established on Australia’s literary scene, at least by observable measures. We hope that holds, as there have been regressions in the past. Just compare the impressive visibility of Aussie women writers in the 1920s and 30s with a couple of decades later. For now, though, things are looking positive.

So, 2022 started with a new team overseeing this new phase, Elizabeth, Bill, and me. Our plan was to publish articles and reviews about earlier writers, and publish their actual writings – in full or excerpt form, as appropriate – in order to promote what we knew to be Australia’s rich heritage of Australian women’s writing. I’m not going to do a full rundown of the year’s achievements because Elizabeth will be doing an end-of-year round up on the site in January, but I do want to share a little about what we’ve achieved …

What happened in 2022

We have managed to post twice a week: articles and reviews on Wednesdays, and actual writings, related where possible to the previous Wednesday’s post, on Fridays. Bill took on the job of commissioning editor and has done a wonderful job of finding guest posters to fill the spare weekly slots. Elizabeth, who was keen from the start to bring actual writings to the fore, has scheduled all the Friday posts and worked on enhancing the Stories from Online Archives pages. In addition to writing my monthly Wednesday post, as all three of us have done, I have taken a quieter role in the background, including contributing to discussions about guest posts, and our policies and practices, and helping with various behind-the-scenes tasks like Trove editing to support postings.

We made it to the end of the year, with a decent following in tow. Our stats have dropped significantly from the old challenge days, but we expected that with our narrower focus. While it is always encouraging to have readers, we see the main value of what we are doing to be long-term. In bringing past and lesser-known writers into the light, we not only ensure that they are visible and more easily found by people who are looking for them, but we’d like to think that this visibility will inspire, encourage and facilitate further research into Australia’s literary heritage. We have had at least one academic express gratitude for the help the site has provided her in her research. Music to our ears.

Our Wednesday posts have been an eclectic mix. Rather than impose structure – thematic, chronological, whatever – on our posting schedule, we decided to let the posters choose their topic. This made it easier for Bill to lock in guest posters, because he could give them free rein depending on their relevant interests, and resulted in a variety of posts which (hopefully) appealed to our readers. To see what we posted, just head over to the site – with only two postings a week, there are not too many to scroll through.

For now, I’ll briefly summarise what we three have done in particular.

Elizabeth has focused particularly on lost writers, on those women who have all but disappeared from view. She has not only brought them into the light, but has solved a few mysteries along the way. For example, who was R McKay Tully? Male or female? Elizabeth worked it out. Or Netta Walker? A woman yes, but what’s in a name? Again, sleuth Elizabeth was on the case. The thing is that Elizabeth’s posts provide useful insights into the research process as well as into the writers she unearths.

Bill, on the other hand has tended to write reviews – with a little biography thrown in – of authors he’s been keen to explore more, besides his beloved Miles Franklin, like Kylie Tennant (Ma Jones and the little white cannibals), Rosa Praed (The bond of wedlock), and Ada Cambridge (A mere chance). All are authors I’ve read but wish to read more.

I started the year by posting on selected primary and secondary sources for research into Australian women writers, and then moved into posts on specific writers, many of them edited or enhanced versions of posts I’ve written here. These included posts on juvenilia, the poet Eliza Hamilton Dunlop, and journalist-botanist-author Louisa Atkinson.

We have also had some wonderfully generous guest posters who accepted Bill’s call to delve into history for us – bloggers Jonathan Shaw and Brona from Australia, Emma from France and Marcie McCauley from Canada; published authors Jessica White, Michelle Scott Tucker, Debbie Robson and Nathan Hobby; and academics and historians Stacey Roberts and Linda Emery. We are hugely grateful to them.

And so, 2023

Although the blog is not generating a lot of traffic, Elizabeth, Bill and I believe it is serving the purpose we identified, and so have decided to continue in 2023. We would love, though, to hear if you have ideas for posts, or would like to offer a post yourself, or have any other suggestions.

Meanwhile, I have enjoyed the year, because of our subject-matter and because Bill and Elizabeth have been so easy to work with. There’s something special about working with others on a shared goal … so roll on 2023. We are ready.

Monday musings on Australian literature: Favourite books 2022, Part 2: Nonfiction and Poetry

Last week, as most of you will know, I shared the favourite Aussie fiction books named by writers in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Reads of the Year 2022, Readings Bookshop’s Best Fiction, and the ABC RN’s Bookshelf Panel’s Books of the Year 2022. This week, as promised, I’m sharing their nonfiction and poetry favourites drawing from the same links for the first and third, and the Best Nonfiction of 2022 link for Readings. Again, I’m only including Australian titles (for this Monday Musings post).

Nonfiction

I made the point last year that nonfiction picks tend to speak to the professional interests of their nominators – historians, for example, tend to choose histories. This year though, most of the contributors are writers, journalists and booksellers, resulting in less of this focused sort of choosing.

One, however, was historian Clare Wright. She nominated several books, mostly histories, but rather than give individual reasons she rounded up her list with “fearless, fascinating accounts of rule breakers, rule makers and rule enforcers.”

A few books were picked multiple times, including one that was also nominated a few times last year – Bernadette Brennan’s biography of Gillian Mears, Leaping into waterfalls. Others that were named more than once are Shannon Burns’ Childhood, Chloe Hooper’s Bedtime story, Janine Mikosza’s Homesickness, Oliver Mol’s Train lord, Kylie Moore-Gilbert’s The uncaged sky, Karlie Noon & Krystal De Napoli’s Astronomy: Sky country, Sian Prior’s Childless and Chelsea Watego’s Another day in the colony

The form of nonfiction most favourited this year was the same as last year – memoirs.

  • Tim Baker’s Patting the shark (memoir): “vital” (Jock Serong)
  • Bernadette Brennan’s Leaping into waterfalls: The enigmatic Gillian Mears (biography): “enthralled” (Anna Funder); (Jennifer Down) (Brona’s review) (on my TBR)
  • Shannon Burns’ Childhood: A memoir (memoir): “unsparing self-depiction, coolly detached and brilliantly analytical” (Helen Garner); “powerful … terrific” (Robbie Arnott)
  • Anna Clark’s Making Australian history (history): (Cassie McCullagh)
  • Jessie Cole’s Desire: A reckoning (memoir): “beautifully told” (Sofie Laguna)
  • Sharon Connolly’s My giddy aunt and her sister comedians (history): (Clare Wright)
  • Deborah Dank’s We came with this place (First Nations memoir): “a heart-stopping story into bush Aboriginal life, philosophy and history” (Melissa Lucashenko)
  • Brigid Delaney’s Reason not to worry (philosophy/selfhelp): “fascinating, hilarious and highly practical guide to using the philosophy of Stoicism to help you deal with the vicissitudes of everyday life” (Readings)
  • Peter Doyle’s Suburban noir: Crime and mishap in 1950s and 1960s Sydney (history): “must for crime buffs” (Tony Birch)
  • Meg Foster’s Boundary crossers: The hidden history of Australia’s other bushrangers (history): (Clare Wright)
  • Rachel Franks’ An uncommon hangman: The life and deaths of Robert ‘Nosey Bob’ Howard (history): (Clare Wright)
  • Hannah Gadsby’s Two steps to Nanette (memoir): “deeply moving and extremely funny” (Readings)
  • Mawunyo Gbogbo’s Hip hop and hymns (memoir): “earnest and lyrical missive about growing up in a Black migrant family” (Maxine Beneba Clarke)
  • Joëlle Gergis’ Humanity’s moment: A climate scientist’s case for hope (climate science): “clear-eyed, wounded, humane and above all, honest” (Tim Winton) (Janine’s review)
  • Julia Gillard’s Not now, not ever: Ten years on from the misogyny speech (essays): “good reasons to keep speaking up” (Pip Williams)
  • Julie Gough’s Tense past (art/culture): “vital work” (Tony Birch)
  • Eloise Grills’ Big beautiful female theory (memoir/cultural analysis): “confrontational, honest and everything great nonfiction should be” (Readings)
  • Edna Gunaydin’s Root and branch: Essays on inheritance (essays): “clever, unstintingly self-aware” (Jennifer Down)
  • Linda Jaivin’s The shortest history of China (history): “deep context” (Jock Serong)
  • Kath Kenny’s Staging a revolution: When Betty rocked the Pram (history): (Clare Wright)
  • Lee Kofman’s The writer laid bare: Emotional honesty in a writer’s art, craft and life (part memoir): “intimate look at the process” (Graeme Simsion)
  • Jess Ho’s Raised by wolves (memoir): “straight-talking, sharp-shooting memoir” of the Melbourne hospo scene (Readings)
  • Chloe Hooper’s Bedtime story (memoir): “shows the power of words and literature to comfort us during the darkest moments of our lives” (Readings); “beautifully written and illustrated” (Kylie Moore-Gilbert); “exquisite” (Sarah Krasnostein) (Lisa’s review)
  • Danielle Laidley’s Don’t look away: A memoir of identity & acceptance (memoir): “inspiring, disarming, and deeply moving” (Craig Silvey)
  • Chris Macheras’ Old vintage Melbourne 1960-1990 (history): “pure joy” (Readings) (Lisa’s review)
  • Paddy Manning’s The successor: The high stakes life of Lachlan Murdoch (biography): “unflinching book … about power, apprenticeship, and succession” (Readings)
  • Janine Mikosza’s Homesickness (memoir): “brilliant and original” (Lucy Treloar); (Emily Bitto)
  • Oliver Mol’s Train lord: The astonishing true story of one man’s journey to getting his life back on track (memoir): “compelling combination … harrowing, funny, enigmatic” (Sofie Laguna); “shaggy, imperfect, raw and glorious” (Robbie Anrott)
  • Kylie Moore-Gilbert’s The uncaged sky: My 804 days in an Iranian prison (memoir): “powerful story … incapable of hatred … incapable of simplifying” (Alex Miller); “timely … timeless” (Diana Reid) (Lisa’s review)
  • Karlie Noon & Krystal De Napoli’s Astronomy: Sky country (First Nations science): “fascinating and highly engaging” (Readings); (Sarah Krasnostein)
  • Sean O’Beirne’s On Helen Garner: Writers on writers (essay): “a beautifully crafted essay full of great respect for a great writer” (Readings) (Kimbofo’s review)
  • Brigitta Olubas’ Shirley Hazzard: A writing life (biography): “illuminating biography” (Michelle de Kretser)
  • Anne-Marie Priest’s My tongue is my own: A life of Gwen Harwood (biography): (Clare Wright)
  • Sian Prior’s Childless (memoir): “charts the author’s journey to self-acceptance” (Kylie Moore-Gilbert); “exploring the grief and consolations of childlessness” (Lucy Treloar); “gut-wrenched … its honesty a brutal gift” (Michael Winkler)
  • Bronwyn Rennex’s Life with birds (history/memoir): “formal freshness and sweetly bent wit” (Helen Garner)
  • Henry Reynolds and Nicholas Clements’ Tongerlongeter: First Nations leader and Tasmanian war hero (history/biography): “astonishing … compelling” (Amanda Lohrey)
  • Heather Rose’s Nothing bad ever happens here (memoir): “loved … the profundity” (Hannah Kent); (Jason Steger) (my post on a conversation)
  • Natasha Sholl’s Found, wanting (memoir): “darkly funny” (Kylie Moore-Gilbert)
  • Julianne Schultz’s The idea of Australia: A search for the soul of the nation: (Cassie McCullagh) (Lisa’s review)
  • Jonathan Seidler’s It’s a shame about Ray (memoir): (Cassie McCullagh)
  • Anna Spargo-Ryan’s A kind of magic (memoir): “reframing redemption” (Sarah Krasnostein)
  • Simon Tedeschi’s Fugitive (memoir/history): “shimmering meditation on performance, identity and music” (Michael Winkler)
  • Jayne Tuttle’s Paris or die and My sweet guillotine (memoirs): “joltingly alive, beautiful and terrifying” (Helen Garner)
  • Chelsea Watego’s Another day in the colony (essays/memoir): “insights … are personal and profound” (Lucy Treloar); “vital collection” (Laura Jean McKay) (on my TBR) (Bill’s review)
  • Don Watson’s The passing of Private White (biography): (Anna Funder)
  • Nadia Wheatley’s Sneaky little revolutions: The selected essays of Chairman Clift (essays): (Kate Evans)

Poetry

Last year, there was a string of poetry, but this year we have just two. Interesting – and probably partly due to who was asked to contribute.

  • Sarah Holland-Batt’s The jaguar: (Emily Bitto); “deep compassion … flawless command of image and line” (Michelle de Kretser); “her artistry … is exhilarating” (Amanda Lohrey)
  • David Stavanger, Mohammad Awad, and Radhiah Chowdhury’s (ed) Admissions anthology: “stunning curation … on mental health” (Maxine Beneba Clarke)

The lists continue to come thick and fast, but I’m interested in any thoughts you have on these, particularly if you like nonfiction and poetry.

Monday musings on Australian literature: Favourite books 2022, Part 1: Fiction

Over recent years, I’ve shared favourite Aussie reads of the year from various sources, with the specific sources varying a little from time to time. This year, my main sources are The Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Reads of the Year chosen by writers, Readings bookshop’s Best Australian fiction, and ABC RN’s Bookshelf panel. As last year, the picks ranged far and wide, but in this post I am focusing on their Aussie fiction choices. All being well, I’ll do the Aussie nonfiction and poetry picks next week.

For what it’s worth, last year, I noted that five of the “favourite” novels were on my TBR. I can report that I did manage to read two of them, Larissa Behrendt’s After story (my review) and Anita Heiss’s Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray (my review). I’m pleased with that!

Novels

  • Robbie Arnott’s Limberlost: “a lovely assiduous book, which explores language and narrative with an old-fashioned joy” (Tom Keneally); “dignified and surprisingly conventional … gem” (Michael Winkler); “calling it (hopefully not cursing it) for next year’s Miles Franklin shortlist” (Jennifer Down); “further underlines his mastery of nature writing” (Jock Serong); “another gem” (Readings); (Cassie McCullagh); (Jason Steger) (on my TBR) (Lisa’s review)
  • Jessica Au’s Cold enough for snow: “a meditative, mesmerising novel” (Anna Funder); “all composure … the elegance of its composition … its meditative contemplation of a mother-daughter relationship” (Hannah Kent) ; “loved the voice and pace (and, well, everything)” (Victoria Hannan); “stayed with me for weeks after I finished it … quietly brilliant” (Robbie Arnott); “more like mists … atmospheres you move through” (Miles Allinson); “exquisite prose and hypnotic pace” (Readings); (Jason Steger) (Lisa’s review; mine coming soon)
  • Isobel Beech’s Sunbathing: “sensitive and lyrical work” (Readings)
  • Gabriel Bergmoser’s The hitchhiker: (Dani Vee)
  • Emily Bitto’s Wild abandon: “such lyricism and dead on the money imagery” (Tom Keneally)
  • Brendan Colley’s The signal line: “speculative gothic fiction … nails it” (Bram Presser)
  • Sophie Cunningham’s This devastating fever: (Emily Bitto); “triumph of tone and lightness” (Miles Allinson); (Jason Steger) (Brona’s review)
  • Paul Daley’s Jesustown: “just loved” (Anna Funder); “scarifying tale of missionary colonialism” (Jock Serong)
  • Rhett Davis’ Hovering: “original and blackly funny story” (Toni Jordan)
  • Robert Drewe’s Nimblefoot: “a bag of picaresque fun” (Tim Winton) (on my TBR)
  • Kate Forsyth’s The crimson thread: (Dani Vee)
  • Peggy Frew’s Wildflowers: “confronting, generous, infectious, acutely observed” (Craig Silvey)
  • Sulari Gentill’s The woman in the library: (Felix Shannon)
  • Michael Winkler’s Grimmish: (Kate Evans)
  • Chris Hammer’s The tilt: (Dani Vee); (Kate Evans)
  • Jane Harper’s Exiles: “captivating read” (Readings)
  • Jack Heath’s Kill your brother: (Dani Vee)
  • Adriane Howell’s Hydra: “genre-busting” (Bram Presser)
  • Pirooz Jafari’s Forty nights: (Emily Bitto)
  • Gail Jones’ Salonika burning: “Dazzles again” (Readings); (Kate Evans) (Lisa’s review)
  • Yumna Kassab’s Australiana: (Emily Bitto); “lyrical, intimate” (Readings)
  • Hannah Kent’s Devotion: “aching and illuminating” (Trent Dalton)
  • Tracey Lien’s All that’s left unsaid: “gripping drama with unforgettable characters” (Readings)
  • Kate McCaffrey’s Double lives: “a really interesting hybrid-transcript format” (Felix Shannon)
  • Scott McCulloch’s Basin: “brutal, apocalyptic” (Miles Allinson)
  • Fiona McFarlane’s The sun walks down: (Emily Bitto); “mesmerising … inclusive … electrifying” (Michelle de Kretser); “best novel I’ve ever read about 19th-century Australia” (Geraldine Brooks); (Jason Steger); (Kate Evans)
  • Fiona Kelly McGregor’s Iris: “The most extraordinary evocation of 1930s Sydney” (Hannah Kent); “vivid and compelling” (Lucy Treloar); “a luscious read” (Readings)
  • Meg Mason’s Sorrow and bliss: “unique and improbable: a witty novel about depression” (Geraldine Brooks) (Kimbofo’s review)
  • Gillian Mears’ Fineflour: “revisit” (Jennifer Down)
  • Paddy O’Reilly’s Other houses: “powerful and captivating depiction of class” (Lucy Treloar); “as gripping as a thriller and yet so tender” (Toni Jordan) (on my TBR) (Lisa’s review)
  • Adam Ouston’s Waypoints: “a literary spectacle” (Bram Presser); “ambitious, Lissajous-curved” (Michale Winkler); “hypnotic and intricately layered … very funny” (Robbie Arnott)
  • Caroline Petit’s The natural history of love: “historical pick” (Toni Jordan)
  • Hayley Scrivenor’s Dirt Creek: “a brilliant take on its varied perspectives” (Felix Shannon); (Kate Evans)
  • Jock Serong’s The settlement: “powerful evocation of colonialism with a reverberant message” (Michael Winkler)
  • Holden Sheppard’s The brink: (Dani Vee)
  • Inga Simpson’s Willowman: “will almost certainly become a new Australian classic” (Readings); (Kate Evans)
  • Steve Toltz’s Here goes nothing: (Cassie McCullagh); (Kate Evans)
  • Emma Viskic’s Those who perish: “writing as immaculate as ever” (Lucy Treloar)
  • Chris Womersley’s The diplomat: “fabulous” (Miles Allinson)

Short stories

  • Kevin Brophy’s The lion in love: (Emily Bitto) (Lisa’s review) (on my TBR)
  • Bryan Brown’s Sweet Jimmy: “frequently hilarious collection of crime yarns” (Trent Dalton)
  • Else Fitzgerald’s Everything feels like the end of the world: (Emily Bitto); “standout post-human climate fiction” (Laura Jean McKay); “inventive and humane” (Craig Silvey)
  • Chris Flynn’s Here be Leviathans: “keeps giving with stories that entertain and make you think” (Pip Williams) (on my TBR)
  • Katerina Gibson’s Women I know: “sardonic, surprising” (Miles Allinson)
  • Mirandi Riwoe’s Burnished sun: a realist beauty that decentres dominant narratives” (Laura Jean McKay)
  • Ben Walter’s What fear was: “a hymn of place, a bravura display of sentence-smithing…” (Michael Winkler)

Finally …

It’s interesting to see what books feature most. Popularity doesn’t equal quality, but it does provides a guide to the books that attracted the most attention in the year. One of last year’s most frequent mentions was this year’s Miles Franklin winner, Jennifer Down’s Bodies of light. Will the same happen to one of this year’s most frequently mentioned books?

Several books were mentioned twice, but these received three or more mentions:

  • Robbie Arnott’s Limberlost; Jessica Au’s Cold enough for snow (7 each)
  • Fiona McFarlane’s The sun walks down (5)
  • Sophie Cunninghma’s This devastating fever; Else Fizgerald’s Everything feels like the end of the world; Fiona Kelly McGregor’s Iris; Adam Ouston’s Waypoints (3 each)

Another interesting thing about lists is discovering new books. There are several in the above lists that I’ve never heard of, because they are genre books. That’s the serendipity that can happen in lists like this. However, there are some here that I hadn’t heard of but that grabbed my attention, like Pirooz Jafari’s Forty nights, Adam Ouston’s Waypoints, and Else Fitzgerald’s Everything feels like the end of the world. You?

Thoughts, anyone – on this or lists from your neck of theod

Monday musings on Australian literature: First Nations Classics

Over the years I have written several posts on publishers who have made a commitment to publishing Australian classics, such as Text, Allen and Unwin and the Sydney University Press, to name a few. I was thrilled last week to come across another one, this time from UQP, the University of Queensland Press, which has announced a First Nations Classics series.

UQP is well-known for its longstanding support of First Nations writing – both through publishing and through its sponsoring the annual David Unaipon unpublished manuscript award for First Nations writers. Indeed it describes itself as the first mainstream publisher “to set up a list specifically for Indigenous authors, the Black Australian Writers series”. Now, with this Classics initiative, it is going the next step.

The first set in the series comprises EIGHT titles which will be published in 2023. They are award-winning or shortlisted titles, dating back to 1988, and are well-priced at $19.99 each. Here’s the list (from UQP’s own blog):

(Links on the introduction writers are to my posts on those writers.)

As you can see, like the Text Classics series, for example, this comes with new introductions from contemporary authors – a true value-add. UQP says on its blog that this first set of books includes memoir, novels, short stories and poetry. Some are Unaipon Award winners, including the inaugural 1988 winner, Graeme Dixon’s poetry collection Holocaust Island, which is currently out of print.

You will also notice that among the bloggers I know, we have reviewed five of the eight titles. The three we haven’t, Graham Dixon’s Holocaust Island, Archive Weller’s The window seat and Herb Wharton’s Unbranded aren’t known to me, though I have heard of Archie Weller. So, given you have no reviews for them to click on, here is a little more on them:

  • Dixon’s Holocaust Island (1990): “a dynamic collection of poetry” that speaks out “on contemporary and controversial issues, from Black deaths in custody to the struggles of single mothers. Contrasted with these are poems of spirited humour and sharp satire”. (from GoodReads)
  • Weller’s The window seat, and other stories (2009): “a collection of Weller’s best short fiction and a tribute to his contribution to Australian literature. The stories are honest, brutal and moving” (from UQP website).
  • Wharton’s Unbranded (2000): a novel which offers “an Aboriginal viewpoint on the pastoral industry and race relations … by a masterly yarn teller” (from the book cover on the UQP website)

Now, back to the series – UQP’s publisher Aviva Tuffield articulates, on the above-linked blog, their ambition for this project:

This series will generate renewed interest for these books and their authors – both individually and collectively – and ensure them the contemporary audience they deserve.

She also explains that they’ve been assisted with funding from the Australia Council and the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund. I love the work that the latter does, in particular. Over the years of this blog I have referred to many varied programs and projects supported by the Copyright Agency.

The editor of the series is First Nations writer and editor Yasmin Smith who reiterates Tuffield’s ambition:

I hope this series will provide readers a renewed appetite, a greater awareness and a new thoughtfulness towards Indigenous stories and culture. The First Nations Classics are essential reading for all generations.

The blog implies UQP’s selection criteria for the books when it describes them as “some brilliant, timeless books – across all genres – that are as important, engaging and relevant today as they ever were on first publication”.

The blog also shares a little about the cover design for the series, by Jenna Lee, “a Larrakia, Wardaman and Karajarri woman with mixed Asian (Chinese, Japanese and Filipino) and Anglo-Australian ancestry”. The aim of the design is “to highlight and showcase the vibrancy, diversity and nuance of First Nations authors, their voices, and the important stories they share”. The covers are intended “to make sure they are recognisable as a collective set but still allow for individuality to feature, with unique colour combinations and illustrative patterns giving the reader a window into the story within”. I’ve had a look at them, and think they are gorgeous and accessible. Click on the pic and see what you think.

Now, over to you. What – looking at UQP’s inventory – do you think should be in the 2024 set?

(If you are not Aussie, you are welcome to select a First Nations work from your own country if relevant. Of course, you can also name a non-UQP book, as an intellectual exercise, but I’d love to see how close we get to what is selected.)

Monday musings on Australian literature: Prime Minister’s Summer Reading List

The Grattan Institute is an Australian non-aligned, public policy think tank that was established in 2008. Since 2009 it has published, at the end of the year, their Prime Minister’s Summer Reading List. This list, as they wrote on the inaugural 2009 list, comprises “books and articles that the Prime Minister, or any Australian interested in public debate, will find both stimulating and cracking good reads”.

The first two lists contained 8 titles, but since then it has been 6. A curious number, but then, any number would be arbitrary, so why not? Literary editor, Jason Steger, shared the 2022 list last week, and provided some interesting background. This included sharing Grattan’s chief executive Danielle Wood’s explanation that they “try to pick books that have something interesting, original, or thought-provoking to say on issues that are relevant to the Australian policy landscape. The books don’t have to be by local writers or about Australia … but they do have to address issues that have relevance in an Australian policy context.” 2022’s list, which will be formally launched on 8 December, has two books by Americans.

Steger says that no-one knows, usually, whether the Prime Minister reads any of the recommendations. Grattan rarely receives a thank-you letter from the PMs, which is poor. Don’t they have minders to do those things? Isn’t it good manners to thank people for gifts? One Prime Minister, though, has shown interest. Wood told Steger that:

We did hear from one. It was Malcolm [Turnbull]. He asked for the books to be couriered to his holiday home rather than the Lodge and I think he read at least some of them that year. He was probably the most receptive PM to the idea of the list.

Here is the 2022 list in their order, with a small excerpt from their reasoning:

  • Career & family: Women’s century-long journey toward equity, by Claudia Goldin (American researcher on gender economics; nonfiction): “essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the barriers to gender equality – and how we got here”.
  • We come with this place, by Debra Dank (First Nations Australian writer; memoir): “As Australia contemplates a Voice to Parliament, this book reminds us to listen. Listen when the land tells her story. Hear the voices of the traditional owners”.
  • My father and other animals, by Sam Vincent (Australian journalist/writer; memoir): “about regeneration, sustainability, and legacy… a story of how a son learns about his own family, just as much as how he learns to become a farmer”. 
  • Cold enough for snow, by Jessica Au (Australian author; novella): “an inner journey, arriving at the realisation that some gaps can never be bridged, some people will never be fully understood, and some baggage will never fully be shed. And that whether we are ready or not, time carries us forward, forcing our roles to adjust to new circumstances”. (On my TBR; Reviews by Lisa and Brona.)
  • Buried Treasure (in Griffith Review, 77), by Jo Chandler (Australian journalist; essay): on Australia’s million-year ice core project, “a beautiful and hopeful essay about building a collaborative understanding of the rhythms of our planet”
  • Healing: Our path from mental illness to mental health, by Thomas R. Insel (American doctor; nonfiction): “offers a hopeful vision of how we can remake our mental healthcare system”.

So, one work of fiction, one essay, two memoirs and two works of nonfiction.

Here are links to all the lists, by year: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022. There are some interesting books in there, of which I’m sharing one or two from each year, in listing year order:

  • Chloe Hooper’s The tall man (2009, creative nonfiction) 
  • David Malouf’s Ransom (2009, novella) (my review)
  • Noel Pearson’s Radical Hope: Education and Equality in Australia (Quarterly Essay 35) (2009, essay) 
  • Andrew Leigh, Disconnected (2010, nonfiction)
  • Judith Brett’s Fair share (Quarterly Essay 42) (2011, essay)
  • Frank Moorhouse’s Cold light (2011, novel) (my review)
  • Adrian Hyland’s Kinglake-350 (2012, creative nonfiction) 
  • Richard Flanagan’s The narrow road to the deep north (2013, novel) (my review)
  • Joan London’s The golden age (2014, novel) (Lisa’s review)
  • Samuel Wagan Watson’s Love poems and death threats (2015, poetry collection)
  • Stan Grant’s Talking to my country (2016, nonfiction/memoir) (my review)
  • Judith Brett’s The enigmatic Mr Deakin (2017, political biography) (Nathan’s review)
  • Michelle de Kretser’s The life to come (2017, novel) (my review)
  • Robbie Arnott’s Flames (2018, novel) (Lisa’s review)
  • Behrouz Boochani’s No friend but the mountains: Writing from Manus Prison (2018, memoir)
  • Jess Hill’s See what you made me do (2019, nonfiction) (my review)
  • Alex Miller’s Max (2020, novel) (Lisa’s review)
  • Alison Whittaker’s Fire front: First Nations poetry and power today (2020, poetry anthology) (Brona’s review)
  • Paige Clark, She is haunted (2021, short story collection)
  • Rick Morton’s On money (2021, nonfiction)
  • Henry Reynolds’ Truth-telling: History, sovereignty, and the Uluru Statement (2021, nonfiction) (Janine’s review)

I’m particularly interested in the fiction choices, because they have often gone for non-mainstream, more reflective works, and they have also, on occasion, included poetry. I like that. But, why these particular choices?

Well, for Ransom, they write “it’s a tale of transformations” and “if only government reports were written in language like this”. For Cold light, a more obvious choice, they say it’s “about power, secrecy, the mortal struggle between capitalism and communism – and urban planning” and conclude with:

Frank Moorhouse once lamented the fact that, despite all their riches of human experience, Australian novelists had disdained the realms of government and business as ciphers too corrupt and foul for their art. But writing by journalists, academics and policy wonks cannot provide a complete understanding of our society. Fiction also has a vital role; for some readers, the vital role…

For readers like us, I’d say.

The other comment I’d like to make concerns themes and subject matter. Equality – gender equality, yes, but also more broadly – features often. First Nations authors and issues appear regularly, as they should while so much remains unresolved. Books about democracy and how it is faring also keep popping up, unsurprisingly. On the other hand, climate change and the environment, while they do appear, seem to have a relatively low profile in the list by comparison.

If you had the opportunity to make one recommendation to the leader of your country, what would it be? My guess is that Bill’s would be Chelsea Watego’s Another day in the colony. Let’s see if I’m right. Meanwhile, what will Albo read?

Monday musings on Australian literature: Canberra’s children’s picture book creators

Who would have thought that my little capital city of Canberra would have such a rich children’s picture book community, but over recent years I’ve been discovering just how much is going on here. So much so that I thought it might be a worthwhile topic for Brona’s AusReadingMonth.

There’s no way I can be comprehensive, so I’m going to briefly introduce ten children’s picture book creators to give a flavour. How to do this though, given picture books comprise both words and pictures, usually created by different people. We rarely know which came first, but mostly, I believe, it’s the story. So, my list here focuses on Canberra’s authors, but I will reference illustrators they have worked with. The books mentioned range from those for toddlers to primary school-aged children.

I draw heavily on Marion, the newly rebadged ACT Writers Centre, for background info on the authors.

Emma Allen

Allen was a trained early childhood speech pathologist before turning to literature. Her book The terrible suitcase, illustrated by Freya Blackwood, won the 2013 CBCA Book of the Year: Early Childhood award. It has been translated into several languages, including Japanese and Korean. Since then she has written several picture books, with her last, The great book-swapping machine, illustrated, cartoon-style, by Melbourne-based Lisa Coutts.

Nicole Godwin

Godwin is “an award-winning author with a passion for the environment, animal rights and social justice”. Her two books, Jelly-Boy and Swoop, have different illustrators. Jelly-Boy, a cautionary tale about plastic featuring a jellyfish who falls in love with a plastic bag, was illustrated by Sydney-based Christopher Nielsen. In 2020, it won the Conservation Awareness for Children Category in the Whitley Awards. Swoop was illustrated by Canberra illustrator Susannah Crispe. It speaks closely to Canberrans who, every year, brace for swooping magpie season, that is, spring! Like some other picture books I’ve read, it includes information at the end, here on magpies, which adults can share with children.

Godwin has also collaborated with Wiradjuri man Duncan Smith on We are Australians, with illustrator Jandamarra Cadd, a Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Warung descendent.

Irma Gold

Gold is no stranger to this blog, as I’ve reviewed a wide range of her works including two of her three children’s picture books, Megumi and the bear (my review), Where the heart Is (my review) and Seree’s story. The illustrators are, respectively, New Zealand-based Craig Phillips, Susannah Crispe (again) and Sydney-born Wayne Harris. She is “passionate about childhood literacy” and is an Ambassador for the ACT Chief Minister’s Reading Challenge.

Tania McCartney

Tania McCartney and Christina Booth, The Gum Family finds home

McCartney is described as “a book creator” because she has covered the whole gamut of creation from writing and illustrating to editing and design. She has won many awards, and her books have “reached the hands of children in more than 20 countries”. She is also Ambassador for the ACT Chief Minister’s Reading Challenge, and founded Kids’ Book Review and The Happy Book podcast. She has created too many books for me to list, but I did review her The Gum Family finds home, which was illustrated by Tasmanian-based Christina Booth. She is also the author/illustrator of the Plume travel series and I Heart the World.

Amelia McInerney

McInerney is a “humorous picture book author”. Her books have won various awards Her titles include The book chook, My bird, Bertie, and the internationally published Bad crab, illustrated respectively by Connah Brecon, Shane McG and Philip Bunting. Her fourth book, Who fed Zed?, is about food allergy and intolerance and is illustrated by Queensland-based graphic designer and animator, Adam Nickel.

Stephanie Owen Reeder

Reeder is the award-winning author of over 20 books for children, “ranging from picture books to historical novels”. She writes, illustrates, edits and reviews books. She received the Laurie Coping Award for Distinguished Service to Children’s Literature in the ACT in 2019 and is also an Ambassador for the ACT Chief Minister’s Reading Challenge. Again, she has written too many for me to list them all, but two of her latest books, Australia’s wild, weird, wonderful weather and Ghostie were illustrated, respectively by Tania McCartney and New Zealander Mel Armstrong.

Barbie Robinson

Robinson is an “arts journalist, photographer, writer, designer, arts marketing/events manager” who has published two children’s picture books, Grandma’s knicker tree and Charles the gallery dog, both published by For Pity Sake Publishing and illustrated by the now Shoalhaven-based Ian Robertson. Robinson and husband Richard Scherer run the not-for-profit website and internet radio station Living Arts Canberra.

Krys Saclier

Saclier “believes children’s literature has the power to shape the future” and among other things is the creator of the Kids Only podcast. She has published three picture books, Vote 4 me (2020) and Camp Canberra, both illustrated by Cathy Wilcox who is also an award-winning political cartoonist, and Super Nova, illustrated by Rebecca Timmis. Vote 4 me explains preferential voting to children. Love it.

Samantha Tidy

Tidy is an award-winning author of adult, young adult and children’s fiction. Her picture books include The blue polar bear and The flying dream, with her most recent being Our bush capital, illustrated by Canberran Juliett Dudley. Marion’s website says it “offers a beautifully illustrated narration of a child’s funfilled life in Canberra”. Tidy has a new book coming out in 2023, Cloudspotting, illustrated by the clearly busy Susannah Crispe!

Shelly Unwin

Unwin is the author of the age-focused You’re… series, the non-fiction picture book Blast Off!, and There’s a baddie running through this book, illustrated, respectively, by Katherine Battersby, Ben Wood, and Vivienne To. Some of Unwin’s books are being published in the USA. Her latest book, Hello Baby, published in 2021 and geared to the very young, was illustrated by Victorian-based Jedda Robaard.

These ten authors – all women, interestingly – are just some of those working in the children’s literature field in Canberra. Their illustrators – which include some men – are more widely located, but they include Canberra-based ones like Susannah Crispe, Juliet Dudley and Cathy Wilcox. The subject-matter is wonderfully diverse – from books dealing with children’s lives (like You’re one and Hello baby) and life in Canberra (like Our bush capital) through informative books (like Blast off!) to issues-based ones (like Jelly-boy addressing environmental concerns). There’s something for everyone. I already have a few of them, and I’ll be buying more.