Monday musings on Australian literature: Untapped (The Australian Literary Heritage Project)

I have Lisa (ANZLitLovers) to thank for this Monday Musings because, commenting on my recent Margaret Barbalet post, she mentioned this Untapped project, which, embarrassingly, was unknown to me. Then, seeing our discussion, novelist Dorothy Johnston joined in, and offered to send me some information, which she did. So, I now have a copy of the launch announcement press release. This eased my embarrassment a little, as the project was announced two months ago, on 18 November 2021, and was launched on 6 December (at this gala event). Easy to miss, says she, at such a busy time of year!

Yes, yes, but what is it, I hear you all saying? Essentially, Untapped aims “to identify Australia’s lost literary treasures and bring them back to life”. In other words, it’s about bringing to the fore again those books that have been published in the past but are now out-of-print. The books are produced in eBook format, and are available for borrowing from libraries and purchase from several eBooksellers.

I like that it’s “a collaboration between authors, libraries and researchers”, and that “it creates a new income source for Australian authors, who currently have few options for getting their out-of-print titles available in libraries”. The project has some significant partners, including the Australian Society of Authors, National State and Territory Libraries, the Australian Library and Information Association and Ligature Press. 

What a visionary and practical project. I am particularly thrilled about it because it ties in somewhat with our reframing this year of the Australian Women Writers Challenge (AWW) to focus on forgotten and past women writers. The two activities don’t completely align: the new AWW is focusing on works published fifty or more years ago, whereas Untapped focuses on books that have gone out of print, and many of these are far more recent than 50 years old.

On the Untapped website, linked above, they have clearly outlined the steps:

  1. Identify missing books: it seems that the current collection comprises 161 books, which they describe as an “inclusive and diverse selection of lost books in need of rescue”.
  2. Find the authors and obtain the rights: this, I imagine, would have been particularly time consuming, tracking down the appropriate people to deal with – authors, estates and/or literary agents.
  3. Digitise the works: this involved scanning, then using OCR to convert the text, followed by careful proof-reading and scan quality checking. For this proofreading they focused on “hiring arts workers affected by COVID”. Then there’s all the work involved in (digital) publication, including design, metadata, royalty accounting, and uploading onto the library lending and other platforms.
  4. Promote the collection: this is where the libraries come into their own, promoting the collection in their various ways, and ensuring payment to the authors. Dorothy Johnston mentioned in her comment on my post that “we’re hoping to generate some publicity through the Geelong Regional Libraries this year”. She’d love to find any other “current or past writers living in or writing about Geelong” who might be covered by the collection. If you live in Geelong, keep an eye out for this.
  5. Collect the data and crunch the numbers: like any good project, its managers will analyse the sales and loan data. Their aim is “to understand the value of out-of-print rights to authors, the value of libraries’ book promotion efforts, and the relationship between library lending and sales”. They will feed this data, they say, “into public policy discussions about how we can best support Australian authors and literary culture”. They also hope the project might encourage new interest from commercial publishers. This research aspect is led by Rebecca Giblin, Associate Professor of Law, University of Melbourne.

As I understand it, the initial project involves this collection of 161 books, and the research will be based on this, but having created the infrastructure, they plan to “keep rescuing lost literary treasures” for as long as they have the resources to do so. The books will also be lodged at the National Library as part of its e-deposit scheme, ensuring that they’ll be available “for as long as libraries exist”.

It’s a great initiative that will spotlight work from beloved Australian authors and provide new access to those works. (Olivia Lanchester, CEO, Australian Society of Authors from Press Release)

The books

When Lisa mentioned the project, it was to say she’d bought Margaret Barbalet’s non-fiction book, Low gutter girl: The forgotten world of state wards, South Australia, 1887–1940. So, curious, I checked the site out, and bought Canberra tales, the anthology of short stories by Canberra’s Seven Writers (Margaret Barbalet, Sara Dowse, Suzanne Edgar, Marian Eldridge, Marion Halligan, Dorothy Horsfield, Dorothy Johnston) .

However, Lisa’s purchase should tell you something interesting about the collection, which is that it contains not only fiction. It includes a wide range of genres and forms, including novels, histories, memoirs, and poetry. The project also wanted a diverse collection, so there are works by First Nations author Anita Heiss, Greek-born Vogel/The Australian award winning author Jim Sakkas, and Lebanese-born writer and academic Abbas El-Zein, to name a few. Their books are all 21st century, but, there are also significantly older books, like Katharine Susannah Prichard’s Intimate strangers (1937) and M. Barnard Eldershaw’s Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow (1947).

I thought, of course, to check my own library, the ACT Library Service, and found an announcement on their website. Not surprisingly, they draw attention to a Canberra connection, as Johnston would like to do in Geelong:

The books include some with a connection to Canberra, through the author or substantial Canberra-related content. For example: The golden dress by Marion Halligan, One for the master by Dorothy Johnston, The moth hunters by Josephine Flood, The schoonermaster’s dance by Alan Gould, and others.

I should add that all of Canberra’s Seven Writers are included.

So, a wonderful project. The question is, will it achieve its goal of ensuring the long tail of authors’ works stay available in a world where money not culture rules?

Monday musings on Australian literature: Reflections of a 1970s feminist

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a feminist, but Bill suggested that, for his AWW Gen 4 week, I “could ‘review’ The female eunuch by discussing your experience of Women’s Lib at uni”.

I replied that I could probably do “Reflections of a 1970s feminist” but that it wouldn’t be exactly what he was thinking. The thing is, I chose to go to a new, progressive university (Macquarie) though many of my peers from school preferred the “name” one (Sydney). I’m sure things weren’t perfect at Macquarie, but in my experience women were treated well, there. It had no baggage of “traditions” that the older male-dominated universities had, and its academics seemed invested in creating something new. I think that made a difference.

Macquarie’s motto is Chaucer’s “and gladly teche” (from the lines “gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche”). I always thought it a bit strange that the motto focused on “teaching” more than “learning” but now I think it’s inspired, because it reminds the academics that “teaching” is where it all starts. All this is to say that, although I read The female eunuch during this time and was strongly affected by it personally, I wasn’t aware of an active feminist presence on my campus. However, there are things I could say about growing up from the 50s to 70s and why Greer made such an impact on me. 

A baby-boomer childhood

My father, like many men of his between-the-wars generation, wanted a son, but his first two children were daughters, me first, then my sister. A son came along, but a few years later. I never felt unloved or unwanted – indeed, I was very much loved – but we grew up, in the main, in a traditional role-oriented household. We had an intellectually frustrated but devoted stay-at-home mum and breadwinning father. Household tasks were largely gendered, with Mum looking after inside, and Dad outside – and we children followed suit. That’s how it mostly was back then, so it didn’t seem particularly strange.

Conversely, it also didn’t seem strange that my sister and I were encouraged in our education, that it was assumed that we’d go to university and on to work, and that marriage and children were sort of assumed some time down the track but were never focused on. Consequently, while my sister and I were expected to help with “women’s work” like washing and drying dishes after meals, it was only on weekends and holidays. Schoolwork came first.

They were schizophrenic times, then, and jokes were often gendered. One, I particularly remember, concerned junk car yards, which were called, by the menfolk as we drove past, “ladies’ driving school”. Yet, my Mum drove and we were encouraged to get our licences. It didn’t make sense. Was it a “little” attempt by men to retain their superiority as we encroached on their domain?

Feminism to the fore

As the 60s moved into the 70s, however, Women’s Liberation, as we called the second wave of feminism, came to popular attention. I read The female eunuch within a year or so of its publication, in my first year of university. It bowled me over, giving structure and a theoretical underpinning for how my thoughts were developing. It was both easy and not easy being a young woman then. The free-love hippy movement of the 60s gave women increasing freedom to be themselves in dress and behaviour – but old habits die hard and the pressure to conform to ideals of beauty ran alongside. Moreover, as Kate Jennings made clear in her famous Front Lawn speech in 1970, the appearance of increasing freedom for women was not matched by the reality. The recent documentary Brazen hussies documents these times very well. I was forging my own path through this, eschewing the trappings of “beauty” and dressing naturally, comfortably, sans make-up, hair colour, high heels, and so on.

Again, my family supported me. No comments were made – to my face anyhow! – but the women’s movement did not pass unnoticed. Another little anecdote, I remember, concerns my paternal grandparents, born in 1889 and 1893. They were kind, generous people, but Grandpa wasn’t averse to little digs at “women’s libbers”, including a time when Gran surprised him by suggesting she occupy the front seat of the car when my Dad was driving them home after a visit. Gran got the seat, and their marriage continued its loving way. Gran was great fun, and did her best to keep up with the times.

Moving along into the 1980s and 90s, I did marry and have children, and I chose – it was a choice – to work part-time at a time when part-time work was not well-supported in the Australian (then Commonwealth) Public Service. My good friend and work colleague had a child at the same time, so we proposed that we job-share. That was quite a saga, one too long to fully tell here. We were supported by our immediate boss, a woman a few years older than we were, and, generally, by the rest of the senior management, but we did face opposition from a few, including the female head of HR. With no regulations in place at the time for administering permanent part-time work, we needed the support of HR to make it work on paper (which included applying for leave-without-pay every week for the hours we weren’t working). We got there, eventually, but it was disappointing to find the greatest opposition coming from (some) women.

Through all of this and other feminist challenges along the way, Germanine Greer’s arguments – and those of the writers I was reading in Ms magazine, edited for a while by Australia’s Anne Summers* – underpinned my confidence that my choices and ideas were valid.

Reading women writers

It was around this time – that is, in the 1980s – that I started prioritising women writers in my reading, a priority I have maintained ever since. Virago Press was one of the inspirations for this, and I regularly scanned bookshop shelves, looking for the identifying green spine. There were other women-focused presses around, but Virago editions, in particular, inspired many of us, as we realised just how many great women writers had been forgotten. This is when I fell in love with Elizabeth von Arnim, Maya Angelou, Zora Neale Hurston and E.H. Young, to name a few.

Book cover

However, this is Monday Musings on Australian literature, so I thought I’d close on the Australian novelists who inspired me at the time. But first, back to my Mum. I grew up with reading parents, and my Mum had on her shelves – besides Jane Austen and other favourite classics – Henry Handel Richardon’s Australia Felix trilogy, Eleanor Dark’s The timeless land, M. Barnard Eldershaw’s A house is built, Eve Langley’s The pea pickers, and Thea Astley’s first novels.

So, when women’s writing started to really take off again in the 1980s I was attuned – and started reading, in that decade, novels by Thea Astley, Jessica Anderson, Elizabeth Jolley, and Olga Masters, to name a few. These writers, their contemporaries and those who followed them, including now, First Nations women writers, have added immeasurably to my understanding of myself as a woman and a person. They have helped me be comfortable in my shoes, but have also shown me where things need to change, personally and politically. I would not be who I am today without them.

A fundamental feminist principle – obvious to those who understand, but not to those who, for their own reasons, wish to remain obtuse – is that feminism is not about the sexes being the same but about all people being equal in terms of rights and respect. Germaine Greer puts it a different way in her Preface to the 21st Anniversary Paladin edition of The female eunuch. She says it’s about freedom, “the freedom to be a person, with the dignity, integrity, nobility, passion, pride that constitute personhood”, freedom from fear and hunger, freedom of speech and belief. As she says in this 1991 edition – and unfortunately it’s still true – things have changed, but not enough. It’s therefore wonderful seeing a new generation of feminists picking up the baton. They don’t always get it right, anymore than previous generations did, but womanhood – and personhood – is, I believe, in good hands.

* Anne Summers, of course, wrote another now-classic Australian feminist work, Damned whores and God’s police (Lisa’s post)

Monday musings on Australian literature: Greek-Australian literature

In a Sydney Writers Festival conversation with Michelle de Kretser, Andrew Pippos, winner of the 2021 Readings Prize for his debut novel, Lucky’s, said “the fact that we can talk about a Greek-Australian literary tradition is a sign that Australian literature is developing”. It made me think about Greek-Australian literature and what I know about it, which is not a lot, really.

First, though, what does he mean by his statement? I’m assuming he means that Australian literature is enriched by encompassing significant, identifiable bodies of work from Australia’s constituent cultures, that when there are such bodies of work they reflect on, feed into and, therefore, change and expand the majority culture?

When I think about my own reading of Greek-Australian literature, it is, of course, Christos Tsiolkas who comes to mind. Before him was Beverley Farmer. She is not Greek, but she married a Greek man and lived for some time in Greece, which experience fed into her early writing. I loved her insight into village life and relationships – but that was more about an Australian experiencing Greek culture in Greece.

Greek-Australian literature “proper” goes way back and, in my superficial Internet search I uncovered rather a lot about it, most, though, behind paywalls. Some of those had useful abstracts, and some I could access via my membership of the National Library. I skim-read a couple. But, I also found a blog, From the plastic pen, containing a post that had also been published in Meanjin in 2017. The post is titled “Living in a hyphe-nation: Exploring the Greek-Australian identity through literature”, and the author is Peter Papathanasiou. Papathanasiou is Greek-born and Australian-raised, and has just published a debut crime novel, The stoning, featuring a Greek-Australian detective.

Concerned about the next generation, the Greek-Australian-Australians, Papathanasiou posed the question:

How had Greek writers in Australia explored their hyphenated identity, and what could future generations—including other ethnic minorities—learn from their writings?

And then, he shares some literary history that I had found in those pay-walled academic articles. The earliest example of Greek-Australian literature, he says, was oral poetry at the start of the 1900s, which was shared “at events such as family celebrations, social gatherings, and entertainment in smoke-filled coffee houses (kafeneia)”. Poetry, Papathanasiou, says “has traditionally played a central role in Greek literature” and it continues here “although all types of Greek-Australian literature (poetry, prose, drama, theatre) have been represented, poetry collections have predominated”. Not reading a lot of poetry, I wasn’t aware of this, though I have read Komninos (1991), by Greek-Australian performance poet, Komninos Zervos.

Anyhow, Papathanasiou says that the first Greek-Australian literary work to be published was George Nicolaides’ short story “To gramma tis manas (Letter to mother)”, in 1913  Afstralia. From the beginning, he says, “family was a central theme, along with social issues, community activities, and migrant experiences”. He discusses the various waves of migration. In the 1920s, Orthodox Christians driven out of Asia Minor following the Turkish War of Independence brought well-educated immigrants who “introduced new subjects to the local literary scene because of the atrocities, poverty, and political upheavals they witnessed”. Then World War 2 and post-war migration brought stories of “the Greek army’s heroic fight against the Axis powers, and the united struggle of Greek and Australian soldiers against a common enemy”.

However, he said these waves did not result in much exploration of the Greek-Australian identity. These first-generation migrants wrote mainly in Greek and were “largely preoccupied with exile and dislocation, and haunted by trauma”. They wrote about “the fear of ageing and dying far from the homeland, patriotism (to Greece, not Australia), communication difficulties, and problems adapting and assimilating”. A change in theme came when second-generation migrants started writing in English, and their “connection to the fatherland” grew increasingly distant. They were were interested in “ethnicity and hybridity”, and their writing changed “from loss and yearning to identity and self” and

the rigid identity of the alienated migrant fell away, replaced by a new entity: the hyphenated Australian, whose conflict was more internal than external. These writers explored the dilemma of living between two worlds and with dual identities, the use and maintenance of Greek language and traditions, and surviving in a modern Australia while still bound by conservative parents. It was tense writing, fraught with internal conflict and doubt.

With third generation Greek-Australians now on the scene, Papathanasiou suggests that the subject-matter is changing again. There are still explorations of migration and identity, but these are no longer exclusive. Contemporary “Greek-Australian writers deal with a broad range of subjects including class, culture, gender, sexuality, faith, politics, economics, and sport, and blend various genres including memoir, autobiography, travelogue, and magic realism”.

Interestingly, alongside his discussion of subject matter, Papathanasiou also tracks changes in the publishing of Greek-Australian writing from self-publishing, at the start, through small independent publishers, like UQP and Fremantle Press, to the bigger publishers like Allen and Unwin, who have not only published some Greek Vogel award-winners but also publish Christos Tsiolkas. Pippos’ Lucky’s was published by Pan Macmillan.

Papathanasiou’s perspective, written in 2017, is similar to that written in 2014 by Penni Pappas on the Neo Kosmos website. She describes a similar trajectory in publishing and subject-matter, drawing in particular on the work of Helen Nickas who established Owl Publishing in 1992, to publish writing by Greek-Australian writers. George Kanarakis, writing in The Cud, provides another, and similar, but more detailed survey of Greek writing in Australia. All are worth reading if you are interested in the subject.

The cafes

Meanwhile, I thought I’d conclude on a quick reference to cafes, because most Australians of a certain age will remember at least one Greek cafe in their neighbourhood or on roadtrips. Pippos’ publisher, Pan Macmillan writes that, as a child, he regularly visited the family’s café in Brewarrina, NSW. These early experiences “laid the foundation of his work as a writer”:

The compelling role of the Greek-Australian café within modern Australian identity is increasingly documented in popular culture and history books alike. While sadly few exist now, for much of the second half of the twentieth century these cafés could be found on urban shopping streets and in rural country towns. They represented a new Australian zeitgeist and symbolised every-day multiculturalism. The Greek-Australian cafe milieu gave Andrew his earliest sense of community.

Lucky’s is set around a restaurant chain. You can read Lisa’s thoughts in her review.

A few years ago, I reviewed a little (literally) memoir – from the FL smalls collection – Growing up cafe (my review) by Greek-Australian, Phillip Stamatellis. I enjoyed his evocation of a cafe-based childhood.

The aforementioned Komninos also has cafe heritage. On his website we are told that “his maternal grandfather came to Australia in 1908 to work in a café”, and he, himself, born in Melbourne in 1950, grew up living above his family’s cafe-fish shop. There are poems about cafes in his collections.

It’s pretty clear that the Greeks enjoyed cafe culture long before we Anglo-origin Australians ever did (and in so doing they enriched our culture). But, for many second generation Greeks, as Stamatellis shares, the cafe which provided a living for the parents also brought challenges for the children

my nostalgia is burdened by an unseen weight, a sense of entrapment.

Anyhow, I enjoyed my brief foray into Greek-Australian literature, partly because its trajectory seems similar to those of other diaspora literatures here, albeit they may be on different points on the continuum. It brought to mind my recent post on Diversity and memoir and the idea that writers from culturally diverse backgrounds do not want to be tied to writing about that background. In the Greek-Australian case it seems like there’s been a progression from a close focus on their heritage to broader concerns. Is this is the trajectory that most immigrant literatures will naturally take – or is it forced upon them for lack of support and opportunity?

Thoughts?

Monday musings on Australian literature: Diversity and memoir

Anita Heiss, Growing up Aboriginal in Australia

Hands up if you’ve read memoirs by First Nations writers, Immigrant writers, Gay writers, Transgender writers, Writers with a disability, and so on? I sure have, and have reviewed several on this blog – including ones by Archie Roach, Marie Munkara, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Alice Pung, Maxine Beneba Clarke, and Jessica White. Black Inc has a whole series – the Growing Up anthologies – devoted to life stories from people of diverse backgrounds. These are excellent for explaining “otherness” to the rest of us.

However, while reading for my recent Monday Musings on the stories we need/want, I came across this comment in the article I used by Lin Li Ng:

BIPOC [Black, Indigenous or People Of Colour] writers are also so often confined to the realms of memoir where they must write about identity, experiences as the ‘other’. And while such texts are necessary and so often relatable for the BIPOC reader, it made me wonder: How much longer BIPOC writers can keep writing about otherness? How much longer must they explain otherness?

It made me stop and think … and decide it was worth highlighting in a separate post.

Lin Li Ng is not a lone voice in this. Last year, SBS ran a competition for writers aged 18 plus ‘to submit a memoir piece of 1000-2000 words on the topic of “Growing up in diverse Australia”‘. It was so successful, they are running it again this year, with the theme, “Between Two Worlds: stories from a diverse Australia”. Again, the request is for a “first-person memoir piece, between 1,000-2,000 words”.

Responding to the 2020 competition, Kelly Bartholomeusz wrote in Overland, “Stop asking ‘diverse writers’ to tell you about their lives”:

It is frustrating to see opportunities for ‘diverse writers’ linked to their willingness to write narrowly about their diversity. This approach disqualifies the many talented writers who have already processed or written about these experiences, and who have bigger visions or better imaginations than to endlessly revisit the same questions.

Bartholomeusz says there’s “nothing inherently wrong with memoir”, and she doesn’t want to “disrespect … writers of colour and First Nations writers who work predominantly in this space”, because this “work has value”. However, writing about one’s life “should not be a condition of entry to the industry, and if it is, it should not be disguised as ‘opportunity’”. Indeed, she says,

Diversity of background doesn’t automatically result in diversity of thought, and a system that requires these voices to answer the same questions ad nauseum is dangling a carrot just out of reach, effectively limiting that which it claims to encourage. 

She also fears that encouraging – if not requiring – writers of diverse background to focus on otherness

will condition aspiring writers to believe that their only value is in their marginalisation and otherness, to be consumed as palatable morsels by predominantly upper-middle-class white audiences who will talk about these stories in bars and over brunch, and who will form a subconscious belief that they understand these experiences because they have read about them.

This final point is one that bothers me when I write posts like these, and when I review works by “diverse” writers. Is it offensive or smug to think that privileged I can “help” by writing these? It niggles at me.

Bartholomeusz also talks about being asked, on a writing scheme application, to detail “ways in which the publishing industry was previously inaccessible” to her. She sees an inherent irony in the question, “as if these factors are easy to categorise and quantify. As if they can be cleanly extracted from the murky swirl of complexity that characterises most non-white Australians’ lives”.

Her arguments are cogent, but First Nations author, Ambelin Kwaymullina, has also talked about the publishing issue, back in 2015. She says:

I’ve had publishers express the sentiment to me that they’d love to publish more diverse voices if only they received more manuscripts. However, given that this approach hasn’t yet resulted in any great increase in diversity, I think it’s perhaps time to conclude that ‘business as usual’ won’t achieve the desired outcome. The existing inequity of opportunity being what it is (especially for Indigenous writers who are most disadvantaged) means that more is required.

She says there is a lack of “Indigenous editorial expertise” resulting in Indigenous writers not having people sensitive to their culture involved in the editing and publishing process. She praised the State Library of Queensland’s black&write! program because it offers “both Indigenous writing fellowships and Indigenous editorial internships”.

Five years later, Lin Li Ng makes a similar point when she says that “diverse” writers don’t have champions in the industry. In other words, people like them, who understand them, who can “advocate for and support” them “with sensitivity”, are not “the gatekeepers with great decision-making power”. There are exceptions, of course – some good publishers supporting more marginalised writers – but they are just that, exceptions.

To end, though, I’ll return to the content issue. Lin Li Ng says that

texts by diverse writers, as a result of systemic practices, are made to sit on the peripheries of the literary landscape – they are treated as niche, so very unattainable, un-relatable and of little commercial value.

Book cover

So, she is saying, when diverse writers are published they tend to be sidelined as “niche”. This can be partly because their subject matter is deemed to be of narrow or specific interest. It can also be because their style may not be that of the majority culture. Think Shokoofeh Azar’s The enlightenment of the greengage tree (my review), for one – though it did break through, a little. There are works coming from young First Nations and Asian writers, for example, that challenge the norms, but they are not reaching the big markets, and only rarely appear on award long and shortlists. Even the Stella Prize, which aims to support marginalised women writers, will have some books from the more “diverse” end of the spectrum on longlists, but amongst the winners? Not so much.

Things are changing. We are seeing more diverse voices on the screen and stage, not to mention colour-blind casting and storytelling. However, my sense is, particularly when I look at awards lists, which are not the be-all I know, that we have a long way to go yet. And, I admit, I could lift my game – a lot!

Thoughts, anyone?

Monday musings on Australian literature: The stories we want or, is it, need?

Back in 2019, I wrote a Monday Musings on the Stella judges’ call for more “narratives from outside Australia”. I teased out a little what that might mean, but, a couple of years down the track, I think it worth further exploring the questions it opens up.

Commenting on that post, Lisa (ANZLitLovers) wrote:

What I’d like more of (and I get it sometimes) is Australian literature with an *awareness* of the rest of the world and of the cultures that make up our society. You can see it in the fiction of Michelle de Kretser, Andrea Goldsmith, S K Karakaltsis, and Amanda Curtin, plus the writers you’ve mentioned in your post. It’s also there in the novels of Simon Cleary, A S Patric and Rodney Hall, among others.

You don’t see it in domestic novels with a monotone cast of characters.

We talk a lot in the blogosphere about some of the contemporary issues surrounding literature. In Australia, this particularly revolves around diversity and “own voices”. Enabling more people from our community to tell their stories makes for a richer community, but don’t take it from me … here is an interesting article by Julianne Schultz in The Guardian in 2017 (which is an edited version of Griffith Review 58 piece). Schultz quotes Irish commentator Fintan O’Toole on the importance of stories to nations:

Nations tells themselves stories … They are not fully true, they are often bitterly contested and they change over time. But they are powerful: they underlie the necessary fiction that is ‘us’. And at the moment, it is not quite clear what the Irish story is.”

She goes on to say that O’Toole’s description could apply equally well to Australia where

the old stories have also become threadbare, and increasingly fail to capture the contemporary reality or the complexity of the past.

She backs this up with facts which demonstrate that contemporary Australia is more diverse and complex, less isolated, more accessible, than before, and yet we struggle, she says, to define exactly who we are and what the values of this new Australia are. We pride ourselves on our “multiculturalism”, supported by old values like “egalitarianism”, but, in fact, we are not particularly unique in these regards. She says:

So when political leaders praise multiculturalism but make citizenship more difficult to attain, or when they talk about preventing desperate refugees from dying at sea but leave them to languish in offshore refugee camps, or when they promise to recognise Indigenous rights but call a measured discussion about first settlement “Stalinist”, the message is clear and hypocritical.

For cultures to flourish, rather than simply survive, she argues, “they need to be tended and nurtured”. Telling stories is one way of doing this, “stories about people and place, about belonging and being out of place, of changing and staying the same, of interrogating history and locating those who were once left out”. Do read the article; her thoughts are cogent, and she makes an important political point about the role our leaders should play. Meanwhile, let’s move on to what those stories could be …

Stories we need

Lisa has a point about “an *awareness* of the rest of the world and of the cultures that make up our society”, and we could add to this the big concerns of our time, including human rights (across the spectrum of gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, age), climate change, and increasing social and economic inequity. These aren’t mutually exclusive, and in fact they make most sense, tell a richer story, when they jostle against each other in the works we read.

Things are changing. We are seeing more fiction and poetry by First Nations Australians, Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, women and non-binary Australians, and so on. However, we are not there yet. During the 2020 pandemic, writer Lin Li Ng decided that she wanted “to only read books written by Black, Indigenous or People of Colour (BIPOC) writers or non-BIPOC female writers”, but when she looked at her TBR bookshelves, she was dismayed to find that only around 10% were by BIPOC writers and 25% by non-BIPOC female writers.

And yet, in her Master of Writing and Publishing studies, Lin Li had written “a thesis on the experiences of Asian-Australian women – writers and publishing professionals – in the Australian trade publishing industry” so she knew the issues. What surprised her, then, was her own choices, that although she “had recognised the systemic barriers and failings of the industry”, she hadn’t realised how much she had absorbed the message that English and Western literature and art are ‘quality’, and had been convinced that works by BIPOC authors weren’t as good as those by non-BIPOC authors. But, she wants to see herself, her experiences and her values in the literature and art she engages with, and concludes that as a POC female reader, she is “part of an audience that deserves diverse stories that appeal to it”.

Yes! So, I’ve highlighted “herself, her experiences and her values” because this is the crux, isn’t it. The question is what does she, and what do we, mean by these?

When I say “myself” and my “experiences”, do I just mean, in my case, a middle-class, older white woman? Or, do I mean an Australian moving around in a diverse, multicultural society? I probably mean both. I want to read about people just like me, who are grappling with the specific challenges people like me are confronting, but I also want to read about how we, as Australians, are living in our modern society. What are its challenges and how can we make it work better?

Alexis Wright, Carpentaria

When I say “values”, it gets more complex, and, I think, more interesting, but how to talk about them without getting bogged down. I’m going to be simplistic and suggest there are two types of values – the personal, which is the moral, ethical code by which we live, and the social, which encompasses the values that we believe in as a society or culture. By this latter meaning, liberal western democracies have a certain set of values to do with individualism, progress and freedom, accompanied by an uneasy nod to the common good. By contrast, First Nations people have very different values grounded in community and sharing, and, for want of a better word, an interdependent connection to country. I’m not going to elaborate all the cultures in Australia, but Muslim cultures have their own values, and so on.

This is all a bit simplistic, I realise, but it’s hopefully enough to make my main point, which is that some of these values work well together while others are in direct conflict, and yet, here we are all living together. Platitudes about our being egalitarian and a “successful multicultural society” don’t really cut it – any more, anyhow. This, I think, is where many of us are looking to Australian literature, if not for answers, at least for questions and reflections.

There is literature doing this, writing that tackles head on the challenge of clashing values, like Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria (my post), AS Patrić’s Black rock white city (my review) and Claire G Coleman’s Terra nullius (my review). These books are very different in style and form, but each forces us to look at who we are and to think about who we want to be.

There is so much more to say about this, so many angles to explore literature and storytelling from, so many broader and narrower questions to consider, but I’ll stop here for now, and just ask,

What do you think?

Monday musings on Australian literature: Novelistic re-imaginings

Years ago I read a Guardian article titled “Top 10 novels inspired by Shakespeare”. Written by Sally O’Reilly, it started with “Shakespeare famously customised existing plots when writing his plays, and added to them an acute perception of human experience which gave them universal significance.” I thought, then, that it might be fun to share a few Australian novels that customise or are inspired by existing plots from well-known works. There are many, of course, because it is a popular thing to do, so I just plan to get the ball rolling from some of the books I’ve reviewed here, and then throw it to the rest of you to share those you’ve read, Australian and otherwise.

Janette Turner Hospital, Orpheus lost

When I started thinking about this topic, I immediately thought of relevant books I’ve read over the last couple of decades, like Jane Smiley’s One thousand acres (Shakespeare’s King Lear), Lloyd Jones’ Mr Pip (Dickens’ Great expectations), and, of course, Jean Rhys’ The wide Sargasso Sea (Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre). None of these are Australian, however, but they might clue you into the challenge I had in titling this post, because “re-imaginings” come in many forms. Examples include retelling a story from a different perspective, setting the story in a different place and time, and providing prequels or sequels to a story. Some stick closely to the original story and characters while others are more in the “loosely inspired” or “loosely based on” category. The variations are endless.

Why do writers do this? There’s probably a different answer for every writer, but some reasons do seem to recur. One is the desire to tell a story from a different perspective, such as, for example, a feminist one to redress the problematic views of an earlier time. Another is to bring a story that the writer thinks has something important to say to a modern audience. We don’t always know exactly why writers decide to do this, but, like most readers, I like to have a guess.

And yet, I have to admit that I tend to be anxious about them. Do I know the original, and if not, should I read it first? What if I don’t want to read it first? Should I still read the re-imagining. If I do know the original, will I remember it well enough to understand the author’s intentions? More often than not, it works out fine, whether I’ve read the original or not – but I never learn my lesson, and next time, I go through it all again.

Mirandi Riwoe, The fish girl

Anyhow, here is a random few that I’ve reviewed on my blog. I’m listing them alphabetically by author. I did consider trying to categorise them – but decided that would take me down a rabbit-hole!

  • Janet Turner Hospital’s Orpheus lost (2007) (my review): reimagines the Orpheus story, with a feminist perspective, making the woman the would-be rescuer.
  • David Malouf’s Ransom (2009) (my review): re-visions the section of the Iliad in which Priam visits Achilles to ask for his son’s body back. Malouf said he wanted to suggest a new kind of human, non-heroic consciousness, by having Priam “do something extraordinary”.
  • Mirandi Riwoe’s The fish girl (2018) (my review): a “post-colonial response” to Somerset Maugham’s short story “The four Dutchmen”. She gives the girl a backstory, and explores it from the perspective of the colonised, particularly colonised young women. She shows that young women were pawns in both the hands of colonial powers and of their own men.
  • Roslyn Russell’s Maria returns: Barbados to Mansfield Park (2014) (my review): an imagined sequel to Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, in which Russell redeems the banished adulteress Maria Bertram and “runs with” the hints regarding slavery in Austen’s novel.
  • Danielle Wood’s Mothers Grimm (2014) (my review): re-visions some Grimm Brothers’ fairytales – “Rapunzel“, “Hansel and Gretel“, “Sleeping Beauty“, and “The Goose Girl“ – to reflect on and question contemporary motherhood.

Geraldine Brooks’ March (2006), which I read before blogging, is another well-known Australian example. She takes the absent father from Little women, Mr March, and creates story about him, focusing on his role in the Civil War.

Danielle Wood, Mothers Grimm, book cover

Not surprisingly, classics (in both senses of the words), myths and fairy-tales feature strongly in these re-imaginings because they provide a springboard that doesn’t have to be explained to the reader. The exception, in my list, is Riwoe’s The fish girl which takes a Somerset Maugham short story. Maugham is well-known, of course, but not necessarily the short story used here. We could, however, call it the exception that proves the rule, in that in the end these works do need to stand on their own, with the original work adding depth for those who know it, rather than being a prerequisite.

What do you think? And, have you read novelistic re-imaginings? Do you like them, and why or why not? We’d love to hear from you.

Living under COVID-19 (5): Holds on happiness

It’s nearly a year since I wrote a COVID-19 post. I nearly wrote one a few months ago when things were going COVID-normal smoothly, by which I mean our lives were minimally restricted, with daily life being as free as we could hope given the world-wide situation. We (I mean we Ken Behrens) were visiting friends and family around Australia. We were dining out, going to the movies and theatre, playing sport, visiting museums and galleries, and so on. Gradually, even generous distancing rules had been removed. Certainly, we were not wearing masks. (We were, though, still sanitising and checking-in.) I wondered what I could say, given life in most other parts of the world was still comparatively more restricted. Life was generally pleasant.

But then, Delta made its way here and we were not prepared because we – for, mostly, political reasons – were too far behind in the “race” to vaccinate, and it left us exposed. Now, our two largest states, and my little Capital Territory, are locked down. It is the right thing, I believe, to prioritise health and life, equitably, while we get our vaccination levels up – but it’s not easy. It is in this environment that I remembered the inimitable Jane Austen’s suggestion that

It is well to have as many holds on happiness as possible. (Henry Tilney to Catherine Moreland, Northanger Abbey)

I thought to share some of my holds on happiness …

Only connect (EM Forster)

For most of us, the best “hold” is connecting with family and friends. Those who, like me, live with supportive others are lucky to at least have built-in company, but even we need some variety. It’s been said ad infinitum, but how lucky are we, compared to those who suffered through the Spanish Flu or the plague pandemics, in being able to remain in quality contact with others through WhatsApp, Telegram, FaceTime, Zoom, and so on.

For me, WhatsApp chats replacing a regular lunch with friends, FaceTime sessions with our son, his partner and our grandson, Zoom catch-ups and meetings, and emails, blogging, and common old phone calls with our daughter and others, are keeping me sane and connected. They can also provide some joy. Have you ever tried playing hide-and-seek via FaceTime with a three-year-old? It can be done!

Other connections come from regular visits to our local PO to get the mail. We love our local post office workers. And to cafes for takeaway coffee and food. We love our favourite cafe owners too!

‘Twill do me good to walk (Shakespeare)

If connecting with people is important, equally so is exercise. It distracts the mind, keep us fit and tires the body (which is a useful thing in a constrained life!) Fortunately, we are allowed to exercise outside, and for most of us that’s walking. In some jurisdictions some sports are also allowed, but Mr Gums and I don’t do organised sports.

So, for us, exercise comprises walking in the nature park across the road, gardening, joining our zoomed Tai Chi classes – and, for me, doing yoga via my Yoga With Adrienne app. (You can also find her on YouTube if you are interested. She is delightful, and a good if imperfect substitute for my own wonderful teacher/neighbour.)

The thing about these activities is that, besides being good for our minds and bodies, they provide structure to our days. Structure, we learnt pretty quickly, is important to getting through endless days that look the same. Each morning, we say, “what are we doing today?” and make a plan of action (or inaction, as it sometimes is.)

Indulge your imagination (Jane Austen)

Exercise might distract the mind, but the mind and spirit also need feeding, and again, technology is helping us out. Of course, there are books, and they are my mainstay, as they are for many others. But, most of us need more – whether this be movie outings with others, live music gigs and concerts, theatre, festivals of all persuasions – and it is these that have been so affected by COVID-19. However, it is also in these that technology has been best able to help (albeit not ideal).

It is also plague season again in London and the playhouses are shut. (Maggie O’Farrell, Hamnet)

I don’t need to tell you about streamed movies. It seems that every time I turn around there’s a new service. I have no idea where to start with all that so, although we are a technologically-focused pair, we haven’t chosen one yet. There’s enough available on free-to-air so far to entertain and inform us, because if there’s one thing we’ve been doing, it’s been keeping informed.

I have written in previous Living with COVID-19 posts about online writers’ events. I haven’t attended many recently, but I did join the ACT Writers Centre F*ck Covid afternoon (and have written about that.) The participants included established and emerging writers, and they were so generously open and articulate about their work and practice.

We have also attended webinars (including one with Jenny Hocking about the Palace Letters, which is well worth listening to) and online and streamed concerts from Musica Viva and the ABC. This short video link featuring recorder player Genevieve Lacey and harpist Marshall Maguire will give you a taste of one concert we “attended”.

We have passed up so many other opportunities. If there’s one thing about this lockdown, it’s that the arts world has done its best to stay alive and to reach out to us in whatever way they can. I can’t wait to give back by attending their shows and applauding their efforts – in person! I just hope they can all survive until then.

Meanwhile, wherever you are, how are you surviving? How is life looking in your place?

Monday musings on Australian literature: the Australian 9/11 novel

With the 20th anniversary of 9/11 having been commemorated on the weekend, I thought I might explore how 9/11 affected – if at all – Australian fiction. Before I start, though, I have two provisos: one is that my focus will be fiction, not literature, or culture more widely; and two is that, like many of my Monday Musings posts, this will not be a comprehensively researched post, but one intended to throw out some ideas that we all might like to think and share our ideas about.

So, here goes, starting with …

What, if anything, is the 9/11 novel?

I didn’t find a definitive answer, but I’d say the “genre” encompasses novels which speak directly of 9/11 and those which are (or which seem to be, even) inspired by it.

Arin Keeble, from Nottingham Trent University, discussed these novels in The Conversation back in 2016, in an article titled “Why the 9/11 novel has been such a contested and troubled genre”. Keeble discusses the intense debate that these novels engendered, including the concern by some that the focus on 9/11 has “undercut the complex prehistories and aftermaths of 9/11, giving it inflated importance in the world narrative”. He notes that the novels that came out around 2006/7, by Don DeLillo, Claire Messud, Jay McInerney and Ken Kalfus, all explored the event through marriage and relationship narratives. He quotes from a critique by Pankaj Mishra, who wondered whether we are “meant to think of marital discord as a metaphor for post-9/11 America?” Keeble writes that Mishra and others criticised these novels ‘for their “failure” to engage with otherness and the geopolitics of 9/11’. Other critics and commentators weighed in, disagreeing. Read the article – it’s short – if you are interested.

The point that Keeble makes is that, regardless of how “polarised” the debate became, the impact was to ascribe “great importance to the 9/11 novel” and, as a result, to reinforce “the idea of 9/11 as a defining moment”. Writers like Zadie Smith, however, saw this emphasis on 9/11 as an example of “American exceptionalism”.

Other novels did come out with a more political and/or international bent, like Mohsin Hamid’s powerful The reluctant fundamentalist, but marriage and relationships are still at their centre, and they “continue to explore the way privileged Americans absorb and respond to trauma”. Keeble concludes on a book that he believes most aligns with Zadie Smith’s views, Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding edge which “goes the furthest in challenging the singular importance attached to 9/11 in its intertwined historical narrative, weaving in the significance of the collapse of the dotcom bubble in 2000 and a history of the internet’s transition from an anarchic to a completely corporate space”.

I have read several non-Australian books “inspired” by 9/11, from Don DeLillo’s Falling man (2007) and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely loud and incredibly close (2005) to Ian McEwan’s Saturday (2005) and the aforementioned The reluctant fundamentalist (2007). Each is quite different, but Hamid’s is particularly memorable because of its point of view and the tone he sustains throughout.

Unfortunately, none of this furthers my 9/11-in-Australian-fiction topic. My excuse is that it was in The Conversation and it provides a good introduction.

And, in Australia?

However, some Australian novelists have contributed to the genre. This 2010 article published in JASAL by Jen Webb sounds interesting, from its abstract:

Australian fiction is, arguably, as diverse as the fiction of any other culture or era. But in a globalised world, though the stories we tell may remain inflected by the local context, they will necessarily be informed by transnational relations and geopolitical events. Like writers in the USA, UK, Afghanistan and elsewhere, some Australian novelists have taken arms against a sea of troubles, and produced work that directly and consciously engages that new genre, the post September 11 novel. Only a small number of Australian novels have been published in this genre – perhaps inevitably, given our distance from the scene – and they can be read as relying on the familiar features of the thriller, the detective, or the citygrrl genres that readers find attractive. However, I will suggest that they do more than this. In a reading of Andrew McGahan’s Underground, and Richard Flanagan’s The unknown terrorist, I will discuss the ways in which a very local ‘accent’ is coloured by broader forces, and what contributions we can offer, here at the foot of the world, to the ongoing conflicts and human rights abuses in the hemisphere above us. 

Regrettably, I don’t know what ways and contributions he discusses, so we’ll just have to guess. Meanwhile, I have read Flanagan’s novel, and will throw two other novels into the mix, though they’re not set in Australia, Janette Turner Hospital’s Due preparations for the plague (2003) and Orpheus lost (my review) (2007).

Richard Carr, in ‘”A world of … risk, passion, intensity, and tragedy”: The post-9/11 Australian novel’ (Antipodes, 23 (1), June 2009), mentions the novels by Hospital, Flanagan (2006) and McGahan (2006), but adds two I didn’t know, A.L. McCann’s Subtopia (2005) and Linda Jaivin’s The infernal optimist (2006). He says that all these novels:

entered a world attuned to the destructive potential of the terrorist and wary of the terrorist desire to wreak havoc.

In fact, the terrorist as a symbol of a New Australia defined against an older, safer country is a recurring thematic pattern.

Carr discusses the novels, individually, and, while they are all different, they express some commonalities regarding our “contemporary obsession with terrorism”. To simplify muchly, these include fear of other (often encouraged by government) and lying about other, which result in actions like the scapegoating or oppression of innocent people and increasing reduction in liberty.

Carr also draws some broader conclusions – remember he was writing in 2009 – that I found interesting, and still relevant. He proposes that this obsession

sublimates long-standing sources of guilt and fear: the taking of the land from its rightful owners, the cruelty of the founding penal system, the inhumanity of the treatment accorded Aborigines into the present-day. Whatever the reason … Australian has followed America’s lead in assigning national security its highest priority and identifying the terrorist as the primary threat to that goal.

Do you have any thoughts about this and/or the 9/11 novel?

Poetry Month 2021: Your favourite poems

Earlier this month, I wrote a Monday Musings on Poetry Month, at the end of which I asked readers to name their favourite poem.

Poetry Month finished yesterday, 31 August, so I thought I’d close out the month by listing the nominated poems, alphabetically by poet. I should add that some commenters cheekily named more than one (so I did too). Links on the poem title takes you to an online version

If this list has suddenly inspired you to add your own, please do so in the comments, and I will add it to this list.

Meanwhile, here are some thoughts about poetry posted on Instagram by the month’s organisers, RedRoom Poetry

“Poetry … brings me great comfort and discomfort, and I’m thankful for both” (David Stavanger, Lead Producer))

“Writing is also an act of reading–not only books but all forms of textuality: the ground, the vegetation, the ‘world around us’. (John Kinsella, #30in30 writing prompt)

“Poetry for me is the project of trying to put into language ideas and states of being that feel unnameable or uncontainable” (Izzy Roberts-Orr, Digital Producer)

“Poetry has no limits or positions. It is a freedom. It can be one word or many.” (Tenzin Choegyl, #poetryambassador)

And this, a challenge for Bill:

“I’m not interested in hearing people read other people’s poems. I’d rather listen to a truck driver read out a poem about his truck, than the world’s finest actor read out the world’s finest sonnet. It’s about the poet for me.” (Brendan Cowell, #30in30)

And finally, to close out Poetry Month, an image from RedRoom Poetry’s Instagram account of one of the many poems posted during the month (as part of the paired-poets #fairtrade project). (I think it is ok, copyright-wise, for me to share this)

And remember, it’s not too late to share your favourite/s.

Monday musings on Australian literature: a “grim continent”?

These are grim times, so you might have assumed that our current predicament is today’s topic, but no, we are going back to 1929. My, if there was a grim time, 1929 heralded such a one. However, it’s not the Depression I’m going to either. In fact, the article I found in Trove, which inspired this post, was written in July 1929, and published in Adelaide’s The Advertiser on 31 August, that is, before the big crash.

What, then, was the grim continent – and why? You’ll have realised, given this is my Monday Musings on Australian literature, that it’s Australia – and you’d be right. The article was written by “a Special Correspondent London” and it discusses three recently published novels: James Tucker’s The adventures of Ralph Rashleigh, M. Barnard Eldershaw’s A house is built, and Katharine Susannah Prichard’s Coonardoo

As an aside, would you believe that the authors of these books were not named in the article. Moreover, the first book’s author, whom I didn’t know so had to go looking, wasn’t named in an article announcing its serialisation. I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again: the author is the important thing! Books don’t appear out of thin air. They come out of darned hard work, and the author should be noted and remembered.

Anyhow, back to the “grim continent”. The article focuses mostly on the outback, so I’ll deal first with M. Barnard Eldershaw’s urban novel, which, as many of you know, shared the inaugural The Bulletin prize, in 1928, with Prichard’s Coonardoo.

Book cover

The article commences by telling us that “because of its unusual character and the starkness of its pictures of Australian life in the convict days”, The adventures of Ralph Rashleigh was receiving the most attention by the reviewers. However, Mr. Arnold Bennett, “who reviews books in the intervals of writing them, prefers to lavish his praise on A house is built“. He wrote in the Evening Standard that Barnard Eldershaw’s book is

“beyond question, a very notable novel … an extraordinary book … a major phenomenon of modern fiction. Not one scene not three scenes, but many scenes in it are magnificent.”

Bennett apparently spent a whole column praising the book. Our Special Correspondent says:

“It is Mr. Bennett’s pleasant habit to describe with gusto the things he likes; nevertheless, the joint authors of A house is built should be gratified by such commendation from such a quarter”.

I reckon! (I do like the “describe with gusto”, and the little hint that this is perhaps not proper critic style!)

The article’s main focus, however, is a column in the Evening News by another novelist-critic, J. B. Priestley, “a sound critic of the younger school”. Priestley wrote about all three books in his column, which he headed “The grim continent”. Our correspondent wrote that he concluded his piece:

with the interesting confession that all the stories he has read about Australia and the Australian bush have succeeded in depressing him. He quoted with approval the complaint of a character in Coonardoo, that “it’s all so ugly and empty,” and added that there must be something desolating about the raw emptiness of the bush, a something not friendly to literature. 

Our correspondent, however, suggests that this sense of the bush is “an emanation of literature rather than of the bush itself”. S/he suggests that many of those who know the bush do not find it ugly, cruel and cheerless:

Mr. Priestley writes from a purely literary knowledge of Australia, and if he feels so depressed about the country, his range of reading must have been restricted to the authors who, in Marcus Clarke-Henry Lawson tradition, have emphasised the more sombre aspects of pioneering and bush life.

Book cover

S/he goes on to suggest that Priestley and his ilk could try other authors who offer “authentic” accounts of the outback, like “Mrs. Aeneas Gunn’s We of the Never Never in which the humor and beauty, as well as the tragedy of the bush are admirably brought out.” S/he also disputes the evocation of the bush in Coonardoo:

The bush, comprehending in that vague term the vast pastoral spaces of inland Australia, is far from being the perennial abode of misery and despair: a region inhabited by sullen despairing people who are for ever yearning (in the words of the woman in “Coonardoo”) to “get away from it all.” 

S/he romanticises, somewhat, the “folk” who “fight the stern and sometimes losing battle with Nature”, arguing you can’t help but “admire their courage, cheerfulness, and steadfastness of character”. We don’t know who this “special correspondent” is, or what experience they have had. However, s/he does make the point that the “bush,” is not all of Australia, that there are “millions of people living in the Australian towns and cities” who know little or nothing of the bush.  

Finally, s/he turns to “the convict tradition” which is the subject of James Tucker’s The adventures of Ralph Rashleigh, and which

survives in Australia for literary purposes only; a fading echo of old, unhappy far-off things. The bad old days provide excellent material for novels of the romantically historical type, or for grim pieces of literature like “The Adventures of Ralph Rashleigh.” 

S/he concludes by applauding the fact that “good Australian literary work” is being appreciated in London, but says

It is not so agreeable to find one or two sombre aspects of Australian life stressed as if they were representative of the whole. 

S/he suggests that should J.B. Priestley ever visit Australia, he would find “a land, not of grimness and gloom, but of color and sunshine”. Moreover, s/he asserts

contact with its people and conditions will provide an effective antidote to the depression with which some of its literature seems to fill him.

I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry at that.

Anyhow, I enjoyed the article for revealing that Australian literature was being read and paid significant attention in 1920s England, and for its perspective on our ongoing discussion about the “the bush” and Australian literature. There’s a defensiveness, and a romanticisation, that you often find in expats, as I presume “special correspondent” is, but s/he makes some important points too, one being a disconnect between what people were writing and/or reading, and the reality of contemporary Australian life.

For Aussie readers in particular: whether you agree or not that there was such a disconnect, do you think we have matured to the point now where there is more alignment between who we are and what we are writing?