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Richard Nile

The Rise of the Australian


(PhD Thesis, School of History

University of New South Wales,
December 1987)

- 8SEP 1988












this thesis is dedicated to weirdo
Those who read many books are like the eaters of hashish. They live in
a dream. The subtle poison that penetrates their brain renders them
insensible to the real world and makes them prey of terrible or
delightful phantoms. Books are the opium of the Occident. They
devour us. A day is coming on which we shall all be keepers of
libraries, and that will be the end. (Anatole France 1888)

I was wondering about the theory of the composite man. The man who
might evolve in a few thousand years if we broke down all the barriers.
Or if they broke themselves down, which is more likely. A completely
unrestricted mating - black, white, brown, yellow, all the racial
characteristics blended, all the resulting generations coming into the
world free of the handicaps that are hung round the necks of half-casts
now. (Eleanor Dark 1938)

To write this history of Australian literature was as difficult as it was

enjoyable. Many times I felt very alone, locked into a private world of

books and ideas. Yet many people expressed interest in this project and

offered their support. My first thanks are obviously to my Supervisor,

David Walker. David has been a constant companion with the thesis. On a

personal and professional level, David encouraged the completion of this

thesis. A specialist in the area, he successfully avoided any problems which

might have arisen from a conflict of interest. Also his "Coogee Research
Centre" houses a great library of Australian literature which was always a

bonus for a researcher still working when other libraries were not open.
Three people, I owe a special debt. Ffion Murphy, whose fine analytical
mind and encouragement, has been an inspiration. She has been my best
critic. John McQuilton, who from the projects inception was willing to
spend many hours discussing related problems and issues. His advice near

the final draft stage of the thesis was invaluable. Rob Darbys considerable
knowledge of twentieth century Australian fiction made access to a number

of sources much easier. John Murphy from the Mitchell Library (Sydney),

Moira Wilson and Gillian Redmond from the Australian Archives (Canberra),

Pam Ray from the Australian National Library (Canberra), Ann Stephen

from the Powerhouse Museum (Sydney) and staff at the State Library of

Victoria, Melbourne, and the Battye Library of Western Australia (Perth)

were all generous with their time. A very special thanks to Shayne
Sarantos for the computer-graphics and to Sue Nile for typing the

bibliography. The School of History the UNSW made available the word-

processor, "mate, on which I was able to type the thesis. Finally,

Muppett the Cat!


There is no prescriptive formula for the study of society and the

literary forms which accompany it. The most that can be said is that a

relationship exists between the two. This analysis of modern Australian

writing looks from both ends of the telescope. Firstly it analyses those

systems which produce imaginative writing as a marketable commodity.

Here books and writers are placedin relation to manufacturing and

marketing. Secondly, it attempts to "unpack the modern literary
imagination. The object was to gain a closer and hopefully better

understanding of modern Australia, the books it produced and the people who

wrote them. The thesis details production arrangements, including some

insights into the publishing industry. It also studies writers expectations
in relation to the publishing industry and their own role as writers. Various
forms of control which affect in subtle or blatant manner the way in which
novels are received or understood are also examined. The perspective is
then broadened to reveal some facets of modernism in Australia. The

conclusions reached are, in summary, that the novel evolved with industrial
society, that mass production became feasible with the invention of

sophisticated printing technology and an increasing awareness of the

importance of marketing strategy and that the novel was generally regarded

as the most suitable form to be used by writers in a modern setting. A wide

reading of literature, including poetry and drama, published from about 18 50

to the present brought to light predominant or recurring concerns which

could be related clearly to the particular period which brought them forth.

During the 1920s and 1930s, major social changes appear to have intensified

social consciousness (and self consciousness) among serious writers, and an

exploration of the themes and motifs of this literature, together with the

stated concerns of the writers, has, it is to be hoped, formed the basis of a

worthwhile history, both social and literary.


There are four key social considerations which are explored in this

thesis: writer and society; production, reproduction and distribution of

literature; values expressed in imaginative writing and those posited by
society; and conceptions of reading publics and the production of books. In

Marxism and Literature (19 77) Raymond Williams suggested that literature,

like culture and society, is a concept. Claiming that the modern form of
this concept did not emerge in England until the eighteenth century and did

not fully develop until the nineteeth century, Williams urged that literature

was intimately connected with reading and the evolution of civilised,

cultured' bourgeois society. Litterature, in the common early spelling,

was then in effect a condition of reading, of being able to read, proposed

Williams, It was often close to the sense of modern literacy, which was not

in the language until the late nineteenth century, its introduction in part
being made necessary by the movement of literature to a different sense".
Williams maintained that literature in this new sense replaced rhetoric and
grammar of earlier periods: ... a specialisation to reading and, in the

material context of the development of printing, to the printed word and

especially the book".-*- Literature referred to composition, including

philosophy and history as well as imaginative works in the longer form of

prose which, in the eighteenth century, evolved in the form of the novel.

If reading was the primary function of literature, argued Williams, it was the

reading of social and cultural elites. Literature not only or primarily

involved a class dynamic it was connected through class, ideology and

hegemony to nationalism and nationality, thus the evolution of national

literature as an expression of national culture.

* * * *

1. Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (London 19 77) pp 46-47


David Walker (19 76) and John Docker (19 74) have studied the
connections between specific cultural and social milieux and fiction through
Melbourne and Sydney cultural elites.^ Walker considered the Melbourne
connection in the writings and outlook of four men from the same generation

while Docker sought out what he believed to be a key dilemma in Australian

literature and culture: "Australias European inheritance of ideas, ideologies

and assumptions, and the new Australian experience and social
environments. Docker argued that this dilemma was " ... usually assumed

to be monolithic". His account of cultural elites postulated that Australian

literature and culture were"... mediated through the different cultural

histories of Australian cities, particularly Sydney and Melbourne . ..".5

More recently Drusilla Modjeska (19 81) and Carole Ferrier (1985) have
studied the personal and social circumstances of women writers in

In Dream and Disillusion, Walker introduced the concept of a search for

an Australian cultural identity by suggesting that principal figures, Louis

Esson and Vance Palmer, for instance, were at least as powerfully influenced

by movements in Europe - Palmer by the New Age in London, Esson by the

Abbey Theatre in Dublin - as by those in Australia.5 Walkers proposition

suggested further questions for the study of Australian literature and society

in the interwar years. Dockers emphasis on intellectual traditions

subverted the more effulgent notion of creative spirit suggested, for
* * * *

2. David Walker, Dream and Disillusion (Canberra 19 76). John Docker

Australian Cultural Elites (Sydney 19 74)
3. Docker Australian Cultural Elites ibid p 19.
4. Drusilla Modjeska, Exiles at Home (Sydney 1981). Carole Ferrier (ed)
Gender Politics and Fiction (St Lucia 19 85)
5. Walker Dream and Disillusion op cit pp 11-60, 134-147, 168 19 3. Walker
also analysed this dichotomy in the figures of Frank Wilmot ("Furnley
Maurice") and Frederick Sinclaire.

instance, in Geoffrey Serles From Desert the Prophets Come (1973).8

Both disclaimed A.D. Hopes affirmation in the poem Australia (1939),

from which Serle derived his title, that Australian cities were teeming sores
on the rim of a continent whose sparse population derived its consciousness
from the interior. Walker and Docker analysed modern Australian writing as

an urban phenomenon.

During the late twenties, especially after the publication of Katharine

Susannah Prichards Working Bullocks in 1926, the novel was seen to displace
the short story and lyric poem as the preferred genre of Australian writers.

In the early twenties the novel appeared as merely one literary form among

others. Drusilla Modjeska, in Exiles at Home, argued that by the 19 30s the
novel had ... broken the orientation towards poetry and short ficton that
had dominated Australian literature since the 1890s.^ Verse of the variety
written by C.J. Dennis during the war was the most popular form among
writers and their audience. Songs of a Sentimental Bloke (1915) sold

66,000 copies in less than eighteen months. The Moods of Ginger Mick

(1916) sold 42,000 copies in six months.8 Possibly more than any other
writer, Dennis illustrates the audience for the ballad form. The decline in

his popularity in the 1920s was matched by an increased interest in novel

writing and reading though few novelists commanded anywhere near the

audience achieved by Dennis.

There is general historical and critical agreement that a series of key

developments in the 1920s and 1930s affected the writing and production of
* * *

6. Geoffrey Serle, From Deserts the Prophets Come (Melbourne 19 73). See
in particular, chapters 6-8.
7. Modjeska, Exiles at Home op cit p 4.
8. E. Morris Miller and Frederick T. Macartney, Australian Literature, a
Bibliography to 1938: Extended to 1950 (Sydney 1956). See entry for C.J.
Dennis pp 147-148.

Australian literature. In 1920 Louis Esson predicted that the coming

decade would witness a reawakening to the possibilities of Australian

writing.0 In 1934 Nettie Palmer, a key figure in literary circles,
remembered the prophesy and seemed pleased by what she imagined was its

realisation. It did appear, she wrote to Miles Franklin, that Australian

literature had embarked on a new phase: TT ... how many new names have

arisen, as if by a miracle!... He was right."10 Nettie Palmer had made the

general point before. In a 1929 essay she wrote: " ... there were never

such years as the last two. The impossible has happened. Australian
novels have been given international fame ... ".11 Nettie's editor seemed
convinced and echoed the sentiment: "Australian literature is on the
threshhold of bigger and better things."12

The 1920s threw up an array of writers who included Katharine Susannah

Prichard, Henry Handel Richardson, Vance Palmer, Chester Cobb, Martin
Boyd, Marjorie Barnard and Flora Eldershaw (M. Barnard Eldershaw), all of

whom were relatively unknown before the war. In a 1930 interview, Vance
Palmer commented that he saw himself as belonging to a new literary

movement. "Yes, I think the Australian novel is coming into its own at
* * * *

9. Nettie Palmer, Fourteen Years: Extracts from a Private Journal

(Melbourne 1948). Entry, March 3 1928. The possibility of Nettie Palmer
having 'written over the top' of some of her original entries for publication
purposes cannot be overlooked but the general sense of her statement here
seems consistent with her attitude around the late 19 20s.
10. Nettie Palmer to Miles Franklin, July 9 1934. Cited in Vivian Smith (ed)
Letters of Vance and Nettie Palmer 1915-1963. p 98.
11. Nettie Palmer, "A Reader's Notebook". All About Books, December 5
1929 p 405. Palmer drew particular attention to Martin Boyd's The
Montforts (London 1928), Vance Palmer's The Man Hamilton (London 1928),
Henry Handel Richardson, The Fortunes of Richard Mahony (London 1929 ),
Katharine Susannah Prichard Working Bullocks (London 1926 ), Coonardoo
(London 1929 ) and M. Barnard Eldershaw's A House is Built (London 1929 ).
12. "Is Australian Literature Worthwhile?" All About Books, July 15 1930.
Mentions Prichard, Richardson, Barnard Eldershaw and Frederick Howard.

last", Palmer responded to a general question about literary activity in

Australia, "This is due to Henry Handel Richardson more than anyone else
... ". Apart from Richardson, Palmer drew attention to Prichards Working
Bullocks (1926 ) and Goonardoo (1929) whose impact on the shape of modern

Australian writing, he supposed, "only literary" people yet understood. For

Palmer, Prichard was a "writers writer." Chester Cobb was another

"innovator". "If theres any virtue in being modern, his work is as modern
as anything being done abroad ... ", argued Palmer. The Barnard-

Eldershaw collaboration in the writing of A House is Built (1929 ) was

considered "particularly good", while Boyds Montforts (1929) was also

worth mentioning.1^

Adding to the perceived growth in literary activity was Miles Franklins

return to Australia in 1931 after an absence of over twenty years. "There
is an inspiring quantity and variety in the last two years' crop of native
novels", Franklin wrote from London in 1929, "Out of this a great book

must come presently".14 At the time, Franklin was working on her "Brent
of Bin Bin" novels. Her return, the publication and success of Richardsons
final volume in the Mahony trilogy, Prichards continued good performance

and the appearance of a new generation of 1930s novelists who built on these

foundations, created an impression among writers and their critics that a

distinctive phase of Australian writing had been entered. New writers

included Christina Stead whose Seven Poor Men of Sydney was published in

1934, Kylie Tennant, winner of the 19 35 S.H. Prior Memorial Prize for her

first novel, Tiburon, Xavier Herbert whose Capricornia was awarded the 19 38
* * * *

13. Vance Palmer interview, "Vance Palmer and the Australian Novel". All
About Books, April 19 19 30 pp 87-88
14. "Brent of Bin Bin" to Nettie Palmer, July 22 1929. Palmer Papers NLA
MS 1174/1/3367.

Sesquicentenary Award for Australian literature and Eleanor Dark who won

two Australian Literature Society Gold Medals for Prelude to Christopher

(1933) and Return to Coolami (1936). In 1932 Nettie Palmer noted: "The
novel, which used to be least represented in Australia, appears this year
with the luxuriance we have lately come to expect."15

In 1920 a national novel competition organised by the literary

entrepreneur, C.J de Garis, advertised prizes totalling 550 pounds and the

prospect of a film contract for the successful entry. In April 1920 de Garis
took out a page advertisement in the Bulletin: "... this Great Young Country
contains the mental genius and all the material and scope for the production

of A LITERARY MASTERPIECE, equal - if not superior - to any of THE

manuscripts had to be between 75,000 and 100,000 words in length and
a "specialisation" in "The Bush", "The Outback or the "Never-Never", but

also to those attributes of an "up-to-date civilization" .16 428

manuscripts landed at his desk, five times as many novels as were actually
published in 1920.16 First prize went to Frank A. Russells Ashes of
Achievement (1920). Russell collected f300, de Garis published his book,

but no film was forthcoming.!7

In August 1927, the Bulletin announced its inaugural competition,

carrying prize money of f1700 over the next three years. With an appeal to

nationalism echoing that made by de Garis, it claimed: "This country, rich

* * * *
15. Nettie Palmer, "Readers Notebook". All About Books, December 3
1932. p201.
16. Bulletin, April 15 19 20. p 29.
17. "The Prize Novel that Isnt". Bulletin, February 3 1921, p 25,
complained that Ashes of Achievement had exceeded the word-length.

in short stories, is suffering and has always suffered from a great dearth of

full-length Australian novels". Such a situation meant that "book-stores"

and "stalls" overflowed with " ... novels written and published elsewhere and

too often advertising some other country." In a note of self-

congratulation, the Bulletin announced that it had been " ... "responsible
for popularising the short story". It now intended to sponsor the

development of the "long storyBulletin competitions in 1928 and 1930

attracted over 1,000 entries between them. The period 1920-1940,

inclusive, produced over 1,200 Australian novels. For the same period the
number of published volumes of verse and short stories was almost half. In

the decade to 1930, over 80% of those volumes of verse and short stories
which were to be published 1920-1940 had been published. In the same
period, only 47% of novels had been published.^

While competitions might serve to encourage modern writers, a few

critics were concerned that stereotypical modes of writing were a possible

outcome. Before the 1928 Bulletin competition closed, O.N. Gillespie

argued that three types of novels should be banned from entering. Writers

who dealt with "wide open spaces" of "Westralia" should be condemned to

life in a Sydney factory, those who wrote convict narratives should do time
at Long Bay Jail and the writer of the gold-digging days should be forced

onto the local council. Gillespie, who in 1930 edited a volume of New

Zealand short fiction, argued that there was enough material in

contemporary life to sustain a good Australian novel.20 He may have held

* * *

18. Bulletin, August 18 1927 p 2.

19. For a breakdown of production figures see Chapter 1.
20. O.N. Gillespie, "The Bulletin Prize Novel". Bulletin, November 7 1927.
Gillespie threatened to write a New Zealand novel which discussed modern
life. His collection of New Zealand Short Stories was published in London,

his breath when the joint winners were announced: Katharine Prichards

Coonardoo, set in the Ashburton region of northern Western Australia and M.

Barnard Eldershaws A House is Built, covering the period leading up to and
including the rush for gold in the 1850s.

In 1924 Nettie Palmer argued that lines of continuity with the past and,

particularly the 1890s,21 should be the natural aspiration of modern

Australian novelists. Bulletin writers such as Lawson and Furphy, she
believed, had provided a useful framework from which a distinctive national

literature might continue in the twentieth century. In 1928 and again in

1930, H.M. Green argued that a new set of social, economic and cultural
circumstances began to impact on the Australian literary imagination as a
consequence of war in Europe: ... one cannot help being struck by the

general advance in technical skill made by writers in the post war years, he
argued.22 Thirty years later, in his two volume study, A History of
Australian Literature (1961), Green specified 1923 as a more appropriate

benchmark in the development of modern writing. War remained a

significant dynamic: ... there is no doubt that something very new and
different began to take shape not long after the First World War....The year

1923 or there abouts has been assumed here to mark a turning of the


In an overview of production, T. Inglis Moore (1951) wrote: " ... the

vigour of the 1890s was carried over into the first decade of the

century....The period from 1904 to the late twenties, say 1926, was marked
* * * *
21. Nettie Palmer, Modern Australian Literature: 1900-1923. (Melbourne 1924).
See ChaDter 3 for a fuller discussion.
22. H.M. Green, An Outline of Australian Literature (Sydney 1930) p 144.
23. H.M. Green, A History of Australian Literature (Sydney 19 61) Vol 2 p

by ... an interlude between the movement which began in the 90s and the

renaissance that began about 1926." Moore suggested that a "long drought"
in Australian writing ended with the appearance of Working Bullocks. The
dominant feature of new writing was the degree to which authors now placed

national sentiments within the context of a more cosmopolitan world,

manifesting itself in the rise of the Australian novel. Moore argued that
the "renaissance" in Australian writing had been maintained in recent years

by continued interest in the novel. 1930s novels, he argued, " ... not only
covered pastoral chronicles, family histories, and historical romances," as
they had done in the nineteenth century, they now "adventured into cities",

"essayed psychological analysis" but, more importantly, "widened" the

"scope" of modern fiction. Moore noted for special consideration the

"stream of consciousness" technique of Chester Cobb and the "psychological
subtleties" of Kenneth Mackenzie.2^

Harry Heseltine (19 64) maintained that Australian fiction in the

interwar years developed internal dynamics and characteristics recognisably

its own, but that this movement was more a matter of subject than style. A
consciousness of a modern, twentieth century world, had created a new

literature: " ... for the first time in Australian history [writers] displayed

enough community of purpose and method to generate a genuine tradition of

fiction that has been continuous ever since." This tradition, Heseltine also

noted, owed an allegiance to the 1890s.25 In more prosaic terms, J.K.

Ewers looked back from 1945 and proposed that 1931, one of the gloomiest

years of the Great Depression, was remarkable because it witnessed the local
* * * *

24. T. Inglis Moore, "Australian Literature: 1901-1951". The Australian

Quarterly Vol 23 No 2 19 51, p 6.
25. Harry Heseltine, "Australian Fiction Since 1920". Geoffrey Dutton (ed)
The Literature of Australia (Ringwood 19 64) pp 181-182.

publication of Ion Idriess Lasseter's Last Ride and William Hatfields


While an association with the 1890s may have been one consequence of

literary endeavour in the interwar years, P.R. Stephensen (1936), in his now

famous essay, argued that uncertainties of a modern world were generating a

new literary consciousness. Australia was on the threshhold of a new

national "self consciousness and, he argued, "at a point of developing a

new "Australian culture".27 Moving away from a nationalist critique, a

young Manning Clark suggested in 1949 that twentieth century Australian
literature emerged out of the experiences of industrialism. He suggested
that the literary imagination in the 1930s shifted away from the "country" to
take in the "large cities". The response of Australian writers to social
change, Clark argued, was similar to that of contemporary "European
writers".2^ This was a brave assertion to make in a growing intellectual
climate which claimed that most Australian cultural practices and thought

were derivative and delayed. Within a few years A.A. Phillips phrase, the
"Cultural Cringe", had become a popular short-hand explanation of literary

and artistic endeavour. Even as late at 19 71, a postgraduate thesis

analysing the novels of the 1930s, argued confidently that Australian literary

innovations trailed European experiments by fifty years. Australian

literature, it was suggested, was always arriving, but had not yet quite

* * * *

26. J.K. Ewers, Creative Writing in Australia (Melbourne 1945) p 78.

27. P.R. Stephensen, The Foundations of Culture in Australia (Sydney 1936)
p 22.
28. C.M.H. Clark, "Tradition in Australian Literature". Meanjin No 8 1949
pp 21-22.
29. Donald J. Grant, "Realism and the Australian Novel in the 1930s" (M.A.
thesis, Monash University, 19 71) p 1

Chris Wallace-Crabbe (19 74) suggested that the quarter of a century to

1935 was possibly the "saddest phase of Australian culture". In the years
following the First World War, in particular, there was no authorative
"centre" as there had been in the 1890s when the Bulletin presided over

intellectual and cultural thought. In the 1920s and 1930s, in particular,

country and city became polarised and writers gave way to " ... an uneasy,
over-the-shoulder squinting towards England." A cultural pessimist,

Wallace-Crabbe quoted Ian Turner, who noted in 1964: "As in all industrial
societies, expanded leisure created a demand for entertainment rather than

self-culture, and the satisfaction of this demand soon became commercial

enterprise".30 Wallace-Crabbe argued that even the most "ambitious"

Australian fiction " ... showed a tendency to waver towards cliches and
stereotypes of the lending library novel."31

Depression and war were linked in the literary imagination as similar

manifestations of modern life. The rise of the novel stemmed from or, at

least, tapped into this consciousness which, understandably, was translated

into content. In the twenties and thirties motor cars, jazz, cinema, new

large factories, a streamlined workforce, war and depression were conceived

as new twentieth century realities. The novel, like film, radio,

newspapers and magazines emerged as a mass medium. While the connection

with an emerging middle class has been noted by Stephen Alomes (1979),32

it can be argued that new printing technologies meant also that publisher,

writer and public viewed the novel as an appropriate vehicle for

* * * *

30. Chris Wallace-Crabbe, "Among the Front-Runners" in Melbourne or the

Bush (Sydney 19 74) p 51.
31. Ian Turner, "The Social Setting", in Geoffrey Dutton, The Literature of
Australia op cit p 14.
3 2. Stephen Alomes, "Reasonable Men: Middle-Class Reformism in Australia
1928-1939" (PhD thesis, Australian National University, 19 79).

apprehending key dynamics in an industrial society. While the nature of

"new" realities were necessarily illusory, the seemingly accelerated pace of

change created an impression of the age as peculiarly modern.

In the immediate post war years debate emerged regarding the possible

directions of modern writing. A concern about the negative influences of

the lending library played its part in shaping writers expectations of a

public. There also seemed to be general agreement that Australian writing
should not follow patterns of decadence discernible in European modernism.

The 1890s provided useful models for some while others argued for new forms
of expression. In a sense the debate had been preceded by argument over
the relative merits of Henry Lawson and Christopher Brennan in the pre-war

years, but war brought forward new arguments about established forms of
writing and experimentation. For some the coming of a new age was a time
to lament that the previous one had passed. Lawsons model for his
Mitchell stories, Jim Gordon, seemed to recognise that change was

inevitable: We may sometimes ride in a motor-car/ And scorch on a level

track;/ But we dont feel the pleasure we once felt/ As we rode on the old

bush hack".33 For another writer, employing patterns hacked out in the
1890s, the new period held the possibilities of a good time: Farewell to

ants, mosquitoes, snakes and sandflies/ My travelling in the future is per


In the post war years influences from the 1890s persisted in public

culture and this, in turn, affected some critiques of the later period. In

1925 a volume of Henry Lawson verse was collected and published by Angus
* * * *

33. Jim Graeme, Nowadays and Olden Days. Bulletin, August 7 1919 p
34. "N.G., "Disillusioned. Bulletin, July 17 1919 p 20.

and Robertson to mark the third anniversary of his death. Editor of the

Bulletins "Red Page, David McKee Wright, wrote a prefatory homage:

This edition of his poems brings them within reach of every Australian
reader; and I think the man who has gone from us could seek no fairer

memorial in the hearts of people than the knowledge that his words are being

read and re-read by those who with every reading love him more. The

introduction was more than a belated obituary. According to Wright,

Lawsons death marked the end of an era of Australian writing which dated

back to Henry Kendall. He argued that Lawson belonged to a "past of

struggle, pain and triumph, when the country was in the making."35 In
almost identical terms, Cecil Sharpley, in an article for the Sydney Morning
Herald, wrote in 1930:

At the time of the passing of this great poet eight years ago, a period
in Australian poetry, which began with Kendall, came to an end. It
was a period of glorious adventure and romance, when Australia was in
the making. The period of cruel struggle, stark tragedy, and triumph
wrested from the spiteful grip of nature by the spirit of the pioneers,
had been immortalized in the songs by men of the pen who saw what we
can never see again.35

In 19 75 Stephen Murray-Smith employed a Drysdalian image of a "long

and ragged shadow" falling across "much of Australian life" to suggest

Lawsons importance in the configuration of modern writing.3? The so-

called "democratic" tradition, to which Murray-Smith claimed affinity, has

burnt itself deep into the collective Australian consciousness. Typically,

the story begins in an almost mystical time when the world was wide, when

mateship and egalitarianism abounded in the bush and the outback

* * * *

35. David McKee Wright, "Preface", Henry Lawson, Poetical Works of Henry
Lawson (Sydney 1925).
36. Cecil H. Sharpley, "Henry Lawson, the Poet and the People". Sydney
Morning Herald, September 13 1930.
37. Stephen Murray-Smith Henry Lawson (Melbourne 19 75) p 1.

culminating most obviously and fantastically in modern history at Gallipoli

when a nation was seen to be born.^ So entrenched has the image of

Lawson become in cultural life that it requires little demonstration. r,If the
Australian proletarian writer was to achieve correspondence between matter

and method," wrote A.A. Phillips in 1948, "he had to find simpler patterns
to suit his home spun material".^

Kenneth Slessor, a young writer who was not convinced by Lawsons

verse and who sought kinship with the likes of Christopher Brennan,
criticised the almost slavish adherence of poets to the hackneyed patterns of

1890s verse. In 1920 Slessor criticised the style of The Songs of a

Sentimental Bloke: "An unfortunate philosophy seems to be afoot amongst

local writers with regard to being Australian. The idea is that to be

intensely and typically so you must sing in the perverted variety of

Billingsgate" .4 In a more stinging rebuke, he wrote a satirical lyric in
1919: "The said CONTRACTOR shall in every case/ Pen billious lyrics to the

Populace/ and preach to the (copyright) Doctrine of Smile/ On each dial

...".^ In 1922 Frank Morton complained that Australian verse had become

" ... altogether too rough and sloppy".42 While the popularity of verse

with papers such as the Bulletin declined markedly in the post-war years,

new poets such as Slessor, Robert FitzGerald, Jack Lindsay and Adrian
Lawlor, among others, turned to more sophisticated forms of writing. Yet

new poetry was still a little way off, it would seem. The realisation of

Slessors considerable ability, according to the poets biographer, came in

* * * *
38. K.S. Inglis, "The Anzac Tradition", first printed in Meanjin 19 65.
Reprinted in C.B. Christesen (ed) On Native Grounds: Australian Writing
from Meanjin Quarterly (Sydney 19 68) pp 205-222.
39. A.A. Phillips The Australian Tradition: Studies in Australian Colonial
Culture. (Melbourne 1958) p 1.
40. Kenneth Slessor, "Dialect". Bulletin, January 8 1920. p 3.
41. Kenneth Slessor, "Poetic Licence", Bulletin, July 24 1919. p 24.
42. Frank Morton, "Fixed Forms". Bulletin, July 13 1922. p 25.

Darlinghurst Nights (1933) and his highly regarded Five Bells (1933). A

collection of poems 1919-1939, One Hundred Poems, appeared in 1944.^3

If the interwar period brought about a new consciousness in Australian

fiction it did not, according to Beatrice Davis (1967), manifest itself in the

short story until the 1940s.Stephen Torre (19 84) suggested that the
modern Australian short story did not evolve until the 1940s when 11 ...
development and innovation ... moved away from the predominant mode of

the bush yarn towards increased sophistication, variety and

experimentation. Possibly overlooking Vance Palmers two 1930s

collections, Separate Lives (1931) and Sea and Spinifex (1934), which
represented substantial shifts in the genre, Torre suggested that from the
1940s Palmer, Hal Porter, Katharine Prichard and Patrick White ...
developed a greater skill and security in handling modernist, realist and even
symbolic modes.^5

Along with verse, short fiction, derived from models established in the

1890s, was perceived as an medium well suited to Australian reading habits.

In the period following the war, the Bulletin contracted its publishing

program and short fiction suffered. In part, this movement was facilitated

by changes in the editorial staff.^ Editorial attitudes towards short

stories, in expectation of audience requirements, altered the shape of the

Bulletin in the 1920s. A contributing factor was pressure exerted on

* * *

43. Douglas Stewart, A Man of Sydney: An Appreciation of Kenneth Slessor

(Melbourne 19 77).
44. Beatrice Davis, Short Stories of Australia: The Moderns (Sydney 19 67)
45. Stephen Torre, The Australian Short Story: A Bibliography (Sydney
1984) p 1.
46. "The Men Who Make the Bulletin. Bulletin, March 31 1928 pp24-26.

freelance writers who were increasingly squeezed out as a result of new

arrangements between proprietors and full-time staff journalists.47 At the

same time, overseas magazines developed new and different expectations of
Australian short fiction.

In 1919 the editor of the New York Independent wrote to the Bulletin

suggesting that, although Australia produced "poems, cartoons, editorials

and book reviews" which were above the American average, it produced very

little prose fiction worthy of the title. "Most of your stories", the

American suggested, "read like Australian imitations of London stories of

Australian life."4** The criticism brought a number of responses. Harry

Douglas chipped in with the comment: "Too many writers have taken
Stephensens [sic] ruling - that the whole art of short story making is

knowing what to reject - as the be-all and end-all of the business. There
is a good deal more in it than that." Douglas complained that Australian
short fiction gave the impression of being an " ... episode, a storiette, a

sketch, a precis of a novel or novelette - anything you will but a short

story."49 Another contributor to the debate, Alan Byron argued: " ... no
honest Australian will deny that we are rather weak in fiction; but that is

because we are still evolving our medium".50

The Bulletin insisted on stories which were between four and five

thousand words. American periodicals accepted eight to twelve thousand

* * * *

47. This point is discussed more fully in Chapter Two.

48. Dr Slosson, literary editor of the New York Independent. Letter to the
Bulletin published July 17 1919. p 3.
49. Harry C. Douglas, "Can We Write Short Stories". Bulletin, August 7
1919. p 3.
50. Alan Byron, "Can We Write Short Stories". Bulletin, September 3 1919.
p 5.

words. An Australian reader for an English periodical and a novelist in her

own right, Alice Grant Rosman, suggested a high proportion of American

stories had to be "extricated" from a "seething mass of words" to find

publication in England. In America, a practice had grown which required

"padding for commercial reasons". American magazines often broke stories

at a crucial point in the plot, allowing space for advertisers, and held over
resolution to the back pages. English papers, on the other hand, printed
stories with no break between. "The best length for an English magazine",
advised the reader, was approximately 5,000 words, the length also favoured

by Australian magazines. Yet few local writers achieved any success in

London. Rosman concluded that Australian stories, too often, lacked

essential ingredients and read as "newspaper sketches".51

An aspiring short-story writer, John Hetherington, argued that overseas

magazines had a detrimental effect on Australian fiction. He claimed that
too much good talent and too many would-be writers too readily traded

"sincerity" for the promise of "money". Post-war short story writers had
"chucked ... artistic integrity to seek the crock of gold at the foot of the

magazine rainbow", he argued. The lure of commercial success had

encouraged "decadence". In the decade which had passed "since the peace

came to a war-sick world", he argued, short story writing had " ...

retrogressed". Effete subjects were now considered normal, but worse still,

stories were written in "bubbly" and "insincere" styles. Despite obvious

disgust, Hetherington, replacing the cork, remained hopeful that Australia

was a natural place for short fiction: " ... sober consideration of the short

story position of English speaking lands leads inevitably to the conclusion

* * * *

51. Alice Grant Rosman, "The Short Story". Bulletin, January 29 1921. p 2.

that Australia has more to offer than all the rest combined."^2 The

problem for many writers was that "syndicated" fiction from America and

England was much cheaper for Australian magazines to buy than the local

While debate on verse and short fiction seemed clear enough, attempts to

establish theatre in Australia remains a fascinating though neglected

research area within the discourse despite pioneering works by Leslie Rees
(1953, 19 73), Margaret Williams (19 77) and Walker (1976).53 Louis Esson

stands out for particular mention. The failure of the Pioneer players in

Melbourne in 1923 illustrates problems specifically associated with

performing arts as opposed to other forms of imaginative writing. Although

Walker has covered many facets of Essons efforts with the Pioneer Players
it is worth mentioning the lack of sufficient capital to mount such an
undertaking. Without some form of backing, it seemed unlikely that a group
of struggling writers and actors, directors and stage managers, would be able

to make much of the small resources at their command. Put simply, as a

commercial enterprise, drama required a good deal of solid organisation and

sponsorship to get off the ground in any viable form - and there was plenty

of competition from without.

The Pioneer Players were quite likely doomed to failure even before the

group was underway. An ironical obituary to Australian theatre appeared in

the Bulletin in 1921: "Now that the Australian theatre - what there was of it
* * * *

52. J.A. Hetherington, "An Attack on Post-War Short Story Writers". All
About Books, July 18 1929. p 244.
53. Leslie Rees, The Making of Australian Drama (Sydney 19 73), Margaret
William, Drama: Australian Writers and Their Works (Melbourne 19 77),
Walker Dream and Disillusion op cit.

- has gone west, chased by the dime-novel, melodrama film and Cockney

pantomimes called plays, a requiem falls due.... Vanished are dreams of an

Australian theatre, local in-writers, producers and actors; for the only
show-houses with a financial hope in them are in the maw of the importer of
overseas success." 5^ Attendance at Australian drama was slight while
audiences rushed to movie theatres and sporting events.55 Relative to
these mass forms of entertainment interest in serious contemporary drama

paled. Comedy and musicals pulled audiences, the Pioneer Players did

not. The impact of radio later increased the fortunes for a few

dramatists56 but the situation had changed little by 1938 when Tom Inglis
Moore complained that playwrights were the poorest of a poor lot.57

Musical comedies seemed to dominate live-theatre in the interwar

years. An preference for shows such as "Spangles" and "Galley Girls" did
little to advertise more socially conscious endeavour such as Essons The
Time is Not Yet Ripe.56 "Audiences nurtured for so long on a diet of
musical comedy mainly eked out with light comedies, farces and detective
thrillers," wrote Beatrice Tildesley in 1926, "do not readily enjoy a play
* * * *

54. "Obituary: Playwright". Bulletin, April 14 1921. p 25.

55. Diane Collins "Hollywood Down Under" (working title), unpublished
manuscript. I am grateful to Diane Collins for allowing me to read her
manuscript which should be published in 19 88. Also Ina Bertrand and Diane
Collins, Government and Film in Australia (Sydney 19 81). On sporting
attendance, Richard Cashman, Australian Oicket Ground Attendance Cycle
56. K.S. Inglis TTiis is the ABC; The Australian Broadcasting Commission
1932-1983 (Melbourne, 1983).
57. T. Inglis Moore, submission to the Commonwealth Literary Fund,
September 5 1938. Minutes of the Advisory Board 1939-19 50. Australian
Archives CRS A3753 Item 72/2766.
58. Walker, Dream and Disillusion op cit pp 139-140.
59. Beatrice Tildesley, "The Australian Theatre". Bulletin, January 7 1926.
p 2.

which requires more mental digestion."59 Esson had little doubt as to the

directions Australian theatre should go when he wrote in 1923: " ... no

theatre or repertory society, as far as I know, has yet staged anything by

Strindberg, or Andreyev not to mention Eugene ONeill and other

playwrights who belong to the ultra-modern school.59 The Pioneer Players

could hardly be described as "ultra modern" though the concept of a national

theatre, itself, was innovative. It was not until the appearance of

playwrights such as Alan Seymour, The One Day of the Year (1960), Ray

Lawler, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (1955) and Douglas Stewart, The
Fire on the Snow (1941), that Australian drama seemed to command

anywhere near the respect Louis Esson had imagined for his plays a

generation earlier.

The problem for drama as for other forms of writing was that there was a
general perception that only a small audience was interested in the local
product. As a performing art it was doubly troubled. Differing from a

published book which remains a book, even when left unread on a library or
booksellers shelf, drama virtually has no status until it has been performed.
"To be a play and not merely a piece of writing in dramatic form", wrote

A.C.M. Howard in his preface to S.M. Apteds Australian Plays in

Manuscript (19 68), "it has to be viable on the stage".51 Katharine

Susannah Prichards Brumby Innes, won a playwright competition run by the

Triad in 1928. Published almost twenty years later it remained unperformed

for another generation, five years after the writers death in 1969.52 jn
* * * *

60. Louis Esson, "Expressionism in Drama". Bulletin, February 1 1923. p 2.

61. A.C.M. Howard. "Preface", S.M. Apted, Australian Plays in Manuscript.
A Checklist of the Campbell Howard Collection Held in the University of New
England Library (Armidale 1968)
62. The Triad competition attracted 107 entries. Judges comments are held
in the Angus and Robertson Papers ML MSS 3 269. Brumby Innes was first
performed, Nidentha Theatre, Melbourne in 19 72.

Australia, the live form had the least life of any of the literary forms

available to local writers. The Annual Catalogue of Australian Publications

lists five times as many published volumes of verse and ten times as many
published novels 1936-1960 as plays,while less than two thirds of those

plays listed in Apteds bibliography were actually performed within ten years
of their publication.

In the 1920s and 1930s new forms and emphases emerged in Australian

writing which also found expression in the emergent literary form - the

novel. Like poets, short story writers and dramatists, post-war novelists
confronted new problems of technique and subject matter. Yet its more

expansive nature and greater narrative capacity, its potential to magnify

subjects and deal with character and situation in detail, made its

development a signficant shift in the previous emphases of Australian

writing. It is probably true that new forms of literary expression would
have emerged had the novel remained undeveloped - changes in other modes

of writing are clearly discernible independent of the novels influence - but

the particular movement became, for writers, publishers and audiences,
associated with the twentieth century experience. Simplified, this thesis

argues that the novel evolved in Australia as a product of industrialism.

It would be foolish to overstate changes brought about as a consequence

of the rise of the novel in the 1920s and 1930s but the shift in literary

consciousness is marked. Through authors such as Katharine Susannah

Prichard, Eleanor Dark, Chester Cobb, Vance Palmer, Leslie Meller,

Kenneth Mackenzie, Martin Boyd, Christina Stead and Kylie Tennant, among
* * * *

63. The Annual Catalogue of Australian Publications (19 37-1960)


others, the Australian novel developed a degree of sophistication and

refinement largely absent in preceding literary forms. In many instances

writing became overtly intellectual, its outlook cosmopolitan, while the

obvious presence of a number of middle-class women writers had a decided

influence over a national writing previously construed to be masculine.

Novel writing was also marked by writer specialisation and the endeavour to
secure professional status.

Australian novels in the 1920s and 1930s generated a new phase of

twentieth century writing by their concentration on industrial topics and the

urban environment. Although Judith Woodward (1975), Graeme Davison
(19 78, 1988) and David Dunstan (19 85) have traced urban influences in late
nineteenth century writing,64 its influence in the novels of the 1930s

appears to be substantially different. In general terms, late nineteenth

century writing portrayed men and women pitted against the elements with
an emphasis on individuality - man and society. Liberal humanism

prevailed. Dyson, Lawson and Furphy criticised bourgeois society to

varying degrees while constructing characters as organic parts of the overall

social structure. Dysons Factry Ands emphasised the comic side of slum

life, Lawsons mountain splitter is welcomed when he returns to town from

the mountains because his work is considered honest - his name was the

best on the books - while Furphys temper was "democratic", his

"bias, offensively Australian". Jessie Couvreur, Rosa Praed, Barbara

Baynton and the young Miles Franklin, criticised patriarchy within existing

* * * *
64. Judith M. Woodward, "Urban Influences on Australian Literature in the
Late Nineteenth Century", Australian Literary Studies Vol 7 No 2 October
19 75. Graeme Davison, "Sydney and the Bush: an Urban Context for the
Australian Legend". Historical Studies, Vol 18 No 71, 19 78. David Dunstan,
"The Perceptions of Low Life in the Nineteenth Century", Australian
Historical Association Interim Conference, "Urbanism", Newcastle. 19 85.

In Fiction and the Great Depression (1982) Ian Reid suggested that

Australian writers of the 1930s turned naturally to the urban and industrial
novel because of the depression experience.^ Reid argued that the

depression persisted in the literary imagination until at least the 1950s while

urban novels have continued through to contemporary times. From J.M.

Harcourt through to Alan Marshall and Frank Hardy the depression appeared

as an important dynamic. In the 1930s writers such as Kylie Tennant,

Christina Stead, and Katharine Susannah Prichard turned their attention to

swelling, smelly smoky cities and the ways of life for those who occupied

them. In Foveaux (1939 ) Tennant ventured into the slums and warehouses

of Surry Hills and Redfern, in Seven Poor Men of Sydney (1934) Stead
explored the docks and factories of Woolloomooloo and, in Intimate
Strangers (1937) Prichard revealed the port of Fremantle and the jazz
houses of Perth.

In a substantial shift from nineteenth century writing, novelists in the

1920s and 30s often depicted urbanism in terms of alienation, which was in
turn perceived as a consequence of industrialism. This particular

interpretation was largely unfamiliar to colonial and frontier writing, though

of course alienation itself was quite likely experienced by some. Futuristic

novels by Erie Cox, Out of Silence (1925), and Helen Simpson, Woman on

the Beast (1933), suggested apocalyptic transformations of social orders as

a consequence of industrialism. The historical-mystical fiction of Dulcie

Deamer also suggested apocalypse, a topic renovated in her modern novel,

Holiday (1940), which also maintains its mystical elements. Conscious of a

new set of social relationships emanating from cities and manufacturing,

other writers set a new list of literary priorities which now took account of
* * * *
65. Ian Reid, Fiction and the Great Depression in Australia and New Zealand
(Melbourne 19 79).

the industrial society. While many of the alleged new formations had

roots planted firmly in the mid-to-late nineteenth century and the struggle

for economic and hegemonic control between an emergent mercantile

bourgeoisie and a landed gentry, it was not until the 1920s and 1930s that
they became major preoccupations.^ By this time divisions within ruling

elites which had centred on the issue of free-trade and protection at the
turn of the century, had been reconciled in united opposition to perceived
labour ascendency. A telling photograph of the board of BHP in 1935

illustrates "two pastrolists, a solicitor, a merchant, a mining engineer and a

manufacturer".^ 7

During the 1920s Australian authors seemed, at least in part, to

concentrate on writing about the urban drift which characterised much of

this decade. During the 1930s many more identified urbanisation and
industrialisation with the generic term depression. In some cases writers
harked back to William Lane, Edward Dyson and Louis Stone, the urban

writers of the late nineteenth early twentieth centuries, with the difference
being an awakening sense of the processes of industrialism and a questioning

of its direction. To urban, suburban and also rural considerations interwar

writers now welded industrial considerations. At a basic level, the shift was

to be anticipated - industrialisation, urbanisation and depression being great

social forces shaping public life and consciousness in the first half of the
century. The depression exposed social divisions based on power, work and

gender. The 1930s crisis produced its criticism in the form of urban novels

but industrial considerations had already emerged in the decade preceding.

* * * *

66. R.W. Connell and T.H. Irving, Class Structure in Australian History
(Melbourne 19 80) pp 105-134)
67. ibid.

An historical explanation for the emergence of modern writing can be

found in the processes of industrialism. The industrial depression, as the

great depression was known at the time by economists and historians, was
part of a larger social process.68 it impacted so severely and became so

acute in the imagination primarily because it followed so soon after the war.
Indeed, while not diminishing the hardship caused, it is possible to argue

that the downturn of the 1890s was more severe than the 1930s. In public

memory the 1930s depression was seen as the second "hammer blow", to
employ the industrial metaphor coined by R.M. Crawford (1952),69 to a
generation bracing itself in readiness for a second world war - the third
blow. In a 19 70 interview S.G. Foxley recalled that the army in 1939 was
his first regular job. At age thirty he traded his worn trousers with their
shiny rear and deformed knees for a new khaki uniform manufactured from

fine Australian wool and freshly pressed each day. The black-dyed
greatcoat, requisitioned by the army of unemployed in the thirties from the
Great War stock then in surplus, was replaced by regular issue.^9

In 1920 the federal government embarked on a deliberate policy

designed to encourage industrialisation by the introduction of a general

tariff to protect industries which had flourished under the artificial

commercial protection of war. The tariff came about as a result of
* * * *

68. For example, G.V. Portus, Australia, An Economic Interpretation

(Sydney 1933) pp 85-100. Edward Shann, An Economic History of
Australia. (Melbourne 1930) pp 427-447. In Australia (Melbourne 1930),
W.K. Hancock noted "The intensification of the industrial depression, which
has continued since these chapters were written, has led the Australians to
be more critical of some of the policies which have been described, and more
ardent in their devotion to others of them." p 164. (1961 reprint)
69. R.M. Crawford, Australia (London 1952), first revised edition 1956 pp
70. S.G. Foxley, "Experiences During the Depression in Western Australia
and with the Communist Party 1919-1938. Battye Library, OH 33 1 tr 1-3.

considerable pressure brought to bear on what turned out to be a

sympathetic federal government by a group of industrialists and merchants

who achieved prominence in the pre-war years but whose position had been
strengthened as a result of the war. Typical of a new wave of industrialists

in the post war years was Essington Lewis, chairman of the board of BHP
from 1921, on whose office wall appeared the words "I Am Work". One of

the most important industrial developments which preceded the tariff was the

opening of the steel smelter at Newcastle in 1915. In many ways it marked

the beginnings of "diversification" in Australias manufacturing potential.71
The Newcastle plant began modestly with a workforce of 1,450.72 in 1929

BHP assumed control of Australian Iron and Steel at Port Kembla and by
1935 had achieved monopoly status in steel production in Australia.

An emphasis on industrial production had grown steadily in the pre-war

years and by 1921, the number employed in manufacturing exceeded those
involved in primary production. Underpinning the expansion, New South

Wales and Victoria, with 66% of Australias workforce, accounted for 75%
of industrial production. Labour and plant were gathered near the capital

markets and financial centres of Sydney and Melbourne which doubled as

ports for shipping secondary goods interstate and, on occasion, overseas.

The local market dominated and there were very few exports.73

In response to the growth of manufacturing potential during the war,

the Australian Industries Protection League was inaugurated in 1920 under

the sponsorship of steel producer and manufacturer of agricultural

* * * *

71. E.A. Boehm, Twentieth Century Development in Australia (Melbourne

19 79)
72. Connell and Irving op cit p 271.
73. Colin Forster, Industrial Development in Australia 1920-1930 (Canberra

machinery, H.V. MacKay. It is best remembered for its opposition to

workers claims in the "Harvester case of 1907 which produced the basic
wage. By 1922 the "Made In Australia" movement was underway and
industrial capacity and national well-being were linked in political rhetoric.

It was galvanised in the mid- twenties by Prime Minister Stanley Bruces

call for "Men, Money and Markets" which became a conservative slogan for
the remainder of the decade.74 Not all were convinced. "Everyone knows

that the drift to the city is an economic and industrial fact", supposed
Bernard Olde in an address to the NSW Legislative Assembly, "Industry is

now in the hands of big capitalists who find it easier to bring men to the

machines they have in operation than to take the machines to pieces and
spread them over the country." 75 in the 1930s images of industrialism

turned on the phrase, "Equality of Sacrifice", a call for restraint by Prime

Minister James Scullin in the face of the depression.7

By 1921 46% of Australians lived in their capital cities. This figure

increased throughout the decade, as did Australias population at a rate of

1.9% per annum, reaching 6.5 million in 1930. Colin Forster (1964)

estimated that over 100,000 rural workers migrated to cities in this

decade.77 Taking families into account, Heather Radi (19 74) estimated

that the net movement to cities could have been as much as 250,000.78
* * * *

74. See F.K. Crowley Modern Australian Documents Vol 1 1901-1939

(Melbourne 19 73) pp 400-402.
75. Bernard Olde, New South Wales Parliamentary Debates, May 9 1928,
453. Cited in P. Spearritt "Sydney 1920-19 50" (PhD Thesis, Australian
National University 19 76) p 6.
76. see L.J. Louis and Ian Turner, The Depression of the 1930s. (Stanmore
1968) p 54.
77. Forster Industrial Development in Australia op cit p 20.
78. Heather Radi "1920-1929" in F.K. Crowley, A New History of Australia
(Melbourne 19 74) p 359.

Meanwhile immigration policies under the general auspices of the Empire

Settlement Act (1922), designed to encourage settlement of rural areas and

the interior, actually boosted cities because most of the immigrants came

from the industrial cities of Britain. Population increased at a slower rate

in the 1930s (1% perannum) but the emphasis on metropolitan living


Industrialise is a process, a verb transitive, not an achieved state.

The noun, industrialism, in its geographic and economic sense, involves the

organisation of the means of production to suit the purposes of

manufacturing, the provision and reproduction of an adequate labour pool
with appropriate attitudes and skills, the access of workers to the work
place, and the establishment of infrastructure and associated industries. In

the nineteenth century Australia operated virtually as a satellite of British

industry by providing raw materials. In the twentieth century local
manufacturing secured a degree of autonomy but was still dependent on

overseas capital investment.

In 1917 Holden and Frost, a small South Australian coach builder,

custom built its first car body to be fitted onto an imported chassis powered

by an imported motor, an exciting moment for a company which had

previously traded as a manufacturer of fine timbered coaches and sturdy

waggons. Within ten years, Holden Motor Body Builders Ltd. was no longer

making coaches. In 1926, the same year Ford opened its first factory at

Geelong in Victoria, Holdens manufactured on the assembly line in excess

of 36,000 car bodies, 60% of which were tailored to the requirements of

another American giant, General Motors for sale in Australia. In 1929

General Motors consumed the Australian manufacturer after the smaller

company had become reliant on it for existence. In 1948 General Motors


Holden manufactured the first car made wholly in Australia.

Under these conditions a general feeling emerged at the end of the

1914-1918 war and grew in intensity as the post-war world presented itself,

that the type of community and Australian spirit imagined by Lawson and
Furphy had disappeared, probably forever. There were romantic attempts

to link the two periods in the late thirties. Lawson was held up as an

enviable model for left radicalism confronted with the rise of fascism and

fascist sentiment in Europe and Australia. Yet, for the most part,
twentieth century novelists saw their time removed from many of the

imagined certainties of the nineteenth century. A consciousness of the

twentieth century manifested itself in explicit ways in the writing of the
interwar period. Machines and images of machines were used to connote a
sense of uncertainty, possibly because it was here that the most fundamental
changes had occurred in Australia after 1915.

There were also influences of a more tendencious kind which affected

Australian writing. Four months before Lawsons death in September 1922,

D.H. Lawrence visited Australia. The visit was probably one of the most

important occasions in the early development of modern Australian

literature. Considered an exciting new writer, Lawrence had come in

search of a brave new world. Apart from Kangaroo (1923), Lawrence co

wrote Tlie Boy in the Bush (1924) with the little known Western Australian

author, Mollie Skinner. The collaboration irritated Katharine Prichard who

considered herself more a writer than the quaker nurse who dabbled in

fiction as a hobby and who, coincidentally, ran a boarding house where

Lawrence happened to spend two weeks.^ Prichard claimed an early

* * * *

79. Katharine Prichard to Nettie Palmer, June 13 19 27. Palmer Papers NLA
MS 1174/1/29 75.

affinity with Lawrence: "After reading Sons and Lovers ... soon after it was

published [in 1913] I felt a comet had swung into my ken", she recalled in
1950.^0 in 1923, Catherine MacLaurin reviewed Kangaroo as novel by a

modern English writer who had taken Australian subject matters seriously:

Sydney that is the real heroine of the book: Sydney with her blue skies
paling to the horizon, and clean air, her sunshine and glowing sunsets,
her warm delights of living and the mile-long surf that forever beats on
her ocean beaches; the vivid contrast between her gentle peace and the
savage fury of England during the last few years of the war. Of
course, this novel is merely a symptom of the post-war neurasthenia
which has befallen the Old Country.

Louis Esson believed Lawrences "modernism" gave a vital shot in the arm to

the stagnant morale of Australian writing: "When he wrote Kangaroo he had

no thought of his Australian sales - or of his English sales for that matter -
but he produced one of the finest and most significant books yet inspired by
Australia." According to Esson, Lawrence, a "great English writer of the
modern school", had snuek into Australia to avoid publicity, preferring to

"go his own way in perfect freedom and say whatever he wanted to say."*>2

Lawrence was not as impressed with Australia as his admirers possibly

might have liked. The alien land stretched his imagination more than he

believed it was capable of rendering effectively in fiction. Australia was

more mysterious than Egypt, he told Katharine Prichard: "I feel I slither on

the edge of a gulf, reaching to grasp its atmosphere and spirit. It eludes

me and always would."^ At Sydney, he noted a clumsily arranged city with

an array of bad imitations of English architecture and customs. A strange

* * * *
80. Katharine Prichard, "Lawrence in Australia", Meanjin Vol 9 No 4 19 50 p
81. Catherine McLauren, "As Lawrence Sees Us", Bulletin December 13 1923.
p 2.
82. Louis Esson, "Lawrence in Australia". Bulletin, March 27 1924. p 3.
83. D.H. Lawrence to Katharine Prichard 1922. Copy in Prichard Papers
NLA MS 1094. Box 5.

contradiction, he saw a young country tethered to the old world by

antiquated colonialism. Yet Lawrence wrote two Australian novels. This

primitive land occupied by a young and naive white population who seemed

largely unconscious of its dormant passion compelled the pen to paper. "No

Australian has ever fallen more deeply under the spell of the bush", noted

Louis Esson, "To Lawrence Australia is the most magical glamorous country

in the world, and different from any other country, stranger, more

mysterious and more difficult of comprehension than even Egypt, India or

Sicily." According to Esson, Lawrence thought "Australia was the most

democratic nation in the world, but he had lost all faith in democracy, which
he thought had failed miserably in the war."84

This thesis traces some of the contours of twentieth century Australian

writing in the crucial decades which separated the two world wars. While
the specific emphasis is the 1920s and 1930s, Chapter One, "Production"
embraces the years 1900-1969, providing a more complete perspective of

developments in the twentieth century. Chapter Two focuses on attempts

by writers to secure professional status for their work. It is argued that,

although this was a legitimate undertaking in an industrialising world, the

claim was complicated by the craft origins of writing, the traditionally poor

returns and the fact of a predominantly utilitarian society which remained

ambivalent about the value of literature, particularly serious works which,

unable to command a large readership could not accommodate the profit

motive. Chapter Three explores the issue of social control of literature

through censorship, relating the development of the novel as an industrial

artefact to the emergence of the modern state. Chapter Four analyses

attempts by the literary community to manufacture tradition and establish

* * * *

84. Louis Esson, "Lawrence in Australia" loc cit.


the reputations of local writers. This can be regarded as an attempt to

give their industry* legitimacy and cultural value. Chapter Five charts the

key dynamics of Australian writing in the post-Great War years. It

analyses connections between Australian writing and perceptions of European

and American literatures and, more specifically, the search for modern

literary expression through the novel. Chapters Six and Seven explore some

of the ways in which modern novels rendered their contemporary world.



The emergence of the modern Australian novel in the 1920s and 1930s
has been viewed in a variety of ways but primarily as a response to growth in

literacy standards and education generally, the rise of an urban middle-

class, increased leisure time and wages for workers, the expansion of cities

and their suburbs, and the declining role of the Bulletin as the custodian of

national writing.1 Yet no survey has traced the connections between

production and distribution in any detail.2 Appreciation of Australias
literary endeavour can only gain from an understanding of the processes

through which a novel, a play, a short story or a poem must pass before
being offered for public consumption. To view literature as a commodity

may be unkind to authors and discerning* readers but critiques of writing

and histories of culture are limited if they do not make some assessment of
the volume and composition of their subject-matter.

It is difficult to make an accurate assessment of Australias literary

landscape in the absence of a full length-study. Yet production trends are

made clear in statistics derived from existing bibliographies. Geoffrey

Hubbles Tlie Australian Novel: A Title Checklist (19 70) indexes over five
thousand titles, 1900-1969. Although there are omissions and occasional

errors in this work it is a substantial inventory of twentieth century fiction.

* * * *

1. H.M. Green A History of Australian Literature (Sydney, 1961) Volume 11

p 993
2. The best social history of publishing is Craig Munros biography of P.R.
Stephensen, Wild Man of Letters (Melbourne, 1984). See also Richard Nile
and David Walker, Marketing the Literary Imagination: Literary Production
1915-1965**, to be published in Penguin New History of Australian Literature
(Melbourne, 19 88) Chapter 19. Drusilla Modjeska compiled statistical ratio
based on the numbers of women to men writers in Australia in her Ph.D.
thesis "Women Writers: A Study of Australian Cultural History" (UNSW
19 79) which became the basis of her study, Exiles at Home (Sydney 19 81).
Modjeska derived figures from Grahame Johnstons Annals of Australian
Literature (Melbourne 19 70). The problems of using Johnstons source as a
sole guide are discussed later in this chapter.

Morris Miller and Frederick Macartneys Australian Literature (1956) is the

most comprehensive bibliography of published Australian writing 1788-1950.

Using these two guides and drawing on other sources such as The Annual
Catalogue of Australian Publications (1937- ) and indexes of the National
and Mitchell libraries as the best repositories of printed Australian writing,

the bibliographies provide a useful basis for some informative production

statistics. They are the best guides for the where and when questions.
How and why are quite separate questions and will be discussed in subsequent


Records of publishing companies round out the sometimes sharp edges of

cold publication statistics. They offer a more intimate insight to the

processes of publishing and help complete a picture of production.
Publishing companies are the business side of writing. They manufacture
their items, target audiences and promote sales. Their role is marketing.
What emerges in this study is a pattern of increased production 1900-1969

with significant high and low points. With a strengthening of local

companies and, in particular, the success of Angus and Robertson as the

principal publisher of Australian works, the 1930s emerge as a watershed in

the development of the Australian novel.

In considering the when question of writing, a significant problem

emerges from the use of publication dates which take no account of the time

separating an idea for a book and its appearance between covers.

Manuscripts can have long and submerged histories before they assume public

life in book form with commercial imprints. Vance Palmer conceived TTie

S wayne Family (1934) a quarter of a century before it was published by

Angus and Robertson.^ Katharine Prichard began writing Intimate

Strangers in 1928-1929. A first draft was completed by 1933 but the

manuscript was not in final draft until mid 1936. It was published by Cape
in London in 1937.4 Marjorie Barnard and Flora Eldershaw wrote "Tomorrow

and Tomorrow and Tomorrow" in 1943. Georgian House, their publisher,

estimated the book would be ready within six months but warned that there

may be some problems with the censor.^ Tomorrow and Tomorrow, an

abridged version, appeared in 1946. The original Tomorrow and Tomorrow

and Tomorrow was published for the first time in 19 85. The history of
Australian publishing is punctuated by many such occurrences.
Bibliographical listings for The Swayne Family, Intimate Strangers and
Tomorrow and Tomorrow are in relation to publication dates, illustrating the
problem of using publishing as an indicator of writing.
* * * *

3. In a letter to Nettie Palmer, Marjorie Barnard wrote: " ... dont

reproach yourself for having told me that The Swayne Family was in the
writing for twenty five years....Mr Palmer told me himself in a tram ... ".
November 13 1934. Palmer Papers NLA MS 1174/1/4519
4. Prichard mentioned Intimate Strangers at various stages throughout its
development. From the Palmer Papers see NLA MSS 1174/1/2914 February
19 1928, 1174/1/3550-1 May 20 1930, 1174/1/3850-7 August 21 1930,
1174/1/3897 December 1932, 1174/1/4179 January 7 1933, 1174/1/4250-1 June
7 1933. Prichards letters to the Palmers after 1933 are rather fewer than
in the years preceding. She did not refer to her book again until 1937 when
it was published: "When I d finished Intimate Strangers, I didnt know if it
was good, bad or indifferent. Nothing ever seems to measure up during the
process of conceptions. But I had to do this thing: try to do it ... "
September 1 1937. Palmer Papers NLA MS 1174/1/5301. See also
commentary by Ric Throssell Wild Weeds and Wind Flowers: "The Life and
Letters of Katharine Susannah Prichard" (Sydney 19 75) pp 73-91.
5. Georgian House to Marjorie Barnard. Marjorie Barnard Papers ML MSS
451, March 24 1944. It is also interesting to note Barnards reference a
decade earlier in a letter to Nettie Palmer: "I rang Angus and Robertson
this morning. They said Tlie Swayne Family would be published to-morrow
or perhaps Thursday. I rang the Shakespeare Head and they said to
morrow. To-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow". November 13 1934.
Palmer Papers NLA MS 1174/1/4519

Further complicating any quantitative assessment of production is the

unknown number of manuscripts submitted for publication and left

unpublished in their own time. Angus and Robertson records are a

fascinating guide to unpublished manuscripts and ideas for stories as well as

those books which were published.^ C.W. Hesling from Lithgow (NSW)
submitted a volume of stories in 1921 which, while tempting the publisher,

was declined. Acknowledging merit in the collection, Angus and Robertson

wrote: ... it is not easy to decide upon a manuscript like that of your

Gods Chance. It contains excellent material but after consultation our

advisers have decided to decline it.^ Lesbia Harfords The Invaluable
Mystery was written in cl924. It lay forgotten for over sixty years before
rediscovery led to publication in 1987.69 7 Other
8 hints of novels written and

never published include various manuscripts left by Miles Franklin, F.S.

Hibble's Calm (cl935), Leonard Manns The Red (cl942) and unnamed
and now lost manuscripts by Brian Fitzpatrick and Coralie Rees.9
* * * *

6. See in particular Manuscript Cards - Records of Manuscripts Submitted

with Reports, 1937-1956. Angus and Robertson Papers ML MSS 1549/70
S9-13, S15, S16, S28X, S29. The main collections ML MSS 314 and ML
MSS 3269.
7. Angus and Robertson to C.W. Hesling. March 23 2921. Angus and
Robertson Papers ML MSS 3 269.
8. Lesbia Harford, The Invaluable Mystery (Melbourne 1987). See
Introduction by Richard Nile and Robert Darby pp 5-17.
9. Miles Franklin Papers. ML MSS 364. Hibbles Calm was entered in the
1935 S.H. Prior Memorial Prize for Australian Fiction. Although it
achieved some notice, it remains unpublished, Bulletin, July 24 1935 p 2.
Leonard Manns The Red was written in the early 1940s. He considered it
his best work but it was not published. The Manuscript is held by his
daughter, Pauline Lauchlan. Don Watson, Brian Fitzpatrick: A Radical Life
mentions an unpublished novel written by Fitzpatrick in 1929/30 (Sydney
19 79) p 3 also passim pp 28-53. In 1936 Coralie Rees mentioned to
Dymphna Cusack that she had written a novel which remained unpublished.
January 10 1936, Cuscak Papers NLA MS 4621/1/10.

Many poorly written manuscripts were routinely returned to their

writers. M.J. Henry of Amiens via Cottondale (Qld) submitted a novel to

Angus and Robertson in 1931 to receive judgement: Owing partly to the
economic crisis, partly to our disappointing experiments with Australian

novels we have suspended indefinitely consideration of fiction mss.1 This

was a polite way of saying that the publisher did not think the book was

worth printing. Angus and Robertson was, in fact, about to embark on a

new phase of publication which included Australian novels. In the interwar

years six times as many manuscripts were submitted for literary prizes as

were published in an average year.11 In 1933 P.R. Stephensen claimed that

over six hundred manuscripts had been sent to him in eighteen months.
Many of these had apparently been in circulation for a number of years but
have now disappeared.12 Of those manuscripts he considered, Stephensen
published eight.1

In another category are those books which did not pass beyond the

planning stage. Anne Brennan, well known in Sydney bohemian circles in

the 1920s, wanted to write a novel but no book materialised. One short

article is all that she appears to have published.^ With a better publishing

record, Katharine Susannah Prichard often complained that a life-time was

a short time to write all the books she had imagined. This was certainly true
* * * *

10. Angus and Robertson to M.J. Henry. July 17 1931. Angus and Robertson
Papers ML MSS 3 269.
11. This figure is based on the 19 20 C.J. de Garis Novel Competition and the
1928 and 1930 Bulletin novel competitions
12. P.R. Stephensen, What Editors Want, speech to the Fellowship of
Australian Writers, Sydney June 22 1933. Reported in All About Books,
July 13 1933 p 108.
13. Craig Munro to Richard Nile, October 1987.
14. Anne Brennan, "Psycho Analysis and Youth, 19 24. Cited in Drusilla
Modjeska, Exiles at Home op cit pp 17-18.

of Anne Brennan who died in 1929 at the age of thirty one . It remains an

open question, had she lived, whether Anne Brennan possessed the necessary

skills to write a book. Of proven writers, it can only be speculated what

might have been written by Lesbia Harford and Helen Simpson had they not

died young. When Katharine Prichard died in 1969 at the age of eighty five
she had published thirteen full-length novels, two volumes of poetry, two

collections of short fiction, numerous uncollected stories, poems and

political tracts and a handful of plays.

Prichards drive to write, although erratic at times, was compulsive

despite other demands on her time: domestic and political duties, family

troubles and ill-health. One of the happier images conveyed in her

correspondence with Nettie Palmer was that of sitting at the verandah of her
Greenmount house, poised with pen in hand and ready to write, her son Ric
close by and his pony demanding attention and a cube of sugar, nudging the
writers arm.16 Other images were not so happy. 1d rather do no more

work this year - and will not unless my head lets up, she wrote in 1928,
"Its been aching incessantly - with black ants ... And theres so much I

want to do ... things Im aching to do.16 Prichard had just finished her

sixth novel and was about to resume work on two others which she had


In 1930 Prichard confided in Nettie Palmer that she would like to

retire from the world once Intimate Strangers (1937), a novel which
* * * *

15. Katharine Prichard to Nettie Palmer. August 21 19 31. Palmer Papers

NLA MS 1174/1/3805-7.
16. Katharine Prichard to Nettie Palmer. Palmer Papers February 9 19 28.
Palmer Papers NLA MS 1174/1/2914.

occupied her for almost a decade, was completed and had been despatched to
a publisher.1*^ Publication was postponed following the suicide of her
husband, Jim Throssell, in 1933. Prichard waited a few years before she

felt she could return to the manuscript. As publication drew closer, she

began to rummage around for new stories. In the late 1930s, the author was

making plans to embark on her most ambitious project, a trilogy set in the

Western Australian goldfields where she spent some time with Jim Thossell in

1930. The last volume of the trilogy was published in 1950.

Twenty thousand kilometres away, Henry Handel Richardson, author of

an equally ambitious trilogy which occupied her for seventeen years to 1929,
seemingly had all the time in the world to write. With a private secretary
and constant companion to tend to tasks such as typing and the preparation
of meals, a huge study where she sat for hours without the disruption of a
curious little boy or a spoiled pony, she did not complete a proposed novel

based on the character Cuffy Mahony.1^ The concept was abandoned soon

after it was begun though the idea resurfaced from time to time. A few
written fragments were included in The End of Childhood (1934).

Prichard and Richardson have been canonised as significant figures in

the history of Australian literature. They have had biographies and critical

surveys written about them and no literary study of the period is considered

complete without at least some reference to their achievements. The

* * * *

17. Katharine Prichard to Nettie Palmer. May 20 1930. Palmer Papers NLA
MS 1174/1/3550-1.
18. When talk of a fourth volume of the Mahony novels arose Henry Handel
Richardson wrote to Vance Palmer: "Whether I shall trace Cuffys fate to its
end, I cant say yet. I have it in my minds eye. But putting it on paper
is another business altogether. May 8 1929. Palmer Papers NLA MS

period which brought forward the work of these authors was also filled with

many now obscured writers. Frank A. Russell, winner of the 1920 de Garis

prize, and F.S. Hibble, who shared first prize in the Melbourne centenary
novel competition, have been all but forgotten by students of Australian

A number of books recognised in their own time were forgotten in

subsequent generations while vast numbers of popular books found ready

markets, only to perish once their print runs were spent. There were

those books which, for whatever reasons, all but disappeared despite alleged
literary merit. Chester Cobbs Mr Moffatt (1925) and Days of Disillusion
(1926) are striking examples. At this level, the monumental bibliographical

efforts of H.M. Green should be recognised. At another point are those

books which were never circulated because of government intervention.
Norman Lindsays Redheap (1930) and J.M. Harcourts Upsurge (1934) were
only made available to Australian readers after they were removed from the

censors lists. In the case of Harcourt, it was fifty years before his book
was readily available in Australia. E.L. Grant Watsons Australian

novel, The Partners (1933), banned in 1934, has never been distributed in


A comparison of novel production and the writing and publishing of

verse and short fiction is complicated because verse and short stories often

found their market more readily in newpapers, journals and magazines, than

in books. The bulk of Henry Lawsons verse and short stories were

published first in the Bulletin and Smiths Weekly before reprints appeared
in book form. The tranfer from one medium to another was not always a

simple matter and the chances of work being disregarded were substantial.
In 19 20, Lawson outlined to his friend Jim Gordon how best to approach

publishing: "Send your best to Bully; requesting them to return rejects

promptly. Then send your rejects to Smiths Weekly - theyll jump at

them ... above all save all your clippings and original copies with a

view of submitting them to Angus and Robertson or someone for book

publication ... Angus and Robertsons 1925 collection of Henry Lawson
verse included 178 poems, a fraction of his writing over forty years.^O

Given the limitations of the current survey it is possible to discern a

pattern of literary production. Figures derived from both Hubble and Miller
and Macartney stress the importance of the 1930s in the emergence of the

novel. According to Hubble, London was the publication centre of

Australian fiction for all but two years (1933 and 1934) in the period 1900-

1940, after which time production centred on Sydney. Hubble lists 1,218
Australian titles published in London 1900-1940, representing 54.4% of the
total for the period. In the same twenty one years Sydney produced 654

Australian titles, 29.2% of the total. Publishing companies in Melbourne

produced 366 or 15% of Australian novels in the same period. Of 1,020

Australian titles published in Australia 19 00-1940, almost two thirds were

published in Sydney.

While the history of Australian publishing in the 1920s and 1930s was a

tale of three cities, one of which was half a world away, the 1930s

represented a substantial shift in favour of local publication. In the 1940s

this shift accelerated which might usefully be seen as the triumph of local
* * * *

19. Henry Lawson to Jim Gordon. March 22 1920. Henry Lawson Papers,
held by Angus and Robertson. ML MSS 314.
20. Henry Lawson, The Poetical Works of Henry Lawson (Sydney 1925)

Graph Showing Publication of Novels: Sydney & London 1900-1969

Number o f Publications


1880 1900 1920 1940 i960 1980


Publication of Australian Novels: Australia & Britain 1920-1940



Graph Showing Publication of Novels: Sydney & Melbourne 1900-1969

Number of Publications


1880 1900 1920 1940 1960 1980


London Publishers of Australian Novels








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publishing. With the Second World War restricting the trade in books

between London and Australia local publishing flourished. Overseas

companies never regained the foothold they once held in the "colonies.
When the war was over, a few British companies such as Penguin, Heinemann

and Collins found it desirable to open offices in Australia, by which time

Angus and Robertson had cemented its position as the Australian publishing

company. In 1948 Angus and Robertson opened a London office to

distribute Australian titles in Britain. Previously overseas production and

marketing had been handled by the British. In the 1920s and 1930s Angus
and Robertson first challenged and then overcame the dominance of London

publishers in the Australian market. Angus and Robertsons emergence was

facilitated by a number of factors including shrewd business deals and a
twenty five percent drop in the exchange rate in the early 1930s, making the
relative production cost of local books cheaper than those which were
written here, published overseas and then reimported.

In international terms the 1920s and 1930s were crucial decades in

modern publishing during which improved printing and distribution

technologies resulted in increased production.21 While increased volume

was an enviable dream for aspiring writers, some were concerned that new

arrangements might discriminate against, as yet, unannounced Australians.

Improvements in the industry actually attracted a growing number of

Australian titles to London while, at home, new technologies boosted the

fortunes of larger local companies, causing a mini publishing revolution.

* * * *

21. F.A. Mumby and Ian Norrie, Publishing and Bookselling (London 1974)
pp 245-248

In 1923, Angus and Robertson moved its printing operations from

Penfold and Company to the Eagle Press which had been recently established
at Surry Hills in Sydney. The new press claimed it could typeset, print and
bind four thousand copies of a three hundred page book within a week, each

complete with a coloured dustjacket.22 Though perhaps a somewhat

exaggerated claim, this was an impressive example of streamlined

production, and the companys drive for efficiency had convinced Angus and

Robertson to change printers. In December 1924, George Robertson wrote

to a New Zealand bookseller about the new arrangements: Getting a book

out of Penfold and Co (our former printers) used to be like drawing a

refractory cork. Switching his metaphor, the teetotal Robertson
commented: ... the Eagle Press drops them into our backyard like bombs
from an aeroplane" .2^ In 1924 Eagle Press produced more than 350,000
volumes for Angus and Robertson. Proud proprietor, Thomas Bermingham,
wrote to George Robertson: "I venture to say that this must be a record for
Australia, and that, with additional plant and machinery to be installed in

the New Year, we have the most up-to-date book producing plant in

Australia ,2^

Between March 1923 and December 1924, Eagle Press increased capital

investment by f7,833 to fl3,804.25 Its rise to prominence as an Australian

printing house in two short years would have been exceptional were it not for

the involvement of Angus and Robertson which Bermingham duly

* * * *

22. Eagle Press Papers in Angus and Robertson Papers. ML MSS 314
23. George Robertson to George A. Hicks. December 12 1924. Angus and
Robertson Papers ML MSS 3 269.
24. Thomas Bermingham to George Robertson. December 22 1924. Angus and
Robertson Papers ML MSS 3 269.
25. Federal Taxation Adjustment Sheet 1926, covering 1923-1925. Angus
and Robertson Papers ML MSS 3 269.

acknowledged in his letter to George Robertson: Tt ... when we first started

we had practically no experience in this class of work, and whatever skill we

have since acquired, is due mainly to your advice and instruction.By

1929, the fast moving press was bankrupt. One more tale from the archives

of the "roaring twenties", the crash would have been spectacular had it not

been for the involvement of Angus and Robertson.

Throughout the twenties, Eagle Press became almost entirely dependent

on Angus and Robertson for survival. It was virtually a satellite servicing

the needs of a parent company. When declared bankrupt in 1929, Angus and
Robertsons secretary, W.F. Dibley, was appointed receiver. According to

Dibley, Eagle Press had been in financial difficulties from the outset. He
painted roguish portraits of Bermingham and his partner. According to
Dibley, Eagle Press was established in 1923 as a "debenture" company to
Bermingham and Fowler Ltd., a small Brisbane printer with insufficient

collateral for the new venture. Soon after Eagle Press opened in Sydney,

Bermingham and Fowler traded in name only and the Brisbane office closed.

Dibley claimed that Angus and Robertson bailed out Eagle Press in 19 23.

Although no documentation of this ocurrence appears in Angus and

Robertsons papers, Eagle Press and Bermingham and Fowler Limited

apparently " ... each gave Angus and Robertson a Debenture over their

assets as security". In this situation, Angus and Robertson now controlled

an efficient printing press without having to buy it. "Since 1923 Eagle

Press has practically only done Angus and Robertson work," explained

* * * *

26. Thomas Bermingham to George Robertson, Angus and Robertson Papers

ML MSS 3269 December 22 1924.

... whilst Eagle Press continued to buy machinery and plant to do so

whatever work was required Angus and Robertson backed them with f s
d., and paid all accounts and wages etc. All goods supplied to Angus
and Robertson were done at quotational prices, which the manager of
Eagle Press was satisfied showed a profit. Alas! the debenture grew
until Angus and Robertson were forced to take charge.2?

The 1929 take over of the Eagle Press was a very slick operation. On

20 June, Halstead Printers, a company specifically set up by Angus and

Robertson to take over the embattled Eagle Press borrowed f28,000 from the

parent company and then handed it back as the asking price set by the
receiver. An Eagle was hawked for a small price. Angus and Robertson

paid just over f5,000 in outstanding Eagle Press debts and deposited the

balance in the bank. In a token gesture Halstead offered Thomas

Bermingham the position of manager. Feeling unable to accept the
conditions, he declined. Angus and Robertson then terminated
Berminghams association with the company. He was entitled to f206
severance pay but Angus and Robertson claimed he owed f200 in debts.29
In July 1929, Bermingham closed the door of his office in Surry Hills for the

last time with a cheque for f6 in his pocket. He demanded an appointment

to discuss the matter. George Robertson refused and although legal

proceedings were instituted the matter was settled.29

* * * *

27. W.F. Dibley to O.L. Thompson, Inspector, Registrar Generals

Department. May 7 1929. Angus and Robertson Papers ML MSS 3269.
28. W.F. Dibley to A.M. Hernesley, Messrs Allen, Allen and Hernsley June
20 1929. Audit J. Farram, Carruthers, Farram and Company May 14 1928.
Angus and Robertson Papers ML MSS 3 269.
29. Halstead Press to Thomas Bermingham, June 20 19 29, July 8 19 29.
Bermingham to George Robertson, September 18 1929. Angus and Robertson
Papers. ML MSS 3 269.

After six years as an "absentee landlord", Angus and Robertson emerged

in 1929 to assume direct control of the Surry Hills office. Over the next
few years the Halstead Press generated an increased volume of work.
Profit was used to buy new machinery. Any surplus was deposited with

Angus and Robertson. In 1930 Halstead employed fifty one workers, had
twelve electric motors, plant valued at fl4,400 which generated f23,939 in
contracted work, mostly for Angus and Robertson. By 1944, the company
was turning over annual contracts at an average of f120,000.30 Throughout

the 1930s between 65% and 73% of Halsteads work came from Angus and

Robertson. When war broke out in 1939 Halstead found its service
increasingly in demand by other companies. By 1943 the ratio now favoured

outside contracts, creating something of an embarrassment for Angus and

Robertson. Whereas during the thirties Halstead quoted cheap prices for
the parent company with a 15% allowance for profit, Angus and Robertson
felt the margin was too narrow for outside customers.31 Because of war
time monitoring against profiteering, Halstead could not simply increase
prices for new customers.3 ^

The neat system which had operated in the 1920s with the Eagle Press

and in the 1930s with Halstead was now losing Angus and Robertson potential

revenue. Halstead was permitted to increase its percentage from 15% to

30%, though Angus and Robertson management persisted in claims for a 35%
margin. Given the new arrangements with outside customers, in the 19 50s
* * * *

30. Annual Financial Statement, Halstead Press to Angus and Robertson.

Angus and Robertson Papers ML MSS 3 269.
31. W.G. Cousins to Commonwealth Prices Commissioner September 23 1943.
Angus and Robertson Papers ML MSS 3 269.
3 2. Commonwealth Prices Branch to Angus and Robertson, October 1 1943.
On July 11 1944 the Prices Branch rejected a further increase in the profit
margin. Angus and Robertson Papers ML MSS 3 269.

Halstead managed a degree of autonomy from Angus and Robertson.33 In

the sixties, the once most efficient printer in Sydney was being outbid for

contract work by aggressive rivals with new plant. In this period, Gordon

Barton assumed control of Angus and Roberton and in the seventies it was
taken over by News Limited.

Overall, the thirties witnessed increasing concentration of Australian

publishing in the hands of Angus and Robertson. The exchange rate which

increased its fortunes also assisted the formation of a number of small

companies. Although the lives of these companies were short, their
influence was profound. In October 1932 P.R. Stephensen returned to

Sydney after seven years in London with the stated intention of

"establishing an Australian publishing house". Before setting up the
Endeavour Press with the assistance of Norman Lindsay, S.H. Prior and the
Bulletin, he wrote to George Robertson: "I look forward to the pleasure of

making your acquaintance and trust that with your wide experience of
Australian Bookselling and Publishing you will not discourage a new effort in
the same field."3**
* * * *

33. Because of the new arrangements it was decided that the two companies
should operate with a measure of independence from one another. In the
late 1940s Halstead refused to disclose its quotational prices for outside
customers to the parent company. In 1948, Halstead planned expansions
after it had acquired the Modern Photo Engraving Company at Arnold Place
in Surry Hills. A further f30,000 worth of plant and machinery was placed
on order and applications were made to the Sydney City Council for
expansion of the Nickson Street premises. In 1948 the value of outside
work stood at almost a quarter of a million pounds. This increased to
f300,000 by 1952. By 19 61 Halstead was worth in excess of half a million
pounds per year in contracted work of which Angus and Robertson accounted
for less than 40%. Angus and Robertson Papers ML MSS 3 269.
34. P.R. Stephensen to George Robertson. October 21 1932. Angus and
Robertson Papers ML MSS 3269.

Stephensen spent a fiery twelve months with the Endeavour Press before

striking out on his own and forming P.R. Stephensen and Company. The
Stephensen company published works by Eleanor Dark, Henry Handel

Richardson and Vivian Crockett, among others. Yet it floundered in

February 1935 followed soon after by the Endeavour Press. A somewhat

chastened Stephensen addressed a gathering of writers at Sydney in August.
Complaining that local production was strangled by the 11 ... operations of a

trade-ring of importing booksellers, [and] by unfair competition from

overseas", he warned his audience that, despite considerable effort on his

part, Australia remained a dumping ground for English products.

Stephensens venture to establish an Australian publishing company

intent on producing Australian works of a standard comparable to those

produced by British companies and the larger Australian companies, has been
described by Craig Munro in Wild Man of Letters as a " ... daring experiment
at a time of financial depression and cultural indolence.36 a 1934

broadsheet advertising P.R. Stephensen and Co. outlined its founders belief
in the possibilities of Australian publishing. It argued that a country which

could not find its own publishers for M. Barnard Eldershaw, Miles Franklin,

Henry Handel Richardson, Katharine Prichard, Helen Simpson, G.B.

Lancaster, Norman Lindsay, Dale Collins, Jack McLaren, Vance Palmer,

Frederick Manning and Leslie Meller was in desperate need of a committed

* * * *

35. P.R. Stephensen, "The Australian Author", address to the Fellowship of

Australian Writers, Sydney 1935. ML 825/62A. Stephensens complaint
was quite familiar to writers. Almost a decade earlier there had been a
running debate in the pages of the Bulletin on this issue under the title "Why
Authors Leave Home". Contributors included Charles Sayers April 29 1926
pp 2-3, Robert Kaleski June 3 1926 p 2, Frank Dalby Davison July 1 1926 p
2, Bernard Cronin July 29 1926 p 2, Nettie Palmer August 5 19 26 p 3 and
J.E. August 19 1926 pp 2-3.
36. Craig Munro Wild Man of Letters op cit p 149.

local publicist: in short, f,InkyM Stephensen. "Australia is recognised as

being one of the very best book markets in the world", wrote Stephensen in


In the "Publisher and Bookseller" (London) it has been officially stated

that Australia buys more books per head of population than any other
part of the British Empire, including the British Isles ... there is not,
at the present time, in Australia, any national publishing house devoted
exclusively to the production of books, though there are several book
selling firms which also have successful publishing departments.3?

Although Stephensen did not mention Angus and Robertson he may well

have had the old Sydney firm in mind. In a letter to Nettie Palmer in 1934

Marjorie Barnard observed: "Yes Stephensen and Angus and Robertson seem

to be vying with one another as to who can publish the greatest rubbish with
the most eclat. Each is scathing about the literary tastes of the
other" .38 Miles Franklin was more enthusiastic when she wrote that
Stephensen " ... will attain as he will not let anything interfere with his

plans."39 In 1934 Stephensen proposed to publish books by Frederick

Thwaites, Dulcie Deamer, Xavier Herbert, Theo Price and Eleanor Dark in

print runs of 3,000 copies; Vance Palmer, Ambrose Pratt, Ada Holman, in
runs of 2,000 copies and; Vivian Crockett, George Berrie and Ruby

Pemberton in runs of 1,000 copies.40

* * * *

37. P.R. Stephensen, "Prospectus of Stephensens National Book Publishing

House Ltd. Canberra" 1934.
38. Marjorie Barnard to Nettie Palmer. April 17 1934. Palmer Papers NLA
MS 1174/1/4411-5.
39. Miles Franklin to Nettie Palmer. December 31 1936. Palmer Papers NLA
MS 1174/1/5189.
40. P.R. Stephensens Circular" Number 2 1934.

In February 1934, Eleanor Dark signed her contract giving Stephensen

the rights to publish Prelude to Christopher. Although a first novel,

Prelude to CJiristopher came well recommended. Stephensen agreed to print
1,000 copies of the book, not the proposed 3,000. The author was required

to guarantee one hundred pounds against bad sales, reversing the usual
procedure where publishing companies made advance payments against
royalties. Stephensen and Co agreed to repay Darks advance at a rate of

2/- per copy. All copies of Prelude to Christopher had to sell for Dark not
to lose on the deal. Although the practice, when employed by British

publishers, was roundly condemned in writers circles and authors were

advised to avoid such undertakings, Stephensen appears to have escaped
notice.Eleanor Dark did not renew her contract with Stephensen. She
became one of the few Australian authors to negotiate a British contract
after her novel had been sold locally. Collins re-issued Prelude to
Chrisopher in two print runs in 1935 and 1936.

Under capitalised and, quite likely, over ambitious, Stephensens plan

for an Australian national publishing company is a fascinating story in the

history of Australian publishing. Of the remaining authors listed in 1934

only Herbert, Price, Crockett, Berrie and Pemberton published with

* * * *

41. Section 2 of Eleanor Darks contract with Stephensen set out: "The
Publisher agrees to print and publish the said work in volume form within
three months ... in an edition of at least one thousand copies (1000) at a
published price of seven shillings and six pence (7s 6d) ... Section 14
stated: TTie author will pay to the Publisher on the date of the signing of
the Agreement the sum of One Hundred Pounds as an Advance against the
costs of printing and publishing the said book and the Publishers will repay
the said Advance to the author at the rate of two shillings (2s Od) per copy
on all copies sold by them until the original advance ... shall have been
repaid from the sales of the said book". This situation was virtually private
publishing on the part of the author, using the official publisher, as the
printer and distributor. Eleanor Dark Contract with P.R. Stephensen and
Company February 22 1934. Eleanor Dark Papers, ML MSS 4545/23(25)

Stephensen. Although Stephensen was responsible for Herbert's Gapricornia

a disagreement between author and publisher later emerged and remained

unresolved. Stephensen claimed a pivotal role in editing Gapricornia which

the author denied. In an undated memorandum left among his papers,

Herbert charged Stephensen with lying. With characteristic hyperbole he

alleged the publisher shared no part in shaping Gapricornia though he

admitted the 500,000 word manuscript needed to be whittled down to a more

managable size.4 2 It is likely Stephensen edited the final draft of the
novel.^ ^

Stephensens plans for a national book publishing firm did not achieve

its objectives. Its downfall, like that of the Endeavour Press, created a
general air of despondency in writer circles. Stephensen persisted in his
attempt to muster energy for a local company. "The lusty uprising of
Australian authorship in the last two years has been due not only to the
passing of the older publishing traditions which starved Lawson and Brennan,

and could not even publish A House is Built here", argued Stephensen
recalling earlier imaginings of more fertile fields for Australian fiction:

The new impetus has come from a measure of economic protection to the
Australian book, accorded by the general tariff of 25 per .cent, adverse
exchange rate of Australia to London. This impetus is likely to fizzle.
It did not come in the first place from any desire or action of
Australian writers to market their works. It came as an economic
fluke, as almost the only discernible good blown up by the ill-wind, the
World. Depression.^

* * * *
42. Xavier Herbert "The Facts of the Publication of Caprieornia. For the
Historical Record", nd. Xavier Herbert Papers, NLA MS 758 Series 2.
43. Craig Munro has provided an excellent account of the editing and
publication of Caprieornia. Wild Man of Letters op cit pp 135-149
44. P.R. Stephensen 1935 address to the Fellowship of Australian Writers loc

Possibly reflecting on the demise of his own company, Stephensen was

correct in asserting that the brief period of penetration by local companies

in to the local market had been interrupted. Not only had his company been

expended, but London publishers now held the upper- hand. Stephensen was

critical of companies such as Angus and Robertson which were not only
publishers but importing booksellers. His explanation may have achieved
the sympathetic understanding of the assembled but many had heard it all


In 1934 Stephensen costed the average unit production of a six shilling

book in print runs of one to three thousand copies. Booksellers received a

discount of 2/-, printing and binding cost l/6d, author royalties and
advertising came to l/3d, leaving a profit of l/3d for the publisher.45
Although the figures were intended to interest prospective investors, and

were likely to be biased, they offer a rare breakdown of production costs in

this period. In evidence to a 1930 Tariff Board Inquiry into imported

books, Daniel Thorpe, editor of All About Books, presented a breakdown on

a M ... moderately successful first novel of 95,000 words" drawn up by the

publisher, George Unwin. Thorpe claimed that publication of 1,000 copies

of a 7/6d book left a short fall of f69.11.0. which the publisher had to

pay.4^ By 1939, Halstead Press was printing 1,000 copies of a 232 page

book on crown 8vo with cloth covers and a dust jacket for f44. Three
thousand copies could be produced for f60 and five thousand cost f76.

Marchant and Co, also of Sydney, quoted production and off-set printing of
* * * *

45. P.R. Stephensen "Prospectus" loc cit 1934. In a 1934 "Authorised

Share Capital Prospectus f5,000", Stephensen estimated that he would need
f2,700 to operate effectively over the ensuing 16 weeks.
46. Daniel Wrixon Thorpe, Evidence to Tariff Board Enquiry Proposal of
Duty (Mi Books, Magazines and Fashion Plates (1930) pp 82-83.

a 312 page book of crown 8vo at f55 for one thousand, f75 for three

thousand and f95 for five thousand. The more copies printed the cheaper

each unit was to produce. Reprints were cheaper again because all
typesetting had already been done.4,7

According to Hubble, production of Australian novels peaked in the

interwar years at 101 titles in 1933. Sydney produced fifty titles in

comparison to forty two produced in London. In 1934 Sydney maintained its

lead over London with forty five titles to forty. In 1935 a dramatic slump

halved local production and London surged ahead, corroborating

Stephensens assertion that local producton was to be once more swamped by

overseas competition. "The first fine frenzy of local publishing has
certainly died down", noted Marjorie Barnard in 1935 recalling Stephensen,
"Angus and Robertson possess the field once more. (Do you mind if I Damn
them?)."48 A close analysis of the twenties and thirties using publication
figures derived from Miller and Macartney illustrates the importance of

larger Australian and overseas companies such as Angus and Robertson and
Hodder and Stoughton to smaller operations such as Stephensens. In the

decade to 1930 Miller and Macartney titles show Hodder and Stoughton

(London) as the largest publisher of Australian novels. It was replaced by

Angus and Robertson in 1930. In the twenty one years 1920-1940, Angus

and Robertson emerged as the single largest publisher of Australian fiction.

* * *

47. Halstead's Price quoted for f55 for 1,000 copies of William Hatfield's
Australia Through the Windscreen, 3,000 copies cost f75, 5,000 copies cost
f95. May 5 1939. Marchant and Company were approximately 1/3 as
expensive again.
48. Marjorie Barnard to Nettie Palmer, September 15 1935. Palmer Papers
ANL MS 1174/1/4777-9.

With ninety titles, Hodder and Stoughton accounted for 7.3% of novels

listed in Miller and Macartney 1920-1940, 10.9% of those listed as published

in Britain. Hutchinson was the second largest British publisher with seventy

one titles (5.8% and 8.6% respectively). Ward Lock produced sixty five

Australian titles (5.3% and 7.9% respectively). The three largest British

publishers of Australian fiction accounted for 18.4% of the total of 1,233

Australian titles listed in Miller and Macartney in the period, suggesting
that, athough publishing was concentrated in London there were many

companies in Britain interested in Australian fiction.

Although Miller and Macartney figures show publication of Australian

fiction favoured British firms by a rate of two to one there were also a
number of Australian companies. Bookstall, located in Sydney, produced

fifty five titles, 1920-1940. A big seller were the books of "Steele Rudd"
whose copyright was held outright by Bookstall.^ Accommodated by a wide
distribution network, Bookstall marketed through three thousand Australian

and New Zealand bookshops. Adding its own eight bookshops and fifty

railway news-stands, Bookstalls high circulation meant it could market

books in cheap editions. Another publisher, F.H. Johnston specialised in

pulp and detective fiction. Like Bookstall, Johnston ran a tight

operation.50 Other notable Australian companies in the interwar years were

also located in Sydney: Cornstalk, a subsidiary of Angus and Robertson,

produced nineteen titles and Macquarie Head published fifteen novels.

* * * *

49. Bookstalls copyright agreements for the writings of Steele Rudd are
housed in the Angus and Robertson Papers ML MSS 1549/50 Box P6X.
Bookstall owned all Rudd's copyright but on May 22 19 35 the Department of
Patents ruled that On Our Selection belonged to the Arthur Hoey Davis
5 0. Vance Palmer, "The Publishing Trade", Bulletin January 1 19 20 p 2

These small companies did not prosper in an economic climate which

encouraged large-scale production. About the only Australian company

equipped to accommodate an increased specialisation and mechanisation in

the industry generally was Angus and Robertson.

Despite trends which were to favour local publishing, many Australian

authors of the interwar period began careers when conditions seemed less

favourable. In 1920 Vance Palmer cautioned writers to keep in mind the

English market. In 1922 he wrote again:

The Australian novel struggles painfully under the handicap of having to

address itself primarily to a public overseas. It is a big handicap, and
it has not been lessened in recent years; rather the reverse. A little
while ago the publication of a novel was not a serious undertaking, and
a characteristic Australian novel might have hoped to slip through.
Now it would have little chance. The publisher, to pay the costs, has
to be sure of a minimum circulation of 3,000 instead of 1,000, and
consequently looks for something that will have immediate appeal for
the patron of the English circulating libraries.51

According to Stephensen, these practices were continued into the 1930s and

in some cases strengthened. Confirmed in a belief that reader tastes were

dictated, in a large measure, by publishing programs, he suggested that

Angus and Robertson and the larger British companies were serving up


Palmer argued that the situation with writers and publishers in the years

immediately following the Great War almost certainly ruled out what he

termed the "genuine Australian novel that takes its native setting for
* * * *

51. Vance Palmer, "Fiction for Export", Bulletin June 1 1922 p2.

granted. The dominance of English publishers over local companies, he

was certain, was leading almost inevitably to a false literary tradition

dependent on decisions made in London. While such an argument
underscored the aspirations of writers like Palmer who wanted to be read in

their own country, it also highlighted the degree to which those same writers
perceived a bigger market overseas. Years later, Stephensen could still
echo the sentiment. He claimed that an Australian reading public was
forced into "imperialistic allegiances". According to Stephensen, the

paradox remained that books " ... about Australians, by Australians, for
Australians, published in Australia ... were definitely unsaleable here, and

their authors were forced to fields overseas.

Vance Palmer, a writer entangled in a commercial world of publishers

and booksellers, literary agents and entrepreneurs, prided himself on being a

'man of letters' who wore a bow-tie. He was concerned that acquired
reputation should not be compromised by expediency. Yet, ironically,

survival as a writer, he felt, demanded expediency. He wrote to Leslie

Rees in London: " ... we hope you publish in England, where you have a

natural public and could get those big headlines ... If a book gets some

notice in England it will be easier to sell in Australia." Palmer argued

that local companies might pick up on a successful overseas publication but

that the reverse was unlikely. He added:

Well: I've told you about A&R a little. Theyre not particularly
interested in novels at present but publish what are called 'serious'
books, books that are reviewed in the non fiction columns. You know -
Idriesss sentimental distortions of some genuine experiences and
impressions in the Jungle of North Queensland or the islands of the
Torres Straits: or reminiscences of a missionary to New Britain telling
# * * *

52. P.R. Stephensen, address to John OLondon Society (Sydney Branch)

February 25 1936. Reported in All About Books March 12 19 36 p 156.

how his wife gave a present of six yards of navy-blue print to their first
Christian bride: or an account of Queenslands air-mail. All very well,
but making them want no novels except of the frothiest order. A
serious novel to them is a contradiction in terms! A dangerous novel


Demonstrating a considerable knowledge of Idriess books, Palmer touched

on major concerns for writers who imagined themselves to be serious in

intention. The big sales of popular novelists appeared to be an injustice.

They were looked at with an admixture of envy and sour grapes. Wearing
his serious bow-tie, Vance Palmer argued that a young country required

guidance. One way of achieving this, he believed, was through its literary
luminaries. Primarily for this reason, he suggested, it was imperative for
writers to establish a viable literary tradition based on their socially

conscious efforts. Writers needed to turn around the negative attitudes of

publishers and readers to a more optimistic view of Australian literature.

In evidence to the 1930 Tariff Commission, George Robertson claimed

locally published books needed to sell 2,000 copies for the publisher to
recover costs while 5,000 returned reasonable profit.54 According to Craig

Munro, the "canny old bookselling and publishing firm played it safe not only
financially but also in terms of subject matter. Descriptive and travel
writing was safer and more lucrative than socially conscious fiction ... .

The only "socially conscious" Australian novelist to publish consistently with

Angus and Robertson was Frank Dalby Davison.55 This association came

about only after two Davison books were published privately, and the second,
* * * *

53. Vance Palmer to Leslie Rees, March 10 1934. Cited in Vivian Smith
(ed) Letters of Vance and Nettie Palmer (Canberra 19 77) pp 103- 104
54. George Robertson, evidence to the Tariff Board Enquiry op cit p 37.
55. Craig Munro Wild Man of Letters op cit p 121.

Man-Shy, won the 1932 Australian Literature Society gold medal. Man-Shy

was initially published with the ironic commercial- sounding imprint of the
Australian Authors Publishing Company. It was printed with a blue cover
made of butchers wrapping paper. In September 1932 Marjorie Barnard

wrote: There is a story that Davison printed both books on a hand press in
his back garden, but he denies it. They do look like the work of an

amateur.55 Angus and Robertson printed three editions of Man-Shy in its

first year. W.G. Cousins, who had succeeded George Robertson, wrote:
All were attractively got up, and each edition has a jacket with a different
design.5^ Although Cousins suggested to his board that the first English

edition was also attractive, he informed Davison that the jacket was
anaemic".58 Two American editions followed, "one of them with the same

cover as that of the English edition ... .5^

Angus and Robertson made overtures to publish and then declined

Katharine Susannah Prichards Coonardoo (Cape 1929 ), M. Barnard

Eldershaw's A House is Built (Harrap 1929), joint winners of the inaugural

Bulletin novel competition and Vance Palmers Men Are Human (Stanley
Paul 1930) which came in third. In 1933, it rejected Leonard Manns Flesh

in Armour which, like the first edition of Frank Dalby Davisons Man-Shy,

was published privately in a print run of five hundred. Recording his

disillusion that Flesh in Armour could not find a commercial imprint, Mann

wrote to Vance Palmer in 19 33:

* * * *

56. Marjorie Barnard to Nettie Palmer, February 2 1932. Palmer Papers

ANL MS 1174/1/3924-5.
57. W.G. Cousins to Angus and Robertson nd 19 34? ML MSS 3 269.
58. W.G. Cousins to Frank Dalby Davison May 29 19 34. Angus and
Robertson Papers ML MSS 3269
59. W.G. Cousins to Angus and Robertson, 1934. loc cit.

It seems to me that anyone who attempts to deal with modern ...

Australian life and opinion, and is determined to have what he wishes
published and not what others think he should or should not, must
because of the smallness of the public to which he can surely appeal,
expect a rough time of it or a thin one ... it seems to me that under the
existing organisation the author is in a sorry plight, particularly if he
exceeds the ordinary novel length and wants something longer

Partly related to its conception of the reading tastes of Australians,

Angus and Robertson did not appear to be especially interested in the

socially conscious local commodity. Confirming Stephensens claim around

the same time, Book News identified Australia as leading the world " ... in

the demand for sheik stories, Foreign Legion and Wild West adventure
fiction, and happy ending love romances.61 Angus and Robertson

publishing and bookselling preferences anticipated such a market. For

Stephensen it was precisely because Australia was a nation of book buyers
that a socially conscious national publishing company should have been
viable. Writers felt that the performance of publishers fell well short of

their potential. Kylie Tennant wrote to H.M. Green in 1941: "Angus and
Robertson curtly declined Tiburon", her first novel, published by the Bulletin

in 1935, "They have now refused every book I ever wrote except Ttie

Battlers which Gollancz declined to let them. This was rather fortunate as

they wanted to cut it to three quarters of its original length like a piece

of curtain ... ".62

* * * *

60. Leonard Mann to Vance Palmer, June 26 1933. Palmer Papers NLA MSS
1174/1/4187. The readers report for Flesh in Armour, signed BLL is in the
Angus and Robertson Papers ML MSS 3269. See also Nettie Palmers
complaint about Angus and Robertson, August 19 19 36 to Frank Dalby
Davison. Davison Papers NLA MS 1945/1/100-12.
61. Reported in All About Books July 7 1937 p 234.
62. Kylie Tennant to H.M. Green, March 26 1941. H.M. Green Papers NLA
MSS 3925.



M -<
z rn



6raph Showing Incremental Development: Novel Production



1911 1933 1945 1962


6raph Showing Decade Totals: Novel Production




3 Freq. Value




With an annual increase in novel production during the 19 30s, the

proportion of published volumes of verse and short fiction, although

remaining steady throughout the decade, declined as a proportion of overall

production. By the end of the thirties and into the forties, fifties and
sixties, as the novel cemented its place as the preferred literary form, fewer

companies were interested in poets and short story writers. In 1927 E.J.

Brady, author of five volumes of verse, sent a collection of short fiction,

"On the Stockyard Fence, to Angus and Robertson. The manuscript was

fired back unread with the simple rejection that Angus and Robertson was
unable to ... induce booksellers to stock volumes of short stories - not
even if written by E.J. Brady.65

In 1933 Endeavour Press published Bradys first book of verse for

fourteen years when it accepted Wardens of the Sea. Encouraged by the

break in fortune, Brady presented another collection of verse to Angus and

Robertson and a volume of short stories to Bookstall. The first replied it

had ... practically given up publishing verse for the time being and

added that " ... short stories and sketches are not saleable either.66
Shutting options tightly on the possibilities for verse and short stories,

Angus and Robertson left the publishing door ajar for longer works of

65. Angus and Robertson to E.J. Brady, September 29 1927. Brady Papers
NLA MS 206/2/556.
66. Angus and Robertson to E.J. Brady, June 25 1934. Brady Papers NLA
MS 206/2/566

fiction: "If you have any other ms to offer we shall be glad to consider it".

Bookstall replied in the same terms: " ... we are not in the present time

interested in the publication of short stories and sketches". Like Angus and
Robertson, Bookstall was prepared to consider a longer work: "When you
have finished your novel on the romance of Australian gold discovery we will
be pleased to have it read".67 By expressing interest in novels and

romance both Sydney companies confirmed the degree to which longer fiction
had been accepted as the literary norm by publishers and, it would seem,

readers and writers.

Despite the diminishing attractiveness of verse or the short story as

publishing options, Angus and Robertson was the single largest publisher of

verse and short fiction throughout the period. According to Miller and
Macartney, Angus and Robertson published fifty two volumes of short stories
or verse between 1920-1940. As the period drew on the status of longer
fiction increased. Within a decade, the novel shifted from being the

emergent literary form to dominate the world of writers of fiction, their

publishers, booksellers and readers. By 1927 when Brady received his first

rejection, publisher interest in the novel as the new medium had been


Publishing Angus and Robertson cast-offs, Cornstalk produced roughly

equal numbers of novels as volumes of short stories and verse but the overall
output was small. Bookstall printed a mere seven volumes of verse or short
* * * *

67. NSW Bookstall to E.J. Brady. June 25 1934, Brady Papers. NLA MS

fiction 1920-1940 and continued to be interested in novels, though its

overall publishing program was winding down as early as 1922 when its

founder died. In Melbourne the differences between prose fiction and verse

were less than in Sydney largely because production as a whole was carried

out on a smaller scale. The exception to the emerging trend was Vidler

which published twenty three volumes of verse and short fiction and only

seven novels. In other Australian cities there were five times as many

volumes of verse and short fiction published as there were novels but, as
production in Sydney and London dominated, the emphasis remained clearly

with the novel.

Although the novel was more widely produced and distributed than

poetry Grahame Johnstons select Annals of Australian Literature (1970),

sub-titled "The principal publications of each year, lists almost twice as
many single author volumes of poetry (leaving aside anthologies) as novels.
In compiling the index, Johnston confined himself to what he termed

noteworthy books. This accounts for the surveys relative smallness when
contrasted with Hubble and Miller and Macartney. Annals of Australian

Literature catalogued 798 single author volumes of poetry and novels, 1880-

1950. When arranged according to place and date of publication more

novels than volumes of poetry appear in the 1930s. The titles indicate a
decline 1937- 1945 when there were more noteworthy volumes of poetry.

These figures do not tally very well when contrasted with Hubble and Miller

and Macartney. Miller and Macartney show novel titles far in excess of

volumes of verse Australia wide. Although Hubbles checklist only includes

fiction, his titles indicate high levels of novel production continuing

throughout the thirties and forties. The Annual Catalogue of Australian

Publications lists twice as many novels as volumes of poetry, 1937-1965.


The evidence of the larger bibliographies suggest the prominence attained by

the novel in the interwar years.

While novel production was a large-scale operation, an option open to

poets whose works were not accepted was to print work privately.
According to Miller and Macartney, a significant number took this step. In
Sydney and Melbourne 128 volumes were printed in this way. Only ten

novels were listed as self published. Although the listings for novels do not

take into account imprints which disguised private publication such as

Leonard Mann's Phaedrus Periodicals Ltd, his imprint for Flesh in Armour,

the difference between the figures for verse or short fiction and novels

seems too large to be accounted for by invented commercial imprints. The

relatively large number of privately printed volumes of verse and short

fiction suggests that the publication process was more easily managed than
for novels. Related, of course, was the need to produce large numbers of
novels to cover the costs of production. Christopher Brennan and Jack

Lindsay distributed poetry in beautifully bound leather volumes which sold

for f3/3/- and in print runs of seventy five - an impossible price and
number for a novel which was not just a commercial commodity but now a

mass medium. Poetry could be presented in deluxe editions and sold by

subscription and was easier to manage in small quantities than were novels.

In his autobiography, The Hard Way Frank Hardy described the

considerable problems he encountered in 1949/1950 with self publication:

"The process of printing a book is very complex ... But fools rush in where

printers refuse to tread!"^ At the same time as Hardy was struggling with
* * * *

68. Frank Hardy The Hard Way (Melbourne 19 76) p 128. For details on
small-scale publishing in the 1920s and 1930s see Jack Lindsay, Franfolico
and After (London 1962)

Power Without Glory, Halstead Press had shaved 106 work-hours from its

1930s production time in the printing and binding of 5,000 copies of a hard
cover book.6^ In an Australian publishing world dominated by large

British firms and a few Australian operations, to attempt self publication

was a considerable cost in terms of money and reputation.

Conditions improved for local publishers in the 1940s but changes, as in

the period 1933/1934, were due to economic considerations rather than any

planned effort on the part of local companies. A 1946 Tariff Board Report
commented that the depression of the thirties and the Second World War
changed the structure of local industry. H.L. White, acting national
librarian in the late 1930s, noted British publishers averaged 16,220 titles a

year. By 1942 the figure had slumped to 7,241 titles, creating a new
demand for local companies which took up the slack and produced over a
thousand books a year in four successive years to 1948.^0 One consequence
was the Commonwealth Literary Funds 1944 decision to sponsor reprints in

cheap editions of classic Australian works in print runs of twenty five

thousand copies, a figure more normally associated with popularisers in the

Idriess tradition. Though twenty five titles were published Katharine

Prichard and Leonard Mann both told the tariff board that they had been

disappointed by what they considered a poorly publicised venture.

Prichards Haxbys Circus sold sixteen thousand copies to 1946 but huge

backlogs cluttered booksellers shelves.^

* * * *

69. Halstead Press, Table of Comparative Efficiency, November 30 1950.

Angus and Robertson Papers. ML MSS 3269.
70. T.W. White evidence to 1946 Tariff Board Enquiry into Imported Books.
71. W.G. Cousins to Katharine Prichard September 14 1946. Katharine
Prichard had earlier, 19 September 1946, complained that she had not
received her royalties cheque for the previous six months sales. Cousins
informed Prichard that she had made no money. Angus and Robertson
Papers ML MSS 3269.

The trend towards local publishing which began with Angus and

Robertson in the 1920s and 1930s continued through to the 19 60s. From

1940-1949 local publishing eclipsed British production. In the decade to

1949, Hubble lists 596 Australian produced titles to Londons 119. In the

period 1950-1965 there were 1,028 locally published Australian novels as

against 415 published in London. No less striking was the fact that 868 of
the locally published titles were produced in Sydney. Though the margin

was clear, the 1940s stand out as the triumph of local publishing. The

emergence of the Australian novel in the 1920s and 1930s encouraged

increased production in the 1940s.

Despite an obvious publisher preference for novels, in 1943

Katharine Prichard remembered she had once been told that Youre better
dead than to be a writer in Australia.By 1962 she had made more
money from translations than in the local market: ... in Russia one of my
novels was issued in an edition of 140,000 and the goldfields trilogy went

into second and third editions of almost the same size ... she wrote to
Beatrice Davis at Angus and Robertson.In private correspondence many
writers insisted that local publication ran the risk of carrying the label

populariser with no concern given to literary reputation. Many protested

against the need to publish overseas, but invariably felt more comfortable
with solid British firms. Prichard published eleven novels in London. Her

first local reprint appeared in 1944 and thereafter sporadic Australian

reprints kept her books alive for Australian readers.

* * * *

72. Katharine Prichard to Beatrice Davis, December 30 1943. Angus and

Robertson Papers ML MSS 3 269.
73. Katharine Prichard to Beatrice Davis, August 17 1962. Angus and
Robertson Papers, ML MSS 3269.

Reading habits remain an elusive and largely unexplored region of

Australian cultural history. A series of oral testimonies compiled by Lucy

Taksa and Martyn Lyons (1986/87) attempted to assess some remembered

attitudes to books and reading in Australia 1890-1930. While a sample

group of 61 is too small to draw definite conclusions, Lyons suggested that

readers and purchasers of books, "not always the same person, required

substantially more attention than histories of "printer, publisher and

bookseller" would suggest. "We need to consider the history of reading as a

cultural practice", he argued. It was accepted that: "Readers bring to
their reading a lifelong cultural formation, deep-rooted mentalities of a

culture or a class", but oral evidence alone could suggest little without some

understanding of the systems of production and reproduction, including such

social practices as writing, publishing and bookselling.74

In 1935 R. Munn and E.R. Pitt calculated that just under 1.5 million
books were housed in the main libraries of Australian capital cities.75 The

Sydney Municipal Library in its 1928 Annual Report listed 48,385 books in

stock made freely available to 27,374 borrowers. 389,303 borrowings were

made throughout the year. 47% of the books borrowed (184,104) were in

the general fiction category which accounted for 22% of all books in stock,

while 27% of borrowers took out books on geography, travel, history,

biography, literature or drama.7 In the same twelve months the Mitchell

State Library in Sydney issued 609 readers tickets to researchers. The

reference section attracted an average of 685 visitors per day or 226,916 for
* * * *

74. Martyn Lyons, "Reading in New South Wales, 1890-1930: An Oral

History Project". Paper read to the Third Annual Forum of Australian
Library History at the UNSW, July 18 19 87.
75. R. Munn and E.R. Pitt Australian Libraries (Melbourne 1935)
76. Sydney Municipal Library, Annual Report ending December 1928.

the year. 20,366 prospective readers visited the Mitchell, an average of

sixty three per day.77 Impressive figures on library usage, Australians

were also avid readers of newspapers. Putting aside the use in wrapping
fish and chips on the beach at Manly, Australians read through an average of

135,000 tons of newspaper each year in the twenties and thirties.7^ Per

capita, this figure was only exceeded by USA.

A 1927 survey of Australian writing organised by the Melbourne Argus

during Authors Week found Adam Lindsay Gordon (459), Henry Lawson (421)

and Henry Kendall (412) the most popular versifiers. In the prose section
Marcus Clarke (393), Rolf Boldrewood (315) and Mrs Aeneas Gunn (292)
were highly regarded.7^ A 1929 survey of the reading preferences of
respondants to a competition organised by All About Books listed only one
Australian work, Nettie Palmer (ed) The Australian Story Book (a surprising
choice), in the top ten. John Galsworthys The Forsyte Saga was the most
popular. The title appeared in 75% of the entries. Second in popularity,

The Plays of J.M. Barrie, was voted for in 25% of lists. Katharine
Prichards Working Bullocks polled well but no place was given. Winner of

the competition, Mrs Beatrice de C. Williams of Brighton (Vic) listed six of

the top ten in her entry: The Forsyte Saga, The Plays of J.M. Barrie, Lion

Feuchtwangers Jew Suss, Working Bullocks, Mary Webbs Precious Bane,

The Australian Story Book, Henry Handel Richardsons Maurice Guest, The

Letters of Katharine Mansfield, Donn Byrne's Destiny Bay and Richardson's

Ultima Thule.
* * * *

77. Mitchell Library, Annual Report ending December 1928.

78. Where Newspapers Are Made and Used", All About Books, August 20
1929 p 381.
79. Melbourne Argus August 1927. Cited in D.R. Walker "Writer and
Community" (PhD thesis, Australian National University, 1972) pp 280-282.
80. All About Books, "Ten Books for a Desert Island Competition. Results
published July 18 1929 p 260.

To 1935 the largest selling novel by an Australian author was Fergus

Hume's The Mystery of the Hansom Cab, a story set in Melbourne, first
published in 1886, which allegedly sold 25,000 copies in London within a week
of being published. Another copy, published by the Hansom Cab Company in

1887 marked the publication of the 100,000th copy. A later, undated,

popular edition was marked 559,000 copies, printed by Jarrods in London.81

With its large international exposure, The Mystery of the Hansom Cab did

not seem to survive well into the twentieth century with Australian readers.

The book was not mentioned in either the 1927 or the 1929 polls. Better

remembered nineteenth century novels such as Marcus Clarke's For the Term
of his Natural Life and Rolf Boldrewoods Robbery Under Arms seemed more

durable with multiple reprints. There were a few delights for twentieth
century writers despite grumblings. Researching Coonardoo (1929 ) on a

remote station in north western Australia in 1928, Katharine Prichard found

her first novel The Pioneers was a favourite book among workers. For many
years a dog-eared copy had been passed around to last many readings.8^

Australian books of many varieties were readily available through

lending libraries, Mechanics Institutes, and Municipal libraries. A full

study of reading practices might suggest a deeper interest in Australian

literature than has otherwise been accepted. A bestseller list would be

almost impossible to compile, but a reasonable cross-section of preferred

reading is gained from an analysis of recommended reading lists in the

Australian and New Zealand Booksellers' trade journal, All About Books.

The recommended readings are the only comprehensive contemporary attempt

to chart the reading habits of Australians. Claiming that Australian reading

* * *

81. All About Books April 12 1935 pp 63-64.

82. Katharine Prichard to Vance and Nettie Palmer, October 1926. Palmer
Papers NLA MS 1174/1/2856-7

practices resembled those of Americans, if not in the actual books

consumed, then in the type of writing preferred the booksellers association

outlined their choice of titles: ... the ABANZ list is not a list of best
sellers, but if such a list could be secured, it would probably be taken from

those books appearing on the list of Novels for Popular Reading' with an

odd book from Novels of Literary Merit

Between 18 February 1929 and 19 November 1937 inclusive, All About

Books recommended 1,504 titles to Australian and New Zealand readers. Of

this total, 10.77%, or 162 titles were Australian novels. Thirteen titles

appeared in the category Novels of Literary Merit which accounted for

3.05% of the 363 titles listed here. Australian writers included M. Barnard
Eldershaw (1929), Katharine Susannah Prichard (1930), Henry Handel

Richardson (1931, 1934) and Roy Bridges (1930). In June 1930, the editor
of All About Books remarked ... the Australian public is quite prepared to

support its own authors when they merit it ... Overseas novelists who

featured in the Novels of Literary Merit category included Rebecca West,

Hugh Walpole, J.B. Priestley and H.G. Wells who were all mentioned in 1930.

Within the category, "Novels for Popular Reading, the section

suggested by the ABANZ most likely to contain bestsellers, the Australian

content rose to 13.06% or 149 titles out of 1,141 listed, perhaps small but

certainly a significant proportion of the books appearing here. Popular

writers included Vance Palmer (1930, 1935), Katharine Prichard (1930),

Miles Franklin (1930, 1932, 1933), Leonard Mann (1933), G.B. Lancaster

(1933, 1934), Martin Boyd (1934), Eleanor Dark (1934, 1936) and Brian
* * * *

83. All About Books June 14 1930 p 221.


Penton (1934). The proportion of Australian books listed here was slightly

less than those which appeared in bookseller's catalogue.

The English pattern of marketing Australian fiction had a large bearing

on local booksellers. Frank Wilmot, a poet with close knowledge of the

book trade, complained that booksellers were reluctant to display Australian

works. A request for an Australian book would have them diving into

obscure corners. Misguided readers were encouraged to sample enticing

overseas titles rather than waste time and money on local effort. A

familiar story among writers had a reader entering a bookshop in search of a

serious Australian novel to be told that it was a poor imitation of an English

classic.^4 For bibliophile Edward A. Vidler, a collector for over forty

years, the problem was that bookshop "assistants" were no longer "bookmen"
as they were imagined to have once been. Vidler complained: "They move
about from a grocer's shop or a bootshop to a bookseller's ... "^5 A mere
ten years earlier A.G. Stephens had marvelled at the sight of Sydneys

* * * *

84. In 1931, Nettie Palmer wrote to Miles Franklin: " ... one woman
bookseller, two years ago, definitely tried and failed to prevent Louis
Essons wife from buying Up the Country. 'You wont like it dear - you
know the tone. October 4 1931. The same story had been told by Hilda
Esson, except the Australian book in her story was Working Bullocks. See
Richard Nile and David Walker, "Marketing the Australian Imagination" loc
cit. Under her pseudonym "Lalage", Nettie Palmer had written in 1927:
"Everyone knows what happens in an ordinary week when you go to enquire
for an Australian book that does not happen to be a perfectly fresh and well
advertised hot apple pie. You ask timidly for a certain book of essays.
The salesman leans his ear, but not too low. You explain that the book is
by an Australian of repute and was published in Melbourne six months ago. A
happy release dawns on his face: "Oh now madam, if youd said at once it
was Australian ...!" But you know our customers take only the best
imported. If you want essays might I suggest this book .... Bulletin
September 4 1927 p 3.
85. Edward A. Vidler, "Imagination and Bookselling", All About Books,
August 20 1929. p296.

The Guilded Tombs Stand Proudly Up * the Sets are ranged in piles *
the Small Ocatavos, cheek by Jowl, would stretch for Several Miles *
the Boxes spill their Dusty Wealth * the Windows make Display * It is
the Street of Lots of Books * Along the Castlereagh * Now, start with
me from King Steet side * and watch the Bookworms curld * Where
A&R extol The Largest Bookshop in the World *

Down Castlereagh Street through several stanzas Stephens peered into shop

windows waxing lyrically about Sydneys bookmen: Wynmark, David Mitchell,

Jones, Shenstone, Robertson, Gillett, Tyrrells, George, Bourne, Johnson,

Wynn, A.C. Rowlandson, Perry's, Reynolds, Harry Blackwood and Len


Yet, as Stephens wrote, all was not well in the trade. Streamlined

department stores had cut deep into the market with largescale retailing,

attractive advertising, large stands and open planned shop floors. Following
a meeting of Australian and New Zealand sellers in 1924 an official

complaint was sent to the Association of English Publishers:

Whereas London and provincial booksellers need only buy in small

numbers from day to day, as the demand rises, colonial booksellers are
obliged to place forward and instant orders for new publications.... our
distance from London compels us to carry big holdings of general stock
lines ... our geographical position makes merchant adventurers of us
whose every order for a forthcoming book is an expression of fervent
hope, and whose repeat orders are optimistic manifestations.8^

The commercialisation of bookselling increased over the ensuing decades,

applying new pressures on outlets which did not conform to new systems of

mass marketing. A general request that distributors in London only sell

* * * *

86. "Along the Castlereagh" (Limited Edition, 60 copies, Sydney 1924)

87. Associated Booksellers of Australia and New Zealand to the Publishers
Association of Great Britain and Ireland, May 28 1924. Loose document, ML

books to bone fide booksellers in the colonies met complete disapproval in

1924. Department stores had already become highly valued customers.^

Imaginative writing actually constituted about one fifth proportion of

the overall production and marketing programs of publishing companies.

From 1937 (when the register began) to 1965, The Annual Catalogue of

Australian Publications listed 30,264 locally produced books. 5,347 or

17.67% of this total constituted imaginative writing. President of the

Western Australian Branch of the Fellowship of Australian Writers in 1939,

J.K. Ewers appeared intolerant of this situation. Heres another item

hidden among the pages of advertisements, he admonished, Australian

books - Last Years Output - More than 750 Publications:

Well that sounds very healthy doesnt it. Read this carefully. The
figure, 750, includes everything from leaflets of a single sheet to
substantial volumes. It includes publications of Government
Departments, annuals, and periodicals. What of creative literature?

His answer: 32 volumes of poetry, 23 volumes of prose and single volumes of

drama, essays and humour.

High on Angus and Robertsons bookselling priorities were overseas

fiction and descriptive and travel writing. The 1935 catalogue of new and

used books is typical. Listing 2,0 35 titles, the catalogue was broken into

fourteen sections with an emphasis favouring books dealing with the Pacific

islands and science. Other major categories included journals, almanacs

* * * *

88. Publishers Association of Great Britain and Ireland to Booksellers

Association of Australia and New Zealand, March 19 1925. Loose document
89. J.K. Ewers, The Great Australian Paradox. Address to the
Fellowship of Australian Writers (Western Australian Branch) November 16
1939. In Fellowship of Australian Writers Papers ML MSS 2008.

and dictionaries. One section was devoted to Australiana. Books listed

here were primarily collector items: May Gibbs Gum Blossom Babies (1916)

in original wrappers was offered for 15/-, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie (1918)

in its original edition was advertised for 21/- while one of twelve copies of

Little Obelia cost 30/-. Most twenties and thirties novels were offered in
the range of 6/- to 7/6d. Remaindered, the first edition of Man-Shy was
valued at 2/-. Havelock Ellis' Kanga Oeek fetched ten times that


As opposed to bookselling, in its 1932 select catalogue of publications,

Angus and Robertson listed 215 authors and 300 books divided into seven

categories: General Literature, Novels and Romances, Poetry and Drama,

Juvenile Literature, Scientific and Practical, Commonwealth Council for
Scientific and Industrial Research and, Medical and Nursing. 106 titles
were listed under the General Literature section including Isabel Cameron's
The Doctor at 2/9d completing 25,000 copies, J. MacDougal Grider's War

Birds: A Diary of an Unknown Aviator 2/9d completing 30,000 copies, Ion

Idriess' Lasseterfs Last Ride in its tenth edition (no numbers given), Amy
Eleanor Macks Bushland Stories and Scribbling Sue both at 2/9d and each

completing 80,000 copies.

In the Science and Practical section sixty six titles included the

Australian Lettering Book ... for use in schools and in the offices of

Lawyers, Architects, Engineers etc at l/3d completing 73,000 and the

Presbyterian Cookery Book of Good and Tried Recipes, at 2/- in its

* * * *

90. Angus and Robertson Booksellers' Catalogue, 1932. A comprehensive

collection of catalogues 1910- is held in the Mitchell Library. ML 017.4/1.

twentieth edition completing 380,000 copies. Forty five titles under Poetry

and Drama included C.J. Dennis' The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke in its

30th edition at 2/9d completing 132,000 copies, Henry Lawsons Popular

Verses and Humorous Verses at 2/9d each completing' eleven thousand

copies, Henry Kendall's Selected Poems at 2/9d completing 17,000 copies,

"John O'Brien's Around the Boree Log and Other Verses at 4/6d

completing 34,5 00 copies, and three volumes of A.B. Paterson poetry at

2/9d completing 230,000 copies.

In the Novel and Romance section fifty three titles included, Sheila

MacDonald's Sally in Rhodesia at 4/6d in its 19th edition completing 37,000

copies, L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea,

Chronicles of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, Anne's House of Dreams and

Rainbow Valley all priced between 2/9d and 3/9d completing 194,000 copies
in total. Australian novels were not obvious big sellers. Obscured in the
bright light of overseas titles, but ahead of a lack- lustre bunch, Davison's

Man-Shy in its second edition was offered for 4/6d and Forever Morning in

its third edition cost 6/-.91 No numbers for either were given. Local
popular writers who published in Australia including William Hatfield, Ion

Idriess, E.V. Timms, were all listed in the recommended reading lists of All

About Books. Those who published overseas reads as a who's who of popular

writing: Dale Collins, Alice Grant Rosman, Kathleen Tynan, Angella Thirkell

and Joanna Cannon.

Angus and Robertson was reasonably small in international terms, but

local writers complained it possessed considerable potential to tap a large

* * *

91. Angus and Robertson Publisher Catalogue 1935. ML 017.4/1.


reservoir of the local product. Instead of stream-lining some of its

resources towards the Australian backyard, it was alleged that the

Australian company was not interested in the home grown novel. A move by
Angus and Robertson into the international booktrade in 19 36 seemed to
confirm writers' suspicions. Thirteen Australian titles were to be

marketed in Britain and the USA. Palmer's hope that an Australian

company would market serious Australian fiction had to be content with the

durable Marcus Clarke For the Term of his Natural Life. The 'frothy' was

represented by K Langford-Smiths Sky Pilot in Arnhem Land and Sky

Pilotfs Last Flight, the Pacific by Albert Ellis's Adventure in the Coral Seas
and Ocean Islands and Nauru and J.H. Niaus Tlie Phantom Paradise, and
Idriess by The Cattle Rings. Other titles included Charles Chewing's Back
to the Stone Age, Keith McKeowns Spider Wonders of Australia and Insect

Wonders of Australia, H.H Findlayson's Ttie Red Centre and William

Hatfields Australia TTirough the Windscreen. William Moore's The Story of
Australian Art was sold in a deluxe edition consisting of two volumes.92

It was the hope of many writers that publishing practices might, given

the support of 'serious' writers, assist Angus and Robertson to change its

attitude toward Australian product. In 1934, Frank Dalby Davison

convinced a reluctant Vance Palmer to send TTie Swayne Family to Sydney

instead of London. W.G. Cousins wrote to Davison in June 1934 that Angus
* * * *

92. Angus and Robertson "List of Publications for Distribution in Great

Britain and the United States" (1936). The promotion read in part: "The
accompanying lists of publications are the first prepared by Angus and
Robertson for the purpose of opening up a direct sales connection with
retail-booksellers in Great Britain and the United States. It is hoped that
this method may prove more satisfactory than the securing of publication by
British and American publishers". ML 015.9/A

and Robertson would do its best to make The Swayne Family a "decided
success".9"* In July Davison was pleased that at last a local company had

snared one of Australias best writers. The future looked promising:

"Perhaps Palmer coming into your list will bring one or more good workers at

present publishing in England into the Australian fold. I hope so; it will be

better for them and better for the future of Australian literature ... 9^
Angus and Robertsons reader was impressed by the quality of Palmers work

and suggested that publication of The Swayne Family would mark a new

departure for the publisher. The reader added that, unlike many

manuscripts which Angus and Robertson received, Palmers novel was ready

to print without alteration to text: "Mr Palmer is concerned with the

personalities of his family, and these he lays bare with skill and insight not

excelled by any other Australian novelist" .95

Three days later Cousins wrote to Palmer: "Everything possible will be

done to make the book a success. We are determined to market Australian

novels successfully in Australia as well as England and USA".9^ When The

Swayne Family tied for first place in the 1934 Melbourne Centenary novel

competition, author and publisher were delighted. "Are any of your English

novels out of print?" enquired Cousins, "If so, we would like to consider

publishing 4/6d or 2/9d editions".97 Angus and Robertson then sent 1,100

advertising posters to Australian and New Zealand booksellers announcing

* * * *

93. W.G. Cousins to Frank Dalby Davison, June 27 1934. Angus and
Robertson Papers. ML MSS 3269.
94. Frank Dalby Davison to W.G. Cousins, June 24 1934. Davison later
wrote: "I am glad to hear that Vance Palmer sent you a novel ms. I spoke
to him about the changing conditions in publishing". July 19 1934. Angus
and Robertson Papers ML MSS 3269.
95. Readers Report, The Swayne Family, June 27 1934. Angus and
Robertson Papers ML MSS 3 269.
96. W.G. Cousins to Vance Palmer, June 27 19 34. Angus and Robertson
Papers ML MSS 3269.
97. W.G. Cousins to Vance Palmer, November 1934. ML MSS 3269.

the arrival of The Swayne Family. The novel was printed in a run of 2,000

copies and, within a few months, went to a second impression." Three

years later Palmer submitted his next novel to Angus and Robertson.

Given his preparedness to publish in Sydney and the apparent success of

TTie Swayne Family it is puzzling that Palmers letter to Leslie Rees should

condemn the practices of Angus and Robertson. An answer lies in his

continued suspicion about the virtues of publishing locally. Palmer believed

the reputations of serious writers were better preserved with the imprints of

London companies. With no perceptible hesitation, Palmer sent all his

serious fiction overseas before Angus and Robertson accepted The Swayne
Family. Disregarded pulp writing he offered to local companies under the

pseudonym Rann Daly who did not wear a bow-tie.

Interest in The Swayne Family evaporated after the Christmas rush of

1934 and sales then faltered.99 In 1934 and again in 1936 Palmer was
disappointed to have his suggestions for dustjackets overlooked. More
importantly he was disillusioned with the production and marketing of Legend
for Sanderson (1937). Angus and Robertson accepted the manuscript in

May 1937 and wrote that it should go well."9 The novel appeared in July

and Palmer wrote to Cousins:

* * * *

98. W.G. Cousins to Vance Palmer, December 14 1934. The Swayne Family
did not go to a third impression. Angus and Robertson Papers ML MSS 3269
99. W.G. Cousins to Vance Palmer, December 18 1934. Angus and Robertson
Papers ML MSS 3 269.
100. W.G. Cousins to Vance Palmer, May 17 19 37. Angus and Robertson
Papers ML MSS 3269.

I must admit that I am a little disappointed with the format. The

letterpress has been crowded into about 270 pages instead of about 330,
as customary ... consequently each line is a little longer than is
comfortable for the eye; the printing and paper, too, are not
attractive. In these things I am not comparing it with oversea
publications, but The Swayne Family, a novel of the same length, which
seemed to me a satisfactory job.1^

Palmer swallowed his disappointment and sent in a collection of short

stories. The reader's report was brutal: "Having no literary judgement, the

author makes his stories melodramatic to the point of absurdity. The

writing is bombastic, but probably sincere. The spelling is
unbelievable .-^2 The volume was never published though in 1940 Angus

and Robertson published Palmers National Portraits, which had been

guaranteed against bad sales by the Commonwealth Literary Fund.1^^

Following publication of The Swayne Family in 1934 Angus and

Robertson wrote to Palmer that it would try to organise a London publisher
willing to handle overseas sales. "If publication cannot be obtained in

London we shall market our own edition there, but we would prefer London
publication" .^4 Despite dominating local production Angus and Robertson
lacked the requisite infrastructure to market Australian books successfully

overseas. Yet confidence abounded. In May 1934 Cousins wrote to Davison

who was in Cairns researching his next book Blue Coast Caravan: "We do not
think there will be any difficulty in future in arranging publication [of
* * *

101. Vance Palmer to W.T. Kirwin July 22 1937. Angus and Robertson Papers
ML MSS 3269.
102. Reader's Report, Vance Palmer "Short Stories", December 16 1937.
Angus and Robertson Papers ML MSS 3 269.
103. Minutes of Meetings of the Advisory Board of the Commonwealth
Literary Fund, 28-30 September 1939. Australian Archives, Canberra, CRS
A3753 Item 72/2766.
104. W.G. Cousins to Vance Palmer, July 1 1934. Angus and Robertson
Papers ML MSS 3269.

Australian books] in at least three countries for any good Australian

book.-^ Nevertheless, Angus and Robertsons overseas endeavours
remained basically unsuccessful.

Angus and Robertson was unable to market Man-Shy in Britain and in

1933 Eyre and Spottiswoode won rights to publish it. The British publisher

also laid claim to the colonial rights in a hastily arranged standard'

contract managed by the Australasian Book Publishing Company in

London.1^ American rights were also negotiated through London. McCann

Coward renamed the book The Red Heifer unbeknown to Angus and Robertson

which only discovered that there was an American edition after it had been

advertised in the New York Publishers Weekly. A somewhat snubbed Cousins

wrote to Davison: This firm did not approach us regarding the American
edition, so we are writing to London. It may have been arranged through
Eyre and Spottiswoode. But we cannot understand them not informing
us.107 Angus and Robertson's system of marketing Australian titles for

overseas publishers had broken down and their arrangements to pay 80% of
royalties looked a rather sorry gesture when Davison received 16s 2d paid

directly by Eyre and Spottiswoode for 1033 copies of Tlie Red Heifer sold in

America in six months to June 1935.

* * * *

105. W.G. Cousins to Frank Dalby Davison, May 29 1934. Angus and
Robertson Papers ML MSS 3269.
106. W.G. Cousins to Frank Dalby Davison, February 13 1934. Angus and
Robertson Papers ML MSS 3269.
107. W.G. Cousins to Frank Dalby Davison, October 18 1934. Angus and
Robertson Papers. ML MSS 3 269.
108. Eyre and Spottiswoode, Royalty Statement to Frank Dalby Davison
covering American sales of The Red Heifer in the six months to June 30
1935. Angus and Robertson Papers ML MS 3 269.



The emergence of the novel brought with it an increase in the

specialisation of the writer and a degree of professionalism generally though

the image of a struggling author hunched over a wooden desk persisted well

into the century. With increasingly commercial systems of publication and

distribution, beginning in the 1920s, writers sought to improve their material

conditions by negotiating contracts, employing agents and setting up

pressure groups to lobby on their behalf. While public perceptions of the

writer were frequently enigmatic - ranging from the idealised philosopher

and romantic crafter of words through to the maligned and suffering artist -

the claim for professionalism brought some reassurance. While it was

difficult for such a diverse collection of people to organise into any cohesive
groupings, the move to improve the status of the writer was led by novelists
who perceived publishing as big business and the novel as a mass medium.
More importantly, in the long term, the claim for professional status was
aimed to elevate the writers role to that of social and cultural

Professionalisation is a process which has often been associated with the

growth of specialist institutions and the emergence of industrialism.

Examples include modern hospitals and legal systems which, in the nineteenth

century, brought about modern doctors and lawyers.1 In the twentieth

century, the development of professions affected an Australian intelligentsia

particularly with regard to the growth of universities.^ In part the quest to

professionalise writing was tethered to this development but pressure was

* * * *

1. See, for instance T.S. Pensabene, The Rise of the Medical Practitioner in
Victoria (Canberra 19 80).
2. Stephen Alomes, "Reasonable Men" (PhD thesis Australian National
University, 19 79) is an excellent survey of an emergent Australian
intelligentsia. See especially chapter 1.

also exerted by the emergence of the modern newspaper office which

witnessed the professionalisation of journalism.^

The quest for professional status for the modern writer achieved, with

time, a measure of recognition for effort but little material reward. Few

who endeavoured to write full-time lived free from financial anxiety.

Conditions for the writer in Australia were never very good even in the

period of the Bulletins pre-eminence. A common modern complaint was

that Australia did not take its writers seriously. Vance Palmer and Louis

Esson looked with envy to the intellectual milieux of London, Dublin and
Paris. Katharine Prichard extolled the virtues of Russian proletarian

writers. Generally, Australian writers envisaged a time when they would be

embraced by their society in the way they imagined overseas writers to be.
They felt alienated under existing conditions. These feelings of neglect
encouraged introspection in some cases, but more usually they resulted in
the formation of small but powerful coteries which proposed more discerning

insights into the real qualities of Australian writing than either an

unsympathetic publishing industry or ignorant readers were capable of

understanding. In general, writing in Australia was not fostered by the

publishers or readers and not really valued outside these small groups but a

few Australian books, among the many written, did achieve wide distribution

and readership.

With some notable exceptions, only the more successful of romance and

adventure writers secured reasonable standards of living based on the sales

* * * *

3. Clem Lloyd, Profession: Journalist: A History of the Australian

Journalists Association (Sydney 19 85). Chapter 1, in particular, analyses
the emergence of journalism from the 1870s to the formation of the
Australian Journalists Association in 1910.

of their books. This was a sore point with some of the more serious'

writers. Author of thirty detective novels by the age of thirty five, J.M.
Walsh appeared secure.^ Frederick Thwaites first novel, The Broken

Melody (1930) sold in excess of 120,000 copies and went through over forty

editions to 1950.5 Using royalties from seven novels published, Thwaites

established his own printing company in 1936 which published the remainder

of his books. From 1930-19 73, Thwaites wrote thirty one romance and

adventure novels with an average circulation of 10,000, making him one of

the more successful writers of the period.6 Jeannie Gunns We of the

Never Never, rejected by five publishers before being accepted by
Hutchinson in 1908, had sold in excess of 15 0,000 copies by 1937.?

Lobbying on behalf of serious writers in 1938, Tom Inglis Moore drew

attention to another success: It is a stark, undeniable and significant fact
that only one author makes a living from authorship alone in our noble land
after one hundred and fifty years of progress!. Ion Idriess' "fluent pen"
and "popular style", argued Inglis Moore, enabled him to make a

"respectable income writing books alone". This he intended as a general

criticism of the poor lot of most writers. Inglis Moore argued that 'serious'

writers should not be overlooked in their own country. Well regarded in

writer communities as novelists of considerable skill, Vance Palmer and

Frank Dalby Davison, he maintained, were forced by "sheer economic"

* * * *

4. All About Books carried a report, "A Prolific Australian Writer: J.M.
Walsh", January 21 1929 pp 48-49.
5. Miller and Macartney listing for F.W. Thwaites.
6. ibid.
7. We of the Never Never was declined by Constable, Blackie and Son, T.C.
and E.J. Jack, R. Chambers, The Religious Tract Society between February
and April 1908. Hutchinson accepted the novel in June 1908. To December
1915 We of the Never Never had sold 25,0 00 copies. It went out of print
for two years when the type was melted down as part of Englands mobilision
for war. In 1926 the number of copies sold exceeded 100,000. Angus and
Robertson Papers ML MSS 1549/70 Box P6X, Contracts.

circumstances " ... to give up writing and earn a crust by reviewing,

broadcasting, freelance journalism, etc. Inglis Moore concluded that

many notable writers were forced to make a living by ephemeral

journalism.8 A number of writers lived in near poverty when they could

not rely on family patronage or independent means. Several held down paid
jobs and wrote part-time. Some stayed at the desk and supplemented
incomes with journalism and critical writing. A few arranged public

readings and broadcasting. One or two sold film rights. In the mid 1930s

Katharine Susannah Prichards royalties slipped to as little as fl 10s for one

six month period An insignificant amount, it soon dried up altogether as
she pushed on with Intimate Strangers. Applying for a literary grant in
1941, Prichard listed income from all sources over the previous three years
using 1940 as average. Her only regular income, a "military pension,

provided fl08/4/- annually, freelance contributions returned f24 while the

more lucrative broadcasting and radio plays, generated f64. Prichard did
not record any earnings from her novels, a significant admission from a

writer who wished to be recognised as a novelist.10 Intimate Strangers,

published four years earlier, had been a commercial failure. The reading

public refuses to take any interest in it", her publisher wrote in 1938.11-
Eight other books written since 1916 were all out of print.

The 1941 grant provided the author with a degree of freedom to

concentrate on her next project, the goldfields trilogy, but over the next
* * * *
8. T. Inglis Moore to Department of Interior, 5 September 1938. Australian
Archives CRS A344/1/17 Item 38/17835.
9. Ric Thossell, Wild Weeds and Wind Flowers op cit p 80.
10. Commonwealth Literary Fund, 1941 File, "Katharine Susannah Prichard".

11. Jonathon Cape to Katharine Prichard October 13 1938. Katharine

Susannah Prichard Department of Information Security File Australian
Archives, SP 109/3 Item 316.10

few years her financial situation deteriorated further before it improved.

In 1943 Katharine Prichard applied for relief in the form of a special

pension intended for destitute writers.12 A meeting of the pension fund to
discuss her "straitened circumstance", and decide whether a pension should

be forthcoming, despatched fellow writer Flora Eldershaw to make necessary

enquiries and furnish a recommendation.12 The meeting would reconvene in

a month. Katharine Prichard had recently moved to Sydney where she lived

in a small flat at Kings Cross. She was well placed for Eldershaw, a

resident of Darlinghurst for many years now, to observe and report. Yet
such a task may have seemed like prying. To sit in judgement of a fellow

writer in search of financial support was an awkward assignment. At the

next meeting Eldershaw did not feel she was yet in a position to make a
recommendation though she had seen Katharine Prichard. Deliberatation
was deferred for another month, over which time an undertaking to reprint
25,000 copies Haxby's Circus in the Australian Pocket Library series
promised to relieve the author of the burden of financial anxiety for a few

years.14 In 1943, Coonardoo was reprinted, Cape published an Australian

edition of Working Bullocks in 1944 and The Black Opal reappeared in 1946.

By 1945 Prichard felt confident enough about her financial situation to

respond positively when asked if she were able to support herself as a

writer.15 The sales on her reprinted books were sufficient to rectify

* * *

12. Minutes of Meeting of the Advisory Board of the Commonwealth Literary

Fund, March 13 1944, Australian Archives CRS A3753 Item 72/2766.
13. Minutes of Meeting of the Advisory Board of the Commonwealth Literary
Fund, May 12 1944. CRS A 3753 Item 72/2766
14. If the entire series were to sell the author stood to make f1,250 in
15. Untitled Fellowship of Australian Writers Circular, 1945. Cited in
Drusilla Modjeska "Women Writers" op cit. p 358.

her earlier situation which prompted the application for a pension.

Although her reputation as a writer was never in question, this example

highlights some of the considerable difficulties which arose out of the

uncertain financial climate many writers were expected to weather.

Recognised as one of Australias best novelists in these years, Katharine

Prichard could only live for short periods of time on the revenue generated

by her books. Like most writers she relied on alternative sources of money.
There were several obstacles to block the path to a regular and reliable

income. For a start, the cost of writing could be considerable. Paper,

pens and typewriter ribbons had to be bought, mail had to be prepaid and, in

the end, there was no guarantee that a sweated manuscript would find a
publisher let alone an audience. In 1926 Prichard paid more to prepare the
typescript of Working Bullocks than she received in advance royalties
Australias small and scattered population became a ready explanation for

the poor lot of its writers.

Publication in London offered a potentially larger market but the

competition was also greater. At home writers were concerned by what they

perceived as the uncaring attitude of local publishers and their compliant

readers. This perception contributed to the decision to go offshore. Yet

the search for London publishers carried its own problems and few writers

actually sold sizable numbers of their books overseas. Imported Australian

books, published by British companies, were sold as colonial editions in

Australia. These arrangements had their origins deep in the nineteenth

* * * *

16. Katharine Prichard to Nettie Palmer June 13 1927. In other

correspondence Prichard claimed she made less money from Working Bullocks
than any other novel she had written, September 15 1928. Palmer Papers
NLA MSS 1174/1/2669 and /2975-8.

century when all books were imported from Britain. Close links between

British and Australian publishers and booksellers continued well into the

twentieth century. Reinforcing some of the colonial attitudes and ties was
an international copyright agreement which was signed in 1913. It gave

British publishers almost sole international access to the Australian market.

The Berne copyright agreement virtually excluded Australian access to

the American market while an Australian book needed to be published in the

USA to be permitted sale there.^ Both Norman Lindsay and Frank Dalby
Davison were miffed by unsatisfactory arrangements with American

publishers. Katharine Prichard, on the other hand, was pleased to have

Haxbys Circus appear in America in an unabridged edition and with its

original title, Fays Circus. In Australia a measure of protection against
American imports was part of a reciprocal arrangement which was based on
the fear that, without any form of embargo, an already saturated market
might be flooded by gushing America books. In order to find an Australian

audience, American books had to be printed in either Australia or Europe,

which for all intents and purposes in this situation, meant London. The

exclusion virtually guaranteed a British monopoly on the sale of American

books in Australia, except in the cases where Australian publishers reprinted

American books as Angus and Robertson did with Henry Fords bestselling

autobiography. The copyright agreement might go part the way to explain a

perceived lack of American influence in Australia writing and the dominance

of English styles and modes of writing. Many writers seemed to favour the

protection. Tariffs and embargoes on imported books, it was hoped, might

* * * *

17. Laurie Muller, "Australian Publishing" Paper delivered to Library

Society Symposium, Sydney September 19 86. The Berne Agreement
remained in tact until successfully challenged by a High Court Ruling in
USA, 1977.

increase the fortunes of local writers in their own market. Exclusion,

however, could also be construed as a form of censorship.

While the Berne agreement afforded some protection, British dominance

was seen as a less than desirable outcome. The choice facing Australian

writers was to publish locally or go to London. For a number, this no

choice at all. The Catalogue of Australian Publications listed 49 Australian

publishers in 1937 which had published two or more books in the preceding

year. A handbook designed to act as a guide to writers or would be writers

published in the same year listed 28 possible publishers covering the same

twelve months. The two listings shared thirteen publishers in common:

Angus and Robertson published "fiction and all classes of general

literature", William Brook confined itself to "school and technical books",

Carrolls were interested in "school text books by Australian authors",
Dymocks published "books of an educational nature", Hassell Press published
authors willing to pay printing and distribution costs, the Law Book Company

specialised in legal texts, Macmillan would publish Australian books approved

by their London office, Melbourne University Press catered for "academic,

scholastic or cultural interest", Pellegrini published "Roman Catholic

literature and school books", Pitman produced "commercial and technical

books", Robertson and Mullens would not accept unsolicited manuscripts but

commissioned "books of an educational nature", while Whitcombe and Tombs

published "fiction, technical and general literature".1^ For novelists the

scope was obviously quite small. Angus and Robertson was really the only

* * * *

18. The Melbourne School of Journalism, The Australian Writers* and

Artists* Market (Including New Zealand): A Practical Guide for the
Freelance (Melbourne 1939) pp 10-34, 71-87, 145-155.

The decision to find a London publisher was not always in the writer's

best interest. Katharine Prichard's close friend, Hugh McCrae, calculated

that Australian novels published in England averaged sales of 2,000 copies in

the home market. This was a reasonable figure for any writer, he believed.
Yet a flat rate paid to writers of 3d per copy, minus British tax and agents
fee, reduced an already barely acceptable royalty of f25 to fl7 10s.

Alleging his example to be an actual account, McCrae was sorry that

Australian popularity was virtually inconsequential for those who wished to

derive a reasonable income from the sale of books. Books which were

published and sold in Britain returned three times as much. Katharine

Prichard's contract with Jonathon Cape paid 10% to 3,000 copies sold in

Britain. In Australia it paid the flat rate of 3d. Overseas publication and

sales remained the more lucrative option. Angus and Robertson's

production of The Wild Oats of Han (1928) paid Prichard at 10% but the
book did not achieve wide circulation. "The Australian author who looks to
make a living from sales in his own country is wasting his time", was

McCrae's dejected conclusion.-^

Distance from London sharpened feelings of alienation. "It's bad

enough here, where one's on the spot, and can get an answer in the next
post", wrote Henry Handel Richardson from London in 1933.20 When

Katharine Prichard went to Europe in 1933 she was dismayed that her novel

in progress was not in final draft and that she had nothing to market while

there. On a separate occasion Prichard argued that Mollie Skinner's Black

Swan (1925) would never have reached the galley proof stage had not the

author been "on the spot" at the time to correct, revise and rewrite.
* * * *

19. Hugh McCrae "Getting Published", Bulletin January 30 1929, p2.

20. Henry Handel Richardson to Nettie Palmer February 5 1930. Palmer
Papers NLA MS 1174/1/3471.

according to the publisher's wishes. Lamenting that she did not "see any

possible chance" for herself, Prichard acknowledged that an Australian

writer virtually had to "take any terms" a publisher would offer.2*

Australian writers often found it difficult to organise satisfactory

circumstances for the production and distribution of their books. Problems

of restocking and re-issues loomed large in their thoughts. Vance Palmer

was in London in 1930 and was pleased to be able to negotiate directly with

the publishers. However, the problem of distance remained. Nettie wrote

from Australia:

In spite of all my gloom about Stanley Paul, your present prospects

seem really good - your control of format and blurbs in future, and your
assurance that theyll do short stories too. If only you can make sure
that TTie Passage gets into the hands of a few serious reviewers! ... the
week point of Stanley Paul remains - that Hutchinson had no Australian
agency. Im letting some booksellers know at once about The Passage,
since catalogues come out so late: the smaller booksellers cant keep a
book in stock unless theres a local agency.22

Prichard suggested that Hodder and Stoughton were the best distributors of

Australian fiction in Australia, but she had fallen out with them over their

proposals for Black Opal in 1919 which she withdrew and published with Cape

in 1921.23

Katharine Prichard wanted her books to be approached by publishers and

audiences with an attitude which complemented the sensitivity and plain hard
* * * *

21. Katharine Prichard to Nettie Palmer, June 13 1927. Palmer Papers NLA
MS 1174/1/2975-8
22. Nettie Palmer to Vance Palmer 19 August 1930. Cited in Letters of
Vance and Nettie Palmer op cit pp 57-58.
23. Katharine Prichard to Nettie Palmer, June 13 1927. Palmer Papers
NLA MS 1174/1/2975-8.

work that had gone into their writing. Writing was a demanding craft, she
maintained. A long apprenticeship, most writers believed, needed to be

followed by an almost solitary commitment to work during the writing period.

Feelings of isolation and removal from the world they wrote about caused

frequent misgivings.. There was also an acknowledgement that modern

writing was the first link in a commercial chain which involved a wide range

of different people. Literary agents, publishers, distributors, booksellers

and readers all had to be convinced that effort spent writing had been worth

the trouble and time. The manufacture of personal reputation depended

upon favourable reception for the finished product by each of these key
concerns. A commercial world measured success by the quantity of books

sold. For writers decent sales figures could secure financial autonomy.

Paradoxically, writers whose books did achieve a measure of popularity had

possibly to withstand charges that literary standards had been compromised
for commercial expediency.

Yet to write a popular book, even according to an alleged commercial

formula, was not a straight-forward matter. There were many failures.

During his years as "Rann Daly", Vance Palmer was only a moderately

successful populariser. Of those who were commercially successful writers,

there may have been pressure to claim at least some serious intention. The

derision of fellow writers was a high price to pay for commercial success.

Indeed, in that small world where jealousies sometimes ran high, the

unpublished or even unwritten, great novel could command more respect

than the successful seller. Coteries exerted a powerful influence over

writers perceptions of themselves and key figures such as Nettie Palmer

presumed a central role as arbiters of literary standards. But, ultimately,

even the literary critics field was predetermined by the decisions made by

publishers and booksellers. In this larger world success or failure were


brutal facts of marketing and sales. "Fifteen thousand books are printed

annually in London", Stephensen reminded Australian writers in 1933, "of

which six are bestsellers and one in a hundred good sellers ... .24

Prichard cast herself in the role of writer-creator. "I want people to

realise about Coonardoo", she wrote to Nettie Palmer in 1929, "Its not the

book but the things about our life in it.... It hardly exists as a book in my
mind.The writer considered herself a competent craftsperson whose

sensitivity and insights admitted her to the realm of greatness, but she
suspected that limitations in her own ability prevented her rising above

mediocrity. "Its better ... to forget the gentle reader", she wrote in
1929, "I always say Oh, afterall I write to please myself ... The worst
part of it is, I dont please myself - often".26 In his novels, Vance
Palmer conveyed a similar sense of self through characters such as Ernest
S wayne in TTie Swayne Family and Clem McNair in The Passage, though his
personal correspondence appears more guarded and does not readily

acknowledge chinks in the armour. Differences in personality may explain a

great deal in this regard, but the sometimes obsessive attachment to

nationalism expressed by both writers, might be seen as a shield against

vulnerability. Asserting her birth-right in 19 41, Prichard claimed she would

prefer a fall from universal standards than not to write about Australia.2?
* * * *

24. P.R. Stephensen address to Fellowship of Australian Writers, "What

Editors Want", Reported in All About Books July 13 1933 p 19 8.
25. Katharine Prichard to Nettie Palmer November 14 1929(?). Palmer
Papers NLA MS 1174/1/3393.
26. Katharine Prichard to Vance Palmer, October 4 1928. Palmer Papers
NLA MS 1174/1/2679-80.
27. Katharine Prichard to H.M. Green, November 4 1929. H.M. Green
Papers NLA MS 3925.

Australia's publishing practices reinforced its writers feelings of

neglect. Many local publishers perceived local writing in terms similar to

those formulated in London. Australian literature, even at the most senior

level, was conceived as the grubby-faced daughter of English literature. A

general perception among writers that domestic companies were unwilling to

foster claims for professional status reinforced their desire for the imagined

prestige of a London house. It was felt that local practices were at least

partly responsible for their predicament and non-reception in Australia.

Any concessions to local achievement by local overseers were made

grudgingly. After fifty years in the "colonies, George Robertson still

called Britain "home and encouraged writers such as Prichard and Miles

Franklin to turn their writing arms towards the service of London

companies.28 While Robertson was willing to provide good references, the
search in London, these writers knew, merely reinforced the old attitudes.

Miles Franklin had sent her manuscript of My Brilliant Career to Angus

and Robertson in 1899 only to have it rejected. When the book was
published in Edinburgh by Blackwood and Son in 1901 and achieved

considerable success in the local market, Franklin offered My Career Goes

Bung to the local company. "The unbusinesslike engineering, of the first

book has been so unsatisfactory ... , she complained to George Robertson

about her Scottish publisher, " ... that I should like my recent venture put

on our own market by a local firm.28 But like its predecessor, My Career

Goes Bung was rejected and Franklin did not offer it again until 1946. In
* * * *

28. George Robertson wrote to Miles Franklin declining to publish Old

Blastus of Bandicoot: "Send it home, and we will do all we can for it as
booksellers here. September 9 1930. Angus and Robertson Papers ML MSS
29. Miles Franklin to George Robertson July 20 1902. Angus and Robertson
Papers ML MSS 314.

1930 Franklin submitted Old Blastus of Bandicoot to Angus and Robertson.

Although frustrated in her attempt she, nevertheless, sought to find a

kindred spirit in the Australian Cousins, now in charge:

For years I used to wish that the wonderful yarns to be heard around
Australia cd. be garnered in book form and now you have achieved a
splendid success in this field, led by Mr Idriess ... Now you must
discover and produce the great and truly Australian novel as the prize
bloom in Australian national literature.^1

The Great Australian Novel did not materialise though there were a few

contenders publishing overseas. In 1939 Angus and Robertson accepted

Franklins collaborative effort with Dymphna Cusack, Pioneers on Parade

and negotiated royalties on an incremental scale paying 10% for the first
2,000, 12.5% on the next 2,000 and 15% for "all above 4,000 copies sold."

Franklin asked for and received a flOO advance. This was a good contract.
Her suggestion that the book be marketed at 6/- with the idea of achieving
a wider audience than the usual 7/6d volume met with complete

disapproval.^ "We sold Timms Maelstrom at 7/6 and it is going to its sixth
thousand", explained Cousins, "Promenade was sold at 8/6 and it is in its
eighth thousand. In future we purpose (sic) issuing all our outstanding
Australian novels at not less than 7/6."33

Writers claims for recognition were complicated by the marketing

strategies of publishing companies. P.R. Stephensen suggested that not

only were Australian books dumped in Australia when their sales to English

circulating libraries had dried up but inferior English books with limited
* * * *

31. Miles Franklin to W.G. Cousins, December 29 1933. Angus and

Robertson Papers, ML MSS 3269.
32. Miles Franklin to W.G. Cousins, March 12 1939. Angus and Robertson
Papers ML MSS 3269.
33. W.G. Cousins to Miles Franklin March 16 1939. Angus and Robertson
Papers ML MSS 3 269.

potential in Britain were also shipped out to the colonies, cluttering the

market for local publishers and ultimately writers. Angus and Robertson's

publishing functions survived as a branch of bookselling which reinforced the

colonial practice. Stephensen questioned how local writing was affected by

publishers concepts of the colonial market. Miles Franklin looked upon

English publishers with some derision as absentee landlords of Australian

literature. Are we never to have a forum, written or spoken," she wrote in

1934, "but to sit down like colonial renegades while we are lectured by our
patronising overlords from England? "34 Franklin argued that British

publishers were out for the "Australian booty" but were not interested in the
genuine article. British publishers, she determined, produced Australian
books in accordance with their understanding of the British lending
library.35 An active campaigner against these practices, Miles Franklin,

who battled to be published in her own country, bequeathed her estate of

f8922 to be converted into an award for Australian fiction.

Few Australian writers appeared to be particularly knowledgeable about

contracts with publishers. They saw themselves as writers, not accountants

and solicitors. Employing a literary agent on a commission basis was one

way of negotiating contracts and clearing up misunderstandings with

publishers. Jim Throssell acted as Katharine Prichards agent and manager

for a number of years until his death in 19 33. "You know how helpless I am

with figures and percentages", Prichard admitted in 1928, "and too frazzled

most of the time to make head or tail of them".36 But manager/husband

and author/wife was not a particularly harmonious or successful combination.

* * *

34. Miles Franklin to Nettie Palmer, August 15 1933. Palmer Papers NLA
MS 1174/1/4267.
35. Miles Franklin to Nettie Palmer, March 31 1933. Palmer Papers NLA MS
36. Katharine Prichard to Vance Palmer, September 15 1928.

Prichard argued against Throssells "practicaln view that writing and

publishing were linked as a business agreement.^ She approached Jonathon

Cape as a socially conscious publisher sharing her appreciation of the

creative process. Yet she was invariably disappointed: "Capes, I think are

probably the worlds worst publishers", she complained in 1927 when Working
Bullocks^, a contender for the title of the Great Australian Novel, was
badly handled by the publishers and distributors. When Throssell suggested

that her books be treated as saleable commodities in much the same way as

the crops he grew, she was of fended. ^ In 1927 Prichard took Vance
Palmers advice and employed a registered literary agent. Jim Thossell still
acted as the authors manager but Curtis Brown became buffer between the
colliding desires of author, manager/husband and publisher. The new

arrangement presented to her publishers a more serious side to the writers

involvement in a commercial transaction, while leaving her free to

concentrate on her task of writing.

A literary agent might increase the standing of an author in the eyes of

publisher and peers but could not guarantee sales. Nor were the alliances

formed always satisfactory. In 1930 W.G. Cousins put E.V. Timms into

contact with a "reputable" English literary agent, Robert Sommerville. 40

Within twelve months, Timms and Sommerville were at odds. In March 1931,

Timms complained that Sommerville had ignored the differences in the

exchange rate in his royalty receipt for TTie CHpple in Black (1930). Worse
* * * *

37. Katharine Prichard to Vance Palmer September 15 1928. Palmer Papers

NLA MS 1174/1/2669
38. Katharine Prichard to Vance Palmer, June 13 1927. Palmer Papers NLA
MS 1174/1/2975-8.
39. Katharine Prichard to Vance Palmer, September 15 1928. Palmer
Papers NLA MS 1174/1/2669.
40. W.G. Cousins to E.V. Timms April 3 1930. Angus and Robertson Papers
ML MSS 3269.

still, he had neglected to enclose the cheque! 44 in May, Timms received

f 17 M ... from the advance* of f30. Sommerville claimed and got 15% and
about 25% went on some Government tax - so I was told.42 Angus and
Robertson wrote to the Australian Book Company in London which looked

into the matter. Sommerville broke with the arrangement in July. Furious

at what he perceived as colonial meddling, he wrote to Cousins:

You know as well as I do that essentials are more important than endless
worrying. I have had quite a lot of unnecessary writing and cabling to
Timms and so I am writing to him this mail, telling him that I cannot be
his literary agent....I had high hopes of him but I have no time to
waste on an author who flurries around like an old hen with one chick.4^

Timms example may have been a one off situation but it is clear that, even

when operating through supposedly reputable channels, arrangements could

be made which were not strictly in the best interests of the writer. It is
also probably the case that the distance between Australia and London made
effective communication on the question of contracts difficult to maintain.

A 1937 index listed 15 British agents who readily handled negotiations for
Australian writers. The index listed no Australian agents.44

Complaints about publishing and bookselling were high among writer

grievances. From the point of view of a bookseller, John L. Preece of

Adelaide, maintained that a good deal of blame rested with the unreal

expectations of writers. There is no doubt about the feeling that a local

* * * *

41. E.V. Timms to W.G. Cousins, March 11 1930. Angus and Robertson
Papers ML MSS 3269.
42. E.V. Timms to W.G. Cousins May 11 1930. Angus and Robertson Papers
ML MSS 3269.
43. Richard Sommerville to Angus and Robertson, July 15 1931. Angus and
Robertson Papers ML MSS 3 269.
44. W.E. Fitzhenry (ed), The Australian Authors Handbook (Sydney 1937).

author is not a real author: though one is tempted to ask what is a real
author?, he told Frank Dalby Davison in 1935.^5 Davisons early attempts

at publishing and marketing, when he sold his hand-printed books door to

door were now far behind him. He had also undergone a change in attitude

from ten years earlier when he worked at his fathers press and complained

that the ... chief trouble with Australian writers is inability to write."46
Davison was now a leading advocate of writers claims for recognition.

Yet Davison agreed with Preece that the true professional", the "real

writer", was all too often frustrated by a profusion of " ... triflers who
write one book, one story, or an occasional contribution to a paper, who

strut and talk about Australian Art and Letters when in reality they
themselves havent the first idea of the value of words." Preece was

disgusted by the degree of self-satisfation which he detected in "would be

writers". He argued that Australian readers were not so blindly patriotic as
to buy books simply because they were Australian or written by a local
writer. Australian readers wanted " ... something more than that and if we
are to talk loudly about our own books we must make them comparable to

those overseas publications which stand by their side on shelves and

counters"he concluded.

"The cry of What is wrong with Australian literature? is raised so

often, even by writers themselves that we are irresistibly driven to the

* * * *

45. John L. Preece to Frank Dalby Davison. Davison Papers NLA MS

46. Frank Dalby Davison, "Why Authors Leave Home", Bulletin July 1 1926.
p 2. Louis Esson wrote to Davison in 1938 saying that he believed that
Davison and Xavier Herbert were the best of Australias contemporary
writers. Davison Papers NLA MS 1945/1/26 03.
47. John L. Preece to Frank Dalby Davison. Davison Papers NLA MS

conclusion that something is really wrong", argued J.W. Leckie in 1929.

Writers blamed publishers, newspapers and magazines for their " ... to say
the least - scanty remuneration, which makes the vocation of a writer of
imaginative work a hard one from the bread and butter point of view."49
Leckie observed: "The magazines blame the writers. Both unite and blame

the Australian reader". Louis Esson suggested that although the

performance of Australian writers was poor, the conditions were almost

impossible. He made virtually no money from his plays and managed only

meagre returns from paragraphs, reviews and articles. These paid little and

Esson was propped up by some family money and Hildas earnings. In better

shape, the Palmers combined to earn an average of f482 per year in the

period 1924/1925 to 1929/1930.49

Possibly aware that Davisons Man-Shy was originally printed privately,

Preece responded to a point raised by Davison about its current condition as
a book that had seen several Angus and Robertson commercial reprints: "No

wonder that you thought Manshy would be passed over as another wild

wester, he commented, "It looks it, and the publishers are thowing all the
work of selling on to the bookseller - or those who will read the book and

appreciate it." Davison agreed that there was a need for greater

coordinated effort between writers, publishers and booksellers. Preece

argued that under current systems these existed as a cold "equilateral

triangle instead of a happy friendly trio". Attitudes towards writers, he

concluded, had not changed substantially since the Bulletin earned "laurels

which it has long rested."59

* * * *

48. J.W. Leckie address to the Australian Literature Society, Melbourne,

April 15 1929. Reported in All About Books May 20 1929 p 179.
49. David Walker Dream and Disillusion op cit p 216.
50. F.L. Preece to Frank Dalby Davison. Davison Papers NLA MS

By 1935 Davison's association with Angus and Robertson was solid. Yet

his financial situation was poor. Marjorie Barnard met him for the first
time in 1934 and was stunned by his emaciated appearance. He looked

"wretchedly ill", she wrote to Nettie Palmer, his complexion discoloured an

insipid yellow and his "bones almost through". The "strain of living by the

pen" had become a "desperate struggle for existence. Barnard concluded

that Davison was "not fitted" for writing.51 While Frank Dalby Davison

did better through the sale of his books than many other writers he could not

make a living by writing and nor, it appears, did he have substantial outside
patronage.5^ A royalty statement in 1935, covering six months sales of

Man-Shy, Forever Morning, The Wells of Beersheba and Blue Coast Caravan

showed a debit of almost fifty pounds after Davison had borrowed against

potential sales. His letters to Angus and Robertson assumed a close working
relationship. "I am short of money as usual", he wrote from Cairns fishing
for another f5.53 The borrowed money never really went far enough but at
least he maintained a more even income than many other writers. A cheque

for f21/16/II covered American sales to May 1938 followed three months
later by Am.$36.77. A fillip in the relationship between writer and
publisher, a cheque for f21/18/3 arrived five days before Christmas from


By 1945 Eleanor Dark and Mary Mitchell claimed that they made a living
* * *

51. Marjorie Barnard to Nettie Palmer, September 27 1934. Palmer Papers

NLA MS 1174/1/4497.
52. Angus and Robertson Royalty Statement for the six months to July 1
1935. When advances were deducted from the amount due, Davison still
owed Angus and Robertson thirty pounds. Angus and Robertson Papers ML
MSS 3269.
53. Frank Dalby Davison to W.G. Cousins, June 16 1935. Angus and
Robertson Papers 3269.
54. Angus and Robertson Receipt for Payment to Frank Dalby Davison, May
13 1938. Angus and Robertson Papers ML MS 3 269.

from writing.55 Mitchells popular Warning to Wantons (1934) had gone into

several impressions, was translated into a number of languages and later

made into a film (1948). Darks Timeless Land (1941) became a bestseller

in Australia, Europe and America. She later explained: At different times

after that I could have kept myself for limited periods, and could do so in

modest comfort - but only because the greater part of what we lived on
came from my husbands professional work ... .5 From 1934-1940 Eleanor

Darks income averaged less than half that of a junior journalist and the
only system of payment was intermittent royalty cheques dependent entirely

on sales: two editions of Prelude to Christopher returned f238/1/2; one

edition of Return to Coolami returned fl34/18/6; Sun Across the Sky

returned f250/15/l; and royalties on Waterway brought in f 124/10/8.57

As small as they were, the figures compare favourably with the income
of other writers. For their joint productions of A House is Built and Green
Memory Marjorie Barnard and Flora Eldershaw shared f463, 1929-1936.5^
In 1936 Dymphna Cusack received f23 royalties on a print-run of 1,000

copies of her first novel, Jungfrau.5^ Leonard Mann and Will Lawson

claimed they could not support themselves by writing alone. William

Hatfield said that he just got by and Jean Devanny made what she termed

a scanty living. Frank Clune could maintain a reasonable income.^0

Davison supplemented his income by journalism, broadcasting and writing

short stories. Leonard Mann could only find time to write in his spare
* * *

55. Fellowship of Australian Writers Questionnaire op cit.

56. Eleanor Dark interview with Drusilla Modjeska 19 77, Women Writers op
cit p357.
57. Collins Royalty Receipts, Eleanor Dark Papers ML MSS 4545 23(25)
58. Royalty Receipts and Taxation Statements. Marjorie Barnard Papers.
ML MSS 451. Item 4.
59. Dymphna Cusack, Unpublished Autobiography. Cusack Papers NLA
MS4261/9 pll9
60. Fellowship of Australian Writers Questionnaire op cit.

moments and waited until retirement before sitting down at his desk full

time. He had confided in Vance Palmer in 1935: 1 have reached the stage

when I'm in a bit of a fog about my own work and full of doubts about it.64
Mann contemplated leaving his paid work as an accountant to chance the

uncertain world of full-time writing but family responsibilities prevented

him.62 Jean Devannys popular1 novels achieved a higher profile than her
socially conscious fiction in which she was more interested.63 Will Lawson,

like E.V. Timms, wrote popular fiction but could not produce it at a fast

enough rate to guarantee anything but a small income. He worked as a

journalist. Frank Clune could make a living but in order to do so a great

deal of time needed to be spent at the desk. With some assistance from

P.R. Stephensen he wrote sixty books in less than thirty years to 19 61.

Like Davison, William Hatfield worked in close association with Angus

and Robertson. When his second novel, Ginger Murdoch (1932) appeared,
Katharine Prichard applauded the effort as delightful: 1 should have

loved to have written him myself -- which is an oblique compliment, I

suppose, but the highest from one writer to another.64 Hatfield received
an advance of f35 on his next novel Black Waterlily (1935) with an option on

his next two novels. From 1932-1936 he received f 167 in advances against

sales of four novels.65 His reputation as a proven seller was sufficient to

provide him with a flOO advance in 1936 for a planned novel which appeared
# * *

61. Leonard Mann to Vance Palmer, March 11 1935. Palmer Papers ML MSS
62. Leonard Mann to Vance Palmer, January 26 1933. Palmer Papers ML MSS
63. Bookstalls 1939 Catalogue listed Devannys TTie Ghosts Wife (1935) and
Paradise Flow (1938) but none of her serious fiction.
64. Katharine Prichard to William Hatfield, August 17 1932. Angus and
Robertson Papers ML MSS 3 269.
65. Angus and Robertson to William Hatfield, August 17 1932. Angus and
Robertson Papers. ML MSS 3 269.

as Big Timber (1936). This meant that he was reasonably secure but his

financial returns were entirely dependent on sales which could fluctuate.

And the logic of the market was not always predictable. Although previous
goodsellers in their lists of publications, Angus and Robertson waived rights

on Desert Saga (1933), River Crossing (1934) and Black Waterlily in 1944.
Australia Through the Windscreen (1936) and Sheepmates (1931) contined to

sell and remained in print.^

The uncertain status of writing was a continuing cause for concern in

writers' circles. Nettie Palmer swiped at publishers which accepted no

more than one manuscript a year from 'serious' writers but would not pay

them a living wage. rf35 for a novel or a book of literary criticism! Its
a cruel game", Nettie told her mother in 1935.6? Yet three years earlier,

against the advice of his reader, George Robertson had agreed to publish
Netties literary essays Talking it Over (1932) in a print run of 1,000.68

This was an odd thing to do. The readers report was scathing: "The

authoress is no born essayist. The spoor of the blue stocking is all over" her
work.^ George Robertson was no known feminist but he may have valued

Nettie Palmer as a useful literary critic to have on-side. Her numerous

book reviews were published in many major literary journals and notice of an

Angus and Robertson title was publicity. If any such thought existed, it

backfired in the bookshops. Talking it Over sold a miserable 18 copies

* * * *

66. Angus and Robertson, Contracts with William Hatfield. Angus and
Robertson Paper ML MSS 1549/70 Box P6X.
67. Nettie Palmer to J. Higgins, February 24 1936. Letters of Vance and
Nettie Palmer op cit p 119.
68. George Robertson to Nettie Palmer, July 16 1932. Angus and Robertson
Papers ML MSS 3269.
69. Angus and Robertson Readers Report for Talking it Over, June 20
1932. Angus and Robertson Papers ML MSS 3 269.

returning fl/7/8 to the authoress ,7^ Remainders were offered free of

charge to school libraries in New South Wales and Victoria. The wounded

writer accepted twenty copies courtesy of the company.71 Adding salt was
Angus and Robertsons obvious success with the essays of Walter Murdoch

who was not known for his appreciative understanding of Australian


It was one thing to establish a reputation as a proven seller with

publishers. It was another to maintain the quantity and quality of output.

Serious writers may have felt constrained by a limit of no more than one

book a year, but novels written with a popular audience in mind were eagerly

awaited at publishers. Not all could maintain the pace set by Frank Clune.

Following the success of Tlie Oipple in Black (1930), E.V. Timms sold his
farm at Gosford in 1930 to pursue writing full-time.72 He struggled to
maintain the momentum. In 1931 "The Honeymoon Inn" was rejected by
Angus and Robertson. "Only a very gifted writer could make a seller out of

such a theme and plot", reported the reader, "Mr Timms has badly failed.
He hasnt the humour or the turn for sparkling dialogue; and yet nine tenths

of the extravaganza are attempts at both." The report concluded sharply:

"Mr Timms thinks it a better laugh than James DonTt be a Fool! Candidly,

any laughter it may provoke would probably be more cynical than

appreciative.7^ Declining the manuscript, Cousins suggested Timms try

London, possibly to keep in the good books with an author who could turn in

a good yarn every now and then. It is not certain if Timms tried the
* * * *
70. Royalty Statement, Talking it Over, six months to June 1933. Angus
and Robertson Papers. ML MSS 3269.
71. W.G. Cousins to Nettie Palmer, December 16 1936. Angus and Robertson
Papers ML MSS 3269.
72. E.V. Timms to W.G. Cousins, June 3 1930. Angus and Robertson Papers
ML MSS 3269.
73. Reader's Report, "The Honeymoon Inn, April 6 1931.

London option but the novel was never published. Six months later Angus
and Robertson rejected Timms: "The Outlaw of Moonbi".^

In a climate where the chances of failure were high and the return for

effort slight, the push for professional status by writers might be construed

as folly. It can be maintained that, outside their own circles, very few

people were interested in the poor lot of writers. A reader might love the

sight and smell of a bookshop filled with the coloured covers of thousands of

books and remain completely indifferent to the sweat and tears which had

gone into their making. Writers seemed justified in their complaints when
their small returns were contrasted to the lavish showcases of bookshops.

It is also possible, as can be argued in the case of Vance Palmer, that the
passing of an era which once afforded the man of letters, created a sense of

dissatisfaction, loss and disillusion that the craft of writing had been
undermined by machines and relentless commercialism. In the modern
setting, collective action seemed an appropriate response to these

conditions, but accepted notions about publishing also meant that many
writers whose commitment was to the production of a national literature

could not live by those ideals alone.

A number of writers such as the Palmers and their friends relied heavily

on the patronage afforded by their middle-class backgrounds. A letter to

Nettie from her mother often contained a twenty pound note. Miles

Franklin and Marjorie Barnard were supported by their families at odd times

and it is likely they would have found writing more difficult without these

support networks. But the problem of reward for effort continued to be a

* * * *

74. W.G. Cousins to E.V. Timms, October 4 1931. Angus and Robertson
Papers ML MSS 3 269.

sore point. Miles Franklin had an idea for a story and "enticing title" but

she could not find a publisher who would finance the story to the tune of

f 150 advance royalties. The suggestion of f75 down payment for a serial
also fell on tone deaf ears.75 With a keen sense of the absurd Kylie

Tennant in 1941 wrote to H.M. Green that she only wrote novels to subsidise

her husbands salary during lean periods. Mocking the small earnings of
writers, she proclaimed herself "Kylie Tennant Incorporated, Writer".7 ^

Tennant's off-hand cynicism was directed against systems of production

and marketing which had paradoxically propelled the modern writer into

existence. The drive for professional status had been effected by

structural changes in the publishing industry itself. These structural
changes impacted on journalism earlier and contributed to changing the
nature of other forms of writing as occupations. Changes in journalism
forced a break with traditional ties with the man of letters, which dated
back to the "public writer" of the early nineteenth century. In the latter
part of this century journalism had become distinguished at two extremes

with most reporters between. The genteel writer could be found

within the ruck, rubbing shoulders with the "elite" or scribbling down penny-

liners. The first stage of professionalism in journalism occurred in the

1860s and 1870s when unattached contributors and bohemians were supplanted

by staffers "trained on the job".77

* * * *

75. Miles Franklin to Nettie Palmer, February 11 1933. Palmer Papers ML

MSS 1174/1/1420.
76. Kylie Tennant to H.M. Green, March 26 1941. H.M. Green Papers NLA
MSS 3925.
77. Clem Lloyd Profession: Journalist op cit pp 23-24.

The pace of change quickened in the twentieth century with new

printing technologies and marketing strategies. Looking back from 1921 to

the halcyon days of the Bulletin Edward Dyson argued: "A huge proportion of

the matter contributed to Australian papers ... which is likely to endure has

been turned out by the freelance. Dyson saw the 1890s as a golden age of
the freelance who, by 1921 was well on the road to extinction. "Whereas

twenty years ago there was a considerable contingent of outside writers ...,
he argued "the company is now decimated. According to Dyson a very

important literary network was broken up by professionalisation in

journalism: "Paradoxically as it may appear I am driven to the conclusion
that the greatly improved condition of the newspaper man within the

Commonwealth is mainly responsible for the fading out of the unattached

contributor.78 Dyson could earn f800 a year at the turn of the century
but by the 1920s he was "feeling the pinch. Another successful freelance
writer, Harold Mercer, who wrote under the psuedonym "Hamer earned fl07
in five weeks in 1922 but this, he maintained, was a one off situation and

normal earning as a freelance came in at around f6 per week.79

By 1937 there were still 264 newspapers and magazines which accepted

freelance contributions but, according to Alan Marshall, only sixteen offered

... a regular field for writers of stories, paragraphs and articles.89 In

1928, 52 periodicals accepted short stories, twenty accepted serials, thirty

verse and 73 general topics and news-stories.81 Compiling these lists W.E.
* * * *

78. Edward Dyson "The Passing of the Freelance", Bulletin, June 2 1921 p 2
79. "Hamer "The Freelance in Australia", Bulletin, March 26 1925, p 2
80. Alan Marshall to Australian Literature Society, Melbourne, March 15
1937. Reported in All About Books April 15 1937 p 57.
81. C.F. Ringstat and W.E. Fitzhenry The Australian and New Zealand
Writers* and Artists* Handbook: A Directory for Writers, Artists and
Photographers (Sydney 1928). W.E. Fitzhenry edited and published TJie
Australian Authors* Handbook (Sydney) which appeared in 1937 and 1938.

Fitzhenry warned: "As all the daily and weekly newspapers employ special

leader writers, this can be regarded as an almost exclusive field for staff

men with practically no scope for the freelance". Verse paid between 6d to

1/- per line but there was little scope for poets. Most papers and journals

published jingles. A simple study could tap the formula for this class of

writing. There was a strong demand for humorous stories and sketches,

which payed in the range of 25/- to three guineas for a thousand words
depending on the circulation of the paper. Serials were few and far

between. 60,000 to 90,000 words could return f25 to f50 but outlets had
contracted over the previous decade.8^ One journal identified by Marshall

received about 700 stories a month while the Bulletin appeared to be open "
... only to the writer ready to surrender his originality and write within the
narrow bounds of its policy."88. jn 1934, Ronald Campbell, editor of the

Australian Journal, claimed that he had vetted 16,5 00 stories and sketches
since May 1926, of which he had published 1,152.8^

The formation of the Australian Journalist Association as an industrial

union in 1910 confirmed a process of professionalisation in the newspaper

office which had begun forty years earlier. The Association sought to

implement award wages and hours for staff journalists, putting the squeeze
on the unattached contributor. By 1917 it succeeded in gaining an average

work week of forty six hours and minimum wage rates in cities of f8 per week

for senior journalists, f7 per week for general reporters and f5 per week for

juniors. By 1923 the rates were flO, f9, f6 respectively.85 In 1927 Louis

Esson contrasted conditions for journalists with those of fiction writers and

argued that the "literary man has little or no status at all". According to
* * * *
82. ibid.
83. Marshall loc cit.
84. All About Books, July 12 1934. p 131.
85. Geoff Sparrow (ed) Crusade for Journalism. (Melbourne 1960) p 88

Esson the staff journalist had become the "aristocrat of letters. Arguing

that the Australian Journalists' Association had put in "good spade work on

the part of staffers he accused it of squeezing further the already

dehydrated freelance. The "outsider was forced to "accept any condition
as his work".**6 President of the Australian Authors Association, Robert

Kaleski, argued that the journalists union was a vehicle through which

writers could achieve their much desired professional status.**^ Implicit in

his judgement, as with Esson's, was the lowly and powerless place of the

writer. The newspaper office was a more appropriate place to organise an

industrial union than the isolated study of a writer.

Men and women journalists shared the same award, yet the profession

was male dominated, possibly creating some unexpected gains for authorship.

Of 143 founding members of the Australian Journalists Association three

were women.**** Miles Franklin was scathing at this type of exclusion. With
over thirty years experience as a freelance on three continents, she

condemned those practices which escaped the notice of the men: "Even
periodicals with feminine names are edited by men.... Many jobs with big
salaries are held by men, only occasionally by women", she derided.**9 The

improbably named 'Susan Gloomish, a feature writer of the womens page

"Hi-Tiddley-Hi-Ti" on the Sydney Triad, also considered the question of

women journalists. Answering a Dorothy Dixer, 'Gloomish' wrote that

women should not bother with journalism. A woman with "brains" could

make a good career as a "dressmaker" while there was plenty of money in

* * * *

86. Louis Esson "Status of the Author". Bulletin, July 7 1927. p 5.

87. Robert Kaleski "The A.J.A. and the Writer". Bulletin, August 25 1927. p
88. List of Foundation Members cited in Sparrow, Crusade for Journalism op
cit pp 35-37.
89. Miles Franklin, address to the Fellowship of Australian Writers, meeting
September 29 1933. Reported in All About Books,October 14 1933 p 170.

manicuring for women "without brains". She concluded: "The woman on a

newspaper has to kow tow to all sorts of eminent petticoated undesirables.

Everyday she must prostitute her soul ... ".90

Xavier Herbert worked as a freelance for a time after he had completed

the first draft of Capricornia in 1932. He was contracted to write short

stories for the Australian Journal at 30/- per thousand words. An 11,000

word story a month and another f4 for paragraphs and articles for the

Sunday Sun made a monthly income of around f20 which " ... in the hands of

a superb manager like Sadie [his wife] for work that was to qualify me for a
job that I knew somehow would make me famous was like a lovely dream.91
The lovely dream ended six months later when the editor ordered Herbert to

cut his stories to 6,000 words. "Thought of the future suddenly startles
me", he wrote to Arthur Dibley, "What am I to do? As matters stand there
doesn't seem much hope of my being able to make a decent living by

writing." Herbert tried to increase his contributions to the Sunday Sun,

but the scope was limited by the presence of staff journalists. Now unable
to provide for Sadie, Herbert wrote: "I do not feel much like a writer at

present, nor do I care to feel like one.... As I am living at present I am

only a Bum".92

Marjorie Barnard did not consider freelance writing a possible option.

It was a diversion from the serious stuff of writing novels. "I '11 never earn

a living as a freelancer" she wrote. Considering herself "too slow" and "too

a few other things" she decided to " ... stick to novels, a few short stories
* * * *

90. Susan Gloomish, "Women Journalism", Triad, July 10 1919 p 9.

91. "Facts on the Publication of Capricornia" loc cit.
92. Xavier Herbert to Arthur Dibley nd. 1933?. Herbert Papers NLA MS 758
Series 2.

if I can find a way to raise these delicate plants, occasional critical articles

(that no one will want to pay for) and lead an ascetic life.93 She
suggested that time was wasted on paragraphs and essays when it might be

put to better use writing something longer. Journalism and writing were

worlds apart, Barnard argued, and M ... no force (of character) is going to
bring them together.94 In 1935 Barnard left her paid job as a librarian to

write full-time. With fl40 in accrued superannuation and a guarantee of

f300 from her family she could see herself clear for two years. Pinpointing

the irony inherent in a writers position, she wrote, "I always thought I

could never live by writing but I find I cant live without it. "

Marjorie Barnard suggested that writers belonged to a growing

Australian intelligentsia but she cautioned against following this path too
far. She wanted to be considered as a writer and not merely a woman with
brains who did not want to be a dressmaker.99 Barnard also argued that
writers were part of a craft industry, yet she was also reminded that modern
technological processes transformed crafted manuscripts into mass media.

While promising satisfaction in the finished product, publishing could also

result in alienation, and concern about the response of their readers. In

1932, Barnard declared how uneasy she felt when her second novel, Green

Memory (1931), appeared:

Publication is a sort of shock...The book is broken off from all

attachments in your mind, is forced into the doubtful and generally
unsympathetic, illuminations of publishers advertisements, falls into a
vast magma (?) of novels and is weighed up, in rough and ready style,
* * * *

93. Marjorie Barnard to Nettie Palmer, October 8 1935. Palmer Papers NLA
MS 1174/1/4793-4
94. Marjorie Barnard to Nettie Palmer, September 10 1933. Palmer Papers
NLA MS 1174/1/4231.
95. Marjorie Barnard to Nettie Palmer May 19 1935, Palmer Papers NLA MS
96. Marjorie Barnard to Nettie Palmer, February 13 1935. Palmer Papers
NLA MS 1174/1/4589

with a great many other books with which it has nothing in common but
covers and pagination.9

For writers it was not simply that writing style, design and inner thoughts

were put on public display once a novel was published, but rather that the

packaging of literary consciousness in the material form of a book, began

the complex public life of something that was also very private.

Notable in the long-term quest for professional status for Australian

writers was the inauguration of the Fellowship of Australian Writers on

November 23, 1928 in Sydney. A prime mover in its formation, Mary

Gilmore sermonised in December: "The Fellowship of Australian Writers has
been formed in fellowship, for the gathering together of old friends, for the
help of the new and the young writer, and for the remembrance of the dead
... ",98 The need for such an organisation had been perceived for many

years. Louis Esson and Vance Palmer were principal activists in forming the
Australian Writers Guild in 1915 and 1916 , Frank Wilmot played a key role in

the Melbourne Literary Club99 while associations such as the Australian

Natives Association and the Australian Literature Society had existed since

the nineteenth century.

The Fellowship of Australian Writers was the first body to preside over

the interests of writers in any viable collective form. Arthur Adams

painted a comical picture of the situation in Sydney a year before the

Fellowship was formed. Possibly with "Banjo" Pattersons "The Man from

Iron Bark" ironically in mind, he wrote:

* * * *

97. ibid
98. Mary Gilmore "A Fellowship of Australian Writers, Bulletin, December 19
1928, p 2
99. David Walker Dream and Disillusion op cit p 2.
100. 1871 and 1899. Both were based in Melbourne.

Recently an American novelist arrived unheralded and sought out

literary men in the city. For a while he sought in vain: there was no
headquarters of the literary craft; no association of writers to welcome
him and he had never heard of - nor was likely to have heard - of the
Author's section of the AJA.... By sheer luck he ran into an Australian
black-and-white man. who led him to the only literary shrine in the
city, The Press Club

A decade later the FAW had a national membership and branches in Sydney,

Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. It was in contact with affiliated

organisations in Brisbane and Hobart and in 1953, a federal council was

formed with delegates from all states.

The Fellowship perceived itself as a trade union of writers on the one

hand and an intelletual chamber of commerce on the other. It sought to

"bring into association" as many writers as possible and " ... further the

interests of the Fellowship and members thereof ... n1^2 Although the
inaugural meeting was a modest occasion, even if the stated objectives
appeared lofty, by 1934 the Fellowship had 345 members including, Frank

Ashton, Marjorie Barnard, Charles Chauvel, Frank Clune, Dale Collins, Jean
Devanny, Arthur Davis, Henrietta Drake-Brockman, Miles Franklin, Robert
Garran, H.M. Green, Tom Inglis-Moore, Robert Kaleski, Hugh McCrae,

Nettie Palmer, Vance Palmer, Katharine Susannah Prichard, Kenneth

Slessor and E.V. Timms. In 1935, the FAW elected Flora Eldershaw as its
first woman president and recruited Norman Lindsay, Donald Stuart and
Henry Handel Richardson.-^

The Fellowship promoted itself as an organisation which could press for

* * * *

101. Arthur H. Adams, "Status of the Author" Bulletin, June 2 1927 p 2

102. Fellowship of Australian Writers, Constitution and Rules (nd February
1929?) ML 820.6/22A1.
103. Fellowship of Australian Writers "Annual Reports" 1934 and 1935.

improved conditions for its members, but collective action sat awkwardly

alongside the isolation experienced by many authors. Moreover, writing was

an individual occupation. It was construed in the minds of many as a craft

which relied almost exclusively on an individuality of understanding and

expression. Very few writers could work effectively in collaboration as

Miles Franklin and Dymphna Cusack discovered in 1938. In 1954 Gavin

Casey recalled that Katharine Prichard was generally too busy to attend

meetings in Perth.104 When she did come down from her lofty retreat in the
hills news soon spread and attendances "shot up. In a small and isolated

city the Fellowship attracted an odd assortment of writers and would-be-

writers among its members. In cosmopolitan Sydney, Marjorie Barnard, a

writer who had proved that she could work collaboratively, preferred to stay

away from meetings. Like Prichard she considered time spent writing was

more important than fellowship, though there were obvious benefits to be

gained from formal organisations. Remaining sceptical she wrote: 1 could
give you a comic picture of the local literary societies and George

Mackaness but, though bitterely amusing, I doubt if it would carry well.105

Emphasising the point she wrote on a separate occasion that the Sydney
English Association met in a room "smelling of ancient cake crumbs, where

good and bad speeches fell into a "vacuum with an identical thud." Barnard

found most societies depressing. Although she attended odd meetings she

was disappointed at the failure of associations to maintain their standards.

She concluded that writers had a great "deal of variety" but "very little

proper pride."106
* * * *

104. Gavin Casey, "Lady of the Left", Overland, June 1958 p 30.
105. Marjorie Barnard to Nettie Palmer, October 9 1933. Palmer Papers
NLA MS 1174/1/4304.
106. Marjorie Barnard to Nettie Palmer, September 1931. Palmer Papers
1174/1/3816-8. Near the end of Flora Eldershaws time as President of the
FAW, Barnard wrote: "Teenie is having a stormy passage ... and will not
stand for re-election". October 8 1935. NLA MS 1174/1/4793-4.

In 1935 Stephensen warned that it was all very well for "Australian

writers to organise pageants, balls and luncheons" but, he asked, was it

"buttering bread"? An effective organisation had to be a trade union:

To writers, literature is a trade. We need to be workman like and

business-like in marketing the product. We need a system and
organisation, both in delivering the goods and in selling them to the
public. We need a Trade Union of Writers, to secure the privileges and
rights of the Australian author in the economic field. Every other
industry, from medical doctoring to coalmining, is organised for
economic mutual aid. Writers who have genius to sell, are anarchists
and the lone prowlers in the market place.107

Leonard Mann seemingly held the same view when he wrote that as a

"business proposal" better conditions might be lobbied for by Australian

authors.100 For Tom Inglis Moore it was because "writers have lacked a

Trade Union", that recognition for achievement was lacking.109

At its first meeting, the Fellowship undertook as part of its charter to

promote the cause of Australian writing by rendering assistance to " ...

authors, artists and dramatists in such a manner as may be deemed

expedient.110 In 1937 it lobbied the federal government to change the
nature and scope of the Commonwealth Literary Fund from a pension fund to

a statutory body which actively engaged Australian writers and writing

through fellowships, subsidies for selected publications and the sponsorship

of lectures on Australian literature at universities. Changing the functions

of the Commonwealth Literary Fund was seen as a major achievement. It

seemed to confirm the effectiveness of collective action. To 1939 the
* * * *

107. P.R. Stephensen, "The Australian Publisher", address to the Fellowship

of Australian Writers, Authors Week 1935. ML MS 828.6A2
108. Leonard Mann to Vance Palmer, January 26 1933. Palmer Papers NLA
MS 1174/1/4187.
109. Tom Inglis Moore to Department of Interior, September 5 1938,
Australian Archives CRS A344/1/17 Item 38/17835.
110. Fellowship of Australian Writers Constitution and Rules loc cit.

Fund had awarded only two pensions to practising Australian writers. Aged

fifty in 1922, John Shaw Neilson was granted a full pension of f52 perannum.
His application was supported by four referees including Bernard ODowd and

Mary Gilmore. ODowd submitted that Neilson was ... the very type
whose encouragement and aid the fund appears to have been intended.
Mary Gilmore rated Neilson in the same class as Henry Lawson who, two

years before his death, had been granted a pension of one pound per

The Australian Natives Association lobbied alongside the Fellowship in

1938 with the blessing of former Prime Minister, James Scullin.11^ xt is
pleasing to note in recent years, the rapid progress which has been made in

Australian literature and a world recognises the merits of Australian

writing, submitted the Association, suggesting that inducements such as
prizes might be incorporated into a restructured fund to capitalise on the
gains already made by writers.113 But widening the functions of the
Commonwealth Literary Fund was not universally accepted. Others
regarded any form of government assistance as objectionable.

Parliamentary Librarian, Kenneth Binns, prepared a report for the Prime

Ministers Department and argued that sponsorship was better left to private

organisations ... such as the ANA itself or the Australian Literature

Society.11"1 Also opposed, the Bulletin directed vitriol against the

* * * *

111. Commonwealth Literary Fund Papers to 1937, Australian Archives CRS

A463 59/6507.
112. Scullin raised the issue in the House of Representatives on two
occasions, September 20 1930 and June 22 1937.
113. Australian Natives Association to Prime Minister Lyons, May 27 1937.
Australian Archives CRS A 344/1/17 Part 2.
114. Kenneth Binns Memorandum G.2/504/7 to Prime Ministers Department.
Australian Archives CRS A344/1/17 Part 2.

Association in a pious attack on the proper' role of government. To

stimulate interest in Australian literature and to encourage young authors,

the ANA bosses in Victoria are going to do Something Really Big the
Bulletin reported with sarcasm:

Offer a substantial prize for an Australian novel, play, historical study

or book of verse? Put a promising writer on their staff, with pay and
leisure enough for the production of something worthwhile? Nothing of
the kind. The ANA had decided to request the government to institute
a national award for Australian literature. Always "The

In its submission the Fellowship of Writers complained in very familiar

terms that Australian writers either had to seek Australian machinery or

compete for places in the lists of English or American companies. Again,
local publication limited possibilities because Australia did not have the

requisite book-buying market to sustain the local product:

... it should be recalled that almost every field of national endeavour

receives direct and indirect subsidy. By means of tariff walls, rates of
exchange, preferential freight rates as well as by direct subsidies
industry is enabled to build for the future. Literature is no less an
industry of national importance even if it is not possible to weigh its
results in terms of exports and imports, by tons and bushells.

By stressing the importance of literature in the national life of a country

the Fellowship pressed for direct government participation in the processes

of writing and publishing. Through censorship the State was already

involved in distribution.

The Fellowship of Australian Writers argued for an annual federal grant

* * * *

115. Report Bulletin, June 2 1937, p 16.

116. Fellowship of Australian Writers' submission to Prime Ministers
Department. Australian Archives CRS A 344/1/17 Part 2.

of f16,000 to be made available for use by the Commonwealth Literary

Fund.11^ On October 14, 1938 the Treasury allocated an annual vote of

f6,500.118 An honorary council was appointed for one year to examine the

"whole question of assistance". Fund money was to be spent in five areas:

pensions totalled f1,500; assistance for printing "five new books" and

reprinting two "standard out of print works" annually would cost fl,400; f750

was made available for three annual fellowships " ... to be granted to

writers desirous of devoting their whole time and talent to the production of

a specified work"; f600 covered a series of circuit lectures of Australian

literature at universities; and ongoing administration cost f250. The

remaining f2,000 was to be set aside for additional expenditure. Although

the Fellowship had failed to secure the amount it had lobbied for, it had

achieved in its own terms a substantial boost in the claim for modern

writers. Flora Eldershaw and Vance Palmer were elected as writer

representatives to sit on the Funds Advisory Board. Palmer was replaced

soon after by Frank Wilmot but he resumed an active role in 1942 and he and

Flora Eldershaw were prominent on the Advisory Board until 1953.

The Fellowship of Australian Writers also attempted to secure a

professorship for Australian literature though this was not the first time

Australian content in educational institutions had been raised. The idea

had been brewing for some time. In 1927, Robert Kaleski made

representations to the federal and NSW governments for the inclusion of

Australian studies in schools and universities.118 "The spread of popular

education", he suggested was creating a "new public" and the "writers to

* * * *
117. ibid.
118. Treasury Minute Paper 1236/-. Australian Archives CRS A344/1/17 Part
119. Robert Kaleski, "The AJA and the Writer" loc cit.

cater to itft .^20 proposals for a chair in Australian literature inspired a

number of writers. Not only was the prospect of sales of 'texts to students

very attractive but study sanctioned within university curricula claims for

professional status. For this reason, the FAW was keen to see a chair

inaugurated. Miles Franklin wrote to Nettie Palmer in 1938:

We - the FAW - are trying to get a scheme for subsidising the writing
of worthwhile books, and tagged onto it the demand for a professorship
... In the event of such a professorship there are four men who would
be considered eligible, but which would mean a defeat of our dreams of
a real Australian literature. One of these, needless to say, is Geo
Mackaness, and the other is Walter Murdoch. Les C. Rees ... said
there was really no man fit for the post from our point of view. I said
I had two women. The idea of a woman was revolutionary I could see
... I said Flora Eldershaw and Nettie Palmer and he said that Flora
Eldershaw was a fine woman but that he did not know. I said they were
both fine and had academic qualifications. So now I want one of you
with wan lepp (sic) land on that chair if it is ever hatched.^-^l

From 1921 H.M. Green had offered occasional lectures at Sydney

University but he was not well liked by writers. Having tuned into one of

his broadcasts in 1933, Miles Franklin fired off a letter to Nettie Palmer: 1
heard a Mr Green ... He is painstaking, but, like many critics, leads from

the rear, and, when he tries to define the limitations of his subjects,

lamentably displays his own.122 A second broadcast had her complain more
forceably: Mr Green is incapable of analysis.12^ A former Sydney

University student, Marjorie Barnard was equally disparaging but, unlike

Franklin, she knew H.M. Green, though she did not respect" him. Working

as librarian during the day to finance her own literary efforts Barnard, not
* * * *

120. John Smith "Literature and the Universities", Bulletin, September 28

1922 p3.
121. Miles Franklin to Nettie Palmer, May 16 1938. Palmer Papers NLA MS
122. Miles Franklin to Nettie Palmer June 14 1933. Palmer Papers NLA MS
123. Miles Franklin to Nettie Palmer, July 2 1933. Palmer Papers NLA MS

surprisingly, considered that he was " ... fortunate to have a nice plump

sinecure with a sabbatical year thown in - he owes something on that.124

Like the question of grants and awards for writers, proposals for a chair

had a mixed reception. The Australian Literature Society resolved that

assistance was better directed towards improving the quality of Australian

writing so that it could be studied. It requested ... consideration be

mainly given to stimulating creative and general literature so that Australia

may be able to obtain a standard ... equal to that of other countries."12^

More aggressively, W.A. Osborne, chancellor of Melbourne University,

believed that "more cogent reasons" could be made for "professorships in

Australian botany, zoology and geology."12^ J.T. Stops from the
University of Tasmania was totally opposed. He believed a chair in

Australian literature would amount to nothing more than a touring

professorship. Pulling out the stops, the Tasmanian Chancellor argued that
money would be better spent teaching "Australian writers the English


Although a compromise, the Fellowship of Writers seemed pleased that

some lectures would be offered. The irony implicit in the fact that the
Commonwealth Literary Fund doled out money to writers whose work it did

not consider to be worth full-time study may have occurred to a few

members of the Fellowship, but if such thoughts arose they remained

* * *

124. Marjorie Barnard to Nettie Palmer, September 10 1933, Palmer Papers

NLA MS 1174/1/4290.
125. Australian Literature Society to Prime Minister J.A. Lyons. Australian
Archives CRS A344/1/17 Part 2.
126. W.A. Osborne to Minister of Interior, August 15 1938. Australian
Archives CRS A344/1/17 Part 2.
127. W.J.T. Stopps to T.H. Garrett, Department of Interior, September 12
1938. Australian Archives CRS A344/1/17 Part 2.

unrecorded. It is possible that they recognised a residual attitude related

to the pension function of the Fund which influenced policy towards literary

grants. Other old prejudices also died hard. In 1940 Professor J.I.M.
Stewart was invited to lecture. He observed that the Literary Fund had

provided money for him to lecture on Australian literature but that because

there was no such literature he would lecture on D.H. Lawrences


It took many years for the study of Australian literature to overcome

such attitudes. Simply titled, "Australian Literature, J.L. Teirneys 1922

Sydney University masters thesis was the first postgraduate work on the
topic. For another 1922 graduand, Ross Gollan, if there were an Australian
literature it was not to be found within the walls of universities. "The
trouble lies in the fact that as yet there does not exist any Australian
literature, he argued with confidence, "What we call Australian literature
is only English literature twenty years behind the time".129 A second thesis
appeared fourteen years later. Green wrote cautiously to Henry Handel
Richardson that its appearance was further proof of growing cultural

maturity.130 A third thesis on Australian literature appeared in 1939. To

19 65 there were only 30 theses on Australian topics, including two PhDs

(1948, 1955) and two DLitts (1953, 1955). 15 2 theses were written on

European topics.131

Critical surveys were sadly lacking. "We lack critics ... who would

seize on what was original or dynamic, and teach the public to value it",
* * * *

128. See H.M. Green, A History of Australian Literature op cit p 993.

129. Ross Gollan, "Australian Verse, Bulletin, January 26 1922 p 5.
130. H.M. Green to Henry Handel Richardson, August 12 1937, Richardson
Papers NLA MS 3925.
131. Union List of Higher Degree Theses in Australian Universities.

complained Vance Palmer in 19302 Nettie Palmer wrote one of the first

twentieth century critiques of modern writing and H.M. Green wrote two slim

volumes in the late 1920s. M. Barnard Eldershaws 1939 collection of essays

added to the small but growing number of secondary sources, but it was not

until 1945 when J.K. Ewers Creative Writing in Australia was published that

a volume of criticism was made readily available to readers. Issued by

Georgian House, the book went to four revised editions in twenty years.

Greens A History of Australian Literature appeared in 1961 and the first

chair of Australian literature was established at Sydney University in 19 63.

Negative perceptions of Australian writing may have informed a desire

to prove the critics wrong but it affected writers self perception in a more
fundamental way. In 1938 ninety one applicants tried for a maximum of
three Commonwealth fellowships. They included: E.J. Brady, Roy Bridges,
Marjorie Clark (Georgia Rivers"), Dymphna Cusack, Frank Dalby Davison,
Jean Devanny, J.K. Ewers, William Hatfield, Xavier Herbert, Ernestine Hill,

Rex Ingamells, Doris Kerr ("Capel Boake), Will Lawson, and Hal Porter.
Of the applicants nine claimed writing to be their sole occupation. A
further seventeen presumed a direct connection with some other form of

occupation: Xavier Herbert claimed that he was a "Writer and Labourer,

Jean Devanny was a Writer and Lecturer, Frank Dalby Davison was an

Author and Journalist", Mollie Skinner was a "Writer and Nurse".*33

The list of applicants is a significant document because it freezes in the

one moment authors perceptions of their work. Although responses were

* * *

132. Interview with Vance Palmer on the Australian novel, AH About Books,
April 19 1930 p 87.
133. Applications for Commonwealth Literary Fund Fellowships, 1938.
Australian Archives CRS A3753 Item 72/2776.

geared to the one authority, and the pension syndrome may have been a

factor in shaping responses, authors were seeking recognition for their

commitment to writing when they applied for funding. Twenty six applicants

claimed their occupations as journalists or as freelance writers. Of this

group, eight combined journalism and freelance writing with some other form

of occupation. Four women, Gertrude Birkitt, "Capel Boake", Georgia

Rivers and Annie Wilson combined journalism/freelance writing with

"domestic duties or "housework". Grace Tyres worked as a "Stenographer

and Journalist". While it is possibly unsurprising that no male applicant in

1938 listed his occupation as house duties or stenography, it is significant

that no woman writer considered herself an author- journalist/freelance.
By 1938, Gertrude Birkitt, "Capel Boake" and Georgia Rivers" had all

published novels.

Filling out their applications, Miles Franklin, Esther Smith, Olive

Leeder, Margaret Crosbie and Louise Maley designated their sole occupation

as "domestic" or "home duties". With thirteen written and nine published

novels by 1938, Franklin was possibly the most professional writer to apply

for a literary grant. She was certainly the most prolific of the 1938

claimants. Echoing in far more modest terms, Virginia Woolfs request for a

room of one's own and ten pounds a week on which to live and frustrated

by a sense of failure Miles Franklin wrote in 1936: "Ah, if only I could have

one pound per week or even two for the last nine years my tale would have

been different".134 Three years earlier she made a connection between

financial returns and the status of writing:

... the unpaid jobs that are given one!! I have done so many now that
I am destitute, and have no one to push and encourage me as I have
* * *
134. Miles Franklin to Nettie Palmer, December 31 19 36. Palmer Papers ML
MSS 1174/1/5189.

spent my life in doing for others. It shows that I am not an artist, or

lack the main quality for success in art, and that is the same thing

For Franklin writing for her country had almost become a act of literary

Although she considered herself a "professional" writer, Katharine

Prichard balanced responsibilities as wife, mother and political activist with

those of author. It was difficult to hold all three together and comment

was passed that Jim Throssell, while supportive, appeared moody, defensive

and overly protective in the company of her literary friends. Betty Roland

felt that he praised her fine fruit jams more enthusiastically than her
writing.135 Her membership of the central executive of the Communist
Party also took up a great deal of time. While her domestic situation and

political activity took her away from the desk both also acted as support
systems. Yet the ideology of a woman's place, concepts of a living wage
and the poor status of writers, were reinforced by a dependence on her

husbands earnings both during his life and, after his death, by means of his
war pension.

Although it is almost impossible to speculate, women applicants may

have felt intimidated by the gender bias implicit in the term fellowship and

employed "domestic" or "home" duties either in compensation or as

resistance at the conditions for women writers specifically and writing more

generally. In late 1933 the Fellowship of Australian Writers held two

meetings to discuss the issue of women writers and the female voice in

writing. At the first meeting only women spoke. Flora Eldershaw argued,
* * * *

135. Miles Franklin to Nettie Palmer, March 31 1933. Palmer Papers ML MS

136. Betty Rolland, "A Requiem for KSP", Overland December 19 69 p30.

"During the war the woman novelist became no longer a freak, and now there

are many women in the first rank of the novelists". Miles Franklin

suggested that there had been no "feminisation" of writing but that in recent
times women had expressed their desire more vocally for " ... freedom

among other things not only the right to beauty, but to their brains." She

argued that, unfortunately, "freedom has not yet been gained." Ada

Holman, similarly argued that there was no feminisation of writing but that
the lot of the woman writer was determined by gender considerations. "The

general assumption, is that women refuse, whether as writers or anything

else, to regard themselves as women ... ". Holman suggested that if names
were removed from books for a trial period of "ten years, the critics could

be fooled."137

United by the common purpose of their occupation, schism became

immediately obvious on the question of gender when it came to the scramble

for the scarce spoils available to writers. With women on one side and men
on the other a second meeting was a stormy occasion. Inglis Moore,
Davison, Kenneth Wilkinson and S. Eliot Napier argued against the the

general suggestion that women writers were considered differently to men.

Davison believed women had simply not learned the craft of writing.

Possibly justifying writing as real work, while acknowledging its poor

returns, Davison argued that women were triflers who wrote at their leisure:
"What have women been doing during the last four or five thousand years?"
asked Davison and replied: "I dont know". Of the women who spoke Ada

Holman was critical of the intimidation of the men speakers. Bertha

Crowther quipped: "In the variety of aspects brought forward at these

* * *

137. Fellowship of Australian Writers, "The Feminisation of Literature",

meeting, September 20 1933. Reported in All About Books, October 14 1933.
p 170.

meetings, it is surprising that no speaker has considered reincarnation.

Some women come back to the world as men ... " Dulcie Deamer took up
the issue raised by Ada Holman at the previous meeting and argued that

there was no feminisation of writing, "just as there is no masculination of

literature": " ... what does it matter if father or mother makes the scones,

provided they are good to eat." Mrs E.A. Ogilvie was the last speaker:

Women have taken a long time before they dared come forward, and
even then have not always written under their own names. Men really
think we have no imagination. When a husband picks up his wifes
manuscript and reads it he says: "Woman, do you mean to say that you
experienced all this?" And his wife replies meekly: "No, dear, I only
imagined it".138

Twice as many men as women applied for fellowships. Over one third of

those women who applied included "domestic" or "home" duties in their

application. Only Margery Browne, author of two volumes of poetry and one
play, listed her sole occupation as writing, though her response, "literary"

was not in keeping with the response of male applicants who submitted

"writing" or "authorship". While better known writers such as Katharine

Prichard, Vance Palmer and Marjorie Barnard did not apply for grants it can

be wondered how they would have filled in their applications. In 1939

Barnard argued that the conspicuous presence of a number of critically

acclaimed women writers in the 1930s helped to preserve the "amateur"

status of writing because the industry was patriarchial.139 Many women

employed male pseudonyms though the reverse did not occur: Marjorie
Barnard and Flora Eldershaw wrote as M. Barnard Eldershaw, Stella Franklin

wrote as Miles Franklin and the old bachelor "Brent of Bin Bin", Ethel
* * * *

138. Fellowship of Australian Writers, "The Feminisation of Literature Part

11", October 18 1933. Reported in All About Books November 13 1933 p
139. Marjorie Barnard Essays in Australian Fiction (Melbourne 1939) p 1.

Richardson wrote as Henry Handel Richardson, Doris Kerr wrote as "Capel

Boake" and Ethel Lyttleton wrote as G.B. Lancaster. For Barnard, like
Franklin, Virginia Woolfs suggestions for women writers appeared an

impossibility: The mind should be well stocked and driven out into the

wilderness every now and then, she wrote. It is an absolute necessity.

And there are so few wildernesses available. Virginia Woolfs f500 a year
and a room of one's own is probably the best of them, you could make your

own wilderness anywhere you liked under those conditions - and a flowering
one at that.-^

Women writers were concerned to be perceived, along with contemporary

male writers, as professionals. Apart from joining associations such as the

Fellowship of Writers, Sydney women formed a separatist organisation, the

Society of Women Writers of NSW, in 1925 to promote the cause of

professionalism. Membership of the Society was open to "Women

Journalists, Authors, Playwrights, Illustrators for Books, Papers and

Periodicals and Contributors of Articles paid for by papers and magazines ...
". Its objectives were:

(a) To draw together women engaged in these professions.

(b) To maintain the status of these professions.
(c) To promote a knowledge of literature and to encourage
Australian writers.
(d) To strengthen ties of interest between Australian and visiting
writers. 1

In 1939 the Commonwealth Literary Fund awarded two fellowships to Frank

Dalby Davison and Xavier Herbert. Miles Franklin and "Capel Boake" each

received literary pensions.

* * *

140. Marjorie Barnard to Nettie Palmer, March 25 1934. Palmer Papers NLA
MS 1174/1/4404-5.
141. Society of Women Writers of New South Wales, ML A820.3/A

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s there was a definite movement towards

improving the status of writers and writing in Australia, but this was

complicated by many factors. Part of the movement related directly to

changes in the technology of publishing and distribution. Writers felt

compelled to lobby for improved conditions of work. They also wished to be

received in a way commensurate with the serious nature of their endeavour.

Their demands were to include the much needed room of ones own, large

tracks of uninterupted time and supportive domestic environments. Writers

increasingly negotiated with publishers through agents, set up organisations,

lobbied for assistance and generally sought an improved image for the local

product. Their hopes for the creation of a national literature emerged

alongside the development of new printing technology and improved

distribution and marketing systems. In these circumstances modern

Australian writers attempted to gain professional status for their work.



In the twentieth century books evolved as mass media in similar ways to

newspapers, magazines, film and radio. New systems of production

accommodated by new technologies overseen by a more general

commercialisation of culture signalled changes in distribution and readership.

The books increased potential to reach large audiences targeted it for

regulation. Control assumed many forms. The most blatant was

prohibition. To 1927 a system of self-regulation within the publishing

industry determined the type and character of books published. Publishing

remained a key determinant in the observance of literary and moral

standards after this time but intervention by state agencies became

increasingly common.

Beginning in the late 1920s direct state intervention resulted in the

banning of over five hundred books within a decade where previously few
books had been censored. Perceptions of social uncertainty in the

emergence of industrial society, strained social relations due to growing

numbers of unemployed and contending claims for hegemonic control found

expression in the framing and implementation of social policy. Federally,

Trade and Customs and Attorney Generals Departments seemed concerned

that extended production and distribution of books should not subvert

acceptable social codes of behaviour.

Debate about censorship in the 1920s and 1930s was construed in terms

of liberal democracy, emerging nationalism and with it a responsible

middle-class, colonial dependency and a concern at the growth of modern

state apparatus. Censorship was not the sole issue, but rather the degree

of regulation and its implications for civil liberties and individuality.

Acknowledging a need for some form of control, liberal antagonists sought

guarantees of accountability by government instrumentalities. In the

period of increased censorship three governments held office: Bruce-Page

(1923-29), Scullin (1929-32) and Lyons (1932-37). The period of greatest

involvement of the state in the distribution of literature coincided with the

Lyons ministry and the accession of Colonel T.W. White to the Trade and

Customs portfolio. Although only a small part of his official duties as

minister, White was deeply involved in banning books. The Trades and

Customs Department under five ministers 1926-1937 readily accommodated

increased surveillance.-1-

Government agencies responsible for implementing state policy were

opposed by writers, artists and intellectuals professing liberal ideals.

Nettie Palmer complained that advancement in Australian culture was

impeded by physical isolation from Europe and the "fog on the wharf" - the
Trade and Customs Department.2 Federal policy, derived from an 1876
Victorian colonial act, was modified with particular reference to the modern

federal state and concerns of mass media. From federation to the 1930s
depression, censorship changed from something occasional and intermittent,
arbitrated at the local level to be centralised - increasing control and

stepping up surveillance.3 In 1943 Brian Penton argued that a "petty

bourgeois sense of guilt" was the ideological foundation of modern

censorship: " ... the over-cautious respectability of the newly

respectable.Addressing a 1935 meeting of the Australian Literature

* * * *

1. Joanna Parkinson, "Australia's Trustees: the Censors and Literary

Censorship, 1929-1937" (BA Honours Thesis, Australian National University,
1984) is an excellent survey of government policy and censorship in these
2. Nettie Palmer, Stead's Review, July 1930. Cited in Stephen Alomes,
"Reasonable Men" op cit p 110.
3. Alomes ibid p 108.
4. Brian Penton, Advance Australia Where (Sydney 1943) pp 18-19.

Society Anne Brennan couched the issue in terms of Australias colonial

dependency. ,TAustralia suffers very greatly from isolation, and is always

threatened by the small town spirit. As custodians of public morality, she

condemned the practices of "politicians with little talent for politics and

less for the great variety of other tasks they so confidently assume" who

banned anything with the slightest hint of deviating from orthodoxy.

Censorship, she continued, paralysed modern freedoms in the form of inbred
colonialism. 5

While the reformist lobby, Australian Council for Civil Liberties

(established 1936) complained that "working-class literature" was virtually a

prohibited import in Australia the lone voice against censorship as social
control was the left.6 Yet neither liberal nor left groups addressed the
question relating to sexual propriety Their lofty moral tone
ignored questions of subjugation. Pornography was never discussed except
in the context of decaying bourgeois values. Leftist and liberal groups

seemed almost wholly preoccupied with the issue of political censorship in its
narrower sense relating to questions of ideology. "The bourgeoisie has

found it necessary to suppress not only writers with a proletarian view

point," argued Aileen Palmer in a 1935 submission to Proletariat, "but those

[who write] with power and sincerity." After examining censorship

procedures, Palmer concluded that increasingly faithful reproductions of

"contemporary life" were suppressed because a "bourgeois" world gripped by

crisis was "menaced by any too exact, too profound penetration" of it.^
* * * *

5. Anne Brennan (2), address to Australian Literature Society, April 15

1935. Reported in All About Books, May 10 1935 p87.
6. The Council for Civil Liberties, Six Acts Against Civil Liberties August
1937, p 18.
7. Aileen Palmer, "Some Censored Australian Literature", Proletariat,
April-June 1935 p 27.

Imported literature was banned according to the Trade and

Customs Act (1901/02). Section 52C, designed to outlaw the importation of

pornographic post-cards, declared illegal all "blasphemous, indecent or

obscene" imports. Vague in its definition, Section 52C was applied

inefficiently with an outward appearance of ruthlessness. Secrecy disguised

internal uncertainty within the Trade and Customs Department and basic

incompetence. Section 52G banned "All goods the importation of which

may be prohibited by proclamation". It was invoked to prohibit seditious'

literature. Used during the war in conjunction with the War Precautions

Act (1915) to curb activities of the outlawed Industrial Workers of the World

during the conscription campaigns of 1916 and 1917, in 1921 section 52G was
amended by the Hughes government to ban communist and Sinn Fein
propaganda. In the later 1920s and the 1930s Section 52G, officially
amended in 1932, was modified with reference to imported communist
literature. Where Section 52C was the province of the Trade and Customs
Department, the Attorney General's Department recommended what

literature should be prohibited as seditious. The Post and Telegraph Act

dealt with local distribution while individual state governments had

jurisdiction over local production.**

Between 1901 and 1926 less than 200 items were prohibited in

Australia.** Over the next decade the number increased dramatically. In

April 1929 James Joyce's Ulysses was banned, beginning a period of

* * * #

8. Federal Proclamation 1932. Australian Archives CRS A425 Item 43/5038.

Also Minute Paper, Trade and Customs Department 34/A:1006, June 1934,
CRS A425 Item 43/5038. Minute Paper, Prime Minister's Department,
March 21 1936 Special File 7 B20 Item 4.
9. General Orders for Officers of the Trade and Customs Department,
February 1927 and Department of Industry and Commerce. See also Joanna
Parkinson op cit p 2.

unprecedented government intervention.1^ Approximately 2,000 imported

publications were banned in Australia from 19 29-19 37.11 Seditious

pamphlets were seized at the rate of about one per week at major ports
around the country12 while novels including Aldous Huxley's Brave New

World, Ernest Hemingways A Farewell to Arms, Dos Passos 1919 and D.H.

Lawrences Lady Chatterleys Lover were banned alongside other titles such

as Rowena Goes Too Far, Replenishing Jessica and The Spanking Diary of

Rose Evans. The federal prohibition of Daniel Defoes Moll Flanders (first

published in 1722) in 1930 and a 1936 ministerial decision overturning a

recommendation that it be released suggests the severity with which

censorship was applied but also its clumsiness and intransigence. Moll
Flanders was eventually made available to Australian readers much later.
In 1935, a chief agitator against censorship, W. Macmahon Ball estimated
that 157 political works, almost exclusively from the left, which had free
circulation in Britain were banned in Australia. 115 works were banned
between January 1932 and January lgSS.1^
* * * *

10. Trade and Customs Department File, Ulysses. Australian Archives, CRS
A425 63/28971.
11. Peter Coleman, Obscenity, Blasphemy and Sedition (Melbourne 1963)
estimated that 5,000 publications were banned in Australia in this period, p
13 and p 82. The figure is exaggerated. When interviewed by Joanna
Parkinson (March 2 19 84), Coleman was unable to verify this figure,
Australian Trustees op cit p 3 and p 7. The figure is more likely to be
between 1,000 and 2,000.
12. E. Abbott (Comptroller General) to the Secretary of the Prime
Ministers Department, March 12 1936 CRS A467 Item 54/140.
13. CRS A425: Brave New World 37/9529, A Farewell to Arms 43/2670,
Nineteen Nineteen 37/8313, Lady Chatterleys Lover 5320, Rowena Goes too
Far 43/5287 and CRS A3023, Replenishing Jessica 43/296 and CRS A3023,
The Spanking Diary of Rose Evans 63/6801, Moll Flanders 37/4257 and CRS
14. W. Macmahon Ball, The Australian Censorship Australian Quarterly
June 1935 p 13.

Depression was a major concern for Trade and Customs officials who were
required to weed out any matter thought to be of a radical nature. These
officials were also alerted to be on the lookout for "romance and semi-
pornographic" books which might arouse uncontrolled sexual activity. One
reason for the growing concern was the fear that accepted social behaviour was
under threat in this period of increased unemployment. It was generally
considered within the Trade and Customs Department that overtly radical or
obscene writing had no place in Australia while there was trouble in the streets.
At the same time anxiety within official circles emanated from concern over the
commercialisation of mass culture. Governments and officials remained
uncertain and cautious about the negative effects of mass media in particular.
In 1933, significantly one of the worst years of the depression, White cited
changes in printing and distribution practices as the principal reason for
increased government scrutiny of all types of imported literature.

The growth of technology and increasing social unrest impelled much of

the censorship of the 1930s. Yet, state apparatus, severe in its application

of policy, was ill equipped to systematically adjudicate on many thousands of

books and pamphlets imported every year. In 1935 Frank Wilmot joked that

Customs officials detained " ... perfectly respectable dramatic pieces

published by Samuel French under the delusion that they are French plays".

Meanwhile "naughty periodicals" slipped by unnoticed rolled inside copies of

the Salvation Armys War Gry.16 The Sydney Sun joked that the philos-
* * * *

15. The Council for Civil Liberties, Six Acts op cit p 22

16. Frank Wilmot, "Censorship in Action", address to Australian Literature
Society, April 15 1935. Reported in All About Books May 10 1935 p 87.

ophical work Human Intercourse was banned because of its suggestive

title.17 Most customs officials were recruited from colonial customs houses

in pre-federation years and were passed their middle age by the late 1920s,

having spent entire working lives, in one case since the age of twelve, in the

public service. Only one Customs Officer in this period received any

tertiary qualifications and few new recruits were taken on in the post war


Books imported to Australia arrived at shipping terminals in bulk. In

April 1930 a Clerk of the Investigation Section of the Trade and Customs
Department, reported 2,000 copies of Norman Lindsays Redheap occupying

eight boxes were awaiting clearance from the Sydney Wharf.18 Officers had
been told to expect the book which had received an unfavourable review in
England. All copies were detained and eventually the book was banned. In
the decade to 1937, 40% of banned books were initially detained at the
wharf in this way while the Irish censorship list was consulted along with the

British Index Expurgatorious.28 To a lesser degree information was

forwarded from Customs Departments within the commonwealth and North

America. Personal luggage of incoming passengers thought to be suspect

was also searched. Katharine Prichard was searched in 1933 following her

return from Europe21 and in 1930 Jean Devanny had a German translation of

her banned novel The Butcher Shop and several political pamphlets

confiscated on her return from Russia and Germany.22 Books by suspect

* * * *

17. Sydney Sun, September 8 1935.

18. Joanna Parkinson, Australias Trustees op cit pp 33-50.
19. C.J. Broissios, Clerk, Investigation Section, Redheap. Australian
Archives CRS AT 2010/2
20. Joanna Parkinson, Australia's Trustees op cit pp 26-30.
21. Investigation Branch, Attorney General's Department, Security File CRS
A6119 Item 42.
22. Trade and Customs, Minute Paper, January 19 1932, Australian Archives
January 29 1932. CRS A425 32/A623.

authors were examined, titles suggesting salacious content were investigated

and stock in dubious bookshops was surveyed. Customs officials also

received complaints about certain books which evaded the net.

Unable to effectively police increased volumes of books referred to it

and facing mounting opposition in literary circles,

the government established a censorship committee in 1933 comprising three

voluntary members, Sir Robert Garran, former Solicitor General, Dr L.H.

Allen and J.F.M. Haydon, both Canberra academics. In 1937 the

Committee was formalised, restructured and expanded with wider

discretionary powers. The new board actually led to a decline in the rate of
censorship but most books banned to this time waited thirty years to be

released. Throughout the entire period, the decision to prohibit books was
kept secret, a source of constant aggravation for reformers of the system
and frustration for booksellers who risked prosecution if they unwittingly
displayed prohibited items. Rawson's Bookshop at 169 Exhibition Street

Melbourne was frequently visited by state police and customs officials but
not for salacious or pornographic titles. In a letter to Prime Minister

Lyons in 1936 T.W. White advised that Rawsons shop catered "especially for

radical books".But surveillance was confounded by an inability to police

all spheres of public life. A 1936 Bookstall Lending Library Catalogue

listed a number of banned books which featured alongside volumes of poetry

written by Dr Allen.In 1930 Lionel Dare argued that it was absurd to

ban "modern" books because their market was confined to intellectuals and
* * * *

23. T.W. White to Prime Minister J. Lyons, May 6 19 36. Australian Archives
CRS A467 Special File Bundle 21 Item 3. Rawson was an agitator against
censorship and was a key figure in the Book Censorship Abolition League.
See also correspondence with Attorney General's Department CRS A467
Special File 42 Bundle 89 Item 18.
24. The New South Wales Bookstall Lending Library Catalogue, 1936.

writers who were likely to have read the prohibited items in any case.

Marjorie Barnard wrote to Frank Dalby Davison in 1935 that she had a

contact who could procure copies of the banned Ulysses and Lady
Chatterleys Lover which had been illegally brought into the country.26

Literary censorship was generally opposed by writers, though many

including Mary Gilmore believed that some form of control was necessary.

In 1934 the question of morality presented itself in a most tragic way to

Marjorie Barnard, working in the Sydney Technical College Library. "I am

responsible, indirectly, for the death of a student", Barnard wrote to Nettie

Palmer in 1934. Barnard had been told to be on the look out for possible

offenders who were mutilating books. Suspicious of one twenty three year
old man, she called the police. At the mans home several human biology
books from the library and other college property were found.
Accompanying detectives to the house, Barnard was asked to identify the
property. "The police threatened to brow beat, jeered and blustered at this

miserable, and I think, slightly subnormal lad until they forced all sorts of
admissions from him", wrote Barnard.26

Following his signing of a statement admitting guilt, the detectives and

Marjorie Barnard left the house to return later when charges would be
preferred. In their absence the offender, whose unfortunate surname of

Monk had been recorded by the police, drank poison and put his head in the

oven", killing himself. Marjorie Barnard attended the funeral which she

described as a rather pathetic affair: "An agonising service with hymns and
* * *

25. Marjorie Barnard to Frank Dalby Davison, February 3 1935. Davison

Papers NLA MS 1945.
26. Marjorie Barnard to Nettie Palmer September 12 1934. Palmer Papers
NLA MS 1174/1/4489.

the boy's father making confessions of faith." As a writer, Barnard was

devastated by the thought that she " ... hadn't enough understanding and
human generosity to stop this."2^ As a writer and librarian she was aware
also of the power of books and unintended consequences brought about

sometimes by their use. Barnard did not support censorship but, in this

instance, she may have questioned whether existing forms of control were

adequate. She and Frank Dalby Davison could read banned books with no

perceptible ill effects but the "subnormal" Monk was incapable of proper

appreciation when it came to human biology.

With increased circulation of books censors were concerned with those

titles which they imagined might reach a wide audience. Boccaccios The
Decameron, first banned in 1901, was reviewed in 1936 and restricted to
deluxe editions while cheaper versions continued to be banned. The book
was believed to possess the power to pervert weak minds. Defining its
attitude towards this book, the Chief Clerk of Customs in Sydney explained

the differences between a book printed in cheap editions and those which
appeared in bookshops with a more expensive price tag: "The contents of the

book are the same in both cases, but the circumstances in which they are to

be used are regarded as justifying classification as indecent in one and not

in the other". The assumption was that the " ... expensive edition ... will

be used for library or educational purposes."2** The economy edition would

encourage smutty comment. Louis Stone's (1911) characters in Jonah are

familiar with the " ... stories out of Decameron of the bar-room, realistic
* * * *

27. ibid.
28. Trade and Customs Minute Paper 30A5991, July 29 1930. Australian
Archives CRS AT 2010/2 Item 59/24212. Also CRS A3023, listings
February 15 1936 and April 3 1936. Also CRS A425 38/2990

and obscene, that circulate among drinkers"but these, he implies, are

part of a vigorous worker culture and not depraved. Argument against

censorship in the 1930s did not question the suppression of subjects relating
to sexual behaviour. There seemed to be a suggestion, even among the

leading antagonists, that sexual morality was a facet of modern life over

which the modern state could exert some influence.

Quality of production and authorial intention became key determinants.

A series of sixteen books were presented to the censor in 1936. Those titles

which proposed a serious intention, despite the cheap edition were passed.

Those which were thought to appeal to "salacious youth" were banned. In

another decision, Seigneur de Brantomes Lives of Fair and Gallant Ladies,
"undoubtedly full of gross indecencies and not fit for general circulation",

was also a book of "historical and literary interest". It was made available
to students and public libraries. A translation of TTie Satyricon
of Petronius Arbiter was passed conditionally: "It should not be

indiscriminately sold or circulated, but access to it by scholars and students

should not be made impossible". In 1935 Eugenics and Sex Harmony by

H.H. Rubin MD was brought to the attention of the censor. "I would also

mention for the Boards confidential information that the Directa*-General

of Health is of the opinion that the importation of this book is not

desirable", wrote Comptroller General of Customs, Ernest Abbott. The

book was believed to be " ... more than a dispassionate discussion of birth

control".It contained detail to attention which " ... might well, on general

circulation, be considered objectionable, and his impression is that the

author would rely largely on this matter for the sale of his book."
Eventually passed, the Committee had deliberated on the issue of circulation
* * * *

29. Louis Stone Jonah op cit p 84.


and intended readership and decided its circulation did not warrant

prohibition. Showing a lack of consistency, Strange Loves by La Forest

Potter MD was banned using similar criteria: "This book professes to be a

serious study of homosexuality, etc., but style, page headings etc, rather

suggest a book to excite curiosity". The Amorous Doctor was banned

because it was " ... simply a crude frame for a mass of gynacological

details" which would not be "indecent in a medical book". In the "form of

a novel" it was considered "revolting" and "beneath criticism". Die

Rassenschonheit Des Weibes by Professor C.H. Stratz in its 41st edition was

banned when the censor concluded that, although there was "nothing

essentially indecent in the book, which may have its uses ... its immense

circulation suggests ... that its appeal is mainly sexual".

In the period to 1937 four Australian writers had books banned, Norman
Lindsay, J.M. Harcourt, Frank Walford and Jean Devanny. The Partners by
"Peter Lovegood", pseudonym of English writer E. Grant Watson, was banned

in 1934. Pierre Zendas Marriage en Pyjama was banned, the censor

drawing particular attention to one scene involving the sexual desires of an
Australian woman whose "body was fire, transforming all it touched to

powder, to dynamite." Devannys New Zealand novel, The Butcher Shop

(1926) was banned in 1929. Devannys banned Australian novel was TTie

Virtuous Courtesan (1935). Walfords Twisted Clay (1933, republished 1935)

was banned in 1935. Lindsays Redheap (1930) was the first Australian novel
* * * *

30. CRS A425: Lives of Fair and Gallant Ladies 43/5037, The Satyricon of
Petronius Arbiter, The Minister deemed that the book should be banned but
available for restricted access in universities and public libraries. (August
15 1935) CRS A3023, Eugenics and Sex Harmony 35/889 7, Strange Loves
65/3617, The Amorous Doctor CRS A 3923, Die Rassenschonheit Des Weibes
CRS A 3023.

to be banned in Australia while Harcourts Upsurge (1934) was the first

Australian communist novel to be prohibited. Lindsays entanglement with

the Trade and Customs Department continued when The Cautious Amorist

(1932) was banned in 1932. Trade and Customs officials were then directed

to intercept any publication by Norman Lindsay for inspection. His mail

was also frequently searched.3*

The circumstances surrounding the prohibition of Upsurge and Redheap

point to the many facets of censorship in this period and its implications for

literary standards and community values. Published in London by J.

Long and Company, Harcourts Upsurge (1934) went on sale and was
prohibited after state authorities in Western Australia and New South Wales
seized copies on display at Perth and Sydney. It was the first Australian

book to be the subject of police prosecution and the first to come before the
Censorship Board. Also published in London, Redheap was banned after

lengthy consideration by customs officials and parliamentarians before the

formation of the Censorship Committee. Redheap and Upsurge were banned

after pressure was brought to bear by state governments. The

commonwealth censor concluded in both cases that the books dealt with

sexual details in such ways as to incur the bannings. A closer analysis

suggests that Redheap was banned because of its likely local prohibition in

Victoria. Upsurge was almost certainly banned because of its communist

view point.

The only copies of Redheap to make it into the country officially were
* * * *

31. CRS A425: The Partners 43/3280, Marriage en Pyjama 63/4561, The
Butcher Shop 43/4415, Upsurge 43/2791, Pan in the Parlour 43/5304, The
Virtuous Courtesan 35/10184. CRS 3023, The Pearlers, Twisted day. CRS
AT 2010, Redheap, The Cautious Amorist. Kenneth Mackenzies Ttie Young
Desire It was surveyed and released. CRS A425 39/209 7.

fifty advanced to the distributor. The decision to review Redheap was

prompted by an unflattering review which appeared in John O London's

Weekly in April 1930:

The assumption of the publishers that Mr Norman Lindsays full- length

novel, Redheap (Faber and Faber, 7s 6d), will cause a stir in Australia
for some years to come is quite likely justified ... If Redheap is really
a picture of any Australian country town then God help Australia! ...
Mr Lindsay is an artist and presumably paints what he sees. But I wish
he didnt see life in quite such grubby purples; and that his worship of
truth did not impel him to make a song about some of life's most
unpleasant details. 2

The publication and subsequent banning aroused notable debate in the press.

The Sydney Guardian took up the author's cause and later endeavoured to

serialize his novel. Local production would mean that it fell outside the
ambit of the Trade and Customs Department. In an article, "Commonwealth
Hounding Norman Lindsay: Won't Trust State, the Guardian complained
that "Once authority gets its teeth into a thing, it is relentless.33 The
paper argued that censorship regulations, once enforced, encouraged more

regulation and surveillence. Norman Lindsay complained that the

censorship of literature brought about its own "nemesis.3^

In the weeks before his book was banned Lindsay attacked censorship on

the grounds that it choked local book production contending that wily

English publishers would waste no time dumping conventional rubbish" on a

starving market. Lindsay made no mention of the fact that Redheap was

published in London though on a separate occasion he wrote that it was

ironic that the government was considering the introduction of a tariff to

* * * *

32. "Lydia Languish The Unhappy Family: Can this be Australia? Mr

Norman Lindsays Unpleasant Caricature of Humanity, Old Age and
Greediness", John O'London's Weekly, April 4 1930.
33. "Commonwealth Hounding Norman Lindsay, Daily Guardian May 27 1930.
34. "Author Speaks Out", Daily Guardian May 27 1930.

protect the local product while hindering its development through

censorship. "Amusing isnt it?" sneered Lindsay at what he saw as small

mindedness, "A proposal on the one hand to encourage the Australian novel,
and, on the other an immediate outcry to stop it the moment it appears.
It is possible that the banning of Redheap fired the authors enthusiasm for

the establishment of a local publishing company devoted to the production of

Australian works and his preparedness to align himself with P.R. Stephensen
and the Endeavour Press.

In practice the Trade and Customs Department was in no doubt about

what constituted an indecent publication but it could not provide a precise

definition for Section 52C. In 1929 a 1914 definition derived from The
Standard Dictionary and used to cover "indecent" postcards during the war
was resurrected for the purposes of imported printed literature. Indecency
was defined as an " ... offence to common propriety or ... morality ...
modesty or delicacy; unfit to be seen or heard; immodest, gross;

obscene!"36 To become known as the "household" test, decency translated

to upright Customs Officers, "guided by their experience", as that which was
" ... usually considered unobjectionable in the household of the ordinary,

self-respecting citizen". Trusting the self-respecting nature of his

officers, Comptroller General in New South Wales, Ernest Hall made a

general declaration in 1929: " ... indecency in literature is hard to define,

but a book that is restricted should be of such a nature that if taken into

account the probability would be that the book would be banned."37

* * * *

35. ibid.
36. General Order 890 Australian Archives CRS 425 Item 43/2418.
37. Minute Paper, July 6 1929. Australian Archives CRS A425 29/5151

A 1930 memorandum sought to clarify the matter by reference to the

ubiquitous Webster's Dictionary: nA thing is indecent which is offensive to

modesty and delicacy'1. According to the memorandum, the Trades and

Customs Department had no jurisdiction over the "morals" of a book. An

immoral work might be " ... inconsistent with rectitude, purity or good
morals, contrary to conscience or the moral law, vicious, licentious" but not

be indecent. If it were "obscene", " ... ill looking, filthy, foul,

digusting", an offence to "chastity or modesty ... or representing to the

mind something that delicacy, purity and decency forbid to be exposed" then

there was a case for banning.The attempt to

separate decency and morality failed. The infraction of one necessarily
meant the transgression of the other. Lionel Dare offered his legal opinion
in criticism:

The Customs Act (1901-23) is clear enough, in its way as to what the
government desires. No one, it is laid down, shall have in his
possession a prohibited import. "Prohibited Imports" included (Sec.
52(c)) "blasphemous, indecent, or obscene works or articles". But,
(and this is important) no court has yet attempted to define what is
meant by these terms. 9

What is also clear is that, despite the publicity which sometimes surrounded

the banning of a book, there were no appeals against any decision to ban.

In 1935 Canon Baglin in a representation to the Minister of Customs

commented: " ... censorship is a quarantine to prevent plagues which would

interfere with the moral health of the people, either physical or moral".

The Trade and Customs Department adopted as a model a decision

handed down in Britain in the 1920s by the Lord Chief Justice: "The test of

obscenity is this: Whether the tendency of the matter is to deprave and

* * * *

38. Trade and Customs Memorandum, July 18 1936. Australian Archives CRS
A425 29/5151.
39. Lionel Dare "A Lawyer Looks at Censorship", Guardian loc cit.

corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences, and into

whose hands a publication of this sort may fall".^ This raised explicitly

the size of print runs as a determinant of authorial intention. In

application, censorship regulations in Australia followed Irish examples

which were more severe than the British.

In an attempt to decide whether or not Redheap contravened Section

52C a copy of the book was sent to the Solicitor General, Robert Garran who

This is not a general question of the censorship of morals. It is a

particular question as to the application of the precise words "indecent"
or "obscene". And it may be added that, if a work comes within that
category, even if its importation were not prohibited, its possession and
exhibition for sale would be an offence against State law.
The boundary line between what is indecent and what is not is difficult
to draw, and depends upon the nature of a work but not on the nature of
the publicity given to it.... It is sometimes said that art is not
concerned with morals; but when an artist (literary or other) exhibits
his work to the public, he is not exempt from the law, which does not
concern itself with morals.... The matter, therefore, is one of policy as
well as a strict interpretation of the law.

Garran posed a knotty problem for the Trades and Customs Department which

was never satisfactorily settled until the legislation was scrapped in 1957.

As a matter of policy he was in doubt as to what should constitute

indecency. He described Redheap as indecent, obscene and an infraction of

morality. A second opinion from the Attorney Generals Department did

not share Garrans view: "The book contains here and there passages which

are distinctly objectionable (see for example p.283 and 295) but it cannot

be classed as an indecent or obscene work ... ".^1

* * * *

40. T.W. White Memorandum, Trade and Customs Department, September 10

1935. Australian Archives CRS A467 Bundle 21, Special File 7 Item 3.
41. Minute Paper, Attorney Generals Department, May 5 1930. Australian
Archives CRS AT 2010/2.

When a delegation from the Book Censorship Abolition League visited

the Minister for Customs in 1935 the issue of decency was carefully avoided.

In his address to White, the president of the League, W. MacMahon Ball

stressed: "We feel that the question in regard to political books is very much

more urgent and important than on literary works", employing as a definition

of political those works " ... describing or advocating social and economic

conditions or expounding political theories". Ball argued:

The position at present is so well known that I do not want to labour it,
but, briefly, it is that there are a number of important works on
political and economic subjects - I say "important" because they are
works which have been praised, treated as important, by competent
reviewers in Britain, America and France - which freely circulate in
Britain but which are banned in Australia. Our League believes that
the Australian Government, in banning such books from Australia, is
being a traitor to the principals of democracy.... The particular request
is that those books which freely circulate in Britain should be admitted
into Australia.
Ball admitted the "term seditious is an extremely variable one", but
government was far more precise in its definition than it could be about
"indecency" or "obscenity".^

A 1932 proclamation defined seditious literature as that which


(a) the overthrow by force or violence of the established

government of the Commonwealth or any state or any other
civilized country;
(b) the overthrow by force or violence of all forms of law;
(c) the abolition of organized government
(d) the assassination of public officials;
(e) the unlawful destruction of property;
(f) wherein a seditious intention is expressed or a seditious enterprise is
expressed or a seditious enterprise is advocated.^3
* * * *

42. Report of Proceedings of Deputation to T.W. White, September 10 1935.

Australian Archives CRS A467 Bundle 21 Special File 7 Item 3.
43. Seditious Literature Proclamation July 28 19 32. Trade and Customs
Minute Paper. Australian Archives CRS A425 Item 43/5038.

According to a report from the Attorney Generals Department, paragraphs

(b), (c) and (d) had been originally aimed at anarchism, (e) at the

ideology of the Industrial Workers of the World which was feared to be rife
in Australia at the end of the first world war. By 1934 the department

believed anarchists and "wobblies" had been superseded by Communism.

Although there was a fear that wobblies might regroup the Attorney General

identified Communism and "Communistic literature" as the principle source

of sedition in Australia.

Section 52G was kept quite separate from Section 52C by the Trade and

Customs Department. If the Customs Department has any reason to think

that any particular publications imported contravene the regulations ...

copies are submitted to the Attorney Generals Department for advice,

noted a 1934 memorandum outlining practice.^4 Section 34A of the

Commonwealth Crimes Act defined seditious intention as that which

encouraged disaffection towards the sovereignty or constitution of the

United Kingdom and the Kings Dominions. Of particular interest to the

censors were those books which advocated some form of revolutionary change
in the "colonies" and those which were critical of British imperialism.4 5

Lenin on Britain was passed by the Trade and Customs Department in

1935. Considered a "seditious publication, "strictly speaking" the book

was released because because Lenin had been dead for over a decade, the

book was in circulation in Britain and had been on sale in Australia for some

years. Lenin on Britain was also of interest to "students of history and

* * * *

44. ibid.
45. Trade and Customs Minute Paper, "Seditious Literature", April 11 1934.
Australian Archives CRS A425 43/5038. Also Memorandum Attorney
Generals Department, November 31 1933, CRS A467 34/140.

political science". Less fortunate, more recent and closer to home Ralph
Foxs Tlie Colonial Policy of British Imperialism was prohibited as ... an

attack on Britains colonial policy"

It contains many extracts from the reports issued by the Whitely

Commission ... from various works of Marx andLenin. In the present
volume, the author so uses these extracts and other matter for the
special purpose of stirring up revolt against British control in the
colonies.... the book as a whole is seditious in intent and so contravenes
Clause (f) of the Literature Proclamation of 28th July 1932.

In a Minute Paper submitted by an examining officer at the Trades and

Customs Department attention was drawn to pages 116 and 118: "A working-

class party should carry on the struggle to expose the tyranny and brutality
of imperialist rule in the colonies ... " and "A Socialist Britain without a
peoples revolution in India (and the other colonies) is unthinkable".^ In

contrast, N.S. Phadkes Sex Problems in India conveying an impression of

"cheapness", "not powerful intellectually" was allowed free passage because,
unlike Hie Colonial Policy of British Imperialism, the author was not

"activated by an indecent motive".

Despite relative precision of definition in Section 52G, the issue of

political censorship developed as a more sensitive area than Section 52C.

* * * *

46. Harry Pollitt (ed) Lenin on Britain (Bristol 1934), Ralph Fox The
Colonial Policy of British Imperialism (London 1934) Australian Archives
CRS A425 35/707. See also Attorney Generals Memorandum CRS A467
Special File 42 Bundle 89 Item 18 which discusses policy as it related to
Communism. Myra Page Gathering Storm (London 1932), Hans Marchivitza
Storm Over the Ruhr and Baracades in Berlin, August 1937, R. Dutt Fascism
and Social Revolution, Allan Hutt Conditions of the Working Class in Britain,
Ralph Fox Colonial Policy and British Imperialism, Communism, The Class
Struggle in Britain, June 10 1937. See also CRS A35/8328, 36/5308,
36/5520, 37/5573, 37/9231, 42/104, 43/5038, 44/3859.
47. N.S. Phadke Sex Problems in India, passed May 12 1934. Australian
Archives CRS A3203.

In Parliament John Curtin asked the Prime Minister if the government had

"... yet given consideration to the frequent requests made in relation to the
censorship of political books. Secretly displeased that the issue of

indecent literature had not been raised, the Prime Minister was unmoved and
refused to "repeal the provisions under which censorship is operated". He

added confidently: " ... the Government has no reason to believe that there
is any widespread or deep dissatisfaction with the working of the censorship,

and resents the implication that the censorship is applied to any "political"
books taking the widest and most liberal interpretation of that word."4^

In 1934 the Comptroller of Customs at Canberra recommended that the

terms of reference for "seditious" literature be extended and existing

surveillance tightened:

In the case of "obscene, etc." newspapers and journals, the newspaper

or journal is refused entry - not merely a particular number thereof. I
think that the same rule should be applied at the Customs to newspapers
which are devoted to a policy the advocacy of which falls within the
prohibition of the Proclamation of 27/7/1932. A list of such
newspapers should be prepared - after careful consideration.4^

A secret British memorandum advising the Australian government on policy

divided seditious literature into two categories: that which encouraged the

"commission of offence" and that which was " ... less clearly calculated to

lead to breaches of the law, but by reason of their tendencious character

deserve a close watch with a view to action being taken in case of need".5 0
* * * *

48. John Curtin to J. Lyons, April 2 1936. Australian Archives CRS A467,
Special File 7 Bundle 21 Item 3. Also Thomas Brennan advice to Lyons,
May 20 1936 ibid.
49. Attorney Generals Department, Memorandum April 26 1934. Australian
Archives CRS A425 43/5038.
5 0. A.G. Nelson, Official Secretary, Home Office (Britain) to Prime
Ministers Department (Australia), February 27 1934. Australian Archives
CRS A467 Bundle 21 Special File 7 Item 3.

With backing from the Victorian and New South Wales Teachers Association,

the Young Nationalist Organisation, the Australian Council of Trade Unions

and the Australian Natives Association, the Book Censorship Abolition

League argued for a more liberal attitude: ... all political books which

circulate freely in Great Britain should be allowed free circulation in

Australia in defence of civil liberties and freedom of political expression.

It was not concerned by books which were prevented entrance into the

country because they were indecent.51

A major policy concern for the censors was the mental and moral health

of a nation in need of protection against diseased writing, reinforcing the

impression that greater protection through policing was needed. In 1933

TTie Magnificent by Terence Greenidge was condemned because of its
"unhealthy homosexuality", Stay of Execution by Eliot Crawshaw-Williams
was banned as "indecent", "unallayed filth" and the product of a "diseased
mind", Alfred Doblins Alexanderplatz was condemned as a "clumsy attempt

to write in the style of Ulysses ... a sort of jazzified Peer Gynt" containing
" ... details which in their proper place in a medical book" might have been
acceptable, "but not in a novel". The Hindu Art of Love by Edward Windsor

was thought too salacious for the "the general reader. It might be of use

to psychiatrists, and I suggest getting a medical opinion on that point".

Brendau Williams Go Marry was prohibited as "degenerate rubbish",

Replenishing Jessica by Maxwell Bodenheim was considered an "unhealthy

book", Bernard Newmans Death of a Harlot was banned as "unwholesome",

Clare Merediths Ttiis Bright Summer, described as a "compost of a Freudian

devotee" was banned as "digusting degeneracy", Maurice Dekobras Passion

Lighting of the World, "not grossly pornographic", was considered

* * * *

51. Report of Proceedings of Deputation to T.W. White" loc cit.


"definitely unwholesome", Frank Walfords Twisted Clay a "story of

progressive insanity" was considered "harmful to a highly impressionable

nature". A wide range of books were prohibited as "vulgar", "filthy",
"pornographic", "depraved", "perverted", "dangerous", "crude",

"repulsive", "cheap", "fake", "prurient, "sexual", "gratuitous", "vicious",

"degenerate", "salacious", "disgusting" or, the ever reliable, "indecent".52

Books submitted and not banned also illuminate ideology under threat.

J.G. Cuzzon's A Cure for Flesh was a " ... powerful story of life, whose

coincidental coarsenesses are necessary to illumiate the various facets of a

composite picture", Eric Linklaters The Ousaderfs Key avoided "smuttiness
by its delicacy", Upton Sinclaires Oil contained some "outspoken" and

"crude language concerning sexual matters" but was not "obscene" because
it was "quite honest in purpose", the periodical La Vie Parisienne was
"essentially harmless", Noel Cowards play Design for Living was considered
a "deliniation of abnormal types" but a "useful record of post war

degenerates ... ", Francis Winder's Behind the Barrage did not rate as
"obscene, harmful or dangerous", Eliot Crawshaw-Williams First Passion was
considered "honest" and not likely to be "harmful", See How They Run by

Helen Grace Carlisle, although an imitation of "Joyce" passed because it

was a sincere attempt to "tell a story of life", Gilmore Millers Sweet Man,

a ... story of southern negro life in the USA" was considered " ... an

honest attempt to deal with negro life, manners and morals ... ", Jules

Romains The Bodys Rapture, an "... intimate study of marriage relations,

* * * *

52. CRS A425: The Magnificent 43/5293, Stay of Execution 43/753,

Alexandraplatz 43/700, The Hindu Art of Love 43/3280, Go Marry CRS
A3023, Replenishing Jessica 43/3296, Death of a Harlot 43/5639, This
Bright Summer CRS A3023, Passion Lighting of the World 35/2081, Twisted
Clay CRS A3023. Also Literature to Encourage Depravity 38/1043.

with passages that in a different setting could easily be indecent" was passed

because it was a "remarkable book", Harvey Allens Anthony Adverse had a

"thoroughly healthy ... tone", Maxwell Bodenheims New York Madness,

although "unhealthy rubbish of which we see so much in the American

movies" was passed because it was not indecent while Mae Wests Hie

Constant Sinner, "sensational Americanism with no literary value" was

"regretfully" passed because the censor found "difficulty in classing it

indecent", although a second report recommended that it was patently an

"unhealthy book" which should be banned.55

On 22 May 1930 Redheap was officially prohibited in Australia as an

indecent book. In a brief statement to the Federal Parliament, the Acting

Minister for Trade and Customs, F.M. Forde, announced that the novel had
been declared a prohibited import under Section 52C. "This book has had
careful consideration", proclaimed Forde, possibly aware of the problems in
policy which were to emerge as a consequence of the banning, "Although it

is a publication against which strong objection can be taken, it is a work of

an Australian author, and the Department was reluctant to ban an Australian

book unless it was absolutely necessary."5^ When the book was prohibited

comment was passed that all books of this ilk would now have to be banned.

The Trade and Customs Department finally had its benchmark.55

* * * *

53. CRS A425, CRS A3023:: The Cure for Flesh CRS A3023, The Ousaders
CRS A3023, Oil 43/5078, Behind the Barrage 43/5081 43/949, Design for
Living CRS A3023, La Vie Parisienne 43/5292, First Passion 43/5073, See
How Tliey Run CRS A3023, Sweet Man 43/4952, The Bodys Rapture CRS
A3023, Anthony Adverse 43/5073, New York Madness CRS A3023, The
Constant Sinner CRS A3023, She Done Him Wrong 43/49 70.
54. "Literary Censorship", Sydney Morning Herald May 24 1930.
55. Robert Garran, Minute Paper, Attorney Generals Department, May 5
1930, CRS AT 2010/2 Item 59/24212.

It was widely believed in 1930 that if Redheap were to be distributed it

would offend the local community of Creswick where Lindsay grew up and

which was the model for the narrow minded parochialism expressed in the
novel. The Melbourne Argus wrote that "far reaching powers" were

"necessary to check the dreadful flood of evil literature" of which Redheap

was an exemplary example. "Young and impressionable minds are

increasingly exposed to contamination", argued the Argus, "and a watchful

censorship is their only protection". The Sydney Morning Herald accused

Lindsay of "literary matricide" while the Sunday Sun wrote:

... whether any of the authors characters have their actual human
prototypes in that quiet village it were better not to guess. The reader
who seeks a parallel to Stephen Leacocks "Sunshine Sketches of a
Little Town" with its rustic innocence and charm, will be startled; for
Lindsay has evolved a remorseless psychological study which arises at
times to a vigour and power comparable to that attained by Sinclair
Lewis in "Main Street", and similar books.

Redheap seemed set to offend the public spirit of the small town even before

anyone read the book. It was whispered widely throughout Australia just
what sort of mischief Norman Lindsay might have got up to in the writing.

Because the fictional town of Redheap was presumed to be Creswick,

speculation mounted in the press that the book would be banned in Victoria

if there was no federal intervention. Questions about the treatment of

subject were raised in the Victorian Parliament. One member threatened to

ask ... whether the State Ministry would approach the Acting [federal]

Minister for Customs Mr Forde to have Norman Lindsays latest novel,

Redheap banned in Victoria."57 In actuality the federal government had no

* * * *

56. Argus June 11 1930, Sun April 14 19 30, Sydney Morning Herald April 14
5 7. Guardian April 18 19 30.

authority to prohibit a book in one state. State authorities could prohibit

locally produced books under local legislation. Moreover, Section 92 of the

federal constitution sanctioned free trade between the states. Since the
1920 Engineers Case which allowed federal arbitration across state borders,

the matter of free trade was well understood by both state and federal

authorities. On May 2, the Adelaide Advertiser raised the matter briefly:

The indications yesterday were that the book would be approved. But
something has happened since then apparently, and now it seems that
the book has been sent to the Attorney Generals Department for
inspection. It appears certain that if the book is released by the
Commonwealth authorities who, once it is admitted no control over its
sale, action will be taken by the states to test its suitability for general

A report in the Sun Pictorial also claimed that Redheap had been passed by

the censor before the minister decided that it was a prohibited import,

suggesting it was the Victorian state government which forced the hand of
the commonwealth censor.

Redheap was reviewed by federal customs officials in late May. A

report was forwarded to the Minister concluding that Lindsay had violated

"modesty and delicacy" according to the household test. The officer drew

attention to two episodes in the novel. The first, a love scene between the

protagonist Robert Piper and Millie Kneebone the local clergymans young


Disturbed and charmed, Robert possessed her. It was a jumbled,

unarranged consumation, but it was divine. For the first time in his
experience, a girl had conceded her body to a need as frank as his own
and he was filled with a surpassing tenderness for this generous and
adorable girl.
* * *

58. Adelaide Advertiser May 3 1930.

59. Sun Pictorial May 1 1930.

The second episode concerned the pontifications of Pipers mentor on

matters relating to sex. "Most men know little ... of counteracting the Law

of Physics in relation to that fourth dimentional nuisance, the embryo",

banters the aged Bandaparts, "Be more promiscuous, Piper; do not focus

your vibrations on one wench. You may have twenty girls with less chance
of putting one in the family way than by having one girl twenty times.

The examining officer from a "general purview of the book" considered

"things rank and gross in nature" had been perpetrated. Invoking authority

of the bible, Emerson and Collingwood, in a clumsy submission he commented:

Clearly the portrayal of human passion is not outside the pale. If this
were so, the story of David or of Mary Magdelen would have no place in
our literature. In the treatment and not in the theme genius finds its
work to do. Not from the thing itself but from the enveloping nimbus
of interpretation does the subject define its beauty; but if the
deliniation of passion is to be of interest to human beings it must at
least be human, and it is here that Mr Lindsay fails in his undertaking.
His characters are not so much human beings as animals in human shape.
One looks for 8 glimmer of intellect among them. If the locale had
been in the jungle the incidents related would not have lost anything in
An observation of the sexual proclivities of the beast however valuable
it be, incorporated in a zoological treatise, cannot on that ground alone
claim a place in created literature.

Less affected Garran also recommended: "I think the indecency in this book

- which goes beyond what is necessary for the presentation of the subject -

is a character which brings it within the terms of section 52C." Hall

agreed: "passages in this book ... are frankly indecent."62

* * * *

60. Ernest Hall, Trade and Customs Minute Paper, April 30 1930.
Australian Archives CRS AT 2010 Item 59/24212. pp 97, 149/50, 224, 234,
236, 237, 283, 284, 290.
61. I.V. Gould to F.M. Forde, May 20 1930. CRS AT 2010 Item 24212.
62. Robert Garran, Attorney Generals Department Minute Paper, May 5
1930. Ernest Hall, Trade and Customs Minute Paper April 30 1930. CRS AT
2010/2 Item 24212.

In a summary of the novels plot, it was perhaps the Chief Clerk in

Charge of Investigation within the Trades and Customs Department, C.J.

Brossios, who provided the clearest picture of why the book was classified

The son of a business-man in Redheap near Ballarat has sexual relations

with the daughter of a publican. The youths of the township also enjoy
the privilege. He next seduces the parsons daughter and finds the
task very easy indeed (pages 149/50). In due course the girl becomes
pregnant and several unsuccessful attempts are made to bring on an
abortion (289/99), when finally after exposure it is decided to send the
girl to a relative for the purpose of an illegal operation (305). In the
meantime the boys youngest sister is indulging in a love affair with a
married man who commits arson as part of his plan to elope with the
girl. Their relations and those of the man and his wife are defined in
marked passages on pages 191, 223/5, 279, 282/5. The advice of a
broken-down drunken teacher to the boy relating to sex matters in
general is indicated on pages 46, 9 7, 301/4 and 308 will be found
relating to sexual intercourse.

It was primarily because sex was discussed so readily by the author and the

fact that sex comes so easily to his characters, particularly when it involved
the clergymans daughter, that Redheap was seen to give offence.

Discussion of contraception and abortion were also offensive. In 1939

the Trades and Customs Department sent a reminder to leading Australian

booksellers of a 1935 directive prohibiting the importation of periodicals and

magazines which carried advertisements for:

(a) Medicines for the use in the cure of venereal disease or the
alleviation of female irregularities or for influencing the course of
(b) Medicines for the correction of sexual impotence.
(c) Sex publications, the importation of which, taking the
advertisements as a guide to the nature of the works, would be
prohibited as indecent.
* * * *

63. C.J. Brossios, Customs and Excise Paper, April 24 1930. Australian
Archives CRS AT 2010/2 Item 59/24212.

(d) Novelties described as risque pictures in intimate poses and rare

photographs in the nude which apparently would be prohibited as
indecent if imported.
(e) Drink and tobacco habit cures, if imported, would be prohibited.6 ^

When the Guardian announced it would serialise the book the Trade and

Customs Department was powerless to act. Its jurisdiction extended only as

far as imported goods. The Post Master General, however, could prevent
distribution of articles within Australia under the Post and Telegraph Act.

J.W. Kitto advised the Guardian:

May I invite your attention to the provisions of the Post and Telegraph
Act relating to the transmission by post of newspapers, and the
conditions under which registration of newspapers may be affected. I
shall be glad of any assurances you can give me in this connection.

In a feature article headlining the letter as government intimidation the

Guardian claimed Kitto had authority to remove the papers n ...
registration, and prevent its distribution outside the metropolitan area and

main rail lines. Even seizure of printing plant is, under certain
circumstances, possible. The Guardian accused the government of

carrying out a vendetta against the paper and the author. The matter was
settled and the Guardian did not print the book.65

Yet this was not the end of Redheap. In late 1930, Customs officials

were instructed to lookout for a new title by Norman Lindsay, Every

Mothers Son, which it had been advised by authorities in Washington was the

American edition of Redheap, published in New York. On 18 November, the

Comptroller of Customs issued a memorandum directing officials to detain

* * * *

64. Trade and Customs Memorandum, July 22 1935, also July 31 1939.
Australian Archives CRS A425 39/5151.
6 5. Guardian May 25 1930.

any copies of the book which might be consigned to Australia. In

December, the Chief Clerk of Investigations read a copy of Every Mothers

Son and confirmed that it was, in fact, Redheap. With a clarity of mind
and memory equal to his senior position in the Trade and Customs

Department, Brossios wrote: nI clearly recollect the various passages of

Redheap brought under notice of the Collector on 24.4.30, and have no

hesitation in saying that "Every Mothers Son is an exact reprint of

Redheap. The book had made an indelible impression:

Owing to the differences in the type used, the passages referred to do

not occur on similarly numbered pages. Thus it will be found that
pages 46, 80/1, 97, 149/50, 191, 223/5, 234/8, 278, 282/5, 289/99,
301/4, 305 and 308 of Redheap correspond with pages 45, 84/6, 103/7,
163, 208, 244/7, 257/60, 299, 307, 312/24, 326, 328/30 and 333/7 of
Every Mothers Son.

Like the original, seven months earlier, Every Mothers Son was placed on
the censors list in December 1930.66

The banning of Every Mothers Son in novel form was a relatively

straight forward procedure. The title was simply listed alongside Redheap
as a prohibited import. When news arrived that the book had been serialised

by Cosmopolitan magazine in America and that copies of this magazine were

available in Australia new problems emerged.67 An offical wrote to

Brossios: It might be dangerous to treat as prohibited any copies of the

magazines other than such as contains instalments in which occur passages

which can be held as indecent. The official suggested that the serial be

permitted circulation in Australia with the offending passages removed.

* * * *

66. C.J. Brossios, Customs and Excise Minute Paper, December 12 1930.
Australian Archives CRS AT2010 Item 59/24212.
67. R.O.H. OLoughlin, Trade and Customs Minute Paper, September 18
1930. CRS AT 2010/1 Item 59/24212.

More realistically, in terms of policy, Brossios recommended that those

copies of Cosmopolitan which contained offending extracts should be

prevented from entering the country, a departure from the usual procedure
relating to magazines.68 The issue of extracts reprinted elsewhere was a

complex problem for the Trades and Customs Department. Following the
banning of Ulysses a book of literary criticism emerged containing reprinted
passages which in the original were considered offensive but in the context

of a technical book were outside the pale.69 The recommendation was

consistent with the Department's policy on technical books, alluded to in the

original judgement on Redheap relating to the jungle and zoology.

Serialisation was a different problem. Trade and Customs banned only those
magazines which contained serialisation of Every Mothers* Son.

The decision to ban or release a book in Australia rested in the first

instance with junior Trades and Customs officials who made recommendations
upwards to more senior officials and ultimately, the minister. Lindsay

criticised the procedure and wrote scathingly of those he believed had no

concept of the true worth of literature. "These arbitary proposals by a few

casual officials to dictate to a people the terms under which they are

allowed to acquire culture only makes a joke of serious values", he declared.

In May 1930 Roy Connolly wrote a feature article, "Love Crimes Make

Censorship Absurd" for the Sunday Guardian:

And that brings us to the attempted banning of a book written by an

Australian of acknowledged genius, as if it were so many tins of opium,
so many packets of cocaine. Even worse, it is treated as if it were a
bundle of paper-backs, puriently entitled "Paris Nights" for poor fools
to buy them from furtive booksellers, commercialising lubricity in back
* *
68. C.J. Brossios, Trade and Customs Minute Paper, September 18 19 30.
Australian Archives CRS AT 2010/2 Item 59/24212.
69. Stuart Gilbert, James Joyce*s Ulysses. Australian Archives CRS A425
6 3/28971. footnote 70 overleaf.

Lindsay questioned what happened to these officials who read all the

literature which was considered inappropriate for Australian readers. Did

they become sexual fiends, anarchists, communists, as it was feared ordinary

readers might if they came across the literature banned by the government.

Unlike Lindsay, J.M. Harcourt was not known in literary circles outside

of Perth where he worked as a journalist. Born in Melbourne in 1902 his

Methodist parents were from Western Australia where he grew up and spent
much of his early adult life. For a time Harcourt attended Wesley College

at Melbourne but a combination of homesickness and the desire to live

adventurously resulted in him running away in 1916 to hump a bluey through

Victoria and New South Wales, later joining his father on the Western
Australian goldfields. While working as an assistant surveyor at Kalgoorlie
the notion of becoming an author occurred to the young Harcourt. He left
the security of his job in the early twenties to pursue a writing career in the
city. Perth, however, like other Australian cities was experiencing the

post-war recession and there was little work, if plenty to write about, for an
aspiring author.

With his savings rapidly diminishing, Harcourt left Perth for Broome in

the hope of making enough money as a pearler to support his writing. After

two years as a shell opener, with little return for his efforts, his fortune

changed when he found a pearl valued at thirteen thousand pounds.

Harcourts share of this windfall was two thousand pounds. His pockets

swollen and confidence sufficiently boosted by the recent publication of two

* *

70. Roy Connolly, Love Crimes Make Censorship Absurd, Sunday Guardian
May 4 1930.

of his short stories in the Sydney Triad, Harcourt was tempted back to the

city. Almost immediately he began working as a journalist, writing fiction

part time.71

With publication of his first novel, The Pearlers, in 1933 Harcourt

established a reputation as a radical writer. The Pearlers shocked readers

who thought it followed too closely a "modern literary tendency of

reflecting the sordid side of the human condition. A 1933 review remarked

that Tlie Pearlers was "dangerously credible", a label applied with equal

vigour to Harcourt's next novel, Upsurge, billed as a "story of the world

crisis".7^ Upsurge caused something of a sensation when the first copies

arrived in Australia in March 1934. A review in the West Australian


It would be hard to imagine a more thoroughly unpleasant set of people

than are found in the pages of Mr Harcourts immature narrative of
"petting parties", shop girls strikes, street-rioting - where the police
are made to behave like a lot of Bashi-Bazooks - Communist agitators,
crude caricatures of magistrates and business magnates - the whole
extraordinary conglomeration being liberally spiced with frankly erotic

Rolley Hoffmann, a journalist and former colleague from the authors

days on TTie Daily News, wrote that he "almost suspected" Harcourt had

written Upsurge "cherishing the fond hope of so many young authors that it

would be banned. The comment anticipated by some months the ultimate

fate of Upsurge:
* * * *

71. Richard Nile, "Introduction J.M. Harcourt, Upsurge facsmile edition

(Nedlands 19 86) pp vii-xxiv.
72. "Another Insult to W.A." June 8 1933, "To the Rescue", June 15 1933,
The New Call, "W.A. Authors Books Taken from Shops Daily News August
15 1934.
73. West Australian August 16 1934.

Upsurge, by J.M. Harcourt (John Long Ltd., price 7s 6d), the Western
Australian novelist whose first book The Pearlers was published last
year, brings forward primarily, the question of the relationship of
pornography to art. Mr Harcourt is a young writer, a new writer. He
is it might be added, a good writer with such qualities of promise that
look well for his future. But his two books - in Upsurge particularly -
he has taken the misguidedly bold course of giving his story an
overpowering taint of the sexual - a course that has often reacted
unfavourably for the future of other young novelists.

The sort of stuff in Upsurge may have provided excitement of some sort
to the author in the writing of it: it may provide excitement for some of
his readers - those who carry prohibited Parisian picture cards in their
pocket wallets and scribble on walls ... Assuming that the literary and
social customs of this age demand something rather more exciting than
they did twenty years ago there are still limits to sexual emphasis to
which a writer may go, and I hardly think that any reader of Upsurge
will djsagree with me when I say that Mr Harcourt has here exceeded

Harcourts questioning of an uncertain political and social situation in

Australia, his sympathy with the unemployed and support for a worker-based

revolution was to trouble the censor but it delighted Katharine Susannah

Prichard who heralded Upsurge as Australias first truly proletarian novel.

Upsurge preceded Devannys Sugar Heaven, another contender for the title,

by twelve months, introducing socialist realism as a new point of departure

in Australian writing.75

The manifesto of socialist realism was first proclaimed in the USSR in

1934 at the first All-Soviet Congress of Writers but its precept of using

literature as a vehicle for encouraging the ideological transformation and

education of working people in the spirit of socialism, had been widely

acknowleged since the revolution. As a literary manifesto, socialist realism

required writers inside the Soviet Union to write in a mood and manner
* * * *

74. Daily News July 23 1934, august 15 1934.

75. J.M. Harcourt, The Banning of Upsurge", Overland. No 46 Summer
19 70-19 71 p 32.

befitting the 1917 revolution and the subsequent achievements of

communism. Outside Russia, writers were called upon to be nfellow

travellers" with the soviet cause while helping prepare revolutionary

sensibility in their own countries. An article written just before Harcourts

death described Upsurge as a socialist realist novel and the author a fellow-
traveller.*^ As defined by the 1934 congress, socialist realism conflicted

directly with the Attorney Generals recommendation on policy prohibiting

writing which acted as an agent for subversive organisations. The

tendencious nature of socialist realism brought it naturally within the

definition of seditious literature.*^

Harcourt believed Upsurge recorded a side of Australian life which was

ignored in public culture and the tabloid press. He suggested the popular
press falsified by under estimating the extent and degree of genuine hardship
in Australian life. Given his political point of view at this time, his
assertions were hardly surprising. Harcourts intention was to redress the

balance in existing media and public records. Novel writing freed him from
the editorial and ideological constraints of newspaper journalism and
provided him with the intellectual and emotional range to record what he felt

to be true. In a 1935 radio interview, Harcourt noted that, although

Upsurge was "not to be regarded as an historical record it was, nonetheless,

"more than merely founded upon fact":

Most of the main incidents and many of the minor ones actually
occurred, and neither the conditions the unemployed put up with in
relief camps, nor the treatment metered out to the demonstrators, have
* * *

76. ibid.
77. A.A. Zhdanov at the First All-Soviet Congress of Writers, 1934. Cited
in G.J. Becker, Documents in Modern Realism (Princeton 19 63) p 487. See
also Georg Lukacs 1938 essay "Tendency or Partisanship" (London 1980) p

been in any way exaggerated. In some eases details of actual

happenings have been altered for the purposes of the story; that is
all.... the story and actual fact walk hand in hand.

Thirty five years later Harcourt reiterated the point: "In conclusion, I may

say of Upsurge that, despite its literary shortcomings, and God knows they

were many, it was an honest fictional account of the Western Australian

State of Denmark at the time".^

Upsurge concerned commonwealth and state censors because it

challenged established social mores from the status of the judicial system

and existing legal practices through to industrial and sexual relations.

"Were rapidly approaching the time when the rabble as you call it will be

the class in power", comments one of the characters, "Youd naturally

regard it as nonesense, but thats because your affiliations make it

impossible for you to properly interpret what you see. Every social and
economic phenomenon of the day points to it ... .0 After controversy

simmered for several months in the press Upsurge was banned under Section
52C. Before being prohibited federally state detectives in both Western

Australia and New South Wales seized copies of the book under local

legislation prohibiting the sale of "indecent" publications.

The banning of Upsurge sent tremors through Australian literary circles

on both sides of the continent. A direct result was the formation of the

Book Censorship Abolition League in early 1935 and the election of Harcourt
* * * *

78. J.M. Harcourt, radio interview with Winston H. Burchett 3BA Ballarat,
February 10 1939. Transcript in Petherick Room, National Library of
79. J.M. Harcourt, Upsurge (London 1934) p 33.
80. J.M. Harcourt, "The Banning of Upsurge" loc cit.

as its first president. He was soon replaced by the moderate William Ball in

keeping with the Leagues general principles of fostering liberal, as opposed

to revolutionary, ideals. Harcourt had fled from his home in Perth amidst

fears that he was to be prosecuted for slander by a prominent Western

Australian businessman who was convinced he had been used libelously as a

prototype for one of the characters in Upsurge.81 Prichard followed

Harcourt to Melbourne and established him there as the president of the

short-lived "Revolutionary Writers League", a group of left-wing authors

preparing to welcome the Czech communist and writer, Egon Kisch, to

Australia. Kisch had been despatched by the Third International to tour,

lecturing and advising socialist writers on the techniques of socialist realism.

The controversy surrounding the proposed tour, Kischs dramatic leap from
his ship after being refused entry to Australia and his subsequent

deportation are now legendary events in Australian history.

Upsurge was ostensibly banned because of its explicit use of sexual

details. However, it also seems likely that at least part of the motivation to
ban the novel was a response to its support for a radical political program

and its marxian analysis of Australian life. Stylistically it was aimed at a

working-class audience which may have proved alienating for middle-class

readers. Upsurge was considered dangerous because it encouraged rebellion

against authority during a period when there were unprecedented levels of

unemployment. The combination of sex and sedition in the one book was too

politically potent to allow it to pass uncensored. In a reference to socialist

fiction the Rev J.H. Cain as part of a interdenominational delegation to the

Minister for Trade and Customs in 19 35 commented: "It does seem a bit of a

tragedy that literature of this kind is constantly knocking at the doors of

* * * *

81. ibid.

the Commonwealth for admission.... I have been reading lately literature

which had advocated strongly free love in the life of the nation and the

utter disregard of the marriage tie".82 Upsurge had hit the mark whether
or not Cain knew of its existence.

The saga of the banning of Upsurge began in July 1934 when a group of

Western Australian detectives removed eight copies of the book from

booksellers and asked that five other copies held in lending libraries be

handed in. In the same month, the Investigation Branch of the Federal

Attorney Generals Department, the forerunner of AS 10, opened a file on

Harcourt. Until this time Upsurge had been selling quite well. Following the

July raid the secretary of the Western Australian police, Inspector C.

Treadgold, phoned the Commonwealth Customs and Excise Office at
Fremantle requesting the novel be placed on the prohibitive imports list.
Acting on the request, the Contoller of Customs asked the Clerk in Charge

of Correspondence and Records, C.J. Carne, for a preliminary report on the

novel. On the 14th July Carne purchased a copy of Upsurge from the
Booklovers Library in Perth.88

Presumably independent of the Trade and Customs Department, Western

Australian detectives again visited Perth booksellers on 15th August and

removed remaining copies of the novel, effectively banning it from sale in

* * * *

82. Cabinet Agenda, Book Censorship, Australian Archives CRS A467

Special File 7 Bundle 21 Item 3. See also Stephen Alomes "Reasonable
Men op cit p 115. The objective of the Book Censorship Abolition League
was the "abolition of all forms of censorship", All About Books January 15
1935 p 14, but as Alomes points out it steered clear of the question of
indecency. See also 1935 delegation to T.W. White CRS A 467 Bundle 21
Special File 7 Item 3.
83. Report of Proceedings of Deputation to T.W. White ibid.

Western Australia. Harcourt, who had by this time moved to Melbourne,

was furious at the police action which pre-empted any decision to be made
by the Literary Censorship Board. It is unclear whether or not Harcourt
knew the book had been forwarded to the Censorship Board. It had recently
been passed by the Customs authorities in Melbourne and Adelaide.
Harcourt appeared in a defiant mood when interviewed in Melbourne on 17th

August: "While I did not expect the West Australian police to take action it

is not really surprising. The theme of the novel is the modern economic

crisis with its accompanying decay in the manners and morals of society".
Harcourt defended his novel saying that it dealt with the contemporary

situation in a "realistic way". His suspicion that Upsurge was being treated
unfairly in Australia was tested the following day when news arrived that the

novel had been banned in Ireland.

In Sydney on August 31 Upsurge became the subject of a court case in

which action was brought against Dymocks for selling an indecent

publication. No defence was offered and the case was settled with the
defendants paying the costs. Accordingly the police offered no evidence

that the novel was indecent or obscene. The prosecuting sergeant merely

held up a copy in court and stated: "It is grossly indecent. If people of

the younger generation get hold of this book it will have a bad effect on

their minds." Dymocks forwarded all remaining copies of Upsurge in their

possession to the police. As in Western Australia, Upsurge was now

effectively banned in New South Wales.^

* * *

84. Australian Archives CRS A425 43/2791.

85. C. J. Carne to Collector of Custom, July 17 1934 CRS A 43/2791.
86. West Australian August 17 19 34.
87. Sydney Morning Herald August 31 1934.

Meanwhile, in Perth Carne had prepared his report for the Controller of

Customs. He was of the opinion that Upsurge was "indecent". In particular

he drew attention to pages: 64, 66, 76/8 101, 106, 110, 111/112, 184,

189/190. These pages included a threat by a communist to ram a "plug of

gelignite" up the "arse" of the city magistrate and blow him "to hell"; a

love scene between the magistrate and a young woman who had been
previously convicted by him for indecency; a beach scene where sexual

infidelities are played out; the predatory gaze of a boss fixed on a female

secretary in his company, his desire to "slip his hand up under her skirts and

pat her firm buttocks"; a description of his "girlfriend" as a "little wanton"

with a slim "boy-girl's body"; the seduction of two working-class women by

bourgeois men at the beach one night; a later meeting between one of the

women and a young communist, his sexual frustration concluding with a

resolve to visit the city's brothels to rid himself of the thought of her.88

Carne also believed that Upsurge contravened the Commonwealths

Literature Proclamation of 1932 concerning seditious literature. The move is

significant because, until this time, no novel had been banned because of its

political content. In 1936 Cze Ming Ting's volume Stories From China was

banned as a "blasphemous, obscene or indecent" publication yet the censor

could only find political grounds for its prohibition. Those books which were

prohibited as seditious were left-wing political, economic and historical

writing.89 Carne believed that Upsurge was " ... thinly diguised propaganda
* * * *

88 C.J. Carne to Collector of Customs, July 14 1934. Australian Archives

CRS A425 43/2791.
89. Cze Ming Ting Stories from China, banned March 24 19 36. Mike Pell's
SS Utah was banned May 25 1934 under section 52C but, as Garran
submitted, the real reason was its seditious intention: "I regard the book as
tendentious and advocating illegal violence" CRS 3023. John Steinbecks
social realist novel The Grapes of Wrath was passed because it did not
advocate revolution. CRS A 39 23.

on behalf of Communism and social revolution". He perceived, rightly, a

link in the fiction between sexual promiscuity and the authors belief in the
inevitable decay of capitalism. Carne wrote that, apart from two "avowed

communists" all characters in Upsurge led "immoral lives". He protested

that parliament was held up for "contempt and ridicule" and that the police

were depicted as acting "with wanton brutality". "Practically all the

women in the book are wantons," he reported and "the state is depicted as

possessing thousands of unemployed who are ripe for revolution". For

Carne, and possibly others in the Trade and Customs Department, there was
much to be feared by a breakdown of conventional sexual morality*

On the 30th August, further pressure to ban Upsurge came in the form
of a complaint by the elitist National Council of Women of Australia, whose
patrons were Lady Isaacs, wife of the Governor General and Mrs J.A.
Lyons, wife of the Prime Minister. White was a frequent guest lecturer at

the Council on matters relating to morality and censorship. The Council of

Women asked that Upsurge and TTie Pearlers be "banned" because both were

"extremely objectionable". White replied that he would look into the

matter. He sent a memo to the Comptroller of Customs at Canberra who

forwarded a copy of Tlie Pearlers to the Censorship Board which was already

reviewing Upsurge.91

On November 14 and 19 two reports by members of the Censorship Board

* * * *

90. C.J. Carne to Controller of Customs July 14 1934. Australian Archives

CRS A425 43/2791.
91. National Council of Women of Australia to T.W. White, August 30 1934.
CRS A43/2791. On Whites lectures to the Council see Stephen Alomes
"Reasonable Men" op cit pll5.

were handed to the chairman. The first judged Upsurge "A crude book of

revolutionary upsurge and drew attention to disfigured and "gross

passages including the brothel scene and a reference to the city

magistrate, "Jimmy Riddle", as "Lord of the Urinal". The report concluded

that the novel had brought the banning upon itself: "If a writer chooses to

introduce obscenities like these, I should ban". The second report

suggested that Upsurge was "not without good points" but should be banned

because it was obscene. It went on to add that Harcourt was "manifestly

in sympathy with certain acts of lawlessness" and displayed a "marked

tendency to hold up established authority to contempt and ridicule." On 20
November 1934 Upsurge was banned federally. Significantly, Garran's report

made no mention of the books political program in the same way as political
comment was dropped from any reference to the Chinese revolutionary

Although Jean Devanny, a noted socialist realist writer, would not have

concurred with the explicit sexuality of Upsurge she was critical of the ways
in which government authorities had become prominent in preventing the

circulation of left-wing writing. Following the search of her baggage in

1930 Devanny complained to the Minister of Customs: ... sincere efforts at

reform and exposure of the present day short comings in our social and

sexual life, like Tlie Butcher's Shop, are banned." Devanny raised the issue

of fairness of penalties imposed on "frank and open discussion of the social

and sexual problems" of the age. "Had my book been simply a lurid

description of the moneyed classes ... she queried "would it have come

under the ban of the censor?" Her own answer was a catagorical "no".9^
* * * *

92. Australian Archives. CRS A425 43/2791. Also CRS A3023.

93. Jean Devanny to Trade and Customs Department, February 2 1930. CRS
A 43/4415.


In her narration of My Brilliant Career (1901) a young Sybilla Melvyn

argued that books enrich cultural thought.1 In My Career Goes Bung she
expressed a preference for 'serious writing but acknowledged that a vast

majority of readers were more interested in 'penny-dreadfuls'.3 For her

creator there were many phases through which an original manuscript would
need to pass before a published book could be assessed according to any
criteria.3 My Career Goes Bung waited over forty years. In 1906 Miles

Franklin withdrew My Brilliant Career from circulation and willed that the

book not be reprinted until a decade after her death. When Franklin died in

1954 she left behind twelve published novels and a survey of the life and

literature of Joseph Furphy, co-written with Kate Baker. Not a prolific

output in half a century, her writing life was punctuated by several

interruptions, one silence lasting over twenty years. Left among her papers
were over twenty unpublished manuscripts. Three "Brent of Bin Bin" novels
were published in the late twenties. A further three appeared
* * * *

1. "I Longed for the arts", writes Sybilla in My Brilliant Career, "Music was
a passion with me. I borrowed every book in the neighbourhood and stole
hours from rest to read them.... I lived a dream-life with writers, artists and
musicians" My Brilliant Career (1901, reprint Sydney 19 79) p 17.
2. In My Career Goes Bung, Franklin opened: "Precocious little effort in
arts is naturally imitative, but in localities remote from literary activity
there is no one for the embryo writer to copy....I must have been nearly
thirteen when the idea of writing novels flowered into romances which
adhered to the design of trashy novellettes reprinted in the Supplement to
the Goulbum Evening News". (1946, reprint 19 80 p 5. According to
Franklin in her autobiography Childhood at Brindabella: "As soon as I could
read I took the chapter of the Bible, set for Sunday study, verse about with
Mother. This ran by with more satisfaction in the exercise of reading than
of interest in the subject matter". (Sydney 1963) p 109.
3. See Valerie Kent, "Alias Miles Franklin" in Carole Ferrier (ed) Gender
Politics and Fiction op cit pp 44-58 which contains a good deal of
information relating to Franklin's contractual arrangements with her
Edinburgh publisher, Blackwood and Son.

in the fifties. The last was published posthumously as was a collection of

lectures written in 1950. Childhood at Brindabella: My First Ten Years was

published in 1963 while a novel set in Chicago in 1914, appeared for the first
time in 1981.

Miles Franklins long-time involvement with Australian writing might

almost suggest a natural claim for inclusion within the ranks of Australian

literary traditions.4 Her critical studies would further suggest the writer

had a definite view of that literatures constituency. Following her return

to Sydney in 1931, despite her relative isolation at the outer suburb of

Carlton, Franklin became a formidable presence in writer circles. She

expressed a very clear picture of how she imagined Australian literature
should develop. Stating their sense of personal and public appreciation of
her determination as an Australian writer, Dymphna Cusack and Flora James
dedicated their 1951 collaborative effort Come in Spinner to Franklin.

Miles Franklin has been remembered in critical thought as an important

twentieth century literary figure. She is also familiar because of the

annual literary award which bears her name. Yet Franklins novels have

been criticised for their clumsiness and old fashioned nationalism, derived

primarily from her understanding of Furphy. In her life-time her books did

not achieve anything near substantial sales and there were few reprints. In
* * * *

4. See Susan Gardener Portrait of an Artist as a Wild Colonial Girl.

Gardener describes the substantial "secondary industry which has built up
around Miles Franklin in Carole Ferrier ibid pp 22-43. Also Verna Coleman
Miles Franklin in America: Her Unknown Brilliant Career (Sydney 19 81) and
Drusilla Modjeska "Miles Franklin: A Chapter of her Own" in Exiles at Home
op cit pp 156-190.

common with a few other remembered writers out of the many who wrote

novels in the first half of the twentieth century, Franklins reputation

rested less with the physical presence of her books in any volume than with

the images they conveyed as significant contributions building towards an

Australian literature.

Writer reputation and the story of a books public life contain many

hidden dimensions. Analysis of systems of production shifts emphasis away

from elite culture to more public forms by placing writer and published word

within, not removed from, the social organisations which become their
subject matter. Franklin remained unpublished by an Australian company

until 1936 when the Bulletin printed All Ttiat Swagger. Her books sold as

colonial editions in the country she wrote about.5 She did not like the
practice of overseas publishers for Australian works and criticised their
disproportionate representation in the local market but, by accident or
design, her novels conformed sufficiently to British conceptions of colonial

fiction to find an Edinburgh imprint. Despite this, Franklin remained

committed to establishing a tradition of national writing which had as its

basis Furphys novels and it was against this background she wished

judgements on modern Australian fiction to be made.

While publishers manufactured basic material from which literary

traditions later emerged Franklin argued that the real test of Australian

books rested in the degree to which they presented distinctive national

* # * *

5. Franklins introduction to My Brilliant Career My Dear Fellow

Australians suggests, however ironically, that she had an idea of who her
audience might be. Yet, in her next line, she also wrote, Just a few lines
to tell you that this story is all about myself - for no other purpose do I
write it." The close links between fiction and actuality were likely reasons
for her withdrawing the book from circulation in 1904. See Modjeska,
Exiles at Home op cit p 31.

characteristics which she in turn believed to be the most important dynamic

of Australian writing. Recognising that covert influences might operate on

a number of different levels in the production process, she maintained that a

growing quantity of Australian books within a nationalist framework could

produce a viable literature. However, a small literary world still required

careful nurturing and if the occasion warranted, fierce defence. From

foundations laid by the nascent nationalist writers of the 1890s, Franklin

hoped twentieth century nationalist writing would prevail as Australian

literary orthodoxy. She urged modern Australian writers to look to the

achievements of the 1890s for inspiration.

Reputations, traditions and canons, Franklin was aware, were carefully

constructed and maintained edifices which relied heavily on the patronage of

specific groups. While writers might be myth makers, their myths needed to
be arranged in relation to one another as consistent outward expressions of
the social worlds from which they emerged. At times seemingly invisible,

these processes of ordering books became a powerful determinant of the

shape of modern Australian writing. It suggested how the memory of

certain writers and their works might be preserved. In the interwar years

reputation developed within and according to the patronage of a key group

of writers and critics who shared a concern for the development of national

expression. Nettie Palmer, more than any other critic, presumed a role as

custodian of modern Australian writing, setting the standards by which it

could be measured. The invention of an Australian literary tradition in the

1920s and 1930s was, in part, the attempt to impose a particular version of

Australias past over the artefacts its culture was then generating.

The national paradigm was well understood in writers circles. Henry

Lawson and Joseph Furphy, both sheltered from negative criticism by
contemporary writers, were canonised for their part in augmenting national
and distinctively Australian means of literary expression. A complementary
modern preception was that Australian writing required further shelter from

the deleterious effects of European decadence. It was generally believed

that national literature required some form of protection against negative
external influences. One way was to foster particular characteristics along

lines suggested by Lawson and Furphy. While protecting the interests of some
writers, the building of a national tradition impeded the development of

others. For these writers a national tradition was a form of control.

One of the first longer analyses of twentieth century writing, Nettie

Palmers Modern Australian Literature (1924) explicitly outlined

prescriptions for contemporary writing as it related to the 1890s and the

achievements of Lawson and Furphy. In a number of reviews in many

journals from the Tasmanian Illustrated Mail to the Bulletin, Palmer

maintained that Lawson and Furphy had tapped a distinctively Australian

style and type of writing.6 The most influential and important local critic

of the interwar period, Palmer sought to show lines of continuity reaching

back from the present to the 1890s. For contemporary writers, annointment

by Nettie Palmer virtually guaranteed inclusion in the annals of Australian

literature. Palmer saw it as one of her principal critical assignments to

administer order over heterogeneity.
* * * *

6. Deborah Jordan Nettie Palmer as Literary Critic in Carole Ferrier op

cit pp 59-94 and Drusilla Modjeska, "The Arbiter in Exiles at Home op cit
pp 43-75.

A small study in itself, the importance of Modern Australian Literature

lies in its implied agenda for future Australian writing and in its attempt to

inculcate into contemporary writing selected vital characteristics from the

past. Palmer argued that although 1901 was not a watershed in intellectual

and imaginative thought the proclamation of nationhood was the realisation

of many of the dreams of the 1890s. "Australia was no longer a group of

more or less important colonies, hanging loosely together with the Bermudas

and Fiji on the ample bosom of Britannia", stressed Palmer, "Australia was

henceforth Australia. What that name was to mean it lay in the hands of
her writers, above all, to discover."^ A new country and a new century,
she suggested, encouraged new possibilities for sensitive and serious writers
who could now be freed from the romance and melodrama of colonial writing.

In the 1890s "self-consciousness about externals", apparent in the writing of

Marcus Clarke and Rolf Boldrewood, was superseded by a realisation of the
"life and character" inherent in Australian culture. Palmer neglected to
mention other nineteenth century novelists such as Catherine Helen Spence,

Jessie Couvreur, Rosa Praed and Ada Cambridge.

According to Palmer, the supervention of the 1890s witnessed the

departure of "solid" colonial fiction in favour of the short-story " ... of the

intimate and natural type, written as though for people who knew their own

country". Unlike their predecessors " ... these stories never apologised,
* * * *

8. Nettie Palmer Modern Australian Literature (Melbourne 1924) p 5.


never explained, never stepped outside the picture". Appropriately, "The

young writer of 1901 would not fail to be but powerfully affected by this

growing revelation of life around him as something important, something

worth expressing for its own sake".0 Paraphrasing English critic, Edward
Garnett, Palmer maintained that Lawson expressed the consciousness of a

continent, a nation and a people.10 Through Lawson, in particular,

nationalism had emerged as the principal intention of Australian writing.

Palmer argued that most of the best work done in Australian fiction to 1923

was in the realm of the short story and that "It would be unlikely for writers

of the natural kind to begin with what are called well-made novels."
Natural, uncontrived and written in simple unaffected language, avoiding

stilted and "mechanical" usage, Lawsons stories contained a definite

"standard of truth" which had opened the eyes of "other writers" to what

was "really poignant and dramatic in life around them".11

Revered in many sections of Australian life, Henry Lawson became the

first Australian writer to be accorded a state funeral. His grave at

Waverley Cemetary in Sydney, the house in which he grew up at Pipeclay in

western New South Wales, a statue overlooking Sydney Harbour from the

domain and a bust erected at Footscray Park at Melbourne, later enshrined

qualities determined to be distinctively Australian. It might be left to

semiotics and deconstruction to identify conferred meaning in these

monuments but what can be suggested with some certainty is that they

posited Lawson as the national bard. While monuments served to canonise

Lawson they also remind that his world was rapidly disappearing and the

future, as always, was uncertain. In 1928 Lawsons brother, Peter, visited

* * * *

9. ibid. p6.
10. ibid pp 6-7.
11. ibid p 9.

Mudgee where both had grown up. Walking around, he discovered that a

great deal of the nold time charm he had known as a child had "vanished".

Old-time "emotions, mentalities and outlooks" were now " ... sunk in the
psychic upheaval that followed the great war".12 in her biography Henry

Bournes Higgins (1931), Nettie Palmer expressed a similar view in her

concern for order.13

The Australian novel, argued Nettie Palmer, was a natural extension of

the short story: "We can take for granted, then, that qualities of the

Australian novel, after 1900, are mostly those of the short story, with
vigorous and pointed ways and its lack of roundness and suavity."14 An

attachment to "romantic realism", the topic of a short Vance Palmer essay

in 1924, was significant in the evolution of longer pieces of work.l5 The

1927 Argus poll irritated Nettie Palmer because she believed it showed
nothing more than predictable popular writing including Clarke and
Boldrewood. "Funny people keep sending us copies of the Argus plebicite

on best Australian poets and novelists", she recorded in her diary, "The
thing has once slid aside into being a list of most popular writers.!6

Palmer might have argued that unrepresented writers such as Miles

Franklin needed to be noted for their contribution. My Brilliant Career,

argued Palmer in 1924, contained elements of easy-going Lawson stories

together with the humour of Joseph Furphy. Palmer called it a "vehement,

* * * *

12. P.J. Lawson, letter to the editor Mudgee Guardian January 1928.
13. Nettie Palmer, Henry Bournes Higgins argued that the formation of the
modern class society required new forms of arbitration. See, in particular
pp 122-124. Drusilla Modjeska discusses the biography in Exiles at Home pp
14. Nettie Palmer, Modern Australian Literature op cit p 13.
15. Vance Palmer "Romantic Realism", Bulletin July 17 1924.
16. David Walker, "Writer and Community". See discussion chapter 2.

irregular, and somehow unforgettable tale". She felt that Franklin had "lit

up a new landscape by showing what manner of human beings could be

tortured or enraptured under that sky".1^ The strength of Franklins

novels, like the stories of the 1890s, lay in their "lyrical impetus and

exuberant youth". According to Palmer, " ... if such books were better

made they would probably be made worse". It can certainly be argued that,

as in the case with Lawson's short stories, it was not perfection of style

which made Miles Franklin's books appealing but, in fact, her apparent
disregard for accepted literary conventions in novel writing. "The first

thing a renovator would prune away would be their utterances of zest and
wonder", suggested the critic. With this quality gone, Palmer proposed,
little else would remain.!**

The bonding characteristics of enervation and vitality under the ambit

of nationalism precluded mention of more recent novels which Nettie Palmer
described as overly influenced by English and American tendencies in form

and style. Although she did not note the novels or authors of these
"capably contructed" pieces, the absence of any discussion on Richardson's

Tlie Fortunes of Richard Mahony is perhaps significant.19 Palmer later

became an articulate spokesperson on behalf of Richardson's literature after

the success of the third book of the Mahony trilogy which was published in
1928. In 1930 Nettie and Vance Palmer nominated Richardson for the Nobel

Prize for literature which she did not win.

* * * *

17. Nettie Palmer, diary entry August 23 19 19 27. Palmer Papers Folder
937. Cited in Walker "Writer and Community" op cit.
18. Nettie Palmer, Modern Australian Literature op cit ppl3-14.
19. Palmer made mention of the omission in 1934. Nettie Palmer to Miles
Franklin July 9 1934. Cited in Letters of Vance and Nettie Palmer op cit
pp 98-99.

Lawson shared his dominant place in Australian literary traditions with

Joseph Furphy. In a 1938 essay, Norman Bartlett wrote that although the

nindisputably great figure of the 90s" was Lawson, who was also
"indisputably radical", the "literary flame" of Australian "radical
expression" was Furphy:

In many ways he had a more mature mind than Lawson, certainly riper
in culture, if less artistic in expression. In this, however, he was
typical of his age and country. It is the combination of the man of
study with the man of the bullock-waggon and pack-horse, the scholar
with the Australian working democrat, which makes Tom Collins the
unique phenomenon he is in Australian or any other literature....
Nationalism and "robust egalitarianism" are shot through and through
Such is Life.20

The merit of Furphys writing was undoubted in writer circles during the

interwar period. The problem was accessibility. Whereas Lawsons poems

and stories became increasingly familiar in several reprints, Such is Life

achieved only limited public exposure.

Vance and Nettie Palmer frequently lent their original and now well-

worn copy of Such is Life to Australian writers who were unable to locate
the elusive masterpiece. In 1930 Richardson asked them to find a copy and

Nettie advertised in a number of papers before one bubbled to the surface

attached to a price tag of 10/6. A year later John K. Ewers netted a copy

for Alice Henry.21 One of Furphys most committed boosters, Miles

Franklin believed Such is Life was a refreshing fount from which a "Dynasty

of fiction" should spring.22 She argued for the cleansing and therapeutic
* * * *

20. Norman Bartlett, "Radicalism in Our Literature" Tlie Australian

National Review, September 1 1938 p 25.
21. Nettie Palmer to J.K. Ewers, January 3 1932. Cited in Letters of Vance
and Nettie Palma* op cit p 67.
22. Miles Franklin, "Tribute to Joseph Furphy" copy in Palmer Papers.
NLA MS 1174/1/5271. For details of the abridgement see David Walker,
"The Palmer Abridgement of Such is Life" in Australian Literary Studies Vol
4 October 1978 pp 491-498.

value of the novel. The nation was "filthily poor", she wrote in 1931, if it

could not see itself clear to "print and buy and read" Such is Life.

Furphys novel was a great Australian work, she declared at the unveiling of

a plaque in honour of his memory in 1935, "To remain obtuse to the

magnitude of Joseph Furphys contribution, is to be unacquainted with the

Australian scene, or the lack of inborn magic and the waywardness of our

continent and of the loneliness and fortitude of those who pioneered its

literature." When an abridged version of the book appeared with Capes

English imprint in 1937, edited by Vance Palmer, Franklin expressed
astonishment that an Australian classic had been damned in this way.

While Such is Life was widely regarded as an Australian classic it

remained one of the great unread books of the interwar years. It had to

contend, Franklin believed, with effete and decadent European writing which
was becoming increasingly fashionable and the persistently dreadful overseas
bestsellers which were dumped with "pandemonic plentitude on an

unsuspecting reading public.2 ^ Contemporary writers also had to manage as

best they could with publishers who were unsympathetic to their worthy
cause argued Franklin. There was a general feeling that notable

accomplishments were not well respected by those who should know better.

George Robertson had not mourned Lawsons death in 19 22. The alcoholic

writer, whose copyright Robertson owned, was considered a nuisance with his

incessant requests for a pound.24 An adult life frustrated by alcoholism

and frequent poverty may have enhanced Lawsons reputation as

* * * *

23. Miles Franklin to Nettie Palmer, May 8 1931. Palmer Papers NLA MS
1174/1/ 3801-4.
24. George Robertson wrote to Vance Marshall: "During the last twenty
years of his life there was never a moment when I would not have cheerfully
given anything if he [Lawson] had never been born .... May 16 1923 Angus
and Robertson Papers ML MSS 314.

a proletarian writer but actual suffering was often romanticised. 500

pilgrims commemorating the tenth anniversary of Lawsons death heard the

keynote address affirm: "If ever the working man of this country had an
apostle, he was Henry Lawson.^

Henry Lawson had written to Mungo McCallum from his sick bed a few

months before he died: Except for a few shillings earned now and then by

the sale of verses to the papers I have nothing coming in, and am often

without a bite in the house.^ Two full bottles of beer found beside the
death bed, joked George Robertson to a New Zealand bookseller, would have
concerned an alive and sober Lawson more than the knowledge that an
Australian publisher could not be found for a reprint of While the Billy
Boils.^ At a 1940 commemorative service Lawson's son struck one of the

speakers and yelled: My father seems to have plenty of friends now that he
is dead. He didnt have many when he was alive.28 in this episode two

differing versions of the past are seen to collide. In popular and critical

memory a positive version of Lawsons life and accomplishments would


In the 1950s and 1960s renewed interest in Australian writing which did

not necessarily conform with the Lawson-Furphy interpretation of Australian

culture resulted in a reappraisal of literary heritage and tradition. More

inclined to consider past figures such as Marcus Clarke and Christopher

* * * *

25. T.S Browning, "Apostle of the Workers, In Memory of Henry Lawson,

reported on Daily Telegraph August 9 1932.
26. Henry Lawson to Mungo McCallam, April 21 1921. Henry Lawson Papers
in Angus and Robertson Papers ML MSS 314.
27. George Robertson to George J. Hicks, February 24 1927. Angus and
Robertson Papers. ML MSS 3 269.
28. Telegraph, September 1 1940. In 1925 E.J. Brady had criticised the
gratuitous nature of Lawsons state funeral when the writer had been left to
die as a pauper. Bulletin, June 22 1925 p 2.

Brennan, John Barnes editor of the University of Western Australias English

students journal Westerly, suggested that a new audience had moved away

from the previous dominance of nationalism to now take in modern writers

previously disregarded. Kenneth Mackenzie, Patrick White and Christina

Stead, Barnes suggested, were the ... real foundations of the modern

novel in Australia. While a new edition of My Brilliant Career might

arouse some critical interest, suggested Barnes, the introduction to its

reprint gave no details of its relative importance as a quaint narrative,

except to comment that ... it was banned from republication by Miles

Franklin herself until ten years after her death.

Barnes argued that the 1960s produced a perceptible ... increase in

the number of Australian books reprinted which were only now beginning to
reshape attitudes towards an Australian writing which had not been
encouraged by a critical dependence on nationalism. Some of these novels,
he suggested, might have ... very little interest - if any - for the common

reader but their increasingly familiar presence in critical thought was a

certain sign of growing cultural sophistication. Barnes acknowledged the

key role played by Angus and Robertson which he imagined probably held

copyright on "more Australian authors than any other publisher. The

reference may have been a veiled invitation to reissue other neglected

Australian books. Barnes might also have mentioned Rigby, the Adelaide

publisher now active in reprints, but he paid special regard to Steads Seven

Poor Men of Sydney. An unexceptional exposure of her novels in Australia

during their first print runs, he argued, and an almost total critical neglect

since had made Steads books almost impossible to locate, even in

University libraries" ^
* * * *

29. John Barnes, Australian Books in Print". Westerly No 67 1967 pp 60-63.


Barnes suggested that a new generation of better educated Australians

could now appreciate the true qualities of Stead, Mackenzie and White which
had escaped their forebears. In the same period the novels of Martin Boyd

were rediscovered in literary criticism. "Martin Boyd is one of

Australias most distinguished novelists", wrote Leonie Kramer in 1963, "He

is in the best sense of the term a sophisticated writer, who expresses himself

with flair and polish that is rare in Australian literature."^ Barnes

suggested that there were other worthy novelists whose books had been
swamped in the general adherence to a nationalist interpretation of

Australian writing. The criticism challenged some of the underlying

assumptions of the nationalist tradition but there was also a degree of

proselytising. While "other novelists" included Chester Cobb, " who ought
to be mentioned", Barnes admitted he had "not yet read" Mr Moffatt (1925)
or Days of Disillusion (1926). "At least, one can say of the three I have
named", he wrote in justification, " that they were responsive to twentieth

century development in the novel - especially the works of Lawrence and

Joyce - in a way that was not common in Australian fiction." In poetry

this development was matched by the writing of Slessor and Fitzgerald.31

An earlier commentary by Barnes argued that discussion of Australian

literature had been limited by a "paucity of critical thought." There had

not been any notable critics since A.G. Stephens, he suggested, though an

abundance of unnamed reviewers noted with monotonous regularity the

appearance of yet another distinctive Australian book which conformed to

the nationalist framework. The unnnamed reviewers almost certainly

* * * *

30. Leonie Kramer "Martin Boyd", "Australian Quarterly No 2 19 63 p 32.

31. John Barnes, "Australian Books in Print" loc cit.

included Nettie Palmer. A 1925 commentary by another reviewer criticised

what was determined to be a "feminine voice in modern Australian critical

writing. It argued that a sense of humour and an analytical mind, the

prerequisites of literary criticism, were the domain of masculinity. "Living

largely on her emotions (suitably saccharinified) and her intuitions (which

means mainly her guesses), woman is usually incapable of reflective

introspection".32 While Barnes would not have supported such a supposition
in the 1960s, it has been suggested that Nettie Palmer put aside feminist
issues, despite occasional citings, in favour of a type of nationalism
supported by Vance Palmer, Louis Esson and others.33

In 1925 Jack Lindsay criticised two distinctive types of Australian

critic: "One who praises everything that submits to certain temporary

accepted aesthetic standards, and one who praises everything that upsets
those standards".34 Barnes suggested that more recent surveys by Vance
Palmer, Vincent Buckley and A.A. Phillips in the 1950s suggested the

paucity of critical thought. These works were reminders of just "how little
creative thinking" existed in Australia. In his full-length study, The
Writer in Australia Barnes criticised more fully what another writer termed

the "national billy-tea" tradition of writing which dated back to the realism
of the 1890s.

While the debate grew in intensity in the 19 60s its origins went deep into

the post World War 1 years when the quest for a national literature was

critically assessed in earnest for the first time. In the late 1930s the
* * * *

32. T. Jasper, "Criticism and the Feminine", Bulletin March 19 1925 p 5.

33. Kay Iseman, "Our Fathers Daughters: the Problem of Filtration for
Women Writers of Fiction", in N. Grieve and P Grimshaw (ed) Australian
Women Feminist Perspectives (Melbourne 1981) pp 107-118.
34. Jack Lindsay "Phoenix and a Use for Critics", Bulletin March 19 1925 p

Sydney University English Association's journal, Southerly, was dismissive of

the nationalism paradigm. Annual essays by H.M. Green criticised an over-

reliance on Australian realism especially in prose fiction. A familiar claim

in the 1950s and 1960s, this was also an observation made by Hartley Grattan

in 1929. "As in all young countries", wrote the American anthropologist in

search of antipodean culture, "the culture of Australia is to a very small

extent an integral part of national life". Nettie Palmer's hackles were

raised by the derisive tone and Grattan's presumption that culture in

Australia existed merely as a material attachment to consumerism: "Such a

cultural life as does exist is almost as insubstantial as those idealized houses
painted in billboards", he argued.35 Nettie Palmer did note, in defence
however, that Grattan was a social scientist and not a literary critic.

Despite a proclivity towards introspection, the language of national criticism

was not framed so rigidly as to deny outside influences. A keen observer of
national writing, Nettie Palmer also reviewed a number of overseas
publications. H.M. Green, on the other hand argued that a small Australian

tradition of writing was merely derivative of established literary conventions

in the old world. This view was endorsed by Grattan.35

A complaint by Katharine Prichard in the late 1920s that an English

reading public disliked her title Working Bullocks related to her sense that she was

an important Australian writer who deserved a better hearing. Her specific

reference may have been to a review which appeared in the Times Literary

Supplement in December 1926:

There is something courageous, surely in calling a novel Working

Bullocks (Jonathon Cape, 7s 6d. net) as Katharine Prichard has done,
such a title being likely to put off nine women out of ten - and that is a
large proportion of novel readers. In a way it suits this vigorous,
* * * *

35. C. Hartley Grattan Australian Literature (Seattle 1929) p 13.

36. H.M. Green An Outline of Australian Literature (Sydney 19 30) p 9.

uncompromising story of life in the land in Western Australia, but it

does seem as if a more attractive name would have been even more
expressive; nthe working bullocks" are not dumb, driven cattle nor a
primitive, inarticulate people. They are the strugglers and pioneers
in the bush and in the townships.

Prichard maintained that her novel should have appealed to audiences in

Australia and England. Louis Esson read Working Bullocks in manuscript

and wrote to Vance Palmer in 1925 that he found it " ... most

unconventional, and less like an ordinary story than actual life. You feel
you are living in the Kauri (sic) forests.^ Such comments may have

boosted the authors faith in herself but a fellow writer whose critical

opinion she may have trusted, Louis Esson was also a close friend.

According to Esson in a 1927 published review, Working Bullocks

represented a new "high water mark" in Australian literature.

Katharine Prichard may be described as the most "modern" of

Australian writers. She has discarded a great deal of useless baggage,
preferring to travel freely and make direct contact with life, and we
feel that her best novels are drawn from vital sources. They are
always real and intensely alive in every page.... Working Bullocks, Miss
Prichards latest novel, recently published by Jonathon Cape, is her
finest work, and probably the best novel written in Australia.... Working
Bullocks is obviously a work of genius, and a novel of which any country
might be proud. ^

Thirty years later, Vance Palmer addressed Barnes' new audience of

Australian literature in an introduction to Prichards N'Goola (1959) by

asserting that it had become difficult to overstate the sense of excitement

created in Australia by the appearance of Working Bullocks a generation

earlier. Palmer maintained that Working Bullocks and Coonardoo were

* * * *

37. Times Literary Supplement, December 16 1926.

38. Louis Esson to Vance Palmer (1925) cited in Vance Palmer (ed) Louis
Esson and the Australian TTieatre (Melbourne 1948) p 67.
39. Louis Esson "Katharine Susannah Prichard", Bulletin 1927 p2.

largely responsible for a "renaisance" in Australian literature.40 Miles

Franklin described Working Bullocks in similar terms by asserting that it

broke a long drought which set in soon after the appearance of Such is Life.

In private correspondence Franklin noted that Prichard was one author

whose continued presence on the literary scene could prevent a similar

drought in the forties.41

The Times review of Working Bullocks appeared beneath a more

comprehensive review of Cobbs Days of Disillusion. Had she seen the

review, which is likely, Prichard may have felt justified in her

disappointment at the notice received by Working Bullocks. Cobbs fiction

seemed to challenge any assertion that Working Bullocks was at all a
modern Australian novel. Presenting six monographic episodes within one

book, written in stream of consciousness and told as six days interspersed in

each case by several years, Days of Disillusion shared stylistic
characteristics in common with Virginia Woolfs The Waves. The task of

following the trend of Roberts thoughts commented the Times review, is

so absorbing that one hardly realises that he lives in Australia ... .

While praising Cobb as a new writer with potential, the Times was

critical of some aspects of his innovative style: ... if a series of short

staccato sentences can be called prose". Not suggesting that he turn to

poetry the Times commented with approval: "Taking these six carefully

selected photographs and comparing them - and this is Mr Cobbs greatest

success - a sense of continuity; what is in the boy, is modified and altered,

* * * *

40. Vance Palmer, "Introduction", Katharine Susannah Prichards Ngoola

(Melbourne 1959)
41. Miles Franklin to Katharine Susannah Prichard, June 6 1940.
Investigation Branch File, Australian Archives CRS A6119 Volume 1 Item 76.

in the man. It concluded by endorsing Cobbs approach to modern method

though the warning was sounded: With his solid talents he has no need to
depend for his effects upon an ugly eccentricity of style".4^ Cobb also
received favourable reviews in other English papers.

Days of Disillusion did not set the critical world ablaze, but Cobb was

noted in London as a writer to look out for in years to come. Mr Moffatt

was greeted in 1925 as a novel written with considerable distinction.

"The story of a chemist in a small way of business in Sydney, Australia,

commented the Times:

... his heterogeneous innermost thoughts, his relations with his wife and
daughter, with his customers, his despair of life, and his gradual
discovery of firm ground beneath his feet, provides Mr Chester Cobb
with a subject which he has studied with close attention and interest.
Mr Moffatt (Allen and Unwin 7s 6d. net) is a careful portrait, and we
are shown his hero very truthfully through the medium chiefly of the
thoughts that scurry through his mind.43

Quite obviously Cobbs novels represented a new point of departure in

Australian writing. Yet Mr Moffatt and Days of Disillusion were virtually

ignored by critical debate in Australia. Even if the novels were not liked it

is surprising, given their wide exposure in Britain and their obvious

difference from anything previously written in Australia, that they did not

provoke more comment.

A possible reason for the critical neglect of Cobbs novels was that he

did not feature vitality or obvious nationalism as key dynamics in his

depiction of Australian life. How could the story of an insignificant

* * * *

42. Times Literary Supplement, December 16 19 26.

43. Times Literary Supplement, December 17 1925.

little fellow such as Moffatt command much interest, asked Nettie Palmer.44

Chester Cobb diminished before the obvious presence of writers such as

Prichard, Vance Palmer and, following her return, Miles Franklin. Twenty

years as an expatriate did not seem to trouble Franklin whose place in

Australian literature seemed secured by her attachment to nationalism.

Cobb, on the other hand, like Stead, wrote as an outsider. Born in Sydney

in 1899 he shifted to London at the age of twenty two. He did not return

and died in 1943. Cobb published only two novels though there is a
suggestion that he wrote others which did not find a publisher.46

It is hazardous to generalise, but Cobbs obscurity was perhaps also a

consequence of his setting a modern novel in the city environment.

Dymphna Cusack believed this happened with her first novel Jungfrau.
Cusack emphasised that it was the city she wanted to write about in
1936 but she felt her efforts were made difficult by an absence of
contemporary Australian urban fiction. Potential harbingers, Cobbs Mr

Moffatt and Days of Disillusion which had appeared a decade before Jungfrau
and Steads Seven Poor Men of Sydney, published in 1934, had been

sufficiently obscured. As Stead had done two years before her, Cusack

turned to European fiction for inspiration. The few Australian urban novels

Cusack located were written before the war and belonged to another

generation bearing 'Tittle relation to her own.46 She may have stumbled

upon Louis Stones Jonah or the earlier urban fiction of Spence, Praed,

Cambridge or Couvreur.
* * * *

44. Nettie Palmer Three of Our Novelists", June 3 1927. Bulletin p 2.

45. Stanley Tick, "Casebook for a Novelist: Chester Cobb, Southerly No 4
December 1961. p 21.
46. Dymphna Cusack, "Unpublished Autobiography, Cusack Papers NLA Ms
4621/9 1-248.

A 1935 "literary map" of Australia prepared by Mr Winston H. Burchett

of the Ballarat Book Club illustrated how widely modern writing had
"covered" the wide empty spaces of Australia but had neglected the urban

environment. Less than 25% of the 100 books listed voyaged into cities.

Those dealing with contemporary topics included J.K. Ewers' Money Street
(1932), Vance Palmer's The Swayne Family (1934), Desmond Tate's Hie

Doughman (1933) and Georgia Rivers'Tantalego (1928). Other city fiction

included M. Barnard Eldershaw's A House is Built (1929), Louis Stone's

Jonah (1911), Arthur Gask's Hie Lonely House (1929) and Fredrick Thwaites'

Broken Wings (1934). The remainder of novels listed were dispersed

through vast empty spaces: Mrs Aeneas Gunn's We of the Never Never

(1907), Henrietta Drake- Brockman's Blue North (1934), William

Hatfield's Sheepmates (1931), Ion Idriess' Lasseter's Last Ride (1931) and
Brian Penton's Landtakers (1934). Notable absentees were Prichard's
Working Bullocks (1926) and Ooonardoo (1929). Among those who wrote
about cities, Cobb and Stead did not rate a mention.

Like Cobb, Cusack's Jungfrau received some favourable comment, but

published locally, it did not rate mention overseas. In November 1936 a

review "Fine Australian Story with a City Background: A Tale of Post-War

Moderns" appeared in the Australian Women's Weekly:

We have had fine novels of pioneers and the bush; the world knows
Australia as a land of gum-trees and sheep, convicts and cattle,
sundowners and flies. It is doubtful, however, whether an overseas
student of our literature would even suspect that a very large
percentage of the country's population eats, dreams, strives, succeeds
or fails in cities larger than most of those in Europe and America.^
* * * *
47. Winston H. Burchett, "Some Australian Books", All About Books,
November 14 1935 p 183.
48. Stewart Howard, "Fine Australian Story with a City Background, Tale of
Post-War Moderns". Australian Women's Weekly, November 1936.

According to the review Cusack, departing from accepted convention, had

succeeded in realising Australia as an urban nation. Cusack had allegedly

"broken new ground" by writing about contemporary concerns in the urban

environment. Jungfrau was evidence of Australias growing maturity and

cosmopolitanism. "Surf, streets, trams, newspaper offices, churches and

bookshops" provided the setting for Jungfrau but Cusacks success as a

writer was her "sympathetic understanding of the post-war generation." The

reviewer, Stewart Howard wrote directly to the author commending Jungfrau

as "one of the most important" novels written by an Australian writer.

"The trouble is that those of us who are trying to put our cities on paper",
he lamented, "are up against one hell of a prejudice so far as critics and
public are concerned."^9

Following the publication of Helen Simpsons first novel, Acquittal

(1925), Jack Lindsay slammed prevailing attitudes in Australia which he

believed were likely to curtail any hope of a responsive reception for

experimental writing. "Nowadays, when the Australian author who writes in

slang that never existed save in the Woolloomooloo of his fancy", wrote

Lindsay with obvious disapprobation, "or of an Australia that never existed

outside vaudeville, can find at least one loud enthusiast in print, it is a pity

that so excellent a novel ... should pass almost unnoticed". Although

Lindsay did not identify the "loud enthusiast" of what he contended was an

obsolete literary nationalism, he argued that Helen Simpsons novel

contained no trace of the " ... dreadful amateurishness that is the bedsitting

sin of our emerging prose-literature."

* * * *

49. Stewart Howard to Dymphna Cusack, December 2 19 36. Cusack Papers

NLA MS 4621/1/11.

Jack Lindsay argued that Helen Simpson had attempted to write a

modernist novel whose rightful cell-mates were international: Norman

Douglas, Aldous Huxley, Carl Van Vechten and Paul Morand. His conclusion
was dismissive of prevailing critical attitudes in Australia:

It would be too conceited for a critic to think anything he writes in

praise or dispraise of a book is going to add or subtract from the book
in question for even a single reader. Still, I hope I have cajoled one
person in deciding to inspect Acquittal. Even so, that person is sure to
forget by to-morrow morning.

Helen Simpson achieved considerable overseas success with her novels.

Under Capricorn (1937) sold well in both Australia and England, and was

made into a Hitchcock film in 1948 but the author was virtually disregarded

in Australian critical appraisals. An English review of Boomerang (1932)

announced it as a 11 ... work of distinction, covering a wide canvas in
masterly fashion". The novel was awarded the James Tait Black Literary
Award from the University of Glasgow as the best novel for 1932. A 1932

local advertisement claimed that Simpson had ensured herself a "permanent

place in our literature".^ Helen Simpson died in 1941 at the relatively

young age of forty two and was virtually unremembered in Australia.

Jack Lindsay suggested that the exclusion of such writers was due

primarily to a closed shop attitude within writer circles. Nettie Palmer

urged writers to stick together but those who fell outside what she

considered to be appropriate were disregarded as un-Australian. She

chastised a delinquent Frank Wilmot who had criticised Katharine Prichard:

"Youre only pretending, Furnley, when you discredit K.S.P. on account of

* * * *

50. Jack Lindsay, "Good Manners and Modern Novels", December 3 1925 pp
51. H.M. Green "Helen Simpson", Southerly No 2 July 1941 pp 5-9.

sheer themes.... No, and cowyard obstetrics wont dispose of Ooonardoo

either.52 An emphasis on nationalism might dismiss Simpson or Cobb as a

minor writers but the obvious greatness of Richardson whose fiction did not

throw a "rosy light on Australia" clearly had to be accommodated. "There

are surely as many failures as successes" in Australian history, wrote

Richardson to Nettie Palmer in 1932.53 Initially ignored and then warmly

embraced as an Australian writer who achieved international success

Richardson remained unfettered by an abiding thought that anything

Australian had to be offensively so to be included in the annals of Australian

literature. Nettie Palmer now also championed Richardson as evidence that

Australia could produce excellent writers.

Dymphna Cusack criticised the dominance of the Lawson-Furphy

tradition in shaping critical opinion in Australia in the interwar years. She

had hoped that new circumstances and a new generation of young writers in

the 1930s would create opportunities for new forms of expression. Australia

had transformed "industrially and politically" since the Great War, but a
residual attitude still informed a colonial mentality. Cusack had hoped to

startle an unsuspecting ... literature that rarely dealt with spiritual

problems and moral issues" but Jungfrau was simply ignored. A novel

concerned with the theme of a " ... Catholic woman doctor who refuses to

perform an abortion for her friend", Cusack later acknowledged, had little

place in Australian writing.5^ Published in a single print-run of 1,000

* * * *

52. Nettie Palmer to Frank Wilmot, October 29 1928. Cited in Letters of

Vance and Nettie Palmer op cit p 46.
53. Henry Handel Richardson to Nettie Palmer, February 23 1932. Palmer
Papers NLA MS 1174/1/3926.
54. Dymphna Cusack, "How I Write", Westerly No 3 September 19 60 p 32.

it later became as difficult to obtain as Barnes fabled Christina Stead.

Not even a second place in the 1936 Prior Prize could save Jungfrau from

Cusack subsequently played down any importance she might once have
attached to her book in favour of the democratic tradition of writing.

Actually, in spite of the eulogies it received, she commented in 19 60, it

is not by any standard a good book. An "affected German title" ... shows

that even I, soundly and militantly Australian, was influenced by the

Europeanised culture around me. In her "Unpublished Autobiography"
she explained further:

My second novel and first published in 1936 was an amalgam of

university experiences and emotions, events in Broken Hill, and the
physical background of living in Sydney. I can never explain how books
came to take the form in my mind. Jungfrau, an affected name that
was given partially because of my having recently studied German,
secondly because I had a girlish worship of the German doctor who
saved me from being a cripple, a rather out-dated symbolism that was
fashionable in academic (sic) at the time in Australia at least.56

Presenting Jungfrau to an English publisher for consideration in 1937, Cusack

found it an "interesting commentary on the attitude to Australian writing"

when it was suggested that the setting of the novel might be changed from

Sydney to London, "saying that it had a universal quality that would allow it

to be set anywhere." Bearing a striking resemblance to the review of

Cobbs Days of Disillusion a decade earlier, Jungfrau remained unaltered and

was not republished.
* * * *

55. ibid. The importance of the Cold War in the 19 50s in shaping critical
opinion has been outlined by John Docker in In a Oitical Condition
(Ringwood 19 84). Robert Darbys "The Fall of Fortress Criticism" traces
the origins of political/critical schisms back to an earlier period. He
stresses the importance of the 1930s and 1940s, for instance, in what he sees
as a battle for Australias literary past. Overland, September 19 86. pp 6-
56. Dymphna Cusack, "Unpublished Autobiography" op cit.

Prichard identified with a nationalist tradition and included Cusack

within it for her later fiction which included Pioneers on Parade (1938) and

Gome in Spinner (1951). Prichard maintained that the post World War 1

generation was distinguished from the 1890s by the modern times which

produced new circumstances of writing and subject matter. "Lawson and

Furphy reflected a people animated by the spirit of pioneers in human affairs

as well as the conquest of the land", she argued, "a people respecting human
rights and a bond of mateship among those struggling for achievement of

those rights". The "interpretation" Lawson and Furphy had given to

Australian subjects, the so-called "democratic tradition", argued Prichard,

was the essential element of writing which followed. An expressed desire to

experiment with modernism and break-up what she perceived as the "cast-
iron" shape of nineteenth century books made her sympathetic to Nettie
Palmers 1924 thesis and ultimately to the nationalist tradition.

Prichard remained a key figure within a Melbourne coterie which

included the Palmers though growing growing political differences sometimes

placed a strain on the old connections. Remaining faithful to the

nationalist credo, she concluded: "We must maintain the standard of

Australian writers whose instinctive regard for reason and valour in the

struggle for humane objectives is in accord with that of the sanest thinkers
of the time".57 At the time she was writing Prichard was assured in the

knowledge that, in some circles at least, she was venerated as the "grand

old lady of Australian literature", the " ... most important living fiction

writer in Australia", the nations "senior novelist" and indisputably " ... the

most brilliant and consistent" contributor to the " ... English language to
the literature of socialist realism." ^ 8
* * * *
57. Katharine Susannah Prichard, "Some Thoughts on Australian
Literature", The Realist No 15 1964 pp 10-11. 58/...

While Prichard may have been sanctioned as a significant Australian

writer there were, in their own time, writers who might have laid claims for

recognition outside the jurisdiction of nationalism. Chester Cobb has

already been mentioned. Six years before Mr Moffatt made no splash at all

in Australia, a review announced the arrival of William Hays historical

romance, The Escape of the Notorious Sir William Heans as the " ... most
powerful Australian novel yet written, and n ... the best work of fiction

that has to do with any part of Australia in any period of Australian

history."5 Despite lofty praise, the books obvious brilliance soon faded.

Hay was linked to a tradition which dated back to Marcus Clarke. There

were periodic claims made for the elevation of Clarke as a significant

influence on modern Australian fiction. In 1927 a review in the Bulletin

commented that For the Term of his Natural Life was still the only
Australian novel of any literary merit. Other Australian writers, it was
suggested, were too preoccupied with a sense of place rather than

characterisation. In 1946 Southerly attempted to regenerate Hay who was

by this time relatively unknown in his own country. Editor, R.C. Howarth
wrote: ... though most of his life was spent here, he published all his
work in England. The result is that few Australian readers enjoyed even

the opportunity of appreciating his works ... .61

A London imprint was seen by many writers as a prestigious sign of

literary status. In 1916 Prichard was welcomed home as the prodigal

* * * *

58. A Grove Day, Australian Fiction: the First One Hundred Years".
Occasional Paper No 55, University of Hawaii, May 1951 p 9. Advertisement
Australian Book Society, Overland No 2 March 1959. "Katharine Susannah
Prichard", Tribune. March 1958.
59. "William Hay", Bulletin. September 11 1919 p 2.
6 0. "The Secret of the Novel", Bulletin January 6 1927 p 3.
61. R.C. Howarth, "William Hay" Southerly Volume 7 No 3 September 1946.

daughter returned following her success in a colonial novel competition. At

the height of Empire loyalty and with an English title on the way, she was

received at a banquet in her honour by the Victorian State Government and

given free rail passes to travel in Victoria and New South Wales. Prichard

subsequently published the bulk of her fiction in Britain as did Palmer and

Following the success of Richardsons Ultima Tlrole (1929) and the

trilogy in its entirety, a number of local reviewers noted that Australian

audiences had ignored the first two volumes. A 1929 Bulletin review
criticised local reading habits and applauded the obvious talent of Henry
Handel Richardson. "This critic doubts whether any circulating library in

Australia can give its readers that trilogy, commented the review with

conviction, "He also doubts when an Australian bookseller has sold 50

(fifty) copies of either of Ultima 'Hiules predecessors." Warning that the
trilogy was ultimately depressing, the review concluded that it was the most

ambitious and successful enterprise yet attempted by an Australian writer.2

Expatriatism featured as a key variable in the exclusion of Stead and

Cobb, among others, but it was not necessarily a determining factor in the

establishment of modern Australian literature. Overseas success in the case

of Henry Handel Richardson prompted critical response in Australia. Mary

Mitchell also received favourable coverage for a novel set in Europe.

Citing her impeccable credentials - ... daughter of Sir Edward Mitchell,

KCMG, KC, MG, LLB, the recognised leader of the Victorian Bar,
* * * *

62. Ultima Thule, Bulletin, March 13 19 29 p 2.

63. "Two Australians Succeed Abroad. All About Books April 19 1934 p 60.

Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, and President of the Melbourne

Cricket dub" - All About Books noted that Mary Mitchell was popular in
Europe and deserved an Australian readership.5 A review of Frederic

Mannings Her Privates We took pride in the fact that the author was born in

Australia and, although, the book was cast in a favourable light, the author

was soon forgotten despite Arnold Bennetts English review that Mannings
novel would be remembered long after Remarques All Quiet on the Western
Front had been forgotten. ^

Yet international success was no guarantee of reputation. Alice Grant

Rosmans popular novels perished almost immediately their print runs were
spent. In 1932 Rosmans Benefits Received became a bestseller in Australia
and America. A local review commented that its appearance in best seller

lists ... should effectively dispel the lingering doubt that Australian
readers fight shy of the work of Australian authors. Critical of writers
attempts to gain notice for their books, the review damned blatant nepotism

within literary coteries and the networks which radiated outwards in insipid
patronage. In sharp contrast to the favoured stories of local writers who

pooh-poohed the tastes of booksellers it noted: As a matter of cold fact

second and third rate Australian work has very often a greater sale than it

deserves. Relatives and friends of the author with "constant inquiry" to

booksellers stimulate[d] a fictitious demand leaving bookshops with

amounts of unwanted stock. Ion Idriess possessed "...the quickwittedness

to seize upon the picaresque adventurousness aspect of Australian life that

has been too easily ignored" by other writers.5

* * * *

64. All About Books March 17 1930 p 71, April 19 1930 p 102.
65. All About Books February 15 1932 p 27, August 14 1933 p 124.

Reasons for obscurity are plentiful but a number of key elements can be

distinguished. If a writer fell outside the Palmer coterie the chances of

being ignored were substantial. While Nettie was always on the lookout for
new works, she encouraged nationalism as the defining characteristic of

Australian writing. Nettie Palmer did not review Australian literature

exclusively and was prepared to defend her status as an important literary

critic. She took her writing seriously. Palmers attitude is well illustrated

in her own words. Poetry they say, is born in loneliness and longing, she

suggested, And the essay, above all, is practically written in sight of an

audience. Australia needs reviews with room for middles.The search
for middles within well defined parameters, informed by her libertarian
middle-class background, became the stuff of Nettie Palmers critical

opinion. There was a good deal of work to do in order to turn around a

false impression that Australian writing was not worth critical analysis. It
must have been fifteen years ago that a very-well read woman said to me,
Palmer recalled in 1929:

Whatever books I give for Christmas this year will all be by Australian
writers. I was surprised, knowing her to be a devout follower of
European work ... She explained - Anyone who gives an Australian
book is so safe: it is sure to be unknown."... That was true at the time,
and I think it is true now. The books least known amongst us are
Australian ones.6"*7

The search for middles may also have prompted Nettie Palmer to employ her

pseudonym, Lalage, as she did in 1928 in a review of Katharine Prichards

Tlie Wild Oats of Han, but it might have been a defence against giving the

appearance of yet another comment by Nettie Palmer.

* * * *

66. Nettie Palmer, "Middles". Bulletin November 28 1928 p 5.

67. Nettie Palmer, "A Readers Notebook". All About Books, December 5
1929 p 419.

Possibly anticipating a sense of rivalry between Prichard and Henry

Handel Richardson which would emerge within a few years, "Lalage" sought

to connect their fiction through an appeal to national literature. The

search for middles also allowed room for Martin Boyd within the discourse

though he clearly did not fit the established pattern. Reviewing The

Montfor^s in 1929, Nettie Palmer wrote: "The quality of Martin Mills is

something we call eighteenth century. He has made a small comedy of

manners touching exquisitely on composite snobbery and sincerity that makes

a man who remembers his English ancestry both glad and sorry to be
Australian".66 While verging on the language of a put-down, Boyd was
accepted within the framework of Australias nationalist literature.

Perhaps isolation from the cultural centres of Melbourne and Sydney, as

was the case for the South Australian Hay, could make it more difficult for
writers to be accepted and promoted by mainstream critics, but it may have
had little bearing on book sales. A Tasmanian heritage and subject matter

did not preclude Roy Bridges from reaching the best-seller lists. A 1930

advertisement for Negro Head billed the novel as a ... compelling novel

based on the early convict days in Tasmania and the building of the famous

Richmond Bridge." Presuming reader familiarity with novels by Roy Bridges

the advertisement concluded that the blend of "romance" and "drama" had

produced the authors "finest effort" yet.66

* * * *

68. Nettie Palmer, "Martin Millss Writing". Bulletin, October 10 1928 p 5.

69. "Comments Upon Bestsellers". All About Books, June 17 1930. Nettie
Palmer criticised Bridges, September 15 1928, when she wrote to Esther
Levy: "I cant, honestly, find anything but the commercial costume novel.
When he digresses into realistic character drawing for a short time, he never
sustains his work and never shows development". Cited in Letters of Vance
and Nettie Palmer op cit p 40.

While living in Perth, Katharine Prichard remained closely associated

with the Melbourne coterie. She had gone to school with both Nettie
Palmer and Hilda Esson. The presence of Walter Murdoch in Perth

reinforced the Melbourne connection. Also Prichard frequently visited the

eastern seaboard or was host to travellers to and from Europe who had to
pass through Perth. Distance and feelings of removal from Sydney or

Melbourne and even London were regular complaints. Acknowledged as the

"grey eminence" of intellectual life in Perth, Prichard sometimes longed for

a more expressive life in the East while in 1934 a twenty year old Kenneth

Mackenzie announced his intention to leave Perth for Sydney to establish

himself as a writer. He was sick and tired, he told Norman Lindsay, that

older local writers were doing little more than "marking time" with some old
and boring tunes.^

It has been suggested that a lack of 'obvious* vitality complicated any

claim to reputation as an Australian writer. Yet although perhaps a key

influence it does not explain adequately the virtual disappearance of F.S.

Hibbles Karangi following its publication in 1934. Karangi possessed

virtues which seemed to qualify it for a place within the canons of

Australian literature. It shared the 1934 Victorian Centenary Novel

Competition with Vance Palmers TJie Swayne Family and contained elements

which would seem to make it a remembered novel. Yet following its first

and only print- run with Endeavour Press, it was forgotten.

Karangi was praised for its "strong and virile" approach. It had

painted a "telling picture of primitive emotions". These were the kind of

strengths praised in Prichards Working Bullocks. Publisher P.R.

* *

70. Kenneth Mackenzie to Norman Lindsay, nd 1933. Kenneth Slessor Papers

NLA MS 3020.

Stephensen, in whose best interests it was to show the book in a good light,

compared it with another of his projects, Desmond Tates TTie Doughman,

which had been proclaimed as book of the month in All About Books in
1933.71 Like Karangi, The Doughman was soon forgotten. Stephensen

claimed Karangi was ... a distinctively Australian contribution to literary

methods. One review claimed that, like Prichard, Hibbles writing showed

he was ... at close grips with the soil and with life; not life at its

pleasantest, but certainly with what is vital and quick. 7^

Robert Darby (19 86) argued that Karangi's obscurity may have come

about as a result of a number of factors citing, for instance, anti-realist

thinking of the 1950s which brought forward critics such as Barnes, Kramer,
Elliott and Wilkes. More tenuously, Darby also suggested that the Palmer

coterie may have excluded Hibble because an unknown writer had audaciously
tied with Vances much touted Tbe S wayne Family in a literary
competition.73 Although there is little that investigation could uncover in

terms of direct evidence, there may be some substance to the claim.

Palmer submitted his manuscript to Angus and Robertson six months before

the announcement of the prize and, feeling reasonably confident that the

novel would score well with the judges who included Frank Wilmot, he asked

that the publication be delayed until an annoucement could be made. "I

have some hopes of The Swayne Family being successful, he wrote to

Cousins at Angus and Robertson, which apart from the prize, would be

splendid publicity ... So I think it worth waiting for awhile ... .74 When

the announcement was made that Tbe Swayne Family had tied with Karangi,
* * * *

71. P.R. Stephensen, Vance Palmer Shares the Laurels, The Australian
Mercury No 1 1935 p 92. Robert Darby "Karangi (unpublished ms) 1986
72. Camden Morrisby, Bulletin, February 1935, p 8.
73. Robert Darby, "Karangi loc cit.
74. Vance Palmer to W.G. Cousins, July 1 1934. Angus and Robertson Papers
ML MSS 3 269.

Angus and Robertson marketed Hie Swayne Family as winner.75

An associated reason for Rarangis obscurity was that it was published

with the Endeavour Press which produced some "strictly useful books"

according to Marjorie Barnard but whose distribution was hampered by stiff

competition from Angus and Robertson and English publishers.75 When
Endeavour closed its doors in 1935 and went out of business it took a number

of books with it including Rarangi, *nie Doughman and Bernard Cronins The
Sow^s Ear another forgotten book. Also, like Frank A Russells Ashes of

Achievement, winner of the C.J. de Garis novel competition fourteen years

earlier, Rarangi was Hibbles only published novel.

Although Hibbles second novel manuscript entitled "Calm", was

mentioned in the 1935 Bulletin novel competition the author seems to have
abandoned thoughts of a writing career before it had time to establish itself,
a path also taken by J.M. Harcourt and Brian Penton. In this regard Hibble

stands in contrast to Eleanor Dark who met a cool reception following the
publication of her first novels but who persisted, eventually changing her

style and themes, until she achieved an accepted reputation in the 1940s.

But one writers example is no measure of anothers endeavour, and Hibble

had to contend with frequent illness and the responsibilities of breadwinner

at the 'head' of a large family. He claimed that he wrote Rarangi in five

weeks solely in the hope of making money.77 Fifty pounds for the prize and

small royalties may not have been worth the effort and to complete a second

book might have seemed a more arduous task.

* * * *

75. W.G. Cousins to Vance Palmer, November 30 1934. Angus and Robertson
Papers ML MSS 3 269.
76. Marjorie Barnard to Nettie Palmer, August 15 1935. Palmer Papers NLA
MS 1174/1/4777-9.
77. Sydney Morning Herald November 24 1934.

When Vance Palmer tied for first place with Hibble, adding to a short

story award earlier in the year, Miles Franklin wrote commending the

achievement and noting the recognition these awards would bring.

Winning the 1931 Australian Literature Society gold medal for his novel

Man-Shy changed the literary fortunes of Frank Dalby Davison. His first

edition was published privately. By 1936 the book had been through twenty
six reprints and had sold an estimated quarter of a million copies. There

was little chance, Davison believed, of establishing a lasting reputation on a

privately published book, though he may have hoped to attract the attention

of a commercial publisher through critical notice. The books subject

seemed to provide it with little chance of ever achieving a public life unless
the author took the risk to market it privately. Authorial satisfaction with
a manuscript was not sufficient recommendation for a commercial imprint.
Davison concluded that a story of a cow would not be immediately

acceptable as a commercial proposition. Publishers would ask, Whats your

book about", and if he replied honestly, Its about a cow, the predictable

response would follow: Well we dont want to read about cows', and nobody
would look at it". It is not clear whether Davison tried commercial

publishing or relied on his instinct as the son of a newspaper proprietor but

following the announcement of the prize and its republication with Angus and

Robertson he later reflected ... things that went against it before ...

became its talking point".^

Nettie Palmer sent a copy of Man-Shy to Henry Handel Richardson in

London which provoked the comment: "It shews great promise, and contains
* * * *

78. Miles Franklin to Nettie Palmer, February 11 1935 (?). Palmer Papers
NLA MS 1174/1/4200.
79. Frank Dalby Davison, interview with John Barnes. Westerly No 3 Autumn
1967 pp 16-20.

much of the real stuff. But as an author of a massive trilogy Richardson

thought Davisons small book was too ... slight in many ways still too

immature ... . Richardson suggested that the prize, more correctly,

should have gone to Katharine Susannah Prichard who had a great body of

work behind her. Not realising that Prichard was ineligible because she
had not published a book that particular year, Richardson maintained: It

would have been time enough for this young man to get his medal five years
hence.80 Within five years Davison had sold novels in Europe and America

as well as Australia. In terms of local exposure and recognition the sale of

20,000 copies of his Children of the Dark People to New South Wales schools

in 1937 ensured his memory stood a good chance of survival into another

generation.81 The publication of Dusty in 1946 virtually guaranteed him a

place in the annals of Australian literature, even if his reputation as a
serious writer remained a little uncertain.

Leonard Mann shared similiar experiences with Flesh in Armour up to

the point where it won the 1932 gold medal. Manns privately published
novel did not achieve a commercial release or wide exposure until over a
decade after it was first published at which time it joined the ranks of the

pocket library series in 1944. Though preserved in critical thought as a

novel of some merit, dealing with the socially relevant issue of war, it was

possibly more highly regarded in literary circles than Man-Shy despite

insignificant sales.8 ^ While Davison was recognised as a socially conscious

* * * *
80. Henry Handel Richardson to Nettie Palmer, January 8 1933. Palmer
Papers NLA MS 1174/1/3896.
81. W.G. Cousins to Frank Dalby Davison, November 8 1937. Angus and
Robertson Papers ML MSS 3 269
82. John Dailey acclaimed Flesh in Armour rather exuberantly as " ... one
of the best war novels ever written." Manns repuation seemed to rest
largely on the thought that Mann was one of only a few Australian writers to
have written about Australias involvement in the Great War. All About
Books June 16 1933. See Chapter 6 for fuller discussion of War in the
literary imagination.

novelist, his writing fitted a number of categories including popular and

childrens fiction. Mann continued to be regarded within literary circles as

a serious novelist despite the limited circulation of his novel.

The story of Lesbia Harfords unpublished manuscript reveals another

dimension to the question of the ways in which traditions and reputations are

initially established. Harford (1891-1927) wrote her only novel, The

Invaluable Mystery, between 1921 and 1924. It remained unpublished until

1987. 1 wrote a novel but have not had any success with it so far, even to
getting it published, she commented in 1925 letter to Frank Wilmott, "I
think it is good, but I have to admit that it is not striking. I think it

original, but a casual reader would only think it artless.83 Harford died
before she could pursue the matter further and this partially explains why
the book was not published soon after it was written. In 1939 her mother,
Helen Keogh, sent the novel and some poems to Nettie Palmer, asking her
for an opinion. 1 hope you like the novel, she wrote, 1 think it is

beautiful. According to Helen Keogh the manuscript had been sent to a

publisher in the mid 1920s though the subject was thought too

unsympathetic. She was afraid the same would apply now but she was

happy of any "opinion Nettie or "Mr Palmer might like to offer.84

It is not clear if the Palmers replied. Like many writers at this time

they were preoccupied with events in Europe, but in 1940-41 Nettie edited a

small volume of Harfords poems. In 1942 Vance Palmer replaced Frank

Wilmot on the Advisory Board of the Commonwealth Literary Fund. It is

likely that he read the manuscript and may have intended to submit it for a
* * * *
83. Lesbia Harford to Frank Wilmot (nd 1925?). Wilmot Papers ML MS
84. Helen Keogh to Nettie Palmer, November 18 1939. Letter held by
Marjorie Pizer, Sydney.

publication subsidy. It was part of the Funds charter to allocate subsidies

for the publication of books which ... without financial assistance would

probably remain unprinted. A key criterion was that any such book should
be of outstanding merit while the Board was " ... not favourably disposed

towards the granting of financial assitance towards the cost of publication of

works of an ephemeral character.85 What constituted literary merit" and
what was "ephemeral" was left to the discretion of the Board, but Nettie

Palmer implied that the Fund did not tolerate anything which deviated in any

measure from acceptable convention.88 The minutes of the Board do not

mention Tbe Invaluable Mystery.

In her letter to Wilmot, Harford complained of the difficulties in

finding a publisher willing to market a book she knew to be radical. Despite

her diffident, almost self-effacing tone, she was confident of her novel's
strengths. Fourteen years later, Helen Keogh revealed a sense of pride in
her daughters writing abilities when she wrote to Nettie Palmer. She was

also saddened as a mother outliving a talented child who died of a congenital

condition. A realist in matters of publishing, she suspected that The

Invaluable Mystery would, once again, fail to find a publisher in a world

poised for another war.

The problems encountered by The Invaluable Mystery were not unique.

It frequently took authors a number of attempts to see their manuscripts

into print. Without the complications of radicalism in The Invaluable

Mystery, Gunns We of the Never Never was rejected five times before it

was finally accepted. If Leonard Mann was less fortunate than Davison
* * * *
85. Commonwealth Literary Fund Advisory Board Meeting, April 15 1939.
Australian Archives CRS A3753 Item 72/27 66.
86. Nettie Palmer to Guido Baraechi, May 2 1942. Baracchi papers NLA MS
5241 folder 1.

and encountered problems similar to those experienced by Lesbia Harford

seven years before, he could at least console himself with the sight of Flesh
in Armour in print and the knowledge that his fellow writers considered his

book of literary merit. Harford did not enjoy the same consolations.

According to Guido Baracchi, Lesbia Harford detested elite forms of

culture which she felt were alien to ordinary people who preferred more
public forms of expression. While vitalist sentiments favoured such an

approach a more extreme probing of the bourgeois world was to be regarded

with some suspicion. Even Prichard, for all her stated beliefs in communism
remained the "little bourgeois woman", so described by her son and

biographer, Ric Throssell.^7 Harford, more than Prichard wanted to "ditch

the bourgeois world altogether" According to Baracchi "Even in things like
music there was a rejection of the old; she got quite hostile to classical
music", a contrast to Prichards Elodie Blackwood in Intimate Strangers.

Baracchi drew attention to one of Harfords poems as an expression of her

aesthetic: "Theres a band in the street,/ Itll play you a tune for a

penny." According to Baracchi " ... this is the only sort of music shes

have a bar of, music that would reach the people."^ in a similar way, it is

likely that Harford wrote Hie Invaluable Mystery in the hope that it would

reach 'the people.

Whereas Chester Cobb may have been disregarded because his book did

not conform to the precepts of Australian literature as outlined by Nettie

Palmer, Miles Franklin and others, Lesbia Harford was overlooked because
* * * *
87. Ric Throssell "KSP". Overland, December 4 19 69 p 31.
88. Guido Baracchi, "Rebel Girl". Paper read to the Fellowship of
Australian Writers, November 1941. Baracchi Papers NLA MS 5 241 folder 36.
The reference to Prichard is from a scene in Intimate Strangers where
Elodie mocks earlier aspirations to interpret life in music, sitting at the
piano, but wearing false-jade earrings. Intimate Strangers op cit p 107.

publishers rejected her work, quite likely because of its political

implications. This may seem a trite point to make but it is one which is

frequently overlooked in studies of literature. In 1939 Hie Invaluable

Mystery again failed to arouse sufficient interest in the Palmers for them to

support it into print. It is not unreasonable to suggest that they too may

have been concerned by its political statement, which was perhaps all the

more potent for being implicit rather than didactic. Prichards increasing
political activity in the 1930s had, afterall, been a souce of some anxiety to

the Palmers. It was also possible that the novel, sometimes clumsily

realised, did not recommend the effort. It is interesting that the

manuscript, like Cobbs novels, Cusacks Jungfrau and Steads Seven Poor
Men of Sydney was concerned with the city environment. In 1930 Vance

Palmer suggested that Australian cities were provincial and colourless and
"definitely inferior" to life in the country.

The construction of a vitalist tradition in the 1920s and 1930s was an

in-house affair with Katharine Prichard canonised as Australias premier

author. In Karri forests she poised with note pad and pencil at hand to jot

down impressions of "The most tragic thing in the bush, the working

bullocks",89 from the station country in the north-west she delighted in

becoming " ... submerged under blue days and dust storms for two moons or

there abouts! We talk in moons here ... ",99 while returning from a stint

as an "assistant lion tamer" for Wirths Circus she was reunited with her

Melbourne friends at a big parly7. "Kattie and Jimmie arrived this week and

will leave for a week in Sydney after Cup Day", wrote Louis Esson to the

Palmers in 1929:
* * * *

89. Ric Throssell Wfld Weeds and Wind Flowers op cit p 84.
90. Katharine Prichard to Nettie Palmer, October 19 19 26. Palmer Papers
NLA MS 2856-7.

They are both in excellent form. Jimmy, who is enjoying every moment
of life, insisted on us jazzing; so I had my first lesson on the night
Squizzy Taylor and Snowy Cutman had their duel to the death ... I had
the honour of being Katties partner. I had never seen her looking so
well or in such gay spirits. She gave an extraordinary party last night
at the Green Mill, a party, as Bill Dyson said, nobody except Katharine
could possibly give. It was for members of Wirths Circus with whom
she travelled in the West. There were interesting people of different
nationalities ... trapeze artists, bear tamers and head balancers, mixed
in with Dyson and Bancks and Tom Roberts and other highbrows.

Readily accommodated by her own kind in the the Melbourne milieu,

Katharine Prichard could live out her reputation as the writer. While

critical debate might later question her credentials, in that small and
insecure world of Australian literature, her writing formed a bridge between

the tradition of the 1890s and modernity.

* * * *

91. Louis Esson and the Australian Theatre op cit pp 87-88.



Responding to a question raised by A.G. Stephens in 1920, Somerset

Maugham on a visit to Australia, commented that artistic endeavour was
strangely timid for such a young country. Lacking "originality it

appeared hamstrung by a slavish adherence to convention. You are

unlikely to have a startling adventure if you never take a more hazardous

journey than a tram ride from your house to your office, suggested
MaughamStephens agreed with the general tenor of the criticism.
Australian writing needed to be vital in order to be successful,2 but the
choice of metaphor may have disturbed him. At the height of the Bulletins
success in the 1890s Stephens had intimated that English critical thought had

failed to appreciate the distinctiveness of Australian writing.^ There was

little reason to change his mind now. The best of the Bulletin writers were
proof that youth and vigour could produce a durable literature. During his
time as the "Red Pagan at the Bulletin Stephens had encouraged efforts by
a diversity of writers who included Joseph Furphy, Miles Franklin, Shaw

Neilson, Mary Gilmore, Hugh McCrae and Roderic Quinn. By 1920 he could
look back over thirty years and the development of clear and discernible

styles of writing.

Yet even Stephens had to acknowledge that the more recent

performance appeared lack-lustre. Vance Palmers efforts with the Guild

of Writers had failed as did the Pioneer Players. Energies unleashed by the

1890s had substantially burnt out though embers smouldered in the

* * * *

1. Somerset Maugham to A.G. Stephens (1920). Quoted in Home, September 1

1921 p 7. Cited in Humphrey McQueen, The Black Swan of Trespass (Sydney
1979) p 3.
2. A.G. Stephens, Australian Literature", Bookfellow February 14 1907 cited
in A.G. Stephens, Selected Writings edited by Leon Cantrell (Sydney 19 77) pp
3. A.G. Stephens, "Concerning English Critics", Bulletin July 27 1895. ibid.

predictable form of numerous khaki doodlings sent to the Bulletin and

Smith*s Weekly by returned servicemen. A 1922 review complained that

Australian verse was boorish in its imitation of antiquated English forms such
as George R. Simms Charge of the Light Brigade, Battle of the Baltic
and Casablanca. "It was largely upon this foundation that the bush built

its first efforts at expression in rhyme", argued the review. While few

Australians ... earned a reputation by writing anything quite as bad", the

"echoes" could still be heard. Australia had received " ... a large second
hand serving of the stuff.The form of writing may have been monotonous
but the output was large. In 1925 Percival Serle listed 1,420 writers who
had published 2,700 volumes of verse and poetry since 1788.

In the immediate post war years, optimism grew in literary circles that
a new era would mark new beginnings for a new country. Europe was
troubled but there was much to be gained in Australia. Australia had
passed from the nascent nationalism of the 1890s into a new phase of

renascent literature harnessed to the experiences of the twentieth century.

It was a fervent hope that Australia would produce new and distinctive

modes of thinking. "Australia has mounted the first great hill in her
existence and is calling on Australians for assistance over the mountain

chains beyond", wrote Charles Bull, a contributor to the "Red Page" in

1919, echoing sentiments similar to those expressed by C.E.W. Bean around

the same time.7 Bull cautioned that a return to peace was not a return to a

pre-1914 world. Australia was a different place, the world was different.

* * * *

4. C.O.M. "George R. Simms in Australia". Bulletin, October 5 1922 p 25.

5. Percival Serle, Bibliography of Australian Poetry and Verse (Melbourne
6. Charles R. Bull "Australias Need". Orion Volume 1 No 2 September 1919.
7. C.E.W. Bean In Your Hands Australia (London 1918)

There would be no turning back to the certainties of the nineteenth

century. New circumstances required a new literature.

The relationship with European modernism was a discussion point

within literary communities. While nineteenth century Europe had produced

reputable models for nineteenth century Australian writers, the twentieth

century was another matter. The problem pivoted on a question of

inheritance and civilisation. European decadence had no place in the new

world. Australia's promise rested with the future and a continuation of

tradition. "In his abhorrence of the commonplace the Decadent seeks the
strange, the bizarre and the morbid", commented a 1919 review:

He is the dilettante in expression, artifice and falsity. Existing vices

do not satisfy him. He invents new ones. His characters are
abnormal, perverted, or pathological - perhaps all three. He reasons
and justifies evil: he shows you the excellence of it, and he
apotheosises it.**

Corruption of accepted literary and artistic norms was seen as signalling the

overturning of established and time honoured systems of belief. Australian

writers actively questioned what might happen if Europe were to crumble

altogether. In part, a fear that Europe was in a state of decay informed

Australian modern writing. Yet decay in the old world also signalled

potential for renewal in the new. Young writers in a "new country" had a

"great advantage" over writers from Europe argued Horrace Annesley

Vachell in 1925. Unshackled by "preconceived ideas" Australian art forms

could concentrate on freshness. European forms appeared "destructive".

"Violence" had been "confounded" with "strength"

* * * *

8. "Hysman and Decadence". Bulletin, March 27 1919. p 2.

9. Horrace Annesly Vachell, "How to Become a Writer". Triad July 1 19 25.

European modernism developed as a discourse rooted in eclecticism.

In all its manifestations it appeared predisposed to apocalyptic views of

contemporary life and history: " ... we can already discern a difference in

the contemporary revolution, argued Herbert Read (1933) "it is not so

much a revolution ... but a break-up, a devolution, some would say

dissolution. Its character is catastrophic. C.S. Lewis (1954) argued: "I
do not think that any previous age produced work which was, in its own time,

as shatteringly and bewilderingly new as the Cubists, the Dadaists, the

Surrealists, and Picasso has been in ours. And I am quite sure this is true

... of poetry." Paraphrasing both, Bradbury and MacFarlane (19 76)

suggested a great divide separated artistic and cultural sensibilities in the

twentieth century from previous times.10

Modern writers and artists felt they were riding waves of profound
change. They produced works which were not simply products of the modern
imagination but expressions of a modern world. Indices of change were

everywhere apparent in material life. Literature and art consciously

attempted to apprehend the nature of this change. Bradbury and
MacFarlane suggested the importance of modernism lay in its "stylistic

heterodoxy", a discursive formation which Andre Malraux referred to as an

"imaginary museum" of new art forms and thought. Modernism celebrated

technology while simultaneously rejecting it. It was an " ... excited

acceptance of the belief that the old regimes of culture were over, and a

deep despairing in the face of that fear". A key figure in literary and

artistic circles in Paris, the American, Gertrude Stein suggested that

* * * *

10. Herbert Reid Art Now (London 1933) p 3. C.S. Lewis They Asked for a
Paper (London 19 62) p 9. Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane (ed)
Modernism (London 19 76) pp 20-21.

"modernism" was the twentieth centurys "inevitable art": " ... the only

composition appropriate to the new composition in which we live, the new

dimension of space and time". A broadly based collection of styles and
sensibilities, movements and fashions, modernism had as its origins the

overlapping of the technological and scientific revolutions of the twentieth

century with the industrial revolution of the nineteenth.

Allan Bullock (19 74) argued that advanced twentieth century

innovations distinguished the early part of the century from that which
preceded it. Electricity, oil and petroleum developed as new sources of

power. Cars and buses added to a revolution in transport which began in the

second half of the nineteenth century with the railways. Mechanisation in

agriculture saw the development of the tractor and streamlined production
techniques. The modern commercial office developed with innovations such
as the telephone, the modern typewriter and the tape machine. Chemical
industries produced new synthetic materials, dyes, fibres and plastics. The

assembly-line transformed manufacturing and reinforced concrete made the

building of skyscrapers possible. Rutherford and Einstein developed atomic
theories, breaking with many nineteenth century laws of science. The

science of the mind debates ranged between the rival disciples of Freud and

Jung. In public culture jazz, radio, cinema and mass circulating

newspapers boosted the general sense of rapid change. Migration had

swelled the great cities of the world in the nineteenth century. In the
twentieth century they were now serviced by electric trains and trams as

well as motor vehicles. By 1910 London and New York had populations in
* * * *

11. Andre Malraux, The Voices of Silence. In Bradbury and McFarlane ibid p

excess of five million, Paris had nearly three million, Berlin more than two.

By 1931 Sydney had doubled its population over the previous twenty years to
1.2 million.-^

Yet it was the 1914-1918 war which brought home to many a

consciousness of a new age. "It was 1915 the old world ended, wrote
Lawrence in Kangaroo.-^ By the old world, he not only meant Europe now

gripped by war but the nineteenth century overwhelmed by the emergence of

new social formations. Lawrence argued that the twentieth century had
manifested itself consciously in the public mind as a consequence of war.

In December 1914 the Australian Alice Henry argued that Europe, once the
centre of great civilisations, was wasted and finished because war was
nothing more than an expression of barbarism.14 The world appeared "ugly

just now" to Nettie Palmer in 1919. The production of vital literature and
art forms was predicted on the assumption that Australia was a brave new
world. "The most heartening thing that can happen now is for anyone to do

progressive, constructive work in this chaos", wrote Palmer.15 An

admixture of "anxiety and wonder about the future" infiltrated the
Australian literary imagination. "Unique is the experience of to-day",

argued Bull, "unique is the promise of the Australian of to-morrow ... ".1

Many Australian writers viewed the period through which they were

living as historically significant. Shaken by war, the importance of

strengthening claims for a distinctive culture was never doubted, but a

* * * *

12. Allan Bullock, "The Double Image" in Bradbury and MacFarlane ibid p
13. D.H. Lawrence, Kangaroo (London 1923 reprint 1976) p 240.
14. Alice Henry "War and its Fruits". Life and Labour December 1914.
15. Nettie Palmer to Vance Palmer, April 5 1919. Palmer Papers ANL
16. Charles R. Bull "Australias Need" loc cit.

nagging suspicion remained that what was new and vital about Australia

could not withstand the collapse of Europe. While the period encouraged
positive thought on the relative merits of Australian culture, a young white
population and its derivative institutions were constant sources of anxiety.

Writers generally came down on the side of optimism but their tenuous hopes
remained unconvincing as they turned to one another for consolation that

what they were doing was worthwhile. Almost by agreement, criticism of

Australia was kept to a minimum.

The shape of the future remained hazy in outline but Nettie Palmer

urged local writers to continue rendering its essence positively.

Responsibility for a vital literature rested squarely with modern writers. By
1921 Lawson was infirm and had long passed his peak, Furphy had died in 1912

and the Bulletin had lost any obvious enthusiasm for original writing. Hopes
for a literary renaissance were spurred on by a sense that modern Australia
was strategically placed to produce durable literature.

Humphrey McQueens The Black Swan of Trespass (19 79) is one of the

few works which has attempted to trace the configuration of modernism in

Australia. McQueens topic is modern painting which is a useful reminder

that the quest for modern expression occurred in many different media from

poetry to painting, from film to architecture. In 1893 Arthur Streeton

painted his now famous, Redfern Station which depicts Sydney on a wet and
miserable day in the late nineteenth century. Pictured are men wearing

mackintoshes and bowler hats, women in long dresses carrying parasols, horse

drawn taxis, wide streets with a dog running across one road, gas lights and

a train puffing smoke and steam over the slums and warehouses in the

background. Streetons work might be contrasted with Monet's Gare St

Lazare (18 77) which shows a close-up of a train in the St Lazare station.

Streetons perspective embraces the means by which people arrive at his

station and the commerce behind it. By reproducing horse-drawn taxis, the
train in the station and the warehouses, Streeton seemed to be presenting
familiar nineteenth century metaphors of urbanism, urban growth and

Streeton had been a member of the Heidelberg school of painters which

changed quite substantially the nature of Australian painting in the late
1880s. The group was based in Melbourne and included Tom Roberts,

Charles Condor and Frederick McCubbin. Robert Hughes has pointed out

that as a first Australian manifesto of art, the Heidelberg painters' were

hardly extreme: " ... it does clarify the gap (bridged only by a semantic

error) between the Heidelberg painters and the impressionists. When

Streeton and Roberts called themselves impressionists, they meant only that
they had tried to capture fleeting effects en plein air". McQueen argued
against this proposition but according to Hughes, the Heidelberg experiment

took three directions: "The first and least important, was towards art
nouveau. The soft-edged landscape reveries of McCubbin led to the poetic

approach of the romantic landscapists; and Streetons dominant influence

merged into hard-edged nationalist convention.1^

In the post Great War period, modern painting seemed to splinter into a

number of different directions and styles. Roy de Maistres Rhythmic

Composition in Yellow and Green Minor (1919) is an early example in the new

period of experimentation, de Maistre had been influenced by Marcell

Duchamps Nude Decending a Staircase, a print of which he had viewed in

Sydney in 1912 along with other young painters. At the time the Nude was
* * *

17. Robert Hughes, The Art of Australia (Harmondsworth 19 70)


exhibited at the Armory Show in New York which is accredited with

introducing modern European art to North America. Roland Wakelin, a

young New Zealand contemporary who studied with de Maistre in Sydney,
later described the excitement generated in Australia by the Armory

exhibition: MOn Sundays we went out painting landscape and it was on one

such expedition to Pearl Bay ... that we saw in the Sunday Sun a

reproduction of Marcell Duchamps Nude Descending a Staircase ... that was

our introduction to modern art.-^

Duchamps Nude would have been a very different painting to anything

the Sydney apprentices were likely to have seen previously. It imitated

serial photography and endeavoured to capture noise and movement, two

qualities outside the sensory range of painting, through a series of

super impositions representative of the movements made by a nude descending
a staircase. The whole emphasis of the painting seemed to be mechanical.
Sharp and geometric angles suggest precise movement. Employing a similar

emphasis of light and colour also suggesting movement, but taking music as
his theme and foregoing the emphasis on mechanical precision, de Maistre
suggested noise through an inward spiralling pattern of blue, yellow and

green. In choice of colour suggests the blue notes of jazz and the yellow

notes of cocktail music. Both colours also have associations with loneliness

and madness.

de Maistre seemed to encapsulate the jazz age in Australia. Martin

Boyd later ironically depicted jazz and cocktails as symbols of a lost

generation torn away from its past and history by the experiences of
* * * *

18. ibid p 71.


the Great War.19 Closer to de Maistres own time, the American Scott

Fitzgerald once commented that jazz first meant sex, then dancing and then
music.20 Observing the various armies in France during the war, Gertrude
Stein suggested that concepts of colour were often informed by particular

national backgrounds. The different uniforms of different armies invited

her to speculate on national sense of camourflage.21 The third colour in de
Maistres painting is green. Inpainting, this colour often carries
associations of newness and envy. Green is also obtained by mixing yellow

to blue. Since 1896, yellowand green have been used as Australias

national sporting colours. Through the theme of jazz, de Maistre seemed to

imply a new Australian national sensibility which had its origins in the

experiences of the twentieth century.

The literary journal Vision stands as one of the clearest and earliest
manifestos of modern writing in Australia. Lasting a mere four issues,
1923/24, it raised concerns which spilled over into subsequent decades as

perceived crises in the old world sharpened distinctions in the literary

sensibility at home. Vision comprised Sydney bohemians, Norman Lindsay,

Hugh McCrae, Adrian Lawlor, Dulcie Deamer, Robert Fitzgerald, Kenneth

Slessor and Jack Lindsay. In its denunciation of European decadence, it

declared: We would vindicatethe youthfulness of Australia, not by being

modern, but by being alive. Physical tiredness, jaded nerves and a complex

superficiality are the stigmata of Modernism. We prefer to find Youth

....22 Vision held firmly to an ideal of an Australian renaissance modelled

* * *

19. Martin Boyd Night of the Party (London 1939) pp 7-21.

20. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack Up, With Other Pieces, Notebooks (New
York 1945) p 8.
21. Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (London 1933) p
22. Jack Lindsay, "Foreword Vision May 1923.

on the classics and incorporating the philosophies of Nieztsche. It

announced a commitment to the "younger generation", those who had

experienced the war and survived its "mental" horror, on whose "shoulders
... the burden of the world to-day" rests.23 Vision accepted as " ... an
axiom of thought that the generation which produced the War is doomed

Jack Lindsay advocated Beauty as a bulwark against the tyranny of

decadence which he detected in European art forms: "To the Modernist the
very use of the word Beauty would seem to indicate a parochialism, the

provinciality of a continent removed from schools, manifestos, Salons of the

Rejected and Da-da Concerts".26 Norman Lindsay also attacked
decadence. Modern writing was a ... slovenly mass of mental matter
petrified in type matter":

Disgust ... becomes our key to all evil in Life and Art, for any impulse
that strives to turn us aside from the profound attention to the Action
of Life, and Love for all its highest functions becomes a force
destructive to Life itself.... The assumption of such malformed works as
Ulysses is that the writer disdains conventional clarity of utterance,
preferring to cloak originality of thought in a wilfully bizarre style.
This is no more than the old stale trick of expressing commonplaces in
obscure terms in order to give them an air of profundity.26

Vision did not suggest a return to a classical past, but the ancients were

proposed as viable models for the emergence of a new world. Like the

moderns of Europe and North America which were the objects of its

criticism, Vision belonged " ... mentally to a period in which that past is an
* * * *

23. Jack Lindsay, "Foreword". Vision, August 1923.

24. Jack Lindsay, "Foreword". Vision, May 1923.
25. ibid.
26. Norman Lindsay, "The Sex Synonym in Art: Ulysses and the Conquest of
Disgust", Vision May 1923.

unimaginable future'. Differentiated from the Europeans by a sense of

vitality it argued that Australia, potentially, was centuries ahead of the

cultured savages of Europe.^

In a 1929 research essay for his Workers' Educational Association

class George Ellington reiterated the point: "Since the war of 1914-1918 ...
a new spirit of literature has arisen ... No debased and impure literature can
exist among a people of high moral worth."^ Nettie Palmer espoused a
similar view, arguing that so-called destructive modernism was inapplicable

in Australia. Differing from Vision on the question of inheritance she

suggested that although Australia possessed a similar climate to the Greeks
and Latins of old with seas "as blue as the Mediterranean" it lacked "old
palaces and towers", the monuments of great and now dead civilisations.
Palmer advised that Australian culture could only grow "by the hands of men
and the songs of poets", the pioneers of Australian literature.^ Miles
Franklin looked to nineteenth century pioneers whose real accomplishments
had been overlaid by a dubious twentieth century concept of progress. The
Jindyworobaks employed ancient black symbolism as a defence against

decadence, but black civilisation had left fewer material objects which might

guide the more recent occupants. The principal tenet of the Jindyworobaks

was to free Australian art forms from "pseudo-Europeanism" and recognise

the spiritual significance of place. A fear remained that black culture,
with its belief in spiritual dreamtime and based on a code of reciprocity,
might take revenge on the white population.
* * * *

27. Jack Lindsay, "Foreword". Vision, August 1923.

28. George Ellington, "An Appreciation of Australian Literature", All About
Books, August 20 1929. p 36 0.
29. Nettie Palmer, "A Readers Notebook". All About Books, July 1929 p
30. Rex Ingam ells and Ian Tilbrook (ed) Conditional Culture (Adelaide
1938) cf.

With origins in Europe, white institutions were potentially alienating

and corruptible. The first novel written by a black Australian appeared as

late as 1965.3* Firmly located in the old world, written traditions appeared

to be out of kilter with oral black traditions. Anthropological writings

could also be alienating by the suggestion that black culture needed to be

modernised if black Australians were to survive in a white industrial world.

A.P. Elkins recording of dreamtime in written form, while freezing some of

the political dimensions of these oral traditions, was intended to preserve

for all time all that was about to be lost.32 The cartoons of Eric Jolliffe,

in common with the fiction of Mrs Aeneas Gunn, were patronising in their
seemingly harmless humour.33 in Blue Coast Caravan (1935), Frank Dalby
Davison sought close contact with the environment while Prichards
Coonardoo (1929) and Herberts Capricornia (1938) speculated about the

possibilities of an acculturated sensibility based on two civilizations sharing

the same space. While clearly celebrating the strengths of black culture,
both novels end in tragedy. A defacto Jindyworobak, James Devaney wrote

short stories which were more optimistic while Rex Ingamells in Conditional
Culture (1938) announced: The Jindyworobaks, I say, are those individuals
who are endeavouring to free Australian art from whatever alien influences

trammel it, that is, to bring it into proper contact with its material.34

Yet confidence in Australia as a new world was continually eroded by

insecurity. In 1929 Richard Davies interviewed a number of expatriates in

* * * *
31. Colin Johnston, Wildcat Falling (Melbourne 1965)
32. A.P. Elkin, "Civilised Aborigines and Native Culture, Oceania Vol 6 No
2 December 1935.
33. Eric Jolliffe penned regular cartoons for the Bulletin, Pix and the Sun
Herald which included the "Saltbush Bill and Witchety Tribe series. In
1946 he published privately a collection Gorroboree: Aboriginal Cartoon Fun
(Sydney) which included poems and stories from various writers plus the
cartoons. We of the Never Never op cit.
34. Conditional Culture op cit p 11.

London and concluded that ... painters, writers, sculptors and musicians

(and, oh! so many of them) have become expatriated," but could not adjust
to the old world:

... its culture makes them dissatisfied with the prospect of returning to
the New. Here in England they may be appalled by some of its
institutions, depressed by the alleged oozing of its vigour and waning
enthusiasm, by a certain pessimism and sense of futility. They may
hate it for many years. I do know that some of them do hate living
here and have difficulty in conquering periodic nostalgia. Yet they

Expatriatism was not the sole issue. "We had no doubt about what was

expatriate and what wasnt in my time", remembered Dymphna Cusack, "It

was all expatriate". The first half of Christina Steads autobiographical

novel, For Love Alone (1944) is taken up with the mental anxiety associated

with leaving. When asked in a 19 79 interview about Teresa Hawkins

"desperate struggle to leave" Stead replied: "Yes, yes, thats quite true.
It is I, its me".36 While Europe provided ready examples of past

civilisations there remained an unhappy feeling that what was old was also
diseased. Australia lacked the requisite maturity to carve out a future

independently. Cultural tremors in Europe resonated with increased

amplitude in Australia.

Louis Esson related his experiences as a young writer in Europe before

the war. He loved Parisian cafe culture, " ... the cabarets, the theatres

and restaurants, the violent arguments, the brilliant scenes, the late walks

down the hill from Montemarte." From Paris, Australia seemed a "far-off

land". It was "alluring, but rather vague and empty". Its preoccupation
* * * *

35. Richard Davies, "Why Our Authors Live in Europe". All About Books,
July 18 19 29. p251.
36. Christina Stead interview with Rodney Wetherall. ABC. 19 79.

with droving cattle and shearing sheep paled by comparison with the bright
lights of Europe. Lawsons stories lacked "style and "taste". To the

young writer, art was something to be revered, something "refined and

elegant ... about cultivated people who spoke in epigrams". It was not

about stockmen and shearers. Esson hoped J.M. Synge might encourage

his aspiration to join the literary life of Paris. Feeling constricted by

nationality, an "outer barbarian", he was unprepared for the advice to go

home. "You must get away from Paris" instructed Synge, "The young men

who want to do anything are all trying to get away from Paris." Esson met
with the same response from W.B. Yeats: " ... every country had its own

material for literature" he said, "Keep within your own borders! were his

exact words."^

In Patrick Whites Happy Valley (1939) Oliver Halliday returns to

Australia at the end of a war he has missed. In this regard the fictional
character shares the real-life experiences of Vance Palmer. In Europe,
Halliday is disturbed by a landscape scarred by battles, particularly when his

thoughts turn to Australia:

... everyone (in Europe) was old and when he went out of the city into
the country, to Saint Germain to the forest at Fontainbleau, the
country was young. This was the strange part. It was stranger
because everything at home was reversed. The people were young,
almost embryonic. When he got back from Europe he looked at them
and there was nothing there ... but the country was old, older than the
forest at Fontainbleau, there was an underlying bitterness that was
scored deep by time, with a furrow here and there and pockmarks in the
face of blackstone. Over everything there was a hot air of dormant
passion of inner war, that nobody seemed conscious of.

In 1922 Lawrence had suggested that Australia needed to be populated with

* * * *

37. Louis Esson "Nationality in Art", Bulletin, February 1 1923 p 2.

38. Patrick White, Happy Valley (London 1938) p 18.

centuries of ghosts before it could acquire its own culture and traditions.

White seemingly agreed. Yet, differing from Lawrence, he suggested that

because of the oldness of its landscape and the youth of its population,
Australia was the first modern country into the twentieth century.^

An intriguing though now neglected novel written by Helen Simpson,

Woman on the Beast, is divided into three sections. The book opens with a

prologue explaining an "hermaphrodite who reappears in various guises at

the Indies in 1579, France in 1789 and Australia in 1999. In 1999 the world

has been taken over by fundamentalist religion: "One place only, freighted
with half a million priceless human souls, resists the new gospel". With
underground cities and racecourses, Australia is occupied by two warring

tribes - the Orange and the Green. "Australians moved about their vast
continent in swarms, a thousand or so persons at a time", wrote Simpson,
"Whole towns would suddenly quit their dwellings and take to the air", in air
machines that all now travel in, "making seasonal flights to avoid heat or


In the fundamentalist world all books had been banned since 1982 and

huge screens and loudspeakers spewed out the messages of the new order.

In a remarkable anticipation of George Orwells 1984, Simpson has one of

her characters say: "If ye know anything of wars, yed know its worst when

nobody know what its all about." At the place of fundamentalism, America:

The Loud-speaker and the screen took the place of such litter as book
cases and pianos in the home; and all these loudspeakers, all these
* * * *

39. D.H. Lawrence to Katharine Prichard, 1922. Prichard Papers NLA MS

1094 Box 5.
40. Helen Simpson, The Woman on the Beast (London 1933) p 336.

screens, took their material from the distributary centres set up all
over the world ... No books; no newspapers; but no dullness, and no
time for looking back ...4!

In an apocalyptic climax, the two Australian tribes congregate at the long

since deserted city of Sydney at the annual 'Festival of the Bridge". The

fundamentalists appear and conquer the dissident tribes. The implication is

clear that while Australias isolation may, for a time, enable it to resist

upheavals from without, the tremors of change are nevertheless registered.

What is also intriguing in terms of modern sentiment is a reference to the

rapid depopulation which has occurred - possibly playing on the populate or

perish syndrome - and the assumption of a nomadic life by those who remain,
which is perhaps an allusion to, even a celebration of aspects of black is significant that the end of Australian life, as it is known,
occurs at the location of the first white settlement.

Helen Simpson left Australia at the age of sixteen. Her expatriatism

did not seem to concern other writers. Yet the general feeling of loss when
writers left carried with it all the solemnity of a funeral for those left

behind. Suspicion mounted that only the best left while those in the second

row remained. "All the most gifted take off to England or USA", recorded

Miles Franklin in her Notebook, "think of the psychological and national

defeat involved. A form of submission to some sense of inferiority inspired

by other egos."43 While Australia lacked refinement, the local product

appeared to have little to recommend it outside the diminutive world of its

creation. There were a few cafes where writers could congregate in Sydney

and Melbourne but no real' communities. Writers might rub shoulders with
* * * *

41. ibid pp 248-249.

42. ibid pp 428-429.
43. Miles Franklin, Notebook. Miles Franklin Papers ML MSS 1360.

painters and sculptors at Monsalvat, be welcomed by E.J. Brady at

Malacoota, make the pilgrimage to see Norman Lindsay at Springwood or

visit Katharine Prichard at Greenmount on the way to Europe, but there

were few counter attractions to the lure of London, Paris, Moscow or New
York. Women remained excluded from the male domains of bohemianism and

press clubs except as adornments or appendages while city centres died at

sundown with the early closing of hotels. "By and large its a tragedy that

brains and initiative should immediately flee the country in the way they so

often do", wrote Marjorie Barnard, "but when it comes down to individual

cases, its inevitable and right".44

A steady drain overseas saw Martin Boyd leave from Melbourne in 1922.

Chester Cobb left Sydney in 19 21, Jack Lindsay in 1925 and Christina Stead
in 1928. In 1933 Miles Franklin regretted the loss of young historian W.K.
Hancock who had accepted an appointment in England. "Dreadful that the
picked blossoms all go and we are to be suffocated among the timid

pifflers", she wrote to Nettie Palmer.45 According to Franklin Australia

should "be rumbling with crude vigour!" Instead it was sapped by the
outward flow. Nettie Palmer was also disappointed but consoled herself

that Hancock was "mentally" half English anyway.45 a number of other

writers travelled overseas seeking endorsement from or the influence of the

greats. Prichard sought endorsement from George Meredith, Esson saw

Synge in Paris and Yeats in Dublin and at Oxford while Vance Palmer turned

back before seeing Tolstoi.

* * * *

44. Miles Franklin to Nettie Palmer, June 28 1938. Palmer Papers ANL MS
45. Miles Franklin to Nettie Palmer, July 2 1933. Palmer Papers ANL MS
46. Nettie Palmer to Lucille Quinlem, October 30 1930. Cited in Letters of
Vance and Nettie Palmer op cit p 60.

P.R. Stephensens return to Sydney in 1932 boosted a waning confidence

in the potential of local culture. His effort to harness local publishing for
local writing was mounted on a conviction that Australia could lead a way

out of the troubled world. Stephensens early letters to the aged George
Robertson barely contained his enthusiasm that he could chart the course.

Like Franklin, he viewed return as part fulfilment of personal destiny in the

national interest. It is possible that his readings of Nieztsche also

influenced the decision. One thing was certain, Stephensen believed that
Australia was about to enter a period of exciting cultural ascent.4?

Apprenticeship overseas might be a desirable objective for young

writers, but return was seen in terms of fulfilment of destiny. When

Franklin left in 19 06 her decision was complicated by the thought that she
had betrayed her responsibility to Australian writing. Furphy had implored
her to stay. Mind you, I love the Americans, he wrote in 1907, "but
Australia cannot spare you Miles. We want to make our land a classic land;

we want to be the Ionians of modern time.^ Furphy claimed Franklin as a

disciple of Tom Collins, the narrator of Such is Life. When Franklin

returned she did so with the feeling that there was a lot of work to do. In

London in 1930 at the same time as the Palmers on visit she wrote: "Dont

stay away and become lost to Australia - that far, lone siren land that

enthrals us. The future is with her.^ Franklin returned to Australia in

1931 to join the growing enthusiasm.

* * * *

47. P.R. Stephensen, The Foundations of Australian Culture (Sydney 1936)

p 22.
48. Joseph Furphy to Miles Franklin, January 28 1907. Franklin Papers ML
MS 364/9B
49. "Brent of Bin Bin to Nettie Palmer, October 1930. Palmer Papers NLA
MS 1174/1/3769.

As attractive as Europe appeared as a place of refinement and culture,

and despite recent tendencies to decadence, its proven capacity for

producing fine writing and taking its writers seriously was a sharp

reminder in Australia that the achievement of a notable literature was a

principal obligation of the Australian writer. While the scope for

improvement was large and encouraged thoughts of success, a field cluttered

by pifflers increased the pressure on commitment. If youre speaking

about him or his book to anyone, theres just one thing I want you to

emphasise, wrote Nettie Palmer to her brother Esmonde Higgins from

London in 1915, "that Vance is an Australian, that he knows his country ...
People so easily disbelieve in a writers genuineness when they hear he has
travelled.5 Nettie and Vance made several more trips to Europe. Their

departures were invariably accompanied by the plea to make a hasty return.

The problematic status of the local writer was a content aggravation.

Following a reading of Ultima Tlrole in early 1930 on the recommendation of

Nettie Palmer, Katharine Prichard wrote that she was "all veneration for
it. Henry Handel Richardson, had succeeded in writing a "great and fine

piece of work. Yet the novel was flawed in Prichards view because its

writer had turned her back on Australia. Apart from a six week visit to

Victoria in 1912, Richardson remained in Europe where she had lived since

the age of seventeen. "H.H.R. writes of Australia as a stranger - not one

of us really", wrote Prichard. Ignoring Richardson on grounds of

residential status, Prichard pointed to what she considered an "alien

psychology" similar to that which had afflicted Marcus Clarke in the

nineteenth century. "I hate her attitude" she complained, its so

"thoroughly English". She claimed that, "No Australian - could feel so

* * * *

50. Nettie Palmer to Esmode Higgins, May 25 1915. Cited in Letters of

Vance and Nettie Palmer op cit p 2.

superior to people who afterall are creatures of their environment".5*

Frank Dalby Davison argued a decade later:"... beyond setting a standard of

an Australian born writer, Richard Mahony is not, for us a particularly

significant book. It is to writers more advanced in understanding the

Australian natural social scene that we must look" - which meant, Katharine

Susannah Prichard, Vance Palmer, Xavier Herbert and Kylie Tennant, among
others.5 ^

Miles Franklin criticised Seven Poor Men in similar terms though the

much younger writer had dealt with contemporary themes: " ... like a very
big toad into our backyard puddle plumped Christina Steads Seven Poor Mai

of Sydney, or Seven Poor Men of Bloomsbury, as the wags insisted, because

of Sydney being presented in terms of Bloomsbury coteries, then in full
cry."53 claiming an influence which stemmed from European writers, Stead

did not conform to traditional writing which dated back to Lawson.

Feeling assailed on two fronts, Stead wrote that Australian writers had to
contend with negative perceptions at home and abroad. An Australian book

had to be typically Australian in Australia or sufficiently exotic in Europe

or America to cut any ice. Deviation from accepted norms betrayed local

efforts while innovation was seen as imitation overseas. There was a

"fixed idea about what Australian writing should be, criticised Stead,

because nobody could " ... imagine that an author in Australia, above all

places, down there, you know, near the South Pole, is affected by French

authors and Russian authors and so forth.5^

* * * *

51. Katharine Prichard to Nettie Palmer, May 20 1930. Palmer Papers NLA
MS 1174/1/3550-1.
52. Frank Dalby Davison, "Australian Writers Come to Maturity", National
Journal No 2 p 91.
53. Miles Franklin, Laughter Not for a Cage (Sydney 19 56) p 63.
54. Christina Stead, interview with Rodney Wetherall, Australian
Broadcasting Commission, Melbourne, September 19 79 ts p 4.

Franklin claimed there was room for experimental writing but not that

which devitalized. The Australian scene was filled with "sardonic humour
which was "invincible even against "tragedy". "Unrelieved gloom is alien

to the Australian scene", she argued, "Humour and hardy courage should be

the fibre of Australian literature, and will be, as soon as our novelists are
fully enfranchised in medium and milieu."55 Franklin claimed an affinity
with Russian writers but, like Prichard considered herself of the Australian

"soil". Prichards claim that she would prefer to fall from "universal

standards" than not to write about Australia and its people was hollow but

its essence was familiar enough. "It is well to aim high, or we'd never get

above the mud," wrote Franklin, "but if the airplane is too expensive we can
always remember the great pioneering done with a scow".55

Jack Lindsay criticised the limiting aspects of such attitudes. He

argued that nationalism was intrinsic to a "peoples process towards
consciousness" but growing maturity in writing should reach towards new

levels of understanding. Australia had passed out of its first phase.

"Educative work" might still be handled by the "ordinary novel" but this was

not all a truly national literature implied: "Australia is particularly liable

to the onslaught of those who would uphold a national basis in expression ...

since it is a young country." Lindsay suggested that it was quite natural

for a young culture to pass through "preliminaries" such as verse and folk

stories but it was now time to move on.57 In a similar manner Kenneth

Slessor argued that too often Australian writers such as C.J. Dennis
* * * *

55. "Brent of Bin Bin" to Nettie Palmer, October 1930. Palmer Papers NLA
MS 1174/1/3769.
56. Miles Franklin to Nettie Palmer, June 14 1933. Palmer Papers NLA MS
57. Jack Lindsay, "Australian Poetry and Nationalism", Vision May 1923.

imitated the slang of Surry Hills or Billingsgate.56 Harold Mercer

suggested a new age spelled excitement. Yet the metre was well rehearsed,

fitting the predictable formula required by the freelance Bulletin writer.

"The world is mad!/ Let us be glad,/ And show it in this manner/ With

fingers fleet/ And both feet/ Whoo! Bash the old planner, he wrote in

rhyme entitled Jazz. He concluded: Weve made the noise:/ Gee!

thatfs the thing that matters!.59

In 1919 in the second issue of the Adelaide quarterly, Orion, Charles R.

Jury wrote: "... a young country that turns its back on poetic beauty dooms
itself to barbarism."60 Avant garde continued to be rejected. "Some of
the things printed might stand for the natural music of barking dogs, the
pulse of the motor-car, even the beat of hammers or the run of the

circular-saw", swiped the lyric poet McKee Wright, "but the human heart
and mind do not express themselves as dogs, hammers and saws."61 As an
editor, he acknowledged a need for modern forms of writing. "Although the

writer of verse seldom secures the sensational sales like the novelist," he
wrote in 1920, "there can be no doubt at all that there is more verse read

today than at any time in the past ... That fact has led in a hundred

directions to modernise verse - to get into grips with the changed feeling
and offer what an eager, waiting public really desires."62 But the lyricist

never really died. He argued " ... lyric poet is the most intimately
* * * *

58. Kenneth Slessor, "Dialect". Bulletin, June 8 1920. p 2.

59. Charles R. Jury, "On the Status of Poets" loc cit.
60. David McKee Wrieht, "Invention and Discovery". Bulletin January 22 1919 p 2.
61. "Hamer", "Jazz". Bulletin June 8 1920. p.2.
62. David McKee Wright, "Poetry and the Working Day". Bulletin, June 3
1920 p 2.

personal possession of a nation".63 When he died in 1928 Nettie Palmer

fired off a letter to Wilmot that a new literary editor on the Bulletin might
now accept proper poetry.64

Stephen Spender in The Struggle of the Modern (1963) urged that there

was a difference between modern and contemporary literature in Europe.63

Robert FitzGerald claimed a similar distinction in Australia. European

modernism was "utterly unlike conventional" forms whereas Australian

writing was "contemporary". Australians were " ... propelled along the

direct line of tradition". Untainted by decadence, they were unattracted

by "destructive" forms which were products of threatened social orders.

FitzGerald claimed that his appreciation of modern poetry had ended with a

reading of Eliots Wasteland. Eliots " habits of destruction" began with

the "destruction of form" and did "not stop short of wrecking". Exposing

his original affinity with Vision, FitzGerald urged that apocalyptic

modernism, apparent in the old world, was inappropriate in the new. "As an

Australian" his interest remained with the coincidence of "modern methods

and ideals of our own hemisphere." "Old world disintegration, which
commenced with the smashing of sane and beautiful form in art and

literature", appeared out of place in the "young soil". If Europe was in a

state of decay, "the new depressed spirit" was little evident in Australia:

"There is some copying of methods", suggested FitzGerald, "but any

apparent signs of the influences of defeatism have a touch of insincerity, of
* * * *

63. David McKee Wright, "A Nation and the Song". Bulletin, November 18
1920 p 2.
64. Nettie Palmer to Frank Wilmot, October 29 1928. Cited in Letters of
Vance and Nettie Palmer op cit p47.
65. Stephen Spender, "The Struggle of the Modern" (London 1963) pp 14-

a bravado which is the very denial of defeatism; they carry no


Although Nettie Palmer argued that modernism had no place in Australia

she believed it had application in the lessons of the English Georgians.

Eliot had done little except ... rip up old, pleasant literary traditions by

the insertion of this bored and sometimes rusty rapier, but Edmund

Blunden, a "queer protagonist of modern youth" was welcome and

refreshing.67 Blunden was idiosyncratic but not destructive. A.R.D.

Fairbanks argued that Australian readers had difficulty comprehending the

intended meaning of European moderns because the relationship between
form and matter had little resemblance to those evolved in Australia, even
by the most innovative writers. Modernism had reshaped writing and forced
out the parameters as far as they "possibly could go". Eliot might serve as
a useful model for new poets in the "war-shocked decade" of the 1920s but
only in the movement "towards new expression."6^

While Fitzgerald, Fairbanks and Palmer maintained that the Wasteland

had no place in Australia, Frank Wilmot urged that Eliot had opened new

vistas for the literary imagination. "Modern poets believe that traditional

poets and poetry have poisoned the wells, and that readers draw from poetic

writing only the conventional emotions in conservative form which they have

been taught to expect." Paraphrasing Laura Ridings and Robert Graves A

Study of Modern Poetry and using Gertrude Stein as an example, Wilmot

* * * *

66. Robert Fitzgerald, "An Attitude to Modern Poetry", (1939) reprinted No

3 1948 pp 148-155.
67. Nettie Palmer, "Edmund Blunden and Other Modern Poets". All About
Books, April 17 19 31. p 129.
68. A.R.D. Fairbanks, "Modern Poetry". All About Books, May 20 1929 p

Modern life has so many images and experiences that it is impossible to

recollect in tranquillity. Tranquillity has nothing to do with them; they
are conceived and function in fever, without that fever they are in
themselves meaningless, and it is of no advantage to recollect things in

Wilmot posed the rhetorical question of how classical writing might handle a
"steam shovel or a pneumatic rivetting machine" and argued that it was the

function of the modern writing to embrace all elements of modern life. In

traditional and romantic writing cliches of "balmy breezes and sighing trees"

abounded but, as yet, no such cliches were obvious in the "qualities of a

motor car or an electric generator".^

Reg S. Ellery noted that the immediate post war period was filled with

minor poets: "Just as the cinema and jazz are antithetic to wax flowers ...
so this Georgian Renaissance in poetry, as its poets call the new phase, is
largely a reaction against the quiet, sad, crepuscular music of the late
nineteenth century". Modern poetry, in particular free or blank verse, was

perceived as a sensational response to the decay in European culture and

civilisation. In consideration of the American form, one critic pointed an
accusing finger at new commercialism: "Possibly if the great American

poet rose just now he would find his true medium of expression in ragtime."

Ellery wrote that modern poetry was an "orgy of undirected abnormality".

He dedicated a satirical homage to modernism, predating James McAuley

and Harold Stewart by twenty five years: "Bang! Bump! Tong!/ Petticotes,/

Stockings, Sabots, / Delirium flapping its thigh-bones;/ Red, blue, yellow,/

Drunkeness steaming in colours;/ Red, yellow, blue ...". Ellery suggested

* * * *

69. "Furnley Maurice", "An Interesting Survey of Modernist Poetry". All

About Books, May 19 1930 p 113.

that modern poets such as Ezra Pound in England helped to extricate ...

poetry from the late Victorian backwash but that it had little purpose in

the new world.7

Wilmot argued that it was the right of modern writing to violate the
sensibility of traditional forms. The point at which all imaginative writing
should begin was sincerity. Doors were opened by Eliot, ee cummings, Hal
Saunders White, MacKnight Black and William Carlos Williams who provided

an unequivocal and ... clear expression of the complexities of modern

life. The Georgian W.E. Henley ... avoided the extravagance of the
modern poets, but he recognized that new and deep and mysterious
influences were at work in the hearts of men; that trains and trams and
buses were a part of modern life, and must become compact of his visions."
While too frequently marred by "desperate and feverish attempts towards
originality innovation remained an integral part of modern life: "Their
forms seem chaotic because so many of the principals are negative".71

There was little doubt that the war had a remarkable effect on the
collective psychology of the nation, but of specific concern were possible

changes in speech patterns. This was not simply a matter of the swaggering
horsemen being replaced by factory workers: "Australians, evolving an
accent," argued one review, "are doubtless evolving a literary style, a

word-expression of their manner of thought".7^ Australian writing had

emerged from a vigorous oral culture which was now under threat by the
growth of cities and the organisation of work to suit the needs of
* * * *

70. Reg S. Ellery, "The Age of Minor Poets". Orion Vol 2 No 1 1920.
71. "Furnley Maurice" "An Interesting Survey of Modernist Poetry" loc cit.
72. "Biologist" (Charles McLaurin?), "Australian Literary Tendencies".
Bulletin, November 4 19 20 p 3.

manufacturing industries. Vernacular literature had printed origins in the

Bulletin and possibly earlier with the writings of Adam Lindsay Gordon but
Fredrick T. Macartney, like Jack Lindsay, argued that written poetry was a
sign of cultural sophistication and growing maturity: "The tendency of
poetry to get away from its vocal origins began when the wandering mistrel
went out of business and the latest result of that tendency is vers
libre...." .73 The change in poetic practice, which had been from singing to
writing, from writing to the multiplicity of printing has caused vocal values
to recede. Mary Gilmore argued that modern technology pressured changes
in vernacular writing. Radio had given a new lease of life to the voice',
but still, she argued. " ... machinery came, and poetry declined because
machinery replaced men."7^

Wilmot argued that the situation was straight-forward: " ... someday
our literary gentlemen may begin talking of a question of national poetry and
cease this continual rhyme' clamour. It should not always be 'Aha! I
caught you doing the 'morn-dawn' stunt!' Who will come forward with the
honest query: 'Gentlemen, what are you poets saying.'"73 Adrian Lawlor
contended: " ... the Australian writer, like the Australian painter, must

begin afresh. Before we Australians can do ourselves literary justice, we

must evolve an idiom: we must express ourselves with our own tongue and in
our own terms".73
* * * *

73. Frederick T. Macartney, "Poetry and Appendicitis". Bulletin March 23

1920 p 3.
74. Mary Gilmore, "Poetry in Australia". Sydney Morning Herald. July 25
75. "Furnley Maurice" "Rhymes" July 3 1919. Bulletin p 2. Bulletin: Also
Bartlett Adamson "Poetic Licence" May 1 1919 p 2, Will Lawson "Poetic
Exaggeration" June 12 1919 p 2, "Verse and Poetry" August 7 1919 p 24,
P.E.Q. ""Verse and Poetry and Criticism" August 28 1919 p 2, Francis
Brien" November 27 1919 "Song" p 28, Kenneth Slessor, "Verse, Ours and
Theirs", December 18 1919 p 2.
76. Adrian Lawlor, "These Young Men", Bulletin August 17 1919 p 25. p 2.

In the later 1920s and throughout the 1930s economic depression, the

rise of fascism and increasing speculation that Europe was about to go to

war for the second time in two decades intensified debate on modernism in

Australia. In 1936 Leonard Mann urged that phoenix could arise from the

ashes of ancient conflicts. Five months before the Spanish civil war
erupted he wrote to Vance Palmer:

I think that I feel as you do that writers must be conscious of the

future. Indeed I have put into the mouth of one of my characters the
words, that it is necessary not to do anything to betray the future.
Europe is in an interesting condition. I believe it can give birth to
something and not mere wind.^

Mann suggested that Australian writers had a special place amidst the

uncertainty. Noting a general mobilisation for war in Europe, he wrote to

Rex Ingamells: "People who have work like we have, literature, science, art
and so on are the only sane people really, though we may be half mad.78
Manns confidence, as with that of many other writers of the period, was

shattered by events in Spain.

By 1939 Leonard Mann had lost confidence in Europes ability to rebuild

from ashes. He saw fascism as a desperate attempt by a declining world to

reassert itself. Following her return from Barcelona a few weeks after

fighting broke out in the streets, Nettie Palmer wrote the world is in
terrible danger. She claimed that the outcome in Spain would affect the

whole of Europe but that a positive resolution rested on Britains attitude.

Yet she complained that the "mass of Britons appeared either "indifferent
* * * *

77. Leonard Mann to Vance Palmer, February 1 1936. Palmer Papers NLA MS
78. Leonard Mann to Rex Ingamells, August 28 1939. Ingamells Papers, SLV
MS 6244/4/60

or dully hostile to the Spanish government".79 In a pamphlet, The

Impending Oisis, Mann looked with trepidation at Europes attempts at

rebuilding: "The present rulers of Germany seek by terrorism of war to
dominate the world.... Their success would give power to evil and barbarism,

throw back the advancement of the peoples and destroy their hope in the

future".99 Australia was a place of the future though Manns dilemma

remained that its cultural roots were shallow. Tied by tradition and ancient

conflicts to Europe, "There is no doubt that events in Germany and Italy

have a tremendous effect upon Australian writers" argued Jean Devanny in

1935.91 Meanwhile Australias physical location as a sattelite in a hostile
Asian world deepened the sense of unease. Meanwhile Japan and China

hovered menacingly to the near north.

Mann hoped the future would not be betrayed, though there was little

consolation in that thought. "What sort of civilisation is ours", asks one of

his characters: "There is some attempt to create a civilisation in this land

we occupy. But so many things, so many people, are trying to make us live
second hand. A second hand civilisation is worth nothing."92 Fascism

polarized the political debate in Australia. Writers almost uniformily moved

to the left. "European history since the war has taught us that revolutions

are quite easy to come by", wrote Frank Dalby Davison, "Whether from the

Left or the Right, they are the mark of a politically backward people."

Proclaiming the Australian cause amid the confusion, he added: "It is the
* * * *

79. Nettie Palmer to Katy Higgins, August 13 1936. Palmer Papers ANL MS
80. Leonard Mann, "The Impending Crisis". Palmer Papers NLA MS
81. Jean Devanny, Presidential Address to First Annual Meeting of the New
South Wales Branch of the Writers League, 1935. Writers' League Papers
ANL MS 453.
82. Leonard Mann, A Murder in Sydney (London 1937) pp 220-221.

way of a politically advanced people to find some common-shared concept -

perhaps that of civil freedom - to apply as a solvent of problems".85

Meanwhile, the still powerful patron of writing, the Bulletin moved towards
the right, embracing in the view of some writers the tenets of fascism.84

Robert Fitzgerald urged that Australian writers probably had more in

common with the North Americans.85 Grattan (1929) suggested that

European art forms were old and tired but the Americans were fresh.86
Raised on a solid diet of English classics, Edward Dyson was staggered as

early as 1920 to find that he no longer had any stomach for Dickens: "I
tried Hie Old Curiosity Shop over and over again, he wrote, "and found it

something like a weariness of the flesh. Nathaniel Hawthornes The

Scarlet Letter, on the other hand, which he had disregarded years earlier as
"ancient and hum-drum now seemed "peculiarly modern": "The result was a
complete revolution of old concepts".8^

Nettie Palmer compared feelings of cultural "backwardness" to the

forward thinking of twentieth century American moderns. Reflecting a

pattern of trade concentration in the Pacific, ratified by a new balance of

power in the region, North American influence grew steadily in fiction with

the emergence of social realism. Mann too looked to the writings of modern

* * * *

83. Frank Dalby Davison, "Australian Writers Come to Maturity" loc cit p
68. Also While Freedom Lives (Sydney nd 1938) pp 12-18.
84. Nettie Palmer to C. Hartley Grattan, August 12 1937, expressed her
concern over what she termed the "fascism of the Bulletin". Cited in Letters
of Vance and Nettie Palmer op cit p 15 4.
85. Robert Fitzgerald, "An Attitude to Modern Poetry" loc cit p 15 3.
86. C. Hartley Grattan, Australian Literature op cit p 17.
87. Edward Dyson, "Nathaniel v Charles". Bulletin July 1 1920 p 1.

There are two sorts of tragedy. There is the personal one in which man
is in conflict with his soul. There is another sort which can be found in
the writings of the modern Americans, the Faulkners, the Hemingways,
Lewises and others, practically all in the United States who have a
claim to be real writers. It is a kind of race tragedy. It is the
tragedy of men and women whose destruction is caused by times and the
circumstances of their life, against which effort is futile, which imposes
itself on them, drowns them and destroys them.

A Murder in Sydney (1937) concludes with the description of the life of the

protagonist as "almost American". Mann believed that the 1914-18 war and

the depression were part of the "race tragedy" of modern civilisation

imposed on it by the decay in the old world.Yet a general suspicion of

North American commercialism kept Australian writing at cordial distance.

Soviet Russia and Republican Ireland appeared better models for writers like

Katharine Prichard, J.M. Harcourt, Vance Palmer and Miles Franklin.

When fascism succeeded in Spain a renewed sense of danger and

millenarianism emerged in Australian writing. But unlike Russia and Ireland
which had rebuilt in the wake of the first war, Australia lacked a recorded

history which gave credence to its claim for change. Youth carried its own
potential but a lack of tradition made the task of establishing a distinctive
and independent culture all the more imperative but difficult. The

presumed similarity of the 1890s sharpened contrasts with the modern world.

"Romantic radicalism was the keynote of the Lawson school ... ", wrote

Davison, but it was radicalism in a "perfectly safe world." The 1930s were

"highly unsafe". Davison suggested that it was not simply that Lawson

would have difficulty finding a place for his writing in modern times - his

"genius" would not be "stifled" - but that a different Lawson would emerge,

"conditioned by present circumstances."99

* * *

88. Leonard Mann, A Murder in Sydney (London 1937) pp 220-221.

89. Frank Dalby Davison "Australian Writers Come to Maturity" loc cit. p

Franklin disliked much of what she saw in the modern world. While

longing to be a part of the contemporary movement, she also felt a strong

attachment to Furphys vision of how Australian literature might develop.

In part, her almost obsessive, partisan support for Such is Life, was a
longing for a period removed from contradictions of the modern world. It

was also a recognition that she was one of its creations. While she

frequently used the tone and language of the old Bulletin school in letters

and conversation and employed nationalist rhetoric - "Those of us who

know must not surrender our self-respect, we must stick to the rhythm and

contour of our native continent till we are accepted or rejected on our own
terms (artistically)99 - Franklin conveyed an appearance of

contemporaneity: "I hope too we shall work our way out of the old- time
stuff.... Not that I do not enjoy old time stories once I am involved but I
am prejudiced against beginning them."91 She hoped to see more novels
"given to one or two years of modernity." Australian writing had settled
too "comfortably" into the past: "... we shd be compelled to do just one

novel of the immediate present." With the sense irony and humour which
punctuates so many of her letters, she added: "And it wld be a tickler

..."Yet a general attitude tended to dominate that Australia should not

"genuflect to suit other scenes and forms".Franklin maintained: "I

repeat this again and again ... we must nurture those who are indisputably of

[the] soil, despite their disabilities."9^

* * * *

90. "Brent of Bin Bin" to Nettie Palmer, October 1930. Palmer Papers NLA
MS 1174/1/3698.
91. "Brent of Bin Bin" to Nettie Palmer, July 22 1929. Palmer Papers NLA
MS 1174/1/3367.
92. Miles Franklin to Nettie Palmer July 25 1935? Palmer Papers NLA MS
93. "Brent of Bin Bin" to Nettie Palmer, July 22 1929. Palmer Papers. NLA
MS 1174/1/3367.
94. "Brent of Bin Bin" to Nettie Palmer, November 18 1931. Palmer Papers
NLA MS 1174/1/3844.

In 1938, Frankin linked up with a young writer who had established

her reputation as a modern. Dymphna Cusack fresh from the publication of

her first novel, Jungfrau (1936), a study of Sydney bohemianism, was an

unlikely choice of collaborator. Franklin ridiculed the "vulgarity of

modernism" with its " ... sexiness and frankness ... just clapped on us

from the overseas school of modernists".95 Jungfrau fell within this

category. It attracted comment by a few would-be writers who were also

interested in modernist technique. Coralie Clarke Rees wrote: " ... the

work of some of our more established Australian literary luminaries looks

sick."96 Dymphnas mother was horrified that her daughter had written a
"book that was all about sex", more so because it was dedicated to her. A

Sydney school teacher kept her copy hidden from sight in case "visitors
coming to the house should see it".9^

The Franklin-Cusack collaboration may have been maintained by a

shared commitment to feminism. Like Sybilla in My Brilliant Career and

Franklin herself some thirty years earlier, Cusack felt that she belonged to a
" ... generation that had often discussed the question of marriage and a yet the organizations that ruled our destiny had not come to

think that both were possible ... .98 However, feminism only partially

explains the linking of these two very different writers. It is possible that
the collaboration was an attempt to strengthen lines of continuity between
* * *

95. Miles Franklin discussing E. Grant Watsons The Partners (London 1933).
Miles Franklin to Nettie Palmer, April 17 1934. Palmer Papers NLA MS
9 6. Coralie Clarke Rees to Dymphna Cusack, January 10 1937. Cusack Papers
NLA MS 4621/1/101.
9 7. Dymphna Cusack, "Unpublished Autobiography" op cit.
98. ibid.

the two periods separated by the Great War and in some ways, seems

indicative of the contradictions inherent in Franklins upholding of the

Furphy tradition within the modern context.

In 1935 Franklin criticised Brian Pentons Landtakers because of his

complete inability to draw characters. "The book adds nothing to Price

Waning or Marcus Clarke, falls much below because he has no power to

charm or move the reader. Franklin criticised the "harsh and flat

narrative which she condemned as "arid as a police report of brutalities.

Pentons "one unrelieved convict key" was a "brutal and sordid" attempt to

be "powerful" "It is spurious spiritually", she wrote, "I shd estimate that
its importance lies in the writers demonstrated ability in literary

composition. One feels that he is clever, he is still young, and one gathers,
is ruthless".

Franklins main criticism was that Penton had misrepresented

Australias pioneering past as brutal. The pioneers, Franklin believed,

obliterated the convict stain. That she should have been so certain of
Pentons failure in his criticism of pioneers suggests that he touched a raw

nerve. While in London in 19 29 Penton wrote a critique of modern novels

commending Lawrences blood rushing realism by defining 'reality as a

"sensation in the blood, a world I can feel and smell", echoing sentiments

similar to those espoused by the Vision group. "Only an emotional

statement of life can be real, of life emotionally realised either in anger or

delight", wrote Penton, "The more passionate the statement, lyrically or

sardonically ... the more real to me what it states."-^0

* * * *
99. Miles Franklin to Nettie Palmer, February 15 19 35. Palmer Papers NLA
MS 1174/1/46000
100. Brian Penton, "Note on the Form of Novel". London Aphrodite 1929 (6)
p 435.

A number of particularly older studies of the period have argued that

few Australian novelists experimented with modernism. Most Australian

novelists it has been suggested hit upon an idiom that was all but passe
overseas. Australian realism, it has been argued, was fifty years behind the

time having stylistically more in common with Balzac, Zola, Dickens and

Thackeray than the more innovative and stylistically promiscuous Virginia

Woolf, James Joyce and William Faulkner. At first appearance Australian

authors do seem to have been unable or unwilling to absorb the energies of

modernism which were sweeping art forms throughout the world. They
mounted old barricades in defence of old forms. Moreover, Australian
authors seemed at variance with painters and poets who appeared more

prepared to translate the twentieth century experience in forms

experimented with by twentieth century artists elsewhere, as in Roy de
Maistres Rhythmic Composition in Yellow and Green Minor or Kenneth
S lessor's "Five Bells". Australian authors seemed content to narrow
themselves to the confines of a well defined and tried tradition of realism.

Many Australian novelists were exposed to the modernism of Woolf,

Joyce and Faulkner and, indeed, these authors found favour with some of

them. However, as a general principle, Australian authors opted for

realism as a vehicle for individual and collective visions. In doing so they

probed the dynamics of their society which they saw as fundamentally

different to those of Europe. Australian realism unfolded as a very

different variety, subject and form, to the great nineteenth century

realism. In terms of content, some of the ambivalence of Aldous Huxleys

Brave New World (1928), for instance, banned in Australia in 1932, was

taken up by writers such as Vance Palmer, Leonard Mann and Eleanor Dark.

The influence of a nineteenth century strain of optimism, evident in Edward

Bellamys Looking Backwards (1888) on the utopian literature of William


Lane in the 1890s was no longer appropriate in the period following the First
World War.

David Carter (1984), more recently, has suggested that the realism of

Australian novels was an expression of Australian modernism. It was firmly

placed within the context of upheavals which were subjects of art forms
world-wide. It was not merely a matter of responding to Eliot, Joyce,

Picasso or even Freud but of increasing awareness of instability - war,

depression, revolution and the threat of fascism. These were global

concerns which were expressed locally using local forms.101 In 1930 in the
first issue of a new left journal, Strife, Judah Waten claimed a case for

modern realism as " ... an organ of the new culture, destructive and
constructive, a culture plowing deep into the roots of life" - a rejection of
all "manifestations in the form and content to the social order we
oppose".102 While to some writers the manifesto may have seemed extreme
it did capture the sense in which local realism perceived itself in relation to

modernism elsewhere. Yet realism was also a confirmation of tradition.

Australian realism was fostered in critical thought even though an abundance

of other types of writing flourished.

Modernism has been described as the artistic consciousness of the

modern world, the feeling " ... that we are living in totally modern times,

that contemporary history is the source of our significance, that we are

derivative not of the past but of the surrounding and enfolding environment

or scenario, that modernity is a new consciousness, a fresh condition of the

human mind - a condition which modern art has explored, felt through,
* * * *

101. David Carter "Modernism and Australian Literature" World Literature in

English, Vol 24 No 1 (1984) pp 158-169
102. Judah Waten. Editor, Strife No 1 1930.

sometimes reacted against."10 McQueen argued that modernism emerged

in Australia, it did not arrive.104 The point is consistent with Bradbury and
MacFarlanes study of Europe. Although modernism was global, it assumed
different proportions in different environments. Modernism not only looked

different under different national circumstances it started at different times

in different places. Modernism was thirty years old in Germany before it

took a hold of artistic movemements in Paris, London and New York. It

consciously manifested itself in Australia in the 1920s and 1930s and looked

substantially different to its counterparts in Europe, Britain and, less so,

America. While remaining a global phenomenon, modernism in Australia had

its own peculiarly Australian characteristics. It can be reasonably

maintained that the internal dynamics of Australian culture and literature

were fundamental to modernisms development here.

Yet insecurity persisted. It found an almost obsessive expression in

the search for The Great Australian Novel. Critical opinion eventually

opted for Prichard's Working Bullocks as possibly the single most important
work by an Australian writer in the interwar years though qualified support

was also given to Richardsons The Fortunes of Richard Mahony. Working

Bullocks temporarily settled a debate which had been active for some years.
In the longer term, Working Bullocks settled little and disagreement about

the nature of modern writing continues today. In 19 58 it found expression

in Patrick Whites criticism of Australian fiction as the "dreary dun-

coloured offspring" of journalistic realism.105 In a bitter rebuke Katharine

Prichard wrote: "Lost in the fog of their own delusions, writers like White

believe that they are uncommitted to any social purpose, while, as a matter
* * * *

10 3. Bradbury and MacFarlane, Modernism op cit p 19.

104. McQueen, The Black Swan of Trespass op cit passim chapter 1.
105. Patrick White, "The Prodigal Son", Australian Letters Vol 1 No 3 19 58.

of fact, they serve the causes of obfuscation and the defeat of human

dignity ... ". Prichard suggested that writers such as Alan Marshall, John
Morrison, Frank Hardy, Bert Vickers, Eleanor Dark and Dymphna Cusack, in

their search for "truth and justice", had continued a tradition of vitalist

writing which owed an allegiance to the 1890s and which had manifested
itself in the rise of the novel in the 1920s and 1930s.106

Cusack was seen to be in good company but she cautioned that the
search for a particular form of writing virtually censored those efforts

which did not conform. She suggested that Australian books were assessed
against the imagined virtues of an, as yet, unwritten classic. "It is

particularly dangerous in the Australian scene where there is the perpetual

hunt for the great Australian novel" argued Cusack, "No other literature has
one great anything, novel play or poetry".1^7 Dorothy Cottrell, a gifted
writer with much to offer a national literature according to Nettie Palmer,
had done nothing to advance its cause with her popular novel Earth Battle

(1930). "Anxious onlookers can only hope she will some day write a careful
sound book", wrote the critic, "We ask merely of her, something different

and better.It was widely believed that the appearance of an

unequivocal masterpiece would prove once and for all that Australian

literature was worthwhile.

Stream of consciousness did not become a prominent style in Australian

fiction. In 1927 Nettie Palmer contrasted Chester Cobbs second novel,

Days of Disillusion with the writing of Richardson and Prichard whom she

praised. Turning to Cobb in a rather more cautious mood, she wrote:

* * *

106. Katharine Prichard, "Some Thoughts on Australian Literature" loc cit.

107. Dymphna Cusack, "Unpublished Autobiography" op cit.
108. Nettie Palmer, "Australian Books of 1930". All About Books, December
5 1930. p 309.

Chester Cobb is a novelist whose books have made a greater impression

overseas than here, where the papers have indeed given them polite
approval. At a period when every second novel published is a welter of
false sub-Freudian complexes revealing the crudest of reactions,
Chester Cobbs Days of Disillusion is an achievement in the direction
of subtlety and sincerity. Taking as its theme the life of a man in
urban and suburban Sydney, it shows us a type such as we used to
ascribe to George Gissing. With almost no inspiration from one end of
the book to the other, the man worries along a commonplace little chap,
bothered about money and sex alternatively and sometimes
simultaneously. The reader wonders that anyone can manage on so
little mental and spiritual capital, to seem interesting.109

Eleanor Dark met the same disapproval. After writing her first novel, Slow

Dawning (1932), of which she remained self-conscious and disregarded in

later years, she wrote two stream of consciousness novels. Recognised by
the Australian Literary Society the novels achieved the rare double of
winning gold medals in 1934 and 1936, appalling some established writers.

In 1933 Nettie Palmer wrote to Dark that reviews may treat Prelude to
Christopher unsympathetically. Attempting to promote the cause of her
stated ideal that a small band of Australian writers should stick together

she wrote apologetically to an author whose book she did not think should
get an airing because it did not meet her conception of national literature.

"If some day I make some hurried jottings and queries that sound cold

blooded, please remember that they are made against the background of this

warm-blooded admiration", wrote Nettie Palmer. "It was good of you to

explain about your new book.... If as you say it is just a book, Im glad

you are so frank about it", she wrote to Dark following the publication of

Slow Dawning which had waited nine years to be published.110 In September

1934, Marjorie Barnard wrote to Palmer that she thought Prelude to

Christopher was "pretty bad", a "showing off book, simply loaded with

technique ... Is it a youthful indiscretion?" Barnard questioned if gold

* * * *

109. Nettie Palmer, "Three of Our Novelists" loc cit.

110. Nettie Palmer to Eleanor Dark, May 21 1932. ML MSS 4545.

medals were offered for works of excellence or as encouragement for young

writers. In any case, how was it that Prelude to Chistopher could achieve
such an award?111

Similar complaints may have been made about Leslie Meller who seemed

to be almost entirely ignored in literary circles in Australia. Mellers Leaf

of Laurel appeared in 1933. It focused on the life of Anthony Hyde, whose

mind was disturbed by the war. An attempt to write brings a response from
his mother:

"Write when you can by all means, and leave the rest on trust. If
nothing comes of it, are you going to sit down and pray for an early
grave? It takes all sorts to make a world. Plenty of clever people -
Why Ive known hundreds, and Im one myself - will never be able to
create the sort of things they love, simply because they havent got the
gift of construction.11"

Australian critical opinion determined that Meller did not have such a gift
and ignored him.

Like Miles Franklin, Barnard was not comfortable with experimental

modernism though in the early forties she turned in the remarkable futuristic

novel Tomorrow and Tomorrow. While on her way to London in 1935 she

tried to read Virginia Woolf and Edith Sitwell to no avail. Recording her

impressions of a literary gathering in Sydney she expressed her views of

modern writing:

The onomatopoetic (sic) has been almost bred out of the language, to
serve it (it, by itself, not by images working through association) seems
to me a lost cause. I came out starkly with the hypothesis that words
* * * *

111. Marjorie Barnard to Nettie Palmer, September 27 1934. Palmer Papers

1174/1/449 7.
112. Leslie Meller, Leaf of Laurel (London 1933) p 98.

are vehicles, means not ends, that it is perverse to make them ends,
and that the perfect accord of word and matter can only be achieved by
the strongest inaugurative grasp, not the words, but the matter .... ^

Eleanor Dark abandoned stream of consciousness and after a period of

transition during which she wrote Sun Across the Sky (1937) and Waterway

(1938), turned her attention to the historical novel. In 1941, she wrote
The Timeless Land, generally considered her classic. In Australia stream

of consciousness and interior monologue were generally relegated to poetry.

In the post-Great War years, a number of key dynamics influenced the

Australian literary imagination. Foremost in this regard were the vying

contentions of modernism and vitalism as expressions of national culture.

European modernism had its origins in the questioning of civilisations

chances of surviving modern calamities. In Australia this sense of the
overturning of old orders provided an opportunity for the young country to
express itself in its own terms. In the 1920s and 1930s, Modernism

developed in Australia as an extension of the nationalist sentiment which

preceded it. Vitalism, it can be argued, developed as a consequence of
modernism. It absorbed nationalist concerns but was determined to view

Australia in a universal context, acknowledging that its identity was

tethered to political, social and artistic movements in the rest of the world.

A close scrutiny of Australian society by Australian writers led to the

conclusion that their brave new world was fatally tied to the decline and fall

of Europe. Australia was conceived less as a classic land as Furphy might

once have hoped, than as a lone satellite.

* * * *
113. Marjorie Barnard to Nettie Palmer, December 29 1935. Palmer Papers
NLA MS 1174/1/4864-6.


In his analysis of modern Australian writing between the wars, Harry

Heseltine (1964) argued that public memory of the Great War affected many
areas of Australian life but did not find any obvious expression in the

literary imagination. "It is as if a whole generation of writers by tacit

agreement declined to incorporate the Great War into their imaginative

fiction", he argued. Heseltine believed there was evidence to suggest the

war impacted on Australian imaginative writing but only in writers "almost

uniform refusal to make it a subject of their prose." There was nothing in

Australian literature which might compare with All Quiet on the Western

Front or A Farewell to Arms: "Almost the only novel of any distinction

inspired by the war was Leonard Manns Flesh in Armour", argued Heseltine.

When Australians wrote of war, "they wrote of it directly and as history."*

Writing about Flesh in Armour in 19 72, Marjorie Barnard argued that a
period of "shocked silence" generally followed war and that it was many
years before Australians turned to their war as a subject of imaginative
literature.^ More recently, Ian Reid (19 79) argued that the war as a

literary experience emerged in Australia during the Great Depression.^

There is a sense in which the war was avoided as a literary topic.

Leslie Meller's Leaf of Laurel, for instance, comments: "Who but a

methodological simpleton will attempt to tell his or any others mind during

those muddled days of war? - or a brooding warrior-journalist, trembling

with words, watching from a hilltop [away] from the uproar." There was

plenty of material for the warrior journalist and Meller may have had C.E.W.
* * * *

1. Harry Heseltine, "Australian Fiction Since 1920", loc cit pp 182-183.

2. Marjorie Barnard, "Introduction" (1972) to Leonard Mann, Flesh in
Armour (Melbourne 1932) reprint Sydney 19 72.
3. Ian Reid, Fiction and the Great Depression op cit. pp 77-79.

Bean in mind as he wrote. Yet the war was to affect the literary
imagination in a variety of ways. The war ... broke into flame at
intervals and died down, but on the whole had snuck into an endless, soul

destroying, garrison routine. Now the end of these days seemed beyond the
order of natural events.

When Europe went to war in 1914 tremors spread throughout the world,

dramatically affecting the insecure outpost twenty thousand kilometres away

from the nearest battlefields. Shoring up national pride, patriotic

newspapers blazened headlines imagining Australias baptism of fire. Over

the next four years brave, great and noble deeds received almost daily
coverage in the media. The war was a long way from Australia but its

experience was made obvious in the great numbers of casualties. There

were no lines of trenches, rows of crosses or cratered fields in Australia as
there were in France but there were swelling lines of repatriated soldiers and
lists and lists of dead posted in newspapers with monotonous regularity. War
confounded a generation, argued Bill Gammage in his seminal study, The
Broken Years: It contaminated every ideal for which it was waged, it threw

up waste and horror worse than the evils it sought to avert, and it left

legacies of staunchness and savagery ... .5

The cream of Australias masculinity enlisted to fight. 30.85% of

recruits were aged between 18 and 22 years at the time of signing up.

Australian Imperial Forces prided themselves as being non-conscript. The

* * * *

4. Leslie Meller, A Leaf of Laurel (London 1933) p 29, p 40.

5. Bill Gammage, The Broken Years, Australian Soldiers in the Great War
(Canberra 19 74) p xvii

image of a "civilian army" was a source of "delight" for the nation as a

whole.^ George Lamberts famous painting of Australian light-horsemen

depicted resplendent youth prepared for battle in the empires hour of need.
Certainly fine material for a nations army but among western allies

Australians sustained more dead and wounded as a proportion of those who

saw action than any other country. Only Austria, on the other side, had

more casualties.7

416,809 Australians enlisted from a total male population of under two

million, 331,946 saw action, two thirds became casualties including 60,278
who died. 6,506 were hospitalised at least three times during their service

and a further estimated 30,000 died in the decade to 1928. A 1927 official

repatriation report tabled medical complaints of 72,388 returned soldiers:

28,305 were still debilitated by gun and shrapnel wounds, 22,261 were
rheumatic or had respiratory diseases, 4,534 were afflicted with eye, ear,
nose or throat complaints, 9,186 had tuberculosis or heart disease, 3,204

were amputees and 2,9 70 suffered "war neurosis" or were detained as


Landing at Gallipoli on 25 April, 1915 was only Australias second

military action as a nation after a task force had secured New Guinea from

German interests in 1914. A military failure, Gallipoli would later become a

bonding emblem of Australian nationhood.9 Many times more than the

* * * *

6. Enlistment Report. Reveille, September 29, 1928.

7. I am grateful to John McQuilton for pointing this out to me during his
collation of statistics for the Bicentennial Atlas.
8. Repatriation Report. Reveille, June 30 1927.
9. K.S. Inglis, "The Anzac Tradition". First printed in Meanjin 19 65.
Reprinted in C.B. Christesen (ed) On Native Grounds: Australian Writing
from Meanjin Quarterly op cit. pp 205-222. This remains one of the most
fluent pieces of work on this topic. See also, R. Lewis, "The Spirit of the
Anzac - Myth or Reality", Journal of History No xi (4), 19 80 pp 1-11.

number of casualties of 1915 were killed or wounded over the next three

years on the western front. At the Somme, Pozieres and Paschendale

infantrymen scrambled across thin strips of "No Mans Land, separated by

adjacent lines of trenches, and advanced on enemy positions. Stoic in

resistance, they defended against enemy attacks. A war of attrition

required stalwart infantrymen. Yet compelling images of light-horsemen

remained in the public mind. When army horses were left at Palestine in

1919 because their transport was considered too expensive a public outcry
ensuedIn 1933 Frank Dalby Davison wrote about Australias battle-
horses in TTie Wells of Beersheba.

War was perceived in Australia as a glorious moment in world history.

Almost immediately it generated a national ideology that good and empire
must triumph over evil. At the Bulletin, Norman Lindsay simply transposed
iconography of predatorial Mongols, imagined enemies in pre-war years, to
drawings of despotic Huns, now a real enemy in war. Post-cards featuring

motifs such as Hands Across the Sea" adorned with waratahs and roses,
kangaroos and lions, proclaiming the virtues of God, King and Empire,

consistent with reconstituted national ideals as part of the overall effort.

A constituent link in the imperial realm, like South Africa, Australia

imagined itself a bulwark against barbarism. Depicting a gumnut baby

draped by the Union Jack as protection against paedophiles one post-card

carried the phrase "If this flag falls the whole world would stare.^
* * * *

10. For instance, Arthur H. Adams published "The Waler" in the Bulletin,
January 16 1919: "But what is this that the orders tell? / This mate of mine
theyre going to sell!/ To the old home paddock you'll never come back;/
They are selling you to a dirty black,/ My wonderful Aussie Waler!". p 22.
11. Postcard held by Powerhouse Museum, Empire Exhibition. 85/2484.

In post war years war sacrifice became a positive public symbol.

Collective suffering was the material of cultural "re-birth". Images of war

bonded concepts of masculinity and readily accommodated nineteenth

century pioneering as a like pursuit of nationalism. Popular memory

recalled the feats of bush workers travelling sometimes hundreds of miles to

the nearest recruiting booths to enlist. Bushmen and Anzacs were

postulated as kindred spirits.In actuality more recruits came from

cities. K.S. Inglis suggested a possible correlation between the

disappearance of city larrikins and the large numbers of recruits in the first
two years of war.1^ A photograph taken in 1917 showing soldiers in France
congregated Outside the ACF Coffee Stall was reproduced in 1927 along
with the phrase: The More We Are Together, The Happier Well Be".1^

Yet a numerically dominant male society in the pre-war years now

recorded more women than men in national censuses, a trend which has
continued through to the present. Public monuments including shrines,

memorials, honour boards and photographs of grave-yards in France,

preserved war as a national experience. From the Ratcliffe family of

Maitland in New South Wales, three brothers enlisted in 1914. James was

killed at Lone Pine in 1915; Sidney, wounded at Pozieres, died in 1917; John

served most of the war as a German prisoner. A memorial plaque presented

to the family after James death was inscribed He Died for Freedom and

Honour.15 In the post war years staunchnesswas expressed in journals such

* * * *

12. According to Gammage: Two thousand mile rides to recruiting barracks

were known, and 15 0 to 200 mile walks were frequent. The Broken Years op
cit p 7.
13. Inglis, The Anzac Tradition" loc cit pp 214-215.
14. Photograph reprinted on front cover of Reveille, March 1931.
15. Powerhouse Museum, "Empire Exhibition" 85/2484.

as Reveille and there were numerous published recollections such as Fredrick

Knowles With the Dinkums (1918) and Patrick MacGill *Hie Diggers, the
Australians in France (1919), with an introduction by the "little digger",
W.M. Hughes.

A memorial erected in the centre of Sydney at Martin Place,

commissioned in 1927, became a familiar landmark in Sydney. Two bronze

figures standing sentry over a granite crypt, revealed a soldier at one end

and a sailor at the other. It was officially dedicated in February 1929.

Deviating from the regular design of cenotaphs displayed proudly in suburbs

and most country towns, the monument was inscribed: "To our glorious dead"

instead of the usual "lest we forget". President of the New South Wales

Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League, Fred Davison wrote in 1927:
" ... it is right and fitting that some definite shape should be given to our
sense of deep obligation to those dead". "Inward memorial", he suggested,
needed outward expression but, however finely crafted, no monument could

epitomise the sacrifice involved or the debt now owed. "Purposely the date
1914-1918, has been omitted, for not only does it honour their lives during
those years", Davison affirmed dutifully employing the euphemism of willing

sacrifice, "but also those who have died since, at home in Australia, and

who are dying now, and who will die as the years pass, because of injuries

received in the service of their country". Ex-servicemen were entreated to

raise their hats as they "passed by".1^ In 1932 Davison wrote a novel,

Storm Bradley, which praised the qualities of Australian soldiers at war and

at home in peacetime.
* * * *

16. Fred Davison, "The Story of the Martin Place Memorial". Reveille,
August 8 1927.

Throughout the war predictable patriotism appeared in the form of verse

which included Sir Harry Brookes Allens Australia's Dead: Alma Mater and

the War (1915) and Peter Austens Bill-Jim (1917) which praised qualities of
Australians in battle but none were more popular than C.J. Dennis:

Beauty, sez Digger, sudden-like,

An love an' kindliness,
The chance to live a clean straight life,
A dinkum deal for the kids an wife:
A man needs nothin less....
Maybe they'll get it when I go
To push up daisies. I dunno.*I7 * * * * *

Stoicism became a hallmark of such verse while romance and adventure

featured in the prose fiction of Roy Bridges, Samuel Hogg, Harley

Matthews, Mary Grant Bruce and Ethel Turner. In depictions of trenches

"romance of war might fade momentarily, but "the grandeur of ... fate"
almost invariably prevails. "Its our day", comments a character from
Mary Grant Bruces Jim and Wally (1916), "A great world just now for young

men". Non enlisted able-bodied men, are accused of engaging in girl's

work: " ... standing behind the counters and selling lace and ribbons; and
some of them doing women's hair!"18

War encouraged "Billjims" to write stories and verse about their service

or their return, some of which were published in the Bulletin and Smith's

Weekly. In January 1919, "William James Digger" penned "After Four

Years" while waiting for disembarkation from France:

I wish the blamed thing would end,

An' let me get back to me job.
* * * *
17. C.J. Dennis, Digger Smith (Sydney 1918) p 105.
18. Mary Grant Bruce, Jim and Wally (London 1916) p 31, p 53. See also
David Walker, "War Women and the Bush: The Novels of Mary Grant Bruce
and Ethel Turner". Historical Studies Vol 18 No 71, October 19 78.

Im sick of op overs, an Uns,

An five-nines, an trenches, an rum;
Of duck walks, an sandbags, an mud,
An the lurid crimson blank line.
Im sick of rest camps, an billets,
An mademoselles an vang blong,
Of Cafay nore, fried eggs and chips
I got no use for brasso, or bianco,
Or for drill, or blood-pink rout-marches.

I cant stand the sight of a leave pass,

Or a flat in the little town of London;
Or the reserong down there in Soho,
An Suzanne who said that she loves me.
I jest want the damned thing to end,
An get back to me job.-*-9

The desire to return to normality and civilian life has been commented on in

a number of accounts. Ernest Scott noted that As soon as the rifles were

handed in and the war-worn uniforms with the honoured coloured patches
were laid aside, these companions in arms returned immediately to the
associations of industrial life

Yet many returned clumsy beginners, having missed the opportunity of

apprenticeship except in battle, and did not possess the requisite "humility

of beginners. Ex-servicemen demanded of themselves the ... same skill

and ... success achieved in the business of soldiering", but their sense of

comradeship" was "lost in the peace."^ While conservative ideals extolled

the virtues of fighting men, preserved in the image of the Anzac, real

hardships involved in readjustment to civilian life were glossed over. A

government policy to settle ex-servicemen on the land deteriorated into

* * * *

19. "William James Digger", "After Four Years". Bulletin, January 23 1919.
p 2.
20. Cited in Inglis, "The Anzac Tradition" loc cit p 217.
21. Gammage, The Broken Years op cit p 264.

farce by the mid twenties.22 "The Point of View of a Good Australian

Officer", published in 1919, forecast increasing problems in years to come:

"The soldiers have a tremendous number of grievances - far more, really

than most of them even dimly suspect."25 Hope remained that peace would

mark a return to good times. For Nina Murdoch, this included the return of

women to the home after service in factories and industry. "The spring had
tied a yellow bonnet on the head of each broom.... And I knew as surely as

I breathed, the gods were not dead", she wrote anticipating 1919 as the first

full year without war.24 Employing the patriotic pseudonymn Mary

McCommonwealth, another writer was pleased by possibilities for a new age
in "The New Race":

Nineteen Nineteen has started.

Throw hats in the air!
He prances light-hearted
His burden to bear
We know his persistence;
Well wager our shirt
Hell go the full distance
And win by a spurt.25

Despite prevailing optimism a creeping fear grew around suspicion that

war had resolved nothing. "Whether the new war will be big and long like

the old one" deliberated a contributor to the Bulletin in 1919, "or whether it

will be a mere untidy scramble ... no prophet can tell". The uncanny

prophet suggested the boundaries were likely to "be somewhere about

* * * *

22. A contributor to the Bulletin, January 2 1919 p 7, wrote: "Our family

expects seven young men home, all under twenty five, not one who knows
anything about the land and cares less about it....This mad policy of the
politicians to try to settle all soldiers on the land ... would break down
seven times in my own family ... ".
23. "Soldiers Grievance: The Point of View of a Good Australian Officer".
Bulletin January 16 1919.
24. Nina Murdoch, "The Apple Tree". Bulletin, January 2 1919 p 2.
25. "Mary McCommonwealth", "The New Race". Bulletin, January 9 1919 p

Poland."28 Fearing a re-militarised Germany the writer was also concerned

by revolution in Russia. "There are men of German blood in the Defence

Department, warned one writer in 1919, "and there are men with German
wives holding high and responsible positions in Australia ... a hideous shame

and outrage to our splendid dead ... ".2? Peace negotiations did not
reassure Vance Palmer who believed ... the whole fabric of European
civilisation is doomed to dissolve in anarchy." He complained: "... the

truth about Central Europe is so screened from us by colossal lying and

Government propaganda that it is difficult to get any but the vaguest

picture of what is happening."28

Growing opinion among the left argued that the treaty at Versailles was
preparing new excuses for the world to go to war again. One point of view

was that Disarmament negotiations in 1921 and 1922, were based on the false

" ... concept that wars break out only because the powers that initiate them
are armed to the teeth ...". A jaded world was sick to their teeth of the

"bloody orgy" and had understandably but misguidedly sought solice in

pacificism and disarmament. These were seen to be the self-righteous

ingredients of modern holy wars. "An international program that is built

upon such shifting sands must fall", it was argued, "as they fell in 1914 ... "

Pacifists, social democrats and anti-militarists would soon cluster behind

national banners at the first announcement of national crisis: "All Europe is

still embroiled in war, and everywhere Chauvinism and nationalist hatreds are

smouldering dangerously", it concluded.28

* * *

26. "The Shapeless, Nameless War". Bulletin, January 16 1919 p 6.

27. "The Taint". Triad, May 19 1919.
28. "Viator", "What a Japanese-American War Would Mean". Advocate
October 7 1920.
29. L. Watson, "Disarmament". Proletarian Review, May 7 1921.

The Proletarian Review and pamphlets distributed by the Workers

Industrial Union readily blamed war on a conspiracy of capitalism, religion

and liberal democracy. The present militarism is ... a consequence of

capitalism, affirmed W.A. Bolger with confidence in 1921, "The double duty

of the army proves it. Puppets of ruling elites, soldiers merely acted to

preserve capitalism internationally while suppressing dissenting voices at

home."When war breaks out, every nationalist passion is enchained ...

argued Katharine Prichard in a 1923 lecture reprinted in the Westralian

Worker. Remaining firmly committed to literary nationalism as a worthy

cultural objective, Prichard urged workers to resist domination by those who

owned industry and who, she maintained, profited by war.3!

A member of the outlawed Industrial Workers of the World who

campaigned against conscription in 1916 and 1917, Lesbia Harford rejected

patriotism. She had nothing in common with the attitude of "Beauty, sez
Digger" of Digger Smith. One of the more outspoken writers of the period,

she criticised wars senseless waste. "Beauty and Terror" was written in

early 1918:

Beauty does not walk through lovely days.

Beauty walks with horror in her hair.
Down long centuries of pleasant ways
Men have found the terrible most fair.

Youth is lovelier in death than in life,

Beauty mightier in pain than in joy.
Doubly splendid burn the fires of strife.
Brighter in the Brightest they destroy.32
* * * *

30. W.A. Bolger, "Militarism", Proletarian Review, May 7 1921.

31. Katharine Susannah Prichard, "The Songs of a Dove in an Eagles Nest",
Westralian Worker, March 16 1923.
32. Lesbia Harford, Beauty and Terror" (February 7 1918). Poems of
Lesbia Harford (Sydney 19 85) p 96.

In her only novel, The Invaluable Mystery Harford criticised civilian

attitudes during the war.

Soldiers arrived home to celebrations commensurate with their status as

victors. Well-wishers crammed onto overcrowded piers straining for first

glimpses of ships bringing their men home. Speeches exulted bravery and

the honour of battle. For those returning later in 1919 and 1920 the parades

and festivities were all but over. Domestic priorities shifted sharply to a

quick return to normality. There was nothing in the world more short

lived and fleeting than a nations rememberance of her fighting men after
peace is declared,recorded one returned serviceman. According to Eric

Campbell, men who had served overseas remained "soldiers at heart and did

not glide easily back into civilian life.3^ Ex-Servicemen Leagues and
secret para-military organisations such as the New Guard and Australia First
Movement carried over the associations of military life into peace time while
memorials and honour boards inside town halls praised servicemen,

discountenancing any thought that sacrifice might have been in vain.

During the war and immediate post-war years writing became

inextricably tied to an ideology which supported war as a necessary national

experience. It became a form of national duty to write in patriotic terms.

Lawson, the radical voice of the 1890s, supported conscription on both

occasions. In 1915 he published My Army, O, My Army! while Songs of the

Dardenelles appeared in 1916. Typical of the general profusion of patriotic

writing was Elizabeth Scott's Songs of Hope (1920). William Baylebridges

* * * *

33. F. Jackson, letter November 8 1916. Cited in Gammage, The Broken

Years op cit p 27 0.
34. Eric Campbell, The Rallying Point: My Story of the New Guard
(Melbourne 1965) p 15.

An Anzac Muster was published privately in 1921. More circumspect Frank

Wilmots 1917 collection of poems, To God: from the Weary Nations, looked
forward to the hope peace promised.

With the exception of Leon Gellerts Songs of a Campaign (1917) and

Martin Boyds Retrospect (1920) few published works seemed critical of war.

Gellert and Boyd were the closest Australia came to producing trench poets.
Gellerts These Men reads, in part:

Men moving in a trench, in the clear noon,

Whetting their steel within the crumbling earth;
Men, moving in a trench neath the new moon
That smiles with a slit mouth and has no mirth;
Men moving in a trench in the grey morn,
Lifting bodies on their clotted frames;
Men with narrow mouths thin-carved in scorn
That twist and fumble strangely at dead names.35

Similarly, Martin Boyd wrote: Of little-hearted men, the great friends

dead,/ And the day dribbling out in dirty cloud".36 Other writers such as

Mary Gilmore and Mabel Forrest37 submitted the occasional critical poem for
publication but if literature critical of war was written in this period, it

remained largely unpublished.

War was sacrosanct. "Rightly or wrongly, the reputations built in those

fevered days were built or shattered for good", wrote Eleanor Dark in her

1933 novel Prelude to Christopher. Her protagonist, Nigel Hendon, writes a

book critical of "brutality". It "bursts" like a "bomb" onto an unsuspecting

"Community still ... hysterically affected by the sight of the flag of

* * *

35. Leon Gellert, Songs of a Campaign (Adelaide 1917)

36. Martin Boyd, Retrospect (Melbourne 1920)
37. Mary Gilmore, "After the Battle". Bulletin January 23 1919. p 2. Mabel
Forrest, "The World, Bulletin May 1 1919. p3.

empire. Hendon is berated for unpatriotic behaviour. "People would not,

could not, dared not, think of their dead save as heroes", wrote Dark, "How

otherwise could they have lived, those countless thousands of parents and
wives, how otherwise have they preserved their own sanity."38

The Great War, it was astutely argued in 1919, was to be seen as an

"affair of nations" not simply as armies as in pre-modern times: "In

ancient wars - wars down to the tail end of last century nobody cared much

what the press said", but Great War had "got beyond the soldier". Whole

"nations had to be organized" through a general mobilisation of media: "And

more than organized; nations had sometimes - as in the case of the United
States - to be captured. Propaganda thus became hardly second in
importance."39 The pressure on patriotism was clear. Total war called for
total commitment unlike jingoism which accompanied nineteenth century
excursions into China, the Sudan and South Africa. Letters from the front
were carefully edited to remove unwholesome details while anti

conscription campaigners complained that they were gagged by authorities

while pro-conscriptionists had full access to media.

At home war generated a feeling that the young nation had made a

significant contribution towards the resolution of a major international

crisis. In popular mythology it was claimed that Billy Hughes had a ready

ear in British Prime Minister Lloyd George who shared a Welsh background.

At its most extreme the myth had Hughes discussing matters of state in

Welsh with George to the exclusion of the British war cabinet. At

Versailles Hughes accused US President Wilson of opportunism over the terms

* * * *

38. Eleanor Dark, Prelude to Christopher (London 1933) p 71.

39. "P.X." "War Behind the Lines". Bulletin, January 16 1919. p 1.

of peace by maintaining that Australias commitment was greater over four

years than Americas had been since 1917. Cited as a factor in the defeat

of Wilsons famous fourteen points, Hughes appeared surprised in 1922 when

Australia was not asked to participate in naval armament negotiations at San

At home acknowledgement of the mass nature of the war was also

recognition of its historical importance. Returning servicemen were

national monuments, potential museums of experience and a source of
national history not only for writers like C.E.W. Bean, official war

correspondent and historian, but public libraries and the National War

Memorial at Canberra (conceived by Bean in the early twenties) which

opened in 1942. The war gave Australia the biggest advertisement in its

history read a 1919 promotion by the Mitchell Library enticing returned

servicemen or the families of those who had died to deposit letters, diaries
and memoirs in a public arena:

Prior to the Kaisers outburst we depended on sport, imported

Governors, tourists and Bellerive to boost the Commonwealth. But
when Billjim broke loose those items took a back seat. As a sideline
the boys have provided a fine recommendation for the educational
systems of their homeland. They have been extremely prolific letter-
writers, and a large proportion of them in the course of their wandering
and fighting put on record many things greatly worthy of preservation.
The percentage of illiterates among the diggers is practically nil ... The
trustees of the Mitchell Libary, recognising the importance of collecting
and preserving letters and diaries kept by Aussies while on active
service, are willing to purchase such manuscripts/1

Public Libraries built substantial collections, though it was some years

before they were sizable and many families preferred to retain their role as

custodians of memory, keeping their family treasures.

* * * *
40. L.F Fitzhardinge, The Little Digger: A Political Biography of William
Morris Hughes Vol 2 (Sydney 1979) pp 322-323, pp 458-459.
41. Advertisement, Mitchell Library. Bulletin, January 2 1919 p 18.

Libraries accumulated a record many may not have anticipated in 1919.

At the Battye Library in Western Australia, the diary of G.A. Furness and

the letters of M. Higham recorded drudgery in trench life, senseless waste,

disease, boredom and a longing to be home. In a series of entries, Furness

recorded "Fatigue, work all day", "Fatigue", "Fatigue".42 In letters to

his family Higham projected thoughts into an imagined future when the
family would be, once again, united. He died in 1918.4 3 Yet there were

also the good times. Travelling to Europe as "six bob a day tourists",
soldiers, along with army issue carried box-brownies, photographed one

another beneath the huge pyramids of Egypt, in streets of London at the

foot of Nelsons famous statue and in the wine districts of Bordeaux.44 "I

got leave and went out to the pyramids which are about eight miles from the
city," wrote Sydney Ratcliffe to his sister Beatrice in 1916, "A party of us
took a motor and had a lovely drive out.... all the streets of Cairo are the
same and can beat Sydneys streets easily."4^

Despite obvious signs of destruction in the wounds of returned soldiers

war translated as a positive experience in peace time. Clydsedale and

Studebaker cars and trucks had been tested on the battlefields in France:

"A motor lorry lives longer in four weeks of war service than is demanded in

years of commercial use", claimed one advertisement. Goodyear and Dunlop

rubber companies "justly" claimed credit " ... for the wonderful record of

war-time service" while the undisputed "dependability and service" of

Eveready batteries powered lights and electrical equipment, not to be found

wanting in the darkest hours of the war. "The story of service which Oxy-
* * * *
42. G. Furness "War Diaries 1917-1919", Battye Library 2726/A
43. M. Higham, "Correspondence 1917", Battye Library 2837/A
44. Richard White, "Six Bob-a-Day Tourists", Paper delivered to Australian
Historical Association Conference, August 19 86.
45. Sidney Ratcliffe to Beatrice Ratcliffe, February 10 1919. Powerhouse
Museum Empire Exhibition 85/2484.

Acetylene Welding and Cutting rendered to the Allies will probably never

fully be known", declared one advertisement, "because of the gigantic

nature of its operations in every section of the conflict on land and sea".
Oxy-Acetylene equipment had remained in continuous use in the field:

... making rapid repairs to all metal equipment and for moring the
debris of blown up bridges &c. In the Shipyards, Munitions Plants and
Aircraft Factories everywhere OXY-ACETYLENE was in continuous use
for cutting and joining metal. The veil now being lifted from the
operations of the Navy shows that in the wonderful work done by the
Salvage Units of every Navy the OXY-ACETYLENE Process gave
wonderful service in the dockyards.

At home patriotic Billjims smoked Referee, "The Australian Tobacco" while

"Australian Collars" were the order of the day for "men" who " ... returned

to civies after one, two, three or four years" to discover that clothes
"left behind" were now "too small". Anxiety and nervous tension could be
eased by Dr Morses ubiquitous pills.

War remained in the imagination for many years as a reminder of the

great accomplishment made by Australians when prompted into action. In

1928 film-maker A.C. Tinsdale produced Gallipoli which, according to a

review in Reveille, was shown in private to Sir John Monash, the commander
in chief of Australian forces during the war. Monash allegedly approved of

the film. Still, there were "themes" which even the "highest technical skill
in the world could never hope to reproduce with all its awful grandeur.4?

A film, Gallipoli succeeded as a faithful celluloid reproduction. "In a

national sense, the most outstanding incident in connection with Australias

history had been filmed", praised the review. Other successful war films
* * * *

46. Various, Bulletin, 1919: January p 2, p 25, January 16 p 2, February 13 p

3, March 13 p 3, March 20 p 41, p 42, p 43, April 17 p 2.
47. Reveille, July 31 1928.

included Ginger Mick (1920) by Raymond Longford, Diggers (1931) by F.W.

Thring and Diggers in Blighty (1933) by Pat Hanna. In 1940 Charles

Chauvel made his classic, Forty Thousand Horsemen, which starred Grant
Taylor, Betty Bryant and Chips Rafferty.

In peace, war seemed to pervade all aspects of social life. In his

autobiographical novel, My Brother Jack (19 65), George Johnston depicted a

small suburban house in Melbourne which doubled as a home and refuge for
repatriated ex-servicemen. Littered with artificial limbs, crutches and a

disused gas-mask which looked like a "martian this small suburban house
preserves memory of some great and tragic event outside the immediate

experience of the protagonist. "In a sense, of course, I was too young for

the war to have any direct effect on me ... ", Johnstons character
remembers, "Yet what is significant to realise is how every corner of that
little suburban house must have been impregnated for years with the essence

of some gigantic and sombre experience that had taken place thousands of

miles away ... .4^

While war was seemingly everywhere apparent in public culture, a first

task following the return of troops to Australia was seen to be the writing of

its history. TasmaniaTs War Record 1914-1918 by L.T. Broinowski was

published in 1921 and a history of Victoria Cross winners by Karl Cramp

appeared in 1919. C.E.W. Bean published In Your Hands Australians in 1918

and was commissioned in the following year to write an official history.

Two volumes appeared in 19 21. The series went to twelve volumes, of which

Bean wrote six, and was completed in 1942 during one of the most critical
* * * *

48. George Johnston, My Brother Jack (London 19 64) p 8.


years of the Second World War in the Pacific. Beans abridged history
Anzac to Amiens was published in 1946.

Official documents for each phase of a single battle, explained Bean in

1928 of the time involved completing the series, if piled on the floor,

occupied an area of at least two feet by four, standing two feet high. A

year in the war would fill several vaults. The story of an action such as

the taking of Pozieres", wrote Bean, ... has to be compressed into two
chapters at the outside.The historical secret of a success or the

reverse may be hidden anywhere in the stack". By 1933 with completion

still almost a decade off, Bean wrote:

The chief problem of the war historian is due to the fact that the
evidence upon which he must base his story comes to him in
innumerable little bits. Each officer or man only sees a small part of
a battle, or even of the maneouvring before and after a battle. The
messages which they send at the time - which are the best and surest
evidence - or the statements that they make, afterwards relate to
one fraction only of the whole movement; and, to ascertain the story
of almost any battle a historian has to employ some method of
arranging all those statements that refer to the same fraction of the
front and the same time.^

Bean believed only time could produce the required amount of paper to form

the basis of a written history. A nations most important historical

documents needed careful and thorough consideration.

Reminiscence and literary accounts appeared in more bountiful supply

and were unconstrained by fidelity to fact. According to figures derived

from J.T Lairds bibliography of World War One literature, 86.8% of war

verse, the most popular form of writing published in volume form in the
* * * *

49. C.E.W. Bean, "The War History: Why it is a Long Job", Reveille October
31 1928.
50. C.E.W. Bean, "Writing the War History". Reveille, June 1 1933.

thirty years to 1945, had been written by 1920.^ Of potential interest to

historians, there was little aesthetically to recommend such writing to

subsequent generations. "In his most recent volume ... which he describes
as khaki verse, Dyson keeps about his average", commented a review of

Hello Soldier (1919), "The work is most uniformily good, full of point and

sometimes full of humour; it shows the true craftsman in 75% of the lines;
but genuine poetry is rather hinted at than revealed." Arguing that war

verse was not especially "poetical" the review noted that "The great

struggle, first and last, has produced very little song that will live; for
journalistic verse - verse rude and ready and fashioned to the needs of the
moment" was explicitly propagandist.^

In 1930 Nettie Palmer noted that there were no Australian war novels

and that a recent wave of international writing which brought forward

Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms and Remarque's All Quiet on the Western
Front had "receded with great swiftness". There was a delayed reaction

before war books appeared in any quantity. 1929 stands out for particular
notice with the publication of both Hemingways and Remarque's novels,

Ludwig Renns War and Arnold Zweigs Tbe Case of Sergeant Girsha. In

Australia, Mann's Flesh in Armour did not appear until 1932. It was

"noticeable", wrote Nettie Palmer:

... that while the first Bulletin novel competition, eighteen months ago,
did not bring forth a successful war book, many people were not
surprised, feeling that the time was not ripe for one. This time there
is again no war book among the immediate winners, not, so far as one
can hear, anywhere near the top. People will probably not complain,
but will say that the time for war books is now over! Neither idea is
true, of course ...5S
* * * *
51. J.T. Laird, "A Checklist of Australian Literature of World War".
Australian Literary Studies. Vol 4 No 2, October 19 69. pp 148-16 3.
52. "Edward Dyson". Bulletin May 29 1919. p 1.
5 3. Nettie Palmer, "A Reader's Notebook", All About Books, April 19 19 30
p 91.

In his study of European war literature, Paul Fussell suggested that it is

only in the wake of mass experience that individual understanding

comprehends larger collective realities. For those at the front, the

individual war played out in the trenches, immediate and painful, was far
removed from its global ramifications.54

51.17% of fiction and personal narrative related to the war indexed by

Laird appeared in the five years to 1920, followed by a silence which lasted

until cl928. 32.35% of prose fiction to be published to 1945 appeared in

the eight years to 1936. This writing related directly to the battle-fields.

Laird, like Heseltine, did not seem to take account of the effects of the war

at home. This issue will be discussed in greater detail later. While

concentration on national and imperial values dominated books such as Fred

Davisons Storm Bradley (1932) critical novels like Leonard Manns Flesh in
Armour also appeared in these years. In Flesh in Armour a character
writes to her fiancee at the front: 1 looked in the papers to see if there

had been any battle just before you wrote, but there did not seem to be

anything important. Some day you might tell me about it.55 For soldiers
like Furness, it was day to day personal affairs which were recorded in his

diary. His immediate concerns were trenches not battle grounds in their

entirety. In The Montforts Martin Boyds Raoul writes flippant letters

home because the war and daily life is too brutal to either contemplate or


In her biographical study of Martin Boyd, Brenda Niall argued that in,

this particular case, it was difficult to distinguish autobiography from

* * * *

54. Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory op cit pp 311-333.
55. Leonard Mann, Flesh in Armour op cit p 106.
56. "Martin Mills, The Montforts (London 1928) p 142.

imaginative writing.57 Autobiography and fiction are closely linked forms

of writing. Katharine Prichards Child of the Hurricane, for example, very

carefully manufactured a version of the writers life as she wished it to be

remembered. It relied on devices similar to those to be found in her

novels. A scene depicted in her autobiography describing the pain she felt
at her brothers death in 1917 and an earlier rejection by her father in
favour of this brother ten years earlier had already appeared in almost

identical terms in Working Bullocks in 1926. It might be added, that

Prichards novels, in particular Intimate Strangers, provide truer insights

though at a further remove than her autobiography.

Paul Fussell has distinguished differences between memoir and fiction in

his study of the Great War while Bruce Qunies Ross has argued in the case
of Frederic Mannings Ttie Middle Parts of Fortune: Like many of the best
books which came around at the end of the 1920s, it approaches the
borderline between memoir and fiction. Laurie Hergenhan has traced

connections between Mannings character, Bourne, and the authors own war
service. "The actual event upon which the book is founded, wrote Qunies

Ross of Ttie Middle Parts of Fortune, "occurred during the battle of the

Somme, a sequence of engagements which went to five of the last six months

of 1916". This was the historical foreground in which the story of a single

soldiers experiences was fictionally rendered. Qunies Ross argued:

"Mannings understanding of fiction enabled him to make sense of his

experience and order it, as memoir, paradoxically may not".58 Imagination

freed the writer from the constraints of memoir. In his "Prefatory Note",

Manning wrote:
* * * *

57. Brenda Niall, Martin Boyd (Melbourne 19 74) p 1.

58. Bruce Qunies Ross, "Frederic Manning and the Tragedy of War",
Overland No 75 19 79. pp 45-73.

While the following pages are a record of experience on the Somme and
Anacre fronts, with an interval behind the lines ... the events described
in it actually happened, the characters are fictitious. It is true that
in the recording of the conversations of the men I seemed to hear
voices of ghosts. Their judgements were necessarily partial and
prejudiced; but their prejudices and partialities provide the power of

The Middle Parts of Fortune was initially published in a limited edition

of 520 copies. Published privately, this edition allowed Manning a degree of

freedom of expression which he knew would not be acceptable in a

commercially published book. Her Privates We by "Private 19022" appeared

as the commercial and sanitised version of The Middle Parts of Fortune.

Manning considered The Middle Parts of Fortune to be a more authentic

account of the war. Most obvious in the revised edition was the deletion of
some sections of conversation, for instance that between Pritchard and

Matlow following the death of one of their fellow soldiers: "Blown to fuckin
bits as soon as we got out of the trenches, poor bugger."60

Renewed interest in war as a literary topic in the 1930s raises the

question of experience and collective memory. In his first instalment of

"Things I Remember", serialised in Reveille 1932-33, William C. Groves

maintained: "This is a true account of the personal experiences of a band of

soldiers who fell into the hands of the enemy and were prisoners of war on

the Western Front. The story has probably been almost forgotten - if

indeed it were ever fully known." In a second instalment he resumed the

point: "I dont propose to recount all the details of the awful bungling."
* * * *

59. Frederic Manning, "Authors Note". The Middle Parts of Fortune

(London 1929 )
60. ibid p 23.

That "story", he believed, could better be "told elsewhere", possibly in an

official history. Groves was interested by the "human" side of events which

he proposed to tell in written form: "I just want to place a picture of the

whole scene before your eyes as I personally remember it

"A Gunners Reflections" by Talbot Hobbs, serialised in 1933, confirmed

the unreliability of memory. "Some of the events immediately before,

during and shortly after the landing can never fade from my memory", he

asserted, but others, less clear, their order in the sequence uncertain, took
longer to recall.p Clennell Fenwicks "Reminiscences of an Anzac"

began "Though the life on Gallipoli was such a kaleidoscope one ... two

events remain clear-cut - the landing early on that Sunday morning, and the

dreadful day of the Armistice spent among the dead in No Mans Land".
Forgotten or subsequently confused incidents could be verified by reference
to a diary kept at the time but Fenwick was suprised by the record he kept
which now departed from his accumulated understanding: "I had to keep a

strict official diary, which I find has been too often a record of the daily
numbers of sick and wounded ... ", he wrote in 1932.^3

By and large, memory of war was selective and favoured redeeming

features of war. In 1928 Malcolm Humphrey published "Forget the War" as

a reminder of the publics duty in preserving memory.

"Forget the War! the loud cry starts

From empty lips and shallow heart.
"Since life is short, come and be gay,
* * * *

61. William C. Groves, "Things I Remember: A Prisoner of War", Reveille

January 31 1932, February 29 1932.
62. Lieutenant-General Sir Talbot Hobbs, "A Gunners Reflections:
Gallipoli Campaign", Reveille March 31 1932.
63. Colonel P. Clennell Fenwick, "Reminiscences of Anzac". Reveille, March
31 1932.

Forget the past - live for today ... n

And so they leave all the war behind;
What care they for the maimed and blind;
But many eyes are dim and wet,
Who lost their all - can they forget ?6^

"As was only to be expected, so soon as the Great War came to an end,

everyone did his best to forget it had ever occurred, and tried pitifully to

pick up the ends of this life where penforce, they had dropped them in
1914", wrote Vernon Knowles a year later: "The general conspiracy of

silence was not only understandable; it was necessary". Knowles argued

that for "sanitys sake", war as a bad experience needed to be "blotted out

immediately". Only with the passing of some years and a more "detached

attitude" could the great questions of involvement be posed.65

"Two generations are now growing up that knew not the war ..." wrote

A.L. Phillips from a different point of view: "We who were too young have
more to fear than those who went in comparative blissful ignorance of the

last war." According to Phillips "novels and film" were preparing a new
generation to be more critical than their forebears. Phillips argued that
"rational fear" was the "foundation of a new peace."66 Judah Waten

disagreed. "We are flooded by war books", he wrote in 1930 about overseas

writing such as All Quiet on the Western Front, A Brass Hat in No-Man*s

Land and War. In the nineteenth century Victor Hugo, Emile Zola and Leo

Tolstoy had written critically of war but "It never prevented men from

needlessly throwing themselves into the trenches when the tom-toms of

* * * *

64. Malcolm Humphrey, "Forget the War". Reveille July 31 1928.

65. Vernon Knowles, "War Novels". All About Books, August 20 1929. p271.
66. A.L. Phillips, "War and the Coming Generation". All About Books,
August 20 1929. p 271.

propaganda and war frenzy began to beat, argued Waten.67 Both writers

were expressing very definite, though differing, concepts of the social

purposes of published writing.

It may have been that Australian writers believed that if they wrote

about the horrors of war then their books would not be published. Indeed,

novels which questioned brutality including All Quiet on the Western Front

and A Farewell to Arms were banned from sale in Australia in the 1930s.

Very like Angus and Robertsons readers report rejecting Leonard Manns
Flesh in Armour in 1933, a published letter to the editor of AD About Books

ridiculed Manns unhappy picture of war:

I found it very disappointing and unpleasant reading, and I am disgusted

with the view Mr Mann presents of our Australian Infantry.... he does
not hesitate to give his readers the unpleasant and lurid details of his
tragedy.... I think Mr Mann could far better have portrayed the spirit
of the Australian infantry by giving us a picture of the wonderful
comradeship which, in so many cases, remains unbroken to this day....
Mr Manns book may conform to all the rules (which literary people so
love to discuss) for the forming of a novel; the measuring rod may pass
the size and shape of the frame, but surely higher instincts cannot
condone the unsavory contents.6**

In the 1940s war novels confronted similar criticism. T.A.G. Hungerfords

Sowers on the Wind (1954), a critical novel about the maltreatment of

Japanese by Australian occupation forces in 1945, and Kenneth MacKenzies

Dead Men Rising (1951), a fictional rendering of the Cowra Breakout in 1944,

were delayed in the publishing process because Angus and Robertson

considered the issues dealt with were still too sensitive for the public to

contemplate.69 Issues of public propriety and consideration of the role of

publisher as guardian of morality7, dampening enthusiasm for war fiction was,

* * * *

67. Judah Waten, Notes of the Month. Strife No 1 Vol 1 19 30.

68. Flesh in Armour". AD About Books, April 13 19 33. p 54
69. Angus and Robertson Papers. ML MSS 3 269.

it would seem, a powerful agent in determining what authors wrote about.

It is possible that many books concerning Australias involvement were

written and never published. Many a manuscript is undoubtedly birth-

strangled ... wrote Nettie Palmer in 1933.7^

More expansively a pervasive public feeling in the 1920s and 1930s

claimed that Australia had done its fighting and, despite atrocities, positive

memory was better left in tact. This was not simply a matter of ideological

coercion by conservative forces but a general feeling that brutality had no

place in the new world. It was more important to concentrate on

Australias inheritance. Sacrifices had been made, the debt to the old
world had been paid and the infant nation had been blooded. The published

version of the war often reflected this attitude though criticism became

more virulent in the 1930s, possibly as a response to the depression and the
rise of fascism in Europe. In the 1930s criticism of war fostered notions of
isolationism in Australia. If Europe were to go to war again, argued Frank

Dalby Davison in 1939, Australia had no part in it.^1

Yet the apparent absence of war in literature contradicts the

omnipresence in many other spheres of Australian life in the period 1919 to

1939. A close reading of the novels reveals that the war was a major

literary preoccupation though it was not always referred to directly.

Prichards Working Bullocks has already been discussed in this regard.

There are several war-characters which include, among the better known

novels, Harry Seivwright in Palmers Daybreak, Greg Blackwood in

Prichards Intimate Strangers, Michael Bagenault in Steads Seven Poor

* * * *

70. Nettie Palmer, All About Books, May 15 19 33. p 69.

71. Frank Dalby Davison, Australian Writers Come to Maturity, loc cit. p

Men of Sydney, Jimmy Rolf, Curly Thompson and Old Duncan in Tennants

Foveaux, Nigel Hendon in Darks Prelude to Christopher, Matthew Dyas and

Hugh Stair in Manns A Murder in Sydney and Oliver Halliday in Whites

Happy Valley. In a post-war world these characters exist as misfits whose

inability to accommodate their wartime experiences to peacetime results in

depression, madness and suicide. The experience of war is also omnipresent

in novels by Miles Franklin, Dymphna Cusack, J.M. Harcourt, Frank Dalby

Davison, J.K Ewers, Helen Simpson, Chester Cobb and Jean Devanny.

War has a direct presence in Flesh in Armour, Boyds Ttie Montforts,

Davisons Battle of Beersheba, Leslie Mellers Leaf of Laurel and Eric

Lowes Salute to Freedom. Though a reasonable catalogue of war fiction,
in the main Australian writers did not concern themselves with battlefields
twenty thousand kilometres away. It was the European writers and, to a
degree, Americans living in Europe such as Gertrude Stein and Ernest
Hemingway who wrote about fighting and the estimated 42,000 kilometres of

trenches snaking across the landscape. The reality of war for Australians
was seeing troops off and welcoming home those who survived guns, gases

and disease, reading newspapers and seeking out Norman Lindsays and Will

Dysons sketches.

Apart from the Broken Hill incident in 1915, changing park, street and

town names from German to English and the internment of hostile aliens,
war remained a sombre but far away affair. Guns could not be heard

through Sydneys Heads or off the Brisbane Spit, German Zepplins did not

threaten Hobart or Melbourne. The nearest Australia came to actual war

conditions at home was reporting strange lights at night-time, mistaking

whales for submarines and birds for aeroplanes. At home fear resided in

threatening telegrams carrying news that loved ones had become


casualties.73 War in Australia relied almost entirely on communication

networks from oral culture through to the mass print media. To adopt

Fussells phrase, "Oh What a Literary War", war entered the Australian
imagination in very different ways to Europeans.

Newly married in 1914, Vance Palmer was living on the coast of Brittany

when war was declared. Twenty two years later he was at Barcellona with
his family when the Spanish war erupted. In 1914 he moved from the idyllic

fishing village at Brittany to London before returning to Australia. In

1936, he followed a similar route back to Melbourne. "It is hard to suggest
now how that first shot ... affected people who came to think of the conflict

in terms of ideas", recalled Palmer in 1958:

... how it made their minds turn over, forced them back onto
fundamental beliefs and loyalties, broke up old relationships. I can
still remember, still wanting to regard the war as a European affair, I
was affected by three lean, uniformed figures, in leggings and
Australian hats, sauntering down Charing Cross Road.73

This memory bears a striking resemblance to some of the opening sequences

in Manns Flesh in Armour. In 1914 Palmer had not anticipated war. He

had just embarked on a serious phase in his writing career. By 1915 he

completed a volume of short stories, The World of Men, and a collection of

verse, The Forerunner. He was determined to think about Australia in

terms of the new world. The "timing of the war exasperated" him argued

David Walker. Palmer believed it was " ... crucial for Australia to develop

a spirit of independence from Britain" but war would throw any such thoughts

back into the nineteenth century.74 Although Palmer saw potential in

* * * *

72. Ian Turner, "1914-1919". F.K. Crowley, A New History of Australia op

cit p 318.
73. Vance Palmer, "Fragments of Autobiography", Meanjin No 27 1958 p
74. David Walker, "Writer and Community" op cit p 259.
Australias refusal to accept conscription and the casual disregard for

British military authority by Australian soldiers, the commitment of troops

to Europe remained strong. For some years after the war Palmer continued

to think of Australia in positive terms but a sense of disillusion was also

growing. It became apparent in his 1930s novels beginning with The


Having campaigned against conscription in 1916 and 1917, Palmer himself

enlisted in 1918. Making a smooth transition into army life, his letters to
Nettie expressed familiarity with his newly acquired comrades. His only

real concern seemed to be that he was in the army at all but a secret delight
in being among the action was barely contained. A month before sailing to

England, Vance entreated Nettie not to mention his whereabouts to the

pacificist, Frederick Sinclaire. Sinclaire, sharing Palmers concern for a

new Australia wrote to Vance telling him not to stay away too long.
Australia was rapidly becoming a cultural desert. Sinclaire thought of

Palmer as one of the few remaining oases.75 His attitude, similar to that
expressed in Wilmots 1917 poems, seemed to be that Australia was morally
bound to war and the sooner a resolution could be found the better. In

peacetime Australian writers could re-train sights on the all-important

objective of building a distinctive and viable culture.

Palmer arrived in London three days after the armistice. He had been

employed in mopping up operations in Belgium. Back in London he was

more familiar with the environment and happy to catch up on old

acquaintances, Hilda and Louis Esson, Albert Dorrington, Bill Moore and Will

Dyson, who were all part of an expatriate community. Palmer noted that
* * * *

75. Frederick Sinclaire to Vance Palmer July 1918. ibid "Writer and
Community, op cit, p 238

Hilda and Louis seemed to be quite enjoying themselves, the "urbane

Dorrington had changed little since Palmer had last seen him, Moore was

"more or less burdened by his army life" while Dyson looked "rather haggard

from a couple of wounds".7^ There was enthusiastic talk about the

possibilities of the peace in which their pre-war dreams for an Australian
national culture might be realised. But the war had had a more dramatic

and negative affect than they yet understood. On his return to Australia

Palmer did not immediately set about his self-designated task of establishing

an Australian culture. Nor did he write about war but sat down to write

popular fiction. He explained to E.J. Brady that he should now

concentrate on making a living for his family.77

Katharine Prichard appeared have been caught equally unaware at the

announcement of war. Her first novel The Pioneers, written in 1913, and
published in 1915 was confident in its assertion that Australia was a possible
redeemer of the ills of the world. The attitude is apparent in the final

paragraphs of the novel as "young Dan" speaks to his mother about things he
had been told by his grandmother:

"... she told me my four grandparents were English, Irish, Scottish,

and Welsh. They have quarrelled and fought among themselves, but
you are a gathering of them in a new country, Dan, she said.
There will be a great future for the nation that comes of you and the
boys and girls like you. It will be a nation of pioneers, with all the
adventurous, toiling strain of the men and women who have come over
the sea and conquered the wilderness. You belong to the hunted too,
and suffering has taught you ... They may talk about your birthstain
... but that will not trouble you, because it was not this country made
the stain. This country has been the Redeemer and blotted out those
* * * *

76. Vance Palmer to Frank Wilmot February 21 1919 in Letters of Vance and
Nettie Palmer op cit pp 6-7.
77. Vance Palmer to E.J. Brady August 12 1919, ibid pp 7-9.

The novel concludes as the young boy recalls the old womans words: You
will be a pioneer too, Dan ... a pioneer of paths that will make the world a

better, happier place for everybody to live in.^ The Pioneers was

published while Australian troops were still fighting at Gallipoli. The theme
of the novel suited well the spirit of the Anzac legend which would later

bridge war and peace in the Australian consciousness. Yet Prichards

intention had been simply to write a book espousing positive aspects of

Australia in keeping with the nationalist ideals of the pre-war years. As in

the caseof Vance Palmer, Prichard, almost obsessively, held on to those

ideals in the face of their continued erosion in the post-war world.

In the mid twenties Chester Cobbs two novels presented oblique

criticisms of war. Days of Disillusion captures Robert Watson on a day

leading up to the announcement of war. As he walks through around
Circular Quay towards Pitt Street he beholds a newspaper headline which
tells him that war is imminent. The next day in the novel occurs seven

years later in September 1921. Walking along Bondi Beach in the early
morning Watson focuses on the war experience:

The war. Yes, but its no use saying it was the war. I was beginning
to be restless and discontented and altogether fed up before the war.
As a matter of fact, if I want to be frank, it was because I was fed up
that I went to the war. Going to the war solved the problem for a
time. Or it postponed the solving of the problem. But the problems
still there. Im no nearer a solution than I was before the war.^9

Days of Disillusion concludes on a reconciliatory note with Watson

discovering some sense of self. Yet epiphanies throughout the novel are

followed in sequence by ironic deflation, suggesting that the optimistic note

* * * *

78. Katharine Susannah Prichard, Pioneers (1916, reprint, Adelaide 1963) p

79. Chester Cobb, Days of Disillusion op cit p 258.

sounded at the conclusion of the novel signals the possibility of further

disillusion. Despite his rationalisation to the contrary, Watsons general

disposition has been affected by the war. Moreover, the fragmented

structure of the novel (its six chapters as days in the life of Robert

Watson), are suggestive not only of a fractured soul, but of a fractured

society which has been transformed by war.

Vance Palmers first attempt to deal with war directly in his 1932 novel
Daybreak conveys a similar sense of dislocation and also experiments with

modernist techniques. The story occurs over an eighteen hour period and is
told through the thoughts of Bob Rossiter who lives not far from a saw

milling town near Melbourne. Something happened to Sievright during the

war, wrote Heseltine in his study Vance Palmer (19 70), one is to
understand, but what is never made sufficiently clear.... There are powerful
hints that the ex-officers crack-up is not merely a personal affair but
symbolic of the whole state of Australian civilisation".80 In 1932 Nettie

Palmer had written to Lucille Quinlem in 1932 that Vances new book should
be read as a treatment of Australian life today.81 A month later she

reiterated the point when she wrote to Miles Franklin that Daybreak "... is

perhaps the most difficult and interesting book" Vance had yet attempted.82
Vance Palmer considered it his most important work. The novel opens with

nightmarish imagery of war:

A thin cry of agony, coming from a distance, penetrated the soft

darkness in which Rossiters mind was sheathed. Deep down it went,
like a quivering, barbed thing, ripping the veils of sleep, sending uneasy
vibrations through the clogged channels of consciousness. Terror was
in that cry, sheer animal terror! It spread through the night, evoking
* * * *

80. Harry Heseltine, Vance Palmer op cit p 100.

81. Nettie Palmer to Lucielle Quinlem, December 11 1932. Cited in Letters
of Vance and Nettie Palmer op cit pp 74-75.
82. Nettie Palmer to Miles Franklin, February 22 1933. ibid p 83.

shapes more vivid than those of the day lit world, laying its paralysing
touch at will.83

These images pervade the novel leading ultimately to the complete

breakdown and suicide of Seivright.

In contrast to the opening of Daybreak which introduces war at night,

Prichard's Intimate Strangers first exposes its lingering affects at the beach

in bright daylight. As the protagonists sun themselves, Greg Blackwood is

mentally tossed back into the war. His wife Elodie remains largely oblivious

to his state of mind: "He sweated, haunted still by the horror and nausea of
his first day in the trenches in France":

Could see the platoon going up the line, at dusk, in the rain. There
had been a very heavy bombardment a few days before. A section of
the trench was blown in. Greg saw himself among other heavy stooping
figures, digging out the trench. He had dug out decomposed bodies,
arms, legs and faces, flung down his shovel to vomit. Retching, had
crouched against the earth: been ordered back to the trench, refused to
obey. The stench and the sight of those rotting, blasted limbs and
faces had driven him almost insane. He would have faced a firing
squad rather than go near them again.

Blackwood finds it an odd thing to be reminded of war while relaxing on the

beach. He feels that he has seen the darkened heart of civilisation. He

has returned "not permanently incapacitated" but suffering "nervous strain".

He reflects that it is "indecent" to "survive" those who had been "blown to

pieces about him".8^

Prichard drew on Jim Throssells war experiences to create Blackwood.

She also had Alan Prichards letters. Palmer, too may have drawn on

Throssells experiences to create Harry Seivright. He had also read Alan

* * * *
83. Vance Palmer, Daybreak (London 1932) p 5.
84. Katharine Prichard, Intimate Strangers (London 1937) reprinted Sydney
19 74 p 24.

Prichards letters. Yet there were plenty of other examples. Seivright

was actually suggested by an ex-serviceman living in the Dandenongs not far

from the Palmers home at Emerald. Prichard changed the ending of her

novel as a consequence of Throssells suicide in 1933. She feared

connections might be made between invented characters and her own life

with Throssell. Barely disguising autobiography, connections were made

nonetheless. Prichard feared Throssell had read her incomplete manuscript

and identified with the failures of Greg Blackwood who, in the original

manuscript, suicides.

A 1919 Investigation Branch report noted Throssells leanings towards

socialism came from his "wifes influence: "However, he was struck on the
head at Gallipoli and further he was a victim of Cerebro-spinal Meningitis,
his mind perhaps having been affected". He was written off as a weak
character dominated by his wifes intellectualism. "Captain and Mrs
Throssell ... are regarded as visionaries, the humourists having 'that they

sit on the lawn in the early morn and write blood and thunder" was another
claim. The observer reported meeting Throssell, intending to "draw him

out" more about his relationship with Prichard and her beliefs in communism.

"A medical authority" informed one of the investigators friends who

dutifully informed the investigator that Throssell might go "out of his head"

at any time. The investigator concluded, therefore, " ... it is evidently his

wife who must be regarded as the more dangerous".**5

In a social and personal sense war affected writers like Prichard and

Palmer. Both were troubled by the thought that the goodness and
* * * *

85. R.H. Weddell, Report, Investigation Branch Attorney Generals

Department, March 2 1921. Australian Archives, CRS A6119 Item 42.

idealism of the young proud country had been consumed by the war and

that Australia would find it more difficult to live up to its promise: The

Great War put an end to many things and many ideas ... wrote Vance
Palmer in 1926.86 Leonard Mann similarly grappled with the effects of

war. In A Murder in Sydney psychological scars as a result of war emerge

unpredictably in the peace. A returned soldier, well regarded by

companions in arms during war, is reduced to hawking soap door to door in

civilian life. Among younger writers in particular, such as J.M. Harcourt,

Kylie Tennant and Christina Stead, emasculation is a theme of war in peace.

Steads Michael Bagenault, like Manns Stair and Palmers Seivwright

War in peace is the recurrent feature of Australian war fiction.

Michael Bagenault is estranged from his family as a consequence of his state
of mind following war. Something like Greg Blackwood, Harry Sievwright
and Robert Watson, Michael is "out of touch with his world. Initially

rejecting temptation to enlist, he had been swayed by images of "ready

barracks life now proper to men" and the enlistment of two of his cousins:

" ... tired the one of school teaching, the other of clerking in a Government

office". There were also the promises of "Turkish beauties and French

chorus girls." Yet, it is the delivery of a white feather which convinces him
to go the Europe. His sister, Catherine, profoundly disturbed by the

thought of killing " ... immediately joined the pacifist league". In peace,

war recurs as a legacy in reported murder-suicides and rumours of shell

shocked derelicts walking streets. Michael identifies with derelicts and

* * * *

86. See David Walker "Writer and Community" op cit pp 236-26 0.


describes himself as "one ... left by the war". Following his suicide,

Catherine comments: "The world imagines that the virtue and courage are
honourable, because it benefits thereby ... ".^

Tennants Foveaux is similarly pervaded by a sense of a upheaval and

wastage. For the characters of Foveaux, the war has a dramatic effect and

it is alleged that the municipality proportionally contributes more soldiers

than any other area in Australia. "At first the war in Europe was just

exciting", wrote Tennant, "The prospects of the teams in this new war were

discussed with all the serious consideration that might be given to a Test
Match.... young men were falling over themselves to enlist, were only afraid

the war might be declared off before they had their innings." For Curly

Thompson, factory worker and captain of a local larrikin push war "... meant
bugles instead of factory whistles, cigarettes and cards and new mates
instead of the same old round, the same old dirty terrace, and the same job

year after year." Two conscription referendums, a general strike and

mounting casualties has its effect on the fictional community: "From the
other side of the world the wrecks of war, the maimed, blinded and ruined,

the flotsam and jetsam that had been men, were being flung back to that

place that had sent them forth. Only Curly Thompson adjusts easily back to

civilian life as a petty criminal, standover and bag-man for big crime


Foveaux is concerned with aftermath and wreckage. Jimmy Rolf mocks

one of his returns to the slums as an "ancient mariner stunt". His friend

Duncan, who returns to Foveaux at the end of the war, is affected in no less

dramatic terms:
* * * *

87. Christina Stead, Seven Poor Men of Sydney op cit pp 53-54.

88. Kylie Tennant, Foveaux op cit pp 85-86.

He had been a sturdy, hale, bull voiced old battler in the days of the
war but of that Duncan there remained only and echo, striving for old
times sake to be louder and heartier than ever.... He was still a
fighter, but a fighter unmanned by too long a period of defeat, a
fighter who had given up being indignant. His old hands were gnarled
with knotted veins, but if he left them still, they might tremble, not
with age but with a kind of exhaustion, the exhaustion of a man worn
down to the last resources of energy. He was trying to be jovial.
From his hip pocket he produced a flask.

Unlike the emasculated Rolf and the unmanned Duncan, Curly Thompsons

war skills carry him well into industrial life, having ... simply carried over

the tactics of the trenches into private life. Other returned servicemen

join the ranks of secret para-military organisations.99

Whites Happy Valley also addresses war and its implications in the

young country. "On the newspapers in Sydney the War was in cold print"
ponders the young sixteen year old Oliver Halliday, "You went to the War.
Then suddenly in the Indian Ocean you were going to god knows what, and it
wasnt so good, but it couldnt go on forever, it was already 18. Perhaps

he would get a medal, the newspaper placards in Sydney, because he was 16

would say ... ". He arrives after the armistice is signed and is " ... sorry

in a way because a gesture like enlisting, when you were still sixteen, and

afraid, wasnt as big when you couldnt carry it through, even though

bravery was something that was forced upon you whether you liked it or

not."99 Eleanor Darks Nigel Hendon is reminded of war following a car

accident which lands him in hospital. From his hospital bed Hendon reflects

on the trenches:

"I thought it was guns." He shut his eyes again. "Not guns," he told
himself laboriously, "not guns". But his nerves still quivered with
remembered sensations; he was still young Nigel Hendon wrenched from
his dream of order and sanity, and flung into chaos of indescribable
* * " * *

89 ibid p 96.
90. Patrick White, Happy Valley op cit pp 18-19.

madness. Young Nigel Hendon with the last shreds of his faith in
humanity torn from him so that nothing remained of his life, his mere
animal existence. Young Nigel Hendon, pacifist, outcast ...^1

Unlike Mann, Palmer, Davison and Lowe, Boyd did not enlist in the
Australian army but travelled instead to England and enlisted there. In his

autobiography, Days of My Delight, Boyd detailed some of his feelings about

the war:

I was immeasurably depressed. Everyone seemed to think that some

glorious picnic had begun, and one which was made more enjoyable by
the ingredient of moral indignation. My adolescent belief that I would
go and fight if England were attacked by Germany had been overlain by
my aesthetic preoccupations and all my optimism for the brave new

Boyds seven week trip to England was seldom interrupted by the thought of

war. When he arrived in England he felt that, at last, he had arrived at the

centre of civilisation to achieve first hand acquaintance with that which he

had so long craved from Australia. Happiness is replaced by a queer

mixture of curiosity and depression at the front. His depression is

intensified by exposure to the wreckage in countryside where civilisation had
once stood firm. 1 had no spirit of the offensive nor had any of the

men, he wrote, "Their courage was endurance. As an officer and censor

of letters Boyd discovered that many of his feelings were shared by other

soldiers. Boyd developed a vigorous scepticism about war in the years

which followed:

Pvaoul gave in and went. He felt that he would be perfectly useless,

that he was incapable of killing anyone against whom he had no rancour,
some wretched man as relucant to fight as himself. He did not believe
that every German was a sadist and a devil. He believed that peace
* * * *

91. Eleanor Dark, Prelude to Christopher op cit p 48.

92. Martin Boyd, Days of My Delight (Ringwood 19 86)c

would be made at the first opportunity, that everyday the war was
prolonged, the greater would be the chaos afterward. He believed the
"war to end all war" was simply a recruiting stunt, but he did not have
the moral courage to hold out any longer. He was too young to realise
that it was no particular consequence what he believed.

When Raoul enlists he feels that his individuality is subsumed by the ranks to

which he now belongs. He " ... became a number and stepped into the vast
a glowing canvas of England at war. There he was lost". From Melbourne,

his sister Mary watches the "men and boys" disappear thought the "mists",
"only to return, if at all, with broken bodies".

When Raoul returns, his youth has passed though he does not feel that

he has reached manhood. Emasculated in post-war Melbourne, Raoul

attempts to reconstruct his life. At a dance he imagines that it is 1912:

"To-night reminds me of the golden age before Sarajovo, when he had such
brave and true things to say ... Everything has gone sour and silly since the
war". This night with his sister, Mary, he hopes to forget the war. Raoul

remembers how he had been before the war when he felt "at least alive".
He may have been "absurd" and "probably irritating" but there was the basic
material "from which a man might have developed". Now there was little to

suggest that he could ever once have had the potential to be more than "a

respectable dog ... a lap-dog, a beastly Pekingese." Raoul is cut off from

his past by the experiences of the war and, very much like his creator, felt

adrift and uncertain in the post-war, twentieth century world.

Lowe's Salute to Freedom discusses the basic issue of whether

Australia should have partaken in a war so far away. One character,

* * * *

93. "Martin Mills", The Montforts op cit p 251.

94. ibid.

Stewart, comments that "It wasnt even an English war". He is

unprepared when war is declared. "It had come like a cloud in the clear

sky ... for weeks he had found it hard to realise what had happened."

Stewart does not enlist and it is only after the death of a close friend that

he feels inclined to go: "He thought of the men who had landed at Anzac; of
the Turkish infantry, weak, half fed, and rotten with malaria ... A healthy

self-contempt came to his aid, bracing his shoulders and giving him a new
strength of mind":

This business of killing and being killed - it was without reason. Yet it
is what he wanted to do; what he wanted to do ever since the war broke
out. Why? He was not brutal; life was dear to him; and he would
probably be afraid of mutilation - afraid of the maddened faces and
flickering of steel ...There was no glory in it - just wretched, sordid
bestiality. He saw that clearly today; and yet more than ever before
he wanted to fight. He wanted to share the misery - not to live in
security and peace. Comradeship! 95

Stewart again delays enlistment. By the time he eventually gets to Europe,

the war is over: "He had never fired a shot ... ". Beset by self contempt

and pity, manliness becomes an obsession. Stewart becomes "wretchedly

monotonous, more unendurable. Nothing to do but eat and sleep - and

think". His friend Barney Case discovers he has a case of syphilis and

suicides intensifying Stewarts feelings of self contempt. His sense of

masculinity is only regained years later when he confronts his fears directly

and reasserts himself.96

Like Barney Case, Frank Jefferys in Flesh in Armour suicides after peace

is announced. Having been a "walking-case" for some months before the

signing of the armistice, he cannot face the thought of returning to civilian

life in Australia. His last days are played out in a twilight wilderness
* * * *
95. Eric Lowe, Salute to Freedom (London 1938) pp 214-215.
96. ibid p 421.

haunted by images of the dead. He loses all connection with the

environment which is replaced by a ... sense of nothingness, of non-


... with no reservoir of beauty drawn from Englands countryside or

pleasure gained in her cities, to be drawn upon in the trenches in
France as by one thirsty for life. He was about to return deeply
oppressed by the dark squalor of the ventral industrial cities, and yet
haunted by the feeling that he was leaving behind something which was
there, easily to be discovered, but which he had missed because of some
indefinable fault in himself.^

Manns character endures the ... terror and drudgery of his service ...

the semi automatic endurance required by duty, which had long ...

supplanted the first warmth of a sacrificial lamb". He is struck by his

impotence and the futility of life and death, the drudgery and stench of the
trenches, disease, the dying and the dead, scattered between the two lines:

... images of the wounded in pain and the dead stinking to rotteness and
disillusion", Jeffreys craves to have at least some say over his destiny and to

be "something active and forceful". He is driven to the conclusion that his

life matters little more than an "atom" in an "immense mass". In the

trenches he craves the "subtle connection of the passion of sex" which he had

known in London, the " ... lust and saliva, which had an acrid and intoxicating

taste." Instead there is only the animal terror of slaughter: "The dumb

ignorance of cattle, shunted hither and thither by the direction of some

inscrutable power ... ". For Jeffreys sanity becomes more elusive with each

day the war continues. He becomes completely detached from his own

humanity: "All the dead he had seen were dead, and he, too might soon be one

of the bodies in the mud ... ". Like Prichards Blackwood, Jeffreys feels that

* * * *

97. Leonard Mann, Flesh in Armour op cit p 8.


it is somehow indecent to survive slaughter when so many had been killed:

"All around him Death stalked". He sneaks into a crater, places a grenade

under his chest and releases the pin: "The chest was torn away and the head
was half off."^

* * * *

98. ibid pp 228, 230, 236, 249, 250.



In 1919 a full page advertisement appeared in the Bulletin depicting a

black man with some perceptible European features in loin cloth standing on
a hill overlooking Sydney harbour, the sun rising from the ocean and the
industrial city nestled in the foreground. The caption read: Australias

Virile Manhood Sees a Vision Splendid. The coupling of an imagined black

culture with industrialism stressed the bountiful potential of Australia as an

industrial nation in the twentieth century. This was consistent with its self

perception of peaceful acquisition in the nineteenth century. The picture is

of an Australia of the future planted in accommodated traditions. A second

1919 advertisement depicts industry as a white infant that needs careful

nurturing to grow healthily. Here Australia appears healthy though
vulnerable - a young country in the world of industry and technology.1

Since early white settlement machines and industry have impacted on

the Australian imagination. "The record of a bare six generations of British
enterprise in Australia would be incredible were it not for the fact that it

falls within the epoch of stupendous energies let loose by the Industrial
Revolution, which originated in England, and the Democratic Revolution,

which blazed and spread from France, wrote W.K. Hancock in 1930.^ In

The British Empire in Australia (1941) Brian Fitzpatrick argued: The

history of the seven Australian colonies as scenes of British private capital

investment may be said to begin about 1834, when for the first time the New

South Wales legislature encouraged the importation of substantial capital

....3 Although arguing from contrasting view points, both Hancock and
* * * *

1. Made in Australia, advertisements. Bulletin, August 28 1919 p 2,

November 20 1919 p 18.
2. W.K. Hancock, Australia op cit p 1.
3. Brian Fitzpatrick, The British Empire in Australia (London 1941) p 3.

Fitzpatrick agreed that the settlement and exploration of Australia in the

nineteeth century was a frontier of British industrial capitalism. They

seemed to further suggest that white Australia developed as a place of


Transplanting an industrial culture in a land occupied over the previous

40,000 years by a civilisation which had survived with 'stone-age

implements emphasised the importance machines were to have from this point

of first contact onwards.5 Occupation was not merely a matter of the first
industrial nation establishing a gulag in the new world. Guns, fences and

diseases from manufacturing towns would soon reshape existing systems of

commerce in the host economy. For whites it seemed almost inevitable that
machines would become increasingly important. Machines were tethered to
the concept of development in the new world. The simple process of
unloading ships by manual labour would soon require winches, wharves and
warehouses. British and European immigrants to Australia, almost

immediately, were ... required to participate in a new era of Western

progress long before there had been time to achieve more than a rudimentary
grasp of the continents most crucial ecological considerations, argued

historical geographer J.M. Powell in 1976.6 In the arts and literature,

machines came to be viewed in terms of progess and the building towards a

new world. Julian Ashtons painting of Sydneys botanic gardens (1880)

* * * *
4. Two excellent studies on the machines in the imagination see Francis D.
Klingender, Art and the Industrial Revolution (London 19 72) and John F.
Kasson, Civilising the Machine: Technology and Republican Values in
America 1776-1900 (Harmondsworth 19 79).
5. F. Wheelhouse, Digging Stick to Rotary Hoe: Men and Machines in Rural
Australia (Melbourne 1966). On contact and frontier see Dianne Kirkby,
"Frontier Violence: Ethno-history and Aboriginal Resistance in California
and New South Wales, 1770-1840. Journal of Australian Studies Vol 6 19 80.
pp 36-48.
6. J.M. Powell, Environmental Management in Australia 1788-1914:
Guardians, Improvers and Profit (Melbourne 19 76).

details women and men strolling leisurely near the harbour with two steam

ships anchored in the calm water, having discharged their cargo and ready to

Aside from food and clothing, two requirements in the trilogy of basic

existence, one of the first establishments at the infant colony of New South
Wales in 1788 was a brick works which made building material readily

available. In the first half of the nineteenth century convict bricks became

the building blocks of colonial architecture. In 1805 windmills were

introduced to pump ground water to the surface and a flour mill opened in

1815. In 1789 a ship yard was established at Sydney and in 1831 the first

steamer was built. At Newcastle in 1827 iron rails were laid to transport
coal from an early coal mine to docked ships and in 1846 the forerunner to
the Sydney Rail Company was established. A year later the first iron
smelter was established at Berrima and in 1855 John Kitchen and his three
sons began manufacturing soap in the back room of a South Melbourne house.

Pastoralism and agriculture continued as the most important sources of

export revenue for a tiny local economy still dominated by England,
encouraging the development of Riddleys famous stripper (1843), the stump

jump plough (1876), mechanical wool press (1865), shearing machines

(1868), the export of refrigerated meat to England (1880) and H.V.

McKays modern harvester (1884). In 1853 mining earned more in exports

than pastoralism and soon ordered processes and machines replaced the chaos

of tents and makeshift towns.

In the latter part of the nineteenth century, in particular, machines

infiltrated the Australian literary imagination. One of Lawsons earliest

and better known poems, "Roaring Days" is a longing for a time before
machines inhabited the interior. With manual fossicking for alluvial nuggets

in the gold fields long since replaced by corporate mining, capital

expenditure and heavy-duty machinery and railways forcing back 'frontiers"

even further and towns growing up around them, he lamented:

Those golden days are vanished,

And altered is the scene;
The diggings are deserted,
The camping grounds are green;
The flaunting flag of progress
Is in the West unfurled,
The mighty bush with iron rails
Is tethered to the world.7

Furphy's Such is Life employed the well-worn image of a threshing machine

in the countryside to register a sense of change and contact between

civilisation and nature. Although potentially dangerous, the machine is not

a source of harm in the same way as, for instance, the large thresher
depicted in Thomas Hardys Tess of the d'Urbervilles, though in both cases
machinery emphasises industry encroaching on the landscape. ^ In
Furphys case running repairs, including a "home made key" and a workmans

"home-spun" shirt, offset the more sinister associations of machinery

implicit in the English novel. In Such is Life, imagined progress which
accompanies the possibilities of machines compensates for potential
problems.^ In a like manner wire fences prevent stock from escaping and

upgraded roads improve the efficiency of transport to rail terminals.

Although machines are a potential source of harm they also improve

work conditions and the quality of life generally. Two rebellions against
authority at the Parramatta factory in James Tucker's Ralph Rashleigh are
* * * *

7. Henry Lawson, "The Roaring Days". First published in 1889 in the

Bulletin, reprinted Poetical Works of Henry Lawson op cit p 12.
8. Thomas Hardy, Tess of the dUrberviUes.
9. "Tom Collins", Such is Life (abridged edition London 1937) pp 82-83.

settled when a regiment is sent in to quell the "Amazons". The soldiers

declare that they would prefer to "kiss the darlins than charge them" and

order promptly returns. Tucker did not intend any irony. The factory is

soon back to being productive.1^ In the instance of Furphys thresher, a

trapped worker is liberated without too much trouble and no injury. The

scene might be contrasted with Prichards twentieth century saw mill in

Working Bullocks11 which highlights dangers in machine usage in ways that

did not occur to Furphy. His thresher emphasises the importance of

manual work. Prichards mill suggests danger. Lawson lamented the

presence of machinery in the now legendary bush but his acceptance is

matter-of-of-fact. Nostalgia for a golden past when men tramped the

roads is no condemnation that iron rails now link pastoralism and mining to

commerce and manufacturing. Writing about the city, Lawson became more
explicitly critical of the processes of industrialism (the stories of Arvie
Aspinal, 1892) while "Faces in the Street" (1888) goes as far as to

encourage revolution.

While the bush developed as a potent image in nineteenth century

writing, images of machines were also obvious in utopian writing. A story

written in 1845, "The Monster Mine", set its point of view a hundred years
into the future. Looking back from the imagined 1945, not, of course,

anticipating that a world war was to be resolved in the Pacific by the

explosion of nuclear bombs, the narrator comments: " ... atmospheric

railways and aerial machines were, it is true, talked of, by the matter-of-
* * * *

10. James Tucker, The Adventures of Ralph Rashleigh (written 1839, first
published 1929: this edition, Sydney 19 52) p 134.
11. This scene is discussed further later in the chapter.

fact men of the day who considered them theoretical, visionary and
impracticable ... in Hie Working Mans Paradise (1892), William Lane
imagined a time when worker-owned machinery would supply the needs of a
new society:

Men must all join together to own the machinery they must have to work
with, so that they may use it to produce what they need as they need it
and will not have to starve ... They must pull together as mates and
work for what is best for all ... We must all own all machinery co
operatively and work it co-operatively. 13

Again emphasising manual toilcons is tent with like so much utopian writing of

the late nineteenth century, Lane imagined a new world built from the

collective ingenuity of humans. Industrial production was to be harnessed in

pursuit of the common good.

Lane was influenced by the utopian writings of Edward Bellamy who

similarly maintained a connection between advanced machine technology and

higher stages of social development. For both writers hopes of a more

equal world resided in a belief that improvement in machines could liberate
workers from the repetitious of labour which deadened natural creativity.

Internationally, Bellamys Looking Backwards (1888) was possibly the best

known of this type of writing in the late nineteenth century though the form

was familiar enough. The coming of a new century was looked to with hope

that socialist aspirations might be realised. The Working Mans Paradise

concludes on an optimistic note despite the defeat of the shearers which are

its heroes: It is in ourselves that the real fight must take place between

the Old and New, wrote Lane in the closing sequences of his book.
* * * *

12. "The Monster Mine (1845) reprinted in Van Ikan (ed) Science Fiction
Writing in Australia (Sydney 19 86)
13 "John Miller, The Workingmans Paradise (Brisbane 1892) pp 224-225.

In 1909, W.G. Spence examined the formation of labor parties in

Australia in the 1890s when he wrote Australias Awakening:

The control of natures forces in applied science and machinery has left
us but the problem of organisation and distribution remains. Invention
is ever simplifying processes. Machines are now more simple, cost less,
and require less fuel. Electrical energy produced by water power uses
no fuel at all, and costs hardly anything for wear and tear. Every
branch of knowledge is being drawn upon to find cheaper, quicker, and
simpler methods of producing things to sell. As yet the idea of
making them for use has not gripped the collective brain of man in any

In 1910 William Morris Hughes wrote critically of the ... aggregation of

capital, combinations of capitalists, labour saving devices, the flocking of

populations to towns He maintained that the material conditions of

working life had changed as a result of larger and more complex systems of

ownership and management. The emergence of an industrial society was

affecting the "standard of fitness" of a nation self conscious of racial

purity. Yet for Hughes, as with Spence and Lane a general solution was to

be found in the reorganisation of the "methods of production"

While late nineteenth and early twentieth century socialist and utopian

writers envisaged new orders built from a reorganisation of society,

manufacturing and business conglomerates were refining labour and

production techniques. The theories of Taylor, based around the concept of

systematised work and scientific management, gained credibility. Around

the same time t-model Fords were beginning to roll out of Henry Fords

factory in "motor city", Detroit. Fords innovations were to revolutionise

* * *

14. W.G. Spence, Australias Awakening (Sydney 1909 ) pp 325-326.

15. William Morris Hughes, The Case for Labour (Sydney 1910) p 54. On
the issue of concern for racial purity see T.A. Coghlan Childbirth in New
South Wales: A Study in Statistics (Sydney 1900) and O.C. Beale Racial
Decay: A Compilation of Evidence from World Sources (Sydney 1910).

manufacturing and from this point on machine technology was harnessed to

the assembly line.

In 1913 huge conveyor belts were installed at the Detroit factory, delivering

parts to assembly areas where workers put cars and trucks together.*6 Mass
production and the use of the assembly line received a substantial boost in

1914 as production was turned to the manufacture of armaments. New

technologies were thrust to the forefront of public consciounsess in this

period of total war.

An intensified public sense of the importance of manufacturing emerged

in the post war period. Secondary industries in Australia concentrated on

light manufacturing. Car manufacturers, for instance, only made car shells
which were fitted to imported chassis and motors. Australians became
great users of the automobile. Large distances and a sunny climate were
proposed as explanations for the readiness with which the nation became
motorised. Australians soon ranked among the highest purchasers of
automobiles in the world. Colin Forster argued that automobile fever was

one of the greatest economic developments in the twentieth century. It

affected all spheres of public life.17 Investment in vehicles diverted

combustible income away from a number of sources. C.B. Schedvin

suggested that income diverted towards cars was a contributing factor in a

building the recession which occurred in the mid twenties. According to one

source, approximately half of the cars on the road were taken out on hire
* * * *

16. Peter Poynter, "The Development of the Assembly Line in Australia",

Arena Vol 58 19 81 pp 64-81. P Stubbs, The Australian Motor Industry
(Melbourne 19 71) Chapters 1 and 2.
17. Colin Forster Industrial Development in Australia op cit p 20.

purchase agreements.19 In the pre-war years motor vehicles were beyond

the means of many. They were bought by a "privileged few". Within a

decade a revolution in transport soon saw the automobile dominating the

roads. In 1910 there were less than 5,000 vehicles on Australian roads. By

1930 there were over 600,000. For a single generation this was a

remarkable transformation.

Throughout the nineteenth century Australia had remained a colonial

appendage to England as the "workshop of the world". Some local

industries did make use of local resources but Australia developed as an

antipodean pasture for the industrial cities twenty thousand kilometres away.
In 1914 war interrupted the British- Australian trade in manufactured goods

and local industries developed. On a global scale, trade and financial

emphasis shifted to the Pacific at the expense of the Atlantic with the
emergence of North America and Japan as new' industrial nations. Yet a
movement away from the Atlantic perhaps started earlier when Britain

effectively relinquished its role as custodian in the East by signing the

1902 Anglo-Japanese Alliance.19 In 1908 an estimated half million

Sydneysiders turned out to welcome the American Great White Fleet through

the heads.20

As a client state of British industrialism in the nineteenth century,

Australia did not follow the classical pattern of industrialisation as it

occurred in Europe. Most obvious in this regard was the high degree of

urbanism which preceded factories, reversing the European model, which had
* * * *

18. C.B. Schedvin Australia and the Great Depression op cit p 50.
19. N. Meany The Search for Security in the Pacific (Sydney 19 74) pp 18-
20. Sydney Morning Herald August 31 1908.

manufacturing attract population to cities.21 Yet the distinctive pattern of

" ... transfer of resources from primary to manufacturing industries, which

was to dominate Australias economic history in the twentieth century was

underway by the late nineteenth century. While the movement in the

nineteenth century is clear the 1920s and 1930s stand out as watershed

decades in the twentieth century:

By 1913 manufacturing accounted for 14% of gross national product and

employed 20 per cent of the work force. The greater part of this
activity was, however, in industries naturally sheltered from import
competition and in those associated with those large primary products.
Industrial development at this time was largely a function of population
growth and urbanisation. With only a few exceptions factory operations
were small scale, labour intensive, and required little technological
sophistication.^ 2

Inside Jonahs bootmaking factory-shop, Louis Stone depicted small scale

production while suggesting a gradual movement towards large scale

production, still some time off. As the "Silver Shoe moves further up the
street so the operations become larger.23 According to Schedvin there was

no general industrial expansion in Australia embracing a wide range of

manufacturing activities until after the war.

War exerted immediate pressure on industrial production 1915-1918.

Local industries could manufacture uniforms but they were ill equipped to

provide munitions. The opening of the steel smelter at Newcastle in 1915

was a fortunate coincidence. Forster argued that while Australia was

forced by war conditions to manufacture its own industrial goods, its

* * *

21. Sean Glynn, Urbanisation in Australian History 1788-1900 (Melbourne

19 70). Alan Rose, "Dissent from Down Under: Metropolitan Primacy as the
Normal State", J.M. Powell (ed) Urban and Industrial Australia (Melbourne
22. C.B. Schedvin Australia and the Great Depression op cit p 51.
23. Louis Stone Jonah op cit Part 2, "The Sign of the Silver Shoe".

geographic location in the Pacific region also meant that it could now turn

to Japan and North America. The period did witness large scale import

replaced by locally produced goods and in the immediate post war years to
about 1925 local industries, protected by tariff walls since 1920, competed

effectively with imported goods. When domestic economies in Britain and

Europe recovered their manufacturing bases in the mid 1920s they turned

once more towards export markets. In consequence Australian

manufacturing declined. By about 1927 it recovered marginally but was

soon hit by depression.2^

After the war manufacturing in Australia was organised on a larger

scale. The formation of the Australian Council of Trade Unions in 1927

announced the end of small unions and symbolically signalled the decline of

craft industries although a significant number continued independent of the

larger organisation for much of the century. "Changes in the environment
of work accompanied changes in the labour process", argued Connell and

Irving (19 80), "The sheer size of plant multiplied, the larger ones sprawling
across tens of acres in hump-backed sheds, filled with the din of packed

tyre-moulding, wire-twisting or glass moulding machines ... Craftsmen might

cling to their separate unions and their pay margins, but even they were

absorbed in the authority structure of the factory."25 While large factories

sprang up in new industrial areas hump-backed sheds were frequently

interspersed with lots of small mixed farms, market gardens, fenced

paddocks with horses, perhaps a few milking cows and the odd assortment of

farm-yard animals. A 1910 photograph of Cumming Smiths factory at

Bassendean shows it surrounded by scrub land and black-boy trees. Another

taken as an aerial shot in 19 39 depicts the development of residential

* * * *
24. C.B. Schedvin Australia and the Great Depression op cit p 52.
25. Connell and Irving, Class Structure in Australian History op cit p 219.

Bassendean with telling fence lines marking small farming.26 In the older

industrial areas such as Surry Hills and Redfern in Sydney and Richmond and
Collingwood in Melbourne, factories were tightly stacked up against workers

In post war Australia, a vastly improved manufacturing base turned its

attention back to the production of consumer goods. The 1920s opened a

new period of consumerism - the car, a revolution in retailing headed by

department stores which crammed a number of specialist services under one

roof, and electrical domestic appliances were influential in creating a sense

of a new age. As factory life was streamlined so were domestic and
entertainment industries by electric irons, vacuum cleaners and white goods,

packaged soap, factory-made carpets and furniture, radios and

gramophones. In 1920 advertiser Cyril Pearl presented the "Dream
Kitchen" with "every conceivable labour saving device known to the culinary
art." When the prospect of a large windfall is presented to one of Chester

Cobbs characters, Mrs Moffatt, she remarks: "I think wed build a new
house....Electric lights all through. Electric fittings everywhere.

Labour-saving arrangements.28 While the depression interrupted buying,

the consumer ideology persisted. A 1935 picture of the model electric

kitchen featured an electrified stove, fan, refrigerator, toaster, pie

warmer, lights, vacuum cleaner and wall clock.28 While clearly outside the
experience of many and disrupted by another war, consumerism continued

into contemporary times with further developments of the car and white-

goods industries, particularly in the 1940s and 19 50s.

* * * *
26. Jennie Carter, Bassendean: A Social History 1829-1979 (Bassendean
19 86) p 139, p 141.
27. Janet McCallman, Struggletown (Melbourne 19 86)
28. Chester Cobb, Mr Moffatt op cit p42.
29. Australias Yesterdays, 1935 p 99. Powerhouse Museum "Kitchen Design
File" uncatalogued.

Perceptions of a future world based on machines had changed by the end

of the first war. They were not as optimistic as those embodied in the
writings of Lane or Spence. Utopian writing shifted away from machinery
for the benefit of humanity to concentrate on the devitalizing effect of

regulated factory work and destruction made obvious in the war. While

appliances offered the scope for increased leisure time and new recreations

the repetitive nature of factory work required to produce them remained a

social cost to be reckoned with. How could a world so preoccupied with

attractive shop displays be concerned to change society for the better,

ponders a character in Christina Steads Seven Poor Men of Sydney. ^0 The

post-war literary imagination deployed images of machines to signal a sense

of change, conveying at the same time a general ambivalence towards them.

Usually images were negative, particularly when couched in the language of

conflict. "How swiftly mechanical development had leapt ahead, comments
a character in Vance Palmers Tlie Passage, "during the war there were
millions of men occupied with destroying things with explosives and fire."^1
The clock, among other images, became an important symbol of the

demarkation between work and leisure deemed necessary in an industrial

society. Machinery and industrial images now carried sinister overtones

which were largely absent in the pre-war writing.

In 1919 a contributor to the Bulletin wrote "Man - Still of Some

Consequence". Machinery had failed: "For three years most people on

both sides believed it was a war of machinery, and that the human equation

might, comparatively speaking, be disregarded ... Not putting enough trust

* * * *

30. Christina Stead, Seven Poor Men of Sydney op cit p 52, p 240.
31. Vance Palmer, The Passage op cit p 46-47.
3 26

into his infantry, he used the old bombardment as an overture of his direct

attack."32 Twenty years later, the satirist and essayist, Walter Murdoch

linked the drive for consumer goods to a new arms race which had beset the

world and which was rushing it towards a new conflict: "at our present stage

of civilisation", he wrote critically of gadgets such as gramophones and

windshield wipers, "under our present system of management, we are not the

masters of things; they are our masters". Perhaps not a profound insight

for 1939, Murdoch concluded that if the production of armaments continued

they would eventually insist on being used: "The machines we have devised

rule us, with rods of iron."33

Kylie Tennants second novel, Foveaux (1939), is a story of

industrialism and the inner Sydney slum areas of Surry Hills and Redfern,

C1912-1938 where she lived for a time researching and writing, much of the

time actually living in slums and observing first hand the ways of life for the

occupants. Her title comes from Foveaux Road which runs through present

day Surry Hills down to the citys central railway station. In Tiburon, her

first novel, Tennant hinted at a changing face of Australia when she

compared the depression of the 1890s to that of the 1930s:

"I remember the first day I started out," Old Grey was saying, "Id
got a job shear in away from home. Ah, those were the days! I could
two em then lads." He shook his head appreciatively. "In those days
the men on the track were men. Not broken down city shop

In Foveaux, Tennant again referred to the itinerant poor and the

unemployed who took to the road in times of hardship in the hope of finding

* * *

32 "Man Still of Some Consequence". Bulletin April 8 1919 p 17.

33. Walter Murdoch "On Gadgets" Ttie Spur of the Moment (Sydney 1939)
34. Kylie Tennant Tiburon (first published London 1935, this edition Sydney
1972) p 407. See also p 261.

casual or piece-meal work but, from inside the confines of an unemployed

mens refuge in the centre of the city where one of the characters finds
himself, the attitude is different. Jimmy Rolfe, a native of Foveaux, an

ex-serviceman returned after a stint working as a merchant seaman, is

acknowledged at the refuge by an old-timer who tells him that he had

missed nothing by not having ever been on the track".^5

In the four years which separated the publication of Tiburon and

Foveaux a change in attitude came over the young author. "When I wrote
Tiburon I had a set of convictions that were iron-bound and padlocked and

reinforced with concrete, she wrote to H.M. Green in 1941, "Most of them
were smashed and twisted out of shape by force of circumstance".^

According to Foveaux, the emergence of an industrial and commercial

consciousness in Australia was slow but ineluctable, irrepressible and

irresistible. For the fictional community it began in 1912, the year the
Redfern Municipal Council was absorbed by the Greater Sydney City Council:

"There is no Municipality of Foveaux", wrote Tennant from the vantage

point of 1938, "Its boundaries are obliterated, its identity merged with

that of the city of Sydney. But in 1912 Foveaux still had its own council,

its own mayor and, even some maintained, its separate smell".^

1912 also marked the end of the Eight Hours Day Procession for the

residents of Foveaux. At the end of the novel, a procession of workers,

parading according to their trade, symbolically marks the end of small unions

and the beginning of a trend towards the organisation of industrial unions on

a larger scale. Significantly 1912 is also the year the author was born.
* * * *
35. Kylie Tennant, Foveaux op cit p 324.
36. Kylie Tennant to H.M. Green, March 26 1941. H.M. Green Papers NLA
MSS 3925.
37. Kylie Tennant Foveaux op cit p 17.

She later wrote that she belonged to a "generation of unemployed"*^ and

that the recurring feature for this generation was an awareness of class
distinctions, brought about by the organisation of cities, towns and country

according to a dependence on manufacturing. For much of the 1930s Kylie

Tennant lived as a vagrant and a vagabond. She later recorded these
experiences through the fictional character Shannon Hicks in Ride On

Stranger (1943). Foveaux was her fictional rendering of changes wrought

on the slums of Sydney by changing modes of production.

A young socialist down and out in Surry Hills and Redfern and in

revolt against industrialism, something like George Orwell in TTie Road to

Wigan Pier (1937), Tennant wrote of the squalor of the industrial and urban
environment. She shared with Orwell a concern for the working-class in the
industrial environment. While Foveauxs canvass lacked the slag heaps
familiar in the industrial landscapes of Orwells experience, the sentiments
engendered are basically interchangeable. "Foveaux is finished"

comments one of the characters: "When the factories began to come up the
hill, the people went out. The inner city is depicted as a place for

wrecks". People come there only because they have nowhere else to go:

"All the waves sweep over it, all the tides of factories and slum terraces and

cheap shoddy shops and flats and makeshift dugouts. Were drift, just

drift, left overs.^

Tennants characters are debilitated by their urban and industrial

existence, and the general squalor of the slums where they are described as

"mere sacks of emptied energy", though a vigorous worker based culture

* * * *

37. Kylie Tennant, "Introduction, Tiburon op cit.

38. Kylie Tennant, Foveaux op cit p 123. passim pp 181-183, 217, 267, 288,

resists the pace of change. Towards the end of the novel Tennant alludes

to "resignation" through the thoughts her protagonist, Bramley, who likewise

" ... had been grimed with bitterness ... Bitterness against things he was
powerless to alter ... the ache, the futility of life ... ".40 A cliche in

twentieth century industrial-socialist fiction, Tennant later suggested :

"Bramley and Snow were perhaps not loud enough in their voicing of my

belief that the acceptance of things is a noble thing in itself." Considering

the depressed circumstances of her generation, it is not surprising that a

sense of defeat is often a factor of the writing. "When I hear anyone
talking about social revolution or some millennial change that will sweep
humanity into grandeur", Tennant later wrote, "I am glad that some can still

be enthusiastic".41

As social history, Foveaux features as a demographic study of Sydney

slums in the 1920s and 30s. A movement of population is traced through

many phases: improved transport systems altering notions of a "walking city"

of the nineteenth century, cheaper rents in the suburbs attracting working

people away from areas traditionally associated with their work, the growth

of suburbs, the renovation of slums into flats by the middle-class and,

finally, the re-occupation of slums with the onset of the depression where

they once more become ghettos for the working-class, the poor and the

unemployed. The processes are brought into sharper focus by the


Foveaux ends with Bramley looking out over Waverley cemetary

(significantly the burial place of Henry Lawson) to the ocean where he

* * * *

40. ibid p 419.

41. Kylie Tennant to H.M. Green, March 26 1941. H.M. Green Papers NLA
MSS 3925.

contemplates the changes which had overtaken Foveaux: "He liked the dirty

tragic people, their bravery and their horrible patience, contented in hell.

He liked the streets and the very muddle of the factories and houses where
everything was unexpected.^2 As Tennant wrote less than ten percent of

the residents of Surry Hills and Redfern actually owned the houses and flats
which they occupied. Down Foveaux Street horse drawn carts and motorised

trucks and cars moved past tightly packed terraces with pubs and grocery

shops on the corners. Foveaux exposed the social structures and the

processes of change in an inner city slum area - the influence of

automobiles and slum clearances, landlords and gramophones - within the
context of a larger social transformation.^ in this regard Tennants

fiction shared characteristics in common with many other urban novelists of

the 1930s such as J.M. Harcourt, Katharine Prichard, Chester Cobb,
Desmond Tate, Vance Palmer, J.K. Ewers and Christina Stead.

Christina Stead wrote about a Sydney sub-culture characterised and

held together by poverty and the fear of unemployment though, to some

extent, those who occupy the foreground of Seven Poor Mai of Sydney

(1934) are bohemian and intellectual. During the 1920s Stead moved on the

fringes of Sydneys bohemian groups. She left Australia for London in 1928

where she completed a manuscript of the novel. The principle characters of

Seven Poor Men of Sydney are printers who belong to one of the few

remaining craft industries of a modern and largely industrial world. Old

world trade affiliations are a concern for the seven poor men, one of whom

is the owner of a printing press, three of the remaining six work for him.

In this sense, Seven Poor Men of Sydney is a critique of guild traditions and
* * * *

42. Kylie Tennant Foveaux op cit p 412.

43. ibid, passim pp 179, 181-183, 191, 199-203, 306-310, 312-313, 326-327,

their inappropriateness in the industrial environment. On the social level,

Seven Poor Men of Sydney depicts conflict between old trade affiliations
(the printers) and new, emerging, industrial relationships which, on the

individual level, also acts as a metaphor for personal conflict.

The industrial waif, Catherine Bagenault, and her half brother Michael,

who has been spiritually and emotionally defeated by the war and its

aftermath, are the principal characters of Seven Poor Men of Sydney.

Michael craves complete anonymity, even annihilation. Like Catherine he

regards himself in the smallest possible terms in an attempt to combat

feelings of alienation. "We are insensitive to great disasters, because we

have met them so often on our path in company with death", comments

Catherine with a sense of irony, "We feel small things so sharply because
they mock our heroics.^ Reflecting the authors sense of irony Michael
and Catherine mimic nineteenth century aspirations for the advent of the
superman and the transvaluation of values, found for instance in the writings

of Nietzsche and George Bernard Shaw. The irony is sustained by Michaels

suicide at the end of the novel. Stead implied that the claim for anonymity

was merely confirmation of alienation.

For Michael and Catherine, modern "reality" appears too large and too

enigmatic. Like Huxleys Savage in Brave New World, which depicts utopia

gone horribly astray as a result of social and genetic engineering (also a

feature of Eleanor Darks writing), they complain about the impersonality of

the industrial society against which they are impotent to effect any form of

change. Like Savage they claim the "right to be unhappy", if they so

desire, the "right to grow old and ugly", the right to "have syphilis and
* * * *

44. Christina Stead, Seven Poor Men of Sydney op cit p 113.


cancer too" and, finally, "the right to live in constant apprehension of what

may happen tomorrow" instead of being straight-jacketted by the material

and social environment.45 Catherine and Michael are societal misfits whose
class and group affiliations, as accidental and incidental as they appear in

the fiction, reflect a more general inability of all the poor men to live
within the constructs of a larger defining culture. Stead compressed within

the lives of seven anonymous characters the historical pressures bearing

down on this generation. Like the trade association of the printers, Michael

is an anachronism in the industrial setting. He feels a sense of

worthlessness when he comments: "I would retire to a monastry or a cave in

the desert which is what I always wanted to do if it werent so bloody out of

The Michael-Catherine relationship in Seven Poor Men of Sydney

closely resembles, in the modern setting, the Cathy-Heathcliff relationship

in Emily Brontes Wuthering Heights where the elemental is replaced by the

industrial. Although there is no concrete evidence that Stead was

influenced by Brontes novel there are sufficient similarities to suggest a

link between the two. Michael is Catherines "hollow echo", a paling

reminder of Cathys affirmation of love for Heathcliff which " ... resembles

the eternal rocks beneath. A source of little visible pleasure but

necessary."4^ In their twentieth century world wrought by change a

declaration of perpetuity is impossible for Catherine who can only reflect on

a time that has passed; a time when she and Michael played bushrangers as

children or spent time with one another down by the sea during adolescence.

The changes from an intrinsic relationship to a more fragmentary one

* * * *

45. Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1928, reprint London 1977) p 192.
46. Christina Stead, Seven Poor Men of Sydney op cit p 59.
47. Emily Bronte Wuthering Heights (reprint, New York 19 72) p 74.

coincides in the fiction with the war. After Michael suicides Catherine

declares her true feelings: T,We were hearts united - before the war.

Before the war. It is only when Michael escapes the industrial

environment by taking his own life, his only socially free act, that

Catherine can inject any certainty into her feelings: "I loved Michael: I
have always loved him.48

For twentieth century writers the city provided new dimensions for the

imagination to explore, its overwhelming presence almost demanding some

sort of literary response. "Humanity was asleep along those dark,

mysterious shores, wrote Eleanor Dark in Waterway (1938), "and not until
it wakened would the ugly noises of its myriad activities wake too." In the

darkness it was possible to imagine " ... you could annihilate the city, the
growth whose parent cells had fastened on the land."4^ The representation
of the city as a malignant growth in a landscape once occupied by pre-
industrial communities underscores an authorial suspicion of modern society.

Throughout Waterway the "strange, incoherent, ominous noises" of the alien

city in the daytime hint at its sinister aspect, suggested without

compromise in the darkness of night.

A similar sense of the city is apparent in Leonard Manns A Murder in

Sydney (1937). Drained of its "human liquor" which retreats to the suburbs

at night, the darkness gathers around the buildings. The last vestiges of

humanity crawl "verminously" into the "monstrous cubic undergrowth".^1

Here, as in other novels of the period, the city appears as a wasteland.

* * * *

48. Christina Stead Seven Poor Men of Sydney op cit p 255.

49. Eleanor Dark, Waterway (London 1938) p 11.
50. ibid p 185.
51. Leonard Mann, A Murder in Sydney op cit p 228.

Descending a tram in Redfern a character sleeks off into the death-like

night, wandering "... furtively around the streets that defied the electic
light to hold their night".52 This scene shares elements in common with

Danilla Vassileffs 1936 painting Nocture No 3 Commonwealth Lane which

depicts terrace houses dimly lit in the night by a single electric lamp.53

Surreal images of the city and wasteland recur in the literary and

artistic imagination in this period. J.M. Harcourt depicted his city as a

monument to mammon. Some of his images invite comparisons with James

Cants painting Merchants of Death (1938). In both cases, the city is a

desolate though haunted place. "The city he knew was a city at work,"

thinks Harcourts character, "living, significant: a city of two hundred

thousand souls; with crowded footpaths, and wide busy streets; with clanging
trams, painted a dull grey-green and decorated with advertisements, with
red diamonds painted on either end from which head-lamps looked out like
Cyclopean eyes ... ". The city was a refuge where people congregated out

of a sense futility. The city provides some comfort but it is also potentially

alienating and corrupting. As it lays dormant in an " ... exhausted sleep,

empty and meaningless, sprawled like a dead monster among green living

things", a tram "two blocks away" clangs with the "death rattle of a robot".

More ominously at a nearby park " ... the unemployed lay gasping in their

sweat-soaked rags: the ordure of the city." The city lay expended "amist

the excrement passed from its concrete bowels." 5^

In Prichards Intimate Strangers young shop and factory workers escape

* * * *

52. ibid p 240.

5 3. See Charles Merewether, Art and Social Commitment: An End of the
City of Dreams (Sydney 1984) pp 8-48 for comment on modern painting and
the city.
54. J.M. Harcourt, Upsurge op cit pp 13-14.

at night from the ill effects of the city and their work to dance-halls and

night-clubs. In the halls and clubs, however, they unwittingly reproduce

their daytime activities: "Woven and weaving together all their youthful
bodies glided and swayed, clung to and clutched at each other, bumped and

jostled, stampeded happily." The language and imagery of this scene are

similar to the city streets: "The car moved slowly through the crowded

street, hung up by trams that jangled harshly, persistently blocked by lorries

and trucks ...". Young workers might attempt to escape in the night but

the "drudgery of their everyday lives" is only momentarily postponed:

...under the coloured lanterns and strips of red and yellow paper
drifting down from the ceiling, in their backless gowns, held by a string
of mock diamonds, or pink roses, in their creations of blue and orange
lace, filled with muslin and tinselled gauze, they lived in an enchanted
world, as greedy moths in their flight after the honey of life.55

Characters endeavour to escape monotony through entertainment. Like the

lives of greedy moths, however, their flight is short-lived, its effects

illusory. They must return to their homes in the suburbs. While suburban
bungalows seem inviting like a "good old friend", it is here "Domestic

tragedies are all played out in an atmosphere of low comedy.55

Noisy trams hustle by in Chester Cobbs Mr Moffatt and "motor cars"

and "motor trucks" compete with one another on crammed roads. When

Moffatt returns to Sydney, after a long sea voyage, the city registers on his

mind as a kaleidescope of impressions and half thoughts:

The taxi driver was clambering into his seat before the steering wheel,
the starting motor was whirring, the engine was bursting into subdued
life, there was a sound of gears being shifted, of the engine
* * * *

55. Katharine Prichard, Intimate Strangers op cit p 318-319. also p 315.

56. ibid p 206.

accelerating ... Mr Moffatt kept his hands in his overcoat pockets out
of the chill of the wind as he sat in the seat watching the passing
vehicles and the ugly, grey stone bondage warehouses and wool stores
along the street.

The taxi passes through the city into Oxford Street where all the winter

sales are displayed: nSales, nothing but sales. Slashing price reductions".

Moffatt is on his way to visit his wife who has been admitted to hospital:
"Up the front stairs he walked, now with the wind at his back, clack-clack -

clack". Mrs Moffatt is too ill to see him and he makes his way back through

the streets to Paddington. His emotions intensified, and thoughts racing,

the city takes on elements of the surreal:

How funny those telegraph poles look in the moonlight. Suppose they
look just as funny in daylight, but Ive never noticed it before....I
wonder somebody doesnt write an essay on the symbolism of the
telegraph pole. Thoughts suggested by a streetful of telegraph poles.
The telegraph pole as a mirror of human nature. Or, the telegraph poles
I have known. Very funny.

Moffatt follows the path of the tramlines till he reaches his home: "His eyes

travelled from the paley shining tram lines ... then to the electric current

standards and the copper wires ...

In Days of Disillusion, Cobb maintained his fascination for the

contradictions inherent in the city environment. His protagonist, Robert

Watson emerges from a central city office block in the early evening where

he had only moments earlier imagined having sex with Miss Delaine who works

as a secretary. Miss Delaine is oblivious to his desire. Watson imagines

her supple breast, a stark contrast with the city into which he now wanders.
* * * *

57. Chester Cobb, Mr Moffatt pp 140-142, 160-172.


The city presents itself in sharp geometric shapes. Watson walks through

the "bleak, windy triangle of Martin Place" to the "tall mass of the General

Post-Office". He feels "shaken to pieces". The city becomes a

"Fiendish, snarling, roaring, shrieking place ... ". Watson finds temporary
refuge in a nearby club where he is soothed by the music of Rachmaninoff.

Leaving after he has collected his thoughts, he walks out onto the streets

again and is confronted once again with the "clamour of the traffic.59

In the industrial city, characters are often depicted as "divorced from

life" because a more humanitistic side of their make-up has been overlaid by

artificiality: "... the body does not feel but the earth burns and freezes"

comments a character in Seven Poor Men of Sydney.59 In Darks Prelude

to Christopher the city appears even more apocalyptic: "All the cities were
on fire; the smoke went up from them, red and light and hot like a million
crazy witches". In Seven Poor Men of Sydney there is a suggestion that

"minor passions" run in the "undergrowth of poor lives"59 but it is the city

and modernity which are the dual foci of the novel. "There is plenty that
we miss", comments Michael Bagenault, "When I see order, it seems

unnatural. I feel as if I were looking at a thing artificially perfect like a

china-dolls complexion ... .5^

While writers attempted to render the essence of city living through

allusion to artificiality, the city also appears as a place of alienated artistic

potential. A major theme of Prichards Intimate Strangers relates to the

middle-class ideals of the artist. "How could glamorous emotions survive

* * * *

58. Chester Cobb, Days of Disillusion op cit Chapter 5 passim.

59. Christina Stead Seven Poor Men of Sydney p 87.
6 0. Eleanor Dark, Prelude to Christopher op cit p 192.
61. Christina Stead, Seven Poor Men of Sydney p 52.

such prosaic reality", asks Elodie Blackwood. A child prodigy now in

her middle age, Elodie had once nurtured aspirations of becoming a concert

pianist. These dreams have been quelled and she now works as a wife and
mother in the suburbs. Elodies need to play music in a jazz band at night

to alleviate her familys financial pressures, makes a mockery of any

thoughts she might once have had of interpreting life through art. The

band is a continual reminder that her talent has only a utilitarian value

which she now exploits for small return, banging out " ... sentimental
melodies at a second-rate dance hall".62

A similar sense of the alienated artist appears in Kenneth Mackenzies

TTie Chosen. Walking through the streets of the waking city in the early
morning, consumed with the images of his lover, a young married woman who

lives alone, the protagonist, Mawley, finds himself irrepressibly drawn to her
bedside. The break of day serves as a metaphor of life, in Mawleys case
for a life of "renewed freedom". As the city begins its activities in the

cool morning air, it gives Mawley occasion to contemplate his own life,
concluding with his bending to the will of the poet and lover rather than to

the hustle and bustle of commercial life and the workaday world. He

postpones another encounter with the city which fails to assure him of his

own reality as the dreams of the sleeping woman promise to do.63

In Waterway the artist appears alienated by commercialisation in

culture and an Australian worship before a "Holy Trinity" of "surfing,

horse-racing, cricket." "Culture isnt news", wrote Dark, "A solid

murders news, and an American film-stars news, and a Paris Mannequin

* * * *

62. Katharine Prichard, Intimate Strangers op cit p 315. See also passim p
277, p 318, p 315, p 197, p 206.
63. "Seaforth Mackenzie", The Chosen (London 1938) pp 214-218.

shedding the lustre of her presence on the native land for a month or two is
Big News.6^ In a different frame of mind, she had written earlier:

"Artists, the ruthless conceit of them! Painting as they felt, writing as

they felt, making music; never caring whom they flayed and tortured, what

unendurable agonies of human suffering, what hardly more endurable summits

of human joy captured and bound within the limits of their insatiable art
....65 Leonard Mann questioned not only the conceit of writing but the

medium itself. The nation wanted a "creative guiding criticism", a

"criticism of life", he suggested, but there was "nothing to give it", "no

medium through which it could be given".66

Prichard posed a similar problem in Intimate Strangers: "When one was

worn to frazzles, too, about where the money was coming from to pay

tradespeople and doctors' bills, the great lovers of history and fiction never
seemed to be bothered by such considerations".67 Like her character
Catherine Bragenault in Seven Poor Men of Sydney (1934), Christina Stead

felt she had been confronted with a decision to "move on" or live to an old
age and "die miserably and as respectable as anyone at the long dry end of a

rut". She had to leave Australia, at "any rate for a while" or go bush.

But going bush was "too easy", she wrote. She would soon be back with her

"old gang" in Sydney.66

Many novels from the period seemed to suggest that machines had

overtaken humanity. This included creative expression. In TTie Swayne

Family Palmer has one of his characters comment: "Theres too much
* * * *

64. Eleanor Dark, Waterway op cit p 76.

65. Eleanor Dark, Prelude to Christopher op cit p 206.
66. Leonard Mann A Murder in Sydney op cit pp 22-23.
6 7. Katharine Prichard Intimate Strangers op cit p 206.
68. Christina Stead, Seven Poor Men of Sydney op cit p 15 0.

ballyhoo talked about art ... Chloroform the whole tribe of them tomorrow

and bread would still be delivered, trams run as usual ... We live in a

commercial society." Meanwhile a "humming, restless city" with "wheels

whirring" and " ... people pouring out of trams being swallowed up by shops

and factories, ships coming to discharge cargo and load grain, secret

conflicts being waged between groups, between classes", presses down on an

almost unconscious population that had become desensitised by

consumerism.6 "Meanwhile", wrote Christina Stead, "the city ran on

outside": "Typewriters tapped, loiterers and unemployed men lounged in the
little park, a hydraulic lift wheezed up and down in the cartdock ... cars

rattled past ... and the offices sweated."70

Industrial and human wreckage became recurring motifs in interwar

literature. One poignant image is of a car up on blocks because the owners

are unable to afford upkeep and running costs, reintroducing the depression
as a influential dynamic. An orator in Manns A Murder in Sydney suggests

that Australians aped the ways of the old world by their compulsion to
acquire manufactured goods. In Hie Swayne Family a character comments:

" ... the whole infernal town. Life without any inner spark: people whove

lost their guts and become bits of mechanism ... Im a safe, respectable

little robot ....71 For another: " ... Id have had a richer and more vital

experience behind me if Id been brought up in Footscray and gone to work

in a factory".72 Taking this theme a step further in Hie Passage, a

character exclaims, "... aeroplane flights, the latest inventions in television

* * * *

69. Vance Palmer The Swayne Family (1934 reprint 19 59) p 134.
70. Christina Stead Seven Poor Men of Sydney op cit p 109.
71. Vance Palmer, The Swayne Family op cit p 133.
72. ibid, p 140.

and poisonous gas, the chances of civilization being wiped out in the next
great war ... .73

The car and consumerism generally became useful literary symbols of

class. In Intimate Strangers "ancient Fords" are taken out by workers

from the suburbs while "luxurious super sixes" are owned by the more

affluent and socially ambitious.7"* In Hie Swayne Family, Palmer wrote of

his working-class character Rita: "Her view of things was simple: if you

belonged to the car owning class you just wrote out a cheque in a

difficulty".75 Credit, a cheque account and car ownership were linked to

suggest a class system in Australia based on materialism and the ability to

acquire the latest technology. For Leonard Mann the car replaced "one
night" hotels and the "cabinets" of brothels76 while in Upsurge women
betray class loyalties in the drive for consumer durables:

You meet wealthy men - men who have money to spend, and manners
and charm - I know -everything the men in your own class havent got.
You forget that men are only wealthy and gay and charming at the
misery of your own class. They win you away from your class. A
million working girls turned into a million complacent little snobs.77

Harcourt implied that working class women were seduced away from their

class affiliations, more often than not, on the back seat of a car.

Likewise, Leonard Manns Barbara Hallam, the daughter of a Macquarie

Street Solicitor in Sydney, could be depicted in terms of a cool and clean

and expensive automobile in A Murder in Sydney while those who occupy the

slums of Kylie Tennants Foveaux, like Prichards ancient Fords, are part of

an industrial wasteland. They lived in a place set aside for " ... all the
* * * *
73. Vance Palmer, The Passage (London 1930) pp 149-151.
74. Katharine Prichard, Intimate Strangers op cit p 155.
75. Vance Palmer, The Swayne Family op cit p 123.
76. Leonard Mann A Murder in Sydney op cit p 70.
77. J.M. Harcourt, Upsurge op cit p 188. See also p 131.

wrecks cast up on the shore line of the city".7**

Motor-car "fever hit Foveaux hard, wrote Kylie Tennant: "Almost

anyone who could borrow or buy on time payment a rattling, old fashioned

model, set up as a motorist ... a number of families packed dogs and

children and swimming costumes and lunches and bid farewell to Foveaux for

at least one day out of seven."In All TTiat Swagger Miles Franklin has
them "conquer[ed] the Blue Mountains by 1905."^ In The Passage Palmer

looked askance at changes brought about in the countryside by the advent of

motor cars: "The breath of a more sophisticated air blew in from those

cleared ridges. In the summer-time they were filled with noisy crowds -
wet bathing-costumes fluttering from fences and verandah-rails,
gramophones sounding from open windows windshields of cars glinting from
beneath spindle-legged cottages - she felt the stirring of something
unsatisfied in her".**! In 1920 there was one motor vehicle to every 55

people. Innovations such as balloon tyres (1922) and the self starter
(1924) increased the cars efficiency and attractiveness. "Ay there was an
accident - " speculates Mr Moffatt while riding in a car, "Oh rubbish!

Breakdown - puncture - oh, these motor-cars are pretty reliable

nowadays".^ By 1930 the ratio was reduced to one in eleven. In terms of

capital expenditure the amount spent on roads increased from 12% of public

works in 1920 to 26% by 1930.*^

* * * *

78. Kylie Tennant, Foveaux op cit p 267.

79. ibid, p 199.
80. Miles Franklin All TTiat Swagger (Sydney 1936) p 334.
81. Vance Palmer, The Passage op cit p 25. passim pp 36, 55, 64, 73-74, 81,
133, 137, 139, 172, 274.
82. Chester Cobb Mr Moffatt op cit p 129. pp 129-140.
83. Colin Forster, Industrial Development in Australia op cit pp 20-24. Also
C.B. Schedvin Australia and the Great Depression op cit pp 47-62.

Prichard and Mann depicted characters in the industrial environment as

"ant-like", with crusty shells, one indistinguishable from the next, all living

anonymous lives. Christina Stead employed such words as mechanical,

automaton, artifical, forge, phony, uniform, poverty, misery, slavery and

derelict to describe her seven poor men. At the beach, squadrons of surf-

lifesavers in Intimate Strangers march at a carnival with a "High stepping

... mechanical action". Elodie is "thrilled" by the spectacle of "all those

brown limbs swinging in unison, taught breasts, supple, sturdy trunks moulded
to bright torsoes ... " The amazon, Dirk Hartog, has been "impregnated"

with the "deep sea water" which has sterilised her to "all sexual emotion".

Dirk marches "up the sand ... with the quick jerky actions of a clock-work
toy ... "84.

The beach carries special connotions in the industrial literature of the

1920s and 1930s. While it is a place where youth, in particular, displays
prowess in the form of the squadrons of "life" savers, their marching in

unison is also suggestive of power and corruptability. In Upsurge and A

Murder in Sydney beach scenes take industrial themes further. "The
Sunday crowd composed all possible varieties of the citys people", wrote

Leonard Mann, "The profusion of colours and hot male and female flesh was

not at all overwhelming as it might have been in any other place, because

the pines and the ocean diminished it and reduced it to insignificance".

Yet, these unnamed other places - the city and war zones - are suggested in

imagery, pointing to delusion on the part of the beachgoers. The beach

supports a "welter of humanity". It is a "deshabille" where hot, "sweating

flesh" and bodies "dismember" each other. "Heads" are "concealed"

* * * *

84. Katharine Prichard, Intimate Strangers op cit pp 70, 117.


beneath towels and "faces" are "turned to the sand." It is a "sort of

madness to be there".86

At the close of Intimate Strangers, an improbable conclusion which

results in the reconcilation of two old adversaries takes on new associations:

The bright sunshine crept through them, with electrifying currents that
penetrated to the depths of their bodies, dispelling rancours and secret
animosities. A blissful unconscious languor absolved them from
care....Between them burned the fire of a regenerating idea in which it
seemed they would attain freedom and unity.86

Lurking in shadows cast by their renewed understanding of life are the more

sinister associations of industrial life. These characters return to the city,

their regenerated strength allowing them to continue as industrial beings.

The illusory effects of the sun and sand create a false consciousness, a kind
of euphoric optimism which denies social and personal realities and allows

capitulation to the systems which enslave them.

The negative industrial motif is forcefully represented in Waterway

which depicts modern existence as doubly alienating because of continual and

rapid change. A more elemental existence, it is suggested, has been

suffocated by the creation of cities and their factories which cover the

landscape: " ... she had been born into a world of chaos. She had always

felt herself obscurely tied by coincidence to the horrors" of this society and

the modern generation. Yet Dark does not suggest the imposition of some

romanticised pastoral existence as a remedy for the modern malaise.

* * * *

85. Leonard Mann, A Murder in Sydney op cit pp 17-18.

86. Katharine Prichard Intimate Strangers op cit p 410.

The core of Australian life, it is suggested, is irredeemably corrupt, a

bastard nation borne of an industrialising white settlement and a primitive


... he hated the ... noises of the bush and the strange sounds of
corroboree. The whole illness of humanity, the whole insanity of
civilised life, the whole long, bloody history of mankind, rushed over
him ... he stopped on the street corner ... Struggling for enough faith
to look forward, enough strength or purpose to resist the almost
overwhelming urge to yield to a rage senseless and useless, at the
manner of its contamination, struggling to think without fruitless
bitterness, of a people dispossessed and murdered ... Nature sacrificed
to the urgent discords of human progress.87

The tenor of Darks book is decidely apocalyptic. Waterway seems to

suggest that white Australians are a tribe adrift from all attachments who
will eventually be banished from the place which they temporarily inhabit.

In this regard, the novel shares motifs in common with Albert Tuckers
painting, The Futile City (1940) which depicts a skeleton buried in shifting
sands with the deserted city in the background rained upon from blood-red


Miles Franklin espoused a more hopeful scenario for modern Australia

but even she, by the mid 1930s, had become disillusioned by its possibilities.

Flying machines, wireless, radios wrote Franklin, all these things are

outward visible signs ... of pioneers in the mind. Yet Franklin was

disappointed that modernity lacked the "integrity of the real pioneers.

She concluded that in the end these discoveries will only destroy us."88
While industrial novels of the 1920s and 30s were generally critical of
* * *

87. Eleanor Dark, Waterway op cit p 238.

88. Miles Franklin All Tliat Swagger op cit p 375, p 38 0.

industrial processes they admit few alternatives to industrialism. A general

pessimism impregnated much of the fiction. Disillusion with technology and

machinery stemmed, at least in part, from an unhappy feeling that Europe

was, once more gearing for war.

Industrial fiction did not exist only as a function of urban fiction.

Those novelists who dealt with industrial themes outside of cities included

Patrick White, Miles Franklin, Leslie Meller, Eleanor Dark, Xavier Herbert,

Jean Devanny and Katharine Prichard. Prichards non-urban fiction can be

read as a romantic revolt against industrialism. The Black Opal (1921)

presented a paradigm followed in succeeding novels including the 1940s

goldfields trilogy and the urban novel Intimate Strangers. The Black Opal

was written from notes collected in 1906 on a station near the Opal fields of

Lightning Ridge in Northern New South Wales.The small community

provided a basis from which the author, between 1917-21, explored dynamics
of Australian mateship as it was affected by new relationships emerging as a

consequence of the general movement towards industrialism. Within a

matrix integrating some of her first probes into psychology and sexuality
Prichard pitted the small community against the fluctuations of international

markets in manner echoed in her next two novels, Working Bullocks and

Coonardoo. The embryo of Working Bullocks can be seen in The Black Opal.

The mateship expressed through characters such as Michael Brady and Potch

Heathfield is realised more fully in Working Bullocks.

Although it is an overstatement to suggest that The Black Opal is a

metaphor of Australian life in the immediate post war years - the action is

firmly set in the pre-war period and there are no direct references
* * * *

89. Ric Throssell, Wild Weeds and Windflowers op cit pp 14-16.


the concept of an isolated community subjected to the movements of

international markets has an obvious link to Australias attempts at

industrialisation in the 1920s. A resolve by the miners to reject overtures

made by an American concern ready to finance large scale operations and

break up small-scale concerns anticipates the political and economic

rhetoric of the protectionist policies of the 1920s.

Social change is the preoccupation of Tlie Black Opal. A dialectic

exists between traditional concepts of mateship and modern industrial social

formations. A choice between new methods of organising labour and capital

or of accommodating older methods to structural changes in the local

economy is presented to the miners. At various stages characters are
introduced to technical innovations which they either accept, reject or

accommodate. As the railways reach toward the Fallen Ridge Mine and
motor cars and trucks also make their presence felt, modern developments in
transport become suggestive of a larger world of cities and industry

encroaching on a system of mutual co-operation. The impending necessity

for the miners is to know their past in order to confront the future.

Without a conscious recognition of their radical heritage and self-reliance,

it is implied that they are likely to become the working-bullocks in the

machinery of industrial capitalism.

Michael Brady, the self educated, recognised leader of the miners

proposes ways in which traditional values and methods of mining might come

to terms with social changes outside the immediate community but which

impact on it in the most dramatic ways. Brady is reconciled to the view of

co-operatives w7hich, having their basis in mateship, need to be articulated

in more cogent ways in order to provide a better understanding of new7,

emerging, social formations and the historical circumstances that have

brought them about. He tells the miners in tones anticipating Mark Smith

in Working Bullocks and Tony Maretti in Intimate Strangers that working

men need not necessarily accept outside, centralised economic control of the

mines. Here Prichard is propounding a system of worker self management

which seems to have more in common with anarcho-syndicalism than

marxism: "I truly am a peasant at heart and cannot deny the demands of the
land", she wrote to Nettie Palmer.99

Working Bullocks explores themes touched on in Tlie Black Opal. It

also registers an influence from the war. A scene in Working Bullocks in

which a youth is killed in a saw mill becomes a more general metaphor about

the post-war world. The sequence in the novel which runs over four

chapters is filled with war references: there are "corpses of trees", the
"sullen protest against dismemberment, that tearing of their living flesh by
saws", the "body of the log" whose "raw wood" and "blood" is ripped by the
"cruel teeth" of the saw managed by the "cadaverous benchman". Prichard
similarly notes that "Every week some more or less serious accident put[s] a

man out of action" as if he were a soldier and one bench which had sent "six

men out of action in a fortnight". Elsewhere Prichard depicted the leading

benchmen in terms of battle fatigue and in language similar to that used ten

years later to describe Greg Blackwoods horror of war in Intimate


At the mill workers are depicted as slaves of the machines they operate

and maintain. "They worked as if they were all well oiled and sprung for

their jobs, swiftly moving belts and connections from the engine which
* * * *

90. ibid p 44.

91. Katharine Prichard, Working Bullocks op cit chapters xxiv-xxvii.

rapped the rafters and grey metal roof driving them as well as the saws."

Deb Colburn is terrified by the scene at the mill and feels that the machines

are out of control: "She thought of her father and Billy working in the midst

of all the inhuman machinery with consternation". "She did not know quite

what she had expected", wrote Prichard, "Perhaps it was the natural gait of

the work in the bush. Not this speed and shrieking clangour of machinery.

Deb had a horror of machines and the way they ate up everything before
them ... ",92

The "resistlessness of machinery" appalls Deb: "The way it mocked men

and all they did, making it seem of no consequence - although the machines
themselves were man-made ...". Deb views the mill as a violation of the
elemental reverence inspired by the huge trees: "Power of the trees she
understood. Her life had been governed by the trees ... As a child Deb had
believed the trees would never forgive what men had done to them."9^ In

the mill the emphasis shifts from the power of the trees to the power of the

bosses and the machines. Prichard prefers the primitive brutality of the
forest to the corporate violence of the mill. The bullocky, Red Burke, is a

redeemable character whereas the men in the mill are damned. He is

depicted as essentially good despite the fact that he is responsible for the

death of three of his workmates. Like Michael Brady he is representative

of the biblical fallen man.

Red does not suffer the ill effects of industrialism when he is in the

forest. This is in stark contrast to the ways in which the industrial setting

is depicted in terms of war. Yet the forest, like the opal fields in The

Black Opal, the outback in Ooonardoo, the wide open spaces in Haxbys
* * * *
92. ibid, p 182.
93. ibid, p 184.

Qrcus, the suburbs in Intimate Strangers, and the deserts in the goldfields

trilogy is depicted in terms of an omnipresent industrial experience. Cars

and trains penetrate the density of the forest, picture shows are known and

of course there are the "monstrous" engines of the mill. There is a glimmer

of hope in the attitude of Red and Deb towards Mark Smith as he is leaving

the forest and taking his revolutionary ways with him. Yet their plan to go

off and breed like animals, that is, not to become political, defies any

confidence in their ability to do so. In the final scene Red gapes and his

"saw edged teeth", in contrast to Marks straight and white teeth are

visible, committing him to the horrors of an industrial existence. The

bullocks will be replaced by machines.^

Underpinning the tragedy of Coonardoo is the theme of changes from

without which impact on a small isolated community - Prichard's familiar

theme which also sees the demise of Haxbys Circus ruined by the advent of
motor cars, picture shows and radio. Hugh Watt like Haxby is unable to

come to terms with structural changes in the economy of the cities which

affect directly his capacity to survive financially.^ Unlike Vance Palmers

Hamilton in Tlie Man Hamilton who is saved from drought by the new

technology of windmills and is married to a black woman, (Prichard had read

Tlie Man Hamilton before writing Coonardoo), Hugh is stifled by white

morality but more importantly unable or unwilling to accommodate changes

outside his control. So pervasive has been the infiltration of the industrial

world that even the archetypal hero of the 1890s, the boundary

rider/stockman has learned his songs from a gramophone instead of making

* * * *

94. ibid p 251.

95. Katharine Prichard, Coonardoo op cit passim pp 30, 78, 104, 153, 158,

them up himself or having them passed on by other horsemen.90 Industrial

society encroaches on the outback, elemental community and a black

stockman sings about a train he had once seen:

"Me-ra-rar ngar-rar ngular-gar gartha-gara

Calling with steaming head!
Mooranger! Nar-ra-ga! Mille-gidge
Coming! Passing! Gone!97

In a number of novels of the interwar period, characters are depicted in

terms of the machines of their society. In Happy Valley, Patrick White

wrote: MGod making a clock work toy and feeling pleased with it, then

scratching his head and seeing that it might not work too well, so he put in
an extra lever in a moment of compassion, you just pushed down the lever
and the action was held up.98 In Waterway and Prelude to Christopher,
Eleanor Dark wrote of a machine- like brain with vital mechanical faults: "I
cant stop it this brain, this thinking machine running on the power of my

life spark. It wont stop till I stop.99 In more cliched terms, Leonard
Mann has one of his characters comment with irony that "Bricks and

concrete and steel were more stable than human beings.190 Linda

Hendons madness in Prelude to Christopher is depicted in terms of

machines. Patrick Whites Oliver Halliday is similarly affected: He was

moving in jerks, must go, must get outside before the mechanism broke.

The spring strained

* * * *

96. ibid p 181

9 7. ibid p 113.
9 8. Patrick White Happy Valley op cit p 22. also passim pp 123, 16 3, 164,
209, 224, 262, 272, 275, 278, 293, 294, 327.
99. Eleanor Dark Waterway op cit p 122. also passim pp 11, 13, 176, 178, 182,
100. Leonard Mann A Murder in Sydney op cit p 50.

that controlled the mechanical washing of hands. A doctor, Halliday later

observes a corpse: rt ... this automaton, was no more automaton, only you

did not fall dead, you stopped short, returned to the inevitable starting

Darks Prelude to Christopher is one of the most intriguing interwar

novels. It concerns madness which is brought on by the alleged insanity of

the period. The novel begins with a car accident and concludes with the

death of the protagonist, Linda Hendon, under the wheels of a train. In

the novel, LindaTs madness is depicted in terms of an industrial disease: All

her nerves seemed to have shock absorbers on them, all her senses seemed
strangely muffled". Linda eventually dies an industrial death:

Her brain, like an engine cleaned of dust and grit and rubbish, began to
function very accurately, with terrifying ruthlessness ... How does it
come, the end of life? Your thoughts dropping away into a void, your
sense waking into transcendent clarity, an exquisite minuteness of
perception, glaring light, the smell of coal smoke, fine rain on your
lifted face; in your ears the receding thunder of the sky - the oncoming
thunder of wheels.*

Lindas madness acts as a metaphor of a diseased society. She recovers

momentarily: "slowly, like a machine that had been out of order, her brain

was beginning to function smoothly again. It seemed to throb in time with

the beat of her heart".103 Dark uses the same imagery and language for

the state of mind at the time of the suicide, suggesting the possibility of

breakdowns, deterioration and of this years model being superseded by next.

But aware of her biological composition, Lindas greatest fear is that

her body was rotting: "That word decomposition - it brought even now, the
* * * *

101. Patrick White Happy Valley op cit p 262, p 27 5.

102. Eleanor Dark, Prelude to Christopher op cit p 136.
103. ibid pp 206-207.

same shiver that had shaken her when, at twelve, she had clutched swiftly

and instinctively at her head, as if she expected to find it soft, rotting

between her hands". Darks characters are depicted as "elaborate kind of

amoeba" linked to the "hot misery of the city". An implication is that

history is a process of devolution while biological evolution is out of control.

Lindas increasing mental torment signals devolution, reinforced in the novel
by an earlier attempt by her eugenicist-husband to speed up the

"evolutionary process", his "short-cut to perfect humanity", and his

decision that Linda should have no children, thus ending the madness with


Lindas energy is wasted. Employing the imagery of masturbation, a

solo performance culminates in an "utterly involuntary orgasm of homicidal

fury", the moment of climax is the moment of physical decline: "leaving you
drained of all feeling". Darks characters, are a "queer conglomeration of
identical substances - "salt, fat and iron". The conclusion for Linda is


But you were not saved, never, never. You could no more cease to
think than you could breathe. Only death released you. Here, really,
she cried savagely, was the moral of Frankenstein and his self-created
destroyer! Learn, fools, learn to go on learning. On till your
knowledge becomes less bearable at every step. On and on, your great
brain like a parasite feeding on your joy, your elemental passion, the
exquisite wonder that you were alive at all! On until theres nothing
left but your ingenious toys your brain conceived: still on, to ultimate
darkness. Where now? Does your brain tell you that? No retreat!
Only destruction...1^

Stylistically, Prelude to Christopher remains one of the most modern of the

Australian novels. Like its European counterparts it is disposed to an

* * * *

104. Eleanor Dark Prelude to Christopher op cit passim pp 160, 134, 25, 78,

apocalyptic, crisis centred view of the world which is given stylistic freedom

through the method of stream of consciousness. There remains the slightest

hint of rebirth coming from decay and associations between Christopher and

Christ seem almost unavoidable. Yet, like Chester Cobbs experiments

almost ten years earlier, there is a suggestion that the conclusion is ironic.

For Katharine Prichard there was the possibility of a very different

type of automaton to either Darks or Whites inventions. Her

androgynous character Dirk Hartog has ... something of the beautiful

automaton about her.... There might be rather standardized and ordinary,

perhaps; but there was a sleeping beauty in her cool hard-headness."*05

Like Coonardoo, Dirk liked to ... feel clean, hard and straight". A

permutation of the industrial theme is the concept of androgyne.

Interestingly, androgyne relates in this context both to a perceived

combination or merging of male/female characteristics and of

human/machine elements. In the novels of the twenties and thirties there

are girls with boys names, the sexless "ant-like" creatures in the novels of
Mann and Prichard, "robots" in the fiction of Vance Palmer, "anonymity" in

Seven Poor Men of Sydney, and "wreckage" in Foveaux. Women are

frequently depicted as men or, more correctly, boys. Catherine Bagenault

from Seven Poor Men of Sydney comments: "I am neither man nor woman".
Michael comments that women are likely to send him homosexual.*^ Linda

Montague in Foveaux is called a brittle and frigid modern: "Completely

frigid", one character comments, "One of these born virgins. Likely to die

like it".*^7 With her name changed from Margaret to that of the Dutch
* * * *

105. Katharine Prichard, Intimate Strangers op cit p 55, p 70.

106. Christina Stead, Seven Poor Men of Sydney op cit p 15 0, p 214.
107. Kylie Tennant, Foveaux op cit pp 226-227.

explorer, Dirk Hartog, like Linda, is accused of frigidity: "I loathe this sex
business", she says, "Why cant a man be decent ... n.1^8

In The Passage, Palmer linked androgyny to the lost generation: "That

short hair suits you right down to the ground - makes you look like a boy",
says a man in his mid thirties, "Ill never look like one again, worse
luck.^9 in Foveaux the "wrecks" who had "been men" before the war
returned "maimed", "blinded" and "ruined".Michael Bagenault from

Seven Poor Men of Sydney is, likewise, ... one of the derelicts left by the

flood tide of the war". He comments on his ineffectiveness:

I am too delicate, quiescent to benefit by my own fantasy. I have

immense visions, and I cant even be bothered looking at what is passing
my minds eye. I prefer to sleep. But one cannot sleep, so I swing
like an empty bladder between this world and the netherlands.111

Nigel Hendon survives the war " ... moving like an automaton, silent, with

his closed face and his deadened nerves ... " to return as a stranger wearing

his body. He marries Linda who is described as "hardly human.^

Mat Dyas, also a returned soldier, in A Murder in Sydney takes on

inhuman characteristics. Where Mat assumes both bestial and machine- like

characteristics, his friend Hugh Stair, also a returned serviceman is

emasculated by an effeminite, almost asexual, nature. When the curvacious

Chloe Morton, a siren from a previous age - "She was a goddess of the old

sort" - is murdered by the cool, clean and expensive modern, Barbara,

Stair comments: "She didnt belong to our present lousy civilisation. She
* * * *

108. Katharine Prichard, Intimate Strangers op cit p 214.

109. Vance Palmer Tlie Passage op cit p 183.
110. Kylie Tennant Foveaux op cit p 96.
111. Christina Stead, Seven Poor Men of Sydney op cit p 132.
112. Eleanor Dark, Prelude to Christopher op cit 128.

to whom sacrifices should have been offered was its victim." Where Chloe

is a Venus from earlier times, her slayer, is depicted with n ... dark

brownness, her tanned limbs, her little body ... "In Intimate Strangers
Greg Blackwood falls in love with the androgynous Dirk partly out of a sense

of his lost youth and masculinity. Even Elodie admits: ... she would have

been in love with Dirk Hartog herself had she been a man" In many of

the novels there is a sense in which the older generation had survived the
war only to emerge as the wreckage of some huge accident. The younger
generation are often depicted as strong and machine-like. However, in the

loss of some essential humanity, or vitality, they too are flawed, condemned

to their inheritance of a new, but tainted age.

* * * *

113. Leonard Mann, A Murder in Sydney op cit passim pp 29, 63, 91, 97, 26.
114. Katharine Prichard Intimate Strangers op cit p 50.

There has been a remarkable degree of consensus among Australian

literary historians and critics regarding the significance of the interwar

period in the development of Australian literature. It is also generally

recognised that the novel became the most frequently adopted literary form

in these years. There have been various reasons proposed as to why this

may have been the case, most of which relate to the development of modern

society, in particular to education, work and leisure and, more generally,

to industrialisation. This thesis maintains that the interwar years did

witness the rise of the Australian novel and that this development was

brought about by a number of social factors, including significant

developments in the publishing trade.

An analysis of systems of production and reproduction of novels

provided scope for a closer scrutiny of the various forces shaping

imaginative writing. The approach was intended to shift emphasis away
from literature as an elite cultural form to view it more in terms of public

culture for although some antiquated nineteenth century distribution and

bookselling practices continued, the novels of the 1920s and 1930s were, on

the whole, marketed as mass media. This is not to minimise the intentions

of those writers who considered their work to be socially conscious or

serious in nature. Indeed, a degree of elitism persisted - and still

persists - in relation to popularists or journalists whose words are directly

related to profit, being mere entertainment or, supposedly, straight

reportage. There existed a bitter irony in the fact that only popular

writers seemed able to support their efforts financially. Serious writers had

to be content, much of the time, with the reputation or status accorded

them, not so much by society as a whole, but by their fellow writers.

Financial success, without the appreciation of the literary community may

have filled the stomach but the ego remained hungry.


Confronted with new systems of production and changes to old writer

networks such as the Bulletin, which had helped to sustain literary activity

in the nineteenth century, many twentieth century writers sought to increase

their status and financial rewards. Literary prizes and government

sponsored fellowships improved the situation marginally though more in terms

of status than remuneration. Very few writers could live by royalties alone.

The lack of support given to writers in Australia was at odds with

individual and collective aspirations that they be valued as important

cultural commentators. Coteries and more formal groups such as the
Fellowship of Australian Writers brought together various individuals with
wide ranging tastes, opinions and talents. Divisions, not unexpectedly,
existed between many of these writers, but it was in this discursive cultural
climate that hopes for a distinctively Australian literature were fostered.
Although writers were not penned into tight-knit coteries, they announced a

shared purpose in advancing and expanding the claims for Australian

literature at home and abroad. It is argued, however, that literary

reputation and tradition is, to a large degree, socially constructed and is

maintained or disregarded according to the values of subsequent generations

and systems of patronage. Related to this is the issue of censorship,

whether it takes place as a subtle force in guiding a writers initial idea for
a piece of writing, at the desk of a potential publisher, on the shelves of a

bookshop or at the discretion of the government of the day.

Within this context, this thesis traces some of the many concerns of

modern Australian writing as it developed in the interwar years. The

project took as its premise that imaginative writing can be regarded as

materialised consciousness, containing elements of that most elusive of


qualities, cultural awareness. Although they manufacture illusions,

consciously distorting and refracting social and personal experience by

exaggeration, dimunition and pure invention, writers nevertheless

consciously or unconsciously convey social and cultural tremors. These may

be registered directly through subject matter or indirectly in the invention

of new forms or techniques which develop in response to changing conditions.

European modernism, for example, has been noted for the almost frantic

search for new forms capable of reflecting apocalyptic tensions and

uncertainty, sometimes acting to deny the very function of art or the

possibility of communication. The limitations of nineteenth century realism

were, necessarily, rejected. Australian modernism had a slightly different

emphasis. In the 1920s and 1930s writers were intent upon describing the
peculiar quality of Australian society which was perceived to be unique.

The image conveyed is not unlike that which might occur to a future
historian commenting on the Australiana industry which burst forth in the
mid 19 80s, again suggesting a frantic search for identity.

The search for ways in which to convey the essence of Australian life

resulted broadly in two schools of writing - the modernists and vitalists.

Despite differing emphases, an exploration of the writing of this period

reveals that the most important influence on Australian literature was post-

Great War industrialism. The novel appears to have been adopted as the

form most able to explore the overwhelming contradictions and ambiguities

of the modern world, which were increasingly encapsulated or laid bear in

depictions of the cityscape. The cumulative effect of the war, depression,

industrialisation and alienation impacted on the literary imagination in ways

similar to those discernible in European or American literatures but there is

no evidence to suggest that this was derivative as some critics have

suggested. On the contrary, Australias literary response can be seen as

indigenous and integrally connected to its own particular traditions and

experiences, its unique position in relation to the rest of the western world
and, of course, to the personal disposition of its writers.


1900 33 6 3

1901 35 5 7

1902 23 8 3

1903 26 7 5

1904 28 6 8

1905 26 3 8

1906 22 5 12

1907 28 8 8

1908 26 12 10

1909 25 20 14

1910 26 11 13

1911 32 25 11

1912 21 13 12

1913 27 15 9

1914 21 14 9

1915 33 9 6

1916 20 9 10

1917 18 14 13

1918 16 14 16

1919 19 19 12

1920 18 14 12

1921 18 14 17

1922 23 23 17

1923 23 19 11

1924 29 19 6

1925 30 19 9

1926 32 7 10

1927 34 11 5

1928 43 16 6

1929 43 18 9

1930 44 23 5

1931 40 12 4

1932 43 17 10

1933 42 50 9

1934 40 45 7

1935 50 25 7

1936 43 32 4

1937 48 20 2

1938 28 18 8

1939 23 15 4

1940 19 14 15

1941 28 9 16

1942 7 35 8

1943 6 29 14

1944 9 49 27

1945 9 101 19

1946 15 55 19

1947 5 46 19

1948 14 75 11

1949 7 42 7

1950 20 41 11

1951 8 20 9

1952 6 21 9

1953 12 15 12

1954 16 15 4

1955 15 19 9

1956 21 15 7

1957 39 20 7

1959 37 55 11

1960 49 77 8

1961 57 100 15

1962 41 124 15

1963 29 113 17

1964 38 105 16

1965 27 128 10

1966 25 99 25

1967 33 117 25

1968 34 106 35

1969 33 99 31



BIRKITT Winifred Domestic Duties 5c "Edolweiss" Poems; 3 novels

Gertrude Miss Freelance Journalism of which one ("Earth s Quality,
1935) vs awarded a gold medal
by the Australian Literary

BROWNE Margery Mrs. Literary Has written a miscellaneous

collection of verse and prose,
some of which has been

CARRINGTON, Reginald Journalist 25 years Journalism One vol.

verse One collection Short
stories Written between 20,000
and 30,000 articles

CAYLEY Neville William Author 5c Artist Author and Illustrator of a

number of books on Aust.
Birds. Has contributed articles
to scientific journals.

COOK George Clerk (Unemployed) Written several plays but none

have been produced or

CORRINGHAM Mary Journalism Contributor of poems and

special articles of various
journals for past 10 years.
Gained 1st class Honours in
England and 2nd honours in
German at matriculation, 1925

CROCKER, Arthur Robert Journalist Journalism "Thriller" novels

include "Turon Mystery" and
"South Sea Sinners". Short
stories and newspaper articles.
Has won several literary

CROSS Zora Mrs B.M. Smith Journalist "Songs of love 6c life" and other
verses. Two novels, "Daughters
of the Seven Mile" and "The
Lute Girl of Rainy Vale" Also
"An Introduction to the study
of Australian Literature" 1920.

CUSACK Dymphna Teacher 6c Vocational "Junfrau (novel); "Shallow

Guidance Officer Cups (one act play); and other
novels, plays and poems. Novel
"This Nettle Danger" place first
(aeq.) in Prior Prize
Competition, 1937, when Prize
was not awarded.

DAVISON Frank Dalby Author 6c Journalist "Forever Morning" "Man-Shy",

"Wells of Beersheba", "Blue
Coast Caravan" and other
novels, Short Stories in

DEVANNY Jean Writer 6c Lecturer "The Butcher Shop", "Lenore

Divine", "Old Savage", "Dawn
Beloved" and other novels.
Numerous short stories.

DOCKRILL William James Miner (Incapacitated) Has a collection of poems ready

for publication and is writing
a book of Reminiscences.

FITZHENRY William Ernest Journalist Journalist on "The Bulletin"

since March 1927. Founder and
Editor of "The Australian
Authors and Artists Hand Book"
Associated with various
literary bodies.

GORAN Leopold Freelance Journalist Short stories, and Radio plays.

formerly Minister of Novel accepted for publication
Religion. by New Century Press.

HEADLEY Alfred Charles Short Story Writer Short stories in "The Bulletin"
"Man" etc. Vinner of a short
story Competition conducted by
"The Bulletin"

HERBERT Xavier Author U Labourer Novel "Capricornia" was

awarded Sesqui-Centenary
Prize 250. Numerous short
stories some years ago.

HILL Mary Ernestine Writer 20 years experience as

Journalist. Three works are
"Peter Pan Land", "The Great
Australian Loneliness" and
"Water into Gold".

H0PEG00D Harold (Peter) Military Pensioner "Australa Pan" collection

H. McCrae of verse. "Peter
Lecky" autobiography.

LAWSON, William Writer "Three Kings and other

Verses"; "Pacific Steamers"
"The Laughing Buchaneer"
"When Cobb and Co. was King"
and other novels

PLUNKETT-ANDERSON Beth Unemployed since 1929. Three books in the course of


ROSA Samuel Albert Journalist "Oliver Spence, the Australian

Caesar", "The Federal Bill
Analysed", "Ungrammatical
Statesmen", "The Invasion of

RUMSEY Herbert John Genealogist "A.B.C. of Australian Vegetable

Growing", "The Australian
"Pioneers of Sydney Cove" and
other works.

SEBBENS, William Joseph Timber-getter Short Stories published in

"The Bulletin", "Sydney Mail"
and "Smiths Weekly".

SMITH Esther Nea Home Duties Authoress of a play containing

lyrics based upon the glory of
Motherhood entitled "The
Greater Crown".

SMITH May - Several Poems published in the

"Sydney Mail" "Bulletin" etc.

TATE Robert Desmond - "The Doughman" - a novel.

Various articles and stories.




BRADY Edwin James Journalist U Author Author of Works in both verse

and prose. "The Ways of Many
Waters" "The Earthen Floor"
"The Land of the Sun ".Australia
Unlimited" and many others.

BULEY Norman Mining Engineer Has written a few newspaper

(Incapacitated) articles

CHANTER Arthur Musician 6c Journalist Bachelor of Music. Occasional

criticisms of music and drama
for newspapers.

CROSBIE Margaret Amelia Household duties Studied scenario writing under

Laura Chas. Chauvel.

DALEY Charles Retired Bachelor of Arts; Fellow of

Linnean Society, London;
Trained Teacher's Certificate.
Secretary (12 years) and
President (2 years) of the
Historical Society of Victoria.
Secretary (12 years) of the
Historic Memorials Committee.
For 5 years Lecturer on
Australian History, Public
Library Melbourne. Secretary
of History Section for two
sessions of the Science
Congress. Publications include
"History of South Melbourne"
"Early Squatting Days" "Victoria
the First Century" "History of
Victoria" and other books and
articles on history, nature
study, ethnology and general

DE GARIS, Lucas George Writer on matters Has published a number of

relating to "The Credit pamphlets etc. on pseudo
Crusade0 economic matters.

FREEDMAN Philip Samuel Journalist Edited "Australian Jewish

News" for year 1935 Articles
and short stories published
in various papers The Maga
zine Editor of "Argus" pays
high tribute to his work.

JAGO Valter Freelance Writer Many years experience in

Journalism. Past President of
Fellowship of Australian
writers. Has written special
articles and scenarios for
Victorian Government Rail
way 6cTourist Bureau.

KENNY Irene Nurse No published work

LANGLANDS Isobel Truby King Baby Nurse "Songs of the Bush for
Children" "Garden Songs for
Children". A novelette pub
lished by "Woman" Sydney,

MUSPRATTEric Authorship U Odd Jobs Books published in London,

New York Paris 6c Prague since
1931 are "My South Sea Island",
"Wild Oats", "The Journey Home1
"Greek Seas", "Ambition", and
"Going Native". First book sold
100,000 copies as a reprint in
Penguin Series.

NORMAN-BALL Mary Mrs School teaching Arts "Older than the Hills" 1928.
Arts classes 6* craft.

PETER John Francis Author Since 1920 has devoted 10 full

years to study of literature.
Publications include "Over the
Roof Tops' and other plays
Also work entitled "Mis-mated",
Short stories. Translation from

PITTMAN Harold Archibald Author Short Stories. Has also prepared

two books of fiction and some
essays and articles.

PORTER Harold Edvard Unemployed Prize-winner in Sydney Sesqui-

centenary Celebrations
Literary Competition 1938. Short
stories and verse published in
"Bulletin". Newspaper articles,

RYLAND Tui Writing

TYERS Grace Beatrice Stenographer 6c Journalist Newspaper articles, stories and


WALLACE, John Writer "Millionaire Gangster". "The

Sedan Murder Mystery"
"Vengence of-?" Other novels
to be released soon.

WILSON Annie Kaye Home Duties Short stories and articles

Freelance writing Novel, "The Ivory Cross".





ATKINSON Leonard Writer-Journalist Has written short stories, poems

Vincent historical sketches, and
imaginative works

BELSON Gwendoline Writer-Journalist Stories & Newspaper articles

Mavis published, Written plays
verse and a novel.
HALL Lennox Gordon Radio Script Writer "Discontented and two other
Radio plays produced by ABC
"Life of Cleopatra, Queen of
Egypt" for broadcasting in 78
episodes produced by Amalga-
maged Wireless (Aust). Ltd.
Numerous serial radio plays.
Articles and short stories in
Australian and English press.

HEUSER Saffiyah Irma Writer Poems, Film Scenario, novels

and essays on various subjects
ready for publication

LUCAS Llyweiyn Writing k Household Poems published in two

overseas Anthologies and
MacKaness Anthology. One
small book of verse, "The
Garden". Has written articles,
short stories and sketches some
of which have been published.
First and second prizes in play
competitions (Sydney Communit
Playhouse and Brisbane W.E.A.)

McKinney jack Phiiup Freelance writer War "Crucible" won the prize
Pensioner offered by the R.S.S.I.L.A. in
connection with the Melbourne
Centenary Celebrations for best
Australian War Novel. Has
written short stories essays and
radio scripts.

WEBB A.E. Freelance (Farmer until Essays U articles

December 1938)





BALMER, Jean Jaccques School Teacher Several Short stories and

articles. Autobiography sent
to publishers in London. Has
completed half the BA degree

BROMLEY John Edward Clerk University Award of Tennyson

Medal for English Literature
Leaving Honours Standard (1937)
McDonald Scholarship for
English Literature while at
School, (1935)

CAMPBELL Roland Ex-Store Keeper, Some experience in Journalism

Freelance Journalist

CLARKE George Gerbert Botanist Bachelor of Science. From 1918

to 1931 Tutor in Zoology and
Botany at St.Andrew's College
Sydney, Botanist at Roseworthy
Agricultural College from 1931-
1936, also Botanist at Waite Agri-
cultrual Research Institute from
1936-39, "Important Weeds of
S.A." Also articles on botanical
and agricultural subjects.

HENNESSY Herbert Umemployed Has written short stories and

a novel,

INGAMELS Reginald Private Tutoring Poems. "Gumtops", "Forgotten

Charles Part-time school teaching People", "Sun Freedom"
Criticism "Conditional Culture"

TONKIN Murray Prisk Freelance, Journalist Journalism. Newspaper articles

and Radio plays Novel "Writing
for a living".

WENYSS Eleanor Evelyn Examination Coach Master of Arts. Bachelor of

Divinity. Poems "Songs of Cheer"
Newspaper articles. Has written
a number of songs,
WILSON John Private Teacher, Life long study of literature,
English U Art Art U Music. Newspaper and
Magazine articles and verse.





HATFIELD William Writer Fiction "Sheepmates", "Ginger

Murdoch", "Desert Saga", "River
Crossing" and others, Travel
"Australia through the Wind
screen", "I find Australia".

KNOX George Accountant Publishers favourably impressed

with preliminarv draft of
MS., on subject which proposes
to write.

LEEDER Olive Hannah Home Duties Two serials bought by ABC

for Childrens' hours. Short

MALEY Lewese Charlotte Home Duties Novels, "Influencing Monica"

and "Recapture of John Lane"
Play "Extremes", Short Stories

RESIDE, W. Jules - "Golden Days"

RUSSELL Clive Keith Farm Hand Sketches and essays in various

journals. Two MSS a volume of
poems and a collection of short
stories - at present in hands
of publisher.

SCLATER Donald James Farmer Articles on miscellaneous


SKINNER Mary Louisa Writer and Nurse Books "Midwifery Made Easy",
"Men are We", "Letters of a
V.A.D.", "Boy in the Bush",
"Black Swans", "Tucker Sees
India". Various short stories
and articles
THOMPSON John Joseph Radio Announcer BA., Prof. Morris Prize Winner
for Literary Criticism 1928.,
Poems "Three Dawns Ago"
Has written two novels.

THOMPSON James Roiio Invalid Pensioner Articles in "The West Australian

The "Adelaide Chronicle", and
"The Bulletin".





BRIDGES Roy Journalist Bachelor of Arts. History "From

Silver to Steel" (Romance of
Broken Hill Proprietary.)
"One Hundred Years".
A number of novels.

SHANKEY Eugene William Unemployed A few articles and poems.





CRIBBENS Francis Journalist Several Short Stories

Albert and articles published.

FRANKLIN Stella Miles Home Duties Six published novels. "Best

Australian one-act Plays"

MACDOUGALL, Duncan Actor-Producer Editor k Compiler of various

volumes for London publishers,
Author of many special articles
on literary dramatic subjects,

CUNNINGTON, Charles Author k Radio Play-write "The Rymes of Rusty Face"

"The Marriage of Shadows"
also over 100 Radio Plays.
ARMITAGE Charles Journalist 1. "The Causes of War and this
Cyrus (Major) Depression and the cure etc."
2, "A Practical Remedy for
Australia's Troubles". Also
articles on Development, Employ
ment of Youth, Defence,
Empire Migration.

KERR Doris Boake Freelance writer and Novels "Painted Clay" "Romany
(Cape! Boake) house work Mark", "DarkThread" also
short stories.

CLARK Marjorie Home Duties Four novels published in

(Georgia Rivers) Freelancing London:- "Jacqueline", "The
Difficult Art" "Tantalego" and
"she Dresses for Dinner".

H0PEG00D, Harold Military Pensioner "Austral Pan" and Peter Lecky"

(Peter) published in Australia and
England respectively.

CLOSE Mr. R.S. Author 6c Playwright "Love Me Sailor" (Novel) "The

Dups" (Novel) "Morn of Youth"
(Autobiography). Co-author
"Love Me Sailor" (Play).
Contributor Australian and
American anthologies,

CONQUEST, Mr.R Copy Chief (Radio Contributor to magazines and

and Press). Advertising newspapers. Also Army papers
Agency. and magazines.

CLARKE, Mr D.C. Journalist "Ritual Dance" (Poems) "Blue

Prints (Poems) "Food for
Occassions". Contributor to

RAVLING, Mr. J.N. Teacher M.A. (Sydney). History of

Australia (to 1832). "Life of
D.H. Danieky." "Life of Charles


EWERS, Mr. J.K. Writer Various books, including novels,

children's books, etc. as listed
in previous application.
VENESS, Mr. A.F. Freelance Journalist Studies Freelance Journalism,
and short story writing.

ASTLES MrsR.M. V riter and Chartered Trained at Metropolitan Coaching

(Mrs Gilbert Smith) Secretary College, Sydney. Various
publications - poetry, philosophy
plays and novels.

EARNSHAW Mr. E.H. Author & Publisher Author of The Australian Boys
Series - an authentic work for
Australian youth on Australian

SIMMONS MrsN. Licensed Business No previous books

and Estate Agent


Charles Adams, Letters to Sister and Ms Mimmie Gale 1916, Battye Library
Angus & Robertson Papers, Mitchell Library MSS 314.
Angus & Robertson Papers, Mitchell Library MSS 3269.
Guido Baracchi Papers, National Library of Australia MSS 5241.
Marjorie Barnard Papers, Mitchell Library MSS451.
Booksellers & Booktrade Papers, Mitchell Papers MSS 3315.
H E Boote Papers, Mitchell Library MSS 1557.
Martin Boyd Papers, National Library of Australia MS 6812
E J Brady Papers, National Library of Australia MS 206.
Dymphna Cusack Papers, National Library of Australia MS 4621.
Frank Dalby Davison Papers, National Library of Australia MS 1945.
Eleanor Dark Papers, Mitchell Library MSS 4545.
DeBerg Collection of Tape Recordings, National Library of Australia MS 888.
Fellowship of Australian Writers Papers, Mitchell Library MSS 2008.
Miles Franklin Papers, Mitchell Library MSS 364.
Miles Franklin Notebook, Mitchell Library MSS 136 0.
G Furness War Diaries 1917-1919, Battye Library 2726/A.
Mary Gilmore Papers, National Library of Australia MS 309, MS 958.
John M Harcourt interview 3BA February 10, 1935. (transcript).
Lesbia Harford, various correspondence & loose manuscripts held by Majorie
Pizer (Sydney).
Xavier Herbert Papers, National Library of Australia MS 758.
Rex Ingamells Papers, State Library of Victoria MSS 6244.
New South Wales Writers League Papers, National Library of Australia MS
Vance & Nettie Palmer Papers, National Library of Australia MS 1174.
Powerhouse Museum Exhibitions, Domestic Industry, Imperialism.
Katharine Susannah Prichard, National Library of Australia MS 1094.
Percival Serle Papers, State Library of Victoria MS 486/899/2.
Kenneth Slessor Papers, National Library of Australia MSS 3020.
Christina Stead Papers, National Library of Australia MS 49 67.
P R Stephensen & Company Papers, Mitchell Library MSS 364.
Frank Wilmot Papers, Mitchell Library MSS4/6/185.
* * * *
Attorney Generals Department, Australian Archives:
CRS A6119, Investigation Branch Files.
Item 42 - 118 folios
Item 43 - 154 folios.
CRS A369 Correspondense Files, D Series 1931-1939.
CRS A384 Correspondence with Director of Military Intelligence.
CRS A39 5 Papers Relating to White Army 1931.
CRS A432 Correspondence Files, annual single number series, 1929-
CRS A467 Special Files, 1906-51, C F 7, Bundle 20 Seditious Literature 1924-
39; Bundle 21 Papers on Communist Activity, including items on Seditious
Publications; S F 89 Bundle 89 Item 13.

Department of Defence, Australian Archives.

CRS A664 Correspondence Files, Multiple Number System, Class 401, 1924
CRS A816 Correspondence Files, Multiple Number System, Class 301,

classified, 1935-1957.

Department of the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts, Australian Archives.

CRS A3753 Minutes of Commonwealth Literary Fund Advisory Board Meetings
1939-1950, Item 72/2766, CP2862 various, A 571 various.
CRS A699; CRS A571; CRS 659 Individual Files, Commonwealth Literary Fund
CRS A463 Commonwealth Literature Fund Meetings 1908-1939.

Department of External Affairs, Australian Archives.

CRS A981 Correspondence Files, Alphabetical Series, c.1927-1942.

CRS A9 89 Correspondence Files, Multiple Number Series, 1943-1944.

Department of Health, Australian Archives.

CRS A1928 Correspondence Files, multiple-number system (1st series), 1925-


Department of Information, Australian Archives.

Department of Information file SP109/3 Item 316.10.
CRS A6122 Item 111, Summary of Communism.
MP95/1 Bundle 14 Folder 169 MF15 03.

Department of Trade & Customs, Australian Archives, Canberra.

CP46/4 Comptroller-Generals papers relating to film censorship, 1933-7.
CRS A425 Correspondence Filess, annual single number series c.1915-
[ Inventory], Includes general files as well as files on invidivual prohibited
CRS A3023 Literature Censorship Board, 1937-67, Correspondence Files, 1933-
CRS A3032 Allen Papers (1933-34) I; (1934-35) II; (1935-36) III.
CRS CP576/1 Personal Papers of E Abbott, 1933-1944.
CRS CP 595 Personal History Cards of Officers of the Department of Trade
and Customs, 19 01-19 54.

Prime Ministers Department, Australian Archives

CP 439.5 Censorship Diaries, 1939-1945.

CP 439/12 Censorship Regulations, 1938-1939.
CP 439/14 Censorship photocopies and newscuttings, 1940-1945.
CRS A457 Correspondence Files, multi-number, 1st system 1921-3 Class 533,
CRS A458 Correspondence Files, multi-number, 2nd system, 1923-34, CLass
318, Censorship
CRS A461 Correspondence Files, multi-number, 3rd system, 1934-50.
CRS A1403 Orders in Council, Vol.48, 1929.
CRS A2718, Bruce/Page Ministry Volumes of Minutes and Submissions.

CRS A2694, Cabinet Minutes and Submissions, 1932-1939, Lyons/Page

Ministries, Vol. 8.
CRS A2694 Cabinet Secretariat Records 1932-1939.
CRS A3264 Scullin Ministry, Folder of typed copies of Cabinet Minutes 1929


Workers1 Weekly
WIR Magazine
Trade Union Leader
Communist Review
Steads Review
Australian Journal
Times Literary Supplement
Sydney Daily Telegraph
British Australian
Home Magazine
The Australian Womans Mirror
Daily News
Sydney Morning Herald
West Australian
The New Call
Jarrah Leaves
Australian Quarterly
Daily Guardian
Adelaide Mail
Brisbane Daily Standard
John OLondons Weekly
Melbourne Herald
Labor Daily
Brisbane Courier
The Age
The Telegraph
All About Books
Smiths Weekly
The London Aphrodite


Abbott, J.H.M. Castle Vane (Sydney, Bookstall, 1910).

Dogsnose (Sydney, Cornstalk, 1928).
Sydney Cove (Sydney, Angus & Robertson, 1923).
Adams, Arthur H. The Australians (London, Nash, 1920).
A Mans Life (London, Nash, 1929).
Adamson, Bartlett Mystery Gold Illust. (Sydney, Cornstalk, 1925).
Afford, Max Blood on His Hands: A Detective Novel (London, J Long,
Allan, J T Forgive Us Our Trespasses (Sydney, Bookstall, 1933).
Playthings of Fate (Sydney, Bookstall, 1933).
Allen, L H Araby and Other Poems (Sydney, Dymocks, 1924).
Phaedra and Other Poems (London, Macdonald, 1921).
Andrade, David, The Melbourne Riots. (Melbourne, D.A. Andrade, 1892).
Armour, John The Spell of the Inland: A Romance of Central Australia
(Melbourne, Publ. Co, 1923).
Austen, Peter Bill-Jim (Brisbane, Gordon & Gotch, 1917).
The Young Gods (Sydney, Tyrrell's, 1919).
Australian Authors Week, 1935: The Australian Author (Sydney, Fellowship
of Australian Authors, 1935).
Baker, Vera Equality Road (Sydney, Bookstall, 1922).
Barnard, Marjorie The Persimmon Tree and Other Stories (Sydney,
Clarendon, 1943).
Baume, Eric (Frederick Ehrenfried Baume) Burnt Sugar (Sydney, Macquarie
Head, 1933).
Half-caste (Sydney, Macquarie Head Press, 1933).
Sydney Duck (London, Hutchinson, 1944).
Baylebridge, William An Anzac Muster (published privately, 1921).
Sextains (Sydney, Tallabila Press, 1939).
Vital Flesh (Sydney, Tallabila Press, 1939).
Baynton, Barbara Bush Studies (London, Duckworth, 1907).
Cobbers (London, Duckworth, 1917).
Human Toll (London, Duckworth, 1907).
Bean, C.E.W. The Dreadnought of the Darling (London, Rivers, 1911).
In Your Hands, Australians! (London, Cassell, 1918).
On the Wool Track (London, Rivers, 1910).
Becke, Louis Bully Hayes, Buccaneer, and OtherStories (Sydney, Bookstall,
Bedford, Randolph Billy Pagan, Mining Engineer (Sydney, Bookstall, 1911).
Beer, Alec The Foot of Time: A Novel of Australia and the South Seas
(Sydney Deaton & Spencer, 1933).
Bell, Leigh (Alison Clare Harvey Bell) Breakers on the Beach (Sydney,
Angus & Robertson, 1926).
Berrie, George Lachlan Threebrooks (Sydney, Stephensen, 1934).
Biggs, Maurice Poems of War and Peace (Sydney, Angus & Robertson,
Birkett, Winifred Earths Quality (Sydney, Angus & Robertson, 1935).
Bjelke-Petersen, Marie Dusk: A Novel (London, Hutchinson, 1921).
Jewelled Nights (London, Hutchinson, 1923).
Black, George An Anzac Areopragus and Other Verses (Sydney, Tyrrells,
Blunden, Godfrey No More Reality (London, Cape, 1935).
"Boake, Capel The Dark Thread (London, Hutchinson, 1936).

Painted Clay (Melbourne, Australasian Authors Agency, 1917).

The Romany Mark (Sydney, Bookstall, 1923).
"Boldrewood, Rolf In Bad Company and Other Stories (London, Macmillan,
Old Melbourne Memories (Melbourne, G Robertson, 1884).
Robbery Under Arms: A Story of Life & Adventure in the Bush and in
the Goldfields of Australia (London, Remington, 1888).
A Sydneyside Saxon (London, Macmillan, 1891).
Ups and Downs: A Story of Australian Life (London, S W Silver;
Melbourne, G Robertson, 1878).
Boote, H.E. 'Die Siren City (Sydney, Worker Trustees, 1933).
Bourke, Herbert Hie Soldiers* Story and Other Poems (Launceston, Tabart
Bros., 1928).
Bowes, Joseph The Anzac War Trail (London, OUP, 1918).
The Aussie Ousaders: With Allenby in Palestine (London, OUP, 1919).
The Young Anzacs: A Tale of the Great War (London, Frowde, 1917).
Boyd, Martin Brangane (London, constable, 1926).
The Lemon Farm (London Dent, 1935).
Lucinda Brayford (London, Cresset; Toronto, Collins, 1946).
Love Gods (London, Constable, 1925).
The Montforts (London, Constable, 1928).
Night of the Party (London, Dent, 1938).
Nuns in Jeopardy (London, Dent, 1940).
The Painted Princess (London, Constable, 1936).
The Picnic (London, Dent, 1937).
Retrospect (Melbourne, Australasian Authors Agency, 1920).
Scandal of Spring (London, Dent, 1934).
A Single Flame (London, Dent, 1939).
Such Pleasure (London, Cresset, 1949).
Boyes, W Watson Empire Day and Anzacs at Galipoli: A Souvenir
(Melbourne, Spectator, 1917).
Brady, E.J. Bells and Hobbles (Melbourne, G Robertson, 1911).
Wardens of the Sea (Sydney, Bulletin Co., 1899).
The Ways of Many Waters (Sydey, Endeavour Press, 1933).
Brennan, C.J. A Chant of Doom and Other Verses (Sydney, Angus &
Robertson, 1918).
A Mask: (Sydney, F Bardsley, 1913).
Twenty-three Poems (Sydney, 1938).
Brereton, J Le Gay, Knocking Round (Sydney, Angus & Robertson, 1930).
Bridges, Roy The Cards of Fortune (Sydney, bookstall, 1922).
Cloud (London, Hutchinson, 1932).
The Fencless Ranges (Sydney, Booskstall, 1920).
Gates of Birth (London, Hutchinson, 1926).
Negrohead (London, Hutchinson, 1930).
Rats Castle (London, Hutchinson, 1924).
Brock, Leon Love Among Thieves (Sydney, Jackson & OSullivan, 1935).
Broomfield, F.J. Henry Lawson and His Oicitc. (Sydney, Angus &
Robertson, 1930).
Browning, Thomas Stanley Henry Lawson: Memories ed. T.S. Browning
(Sydney, Worker, 1931).
Bruce, Mary Grant Captain Jim (London, Ward Lock, 1919).
Dick (London, Ward Lock, 1918).
Jim and Wally (London, Ward Lock, 1916).
Possum (London, Ward Lock, 1917).
Bull, John James & Bevan, William Austin Poppy Fields of France, and Other
Verses (Melbourne, Hilton Press, 1919).
Burns, James Drummond In the Dawning of the Day. (Melbourne, Brown

Prior, 1916).
Campbell, Norman Hie Dinky-Di Soldier and Other Jingles (Sydney,
Tyrrells, 1918).
Campion, Sarah Boonanza (London, P Davies, 1942)
Duet for Female Voices (London, P Davies, 1936).
Thirty Million Gas Masks (London, P Davies, 1937).
Cannan, Joanna Frightened Angels (London, Gollang, 1935).
The Hills Sleep On (Hodder, London, 1935).
"Caywood, Mark Centenary Gift Book (Melbourne, Robertson & Mullens,
Chauvel, Charles Edward Heritage (Sydney, Angus & Robertson, 1935).
Clark, Marjorie The Difficult Art (London, Skeffington, 1928).
Tantalego (London, Skeffington, 1928).
Clarke, Marcus The Conscientious Stranger: A Bullocktown Idyll (Melbourne,
D.P.Laing, 1881).
The Future Australian Race (Melbourne, A.H.Massina,, 1877).
His Natural Life (Melbourne, G Robertson, 1874).
Old Tales of a Young Country (Melbourne, A.H.Massina, 1869).
Cleary, Jon You Can't See Round Corners (N.Y., Scribners, 1947).
The Long Shadow (London, Werner Laurie, 1949).
Cleary, Patrick Scott Australian Debt to Irish Nation Builders (Sydney,
Angus & Robertson, 1933).
Clune, Frank Dig: A Drama of Central Austsralia (Sydney, Angus &
Robertson 1937).
Roaming Round the Darling (Sydney, Angus & Robertson, 1935).
RoUing Down the Lachlan (Sydney, Angus & Robertson, 1935).
Try Anything Once: The Autobiography of a Wanderer (Sydney, Angus
& Robertson, 1933).
Clune, George & Power, John Frank Coast to Coast: (Sydney, Angus &
Robertson, 1941).
Cobb, Chester Days of DisiUusion (London, Allen & Unwin, 1926).
Mr Moffatt (London, Allen & Unwin, 1925).
Collins, Dale When God Dropped In (London, H Joseph, 1931).
Collins, Tom (Joseph Furphy) Rigby's Romance: A "Made in Australia"
Novel (Melbourne, C J De Garis, 1921).
Such is Life (Sydney 19 03)
Cooper, John Butler Ooo-oo-ee (London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1916).
Cottrell, Dorothy Earth Battle (London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1930).
The Singing Gold (Bost., Houghton Mifflin, 1928).
Wilderness Orphan (Sydney, Angus & Robertson, 1936).
Winks: His Book (London, Jarrolds, 1934).
Coulehan, Norbert Gooljak (Melbourne, National Press, 1943).
Coulter, R Walter Everlasting Humean: A Saga of the Western Pacific
(Sydney,Angus & Robertson, 1937).
Courtney, Victor Cold is the Marble (Melbourne, Jindyworobak Publications,
Couvreur, Jessie Catherine Uncle Piper of Pipers HUl (London, Trubner,
Cowling, George HAf^iiduiSidVIBBiricBP^i^irRheys^il^tS^ian Essays (Melbourne,
Cox, Erie Fools' Harvest (Melbourne, Robertson & Mullens, 1947).
Out of the Silence (Melbourne, Vidler, 1925).
Crockett, Vivian Messalina (London, Cape, 1924).
Mezzomorto (Sydney, Stephensen, 1934).
Cronin, Bernard 'Die Sow's Ear (Sydney, Endeavour Press, 1933).
Cross, Zora Introduction to the Study of Australian Literature (Sydney,
Teachers' College Press, 1922).
Cusack, Dymphna Jungfrau (Sydney, Bulleint Co., 19 36).

Daley, Victor At Dawn & Dusk (Sydney, Angus & Robertson, 1898).
Poems (Edinburgh, Nimmo, 1908).
Dailey, J B Max Flambard (London, J Long, 1929 ).
No Armour (London, J Long, 1928).
Only the Morning (London, J Long, 1930).