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61. Cross, Zora, 1890-1964.
An introduction to the study of Australian literature. (Sydney, N.S.W. : Teachers’ College Press, 1922)
Cross’s Introduction to the Study of Australian Literature (1922) was one of the first surveys of Australian literature, preceding Nettie Palmer’s Modern Australian Literature, 1900-1923 (1924) and H.M. Green’s An Outline of Australian Literature (1930). The volume was compiled from lectures Cross had given at the Teachers’ College between 1920 and 1921. As she noted in the preface, “They do not propose to give any more than a hint of the rich field open to study”.65 Cross covered plenty of poetry, beginning with Henry Kendall and including Charles Harpur, Victor Daley, Roderic Quinn, David McKee Wright, Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson. Of Australian women poets, she believes the most “striking” is Mary Gilmore. John le Gay Brereton discussed with Cross the possibility of enlarging her booklet into a larger volume for Australian Literature for the Schools. “He advised me to do it immediately,” she recalled, “as H.M. Green, then librarian at the Fisher, was writing such a book, publication of which depended upon its use in schools”. Cross later came to regret not acting upon his advice.
62. Palmer, Nettie, 1885-1964.
Modern Australian literature (1900-1923). (Melbourne: Lothian Book Publishing Company, 1924)
Following the lukewarm reception of her two collections of poetry and with the encouragement of her husband, Vance, Nettie began concentrating on criticism. As Drusilla Modjeska discerns:
It wasn’t simply that she married Vance and became a wife. It was also, I would say, that she was afraid to confront her poetry and the exposure, the possibility of failure that went with it. Poetry, with its metaphoric language, was bringing her closer to articulating her existence as a woman. Criticism was safer and in the end she accepted silence from poetry. This decision, if decision is the right word for it, was not consciously taken and was not easy.66
The die was cast when she won Lothian’s essay prize with Modern Australian Literature (1900-1923) in 1924.67 Like Zora Cross’s Introduction to the Study of Australian Literature, the essay was written more as an overview than as a comprehensive study. Nettie did not extend her scope to Australasian writers (although she was familiar with the work of many New Zealand contemporaries) and narrowed her focus by examining only early twentieth-century literature. She was more prepared than Cross to be critical, and shrewdly balanced praise with an awareness of a work’s limitations. Palmer’s biographer, Deborah Jordan, notes how Vance had taken the couple’s two children out of the house so Nettie could work undisturbed on the essay. The prize and the publication of the essay marked Palmer’s emergence as a critical voice and opened up new opportunities for her.
63. Palmer, Nettie, 1885-1964.
Talking it over. (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1932)
In her role as critic Nettie Palmer worked tirelessly to promote Australian writing to the general public through newspaper and magazine articles and radio broadcasts. This collection represents some of her best essays from the period and established her as the leading non-academic critic of the day.
64. Eldershaw, M. Barnard. [Marjorie Barnard, 1897-1987 and Flora Eldershaw, 1897-1956]
Essays in Australian fiction. (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press in association with Oxford University Press, 1938)
Barnard and Eldershaw had been encouraged by Nettie Palmer to try their hand at literary criticism. The two women conceived of the collection as a beginning or a starting point: a site from which to promote some form of public dialogue about the contemporary Australian literary experience and to create and educate readers of Australian writing. As Barnard stressed, “some important part of our self respect is bound up in intelligent appreciation of our national literature. That's where I want to drive a nail". Many of the essays here began life as public lecture or reviews which were then expanded and developed. The collection covers the work of Henry Handel Richardson, Katharine Susannah Prichard, Christina Stead, Eleanor Dark, ‘Martin Mills’ [Martin Boyd], Leonard Mann, Vance Palmer and Frank Dalby Davison. Given the close-knit nature of the local literary community at this time, Barnard and Eldershaw show a remarkable capacity for even-handed criticism of their peers and contemporaries. H.M. Green also noted how discerning they were in their selection and criticism of this group given that many of the writers considered (e.g. Stead, Dark, Boyd) were yet to produce their best and most enduring work.
65. Australian writers speak: Literature and life in Australia: A series of talks arranged by the Fellowship of Australian Writers for the Australian Broadcasting Commission. (Sydney : Angus and Robertson, 1943)
This series of war-time broadcasts was designed to answer the question of “what … is the primary aim or function of the writer in times of stress?” Among the women writers who contributed to the series were Miles Franklin, Dora Birtles, Jean Devanny, Katharine Prichard and Marjorie Barnard.
66. Eldershaw, M. Barnard. [Marjorie Barnard, 1897-1987 and Flora Eldershaw, 1897-1956]
Plaque with laurel. (London: Harrap, 1937)
M. Barnard Eldershaw always claimed to be able to write only of what they knew and in this sense their satirical account of a writers' conference in the new national capital provides an interesting insight into the issues that confronted them as writers in the interwar period; namely, the struggle to establish and situate themselves in an often less than encouraging environment. The focal point for the visit to Canberra is the dedication of a plaque to the memory of Richard Crale, a distinguished writer who died tragically five years earlier. The original idea for the novel may well have come from Nettie Palmer's description of the unveiling of a memorial to Joseph Furphy at Yarra Glen in 1934. At the time, Barnard had written, "Your unveiling ceremony seems to have been amazingly complete - impressed professor and all. What a one act play it would make - or perhaps the third act in the dramatisation of an Australian author's life". So closely was the novel felt to parallel the activities of the contemporary literary scene that their London publishers, fearing a law suit might ensue, insisted on seeking a legal opinion prior to publication. This novel can be compared to Eleanor Dark's The Little Company (1945) and Christina Stead's I'm Dying Laughing (1987), which both explore the complex interrelationship between individual literary careers and the tensions of culture and politics. (This item is accompanied by a souvenir cup and saucer commemorating old Parliament House in Canberra.)
67. Eldershaw, Flora, 1897-1956. (ed.)
Australian Writers’ Annual 1936 (Sydney: The Fellowship of Australian Writers, 1936).
Published in association with Australian Authors’ Week, the Australian Writers’ Annual 1936 featured work by Eleanor Dark, Jean Ranken, Dulcie Deamer, Henrietta Drake-Brockman, Mary Gilmore, Miles Franklin, Zora Cross, Dora Wilcox, Frank Dalby Davison, Hilary Lofting, Tom Inglis Moore, Vance Palmer and Ian Mudie, with illustrations by Norman and Percy Lindsay among others. Eldershaw's introduction to Annual, while entitled "The Future of Australian Literature", concerns itself almost entirely with a retrospective account of the development of Australian writing on the grounds that the "past is all we can know of the future with any certainty. The past indicates the future". Eldershaw had served as President of the Fellowship of Australian Writers the previous year. Frank Dalby Davison claimed that he was "instrumental" in Eldershaw's election in 1935 to the Presidency of the FAW, prompted apparently by the conviction that it was "time the Fellowship had a woman President".68 Marjorie Barnard's counter claim, however, that Eldershaw was elected because "she was the only member of the Committee who had the brains and personality for it and was not involved in any of the numerous and violent quarrels that beset the Fellowship",69 suggests that the final outcome was influenced by a variety of factors. Barnard took a something cynical view of the Fellowship in those years, describing the conclusion of an FAW meeting during Eldershaw's Presidency to Nettie Palmer in the following way:
a comic and depressing evening… The 'Presidential party' went to coffee afterwards and that was worse. [Flora] being very nice to everyone as a president should and cursing - I knew full well - like a trooper underneath; Frank [Dalby Davison] very tired, very anxious that no one should notice it, saying 'What shall we do to bring up the Fellowship in the way it should go?' and getting no answer... 70
Even during the years of her most active involvement in the FAW, Barnard still questioned its direction and maintained to Nettie Palmer that "the untidiness of the meetings would horrify [her]".71
Flat Case 5
68. Brent of Bin Bin [Miles Franklin], 1879-1954.
Up the Country (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood & Sons, 1928).
In a diary entry of 24 March 1927, Franklin wrote of visiting Fullerton and discussing the possibilities of writing an “epic of Australia never done before”. That year, she started her Brent of Bin Bin series, with Up the Country appearing in 1928. Mary wrote to Franklin on 27 March 1928 that “Women are the next top dogs” of Australian literature, which had a special attraction: “Such a field: consider its virginity, its scope”.72
On 13 February 1929, Franklin wrote gleefully to Fullerton after the reviews of Up the Country came out, “Yes they all think me a man”.73 When Ten Creeks Run was to be published, Mary wrote to Franklin:
How chucklesome when this new book of yours gets into the reviewers’ hands here and there, the guesses—all at sea again. It will make them to think furiously this time for ‘ho, ho, here is a strong man, the man at last and who the deuce is it?’74
The identity of Brent of Bin Bin continued to be a local literary mystery. Marjorie Barnard wrote to Nettie Palmer in 1931 that, “I shall be very surprised if Brent is not an elderly man — probably a bachelor”.75 Although Franklin’s All That Swagger won The Bulletin’s Memorial Prize in 1936, she was disappointed by its reception:
It has been acclaimed by the Sydney Morning Herald, by the Bishop of Goulburn and the communists so must have a wide appeal…Melbourne has been rather piffling and patronising…Nettie and Vance [Palmer] politely congratulate me on prize—but otherwise silent or they fall back on saying I am a wonderful woman.76
69. Craig, Ailsa.
If blood should stain the wattle / by Ailsa Craig. (Sydney : Currawong Publishing, 1947)
70. Methley, A. A. (Alice A.)
Bushrangers' gold / by A.A. Methley. (London : A. & C. Black, 1930)
71. Fullerton, Mary E. (Mary Eliza), 1868-1946.
A Juno of the bush / by Mary E. Fullerton. (London : Heath Cranton, 1930)
Mary Eliza Fullerton was born in 1868 in a bark hut on an isolated selection at Haslemere, Glenmaggie, in North Gippsland. Originally from Belfast, her father came to Australia as part of the gold rush and turned to farming. In 1921, her mother died and Fullerton was motivated Fullerton to write Bark House Days, a memoir which looks nostalgically back to her childhood. In 1922, Mary left for England where she lived for the rest of her life. In the mid-late 1920s, Fullerton began publishing novels, The People of the Timber Belt (1925) and A Juno of the Bush (1930), and the non-fiction, The Australian Bush (1928).77
72. Baynton, Barbara, 1857-1929.
Bush Studies / by Barbara Baynton. (London: Duckworth & Co., 1902)
The grim realism of Baynton’s stories collected here in Bush Studies challenged more romantic literary views of settler life in the Australian bush. Stories such as “The Chosen Vessel” and “Squeaker’s Mate” capture the isolation, violence and fear that women experienced and suggest a gothic dimension to the suffering of the female characters.
Baynton, Barbara, 1857-1929.
Human Toll / by Barbara Baynton. (London: Duckworth & Co., 1907)
73. Trist, Margaret, 1914-1986.
In the sun / Margaret Trist. (Sydney : Australasian Medical Publishing Co., 1944)
Margaret Trist wrote many short stories and published regularly in the Sydney Bulletin, but also in Southerly, Overland and Meanjin. She was born Margaret Beth Lucas in Dalby, Queensland, in 1914 and was educated at St Columba's Convent there. On leaving school she moved to Sydney where, at the age of nineteen, she married Frank Trist. Her stories frequently explore the bittersweet experience of a small town and rural life. She published two collections of short fiction, In the Sun (1943) and What Else is There (1946). She also wrote three novels Now that We're Laughing (1945), Daddy (1947) and Morning in Queensland (1958). The last of these draws on her Darling Downs background and has many auto-biographical resonances. It was highly commended in the Mary Gilmore Awards in 1958.
Children’s Literature: Teens
Flat Case 6
The genre of ‘teen’ literature was still relatively a new phenomenon, as was the figure of the teenager. It tied closely to the emerging figure of the ‘girl’—that there was a story for her and that she too could embark on adventures—although the ending was always neatly resolved and often pointing toward marriage and settling down to a home of her own. Teen literature often reinforced the importance of independent thought and pluck within the regime of feminine values.
74. Mack, Louise, 1870-1935.
Teens Triumphant / by Louise Mack (Mrs. J. Percy Creed) (Sydney : P.R. Stephensen, 1933)
Louise Mack was one of the earliest Australian writers to broach specifically adolescent anxieties and dreams. Growing up as one of thirteen children (fellow writer Amy Mack was her sister), Louise was the first daughter after six sons. She was educated at Sydney Girls’ High School where she became close friends with Ethel Turner. Although known primarily for her adult novels, she wrote a highly successful teen trilogy that begins with Teens: A Story of Australian Schoolgirls (1897). This introduced Lennie Leighton and her best friend, Mabel, who attend a
Sydney high school. There was controversy over the possibility of it being a rather thinly veiled version of Louise’s alma mater. Teens Triumphant is the final instalment and takes up Lennie’s life in London where she is now studying art. The trilogy concludes with Lennie’s decision that Australia is the place for her and her return.
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