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Australian Poetry, 1940s–1960s

Summary and Keywords

When situating 20th-century Australian poetry within world literary space, critical histories often map it against the Anglo-American tradition and find it wanting. In particular, and despite the strong reputations that poets such as Judith Wright and A. D. Hope continue to enjoy, there is a tendency to regard Australian poetry from the Second World War until the mid-1960s as variously complacent, insular, or retrograde: representative of what John Tranter in his introduction to The New Australian Poetry in 1979 called “a moribund poetic culture.” Certainly, there was a turning away from avant-garde experimentalism in the immediate postwar period (as there was in Britain and the United States), but in Australia, this has been linked to a discrediting of modernism as a result of the Ern Malley hoax. In the Malley “affair,” as Michael Heyward dubbed it, two conservative poets hoodwinked the editor of the avant-garde journal Angry Penguins with a suite of poems written by a wholly invented working-class surrealist. As a result, according to Wright (among others), Australian poets became less adventurous in favor of more traditional forms. On top of this, recent revisionist accounts of the hoax have virtually canonized “Malley” himself as a bona fide modernist and so exacerbated a sense of lost opportunity after the mid-1940s. Yet modernizing impulses may take many forms, and it is an overstatement to suggest that innovation had ceased, or that the poetry of this period was somehow disengaged from the rest of the world or from international literary-political debates. A reassessment shows that Australian poets were keenly engaged with the questions of their time but also dealt with the persistent, unresolved problem of how to become “unprovincial,” overcoming a cultural cringe that now gravitated away from Britain and toward America. In fact, for Australian literature prior to the emergence of Patrick White, poetry, rather than beating a retreat, actually led the way forward. It is time, then, to reconsider the poetry of the postwar era within its own cultural ecologies, acknowledging that Australian poetic modernism, while it remains contested, may also be distinctive.

Keywords: Angry Penguins, Australian modernism, Australian poetry, Vincent Buckley, A.D. Hope, Jindyworobaks, James McAuley, Douglas Stewart, Francis Webb, Judith Wright, literary hoaxes

On Becoming Unprovincial

In 1971 Judith Wright reflected on the way in which “the distance of Australian poets from the high seats of culture and critical appraisal” rendered them “stylistically imitative” and only capable of producing a thin “provincial originality”1: “It was the Second World War which changed all the balances and brought us out of complete insignificance into mere marginality, as far as the rest of the world is concerned.”2 While James McAuley thought that the cultural efflorescence of the period “invites but eludes sociological analysis,” nevertheless, “The Second World War was a period of national danger, of new challenges, of quickening industrialization; the atmosphere was vibrant with the realization that Australia was going to be different from now on, in a very different post-war world.”3 Certainly, the local literary ecology entered a period of flux as wholly new genera sprang into being.

In The Quarantined Culture (1995), John F. Williams explored the political and cultural background of Australia between the two World Wars to show how radical experimentalism in the visual arts was frowned upon, discouraged or mocked—more particularly in official culture and especially within the major state galleries of New South Wales and Victoria. Williams saw this largely as a function of the imperial relationship with Britain, from whence arose the Anzac legend, paradoxically enough, in which a national self-image grew out of a colonial alliance. The political and economic dominance of the British Empire also led to the agrarian focus of conservative Australian governments of the 1920s, who saw the country’s role principally as a primary producer. In its most utopian form, then, the conservative national ideal was that the nation could best project its destiny through versions of pastoral rather than urban imagery. This is what Williams means by “quarantined culture”: as if the political establishment could have isolated Australia from the consequences of that very modernity from which it sprang. The attempt by federal attorney general (later prime minister) Robert Menzies to establish an Australian Academy of Art (1937–1946) was a tendentious expression of this sensibility. That it was a damp squib, however, shows that Williams’s argument does not hold, because by then the visual art scene had well and truly begun to open up to modernism.4 Williams’s focus on official high art also skews his perspective, since many lively expressions of middlebrow and vernacular modernism were thriving in popular culture,5 notably in newspapers and magazines, which had long embraced modern innovations in journalism and design. The smaller market for literary magazines was not quite as lively.

As in Europe and America, Australia in the 1930s had seen the emergence of small magazines. Nearly all were short-lived. Notable among them were Stream (1931) and Pandemonium (1934–1935), both of which came out of Melbourne. Stream, edited by Cyril Pearl with Bertram Higgins as poetry editor, was a fully-fledged modernist journal whose editors corresponded with Ezra Pound, reproduced a “Directory of Current English Authors” by Basil Bunting, and published local translations of overseas material, including a translation of Vladimir Mayakovsky’s “A Cloud in Trousers.” It ran for only three issues. Pandemonium, produced by Mervyn Skipper on furlough as the Bulletin’s Melbourne representative, was more satirical. It lasted for twelve issues, by which time Skipper’s resources were exhausted and he returned to the Bulletin at a reduced salary. Neither had institutional support to carry them through straitened times.6 Another small magazine, the Adelaide-based middlebrow book review Desiderata (1929–1939), survived as long as it did because it was produced by Preece’s, the city’s major bookshop.7

The diminished status of poetry before the war may be judged by the argument of Tom Inglis Moore’s Six Australian Poets (1942), which was the first extended academic critical study of its kind. Moore claimed that “Australian poetry of the last century can hold its own, in its highest expressions, with any poetry written during the same period in the English tongue.” The problem was that no one was paying any attention, for “in no other country, I believe, are its finest poets so little known, so narrowly appreciated, as in Australia.”8 Moore was later a key figure in establishing the study of Australian literature in universities, and by “distinguishing between genuine poetry and poor jingle”9 his modernizing aim was unabashedly “to establish a canon of ‘major’ poets that will affirm fresh and fitting norms of value to the benefit, not only of the poets concerned, but also of the national reputation.”10

In retrospect, though, Moore’s six favorites comprise an odd sort of canon. Hugh McCrae, John Shaw Neilson, Bernard O’Dowd, William Baylebridge, Christopher Brennan, and R. D. FitzGerald constitute a miscellaneous gathering, consistent only in their idiosyncratic variety, so that if “each poet has in his veins the poetic blood royal … the crown of single sovereignty has not yet found a poet to wear it in lonely state.”11 Indeed, the remarkable diversity of this list only serves to highlight the persistent lack of a clear poetic tradition in Australia; furthermore, with the exception of FitzGerald, all their careers peaked early in the 20th century. Today, only Neilson and Brennan continue to sustain critical interest, O’Dowd is an historical aside, and McCrae and Baylebridge have largely disappeared into the archive. The youngest of them, FitzGerald, would come close to taking the crown as the major poet in the early postwar period. Yet he is now as lost to critical fashion as the last two. We shall return to FitzGerald later on.

Hugh McCrae broke new ground with the sexually charged lyrics of Satyrs and Sunlight (1909), though his frequent use of mythological or historical settings can all too readily tip into pastiche. As a result, what once was risqué nowadays seems merely stagey. John Shaw Neilson, in contrast, was a gentler lyrical poet with roots in the folkways of an impoverished rural life. He had a fine eye for the natural world through which, under Symboliste influences, he sought the numinous:

  • Let your song be delicate.
  • The skies declare
  • No war – the eyes of lovers
  • Wake everywhere.12

Because Bernard O’Dowd and William Baylebridge treated poetry as a mode of philosophical-political speculation, in their day they were taken seriously as “intellectual” poets. O’Dowd was a dreamy socialist and Baylebridge a faux-Nietzschean nationalist, yet each expressed his vision in a clunking, antiquated manner: O’Dowd in the thumping meter of hymns and Baylebridge in a leaden Elizabethan register that he regarded as proper high style. Their ideas no longer matter, though O’Dowd’s The Bush (1912)—an expansive, relatively playful long poem on the prospects for Australian civilization—retains some attractions, if few admirers.

Christopher Brennan, on the other hand, remains important as the genius manqué of modern Australian poetry. Neilson absorbed Symbolisme in an intuitive way through the cross-currents of fin-de-siècle literary culture. But Brennan learned it deeply, had corresponded with Stéphane Mallarmé, and was programmatic in his approach. His masterwork, usually referred to as Poems (1913), is a discontinuous proto-modernist epic in a variety of forms that describes a failed quest for spiritual wholeness, symbolized by the biblical figure of Eden. It is a major achievement, drawing its allusive energies from across the Western tradition—Brennan was a distinguished classical scholar—and is full of glittering passages and individual poems of great power. For all that, Brennan shares a problem with most of Moore’s canon—Neilson, at his best, and FitzGerald excepted—in that he failed to bring his poetic language up to date with the modernity of his theme. Like McCrae, O’Dowd, and Baylebridge, then, his verse can appear Victorian, old-fashioned, and downright colonial.

In the years immediately prior to the appearance of Moore’s Six Australian Poets, however, the environmental conditions for literature were beginning to change. In 1939 the quarterly journal Southerly appeared, with R.G. (Guy) Howarth from the English Department of Sydney University as its founding editor. Published by the Australian English Association13—dedicated, like its British parent organization, to promoting the still relatively new academic discipline of English—within a few years it began to focus exclusively on Australian literature. In 1940 Meanjin Papers—later simply Meanjin—was started by Clem Christesen in Brisbane, taking its title from the Indigenous word for “spike,” being “the name given to the finger of land” on which that city stands.14 Following an offer of support from Melbourne University in 1945, Christesen and his magazine moved south, where Meanjin has remained ever since. Because of their (at times tenuous) institutional links, these two journals have proven remarkably enduring in what remains a small literary market. They continue to be influential. In putting down roots, they successfully challenged the long-standing supremacy of the Bulletin as a national literary review.

That Meanjin came of out of Brisbane, initially showcasing the work of young Queensland poets, indicates a marked shift in the geopolitics of Australian literature during these years, which began to diverge from the dominant Sydney-Melbourne axis. In 1938 Rex Ingamells established the nationalist Jindyworobak Club in Adelaide with a radical agenda involving “A clear recognition of environmental values,”15 and produced the first annual Jindyworobak Anthology of poetry the same year. Following Ingamells’s lead, in 1941 the Sydney-based firm of Angus & Robertson—since the 1890s, the preeminent publisher of Australian writing—inaugurated its own yearly selection, Australian Poetry, with Douglas Stewart from the Bulletin as its editor. In 1940 Phoenix, the University of Adelaide Union’s magazine, mutated into Angry Penguins with D. B. Kerr and Max Harris as editors. Harris had previously been an enthusiastic young member of the Jindyworobak Club and so, despite the obvious differences, Angry Penguins might also be seen as a sportive offshoot of the Jindies’ activism. Major national outlets for Australian poetry were flourishing, and by the early 1940s, the scene suddenly looked more vibrant and diverse than it had for years, perhaps decades. If there were new, wildly conflicting, possibilities to be explored, there was now an expanding marketplace that might accommodate them.

The Bulletin Rebooted

In many ways, the preeminence of the Bulletin up to the mid-20th century stands for the problem that Moore’s Six Australian Poets sought to address. Within a decade from its foundation in 1880, the Bulletin became not only a transformative force in local journalism but also a mover and shaker of pre-Federation culture, creating its own national “school” of vernacular balladists and short-story writers; yet literary content was always carried on the back of its main function as a national weekly newspaper.16 Its power was vested in its continental reach—each week the Bulletin could be found in newsagents and doctors’ surgeries across the country—but also in its commercial standing as a senior member of the Sydney press gang. Now entering old age, the Bully had grown editorially conservative, and its aesthetic values similarly reflected a fear of becoming too removed from the kind of literary taste it had helped to form. Moore’s gibe about the kind of “poor jingle” that was popularly confused with “genuine” Australian poetry was aimed directly at bush balladists from its stable such as Henry Lawson, A. B. “Banjo” Paterson, and Will Ogilvie. Not that the Bulletin traded much in bush balladry by the 1930s,17 but it continued to publish topical light verse alongside serious poetry until the 1960s. Other mainstream newspapers had relegated poetry, both serious and light, to specialist literary journals many years before.

The elevation of New Zealand–born poet Douglas Stewart to editorship of the Bulletin’s literary Red Page in 1940 reenergized it as a venue for poetry. Other Red Page editors had also come from across the Tasman—Arthur Adams, and Irish-born David McKee Wright—and as a new arrival Stewart was keen to make his mark, yet he remained a poet first and foremost. He quickly came under the charismatic sway of the artist Norman Lindsay, the Bulletin’s chief political cartoonist and a virulent antimodernist. Stewart’s Red Page essays of the 1940s, some of which were collected in The Flesh and the Spirit (1948), adopt the style and attitudes of his mentor and often reference Lindsay’s own favorites among the grand canon of Western literature and art. In his review of Six Australian Poets, for example, Stewart demurred over Moore’s choices with the exception of McCrae and thought that “Banjo” Paterson should have been included, drawing upon Lindsay’s vitalism for his argument: “Paterson, as no other Australian poet except Hugh McCrae has done, came to his work with that joyous gusto, that fine arrogance, that triumphant recklessness which—witness Shakespeare’s plays or Byron’s Don Juan—is one of the hallmarks of enduring art.”18 Similarly, in a response to Francis Scarfe’s Auden and After (1948), he blames political engagement (“Leftism”) and Freudian psychology as modern “escapes from art” that privilege social conditions or the individual psyche over “life.” The obscurantism that each have produced in poetry has alienated “The Ordinary Cultivated Reader (let him have the capitals he deserves)” who “has long ago, with every justification, given up the attempt to read poets who set out deliberately to mystify him.”19

As a journalist, Stewart had every reason to court the ordinary cultivated reader. The phrase is F. R. Leavis’s, from New Bearings in English Poetry (1932), though ironically it echoes the language of middlebrow American book clubs. According to Susan McKernan, “Stewart faced the constant dilemma of the serious artist who wished to be popular.”20 In his verse dramas of the 1940s, Stewart found a flair for poetic narratives. His radio play about the tragic Scott expedition to the South Pole, The Fire on the Snow (1941), broke new ground in a popular medium, and later stage plays such as Ned Kelly (1942), about the famous bushranger, were, for all their occasional wordiness, also successful. In 1947 Stewart drew upon his passion for Browning’s dramatic monologues (a passion shared by Lindsay) to produce the ballad sequence Glencoe, about the 1692 massacre of the MacDonald clan. Written in Scottish dialect, it is an odd tour de force that speaks not only to the Bulletin’s tradition of literary balladry but also to Scots-identifying poets such as Mary Gilmore and McCrae, who wrote occasional lyrics in Lallans. McKernan has proposed that Glencoe, with its assertion in the face of atrocity that “the heart of the earth is stone,”21 may even have been a veiled response to the Nazi death camps.22 Whatever the case, it is likely that contemporaneous folk revivals in the United States and Britain directly influenced Stewart toward ballads, as they also influenced writers on the Communist left, such as John Manifold, who became a major folklorist himself, and Dorothy Hewett. Hewett’s early works include the memorable ballad “Clancy and Dooley and Don McLeod” from 1946, about an Aboriginal station workers’ strike in the Pilbara region of Western Australia:

  • Clancy and Dooley and Don McLeod
  • Walked by the wurlies when the wind is loud,
  • And their voice was new as the fresh sap running,
  • And we keep on fighting and we keep on coming.
  • Don McLeod beat at a mulga bush,
  • And a lot of queer things came out in a rush.
  • Like mongrel dogs with their flattened tail,
  • They sneaked him off to the Hedland jail.23

National sentiment stirred by the war and the struggle against fascism galvanized intellectuals on the left to seek the sources of a distinctly Australian identity during the era of postwar reconstruction. So-called radical nationalists such as Vance and Nettie Palmer, A. A. Phillips, and Russel Ward celebrated what they saw as the predominantly working-class traditions of Australian democracy. This could involve some historical retrofitting. In The Legend of the Nineties (1954) Vance Palmer argued that the vernacular writers of the Bulletin in its heyday expressed the sense of freedom that came when Australians recognized that they were at last truly at home in their bright new country: in Joseph Furphy’s famous description of his novel Such is Life (1903), “temper, democratic; bias, offensively Australian.” Ward, who would go on to write The Australian Legend (1958), his famous frontier thesis on the historical roots of Australian egalitarianism, began the project by collecting folk songs.24

In 1955, with the Australian folk song revival in full swing, Stewart and Nancy Keesing edited Australian Bush Ballads in order to “preserve and present in the compact array of a single volume the Australian bush ballad of the Nineties.”25 Bush ballads were a local offshoot of the popular Victorian literary ballad tradition, and in the main were penned by city-based poets; yet Stewart typically favored a vitalist explanation for their emergence, arguing in his introduction “that the Australian balladists were simply a reincarnation of the old Border rhymers, or at least that the old Scottish power of song, dormant in the blood through the centuries when the clans were subdued and dispersed, leapt to life again in the wild freedom of the new country.”26 Stewart and Keesing followed this in 1957 with Old Bush Songs and Colonial Rhymes, an expanded edition of “Banjo” Paterson’s Old Bush Songs (1905) and more folkloric in intention.27

Stewart had effectively created what Vincent Buckley in 1954 called “a new Bulletin school” based upon the work of Judith Wright, David Campbell, and Stewart himself but also taking in such different writers as Kenneth Mackenzie, Rosemary Dobson, Nancy Cato, Francis Webb, and Ray Mathew. Buckley did not intend praise but rather moral criticism of a “new orthodoxy,” which favored nature poetry that emphasized the environment over human agency, thus being “inadequate as a creative reflection of Australian life and aspirations.”28 Wrongheaded as Buckley’s analysis is—perhaps it is precisely the moral agency of the landscape itself that is at issue, especially in Wright—he initiated a line of complaint against these poets, and others associated with the Bulletin, that their work was uncomprehending and irrelevant, in form as well as content: “We are in the middle of a period of Georgian poetry, a period of ‘tough’, jazzed up Georgianism which has partly adapted itself to local conditions.”29 “Georgian” is, of course, a much- abused term, one long overdue for reclamation, which is typically thrown at traditionally crafted poems that are deemed insufficiently modern, or modernist, and so variously tame or middlebrow. Finding Stewart and his ilk rather less than serious is precisely what the author of Poetry and Morality: Studies on the Criticism of Matthew Arnold, T.S. Eliot and F.R. Leavis (1959), would do.30 But what if Stewart’s project during his long stint as Red Page editor (1940–1961) was to facilitate a broadly accessible style of modern lyric; and what if this was not so much a retrograde step as a positive attempt to make poetry popular again? He was employed by a newspaper and not a literary magazine, a point not lost on Buckley who noted that “the Bulletin, a weekly publication, is available to the young poet in a way that the quarterly journals cannot be.”31 Significantly, when Stewart gathered his later critical essays into a second collection in 1975 he called it The Broad Stream. The trajectory of poetic modernism in Australia from the late 1930s is more clearly observed in the fate of the two movements that originated in Adelaide, the Jindyworobaks and Angry Penguins.

The Adelaide Connection: Jindyworobaks and Angry Penguins

Even in their day, the Jindyworobaks were pilloried for trying to engage with Indigenous culture, which for racist reasons was typically seen as debased or irrelevant. “I am afraid the Aborigine is not nearly so cherished, certainly not nearly so revered in Australia as Jindyworobak principles assume he is, or should be,” one commentator remarked in 1948.32 These days, it is precisely this Aboriginalism with its all-too eager and superficial appropriations of Indigenous mythology and languages that seems racist. In Ingamells’s “Australia” from 1942 the poet seizes opportunity out of elegy:

  • Where ghostly the tribes go,
  • dwindled and few,
  • Alcheringa dusks know
  • didgeridoo.
  • In gunyah and windbreak,
  • by desert and sea,
  • the lubra sings heart-ache
  • for birrahlee.33

(“Alcheringa” refers to the Dreaming; Ingamells glosses “birrahlee” as “small child”; “lubra” is a dated and now offensive word for an Aboriginal woman.) Along with many other non-Indigenous Australians, Ingamells and his fellow travelers thought that Aborigines were a dying race, so that fossicking among Indigenous artefacts became a form of literary anthropology. Still, in spite of its bad faith and frequent lapses of taste, Jindyworobakism registered an acceptance that white Australia did indeed possess an Aboriginal history. Ian Mudie was the most politically engaged of the group: before he met Ingamells he was a regular contributor to P. R. Stephensen’s far right-wing nationalist journal the Publicist. Mudie was fiercely angry at the timidity of Australian culture in embracing its environment and forthright on the question of responsibility for Indigenous dispossession, as in “Retreat of a Pioneer”:

  • Vacant he sits, sucking his yellowed teeth;
  • hostile to change, sprawling uneasy feet
  • that bullock-dray and shuffling camel knew.
  • Half-blind from sand; the tribes he stole from dead;
  • the land he raped made barren as his mind.34

One of Ingamells’s essential “conditions” for Australian culture in his 1938 manifesto, Conditional Culture, was “an understanding of Australia’s history and traditions, primaeval, colonial and modern” (emphasis added).35 The Jindyworobaks’ project to locate forms of deep cultural time should also be read in the wider context of modernist primitivism. Ingamells was influenced by D. H. Lawrence’s Kangaroo (1923), for instance, and his early macaronic verse employing Indigenous words might even loosely be compared to Tristan Tzara’s performance of Arrernte songs at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich in 1917: each was deploying Indigenous culture to make a pointed comment about modernity.36 Another of Ingamells’s conditions was to “debunk” the Victorianism that continued to infect local verse, not least that of Moore’s canonical six. As he wrote in Conditional Culture, “I cannot deplore too vehemently the dangerous habit of using figures of speech with regard to essentially Australian things which call up such a flood of Old World associations as to gloze over all distinctiveness.”37 That Ingamells later consented to publish Max Harris’s debut, the avant-garde collection The Gift of Blood (1940), implies that, at that early stage at least, he was more open to novelty than he later appeared.

Self-limiting and ultimately stalled, the Jindyworobak project underlines a persistent problem with cultural self-definition in Australia. In striving to jettison or subvert the British underlay of Australian literary language, the Jindies embraced a confected, bookish nativism that had no resonances for either European or Indigenous Australians. The movement may have been damaged by Mudie’s and Ingamells’s association (brief, in Ingamells’s case) with P. R. Stephensen and the fascist Australia-First movement.38 Compounding their isolation was the defection of Harris to Angry Penguins and a quarrel between Ingamells and Douglas Stewart that for many years saw Jindyworobak publications go unreviewed in the Bulletin. The critical consensus remains: apart from the work of “second wave” Jindy poets Roland Robinson and William Hart-Smith, there is not much to celebrate. Yet, for all its emphasis on Ingamells’s “environmental values,” the annual Jindyworobak Anthology (1938–1953) brought together a range of significant poets from outside the immediate coterie, including Mary Fullerton, Judith Wright, James McAuley, A. D. Hope, John Blight, Ray Matthew, Vivian Smith, and Bruce Dawe. Ingamells was killed in a car crash in 1955. While it is impossible to know what he might have gone on to do, his death removed a strong player from literary politics. Since the founding of the Jindyworobaks in 1938, he had achieved a great deal with relatively few resources. And if his poetic talents were doubtful, his dogged determination to make the most of them was not.

Just how inclusive the Jindyworobaks could be is further suggested by the journal Poetry (1941–1947), which was founded and edited by Flexmore Hudson, one of movement’s earliest members. Most of its twenty-five numbers were produced by Hudson as he moved about as a teacher in South Australian country schools, yet it accepted a variety of contributions from New Zealand as well as Australia. From its seventeenth issue in 1945, Poetry styled itself The Australian International Quarterly of Verse, indicating what Jayne Regan has called Hudson’s “world-minded” approach,39 and published work by British, Irish, and American poets such as Henry Treece, Maurice Lindsay, Roy McFadden, and Langston Hughes. In a remarkable coup, the preface to its final issue was written by William Carlos Williams. Taking issue with the direction of Ezra Pound’s poetics, Williams declared: “To me the battle lodges for us poets in the poetic line, something has got to be done with the line … some new order which the greatest poets, Australian or American, of our day must discover.”40

The first undeniably “experimental” journal in a high modernist style was Angry Penguins (1940–1946), yet none of the verse it published survives today other than that of “Ern Malley.” Malley remains the greatest succès de scandale in Australian literary history: a modernist poet and garage mechanic confected by James McAuley and Harold Stewart as a prank on editor Max Harris, who published his complete works, The Darkening Ecliptic, in the journal’s sixth issue in autumn 1944. Notwithstanding their coded fooling, even when the hoax was revealed Malley’s poems continued to be celebrated by critics in Australia and overseas as superior, genuinely experimental works. In fact, it would be fair to say that Malley’s unintended virtues effectively ensured that Angry Penguins itself would be remembered. The complexities of the hoax—not least the fact that the poems read more freshly out of context today than they did at the time—mean that Australia’s experiment with literary surrealism now rides higher in critical regard than the apparently retrograde nativism of the Jindies. Pascale Casanova condenses a long-standing objection to literary nationalism when she writes, “The only true moderns … are those who … acknowledge the force of the aesthetic revolutions that have shaped world literary space and the international laws that structure it.”41 For that reason, Angry Penguins has tended to be overvalued as a marker of Australian modernism. In the beginning, it mostly comprised a small Adelaide-based coterie of key poets—Max Harris, D. B. Kerr, Paul Pfeiffer, and Geoffrey Dutton—whose dominant international engagement was with the New Apocalyptic strand of British surrealism. Kerr, the journal’s cofounder, was killed in active service in New Guinea in 1942. The following year, wealthy lawyer and art patron John Reed became co-editor, and the production of Angry Penguins moved to Melbourne. Now designed by Sidney Nolan, and with contributions from other artists among Reed’s avant-garde circle, the magazine became visually striking and swelled in size. At last, it was more conspicuously cosmopolitan in scope, but it was also more truly national. It is this later version, from the fifth issue, not the smaller, mostly parochial first numbers that commentators think of when they recall Angry Penguins.

Like the uncurbed editor of a school magazine, Harris’s hand was everywhere: in editorials, in articles (some written under pseudonyms), and in poems. An example of the latter, “Biography,” published in the Ern Malley number shows Harris at his most expansive. Although dated “November 1943,” some of its language seems to foreshadow The Darkening Ecliptic; it was also placed immediately after Harris’s prose poem, “Elegiac for Ern Malley”:

  • I am deciphered by the black waters,
  • union, and terrorist surge avid in my fields,
  • sun my god, the purpose love,
  • and the strong swing of hawks my blazing shield.
  • Here I was an age unfolding
  • like the rose my veneer panels to the rafters,
  • and the natural birds blinked,
  • and at my birth the yellow waters followed after.
  • I lay, like tyranny, in my own corn,
  • waiting nightfall as the mice
  • to play the moribund penury of desire
  • at the sneering globule of the moon.42

The judgment of Neil Corcoran on certain British New Romantic poets holds true for poems such as this: “The bardic investiture quite fails to disguise a paucity of genuine imagination and technique, ‘vision’ vainly trying to do the duty of both. There are too many poems from the 1940s in which the nebulously vatic seems repellent in its myopic self-assurance or triumphalism.”43

According to Humphrey McQueen, “Max Harris was always a young man with a great future behind him.”44 In the established literary centers of Sydney and Melbourne, reasons for disliking the self-satisfied Harris were not hard to find. A. D. Hope had planned to hoax him, but was beaten to it by McAuley and Stewart, whose creation of Malley and his oeuvre, allegedly in one afternoon, scored a palpable hit. Yet the cause célèbre that the Malley affair became was a product of its revelation in a popular newspaper, the Sydney Sun, which took the argument well outside literary circles and eventually into a court of law, when Harris was charged in South Australia with having issued an indecent publication. McAuley and Stewart quickly realized that they had lost control of their “serious literary experiment,”45 which had degenerated into an example of what Leonard Diepeveen has called journalistic “mock modernism.”46 For, at this stage, neither McAuley nor Harold Stewart—nor Hope, for that matter—was wholly lost to modernism, whose siren song continued to enchant McAuley, especially. McQueen recognized McAuley’s affinities with the New Apocalypse when he observed that, in co-creating Malley, “McAuley was playing with ideas which he took very seriously.”47

Like McAuley, Stewart was also strongly drawn to traditional modes of belief, though he opted for Japanese Buddhism over his co-conspirator’s eventual choice of Roman Catholicism, and he lived in Japan from 1966 until his death in 1995. He remained traditional in poetic form as well: his haiku translations, published as A Net of Fireflies (1960) and A Chime of Windbells (1969), were rendered in heroic couplets—with doubtful accuracy, it has been argued.48 If his 1981 epic By the Old Walls of Kyoto was also written in rhyming pentameter, the real aim was phantasmagoric: “To cast a verbal spell over [a poet’s] audience it is again the monotonously regular metrical beat, heard with the mind’s ear beneath the superimposed rhythms, that induces an incipient hypnoidal state, lulling the listener into a waking dream in which the poetic images will be more vividly envisioned.”49 As Ern Malley might say, “New images distort/Our creeping disjunct minds to incredible patterns.”50

Australian Modernism?

The Malley affair continues to fascinate, not only for its own sake but also for its implications concerning poetic modernism in Australia, for a definitive answer to the question of when Australian poetry “got” modernism has proved elusive. Angry Penguins would itself suggest a critical moment except for the fact that its greatest star never existed. At the turn of the century, Christopher Brennan had a deeper understanding of Symbolisme than virtually any other Anglophone poet of his day, but critics continue to object to the late Victorian mannerisms of his style; unlike Yeats, he never fully changed from shop-soiled romantic fustian into a plainer modern idiom. Kenneth Slessor is now widely taken to be the first if not the foundational Australian modernist, though here there are also concerns about the florid manner of his early poetry, written under the influence of Norman Lindsay’s vitalism. It is only in Slessor’s later work, from Cuckooz Contrey (1932), that his language fully meets the modern world. By then, Slessor’s day job as a journalist was spent at the larrikin Smith’s Weekly, where he was chief film critic, and Philip Mead has persuasively argued for the influence of the cinema in these mature poems.51 Another “problem” with Slessor vis-a-vis the local modernist tradition is that his later influence is arguable since, apart from a couple of lyrics (including the moving “Beach Burial”), by 1940 his career as a poet had ceased.

The reappraisal of Slessor as a modernist over the last couple of decades has only come about with the global reappraisal of modernism itself as a broader and more culturally contingent set of artistic practices than it was once construed to be. Before this, “modernism” was typically conflated with the historical avant-garde, and until the late 1960s in Australia when a set of experimental younger poets came to prominence—what John Tranter later called The New Australian Poetry or “the Generation of ’68”52—the absence of an avant-garde heritage meant that the local poetic scene could appear inward-looking and tame. As Thomas Shapcott wrote in his preface to the groundbreaking Australian Poetry Now anthology in 1970: “There has as yet been no poet fully committed to extending the frontiers of meaningful form in Australia with the sort of desperate consistency and obsessional honesty proper for a real break-through. We are still playing games.”53

The sense that Ern Malley backhandedly constituted a seminal moment for Australian modernism has grown over the years, but for a long time it was easy to blame the hoax for a perceived failure of the modernist spirit among poets in postwar Australia. In Preoccupations in Australian Poetry (1965), Judith Wright observed, “After this débacle, it is quite true to say that the atmosphere of Australian writing changed, on the whole for the worse,” becoming “thoroughly unfavourable to experiment or to adventurousness—a fact which perhaps has something to do with the number of poems written in the fifties and sixties in either an academic and classical, or a rumbustiously masculine, vein, both these manners being recognizably ‘safe’.”54 Two years before, and in a more affirming tone, A. D. Hope—hardly a disinterested observer—had described contemporary Australian poets as “hav[ing] in common … a return to traditional forms and techniques of verse and a retreat from experimental methods, free verse, surrealist logomania, fragmentary imagism, dislocated syntax and symbolist allusiveness.”55 Writing in 1976, after the revolutionary wave had broken, Shapcott questioned whether reaction to the Malley scandal had single-handedly suppressed the experimental spirit in Australian literature, but acknowledged a “mood of inhibition” in the poetry of the 1950s and 1960s, which was

evidenced in a pervasive complacency of technique or an insistence on classic forms that, in retrospect, seems strangely at variance with the post-war growth pains of a quickly maturing society. One cannot help wondering if a more alert receptiveness to new challenges of form and attitude overseas would have significantly altered the direction of Australian poetry.56

From an international perspective, the fact is that after the war avant-gardism was widely seen as having had its day. Not only was there the egregious example of Ezra Pound’s fascism, there was a sense in which verbal experimentation for its own sake began to seem a mannerism. Even Shapcott acknowledged that the 1950s in the United States and Britain had seen what he called “a swing back to formal neatness and detachment.”57 In England, James Fenton has noted that what appear today to be the “modest virtues” of the Movement poets—including Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis, Donald Davie, and Thom Gunn—might show in a more positive light when seen in context alongside the forgotten but “windy poetry of the 1940s”: specifically, the surrealists of the New Apocalypse. “Two people can look at the same evidence,” Fenton writes of the Movement: “The first sees in it a splendid rejection of the false. The second detects a reluctance to get going, an inability to take on the role of poet.”58 Reaction in the United States to formalists such as Richard Wilbur, Anthony Hecht, and John Hollander—but also to Robert Lowell and James Merrill at this time—took the latter view. As Robert von Hallberg has remarked: “Fifties poets characteristically claimed no intense feelings for their subjects. This was art, not life. The standard critical reaction against this verse is that it is superficial, aloof about social and political problems, and, in a damning word, complacent.”59 By contrast, new avant-garde movements such as projectivism and Beat poetry each, in its own way, embraced a more contingent and experimental poetics, less concerned with reflection than with direct experience. For this reason, reaction to “academic” formalism set in early in America.

But there are further difficulties in assessing the status of poetic modernism in Australia. What Malley might have called the “ribald interventions”60 of the press would appear to justify Tom Inglis Moore’s concern that public appreciation of poetry had reached a low ebb. But the situation was more complex. Philistine laughter at the avant-garde overlooks the extent to which Malley’s poems might have been an argument not so much against modernism as about it, and specifically about the fashionable authority of surrealism to speak the modern world compared to that of an older Symbolist heritage. That Symbolism has been central to the history of poetry in Australia, comparable in importance to nationalism, has been forcefully argued by John Hawke in Australian Literature and the Symbolist Movement (2009). Of course, the interrelationship between late romanticism and modernism by way of Symbolist theory and practice was first observed by Edmund Wilson in Axel’s Castle (1931), but Hawke’s achievement has been to trace these connective tissues within the local tradition, from Christopher Brennan through Lindsayan vitalism, and in the very different work of Kenneth Slessor, Judith Wright, James McAuley, A. D. Hope and even Patrick White. David Brooks, in The Sons of Clovis, his “secret history” of Australian poetry through the prism of the Malley affair, has also shown how deep seated the Symbolist strand has been, and his comment on the impact of the hoax is well worth quoting:

It may, locally, have seemed as if the Ern Malley Hoax had severely retarded the course of modernism … Those who claim this don’t seem to consider the further possibility, that modernism as it appeared elsewhere may not have been the manner in which it would manifest itself here, and that Australian cultural circumstance might have rendered some of what was elsewhere deemed modernism redundant or irrelevant, or changed some of it beyond immediate recognition. Australian modernism, that is to say, might not have looked like European modernism.61

The accounts by Hawke and Brooks are all the more welcome, coming as they do in the wake of two influential late-20th-century studies that took the failure of romanticism and, as a consequence, the belatedness of modernism in Australia as axiomatic: Andrew Taylor’s Reading Australian Poetry (1987) and Paul Kane’s Australian Poetry: Romanticism and Negativity (1996). There are several objections to these accounts, not least to their reinvention along poststructuralist lines of an already long-established canon of poets—a canon put in place by what John Docker calls the “metaphysical ascendancy” of New Critics of the 1960s and 1970s.62

A more fundamental objection is to their claims about the absence of romanticism in Australian poetry. Taylor traces a line of “romantic disinheritance” from colonial attitudes toward a recalcitrant natural world in which the bush is represented as “secular, stubborn, and usually not very friendly,” in antipodal contrast to the numinous view of nature promulgated by Wordsworth and the American Transcendentalists. Rather than providing spiritual consolation, the Australian landscape—“othered” as feminine and passive, or perhaps passive aggressive, to the masculine agency of colonization—“both entices and threatens male consciousness”;63 an idea notoriously embodied in A. D. Hope’s 1939 poem “Australia” in his image of the country as “the last of lands, the emptiest,/A woman beyond her change of life, a breast/Still tender but within the womb is dry.”64

Kane, by contrast, treats romanticism in Australia in Derridean terms as a historical aporia, or an “absence [that] has functioned as a generative presence,”65 and set Australian bards along a via negativa of abortive quests for poetic origins. In many ways, the abiding spirit of this paradox is Ern Malley, the genius who never was. Since “romanticism constitutes the sine qua non of any subsequent modernism,”66 this persistent failure of self-authentication has produced the discontinuities of the Australian tradition. As Kane writes: “We may speak of romanticism in Australian poetry as a recursive fact but not as an overt or acknowledged heritage. This is one of the reasons why the major poets all appear to be ‘solitary shapers.’”67 Like Taylor, Kane takes his cue from the Yale deconstructionists, and from Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence (1973) with its Freudian reading of literary tradition.

To argue, as Taylor does, that romanticism was disabled by Australia’s often harsh environment is reminiscent of the 19th-century commonplace—offered by Marcus Clarke, among others—that the bush could never present truly “romantic” subjects because it lacked ruins. Kane is more sensitive to the position of the colonial poets than Taylor but is uninterested in the ways in which local literary networks operated, and so overlooks how information about European and American literature might have been obtained, distributed, and interpreted. At the same time, he overstates the Bloomian theme of poetic self-fashioning in terms of the Yale school of deconstruction’s circumscribed version of romanticism, itself inherited from American New Criticism. So contrarian romantics such as Byron are not invoked and neither are more quotidian modes of romantic discourse that circulated in popular verse (including satire), fiction, and theater.

Even without these objections, with Hawke’s and Brooks’s work in mind, it could be argued that Symbolism has, at the very least, provided Australian poetry with a de facto romantic-modernist inheritance. Literary responses to Australian nature have long been subject to versions of the doctrine of correspondences, for even where the colonizing Western consciousness has failed to find a welcome, that sense of unsettlement has projected itself onto the environment in a kinship of unease. In his prose rendering of the famous opening of Baudelaire’s sonnet, “Correspondances,” Christopher Brennan translates “forêts” as “wild-woods,” a noteworthy distinction: “Nature is a temple wherein the pillars are alive and, from time to time utter confused words; man walks amid wild-woods of symbols which look upon [him] with looks that he recognizes as kin.”68 So, in the work of Henry Lawson, or in much Australian gothic, the “wild-woods” of the bush can image alienated or even psychopathological states. Or they can embody an alterity that is also uncannily familiar, as evinced in James McAuley’s 1942 poem “Terra Australis,” producing a “mythical Australia, where reside/All things in their imagined counterpart”:

  • It is your land of similes: the wattle
  • Scatters its pollen on the doubting heart;
  • The flowers are wide-awake; the air gives ease.69

In his famous preface to Adam Lindsay Gordon’s Poems (1876), Marcus Clarke concluded that “the dweller in the wilderness … learns the language of the barren and the uncouth, and can read the hieroglyphics of haggard gum-trees.” By these means, “The phantasmagoria of that wild dreamland termed the Bush interprets itself, and the Poet of our desolation begins to comprehend why free Esau loved his heritage of desert sand better than all the bountiful richness of Egypt.”70 Nearly a century later, in Preoccupations in Australian Poetry, Judith Wright described this as the country’s “double aspect”:

Australia has from the beginning of its short history meant something more to its new inhabitants than mere environment and mere land to be occupied, ploughed and brought into subjection. It has been the outer equivalent of an inner reality; first, and persistently, the reality of exile; second, though perhaps we now tend to forget this, the reality of newness and freedom.71

Hope’s poem “Australia” plays on this ambivalence. In coloration, this “Nation of trees” is attuned to the times, “in the field uniform of modern wars,” but its contours are immemorially old and cryptic, with hills like “endless, outstretched paws/Of Sphinx demolished or stone lion worn away.” Hope denies the self-serving myths of Australia’s youthfulness and fertility, finding it instead “the last of lands, the emptiest,” a desolation matched by the spiritual vacuity of its inhabitants: “the river of her immense stupidity//Floods her monotonous tribes from Cairns to Perth,” describing the only stream that will never run dry. Yet, after excoriating his homeland, Hope turns back to it, precisely because it represents a blank slate from which some vital new impulse might emerge. “The Arabian desert of the human mind” is a place from which a “savage and scarlet” spirit might spring unencumbered by “the learned doubt”72 of European civilization and perhaps prove liberating for that reason.

David Carter writes that, according to the view of Australian modernity suggested by Hope’s poem, “Australia was ‘born’ modern (or postmodern) in the peculiarities of its landscapes and the peculiarly pre-cultural social life determined by this environment; or in its sheer otherness and distance from ‘the chatter of cultured apes/Which is called civilisation over there’.”73 It is a view consonant with the primitivism of the Jindyworobak project, although several other postwar “pastoral” poets would also find that, as far as the Australian environment is concerned, everything old is new again. In David Campbell’s words, “The surrealism of our landscape shimmers in the Australian mind.”74 There would, however, be a new set of gatekeepers to ensure that things did not become too surreal.

The Poet-Professors

To the young poets of the late 1960s whose values were influenced by the counterculture and the sexual revolution, the poets in Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry 1945-1960 (1960) and Donald Hall’s Contemporary American Poetry (1962) offered a visionary glimpse over the restrictive suburban fences of the postwar Australian scene. Hope and McAuley, especially, came to appear to be such reactionaries because they were poets who were also academics at a time when universities had taken over the curatorship of poetry from literary journalists. Marking this change, after Sir Frank Packer acquired the Bulletin in 1961, Douglas Stewart was replaced as poetry editor by Vincent Buckley, the third major poet-professor. Around 1963, John Tranter, in a youthful parody of Hope’s “Australia,” wrote:

  • And her universities, like steaming sores,
  • Where ageing poetasters tread the boards,
  • Where a second-hand professor bores
  • His audience, which dutifully applauds.75

If all three professors saw themselves as poets first and foremost, with wider than merely academic investments in literary culture, this was easily overlooked in light of the power their university positions bestowed. But the situation in Australia echoed that in the United States and the UK, where English departments increasingly included poets, “much in the manner of those small brightly-coloured fish that live among the tentacles of sea anemones,” as Judith Wright put it.76 Perhaps the relatively small scale of the Australian poetry scene meant that the poet-professors loomed larger here than they might otherwise have done. Then again, the fact that Australian literature itself emerged as a subdiscipline at this time offered fresh possibilities for influence. Hope and Buckley were instrumental in establishing it at their respective institutions.

All three professors fought perceived vices of provincialism in favor of “universal” principles: an illusion that their privileged lives in a parochial academic culture still dominated by Anglo men cheerfully encouraged. Hope remains the best-regarded poet and was the most obviously Eurocentric in his poetic manner and literary interests. McAuley aspired to classic grace, but tensions between his personal demons and political investments gave his poetry an edge that eventually complicates its reactionary intentions. Buckley was by far the most liberal of the three. Working at his alma mater, Melbourne University, he was also the best situated in terms of institutional authority. McAuley was somewhat rusticated in Hobart, but he had a national audience through his editorship of the conservative literary journal Quadrant, which was founded by the Australian Association for Cultural Freedom in 1956. Hope had been at Melbourne, but in 1951 he relocated to Canberra, still the “bush capital,” where he was made founding professor of English at what would become the Australian National University.

Unlike McAuley, who converted to Catholicism in 1952, Buckley was born into the faith and into poorer circumstances than either of his peers. Partly owing to the war, he began his studies late, but they reenergized his stalled intellectual and emotional development. At Melbourne University, Buckley returned to his religion, from which he had lapsed, and it now deeply informed his poetic vocation:

His friend James McAuley … believed his duty as a poet and a Catholic was to show the truth that had already been revealed. Alec Hope used poetry as a way of controlling disorder. Buckley believed that poetry would show the truth by uncovering the order of an immanent God whose indwelling made the world sacred.77

If Buckley was an intellectual Catholic he also identified emotionally with the culture of his Irish heritage, which he would call on throughout his career as writer and teacher. Beyond the circle of his charm, however, enthusiasm for his poetry has remained muted and Melbourne focused, although Golden Builders and Other Poems (1976) made a splash with its freer style that continues to send out diminishing ripples. Though he rejected Communism, Buckley remained left-of-center and opposed the clandestine activism of B. A. Santamaria’s anti-Communist Catholic Social Studies Movement within the church and trade unions—unlike McAuley, who regarded the procrustean Santamaria as a close friend and ally.

The Cold War was formational in the overall academic enterprise of Australian literature. In his contentious 1984 account of the field, In a Critical Condition, John Docker argued that it was politically expedient for New Criticism to displace the left-wing radical nationalist version of cultural history. “Ice Warriors” such as McAuley were not interested in such liberal, self-serving national myths; and neither, according to Docker, were the fresh generation of New Critics, who treated poems as autonomous artifacts and downplayed historicist approaches. If they did not line up with McAuley’s extremism, nevertheless they

agreed with a general Cold War lofty end-of-ideology view which looked down on the social and political as an unworthy human interest, and which paraded certain special interests – the metaphysical, the moral, the psychological, the introspective, the intellectual, the reflective, the contemplative – as the supreme location of interesting experience and, hence, of literature of quality.78

That Douglas Stewart’s “new Bulletin school” came under Buckley’s censure has been noted, but he would go further. His criticism was influential in establishing the canon of Australian poetry during the 1960s and 1970s and, through his 1957 book, Essays in Poetry: Mainly Australian, the high moral tone in which it was read: “Poetry deals with man at a metaphysical level—but with man’s metaphysical status reflected in his actual state, localized in his actual physical surroundings, embodied in his sensuous and spiritual reactions to his world. It strikes to the meaning and not the detail of man’s life.”79 Buckley took particular aim at vitalism and nationalism: vitalism for its rollicking anti-intellectualism; and nationalism because “Australianness is certainly no longer our dominant literary issue, if indeed it ever was.”80

A. D. Hope published his first collection, The Wandering Islands (1955), at the age of forty-seven. This belated debut did the poet no harm, as it suggested that he had arrived on the scene as a fully mature talent. The collection’s timing also coincided with his more outspoken assertion of tradition over experimentalism in essays such as “The Discursive Mode” and “Free Verse: A Post-Mortem,”81 giving the impression that he had never been anything other than a reactionary. The term “classical” has been applied to Hope’s temperament, yet he was not always so marmoreal. In his early work, especially, he showed a satirical bent in poems such as “Observation Car,” on the rapid-paced conformity of modern life, and, in a more expansive manner, Dunciad Minor (first drafted in 1950), his lampoon on modern letters, written in the style of Alexander Pope. If bony death is never far away, “the face my future wears,”82 the flesh takes center stage, as Hope was always candid about sexual desire, earning him the nickname “Phallic Alec.” Vitalists such as Hugh McCrae and the young Kenneth Slessor wrote erotically candid poems and yet coyly dressed them in the historical masquerade of Norman Lindsay’s art. Hope’s approach was at once more explicit and grotesque, given to what Mikhail Bakhtin might call “carnivalesque ambivalence”; as in “Conquistador,” in which “a white girl of uncommon size” rolls over her diminutive lover “squash[ing] him flat;/And, as she could not send him home that way,/Used him thereafter as a bedside mat.”83

When he wanted to make grander humanist statements, Hope could also dress his verse in the raiment of European high culture, as though contemporary local dress were best left for more vulgar purposes. One of his best-known poems, “An Epistle: Edward Sackville to Venetia Digby,” croons elegantly of lost love, mourning the physical act while asserting transcendence over it, and concludes:

  • So Love, which Nature’s craft at first designed
  • For comfort and increase of kind,
  • Puts on another nature, grows to be
  • The language of the mystery;
  • The heart resolves its chaos then, the soul
  • Lucidly contemplates the whole
  • Just order of the random world; and through
  • That dance she moves, and dances too.84

The Yeatsian echo in that last line is worth comparing with the more obvious debt to Yeats’s “Leda and the Swan” in Hope’s 1952 sonnet “Pasiphae”:

  • She wept for terror, for triumph; she wept to know
  • Her love unable to embrace its bliss
  • So long imagined, waking and asleep.
  • But when within she felt the pulse, the blow,
  • The burst of copious seed, the burning kiss
  • Fill her with monstrous life, she did not weep.85

Yeats’s speculations on the relationship between the human and the divine have been transferred to those between the human and the animal. Hope’s depictions of women and of female sexuality would bring him into conflict with feminist critics, and this poem strongly hints as to why. Its volta turns on a moment of phallic triumph that seems blind to more fundamental questions of gender and power. Hope’s formal and tonal conservatism seek to mitigate the bestiality that brings forth the “monstrous life” of the Minotaur, and yet the poem is also pruriently fascinated by the act and its violence. Is this a distinctly modern tic? Hope would not endorse the analogy, but there is some common ground with Pablo Picasso’s Minotaur images in The Vollard Suite.

Since Buckley first canonized Hope as “The Unknown Poet,”86 local critics have read him as a metaphysician rather than as a materialist, his erotic preoccupations a mark of the perpetual struggle between the flesh and the spirit—or between knowledge and desire, Faust and Don Juan, in Kevin Hart’s formulation87—but he is overdue for reconsideration.88 In 1970 Geoffrey Hartmann included Hope in a catch-all discussion of “poets who consolidate rather than advance the modernist revolution.” For Hartmann, Hope sat comfortably enough with Louis MacNeice, Robert Graves, and Robert Lowell in remaining conscious of “the ‘giant forms’ of tradition” while trying to subdue them, creating “anti-apocalyptic poetry in apocalyptic situations.”89 (It is worth remembering that Hope was born in 1907, the same year as his fellow formalists MacNeice and W. H. Auden.) In his 1992 monograph on the poet, Hart reminds us that Hope studied as a philologist and mastered several European languages as well as Russian. His reaction to literary experimentalism should thus be seen in transnational rather than parochial terms:

Hope’s temperament would have never allowed him to be drawn for long to the poetics of Eliot and Pound, even if he had never gained entrée to foreign literatures; but the fact that he knew other literary traditions, whose modern heirs kept resolutely to formal structures, encouraged him in his chosen poetic practice. As Akhmatova and Mandelstam showed him, he could be an authentic modern poet while remaining absolutely committed to form and metre.90

The same might be said of James McAuley, who was well read in French and German poetry and in later life drawn to the work of the Austrian, Georg Trakl. Though he would later foreswear it, at the time of the Malley hoax and up to the publication of his first collection, Under Aldebaran (1946), McAuley was still a late or neo-Symbolist (post-Symbolist is probably a better term) and much invested in ideas about language and the unconscious being tested by the surrealism of Angry Penguins: ideas that come especially to the fore in two of his serious poems from this time, “The Blue Horses” and “The Incarnation of Sirius.” In the first of these, from 1943, the influence of German expressionism is evident in the image of the horses themselves, taken from Franz Marc’s 1911 painting Der Turm der blauen Pferde but here given the allegorical force of one of William Blake’s prophetic books:

  • What loud wave-motioned hooves awaken
  • Our dream-fast members from the cramp of sleep?
  • The tribal images are shaken
  • And crash upon their guardians. The skies
  • Are shivered like a pane of glass.

The blue horses emerge from the unconscious with iconoclastic force, smashing the sky “like a pane of glass.” Yet they are also creative, “stamp[ing] among the spiritual mills/That weave a universe from our decay.” Their renovating power is like modernism itself, breaking apart in order to create something new: “The specious outline crumbles” and “Men hide among the tumbled images.”91 But those tumbled images would themselves present a specious outline for McAuley, whose reading of modernity became increasingly millenarian and fearful. “The Incarnation of Sirius,” written in the same year as the Malley hoax, depicts the Dog Star as rival to the Sun, standing forth as a vision of the Anti-Christ:

  • Anubis-headed, the heresiarch
  • Sprang to a height, fire-sinewed in the dark,
  • And his ten fingers, bracketed on high,
  • Were a blazing candelabrum in the sky.92

The modernism of this image was noted by Harris when he published an extract from it in Angry Penguins in 1945 after it had first appeared in Meanjin: “by James McAuley, a well-known follower and literary disciple of Ern Malley. This poem, though, of course, derivative, exhibits some of the unique qualities of the Master.”93 But for McAuley by then the blue horses had already bolted.

Of all the professors, McAuley’s views on modernism are the most anxious because, as his early verse implies, he so strongly felt its appeal (as a young man he was also a renowned jazz pianist). Buckley was never antimodern, and deep down neither was Hope, whose rational and discursive, or “Augustan,” tendencies eschewed the kind of sacred ground that McAuley so keenly sought to tread. McAuley developed his critique of modernity early and largely stuck to it. In a 1955 Commonwealth Literary Fund lecture, he defined modernity as “anti-traditional illuminism or gnosticism seen as a movement which has developed over many centuries in ever more secularized forms.”94 In his 1959 book of essays, expectantly titled The End of Modernity, he called this phenomenon the “the Magian heresy,” bemoaning the fact that:

The arts, like other departments of culture, are emancipated from allegiance to any higher principle, and, under the banner inscribed art for art’s sake, begin the destructive exploitation of their heritage of traditional styles and forms. Instead of that sort of intelligent adaptation which is at once both conservation and original creation, there is a progressive debasement and disintegration of the wealth of tradition.95

In “Journey into Egypt,” written in 1974, he made the same case, critiquing the way in which romantic and later modernist poets, in resisting both traditional faith and Enlightenment secularism, sought a “third road” to truth through purely aesthetic means. They elevated art to a form of religion and the artist to a kind of gnostic prophet: “While they could convince themselves of this Magian task, they were no longer displaced persons of the wars of the Enlightenment: though despised and rejected by the ignorant world, they were in imagination the secret masters of reality.”96 Informing McAuley’s rejection of modernism, then, is its romantic-Symbolist heritage, whose apostasies he read in global terms as a function of modernity itself. But his desire to see the end of modernity was political as well as poetic—Communism was just as heretical as modernist solipsism—and as editor of Quadrant, covertly funded by the CIA, he became a leading captain in the Cold War.

Opinions are mixed on McAuley’s post-conversion poems in A Vision of Ceremony (1956). Michael Ackland’s comment that “his verse from the 1950s affords statements of faith rather than tableaux which invite the reader’s imagination to reinact [sic] the poet’s moment of revelation” is a fair summary.97 Following his truncated epic Captain Quiros (1964), however, doubt seeps back into McAuley’s work, along with what he called “the personal element”; although he spurned the confessional mode of Americans such as Robert Lowell, John Berryman, and Anne Sexton for fear that (in a characteristic image) they “desecrat[ed] the last sanctuaries.”98 Many of the late poems are pastoral in theme, the natural world still offering its symbols to McAuley in a troubled post-Symbolist kinship:

  • The world sinks out of sight. The moon congealed
  • In cloud seems motionless. The air is still.
  • A cry goes out from the exhausted will.
  • Nightmares and angels roam the empty field.99

Modernity and the Uses of History

The rebellious young Australian poets of the so-called Generation of ’68 were not the first to address the global challenges of modernity from a postcolonial standpoint. Judith Wright, for one, had long been troubled about the status and purpose of poetry in the modern world. She was a philosophical poet with a strong sense of historical and environmental change, and if her poems became angrier by the late 1960s, they reflected long-held concerns about conservation, along with underlying anxieties for the future of life itself in the atomic age. (Her 1955 collection, The Two Fires, is the most explicit about her fear of nuclear catastrophe.) In “The Writer and the Crisis,” first published in 1952, Wright expressed concern about the way in which language was losing its power as a common medium of communication by becoming ever more fragmented and relative. Modernist literature reflected a wider breakdown of meaning (the language of Finnegans Wake “is only just distinguishable from gibberish—from its own substratum of wordlessness”),100 while scientific discourse offered the comparable problem of extreme specialization:

Man’s experience has changed, has grown immeasurably beyond the forms in which he has until now expressed it, and the distortion that has followed has left language, as the garment of thought, gaping here and shrunken there. We have not been able to express and formulate a new vision of the world to fit our experience of it, and words ‘slip and slide, decay with imprecision …’ Language, then, will come to life again only when we once more find a vantage point for a new insight into and exploration of ourselves and our relationship to the changed universe.101

Wright argued that it is up to the poet as a creative individual to restore the symbolic energy of language through image-making, even invoking Shelley’s phrase “that poets are ‘the authors of language.’”102 Her idealized notion of a common language may therefore be fundamentally romantic,103 but her defense of poetry is also informed by Pound and Eliot (whose “Burnt Norton” she cites in the passage above), and the anthropology of Lucien Levy-Bruhl. Though Wright’s essay appeared in a tiny, short-lived local magazine,104 her stance was characteristically global.

The problem of finding language appropriate for dealing with the post-atomic world echoes Wright’s abiding concern about a poetic language adequate to accommodate settler experience of the Australian landscape. In 1952 she wrote, “The essentially metaphorical force behind the growth of language—the extension from the named to the unnamed by bringing the two together in some dynamic relationship—is the very essence of poetry.”105 The problem of what she would later call Australia’s “double aspect” was that the “reality of newness and freedom” the land inspired was overshadowed by “the reality of exile” in which it had been seized. The English language was not easily adapted to this metaphorical mission, especially since Aboriginal people had already accomplished the Adamic task of naming the unnamed.

Wright was, as she acknowledged herself, “born of the conquerors,” the daughter of a wealthy family of New England squatters, but she recognized early the disaster that white settlement had wrought upon the land’s Indigenous inhabitants in poems such as “Nigger’s Leap, New England” and “Bora Ring” which appeared in her first collection, The Moving Image (1945). That book also contains one of her best-loved poems, “South of My Days,” celebrating the “clean, lean, hungry country” where she grew up, a landscape animated by the figure of Dan, a retired stockman, “full of old stories that still go walking in my sleep.” Dan becomes the unconscious of the landscape (figuratively “south” of daytime consciousness), sequestered in his hut and garrulously yarning about long-dead people and long-forgotten events the modern world takes no interest in:

  • Oh, they slide and they vanish
  • as he shuffles the years like a pack of conjuror’s cards.
  • True or not, it’s all the same; and the frost on the roof
  • cracks like a whip, and the back-log breaks into ash.
  • Wake, old man. This is winter, and the yarns are over.
  • No-one is listening.106

The clear implication is that the old colonial myths, despite their former potency, have had their day. Wright was by no means hostile to the Australian legend—far from it—but she was wary of its sentimental uses and how these grossly misrepresent the colonial past. She would later withhold from anthologies one of her most famous poems, “Bullocky” (1944), a mythopoeic take on the frontier figure of the bullock-driver, concerned that it was being taken in too celebratory a spirit.

In Australia the European concept of “history” as chronicle is complicated by up to sixty millennia of Aboriginal habitation, in which temporality is deeply inspirited in country through mythical Dreaming narratives, and assumes a fluid sense of past and present. Writers have long intuited that Australia’s story has involved more momentous things than the dull register of governors, explorers, and pioneers that populated old school textbooks, and they sought more significant, inclusive histories. In the 19th century, Marcus Clarke declared that “Australia has rightly been named the Land of the Dawning,” only to add in the next sentence that “her history looms vague and gigantic.”107 A. D. Hope would later announce, “They call her a young country, but they lie”; shortly after, novelist Eleanor Dark called her historical trilogy The Timeless Land (1941–1953), as if Governor Phillip and the First Fleet introduced time itself to the continent. The Jindyworobaks, on the other hand, chose to embrace the prehistory of the Dreaming, or “Alcheringa,” as it was translated from Arrernte; as in Rex Ingamells’s epic poem The Great South Land (1951):

  • Alcheringa is this Land’s very soul,
  • its bold and subtle essences imbue
  • Australian scenes forever, constitute
  • a bright allure and stern hypnotic power;
  • it is the breath of sacred Yesterday,
  • with import for Today and all Tomorrow,
  • proof of primaeval first discovery,
  • by nomad people, of the Great South Land,
  • and how to live with it, in harmony
  • of arduous enterprise, the life of good.108

This quest for a “primitive” deep national time that might subvert provincial, colonial history is one way in which poets expressed a distinctly Australian modernism. Poets of the interwar years—Furnley Maurice, Kenneth Slessor, R. D. FitzGerald, and J.A.R. McKellar—caught up in the mingled glamor and terror of modernity, were fascinated by time. For Slessor and FitzGerald history and memory became central themes, with memory offering a means of eliding time altogether.

FitzGerald was a more discursive poet than Slessor, and his crabbed quasi-philosophical poem, “Essay on Memory,” provided a suitable winner for the national Sesquicentenary poetry prize in 1938. Here, as in much of his work, FitzGerald’s gnarled conceits are espaliered on a regular metrical trellis to produce an often harsh music, but there is vigor and beauty, too. His work has been called “strenuous and athletic,”109 and it was once held in such high esteem that FitzGerald for a while “had thrust on him the mantle of Great Australian Poet.”110 His anfractuous meditations have received little attention in the last couple of decades, although “The Wind at Your Door” (1958), about a doctor ancestor called out to witness the flogging of convicts, was anthologized as a “classic Australian poem” as recently as 2009. In it, the poet faces up squarely to the ugly heritage of the penal system as it plays out in his own individual psyche through family history:

  • Perhaps my life replies to his too much
  • through veiling generations dropped between.
  • My weakness here, resentments there, may touch
  • old motives and explain them, till I lean
  • to the forgiveness I must hope may clean
  • my own shortcomings; since no man can live
  • in his own sight if it will not forgive.111

The poem hits a still raw nerve about the violence of European settlement, as visited here on whites themselves—the Irish in this case—as on Aborigines.

Of all the postwar poets, only Wright fully confronted the guilty complicity of those “veiling generations” with the frontier violence they established themselves with. She answered her lyrical and nostalgic family memoir The Generations of Men (1959) with the ethically troubled Cry for the Dead (1981), which contributed to the Aboriginal turn in Australian historiography. Since such events were largely silenced up until the 1980s, poets made stories out of the adventures of explorers, movement through space seeming to invite rumination on time and tide, along with visions of Terra Australis itself. Douglas Stewart anthologized a number of such pieces as Voyager Poems in 1960, hoping to make poetry popular again through narrative means and thus “meeting the public halfway.”112 To poems by Slessor, William Hart-Smith, and himself, he added two by FitzGerald as a mark of his rank: “Heemskerck Shoals” (1944), about Abel Tasman, and also “The Wind at Your Door,” disingenuously arguing that “It is a natural development from the theme of the adventurers.”113

Voyager Poems also contained Francis Webb’s “Leichhardt in Theatre” (1947), the only poem in the group about a wholly terrestrial journey. Even so, Webb juxtaposes sea imagery with images of the desert throughout, taking in Leichhardt’s journey by ship to Australia:

  • Southward the new, the visionary!
  • This is a land where man becomes a myth;
  • Naked, his feet tread embers for the truth:
  • Desert will claim him, mountain, precipice,
  • (Larger than life’s their terror, lovelier
  • Than forms of mere life their forms of peril); beauty
  • Shed league by league disfigurements of living,
  • The past, dishonour. No famished eyes save his
  • Shall know her radiant body; for the dark hunters
  • Are eyeless and incurious as death,
  • Mountain, or precipice. Living as a bird lives
  • I try my wings, alert, until the heart
  • Echoes a migratory fleck of spring,
  • That lonely source whose waters seek no sea.114

In fact, sea and desert have a kind of reciprocal relationship as theatrical nonplaces. Webb can thus more readily turn history into vaudeville, and the explorer into a mixture of visionary and clown (when first published in the Bulletin the work was called “Leichhardt Pantomime”). Patrick White would translate history into the rolling theatrical backdrop of exploration in his novel Voss (1957), also based on Ludwig Leichhardt. Though White said nothing about the connection—he claimed other sources115—it seems hardly a coincidence, given the small pool of Australian writers at the time. Was Webb’s poem directly influential?116 The point is worth considering because Webb, through his “difficult,” innovative style, has the most conspicuously high modernist credentials among the poets and can stand up to White on those terms.

Though White had his critics in the 1950s and 1960s—including, infamously, A. D. Hope—his brand of Anglo-American, as it were “international” modernism, would soon be consecrated as virtually the only authentic native variety, eliminating all other contenders. Yet his stylistic borrowings from writers such as Lawrence and Joyce might also be seen as a form of local featurism, an architectural term coined by Robin Boyd in The Australian Ugliness (1960) to describe the tendency of Australian houses to “quote” certain elements from previous historical styles: Tudor, Spanish Mission, Georgian, and so on. White himself, who had returned to Australia after a long absence in 1947, was full of his own artistic isolation in what he called “the Great Australian Emptiness,”117 and many who were overawed by him took his remarks at face value, sucking all oxygen out of discussion of a broader Australian modernism. The fact is that, having been a well-off expatriate with overseas literary contacts, he was beholden to no local literary networks—unlike the poets of his day. He could afford his splendid isolation.

By contrast, Webb lived a precarious existence, his always fragile identity underpinned by a tormented but devout Catholicism. He also spent the last thirteen years of his life in psychiatric institutions. In Canada in the late 1940s, he read American writers, including Hart Crane and T. S. Eliot, and became absorbed by Robert Lowell who, according to Toby Davidson, “inspired Webb to become an explicitly religious poet in a world gone mad.”118 The Americans were crucial to Webb’s development at this time, propelling him toward a more complex modernist idiom and turning him from the patronage of Norman Lindsay who, after an early infatuation with A Drum for Ben Boyd (1948), quickly came to regard his work as obscure. Commentaries on Webb often concentrate on his religious sensibilities, which typically present a primary level of obscurity as they can in the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, who was also an influence. Even so, Webb’s nervy images offer up poignant modes of being and of seeing; as in “Wild Honey” where, during a wet sports day at his mental hospital, the poet watches a blonde girl combing her hair:

  • Down with the mind a moment, and let Eden
  • Be fullness without the prompted unnatural hunger,
  • Without the doomed shapely ersatz thought: see faith
  • As all such essential gestures, unforbidden,
  • Persisting through the Fall and landslip; and see, stranger,
  • The overcoated concierge of death
  • As a toy for her gesture. See her hands like bees
  • Store golden combs among certified hollow trees.119

The complexity of Webb’s style, with its alienated, visionary elements, made him the most attractive of his contemporaries to the younger generation, and he was important to both Bruce Beaver and Robert Adamson precisely because he stood out among his peers through his exclusion from the literary scene.

Poets after 1945 took up Australian history from where the novelists of the interwar years had left it, reconfiguring colonial timelines by seeking other histories, or through the open spaces of exploration, and coming gradually to acknowledge prior Indigenous claims well before academic historians took up the cause. A stanza by the Western Australian writer, Randolph Stow, now at last coming back into fashion since his death, might serve to encapsulate the new historical perspective:

  • My father has faltered in nothing: his hearth is established,
  • his sons are grown; we shall reap the predicted harvests.
  • Only I, riding the flat-topped hills alone,
  • feel the inland wind sing of the desert,
  • and under alien skin the surge, the stirring,
  • a wisdom and a violence, the land’s dark blood.120

Into the 1960s

In 1958 a penguin of a different feather, less angry than the first, arrived on the scene. Symbolic of how literary politics was shifting, The Penguin Book of Australian Verse was edited by two journalists and an academic. Kenneth Slessor, John Thompson, and Guy Howarth were themselves poets, although Slessor had long ceased practicing his art. John Thompson wrote and produced radio features at the Australian Broadcasting Commission (as it then was), where he initiated the weekly literary program Quality Street, which featured the works of Australian poets.121 Howarth was not only the founding editor of Southerly but also a skilled miniaturist in Cavalier-style lyrics. In the introduction to their anthology he wrote, “The arrangement of the material is chronological, so that the development of modernism in Australian poetry may be followed and some appreciation of the quality of the younger poets may be gained.”122 The editors disowned radical nationalism, so that bush ballads and popular verse were excluded: in Slessor’s words, “Our standard was to be the touchstone of ‘good poetry’, without consideration of historical, sentimental, patriotic or social claims.” Seeming to justify the editors’ decision, an astonishing one hundred thousand copies had sold by 1961,123 when the lightly revised edition became The Penguin Book of Modern Australian Verse. From here on, conventional ballad poetry was emphatically excluded from “real” poetry and relegated to the folkloric. In 1964 The Penguin Book of Australian Ballads appeared, edited by Russel Ward who asserted that “he who repudiates his ancestry forfeits the reversion.”124 It included some contemporary poems on historical or country themes, mostly not in ballad form, but the link with a living tradition was broken.

Or was it? Not least among the prejudices faced by Australia’s first published Indigenous poet, Oodgeroo Noonuccal (then writing as Kath Walker) were demurrals about the status of her work as “poetry” owing to its overt political themes and use of popular forms, as in the “Ballad of the Totems,” which employs Aboriginal English:

  • My father was Noonuccal man and kept old tribal way,
  • His totem was the Carpet Snake, whom none must ever slay;
  • But mother was of Peewee clan, and loudly she expressed
  • The daring view that carpet snakes were nothing but a pest.125

Oodgeroo’s poetry was a sign of growing Indigenous activism in this period that would culminate with the success of the 1967 referendum that transferred control of Aboriginal affairs away from often backward-looking state governments to the Commonwealth, allowing Aborigines to be counted in the national census for the first time. The title of Oodgeroo’s first collection, We Are Going (1964), has an ambivalent transitivity that may be read either elegiacally or as a statement of intent that is missing an object: one to be found in an ongoing struggle for self-determination and land rights. Though Roland Robinson, the last of the Jindyworobaks, would continue to recast Indigenous speech in Alcheringa and Other Aboriginal Poems (1970), he was at least the friend of his informants, and had spent time collecting legendary stories in the Northern Territory. The days of ignorant bookish appropriation were over. T. G. H. Strehlow’s monumental translation of Arrernte ceremonial verse in Songs of Central Australia (1971), while not without its eccentricities, opened the eyes of many to the power and beauty of traditional culture.

If the 1950s had seemed like a period of consolidation for the second Bulletin school, Douglas Stewart’s departure in 1961 saw his poets rapidly changing and diversifying. The case of David Campbell is exemplary. Campbell was a Monaro grazier from a well-to-do background, and in his younger years he had been both a sporting and a war hero. He was an establishment figure and early on embraced the Australian legend without its leftist elements, as in “Harry Pearce” (1942), which appeared in the Bulletin two years before Judith Wright’s oft-anthologised “Bullocky” and sits companionably alongside it:126

  • He walked in Time across the plain,
  • An old man walking in the air;
  • For years he wandered in my brain,
  • And now he lodges here.
  • He may drive his cattle still
  • When Time with us has had his will.127

Clearly, Campbell was mythically at home in his landscape, and even his most georgic poems cast an amorous, pastoral eye on the natural world:

  • Sweet rain, bless our windy farm,
  • Stepping round in skirts of storm:
  • Amongst the broken clods the hare
  • Folds his ears like hands in prayer.128

But by the late 1960s, Campbell’s style began to loosen up as he sought new, in effect foreign, subject matter. And none more foreign to someone from his background than the land’s Aboriginal heritage, as in “Devil’s Rock and Other Carvings” (1972):

  • Kangaroo and Ship
  • The boomerangs hit home, yet the kangaroo,
  • Shy sandstone beast,
  • Is already vanishing, a sailing ship
  • Tattooed like a cancer on his chest.

  • Footsteps
  • Seven footsteps lead across the rock:
  • To a bora ring?
  • Did a god walk here? To nowhere,
  • Seven footprints lead across the rock.129

Campbell’s embrace of new forms and influences was echoed in the work of others of his generation, notably Rosemary Dobson and Judith Wright, but also Vincent Buckley. As members of the Bulletin school, Dobson and Wright were aesthetically closer to Campbell, and Dobson became a close friend, collaborating with him on translations of Russian poetry in the 1970s. By then she had evolved from the tidy ekphrastic poems about European high art and artists that were such a feature of her early poetry to freer forms that, while avoiding confessionalism, readily accommodated McAuley’s “personal element.” Coming from a different perspective, Dorothy Hewett left the Communist Party of Australia in 1968 after the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. She abandoned balladry in favor of freer forms and feminist-inflected mythographies, and it is these later poems she is now best known for. Hewett experimented so openly with the autobiographical mode that her 1975 collection, Rapunzel in Suburbia, was subject to a libel suit. As a further sign of the times, Bruce Beaver, slightly younger than these writers, made his breakthrough with the highly personal epistolary sequence Letters to Live Poets (1969), prompted by the accidental death of New York poet Frank O’Hara.

The 1960s also saw the emergence of important poets such as Gwen Harwood and Bruce Dawe, whose careers peaked later. Harwood’s was one of the most distinct voices in 20th-century Australian women’s poetry and, although a formalist, she also had a playful side. She hoaxed the Bulletin not long after it was sold to Sir Frank Packer’s Consolidated Press with two acrostic sonnets whose first letters spelled out “So long Bulletin” and “Fuck all editors.” Dawe’s verse, by way of contrast, is more loose and demotic and was extremely popular for a time. Both he and Harwood were anthologized in New Impulses in Australian Poetry (1968), a polemical anthology that challenged the established hierarchy. Edited by Rodney Hall and Tom Shapcott, it marked a transition towards the 1970s rather than a complete break from what had gone before and included work by Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Vincent Buckley, Francis Webb, R. A. Simpson, David Malouf, Chris Wallace-Crabbe, Randolph Stow, Judith Rodriguez, Les Murray, and the editors themselves. Significantly, New Impulses was issued by the University of Queensland Press, which soon thereafter became a pioneering publisher of new Australian poetry.130

If the social and political upheavals of the 1960s were formative on the younger generation of poets, they clearly had an impact on older generations, too. Following the contraction of British global power and the UK itself looking to join Europe, the problem of Australian cultural nationalism reemerged at this time. The so-called new nationalism of what Donald Horne later named The Time of Hope (1980) reflected an identity crisis as much if not more than a fresh sense of national pride and self-confidence.131 The new US alliance generated its own fault lines, especially after Australia committed troops to fight in the Vietnam War in 1965, and yet the fresh-faced “New Australian Poets” were fascinated by American culture, from literature to rock music. John Forbes gave thanks in “To the Bobbydazzlers”:

  • American poets!
  • you have saved
  • America from
  • its reputation
  • if not its fate
  • & you saved me
  • too, in 1970
  • when I first
  • breathed freely
  • in Ted Berrigan’s
  • Sonnets, escaping
  • the talented earache of Modern
  • Poetry.132

No doubt postwar Australian poetry contributed to that earache. In the introduction to his The New Australian Poetry anthology in 1979, John Tranter dismissed the former local scene as “a moribund poetic culture.”133 Speaking for those who were “overthrowing what they saw as the tradition of conservatism that had dominated poetry in this country for many years,” he argued

that this tradition had three major faults. It was largely derived from enfeebled English models; it was too closely aligned with the reactionary establishment that had dragged us into the shame of the Vietnam War; and it was built upon a mid-Victorian understanding of poetry’s role that had been convincingly demolished in Europe and the Americas decades before.134

This was a polemical overstatement within the temper of the times that refused to acknowledge the diversity of the previous decades, their divisions and transitions. Tranter was one of those who looked to the United States, and particularly to the New York school, for fresh inspiration. The New Australian Poetry was highly selective and attracted criticism for being so. Still, Tranter’s argument that the older poets were complacent, insular, or retrograde has carried force, since each generation writes history in its own image, and revolution makes for a more compelling plotline than mere change.

“False Syndromes,/Like a Rivet through the Hand”135

So much more might be said about the variety of theme and approach in verse of this period that a reevaluation is surely called for. The poetry of Douglas Stewart’s Bulletin was caricatured by Vincent Buckley as Georgian and safe; yet one of the younger poets of that era, Ray Matthew, later in life observed that “there was no such thing as a typical Bulletin poem. Nearly everybody who wrote poetry in Australia appeared in the Bulletin, so there was diversity.” 136 Like many others, Mathew believed expatriation was the road to fame, but his literary career petered out after he moved to Britain in 1960 and then later to the United States. If the cultural changes brought about by the 1960s made Australia seem a more interesting place to live, the establishment of the Australia Council in 1967, which removed political involvement in arts funding, also made the country a more favorable place in which to write and make art.137

David Brooks’s comment to the effect that modernism in Australia may look different from how it appeared in other countries represents a still unacknowledged truth, no doubt because of that distinctly Australian sense of cultural inadequacy which A. A. Phillips famously christened “the cultural cringe.” According to Phillips, Australians would defer to a “minatory Englishman” who sat at the back of their collective consciousness.138 But after the Second World War, imperial America has largely supplanted Britain as the empire of choice for many Australian writers, no more so than for Tranter’s Generation of ’68. That modern Australian poetry persistently failed to live up to “better” standards or more advanced models that are thought universally to apply has produced the ongoing discontinuities in its traditions; as if, until relatively recently, each new generation has felt it necessary to catch up on developments that the previous generation somehow missed. In David Carter’s phrase, 20th-century Australian culture was “always almost modern.” If this has mitigated against complacency it has also left Australian poets with a persistent anxiety about their place in what Pascale Casanova called “the world republic of letters.” To the extent that Casanova’s republic effectively remains a European oligarchy, that may be a positive.

An anecdote from Robert Adamson’s autobiography, Inside Out (2004), may offer both a fitting coda and a bridge to the future. After a troubled youth and time in jail, Adamson discovered poetry and became involved with the Sydney-based Poetry Society. He befriended Roland Robinson, who in 1968 enlisted him in the editorial committee of the Society’s journal, Poetry Magazine. When Adamson subsequently moved to introduce items on contemporary American poetry as a subject of interest to younger poets, Robinson, his nationalist hackles raised, denounced him. Adamson then became a key figure in the takeover of both the society and Poetry Magazine, which in 1971 he with his fellow rebels transformed into New Poetry, arguably the leading and certainly the most substantial journal of the poetic new wave. Before they fell out Robinson and Adamson had been close in a paternal way. Adamson tells the story of how he collapsed at a party following a book launch for Robinson in 1968: “We were only a few blocks from St Vincent’s Hospital. Roland didn’t ring for a cab or ambulance, and didn’t go back inside to his own party to let someone else look after me. Instead, he picked me up and carried me in his arms to Casualty.”139 A case of the old moon with the new moon in its arms, here is perhaps an allegory for the generational change that took place in Australian poetry at this time: the sprightly Robinson in his mid-fifties, fit from his day job as a groundsman, holding up the bohemian Adamson, half his age, who would shortly reveal the depth of his indebtedness by disavowing him.

Review of the Literature

There are no early-21st-century book-length studies or major articles specifically dedicated to Australian poetry in the postwar period, so it is a field ripe for reappraisal.

That said, Susan McKernan’s A Question of Commitment: Australian Literature in the Twenty Years After the War (1989) and John McLaren’s Writing in Hope and Fear: Literature as Politics in Postwar Australia (1996) are each fine studies of the political and cultural milieus of literary production during this time, and McKernan has insightful chapters on James McAuley, A. D. Hope, Douglas Stewart, Judith Wright, and David Campbell. More explicitly feminist in approach is Susan Sheridan’s Nine Lives: Postwar Women Writers Making Their Mark (2011), which among its nine authors takes in Judith Wright, Dorothy Hewett, Rosemary Dobson, and Gwen Harwood, as well as critic Dorothy Auchterlonie (Dorothy Green) and novelist Amy Witting (Joan Levick), who were also poets.140 David Carter’s Always Almost Modern: Australian Print Cultures and Modernity (2013) offers important essays on the impacts of modernity and modernist cultures on writing, publishing and readerships across the early to mid-20th century. John Docker’s Australian Cultural Elites: Intellectual Traditions in Sydney and Melbourne (1974) makes a case for regional cultural differences, more especially in the post-War scene; his In a Critical Condition: Reading Australian Literature (1984) is a tendentious history of the academic institution of Australian literary criticism in this period.

During the late 20th and early 21st centuries, significant monographs have been written on the most acclaimed poets of the era. The life of Judith Wright has been described in Veronica Brady’s South of My Days: A Biography of Judith Wright (1998), Fiona Capp’s My Blood’s Country: A Journey Through the Landscapes That Inspired Judith Wright’s Poetry (2010),141 and Georgie Arnott’s The Unknown Judith Wright (2016).142 The major critical studies are Shirley Walker’s Flame and Shadow: A Study of Judith Wright’s Poetry (1991, rev. ed. 1996), and Jennifer Strauss’s Judith Wright (1995) for the Oxford Australian Writers series.143 Kevin Hart’s A.D. Hope (1992) in that same series also serves its subject well, as does David Brooks’s edited collection, The Double Looking Glass: New and Classic Essays on the Poetry of A.D. Hope (2000).144 A.M. McCulloch has edited The Dance of the Nomad: A Study of the Selected Notebooks of A.D. Hope (2005).145 Notable among the critical and biographical accounts of James McAuley are Lyn McCredden’s James McAuley (1992, also for Oxford Australian Writers),146 Cassandra Pybus’s controversial The Devil and James McAuley (1999),147 and Michael Ackland’s Damaged Men: The Precarious Lives of James McAuley and Harold Stewart (1999). In relation to McAuley and Stewart, the standard history of the “Ern Malley” hoax remains Michael Heyward’s The Ern Malley Affair (1993). Michael Griffith’s God’s Fool: The Life and Poetry of Francis Webb (1991) is worthy of notice,148 as is John McLaren’s Journey Without Arrival: The Life and Writing of Vincent Buckley (2009), which sheds much light on the Melbourne scene. The Jindyworobak movement has lately begun to attract critical attention again, but Brian Elliott’s edition of The Jindyworobaks (1979) for the University of Queensland Press’s Portable Australian Authors series is still the most accessible introduction to them and to their work. John Dally’s unpublished PhD thesis, “The Jindyworobak Movement: 1935–1945” (Flinders University, 1978) is the best critical history.

Other, more recent discussions of postwar poets are largely restricted to journal articles or to individual chapters of more expansive studies. The most substantial of the latter is Philip Mead’s Networked Language: Culture & History in Australian Poetry (2008), which argues “that poetry draws as much of its life as language from the historical and social strata it is networked to, as from the aesthetic traditions of poetic production,”149 and includes chapters on Ern Malley, James McAuley and Vincent Buckley, and Judith Wright. More narrow in its focus, but just as valuable is The Sons of Clovis: Ern Malley, Adoré Floupette and a Secret History of Australian Poetry (2011) by David Brooks. By revisiting and reframing the Malley scandal, and Australian literary hoaxes more generally, Brooks traces a quirky, perhaps distinctly local line of modernism. Relatedly, John Hawke’s excellent Australian Literature and the Symbolist Movement (2009) shows how Wright, McAuley, and Hope are linked to an Antipodean tradition in Symbolist poetics initiated by Christopher Brennan. With their emphasis on poetry’s wider cultural contexts, these accounts mark a significant development from two previous critical studies, Andrew Taylor’s Reading Australian Poetry (1987) and Paul Kane’s Australian Poetry: Absence and Negativity (1996). Each of these texts broke new ground by reconsidering mostly canonical poets through the lens of North American deconstruction.

Because it reappraised the contemporary scene from a broadly Leavisite position and helped reify the major canon of postwar poets, Vincent Buckley’s Essays in Poetry, Mainly Australian (1957) is among the most influential studies written during the postwar period itself. Judith Wright’s Preoccupations in Australian Poetry (1965), on the other hand, takes the question of literary adaptation to the Australian environment as its unifying theme and so is far more likely to remain important.

The emergence of Indigenous Australian poetry in the 1960s and beyond is traced in Adam Shoemaker’s Black Words, White Page: Aboriginal Literature 1929-1988 (1989).150 Shoemaker later edited Oodgeroo: A Tribute (1994),151 a special issue of the journal Australian Literary Studies dedicated to the poet following her death in 1993. Though questions about his Aboriginality have since tainted his reputation, the critical work of Mudrooroo (Colin Johnson) is still significant for any history of Indigenous writing; in particular Writing from the Fringe: A Study of Modern Aboriginal Literature (1990), revised as The Indigenous Literature of Australia: Milli Milli Wangka (1997).152 Finally, Bob Hodge and Vijay Mishra’s Dark Side of the Dream: Australian Literature and the Postcolonial Mind (1990),153 which deals substantially with the ways in which white culture has variously silenced, exploited, and appropriated Aboriginal people and their heritage, is perspicacious across the whole history of Australian literature and film, including the period from the 1940s to the 1960s.

Further Reading

Brooks, David. Sons of Clovis: Ern Malley, Adoré Floupette and a Secret History of Australian Poetry. St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2011.Find this resource:

    Buckley, Vincent. Essays in Poetry: Mainly Australian. Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1957.Find this resource:

      Carter, David. Always Almost Modern: Australian Print Cultures and Modernity. North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2013.Find this resource:

        Docker, John. Australian Cultural Elites: Intellectual Traditions in Sydney and Melbourne. Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1974.Find this resource:

          Docker, John. In a Critical Condition: Reading Australian Literature. Ringwood: Penguin, 1984.Find this resource:

            Elliott, Brian, ed. The Jindyworobaks. St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1979.Find this resource:

              Hawke, John. Australian Literature and the Symbolist Movement. Wollongong: University of Wollongong Press, 2009.Find this resource:

                Heyward, Michael. The Ern Malley Affair. St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1993.Find this resource:

                  Kane, Paul. Australian Poetry: Absence and Negativity. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1996.Find this resource:

                    McLaren, John. Writing in Hope and Fear: Literature as Politics in Postwar Australia. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1996.Find this resource:

                      McKernan, Susan (Susan Lever). A Question of Commitment: Australian Literature in the Twenty Years After the War. Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1989.Find this resource:

                        Mead, Philip. Networked Language: Culture & History in Australian Poetry. North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Press, 2011.Find this resource:

                          Taylor, Andrew. Reading Australian Poetry. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1987.Find this resource:

                            Wright, Judith. Preoccupations in Australian Poetry. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1965.Find this resource:


                              (1.) “On Becoming Unprovincial” is the title of a 1958 speech by John Thompson to the English Association (Sydney Branch), and published in its journal Southerly 19.1 (1958): 42–44. While Thompson suggested that “Australia’s literature is at an interesting stage,” and that its poetry “is remarkable for its diversity” (42), he also argued that “we are still very provincial” (43). Thompson was himself a poet and appears later in this account.

                              (2.) Judith Wright, “Australian Poetry After Pearl Harbour,” Because I Was Invited (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1975), 129; first published as “Australian Poetry since 1941,” Southerly 31.1 (1971): 19–28.

                              (3.) James McAuley, “The Ferment of the Forties,” A Map of Australian Verse (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1975), 124.

                              (4.) See Ann Stephen, Andrew E. McNamara and Philip Goad, eds, Modern Times: The Untold Story of Modernism in Australia (Carlton: Miegunyah Press, 2008).

                              (5.) See, for example, Robert Dixon and Veronica Kelly, eds, Impact of the Modern: Vernacular Modernities in Australia 1870s–1960s (Sydney: Sydney University Press, 2008).

                              (6.) See John Tregenza, Australian Little Magazines 1923–1954: Their Role in Forming and Reflecting Literary Trends (Adelaide: Libraries Board of South Australia, 1964); also David Carter, “Paris, Moscow, Melbourne,” Always Almost Modern: Australian Print Cultures and Modernity (North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Press, 2013), 112–127.

                              (7.) See David Carter, “Modernising Anglocentrism: Desiderata and Literary Time,” in Republics of Letters: Literary Communities in Australia, ed. Peter Kirkpatrick and Robert Dixon (Sydney: University Press, 2012), 85–98.

                              (8.) Tom Inglis Moore, Six Australian Poets (Melbourne: Robertson & Mullens, 1942), 13.

                              (9.) Tom Inglis Moore, Six Australian Poets, 20.

                              (10.) Tom Inglis Moore, Six Australian Poets, 13.

                              (11.) Tom Inglis Moore, Six Australian Poets, 18–19.

                              (12.) John Shaw Neilson, “Song Be Delicate,” Collected Poems of John Shaw Neilson (Sydney: Sydney University Press, 2013), 3.

                              (13.) Established in 1923 as the Australian English Association. In 1944 it became the English Association (Sydney Branch), and from 1994 the English Association Sydney.

                              (14.) C.B.C. (Clem Christesen), note, “Traditionalist Number,” Meanjin Papers 1.1 (1940): i.

                              (15.) Rex Ingamells, “Conditional Culture,” in The Writer in Australia: A Collection of Literary Documents 1856–1964, ed. John Barnes (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1969), 249.

                              (16.) The best account of the Bulletin under the early editorship of J. F. Archibald is Sylvia Lawson, The Archibald Paradox: A Strange Case of Authorship (Melbourne: Allen Lane, 1983).

                              (17.) In any case, the Bulletin’s literary interests were now directed towards fiction rather than poetry. In 1928 it ran a novel competition which was jointly won by M. Barnard Eldershaw’s A House is Built and Katharine Susannah Prichard’s Coonardoo. Its short-lived book publishing venture Endeavour Press (1932–1935) focused on fiction, and the S.H. Prior Memorial Prize for Australian literature (1935–1946) was also mostly awarded to novels.

                              (18.) Douglas Stewart, “Six Australian Poets,” The Flesh and the Spirit: An Outlook on Literature (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1948), 68.

                              (19.) Douglas Stewart, “Escapes from Art,” The Flesh and the Spirit, 95.

                              (20.) Susan McKernan, chapter 5, “Douglas Stewart and the Bulletin,” A Question of Commitment: Australian Literature in the Twenty Years after the War (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1989), 124.

                              (21.) Douglas Stewart, Glencoe, “15: Sigh, wind in the pine,” Collected Poems 1936–1967 (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1967), 221.

                              (22.) Susan McKernan, “Douglas Stewart and the Bulletin,” 132.

                              (23.) Dorothy Hewett, “Clancy and Dooley and Don McLeod,” in Selected Poems of Dorothy Hewett, ed. Kate Lilley (Crawley: UWA Publishing, 2010), 22. Dooley Bin Bin and Clancy McKenna were the Indigenous men who led the strike; Don McLeod was a local white Communist active in its organization.

                              (24.) Russel Ward, A Radical Life: The Autobiography of Russel Ward (South Melbourne: Macmillan, 1988), 207–208, 211–213.

                              (25.) Douglas Stewart, “Australian Bush Ballads,” in The Broad Stream: Aspects of Australian Literature (London: Angus & Robertson, 1975), 16.

                              (26.) Douglas Stewart, “Australian Bush Ballads,” 21.

                              (27.) See Vivian Smith, “Douglas Stewart (1913-85),” Quadrant 57.4 (2013): 63–68. According to Smith, Stewart: “always hoped to be a popular poet. In melding the older ballad forms with modern subject matter, he was trying to stamp his image on a new kind of ballad poetry in the way that Paterson imposed his image on the 1890s, or C.J. Dennis on his era” (64).

                              (28.) Vincent Buckley, “A New Bulletin School?” Essays in Poetry: Mainly Australian (Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1957), 70–71. Buckley’s essay first appeared in the Port Phillip Gazette 2.1 (1954): 14–20.

                              (29.) Vincent Buckley, “A New Bulletin School?” 76.

                              (30.) On Buckley’s “interest” in Leavis, see Christopher Hilliard, English as a Vocation: The Scrutiny Movement (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 231.

                              (31.) Vincent Buckley, “A New Bulletin School?” 77.

                              (32.) F. J. Letters, “The Jindyworobak Theory,” in The Jindyworobaks, ed. Brian Elliott (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1979), 273.

                              (33.) Rex Ingamells, “Australia,” Selected Poems (Melbourne: Georgian House, 1944), 34–35.

                              (34.) Ian Mudie, “Retreat of a Pioneer,” Poems: 1934–1944 (Melbourne: Georgian House, 1945), 26.

                              (35.) Rex Ingamells, Conditional Culture, 249.

                              (36.) See Peter Kirkpatrick, “Jindy Modernist: The Jindyworobaks as Avant-Garde,” in Republics of Letters, 99–112; also Peter Kirkpatrick, “Fearful Affinity: Jindyworobak Primitivism,” in Adelaide: A Literary City, ed. Philip Butterss (Adelaide: University of Adelaide Press, 2014), 125–146.

                              (37.) Rex Ingamells, Conditional Culture, 252.

                              (38.) See John Dally, chapter VI, “Australia First and Jindyworobak,” “The Jindyworobak Movement 1935–1945” (PhD diss., Flinders University, 1978), 141–179.

                              (39.) See Jayne Regan, “A Cosmopolitan Jindyworobak: Flexmore Hudson, Nationalism and World-Mindedness,” JASAL 15.3 (2015): 1–14.

                              (40.) William Carlos Williams, preface, Poetry: The Australian International Quarterly of Verse 25 (1947): 10.

                              (41.) Pascale Casanova, trans. M.B. DeBevoise, The World Republic of Letters (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 94.

                              (42.) Max Harris, “Biography,” Angry Penguins 6 (1944): 35.

                              (43.) Neil Corcoran, English Poetry Since 1940 (London and New York: Longman, 1993), 42.

                              (44.) Humphrey McQueen, The Black Swan of Trespass: The Emergence of Modernist Painting in Australia to 1944 (Sydney: Alternative Publishing Cooperative, 1979), 88.

                              (45.) James McAuley and Harold Stewart, cited in Max Harris, introduction, The Poems of Ern Malley: Comprising the Complete Poems and Commentaries by Max Harris and Joanna Murray-Smith (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1988), 6. In their public statement, the hoaxers wrote: “We decided to carry out a serious literary experiment. There was no feeling of personal malice directed against Mr Max Harris…Nor was there any intention of having the matter publicised in the Press” (6). The claim is, of course, arguable.

                              (46.) See Leonard Diepeveen, Mock Modernism: An Anthology of Parodies, Travesties, Frauds, 1910–1935 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014). The lampoons in Diepeveen’s anthology rely on their entertainment value to succeed; as he writes: “the parodies of modernism collected here always foreground a polemical interpretation, and they always filter those interpretations through laughter” (12).

                              (47.) Humphrey McQueen, The Black Swan of Trespass, 91.

                              (48.) See Greg McLaren, “‘Some Presence Inevitably Shows Through’: Harold Stewart’s Haiku Versions,” Australian Literary Studies 22.4 (2006): 460–470. “To recalibrate a Japanese form in an English form, as Stewart does, is to radically alter the actual nature of the poem. In this sense, Stewart does not simply annex and occupy the Japanese form but renders it, for his own purposes, obsolete” (469).

                              (49.) Harold Stewart, introduction, By the Old Walls of Kyoto: A Year’s Cycle of Landscape Poems with Prose Commentaries (New York and Tokyo: Weatherhill, 1981), xxv.

                              (50.) Ern Malley (pseud. James McAuley and Harold Stewart), “Young Prince of Tyre,” The Poems of Ern Malley, 87.

                              (51.) See Philip Mead, “Ut Cinema Poesis,” Networked Language: Culture & History in Australian Poetry (North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2008), 30–86.

                              (52.) See John Tranter, “introduction,” in The New Australian Poetry, ed. John Tranter (St. Lucia: Makar, 1979), xv–xxvi.

                              (53.) Thomas Shapcott, “preface,” in Australian Poetry Now, ed. Thomas Shapcott (Melbourne: Sun Books, 1970), xii.

                              (54.) Judith Wright, Preoccupations in Australian Poetry (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1965), 194, 196.

                              (55.) A.D. Hope, Australian Literature 1950–1962 (Parkville: Melbourne University Press, 1963), 4.

                              (56.) Thomas Shapcott, “Australian Poetry Since 1920,” in The Literature of Australia, rev. ed., ed. Geoffrey Dutton (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1976), 131.

                              (57.) Thomas Shapcott, “Australian Poetry Since 1920,” 131.

                              (58.) James Fenton, “Kingsley Amis: Against Fakery,” in The Movement Reconsidered: Essays on Larkin, Amis, Gunn, Davie and Their Contemporaries, ed. Zachary Leader (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 108.

                              (59.) Robert van Hallberg, “Rear Guards,” in The Cambridge History of American Literature, vol. 8, ed. Sacvan Bercovitch (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 58.

                              (60.) Ern Malley, “Palinode,” The Poems of Ern Malley, 81.

                              (61.) David Brooks, The Sons of Clovis: Ern Malley, Adoré Floupette and a Secret History of Australian Poetry (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2011), 69.

                              (62.) See John Docker, chapter 4, “The Metaphysical Ascendancy,” In a Critical Condition: Reading Australian Literature (Ringwood: Penguin, 1984), 83–109. There are few surprises in the poets discussed by Taylor and Kane. Both reappraise Brennan, Slessor, Hope, Wright, Harwood and Murray; Taylor adds Webb, Hewett and Tranter; and Kane, Harpur, Kendall and Ern Malley.

                              (63.) Andrew Taylor, Reading Australian Poetry (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1987), 33.

                              (64.) A. D. Hope, “Australia,” Collected Poems 1930–1970 (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1972), 13; cited in Andrew Taylor, Reading Australian Poetry, 25–26.

                              (65.) Paul Kane, Australian Poetry: Romanticism and Negativity (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 203.

                              (66.) Paul Kane, Australian Poetry, 28.

                              (67.) Paul Kane, Australian Poetry, 204.

                              (68.) Christopher Brennan, “Symbolism in Nineteenth Century Literature: I. The Logic of the Imagination,” in The Prose of Christopher Brennan, eds. A. R. Chisholm and J. J. Quinn (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1962), 55.

                              (69.) James McAuley, “Terra Australis,” Collected Poems (Angus & Robertson: Pymble, 1994), 21. As Brooks has posited, “Australia [is] a place where the Other is made almost tangible, whereas in Europe it remains hypothesis, an impalpable abstraction, so that the southern-hemisphere Symboliste can be more robust, can find objective correlatives where northern counterparts could only suggest, evoke”: David Brooks, “A. D. Hope and the Symbolistes,” in Australian Divagations: Mallarmé and the Twentieth Century, ed. Jill Anderson (New York: Peter Lang, 2002), 52.

                              (70.) Marcus Clarke, “Preface to Gordon’s Poems,” in The Writer in Australia: A Collection of Literary Documents 1856–1964, ed. John Barnes (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1969), 36.

                              (71.) Judith Wright, Preoccupations in Australian Poetry, xi.

                              (72.) A. D. Hope, “Australia,” Collected Poems 1930–1970, 13.

                              (73.) David Carter, “Weird Scribblings on the Beach: Modernity and Belatedness,” Always Almost Modern, 2.

                              (74.) David Campbell, preface, Selected Poems (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1973), n.p.

                              (75.) John Tranter, “Appendix 2: ‘Australia Revisited’,” “Distant Voices” (DCA diss., University of Wollongong, 2009), 230.

                              (76.) Judith Wright, “Poetry and Universities,” Because I Was Invited, 36.

                              (77.) John McLaren, Journey without Arrival: The Life and Writing of Vincent Buckley (North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2009), 36.

                              (78.) John Docker, In a Critical Condition, 82. For a more nuanced view of the division between academic “universalists” and radical nationalists in this period, see Brian Kiernan, Criticism (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1974).

                              (79.) Vincent Buckley, “The Image of Man in Australian Poetry,” Essays in Poetry: Mainly Australian (Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1957), 1. Buckley scored an extraordinary four out of the sixteen essays in Grahame Johnston’s Australian Literary Criticism (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1962), the first collection of its kind.

                              (80.) Vincent Buckley, “The Image of Man in Australian Poetry,” 26.

                              (81.) A. D. Hope, “The Discursive Mode,” “Free Verse: A Post-Mortem,” The Cave and the Spring: Essays on Poetry (Adelaide: Rigby, 1965), 1–9, 38–50.

                              (82.) A. D. Hope, “X-Ray Photograph,” Collected Poems 1930–1970, 42.

                              (83.) A. D. Hope, “Conquistador,” Collected Poems 1930–1970, 34–36.

                              (84.) A. D. Hope, “An Epistle: Edward Sackville to Venetia Digby,” Collected Poems 1930–1970, 165.

                              (85.) A. D. Hope, “Pasiphae,” Collected Poems 1930–1970, 84–85.

                              (86.) Vincent Buckley, “A. D. Hope: The Unknown Poet,” Essays in Poetry, 142–157.

                              (87.) Kevin Hart, chapter 5, “Knowledge and Desire,” A.D. Hope (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1992), 86–111.

                              (88.) An exception is Humphrey McQueen, The Black Swan of Trespass, 84–87. Yet even McQueen acknowledged that “By the 1950s, Hope had slid away from his robust paganism and into the company second-hand literary gentlemen” (87).

                              (89.) Geoffrey H. Hartmann, Beyond Formalism: Literary Essays 1958–1970 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1970), 270.

                              (90.) Kevin Hart, A.D. Hope, 58. Hart notes that Hope later “gained some proficiency” in Arabic, and also studied Japanese (56).

                              (91.) James McAuley, “The Blue Horses,” Collected Poems, 9–10.

                              (92.) James McAuley, “The Incarnation of Sirius,” Collected Poems, 30.

                              (93.) Max Harris, “In the Best Ern. Malley Manner,” Angry Penguins 8 (1945), 136.

                              (94.) James McAuley, Poetry and Australian Culture (Canberra: Canberra University College, 1955), 6. Interestingly enough, McAuley’s lecture was bound with one by Russel Ward, Felons and Folksongs.

                              (95.) James McAuley, “Tradition, Society and the Arts,” The End of Modernity: Essays on Literature, Art and Culture (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1959), 6; also see “The Magian Heresy” in the same collection, 144–159.

                              (96.) James McAuley, “Journey into Egypt,” The Grammar of the Real: Selected Prose 1959–1974 (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1975), 176.

                              (97.) Michael Ackland, Damaged Men: The Precarious Lives of James McAuley and Harold Stewart (Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2001), 151.

                              (98.) James McAuley, The Personal Element in Australian Poetry (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1970), 61.

                              (99.) James McAuley, “Nocturne,” Collected Poems, 280.

                              (100.) Judith Wright, “The Writer and the Crisis,” Because I Was Invited, 167.

                              (101.) Judith Wright, “The Writer and the Crisis,” 175.

                              (102.) Judith Wright, “The Writer and the Crisis,” 176.

                              (103.) See, Shirley Walker, chapter VI, “The Life-Force,” Flame and Shadow: A Study of Judith Wright’s Poetry (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1991), 105–127. Wright’s ideas were influenced by the vitalist thought of her husband, Jack McKinney. Walker argues that Wright’s notion of a life-force or vital principle is more all-encompassing and high minded than the “shallow strain” of vitalism condemned by Vincent Buckley; “for [Wright’s] poetry is a celebration of the unifying principle of life itself from which all manifestations of vitality, whether biological or psychic, arise” (122).

                              (104.) The first two parts of this three-part essay were published in the Sydney-based Language: A Literary Journal, ed. Geoffrey Alan Mill, which ran for only two issues in 1952. Language is described by John Tregenza as, “Intended as a vehicle for ‘poets genuinely engaged in experimenting with language’ and as a forum for discussion of the problems of language in general”: Australian Little Magazines 1923–1954, 100.

                              (105.) Judith Wright, “The Writer and the Crisis,” 176.

                              (106.) Judith Wright, “South of My Days,” Collected Poems 1942–1985 (Pymble: Angus & Robertson, 1994), 20–21.

                              (107.) Marcus Clarke, “Preface to Gordon’s Poems,” 35.

                              (108.) Rex Ingamells, The Great South Land: An Epic Poem (Melbourne: Georgian House, 1951), 50.

                              (109.) G. A. Wilkes, R.D. FitzGerald (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1981), 3.

                              (110.) Vincent Buckley, “The Development of R. D. FitzGerald,” Essays in Poetry: Mainly Australian, 122.

                              (111.) R.D. FitzGerald, “The Wind at Your Door,” Forty Years’ Poems (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1965), 239. The poem was anthologized in Geoff Page, ed. Sixty Classic Australian Poems (Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2009), 66–70.

                              (112.) Douglas Stewart, “introduction,” Voyager Poems, ed. Douglas Stewart (Brisbane: Jacaranda, 1960), 8.

                              (113.) Douglas Stewart, “introduction,” Voyager Poems, 10.

                              (114.) Francis Webb, Leichhardt in Theatre, “Two on the Map,” Collected Poems, ed. Toby Davidson (Crawley, U.K.: UWA Publishing, 2011), 77.

                              (115.) See Patrick White, “The Prodigal Son,” 1958, in Patrick White: Selected Writings, ed. Alan Lawson (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1994), 268–271.

                              (116.) See Michael Griffith, “Francis Webb’s Challenge to Mid-Century Mythmaking: The Case of Ludwig Leichhardt,” Australian Literary Studies 10.4 (1982): 448–458. Griffith remarks that “There are undoubtedly similarities between the two works both in specific images and in broad ideas, but the differences are more significant” (457).

                              (117.) Patrick White, “The Prodigal Son,” 269.

                              (118.) Toby Davidson, “Francis Webb’s America,” Antipodes 26.2 (2012): 190.

                              (119.) Francis Webb, “Ward Two: Wild Honey,” Collected Poems, 325.

                              (120.) Randolph Stow, “Stations: 3. There Was a Time,” A Counterfeit Silence: Selected Poems (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1969), 59.

                              (121.) See Peter Kirkpatrick, “John Thompson: The Poet as Broadcaster,” JASAL 11.2 (2011): 1–13.

                              (122.) R. G. Howarth, introduction, The Penguin Book of Australian Verse, eds. John Thompson, Kenneth Slessor and R. G. Howarth (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1958), 20.

                              (123.) Kenneth Slessor, “Anthologies of Australian Poetry: 2. The Penguin Book,” Bread and Wine: Selected Prose (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1970), 182–183.

                              (124.) Russel Ward, “introduction,” The Penguin Book of Australian Ballads, ed. Russel Ward (Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1964), 21.

                              (125.) Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker), My People, 3d ed. (Milton: Jacaranda, 1990), 24.

                              (126.) See Susan McKernan, chapter 6, “The Writer and the Crisis: Judith Wright and David Campbell,” A Question of Commitment, 141–165.

                              (127.) David Campbell, “Harry Pearce,” Collected Poems, ed. Leonie Kramer (North Ryde: Angus & Robertson, 1989), 6.

                              (128.) David Campbell, “Cocky’s Calendar: III. Prayer for Rain,” Collected Poems, 75.

                              (129.) David Campbell, “Devil’s Rock and Other Carvings,” Collected Poems, 155, 157.

                              (130.) See Jim Berryman, “Breaking Fresh Ground: New Impulses in Australian Poetry, an Anthology,” Queensland Review 23.2 (2016): 246–257.

                              (131.) See Donald Horne, Time of Hope: Australia 1966–72 (London: Angus & Robertson, 1980). For a more recent, critical account see James Curran and Stuart Ward, The Unknown Nation: Australia After Empire (Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 2010).

                              (132.) John Forbes, “To the Bobbydazzlers,” Collected Poems 1969–1999, 3d ed. (Blackheath: Brandl & Schlesinger, 2004), 69.

                              (133.) John Tranter, introduction, The New Australian Poetry, xxvi.

                              (134.) John Tranter, introduction, The New Australian Poetry, xvii.

                              (135.) Ern Malley, “Documentary Film,” The Poems of Ern Malley, 79.

                              (136.) Kate Jennings, “An Interview with Ray Matthew,” in An Australian for Life: Ray Mathew, ed. Sarah Gleeson-White (Canberra: National Library of Australia, 2005), 20.

                              (137.) Donald Horne, Time of Hope, 151. It was set up by Prime Minister Harold Holt and initially called the Australian Council for the Arts.

                              (138.) A. A. Phillips, “The Cultural Cringe,” The Australian Tradition: Studies in a Colonial Culture, 2d ed. (Melbourne: Cheshire, 1966), 116–117: “The core of the difficulty is the fact that, at the back of the Australian mind, there sits a minatory Englishman.” The first version of Phillips’s essay appeared in Meanjin 9.4 (1950): 299–302.

                              (139.) Robert Adamson, Inside Out: An Autobiography (Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2004), 304.

                              (140.) See Susan Sheridan, Nine Lives: Postwar Women Writers Making Their Mark (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2011).

                              (141.) See Fiona Capp, My Blood’s Country: A Journey Through the Landscapes That Inspired Judith Wright’s Poetry (Crows Nest, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 2010).

                              (142.) See Georgie Arnott, The Unknown Judith Wright (Crawley, U.K.: UWA Publishing, 2016).

                              (143.) See Jennifer Strauss, Judith Wright (South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1995).

                              (144.) See David Brooks, ed., The Double Looking Glass: New and Classic Essays on the Poetry of A.D. Hope (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2000).

                              (145.) See A. M. McCulloch, Dance of the Nomad: A Study of the Selected Notebooks of A.D. Hope (Canberra: Pandanus Books, 2005).

                              (146.) See Lyn McCredden, James McAuley (South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1992).

                              (147.) See Cassandra Pybus, The Devil and James McAuley (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1999). Controversy was sparked by Pybus’s claim, on narrow evidence, that McAuley was a closeted homosexual.

                              (148.) See Michael Griffith, God’s Fool: The Life and Poetry of Francis Webb (North Ryde: Angus & Robertson, 1991).

                              (149.) Philip Mead, introduction, Networked Language, 6.

                              (150.) See Adam Shoemaker, chapter 9, “The Poetry of Politics: Australian Aboriginal Verse,” Black Words, White Page: Aboriginal Literature: 1929–1988 (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1989), 179–229; revised edition published as a freely downloadable e-book (Canberra: ANU Press, 2004), retrieved from

                              (151.) See Adam Shoemaker, ed., Oodgeroo: A Tribute: Australian Literary Studies 16.4 (1994).

                              (152.) See Mudrooroo, Writing from the Fringe: A Study of Modern Aboriginal Literature (Melbourne: Hyland House, 1990), and The Indigenous Literature of Australia: Milli Milli Wangka (South Melbourne: Hyland House, 1997). Like Oodgeroo, who in 1988 changed her name from Kath Walker in protest at the Australian Bicentennial, Mudrooroo changed his name from Colin Johnson at the same time and for the same reason. At different times he also used the surnames Narogin, from his birthplace, and Nyoongah, for the Indigenous people of southwestern Australia. Doubts arose about his identification as Aboriginal in the 1990s, following genealogical research undertaken by his sister. Mudrooroo’s achievements as a creative writer as well as a critic have since remained under a cloud.

                              (153.) See Bob Hodge and Vijay Mishra, Dark Side of the Dream: Australian Literature and the Postcolonial Mind (North Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1990).