'Even for a 17-year-old upstart from Muswellbrook, the diary entry was a stunning declaration of intent: ‘‘Friday, 7th January 1938. It is my desire to do great things, but I have not yet decided what great things … if I write I want to write literature. I want to write for Australian literature too.” The desire for greatness was just as startling as the clarity of its direction. From the earliest moments of his writing life, Donald Horne’s literary ambition was conceived as a contribution to a larger national project, one that ultimately involved dragging Australia out of its provincial torpor towards a future that was independent, republican and explicitly founded on the values of ‘‘liberal humanism”. Horne would write both to and for Australia.' (Introduction)
'Lady Anna Cowen’s diaries have Helen Elliott keeping track of time
20 July: Gosh. I have been asked to review the diaries of Lady Anna Cowen and 'the book, large, shiny and black just landed. 362 pages. How nice it smells! When the editor asked me to review this I had to rack my brains. Lady Anna? Of course! The wife of the late Sir Zelman, our governor-general in 1978. After the odious (yes, he was) John Kerr finished his term, Malcolm Fraser had the idea of asking Zelman Cowen to take over. In the years after the dismissal half the nation would have condoned regicide, so it was a sublime choice.' (Introduction)
'There’s a long tradition in Tasmanian literature of the gothic convict saga. In fact, Tasmanians do the convict novel better than anyone. We have a wealth of mythology, trope and imagery on which to draw and an outsized sense of our own past, a past that’s visible in the architecture wherever you go on the island.
'Our best known book, Marcus Clarke’s For the Term of His Natural Life, provided the template and writers have iterated on it down the generations. Think particularly of Richard Butler, Bryce Courtenay, Christopher Koch and Richard Flanagan. Now Rachel Leary has provided us with a contemporary, skilful update on the dustier of these traditions in her new novel Bridget Crack.' (Introduction)
'If nothing else, one thing guaranteed in any Wayne Macauley work of fiction is that its surface is just that: a vehicle inside of which the real messages are carried. What makes Macauley’s novels exceptional is these messages are always vital — they are the messages we’ve been asking ourselves for millennia, in one way or another — but also the surface story-vehicle that carries these messages is compelling in its own right.' (Introduction)
'One of the ironies of fiction is that the issues that feel most urgent are often those that are most resistant to successful fictional treatment.
'Why this should be is an interesting question, not least because our distaste for overtly political novels (and the tendency of writers to regard it as somewhat gauche) is a relatively recent phenomenon. Many of the greatest novels of the 19th and early 20th century are explicitly engaged with the issues of their day, and writers from Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo to Emile Zola and Thomas Hardy were fired by an often white-hot fury about social injustice.' (Introduction)
'The recent anthology Contemporary Australian Poetry, published by Puncher & Wattmann), purports to be “both a survey, and a critical review, of Australian poetry between 1990 and the present”. It’s not. In fact, it’s not even close. How can it be when the four editors completely omitted a genre of Australian verse that has enjoyed a great deal of popularity during this period?' (Introduction)