AustLit logo
y separately published work icon Angry Penguins periodical  
Date: 1943-1946
Date: 1940
Date: 1940-1946
Issue Details: First known date: 1940-1943... 1940-1943 Angry Penguins
The material on this page is available to AustLit subscribers. If you are a subscriber or are from a subscribing organisation, please log in to gain full access. To explore options for subscribing to this unique teaching, research, and publishing resource for Australian culture and storytelling, please contact us or find out more.

AbstractHistoryArchive Description

Literature courses at Adelaide University during the late 1930s offered a traditional curriculum steeped in the writing of well-known figures of the past. Students wishing to discuss contemporary fiction and poetry were left to their own devices. Frustrated by this institutional indifference to major developments in literature and art and prompted by the demise of the student magazine Phoenix, a small group of students, headed by the precocious young poet Max Harris, established a magazine devoted to modernism. Called Angry Penguins, the magazine was published as 'an act of defiance.'

The first issue of Angry Penguins, edited by Harris and D. B. Kerr, was funded by Harris's mother, according to popular belief. This is not correct, by the account of John Miles, who has specialised in a study of the main players; rather, the idea 'grew from the fact that Harris's mother paid to have copies of the first edition of Angry Penguins, and two subsequent editions, the last edition of Phoenix, and some Jindyworobak publications, all containing her son's poems, expensively rebound together.' The University of Adelaide Arts Association and faculty members such as C.R. Jury and J.I.M. Stewart bore the cost of launching Angry Penguins, and supported two further editions.

The name, Angry Penguins. was the inspiration of the journal's patron, Charles Jury and came from Harris's poem, 'Mithridatum of Despair':

We know no mithridatum of despair

as drunks, the angry penguins of the night

straddling the cobbles of the square

tying a shoelace by fogged lamplight

Jury thought the description of 'angry penguins' suited the young poets on their revolutionary literary quest and a quotation from the poem appeared on the title page of the inaugural issue.The first four issues of Angry Penguins were printed in Adelaide and appeared annually, restricted in part by war-time paper rationing. According to Max Harris, the magazine had a 'Europeanizing policy'. The editors looked to the French symbolists and German impressionists as major influences, printing translations and articles on a variety of French and German writers. In addition to Max Harris, writers whose work appeared in Angry Penguins included Peter Cowan and Geoffrey Dutton. In later issues, the visual arts were represented by reproductions of the works of emerging artists like Sidney Nolan and Arthur Boyd. Self-consciously modernist, the magazine was attracted to anything that presented itself as avant garde, drawing adverse comment from a number of magazines, including the Catholic Advocate and the Communist Tribune.

When the fourth number appeared in 1943, John Reed was the Collaborating Editor for the Arts Section. A striking James Gleeson painting appeared on the front cover, marking a change in format that included a greater number of reproductions. From 1944, Angry Penguins was printed in Melbourne where Harris and Reed had established themselves as publishers. Harris returned to Adelaide soon after, but he continued to edit the magazine from there.Angry Penguins began as a 50-page annual. It reached a maximum size of 182 pages in 1945, but the Autumn 1944 number has become best-known as the site of a sensational literary hoax.

Intending to reveal the aesthetic weaknesses of the modernist movement, the poets James McAuley and Harold Stewart playfully grafted a series of poems from various sources, including the Concise Oxford Dictionary, a collection of Shakespeare's plays, a Dictionary of Quotations, Ripman's Rhyming Dictionary and an American report on the drainage of swamps. Attributed to the fictional author Ern Malley, the poems were sent to Max Harris with a letter from the poet's 'sister'. When Harris heralded Ern Malley as an Australian genius in the Autumn number, he had set himself up for ridicule when it became widely-known that Stewart and McAuley had perpetrated the hoax. This was exacerbated when Harris was prosecuted by the South Australian police for publishing indecent material in the form of some of the Ern Malley poems and a story by Peter Cowan. As a result of the controversy, the modernist movement received a major setback in Australia and the more conservative elements were subsequently strengthened.

The last number of Angry Penguins appeared in 1946, but the debate over modernism and particularly the value of Ern Malley's poems continued. Harris and Reed published the short-lived Ern Malley's Journal in the 1950s, continuing their promotion of contemporary cultural and intellectual movements. And, despite the hoax, the Ern Malley poems have been collected in several editions. But, the continued focus on the Ern Malley poems has often diverted attention from the broader contribution that Angry Penguins has made to the development of Australian literature.

Publication Details of Only Known VersionEarliest 2 Known Versions of

Works about this Work

The Pioneer Legend and Its Legacy : In Memory of John Hirst Richard Waterhouse , 2017 single work criticism
— Appears in: Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society , June vol. 103 no. 1 2017; (p. 7-25)

'In a famous study, The Australian Legend, first published in 1958, Russel Ward argued that the bush legend was the central foundation story that explained the evolution of Australian character and nationalism. Ward's version of the legend explained how from convict times onwards itinerant bush workers had created and adhered to an ethos that encompassed mateship, anti-authoritarianism (including hostility to Britain and its empire), egalitarianism, and adaptability. Although the bush legend allegedly originated with and was nurtured by a bush proletariat, Ward proposed that this regional ethos became a national creed at the turn of the 20th century, transmitted from rural to urban Australia through conduits that included the trade union movement, periodicals like The Bulletin, and the work of writers like Lawson and Paterson. (Publication abstract)

Angry Penguin i "In the twentyfifth year of my age", John Whitworth , 2015 single work poetry
— Appears in: Quadrant , January / February vol. 59 no. 1/2 2015; (p. 51)
Max Harris : A Phenomenal Adelaide Literary Figure Betty Snowden , 2014 single work criticism
— Appears in: Adelaide : A Literary City 2014; (p. 163-181)
Is Plagierism Wrong? Ira Lightman , Anthony Hayes , 2014 single work criticism
— Appears in: Overland , Autumn no. 214 2014; (p. 81-87)
'I Must Be My Own Director' " Cynthia Reed, Elisabeth Lambert, and Reed & Harris, Publishers Jane Grant , 2012 single work criticism
— Appears in: Republics of Letters : Literary Communities in Australia 2012; (p. 183-194)
'As the publishers of the avant-garde journal Angry Penguins, the small firm of Reed & Harris is well-known in the history of Australian literature. What is less well-documented is its dealings with the women writers Cynthia Reed (later Nolan) and Elizabeth Lambert. Jane Grant looks at the company's correspondence, 'a far -flung epistolary community', and traces the fortunes of Cynthia's first two novels, in order to recover these two neglected figures for Australian modernism during its most tumultuous period. (Kirkpatrick, Peter and Dixon, Robert: Introduction xvii)
Angry Penguins Cecily Crozier , 1941 single work review
— Appears in: Comment , May no. 5 1941; (p. 14)

— Review of Angry Penguins 1940-1943 periodical (9 issues)
Untitled Marcie Collett , 1943 single work review
— Appears in: Australian Quarterly , vol. 15 no. 1 1943; (p. 110-111)

— Review of Angry Penguins 1940-1943 periodical (9 issues)
Penguin Parade 1945 single work review
— Appears in: The Age , 8 December 1945;

— Review of Angry Penguins 1940-1943 periodical (9 issues)
Whither Penguins? E. S. Lowery , 1945 single work review
— Appears in: Southerly , vol. 6 no. 2 1945; (p. 57-59)

— Review of Ern Malley and the 'Angry Penguins' Bill Hornadge , 1945 single work criticism ; Angry Penguins 1940-1943 periodical (9 issues)
Penguin Pot-Pourri Robert Peel , 1944 single work review
— Appears in: Meanjin Papers , Winter vol. 3 no. 2 1944; (p. 113-115)

— Review of Angry Penguins 1940-1943 periodical (9 issues)
Anrgy Penguins 3 Max Harris , 1942 single work column
— Appears in: Angry Penguins , no. 3 1942; (p. 3-4)
Angry Penguins -- 4: Transition Number Max Harris , 1942 single work column
— Appears in: Angry Penguins , no. 4 1942; (p. 1)
Hoax Was the Real Thing Luke Slattery , 2003 single work column
— Appears in: The Weekend Australian , 12-13 July 2003; (p. 24)
Editorial : On the Subject of Policy Max Harris , John Reed , 1943 single work column
— Appears in: Angry Penguins , [September] no. 5 1943; (p. 1)
Angry Penguins as Cultural Gesture Joanna Murray-Smith , 1988 single work criticism
— Appears in: The Darkening Ecliptic 1988; (p. 21-50)

PeriodicalNewspaper Details

Annual 1940-1943, 1945; two numbers 1944; Was to appear quarterly from July 1946
[No. 1] 1940- [9] 1946
21cm (nos. 1-3); 24cm (no. 4); 27cm (nos. 5-9).
Between 2 shillings and sixpence (2/6) and five shillings.
Last amended 7 Aug 2013 11:54:55
    Powered by Trove