Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 8, 2010

Opening Lines: Clean Straw for Nothing, by George Johnston (1969)

George Johnston OBE (1912-1970)  won the Miles Franklin Award twice: for My Brother Jack in 1964, and for Clean Straw for Nothing in 1969.  In his Author’s Note at the beginning of the book, Johnston acknowledged the Fellowship he received from Australian Commonwealth Literary Fund which enabled him to write it.  This fund – while laughably underfunded – was set up shortly after Federation in 1908 to assist impoverished writers, but I haven’t been able to find out much about it, except that Johnston – who was terminally ill with TB – was scathing about support for the arts in Australia, describing it as ‘purest parsimony’ [1].  It would be interesting to see which of the Fund’s  recipients have stayed the test of time as George Johnston has, but there seems to be no list online.

Clean Straw for Nothing was the second in the Meredith Trilogy. These are the opening lines:

‘I’ll tell you why I’m not writing,’ I said.

But his attention had begun to wander, as it does with too many people in a small room, and since he was no longer listening the way he had to listen if I told him, I didn’t tell him.  Couldn’t tell him, to be honest, even though there was no doubt that he had attacked me in an oblique sort of way from behind the creamy pale skin revealed by his having shaved the neat Carolinian beard he had grown in the Simpson Desert while directing his little film for television.  He still wore the tight cord pants and heavy ski sweater he had bought to go with the beard, but he would have been wiser to have kept the beard and sent the clothes back.  (p 9)

Author: George Johnston
Title: Clean Straw for Nothing
Publisher: Collins, London, 1969 (First Edition), no ISBN
Source: Personal copy, purchased from the Avant Garden Bookshop in Daylesford, $20.00 (what a bargain!)

[1] Charmian and George: the marriage of George Johnston and Charmian Clift By Max Brown, Rosenberg Publishing, 2004.  Source: Googlebooks.

Update 21/10/19: Don’t miss Paul Daley’s review of this book at The Guardian and why it is still so relevant today: George Johnston’s ‘majesties of nature and monstrosities of man’ is my Sydney.


  1. HI Lisa…I came across the Commonwealth Literary Fund when I was researching the Aussie literary scene of the 1930s and 1940s. A lot of Aussie writers were active in trying to get the fund to properly support writers. Flora Eldershaw (whose article I created for Wikipedia – argued for the fund to provide grants AND pensions! She was the first female president of the Federation of Australian Writers and was VERYpolitical. Still, I didn’t research WHO received what from the funds.


  2. Thanks for this, Sue, maybe a new Wikipedia page is in order, to be added to bit by bit as the information comes to hand?


  3. Yes, probably … I’ll put it on *our* backburner! LOL


Please share your thoughts and join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: