Posted by: Lisa Hill | February 28, 2010

Opening lines: The Unknown Industrial Prisoner by David Ireland (1971)

David Ireland (AM) won the Miles Franklin Award for the first time with The Unknown Industrial Prisoner in 1971, and went on to win it again in 1976 with The Glass Canoe, and in 1979 for A Woman of the FuturePerry Middlemiss’s invaluable reference site tells us that Ireland has written 10 novels, but the last one published, The Chosen,  was in 1997.   (Ireland was born in 1927, so he’s in his early 80s by now).

The jacket design of my current 1979 Australian Classics edition features detail from a 1972 painting called Factory Staff, Erehwyna by one of Australia’s favourite artists, Jeffrey Smart.  (You can see the original painting at the NGV: it’s much bigger than the front cover art suggests.) However, the original 1971 first edition (which I have on order from AbeBooks)  features the design on the right, which I don’t like as much.

These are the opening lines:

Chapter 1: One Day in a Penal colony

LOWER DEPTHS.  It was the same every morning. At ten to six reveille sounded. Mostly a broom handle was applied to the green dented side of a locker, one of sixty to hold the clothes of the men of the four shifts. This time someone with a sense of humour had taken a length of two-inch plastic hose and used three or four lockers as a gong, producing a deafening, heart-stopping crash. This was a bad thing to do; it split the hose used to get hot water from the taps over the handbasin into the mop bucket. Finances didn’t run to another tap or to the employment of cleaners. The echoes died quickly into the concrete.

There’s an intriguing article about ‘post-carnivalism’ in this novel on David Musgrave’s site, a very scholarly one by Prof Ken Gelder,  at UniMelb, and another by Ron Blaber from Curtin University.  Maybe I’ll tackle these after I’ve read the book!

Author: David Ireland
Title: The Unknown Industrial Prisoner
Series: Australian Classics
Publisher: Angus & Robertson, 1979
ISBN: 0207138125
Source: Personal library, Argyle Emporium, Goulburn NSW, $10.00 (I paid more for this than I should have, but at the time it was the only copy I’d ever come across.  The one I now have on order is the genuine 1971 first edition in very good condition, for $8.48 including AbeBooks commisison and even with postage it’s only $15.86).


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