Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 13, 2010

The Australian Long Story, Edited by Mandy Sayer

This is another book with an interesting cover: perhaps it’s not clear from the image at left, but those brown stripes are rusty corrugated iron.  The text design is by Tony Palmer, while the image is from Getty Images – and because I was intrigued that it wasn’t an Australian image I went exploring…I mean, why wouldn’t a photographer be commissioned to take a day trip into the bush and snap the first rusty water tank or shed that he/she saw? Surely, I thought, it would be cheaper, and just as good or maybe better?

Well, now I know why so many publishers recycle images from Getty Images.  It’s because they’re royalty free.   The publisher can subscribe for $AUD 200-250, (depending on how long they subscribe for) and then they can harvest images from the collection and use them as many times as they like.  This means they don’t have to pay royalties to anybody, and presumably also not to CAL (the Copyright Agency), PLR (the Public Lending Right) or ELR (the Educational Lending Right.  All these bodies monitor the use of books in educational institutions and libraries and – based on usage – pay authors, artists and publishers a small amount per book each year.   For impecunious authors and artists these payments can be a substantial part of a meagre income.  I bought my current car with the help of a big fat cheque from CAL so I think that sidestepping Australian artists in this way is a bit mean.

(BTW while publishers do pay the royalties,  it’s not them that pay CAL, PLR or ELR.  Institutional users e.g. universities, pay an annual fee for student photocopying of books and it’s from that pool of money that CAL payments to the rights holder are paid. ELR & PLR are paid by the federal government.)

Anyway, it’s possible, I admit, that feeling liverish about the penny-pinching over images influences my opinion that rusty corrugated iron is not an appropriate image for this book anyway.  It hints at storytellers of long ago such as Henry Lawson, Ernest Favenc or Barbara Baynton*  writing about outback battlers – but in fact the oldest stories in this anthology are those from 1979, by Elizabeth Jolley and Peter Carey, and some of the stories are distinctly urban in setting.  Not only that, the editor Mandy Sayers is at pains to celebrate the fact that from the 1970s onwards Australian writers felt less compelled to ‘be’ Australian, ‘no longer bound by the national story tradition of laconic brevity‘. (p10) The rustic rust just doesn’t suit the universality of this collection at all!

Mandy Sayer’s most interesting introduction explains why the stories come only from the last 30 years, and also defines the ‘long’ story.  It’s only partly length – it’s more about complexity, which is probably why I found these stories more satisfying than the short story format with its single compressed storyline and limited point-of-view.  The long story can have a main plot and sub-plots as David Malouf’s coming-of-age story does in The Valley of Lagoons.  The form can show the passage of time, as Peter Goldsworthy’s notorious Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam does.  (A must-read, but not recommended for late night reading!) And they can depict alternative points-of-view, as Elizabeth Jolley’s harrowing Grasshoppers does, shifting in time, place and perspective as the reader’s sense of unease grows.  (I found Tim Winton writing as a female narrator bizarre.)

Other writers included in this anthology include Nam Le, Tim Winton, Helen Garner, Louis Nowra, and Gillian Mears.

Liam Davidson in his review suggests that there might well be another collection.  I’d like to see these stories and other stories like them available for eReaders like the Kindle because they would be perfect for plane travel but the collection-as-book at 540 pages is much too heavy to lug about in a suitcase!

*BTW the search box function on WordPress is useless.  (It’s my only complaint about WP).   If you search for, say The Slap, it will bring up 10 posts but not the review, and my review of Ice (by Louis Nowra) doesn’t show up at all.  So use the Categories menu instead.

©Lisa Hill

Editor: Mandy Sayers
Title: The Australian Long Story
Publisher: Penguin/Hamish Hamilton 2009
ISBN: 9781926428000
Source: Kingston Library


  1. Thanks Lisa – another book to add to the TBR list! Also, I totally agree with your points on the cover photo – I’m a fan of thoughtful cover art/photos, so I share your angst.


  2. Hi John, I forgot to say in the post above that Mandy Sayers got the idea from a similar sort of American collection – so I wonder, is there an English Long Story collection about?


  3. Thanks for this review, Lisa. I gave this book to my SIL last year and I think she has been enjoying it. Not sure whether you heard the interesting interview last year with Mandy Sayers on the Bookshow. If you didn’t here is a link to it:


    • Thanks for the link! I hadn’t heard it and it’s interesting:) One thing struck me reading the introduction was just how much reading Sayers must have done to make her choices, I would have liked to have heard her talk a bit about that!


  4. I didn’t listen to it again but I remember her talking about the value of the long story. but only a little about the selection. Of course, with a long story you are more limited in how many you can fit in a collection aren’t you?


  5. Yes indeed, and as I say above, it’s a hefty tome. It would be interesting to know how, as she read through what must have been dozens, – maybe hundreds – of long stories, what criteria she used.


  6. […] a while since I reviewed The Australian Long Story edited by Mandy Sayer, and I’d never read her fiction, so it was good to chance upon The Night […]


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