Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 8, 2010

Opening Lines: Poor Fellow My Country by Xavier Herbert (1975)

Poor Fellow My Country by Xavier Herbert (1901-1984) won the Miles Franklin Award in 1975.

I think it might be out of print.  It is a huge book, 1463 pages long, and it’s included on the Wikipedia List of Longest Novels which tells me that it has 850,000 words.  I have read Herbert’s Capricornia, but not this one, not yet.

Here are the opening lines, some of which have a turn of phrase which seems offensive now, though that was the last thing intended by Herbert, who was a staunch champion of Aborigines:

The small boy was Aboriginal – distinctly so by cast of countenance, while yet so lightly coloured as to pass for any light-skinned breed, even tanned Caucasian.  His skin was cream-caramel, with a hair-sheen of gold.  There was also the glint of gold in his tow-tawny mop of curls.  Then his eyes were grey – with a curious intensity of expression probably due to their being set in cavernous Australoid orbits where one would expect to see dark glinting as of shaded water.  His nose, fleshed and curved in the mould of his savage ancestry, at the same time was given just enough of the beakiness of the other side to make it a thing of perfection.  Likewise his lips.  Surely a beautiful creature to any eye but the most prejudiced in the matter of race.  Indeed, but for knowing the depth and breadth of prejudice against the very strina that gave him perfection, one might well be amazed to know that such a thing could stand up to the  sight of him.  Yet most people, at least of this remote northen part of the Australian Continent, would dismiss him as just a boong.  He was aged about eight.  (p9)

Update 31/5/16 I’ve read it! See my review here.

Author: Xavier Herbert
Title: Poor Fellow My Country
Publisher: Collins, 1975, First Edition.
ISBN: 000 221588 8
Source: Personal Library.


  1. I’ve Caprircornia on my tbr pile, would love to read this one too but think this will be a matter of seeing it or buying a cheap online version, all the best stu


  2. Stu, I think you’ll be lucky to find one anywhere cheaply online. The Book Depository doesn’t have it, and I just had a look on Amazon, they have some but they are *very* expensive. Actually, this book is a classic example of one that should be digitised – it would be ideal to read on an eReader because it is *so* big and heavy.


  3. Is Poor fellow, my country on audio book? I’m listening to Humphrey Bower read Capricornia at present and it’s brilliant.


    • I don’t know, Colleen – and it can be rather difficult to find out. I don’t think Australian audio book publishers tag their products very well because even when I *know* that an audio book exists I still often can’t find it on the web.
      Humphrey Bower would be brilliant – I have that Bolinda Audio version of Capricornia too but I haven’t got to it yet.


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 )

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: