Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 13, 2019

Book Launch: Locating Australian Literary Memory, by Brigid Magner

Last night The Spouse and I went to a most entertaining book launch at the Royal Historical Society of Victoria (RHSV).  The book is called Locating Australian Literary Memory by RMIT historian and scholar Brigid Magner.

This is the blurb, (links are to the authors’ presence on this blog):

Locating Australian Literary Memory explores the cultural meanings suffusing local literary commemorations. It is orientated around eleven authors – Adam Lindsay Gordon, Joseph Furphy, Henry Handel Richardson, Henry Lawson, A. B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson, Nan Chauncy, Katharine Susannah Prichard, Eleanor Dark, P. L. Travers, Kylie Tennant and David Unaipon – who have all been celebrated through a range of forms including statues, huts, trees, writers’ houses and assorted objects. Brigid Magner illuminates the social memory residing in these monuments and artefacts, which were largely created as bulwarks against forgetting. Acknowledging the value of literary memorials and the voluntary labour that enables them, she traverses the many contradictions, ironies and eccentricities of authorial commemoration in Australia, arguing for an expanded repertoire of practices to recognise those who have been hitherto excluded.

John Arnold, editor of the Latrobe Journal amongst other notable activities, did the honours with a witty speech, which referenced The Oxford Literary Guide to Australia by the late Peter Pierce.   I have a copy of this book, which used to live in the glovebox of the car, so that on our travels we could hunt out any sites of literary pilgrimage.  As John said, all that information is now available at Wikipedia via our phones — but that is not much good in parts of the Hunter Valley and the Gold Coast, and in plenty of other places not so remote as you might think, because there is no phone reception.  (Yes, Australia, 21st century, thank you to the clowns in Canberra and Malcolm Turnbull in particular who replaced Kevin Rudd’s world standard NBN with an unfunny joke).  So a book is still a very good backup plan, and my copy of the Literary Guide goes back in the glovebox whenever we are venturing beyond Melbourne.  In the meantime it lives on the reference shelf by my desk, and was most recently used in conversation with Bill at The Australian Legend about sites for a possible literary trail in the Mallee.

John’s introduction was followed by the author explaining the genesis of her book.  Bridget said there were two catalysts that made her interested in the memorialising of Australian authors: one from Melinda Harvey after a trip to Katharine Susannah Prichard’s house in France; and the other from Barnard Eldershaw’s novel Plaque with Laurel which features commemorative activities for a deceased Australian author.  (You can read a description of this now very rare book, here). Barnard and Eldershaw were cynical about the grandstanding kind of memorialising that politicians do about famous authors, and Bridget pointed out that imported forms of memorialisation (plaques and statues etc) tend to omit women authors, First Nations authors, and our multicultural literary heritage. She thinks that there should be a wider range of memorials, and that they should use different forms and ways of thinking about our literary heroes, that suit a different era. So I look forward to seeing how these ideas are explored in the book.

Then there were readings of poetry, prose and song from David Unaipon, Adam Lindsay Gordon, and Banjo Paterson, and a guest appearance by Henry Lawson himself, complete with his trademark moustache and looking a bit shabby as befits an author down on his luck.  He told us one of his stories, ‘The Loaded Dog’, which had the audience laughing almost from the start.  (Many of us knew this story from our school days, but we’d never seen it presented like this!)

It’s always lovely to be in a room full of readers, but the conversations were especially interesting because there were representatives from various author societies.  Readers of long standing will remember my post about a weekend in Maldon to celebrate Henry Handel Richardson and it was really nice to meet people from the HHR Society and be prompted to check out forthcoming events for HHR’s 150th anniversary birthday.  (Alas, I can’t get to the picnic tea at Chiltern on January 3rd because The Spouse is having An Important Birthday of his own that week and Things Must Be Done in Preparation thereof).  We also met a gentleman from the Adam Lindsay Gordon Society and I was reminded to pay homage at Gordon’s  grave in Brighton before too much longer.  I suspect that there were many years of literary scholarship assembled in the room, united by a love of Australian literature.

Published by Anthem Press in the UK and USA, ISBN 9781785271076, the book is available from Fishpond: Locating Australian Literary Memory (Anthem Studies in Australian Literature and Culture) It is expensive at $149.00 which is not unreasonable for a book which ought to be in all Australian state and university libraries.  Fortunately for me, however, it was selling at the special price of $50 at the launch.  It seems to be selling for less than the Fishpond price at Readings but it has to be ordered in since they don’t have it in stock. My advice is to shop around.


I’ll take this opportunity to plug a workshop at the RHSV called Born-digital Documents on January 24th.  I recently attended the same workshop presented by the RHSV’s digital expert Sophie Shilling at the Glen Eira Library, and it was excellent.  A born-digital document is one that is created from the outset (‘born’) with digital technology, i.e. it was never created in another form and then scanned or uploaded into a digital space like the cloud.  Most of the photos we take these days, for example, are born-digital, and what am I writing now is born-digital because I do not draft using a word-processor, I write directly into the WordPress editor.  As Sophie said, there are multiple ways these documents and images can be lost forever.  All that needs to happen for ANZLitlovers to disappear into cyberspace is for WordPress to close down, or morph into a different digital form which makes the old technology inaccessible, or get sold and then hosted by some other body that deletes my content by accident or design.  The workshop is about protecting and backing up your stuff in effective ways.  So if you’re in Melbourne over the summer holidays, book yourself a place.


  1. Looks an interesting book.


    • Yes, on the way home on the train, I started reading the Introduction and it’s good. It’s got pictures too, BTW!


  2. What a wonderful night this sounds to have been. Thanks so much for sharing it. I’d love to have been there.

    Interestingly, the only book my 99-year-old Dad now seems to read is his Banjo Paterson book. He has always loved Banjo.

    Anyhow, even if you draft using a word-processor it’s born digital I’d say – it would just go from one digital location to another?


    • My dad also loved the poetry he learned as a boy:)
      I’m not sure of the precise definition (not without digging out my notes, that is) but the difference might be that if you printed it out you have a hard copy backup.


      • I think we probably all love the poetry we first learnt in our youth?


        • I think it’s a shame that kids don’t learn to memorise poetry the way we did…


          • Yes, I agree. I must say my daughter did, just because she loved to remember favourite words. But I don’t think it was something they did at school even in the nineties?


            • No, anything that smacked of rote learning went out the window. Which is why no one knows their multiplication tables any more. If there is another way to learn ’em without doing it by rote, I never found it…


              • It’s a shame isn’t it. There’s a place for rote learning I think – particularly the “times tables”. Our son learnt those in his American elementary school which he went to from early Grade 2 to the beginning of Grade 5. I wasn’t sorry!

                Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the mention, not to say the reminder to do some more work on a trail which W and Mr G might enjoy.

    My only literary pilgrimage was to HHR’s PO in Maldon, though I did also try and identify Charmian Clift’s house on Hydra. In WA KSP’s house is in constant use by writers and friends and I think that is the best memorial.


    • I do think that’s a good idea, but then, how do we memorialise our only Nobel winner Patrick White when the philistines failed to save his house?
      I’m a little old fashioned, I like statues and plaques:) I love the blue plaques in London. They are ultimately democratic, you don’t need to be an expert, you just stumble across one, and they tell you who the person was and why they were famous.


  4. I love this! Would have loved to be there. I also love your Turnball sentiment. Our NBN is pitiful.


    • The NBN drives me nuts. At my French class, they like to show short videos for us to discuss, and since the NBN was installed in their area they’ve had endless trouble downloading them. And twice now, I’ve gone to buy something in a nearby shop, and they haven’t been able to connect to do the EFTPOS. This is a commercial area, BTW, in a suburban shopping strip.
      And of all the nitwit politicians in the Liberal Party, Turnbull was the only one with the technical expertise to know exactly how his budget NBN would be short-changing us, he made his millions out of Ozemail. Betcha his collection of houses all had Kevin’s NBN installed before they put a stop to it for everyone else because “we couldn’t afford it”.


      • Lol, you’re singing to the choir. It is maddening. I’m following a blogger from Toronto who is currently visiting a small village in India. He is the first foreigner to ever visit where he is and the town are embracing him. He states how good the high speed internet there is. Go figure. Just amazing.


        • Yes, same in Russia. It’s not until you travel that you realise just how we’ve been let down by people who should have done better.

          Liked by 1 person

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