Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 30, 2022

Vale David Ireland (1927-2022)

I am indebted to a tweet from @kateharrisontas for the news that the award-winning Australian author David Ireland AM has died.  He won the Miles Franklin Award three times, in 1971, in 1977 and in 1979, and the ALS Gold Medal in 1985.  

Kate Harrison proofed and distributed Ireland’s last published novel, The World Repair Video Game for Island Magazine’s special limited edition in 2015.

There is very little biographical information about David Ireland in the public domain, but from Wikipedia and the Text Publishing website, I gather that Ireland, born in New South Wales in 1927, began by writing poetry and drama before turning to fiction with his first novel The Chantic Bird in 1968.  He worked on a number of blue-collar worksites before turning to writing full time in 1973 after he had won the Miles Franklin Literary Award for The Unknown Industrial Prisoner (1971). Though interesting, and still worth reading, it was IMO a ‘blokey’ book, and so was The Glass Canoe which won the MF in 1976, so I was mildly inclined to disagree with Nicolas Rothwell, in his Introduction to the Text edition of The Glass Canoe, when he suggested that Ireland went out of literary fashion because the literati were no longer interested in his brand of realism. IMO, it was more that the milieu in which Ireland set his novels seemed irredeemably old-fashioned for feminist readers like me who savoured the emergence of Australian women’s fiction in the 1980s.

But I have not yet read any of Ireland’s fiction published in the 1980s.  I never even heard about it. I had bought  A Woman of the Future (1979) only to add it to my MF collection and it sat neglected on my TBR amongst the other winners.

However, after an absence of nearly ten years from publication, Ireland surfaced again with The World Repair Video Game in 2015, (see my review). Its nomination for the MF and my delight in reading it sent me scurrying to my favourite second-hand sellers to supplement the TBR with his backlist. I don’t have them all, alas,

Ireland’s novels are listed at Wikipedia as follows:

ANZ LitLovers extends condolences to the friends and family of David Ireland, another giant of Australian literature lost to us this year.

Update 4/8/22: Do read Van Ikin’s superb tribute to Ireland’s oeuvre at The Conversation. 


Responses

  1. That’s what you miss when you are on rude road! Thanks for this Lisa. Must say that I was one for whom his work didn’t appeal. I have had a couple on my TBR for decades and also have Text’s The glass canoe I think. Am back in Melbourne so can’t check. I know he’s a big gap in my Aussie reading.

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    • Don’t feel bad, I don’t think there’s been publicity comparable with the press coverage of the death of Frank Moorhouse. Probably because, as Evan says, Ireland has been neglected. I thought The Video Repair novel was marvellous, so if you can get hold of it, that’s the one I’d recommend, but they are scarce as hen’s teeth. Mine was passed on to me, and then I passed it on to someone else, I wish I’d kept it now.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I shall keep an eye out for it. I remember you and Bill have discussed Ireland.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Last time I caught it for sale on the www it was going for about $250.

        Of course I am an unabashed admirer. A remarkable observer of humankind. I only have to read The Chosen and The World Repair Video Game and I think I am a completist.

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        • You’re kidding… oh my goodness, that is a lot of money…

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          • Yeah and I have just looked and can no longer find it for sale. I was lucky. I had no idea that it had been published and when heard rang the publisher. They said there were only 2 copies left on the shelves and both were at Avid Reader, West End in Brisbane. “Do you know it?” Sure did as Avid are only a 10-minute drive from me. I can hand on heart say I got the 2nd last copy available, lol. I am yet to read it.

            Lisa if you did read one more of his books in your life the one I would be interested in what you thought is Bloodfather. I think it is overlooked. I get why Prisoner and Canoe are highly thought of, but for some reason this one seems to get left out of discussion. I genuinely thought it outstanding. I am the only review on GR sadly.

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            • Well… you have indeed written a tempting review, and Bloodfather is one that I have.
              #NoPromises, but I will do my best to get to it before long.

              Liked by 1 person

  2. He was a master, and unfairly neglected over the last 20+ years of his life/career. Thank the literary gods for the Text Classics series, which introduced me to The Glass Canoe. I am eternally grateful for Heyward and Co. for bringing back into print such a phenomenonal novel, as brutal and tender a mosaic of Australian life as one would be likely to read.

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    • They have The Chantic Bird, but only as an eBook. I’m going to see if I can find a print copy before succumbing to the eBook…

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      • Update: oops, #ApologiesToText: they have The Chantic Bird as a paperback too.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for sharing this news, Lisa. It’s a double blow given we’ve just lost one of the song writing greats in Archie Roach 😢
    I have read The Glass Canoe and found it a fascinating insight into the male psyche! I have The Chosen kicking around somewhere. If the publishers are savvy enough perhaps they will bring his last novel back into print…?

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    • It intrigues me that Text classics reissued The Chantic Bird (his debut novel) plus The Unknown Industrial Prisoner, The Glass Canoe and A Woman of the Future (the three MF winning copies) but none of the others.
      I guess they’d have to see enough interest from buyers to reissue his later novels…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for passing on this news. I knew Mr Ireland as a customer of a business I worked in when I lived on the South Coast of NSW. He was very private and I didn’t realise he was that ‘David Ireland’ for quite some time although he and I occasionally chatted about books. He was unfailingly polite and kind.

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    • Gosh, that’s a special kind of friendship. DO you remember what kind of books he liked to discuss?

      Liked by 1 person

      • None specifically, it was a very long time ago. He was always interested in what I was reading (and I still haven’t read anything he wrote).

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  5. I wish I had the opportunity to talk to him. So many questions!

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    • Yes, imagine sitting around the table over coffee and having a chat about books…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This is such sad news. Most of what I know about Ireland comes from an interview published in the Weekend Australian Magazine, April 7-8 2012, when he was 84: ‘Ireland has never stopped writing … he has seven manuscripts … none of which can find a publisher’. In one of these, ‘Desire’, a 31-year-old man is ‘imprisoned by a woman, a beautiful serial killer … she is going to kill him terribly and slowly and with much sexual cruelty’. I hope that all of these seven books will now be published and will cost less than the three-figure sum I paid for ‘The World Repair Video Game’.

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    • It makes you think…
      If he’d been younger, he might have investigated self-publishing those seven.

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      • I wonder who his literary executor is, and whether those MS are going to some archive such as at the State Library of NSW…

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        • I read somewhere that Ireland had deposited a lot of material with the State Library, and their online catalogue has an item ‘David Ireland aggregated collection of papers 1958-2017’, so perhaps we can hope!

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