2017 Miles Franklin Award Longlist


The longlist for the 2017 Miles Franklin Literary Award has been announced.

A literature award that was first awarded in 1957, it is presented each year to the novel which if “of the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases.”

A first prize of AUD$60,000 makes the Miles Franklin Award one of the most sought after in Australia. The Award was established through the will of the author Miles Franklin (most well-known for the work “My Brilliant Career”).

The winner will be announced in September, with the shortlist to be announced on 18 June 2017.

Here is the 2017 Longlist

Steven Amsterdam “The Easy Way Out”

Emily Mcguire “An Isolated Incident”

Mark O’Flynn “The Last Days of Ava Langdon”

Ryan O’Neill “Their Brilliant Careers”

Josephine Rowe “A Loving, Faithful Animal”

Philip Salom “Waiting”

Inga Simpson “Where The Trees Were”

Kirsten Tranter “Hold”

Josephine Wilson “Extinctions”


Voss – Patrick White – Read Along


The Patrick White read along for “Voss” finished up today so here are a few quotes I have found about White and then “Voss” itself, all to whet the appetite for my opinion that will follow.

‘…Patrick’s gift for hatred almost exceeded his gift for literature and, it would seem, welled not so much from vanity as self-hatred. He despised so many of us. He behaved obnoxiously. But we still wiped the clay from his feet and propped him back on his pedestal. Perched up there he grumbled away, criticising the view. But at the end of the day we had to keep Patrick enpedestalled, as our official hero. Because if we hadn’t had Patrick as a hero, who the hell would we have?’

  • Phillip Adams (broadcaster)

‘Well, I still hope to see the Bunyip before I die. It might even be Mr Patrick White who produces it; but not till he learns that, whatever life may be like, the English language is neither hugger-mugger, nor transient, and that it is never safe to break it into small pieces as a means of writing a novel. When so few Australian novelists can write prose at all, it is a great pity to see Mr White, who shows on every page some touch of the born writer, deliberately choose as his medium this pretentious and illiterate verbal sludge.’

  • A. D. Hope (poet)

Voss was written about ten years after World War 2. In an interview, White recalled two influences: his reading of a book on the German-born nineteenth century Australian explorer, Ludwig Leichhardt; and his own experience of being in the North African desert during the war provoked by the “arch-megalomaniac,” Adolf Hitler. The broad outline of the narrative is based on Leichhardt’s ill-fated journey of exploration in search of an overland route from Sydney to Darwin. Voss and his party are financially supported by a group of Sydney merchants and Voss develops a strange but compelling relationship with Laura Trevelyan, the step-daughter of one of them. The relationship between these two misfits appears to continue through letters and some kind of psychic and spiritual companionship long after the expedition has left civilisation. The relationship may not be realistic but it is convincing.

Voss’s expedition passes through the magnificent settled lands of the Hunter Valley where they spend time on a station belonging to the cultivated Sandersons and then on to the more primitive farm of Boyle on the outer edge of the Darling Downs. With two Aboriginal guides, the party then strikes out into “unknown” country and confronts not only physical but also psychological and spiritual challenges to their sense of themselves as civilised subjects. There are struggles between the various members of the party: between those who are more practical and those whose motivation for joining is more altruistic, more personal or more concerned with inner understanding. The challenges faced by the expedition are of course both practical, physical ones as well as psychological and spiritual. The ways in which various members of the party deal with suffering is one of the interests of the middle part of the book.

But in Sydney, there are challenges to be faced as well, though not of such an obvious kind. For Laura and for her step sister – the apparently well-adjusted Belle Bonner – there are different needs. The emerging culture of colonial Australia requires both men and women to find new ways of relating to society and to nature. Laura takes on the responsibility of bringing up Mercy, the daughter of the servant, Rose and also opens a school, while Belle becomes the facilitator of social interaction among the increasingly diverse population. At the end of the novel, the citizens of Sydney unveil a statue to celebrate Voss’ probable achievement. The highlight of the ceremony is the appearance of Judd the ex-convict who is the sole surviving member of the expedition. Judd’s memory is possibly faulty, Laura’s understanding of Voss may lack substance, and the citizen’s need to memorialise something may have very little to do with the actual achievement of Voss yet there is a clear sense that the community as a whole has grown and developed, that the ways of interpreting experience have been enlarged and increased and that the possibilities for living fully and meaningfully in Australia have expanded.

This is for many readers White’s most demanding and most impressive novel. The language is not always easy and the relationship between Voss and Laura is difficult to accept in realistic terms but the reading experience is powerful, unforgettable, and deeply engaging.

  • Alan Lawson (ed.)Patrick White Selected Writings, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, 1994

Personally I found this book, the inaugural Miles Franklin Award winner, Australia’s pre-eminent literary award, along the “demanding” lines, I am firmly in the A.D. Hope camp of “pretentious and illiterate verbal sludge”, however that does not mean it is not an impressive work.

Very much like the title character Voss and his journey into the unknown centre of Australia, my reading journey was arduous, at times felt fruitless and I wanted to abandon the journey, however, also like Voss I persisted, and unlike our protagonist, I came out the other side.

Human behavior is a series of lunges, of which, it is sometimes sensed, the direction is inevitable. (pp8)

Voss, “sufficient in himself”, Laura, “happiest shut with her own thoughts” and the harsh new land of Australia, are the three main players here.

Everyone is still afraid, or most of us, of this country, and will not say it. We are not yet possessed of understanding. (pp23)

…he was drawn closer to the landscape, the seldom motionless sea of grass, the twisted trees in grey and black, the sky ever increasing in its rage of blue; and the landscape, always, he could become the centre. (pp169)

There are obvious homosexual references, obviously a less frequently appearing theme in the 1950’s and the depiction of the Aboriginals is less than savoury, however we do need to keep in mind that even at the time of publication the right to vote for the first peoples of this Nation was not even law. Having said that, the 1958 novel “To The Islands” by Randolph Stow has a much more sympathetic portrayal of the indigenous peoples, although set in a different era and possibly reflecting the missionary view of the locals rather than Voss’ view of a recent arrival in colonial Australia.

The arduous journey that Voss undertakes is, at times, clearly explained, in other places it shimmers as an hallucination, dreamlike, mystical in the portrayal;

Then it began to rain again, and did not hold up. Nobody could conceive of eternity except as rain.

Men and beasts were grown very thin as they butted with their heads against the solid rain. Some of the men were hating one another worse than ever. Animals hate less, of course, because they have never expected more. But men grow green with hatred. Green slime was slapped upon the ground across which they were floundering. On that side of the river there were trees of shiny green with long, dark lances for leaves, which threatened the eyes and eardrums. Yet, in the condition to which they had come, the men’s souls were more woundable than flesh. One or two most dispirited individuals confessed to themselves that their greatest pleasure would have been to die. (pp 268-269)

A novel that is an exploration into the harsh new country, an exploration into one’s own self, a revelation of reserves, a mystical relationship where the lines of human connection become blurred. The isolation coming through as you personally work your way into the book.

When the girl was gone, she prepared herself as if for a journey, with shawls, and plaids, and a book of sermons that she always held in an emergency, and presently her husband came, who could no longer sit alone in the desert that the house had become. Not suddenly, not tonight, not to Mr Bonner alone. These two people, looking at each other at intervals, in the hope of rescue, had begun to realize that their whole lives had been a process of erosion. Oases of affection had made the desert endurable, until now the fierce heat of unreason threatened to wither any such refuge. (pp361)

Yes, a desert for all.

Now I have two of the Miles Franklin winners under my belt, maybe that’s a new challenge, the remaining fifty-nine make a nice list (I own about ten, and really do not want to read about a further ten, but never say never).

Did you join in the read along? Did you find it “pretentious and illiterate verbal sludge” or “powerful, unforgettable, and deeply engaging”?

Patrick White – Voss – Read along


Tomorrow the read along of Patrick White’s “Voss” will commence. White is Australia’s only Nobel Laureate in Literature, and winner of the inaugural Miles Franklin Award, Australia’s, self-proclaimed, pre-eminent literary award. The Miles Franklin Award was won 60 years ago in 1957 and the Nobel in 1973.

The Guardian’s “100 best novels” rated “Voss” number 77 on their list, commenting;

Until the 1950s Australian poetry and fiction, like American literature in the 19th century, was in thrall to dusty English models. Angry and often obscure, deeply intellectual and gay, Patrick White liberated his readers from a cultural prison. Parts of Voss, notably the treatment of Indigenous Australians – “black swine” to the explorer – remain contentious but White is a founding father of the literary independence movement that followed in the 1970s and 80s.

The Guardian article also notes that “the distinguished Australian poet AD Hope once said of White that, although he “shows on every page some touch of the born writer”, he nevertheless lacked style, choosing “as his medium this pretentious and illiterate verbal sludge”.”

As you start your “Voss” read along you may find the literary style and wordiness “pretentious and illiterate verbal sludge” something I hope a few of you comment on during the reading.

A couple of other questions for your journey;

From the first chapter is it obvious the three players here are Voss, Laura and the harsh new Australian colony and landscape?

Like Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” is it obvious that Voss’ journey into the interior is also a march towards self realisation and oblivion?

As I mentioned in my post in December when I decided to start a read along of this novel please join in the debate whether here via comments, or Twitter @messy_tony I’m also more than happy to open my blog to guest posts, and would love to have as many people as possible join in for this one off event.

A number of well known bloggers are joining the journey, so please join in, the more the merrier.

Good luck with your journey of this iconic Australian novel, may your reading be pleasurable.

Patrick White – Voss – Read Along March 2017


My recent reading and blog post of Randolph Stow’s “To The Islands” created a little conversation over on Twitter (I’m @Messy_tony if you want to follow me there), and more specifically the Miles Franklin Award. As I mentioned in that post the Trustees of the Award tell us;

“The Miles Franklin Literary Award is Australia’s most prestigious literature prize. Established through the will of My Brilliant Career author, Miles Franklin, the prize is awarded each year to a novel which is of the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases.”

First presented in 1957, to Patrick White, Australia’s only Nobel Laureate in Literature, for Voss  “the Award helps to support authors and to foster uniquely Australian literature. Miles Franklin believed that “Without an indigenous literature, people can remain alien in their own soil.”  She also had first-hand experience of struggling to make a living as a writer and was the beneficiary of two literary prizes herself.”

The subsequent discussion centred around Patrick White and his novel “Voss”, the inaugural winner of the award in 1957. A number of well-known bloggers, Stu at Winston’s Dad https://winstonsdad.wordpress.com/ , Kim at Reading Matters https://readingmattersblog.com/ and Grant at 1st Reading https://1streading.wordpress.com/  were keen for a read along of White’s book and so an event was born. I’m hoping the three bloggers are still keen to read White’s book as I’ve now named them publicly!!!

From 1 March 2017 the four of us will read Patrick White’s novel “Voss” and we invite you to join in, I’m more than happy to open my blog to guest posts, and would love to have as many people as possible join in for this one off event.

The novel is quite lengthy, my edition runs to 454 pages, so at 15 pages per day it should be covered in a month, but there is no pressure to read it all within that time if you feel that is too cumbersome. Posting questions at our blogs, or via twitter (@messy_tony, @stujallen @kimbofo and @GrantRintoul our handles) is another way you can join in.

With Patrick White being Australia’s only Nobel Laureate in Literature, this is a great way to become involved in his writing, throwing up differing opinions, questions, likes, dislikes, an open slather looking at a renowned writer and the first winner of the most prestigious writing award in Australia.

Here’s a little about “Voss” from the Penguin webpage:

The novel that put Australian literature on the map is now in a Vintage Classic edition

Set in nineteenth-century Australia, Voss is the story of the secret passion between an explorer and a naïve young woman. Although they have met only a few times, Voss and Laura are joined by overwhelming, obsessive feelings for each other. Voss sets out to cross the continent. As hardships, mutiny and betrayal whittle away his power to endure and to lead, his attachment to Laura gradually increases. Laura, waiting in Sydney, moves through the months of separation as if they were a dream and Voss the only reality.

From the careful delineation of Victorian society to the sensitive rendering of hidden love to the stark narrative of adventure in the Australian desert, Patrick White’s novel is a work of extraordinary power and virtuosity.

Join in by adding a comment here, buying the book or borrowing from your local library, and keeping an eye on our blogs leading up to March 2017. We would love to have you along for the ride.

To the Islands – Randolph Stow


A week without work, that has to mean, not only, more time for reading, but a time to get the outstanding reviews in order. With close to twenty books read and not reviewed here, it is time I got my act together, and I’m not procrastinating until the New Year, so I can make some resolution to not fall so far behind, only to break it within a week or so.

By recently reading David Ireland’s haunting “The World Repair Video Game”, I became aware of my ignorance of older Australian literature. Whilst each year I try and read a few Stella Prize nominated novels, and I occasionally pick up a longlisted fiction work from the Prime Minister’s Awards or one the State Awards, my delving back to 1950-1970’s Australian books hasn’t really happened. This could be due to a very staid English Literature teacher in the 1970’s who believed Australian writers had nothing to offer, they didn’t have a unique voice and therefore he told us to avoid the local writers if we were to study “true” literature. Although rebelling (of course) at the time and reading Jack Hibberd plays and attending theatre events at La Mama and The Pram Factory, my novel reading was extremely limited. Time to fix that and fill up on a few Miles Franklin Award winners from the early years.

As the Trustees of the Award point out, “The Miles Franklin Literary Award is Australia’s most prestigious literature prize. Established through the will of My Brilliant Career author, Miles Franklin, the prize is awarded each year to a novel which is of the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases.”

First presented in 1957, to Patrick White, Australia’s only Nobel Laureate in Literature, for Voss  “the Award helps to support authors and to foster uniquely Australian literature. Miles Franklin believed that “Without an indigenous literature, people can remain alien in their own soil.”  She also had first-hand experience of struggling to make a living as a writer and was the beneficiary of two literary prizes herself.”

With my edition of White’s Voss running to 454 pages, the inaugural Miles Franklin winner has been put to one side for a few weeks. Keeping in mind the Afterword of David Ireland’s “The World Repair Video Game”, and although the content was specific to Ireland, it nagged at me the “cultural moment” where working class white voices gave way to “women, migrants and indigenous Australians”. Here’s a section of the Afterword in Ireland’s latest book;

His writing had not altered considerably across time but the hierarchy of values by which such work was judged had. During a period when Ozlit was mainly concerned with the recuperation or celebration of once-marginal literary voices belonging to women, migrants and indigenous Australians, Ireland’s transgressive tales of working-class white blokes rubbed against the weave of the cultural moment.

Randolph Snow’s 1958 novel, winner of that year’s Miles Franklin Award and the Australian Literature Society’s Gold Medal in the same year, “To the Islands”, deals with a subject not often approached in 1950’s Australian literature, the missionaries and their work with Aboriginal Australians. Although slightly dated in some of the indigenous character portrayal, it is still a landmark work, where the subjects of Aboriginal massacres, and their connection to country were thoughtfully portrayed, not as an oddity, but using sympathetic voice.

From the opening paragraph, you get a sense of place, social realism, although in the vast desert lands of northern Western Australia the remoteness and the isolation is there from the off;

A child dragged a stick along the corrugated-iron wall of a hut, and Heriot woke. His eyes, not yet broken to the light, rested on the mud-brick beside his bed, drifted slowly upwards to the grass-thatched roof. From a rafter an organ-grinder lizard peered sidelong over its pulsing throat.

Heriot is our protagonist, and early on we have an understanding that although a missionary, for many years, he is struggling with the clash of the Aboriginal culture. Their “Sorry business” practices and their belief of not mentioning the names of the dead, the spirits may come back to haunt you as you call them “Or might hang around the bush and come if someone say his name.”

‘I won’t say anything more. But it was a great – a great sorrow to me, to hear what you’d done. Your father was my good friend, my brother, He would have been very much ashamed.’

At this reference to the dead, Stephen moved uneasily. ‘Yes, brother.’

Our protagonist Heriot, begins to question his role as a missionary, what has he achieved during his many years in remote Australia? Seen as ageing, harsh and unsympathetic by the other workers as well as the Aboriginal inhabitants of the missionary, he loses all faith and belief in his life’s work;

‘I believe in nothing,’ Heriot said softly. ‘I can pull down the world.’

Heriot is not the only one who has wizened away here in the remote Australian desert, the shopkeeper, ration master Harris, “after twenty years in the country, he longed at times for death, but could not die until someone has been found to replace him.”

As the story unfolds we learn of Heriot’s loss of his wife, his daughter, those who are close to him, and this becomes a tale of Heriot’s exploration to find himself, it uses the physical journey as the metaphor for his self-awareness, our protagonist leaving the mission, after a violent incident with an Aboriginal man who has recently returned, a journey to the islands;

‘Oh, inlands in the sea. Where spirit goes. Spirit of dead man, you know, bungama.’

The interior of Australia, the harsh landscape, a backdrop for Heriot’s exile and reconciliation with himself, his life’s work;

When he woke again there was a rock hanging above his head, and he remembered all his journeying past cliffs rising out of their ruins, the huge size of the boulders that strewed the valleys, and the debris of vast and ancient landslides. Because of this his eyes fastened apprehensively on the cliff overhanging his sleeping-place; he saw cracks in it, thought he saw them widen, thought he heard the grating of moving surfaces and sharp sounds of fission. He hauled himself upright on his aching bones and ran out into the camp area, shouting: ‘Justin!’

The book contains an author’s preface, where Rudolph Stow explains his edits and how “in the original edition” he “was consciously making propaganda on behalf of Christian mission-stations”. There are still sections explaining the practices;

‘Well, you know, I pledge myself to do the usual things as far as I possibly can. And I hope that in my time and in my successor’s time we’ll see some development in – well, in the relations between ourselves and the people. I hope we’ll come closer and have the time and the staff eventually to make ourselves understood to them, teach them something of their own position in society, and their obligations, and their future. We’re coming to a very bad time in the history of their development, and if we don’t succeed in making contact with them and giving them some – orientation, the results could be unhappy for everyone. But with faith in them I think we’ll come through. I ought to say that these ideas are as much Heriot’s as mine, and when he spoke to me he was more or less handing over the problem to us. So if we succeed, we can feel that we’re carrying out the plans that he hasn’t the – opportunity of putting into action. That’s really all I have to say.’

This work was written by Stow when he was only 22 year’s old, an amazing achievement as the work reads as one from an old wise man, one bitter with the failure of his mission, his own failure, his journey into self-exploration. With inciteful quotes such as; “White man always talking and never listening”, and the white people saying “as long as we live here we can never be ourselves, unless ourselves – break out, like Mr Heriot’s.”

A thoroughly enjoyable work, an Australian journey into the centre, or harshest parts, of this land, revelatory for the literary treatment of indigenous Australian’s in the 1950’s. A work that comes with an ending that resonates, stunning that it came from the pen of a mere 22 year-old. I will be attempting to read a few early Miles Franklin Award winners, the best laid plans….