A Powerful Evocation of an Artistic Friendship: James Keating Reviews ‘Battarbee and Namatjira’ by Martin Edmond

Battarbee and Namatjira by Martin Edmond Giramondo Publishing, 2014

Battarbee & NamatjiraIn 1951, Miles Franklin recounted to American friends the ‘great fun’ which had erupted over Australian Aboriginal art.

An old friend…was telling us recently that the administrators, in the interests of the art, have difficulty keeping track of who does the paintings. Namitajira [sic] will sign any of his tribes’ work with the greatest goodwill and also honesty for they are natural practicing communists. When a member of the tribe gets money or food all the others whack-in of natural right like the children of one parent. The administration supplied them with only a limited number of drawing boards each one numbered to try and keep order but that did not worry them, they beat out the white bark of trees and used that. It appears they have tremendous facility.

Albert Namatjira, the subject of her condescending assessment, was forty-nine and the most celebrated indigenous man in Australia. He had exhibited paintings at solo shows across the country and starred in a nationally distributed documentary film. Though his work often displeased critics, unfairly rankled by his perceived ‘imitation’ of European water-colourists or the success of an Arrernte man working in a medium ‘entirely false to his own culture’, he commanded as much as 100 guineas per canvas. His luminous watercolours inspired a cottage industry of Arrernte artists, collectively known as the Hermannsburg School, after the remote central Australian mission he transformed into a tourist attraction. Nevertheless, as Franklin alluded in her letter, from his birth in 1902 Namatjira lived and worked under the care and surveillance of ‘the administrators’: Hermannsburg’s Lutheran missionaries.

Martin Edmond’s Battarbee and Namatjira is a dual biography, documenting Namatjira’s life alongside that of his lesser known teacher, art-dealer, and friend Rex Battarbee. Drawing on Battarbee’s voluminous diaries and an extensive archive of personal papers collated by the poet Nigel Roberts, Edmond traces the evolution of the men’s relationship from their first meetings in the 1930s through to Battarbee’s wartime role as a Protector of Aborigines, and his uneasy control of Namatjira’s artistic output through the Aranda Arts Council. The author of two previous books about painters, including Dark Night: Walking with McCahon (2011)—a splendidly contemplative recreation of the New Zealand artist’s brief disappearance in Sydney—Edmond is well equipped to deal with this rich and troubling subject matter.

Born in Warrnambool in 1893, and invalided out from Second Bullecourt in 1917, Battarbee trained as a commercial artist during a decade-long convalescence from his wartime injuries. In 1928 he purchased a Model T and, emulating the commercial and artistic practice of the Taos School, embarked on a fifteen-month long outback painting tour. On his ‘third attempt to find the way to paradise’ in 1932, Battarbee spent six weeks in Hermannsburg, the place he would ultimately spend much of his life. Returning with his ‘house on wheels’ a year later, he exhibited his work to thronged crowds in the mission schoolroom. Pastor Friedrich Albrecht, the mission superintendent, recalled the exhibition as revelation for Namatjira, who abandoned pokerwork for the more lucrative practice of landscape painting. Edmond, however, unravels Albrecht’s Damascene interpretation. Namatjira, a craftsman of decorated boomerang and woomera, had been exposed to European artists and their ‘side-on’ perspective for years before Battarbee’s exhibition, and had already asked the Victorian to help him acquire paint and brushes.

Edmonds’ book is packed with these reflections. Throughout, he weaves the voices of his protagonists, carefully tracing the their personal and artistic relationship. Given the nature of his surviving sources, it is the lesser-known Battarbee who speaks loudest, his honest compassion and affection for Namatjira radiating from the page. Particularly interesting are his diarised recollections of his friend’s artistic development. On a 1936 trip, he expressed his admiration for a sketch Namatjira made of Palm Valley: ‘He has got a good colour sense and puts it on even stronger than I do and good light in his pictures too. I feel now he will make a name for himself…I know that I could not do anything like as good at so early a stage of water colour painting. It even makes me sit up and take note of whether he sees better than I do.’ Namatjira left few letters behind, but Edmond does his best to present a complicated character: proud, generous, introspective, and funny. Though he jokingly recounted a 1954 trip to Sydney by noting ‘everybody talked too much’, he also used the opportunity to protest to a journalist that ‘these Native Affairs people want to keep me down all the time. For a long time I was like a blind man…but now I can see and I see they want to keep me down.’

In producing Battarbee and Namatjira, Edmonds and his publisher, Giramondo, confronted the tragedy of Namatjira’s final years. Though the book is filled with vivid black and white photographs, the usual insert of colour plates is absent. Instead, readers are directed to an accompanying website to view paintings discussed in the text. Ordinarily, this might be considered an impediment to an artists’ biography, but allows room for Edmonds’ thoughtful descriptions of both men’s ‘rich and strange’ attempts to manifest ‘a world not seen before’. Yet, the omission was not an authorial decision, but a latter-day consequence of the legal, financial, and emotional turmoil that accompanied Namatjira’s commercial success. Though he enjoyed several thousand pounds in annual sales after World War II, the demands on his purse from friends and relations, and the depredations of the taxation office increased exponentially. Worn-down by ill health, the deaths of relatives, and his officially-thwarted attempts to build a house in Alice Springs and become a ‘useful’ grazier, by the mid-1950s Namatjira produced little new work. Instead, he derived an income from the sale of reproductions. By 1957, galvanised by the forgery scandals Franklin breezily reported to her friends, and the increasing value of Namatjira reproductions, Legend Press had acquired the entirety of his copyright. Since then, they have fiercely guarded the privilege of reproducing his art—a misfortune Edmond has described elsewhere as ‘the ultimate act of dispossession.’

The story of Albert Namatjira and Rex Battarbee is not one of ‘great fun’, nor is it an unalloyed tragedy. Rather, Edmond’s book is a powerful evocation of an artistic friendship that crossed cultural boundaries at a moment of flux in white Australia’s Aboriginal policy. Though the absence of footnotes or an index will trouble some readers, as will the awkward interaction between the text and Giramondo’s online photo archive, in the context of a captivating story of dual lives these concerns are minor. A compelling melange of history, biography, and criticism, Battarbee and Namatjira shines as brightly as both men’s watercolours and deserves a wide readership.

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James Keating is a doctoral research candidate at the School of Humanities and Languages at the University of New South Wales. He obtained a Master’s degree in History (Victoria University of Wellington, 2011) and worked as a historian for the Office of Treaty Settlements in New Zealand. His current research considers the individual connections and organisational networks that linked Australasian women’s rights activists with their counterparts across the world in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Battarbee and Namatjira is avaliable from http://www.giramondopublishing.com/non-fiction/battarbee-and-namatjira/

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“Lots of energy here, not much control”: Your Friendly Fascist – 1970 – 1984. Rae Desmond Jones remembers…..

Cover of Your Friendly Fascist Issue 2.

On an evening in 1970 my friend John Edwards and I were lamenting our fate. The literary revolution of 1968/9 had happened, and we had been passed by and pissed on, left in the wash as the great ship of poetic modernism steamed further into the distance. We complained and felt sorry for ourselves. I wrote a really bad play full of pretentious bullshit: the only good thing about it was the acting, especially by John and Patrick Alexander. I learned from this invaluable experience that I had been writing crap.  All young writers would benefit from such an experience.  I learned what I had been doing wrong: I was just starting to do a few things right. I was 29. John was 25.  The first poem in which my voice came through was published that year by Nigel Roberts. From memory, it was all about Mother fucking and drugs and truck drivers who wanted to get fellated in return for a lift. The future was rolling out before me, but I didn’t know it.  We decided to publish a magazine. Neither of us had much money. Finding poets wasn’t hard. Finding good ones was difficult.

We trawled. What we got was, mostly, terrible. We looked at it, and thought deep about not doing anything. After smoking something illegal, we came up with some incoherent inspiration: take bad poetry and make it an assault on the bland and the comfortable. What could be more in your face in 1970 than Fascism?  The first issue was so badly printed on a gestetner that it is impossible to copy. It was cheap, and it was fun. John Tranter gazed thoughtfully at it and pronounced “mmm. Lots of energy here, not much control …” He was right. We were making a virtue out of energy taking us … well, where ever. It was about 5 years before punk.

Despite all of our worst efforts some interesting poetry came out of the bubbling sink of Your Friendly Fascist. Andy Rose, a young man of Jewish extraction, wrote for the magazine for several years before going around Australian with Allen Ginsberg: he died of dysentery in India a few years later. He became a friend, and his poetry has a lyric quality rare in the pages of YFF:

today

……….a young californian

alone

………climbed into a Cessna

took off

………aimed the plane pacificwards

& flew

……..till he ran out of

tears &

……..fuel

crashed into the sea /

It reflects something of the deliberate naivety of the time. Andy had the intensity of an early Bob Dylan. It would become cliché quickly, but he wrote well, with more control than most.

Some of those who appeared in the grimy early pages of Your Friendly Fascist went on to establish themselves as respectable poets: Joanne Burns,  who adapted her comic sensibility to the self- mockery of the magazine:

lonely galleries / i aspire

clay models of desire

i’ll huff and i’ll puff

…………kick their roofs in

(YFF 11th issue)

In the same issue, Graham Rowlands was a pupil who

.. later … knew why

he threw palm tree nuts at God …

Carol Novack, who published in the fascist, eventually went back to the USA to become a lawyer in New York. After several years, disillusioned with the Democratic Party she returned to poetry and began the Mad Hatter’s Review, and the Mad Hatter’s Press.  Her literary career was just beginning after the publication of Giraffes in Hiding (Spuyten Duyvil, published September 15, 2010), when she passed away in December 2011. In the Fascist she wrote as

the last of the sirens

she was born too evolved

the monster genes had receded

into memory with her mother’s death …

The young Debbie Westbury put her head above the sand dunes of the South Coast to confess all:

……….We were making love,  / or something, / when his name escaped / from my mouth / open against your throat //you chose to ignore it / my love faltered / but you never missed a beat / that’s the way we are / these days.

The Fascist had a serious side. Patrick Alexander (who passed away in 2005, and is much remembered) tended to write with a sonorous rhetoric distinct from the robust outpourings elsewhere:

And for the presentee this trivial

Screeding on the glass has a trite importance …

In YFF 6, Patrick did find himself in curious company:

Peter Brown was a dope smoking colleague of mine on the night shift at the then international telephone exchange. Brown’s creativity was stimulated by the shrieks of transvestite telephonists who congregated in the exchange after closing time. His cartoons found their natural place in Your Friendly Fascist.

Michael Sharkey put in an early appearance:

Jack be nimble

Jack be weird

Jack hides roaches in his beard

As did Gig Ryan:

See, in my head, the hole they’re shooting?

What happened to those buildings, that maze?

Does everything crumble, or hurt?

A youthful Richard Tipping wrote especially for the magazine, a poem titled FASCIST COOKING (a recipe for violence) :

SHARPEN YOUR BLADE, ADJUST THE GAS…..

GRIND THE PEPPER, SQUEEZE THAT LEMON DRY.

THE OVEN IS NOW BLOODY HOT AND YOUR SIMMERING.

ENJOY AS YOU DESTROY. OUT OF THE FRYING PAN SOMETHING

DELICIOUS

SLOUCHES TOWARD BETHLEHEM TO BE BORN. BON APETIT!

Joseph Chetcutti forcefully made the case for gay seduction:

Distraught, I told him / we had to stop seeing each other // he, in turn, / switched off the bedside lamp.

There are lots more, but I’d better stop before accumulating too much kharma from furious poets regretting  their youthful fascist follies.

When my first marriage failed, Your Friendly Fascist found itself in situ in a downstairs room at 9 Arcadia Rd, Glebe, where mushrooms grew through the wall in wet weather.  Ken Bolton was artist in residence, along with Denis Gallagher and sundry others. Ken’s career was in its infancy and he needed a publication to practice on. While Ken understood very well the proto- punk seditious humour of Friendly Fascism, he brought a different sensibility to the process. This is most easily seen in a comparison between the cover of Number 2 (the one at the beginning with the eggbeater … ) and Ken’s covers:

Cover of Your Friendly Fascist Issue 12

The brutalist Brown-inspired drawings are by me. The layout is Ken’s: despite my best efforts he achieved just a touch of … elegance. Ken continued to refine his own interpretation of Fascist left wing anarchy:

Cover of Your Friendly Fascist Issue 11

From there, ken practiced further, editing his own edition of Your Friendly Fascist:

Cover of Your Friendly Fascist Issue 23

Voila! The most beautiful Fascist of them all.

Your Friendly Fascist survived a long time for such a magazine. It’s heyday was the age of the gestetner, but it continued even when the short, glorious gestetner spring was over. Most of the time the gestetner was borrowed through obligingly tolerant literary circles or marginal Trotskyite left wing groups. When photocopiers became available, graphix and layout become – well almost – sort of, professional:

By Number 17 we were publishing respectable poets, who wanted to be published there, with certain humourless exceptions: there was enough fun to go around. Or was it time when the kissing had to stop? John was an active overseas editor vigorously spreading Fascist propaganda during the years he was in England, and we published a lot of capable poms.

Andrew Darlington was one who is still around on facebook, but this was in YFF:

“at last,” she said newbridely,

“Our very own television set.”

So they poured themselves into it

And lived happily ever after,

Until the epilogue.

George Cairncross was another (are you on Facebook, George?)

………Summer just fell through / the grate / into the ashes of winter … even the breakfast flakes are frosted…

Steve Sneyd interviewed Genghiz Khan “to give his ‘tartar land investment & / securities’ latest near monopoly / take over bid /able paid for write up …”

We even had our own Ern Malley affair, in the form of Billy Ah-Lun of Kuala Lumpur:

DAKOTA 1966

Written on a rock /

,,,,,,,,,,,,,,In the indian reservation /

Colonel Custer / was

…………..Here / & still

Could be.

Like Ern, there were many who felt that his productions were infinitely preferable to the more serious literary efforts of his creator.

It wasn’t such fun when nobody much got pissed off and disgusted with us. I wrote a novel, then got into strife with my local Council: John returned from England with a most charming partner and became an extremely capable Historian. I enjoy poetry still, but this little kid inside me wants to take the piss. Your Friendly Fascist was great, and it stimulated even as it irritated and outraged. There’s nothing much in poetry long term, except for the prospect of boring the crap out of kids in school two hundred years from now, so why not? Poetry should be mocking, chaotic, satirical. it should give the upright middle finger to convention. There’s no such thing as immortality. That’s the serious lesson of Your Friendly Fascist. Just do it, be crazy. Like a kid.

Your Friendly Fascist Issue 4. Front and back cover design by Peter Brown.

Your Friendly Fascist cover design by Rae Desmond Jones. ". I was fresh out of ideas, but I had a post office date stamp & a stack of airmail stickers. I put one of each on every copy, while my ex-spouse and the gay person from down the road put on lip stick & kissed each one. "

Your Friendly Fascist. Issue 21

Your Friendly Fascist. Issue 16.

Your Friendly Fascist. Issue 17 - with a Queensland feel......

Your Friendly fascist Issue 24. The last issue.

Rae Desmond Jones

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Rae Desmond Jones is a major Australian poet. His first book was Orpheus With A Tuba, Makar Press, 1973. His latest books are Thirteen Poems from the Dead, Polar Bear Press 2011 and Decline and Fall, Flying Island Books 2011.There has been lots of poetry in between.

Carol Novack – A life remembered. Tributes from John Jenkins and Rae Desmond Jones

Carol Novack, ca. 1974 / 1975, Adelaide, Australia (photo: Terry Bennett). Source Mad Hatters' Review

Carol Novack, writer, poet, editor and luminary publisher of the alternative and edgy Mad Hatters’ Review, MadHat Press and the MadHat Arts Foundation,  died on 29 December last year. Although she was born in the USA, and spent much of her life there, she spent a number of years in Australia during the 1970’s and made a major contribution to the development of Australian poetry during those years. During these years she worked as an editor for the Cosmopolitan, and began publishing her poetry.  Makar Press published her collection, Living Alone Without a Dictionary, as part of the Gargoyle Poets Series in 1974, and her work was included in The Penguin Book of Australian Women Poets.  She was the recipient of an Australian Council of the Arts writer’s grant. She left Australia in 1977.

After a traveling in India and Europe, Carol returned to New York City where she completed a law degree. As an attorney, she worked first in the Criminal Appeals Bureau of the New York Legal Aid Society and later as a solo practitioner, championing the causes of artists and the underprivileged.

She went on to receive her master’s degree in social work (community organizing), and teach lyrical fiction writing at The Women’s Studio Center in NYC, returning to the serious pursuit of her own writing in 2004.  “The muse just suddenly reared her jerky head again,” she said.

From the mid-2000s, she began publishing her gender-bending hybrid metafiction— “her little aliens,” as she called them—in many journals and anthologies, including: American Letters & Commentaries, Exquisite Corpse, La Petite Zine, LIT, Missippi Review, Notre Dame Review and Caketrain.

In 2005 she founded the Mad Hatters’ Review, one of the first online journals with a true multimedia approach, marrying literature, film, art and music in an annual collage of some of the most explosive arts on the web.“

Carol curated the successful Mad Hatters’ Review reading series at KGB Bar in New York, and performed herself at many venues in New York City and elsewhere.  After re-settling in Asheville, North Carolina in 2010, she began a new reading series at The Black College Museum & Arts Center and founded a non-profit arts organization, MadHat, Inc., which now includes the Review; MadHat Press, a print publisher; and an artist’s retreat at her mountain home in Asheville.

Before her death,  Carol was working several new projects, including the novella Felicia’s Nose, in collaboration with Tom Bradley.  Both Felicia’s Nose and a collection of  Carol’s shorter works are anticipated for publication in the near future.

Thanks to Marc Vincenz for allow Rochford Street Review to run an edited version of his tribute to Carol which was original posted on Mad Hatters’ Blog on January 5 2012

Carol’s impact on Australian poetry can be measured by the number of moving tributes posted on the Mad Hatter Review following her death. John Jenkins and Rae Desmond Jones have given Rochford Street Review permission to republish their tributes.

Tribute to Carol Novack by John Jenkins

I first met Carol Novack in 1974 in Melbourne, at a literary party hosted by Meanjin magazine, an Australian literary institution published by Melbourne University. The new editor wanted to refresh and revitalize it by including new talent and directions. I had recently had a short story published, and was introduced to Carol by the novelist, Finola Morehead.

I remember leaning beside a settee, drinks poised; people chatting intelligently around us, as Carol and I hit it off from the first word: the attraction immediate and mutual, our conversation bright and animated. I was delighted by Carol’s effortless style: her quick intelligence, zany humor and ready smile. She was indeed a New Yorker and pure oxygen to me. Her urbanity was polished and real, yet refreshingly free of anything po-faced or ponderous. Indeed, there was always a hint of something wicked and unexpected: together with an infectious relish and enjoyment of people, life, conversation, everything.

She was on a visit to Melbourne, down from Sydney for just a few days. So I invited her to dinner, to discover if the attraction wasn’t something I had imagined, or just the sort from a wine glass. A few days later, we agreed that I should accompany Carol back to Sydney. Everything was moving very fast: but such throw-the-dice impulsiveness was often the badge of our relationship.

We set off in my old car, which nearly ended the story at the very start. At one point, I became fatigued, and asked Carol to take the wheel. She readily agreed, then struck something on the next bend. We ended flying through space and emerged, somehow, by the side of the road, as my car span slowly around on its roof in the middle of the highway, and a truck blared down upon us. The world might have stopped shunting into eerie slow motion by then, but—miraculously—neither of us was hurt.

We just sat by the roadside, wide-eyed, in utter disbelief to still be alive. It seemed we sat there forever, and might still be there today, but it was really only minutes. There was a pub nearby, with a tow truck parked outside. Almost casually, as if it happened every day—and maybe it did—the tow truck driver put up some barriers, righted our car and towed it back to his workshop somewhere. ‘It’s a total right-off mate’, he said, ‘but I won’t charge you if you let me strip it down for parts.’ I agreed, and the driver of the truck that nearly ran us down offered us a lift to Sydney.

Carol had been living in the palmy suburb of Woollahra, in a comfortable house she co-rented with the poet Joanne Burns, but the lease was almost up, so Carol and I moved into a small and comfortable place not far away, in the fashionable suburb of Paddington. We lived together there for about a year, and Carol told me how she came to Australia. Apparently, not long before we met, she had married an Australian academic in New York. Her husband then took a senior post at an Australian university. Carol said he was a terrific person, but she soon realised the path marriage paved for her was not the one she really, ultimately, wanted. The domestic life of housewife was not to be her destiny. She was much more artistically inclined; and very adventurous: so had parted from her husband after mutual agreement.

Our life together in Paddington was certainly never dull, as it happened, and not very domestic either. There were many parties, which we either hosted or attended; ferry voyages around Sydney harbor to meet poets and writers; always lively discussions of art, politics and writing – and it was sometimes hard to say whether the arguments or agreements were the more heated. A heady round of restaurant and café meetings where the wine and conversation flowed freely, and spirits were often high. Generally, the mid to late ‘70s were sunny and exciting years in Sydney literary life. Even when we moved from Paddington, after finding lower-rent places in down-market Ultimo then Glebe, the excitement continued.

We met, and often socialized and partied with, some of the most talented and interesting people connected with poetry and writing of those years: Frank Moorhouse, Joanne Burns, Michael Wilding, Rae Desmond Jones, Ken Bolton, Pat Woolley, David Malouf, Bob Adamson, Clive Evatt, Nigel Roberts, Anna Couani, Dorothy Porter, Kerry Leves, Bruce Beaver, Dorothy Hewett, Merv Lilley, Rudi Krausmann, John Tranter, Mike Parr, Dave Marsh, Vicki Viidikas, Dennis Gallagher, Laurie Duggan, Alex Danko…far too many to list here…but collectively creating an effervescent milieu both absorbing and upbeat.

Of course, Carol and I had also to earn a living. This proved relatively easy for Carol, who had always been an academic high-achiever, and proved an equally fast learner when moving from one profession to another. Her research skills were considerable, and she put them to work for Lachlan Vintage Village, a re-created historical attraction in Forbes, New South Wales, built according to historically accurate specifications Carol supplied to the architects. Meanwhile, I worked as a book distributor; before we somehow hit on the idea of writing (or sometimes co-writing) articles for Cosmopolitan magazine.

Cosmo liked Carol so much, they happily hired her, as staff writer and sub-editor; and she then arranged full-time work for me in the mag’s umbrella company, Sungravure, which had a big stable of magazines; and was further owned by the Fairfax group of magazine, newspaper and radio media. And this, effectively, is how we both entered well-paid commercial journalism. In parallel with this, we both continued writing poems, articles, stories and whatever took our fancy.

I remain forever grateful to Carol for opening this new career door for me, as I was rather directionless at the time, never quite knowing how to balance means and ends, or make the latter meet. It was only in the last few months of our time together, that things got really rocky. One of Carol’s favorite movies was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and we would sometimes have hilarious mock arguments in a parody style of Albee’s famous play. But it was sometimes too real, too close to the bone; such as one night Carol’s dramatic finale was to throw all my clothes out a second-storey window, down into the street. No doubt I had committed some misdemeanor or other, and thoroughly deserved it. I was often ‘a handful’, and emotionally unpredictable. Such as the night I splashed Vodka over dumbstruck friends, while staggering into an incoherent and feverish tirade against the world, with Carol chuckling wildly to one side.

Eventually, we decided neither of us was ready to settle down, into even a casually de-facto version of married life, as we both had wild oats to sow, if not so carefully nurture or cultivate. Besides this, I wanted to travel to Indonesia, while Carol began longing for family, and familiarity, in New York. Eventually, we sat down together, and after a long, sober and rather melancholy conversation, agreed to part; but it was in a spirit of true friendship, and without bitterness.

Carol always had a wonderful sense of humor. She was also naturally kind-hearted and had a great capacity for joy and happiness. She was generous to a fault, both in spirit and materially when people needed help. Though always a ‘straight talker’, very frank and to the point when she needed to be, she was also a fiercely loyal friend. Once she liked and trusted you, you were there for life. All these fine qualities in her nature, and many more beyond listing here, were always evident to me, as they were to all who knew her well. And Carol had a talent for attracting friends to her warm and generous and outgoing nature, which always illuminated her wonderfully buoyant and creative life.

I saw Carol on two occasions after we had split up, and she had returned to New York. The first time was at her West 13th Street apartment in New York, when Carol introduced me to her (decidedly zany) friends, then took me around town to see the sights. At that time Carol was a member of ‘The Party Line’: nothing political, but a group of amusing ‘party animals’, who rang each other to pass on addresses of the best gigs in town.

I went along for the ride, ending up at a ‘do’ thrown by novelist Joseph Heller, at the swank Four Seasons Hotel; and another bash for friends of Lou Reed in some ratty, black-painted room downtown where the amplified sound of smashing bottles rang from the walls as one-time Velvet Underground singer Nico wailed into a frenzied, feeding-back microphone.

The very last time I saw Carol was in Ireland, in 2004. A quiet meeting. We both happened to be in Dublin at the time, and our paths crossed almost by chance. It was a happy reunion; and we took a coach tour, on a rare sunny day in Ireland, to some interesting historical sites. We were clearly both older and wiser by then, and spent a gentle afternoon reminiscing about good times and bad, about what had come to both of us, and friends past and present. Carol studied Asian culture, and even spoke a little Mandarin. She often quoted one of her favorite poems, I think it was by the Chinese poet Ouyang Xiu: ‘Life is best like a drunk falling off the back of a wagon, who rolls to the roadside, and by chance sees only the star-filled sky.’ I can’t remember the exact quote, but this might be close: and I always think of it when I think of Carol.

—John Jenkins, Melbourne, Jan 2012

Memories of Carol Novack – Rae Desmond Jones

I set eyes on Carol Novack one warm evening late in 1972. My first chapbook had been published, and I was invited to read at a forthcoming Adelaide Festival of Arts. I had never read out loud before, and needed practice. This took place in a semi derelict Protestant Church in one of Sydney’s less desirable suburbs (things have changed). I was sitting in the front pew shuffling poems when a striking woman draped in flowing clothes with long raven hair walked onto the stage and began to read. Her poem was a tapestry of chthonian images, showers of light and darkness.

Our friendship proved deep and enduring. Through 1976 she shared a small white terrace house near Bondi Junction with the poet Joanne Burns, where the conversation and the wine flowed well into the early hours. The house was a vibrant centre of literary and cultural ferment. Carol loved the company of poets and artists and frequently encouraged others before fully developing her own considerable talent. The late poet Vicki Viidikas heard her read in a small studio and asked her pointedly why she had not written and published more of her truly astonishing poems. Carol was unable to respond, a rare event.

Carol had courage. After she returned to the United States she contacted me from New York. On 9/11 I phoned her. She was calm and controlled, despite ash and dust and smoke in the air. She also was able to know and accept individual weaknesses and failings with humour and sensitivity. Once you were Carol’s friend, it was for life. This may have been linked with her literary gift, in which she examined and sought to reconcile her own complexity and ambiguities. Like her personality, her writing is complex and demanding: it lives.

– Rae Desmond Jones, Sydney, 2012

Other tributes from Australian writers have also been published on the Mad Hatters’ Review Blog:

Link to Mad Hatters' Blog

Link to Mad Hatters' Review

MICHAEL WILDING – THE WOOLLEY YEARS

Wild & Woolley: A Publishing Memoir. Michael Wilding. Giramando Shorts. 2011

Michael Wilding’s account of how he meet Pat Woolley and how Wild & Woolley began: “Pat and I went back to my place in Balmain where the poets had already entered through the bathroom window and were sitting around writing poems on my typewriter and eating and drinking what ever they could find…” immediately made me recall a Nigel Roberts poem from his first collection In Casablanca for the Waters (published, of course, by Wild & Woolley):

.

sometime / during 67
i read his poems /& he read
mine / & that we knew of someone
up the road / who wrote
that we should visit
& did / &
he read ours / & we read his / then
had a smoke
talked of why
& where……………………………….
          to publish
& then……………………….
of OUR OWN MAGAZINE
that / we would publish
who / or whatever
we dug.

                    – ‘For the Little Magazines’

While there may have been a world of difference between Nigel Roberts’ Free Poetry and the vastly more ‘professional’ looking publishing venture Wild and Woolley eventually became, there is a hint of a shared experience here, a creative spontaneity driven by a belief that Australian literature was changing and the old methods of publishing were not going to cut it anymore.

Before I go much further I have a confession to make….I was an undergraduate student majoring in English and Australian Literature at Sydney University between 1978 and 1981. From memory I also took Wildings Utopian and Anti-Utopian fiction class in either 1979 or 1980 (though if you can remember a Michael Wilding class you probably weren’t really there…). While at Sydney Uni I slowly became involved in the local poetry scene so I knew many of the writers documented in Wilding’s memoir. So while I enjoyed Wilding’s account of the Sydney writing scene of the mid to late 1970’s I suspect that at least some of my enjoyment was because I knew many of the poets and writers he was writing about.

Wilding’s account of his time at Wild & Woolley is, obviously, a very personal account. I had the feeling at times, that WIlding was like a child in a chocolate factory. He was involved in bringing some of the most important contemporary writing to Australia “…our project was to bring the margins to the centre and for a while we succeeded. We got these important books around. It was a major intervention into the cultural map of the nation…”. Reading between the lines, however, I got the impression that, at least at a commercial level, Wilding must have been a little difficult at times to work with. At times for example he seemed to treat the Wild & Woolley warehouse as almost his personal library. Soon after they established their first warehouse he talks of walking “along the shelves picking up a sample copy here, another there. My library swelled as I added the new arrivals week by week”. At another point he talks about raiding the rubbish bin in the warehouse to retrieve damaged copies of books that could not be sold “One day I noticed the entire staff, all two of them, were sitting laughing at me. Knowing my obsession, they had been deliberately putting books into the garbage bin when they heard me arrive”. He was billed for all these books however, and when he left the business he was faced with a considerable bill.

At times I did feel a little sorry for Pat Woolley. While Wilding obviously understood the cultural and political aspects of their grand publishing adventure, it was Pat Woolley, one suspects that kept the books moving, the dollars circulating and the Press afloat “The financial details, as ever, I shied away from. As Pat put it, ‘You didn’t have anything to do with the finance’. Wilding eventually leaves the business and I had the sense that there were some things that maybe he felt didn’t need to be raised again.

What I found more interesting was Wilding’s view on how Wild & Woolley slotted into the cultural and social history of the time. He talks of the “considerable cultural optimism’ of the early 70’s – the Lady Chatterley’s trial was in the past, censorship was being relaxed and of course young poets and writers in Australia had started to look to the US for ‘inspiration’. Wilding also adds another important mix into the equation, the ending of the Vietnam War “And a release from all the anti-war protests that had taken up so much time and energy and emotion…..They had been a necessary activity, but now we could return to what life should properly be about: writing, reading, and the arithmetic of publishing”. This is a theme he returns to a number of times during the book. I found his thoughts on the rise and fall of the Sydney Association for the Studies in Society and Culture particular interesting. He places the publishing activities of the Association in the context of the general attack on humanities in Australian Universities as “the new world order directed the young into economics, law, business studies and computer science”. In this context the Association’s publications were run very much on an amateur basis – making whatever use they could of the University’s resources until “it all came to an end. The reforms in tax laws, the introduction of the GST, and the ABN, made it all unfeasible”. Wilding sees this as part of the “law of unintended consequences”. There wasn’t a direct attack on the small press ethos it was just collateral damage “Voluntarism was now to be replaced by professionalism; except that in many cases it was not replaced, it simply ceased to exist.”

Another strength of this book is in the individual portraits Wilding paints of some of the different people he encounters during the Wild & Woolley years. In particular the sections on Vicki Viidikas, Christina Stead and Jack Lindsay stood out for me – indeed I was sent scurrying to my bookshelf to confirm that, yes my copy of Decay and Renewal was indeed a Wild and Woolley edition.

In the final instance it is probably important to understand why Wilding has called this book a “Memoir”. Probably the best description of a memoir I have come across was from Gore Vidal “a memoir is how one remembers one’s own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked.” (Palimpsest). As I have noted previously, Wilding’s account of the adventures of Wild and Woolley are a very personal account and I am sure that other players in the drama may very well have a different view of some of the incidents captured in this book. But given the constraints of the genre, Wild & Woolley: A Publishing Memoir is a fascinating account of a critical period of Australian Literature from the perspective of one of the more cutting edge publishers. What made it an important book, in my opinion, however, was Wilding’s ability to trace the social and political impacts on writing and publishing from the mid seventies through to event of the GST and the moves to subject writing and publishing to forces of the free market.

Mark Roberts