January 26th is Australia Day, a special day celebrating the first landing of European settlers in Sydney Cove, 1788.
The day is celebrated in many ways: family gatherings, picnics, barbecues, going to the beach, attending sporting events or just having a lazy day in the middle of the Australian summer.
Every year for the last few years Australia Post has celebrated the event by issuing a special set of postage stamps called Australian Legends. This series of stamps features people who have made a major contribution to Australian life and culture.
This year the stamps are called Australian Legends of the written word. They highlight the works of six of our most prominent writers. The writers honoured in this way are Peter Carey, David Malouf, Colleen McCullough, Bryce Courtenay, Thomas Keneally and Tim Winton.
I think it is wonderful that our leading novelists have been honoured in this way. Writers in Australia are often overlooked for the massive contribution they have made to our culture. Each of the writers featured are truly deserving of the honour.
Where are they?
Of course, by featuring these six writers, many other well deserved writers have been overlooked. In the field of novelists another 15 to 20 worthy recipients could have been listed, including Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee. Admittedly, he was born in South Africa but now resides here in my home state of South Australia. Bryce Courtenay was also born in South Africa, so here is an inconsistency in the choice of recipients. And what of Patrick White, Helen Garner, Kate Grenville, Peter Goldsworthy, Robert Dessaix and Elizabeth Jolley? The list could go on and on. Then you have the great writers who are no longer contemporary, such as Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson.
My major gripe however is that no poets or children’s authors are represented. Judith Wright, Les Murray, Bruce Dawe and Gwen Harwood have all had significant influences in the field of poetry. That’s just four I could name from dozens of worthy recipents.
Australian children’s authors lead the world in their field. Writers like Colin Thiele, Mem Fox, Sonya Harnett, Ivan Southall and dozens more have had or continue to have a significant impact on young readers around the world.
I guess that Australia Post had a difficult job narrowing the choice down to just six writers, but a little balance in the final six would have been nice.
- Australian Legends of the written word
- Peter Carey
- David Malouf
- Colleen McCullough
- Bryce Courtenay
- Thomas Keneally
- Tim Winton
Salisbury Writers’ Festival 2009 #2
Tom Keneally (Schindler’s Ark) was the keynote speaker on the morning I attended this year’s Salisbury Writers’ Festival. He was to speak on the topic ‘Telling a good story’ but like a many storytellers he meandered all over the place, colouring his address with some wonderful anecdotes about the writer’s life and in particular his own life as a writer.
Tom spoke briefly about writing classes. It sounded like he is not all that keen about writers attending such classes even though he has taught some of them himself over the years. He said that you don’t have to attend writing classes to be a writer. His main emphasis was on the importance of writing every day. Regular writing, he maintained, was the key to becoming a good writer. While I agree with him on this latter point, I still feel that attending writing classes can be very useful.
Before I commenced my studies for my Master of Arts in Creative Writing I was a disciplined writer keen to be successful. I was writing every day sometimes 4 to 5 hours daily. I had written over a million words-give or take a few tens of thousands-and had some publishing success. My studies, however, have taken my writing to a whole new level of competence.
In workshops I have had to present drafts of my writing on a regular basis. I received immediate feedback and critical analysis from both lecturers and fellow students. One quickly learns the craft of writing when your writing is constantly under scrutiny in this way. At first it was confronting, sure, but as the months rolled by I learned to welcome these critiques-provided they were honest and constructive. And all the time I could see the quality of my writing improve far beyond what I had been able to achieve previously. The quantity of my writing also improved-an added bonus.
While it may not be for everyone, I would encourage all writers-and especially beginning writers-to seek out a writing class or critique group near where they live.
I am always on the lookout for good blogs – especially those that deal with writing. I was delighted a few days ago to find out that someone has compiled a list of Australian blogs about writing.
Jonathan Crossfield on CopyWrite has compiled a list of the Top 50 Aussie Writing Blogs. I am delighted that my blog sits at #25. It’s doing better than I thought, thanks to all of my readers who keep on coming back for more.
Go over there and have a look at the list. It’s based on various factors, including page rank and traffic. Each blog has a link to it, so it would be worth having a look at some of the blogs listed.
I’ll wait patiently here while you have a sneak look.
One of the most influential and respected authors in Australia is Ivan Southall. He was a prolific writer whose main works, mostly for children and teenagers, were published in the 1960s and 70s. He had a profound influence upon me as a teacher and writer. I think I’ve read most of his books; it’s about time I revisit the best of them as I haven’t read any of them in many years, despite taking up space on my bookshelves.
I was saddened to hear late last year that Ivan Southall had died, aged 87 after a short battle with cancer. He is best known for his novels Hills End, Ash Road, Josh and To the Wild Sky. He wrote 30 novels and many other books, some for adults. He was a four time winner of the Australian Children’s Book of the Year Award, just four of many awards in his lifetime. His works have been translated into at least 20 languages.
Southall’s writing was exciting and he often put his characters in difficult and dangerous situations, often without adult help. I found his writing to be very lyrical, pushing the boundaries of what many regarded as good literature for children.
Before his writing career began he was a pilot in the RAAF during WW2, winning the Distinguished Flying Cross in the process. His early books draw heavily on his war time experiences.
Vale Ivan Southall, 1921 – 2008.