Essay: Nicholas Joseon UQP

UQP Makes History: a personal version

Nicholas Jose delivered the Fryer Lecture in Australian Literature at the Fryer Library, University of Queensland, 31 August 2018.

One way the history of a publishing house can be told is through the readers of the books that a publisher produces. Not a generic general reader, but individual readers and their personal histories that entwine with the publisher’s history, through books, over the years. As readers reflect on and are changed by particular books, a larger cultural and social history is made. That, at least, is my case in relation to UQP, and I’d like to share some of that history with you.

I’m honoured to be invited to give the Fryer Lecture in Australian Literature this year and I thank Simon Farley and his colleagues for bringing me here. Without Australian publishing there would not be much Australian literature. On the seventieth anniversary of the University of Queensland Press, I take as my theme the contribution that this unique publisher has made to Australian literary history. It is especially fitting given the association with the Fryer Library, which is home to the rich UQP archive.

As a UQP author from nearly 40 years ago, I can look back over a large chunk of the life of the press and from that vantage point I see revealing patterns in this particular landscape. UQP has shaped Australian literature for me and for many others in valuable, indispensable ways. I could instantly visualise a shelf of UQP books that spans my reading life. It was easy because those books are so familiar to me. They are the books I hang onto, the books that travel with me, the books I have in my head in a relationship that has formed me as a reader and a writer and a participant in cultural life.

It began 50 years ago, in Adelaide, in 1969, my last year of high school. I was into poetry then, writing it, reading it, dabbling in little magazines. New poetry, that is, influenced by the Penguin Modern Poets and Modern European Poets, by the Beats and Bob Dylan, by Al Alvarez’s anthology The New Poetry, the 1966 edition of which gave us Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath. I had a holiday job working in the Adelaide University Union Bookshop, where I could find those books. My orange Penguin Rilke: Selected Poems, for example, which I still have. A friend had introduced me to Rilke by inscribing on her bedroom wall in big black texta the poet’s words: ‘oh, why / have to be human and, shunning Destiny, long for Destiny? …’ Into this environment lobbed New impulses in Australian poetry edited by Rodney Hall and Tom Shapcott, pointing to an Australian version of the new poetry that could be ours too.

UQP has always been on the lookout for those ‘new impulses’ in Australian writing, has always taken a chance on new voices. It’s a defining quality of the press, it seems to me, enabled by its position as a university-based, independent-minded publisher at one remove from the commercial mainstream, with a feel for what’s happening. That’s how this smallish publisher has been able to write Australian literary history in large ways over the last half-century.

The 1968 anthology from Hall and Shapcott perhaps promised rather than delivered the revolution, but the signs were there. Oddly the poets given the most space in the book come from an older generation. The young editors were declaring an affinity—with Gwen Harwood, born in Brisbane in 1920, and Francis Webb, born in Adelaide in 1925. Apart from Harwood there are only two poems by women, but one of those, by the only Indigenous poet in the book, also born in 1920, on Stradbroke Island, is the greatest of all the poems in the book by today’s reckoning. That’s ‘We Are Going’, by Kath Walker, later Oodgeroo Noonuccal. And there’s one poem by Judith Green, later Judith Rodriguez.

The editors write:

Most of us spent our childhood in the war, and war was the natural condition of the world. This peace (sic!) is the condition we have had to adjust to. So the political attitudes of the generation are largely those of caution—desiring to avert further conflict, rather than build any sort of utopia. Everywhere in these poems there is a suspicion of idealism, and an inbred awareness of the consequences of totalitarian beliefs. … The maturity of the new impulses is largely intellectual and is inclined to be dispassionate.

That’s far from the revolution that was busting out all over in 1968. The tension and constraint of the Cold War linger.

I detect a cultural fault-line between those who experienced the Pacific war and its immediate aftermath as children and those, like me, who were born into the new world of the 1950s. As teenagers in the 1960s, our ‘new impulses’ were radical, passionate, idealistic, extravagant. Two years later, in 1970, UQP’s Paperback Poets came along. This was more like it. The lower-case poets had arrived. The first UQP book I bought was Michael Dransfield’s Streets of the Long Voyage. Then there was David Malouf’s Bicycle and other poems, both published in 1970, followed by Richard Tipping, who edited his own little magazine in Adelaide, with Soft Riots in 1972 and Vicki Viidikas with Condition Red in 1973, to name a few. The poetry was immediate and accessible, sometimes lushly excessive, sometimes stripped back, wry and sad. Dransfield writes of being ‘so deep already with involvement’. Malouf speaks of being at the ‘sheer edge’.

The idea apparently started with David Malouf, for poetry in paperback that would sell for $1. It was enthusiastically taken up by Frank Thompson, then manager of UQP, and implemented by poet Roger McDonald. Malouf later described the series as ‘one of the most brilliant publishing initiatives of the decade’. It established UQP’s leading position in poetry publishing, with a new format for a new era. That’s what I mean by making history. UQP presented these new poetic voices in such a way that they became part of something larger, a cultural, social and generational phenomenon.

Forty years later David McCooey would refer to ‘the ancient poetic practice of renewal’, in an introduction to Thirty Australian Poets, edited by Felicity Plunkett and published by UQP in 2011. There it happens again, with a grouping, this time of poets born in or after 1968 and publishing in the twenty-first century, whose work acquires added meaning by appearing in that context: Ali Alizadeh, Michelle Cahill, Sarah Holland-Batt, Bronwyn Lea, Jaya Savige, Samuel Wagan Watson—many also published individually by UQP. In 2009 the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature had appeared, of which I was general editor. Every anthology has its parameters and its consequent omissions. McCooey, who was responsible for the selection of poetry post-1950, made us aware of the extraordinary poetic flourishing going on around us in the new century, which our anthology could only partially represent. Thirty Australian Poets makes that rich moment of Australian poetry available by framing a larger set of changes and connections. In the best UQP tradition, Plunkett’s anthology shows ‘these poets as intensely receptive to the multiple histories, subjectivities, and cultures available to them’ (as McCooey writes). More than half the poets are women. Once again literary history is being made, created and documented, for appreciative readers.

Back in the 1970s the Paperback Poets were followed by paperback prose from UQP in the form of first-time short story collections by new writers, of which Peter Carey’s The Fat Man in History (1974) is the standout, with the memorable Jeffrey Smart painting, Cahill Expressway, on the cover. My copy has a price tag of $2.50 on it, which is two and a half times the cost of a Paperback Poet two years earlier. Inflation was running high. By then I had completed my English Honours degree at ANU and was in Oxford working on a doctorate, and writing stories on the side, wondering where my life would go—’longing for Destiny’, in those words of Rilke.

A decade earlier an Australian in Oxford or London might have stayed there. But having been in Canberra for the election of the Whitlam government and all that promise, and being away for the dismissal and the rage of 1975, I felt I had missed part of my own history. For my birthday in 1976 my sister sent me the Penguin paperback of Johnno, which UQP had published in hardback the previous year. It excited me as much as anything I had ever read, showing me the way to a new kind of Australian writing, and a new way of being an Australian writer—both in content, which was cosmopolitan, while being entirely local, and in style, which was lucid and relaxed. It was a life-changing moment, giving me a sense of possibility—which, somewhat ironically, was to go back to Canberra in 1978, to teach in the English department at ANU and keep on writing stories on the side.

In December that year I wrote a letter to ‘The Fiction Editor, University of Queensland Press’ that began, ‘Dear Sir, I’m writing to ask if you would consider publishing a collection of my short stories, and I enclose a sample of five.’ Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Two weeks later I got a letter back from Craig Munro—the Fiction Editor had a name—in response to my cold call. ‘Dear Nicholas Jose, …If your aim was to tickle our interest with these stories, then I’m happy to say that you’ve done exactly that.’ He liked the travel stories set in the Mediterranean, and he liked the newest of the stories, ‘Coogee Spring’, set in Sydney, calling its opening pages ‘a tour de force’. Craig agreed that my stories were like ‘compressed novels’—an approach, a form, I’ve kept returning to. I sent more stories off and a year later we had a contract.

I was 26 and knew nothing about anything, especially not publishing a book. I blush when I tell this story to creative writing students now, for whom it can be so painfully difficult to get work into print. My break was ridiculously easy, thanks to Craig, and preserved my naiveté about the industry for a few more years. It has seldom been as smooth since. It is thanks to the Fryer Library archive that I have been able to relive that astonishing long ago time. But more of that later.

There was another fateful influence in my decision to return to Australia in 1978. I had got interested in China. Prompted by an American friend at Oxford, I wanted to learn Chinese. Alex Kerr had grown up in post-war Japan, the son of an American military lawyer, originally from Sydney, and had come to Oxford to study Tibetan after taking Chinese at Yale. He recommended that I study some Chinese if I hoped to be a citizen of the world in future. This was startling advice in the 1970s but I took it on board. It chimed with an intuition I had that change was afoot both in Asia and Australia and that, as an Australian, I needed to know more about China. So there I was in Canberra, teaching, writing, preparing my first book of fiction, and learning Chinese as a hobby at the Canberra CAE.

Around that time, in 1982, Murray Bail’s monograph on the artist Ian Fairweather appeared. The National Gallery of Australia opened in Canberra the same year, where I could see ‘Monastery’, one of Fairweather’s masterpieces.  Bail, of course, was another UQP author. His book of short stories, Contemporary Portraits, published in 1975, was a radically original debut. His great book on Fairweather took me to an earlier UQP publication, though, Fairweather’s own book, The Drunken Buddha, published in 1965.

This is one of the most extraordinary productions in Australian publishing history. Ian Fairweather had come to Australia after extended periods in China and elsewhere in Asia. He was deeply immersed in Chinese culture and thought and for years had enjoyed translating Chinese texts. He hoped to publish some of these translations, especially the popular Chinese story of an unorthodox wandering monk with whom he must have identified. In the early 1960s Fairweather, already described as ‘Australia’s greatest living artist’, was living on Bribie Island and Laurie Thomas, Director of the Queensland Art Gallery was planning a retrospective of his work, when Paul Gerber, an admirer of Fairweather’s art, and Clayton Bredt, an American newly arrived at the University of Queensland as lecturer in Chinese history, shepherded Fairweather’s manuscript to another newly arrived American at UQ, Frank Thompson, the manager of the press. Thompson visited Fairweather on Bribie and made him an offer, which included a request for illustrations. The artist had not expected that, but he was pleased and agreed.

What follows is complex, as the manuscript, the accompanying paintings and the physical book evolved into an organic whole, displaying the highest values of art book publishing at the time. Fairweather’s translation includes a number of poems which show the artist to be a fine versifier in English. The fascinating story of this rare artistic synthesis has been researched by art historian Claire Roberts at the Fryer Library and I gratefully acknowledge my privileged access to her material. In a key essay on Fairweather in 1995, the esteemed sinologist Pierre Ryckmans (better known as Simon Leys) ranks The Drunken Buddha as one of UQP’s ‘proudest productions’ and regrets that it had not been reprinted. The situation was remedied with the sumptuous fiftieth anniversary edition produced to accompany an exhibition of the same title at Tarrawarra Museum of Art that brought together all the available Drunken Buddha paintings, now regarded as among Fairweather’s most appealing works.

For me, getting my hands on a second-hand copy of the book in Canberra in the 1980s was an important step on my own journey into China and into the possibilities for creative cross-pollination that the book embodies—between art forms, between East and West, China and Australia, through translation of all kinds, and through creative publishing. The Drunken Buddha was a courageous, visionary piece of publishing, like much that Frank Thompson did. It’s a tribute to him and a talisman for me. It stands for UQP and for a large vision of Australian creativity. It’s based in the local, in the constellation of creative and intellectual resources available in Brisbane at the time, yet it participates in wider currents and possibilities. It’s informed by the counter-culture of the 1960s, by Zen Buddhism and the Beats, and by Chinese art and literature. It acknowledges the region in which it has its place, Asia and the Pacific, and the enlivening that comes with the transpacific American connection. Universal in its concerns, timeless in its quality, yet made entirely at home, and quite down to earth, it’s a miracle.

A word about those Americans. The New York-based scholar of Australian literature Nicholas Birns has argued that Australia and the United States were never closer than in the immediate aftermath of the Pacific war. The war brought Americans and Australians into proximity, generating new ideas and relationships, including a shared commitment to a new post-war order, which meant expanded horizons for Australians and adventure for the Americans involved. Birns was first introduced to Australian literature by Herb Jaffa (1920-2013). When Jaffa died in 2013, Birns wrote that ‘with him goes our final living link with a war that more than any other forged the amity and familiarity between our two nations. He was one of the people who made global Australian studies possible.’ Birns goes on, ‘As Herb makes clear in his novel-memoir Townsville at War (1992), ‘he fell deeply in love with a local woman named Dorrie, and his love for Australia was, in this and other senses a lifelong love’. Dorrie, who was a stenographer at a local department store, then secretary at US army headquarters and later a union official, strolled with Herb by moonlight on those sub-tropical Townsville shores—and introduced him to Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson.

I think of Frank Thompson as picking up where Herb Jaffa left off. Thompson sees the seeds of Johnno in David Malouf’s poem ‘The Year of the Foxes’, from Bicycle, a poem of wartime Brisbane a generation earlier. UQP continued Jaffa’s American sense of Australian writing as a body of literature worth regarding. The UQP Australian Authors series edited by Laurie Hergenhan kept so much Australian literature in print, as did the successive selections of poetry and fiction by living writers, in something like a Library of Australia. For years the only place you could get Randolph Stow’s important novel of Papua New Guinea, Visitants (1979), for example, was in the UQP Stow, edited by Tony Hassall, published in 1990. This required scholarship, of course, as Hergenhan notes in his tribute to Jaffa, whom he places at the ‘forefront’ of a ‘worldwide literary expansion’, as Jaffa had earlier hailed Kenneth Slessor for ‘the liberation of Australian poetry from parochialism’. Hergenhan links Jaffa’s work to the enthusiasm for Australian literature at the University of Texas in Austin, under the guidance of Joseph Jones, whose own book on American-Australian literary affinities, Radical Cousins, was published by UQP in 1976. Such activity gave ‘a new impetus to literary history’, Hergenhan explains, as a method of ‘continuous revisioning’. This is an occasion on which to acknowledge the many scholars who have contributed to the making of literary history by UQP, many of them associated with the University of Queensland, many using materials from the Fryer Library and many involved in the building of the invaluable Austlit database. All the work that goes into making a book.

The conception of literature that emerges through UQP’s list has never been narrow and includes many forms of non-fiction, with a substantial contribution to national history-making through such initiatives as the reprinting of the massive Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 in twelve volumes, mostly authored by C E W Bean, but volume 9 of which, on the navy, was written by my great-great-uncle A W Jose.

Craig Munro was onto that connection early on. In the letter he wrote me after reading my first stories, he added, ‘By the way, if you’ll excuse the impertinence, I don’t suppose you’re a relation of Arthur Jose, the scholar and critic (1863-1934)? I believe he lived for some time in Brisbane.’ Which he did.

Generally, however, the national, sometimes nationalist, history that UQP has made in its books is less monumental than Bean’s. It’s demotic, grassroots and, again, local. Thompson wrote of his mission for UQP in his time that he wanted to ‘encourage indigenous writing’. That’s ‘indigenous’ with a small I. Yet he would surely be pleased to see UQP become a major publisher of capital I Indigenous writing in more recent decades. ‘Indigenous’ for Thompson meant born of place and time, with that added transpacific appreciation of the role of Northern Australia in an earlier generation’s war. He was ahead of his time in understanding that Australia could connect more creatively with Asia and the Pacific, a view from Brisbane that was thoroughly internationalist. ‘I thought it was terribly important for Australians to become more familiar with the cultures of their geographical area’, Thompson wrote, hiring Michael Wilding and later Harry Aveling to edit an Asian and Pacific Writing Series. Its twenty volumes included such writers as Pramoedya Ananta Toer from Indonesia and Nick Joaquin from the Philippines, and the collection Black writing from New Guinea edited by Ulli Beier (1973). The series caught a new mood of openness, experiment and cultural ambition. Wilding wrote in an introduction:

Edited and published from Australia, Asian and Pacific Writing marks Australia’s developing awareness of her place in Asia. And it marks, too, an international mood of literary exploration, an interest in new forms and new stimuli, a spreading interest in getting to know other cultures, a determination to break down language and other barriers….

New impulses again, but not a commercial success, as Thompson ruefully admits of one of his fondest initiatives. From this perspective the series can be seen as a precursor to parallels that occurred in visual art a decade later, with Artists Regional Exchange (ARX) in Perth in the 1980s and eventually, from 1993, the Asia-Pacific Triennial at QAGOMA, the flagship event of its kind and still going strong. All part of an alternative vision for Australia that continues to play out, not always comfortably.

I have a soft spot for one title in the series in particular, Tropical Gothic by Nick Joaquin, published in 1972 (two years before The Fat Man in History). When I came along, out of nowhere, with The Possession of Amber, my 1980 story collection, I was sometimes mistaken for the Filipino author with whom I shared a first name and a Hispanic sounding surname. Nick José. Joaquin’s stories in Tropical Gothic are tremendous, mind-blowing, highly inventive. Nearly fifty years later in 2017, to mark the centenary of the author’s birth, they have been republished as a Penguin Classic.

My connection with Asia was through China, where I went first in 1983 with a student group and then in 1986 where I taught and later worked at the Australian Embassy as Cultural Counsellor, for five years in all. I came to know the long history between China and Australia, and the formative roles that people of Chinese background have played in the making of Australia. I excitedly read Sojourners, the first volume of Eric Rolls’s Flowers and the Wide Sea, when it was published by UQP in 1990, and attended the launch, by Gough Whitlam, of the second volume, Citizens, in 1992. Rolls called these books, on which he laboured for thirty years, ‘the epic story of China’s centuries-old relationship with Australia’. His history of Chinese Australia re-orients this country in ways that no other Australian writer has attempted. ‘Without the Chinese,’ Rolls writes, ‘Australia would be a lesser country.’ The distinctive qualities of UQP publishing are once again in evidence in the boldness and reach of the enterprise, its grounding in the local, and its idiosyncratic genius. As we now seem so unsure in our relationship with China, perhaps these books are worth another look.

Learning Chinese in Canberra in 1979 was stimulating, frustrating and a source of daydreams. I wrote a story about it called ‘In Chinese’. That same year I was corresponding with Craig Munro at UQP about the selection and other details of the book of stories. Around November I must have sent him my new story for possible inclusion and he accommodated it. I wanted to use a few Chinese words. This was pesky for a publisher; for me it was important as a small sign that ‘in Chinese’ everything might be different. Craig asked me to send him a xerox of those characters. ‘That way we’ll be sure to reproduce the correct characters. (Not that we need really have any other Chinese characters apart from Mr Sun himself)’, he added wittily. Mr Sun was the teacher in the story. We were all feeling our way.

UQP has continued to help Australians understand China better. The late 1980s saw the largest Chinese migration to Australia since the nineteenth-century gold rushes. Few were prepared for it and for what might develop. Few, that is, except the Brisbane-based writer Sang Ye, who interviewed an array of these new arrivals to find out about their motivations, perceptions and hopes. He called his book of sixteen oral histories The Year the Dragon Came, edited by Linda Jaivin and published by UQP in 1996. It remains one of the essential texts for understanding where many of today’s Chinese Australians come from. The cover shows artwork by Liu Xiaoxian that reworks a photograph of his artist brother Ah Xian. The brothers came to Australia as refugees in the aftermath of Tiananmen, 1989. You’ll be familiar with their work from the collection of QAGOMA, especially the haunting body casts of Ah Xian. And there’s Sang Ye himself, who rode a bike around Australia and around China and wrote a book about it, which I had fun working on when it was published by UQP in 1994.

As you’ll see by now, my personal version of UQP’s history underlines the way it keeps renewing its remit—in this case by contributing to a greater understanding of Chinese in Australia and welcoming the voices of new writers with Asian background. That comes through in an exciting way in the very funny experimental fiction of Julie Koh collected in Portable Curiosities, published by UQP in 2016. Her story ‘The Three-Dimensional Yellow Man’ is an artful, provocative take on something recognisable in contemporary Australia, whereby individuals are forced into being one-dimensional tokens. It’s a contemporary classic.

Inevitably my experience in China made me think about Australia differently, especially Indigenous Australia. The scale of Aboriginal Australia challenges even the scale of China. I learned more about the relationships between Chinese and Indigenous Australians. I discovered the work of Alexis Wright when UQP published Plains of Promise in 1997 as part of the UQP Black Australian Writers series in which so many important titles have appeared. Plains of Promise was a revelation—again both in content and approach, style, voice. There was nothing like it. The sequence at the end of Part II, ‘Glimpses of Distant Hills’, when Bessie’s house is burned to the ground and Ivy is dragged from the destruction of the tip, burned into my mind. That’s what I would call a tour de force. And with the rest of Wright’s writing, it has transformed the field of Australian literature, as an Aboriginal writer tells the story.

I got to know Alexis and she encouraged me to go to the Gulf Country to see what was happening there for myself. The Chinese are part of the story. ‘The Gulf was filled with Aboriginal Chinese families, a kaleidoscope of colours between black and brown’, we’re told in Plains of Promise, in which an important character is ‘the Chinaman, Pilot Ah King’, whose people ‘came fishing and hunting dugong’ up the coast ‘and made their own medicines or magic’. I was chasing another alleged Jose relative, Roger Jose, one of the eccentrics of Borroloola, for my book Black Sheep, a mix of travel and memoir. For the song of that place I turned to another important UQP publication, Little Eva at Moonlight Creek and other Aboriginal song poems (1994). This multilingual anthology and its earlier companion The Honey-Ant Men’s Love Song (1990), both edited by Martin Duwell and R M W Dixon and published in 1994—Bob Dixon, my Linguistics professor at ANU back in 1970, who first taught me about Aboriginal languages—revealed another dimension to Australian literary space. As epigraph to my book about Borroloola and beyond I quote the Yanyuwa song ‘Two of us Will Go’ in Frank Karrÿÿi’s Yanyuwa and John Bradley’s English. It goes as follows:

By foot.
We two are about to go.
In this relation country of mine.
In this country.
We two are walking.

So many people helped in the writing of that book, told me stories, not least among them Tony Roberts, whose Frontier Justice: A History of the Gulf Country to 1990 would appear from UQP in 2005, yet another example of the ground-up revisionary history that is this publisher’s forte.

To conclude let me return to The Possession of Amber, published by UQP in 1980 and launched by R.F. (Bob) Brissenden at the University Co-op Bookshop at ANU. Bob was chair of the Literature Board of the Australia Council at the time, which assisted the publication. Manning Clark came along and sent me a postcard afterwards saying that my voice would now be heard outside college walls. Apparently that was his message to all first-time authors. Christina Stead named it as her ‘book of the year’.

The book had a striking image on the cover. Craig had written to me the previous November as follows:

On the subject of titles and jacket designs, I’m enclosing a photocopy of a painting by Schad which – you’ll be horrified to know – we purchased the reproduction rights to, for use on the cover of War Crimes by Peter Carey (grab a copy of this if you haven’t already done so). The colour transparency arrived too late, but I think it could be particularly eye-catching under the title: Tunisian Nights [one of my stories]. … You might think it too brutal, or too Germanic (you can see it in colour in the Observer magazine). Give me your thoughts.’

Waste not, want not, I probably thought, but if it was good enough for Peter Carey…. The Observer article was about an exhibition of German Realism Neue Sachlichkeit) art at the Hayward Gallery in London which included the 1927 painting by Christian Schad. It would have worked well for Tunisian Nights, but around that time another book of stories called Nights in Tunisia appeared in the UK so that title was out. We thought about Nights of a Diplomat—this was long before I became one—but somehow we settled for The Possession of Amber. Craig must have liked ‘Tunisian Nights’ and the painting. He chose that story for The First UQP Storybook which controversially showed a woman in a bean bag, naked but for a hat, reading my book, cover image outwards.

It was a time of transition. I was among the last and the youngest of that run of male UQP short story writers. Craig took leave to finish his Masters. Frank moved to Rigby, the Adelaide press that in the 1960s had done some of what UQP did and which he hoped to revive. But no sooner had he published my first novel there in 1984 than Rigby disappeared in a corporate takeover and Frank moved on to the Institute of Aboriginal Studies (now IATSIS) in Canberra. McPhee Gribble in Melbourne was ushering in a new revolution in Australian writing, this one led by women writers and women publishers. UQP entered a new phase, in the capable hands of Laurie Muller as manager from 1984 to 2003, and with D’Arcy Randall, another American, as fiction editor. In the 1980s UQP published Barbara Hanrahan, Janette Turner Hospital, Elizabeth Jolley and Olga Masters. It has continued to be in good hands up to the present day and I’ve enjoyed working with many of the editors in a variety of roles.

One of the female writers who emerged from Melbourne in the 1980s was Beverley Farmer, who died earlier this year.  I’d like to close with a tribute to her. She was a superb writer, never more so than in the extraordinary book she published with UQP in 1990, A Body of Water. This deeply personal work interweaves fiction, memoir, literary reflection and philosophical inquiry, its risk-taking belied by its fluidity and calm. Spiritual and sensual, it folds the author’s growing devotion to Tibetan Buddhism into her abiding appreciation of Greek culture, following the cycle of a year. At the same time Farmer affiliates herself within Australian literature, as in the beautiful story ‘Black Genoa’ dedicated ‘In Memoriam: Marjorie Barnard’. Farmer reflects on her vocation as a writer in Australia, as Buddhism allows her to ‘take in emptiness whole’, in her words. ‘Yes, in this book spirals within spirals are spiralling, around a hollow centre, which is the narrator.’

When I looked through my copy I found that I had marked passages in pencil. ‘Everything is true of everyone’, Farmer writes, quoting Tolstoy:

Every man bears within him the germs of every human quality, and now manifests one, now another, and frequently is quite unlike himself, while remaining the same man.

That is the challenge and the hope of communication for a writer, of reaching for the full range of human experience in oneself in order to be able to share it with others, that powerful mystery of the book, to which UQP has contributed so grandly in its 70 years. Its survival makes history.

The University of Queensland. Photo: Palg1305. Distributed under creative commons license.

Works Cited

Nicholas Birns, ‘The Man Who Loved Australia’, Herbert C. Jaffa, (1920-2013): A Sheaf of Remembrances, Antipodes, December 2014, 267-8.
Pearl Bowman (ed.), ‘Frank Thompson: An American’s Career in Australian Publishing’, Antipodes, Winter 1989, 114-118.
Peter Carey, The Fat Man in History (UQP, 1974)
Michael Dransfield, Streets of the Long Voyage (UQP, 1970)
Martin Duwell and R M W Dixon (eds.), Little Eva at Moonlight Creek and other Aboriginal song poems (UQP, 1994)
Beverley Farmer, A Body of Water (UQP, 1990)
Ian Fairweather, The Drunken Buddha (UQP, 1965)
Ian Fairweather, The Drunken Buddha, 50th anniversary edition (UQP, 2015)
Kate Grenville, Joan Makes History (UQP, 1988)
Rodney Hall and Thomas W Shapcott (eds.), New Impulses in Australian Poetry (UQP, 1968)
Anthony J Hassall (ed.), Randolph Stow (UQP, 1990)
Laurie Hergenhan, ‘A Warm Generosity’, Herbert C. Jaffa, (1920-2013): A Sheaf of Remembrances, Antipodes, December 2014, 269-73.
Herbert C Jaffa, Townsville at War: A Soldier Remembers (Foundation for Australian Literary Studies, James Cook University, 1992)
Nick Joaquin, Tropical Gothic (UQP, 1972)
Nicholas Jose, The Possession of Amber (UQP, 1980)
Julie Koh, Portable Curiosities (UQP, 2016)
David Malouf, Bicycle and other poems (UQP, 1970)
Craig Munro (ed.), The First UQP Story Book (UQP, 1981)
Craig Munro (ed.), The Writer’s Press (UQP, 1998)
Felicity Plunkett (ed.), Thirty Australian Poets (UQP, 2011)
R M Rilke, Selected Poems, translated with an introduction by J. B. Leishman (Penguin Books, 1964)
Tony Roberts, Frontier Justice: A History of the Gulf Country to 1900 (UQP, 2005)
Pierre Ryckmans, ‘An Amateur Artist’, Fairweather ed. Murray Bail (Art & Australia Books, 1994), pp.14-23.
Eric Rolls, Flowers and the Wide Sea, vol. 1 Sojourners (UQP, 1990), vol. 2   Citizens (UQP, 1992)
Sang Ye, with Nicholas Jose and Sue Trevaskes, The Finish Line: A Long March by Bicycle through China and Australia (UQP,
Sang Ye, The Year the Dragon Came, edited by Linda Jaivin (UQP, 1996)
University of Queensland Press, Reading the Landscape: A Celebration of Australian Writing (UQP, 2018)
Alexis Wright, Plains of Promise (UQP, 1997)