Gerald Murnane’s Show-and-Tell

Over at The Apiary, an artistic-archival project “specialising in films made about and in collaboration with musicians, theatre-makers, dancers and visual artists,” Marden Dean ventures into the fabled workspace of Gerald Murnane. Murnane has often spoken about his workspace, a bare office populated by dozens of filing cabinets in which he stores and catalogues every last note he has ever written on any subject whatsoever over the last forty or fifty years, but to my knowledge Dean is the first person ever to be allowed to enter and film Murnane’s little world. Some of the resultant images match up with Murnane’s own descriptions of his workspace, such as the typewriters atop the filing cabinets and the horse racing colours on the wall, but others took me by surprise. I always expected that Murnane organised all of his various notes in some sort of logical order, perhaps biographically or chronologically in accordance with whatever larger project he was working on at the time he wrote them. Not so. While he concedes that most of his notes are organised biographically, others are gathered together under more intriguing categories such as “IF I WERE A COWARD, I WOULD BURN THIS,” “WHAT I BELIEVE ABOVE ALL,” and “ENTER, WITH FLOURISH, H. FAWKNER.”

The Late Great Patrick White

In the 1960s and 1970s one figure commanded the [Australian] literary landscape, and ruled the artistic life of Sydney like an (intermittently) benign despot. Nobel Prize winner, patrician activist, host of legendary proportions, he was famed for his savagery as well as his generosity, his intolerance of fools and charlatans, his immense warmth and his uncompromising intelligence.

James Bradley, ‘Me and Patrick White’

A couple of weeks ago, I listened to a panel discussion at the Wheeler Centre entitled “The Late Great Patrick White.” It was the first in the Centre’s series of discussions about the lives and works of Australian writers who are no longer with us. I can only hope that the others turn out to be as fulfilling as this one because it was a fantastic event: impassioned, intelligent, often very funny. Happily, there’s no need to recount the discussion in detail now that the Centre has uploaded video, but I do want to add a few general remarks on White and the event participants and to point towards what I think were some of the night’s most valuable moments. Continue reading

A Writer’s Writer Speaks

In my estimation, Gerald Murnane is arguably Australia’s greatest living writer of fiction and probably one of the greatest currently at work anywhere in the world. Yesterday, I enjoyed the rare pleasure of listening to Murnane speak at this year’s Melbourne Writers Festival. Ordinarily, I would avoid such an event; I dislike the often superficial and self-congratulatory atmosphere of literary festivals. Late last year, however, I caught an ABC Radio interview with Murnane in which he discussed his most recent work of fiction, Barley Patch, and I was so struck by the unhesitating, unashamed, and yet entirely amiable way in which he discussed the nature of his fiction that I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hear him speak in person. At the outset of that 2009 interview, the interviewer, Peter Mares, noted that Murnane has often been called “a writer’s writer” and he opened the interview by asking Murnane how he reacts to that designation. To his credit, Murnane took the opportunity to respond to that rather insipid question as a means of opening up a more sophisticated discussion of what he actually writes: Continue reading