peteg's blog - noise - books - 2011 03 20 AustralianShortStories

Australian short stories

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I borrowed two collections of Australian short stories from the UNSW Library ages ago. Despite the decrepitude of their pages (presumably not acid-free), they were both reasonably recent. I didn't read either in their entirety, partly because I'd read some before, sometimes because I didn't like the sound of story, othertimes because I remain scarred by high school (Peter Goldsworthy in particular).

Firstly, Relations: Australian Short Stories, edited by Carmel Bird, was published in 1991. Memorable:

  • John Morrison, The Hold Up: stuck on a train in suburban Melbourne (the Box Hill line) a long time ago.
  • Judah Waten, Mother: a well-told account of a Russian Jewish family's migration to Australia.
  • Marjorie Bernard, Habit: cute old-time romance between a city man and a country girl who runs a guest house with her sister.
  • David Malouf, The Empty Lunch-tin: a signature gentle exploration of poverty from the perspective of the well-intentioned comfortably-off, presumably a first-hand experience.
  • Patrick White, Willy-Wagtails by Moonlight: a slice of middle-class life of the sort that David Williamson used to capture.
  • Thea Astley, Write me son, write me: middle-class sprog joins a commune and sponges off the olds.
  • Jessica Anderson, The Late Sunlight: an aged Hungarian countness slumming it in Sydney meets a young humanities scholar.

Secondly, The Australian Short Story, edited by Laurie Hergenhen, published in 1986 (my copy republished in 2002).

  • Thea Astley, Home is where the heart is: aboriginal dispossession, cops and soft-hearted / hard headed whites.
  • Archie Weller, Pension Day: an aboriginal elder ends up as a homeless drunk in Perth, a long way from home.
  • David Malouf, Night Training: abusing green soldiers is a time-honoured tradition in all armies. I wonder if he has direct experience of this somehow.
  • Alan Marshall, Trees can speak: a mobility-impaired man makes friends with a hermit miner.
  • T. A. G. Hungerford, Green Grow the Rushes: a country long-distance romance, climaxing (of sorts) in Hong Kong.
  • Patrick White, Down in the Dump: another closely-observed account of middle-class mores, pretensions, affectations and so forth. The structure of White's writing here is fascinating, economical and oblique, but light enough to be humorous.