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Michael Heyward

The Ern Malley Affair

Heyward book cover

This is an excerpt from The Ern Malley Affair, published by the University of Queensland Press in 1993, with an Introduction by Robert Hughes; from page 179 to page 239. The book was also published in 1993 by Faber and Faber Ltd, Publishers, London.

This excerpt is 20,000 words or about 40 printed pages long. Endnotes and copyright credits are given at the end of this file. Click on the note to be taken to it; likewise to return to the text.

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Chapter 8: Persona Non Grata

[....] On the afternoon of Tuesday, 1 August, Max Harris was at work on the new issue of Angry Penguins in the Reed & Harris office in the centre of Adelaide. There were also end-of-term exams approaching for which he would have to cram. At about 3.30 p.m. two policemen, one in uniform, the other plainclothed, came to the door. The man in uniform did the talking, a certain Detective Vogelesang.
    ‘We are police officers,’ he said. ‘What is your name?’
    ‘Max Harris,’ said Harris.
    ‘We would like to have a talk with you. Are you the editor of a magazine Angry Penguins?’
    ‘Well not exactly,’ explained Harris, ‘for there is a committee of four, of which I am one. There is Mr John Reed in Melbourne, Mrs Sunday Reed, and Mr Sidney Nolan.’
    ‘Are you and the committee responsible for the publication of the magazine?’
    ‘Well, what happens is that the articles are submitted to us, and when they are finally approved the book is printed in Victoria.’
    Vogelesang assured himself that Harris was one of the proprietors of Angry Penguins, and was responsible for its distribution in South Australia. Then: I understand that in the Autumn number there was an Ern Malley section that you were responsible for publishing.’
    ‘Did you cause it to be published?’
    ‘Together ‘with the other members of the committee.’
    ‘Was it submitted to you for publication?’
    ‘Yes.’ Harris had answered every question in good faith. It was time for the police to declare themselves. ‘What is this inquiry about?’ he asked.
    It is in reference to the magazine Angry Penguins,’ Vogelesang answered unhelpfully.
    ‘What do you want to know?’
    ‘We first want to know if we are speaking to someone responsible for its publication and distribution.’
    Harris was unsettled by now. ‘I don’t know whether I ought to answer your questions,’ he said.
    ‘You can please yourself about that.’
    ‘Is this on the record or off the record?’
    Vogelesang put on an official manner. ‘We have been instructed to make inquiries and we are making inquiries in connection with the provisions of the Police Act with respect to immoral or indecent publications,’ he said.
    Max Harris gaped.

Chapter 9: Indecent, Immoral, Obscene

Photo of Ern Malley

The Angry Penguins obscenity trial was listed for Tuesday, 5 September 1944 at 10 a.m., in the Adelaide Police Court, a modest two-storey sandstone edifice with shuttered windows, on Victoria Square, before Stipendiary Magistrate Mr L.C.Clarke. Clarke was rather English in appearance, a tall, thin, white-haired man in spectacles. His manner was dry and plain and he was not famous for his wit. The usual business of his court was to punish misdemeanours: public drunkenness, reckless driving, petty theft.
    Mr D.C.Williams, of the Crown Solicitor’s Department, a tough and gritty barrister only a few years older than Harris, prosecuted. Eric Millhouse, who was well-reputed in Adelaide legal circles, appeared for the defence. Harris entered a plea of ‘Not Guilty to the alleged offence of ‘Indecent Advertisements’.
    He had been preparing his defence ever since Detective Vogelesang’s unwelcome visit. Reed flew to Adelaide as soon as he heard about the possibility of a prosecution. He arrived on Thursday, 3 August and left the following Monday, after helping to arrange legal representation for Harris. While the Penguins anxiously waited for a summons to be issued, they planned their strategy. Harris tried without success to get the librarians at the university and the public library to give evidence, since both institutions made Angry Penguins ‘available for tender minds, and apparently consider it does no harm’. It was not clear what Harris would be charged with: obscenity or — far more seriously — blasphemy, or both. When the summons did arrive on 25 August, Harris telegrammed Reed at noon: ‘NO REFERENCE TO BLASPHEMY... FINGERS CROSSED’. A few days later Harris thought he might have found an Adelaide parson to give evidence for the Penguins, but then wired: ‘PARSON HERE HAS RATTED IS SKIPPING TOWN’. He sought out other witnesses to appear for them. Reed would give evidence, of course, J.I.M.Stewart, Reg Ellery and Brian Elliott agreed to testify. In the lead-up to the trial. Professor Stewart was summoned to the registrar’s office at the University of Adelaide. Here he found a judge of the South Australian Supreme Court waiting to advise him ‘most strongly’ not to testify in Harris’s favour. Five decades later Stewart could not recall the name of the judge, but the Vice Chancellor, Sir Herbert Parsons, also sat on the Supreme Court. Whoever applied the pressure, Stewart stood his ground.
    In a moment of pique Harris declared he was finished with Australia but Reed pulled him up short on the idea that the country was not a fit place to publish serious work. ‘For goodness sake, don’t let us have that,’ he told him. A few days later Reed added: ‘It is not any picnic, but on the other hand, we can’t pretend that we never envisaged such a thing as this and the very role we play has made it fairly inevitable.’ Harris warned that ‘if a policy of persecution and moral gangsterism develops in the cultural field of this country, then the whole tendency will be to destroy the integral impulse to creativity’. He was ‘fairly calm’, he said, ‘but overall the past few months are making a pretty deep and permanent impression on me’. He began to realize just how isolated and precarious his position was in the Athens of the South. If a vendetta was being waged against him, it was possible the police would not only prosecute Angry Penguins but his novel The Vegetative Eye as well. Bundles of unsold copies sat in Harris’s office. What if the authorities came after these too? At The Women’s Weekly Catherine Caris came up with a solution. In secret she and Harris carried his copies of The Vegetative Eye down Grenfell Street into her office and stashed them in the storeroom under back numbers of the Weekly. The police would never think of looking there.
    Harris believed the case derived directly from the ‘personal reactions’ of the Crown Solicitor, Tacky Hannan, to himself and Angry Penguins. It is quite certain Catholic Action is the guiding force,’ he wrote to Reed. Near the end of August ‘a complaint’ was laid against Harris under Section 108 of the South Australian Police Act, which alleged that in Adelaide, in June 1944, he sold certain ‘indecent advertisements’. Hannan signed the letter to Angry Penguins identifying thirteen passages in the magazine the Crown found offensive, seven of them in Ern Malley, the rest in Harris’s writing, and the work of other contributors, including Peter Cowan and Dal Stivens, and the poet Laurence Collinson.
    Section 108 defined ‘indecent advertisements’ as ‘printed matter of an indecent immoral or obscene nature’. It had been on the books since 1897, when expurgated editions of the classics, especially for consumption in classrooms, were common. There was no allowance for literary or artistic merit as a defence: the only materials the section exempted were ‘bona fide medical works’. The chief legal test of obscenity applied by Australian, British and American courts in 1944 dated from the Victorian era. In Regina v. Hicklin (1868) Mr Justice Cockburn specified the test as ‘whether the tendency of the matter charged as obscenity is to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences, and into whose hands a publication of this sort may fall. Strictly applied, this meant that if the kids could flick through a copy of Angry Penguins on the coffee table or in a bookshop, then the magazine’s claim to be a serious literary and artistic forum could not constitute a defence against obscenity.
    When Harris was summonsed this was the first official attempt ever to suppress Australian poetry. But censorship was common in Australia. In the 1930s the Customs Department prohibited thousands of books from entering the country. The NSW Collector of Customs, in a crude affirmation of Hicklin, announced in 1930 that the department’s test was ‘whether the average householder would accept the book in question as reading matter for his family’. Among the proscribed authors were Joyce (Ulysses and Dubliners), Defoe (Moll Flanders), Huxley (Brave New World), Orwell (Down and Out in Paris and London), Hemingway (A Farewell to Arms), Dos Passes (1919) and Hermann Broch (The Sleepwalkers). By 1944 many of these books had been released but hundreds of others were still banned.
    The Angry Penguins trial concluded a script which nobody without a sense of humour could have invented, and nobody with one could resist. If the Ern Malley poems were surreal, so was the situation. The trial confirmed all over again that the hoax had demolished its literary boundaries, and invaded the world. It made Ern Malley even more famous and legitimized the shrieks of approval that greeted the hoax. McAuley and Stewart had not for a second intended to trick Harris into the courts. They failed to realize that Ern Malley would hand out guns to philistines — and now the state was providing the bullets. The trial was a shambles, with none of the rapier wit of the hoax. The police evidence was risible, the Crown prosecutor a lowbrow bulldog, and the defence counsel out of his depth.
    The trial was the hottest show in town. Nothing like this had ever happened in Adelaide before. On the morning of 5 September, the courtroom on Victoria Square was ‘crowded as a picture theatre’, and buzzing with anticipation. The national press was in attendance, and the trial was reported throughout the country. Many had come to watch the law in action as a form of spectator sport though not everybody there was friendly to Harris. He reported to Reed that there were ‘hordes of Catholics’ in the courtroom. A few Angry Penguins turned up to lend moral support: Geoff Dutton wore his air-force uniform to raise the tone among the bohemians.
    First witness for the prosecution was Reg Carter, manager of the Argonaut Business Library in Adelaide, who had done a very brisk trade in the Ern Malley edition of Angry Penguins. Under questioning by Williams, he testified that he had ordered in four separate batches of the magazine for public sale. Cross-examined by Millhouse, Carter informed the court that in ‘quite a number of modern books’ the words ‘loving’, ‘bugger’ and ‘bastard’ could be found and seemed to offend nobody. This was a very inauspicious start for the Crown case. It had been Williams’ idea to have the bookseller testify and his eyes ‘popped’ in disbelief as Carter stepped down.
    The Crown then called its major witness, Detective Vogelesang, whose name translates into English as ‘birdsong’ but who was known around town as ‘Dutchie’. Vogelesang was Nordic in appearance: he was a tall, well-built man with an open face, square jaw, fair hair and blue eyes. He stood up straight in his uniform and obtained the court’s permission to recount from notes his questioning of the defendant on ‘I August. That afternoon, the court learned, Jacobus Andries Vogelesang, Detective stationed at Adelaide, armed with a copy of Angry Penguins (Autumn number, 1944), had visited Maxwell Henley Harris, Student, of 20 Churchill Avenue, Glandore, in his office at Room 83, Second Floor, Brookman Buildings, Grenfell Street, Adelaide and for the attention of the defendant had opened the magazine to page 11, where Ern Malley’s poem ‘Sweet William’ was printed.
    ‘Are you acquainted with all the poems in the Ern Malley section?’ asked Vogelesang.
    ‘Yes,’ said Harris.
    Vogelesang waved a hand at the magazine where the poem was fully visible.
    ‘What is the theme of that poem?’ he asked, like a teacher prodding a student.
    ‘I don’t know what the author intended by that poem,’ Harris replied. ‘You had better ask him what he meant.’
    Vogelesang was not about to tolerate any sophistry about literary intention. He had his own ideas about the theme of the poem and they had nothing to do with who wrote it. There was another thing too — if the gossip was true, finding the author might prove a slippery task. Harris was the man he wanted.
    ‘What do you think it means?’
    ‘I am not going to express an opinion.’
    Vogelesang saw straight through this. ‘That means you have an opinion but you are not prepared to express it.’
    Harris paused. ‘I would have to give it two or three hours consideration before I could determine what it means,’ he said.
    Detective Vogelesang did not have that long. The kind of meaning he had in mind was easier to find. It was time to drop a hint. The magazine was spread open on its spine. ‘Do you think it is suggestive of indecency?’
    ‘I haven’t got an opinion,’ said Harris.
    The suspect was being difficult. Detective Vogelesang turned the page and pointed with his policeman’s finger at ‘Boult to Marina’. He renewed the exegetical pressure. ‘What do you think this poem is about?’
    Harris looked at him. ‘Do you know anything about the classical characters?’ he asked.
    A bluff, best ignored. ‘What I want to know is what it means,’ said Detective Vogelesang in a gruff voice. The scene of the crime lay still on the page.
    ‘Pericles and Boult are both classical characters and, when you know what they stand for, you can understand the poem.’
    ‘Do you think the poem is suggestive of indecency?’ inquired Detective Vogelesang, sticking to his task.
    ‘No more than Shakespeare or Chaucer or others.’
    Vogelesang thrust into this opening. ‘You admit then that there is a suggestion of indecency about the poem?’
    ‘No I don’t,’ said Harris. If you are looking for that sort of thing, I can refer you to plenty of books and cheaper publications that you can fill your department with. Our publication is intended for cultured minds, who understand these things, and place ordinary thoughts on a higher level.’
    Vogelesang was not about to place ordinary thoughts on a higher level. ‘What does it mean when it says “Part of me remains, wench, Boult-upright / The rest of me drops off into the night”?’
    ‘I can’t help the interpretation that some people might place on it.’
    ‘Do you think that some people could place an indecent interpretation on it?’ Vogelesang could, but didn’t want to say so.
    ‘Some people could place an indecent interpretation on anything,’ said Harris.
    ‘Well, what is your opinion of the poem?’
    ‘I haven’t got one,’ said Max Harris, learning fast.
    They stumbled through ‘Night Piece’ and its alternative version. When Harris confessed he didn’t have an opinion on either poem, Vogelesang thought it time for some straight talk and told the court he informed the defendant, ‘I think they suggest sexual matters, and I consider they are immoral.’ Harris had no opinion either about ‘Perspective Lovesong’ and ‘Egyptian Register’. Detective Vogelesang did and fixated on the word ‘genitals’: ‘The genitals refer to the sexual parts,’ he remarked brightly. ‘I think it unusual for the sexual parts to be referred to in poetry.’
    Detective Vogelesang thought it unusual for the sexual parts to be referred to in prose as well. He was worried by the phrase ‘You can stick the money’ in Peter Cowan’s story ‘The Fence’ and asked Harris, ‘Do you think it might mean “stick it up your anus”, or the word that is used more vulgarly?’ He isolated this passage of dialogue between a woman and a man in Dal Stivens’ story, ‘You Call Me By My Proper Name’:

      ‘You men,’ she said. ‘You’re all the same. You always reckon it must be another fellow when a girl says she don’t want to see you any more. You’re all the same, the lot of you. You only want one thing.’
      ‘It ain’t like you to talk this way.’
      ‘What the hell do you know about me?’ Vera said loudly. ‘All you men only want one thing from a girl.’
     ‘You like it,’ he said.
      The girl’s face went red and her head went down. Her hair fell over her face and she said, softly: ‘It’s all right for men. It’s different for girls.’

Harris didn’t think this indecent or immoral but Vogelesang did. ‘Have you considered its effect on, say, high school children?’ he asked. The detective also alerted Harris to dangerous tendencies in his own poetry. Harris had published a poem called ‘Birdsong’ in the Autumn issue of Angry Penguins but Vogelesang passed over it. About others he was troubled, including this passage from ‘The Journey North’ which he read aloud:

New Year brought its concertinas in,
the redundant festivities of piano and song
for the flatchested women of the camp,
whose genitals ached like very hell
for the passionate copulation in satin
and passivity by the lowtuned radio,
waking to the morning aubade of trams.

    ‘Does it mean that the woman’s sexual parts are aching for an evening dress?’
    Harris, perhaps in amazement, agreed.
    ‘Don’t you think that is immoral?’ asked Detective Vogelesang. He finished reading from his notes, and Williams tendered the Ern Malley issue of Angry Penguins as an exhibit.
    Vogelesang’s evidence under cross-examination by Millhouse was a sensation. He brought the house down. Williams had already tried to silence the simpering gallery by remarking that he would like to have some of the audience in the witness box. ‘They would look a lot sillier than they look at present,’ he said in a loud voice. Now the circling guffaws elicited a warning from Clarke, the SM [Stipendiary Magistrate]: ‘I want to make it clear that this is not an entertainment and on any more outbursts of laughter the persons responsible will be ejected.’
    Vogelesang had not volunteered for this job. He admitted under cross-examination from Millhouse that he had only read Angry Penguins in order to question Harris about it. His opinions about the immorality of the material were his own, he added. He declared he had heard the expression ‘you can stick it’ several times, but ‘not among other members of the police force, never’. (Gales of laughter swirled around the courtroom.) ‘I did regard it as part of a phrase, such as “stick it up your anus”,’ Vogelesang explained. ‘It is frequently used, abbreviated. There are lots of endings to it, all meaning the one thing. I have heard other meanings to it. It was on account of my hearing other meanings to it that I attached a meaning to it. I think that meaning would apply to other people, even if they heard other things.’
    Meanings budded, flowered and died. If Ern Malley was written to be misread, no one had misread him like this. In ‘Sweet William’ Vogelesang objected ‘to the thing as a whole’, he said. ‘The last five lines of the first verse are suggestive of sexual intercourse and the second verse is suggestive of the person or whoever it is having yielded to the temptation of sexual intercourse.’ Is this person a man or a woman, Millhouse asked. ‘In the second verse I should think perhaps it is a man. I think it is a man or somebody who has yielded to sexual temptation.’ Prodded further, Vogelesang admitted, ‘I couldn’t say if it is a man or woman. In the second verse, because it is related to the five lines of the first verse, it refers to sexual intercourse. In the second verse, “My white swan of quietness lies quiet in the black swan’s breast”, the person “I” is testifying how he yielded to the temptation.’ Again he insisted, ‘That has not been suggested to me by anyone, that is the meaning I attached to it.’
    Millhouse took the detective through ‘Boult to Marina’. Vogelesang had read Pericles but ‘before I interviewed Mr Harris, I did not know who Boult was, nor who Marina was. I knew the play of Pericles. I have read it, but I did not associate Boult with it, nor Marina.’ In this poem Vogelesang objected to the words ‘Boult-upright’ and ‘You shall rest snug tonight and know what I mean.’ ‘I don’t think it could mean Boult was an upright man,’ he said. ‘It offends my decency to suggest that a character means that he wants sexual intercourse. I think that is immoral. That governs my opinion with regard to all these matters, where intercourse is referred to, I take it as immoral, in the circumstances in which we find them here. I would consider under certain circumstances that it was indecent to talk about the sexual act, to discuss it with a friend, for example.’
    Ern Malley had no friends. Perhaps his lonely existence drew him to write about parks at night, a subject that had Vogelesang fingering his truncheon. ‘Apparently someone is shining a torch in the dark,’ he said, ‘visiting through the park gates. To my mind they were going there for some disapproved motive.’ His clue was the iron birds with rusty beaks. ‘The nature of the time they went there and the disapproval of the iron birds, make me say it is immoral. I have found that people who go into parks at night go there for immoral purposes,’ Vogelesang told the court. ‘My experience as a police officer might under certain circumstances tinge my appreciation of literature.’
    ‘Perspective Lovesong’ suggested ‘that someone is inquiring for intercourse’. Vogelesang vouched for the independence of his interpretation. ‘That was all out of my mind,’ he said. ‘No one has mentioned it to me.’ Of the word ‘genitals’ from ‘Egyptian Register’, he observed, confusing object and referent, ‘they don’t fit into the rest of the poem.’ And he regarded the word ‘incestuous’ as being indecent. ‘I don’t know what “incestuous” means,’ Vogelesang added. ‘I think there is a suggestion of indecency about it.’ But not about ‘concupiscence to foin’ from ‘Young Prince of Tyre’ which Vogelesang had not read when he interviewed Harris and confessed he did not understand when he did.
    ‘I object to any description of any female parts in poems,’ said Vogelesang. He complained about the line ‘from the mother’s womb the child is scraped away’ which he stumbled on in a poem by Laurence Collinson. ‘I wouldn’t object if someone said, “Mrs Brown had a curette”. If you said in the street, “Mrs Brown had her womb scraped”, I would regard that as immoral.’
    Millhouse announced he had no further questions and Detective Vogelesang stepped down. It was an astonishing performance. [Note 1]
    Williams summarized in an attempt to bring the Crown case back to life after the mauling Vogelesang had given it. The poetry of Ern Malley offended public standards, he suggested, and its spurious authorship was somehow related to this. ‘Rumour had it,’ said Williams, ‘that Ern Malley did not even exist.’ It was not easy to tell if the poems were on trial for obscurity or indecency and the confusion of the two had already become central to the Crown’s case in Vogelesang’s evidence. ‘In parts, the so-called literature in the publication is impossible to understand,’ Williams told the magistrate. ‘From an ordinary man’s point of view one cannot comprehend some of the sentences and criticisms. Reference to sex is dragged in by the heels by some authors and it did not always fit in with the matter in question. There are not many pages in the book that do not refer to sex in some form or other, but I do not claim that they are all indecent. It is true that in places it is difficult to understand what the references to sex do or mean to imply but in other places no doubt exists what the authors meant.’
    The prosecution rested its case. The show had lasted three hours. At 1 p.m. the court was adjourned until 26 September.
    Ninety minutes later Harris walked across Victoria Square beneath the baleful stare of the grimy monarch and wired a triumphant message to Reed from the post office, ‘MILLHOUSE THRASHED DUMB DETECTIVE’. A day or so later he dismissed Vogelesang as ‘terribly pure’. But Harris — whose wife Von recalled how the couple were hissed at and cat-called in the streets of Adelaide — admitted he was feeling ‘rather queer’ and complained to Reed of

an irrational fear of physical violence, of being followed, of a secret powerful enemy in anyone who stares at me — & the cumulative effect is that I am now very much stared at in a small town like this. I can stand the fight, the force of mind, but the notoriety is distracting me so that I’m having to pull myself together all the time. I’m taking too much Nembutal for the sake of sleep. I have not mentioned these things to anyone else — I try to face them out in verse. You’re a sort of deus-ex-machina of sanity.

    The adjournment was to allow Millhouse to fit the defence of Angry Penguins around his schedule. On 11 September Harris reported that in reaction to the trauma of the case he was experiencing ‘an intellectual burst’ and was writing poetry ‘at fever pitch’. Then, exactly one week later, the Angry Penguins defence was left in ‘chaos and confusion’ when Millhouse announced his timetable would not allow him to appear in court on 26 September after all. Two days later a replacement barrister was found, Mr E.Phillips, who called Harris as the first witness for the defence when the case resumed.
    There was a minor victory, against the objections of the Crown, when Stewart, Ellery and Elliott were permitted to remain in court as expert witnesses. Harris was led through the contentious passages by Phillips and accounted for each in turn. Williams objected to almost every question.
    ‘Sweet William’, Harris testified, ‘discusses entirely a man at conflict with himself, without reference to anything else beside his mental condition. He has been subject to some image of desire symbolized by the “English eyes” and he finds himself within a mental or almost schizophrenic conflict. The “stone feet down the staircase of flesh” is a reference or an associative image from Mozart’s Don Giovanni where the stone statue walks, and it is used to symbolize the conflict between his emotions of desire and what he later calls “self-denial”. These two emotions are in conflict with each other, and the idea of the different mental aspects of the man struggling to destroy him is obscene in that dictionary sense which refers to “obscene” as “repulsive”; and “rape” of course is used in its classical sense “rapio” to seize, and need not have any sexual connection at all.’
    The point of ‘Boult to Marina’, Harris claimed, was that ‘for the first time some sort of noble trait is evoked in Boult, for although as the poem claims he might have silken eyes to kiss, part of him preserves integrity. The rest is still as before or drops off into the night.’ ‘Perspective Lovesong’ introduced ‘biographical elements’ into the series: ‘Malley is treating the moment of plighting of troth between himself and his beloved,’ said Harris, ‘but having a sense of impending death, the moment contains within itself not the finality of lovers plighting their troth, associated with the guillotine, but the abattoirs, which is associated with the carcass. His premonition of death gives a sense of unreality to the scene, and it is as if they were under sea with the wise grinning shark, his premonition of death, confronting him.” Harris denied the prosecution’s contortionist claim that ‘Egyptian Register’ dragged in ‘the genitals by the heels’. The poem was ‘a study of the magical qualities of nature’, he said. Court was adjourned at 12.50 until 2.15 p.m. After lunch Harris was cross-examined by the Crown.
    ‘Do you consider yourself one of the greatest Australian writers?’ opened Williams.
    ‘I do not,’ answered Harris. ‘I wrote a book called The Vegetative Eye.’
    ‘Do you consider that a great work?’
    ‘I am not in the position, as being so near to it, I leave that to the critics.’
    ‘Do you consider the poems of Ern Malley to be great literary work?’
    ‘I consider them serious literary work.’
    ‘Are they a major event in Australian literary history?’
    ‘In certain respects. Their technique has not been developed before.’
    This line of questioning had nothing to do with the alleged indecency of Ern Malley. Harris was getting his come-uppance, and the poems, it seemed, were on trial for the fact that they existed.
    ‘Take a person, myself, whose only training in literature is up to English I at the university. Should I be able to understand the poems of Ern Malley?’
    ‘Most English I students can.’
    ‘That is to say, I suppose, that most people of ordinary intellect should be able to understand Ern Malley?’
    ‘I don’t think it reflects on their intellect, it is a matter of if you can understand it. If you are quite illiterate you couldn’t understand them.’
    ‘Do you think that a court should be able to understand Malley’s poems without any assistance from you?’
    It may be able to, it may not, it depends on the court.’
    ‘Then do you say that a person who cannot understand the Ern Malley poems is not necessarily a fool?’
    Ern Malley was a bastard son. Williams aired the delicate question of his parentage. There were no objections from Phillips.
    ‘You believe now that no such person as Ern Malley exists, don’t you?’
    ‘Whom do you now believe to be the author or authors of those poems?’
    ‘As rumour has it, Mr McAuley and Mr Stewart.’
    ‘And have you any belief as to the purpose which the authors had in mind in writing the Ern Malley poems?’
    ‘They claimed to be hoaxing the members of a modernistic culturism.’
    ‘Don’t you believe that Ern Malley’s poems were never intended to be serious work at all?’
    ‘I have no opinion on their intentions. I only worry about their content as poems.’
    ‘Assuming that the poems were written by the gentlemen you mentioned, and that they wrote them as a hoax and with no serious purpose in view, do you still say their work is significant?’
    ‘And you say that it doesn’t matter if the significance is accidental or otherwise?’
    ‘I don’t know if the significance is accidental. I am concerned with the significance.’
    ‘So that this is the position, is it not, that nothing would shake your faith as literary work in the Ern Malley poems?’
    Williams now sought to establish that the Ern Malley poems were meaningless gibberish. He took Shakespeare as his model of clarity in English verse: ‘The majority of people in Australia would regard the poems as nothing but rubbish.’
    ‘Yes, and Shakespeare.”
    ‘But you don’t claim that a person reading Pericles, Prince of Tyre, after reading it wouldn’t know what he had read?’
    ‘He would find initial difficulty in following it if he had not been trained in literature. The ordinary person could understand it given the necessary energy and intellectual effort which I doubt he would give it.’
    ‘What about Hamlet, there are any amount of passages in that which the ordinary person can understand without difficulty.’
    ‘Yes, there are many passages they can understand without difficulty.’
    ‘Having finished reading Hamlet, the reader would at least have some idea of what it was about?’
    ‘He would have a general outline in his mind, the ordinary reader, of the emotional tension of the play and a rough outline from stage directions and the context in which it takes place — although he may have no idea what is biting Hamlet.’
    ‘As You Like It is a play which is frequently set for school children to study, isn’t it?’
    ‘And school children would have no difficulty in understanding a good deal?’
    ‘As a child I had difficulty in all Shakespeare’s works, I found it necessary to take out annotations by the teacher, and have the meanings of the words explained.’
    ‘You don’t mean to say there are passages in As You Like It which are not intelligible to sensible children?’
    ‘I concede that.’
    ‘There is nothing in Ern Malley’s poems which a child of ordinary intelligence could understand, is there?’
    ‘I think any child of normal intelligence could understand “Night Piece”. Given the same explanation that we got of Shakespeare, I would say they would have no difficulty in either of the “Night Pieces”, neither would they in the first poem.’
    ‘Are you serious in that?’
    ‘I don’t think it is any more difficult than As You Like It.’
    ‘You understand me when I said that there was not any passage in As You Like It the ordinary child wouldn’t have difficulty in understanding?’
    ‘Yes. I will concede that certain words like “interloper” would need to be explained, and “cowled”. You would have to go to a child psychologist, but all I can say is that it is a simple poem. “Night Piece” and “Durer: Innsbruck” are the only two instances in the Ern Malley poems which are simple. With gradations, some of the others are extremely difficult. In my opinion, “Egyptian Register” is the most difficult.’
    ‘What is difficult about it?’
    ‘I think it requires or suggests a high degree of sophisticated intellect and remote images in the mind of the author, and a complex attitude to man and nature.’

OLIVER: This was not counterfeit. There
     is too great testimony in your complexion
     that it was a passion of earnest.

ROSALIND: Counterfeit, I assure you.
As You Like It, Act IV, Scene iii

Discussing Shakespeare put Ern Malley in lofty company, something McAuley and Stewart did when they consulted a Collected Works to write his poems, perhaps because Herbert Read had sponsored a revival of Shakespeare in the thirties and urged the surrealists to claim him ‘as an ally’. Malley is pretty familiar with the Bard. With nice ironic timing he quotes from The Merchant of Venice at the close of ‘Culture as Exhibit’ (‘See how the floor of Heav’n is thick / Inlaid with patines of etcetera...’) and he drops in a couple of lines from ‘The Phoenix and the Turtle’ at the right moment in ‘Petit Testament’.
    Malley is also obsessed by the late, minor play Pericles, an interloper in the canon. It was excluded from the 1623 folio and nobody knows just how much of it Shakespeare wrote. With its drivelling dumb-shows and sea-swell music, the ‘apocryphal’ Pericles may be Shakespeare’s most Malleyesque moment, and Ern draws on it for two poems, ‘Boult to Marina’ and ‘Young Prince of Tyre’. The trouble is that Ern heads straight for the scenes everyone is sure Shakespeare wrote — the encounters in the brothel between Boult and Marina. Pericles is stuffed with wretched Jacobean doggerel which might have tested Harris’s ability to distinguish good verse from bad, but the hoaxers were drawn to the liveliest, saltiest language in the play.
    ‘Boult to Marina’ suggests, plausibly enough, that Boult’s conversion to virtue in the play is fake by his own standards. ‘Part of me remains, wench, Boult-upright / The rest of me drops off into the night’ is too charming a construction for Shakespeare’s Boult, but Ern, in the person of Boult, is punning on the Bawd’s orders to him which read like the catalyst for the poem itself:

Boult take her away, use her at thy pleasure, crack the glass of her virginity and make the rest malleable.

Make the rest malleable indeed! Before his capitulation to Marina’s shining light of goodness, Boult gets to bark out lines such as ‘if she were a thornier piece of ground than she is, she shall be ploughed’. One way to fake Shakespeare is to copy him out (‘What would you have me do? Go to the wars?’) but the final stanza of ‘Boult to Marina’ is all Ern and constitutes — though it may take Boult’s delivery up a notch or two — a dazzling bit of ventriloquy:

Sainted and schismatic would you be?
Four frowning bedposts
Will be the cliffs of your wind-thrummelled sea
Lady of these coasts,
Blown lily, surplice and stole of Mytilene,
You shall rest snug to-night and know what I mean.

    Snatches of ‘Young Prince of Tyre’ were copied from Pericles too. The rusty armour and the ill-advised ‘concupiscence to foin’ which stumped Vogelesang are, however, pastiche. There were some popular lines in this poem, written with Elizabethan confidence, which Ern didn’t find in Shakespeare. Sidney Nolan thought ‘The new men are cool as spreading fern’ among the most beautiful Australian images he’d ever read, and described the whole passage as ‘a beautiful example of the English language being renewed in Australia, while the older poets fall away’. Even the title of Ern’s Works, The Darkening Ecliptic, sounds like Shakespeare, though it derives from Ern’s original account of Boult bragging to Marina: ‘So blowing this lily as trumpet with my lips / I assert my original glory in the dark eclipse.’ [Note 2]
    Malley often breaks into ‘Shakespearean’ when he wants to talk about sex. Mostly this is the language of the comedies (‘Milord / Had his hand upon that snowy globe / Milady Lucy’s sinister breast... / Knowst not, my Lucia, that he / Who has caparisoned a nun dies / With his twankydillo at the ready?’), though sometimes his vision of women is tortured and full of terror, as if snatched from the tragedies (‘Take it for a sign, insolent and superb / That at nightfall the woman who scarcely would / Now opens her cunning thighs to reveal the herb / Of content’). A few of his ‘ribald interventions’ are cynical barracks-room humour, though some have a sensual and psychological credibility — ‘The body’s a hillside, darling, moist / With bitter dews of regret’ — in keeping with Ethel’s account of the haughty, thwarted lover who ‘had some sort of difference’ with a girl in Melbourne. This was all lost on the prosecution.
    Williams took Harris through ‘Egyptian Register’ line by line. Though it was never stated with such clarity, the Crown case seemed to be that where the poetry was not obscene it was unintelligible, and that was almost as bad. They teetered into the ridiculous: Williams sought to deny a paraphrasable content where he could detect nothing risque, but was on the alert for meaning if the poetry looked naughty.
    ‘Are you able to take either of the stanzas in the verse of “Egyptian Register” and tell the Court what it means?’
    ‘I can communicate to you the kind of emotional impact that the stanzas in question will have. You start off with the man as it were examining the body.’
    ‘Where do you get that from?’
    ‘Because he takes in turn various parts of the body, hand, skull, spine, lungs, etc., and lets his associations play about the kind of emotions they suggest to him.’
    ‘Where do you get that from? You can’t point to any word or sentence about that, can you?’
    ‘Each thing he takes up suggests to him, within the context of the larger idea he is developing, that of the inexplicability of human life, the exotic or mysterious qualities in these physical things.’
    ‘Where does he say anything about the inexplicability of human life?’
    ‘A dark purpose I would say would be inexplicable.’
    ‘That is what you are relying on for what you have said about the inexplicable purpose of human life?’
    ‘I merely gave you one instance. “The skull gathers darkness” assimilates from without itself those things which are inexplicable.’
    ‘It wouldn’t be possible that what you have just read is meaningless gibberish, would it?’
    ‘What else is there which indicates that the author is talking about the inexplicable things of life?’
    ‘Another suggestion of vagueness and inexplicability is associated with the spine reference.’
    ‘But what is there inexplicable about that except the language?’
    ‘The spine contains part of the brain, and the author links it with the harsh and inquiring element of the brain which pierces or attempts to pierce the obscurity of life.’
    ‘What is the harsh and inquiring element of a brain? Where do you get that from?’
    ‘The spine.’
    ‘What actual words are there referring to the harsh and inquiring elements of the brain?’
    ‘I am conceding that it is difficult to put these things into intellectual terms but it is apparent that the general emotional suggestion is there.’
    ‘When you use the phrase “putting into intellectual terms” do you mean putting it into terms which the ordinary person can understand?’
    ‘Roughly, yes.’
    ‘What do you mean by that?’
    ‘It is rather like trying to write out what a Beethoven symphony contains: you can talk about storm ad infinitum. In other words you are putting it into intellectual terms. If you read out the terms, the same effect is not communicated to you as if you listen to the symphony.’
    ‘Is there anything else which you want to refer to which to your mind suggests the inexplicable purposes of life?’
    Take the first line, “The hand that burns resinous in the evening sky”. What does “resinous” mean?’
    ‘I don’t know, I think it refers to “residence”. I did not look it up in the dictionary. That is not that it can’t be understood, that is bad studentship on my part. There might well be other words in Ern Malley’s poems which I can’t understand.’
    ‘Is that because you are too lazy to look them up, or did not think it was necessary to get a satisfactory reaction from the poems?’
    ‘Partly both. Even though I don’t know what it means, it evokes an image in mind.’
    They clawed their way to the end of the stanza: ‘I suppose you contend that a person would have to be particularly nasty minded to suggest that the words “immense index” used in connection with the genitals might refer to a large phallus?’
    ‘I agree.’
    In other words you would have to be deliberately looking for some nasty meaning before you could suggest it meant that?’
    ‘I think so.’
    ‘You don’t think it would be possible for any fair-minded person to think that the author in using the word “index” was referring to a penis in the state of erection.’
    ‘Only the mentally depraved, I should think.’
    ‘Do you consider that the standard of decency for writers such as yourself is the same or different from the standard of decency in ordinary polite conversation?’
    ‘Yes, Shakespeare says things you wouldn’t say in your drawing room.’
    This was not good enough for Williams. He repeated the question. ‘Do you  consider that the standard of decency for writers such as yourself is the same or different from the standard of decency in ordinary polite conversation?’
    ‘It is different.’
    ‘Because through centuries of tradition the writer’s job has been to present human life to human life, and not to present drawing-room conversation.’
    At 4.15 p.m. court was adjourned until the day after next. It was all taking a long time. Harris had spent the entire day in the box, and seemed to be ahead on points, even if some of his interpretations of the poetry were not altogether convincing. But the cross-examination had one unforeseen result: it conjured Ern Malley into renewed existence.
    At the resumption John Reed took the stand and testified under cross-examination that the hoax poems were ‘great’. Williams persisted with this line of questioning — without objection from Phillips — until the magistrate began to wonder if he had read the summons correctly. ‘Does it matter whether the Ern Malley poems are great or not?’ Clarke asked.
    ‘I won’t pursue that line any further,’ said Williams, and sat down. He did not ask Reed one question about the alleged indecency of the material he published.
    Reg Ellery, consulting psychiatrist at the Women’s Hospital in Melbourne, was sworn in. It was difficult for him to say anything since Williams objected to every question. Finally he got in an answer to Phillips’ inquiry about the effect the Ern Malley poems might have on the average individual.
    ‘Bewilderment,’ said Ellery, perhaps with the example of Detective Vogelesang in mind. ‘The majority of persons are mentally lazy and would not interpret them. Those not mentally lazy would interpret them and come to conclusions along the lines of Mr Harris. There are others again whom I do not think would try to reach a specific interpretation but would be satisfied with an emotional satisfaction such as one gets from listening to music, because the various sentences in these poems so far as I can see are held together not by logic so much as association of ideas.’
    Ellery also gave his opinion to Phillips that ‘the sexual references in these poems were too involved in their meaning to have a direct sexual effect or appeal to the reader’. This was an oasis of common sense in the drought that had overtaken the case. Williams, sensing that his terrier tactics might get him nowhere here, informed the court he had no questions.
    He recalled Harris instead. The temperature went up.
    ‘Would you enlighten me on what an “unforgivable rape” is, as used in “Sweet William”?’
    ‘All rape is unforgivable, the phrase in vacuo is a redundancy.’
    ‘The man in the street, hearing the term “unforgivable rape”, don’t you think he would take it as having sexual connotation?’
    ‘I don’t know what the ordinary man in the street thinks.’
    Williams had been waiting for this. ‘You consider yourself above the ordinary man in the street, don’t you?’
    Phillips objected and the magistrate asked Williams to put the question another way.
    ‘Do you consider you are not one who could be classified an ordinary common man?’
    ‘I have been born one, so I assume I am.’
    ‘You will notice that in the poem “Sweet William” the sixth line ends with the word “flesh”?’
    ‘The next line ends with the word “embrace”?’
    ‘Then the last line of the first stanza ends with “rape”.’
    ‘Don’t you think it reasonable in view of the recurrence of the words “flesh” and “embrace” before “rape” for one to assume that sexual rape is referred to?’
    ‘It is difficult for parts of mental personality to indulge in sexual activity.’
    ‘Please put that in another way.’
    ‘The images of the mental conflict are depicted in “rape” and the symbol “staircase of flesh” can bear no connection with the last part of the sentence. Your use of the  words “flesh”, “embrace” and “rape” as an association of ideas is utterly arbitrary, having been torn from the general meaning of the sentence.’
    ‘Doesn’t all that amount to this, that you refuse to try andinterpret literally, not in the sense that you won’t, but that youdon’t believe it is the proper way to study “Sweet William”?’
    ‘When the words “staircase of flesh” are used, I don’t intend to interpret it as a staircase made of flesh.’
    The court adjourned for lunch. Harris resumed the stand in the afternoon and Williams continued in the same niggling vein.
    In the middle of a protracted exchange over ‘Boult to Marina’, he queried Harris’s interpretation: ‘How do you get that out of it?’
    ‘I can’t explain how I get things, Mr Williams.’
    ‘You are unable to suggest to me why I don’t come to the same conclusion.’
    ‘I can’t suggest your defects, Mr Williams.’
    ‘You assume that you are a super-intelligent being.’
    ‘I assume nothing.’
    ‘You assume that I haven’t got the intelligence or the background to understand this.’
    ‘I assume you are not trying to understand it. I do not assume that if you try to understand it you would come to the same conclusion as myself.’
    ‘Do you concede that if I tried to understand it I could come to some conclusion quite different from yours?’
    ‘I can concede there might be minor differences of interpretation but substantially we would have the same emotional experience. Further than that one is unable to go in modern poetry.’
    Williams was indefatigable. Harris became increasingly abrupt though he never ceased to co-operate with this absurd exercise in practical criticism. Line by line the two of them sparred their way through ‘Boult to Marina’, ‘Night Piece’, ‘Perspective Lovesong’ and ‘Young Prince of Tyre’. If Harris was too inventive or defensive in his answers he was dealing with a prosecutor who made no attempt to disguise his contempt and paraded his refusal to digest what the defendant was saying. He was still in the box when the court adjourned for the day, and stepped back into it next day for Williams to quiz him about the remaining passages in Angry Penguins the Crown objected to. It was mid-morning before they completed what seemed an increasingly futile activity. Harris had spent the best part of two days giving evidence and had analysed the poems to death. The overwhelming impression given by the prosecution case was not that the poems had outraged the community by their obscenity but that the moment had come to address anxieties about their anomalous condition, their failure to have been written by Ern Malley, their failure to mean anything.
    J.I.M.Stewards testimony was heard with ‘oppressive respect’. He declared that Angry Penguins was a ‘serious literary journal’. He took an aesthete’s view that some of the writing in the issue was ‘indecent in the sense of offending against delicacy’ but ‘would not deprave or corrupt save in point of literary style’. He also repeated Judge Woolsey’s famous remark about Ulysses being ‘emetic rather than erotic’ though he did not refer the court to his source. Nobody took any notice.
    Brian Elliott’s evidence was brief and in agreement with Stewart: there were passages which were ‘distasteful to one’s sense of literary delicacy without any moral judgement being involved’. The case was adjourned for addresses by counsel on 4 October. Reed and Ellery took a crowded overnight train back to Melbourne. Ellery sat up until dawn reading The Vegetative Eye.
    ‘The test of indecent language,’ argued Phillips on 4 October, ‘was that it should be highly offensive to the recognized standard of propriety. The only way that you can find anything pornographic and lewd in these articles is by converting what is put forward as self-analysis as sexual emotions, and seeing what you can read into it, regardless of the context.’ Phillips described Angry Penguins as a serious magazine, though he seemed to concede ground when he admitted it might be crude or vulgar in parts but that it did not intend to deprave or corrupt. The Crown had seized words out of context, he said, and attempted to create an atmosphere of cheapness. Here Phillips had his grandest moment. He glanced across at Williams and declared, ‘I can only give the answer in the words which Dr Johnson used to the woman who protested against words which appeared in his dictionary — “Madam, you are looking for them”.’
    Williams was blunter. ‘The so-called Ern Malley poems have deliberately been used for the purpose of referring to sex,’ he contended. ‘It is revolting to common sense to say that these Ern Malley poems in particular have any clear meaning at all. It is only in one case that I can follow the defendant’s explanation. The approach of Harris to this sort of rubbish, a man who said that minds have to be attuned to higher things, is shown by the fact that he could not tell me the meaning of one of the words he was questioned about.’ Williams described the end of ‘Egyptian Register’ as ‘a sting. If it means what I think it does it is clearly indecent. People can’t be allowed to go around writing that sort of thing.’ He referred to various passages as ‘twaddle’, ‘meaningless nonsense’, ‘revolting and crude in the highest degree, deliberate pieces of smut’ which ‘must arouse the most lascivious thoughts in the minds of those open to the influence of impure thoughts and ideas’.
    Judgement was reserved. Harris telegrammed Reed: ‘DEFENCE WEAK WILLIAMS VICIOUS OUTLOOK BLACK’.
    Reed remained optimistic even though he felt the evidence the Penguins had given in their defence was ‘confused’, and he was disappointed with Phillips’ ‘dithering’. Harris held out no hope, and wrote a press release assuming they would lose. A few weeks later, on Friday, 20 October, the bespectacled Clarke delivered his twenty-page judgement. He interpreted ‘indecent’ as a ‘milder and wider term’ than ‘obscene’ which defined language ‘highly offensive to the recognised standards of common propriety’. ‘Immoral’ he took simply to mean ‘not moral’. He took Hicklin as the test for ‘obscene’. Clarke accepted that standards of decency were not absolute and commented that ‘the public is so used to somewhat gross literary aphrodisiacs that a work must be rather more daring than could have been published fifty years ago in order to unbalance the susceptible”. But it did not follow that ‘writers can fix their own standard of decency without regard to the standard of the reasonable man of his time’.
    Clarke was troubled, though, that the section did not allow literary merit as a defence, and thought it might be possible to prosecute certain plays by Shakespeare if their wording were interpreted literally. He got around this by citing decisions in favour of material that was prima facie obscene after the argument was successfully put that publication for the ‘public good’ was ‘necessary or advantageous to religion, science, literature or art.’ A prosecution under Section 108 might be defended in this way, Clarke suggested, and it ‘would avoid the absurdity of a bookseller having to be convicted’ because Shakespeare was on the shelves. This looked good for Harris — until the magistrate declared in the next breath that the passages complained of in Angry Penguins were certainly not advantageous to the pursuit of literature and art.
    Clarke also addressed the question of the true authorship of the poems and decided it was not material. At the time of publication Harris ‘firmly believed that the poems were Ern Malley’s and that Ern Malley, whom he regarded as a great poet, was dead’. Thus, when it considered the matter, the court declined to rule that Ern Malley did not exist, though the magistrate was struck by ‘the ludicrous aspect of a solemn and serious attempt to interpret seriously poems which may have been written in a far from serious spirit’.
    Clarke analysed each of the troubling passages in turn. ‘I do not attempt to set myself up as a literary expert,’ wrote the magistrate in his discussion of ‘Sweet William’, ‘but, in my opinion, the interpretation of this poem given by the defendant in evidence is sheer guesswork, and it seems to me impossible to give any satisfactory interpretation of the meaning of the poem as a whole. If the poem were intended to have a poetic meaning it seems to me that the poet has carefully disguised it so that no one but himself will know that meaning. To attempt to interpret this poem seems to me rather like attempting to unravel a crossword puzzle from a newspaper with the aid of only half the clues, and without the satisfaction of seeing the solution in the next issue.’
    Clarke wanted it both ways: to deny ‘satisfactory’ meaning and then to interpret the poetry as he did in the next sentence: ‘Although it is “my toppling opposites” which “commit the obscene, the unforgivable rape” after the person in the poem has or shall have proceeded “down the staircase of flesh” to where it happens, the image conjured up... “in a shuddering embrace” is the act of sexual rape, and even if “my toppling opposites” can refer to the emotions of self-denial and desire, in my opinion, the language used is poetically quite unjustifiable.’ He found the poem to be neither obscene nor immoral, but indecent.
    ‘Boult to Marina’ was ‘impossible to treat as a serious poem’, the magistrate declared. ‘“Boult-upright” is obviously a very poor pun... ‘He is referring to his purpose of having sexual intercourse with her. “The rest of me drops off into the night” may well have an indecent meaning, but it is not absolutely clear... I have no doubt at all in finding that the first stanza is indecent.’ Clarke found that neither of the ‘Night Piece’ poems were indecent, immoral or obscene, and he could not make sense of some of ‘Perspective Lovesong’ — though the third stanza gave ‘the mental picture of a woman with naked breasts and loins’ in which the poet was ‘rather gloating of the recollection of the physical attributes of her nakedness... The rest of the poem to my mind does not need this from any poetic point of view. The passages are simply dragged in without apparent reason.’ Guilty of indecency.
    ‘Egyptian Register’ was ‘nonsense’ which referred to the ‘genitals’ without justification, though the judge could not understand the phrase ‘make an immense index to my cold remorse’ and that saved it from constituting indecent language. In ‘Young Prince of Tyre’ the lines: ‘Poor Thaisa has a red wound in the groin / That ill advises our concupiscence to foin’ were pronounced to mean that ‘Thaisa has her menstrual periods so as to make it inadvisable to have sexual intercourse’. The judge agreed with J.I.M.Stewart that the lines, though ‘offensive to delicacy’, would ‘not be likely to deprave or corrupt save in point of literary style... Words can, however, be indecent without being likely to deprave or corrupt.’ Harris was done for.
    Ern Malley’s lack of decorum and want of literary politeness convicted his publisher. Professor Stewards use of the term ‘indecent’ in evidence did not help here, and Williams’ dogged attack on the quality of the poetry proved to have been a shrewd lactic. Section 108 was far more restrictive than the Hicklin test which only defined ‘obscene’. Denying a tendency to deprave or corrupt as Stewart and Phillips had sought to do would not get Harris off the hook. Hicklin was irrelevant. All the magistrate needed to be sure of was a lack of propriety. Clarke found none of the passages obscene or immoral but some indecent within the meaning of the term ‘indecent advertisements’. Harris’s contributions and Peter Cowan’s ‘The Fence’ were found indecent too. ‘There must therefore be a conviction,’ Clarke wrote, and warned Harris that he displayed ‘far too great a fondness for sexual references... I cannot but regard it as an unhealthy sign even from a literary point of view. Boldness in sexual reference is too often mistaken for brilliance. I think that the defendant should either acquire that art of delicacy in the handling of sexual topics which is so necessary in Literature, or avoid the topic altogether.’
    Harris was fined £5 in lieu of six weeks’ imprisonment. Costs of £21/11/- were awarded against him. He strode from the court and told reporters the Penguins would appeal all the way to High Court if necessary. Angry Penguins would continue being published but would not be available in South Australia. Then he walked past the triumphant, glowering Victoria once more and telegrammed to Reed: ‘MAGISTRATE GAVE VICIOUS SUNDAY SCHOOL SPEECH’. Reed was shattered and reported a feeling of disgust. ‘The guardians of our morals take liberties which are quite unpardonable,’ he said, ‘though one doesn’t know whether to lay most blame on them or on the legislators or on the public which permits them to function in this way.’ There was talk of establishing a Defence Fund, and the opinion of Ligertwood, a top Adelaide KC [King’s Counsel, a barrister], was sought. His assessment was blunt. The law made no allowance for literary and artistic works; it was arguable a case could be brought against Shakespeare in South Australia and succeed. Clarke had interpreted the law correctly. The Penguins’ best recourse would be to have the statute amended. [Note 3]
    The besieged Penguins had no contact with the inventors of Ern Malley either before or during the court case. McAuley and Stewart made no public comment on Harris’s troubles. It is hard to see how the pair, given their opinions of Ern Malley’s work, could have assisted the defence, though a cross-examination of what they understood as their motives and methods would have been fascinating. They were embarrassed and appalled by the actions of the police. Alec Hope expressed dismay at the ‘Harris obscenity hunt’. The conviction was widely condemned by writers, artists and civil libertarians, including some who thought poorly of Harris and Angry Penguins. On 16 October, the Argus in Melbourne published a multiply signed letter of protest from writers and others ‘vitally interested in Australian creative talent’. The signatures of the hoaxers were absent. Harold Stewart remembers they did draft their own letter to the Advertiser, pointing out that ‘if anyone ought to be prosecuted it was the authors, but then since we were quoting Shakespeare, the Oxford Dictionary, and the Bible, perhaps they should be indicted’. It was never sent.
    A few weeks later McAuley explained to Brian Elliott:

Harris’s little court drama was a pity. By a rather strained extension of the word literature, the police attack on his and Ern’s effusions constitutes an attack on literary freedom, which no one can view with equanimity. Clive Turnbull, in an article on the Dobell and Harris cases, saw fit to raise the question whether Stewart and myself foresaw the courtroom sequel — a suggestion unworthy even of a journalist. A letter of protest against the police action was sent to the papers by a number of people who described themselves, rather quaintly, as ‘vitally’ interested in Australian creative talent etc... Among the vitalists was Henrietta Drake-Brockman: she at first ‘supposed we would not want to sign it’; then, having been told the contrary, thought we should not sign it, because it was our ‘work’ which was under attack! Our only course would have been to write a separate letter. But in those circumstances, the purpose of the letter would have been less to promote Harris’s cause than to clear ourselves of the grubby imputations of the Turnbulls and Brockmans — a rather unworthy motive. You might explain this to Harris, though I don’t imagine he nurses any such suspicions.

    There was no appeal.
    By the end of November 1944 invading Allied armies were opening up a huge front on German soil. The Russians were advancing through Hungary. American planes bombed Tokyo at will. On 29 November Eisenhower and Montgomery met near the Dutch frontier to design the final defeat of Germany. On the same day, in Adelaide, the South Australian Commissioner of Police announced he had awarded a special mention to Detective Vogelesang for ‘zealousness and competency in securing evidence for the prosecution of an indecent publication’.

Chapter 10: The Black Swan of Trespass
Photo of Ern Malley

Max Harris moved to Melbourne early in 1945. He would always beat risk of further prosecution if he continued to edit Angry Penguins in his own city. The magazine could no longer be offered for sale in South Australia. Bitter at the treatment meted out by the panjandrums of Adelaide, he threw himself into his work with Reed & Harris: the partners launched a weekly newspaper called Tomorrow, and a polemical literary monthly, Angry Penguins Broadsheet.
    The firm continued to publish books, and there was talk of opening a bookshop. Harris was ebullient as ever, though he was often strapped for cash and lodged for a time with the Brotherhood of St Laurence. He and Nolan cadged free rides on trams driven by Nolan’s father. Harris would slip past the gate-keeper at the Melbourne City Baths at the top of Swanston Street for a free steam bath, and knew which restaurants would feed him for nothing just before they closed for the night.
    Harris landed on his feet after his drubbing, but he began to find it harder to believe in the manifest destiny of Angry Penguins, and his own self-evident genius. Doubts about his work and writing gnawed at him. Amo, Amas, Amat, a new book of his poetry that Nolan had agreed to illustrate, was delayed and then abandoned. He and Reed assembled three more issues of Angry Penguins after Ern Malley, the last in July 1946. The magazine was as handsome as ever, but had lost its focus. The end of the war lifted the lid on the pressure-cooker, and the cultural imperatives that had driven the Angry Penguins were slackening. Harris decided to start again from scratch.
    In October 1946, while the Reeds were on holiday in north Queensland, Nolan wrote from Melbourne with the news that Harris had resigned from the partnership and decamped to Adelaide. Reed was ‘bewildered and shattered’: he phoned Nolan from Townsville who told him ‘you must understand Max had to do this.’ Reed & Harris, now losing thousands instead of hundreds of pounds each year, was wound up, and ceased all its operations. The following year Nolan went to Sydney and in 1948 he married John Reed’s sister Cynthia. The couple left Australia for London soon after. Nolan’s relationship with both Sunday and John Reed was destroyed, and they were never reconciled.
    In Adelaide Harris dropped his role of bohemian modernist. In partnership with Mary Martin he became a bookseller, one of the best in the country. In 1952, in his early thirties, he announced he had stopped writing poetry because ‘he didn’t have anything to say any more’. Angry Penguins, he confessed, ‘built up an astounding monolith of obscure cult-ridden subjectivism, incredible in fervor for such a small country as Australia’. Later, he underlined this, admitting to ‘excesses, absurdities and intolerable posturings’ and declaring that ‘the poetic output of the modernists was of nugatory value’. The hostility of McAuley, Stewart and Hope was ‘justified in critical essence even if irresponsible in animus’.
    In 1953, Harris reluctantly agreed to help John Reed and Barrett Reid, a poet who had contributed to the Ern Malley edition of Angry Penguins, edit their new magazine, Ern Malley’s Journal. The title was defiant but by the third issue the editors began to worry whether the audience had taken the point. They ran an article with the dismal heading ‘Who was Ern Malley?’ and explained the whole sad story to readers who had forgotten or never knew. No further issues of Ern Malley’s Journal appeared after 1955, but the Reeds never abandoned their patronage of new painters and contemporary art. In the late fifties they established a Museum of Modern Art in Melbourne which flourished for a time but then closed its doors eight years later. John and Sunday Reed died within ten days of each other in December 1981. Heide II, their new home on their Heidelberg property, became a public museum and park for their extensive collection of modern Australian art.
    In 1955, Harris broke his silence with a slim new book The Coorong. Over the next two decades he helped to found and edit a couple of literary magazines, Australian Letters and Australian Book Review. His editorial work is the keystone of his literary achievement, though he became most famous as a columnist for Rupert Murdoch’s Australian, a pot-stirrer who held court before a popular audience until illness forced his retirement at the beginning of 1992. Sometimes he would write in the same kind of shorthand as the journalists who beat him up in 1944, but the jejune modernist also liked to shoot from the hip back then. ‘His chief failing is a loss of nerve,’ his old friend Geoffrey Dutton said, commenting on Harris’s ‘tendency to take the easy way out, to take sides with the Philistines he so abhorred as a young man, and who so gleefully denounced him at the time of the Ern Malley affair’. (‘Poppy-lopping’ is how Harris lists his recreation in Who’s Who in Australia.) Before he died John Reed confided that the hoax was ‘a very devastating experience’ for Harris. ‘I think it did something to him which, you know, he never recovered from.’ Harris continues to write poetry but rarely publishes it. ‘You’re vulnerable in your poetry,’ he told an interviewer. ‘I don’t want it to be available to those who don’t wish me particularly well.’ But he kept his sense of humour — he once announced a novel in progress entitled ‘Biography of a No-Hoper’, and a few years later declared a forthcoming book of poetry would be called ‘Poetic Gems’, after the famously bad nineteenth-century Scots poet William McGonagall. Poetic Gems appeared in 1979, but the novel was never published in full.
    The hoax was the imaginative pinnacle of Harris’s publishing life, the moment when all his literary dreams came true and then turned into a nightmare. He survived: Ern Malley became his scarlet letter, which he now wears with a kind of pride and affection. Whatever he thinks of his own early work, he has never disowned the hoax poems, and continues to sponsor new editions, in the belief that Ethel Malley gave him permission to publish Ern’s poetry until 1994, fifty years after the hoax. [Note 4]
    It must be difficult, whatever the evidence, to disbelieve in the existence of somebody who has sent you real letters with real stamps on them and real postmarks. In the first issue of Ern Malley’s Journal Harris confessed:

      I still believe in Ern Malley.
      I don’t mean that as a piece of smart talk. I mean it quite simply. I know that Ern Malley was not a real person, but a personality invented in order to hoax me. I was offered not only the poems of this mythical Ern Malley, but also his life, his ideas, his love, his disease, and his death... in Rookwood cemetery. Most of you probably didn’t think about the story of Ern Malley’s life. It got lost in the explosive revelation of the hoax. In the holocaust of argument and policemen, meaning versus nonsense, it was not likely you closed your eyes and tried to conjure up such a person as the mythical Ern Malley... a garage mechanic suffering from the onset of Grave’s Disease, with a solitary postcard of Dürer’s ‘Innsbruck’ on his bedroom wall. Of someone knowing he is to die young, in a world of war and death, and seeing the streets and the children with the eyes of the already dead.
      A pretty fancy. It can have no meaning for you. But I believed in Ern Malley. In all simplicity and faith I believed such a person existed, and I believed it for many months before the newspapers threw their banner headlines at me. For me Ern Malley embodies the true sorrow and pathos of our time. One had felt that somewhere in the streets of every city was an Ern Malley... in Hamburg, Vienna, Rome, Cleveland, Bombay... a living person, alone, outside literary cliques, outside print, dying, outside humanity but of it. And setting it down. The Germans talk about Weltschmerz. Always that sense of Weltschmerz expressed itself for me in some such person as Ern Malley.
      As I imagined him Ern Malley had something of the soft staring brilliance of Franz Kafka; something of Rilke’s anguished solitude; something of Wilfred’s Owen’s angry fatalism. And I believe he really walked down Princess Street somewhere in Melbourne. I believed that the children there picked their noses in the sun with their left hands.
      I can still close my eyes and conjure up such a person in our streets. A young person. A person without the protection against the world that comes from living in it. A man outside.

On a balmy evening in March 1988, I attended the launch of a new edition of The Darkening Ecliptic in a chic Adelaide bookshop, presided over by Max Harris. A mustachioed man in owl-eyed glasses, dressed in an old grey suit and grubby white shirt with a red bow-tie — Ern Malley himself, we were told — recited the poems in a loud whine. Ethel Malley, in frock and hat, looked on. Ern launched into ‘Petit Testament’, with its talk of transfigured sadness, of the inevitable graph, of a nightmare become real. The audience chuckled. I stole a glance at Harris, a plump, elegant figure in his late sixties, cigarette in hand, resting on his silver-capped cane in a corner of the crowded room. He tilted his body forward, head at a slight angle as if to hear better — though Ern was shrieking so loudly he might have woken the dead:

I said to my love (who is living)
Dear we shall never be that verb
Perched on the sole Arabian Tree
Not having learnt in our green age to forget
The sins that flow between the hands and feet
(Here the Tree weeps gum tears
Which are also real: I tell you
These things are real).

    With a cherub’s half-smile, Max Harris opened and closed his mouth in time with Ern, ‘Here the Tree weeps gum tears / Which are also real.’ Ern Malley paused for effect. Max Harris paused too and then, ‘I tell you,’ he mouthed, to himself, to nobody, to his love who was living. These things are real.’

‘As to whether I’m sick of the nonsense, words fail me,’ James McAuley confessed at the end of November 1944. He and Harold Stewart were eager to put the hoax behind them. Early in 1945 McAuley went to Canberra [Australia’s federal capital] to help prepare future administrators of New Guinea for their tasks, and he continued with this work in Sydney after V-Day. Stewart served out his war in the directorate. Both men began to seek their separate truths in religious experience, in search of a metaphysic with millennia behind it. In particular they were reading René Guénon, the French scholar in comparative religion, and the Angle-Sinhalese, A. K. Coomaraswamy, who worked for thirty years at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and who wrote extensively on Eastern art and religion until his death in 1947.
    For Stewart, especially, who was learning Chinese and reading deeply in Taoism, these men showed the way. After he was demobbed [demobilised from the army] he stayed for a while with his old friend Alt Conlon in North Sydney, who was finishing his medical degree and would later go into practice. But towards the end of the forties Stewart went back to Melbourne where he lived for the next quarter century, working in a bookshop and writing his poetry in isolation. His audience was tiny, and to most he was known dimly as the co-creator of Ern Malley. His literary identity in Australia progressively diminished, and his influence on other writers was nil. Stewart had loathed the way Ern Malley thrust celebrity on him and the result was that he became invisible to the public. ‘I made a firm resolve that I would simply withdraw from the whole literary world in Australia and have nothing further to do with it,’ he told me, ‘and I never have. You stop being a private person, you can no longer have any solitude and silence to get on with the real business of writing poetry, you’re a figure of fun, pestered by journalists morning, noon, and night. I’ve gone out of my way all my life to avoid fame.’
    In 1956, Stewart published a sequence of poems based on Orpheus and Eurydice, the last time he touched Western themes. A Net of Fireflies and A Chime of Windbells, two highly successful collections of haiku in translation, appeared in the sixties. Each sold in excess of 50,000 copies. For years he dreamed of emigrating to the East, and immersing himself in its traditional culture. Stewart made a pilgrimage to Japan in 1961 — the first time he had been out of Australia — and settled in Kyoto five years later. For a long time he lived in a single room in a private hotel but now has a three-roomed apartment in the north-east of the city, not far from the imperial retreat at Shugakuin.
    Stewart is a treasury of information about Kyoto, its art, literature, religious and philosophic traditions, architecture, topography, climate. I have never met anyone who knew so much about plants, birds, food, about different ways to make paper, to prepare ceramic glazes, or interpret details of dress. He adores facts — citing Blake’s ‘every minute particular is holy’ — and has an elephantine memory. All this is evident in By the Old Walls of Kyoto, a long poem Stewart published in 1981 in homage to the ancient capital of Japan and to his deepening faith in Buddhism. Stewart loves to tell the story of seeing some tourists negotiating their way around Kyoto clutching an open copy of the book. The explanatory essays in Old Walls are astonishingly dense, written with the determination of the initiate to omit nothing from his account of a culture he has lovingly absorbed from scratch. Stewart has learned to write poetry more plainly as he has grown older, though his work has never lost its painterly qualities, and its ability to linger over intricate detail.
    Stewart’s life in Kyoto is austere and saintly: what fires his imagination are dramatic tales about the great religions of Asia, about Hindu holy men who teach by silence or Buddhist monks who traverse hot coals unscathed. He is now engaged on what he considers the culmination of his life’s work, a long poem on the East called Autumn Landscape-Roll. His work stands alone. No writer of this century has influenced him. A tiny fraction of his readers are au fait with his subject. Stewart has no nostalgia for Australia and will never return. He sometimes seems to think of his Australian years as a previous incarnation. ‘I have never written a single line about Australia,’ he told me. ‘Isn’t that strange? It probably seems strange to an Australian. It’s a country that repels me. I find it very alien and hostile. As a small child of five or six, I was taken to see the bush and I burst into tears of inconsolable grief and had to be taken home.’ Stewart has long grown weary of the hoax. ‘One day someone is going to have a brilliantly original idea, ‘ he remarked. They’re going to write a book about the life and works of James McAuley or Harold Stewart, or both, without mentioning Ern Malley.’
    After the war James McAuley worked in Sydney at the Australian School of Pacific Administration, training patrol officers for duty in New Guinea. He visited the island many times and it was the crucible in which he forged his conversion to Catholicism in1952. In New Guinea McAuley saw a ‘primitive’, integrated, culture struggling with the influence of the West, but also came into contact with European missionaries whose faith in the Christian mystery awed him. He set out to heal the dislocations which haunted his life and poetry, to insist his own society recover spiritual traditions he believed it had not properly observed since the middle ages. Some of his old friends were incredulous at his conversion — ‘he went out like a light’, Amy Witting recalled. Later, in response to his ‘Letter to John Dryden’ — ‘Thus have I written hoping to be read / A little now, a little when I’m dead’ — she wrote ‘A Letter to James McAuley’ which concluded:

Your eyes I fear are permanently shut.
At least you reach your goal, of being read,
This present moment, after you are dead.

    Alec Hope told McAuley the ‘existence of god’ was ‘a hunger not a fact’. Yet he congratulated his friend for his courage in converting, though ‘the spectre of yourself a few years ago muttered “insipid, foolish, repellent” in your ear’. A few months later, however, he chastised McAuley for his narrowing outlook: ‘Your cultural pyramid seems to me to have the nice authority of a simple geometrical figure but a living and complex organism such as the literary tradition of Western Europe can no more be forced into a simple geometrical shape than most complex organisms can.’ For his part McAuley told Hope his own poetry was ‘morally dangerous material’. Even Stewart, who understood better than anyone McAuley’s search for a via mystica, grew impatient with him: ‘Blast McAuley for a meddling, chauvinistic, Jesuitical, proselytizing, Popish pomposity! Why doesn’t he save his own soul first?’ he exploded to Hope.
    McAuley the militant Christian was also a cold warrior. In 1955 he played his part in one of the key events of post-war Australian politics, the formation of the right-wing Catholic splinter group, the Democratic Labor Party, which split from the Australian Labor Party, led — in opposition to Menzies’ Liberal Party — by Bert Evatt. McAuley now despised Evatt with a passion — ‘The traitors’ tribune, bigots’ Galahad / The greatest blot this country ever had’ — and became involved in party politics. He wrote letters to newspapers, fought with the Catholic hierarchy who were determined to avoid any schism in Labor ranks, and chaired a committee which helped form the New South Wales branch of the DLP. A Vision of Ceremony, a book of poems he published in 1956, celebrated his faith, savagely defended his politics and raged against the kind of liberal, sceptical thinking he once identified with. McAuley postulated his aesthetic credo:

Scorn then to darken and contract
The landscape of the heart
By individual, arbitrary
And self-expressive art.

Let your speech be ordered wholly
By an intellectual love;
Elucidate the carnal maze
With clear light from above.

    The imperious tone was characteristic. McAuley’s insistence on thumping the pulpit in his poetry may have sometimes deceived him about the tenor of his language. ‘Elucidate the carnal maze’ sounds like an overblown Malleyism to me. Perhaps the lesson of the hoax for McAuley was that poetry could have a dramatic public impact, could change people’s lives and jolt them into action. His poetry turned doctrinal, and his literary judgements were fierce: a friend who admired The Waste Land was taken aback when McAuley dismissed its author as that ‘post-Shelleyan goon squad cheerleader’. When occasion demanded McAuley would rustle up the spectre of Ern Malley to make his point. Reviewing his fellow Catholic Vincent Buckley’s first book of poems The World’s Flesh in 1955, he compared Buckley with Malley and lashed out at the neo-romantic forties with their ‘appalling Anglo-American series of galvanic twitchings simulating vitality, spasms of ineffectual violence, incoherent complexities, unclued scrawls, nauseating coagulates and colloids of opaque imagery, mere Rorschach blotches’.
    McAuley still saw himself as an outsider: except now he was defending institutions he scorned in his youth. In 1956 he became founding editor of the conservative quarterly Quadrant, and three years later published The End of Modernity, a jeremiad against what he saw as the decadence of post-Renaissance culture. He became Professor of English at the University of Tasmania, and in 1964 published Captain Quiros which many thought might be his magnum opus, the grand mythic poem to unite an heroic narrative with the evocation of religious and intellectual passion. But the poems McAuley subsequently wrote, some of them the best things he ever did, were not like this at all: they were brief, personal lyrics, plain and modest, outlining their own contracted landscape of the heart. ‘I make no comment; I don’t know; / I don’t know what there is to know’, he said in one of his last poems. There were moments of paralysing doubt. ‘“Dark night” is too grand a phrase,’ he told Alec Hope in the sixties, ‘but there is the loss of all natural appetite for religious exercises, much soreness and fatigue, and prayer only in darkness’, and complained of ‘being held fast, out of sight by the God I don’t feel at all interested in or cognizant of.’ But McAuley survived his doubts: he never abandoned his religious faith or his political convictions.
    Harold Stewart and Max Harris never met. McAuley encountered the ex-Angry Penguin for the first time at an international conference of magazine editors in Sydney sponsored by Quadrant in late August 1961, almost two decades after the hoax. There was anticipation of flying sparks but instead they talked through the night with the aid of a large quantity of whiskey. The two men became friends. ‘I think Max naturally took a certain amount of hurt from it and I have never been in retrospect comfortable about that,’ McAuley said of the hoax a few months before his death, ‘but I think one could say, and I think Max would probably also say, over a long life, various things happen, that was one incident, and you survive most things.’
    James McAuley grappled with the ogre of modernism more strenuously than any other poet of his generation in Australia. He stared into the same black hole as Baudelaire and Eliot — and then averted his gaze. I think his own stability depended on this: he never did anything by halves, and once remarked that the production of art by surrender to the irrational forces of the unconscious ‘has its own personal dangers’ and ‘can upset or destroy a personality’. Ern Malley was a parody of that process of disintegration, but McAuley believed in the urgency of the warning he posted. He seemed to think he had escaped the implications of his libertarian youth, with its terrible dreams and cold remorse, by the skin of his teeth:

Beware of the past;
Within it lie
Dark haunted pools
That lure the eye
To drown in grief and madness . . .

Fear to recall
Those terrible dreams
That sickened the heart
Or tore with screams
The shocked affrighted air . . .

    He never trusted the mountains and cliffs of fall in his own mind, and he knew that contradictory identities wrangled within him. ‘I am not resigned / To be what I do’, he wrote in the fifties. ‘Living, I seem to live / Outside my nature’. He had a strong sense of evil in himself and in others. The Church allowed him to tame his demons — the intensity of his conversion suggests how desperately he needed to believe — but it is at least arguable that when McAuley put his work at the service of God the force of his language was diminished. The proselytizer overwhelmed the man who had seen into the heart of darkness and recoiled in horror. Those bare, bleak and oddly moving poems of his final years, with their refusal to judge, suggest that McAuley knew this too. One need only look at a late photograph of his handsome and ravaged face to realize what a mercurial and complex man he was. James McAuley died of cancer on 15 October 1976. For many Australians he was the most remarkable person they had known.
    Ern Malley was not the first caricature of ‘revolutionary’ modernism but he is the most interesting. In 1885, two French writers, Gabriel Vicaire and Henri Beauclair, produced Les Deliquescences, eighteen ‘decadent’ poems by a non-existent symbolist poet named Adoré Floupette, which strikingly resembled the work of Mallarmé, Rimbaud and Verlaine in turn. Vicaire, disguised as the chemist Marius Tapora, Floupette’s boyhood friend, subsequently wrote the poet’s biography. According to Marius Tapora, Floupette grew up in provincial France, an overweight boy who was obsessed by spiders. He came to Paris and found his true destiny as a symbolist poet, perpetually drunk with the power, the colour and the music of words. He haunted the cafés and cultivated his decadent tendencies. On the wall of his room was Floupette’s ultimate symbol, a painting of a huge spider, which sent shivers down Tapora’s spine. A bouquet of eucalyptus was at the end of each leg and in the middle of its body was a large, dreamy eye.
    Harold Stewart had never heard of Adore Floupette when he helped create Ern Malley, and there is no evidence James McAuley had either. Nor did they know about a hoax that took place on the other side of the Atlantic, in 1916 when two American poets of little significance devised a new literary movement called ‘Spectra. They wanted to send up imagism, Ezra Pound’s invention, which had become the fad of ‘Amygism’ under the presidency of Amy Lowell. Arthur Davison Ficke took the pseudonym of Anne Knish and Witter Bynner called himself Emanuel Morgan. Knish contributed a manifesto defining the ‘Spectric’ method (‘not so wholly different from... Futurist Painting’) and a slender book of poems was sent out as the emissary of the movement. The poems were smart, inane, Chinesey — Ezra Pound’s Cathay had appeared the year before — and rather charming. Morgan mimed philosophical depth while Knish could flip into bathos at will.
    They fooled everybody: Pound, William Carlos Williams who corresponded with Emanuel Morgan, Alfred Kreymbourg, editor of Others, an avant-garde magazine that devoted a special issue to the movement. But in the end, after its unmasking, Spectra didn’t matter: the imagists had moved on anyway, and the hoax turned into a benign joke. Witter Bynner continued to write intermittently in the person of Emanuel Morgan and was even prepared to admit that some of his best work appeared under that name. Ern Malley may be very funny but there is nothing charming either about his poetry, by turns limpid and tortuous, or about the motivation which created him. McAuley and Stewart meant business, and there was no chance, once the game was up, that either would step into Ern’s shoes again.
    Ern Malley also has things in common with the great eighteenth-century hoaxes: Chatterton, the ‘marvellous boy’, the best hoax poet in English; James Macpherson, the deviser of Ossian, whom Goethe adored and Napoleon preferred to Homer; and William Henry Ireland who shamelessly added to the output of Shakespeare. All have an affection for the incongruous, the tinny and hyperbolic. Obsessed with style, hoax poetry is synthetic and self-referential, like Chatterton’s fake Chaucerian argot or Ern Malley’s ‘No-Man’s-language’ — a literal description of the hoax and a hint to its satirical intent. Hoaxers love to pepper their work with clues. Anne Knish defined the Spectric vision by suggesting how ‘the ghosts which surround reality are the vital part of that existence’, while Ern Malley warned that ‘It is necessary to understand / That a poet may not exist’. Max Harris misread giveaways like this one, with its intimations of mortality, as the signature of his poet. All successful hoaxes play out a comedy of misplaced belief. On 20 February 1795, when Boswell first saw the fake Shakespearean documents concocted by William Henry Ireland, he went down on his knees and proclaimed, ‘I shall now die contented, since I have lived to witness the present day.’
    Hoaxes are often written fast, as Ern Malley was, by people who must feel something like the thief’s rush of adrenalin. William Ireland contrived his mass of phoney papers in a period of five or six weeks. It remains almost inconceivable that one human being, boy or man, could have turned out that quantity in less than a month and a half,’ gaped his biographer. The Spectra poems (60 pages of them) were written over ten quarts of Scotch in a hotel in Moline, Illinois, in ten days. Kenneth Koch, an early American enthusiast of Ern Malley, once wrote some poems with John Ashbery where each poet produced alternate lines. It’s like having the muse in the room,’ Koch says of collaborating at speed. ‘You have to write fast or you bore the other person.’ In 1944 Alec Hope told the editor of Meanjin, should he doubt the story about how quickly the poems were written, ‘that McAuley and Stewart are both remarkably apt at improvised poetry and have practised it for years on a number of subjects. They are in addition remarkable blokes.’ When Hope heard ‘from a possibly reliable source that Maxie is off on another wild-goose chase’ with the theory ‘that Stewart actually wrote poems in illness as Ern Malley over a considerable period of time and subsequently used them for the hoax’ he retorted: ‘Don’t say a word. If he follows this up he will stick his neck out for the axe a second time. I have correspondence enough on the progress of the hoax to blow the pants off his theory.’ [Note 5]
    The fidgety ghost might not have been visible but he was always there, clanking his chains off-stage. Ern Malley’s negative influence in Australia peaked in the late fifties when there was no one local writers wanted to resemble less. In 1960 [possibly 1959 — J.T.] the poet and broadcaster John Thompson produced a radio feature on the hoax for the Australian Broadcasting Commission. [/See Jacket/] It was the beginning of Malley’s resurrection, and he began to re-emerge in his oddly stubborn way as a figure in his own right. In 1961, seventeen years after his first, spectacular manifestation, a new edition of the poems was published. By this time almost all talk of the ‘experimental’ and the ‘avant-garde’ had fallen silent in Australia. The advent of the cold war, the ascendancy of the English ‘movement’ poets, the difficulty for Australians in obtaining new American writing in the fifties, and the emergence of the university in Australia as the single most powerful sponsor of literary activity all combined to snuff out 1940s-style bohemianism and avant-gardism. Only the painters Angry Penguins had sponsored survived unscathed. The literary enemies of the Angry Penguins, ‘traditionalists’ like Hope and McAuley, who invented their own kinds of ‘modern’ poetry out of disdain for modern values, became the pre-eminent poets and critics in Australian letters.
    Was the hoax so influential in itself as to suppress an entire trend in contemporary Australian poetry, or was it that the guardians of the flame, who fought tenaciously for the qualities they wished to preserve in poetry, were among the strongest poets in the country anyway? The suppression theory is widely believed. In 1988 the critic Don Anderson declared: ‘The great blow against any possibility of the modernist enterprise in Australia was of course struck in 1944 by the Em Malley hoax... the great catastrophe to our letters.’ This strikes me as wishful thinking. It is impossible to prove that the hoax prevented the writing of first-rate poetry in Australia of any kind, though it is true that we shall never know what kind of ‘modernism’ Harris might have matured into had his development not been checked by his public humiliation. We know he did write some good poems after the hoax, none the less. The belief that Ern Malley was a kind of proof against modernism may have helped encourage some ephemeral ‘school of McAuley’ or ‘school of Hope’ writing in the fifties and sixties, but it stretches credibility to suggest minor work in one vein would have been major in another. Some writers have talked of feeling that the literary and publishing climate of the fifties was not sympathetic to poetry that risked looking strange or different from the ‘norms’ Hope and McAuley had established: this may be true, but to talk of the hoax as the determining factor in this state of affairs is simplistic. Besides, modernism has always thrived by presenting itself as the dissident voice arguing at the gate of stuffy, ‘official’, repressive culture. Ern Malley was surely the definitive red rag to any snorting modernist.
    Enthusiasm for an ‘avant-garde’ in Australian poetry revived in the sixties and is yet to work itself out, or at least to be superseded. Sponsored by the Academy, ‘modernism’ is now part of the official literary culture, institutionalized as ‘post-modernism’, and the argument for experiment is a conventional one. But an avant-garde in Australian poetry remains a contradiction in terms. There is no poetry which enters the tradition by making everything that immediately preceded it seem untenable, as the Lyrical Ballads did the heroic couplet or The Waste Land did the Georgian pastoral. Just as it does not make sense to talk about Australia’s greatest novelists, Christina Stead or Patrick White, in terms of a ‘vanguard’, the major figures of post-war Australian poetry — among them Hope, McAuley, David Campbell, Judith Wright, Gwen Harwood, Francis Webb, Peter Porter, Les Murray, Robert Adamson — cannot be satisfactorily discussed in terms of any revolutionary history. (And no Australian poet can hold a candle to White or Stead, though Malley sometimes brings to mind the flavour of White’s early novels, written during the war, with their mercurial and highly coloured forays into stream-of-consciousness experimentalism.) A number of poets, including Alan Wearne, Laurie Duggan, John A. Scott, John Forbes, and John Tranter, matured in the sixties and seventies during a period of rapid assimilation. Their international models were largely French and American, especially Black Mountain and the New York school, though Pound, Stevens and Williams were also influential. This was the first time contemporary American poetry was widely imitated in Australia.
    The reaction of Australian poets to Malley varies. Judith Wright (b.1915), whose work has great traditional strengths, speculated that the poems were ‘a good deal better than true hoax poems need be’, and reasoned this was because work produced by poets amid ‘hilarious excitement’ was ‘apt to contain flashes of really exciting prosody, and to have a degree of internal organization and (conscious or unconscious) allusion much higher than can be achieved by non-poetic minds applying themselves to verse’. ‘A poem cannot be made out of isolated brilliant images,’ she suggested, ‘but the whole cadence and management of these verses was obviously expert, even without the images.’

Photo of Peter Porter, Sydney, 1983, by John Tranter

Peter Porter, Sydney, 1983
Photo by John Tranter

Peter Porter (b.1929) did not read Ern Malley until 1974: he poems struck him then ‘as being only mediumly obscure and modern, and sometimes exhibited real poetic frisson. Each poem made sense and compared (say) with what we take for granted in Ashbery and a hundred others today the Malley archive could not be considered extreme.’
    Les Murray (b.1938), on the other hand, sees the poems as having no particular merit but simply as ‘a hoax got up to discredit a movement. They were successful for a while in that, but it has to be faced: they did hurt a number of people, and condemn an enthusiastic editor to a lifetime of assertive and slightly pathetic self-justification, and they did bring about a temporary narrowing and deadening of the arts in Australia, and prolong the life of some pretty lousy anti-artistic attitudes here.’
    John Tranter (b.1943) who thinks his work has been influenced by Malley ‘to some small extent’, first read him in the mid-sixties, and was struck by the ‘bizarre power’ and the ‘authority’ of the verse. He recalls discussing with his contemporary Robert Adamson the idea that Malley was a precursor, a poetic father figure for their generation. ‘He stood in relation to the poetry of the fifties rather the way we felt we stood in relation to that poetry too. It was a joke at the time for us to say that Ern Malley was one of Australia’s best poets, but we both knew that it was more than a joke, we half-believed it.’ In 1991 Tranter co-edited a Penguin anthology of modern Australian poetry which included The Darkening Ecliptic entire.
    Ern Malley was read outside Australia too. By 1943 the American poet and visiting serviceman Karl Shapiro had tired of Harris: ‘I simply couldn’t put up with any more blather about Kafka and George and Rimbaud,’ he said. The hoax delighted Shapiro ‘as nothing else could’. It was ‘a classic and a pretty important bit of demolition’, he thought. The following year, back in the United States, he reported ‘a sincere interest in Australian letters’ though ‘it wasn’t encouraged any by Ern Malley’. But 1945, the year Shapiro won the Pulitzer Prize, was also the year John Ashbery discovered Ern Malley. ‘I liked the poems very much,’ Ashbery recalls. ‘They reminded me a little of my own early tortured experiments in surrealism, but they were much better.’ In 1961, the year of Ern Malley’s Australian comeback, the American avant-garde put him into print. He appeared in Locus Solus, a magazine edited in France by the prose writer Harry Mathews and by Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, and James Schuyler, key figures in the so-called New York school of poetry. Koch phoned James McAuley for permission to publish ‘Boult to Marina’ and ‘Sybilline’ in a special collaboration issue of Locus Solus, which included everyone from Basho to Chatterton to Paul Eluard, who invented the ‘exquisite corpse’ poems. These were one liners written by groups of five poets who would each secretly inscribe a word on a slip of paper. Such sentences ensued as ‘The exquisite cadaver shall drink the new wine.’ In his discussion of the hoax in Locus Solus, Koch praised the ‘profundity and charm’ of Ern Malley’s work and found it ‘hard not to agree’ with Harris’s initial judgement of the poems. ‘I remember I had a rather lively sense of Ern Malley as a real person when I first heard about him,’ Koch recalls.
    A decade later, in 1971, when he was in his early twenties, and deep into the work of Ted Berrigan, Ashbery, Koch and Frank O’Hara, the poet John Forbes (b.1950) stumbled on this edition of Locus Solus in a second-hand bookstore in Sydney. He promptly went to the library and retrieved the poems of Ern Malley which he had never read. Forbes reacted against the ‘myth’ that Malley prevented the modernist revolution from taking hold in Australia: ‘I had a fairly dismissive attitude to the entire corpus of Australian poetry up to that time,’ Forbes remembers.’ [Note 6] ‘My major feeling was that Harris and those guys must have been wimps. “This destroyed modernism!” Why did it destroy modernism? I have a better idea now why it did because I have a better idea of the social context in which poetry gets published, appreciated and talked about. But the idea that somehow you couldn’t write modernist poetry because of this hoax seemed ludicrous to me.’ Forbes maintains, however, that Malley exercised no influence on his own development.
    Ashbery’s and Koch’s appreciation of Malley is a little like Baudelaire’s fondness for Poe whom he imported into France and then shipped back to America as a symboliste. The Ern Malley Forbes read in Locus Solus was an altogether different poet from the scarecrow who seemed to cast a shadow over the possibilities of Australian poetry. The qualities McAuley and Stewart took care to insert in their fake — Malley’s love of pastiche and ironic quotation, his cavalier refusal to think in a straight line, his skill at mimicking the sound of a Bad Poem — can all be found in the work of poets like Tranter or Forbes, and suggest that Ern was rather ahead of his own time. The hoax is, however improbably, the conduit across the Pacific between the New York avant-garde and the Australian poets who began to write under its spell.
    For the Americans, Malley’s credentials were more impeccable because he did not exist. Koch remembers that he and Ashbery thought of Malley as a secret exotic figure, precious because he was outlandish, though neither poet thinks Malley had any influence on his work. Koch taught Ern Malley to his students at Columbia University for years and in the mid-seventies, at Brooklyn College, John Ashbery would, in the exam for the creative writing course he taught, print without attribution one of Geoffrey Hill’s Mercian Hymns — densely constructed, massively serious, late modernism, if ever it existed — beside a poem by Ern Malley, and tell his students:

One of the two poems below is by a highly respected contemporary poet; the other is a hoax originally published to spoof the obscurity of much modern poetry. Which do you think is which? Give your reasons. Can obscurity ever benefit poetry? Do you think it possible that the intellectual spoof might turn out to be more valid as poetry than the ‘serious” poem, and if so, why?

    Ashbery remembers his students ‘rather enjoyed the exam. About half picked Ern Malley as the spoof - which means that half picked Geoffrey Hill.
    To read Ern Malley is like crossing the street in a foreign city. You can’t remember which way to look, and keep trying to second-guess the poems, to come to grips with the ambition to deceive and the effect of the deception. Malley can write very well and very badly, sometimes in the same line. That is a highly unusual phenomenon. Unevenness in art more often indicates a failure of the imagination and has a deadening rather than an enlivening effect. The poet Harris fell in love with has vanished for ever, but we can enjoy aspects of the poetry Harris missed altogether. Vivian Smith may be correct when he says that Ern Malley does not add up to ‘a coherent work of art’ but the hoax amounts to something far less common than mere incoherence and fascinating in itself: a pretend work of art. Once the game is up with such constructions anything may happen. Ern Malley knew this, and prophesied in the final line he ever wrote, ‘Beyond is anything.’ Malley has become a legendary figure in Australia, one of a handful of names — like Phar Lap, the tragic racehorse, or Ned Kelly, the noble bushranger — embedded in the national psyche. The more successful the hoax, the harder it is to obliterate, even when the truth is known. A good hoax is like a snapshot of the Zeitgeist.
    Ern Malley demonstrates with peculiar force the impact of a fictional event on the people who believed in it; how they thought of themselves, how they lived their lives and made their art under the influence of this fiction. It cannot be reduced to a sequence of poems: the hoax was really a piece of performance art before the form was invented. Ern Malley invaded the real world in a way few real writers do, and in ways the hoaxers never imagined. They viewed his persistence with dismay, and must sometimes have wished they had spent that Saturday afternoon in 1943 dutifully reading reports on mosquito control. Does Ern Malley prove the intentionalist fallacy, a key tenet of the New Criticism, postulated in the 1940s, which states that the intention of the artist is irrelevant to the effect of the work of art? Would not the poetry have faded into oblivion by now were it as empty of value as Stewart and McAuley believed? But wait: we know about the intention of the hoaxers, which the poetry legibly declares. Their ambition was to deceive Max Harris, and they were entirely successful. Or perhaps Ern Malley fulfils Roland Barthes’ more recent dream of the death of the author, superseded by the ‘text’ conceived of as ‘a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash’. Maybe, but the trouble with Ern Malley is that just when we abandon ourselves to the seductions of his language, the authors barge through the door, shouting ‘Hands Up!’
    Only an artist can make a riddle out of a solution, declared the satirist Karl Kraus. If McAuley and Stewart were justified in the critical point they wished to uphold, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that their agent Ern Malley muddied the waters. He is an enigma half a century of debate has not solved. Had they wished, the hoaxers could have written far more ineptly than Malley does. They did not construct a poet who could not write, or who was a bore, or who had nothing at all to say, but one who  writes with panache in a way they thought spurious. Malley was designed to attract attention and that is just what he has done ever since Harris did backflips.
    The Angry Penguins’ theory — that the hoaxers, liberated from inhibitions operating in their ‘serious’ poetry, were in touch with previously untapped sources of creativity in the unconscious — has appealed to many but does not account for the nature of the verse. Ern Malley is hardly a good test of the irrational unconscious in action since much of the time he makes conscious and rational reference to his own status as a surrealist hoax. And, as Brian Elliott observed, the fact that the poems ‘didn’t make sense’ was evidence that the hoaxers ‘knew what they were about’. Ern Malley can’t really prove anything about the value of free association as a viable ‘method’ for writing poetry, since his dream-like visions are hardly ‘free’ of the satire that interrupts them.
    Whether he wrote poetry ‘better’ than the independent works of the poets who wrote him, as some have asserted, is arguable, but as doubtful as the claim that Malley has no merit at all. This is no longer the crucial issue it was in the days when his creators were two young men with only a handful of poems to their names: in the to and fro of debate, Malley’s detractors have underestimated his work, and his supporters often overvalued him. Peter Porter remarked that the poems probably ‘have more flair if not more competence than the serious works of their perpetrators’. Malley’s tragicomic brio is as unmistakable as the mature accomplishment of McAuley and Stewart, who were in search of something more than flair. ‘Only Ern Malley could write like a genius all the time,’ Harold Stewart reminded McAuley in August 1944. Perhaps a more useful way to speculate about the value of Malley is to ask whether anything in his poetry can stand comparison with the strongest examples of the kind of work he satirizes, George Barker’s Calamiterror, say, or Dylan Thomas’s ‘Fern Hill’?
    Still, the hoax is the most fascinating thing Angry Penguins ever published. In cooking up their poet to a satirical recipe, McAuley and Stewart threw into the brew a seasoning of anarchic intelligence and comic self-laceration. Writing pretentiously, they described a mind so aware of pretension that it debunks itself with aplomb. In the end, Malley is really unlike the sort of grandstanding, romantic surrealism he mocks. It pays to remember that two very different temperaments and personalities were constructing the work without bothering to smooth the edges. Like a medium possessed by a host of spirits, Ern Malley freely exhibits his multiple consciousness. There is not one Ern Malley but several, and they are all mutually exclusive characters. There is Ern Malley, the black swan of trespass, the native modernist talented enough to turn the poetic tradition of his country on its head. There is Ern Malley the jejune and modish experimentalist who does belly-flops in his attempt to look significant. There is the Ern Malley who bravely stares his own death in the face, and the Ern Malley who slyly tells the reader he never was. All these writers were essential to the hoaxers’ fiction. Each contradicts the others and helps give the poetry its dizzy, speeded-up quality, as Malley rifles through his composite self.
    Ern Malley the self-conscious fake is a more interesting writer than the moribund genius Harris thought real. If he was wrong about most things in Malley, Harris was right, as Brian Elliott pointed out years ago, to recognize him as ‘a remarkable tour de force.’ James McAuley agreed the hoax has a vaudevillian energy. Malley flips between being the Australian Jules Laforgue, the futile disconsolate mind that haunts the future while forgoing all the glory, and the Australian Groucho Marx, the mercurial wit who observes how the living stand upright by habitual insouciance and then wants to mourn at his own funeral.
    Were Ern Malley real he would not be half as alluring as we now find him. As poet and cipher he represents, with whatever perversity or futility, the definitive moment in Australian literary modernism. Malley is the exception that proves the rule: he is the only genuinely avant-garde writer in a country which has never sponsored a literary revolution. After him a species of poetry became untenable for a while, though that would have happened anyway, I think. The hoaxers used the Swiftian tactic of constructing a more powerful image of modernist identity than had hitherto existed in Australia — admittedly, not a huge achievement — and then discrediting it. The hoax is the most decisive piece of literary criticism ever produced in Australia. But it was more than two people pissing on modernism, as they could have done in an essay — it was a creative act, no matter how tendentious, which became part of the idiom it satirized. From their opening line, most parodies advertise themselves as being modelled on an identifiable writer: ‘As we get older we do not get any younger,’ Henry Reed wrote in ‘Chard Whitlow’, his brilliant take on Four Quartets. ‘Seasons return, and today I am fifty-five, / And this time last year I was fifty-four / And this time next year I shall be sixty-two.’ To work as nonsense, the lines require us to recognize the intonation of T. S. Eliot. Ern Malley is better than ‘Chard Whitlow’. Though he borrows freely, he doesn’t resemble anyone except himself. He is the only writer I know whom one can approach expecting the worst and the best, and depart satisfied.

We are nearly certain Ern Malley never lived but his manuscript existed once. After Ethel sent Harris the poems in November 1943 he took care to post them registered mail to Reed. A methodical man, Reed had his secretary type copies of the manuscript — which inexplicably, he told Harris in March 1944, ‘vanished into thin air’. There have been no reported sightings since and the baseless fabric of Ern Malley’s vision cannot now be found. It is not among the Reed Papers with the other Malleyana. Perhaps Bob Cugley, the printer of Angry Penguins, destroyed it; or perhaps he returned it to Harris who left all his papers with Reed when he went back to Adelaide. Perhaps it was dumped in the Reeds’ cellar at Heide. a storehouse for bundles of old papers, and prone to flood. Hundreds of sheets, those that were not already pulp, crumbled upon retrieval years later. Sunken, sodden, did the manuscript die a watery death, like the wraiths and wreaths of tissue paper it describes? Harold Stewart, who would not care to see it in any case, does not have a copy nor is there one among James McAuley’s papers. There is no authority for the final line restored by the hoaxers and now accepted in all editions: ‘I have split the infinitive’ which in Angry Penguins read ‘I have split the infinite’; but James McAuley went to the trouble of correcting his own copy and Harris agrees it was the one instance where he ‘improved’ Malley.
    Did it ever exist? Yes, but the sense of a collective hallucination is powerful. The vanishing manuscript is one of Ern’s better tricks. He is always going to have the last laugh.

Editor’s note: Since Michael Heyward’s book was published, a number of the protagonists have passed away: Max Harris died in January 1995; Harold Stewart died in Kyoto in August 1995; John Forbes in January 1998, and Judith Wright in June 2000.

Photo of Michael Heyward

Michael Heyward was born in Victoria in 1939 and lives in Melbourne, where he is a publisher with Text Media. He was co-editor of Scripsi magazine and his work has appeared in numerous publications including the Age, the Australian, the New Republic, and the Washington Post. The Ern Malley Affair won the 1993 FAW Australian Unity Literature Award.

[Note 1] During a visit to Adelaide in mid 1989 I copied from the local directory the number of every Vogelesang in the city, and set about phoning them. The retired police officer, whom his wife retrieved from his vegetable patch, was not pleased to hear from me and poured scorn on the ‘research’ I earnestly tried to describe to him. ‘You’d be surprised how many jokers get grants to do this sort of thing,’ he scoffed. I persisted, tried various tacks, got nowhere and decided to lighten the tone. ‘It sounds like you must have had some fun with the Angry Penguins thing.’ ‘Fun!’ he exploded, ‘is that what you think it was!’ I mumbled something about wanting to get all sides of the story. ‘Look,’ he said, refusing to mix metaphors, ‘it’s a closed book.’ And, politely dismissing me, hung up the phone.
[Note 2] The tag has a sexual tang worthy of any Elizabethan dramatist, but ‘the darkening ecliptic’ is not out of Pericles. Its source may be even more obscure: Nepenthe, a long, saturnine meditation by the nineteenth-century romantic poet George Darley, conjures up the familiar figure of the phoenix in its first canto:

      Sudden above my head I heard
      The cliff scream of the thunder-bird,
      The rushing of his forest wings,
      A hurricane when he swoops or springs,
      And saw upon the darkening glade
      Cloud-broad his sun-eclipsing shade.

I sent this passage in triumph to Harold Stewart, who had alerted me to Darley — but he assured me that he had never seen it before. ‘I cannot answer for Jim, who may have read Darley and so concocted the title of Ern’s works by conflating words from the last two lines,’ he replied on 15 March 1989) ‘but I have strong feelings that this was not so, and that Jim derived “ecliptic” from some scientific work on astronomy that he was reading at the time.’
[Note 3] The law was not changed to take account of literary and artistic merit until 1953. But when Ern Malley’s poems were brought back into print in 1961, the South Australian Crown Solicitor advised the Attorney-General that he should give no undertaking that distributors of the book in South Australia would not be prosecuted. In 1974 the law was changed again in South Australia. The Classification of Publications Act specifically incorporated the rights of adults to read and view what they like. See Peter Coleman, Obscenity, Blasphemy, Sedition, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1974, 34
[Note 4] After The Darkening Ecliptic appeared in Angry Penguins in 1944 and was republished in book form by Reed & Harris in the same year, further editions appeared in 1961 (Lansdowne Press, Melbourne), 1970 (Martin Publications, Adelaide), 1974 (Martin Publications, Adelaide, and R. Alistair McAlpine, London), and 1988 (Allen & Unwin, Sydney). In 1993 Angus & Robertson published another edition of the poems.
[Note 5] Hope’s correspondence about the hoax was destroyed by fire, along with his library and his papers, early in 1953.
[Note 6] I once remarked to Forbes that someone ought to produce the Stuffed Owl of Australian poetry. ‘Mate,’ he said, ‘you couldn’t do it. It would be like Borges’ map of the world, a one-to-one correspondence.’

Jacket 17 — June 2002  Contents page
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