Parade Of Australian Fiction SETTING out the sequence and development of novel-writing in Australia from the first records to these times (when everyone seems to be writing) has been the self-chosen undertaking of Colin Roderick, whose new book, "An Introduction to Australian Fiction," is now available.
He undertook a stupendous task, ranging over a wide field bristling with pitfalls, and he has provided an historical docu- ment of value which will be quoted when future inquirers embark on research and seek a starting point. As would be
expected from the author of such works as "In Mortal Bondage" (the strange life of Rosa Praed); "The Australian Novel" (20 Australian nove lists); "Henry Lawson" (20 stories and seven poems) and "Wanderers in Australia" (a book of travels), Colin Roder ick has been thorough in his fact-finding and entertaining in its presentation. There is no attempt at ornamental writing. Much of the information ar- ranged so carefully in this volume is already familiar to library patrons, but even these will welcome a recapitulation of the events which have led up to the modern school of Australian storytellers. How many, however, knew, until Colin Roderick came to the rescue, that out of Van Die- men's Land came the first Aus tralian-made novel, the work of a convict. His name was Henry Savery; his book, printed in Hobart Town in 1830, was called "Quintus Servinton," which, apart from being the first novel written, printed and published in Australia, has seve- ral other noteworthy features. It was the first novel to give a participator's impressions of life on a prisoner's transport. The author also records that the first native-born Australian novelist was John Lang, who was born at Parramatta in 1818, went to Cambridge in 1838 to become a barrister, and returned to Syd- ney in 1841, where he prac- tised law for a year. As a lawyer he learnt the tricks of the convicts and indigenous law breakers, and when he settled down in England to devote his leisure to writing, he naturally used his knowledge of the col- ony for a background. His novel, "The Forger's Wife" (1855), also known as "As signed to His Wife," is still readable. Bushranging Yarns. Colin Roderick goes on to say that the early Tasmanian bush rangers were the worst of the deepest-dyed villains among transported criminals. Their infamy was well known, and the most inhuman crimes made no impression on their sensibili- ties. Accordingly, when Charles Rowcroft turned towards a novel of low life, he found "The Bushranger of Van Die men's Land," 1846, an arrest- ing title calculated to arouse the interest of English readers. He also claims attention to the early work of Catherine Helen Spence and William Howitt
("Tallangetta: the Squatter's Daughter"), both of whom set the fashion of writing over 100 years ago. Then came the period which "by the accident of a talented Englishman's descent upon the, colonies," opened in 1859, the
year of Henry Kingsley's "Geoffry Hamlyn." and con- tinued for some 30-odd years into the 90's. Not much was done before 1870; and even after that the honours were "just about equally di- vided between the picaresque novel and outback fiction." Colonial Novels. Thirty years later Rosa Caro- line Murray-Prior produced a series of colonial novels and Ada Cambridge (Mrs. G. F. Cross) described the fiction scene in the early 90's. Later came Rollf Boldrewood (T. A. Browne) whose "Robbery Un- der Arms" and "The Miner's Right" were spiced with the
times. From such volumes Colin Roderick quotes ex- amples of typical phrases some of which still survive, such as "up stick and clear," "shallow ground," "carrying on top roper," "no heeltaps," "lost the number of their mess," "duffer," "false lead," "flash of colour" and "jumps his claim." Marcus Clarke was a dissi- pated young Englishman of 18 when he came to Victoria. An uncle got him a job in the Bank of Australasia, but he was quite unsuited to clerical work. From Melbourne he went to the country for a while and worked as a station hand. He spent most of his time reading, mainly English and French fic- tion. However, this experience of bush life was not wasted, as can be seen in "Holiday Peak" (1873), the best collection of his true short stories. After a year in the bush he went back to Melbourne and joined the staff of the "Argus." Then began a career of freelance
journalism. But separate ar- ticles were not all he dug out of convict records. In 1870-72 his grim and powerful story, "For the Term of His Natural Life," came out serially in the "Australian Journal" and excited interest
throughout the country. When the novel was published in book form in 1874 Marcus Clarke's fame spread abroad. No novel in Australian litera- ture, says the author, has cap tured a wider circle of readers than "For the Term of His Natural Life." The alterations made to the original story at the suggestion of Sir Charles Gavan Duffy resulted in an ar- tistic and finished romantic tragedy. The serial version that appeared in the "Australian Journal" carries Rufus Dawes, under the name of Tom Cros- bie, to the goldfields of Vic- toria with Dorcas, the daugh- ter of Mrs. Frere, who in this version bears the name of Dora. There are attractive details of "The Mystery of a Hansom Cab," written by Fergus Hume, a Melbourne barrister, and a review of the period based on the coming of the "Bulletin" and Henry Lawson's develop ment as the "lyrist of Austra- lia's manhood," Joseph Fur- phy and Miles Franklin (still going strong) followed soon after. From that time forward came a succession of fiction writers' names familiar to the present generation who will find it worth while to brush up their knowledge of the pioneers in the presentation of the Australian novel. Angus and Robertson Ltd. (Sydney) are the publishers.