Perhaps We Could Make Signs? Mine Would Say: Australians Wear Hats!

all_the_birds_singingThe Miles Franklin Award was announced this week, going to Evie Wyld for All the Birds, Singing. The Miles Franklin is a very long-standing award and its announcement put me in mind of past controversies. I wondered if there was already a controversy around Evie Wyld’s win – a half-hearted Google rummage doesn’t seem to turn up rancour thus far at least. Nonetheless, it is the Miles Franklin after all, and sooner or later someone will complain about something.

Curiously though, while looking up ‘Miles Franklin Controversy’ on Google I did discover that the MFA panel decided that no book published in 1973 or 1983 met the requirements of the award – having sufficient literary merit and reflecting ‘Australian life in all its phases’. However, I also note that  due to recent reworking of ‘Australian life in all its phases’, the scope now extends to books that reflect an Australian generalised gestalt (I suppose – I confess I’m a little unclear as to what the wording actually does or does not include now), and this opens the scope beyond mere Australian geography to include any book that entails loosely defined things like ‘mindset, language, history and values’ that are ‘Australian’. Now, surely there must be at least one book of merit published in 1973 and/or 1983 that includes some sort of token Australian character or scene or something?

Perhaps we could have a ‘Lost Miles Franklin’ much like the Lost Man Booker for 1970 awarded in 2010? It feels like it could make for a fun, if somewhat esoteric, treasure hunt through the books of 1973 and 1983 to find something of merit. It cannot be the case that the two years in question were so utterly cursed that they were devoid of any work by an Australian (or for that matter works tangentially related to Australia) worthy of the name ‘literature’. If nothing else, the Noble Prize for Literature winning Australian author Patrick White published The Eye of the Storm in 1973, and in 1983 Terry Pratchett published The Colour of Magic. Sure, Terry Pratchett isn’t actually an Australian in any accepted sense, but he used to visit Australia quite a lot before current health issues limited his ability to get around. Also, Terry Pratchett likes to wear a hat, and many Australians like to wear hats. That sounds like shared values to me. For otherwise, it does seem a rather bleak statement – that it should even be possible to have an entire year of worthlessness in Australian literature no matter how long ago seems something of a stain on the national character.

In 1973 and 1983, we wrote nothing of worth. Nothing at all. Don’t even bother reading novels published in those years. Not. Any. Good.

It just seems – well – it stretches credulity.

At any rate, you may detect that I have a hard time taking literary awards very seriously. I am of course delighted for Evie Wyld. I haven’t read All the Birds, Singing yet, though I intend to, and it does sound like a very worthy winner. In the meantime, I wonder if we could offer Sir Pterry an honorary Australian citizenship or something? You know, just the get the ball rolling.

About Christopher Johnstone

Christopher Johnstone lives in Melbourne
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