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Henry Lawson's original works live again


19 April 2013

'While the billy boils: the original newspaper versions' reproduces Henry Lawson's works as they were originally published.
'While the billy boils: the original newspaper versions' reproduces Henry Lawson's works as they were originally published.

Though he has been dead for 91 years, writer and poet Henry Lawson has a new book on the shelf. Republished by Sydney University Press, Lawson's famous collection of sketches and short stories, While the billy boils, is, for the first time, published in its original form.

In 1896 Lawson's publishers Angus and Robertson combined 52 short stories and sketches from newspapers and The Bulletin magazine into one volume titled While the billy boils. Lawson's works, however, were modified and adapted to meet contemporary editorial standards, removing much of Lawson's personal style, nuances and individuality from his writing.

Edited by Paul Eggert, While the billy boils: the original newspaper versions (Sydney University Press 2013), reproduces the writer's work as it originally appeared in print. And unlike the 1896 version, this new edition reproduces his works in chronological order, reflecting Lawson's growth and change as a writer.

While the billy boils: the original newspaper versions has explanatory notes by Emeritus Professor of Australian Literature, Elizabeth Webby, which help to locate the stories in the rural and urban culture of the time.

This new version of Lawson's works showcases the unique style in which the writer wrote, deftly portraying the speech and humour of his characters through idiosyncratic spelling and syntax.

An additional book, by Paul Eggert, explores the publication of the 1896 version of While the billy boils amid the complicated landscape of the newly forged Australian publishing industry. Biography of a book: Henry Lawson's While the billy boils, traces the difficult production of Lawson's work through the murky waters of editing, copyright and royalties.

As a contemporary and rival of Banjo Patterson, Lawson was at once sensitive, humorous, an alcoholic and poverty-stricken. Through his works he offers an insight into the contrasting picture of the Australian identity at the turn of the 19th century.

The books were launched last Wednesday night at the NSW State Library.


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Katie Szittner, 02 9351 2261, 0478 316 809, katie.szittner@sydney.edu.au