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Classic Australian Works Copyright Agency Ltd.

The books selected for the Classic Australian Works project represent the most important works of many of Australia's most influential writers. The titles in the project are a reflection of Australian character and values from the nineteenth century through to the last decades of the twentieth century. The works for the project were selected through the Editorial Board of AustLit as among the most important books for the study of Australian literature that were not available in print. The Classic Australian Works project ensures that these works are - and remain - available once more for study and enjoyment.

The Impersonators cover photo

 

The Impersonators

Author

Jessica Anderson

Synopsis

The Impersonators portrays the breakdown of family relationships and the endurance of love in a materialistic age sensitively, perceptively and humorously. When Sylvia Foley returns to Australia after twenty years, she finds her father, Jack Cornock, ill. This and his obstinate silence provoke speculation about his will among the families of his two marriages, Sylvia becomes enmeshed in the webs of their alliances and disaffections. The Impersonators received the Miles Franklin Award in 1980 and the NSW Premier's Literary Award for Fiction in 1981.

 
The Commandant cover photo  

The Commandant

Author

Jessica Anderson

Synopsis

The Commandant (1975) evolves from the history of the early Moreton Bay penal settlement, now Brisbane. When prisoners escape from Moreton Bay to Sydney with their stories of harsh punishment, the fledgling press takes their side. Commandant Logan, convinced of the rectitude of his severe administration, is faced with an enemy he has never known before, but he ignores it. Logan is forced to face the reaction to his harsh discipline after the arrival of his young sister-in-law, Frances, who is unable to bear the brutality and whippings that are everyday life in Moreton Bay. The reader is left with the question, who is the prisoner: convict, or harsh commandant.

Letters to Live Poets cover photo  

Letters to Live Poets

Author

Bruce Beaver

Synopsis

Bruce Beaver died shortly after this publication of Letters to Live Poets in the Sydney University Press collection of Australian Classic Works. A recent interview with the poet by John Tranter is included here with permission of the editor of Southerly. Letters to Live Poets (1969) is a series of confessional poems arranged as a livre compose. It is a major work of Australian poetry having had a profound influence since it was first published. Letters to Live Poets won the Grace Leven poetry prize in 1970, and has also won a number of other awards.

Charco Harbour cover photo  

Charco Harbour

Author

Godfrey Blunden

Synopsis

Charco Harbour is the story of Captain James Cook's first Pacific voyage in 1768, a journey into a world to which Europeans had never been and reported back before, a journey which leads to shipwreck at Charco (near what is now Cooktown in Queensland). At a time when Australia was still terra incognita, a man like Cook could be one of the world's great navigators, yet still full of human failings. This closely researched book is a warts and all portrait of the man who first mapped the great southern land.

Lucinda Brayford cover photo   Lucinda Brayford
Author

Martin Boyd

Synopsis

Lucinda Brayford (1946) chronicles three generations of an Anglo-Australian family around the turn of the twentieth century and contrasts both Australian and English societies. At the same time, the book is a sensitive study of one woman's life. Lucinda's family, originally arriving in Australia in disgrace, become wealthy though farming, eventually owning a magnificent house in Toorak where the cream of Melbourne society gathers for social events. Lucinda meets Captain Hugo Brayford and they marry and leave for England where her marriage fails. A life of ease and wealth in Melbourne is replaced by hardship and austerity in wartime England. Some of the anti-authoritarianism and pacifism that emerged from Martin Boyd's experiences in World War I can be seen in this book, considered by some to be his finest work.

A Cardboard Crown cover photo

 

A Cardboard Crown

Author

Martin Boyd

Synopsis

Dominic Langton dies, leaving the family home to his brother, Guy Langton. There, Guy's discovery of letters written by his grandmother, Alice, provokes him to tell his family's history, with Alice as the central figure, in a novel. As a writer, he sets himself the task of discovering, narrating, and creating from the remnants of the past. The Cardboard Crown (1952), along with three other novels, A Difficult Young Man (1955) (also in Classic Australian Works), Outbreak of Love (1957); and When Blackbirds Sing (1962), is part what is now known as the "Langton Quartet". These novels follow the fortunes of the Langton family in England and Australia for nearly a century.

A Difficult Young Man cover photo

 

A Difficult Young Man

Author

Martin Boyd

Synopsis

A Difficult Young Man (1955) charts the complex personal relationships in an upper middle class Anglo-Australian family. It won the Australian Literature Society Gold Medal in 1956. Along with three other novels, The Cardboard Crown (1952) (also in Classic Australian Works), Outbreak of Love (1957), and When Blackbirds Sing (1962), is part what is now known as the "Langton Quartet". These novels follow the fortunes of the Langton family in England and Australia for nearly a century.

Oh Lucky Country cover photo

 

Oh Lucky Country

Author

Rosa Cappiello

Synopsis

Oh Lucky Country (Paese fortunato) uses first-person point of view to inflate migrant oppression to such absurdist proportions that its swirling narrative boils over into a maelstrom, washing away all migrant clichés. It is a witty, tragi-comic view of Australian society, culture and prejudice.

Lantana Lane cover photo

 

Lantana Lane

Author

Eleanor Dark

Synopsis

Whilst Eleanor Dark lived most of her life in Katoomba at Varuna, in 1951 she and husband Eric went to Queensland, escaping the repercussions of both being named in federal parliament as communist supporters in 1947. They bought a farm and began to grow macadamias and citrus fruit, and she wrote Lantana Lane. It is a book about living in a rural community a little separate from the rest of the world. It gently satirises the 1950s materialist, bigger, better, faster, smarter social conventions. The image of lantana in the book, a noxious, exotic plant covering the detritus of society, was used to good visual effect in the 2000 Australian movie Lantana (director: Ray Lawrence).

The Little Company cover photo

 

The Little Company

Author

Eleanor Dark

Synopsis

First published in 1945 and written during the final years of World War II, The Little Company's complex narrative structure explores the politics and propaganda of the war through the experiences of the Massey family, making this seventh novel of Eleanor Dark one of her most political. The book records some of the events of the war but is primarily set in Sydney and the Blue Mountains. The work successfully demonstrates how personal questions intertwine with larger political and intellectual concerns, and the impact of extraordinary times on ordinary people.

Seven Emus cover photo

 

Seven Emus

Author

Xavier Herbert

Synopsis

Bronco Jones is the owner of Seven Emus station and lives there with his wife Possum and their family. When Appleby Gaunt, known as the Baron, makes his appearance in this happy existence, the effect of his overblown ideas on Bronco's fortunes is calamitous. Then the anthropologist, Mr Goborrow, arrives to study the Emu Totem and Bronco finds his loyalty to his indigenous ancestors severely tested.

The Glass Canoe cover photo

 

The Glass Canoe

Author

David Ireland

Synopsis

The Glass Canoe (1976) is the pub where the male workers aggressively shelter from their wives, their lives and their work. It is both a graphic illustration of the alienation of labour under modern industrial capitalism and an insight into the suburbs that surround Australian cities. It's funny; it's tragic; it's real.

The Smiling Buddha cover photo

 

The Smiling Buddha

Author

Margaret Jones

Synopsis

The Americans have engineered a coup in Khamla, north of Thailand. Prince Soumidath has been deposed. He can return only under Thai protection. Civil war rages. Against this background of bedlam, Margaret Jones in The Smiling Buddha weaves parallel stories narrated by Gilly Herbert, the Australian wife of English academic David. Gilly's own experiences, events in Khamla and the story of Peter Casement, a mysterious American and Gilly's lover who has emerged as eminence grise to Prince Soumidath, merge in a dramatic, vivid evocation of the horrors of war and the abuses of power.

Trap cover photo

 

Trap

Author

Peter Mathers

Synopsis

Trap (1966) won the Miles Franklin Literary Award when it was published. Its comic and satiric elements and use of several narrative voices provide revealing interpretations of cross-cultural relations, bureaucracy and politics in Australia.

The Retreat of Radiance cover photo

 

The Retreat of Radiance

Author

Ian Moffitt

Synopsis

Quinn lives alone, scarred by personal tragedy and recollections of a wartime massacre near a remote monastery in China, the Retreat of Radiance. After thirty years of indecision he plots revenge against the perpetrator, Keh, a former Chinese Civil War general who has made millions from heroin. Quinn takes the dangerous road back into his past through Hong Kong, China and Taiwan. Waiting for him - fearful, malicious - are the aging villains and heroes of his youth. Quinn tracks them down before his bitter return to the Retreat of Radiance, and the end of his journey in Keh's bizarre mountain amusement park. First published in 1982, The Retreat Of Radiance was four months on the bestseller list, six weeks at number one.

Landscape with Landscape cover photo

 

Landscape with Landscape

Author

Gerald Murnane

Synopsis

The titles of this collection of six loosely connected stories, Landscape with Freckled Woman, Sipping the Essence, The Battle of Acosta Nu, A Quieter Place than Clun, Charlie Alcock's Cock, and Landscape with Artist suggest the range of he writer's vision. Some of the stories here have elements of surreal fantasy and all seek to involve the reader in the construction of their meaning. Even when we are on foreign earth we are never far from our own private landscape.

Inland cover photo

 

Inland

Author

Gerald Murnane

Synopsis

Inland (1989) is a dispersed, sprawling narrative, a set of texts interlocked by a myriad of narratives, a work that could be described as post-modern for its intricate examination of meaning. It challenges our interpretations of space and time, as if we were looking in another way, not out to the glistening ocean surrounding our island, perhaps, but inland, where dreams are real.

Moondyne cover photo

 

Moondyne

Author

John Boyle O'Reilly

Synopsis

Originally serialised in The Pilot as Moondyne Joe in 1878, and subsequently reprinted in book form, this is the story of a convict called Moondyne, a name given him by indigenous Australians who help him escape and also share the existence of vast amounts of gold with him. With this wealth, Moondyne, now known as Wyville, returns to England and becomes a respected humanitarian. The questions raised by the Irish diaspora are tackled in Moondyne not simply in the context of the Australian penal system, or even the Irish land question, but also in the manner in which it mirrors issues of social justice then being debated in the United States. Moondyne explores ideas that are far more significant than its swashbuckling tone might suggest.

The Inheritors cover photo

 

The Inheritors

Author

Brian Penton

Synopsis

In the Preface to Inheritors, Brian Penton says the characters are fictional, and then comments that this is not to say the book is a work of imagination. He acknowledges that he would need a large volume to accurately reflect the many works he drew on for background and period. This leaves open to interpretation whether or not the Cabell family in Inheritors might have been based on some or the more notorious of Queensland's nineteenth century European settlers. This wide-ranging saga of family conflict and social injustice leaves few of the skeletons of Queensland colonial past buried. It is also known as Giant's Stride. Landtakers (1934) and Inheritors (1936) are two parts of an unfinished trilogy depicting Queensland's early colonial period.

The Pioneers cover photo

 

The Pioneers

Author

Katharine Susannah Prichard

Synopsis

The Pioneers won the Hodder and Stoughton All Empire Literature Prize for Australasia in 1915, giving its author one thousand pounds and the opportunity to launch her career as a creative writer. The book is set in Gippsland and based on the author's experiences from her time there. The Pioneers has been filmed twice, once in 1916 and once in 1926. A one-act dramatic version was first performed in 1923.

Count Your Dead cover photo

 

Count Your Dead

Author

John Rowe

Synopsis

Count Your Dead (1968) is a powerful indictment of US involvement in the war in Vietnam. The recounts of manoeuvres and engagements and military strategy are particularly strong. The story follows the fortunes of an American officer, Bill Morgan, who is transferred to civil affairs work and finds himself at odds with combat officers and ultimately disillusioned with his country's conduct of the war. The book emphasizes senseless destruction in the Vietnam conflict.

The Estuary cover photo

 

The Estuary

Author

Georgia Savage

Synopsis

The Estuary is Georgia Savage's third novel. Narrated in the first person by Vinnie, a young girl who falls in love and marries then loses her husband, this story of loss and tragedy is balanced with wry humour and filled with strong, powerful, though at times strange, characters. The book demonstrates a never-ending curiosity for life, despite all its ups and downs.

Quintus Servinton cover photo

 

Quintus Servinton

Author

Henry Savery

Synopsis

Australia's convict past is never far away in Tasmania, where elegant stone bridges, the Georgian warehouses of Salamanca Place and the eerie ruins of Port Arthur are testimony to the back-breaking work and the hard lives endured by those sentenced to transportation. Quintus Servinton is another reminder of those cruel days. Subtitled "a tale, founded on incidents of real occurrence," the book is a loosely autobiographical story of a wayward fifth son, like Savery. Quintus Servinton (1830) is credited as being the first Australian novel, which, despite its dubious literary merit, gives it unique status.

Jimmy Brockett cover photo

 

Jimmy Brockett

Author

Dal Stivens

Synopsis

Jimmy Brockett (1951) is an example of that rare species, the Australian political novel. This story of political corruption, bribery and the manipulations of a political party resonates with contemporary overtones. Set in Sydney, this portrait of a notable Australian is salutory reading, demonstrating that everything old is new again.

Foveaux cover photo  

Foveaux

Author

Kylie Tennant

Synopsis

Foveaux was Kyle Tennant's second novel and was drawn from her experiences living in the then disease-ridden slums of Redfern and Surry Hills in the late 1930s. It is a substantial novel of Sydney recounting the inner city around William Street in the first decades of the twentieth century.