Stamp of Greatness

This year’s Australia Day stamp series (part of the Australia Post Legends Award) will feature six Australian novelists whose work is judged to have ‘made a lasting impression on our national identity and character’.  Makes a nice change from sportspeople, of course, but who are these six worthies?

Well, make that three worthies, two definite unworthies and one whose work I’m not familiar enough with to judge one way or the other.

The worthies are Peter Carey, David Malouf and Thomas Keneally, Colleen McCullogh I hesitate to comment on and the two that stink to high heaven are… wait for it… Tim Winton and Bryce Courtenay.

Bryce fucking Courtenay?

Bryce Courtenay’s writing has made a lasting impression on Australia’s national identity and character?  Pur-lease! He’s certainly made a lasting impression on me.  My impression is that he’s a hack and in his novels, at least, he exhibits the moral sensibilities of a scorched stoat.

And as for Tim Winton (four times winner of, and therefore four times discreditor of, the Miles Franlkin Award), I think it’s high time we all look past the number of units he shifts and call a boring dud of a fiction writer a boring dud of a fiction writer.

I’ve had a copy of Colleen McCullogh’s The Thorn Birds on my bookshelves for years.  It’s a hefty hard-back, printed on coarse paper and it looks as if it could fell a recalcitrant mule if you swung it with vigour.  I must confess that I’m in no hurry to dip into it just at present.  It would be unfair, therefore, to cast aspersions on McCullogh’s beatification by Australia Post.  But I’m suspicious.

In picking Carey, Malouf and Keneally, however, Australia Post are right on the money.  It’s hard to think of three living Australian fiction writers whose output has been so impressive or so consistently worthy of serious attention.  Think Oscar and Lucinda, Jack Maggs, and The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith (Carey).  An Imaginary Life, Fly Away Peter, The Conversations at Curlow Creek and a fabulous output of short stories (Malouf).  Shindler’s Ark, Towards Asmara, The Place Where Souls are Born, Homebush Boy, Bring Larks and Heroes and The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith (Keneally).

And to this exalted company we’re supposed to welcome Courtenay, McCullogh and Winton?

Where’s Les Murray?  Clive James?  Peter Porter?  Robert Hughes?  And women are rather under-represented here, are they not?  Dorothy Porter, alas, cannot be described as a living legend, having departed this vale of tears in 2008, but would it have hurt so much to include Germaine Greer, or Isobelle Carmody?  And passing up Mem Fox is a positive crime.

Winton and Carey made all the right noises about feeling honoured and humbled, but if you thought Bryce Courtenay was going to pass up this opportunity to make a colossal arse of himself, do think again:

“The very concept and the reassurance of a stamp… it’s a licence to travel and it goes anywhere in the world. That little imprimatur on an envelope containing all this personal stuff and you know it’s going to get there! Now that’s what a stamp can do.”

Indeed.  That is what a stamp can do.  Does do, in fact.  Is specifically printed, gummed and perforated to do: it facilitates the delivery of letters.

There’s a word for someone who thinks and writes like that.  What is it again?  Tip of my tongue…

Oh yes – wanker.

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