To celebrate our 75th birthday, we’re presenting exceptional works from Meanjin’s past that have defined and challenged Australian literary culture.  >

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Volume 69 Number 4, 2010

Volume 69 Number 4, 2010 cover


When Meanjin began, it was a small pamphlet, produced by four poets from Brisbane, one of whom would soon after die in the Second World War. Surviving the Cold War was a different kind of challenge and was a period during which Clem Christesen, the journal’s first editor, struggled to maintain funding. Meanjin is no longer run by a man ‘looking like a Chicago detective out of a noir thriller—puffing his Craven As, pacing the floor, waving his arms around as he emphasised what he was trying to do with the magazine’, but it still—as Christesen once asserted—tries to ‘make clear the connection between literature and politics’.

In this, the seventieth birthday issue of Meanjin, we republish essays, stories and poems that have appeared in the journal over the last seventy years, alongside current commentators. Choosing which contributions to reprint was incredibly difficult and there is no doubt that important pieces were excluded. What struck me about the ones we’ve published here (and many we didn’t), is how relevant most of them are today. There are temporal quirks, of course: Christos Tsiolkas’s recent essay on the perfect mix-tape (2006) inspires nostalgia, while the oldest, A.A. (Arthur) Phillips’s ‘The Cultural Cringe’ (1950), could have been written yes¬terday, as Hilary McPhee explores in her response to Phillips, ‘Timid Minds’. Mar¬cus Westbury’s essay on the power of acting locally to revitalise culture articulates ways to fight against ‘cringe’—as does our feature on ‘little’ magazines. That series of interviews also reminds us both that magazines are important and of the ways in which they reflect their times. If there is a theme that links new contributions to the old, it is this: small but focused action can result in big changes.

It seemed important to touch on key political moments of recent decades. Thus we have Catherine Duncan on the Paris riots of May 1968; Brian Matthews on Northern Ireland; Fiona McGregor and Michael Kirby on the politics of homo¬sexuality; and Graham Little’s wonderful essay from 1985 on Bob Hawke, touch¬ing on narcissism and Australian politics. We also look at shifts in cultural style (Helen Garner on the use of ‘I’ in prose, McKenzie Wark on performing the self) and debates in the literary community. Meaghan Morris looks at the meaning of ‘Australia’ in Cultural Studies and Tony Birch (1992) writes on the making and unmaking of Aboriginal culture. Wendy Harmer’s description of women on the stage twenty-four years ago could have easily been written twenty-four days ago and Gillian Whitlock’s essay from 1989 on plagiarism is pertinent to current conversations being had about copyright. Jane Gleeson-White’s Meanland essay explores the history of the book, but in writing about Venice in the 1400s, with its flurry of start-up businesses and argy-bargy over pricing of books (a steal at only a week’s wage), her descriptions are so reminiscent of conversations being had about e-books more than 500 years later it makes you laugh out loud. (This issue of Meanjin will, in fact, be available as an e-book. Check our website for details.) Of course, there is writing we’ve included just because it’s fabulous: M.J. Hyland, Elizabeth Jolley, Beverley Farmer, Tim Winton, Elizabeth Smither, Tim Richards; and poetry by Judith Wright, Chris Wallace-Crabbe, A.D. Hope, John Forbes, Antigone Kefala and many more. And while we’re talking poetry, I’m proud to announce that the winner of the 2010 Dorothy Porter Poetry Prize is Peter Coghill, for his extraordinary poem ‘Aubade’ which we published in this year’s Spring edition. As the judges said, ‘Many people write about mature love but few manage to do so with both poetics and grace’.

When Jenny Lee arrived to take up the role of Meanjin’s fourth editor, in 1987, ‘the tweed jacket Phillips had worn when he read the unsolicited fiction was still hanging up in a cupboard, though he’d died years earlier. I suggested that various people take the coat at different times, but it never seemed to fit them.’ Of course it didn’t—they never do. But you still want—to stretch the metaphor—the coat there. In a tribute to Clem Christesen (Meanjin, 2004:1), John McLaren, a former editor of Overland, wrote: ‘Meanjin’s founding editor had to find or make a place for the new journal, and the succeeding editors have had to start from the place they inherited. Their task has been to reimagine that place for new times …’ I felt that keenly as I read the issues put together by my predecessors—each editor had a dis¬tinctive style. I pay tribute to them: Clem Christesen, Jim Davidson, Judith Brett, Jenny Lee, Christina Thompson, Stephanie Holt and Ian Britain. I also thank the University of Melbourne for supporting the journal since 1945.

That Meanjin still exists is a credit to thousands of subscribers (subscriptions are important! Please subscribe!), dozens of volunteers, a tragically small number of paid staff, and, of course, the country’s best writers. It’s impossible to thank everyone who’s deserving. But we hope we’ve managed to capture Meanjin’s vibrancy and resilience of spirit, or, in the words of the great, fictional lawyer Dennis Denuto, ‘the vibe of the thing’.


Editorial by Sophie Cunningham


  • With Jessica Au, Clem Christesen, Carol Jenkins, Gerald Murnane, Vance Palmer and Geoffrey Serle

Meanjin In Colour

  • Peripheral Visionaries: Australia’s Independent Publishing Tradition by Ray Edgar and Stuart Geddes


  • The Cultural Cringe by A.A. (Arthur) Phillips

  • CAL/Meanjin Essay: A Timid Mind by Hilary McPhee

  • Rendez-vous with the End of an Age by Catherine Duncan

  • The Longest War by Brian Matthews

  • Double Trouble: One or Two Women? by Gillian Whitlock

  • Hawke in Trouble by Graham Little

  • A Small Serve of Spaghetti by Meaghan Morris

  • ‘Nothing has Changed’: The Making and Unmaking of Aboriginal Culture by Tony Birch

  • Let’s Perform by McKenzie Wark

  • I am not a lesbian by Fiona McGregor

  • I by Helen Garner

  • Mix-tape: The Technology of a Passion by Christos Tsiolkas

  • Remembering Wolfenden by Michael Kirby

  • Tiny Revolutions by Marcus Westbury

  • The Book: A Revolutionary Tale by Jane Gleeson-White


  • Standing up for Myself by Wendy Harmer

  • Who Talks of Victory by Elizabeth Jolley

  • Asylum Elegy by M.J. Hyland


  • Jim Davidson talks to Dorothy Hewett


  • The Man who bowled Victor Trumper by Dal Stivens

  • Peeling by Peter Carey

  • Comrade Pawel by Alex Miller

  • The Snake by Beverley Farmer

  • The Strong One by Tim Winton

  • The Mathematics of Jane Austen by Elizabeth Smither

  • Transmissions From the Darkest Heart by Tim Richards


  • Train Journey by Judith Wright

  • A Postcard by Gwen Harwood

  • A Commination by A.D. Hope

  • A Helicopter View of Terrestrial Stars by Les Murray

  • Big Time by Ania Walwicz

  • Domain Road by Chris Wallace-Crabbe

  • Lament, Coming Home, Ancient City, Old Story, Moon Wolf and Dinner II by Antigone Kefala

  • Membranes by Kevin Hart

  • Europe, Endless by John Forbes

  • Au Revoir, Peter Porter by Chris Wallace-Crabbe

  • Prepared to Die by Lisa Bellear

  • Crew by Judith Beveridge

  • The Urn of Loneliness by John Tranter

  • How I Got Away by Kathleen Stewart

  • Galileo by Danny Gentile

  • On Norfolk Island with Bruce by Dorothy Porter

  • Knit Cap Sutras by Peter Minter

Index to 2010

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