McRae Award Citations

ASAL 2011


Judging Panel: Dr. Alice Healy-Ingram (University of SA – Chair), Associate Professor Lyn Jacobs (Flinders University), Dr. Damien Barlow (La Trobe University)


I would like to acknowledge my co-judges Lyn Jacobs and Damien Barlow who could not be here tonight; the three of us offer our congratulations to the joint winners John McLaren, for Journey Without Arrival: The Life and Writing of Vincent Buckley  and David Callahan for Rainforest Narratives- the Work of Janette Turner Hospital.

We offer further congratulations to the authors on the shortlist, to Cynthia vanden Driesen for Writing the Nation: Patrick White and the Indigene, Brigid Rooney for Literary Activists: Writer-Intellectuals and Australian Public Life and Andreas Gaile for Re-writing history: Peter Carey’s Fictional Biography of Australia.

The exercise of judging such an award in the current academic climate said much about the state of Australian literary studies. Many of the 15 books that we long-listed were published overseas, or were written by scholars posted at overseas universities. We also found that many of the books crossed literary and cultural studies; only a half of them were suited to the McRae Russell award criteria, defined as ‘the best single-authored book of literary scholarship on a sustained Australian theme’. We feel that the 2 winning books encapsulate the rich field of literary criticism, one an engaging literary biography, the other a textual analysis of an author’s oeuvre-two authors, Buckley and Turner Hospital, of such varied cultural backgrounds and literary styles; two very different approaches to literary criticism that celebrate the strength of the field.


John McLaren, Journey Without Arrival: The Life and Writing of Vincent Buckley (ASP)

John McLaren’s  literary biography explores the life-world of Vincent Buckley, from his Irish Catholic origins which drove the lyrical and sacramental heart of his poetry, to his political and religious affiliations at Melbourne University during the Cold War, his academic independence as a creative and passionate teacher, his time in a divided Ireland, and further to his relationships with his family. McLaren suggests that ‘In his poetry, Buckley sought to find the world’s meaning, but in his politics and polemic, he acted to shape it to his ideals’ (138). He pays close attention to the facts of a life ‘fully lived’ as he takes on the challenge of reading and interpreting the writing and indicating the evolving directions of Buckley’s ideas and achievement, and is modest about his intention ‘to open a number of conversations about Buckley and his work’ (vii) rather than offer an ‘authorised’ biography or ‘definitive portrait’. This insightful and well-researched assessment of Vincent Buckley’s contribution to Australian Literature well deserves the close attention of readers interested in poetry, Australian literature and cultural politics in the four decades ending with Buckley’s death in 1988.

David Callahan  Rainforest Narratives: the Work of Janette Turner Hospital (UQP)

David Callahan’s full-length study of Janette Turner Hospital’s ouevre is a fine example of skilful textual criticism.  The rainforest as metaphoric site evokes Hospital’s multivalent narrative strategies, and the open-ended nature of Callahan’s analysis pays tribute to his author’s lead. Callahan skillfully demonstrates the transcendence of geographic borders and the importance of Australian roots (family histories and shared landscapes) as vital to the creative tensions that sustain Hospital’s work. Yet he is careful to place Hospital’s prodigious literary effort in its transnational contexts so that her stories are examined in all their touching and challenging complexities-their ‘permeable borders’ and ‘fractal realities’, their stories of perceptual and physical dislocation, of hidden histories, of the destabilising presence of memory and existence of love as a ‘fact of absences’. In keeping up with, and celebrating, this author’s employment of narrative design and patterning drawn from science, history, metaphysics, art, myth, music and contemporary politics, not to mention, life,  Callahan has earned his stripes. This is literary criticism that importantly celebrates the achievement of Australian literature as a world class phenomenon.

Cynthia vanden Driesen Writing the Nation: Patrick White and the Indigene (Rodopi) 

While this research draws on post-colonial re-readings and Said’s well known thesis on Orientalism, the breadth, intellectual scope and understanding of political, historical and social context is not limited by the fineness of focus on only three of Patrick White’s novels. In each there is an illuminating contribution to (and enhancement of) scholarship in the field of literary studies but also the cultural analysis of race relations in Australia. There are well-illustrated prior representations of relationships between settler and Indigenous peoples and the demonstration of the pioneering ways in which Patrick White has engaged with these issues is well achieved.

Brigid Rooney, Literary Activists: Writer-Intellectuals and Australian Public Life (UQP)

This lucid and at times incisive study of the literary practice and public activism of six Australian writers, Judith Wright, Patrick White, Les Murray, David Malouf, Helen Garner and Tim Winton, asks timely questions for current debates about the place of Australian literature in the public sphere, especially, as Rooney argues, ‘the urgent necessity of sustaining the relevance, value and public authority of an Australian literary culture’ (xi). This is a balanced and well-researched assessment of the place that writer-activists have through their literary and public acts, especially in relation to canon formation and cultural capital, the intersections of class, generation and geography, identity politics and neo-liberal political agenda.

Andreas Gaile, Re-writing history: Peter Carey’s Fictional Biography of Australia (Rodopi) 

Re-writing History is an impressive tribute to Carey’s contribution to a ‘nascent mythology’ (rather than a revisionist history) via his complex fictions. Responding to the already fine and far-ranging analysis of Carey’s fiction from Australian and international scholars, Gaile is erudite in his examination of Carey’s Australian novels and their use of post-modernist literary tricks of fabulation, magic realism and metafiction. He offers a valuable re-reading of Carey’s use of these strategies as postmodernism with ‘moral concern’ tied to an ‘emancipatory vision’ of Australia’s history.