State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 64 Spring 1999


From the Editorial Chair

In The cultural history of Australia no period has excited more controversy and exercised more fascination over the minds of later generations than the 1940s, which was simultaneously a period of intense nationalism under the stimulus of wartime threat, artistic experimentation in the visual arts and in literature, and extreme reaction as evident in the unsuccessful attempt to deny the Archibald Prize to William Dobell, the ‘Ern Malley’ hoax, and the successful prosecution of Max Harris for indecency over publishing the ‘Ern Malley’ issue of Angry Penguins. Of the painters of the forties, Sidney Nolan and Albert Tucker, who were associated with the journal Angry Penguins and with art patrons John and Sunday Reed, are now seen as major figures in the creative life of our country. The writers of that circle have achieved less prominence: Max Harris's own poetry receives less attention than the work of the two poets who set out to hoax him; and one of our finest short story writers, Peter Cowan, whose earliest work appeared in Angry Penguins, has been comparatively neglected outside his home state. But there is no doubt that the story of Angry Penguins and the ‘Heide’ circle of the Reeds increasingly fascinates both the Australian public and the scholars.
The State Library of Victoria holds much material that is relevant to the writing of the historical narrative of the 1940s — including the papers of such key figures as John and Sunday Reed, Barrett Reid, and Adrian Lawlor. Drawing on these resources, this number of The La Trobe Journal contains some previously unpublished writing by figures of the period (Sidney Nolan, Max Harris and John Yule) along with photographs and paintings (Albert Tucker and Joy Hester). As always, the Journal presents the fruits of scholarship in (we think) a highly readable form. Brian Lloyd, whose doctoral thesis on Angry Penguins was recently accepted at La Trobe University, opens up new territory with a discussion of Reed & Harris as publishers. Complementing his article is a checklist of Reed & Harris publications, based on extensive research in the Reed Papers by Des Cowley of the Rare Books Section of the Library.
This number also draws attention to two unusual librarians of the recent past, whose papers have recently come to the Library. In the 1940s Barrett Reid (better known in the literary world as Barrie Reid) began a lifelong association with the Reeds at ‘Heide’; while Margaret Ingham, now known for her innovative work as children's librarian, was experiencing war at first hand. Among her papers deposited since her death in May this year is the sea-stained passport which she was carrying when shipwrecked in 1942.
This number of the Journal has involved even more work than usual, and special thanks are due to Richard Haese and Des Cowley for their support and practical advice. While on the subject of acknowledgements, I should like to mention those two indispensables, Sandra Burt and John Arnold, who saw the last number of The La Trobe Journal through the final stages of production while I was overseas.
John Barnes