State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 83 May 2009


Graham Willett
Moods of Love and Commitment:
Laurence Collinson in Melbourne

When People hear about Laurie Collinson moving from Brisbane to Melbourne in 1950, they usually nod understandingly. Sydneysiders, it is true, may express surprise, but Melburnians and Brisbanites rarely do. Well, he would, wouldn't he’? they seem to think. For a young man of 24, a poet, playwright and painter, a communist, a homosexual, and a Jew, Melbourne might not have offered much in the 1950s but surely it offered more than Brisbane. Thus the reasoning. Actually, though, it was not as straightforward as all that. In Brisbane in the 1940s, Laurie had experienced – indeed, had been at the very centre of – a quite remarkable cultural efflorescence, and in coming to Melbourne he came less as a refugee from a wasteland, and more as a migrant hoping to use his skills and resources to advance himself and to contribute to a higher cause – the creation and development of an Australian cultural life.
Histories of Australia prefer, for the most part, to see Brisbane as a not very interesting large country town, as the playground of out of control right-wing politicians, or (or, more often, and) as a cultural wasteland. There is, though, an alternative view, drawn out in Hatherell's The Third Metropolis1 which saw Brisbane as having other characteristics as well; characteristics which made it a city in which the arts were cultivated and patronised and in which marginal cultures and communities made it possible to live and think and create differently.
These features had always existed, but what brought them to flower was the Second World War. The social and psychic upheaval that the threat of invasion brought created a kind of party atmosphere for many, a desire to live as if there might be no tomorrow, a willingness to throw off the constraints of respectability, to tolerate – in many cases, to embrace – the abnormal and unusual. Men and women from all over Australia were uprooted and brought to the north; hundreds of thousands of foreigners in the form of American troops arrived and passed through, bringing new ways with them, ways haloed by the glamour and wealth and confidence that surrounded these young men. Here indeed was the shock of the new. But it was not merely hedonism that drove these new times. Strahan and Wallace-Crabbe suggest that ‘The war created a sense of past achievement and imminent loss which was a spur to action’.2 People at the time saw this too. V. G. Duhig, one of Brisbane's most prominent public intellectuals, detected in 1940 a growing interest in art and cultural activities, directly related to the impact of the War:‘this can be attributed to the feeling widespread amongst people that in the national and imperial struggle for free existence, the things most clearly at stake are the highest manifestations of the human
mind’.3 The young Barrie Reid reflected this urgency even more starkly when he wrote to Clem Christesen in 1946:
Nervous breakdowns keep hovering around but I am determined I won't go under. People keep telling us to give something up but everything is so essential – writing, Barjai, the club, C.E.M.A, talks etc that it is impossible. All of us must feel the enormous anti-life forces in the world today and our only answer is work, work, work.4
Much of the creative work of the period was motivated, then, by an intense seriousness, a desire to identify what it was that so many were defending, often with their very lives. The cultural world of the 1940s was one of intense moral seriousness, and it was in this world that Laurie and his friends worked.
It is indicative of the extent to which the old ways were being shaken that Laurie and his friends, despite their youth (they were barely out of their teens when the war ended), were able to participate as full members of the literary and cultural establishment of the day. Via Barjai, a magazine for youth, and Miya, a young artists group, this small group of youthful Queenslanders propelled themselves to the upper reaches of the northern capital's cultural life, and positioned themselves at the centre of a nation-wide network. Some are well-known still – the writers Thea Astley and Barbara Blackman and the painter Laurence Hope went on to first-order careers in Australia and overseas. Others are known mostly to those who lived through or who have written about the 1950s and sixties in Australia: Barrie Reid, a Barjai poet who became a senior librarian at the State Library of Victoria; Charles Osborne; writer; critic and arts administrator in London; Cecil Knopke; Joy Roggenkamp; Pamela Seeman; Patricia O'Rourke; Vida Horn – these are names not today widely known, but they were an integral part of Australia's rich post-War cultural life and began their careers in this now largely forgotten Brisbane.5
The starting point for this convergence of talent was the magazine Barjai, which began life as the Brisbane State High School student magazine, Senior Tabloid, which Laurie, Barrie Reid and Cecil Knopke began to edit in 1943–1944. Their first action was to rename the journal Barjai, meaning ‘meeting place’. Their second was to use it as a vehicle for ideas that went well beyond what was considered to be the rightful concerns of high school students – attacks on the education system, and on the stagnant and apolitical art scene in Queensland; attacks on the war; support for cultural and political radicalism (and in the case of Laurie at least for socialism and the Communist Party). If the headmaster did not approve of this (and he did not, though in his determination to shut down the magazine he succeeded only in forcing it out into the wider community), others did. And this is significant – whatever obstacles there were to political and cultural radicalism in Brisbane, there were also forces prepared to support and nurture them.
Clem Christesen, for example, had established Meanjin in Brisbane in 1940 and it remained there until 1945, developing a national reputation in these early years. Laurie and Barrie Reid both stayed in close communication with Christesen even after his move to Melbourne and spoke often of their debt to the magazine and its editor. Laurie, looking back

Laurence Collinson photographed in the early fifties.
Photographer unknown. Collection of Graham Willett.

wrote to Christesen that ‘Meanjin was a tremendous influence to me in my ‘youth’ … Barjai and whatever sprang from it would never [have] existed if you and Nina hadn't been around’.6 Gertrude and Karl Langer, Viennese intellectuals, refugees from fascist Europe, brought a cosmopolitan outlook to Brisbane and a conscious mentoring of the young of the city with their regular lectures on European art and culture, exposing Brisbanites to the latest developments from overseas at a time when very few Australians had any similar access. J. V. Duhig, professor of pathology at the University of Queensland, a rationalist agitator (a leading member of the Rationalist Society, Book Censorship Abolition League and a myriad other such organisations) took such an interest in the Barjai group that he agreed to subsidise the magazine, taking it from a small-format, tiny print-run publication to something very much more substantial. Twenty-three issues of the journal were published between 1943 and 1947 usually of about 40 pages. Contributors had to be 21 years old or younger and, while the content was mostly literary, there were occasional articles on world affairs and commentary.
The magazine rapidly established a national profile. Joanne Watson identifies some fifty contributors from various parts of Australia and New Zealand and a readership of 300. In 1944, ABC radio broadcasts in its ‘New Australian Voices’ program brought Barjai to national attention and supporters groups were set up in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.7 Both Laurie and Barrie Reid published poems in Max Harris’ Adelaide-based Angry Penguins, and Laurie's piece, ‘Myself and the New Year’, with its then-shocking reference to abortion (‘From the mother's womb the child is scraped away’) was cited as one of the items that had most offended the policeman who testified against the magazine at its indecency trial.8 And while, when Duhig withdrew his financial support in 1947 (as a result of ‘tax-trouble’ said Laurie, and the quote marks were his), the magazine shuddered to a halt, but it did not go under without a fight: Barrie Reid and Laurence Hope hitchhiked their way down the east coast seeking support, getting as far as Melbourne where they established a long-lasting connection with John and Sunday Reed at Heide.
By the time of Barjai's demise, the editors and their friends were already at the centre of a more or less formal group, which held regular meetings at the Lyceum Club in the City where they discussed and debated art and politics and each others’ work. From time to time guest speakers were received, such as the somewhat older poet, Judith Wright.
Not content with all this, many of those involved with Barjai were also central to the Miya art studio, set up in 1946 to challenge the hegemony of the art establishment in Brisbane. (Again the derivation of the name was Aboriginal; Miya meaning ‘today’).9 This project had its origins in a dispute over Laurie's introduction to the catalogue he produced for the Royal Queensland Art Society's Younger Artist's Group exhibition 1945. In no uncertain terms he denounced the sterility of Queensland art:
Queensland art today is practically sterile … It would seem that the discoveries and rediscoveries in art over the past fifty years, the wars, the revolutions, the terrible events
that have taken place in that time, have made little or no impression on our local painters: they are working with their eyes closed.10
In retaliation, the RQAS grandees unilaterally amended the maximum age for membership of the YAG to 20, thereby excluding Collinson and some of his collaborators. Miya was immediately launched, and successfully organised exhibitions of its own in 1946 and 1947 which, while savaged by the reviewers, nonetheless had quite an impact on the Brisbane art scene.
The other major project that occupied much of the time of these young activists was the New Theatre, a revival of the pre-war leftwing theatre group in which the Communist Party and its friends played such a large part. New Theatre placed great emphasis on the performance of Australian plays, grappling with Aboriginal issues, but the group also staged productions of politically important overseas works. Like all small theatres, New Theatre worked cooperatively and all involved were given the opportunity to act and produce and direct – and to sell tickets on the night. The Miya art studio painted the sets in return for the right to use the space between productions. Laurie acted and directed and even saw his first play, No Sugar for George, produced.
Laurie was able, then, in Brisbane in the 1940s to participate in a vibrant, national cultural life, practicing a variety of forms of artistic expression, and to stand alongside men and women with much greater social and cultural capital, and even to stand up to them as the moment seemed to require.
But in the end Brisbane's attraction faded. While we may be struck by the scope of opportunity that was available to Laurie and his friends in the Brisbane of the post-war period, they themselves were less impressed. As early as 1945, Laurie and Barrie were both writing to Christesen in Melbourne bemoaning the limited artistic world in Brisbane, comparing it unfavourably in Laurie's case to Sydney where he had spent much of 1945 at the Julian Ashton Art School.11 But things were undeniably getting worse as the forties rolled on. The post-war wave of radicalism and experimentation peaked and declined and, although this was a nation-wide experience, to the young firebrands in Brisbane it must have looked as though the opportunities were stronger elsewhere. And so, beginning in about 1950 they began, almost all of them, to make their way to Melbourne. (In Laurie's case, the move was necessitated by his parents’ decision to move, but it is hard to see that he regretted it very much.) For some, there was a certainty that even Melbourne would not be big enough; it was to be merely a way-station on the road to London. Charles Osborne was one of these.12 Others seem less set on any particular path.
If Melbourne did not offer the breakthrough that Laurie was hoping for, it nonetheless treated him reasonably well. Looking back, at the age of 40, he regretted the fact that he had never been able to live from his writing alone;13 but, then, how many Australian writers had? And he had survived well enough. He had initially worked as a freelance journalist and ran his own secretarial service for a while before undertaking teacher training at Mercer House.

Drawing (artist unknown) of Laurence Collinson published in Overland, no. 21, Winter, 1961, p. 49 to accompany an article by Jean Campbell on Collison.

After his graduation in 1955 he went into teaching – English and, surprisingly, Mathematics at Essendon Grammar and later at Hampton and Macleod High Schools. In 1961 he took up a position as assistant editor of the Education Magazine, no doubt a much more congenial occupation for a man as shy as him. And there he stayed until his departure for London in 1964.
Politically, Melbourne offered opportunities that Brisbane would not have. He had joined the Communist Party in Brisbane, and joined again after his move south and, although the Cold War made life difficult for dissidents of all kinds, in Melbourne the left remained a powerful force, with the Labor Party's strong left wing, a militant current in the trade unions and a Communist Party that had real social roots and political influence. In this world, life as a lefty could be, if not easy, then at least productive and worthwhile. The

Title page of The Moods of Love, designed by Edwards and Shaw and published in 1957 by Overland. Collection of John Arnold.

crisis of 1956 – the invasion of Hungary by the Soviet Union and its allies to crush Imre Nagy's experiment in reforming socialism, the Soviet Communist Party's revelations about the true horrors of the Stalinist years – produced the same kind of upheaval in Melbourne as in Brisbane, but the withdrawal from the Party of a whole cluster of intellectuals and activists meant that it was possible to carry on as a socialist more easily where Laurie was than where he had been. But there was a lively left milieu outside the Party that he was involved in – he was a member of the Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Antisemitism, a member, and at one point president, of the Fellowship of Australian Writers, and it is likely that there was other political work not captured in the written records. (It is not at all clear when Laurie left the Party or why. Accounts – which are, in fact, often not much more than allusions and vague recollections – differ. It was certainly around this time, though.)
Creatively, too, these were good years. He published poems in first-class journals such as Bulletin, Direction, Meanjin, the Realist Writer and Overland. In 1953 he published a roneoed collection of his poems, A Poet's Dozen, some of which had been published previously, most of which had not. He expanded his creative repertoire as well, trying his hand at novels, short stories, and plays for stage and television. His play, The Zelda Trio, won the GMH/Elizabethan Theatre Trust award in 1961, sharing the prize with Alan Seymour's much better remembered One Day of the Year. All of this is indicative that he was moving in a milieu in which creativity was taken seriously and in which those who were drawn to the arts could find ways to support each other. In the late 1950s, for example, a group of poets started to meet together on a regular basis, to read each others’ work and to comment on it. As different in temperament and politics as Vincent Buckley, Chris Wallace-Crabbe, Ron Simpson and Laurie Collinson, they were bound together, as the introduction to their jointly published volume of poetry, Eight By Eight, put it, by ‘respect – not necessarily a terribly solemn one – for poetry’.
One of the more striking elements of Laurie's life in Melbourne is what we might think of as the many lives of The Moods of Love. Most obviously this refers to his first book of poetry, published in October 1957. But Moods is actually many things in Laurie's life and provides an insight into many aspects of his life and of Melbourne life in the late 1950s.
The volume was Overland's first foray into book publishing, and Stephen Murray-Smith's papers in the State Library of Victoria reveal the aspirants very nearly out of their depth in a world of printers, government grants, trade sales, budgets, hard covers and soft … all the paraphernalia of publishing that a project such as this required.14 It was no small undertaking to bring the book into being. The idea seems to have come to Laurie in 1956 and during a visit to Sydney early in 1957 he visited Edwards and Shaw, the well-known printers, to talk through how such a project might be realised. A scheme was developed. In order to ensure financial viability, some 200 copies of the book would be sold, prior to its publication, to subscribers, each of whom would put up £1 (slightly more than the 18/9 that the book would eventually sell for). After that, sales of another 300 – some hard cover, some soft – would bring the project into the black, (‘Result: Happiness and abundant prosperity for all’). In fact, in the end, enthusiasm for the idea resulted in a print run of 700 rather than 500 and, while sales were healthy, and eventually (that is, over several years) the print-run was entirely sold, it was touch and go for a while. A year after publication, Overland still owed Edwards and Shaw some £50, of an original bill of almost £400 and Laurie was describing the need to sell the remaining copies as ‘an urgent matter’. (Rather charmingly, Murray-Smith wrote to the publishers wondering whether they might accept £25 in full and final settlement of the account; an offer that was rejected – firmly but in a surprisingly good natured way – by Rod Edwards.)
The volume itself contained 90-something verses. Some dated back to the Barjai years and to Angry Penguins; others had appeared in the 1950s in the Bulletin, Meanjin and
Overland. Some were new, especially the third section, ‘The Moods of Love’, a series of sonnets that gave the book its title. The reception for the volume was remarkably mixed.15 By some the work was highly praised, as was Laurie himself – ‘a very human poet’, ‘among the best of the younger poets in Australia’; with a ‘keen eye’. Particular poems, especially among the sonnets, were greeted as ‘strong and moving’, as being ‘world class’. There were ‘some striking lines’; there was flexibility, felicity and liveliness; they were ‘frankly sensual’ (although actually this may not have been intended as praise). On the other hand the criticisms were harsh indeed – ‘Mr Collinson is not an angry young man, but he has his moments of petulance’. The verses were rejected as ‘repetitive and faintly mushy’, ‘obnoxious’, naïve. Others went further. Vincent Buckley denounced the line ‘I am tidying my room for love’ as ‘about the coyest and silliest line written anywhere since the war’, which seems to be overdoing its somewhat. Some reviewers were clearly driven by a dislike of the politics embedded in the poems. The reviewer for the Catholic Advocate found them ‘grating and shrill’, ‘off-key and misdirected’, especially those dealing with religion. Mivakeer, reviewing for the Australian Jewish News, found a lack of compassion, a remarkably wrong-headed assessment, sparked, it is clear, by an endorsement in one poem of the need for revolution: ‘He believed in revolution,/I must add – his sole obvious whim. Why?/I questioned.‘I love people his reply’. But it is noticeable that in all this none of these critics were utterly damning. Most found both good and bad and went out of their way to acknowledge both. Perhaps the thinking was that here was a young poet, serious about his work and likely to develop, demonstrably capable of fine work; and it seems likely that their assessment was that praise and chastisement, liberally applied, was what he needed most.
Laurie himself seems not to have been too perturbed by all of this. In a note to Stephen Murray-Smith, he expressed surprise at Mivakeer's allegation of lack of compassion (‘Ye Gods and little fishes’ he exclaimed) before going on to draw attention to the marketing opportunity here: ‘Might be possible to start a correspondence on the basis of this review – which would help publicity’. In the end, they went further, producing a gestetnered flyer entitled ‘Contradictory Critics’ which, on foolscap sheet divided vertically, listed positive and negative comments, noting the ‘astonishing’ degree of divergence and inviting those who might be curious to purchase a copy and decide for themselves.
In the meantime, Laurie's friends had rallied. In December 1957, a hundred gathered for a dinner held in the Social Studies Lounge at Melbourne University.16 Laurie himself spoke on the theme ‘I Believe’ and on what the ‘love’ of the book's title meant, asserting not a merely personal or romantic notion but something much broader, the kind of idea that seems to have motivated his politics. Love, he said ‘was any act which denotes sympathy with, understanding of, compassion for, other human beings …’. Other speakers included Barrie Reid, Ian Mair and Alan Nicholls, who celebrated the book and its author. Adrian Rawlins, Ian Turner and Jean Campbell read from the poems. Messages of support were sent by Nettie Palmer, Helen Palmer, Ron Simpson and Katharine Susannah Prichard.
As a commercial enterprise The Moods of Love did well enough. It sold out in due course and a decade later, in 1967, Overland published a second volume of Laurie's verse, Who is Wheeling Grandma? This time the project was supported by the Commonwealth Literary Fund, an indication of his creative growth and his standing as a poet. (One of the fiercest critics of ‘The Moods of Love’ had been the CLF's anonymous reviewer who had damned the manuscript and recommended against a publication subsidy).
The Moods of Love also provided the basis for a quite remarkable experiment in translation across media.17 In 1962, television producer, Will Sterling, presented a paper at the UNESCO Conference on Playwriting in Adelaide in which he argued that the reason why there was so little Australian drama on television was that so few writers wrote specifically for that medium. Laurie, who was at the conference and presented a paper on whether Australian-made television was possible or even necessary, was in the audience and, immediately after, button-holed Sterling saying, ‘in his forthright way’ that he had plays available and had been writing and he would be happy to make his material available. The result was a version of Laurie's play Uneasy Paradise which was shown on ABC TV in June 1963. The collaboration was a success, and the two of them stayed in touch, looking for other ideas. In 1964, they entered into an intense exchange of letters (Laurie having gone by this time to England, Sterling being in the USA) out of which came the experimental television film, The Moods of Love. The poems (including some new ones) were voiced over by professional actors, a score was commissioned from the distinguished composer Robert Hughes and performed by members of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and images were filmed in a ‘multiplicity of colourful locations’ around Melbourne. The ‘poetic fusion of pictures, natural sounds, word and music’,18 described by Sterling as ‘a free rhapsody, a fantasia, a symphonic poem …’ was aired on 10 November 1964.
The Moods of Love told the story of an innocent young woman and her romance with a rather more sophisticated young man. Although initially the young man shares her feelings, and the relationship brings them much happiness, problems emerge when it becomes clear that her feelings are deeper and more intense than his, and he finds himself driven away from her suffocatingly desperate love. He finds someone else but, rather than tell her of his new affair, he leaves her to discover this infidelity for herself. Which she does. After great suffering she comes through, becomes herself again, a little wiser perhaps than she had been. All of this is told through seventeen poems – variously serious, comic, tragic – spoken over the visuals. Only the woman was seen on screen; her lover was the camera, which worked as a ‘visual narrator’. It was set in Melbourne, in winter – ‘the bleakness, the harsh bare poetry …, the stillness of night, fog, rain, windswept streets, empty beach, dark reserves, dank parks’, all to convey an affair that ends unresolved, broken …
But there was a secret life to Moods, as well. One that friends of Laurie's knew about, but which was kept well away from the public. The fact is, most of the more recent poems – and all of the sonnet series – were written in response to Laurie's first great experience of
love. Love, not in the sense of sympathy, understanding, compassion – all those aspects he had enumerated at the Melbourne University celebration – but romantic and carnal love. And, Laurie, being who he was – love, homosexual.
The book was dedicated to Eric Collinson, his much-loved cousin, and to Rod Anderson who was, to those in the know, Laurie's lover of the last few years. This was a new thing for Laurie. Charles Osborne tells a story of him standing in the Ballad Bookshop in Brisbane one day, looking out the window reflecting on the fact that he had read in the newspaper that morning that were a very large number of homosexuals in Brisbane. Yes, said Charles, I suppose there are. ‘Where are they all?’ asked Laurie plaintively.19 (If Osborne is right in remembering a reference to a newspaper report, this is very interesting; Laurie's remark would in all likelihood have been prompted by press coverage of the Kinsey Report's revelations regarding the extent of homosexual behaviour among men). It's not as though Laurie was utterly without company – Osborne and Barrie Reid were both fellow homosexuals and he says that he had affairs or at least sexual relations with them during this period. And Laurie was at least an occasional visitor to the Pink Elephant, Brisbane's bohemian café, which welcomed all sorts of odd people – actors and other theatre folk, communists, artists, homosexuals. He met men there. There is also the suggestion of a reasonably serious relationship with a Sydney journalist and writer, presumably while Laurie was studying at the Julian Ashton Art School in 1945. But it was love that Laurie was after and that had determinedly eluded him in Brisbane. Melbourne's larger camp (that is, homosexual) scene offered opportunities, it is true.20 And yet, it was not until 1955 that Laurie found himself caught up in love.
Laurie had been infatuated with Rod Anderson even before he met him (not, surely, a good sign), based on what their mutual friend Barrie Reid had said about him.21 Like Laurie he was a communist and a school teacher and a homosexual. He was also, but in this unlike Laurie, possessed of ‘considerable good looks’, charm, and an instantly winning personality. He had been sexually active since he was 15, though he denied charges of promiscuity on the grounds that he was interested in character rather than sex. Not surprisingly, he saw little that appealed to him in either Laurie or his ‘violent infatuation’ and for two years he rebuffed all advances. And then, quite unexpectedly, ‘free and friendly under the influence of liquor’ he told Laurie that he wanted to sleep with him. For two years the relationship continued. For Laurie it was his great passion, and the sonnets in The Moods of Love chart the ups and downs of their affair, or marriage, as Laurie liked to call it. It was always somewhat troubled – Laurie was very much more in love than Rod, or at least very much more demonstrative in his affections. Rod wanted an open relationship (as we would call it); Laurie acceded, but reluctantly. It was only on their second anniversary, as a friend toasted the couple, that Laurie, glancing at his beloved, suddenly realised that Rod actually resented this very public acknowledgment of their relationship. It was not long after this that Rod began an affair with Geoff, seeing him regularly (in total violation of the rules of the ‘sort of
unofficial agreement’ that Laurie felt they had), often seeing him either before or after his time with Laurie. (Rod was teaching in Geelong and came to Melbourne mostly on weekends). Laurie found out – and was shattered. The great love of his life had betrayed him, he said; the book, his first book, written about, and for, and dedicated to Rod, was now ‘a gigantic lie’. He talked wildly of a life ruined, not worth living, and hinted at suicide. He spent days and nights puzzling over the relationship. He almost certainly saw a psychiatrist for whom he produced his ‘Description and Analysis’.
His friends rallied.22 Thea Astley wrote from Sydney, sharing her own story of a ‘great blow’ in 1947 and urging him to follow her example from that time – the swag of boyfriends that she had, the long trip away, the new novel that she started to work on. Muir Holburn encouraged him to take up a ‘personal refurbishment’ – tanning, slimming, a greater cheerfulness, contact lenses. And, more disturbingly, to try dianetics. (There is an interesting discussion between the two of them on what the therapist's view would be likely to be of Laurie's ‘out-of-the-way temperament; by which he meant his homosexuality). Barrie Reid is reported as being very kind and full of good advice.
What is most striking about all this is the way that all his correspondents – and indeed Laurie himself – maintained sufficient self-control to refer to Rod in all their letters only as R, and always as ‘she’ and ‘her’. Such was the extent of homophobia in 1950s Australia that even private letters had to be self-censored for fear that they might fall into the wrong hands.
If this history of Rod and Laurie's affair seems familiar it is because it provided the plot for the 1964 television program, The Moods of Love, discussed above. We might think of this as therapeutic or even vengeful (although there is no discernable bitterness in the film's view of the man). But, in fact, such reworking of his life into art is not unusual for Laurie. As he wrote to Miles Franklin in 1948: ‘I have an unfortunate tendency to include the people in my immediate environment in any creative work I do with the result that my work is not fictitious’.23 And this was to be true for his entire creative life. In 1975 he wrote a one-act play for the gay season of the Almost Free Theatre group in London which centres on two Lauries arguing, debating, discussing – one representing his old self, the timid man at the typewriter; the other, the post-Gay Lib Laurie, out and proudly out, with liberationist politics and courage. And – echoing again this great unresolved relationship – the Young Woman appears again, caught up in her only partially-requited love affair with a man. Here again is The Moods of Love – poetry, television film, life history worked and reworked.
We have a number of versions of this relationship now. Laurie's description and analysis; his friends’ letters; The Moods of Love television film which takes two handfuls of the poems and uses them to narrate (in heterosexual form) the rise and fall of their love. The Zelda Trio is the story in play form (again heterosexualised). And, most recently, we have Rod's own version in his autobiography, Free Radical.
In the end, Melbourne proved disappointing for Laurie and there was too little success; in 1964 he joined that great flood of Australian talent that was making its way to
London. The longing for the bigger stage, the wide world, the bright lights of the bigger city; the belief that his talent would be recognised there and that he would find greater success was important in pushing Laurie to make the move. But Melbourne had done its best for him, these were years that had nourished his talent and provided outlets and recognition. He hoped for more, as artists usually do and so went to where he thought he would find it.


William Hatherell, The Third Metropolis: imagining Brisbane through art and literature, 1940–1970, St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 2007, see especially pp. 27–38.


Lynne Strahan and Chris Wallace-Crabbe, ‘Meanjin Quarterly’, in Bruce Bennett (ed), Cross Currents: magazines and newspapers in Australia, Melbourne: Longman Cheshire, 1981, p. 173.


Keith Bradbury and Glenn R. Cooke, Thorns and Petals: 100 Years of the Royal Queensland Art Society, Brisbane: RQAS, 1988, p. 91


Barrie Reid to Clem Christesen, letter, 14 May 1946, Barrett Reid file, Meanjin Archive, University of Melbourne Archives.


Joanne Watson, ‘Brisbane's Little Chelsea: The Cultural Legacy of the Barjai and Miya Groups’, Overland, no. 174, 2004, pp. 58–62; William Hatherell, ‘The Brisbane Years of Laurence Collinson’, Queensland Review, vol. 13, no. 2, 2006, pp. 1–12.


Laurence Collinson to Clem Christesen, letter, 5 August 1971, Laurie Collinson file, Meanjin Archive, University of Melbourne.


Michele Helmrich, Young Turks and Battle Lines: Barjai and Miya Studio. an exhibition arranged by the University Art Museum, University of Queensland, centering around young Brisbane artists of the 1940s, Brisbane: University Art Museum, 1988, p. 3.


Michael Heyward, The Ern Malley Affair, St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1993, p. 191. The poem was published in the Autumn 1944 issue of Angry Penguins, the notorious Ern Malley number.


On Miya see Watson,‘Brisbane's Little Chelsea’, Bradbury and Cooke, Thorns and Petals; and Helmrich, Young Turks.


Quoted in William Hatherell, ‘The Brisbane Years of Laurence Collinson’, p. 4.


See various letters from 1945 in Laurence Collinson file, Meanjin Archive, University of Melbourne.


Charles Osborne, Giving It Away: the memoirs of an uncivil servant, London: Secker and Warburg, 1986, p. 35


Laurence Collinson to Clem Christesen, letter, 7 February 1966, Laurence Collinson file, Meanjin Archive, University of Melbourne.


For this and the following I have used the Stephen Murray-Smith Papers, MS 8272, State Library of Victoria, boxes 168 and 387.


The reviews are collected and held in the Stephen Murray-Smith Papers, SLV, box 168/1-1.


Jean Campbell, ‘Moods of Love’, Australian Jewish News, 20 December 1957; Stephen Murray-Smith Papers, SLV, box 168/1-1.


For this and the following, Will Sterling to Graham Willett, personal communication, 13 December 2000.


Will Sterling, as quoted in ‘Behind the Scene for the Moods of Love’, Age, November 1964 – clipping provided by Will Sterling


Interview with Charles Osborne by Graham Willett, London, 18 April 1997.


On camp Melbourne see Graham Willett, ‘The Darkest Decade: Homophobia in 1950s Australia’, Australian Historical Studies, no. 109, October 1997, pp. 120–132 and Willett, ‘Camp Melbourne in the 1960s’, in Seamus O'Hanlon and Tanja Lukins (eds), Go! Melbourne in the Sixties, Melbourne: Circa, 2005, pp. 188–202.


This account draws heavily on Laurie Collinson, ‘The Case History of R. and L. An Analysis by L’, typescript, Stephen-Murray-Smith Papers, box 387/6-2. I have also used Rod's account of the affair as presented in Rod Anderson, Free Radical: a memoir of a gay political activist, [Brisbane?: The Author], 2006.


The correspondence is in Stephen Murray-Smith Papers, SLV, box 387/6-2.


Laurence Collinson to Miles Franklin, letter, 16 December 1948, Miles Franklin Papers, MS 364/41, Mitchell Collection, State Library of New South Wales.