Shonky writ­ing’s long and colour­ful his­tory

Jen­nifer Byrne Presents: Hoaxes 10.05pm, ABC1

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

IT is 55 years since the in­ge­nious hoax known as the Ern Mal­ley af­fair rocked Aus­tralia’s lit­er­ary fra­ter­nity.

But rather than be­com­ing less in­ter­est­ing with time, the joke that so sear­ingly skew­ered the pre­ten­sions of Aus­tralia’s small and earnest po­etry es­tab­lish­ment re­mains fas­ci­nat­ing.

The hoax, in which writ­ers James McAu­ley and Harold Ste­wart in­vented mod­ernist po­ems by the fic­ti­tious sub­ur­ban lyri­cist Ern Mal­ley and sub­mit­ted them to the lit­er­ary jour­nal An­gry Pen­guins — which promptly pub­lished them, mak­ing it the butt of ridicule — re­mains Aus­tralia’s great­est lit­er­ary fraud.

But the his­tory of de­lib­er­ately shonky writ­ing in this coun­try is long and colour­ful. I’ll al­ways have a spot in my heart for He­len Darville, for in­stance, who pre­tended to be He­len Demi­denko, a wacky, peas­ant-top wear­ing Ukrainian im­mi­grant whose book The Hand That Signed the Pa­per won The Aus­tralian / Vo­gel Lit­er­ary Award in 1993, be­fore the writer was ex­posed as a uni­ver­sity stu­dent from Bris­bane.

More re­cently, and far more dis­turbingly, Norma Khouri’s For­bid­den Love , a sear­ing ac­count of fe­male abuse in Mus­lim cul­tures, was ex­posed as hav­ing been made up, af­ter the au­thor had claimed events con­tained in the book were real.

In an­other case, two mid­dle-aged white men, Leon Car­men and John Bay­ley, cre­ated in­dige­nous writer Wanda Kool­ma­trie, whose novel My Own Sweet Time won the 1996 Nita May Dob­bie Award for a first novel by a fe­male writer be­fore the hoax was re­vealed. The pub­lisher im­me­di­ately re­called copies of the book and burned them.

The ethics of hoaxes and lit­er­ary frauds is dis­cussed in this panel-style

Hoaxes show hosted by Jen­nifer Byrne, a spin-off from her monthly pro­duc­tion The First Tues­day Book Club .

This show is sim­i­lar to that one, in that Byrne leads an in­for­mal but in­formed chat with well-known pub­lish­ing fig­ures.

Tonight she has four guests: pub­lisher Michael Hey­ward, writer Malcolm Knox, blog­ger Jack Marx and one of the orig­i­nal Wanda Kool­ma­trie creators, Bay­ley.

For a topic with great comic value, this is a se­ri­ous dis­cus­sion that fo­cuses mainly on the pain and suf­fer­ing hoaxes cause, rather than their func­tion as so­cial satire. But even though I might have ex­pected more laughs, the ma­te­rial re­mains com­pelling.

For me, the two most in­ter­est­ing pan­el­lists are Marx and Bay­ley, from op­po­site sides of the hoax di­vide. Marx was re­cently taken in by a fa­mous Amer­i­can lit­er­ary fraud in which a lit­tle-known writer, Laura Al­bert, pre­tended to be J. T. LeRoy, a young boy ‘‘ pimped by his mother’’. ( The en­tire story was a fabri­ca­tion.)

And Bay­ley’s ob­ser­va­tions about the ease with which he and Car­men were pub­lished — and dec­o­rated — as a fe­male Abo­rig­i­nal writer are like­wise in­trigu­ing.

El­iz­a­beth Mery­ment

In­trigu­ing ques­tions:

host Jen­nifer Byrne

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