OUT of the WILDER­NESS

Patrick White’s first novel, re­pub­lished af­ter 70 years, shows Aus­tralia’s only No­bel lau­re­ate in lit­er­a­ture was al­most fully formed at just 27, writes Delia Fal­coner

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

IN 1930 Patrick White’s fa­ther ar­ranged for him to jacka­roo at Bo­laro, a fam­ily friend’s sheep sta­tion on the edge of the Snowy Moun­tains. At first the 18-yearold was im­pressed by the older stock­men’s look of philoso­phers and mys­tics. Then he came to the con­clu­sion that it was the re­sult of long years scan­ning the hori­zon for sheep.

This cut­tingly funny ob­ser­va­tion in a let­ter made its way al­most un­al­tered into White’s first novel, Happy Val­ley: ‘‘ Any­one who stares long enough into the dis­tance is bound to be mis­taken for a philoso­pher or mys­tic in the end.’’ So did the An­glo-Chi­nese Yens of Adaminaby, who owned the gen­eral store and movie hall, along with their wild brother, garage-own­ing Frank, fa­mous for piss­ing into the key­hole of a Cooma shop while drunk.

In the novel, An­glo-Chi­nese Amy and Arthur Quong own Happy Val­ley’s gen­eral store and pic­ture the­atre, while their garage-own­ing, wom­an­is­ing brother Wal­ter is no­to­ri­ous (a wickedly Whitean em­bel­lish­ment) for piss­ing drunk­enly into the key­holes all along Moorang’s main street.

White wrote Happy Val­ley in Eng­land and pub­lished it in Lon­don in 1939, when he was 27. He hoped to have es­caped Aus­tralia for­ever. But in 1946 he would find him­self re­turn­ing with his Greek-Egyp­tian life part­ner Manoly Las­caris. The cou­ple would live in Sydney for the rest of their lives.

Ac­cord­ing to bi­og­ra­pher David Marr, it was the Quongs’ close­ness to the bone that caused White, back in Aus­tralia and afraid of li­bel ac­tion, to keep Happy Val­ley out of cir­cu­la­tion. Though as Peter Craven writes in his ex­cel­lent short in­tro­duc­tion to this Text Clas­sics edition, White might have been just as keen to with­hold his book from a gen­eral read­er­ship be­cause of its pre­co­cious mo­ments of mod­ernist striv­ing (though it has al­ways re­mained in li­brary col­lec­tions).

Now White’s long-time lit­er­ary agent and friend Bar­bara Mobbs has au­tho­rised the novel’s re­pub­li­ca­tion for the first time in 70 years, along with his un­fin­ished last novel, The Hang­ing Gar­den, which was re­leased last year.

While it’s de­bat­able whether pub­lish­ing a book as in­com­plete as The Hang­ing Gar­den does White any favours — and I’m not sure it does — Happy Val­ley is a treat that can only en­hance his oeu­vre.

This big and some­times won­der­ful novel swoops in and out of the lives of the Quongs (White has given Wal­ter a daugh­ter, stoic Mar­garet); the Mo­ri­ar­tys, an asth­matic school­teacher and his over­ripe wife; frus­trated writer Doc­tor Hal­l­i­day, his con­sump­tive wife and bul­lied son; horny Clem, over­seer for the rich Fur­lows; sin­gle pi­ano teacher Alys; and sim­ple cart driver Chuffy. Like Dy­lan Thomas’s Un­der

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