Claws

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Ge­of­frey Blainey Stephen Romei

fish­ing — praise that made me hurry to read Ste­wart again. We sat side by side on a com­mit­tee in 1967; how qui­etly witty he was, com­ment­ing on this and that with one hand shield­ing his mouth

Aus­tralian ex­plor­ers were mag­nets for se­ri­ous col­lec­tors. One spe­cial­ist in books about the ex­plor­ers Burke and Wills was a Qan­tas se­nior flight at­ten­dant of the pre-Whit­lam era. He used his fre­quent trips to Lon­don to in­spect the rare book shops. His col­lec­tion was ac­quired by wealthy Miles Barne, ‘‘a very pri­vate’’ Old Eto­nian who was a cof­fee planter in New Guinea be­fore mov­ing in the 1970s to trop­i­cal Aus­tralia where his faint in­ter­est in early Aus­tralian books and cu­rios was sud­denly alight. One of his trea­sures, auc­tioned in 1992 by Sotheby’s in Lon­don, was a ‘‘Wedg­wood medal­lion struck from Syd­ney Cove clay’’ in 1789.

Many of the life­long col­lec­tors were sin­gle men: no wife would live with their ob­ses­sion. By oc­cu­pa­tion Alex Hamil­ton was a rate col­lec­tor in Bal­larat. Liv­ing in a ‘‘weath­er­board house, with peel­ing paint’’, he spent hours dust­ing his modern first-edi­tion nov­els. Kay and Muriel Crad­dock bought the col­lec­tion — Hamil­ton left no will — after his death in 1981.

What a friend the old post of­fice was. Stu­art Braga, a his­tory teacher and book col­lec­tor, re­calls the en­light­ened era in which ‘‘the dis­sem­i­na­tion of books was en­cour­aged by very cheap book post’’. A dis­cern­ing buyer of mil­i­tary his- tory, he praised the New Zealand war his­to­ri­ans and their mem­oirs about Gal­lipoli. We have to be con­stantly re­minded that there were Ki­wis at Gal­lipoli. A few of the li­braries were huge. Shane Car­mody, in his es­say on the bach­e­lor book-col­lec­tor Wil­liam Howat, noted that his in­ner-city res­i­dence held more than a score of rooms full of books — at least 20,000 — and cu­rios. Leonard Joel in 1935 held an auc­tion s spread over at least four days. T Thea ‘‘Rare books Col­lec­tion­were sold alon­gof Na­tive with W Weaponse era one of the and rarer Cu­rios’’. weapon­sIn hisalm mostu ume of rankedearly Shake­speare.with a quarto volA par­tic­u­lar cen­tury or aut thor might be the favoured g goal or haven. For John Emm mer­son,at Ox­ford who be­fore stud­ied be­com­ing physicsa l lawyer in his na­tive Aus­tralia, 1 17th-cen­tury Eng­land was his h home ground. Among his b books, val­ued re­cently for m moreBi­ble than owned $4 by mil­lion,the bish­op­was the of Lon­don who ‘‘as­sisted Charles 1 be­fore his ex­e­cu­tion in 1649’’. Wallace Kir­sop ob­serves in one of his charm­ing es­says that Em­mer­son was care­ful not to sign the books he owned. I some­times sat with him at lunch. To my shame I had no idea he pored over English his­tory at night, reading mostly his first edi­tions. Some col­lec­tors paid for their best books to be bound hand­somely. Al­bert Gor­don Hughes, patched it. I am sure it is now dust, dis­trib­uted into the min­eral waste of the world.

When my mother died, my sib­lings and I de­vised a fair and eq­ui­table method of di­vid­ing her pos­ses­sions. But each new ob­ject brought forth from some dark cup­board evoked an as­ton­ish­ing and com­plex ar­ray of emo­tions.

The milk jug. My el­dest brother was the great milk drinker. He was renowned in our fam­ily for his con­sump­tion of milk, drunk some­times straight from the jug while he stood at the fridge door. I al­ways sus­pected that he thought that if he drank enough milk, he could defy his ge­netic legacy and grow tall, much taller than his tiny mother. Per­haps he would grow tall enough to defy my fa­ther, who, when pos­sessed by his demons, would change from our lov­ing, nur­tur­ing par­ent into a be­ing con­sumed with un­con­trol­lable anger.

Later, when the demons de­parted, he be- On the Laws of Ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal Polity I fi­nally did some­thing this week that I’d been mean­ing to do for a while: re-read a writer who was one of the bridges, for me, from chil­dren’s a Rat of To­bruk, be­came a cel­e­brated binder books to adult lit­er­a­ture. These are au­thors I after the war. To his artistry is paid this trib­ute value no mat­ter what has hap­pened to them by Harry Hodges in Stitz’s vol­ume two: ‘‘Books since, such as fad­ing from the lit­er­ary lime­light have a fem­i­nine gen­der in any lan­guage and or go­ing to jail. There are quite a few, in­clud­ing this Binder-Col­lec­tor has a mas­cu­line love for James Hadley Chase, Agatha Christie, Fred­er­ick them. And so he dresses and be­jew­els them acForsyth, Jef­frey Archer and James Clavell. I was cord­ingly.’’ In his orig­i­nal trade Hughes was a a boy, okay. I liked thrillers and mys­ter­ies. The tai­lor and his spe­cialty was silks for jock­eys. writer in ques­tion is ma­cho ac­tion from go to

Of­ten the binders were more flam­boy­ant still-not-whoa: Wil­bur Smith, who was born in than the col­lec­tors. In the 1970s in Mel­bourne I then North­ern Rhode­sia, now Zam­bia, in 1933. dis­cov­ered a fine book­binder, Mr Boyle, who Still-not-whoa be­cause at 84, Smith has just stood in his apron in his shop at Clifton Hill, signed a deal with emerg­ing Bri­tish pub­lisher where he bound with kan­ga­roo leather a few Bon­nier Zaf­fre that in­cludes eight new nov­els dozen of my more frayed books. His wife once and world­wide rights to his 34 pre­vi­ous books, con­fided that he was a star of ball­room danc­ing. which have sold 30 mil­lion copies. The deal is I see I penned a note in­side one of his kan­gare­ported to be worth £10 mil­lion ($17m). Big roo-skin bind­ings, “Arthur Boyle, d. 1978’’. num­bers are noth­ing new to Smith. His writ­ing

Ge­orge Grey, al­most the most ver­sa­tile ad­has made him rich (though not as rich as min­is­tra­tor of the ex­pand­ing Bri­tish Em­pire, Bel­marsh Prison alum­nus Baron Archer). Un­der had a hunger for books, or­der­ing them by ‘‘slow the agree­ment, Smith’s books will be boat from Lon­don’’ or buy­ing them lo­cally as dis­trib­uted in Aus­tralia by Allen & Un­win. This he him­self was trans­ferred about the globe. He an­nounce­ment was the spur to prick the sides de­serves his 33 pages of de­scrip­tion and praise. of my in­tent. I started where I be­gan so long

Be­gin­ning his first li­brary as gover­nor in Adago, with Smith’s 1964 de­but When the Lion elaide in the 1840s, he ac­quired more and more Feeds, a best­seller that al­lowed him to quit his books while gover­nor in Cape Town. Liv­ing on day job as an ac­coun­tant and com­mit to writ­ing. an is­land off NZ from the 1860s, he cre­ated an Now, I was born in 1964 so I’d have to be the en­vi­able se­cond col­lec­tion that he fi­nally be­womb-bound but worldly pro­tag­o­nist of Ian queathed to Auck­land Pub­lic Li­brary. In­ci­denMcEwan’s Nut­shell to have read it on re­lease. tally he was the first to de­scribe the Kim­ber­ley The novel cen­tres on twin broth­ers, Sean and rock art in West­ern Aus­tralia. Gar­rick Court­ney, and starts in the 1870s when

He owned many Maori items, in­clud­ing one they are grow­ing up on their wealthy fa­ther’s of the two ex­tant copies of the first Maori-lan­cat­tle sta­tion in Natal. Smith had the same guage work printed in NZ. They were shelved ex­pe­ri­ence as a child, mi­nus the twin. In­deed not far from his books printed by Cax­ton and there are parts of him in both boys: strong his 1492 edi­tion of Chaucer’s Can­ter­bury Tales. Sean, who wants to hunt and who can beat up a How proud he was to be the owner of the Bi­ble Ta

teacher, and quiet Gar­rick, who early on loses a in more than 160 lan­guages, as well as such rar­leg when his brother mis­fires a shot­gun. There’s ities as the Delft Bi­ble of 1477, the first to be We

a deft mo­ment when their fa­ther, Waite, printed in the Dutch lan­guage. He col­lected presents them with their first ri­fles as Christ­mas let­ters, about 3000 of them, ad­dressed to muhim

gifts. Sean sees a “poem in steel and wood”. by Florence Nightin­gale, Lady Franklin (once Gar­rick feigns de­light but he had hoped for the of Tas­ma­nia), Charles Dar­win, Thomas Car­lyle works of Charles Dick­ens. Smith, who was a and other celebri­ties. keen reader at school, has said of his su­per

To Grey’s dis­may var­i­ous mas­cu­line fa­ther, “I don’t think he ever read a buy from Lon­don book­sell­ers ma books were he pur­chasedtried to

book in his life, in­clud­ing mine.” by lo­cal col­lec­tors be­fore his own or­der­ing letWhen the Lion Feeds was part of a tril­ogy, ters could ar­rive from re­mote cor­ners of the fol­lowed by The Sound of Thun­der (1966) and A em­pire, and some books that were dis­patched Spar­row Falls (1977). So I am go­ing to as­sume I se­curely to him in tin-lined cases were lost at read all three when I was 13, which makes sense sea. He longed as there’s a bit of sex in them. (I wouldn’t have books: ‘‘For mB thirty to years read one­his of fast-mul­ti­ply­ingthe chief de

un­der­stood it then, I has­ten to add, just as I lights of my life has been to col­lect a Li­brary didn’t un­der­stand the French in Gra­ham which I had hoped would form the charm and Greene’s nov­els a few years later. But I’ve recre­ation of my mid­dle life and of my old age.’’ al­ways liked look­ing up stuff.)

As I write this I am two-thirds through the 500 pages of When the Lion Feeds. The big­gest, and most pleas­ant, sur­prise is that I am su­per keen to fin­ish it. I need to know what hap­pens! What im­presses me most is the pre­ci­sion of the prose. Smith is a sto­ry­teller. His nar­ra­tive is di­rect and real, not cliched or overblown. The de­scrip­tions of the af­ter­math of bat­tles with Zulu warriors, for ex­am­ple, are sim­ple and raw.

I can see, now, how in this first novel it’s all about men, and women come a dis­tant se­cond. I can see, too, as­pects that may seem racially in­sen­si­tive. That partly re­flects the time and place in which the novel is set, and the char­ac­ters who in­habit it. It also re­flects Smith’s up­bring­ing. He was 30 when he wrote this novel. “My fa­ther was a colonist,” he said in one in­ter­view, “and I fol­lowed what he said till I was in my mid-20s and learned to think for my­self.”

In re­cent years Smith’s nov­els have been cowrit­ten by other, un­cred­ited, writ­ers. I doubt I’ll read the new ones, but go­ing back to the first one was a strangely won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence, one made even keener by also reading the ar­ti­cles abouts books and life — and death — on this page by Ge­of­frey Blainey and Michelle Cox­all. They both made me think about the tran­sience and per­ma­nence of life as I tried to separate my present reading self from my past reading self. is a his­to­rian. His lat­est work is the two-vol­ume The Story of Aus­tralia’s People. For more in­for­ma­tion on Aus­tralian Book Col­lec­tors con­tact book­son­dean@big­pond.com, (02) 6021 3230 or book­son­dean.com.au. came a des­ic­cated husk, his head ly­ing on his arms at the end of the kitchen ta­ble. We all thought that our brother should take that milk jug. But he said no. There were few things among that huge moun­tain of pos­ses­sions that he claimed for him­self, and even then he did so al­most apolo­get­i­cally, as if em­bar­rassed at the emo­tions and mem­o­ries that this odd as­sort­ment of ob­jects evoked in him.

I have seen sim­i­lar milk jugs in junk shops and an­tique shops. But should a prospec­tive buyer find that jug on some dusty shelf, they will not be able to read its his­tory, read the story of four young chil­dren grow­ing up in coun­try Vic­to­ria in the 1960s, one of whom was ex­ces­sively fond of milk.

I know that Frank had a brother, but I am not sure whether there were other sib­lings. My

From the John Em­mer­son col­lec­tion, Richard Hooker’s

(1635), courtesy the State Li­brary of Vic­to­ria; Ger­maine Greer’s 70s writ­ing in­spired col­lec­tor Joy Ni­chol­son; poet AD Hope liked to mark the books he owned; in­set, a first edi­tion of Charles Dar­win’s On the Ori­gin of Species, a book that started Bernard Smith’s ‘in­tel­lec­tual jour­ney’

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