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 firstname.lastname@example.org, (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’