Xavier Herbert: Forgotten or repressed?
journal contributionposted on 2022-05-10, 02:24 authored by Liz ConorLiz Conor, A McGrath
Xavier Herbert is one of Australia’s outstanding novelists and one of the more controversial. In his time, he was also an outspoken public figure. Yet many young Australians today have not heard of the man or his novels. His key works Capricornia (1938) and Poor Fellow My Country (1975) won major awards and were judged as highly significant on publication, yet there has been relatively little analysis of their impact. Although providing much material for Baz Luhrmann’s blockbuster film Australia (2008), his works are rarely recommended as texts in school curricula or in universities. Gough Whitlam took a particular interest in the final draft of Poor Fellow My Country, describing it as a work of ‘national significance’ and ensuring the manuscript was sponsored to final publication. In 1976 Randolph Stow described it as ‘THE Australian classic’. Yet, a search of the Australian Literature database will show that it is one of the most under-read and least taught works in the Australian literary canon.1 In our view, an examination of his legacy is long overdue. This collection brings together new scholarship that explores the possible reasons for Herbert’s eclipse within public recognition, from his exposure of unpalatable truths such as interracial intimacy, to his relationship with fame. This reevaluation gives new readings of the works of this important if not troublesome public intellectual and author.