Xavier Herbert: Forgotten or Repressed?

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Liz Conor
Ann 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. 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.

Article Details

Xavier Herbert: Forgotten or Repressed? (Peer Reviewed)
Author Biographies

Liz Conor, La Trobe University

Liz Conor is an ARC Future Fellow at La Trobe University. She is author of 'Skin Deep: Settler Impressions of Aboriginal Women' (2016) and 'The Spectacular Modern Woman: Feminine Visibility in the 1920s' (2003). She is co-editor of the scholarly journal 'Aboriginal History' and former editor of 'Metro Magazine' and 'Australian Screen Education' and has edited a number of collections and published in a variety of print and digital platforms, scholarly and general, including a column at 'New Matilda'.

Ann McGrath, Australian National University

Ann McGrath is the 2017 Kathleen Fitzpatrick Australian Laureate Fellow and Director of the Australian Centre for Indigenous History at the Australian National University. She has published numerous articles and books on gender, colonialism and most recently on deep history, and has developed museum exhibitions, digital histories, films and television programs. Her first book was 'Born in the Cattle: Aborigines in Cattle Country' (1987) and her most recent is 'Illicit Love: Interracial Sex and Marriage in the United States and Australia' (2015), which won the 2016 NSW Premiers History Award, General Category.


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