Sunday, February 23, 2014


An  unexpected   link  with  the  "  greatest  literary  hoax  of  the  20th Century " is  contained  in   the  rare  books  collection  at  the   Eddie  Koiki  Mabo  Library , James  Cook  University, Townsville.  It  is  a slim  volume  of  poems- Night  Flight  and  Sunrise -  by   the  late  South Australian author and  publisher , Geoffrey  Dutton,  when  he  was  a  pilot officer  in   the  RAAF  during  WW11.   Published in  1944  by  John Reed  and  Max  Harris , it was  Dutton’s first  book  of  poems ,  he  just   21 ,  and  shows   him  in  flying  kit,  see  right.  The  collection  included  his  poems  from  A  Comment  and   the  Angry   Penguins  literary  publication. 

Of   particular  note   is   the  introductory statement   by    avant-garde  poet  and  critic, Max   Harris , who  praised Dutton’s  maturity  in  style  and  said   five  poems  were " far  and  away  the  finest  things  I have encountered in Australia, and  although the  idiom arrived  at  is  highly  individual, at  times  esoteric , they  possess  the  fervency and  sensitivity  that  characterise  the  best  of   D.  B.  Kerr  and   Ern  Malley." 

Kerr  , a   fine  poet," close to  the border of genius",  at the   Adelaide  University Arts Association on  April 7, 1940  had  been a founding  member of   the  literary magazine Angry  Penguins .  Kerr  and   Harris  were editors   and  P.G. Pfeiffer  and  Dutton  subeditors of  the  new publication, its  patron  C.R. Jury . It  replaced  the  Student Union  publication Phoenix ,  closed  because it  had  upset conservatives at  the university.   In  those  days ,  it  was  said    Adelaide  University was  Australia’s   literary  frontier .

War  intervened .  Kerr, 23,  described  by  Harris for  an  American journal in  Commentary on Australian  Poetry,  as  "the pre-eminent   poet of the Australian modernists  movement,"  joined   up  and  was   killed  in  air action  in  New Guinea  .  Pfeiffer , 28,  flew in the famous   RAAF  461  Squadron, a maritime patrol group  using  Short Sunderland  flying boats, under the  control of the RAF,  which  operated in Europe and  over the Atlantic , carried out  transport  flights  to Gibraltar, anti-submarine missions   and   supported  the Normandy invasion ; he  was  also  killed  in  action.

Dutton  was  lucky  to  survive  a  plane crash  in   New Guinea  late  in the war .  Angry  Penguins  moved  to  Melbourne  under  the editorship   of   Harris  , a corporal  in the war  ,who  did not get on with superiors ,  spent   quite some  time digging latrines . He formed  a  close  business  relationship  with   John  and  Sunday  Reed   of  the  Heide  Group  of modernists . Harris correctly predicted   Dutton  would  be  a   powerful force  in  contemporary  Australian literature   and described  this  first book  of   poems  as  yet another  sign of  the  vital creative  movement  taking  place  in  this  country, a  movement  the implications  of  which  extended   beyond   the  shores  of  a  country which might well  have  been a  cultural backwater.    

Unfortunately,   Ern Malley ,  praised   so  highly   by  Harris  in  the introduction to Dutton's book ,  never   existed   and   was   an   outrageous  hoax  pulled  off    by   two non-combatant   Australian soldiers  in  the  Army’s  Victoria Barracks, Melbourne,  in October 1943. They  were  Lieutenant James McAuley  and  Corporal Harold Stewart,   Sydney poets ,  who  disliked  modern poetry in general  and   hated Max  Harris  of  Angry  Penguins. NEXT :  Unusual  Queensland  souvenirs  of     Dutton   Dynasty   and  Ern Malley  Hoax .