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 .