Fractal Myth

Adam Lindsay Gordon and Marcus Clarke's Preface - Writing Australia.

[Michelle Chapman ©1999]

Marcus Clarke's Preface to the poems of Adam Lindsay Gordon was first published in 1876, six years after Gordon's death. Although the debate over Gordon's status as Australia's national poet has lasted for over a century, the Preface has been largely ignored by literary critics. This is despite its importance to Adam Lindsay Gordon's reputation as an Australian poet, and its importance for the growth of truly Australian literature. As early as 1909, it was claimed that the "influence of this brief article has been far greater than anything else of the same kind written in Australia."(1)

This essay will look closely at Marcus Clarke's Preface, exploring the way in which he constructs Adam Lindsay Gordon into Australia's cultural heritage. There are two distinct halves to Marcus Clarke's Preface. The three paragraphs of the first half are personal and biographical, as Clarke 'introduces' Adam Lindsay Gordon to the reader, and looks briefly at Gordon's poetry. Clarke's tone is authoritative, but unfortunately, factually inaccurate. The fourth paragraph is the hinge of the Preface, connecting the 'Adam Lindsay Gordon' half of the essay with a literary construction of Australia in the second half. Clarke's voice in this second half is poetic, imaginative and given to hyperbole. It creates a text rich with layers of meaning, exploring Colonial and Imperial attitudes to literature and the land. Research suggests that this section had nothing to do with Adam Lindsay Gordon, but was adapted by Clarke from a previous article :

The original matter appeared in a work published in Melbourne in 1875 - Photographs of the Pictures in the National Gallery, Melbourne - edited by Marcus Clarke.(2)

However, even if Marcus Clarke's writing of Australia was not produced specifically for the Preface, it is appropriate, showing a strong connection with Gordon's Dedication in which the poet explored his own writing, and its relationship with Australia.

The Preface begins by confirming Gordon's credentials as an Australian, and as a poet. Marcus Clarke's magazine Colonial Monthly had previously extolled Gordon's arrival on the literary scene in "an unsigned article, probably written by Clarke himself, ... :

'Gordon is the most Australian of our literary aspirants. A genuine unconscious tone gives life to his work. We look forward, with some pride and much hope, to the day when it will be a boast to have discovered his genius in 1868.'"(3)

The Preface is understandably less effusive and more subdued in its posthumous tribute to Gordon's talents. In asserting the "interest beyond the mere personal one which his friends attach to his name"(Preface), Marcus Clarke asserts the public, social significance of Gordon's poems. He describes the circumstances of their production, balancing any possible literary criticism of the poems as "unequal or unfinished" (Preface) against a picture of Gordon as a heroic man of action, leading "a stirring and adventurous life" (Preface). The emerging Gordon legend is further consolidated by placing him as the exception to the rule of Colonial cultural cringe. "The astonishment of those who knew the man, and can gauge the capacity of this city to foster poetic instinct, is, that such work was ever produced here at all" (Preface) or as Henry Kendall described it, "the popular dogma that nothing good can come out of Nazareth."(4) This world view was shared by the mother-country, with Oscar Wilde claiming, in 1889 :

On the whole, it is impossible not to regret that Gordon ever emigrated. His literary power cannot be denied but it was stunted in uncongenial surroundings ... He remained thoroughly English, and the best we can say of him is that he wrote imperfectly in Australia those poems that in England he might have made perfect.(5)

Clarke, however, subtly constructs Gordon as an Aussie male. "Intensely nervous, and feeling much of that shame at the exercise of the higher intelligence which besets those who are known to be renowned in field sports, Gordon produced his poems shyly, scribbled them on scraps of paper, and sent them anonymously to magazines" (Preface). The qualities Clarke describes in Gordon match historical accounts of the man.(6) They also match our cultural image of a bloke - physically active and emotionally reserved.(7) That Gordon's method of composition was uniquely Australian can be seen in comparison with Tennyson, the English poet laureate (1850-98). As Geoffrey Hutton describes it, Gordon :

could compose on horseback and scribble out his lines while resting under a tree and spelling his horse. It was the opposite of the deliberate and painstaking method of a Tennyson.(8)

The first poem of Adam Lindsay Gordon's mentioned by Marcus Clarke is one which apparently led Gordon to recognise his own popularity. "It was not until he discovered one morning that everybody knew a couplet or two of How We Beat the Favourite that he consented to forego his anonymity and appear in the unsuspected character of a versemaker" (Preface). The truth of Clarke's claim for Gordon's widespread popularity is supported by Barcroft Boake, in a letter dated 20 November 1889:

There is not a bushman or a drover who does not know a verse or two of How We Beat the Favourite or The Sick Stockrider ... Gordon is the favourite - I may say the only - poet of the backblocker.(9)

Marcus Clarke finishes the first paragraph by balancing a positive report of Gordon's published works with a negative mention of Gordon's suicide. "The success of his republished "collected" poems gave him courage, and the unreserved praise which greeted Bush Ballads should have urged him to forget or to conquer those evil promptings which, unhappily, brought about his untimely death" (Preface). In The Bulletin of 2 September 1909, it was stated that "no 'collected' edition, in the ordinary sense of the word, was printed in Gordon's lifetime."(10) This small error slightly detracts from the authority of Clarke's biographical voice, but only for a reader blessed with historical hindsight. In the case of Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes, Gordon received his first copy at his publishers on the day before his death. On the same day he saw Henry Kendall's review of the book, where the praise was certainly "unreserved" (Preface), calling Gordon "a poet, who by his present volume has made a rich addition to the permanent possessions of English literature."(11) Clarke's claim for Gordon's literary success at the time of his death is confirmed by Richard Jordan's survey of documentary evidence :

Gordon was recognized in his own lifetime as an important poet by both learned and popular audiences, and when he killed himself he knew about this reputation and perhaps even realised that his standing as a poet was as high or higher than that of any Australian Poet who had yet published.(12)

The second paragraph of the Preface further damages the authority of Clarke's biographical voice. Given Gordon's famous reticence about personal matters,(13) and the six years since his death, it is hardly surprising that Clarke's details are mistaken. Clarke chooses familiar outdoor occupations which continue the construction of Gordon as an Aussie all-rounder. The real details of Gordon's "varied life" (Preface) are also active and Australian, doing little damage to this image of him:

Gordon really started as a mounted trooper, and afterwards worked as a horse-breaker. He never attempted gold mining, overlanding, or cattle-droving.(14)

In the centre of the second paragraph, Clarke emphasises Gordon's triumphs in Melbourne's literary and sporting fields. Once again, the Colonial cultural cringe is raised, combined, perhaps, with the bitterness of an impoverished poet,(15) scoring a point for himself and his impoverished poet friends - in Australia, Patrons of the Arts have only "pretensions to literary taste" (Preface), and Gordon's validity as a poet requires British confirmation. "The reputation of the book spread to England, and Major Whyte Melville did not disdain to place the lines of the dashing Australian author at the head of his own dashing descriptions of sporting scenery" (Preface). The admiration between Gordon and Whyte Melville, a Victorian novelist, was mutual. Gordon dedicated his poem Dedication to Whyte Melville, as "the author of Holmby House" (Introduction to Dedication), and in a letter to an Adelaide friend, Whyte Melville said of Gordon's poetry :

I know nothing more spirited or with more dash about it, in the language. The sentiments, too, are so manly and encouraging, while here and there one comes upon a couplet or stanza which will be quoted when most of us are forgotten.(16)

Clarke's second paragraph ends with a repetition of the closing sentiments of his first paragraph, reinforcing the aura of combined triumph and tragedy he has constructed around Gordon's suicide. "Unhappily, the melancholy which Gordon's friends had with pain observed increased daily, and in the full flood of his success, with congratulations pouring upon him from every side, he was found dead in the heather near his home with a bullet from his own rifle in his brain" (Preface). Gordon's suicide actually reinforces his identity as an Australian, caught up in the cultural problems of his time. This view is illustrated by an obituary in The Australian Town and Country Journal 1870, which refers to a murder, a 'double crime', two suicides and a mysterious death, plus Gordon:

Victoria seems at the present moment ... to be passing through a cycle of catastrophes that fill the public mind with horror and consternation, ... The bold, resolute man, the accomplished scholar, in whose heart burned true poetic fire, and the warm-hearted friend, had shuffled off this mortal coil and taken the awful plunge into the dread abyss of eternity.(17)

The heightened language of this excerpt is matched by an excerpt from Henry Kendall's article 'A Colonial Literary Club', where he pays tribute to Gordon :

A noble memory sanctified by the awful baptism of death, hallowed by the tenderest lights of an abiding friendship. ... Adam Lindsay Gordon, that royal spirit so gifted, so human, and so unfortunate.(18)

Next to such eulogies, Clarke's claim that Gordon died in the "full flood of his success" (Preface) does not sound at all far-fetched.

The biographical tone continues in the third paragraph of the Preface, as Clarke moves from Gordon's life to his poetry. Here, Clarke states the ostensible purpose of his essay, to "introduce" (Preface) Gordon's volumes of poetry. Having established Gordon's credentials in Australia, in the preceding paragraphs, Clarke now constructs Gordon's place within English literary tradition. He identifies the "influence of Browning and Swinburne" (Preface), a comment which Oscar Wilde expanded on in 1889 :

Steeped in Swinburne and bewildered with Browning, he set himself to reproduce the marvellous melody of one and the dramatic vigour and harsh strength of the other.(19)

As he has done before in the Preface, Clarke balances a possible negative with a strong positive. Gordon must be connected to the great wealth of English literary tradition, but he must also be original, an individual - an Australian. This is ensured by his innate qualities, a "keen sense for natural beauty and a manly admiration for healthy living" (Preface). The two poems by Gordon that Clarke next mentions, Ashtaroth and Bellona, demonstrate Gordon's literary inheritance of the ballad form, again connecting Gordon to established literary tradition.(20) Clarke merely mentions the "swing of a familiar metre" in these ballads, which employ medieval themes and language, before rushing into his discussion of The Sick Stockrider. However, as the following verse from The Bulletin suggests, Gordon's medieval ballads and his bush ballads appealed across the cultural boundaries between England and Australia.

Art has no boundaries of time or space.
You sang alike of olden chivalry
And new, of court and castle, camp and chase,
You spoke in words to reach and hold the heart:
You set your spell on peoples, seas apart; (21)

Clarke's preoccupation with The Sick Stockrider is understandable, as it is compelling evidence for his theme - the importance of Adam Lindsay Gordon to Australian literature. The word Clarke repeats, before and after he quotes from the poem, is "genuine" (Preface). It is a poem of "genuine poetic instinct"(Preface), working with the material of actual experience. "The writer has ridden his ride as well as written it" (Preface). It is an original Australian poem, by an original Australian poet. "There is no 'poetic evolution from the depths of internal consciousness'" (Preface), a departure from established poetic procedure like Wordsworth's "emotion recollected in tranquillity"(22). The action of the two verses of The Sick Stockrider quoted by Clarke, demonstrates what he calls "a very clear perception of the loveliness of duty and of labour" (Preface). This is a very Australian kind of labour, described in terms of boyish heroics.

'Twas merry ... to wheel the wild scrub cattle at the yard, ... Aye! we had a glorious gallop after 'Starlight' and his gang ... '(The Sick Stockrider)

What sounds like a reference to the Protestant work ethic is subverted by the sense of rampant freedom conveyed by the quoted verses, which construct an atmosphere of bush life, both emotionally: "the hardest day was never then too hard!" (The Sick Stockrider) and physically: "How the sun-dried reed-beds crackled, how the flint-strewn ranges rang."(The Sick Stockrider). As Brian Elliott argued, in his article 'The Colonial Poets', this poem was very important to Australia's developing sense of identity:

In its day, The Sick Stockrider seemed to epitomize the mood and atmosphere of Colonial experience. Essentially a bush poem, it is impressionistic, reminiscent, relaxed, familiar; its great significance, however, lay not in what it was, but what it did. This poem alone captured, defined and established for its period the local image and fixed the hitherto hesitant, wavering local nostalgias. Henceforward no Colonial poet could write without remembering it; it represented an emotional point of rest, an end to lost poetical causes and a new creative beginning.(23)

In the fourth paragraph of the Preface, Marcus Clarke recommends Gordon's poetry to the reader as worthy of serious study, in a sentence which can be tentatively linked back to Clarke's earlier comments. "The student of these unpretending volumes will be repaid for his labour" (Preface). Hopefully, the "labour" (Preface) of studying them may be as exhilarating as a madcap ride through the bush. It must be remembered, however, that labour has a serious end, an end which could attain the status of patriotic duty - to bring an outlaw to justice, or discover "the beginnings of a national school of Australian poetry" (Preface). It was to aid this discovery that Marcus Clarke so skilfully built up Gordon's image as an Australian and a poet. Judith Wright confirms Clarke's estimate of Gordon's importance:

Without his recognition of the kind of life that was lived in the outback, and the stamp of approval that was given it by his using it in his verse, it might have taken many years longer ... to establish certain facets of life here as potentially poetic material. After Gordon came the deluge of Bulletin bards.(24)

That there was an explosion of Australian poetry following Adam Lindsay Gordon is suggested by a 1905 Bulletin poem, entitled Compensation. Thirty-five years after Gordon's death, Australia has a flourishing national school of poetry, with Gordon providing the focal point for an Australian nostalgia.

If Gordon could come back again,
He'd find a change complete -
A bard sings loud in ev'ry lane,
A Melba in each street.
And yet, while lyrics loud increase,
And round the land are rolled,
We sometimes sigh for that sweet peace
Australia knew of old.(25)

Back in 1876, Marcus Clarke's nostalgia was aimed at England, where "every rood of ground is hallowed in legend and in song" (Preface). In the middle of his fourth paragraph, Clarke builds an image of England overflowing with history and poetic inspiration. Here the emotions one experiences are not original, belonging instead to the land's previous inhabitants, (presumably one's ancestors). The passage signals Clarke's change in voice, from the serious, subdued voice of a grieving friend to the slightly wild voice of inspiration. Although Gordon is never mentioned in the second half of the Preface, he is hauntingly present to the end. Both Gordon and Clarke were born in England, and in an unpublished sketch entitled 'Hunting Under The Southern Cross', Gordon showed that he, too, felt nostalgic for a land with a familiar history:

One missed the old, picturesque farm houses, the Country Churches, the country house standing back from the road amidst ancestral trees, the rustic cottages, the turnpike, the village, the by-lanes and by-roads with hedges on each side.(26)

Whereas the first half of the Preface is delicately balanced to provide a favourable construction of Adam Lindsay Gordon, in the second half of the Preface internal contradictions are woven into the text, as Marcus Clarke plays with the expectations of his Colonial (and Imperial) audience. This playfulness begins with a statement that appeals to the individualism of Australians: "this our native or adopted land has no past, no story. No poet speaks to us. Do we need a poet to interpret Nature's teachings, we must look into our own hearts, if perchance we may find a poet there" (Preface). The tone is ambivalent, creating a tension between two possibilities. Should the reader feel lost in an unwritten, alien landscape, where one's hereditary expectations of the land are useless? Or should one be excited at the prospect of a land that is tabula rasa, open to the telling of new stories, to new ways of life, where self-reliance is the key to survival?

In the fifth paragraph, Marcus Clarke continues the process of writing the Australian landscape, providing it with a literary identity. As John Barnes states, in his introduction to The Writer in Australia :

Clarke's reference to Edgar Allen Poe ought to put us on our guard as we read the Preface: what we have is not an analysis of Clarke's responses to particular landscapes, but an exercise in the grotesque.(27)

This idea is also developed in the 1909 Bulletin article, 'Clarke's Preface to Gordon's Poems', where the author writes that :

European literature is studded with stories of the weird and grotesque features of the European Bush ... of vampires, werewolves and demons lurking in their depths, which put our poor innocent bunyip to shame. Weird melancholy, like beauty, resides in the eye of the beholder.(28)

As the fifth paragraph continues, Clarke plays with his picture of Australia, twisting the conventions traditionally expected of Colonial writing:

Writers, unconsciously sometimes, assumed an English audience, and presented the local scene in terms of the values of that audience. Whatever their individual feelings, they tended to represent Australian life as exotic, rather in the manner of a tourist attraction.(29)

Clarke exploits this tradition, creating a vision that seems to owe more to his "taste for black humour"(30) than to his proven talent for description.(31) Clarke's prose is extremely evocative and poetic in its use of alliteration. The "forests are funereal, secret, stern. ... The sun suddenly sinks" (Preface). It is a song, celebrating the strangeness of Australia, with its lack of European seasons and unique flora and fauna. When the "mopokes burst out into horrible peals of semi-human laughter" (Preface)Clarke's Australian readers, like the first Europeans to hear a kookaburra, are left feeling that someone is "poke"ing fun at them. The almost paranoid sense of disorientation is increased, by the introduction of Australia's indigenous inhabitants, complete with a Bunyip legend (decorated with European alliteration: "drags his loathsome length from out the ooze" (Preface). This appears to contradict Clarke's previous statement, that "this our native or adopted land has no past, no story" (Preface). Are Aboriginals encoded here as Australia's first poets? Or does Clarke's use of them fulfil the same function as the Aboriginal words (Moorabinda, Cooraminta) in The Sick Stockrider :

The Aboriginal words in the poem have a greater importance than their small presence may suggest. The appropriation of them as place names signals European usurpation of the indigenous people's power to speak.(32)

The history of European interaction with the Australian landscape is depicted by Marcus Clarke as a scene of continuous struggle, with the land constructed as harsh and unforgiving: "Mount Misery, Mount Dreadful, Mount Despair" (Preface). In many ways, this reinforces the picture of Adam Lindsay Gordon which Clarke drew in the first half of the Preface. If Australia is a strange, savage land, it is justifiable, even necessary, for its inhabitants to be active heroes. It is also understandable if they fall prey to the "Weird Melancholy" (Preface) and cease struggling, as Gordon did. The final sentence of the fifth paragraph summarises the differences Clarke has drawn, between a civilised, historic England, and a savage, barbaric Australia. "As when among sylvan scenes ... the soul is soothed and satisfied, so, placed before the frightful grandeur of these barren hills, it drinks in their sentiment of defiant ferocity, and is steeped in bitterness" (Preface). Once again we see Clarke forming pairs that contrast and complement each other - on one hand the "green","gracious"(Preface) British "sylvan scenes" (Preface) where one feels comfortable and complacent, and on the other, "frightful" (Preface) Australian "barren hills" (Preface) that offer no place to rest.

At first glance, this construction of Australia appears to have little to do with Adam Lindsay Gordon's poetry. However, when one looks at Gordon's Dedication, the echoes become obvious, given Geoffrey Hutton's comment that :

Gordon firmly placed himself in the position of an expatriate in his Dedication ... Using the tone of a poet exiled from Imperial Rome or Peking, he offers some sights and sounds from the wasteland.(33)

By Colonial convention, both Clarke and Gordon were able, even expected, to construct themselves as exiles, trying to pique the curiosity of those that stayed behind. In the Dedication, for example, Gordon's alliteration evokes an exotic Australian weather report :

Where in dreariest days, when all dews end,
And all winds are warm,
Wild Winter's large flood-gates are loosen'd.
And floods, freed by storm,
From broken up fountain heads, dash on
Dry deserts with long pent up passion -

As Dal Stivens points out, in 'Landscape in Australian Literature':

The early writers were transplanted Englishmen and when they attempted to describe the Australian scene it was with the traditional tools - in terms of English literature.(34)

In this way, one can see that both Marcus Clarke's "frowning hills" (Preface) and Gordon's "broken up fountain heads" (Dedication) are depictions of the new, Australian landscape. By creating unusual associations of words and images, Australia's difference, its individual uniqueness is proclaimed.

The depiction of Australia in Marcus Clarke's Preface is disturbing to any Australian. The details are more or less correct, but the emotions Clarke attaches to them make them unreal, exotic, mythical. "Great grey kangaroos hop noiselessly over the coarse grass. Flights of white cockatoos stream out, shrieking like evil souls" (Preface). But this in turn focuses the reader's attention on Clarke's text. The words cannot change the landscape, but they can alter our perceptions of it, and the way we feel about it. Clarke's negative texturing of the landscape fits the overall structure of the Preface, providing balance and contrast for the positive celebration of the future of Australian literature that follows.

In the sixth paragraph of the Preface, Clarke's picture of Australia turns again. So far he has constructed the landscape as "primeval" (Preface), uncivilised, barbaric, devoid of any feeling of home - an image that the majority of the population could identify with, at a time when those who had "adopted"(Preface) Australia still greatly outnumbered those born there. The frightening, gloomy loneliness, so negative in paragraph five, is now subverted and made positive. Because Australia has not yet been sung by Europeans, it is a land of opportunity, with potential for a new free expression. Clarke demonstrates two sides of Australia, despair and hope. For some, Australia is a hell on earth: "The very animal life ... is either grotesque or ghostly" (Preface). It does not match one's expectations and so it is disorientating and frightening. For others, however, Australia is a new Eden, a "Land of the Dawning" (Preface), her history waiting to be written by her new inhabitants, who are awed, not frightened by the strangeness around them, occupying a mystical space between two worlds. "The lonely horseman riding between the moonlight and the day sees vast shadows creeping across the shelterless and silent plains, hears strange noises in the primeval forest, where flourishes a vegetation long dead in other lands, and feels, despite his fortune, that the trim utilitarian civilisation which bred him shrinks into insignificance beside the contemptuous grandeur of forest and ranges coeval with an age in which European scientists have cradled his own race" (Preface). Here is opportunity for a new beginning for mankind, a land unspoilt by the Industrial Revolution and "European scientists" (Preface). England is a place where nothing new can happen. All the stories have been written long ago, the material is exhausted. In Australia new discoveries can be made. The country is ancient but unknown, unexplored and therefore exciting, larger than life, a land for heroes with a new way of seeing the world. Australian heroes, like Gordon.

Gordon's The Sick Stockrider is important because it gives Australia an inhabited past :

'Twas here we ran the dingo down that gave us such a chase
Eight years ago - or was it nine? - last March.'
( The Sick Stockrider)

and an inhabited future :

Should the sturdy station children pull the bush flowers on my grave,
I may chance to hear them romping overhead.
(The Sick Stockrider)

Gordon has written the landscape and its occupation together, showing Australia to be a place where people do feel at home.

From the point of colonisation, historical continuity is precisely what is lacking in a colony and must be established. ... The Stockrider stands for the inauguration of a continuity that may be read as both individual and social.(35)

In a similar way, Marcus Clarke inaugurates a continuity for Australian literature. It has a past: "the lonely horseman" (Preface) which we identify with the figure of Gordon "who has ridden his ride as well as written it" (Preface), and a future: "the beginnings of a national school of Australian poetry" (Preface). It is interesting to note that in Clarke's depictions of England, that country has an undeniable past, but there is no mention of a future. In contrast, Australians can write in both directions: back into a pre-history, which "looms vague and gigantic" (Preface), and forward into a future that is still learning how to express itself.

The seventh and final paragraph of Marcus Clarke's Preface moves imaginatively into the future of Australian literature, asserting its worldwide uniqueness. Australia is a colony, and a continent, like no other. It owns its own existence, and is not simply another British Imperial possession. "There is a poem in every form of tree or flower, but the poetry which lives in the trees and flowers of Australia differs from those of other countries" (Preface). This paragraph is possibly the most famous in the Preface, with its hyperbolic catalogue of exotic places, and its assertion of Australia's individuality. It is a beautiful piece of prose, with the choice of words poetically illustrating the sentiment. Europe "the home of knightly song, of bright deeds and clear morning thought" (Preface) represents tradition, history, the idealised home that has been left behind, but which is never forgotten. It is civilised, "trim" (Preface), with words of only one or two syllables. Asia is exhausted by the "weighty recollections of her past magnificence" (Preface), and the sentence, too, feels heavy and "jewel-burdened" (Preface) with its polysyllables and long, slow vowels: "the corpse of dead grandeur" (Preface). America, in the time of the Gold Rushes, is unstoppably greedy, with short syllables tumbling over each other: "rapid, glittering, insatiable" (Preface). Finally, "the jungles of Africa, and the creeper-tangled groves of the islands of the South" (Preface), are mythically seductive with "glowing hearts of a thousand flowers, heavy and intoxicating odours" (Preface). Enticing, but dangerous to civilisation: "the Upas-poison which dwells in barbaric sensuality" (Preface). This sentence shares the long slow vowels of Asia. There, they gave an impression of past glory, but here in Africa and the Pacific islands, tantalising primitive life is teeming. Australia ends the list, drawing in Clarke's previous descriptions of it: "In Australia alone is to be found the Grotesque, the Weird, the strange scribblings of nature learning how to write" (Preface). This land is now creating the unique literature by which it will be known.

Clarke's writing of Australia continues with possibly the most contentious sentence in Australian literature(36): "Some see no beauty in our trees without shade, our flowers without perfume, our birds who cannot fly, and our beasts who have not yet learned to walk on all fours" (Preface). This construction of Australian flora and fauna makes most Australians indignant, but it must be seen in its Colonial context. As Brian Elliott comments:

Nobody rose up in agitation and indignation in 1867 to defend the land against slander. It was later, increasingly as the century wore on, that the howl arose and the new poets felt the need to justify the status quo of nature in Australia.(37)

Clarke's construction of Australian animals as "beasts who have not yet learned to walk on all fours" (Preface) dovetails with his creation of Australia as independent, free, individual, not yet educated into the slavery of civilisation. Australian fauna was undeniably unique, but most Colonial Australians had more to do with cattle, sheep, horses, and dogs, than with kangaroos, koalas and possums. On the question of flowers, poems like Caroline Leakey's Attempts to Sing in a Strange Land (1854), express the strong cultural loyalty of British expatriates to English flora.

You may tell me of flowers of crimson hue,
And glorious tints of gold and blue ...
But oh! for the daisy of English ground,
That loves to grow on churchyard mound;
For the primrose that looks up everywhere,
From the bowery lanes to the scented air ...(38)

While Clarke's depiction of Australia here does illustrate the Colonial world view, I am not certain that Marcus Clarke was simply pandering to the prejudices of his day. In my opinion, the Preface, and this sentence in particular, have a secondary purpose - to incite Australians to learn their new land, and replace such artificial constructions with a new vision of Australia. As Gordon said in 'Hunting Under The Southern Cross':

Englishmen make such absurd mistakes about this country that Australians have got quite touchy if you affect surprise about things being like 'Home'.(39)

Clarke goes on to argue that those who live in Australia have a special opportunity to interact with a unique landscape, to experience feelings unknown in civilised lands. "But the dweller in the wilderness acknowledges the subtle charm of this fantastic land of monstrosities. He becomes familiar with the beauty of loneliness" (Preface). This experience may then be written into the new literature of Australia. "Whispered to by the myriad tongues of the wilderness, he learns the language of the barren and the uncouth, and can read the hieroglyphs of haggard gum-trees, blown into odd shapes, distorted with fierce hot winds, or cramped with cold nights, when the Southern Cross freezes in a cloudless sky of icy blue" (Preface). In this sentence, Clarke ties his themes together: there is Australia, the weird wilderness; there is the need for a national literature that deals with the unique landscape of Australia; and there is the poet, sensitive to his surroundings, and specially placed to write Australia as it writes him, a hero of the new land. That this first heroic poet is Adam Lindsay Gordon becomes obvious when one looks at the parallels between Clarke's sentence and Gordon's Dedication. Brian Elliott explains that Gordon's Dedication:

contained some of his reasoning about poetical experience in Australia - the bases of its inspiration, and the purposes it served for the spirit - and amounted to a defence of what might be considered the poetry of a vigorous but restless interim; not to be compared with the great tradition of English poetry, but a sturdy new growth of a new kind.(40)

In turn, Clarke's Preface is grafted onto Gordon's poetry, borrowing from the Dedication to continue this 'sturdy new growth' of Australian literature. The echoes are numerous. Where Gordon wrote:

In lands where bright blossoms are scentless,
nd songless bright birds;

Clarke followed, with "our flowers without perfume, our birds who cannot fly" (Preface). It was Gordon who wrote of a landscape encoded in an unknown language:

When the gnarl'd, knotted trunks Eucalyptian
Seemed carved, like weird columns Egyptian,
With curious device - quaint inscription,
And hieroglyph strange.

And it was Clarke who wrote of the poet who could "read the hieroglyphs of haggard gum trees" (Preface): Australia's national poet, Adam Lindsay Gordon.

Australians learn Australia by communicating directly with the landscape. "The phantasmagoria of that wild dreamland termed the Bush interprets itself" (Preface). Australian literature, following in the footsteps (or hoofprints) of Gordon, is to be the literature of the unique Australian experience. It is also the literature of freedom from slavery to cultural constraints, as "the Poet of our desolation begins to comprehend" (Preface). This sense of Australia's freedom, uniqueness and independence was to become deeply encoded in Australia's vision of itself as a nation. Joseph Furphy, for example, expressed the sentiment that Gordon's greatest claim to fame was his ability to attract a free and equal Australian audience.

... what higher tribute can be claimed or conceded than the great and growing esteem of readers who, by the especial grace of Providence, are neither Englishmen nor 'gentlemen!'.(41)

Marcus Clarke's biographical construction of Adam Lindsay Gordon as an Australian and as a poet, in the first half of the Preface is firmly linked to his discussion, in the second half, of the special possibilities of Australia as a literary nation, yet to be written. Gordon emerges as Australia's national poet, closely connected to Australia's unique, individual, and free nature .In the words of Henry Kendall, Adam Lindsay Gordon:

... sang the first great songs these lands can claim
To be their own. (42)

Clarke presents Gordon as an Australian cultural treasure, and asserts the need for future Australians to take up the reins that slipped from Gordon's hands. In his Preface, Clarke also explores Colonial and Imperial prejudices, demonstrating how such perceptions have coloured the Australian landscape. Finally, Clarke's Preface deals with the writing process, illustrating the way in which different texts, inherent in the landscape, can be teased to the surface, as Adam Lindsay Gordon, in his Dedication, used the conventions of an inherited culture to capture Australia's unique natural beauty.

In the Spring, when the wattle gold trembles
'Twixt shadow and shine,
When each dew-laden air draught resembles
A long draught of wine; ...
Such songs have been mine.


1. 'Clarke's Preface to Gordon's Poems', The Bulletin, 2 Sept 1909, p.2
2. Row,S., 'Clarke's Preface to Gordon's Poems', The Bulletin, 30 Sept 1909, p.2
3. Hutton,G., Adam Lindsay Gordon : The Man and The Myth, p.144
4. Kendall,H., 'Review : Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes', in McDougall,R., Henry Kendall : The Muse of Australia, p.355
5. quoted in Hutton,G., Adam Lindsay Gordon : The Man and The Myth, p.197
6. Kendall,H., 'A Colonial Literary Club', p.165
7. (This is also the Victorian ideal - the main character trait of Dicken's Mr Dombey, in Dombey and Son[1846-1848], symbol of the Victorian patriarchy, was the repression of his feelings.)
8. Hutton,G., Adam Lindsay Gordon : The Man and The Myth, p.158
9. Wilde,W.H., Adam Lindsay Gordon, p.49; This excerpt was accompanied by a note vouching for Barcroft Boake's authority : "Boake was at that time droving out of Cunnamulla and in close contact with the 'backblockers' whom he was quoting." (n.16)
10. 'Clarke's Preface to Gordon's Poems', The Bulletin, 2 Sept. 1909, p.2
11. Kendall,H., 'Review : Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes', p.355
12. Jordan,R., 'Adam Lindsay Gordon : The Australian Poet', Westerly, June 1985, p.47-48
13. McCrae,G., 'Adam Lindsay Gordon', Southerly, 1944, p.27
14. 'Clarke's Preface to Gordon's Poems', The Bulletin, 2 Sept. 1909, p.2
15. Stewart,K., ' "A Careworn Writer for the Press" : Henry Kendall in Melbourne', in McDougall,R., Henry Kendall : The Muse of Australia, p.183
16. Quoted in Wilde,W.H., Adam Lindsay Gordon, p.35
17. 'Supposed Suicide of A.L.Gordon', The Australian Town and Country Journal, 2 July 1870, p.22
18. Kendall,H., 'A Colonial Literary Club', in Ackland,M., Henry Kendall : Poetry, Prose and Selected Correspondence, p.165
19. Wilde,O., 26 March 1889, quoted in Hutton,G., Adam Lindsay Gordon : The Man and The Myth, p.197
20. Ashtaroth has been called "the Australian Faust" by Dyson,E., 'Lindsay Gordon in Ballarat', The Bulletin, 12 Jan 1922, p.2
21. T the R, 'Adam Lindsay Gordon', The Bulletin, 25 Oct 1933, p.10
22. Wordsworth, Preface, Lyrical Ballads, (1802)
23. Elliott,B., 'The Colonial Poets', in Dutton,G., The Literature of Australia, p.240-1
24. Wright,J., Preoccupations in Australian Poetry, p.60, quoted in Wilde,W., Adam Lindsay Gordon, p.50
25. C.R., 'Compensation', The Bulletin, 16 Feb 1905, p.12
26. Gordon,A.L., 'Hunting under the Southern Cross', quoted in Hutton,G., Adam Lindsay Gordon : The Man and The Myth, p.194
27. Barnes,J., The Writer in Australia, p.5
28. 'Clarke's Preface to Gordon's Poems', The Bulletin, 2 Sept. 1909, p2
29. Barnes,J., The Writer in Australia, p.4
30. Hutton,G., Adam Lindsay Gordon : The Man and The Myth, p.147
31. Lord Rosebery (later Prime Minister of England) referred to Marcus Clarke's novel, His Natural Life as "one of the most powerful works of realistic fiction that I have ever read." quoted in Fredman,L., 'Melbourne Bohemia in the Nineteenth Century', Southerly, 1957, p.85
32. Holloway,B., 'What Made the Sick Stockrider Sick?', Westerly, 1993, p.37
33. Hutton,G., Adam Lindsay Gordon : The Man and The Myth, p.190
34. Stivens,D., 'Landscape in Australian Literature', Westerly, 1964, p.49
35. Holloway,B., 'What Made the Sick Stockrider Sick?', Westerly, 1993, p.39
36. Stivins,D., 'Landscape in Australian Literature', Westerly, 1964, p.46
37. Elliott,B., 'Birds Without Song and Flowers Without Smell', Southerly, 1957, p.156
38. Leakey,C., Attempts to Sing in a Strange Land, (1854), quoted in Elliott,B., 'Tailpiece on the Primrose', Southerly, 1957, p.106
39. Gordon,A.L., 'Hunting Under The Southern Cross', quoted in Hutton,G., Adam Lindsay Gordon : The Man and The Myth, p.194
40. Elliott,B.,'The Colonial Poets', in Dutton,G., The Literature of Australia, p.241
41. Furphy,J., 'The Voice from the Bush', The Bulletin, 9 Feb. 1895, p.23
42. Kendall,H., In Memorium, in Gordon,A.L., Poems, (1910)


Primary Sources:

Adam Lindsay Gordon
(London 1910)
Marcus Clarke's

Secondary Sources:

Ackland, M. (ed)
Henry Kendall : Poetry, Prose and Selected Correspondence
(Queensland University Press, 1993)
-Kendall, H., 'A Colonial Literary Club', p.160-166

Barnes, J. (ed.)
The Writer in Australia : A Collection of Literary Documents 1856-1964
(Oxford University Press 1969)

Dutton, G. (ed.)
The Literature of Australia
(Penguin 1964)
-Wright, J., 'Australian Poetry to 1920', p.55-99
-Elliott, B., 'The Colonial Poets', p.227-246

Green, H.M.
A History of Australian Literature vI 1789-1923
(Angus and Robertson 1961)

Hutton, G.
Adam Lindsay Gordon : the Man and the Myth
(Melbourne University Press 1996)

MacRae, C.F.
Adam Lindsay Gordon
(New York 1968)

McDougall, R.
Henry Kendall : The Muse of Australia
-Stewart, K., ''A Careworn Writer for the Press' : Henry Kendall in Melbourne', p.165-205
-Kendall, H., 'Review : Bush Ballads and Galloping Rhymes by the Author of Ashtaroth, (first published in The Australasian 25 June 1870)

Wilde, W.H.
Adam Lindsay Gordon
(Oxford University Press 1972)

Secondary Sources - Serials (chronological order of publication):

'Supposed Suicide of Mr A.L.Gordon'
The Australian Town and Country Journal, v.2 no.26; 2 July 1870, p.22

Personal Items, The Bulletin, v.3 no.130; 7 Nov. 1885, p.6-7

The Bulletin v.10 no.495; 10 Aug. 1889, p.13

Furphy, Joseph
'Voice from the Bush'
The Bulletin v.16 no.782; 9 Feb.1895, p.23

The Bulletin v.17 no.855; 4 July 1896, p.11

Martin, A. Patchett
'Pursuing Literature in London'
The Bulletin v.20 no.1015; 29 July 1899, p.2

'The Other Kendall'
The Bulletin v.24 no.1231; 17 Sept. 1903

'Of Adam Lindsay Gordon ('With Whom Be Peace!')'
The Bulletin v.24 no.1238; 5 Nov. 1903, p.2

The Bulletin 16 Feb. 1905, p.12

Bayldon, A.
'Australian Poetry - A Review'
The Lone Hand v.1 no.1; May 1907, p.29-31

'Clarke's Preface to Gordon's Poems'
The Bulletin v.30 no.1542; 2 Sept.1909, p.2

Row, S.
'Clarke's Preface to Gordon's Poems'
The Bulletin v.30 no.1546; 30 Sept. 1909, p.2

'Australian Verse'
The Bulletin v.30 no.1549; 21 Oct. 1909, p.2

Soward, G.K.
'In Adam Lindsay Gordon's Country'
The Lone Hand 1 Jan 1910, p.347-348

Abbott, J.H.M.
'The Future of Australian Literature'
The Bulletin v.31 no.1571; 24 March 1910, p.2

Humphries, E.
'The Youth of Adam Lindsay Gordon'
The Lone Hand v.7; 1 Aug. 1910, p.265-273

'Art and Horses'
The Bulletin v.32 no.1654; 26 Oct. 1911, p.2

'Adam Lindsay Gordon'
The Bulletin v.33 no.1713; 12 Dec. 1912, p.2

The Bulletin v.33 no.1715; 26 Dec. 1912, p.2

Pitt, M.
'Adam Lindsay Gordon'
The Bulletin 30 October 1919, p.2

Devaney, J.
'Gordon's Australian Note'
The Bulletin v.45 no.2322; 14 Aug. 1924, p.3

McCrae, H.
'The Yorick : 1 : Gordon and His Friends'
The Bulletin v.50 no.2555; 30 Jan. 1929, p.2

Smith, S.
'Oscar Patronises Adam'
The Bulletin 6 August 1930, p.5

McD., E.
'Gordon's Centenary'
The Bulletin v.54 no.28011; 18 Oct. 1933, p.5

T. the R.
'Adam Lindsay Gordon'
The Bulletin 25 Oct. 1933, p.10

'Debunking the Gordon Myth'
The Bulletin v.56 no.2890; 3 July 1935, p.4

T. the R.
'A Word for Gordon'
The Bulletin 24 July 1935, p.2-4

McCrae, G.G.
'Adam Lindsay Gordon'
Southerly v.5 no.1; 1944, p.26-28

'Byron and Gordon'
The Bulletin v.66 no.3406; 23 May 1945, p.2

'To the Memory of Adam Lindsay Gordon'
The Bulletin 6 August 1947

Mackaness, G.
'Gordon, Kendall and Farrell : Some Literary Curiosities'
Southerly v.11; 1950, p.48-52

Miller, E.
Southerly v.11; 1950, p.228-229

Fredman, L.E.
'Melbourne Bohemia in the Nineteenth Century'
Southerly v.18; 1957, p.83-91

Elliott, B.
'Tailpiece on the Primrose'
Southerly v.18; 1957, p.104-107

'Birds Without Song and Flowers Without Smell'
Southerly v.18; 1957, p.155-160

Howarth, R.G.
'Introduction to Penguin Book of Modern Australian Verse'
Biblionews v.11 no.7; 1958 p.20-23

Elliott, B.
'The Friend of Charlie Walker'
Australian Letters v.3 no.3; 1961, p.32-38

McCuaig, R.
'An Introduction to Australian Poetry'
Hemisphere v.7; May 1963, p.22-35

Kramer, L.
'The Literary Reputation of Adam Lindsay Gordon'
Australian Literary Studies v.1; 1963, p.42-56

Stivens, D.
'Landscape in Australian Literature'
Westerly no3; 1964, p.46-49

Wilding, M.
'A.L.Gordon in England : The Legend of the Steeplechase'
Southerly v.25; 1965, p.99-107

Stivens, D.
'Myth of the Songless Bird'
Canberra Times 16 April 1966, p.9

Jamison, G.
'Adam Lindsay Gordon'
Walkabout v.36 no.6; 1970, p.48-51

Sellick, R.
'Burke and Wills and the Colonial Hero : Three Poems'
Australian Literary Studies v.5; 1971, p.180-189

Elliott, B.
'Adam Lindsay Gordon : A Small Discovery'
Australian Literary Studies v.6; 1973, p.203-204

Jordan, R.D.
'Adam Lindsay Gordon : The Australian Poet'
Westerly, v.30 no.2; June 1985, p.45-56

Indyk, I.
'Some Versions of Australian Pastoral'
Southerly v.48 no.2; June 1988, p.115-127

Macainsh, N.
'A Fair Menace - Images of Womanhood in Early Australian Poetry'
Westerly v.33 no.3; Sept. 1988, p.25-32

Wilson, R.
'Tragic end for an early bush poet'
The Canberra Times 3 Nov. 1990, p.B6

Hackett, P.
'Famous poet at seat of name row'
The Advertiser 1 Feb. 1992, p.3

Cawley, J.
'a name that Will Live On for Hundreds of Years'
The Advertiser 19 Feb. 1992, p.14

Macauley, W.
'Gordon's Leap'
Overlander no.129; Summer 1992, p.51-54

Holloway, B.
'What made the Sick Stockrider Sick? The Function of Horses and Fever in A.L.Gordon's The Sick Stockrider'
Westerly v.38 no.1; Autumn 1993, p.35-42

Ackland, M.
'A Martial Code: Meditation and Action in the Verse of Adam Lindsay Gordon'
Westerly v.38 no.2; Winter 1993, p.53-65

Blainey, G.
'The Rise of the Sporting Hero'
Quadrant v.39 no.1-2; Jan.-Feb. 1995, p.9-12

Ackland, M.
'War and Colonial Identity : The Poetic Response'
Kunapipi v.18 no.2-3; 1996, p.1-14

'Statues of Australian Writers No.3 : Adam Lindsay Gordon'
Margin no.41; April 1997, p.28-29

Marker's comments.

85% - A very nice piece of work Michelle, very well researched, structured and presented - cautiously ground-breaking, in that I don't recall so clear, coherent and comprehensive a discussion of the Preface before. I like your use of 'Dedication', and will make sure that I myself pair it up with the Preface in any or all future discussions of the latter. The only thing I did miss was a more extended discussion of the very last lines, re Esau etc. (the Exodus / liberation from Egypt ... its confirmation of the earlier political / democratic / Edenic subtext).

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