Academic journal article Australian Literary Studies

Revisiting the `Mystery of a Novel Contest': The Daily Telegraph and 'Come in Spinner.'(1945 Literary Contest)

Academic journal article Australian Literary Studies

Revisiting the `Mystery of a Novel Contest': The Daily Telegraph and 'Come in Spinner.'(1945 Literary Contest)

Article excerpt

The terms of the contest, launched in late 1945, seemed straightforward enough. The Sydney Daily Telegraph would award 1000 [pounds sterling] for the best Australian novel and publish the winning manuscript in Australia and overseas (`Telegraph offers 1000 [pounds sterling] novel prize'). But the contest became a debacle, beset by controversy and shrouded in mystery. While the prize was awarded to Florence James and Dymphna Cusack for Come in Spinner, the newspaper failed to publish the manuscript and never announced the name of the winning novel. In 1951, as Come in Spinner was finally about to appear under the imprint of another publisher, Cusack wrote an article for Meanjin entitled `Mystery of a Novel Contest'. She concluded, `Why have Consolidated Press not announced the prize even to this day? Why did the firm not publish? Your guess is as good as mine' (Cusack 60). Fifty years after the event, there are still no clear, simple answers to these questions. But there are clues, scattered in manuscript collections around the country, which provide some insights into how one of Australia's greatest literary scandals evolved. And while the documentary trail has become warmer in recent years, it is also time to begin to situate this episode in the context of the increasingly pro-American leanings of the Daily Telegraph and the Australian book publishing industry in the late 1940s.

In 1936 a new company headed by Frank Packer and E. G. Theodore, Consolidated Press Ltd, took over the publication of the ailing Telegraph. The revamped paper, known as the Daily Telegraph, championed the new against the old, the modern against the old-fashioned; it celebrated the urban and the cosmopolitan and `progress' became a catch-cry. A brilliant and precocious teenager named Donald Home fell in love with the newspaper from the first issue: `Its contemporaneity made it part of the age that could produce the Electrical and Radio Exhibitions. The more conservative [Sydney Morning] Herald now seemed to belong to Nanna's generation' (Horne 114).

The Daily Telegraph's political stance, under the editorship of S. H. Deamer and then C. S. McNulty, both progressive liberals, was relatively low-key. The newspaper wanted less to develop a clear partisan stance than to posit itself as a vigorous champion of freedoms and the bane of officialdom and anti-libertarianism (Griffen-Foley 1999 60-61). Home best captures the sense of vitality that characterised the newspaper during this period:

   The Telegraph was against red tape, addle-pated bungling, muddle-headed
   blunders, and stodgy bumbledom; it stood instead for acting quickly on
   vital questions and avoiding delay in reversing unhappy decisions ... One
   got the feeling that an old, stupid lot was running the country but that
   any week now, as a result of a particularly brilliant editorial in the
   Telegraph, they would crumble and a new lot would take over. (114-16)

In his biography of Brian Penton, the editor from 1941 to 1951, Patrick Buckridge has examined the way in which the Daily Telegraph refined its position as the scourge of intolerant and oppressive behaviour at both ends of the political spectrum. During the war, the Daily Telegraph and its stablemate, the Sunday Telegraph, which was edited by the erudite and iconoclastic Cyril Pearl, sought to cajole readers out of their perceived complacency. Vigorous and flamboyant editorials critiqued the Allied war effort and suggested improvements, championed the formation of a national government, criticised the divisiveness and sectionalism of the union movement and the Country Party, and constantly attacked the pervasiveness of the censorship system (Buckridge chapters 9-11; Griffen-Foley 1999 chapters 5-7).

As the war drew to a close, the Telegraphs turned their attention to the task of shaping post-war Australia. In August 1944, despite their recent, bitter dispute with the Labor government over censorship, they supported the `Yes' case in the Post-war Reconstruction and Democratic Rights referendum (Griffen-Foley 1995 71-72). …

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