Novel quest leads to the Hill
Tuesday, 10th April, 2012
By Erica Visser
More than a century has passed since Australian author Joseph Furphy’s “Rigby’s Romance” was serialised in the Barrier Daily Truth.
In fact, September will mark 100 years since Furphy’s death and the occasion has not gone unnoticed, with a trio of former university lecturers visiting the region to try to gain a better understanding of the novel.
Julian Croft, Susan Lever and Frances Devlin-Glass, from the Association of the Study of Australian Literature, decided to make the trip to learn more about the influences on one of their favourite author’s works.
Furphy, whose real name was Tom Collins, is best known for his novel “Such is Life” but it was his second book that was picked up by the Barrier Truth in 1905.
At the time, Sydney-born journalist and trade union organiser Robert Ross was the editor of the Truth.
“Furphy was living in Perth at the time so it was very likely that he would have sent it to the Barrier Truth by mail,” Ms Devlin-Glass said.
“Being a socialist newspaper, the Barrier Truth would have sympathised where Furphy was coming from and for Furphy it may have been the ultimate publisher.”
The novel ran in the Truth, which was then a weekly publication, for over a year.
Subsequently, it was lost and not published until being rediscovered in the newspaper in the 1940s.
“We’ve been along the Cobb Highway and we were supposed to stay at Willandra Station but it was rained out so we stayed at Lake Mungo instead,” Mr Croft said.
“And we just wanted to get here to see the surrounds that were described in the book and to get to the BDT, who were responsible for bringing this book to light.
“We feel quite a bit closer to him. We’ve travelled with an agricultural historian and a folk song historian and it has been very enlightening.”
Furphy, who read Shakespeare and the Bible as a child, left school at 14 years of age and spent years working as a labourer before writing his first novel.
“It’s just eye-opening to come to the area Furphy was referring to and to see which places are fictional and which are non-fictional,” Ms Devlin-Glass said.
“The book is Australia’s ‘Moby Dick’ but we don’t give that same kind of recognition to our writers in Australia.”
When asked why Rigby’s Romance did not gain popularity, Ms Devlin-Glass blamed the author’s “grandiose” style while Ms Lever said it was “a frustrated political novel which I suppose could be quite hard to understand.
“In some ways it’s easier for men writing than thinking about socialism.
“The basis is that he really believed that once people were better educated their behaviour would improve.”