September 2009


Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Miles Franklin & Joseph Furphy

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz
Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

In February 1904, Stella Miles Franklin – then aged 24 – received an admiring letter from a 60-year-old former bullock-driver named Joseph Furphy. He requested a photograph and proposed that they meet.

My Brilliant Career, Franklin’s semi-autobiographical novel about a spirited teenager’s rebellion against stultifying convention, had appeared three years earlier. It was the only Australian novel published in the year of Federation. Described with pride by Henry Lawson in the preface as “just a little bush girl”, Franklin was being hailed by the leading literary lights of the day as a significant voice in national letters.

Furphy, too, was an author. A kind-hearted, self-educated bush philosopher, he’d spent the previous 15 years working at his brother’s foundry in Shepparton where he wrote at night in a corrugated-iron shed out the back. The result was a sprawling, discursive manuscript of 1200 handwritten pages, sent on spec to the editor of the Bulletin with the description “temper, democratic; bias, offensively Australian”. Whittled to a digestible size, Such Is Life was published under the nom de plume Tom Collins.

The pair met at Easter, in the vestibule of the Melbourne GPO. From there, they drifted to the art gallery, trailed by female fans who’d gotten wind of Franklin’s presence.

Seated in a small circle before Longstaff’s The Sirens, they didn’t have much chance for conversation, what with Franklin’s “merry laugh” resounding through the gallery and the swarming attention of her admirers. The shy, courteous old bullocky later joked that he had feared arrest as the responsible male, the “solitary he-feller of the synod”. After the gallery, he took Franklin to Cole’s Book Arcade, where he gave her a “certain publication” which modesty forbore him naming.

It was their sole meeting. Joseph Furphy went home to Shepparton and later moved to Perth to live with his sons. He died there in 1912.

Miles Franklin, daunted by the literary expectations laid upon her and the reaction of family members to their depiction in her novel, went to Chicago to work for a women’s trade union organisation. She lived abroad until 1932.

In 1944, she wrote a biography of Furphy – our “bush Hamlet” – in painful collaboration with Kate Baker, who was one of the posse that tailed her to the art gallery. “Such Is Life”, she wrote, “is more than a novel … it is our Don Quixote, our Moby Dick.”

Her bequest, the eponymous literary prize, was first awarded to Patrick White. In 1995, the judges gave it to a Ukrainian-impersonating plagiarist. Such is Life remains a classic which nobody reads and even fewer comprehend.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.

There is nowhere quite like The Monthly. We are told that we live in a time of diminished attention spans; a time where the 24-hour-news-cycle has produced a collective desire for hot takes and brief summaries of the news and ideas that effect us. But we don’t believe it. The need for considered, reflective, long-form journalism has never been greater, and for almost 20 years, that’s what The Monthly has offered, from some of our finest writers.

That kind of quality writing costs money, and requires the support of our readers. Your subscription to The Monthly allows us to be the home for the best, most considered, most substantial perspectives on the state of the world. It’s Australia’s only current affairs magazine, an indispensable home for cultural commentary, criticism and reviews, and home to personal and reflective essays that celebrate and elevate our humanity.

The Monthly doesn’t just comment on our culture, our society and our politics: it shapes it. And your subscription makes you part of that.

Select your digital subscription

Month selector

From the front page

Kim Williams seen through window with arms half-raised

The interesting Mr Williams

At a time when the ABC faces more pressure than ever before, is its new chair the right person for the job?

Exterior of the Department of Treasury, Canberra

Tax to grind

Tax reform should not be centred on what we want, but on who we want to be

Rehearsal for the ABC TV show ‘Cooking with Wine’, March 13, 1956

Whose ABC?

Amid questions of relevance and culture war hostilities, the ABC’s charter clearly makes the case for a government-funded national broadcaster

Tony McNamara in New York City, January 2024

Pure things: Tony McNamara

How the Australian screenwriter of ‘Poor Things’, who cut his teeth on shows such as ‘The Secret Life of Us’, earnt his second Oscar nomination

In This Issue

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Small-time big top


Richard Dawkins’ ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’
Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Sleepers, awake

A Federer game

JM Coetzee’s ‘Summertime’

More in Encounters

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Rupert Murdoch & Kamahl

Mark Oliphant & J Robert Oppenheimer

John Monash & King George V

John Howard & Uri Geller

Online latest

Osamah Sami with members of his local mosque

In ‘House of Gods’, Sydney’s Muslim community gets to be complicated

Plus, Barnaby Joyce shines in ‘Nemesis’, Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott deliver ‘Bottoms’, and Chloë Sevigny and Molly Ringwald step up for ‘Feud: Capote vs. The Swans’.

International Film Festival Rotterdam highlights

Films from Iran, Ukraine and Bundaberg were deserving winners at this year’s festival

Two women on a train smile and shake hands

‘Expats’ drills down on Hong Kong’s class divide

Plus, Netflix swallows Trent Dalton, Deborah Mailman remains in ‘Total Control’ and ‘Vanderpump Rules’ returns for another season

Image of a man playing music using electronics and the kora (West African harp)

Three overlooked albums of spiritual jazz from 2023

Recent releases by kora player John Haycock, trumpeter Matthew Halsall and 14-piece jazz ensemble Ancient Infinity Orchestra feel like a refuge from reality