Tag Archives: Patricia Wrightson

The School Magazine on RN’s Hindsight

I received a text message yesterday afternoon: ‘You’re famous!’

Yes, the Hindsight program on The School Magazine went to air and my voice has now been heard by the vast multitudes who listen to the ABC on a Sunday afternoon, and the rest of the world can hear it on Thursday 16th at 1 o’clock in the afternoon. You can download it or listen to it here. My earlier post said it was scheduled for next Sunday – it was moved forward.

Lorena Allam, the producer, did a marvellous job. I expected her to use a couple of seconds of my semi-coherent ramblings, but it turns out there’s an awful lot of me in it, and she made me sound reasonably intelligent. Of course there are a dozen omissions, but since the program focussed on the period from 1950 to about 1980, it would have been a big ask to give Duncan Ball, Tohby Riddle or Joanne Horniman more than a passing mention, or to squeeze in a mention of Geoffrey McSkimming, Margrete Lamond, Kim Gamble, Di Bates, Judy Ridge, to mention only people who have worked for the magazine, let alone the writers who were first published there. And Oh, the poets!

But have a listen. There’s some lovely stuff there. I particularly like the way much is made, correctly, of Patricia Wrightson and Lilith Norman as formidable figures, and then Cassandra Golds, remembering herself as an opinionated 11 year old, says she had no time for them at all.

Added later: Joanne Horniman has written a blog post giving the long version of a major incident in the magazine’s history that was mentioned briefly in the program. It’s at http://www.secretscribbled.blogspot.com.

And later again: Another grace note from Joanne Horniman here.

Patricia Wrightson and Chinese poetry

This blog post is the love child of two recent ones.

Patricia Wrightson was on the editorial staff of the School Magazine from the mid 1960s and was its editor for pretty much the whole 1970s. My acquaintance with Chinese poetry prior to reading J P Seaton’s anthology came largely from poems published in the magazine during those years. None of the poems I could lay hands on were published in the anthology. I think they are all translated by Arthur Waley. They all stand on their own merits, not sending the reader off in search of that which they have translated (not, as I was saying when blogging about the anthology, that there would be anything wrong with that – in fact, from some points of view, a translation should make a reader go searching for the original).

Click on the thumbnails to read the poems and see a little of their contexts in the magazine: Robert Louis Stevenson, Pixie O’Harris, a story about a dog, a Pauline Clarke serialisation, a historical article. The illustration of Li Po’ s ‘In the Mountains on a Summer’s Day’ is by the great Astra Lãcis. The last one, illustrated by Kim Gamble, was published in my day, but I found the poem in back copies from Patricia’s era.

Patricia Wrightson has died

There’s a tiny piece by Rosemary Sorenson in the Australian, but so far the death of Patricia Wrightson this week has gone unremarked in the media.

When I became editor of The School Magazine in the 1980s, I was awed by the knowledge that I was stepping into her shoes. As I understand her work, her central concern was with the disjunction for settler-society between on one hand the experience of living in Australia and on the other having a children’s fairy-tale heritage deeply rooted in European landscapes and histories. In books like The Nargun and the Stars and A Little Fear she set out to create fairy stories that were grounded in the Australian reality. She drew on Aboriginal motifs and, I heard her say in a lecture, was meticulous in consulting Aboriginal friends. I think most people these days would see the project as a noble dead end, smacking too much of appropriation. Certainly in my last months at the magazine, a reasonably ignorant education department functionary was at pains to explain to me that the Aboriginal stories of  ‘Judith Wrightson’ were not politically acceptable.

There will be much discussion of Patricia Wrightson and her work on the Internet over the next couple of weeks. ALA Connect, for example, is inviting people to post comments. I happen to have a photocopy of a wonderful letter she wrote in 1974 to a school principal, which I reproduce here for your pleasure and edification:


Thank you for your letter of July 11th regarding the phrase ‘wipe your bottom’ in the June issue of School Magazine Part 2.

I am sorry you found this homely phrase objectionable. It must be pointless to indicate that it was written by one of our leading poets and writers who is now Chairman of the Literature Board; or to ask whether ‘smack your bottom’ or ‘wipe your nose’ would have been so offensive; or to ask for a clear explanation of what is offensive in the phrase. I can only say that we cannot possibly undertake not to be offensive.

We continually offend. We offend by failing to keep in touch with the fast-moving world of young readers and by being too contemporary; by a rigid adherence to syntax and formal style, and by our disregard of them. Our verse is both too classic and too unclassic. We offend by speaking with respect of the church and the theory of evolution; the plight of captive nations and the achievements of communist countries; Anzac Day and the laws relating to Aborigines. We can only follow our usual policy of holding a balance between  these things while still aiming for honesty and life.

As to your use of School Magazine in the future, that is always a matter for your decision. Withholding the magazine from children is another matter. It is produced for the children, and those who wish to read it are entitled to receive it.

Yours faithfully

Mrs Patricia Wrightson
School Magazine

She was not a woman to mess with. At a children’s literature conference in the USA in the mid 1980s, a children’s librarian told me with awe about a lecture by Patricia: ‘She was a very wise and challenging lecturer, but at the same time as easy and comfortable as an old boot.’ As this letter demonstrates, she could also sink the boot when necessary. I never met her. I don’t know anything about the circumstances of her death. I mourn her passing.