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Colin Bingham, the Telegraph and poetic modernism in Brisbane between the wars

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 December 2016

Patrick Buckridge*
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Brisbane has sometimes been represented as a bulwark of literary traditionalism against the advances of poetic modernism in the southern capitals during the first half of the twentieth century. But as William Hatherell showed in The Third Metropolis, modernism had a brief but intense flourishing in the northern city during and immediately after World War II. This article traces the reception and practice of poetic modernism in Brisbane even earlier than that, in the period between the wars, both in the form of a vigorous critical debate over ‘modernistic poetry’ in the Courier-Mail and elsewhere, and also in the composition and publication of a significant quantity of self-consciously modernist poetry in Brisbane's evening daily, the Telegraph, with the active encouragement of the paper's literary editor, Colin Bingham, from 1930 to 1939.

Queensland modernisms
Copyright © The Author(s) 2016 

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1 See, for example, Nicholls, Peter, ‘Modernism’, in Greene, Roland et al. (eds), Princeton encyclopedia of poetry and poetics, 4th ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012), pp. 889–94Google Scholar.

2 Croft, Julian, ‘Responses to modernism’, in Hergenhan, Laurie (ed.), The Penguin new literary history of Australia (Ringwood: Penguin, 1988), p. 419 Google Scholar.

3 Hatherell, William, The third metropolis (Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 2007), p. 69 Google Scholar. For a fuller account of the ‘Barjai’ project, focused on Collinson's role, see Hatherell, William, ‘The Brisbane years of Laurence Collinson’, Queensland Review 13 (2) (2006), 112 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 Lamb, Karen, Thea Astley: Inventing her own weather (Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 2015), pp. 54–7Google Scholar.

5 Grano, Paul L. (ed.), Witness to the stars: An anthology of Australasian verse by Catholic poets (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1946), ‘Editor's Note’, p. xii. Hatherell, The third metropolis, pp. 7981 Google Scholar.

6 ‘Brisbane man's prize poem’, Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 24 September 1941, p. 4.

7 Hatherell, The third metropolis, pp. 40–1.

8 Old Queensland Poetry,

9 Buckridge, Patrick, ‘Being elsewhere: Aesthetics, identities and alienation in Peter Austen's poetry’, JASAL 5 (2006), 133–50Google Scholar.

10 Holt, Edgar, Lilacs out of the dead land (Melbourne: Transition Press, 1932), pp. 25–6Google Scholar.

11 Buckridge, Patrick and McKay, Belinda (eds), By the book: A literary history of Queensland (Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 2007), p. 50 Google Scholar.

12 Vrepont, Brian, Beyond the claw: poems (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1943), p. 82 Google Scholar.

13 Buckridge, Patrick, ‘Truebridge, Benjamin Arthur (1882–1955)’, Australian dictionary of biography, (Canberra: National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, 2002)Google Scholar,

14 Davies, Chris Lawe, ‘Bingham, Colin William Hughie (1898–1986)’, Australian dictionary of biography (Canberra: National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, 2007)Google Scholar,

15 For J. Scott MacDonald, see Patrick Buckridge, ‘Roles for writers’, in Buckridge and McKay (eds), By the book, p. 48. The nine-lecture series on the history of English drama ran from July to October 1927; the six-part series, ‘The Art of the Novel’, ran through January and February 1930. Leigh Dale has suggested that the real author was McKinnon, Firmin (‘“Tinned literature”: Literary discussion in the Brisbane Courier (1930)’, Queensland Review 19 (2) (2012), 190204)Google Scholar. I believe it was Stable: he was, after all, a lecturer in English at the time, and these articles seem very much like recycled university lectures. Furthermore, ‘penfold’ is a plausible double-synonym for ‘stable’.

16 MacAulay, Desmond, ‘McKinnon, Thomas Firmin (1878–1953)’, Australian dictionary of biography (Canberra: National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, 1986)Google Scholar,

17 The anthologist in question was Mégroz, Rodolphe Louis, editor of A treasury of modern poetry: An anthology of the last forty years (London: Isaac Pitman, 1936)Google Scholar.

18 For an excellent recent account of the cultural debates about ‘difficulty’ in early twentieth-century art and literature, see Diepeveen, Leonard, The difficulties of modernism (New York: Routledge, 2003)Google Scholar.

19 [Firmin McKinnon], ‘The Waste Land and Hollow Men’, Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 30 May 1936, p. 14.

20 Waldock, A.J.A., Howarth, R.G., Dobson, E.J., Some recent developments in English literature: A series of Sydney University extension lectures (Sydney: Sydney University Extension Board, 1935)Google Scholar.

21 [McKinnon], ‘Waste Land and Hollow Men’, p. 14.

22 [Firmin McKinnon], ‘Modernism in poetry’, Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 30 July 1938, p. 4.

24 Archbishop Wand, ‘Modernistic literature: Tendencies revealed in critical essays’, Courier-Mail, 13 June 1936, p. 21. The full text of the book under review, Lavrin, Janko, Aspects of modernism: From Wilde to Pirandello (London: Stanley Nott, 1935)Google Scholar, is available from

25 Wand, ‘Modernistic literature’, p. 21.

26 Vrepont, Brian, ‘In the company of T.S. Eliot’, Telegraph (Brisbane), 24 August 1940, p. 6 Google Scholar.

27 Beven, R.A., ‘Modernistic literature’, Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 17 June 1936, p. 27 Google Scholar.

28 [Firmin McKinnon?], ‘Brisbane Diary’, Courier-Mail, 11 August 1938, p. 6.

29 Firmin McKinnon, ‘Contemporary Australian verse’, Courier-Mail, 28 December 1940, p. 7.

30 Firmin McKinnon, ‘Australian poetry’, Courier-Mail, 1 March 1941, p. 7.

31 Meanjin archive, Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne, box 1, folder 2, p. 1.

32 Mark Carkeet, ‘Old Queensland Poetry’,

33 Carkeet, ‘Old Queensland Poetry’.

34 Davies, ‘Bingham’.

35 ‘Modern poetry. How it can be enjoyed. Hints by an American writer’, Telegraph (Brisbane), 13 December 1928, p. 24.

36 ‘Modern poetry: Lecture by Mr Bingham’, Telegraph (Brisbane), 17 October 1933, p. 16.

37 [Colin Bingham], ‘Modern poetry’, Telegraph (Brisbane), 18 November 1933, p. 8.

38 [Colin Bingham], ‘Modern poetry’, Telegraph (Brisbane), 18 November 1933, p. 8.

39 [Colin Bingham], ‘The poetry of John Shaw Neilson’, Telegraph (Brisbane), 16 June 1934, p. 9.

40 Bingham, Colin, ‘Modern poetry’, Telegraph (Brisbane), 18 April 1936, p. 14 Google Scholar.

41 Bingham, Colin, National images and other poems (Sydney: Currawong Press, 1979), p. 40 Google Scholar.

42 For more information on Gore-Jones and Lucas, and some examples of their work, see Carkeet, ‘Old Queensland Poetry’.