Celebrating 50 Years of Publishing with Thomas Keneally

Celebrating 50 Years of Publishing with Thomas Keneally
Author Thomas Keneally returns to the Library to deliver the 2014 Ray Mathew Lecture.
22 August 2014

1964. George Johnston’s My Brother Jack wins the Miles Franklin Literary Award. The National Library is scattered in buildings around Canberra. Lake Burley Griffin is, for most of the year, still a grassy pond. And a young Australian writer publishes his first novel: The Place at Whitton, a crime thriller set in a monastery.

The new edition of The Place at Whitton

Cover of the new edition of The Place at Whitton

Fast forward 50 years and Evie Wyld’s  All the Birds, Singing wins the Miles Franklin. The National Library’s building on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin is a Canberra landmark. And the writer of The Place at Whitton, Thomas Keneally, is celebrating 50 years of writing and publishing with the republication of his first novel and, in November, the release of the third volume of his history of the people, Australians: Flappers to Vietnam.

In the intervening years, Thomas Keneally has earned himself a place in the hearts of many readers and demonstrated that it is possible to have an international literary career from the shores of Australia. His novels include Bring Larks and Heroes, The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith, Gossip from the Forest, Schindler's Ark and The People's Train. He has the won the Miles Franklin Award, the Booker Prize, the Los Angeles Book Prize, the Royal Society of Literature Prize, the Scripter Award of the University of Southern California, the Mondello International Prize, and the Helmerich Prize. And yet he continues to live in Sydney with his wife, Judy – not all that far from the seminary he left in 1960 and which inspired the setting for his first novel.

Frank Hurley, St Patrick's College and Seminary, Manly, nla.pic-an23816983-v

On Thursday 4 September, Keneally will deliver the 2014 Ray Mathew Lecture at the Library. It’s an opportunity for him to reflect on the changes he has seen in our reading habits over 50 years and, in particular, to ponder whether there is still a place for ‘the book’ as an object in our increasingly digital lives. And it’s an opportunity to celebrate his association with the National Library, which also began 50 years ago when the first edition of The Place at Whitton was sent to the Library by London publisher, Cassell.

Over the years, the Library’s Keneally collections have grown. Presciently, Hazel de Berg interviewed Thomas Keneally for the Library’s Oral History Collection in 1967, after Bring Larks and Heroes won Keneally his first Miles Franklin. As well as the English language editions of over 50 novels, works of non-fiction, and plays, the Library holds copies of works translated into French, Greek, Chinese, Lituainian, Indonesian and Persian. Browsing the catalogue listing provides a sense not only of his productivity but also of the breadth of his interests. War, peace, colonial history, refugees, Australia – these are the recurring themes of this writer’s life. And the published work is complimented by his personal papers, photographs and portraits held in the Manuscripts and Pictures Collections.

 Judy Cassab, Portrait of Thomas Keneally, 1987, nla.pic-vn6381696-v

The catalogue also reveals the story Thomas Keneally has played in the Library’s public programs over the last decade. In 2006, the Friends of the National Library of Australia Inc celebrated his contribution to Australian publishing, hosting an event with Tom and actor Bryan Brown, who appeared in the film adaptation of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith. In 2009, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd launched the first volume of Australians in the Library’s foyer and in 2011, Tom returned to talk to a full theatre about the second volume.

Loui Seselja, Thomas Keneally at the launch of Australians, volume 1, National Library of Australia, 2009

Thomas Keneally’s return to the Library to deliver the 2014 Ray Mathew Lecture offers new opportunities. They include the chance to hear one of Australia’s great writers reflect on his career and the changes he has seen; the opportunity to meet the man, hear his wonderful laugh, and ask him to sign your treasured first edition of The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith; and, for the Library, the chance to further enhance the Library’s Keneally collections through the recording and archiving of the Lecture.

Thomas Keneally is delivering the 2014 Ray Mathew Lecture: Gutenburg Fights On: A Survival Story at 6pm on Thursday 4 September. The lecture is free but bookings are essential.
Supported by the Ray Mathew and Eva Kollsman Trust.