@HenryLawson: Classic Australian authors in 2012

It is a cliché now to speculate whether Shakespeare, were he alive today, would be working in Hollywood, churning out scripts for hits like The Full Montague and Shrew 2: Katharina Strikes Back.

Jane Austen would probably find a publisher if she included more bondage scenes while the BBC could keep Oscar Wilde on retainer just in case something happens to Stephen Fry.

But what of Australia’s cultural champions? Where would Banjo Paterson, Henry Lawson and Norman Lindsay find work if they were to stumble out of some Federation-era time machine?

Paterson is most popularly associated with Australian culture and once he figured out why the handsome man on the $10 note looked so familiar, he would be inundated with offers.

Banjo’s strengths were his ability to capture the national mood and his simple style. Since Australians have long since migrated from the bush to the suburbs, he would quickly notice our preoccupation with house prices and consider doing some real estate writing.

Real estate has a long connection with literature, since before Samuel Coleridge wrote about Kubla Khan’s application to the Xanadu Shire Council to build his stately pleasure dome. After all, why would God separate the land from the sea (Genesis 1:9-10) if not to create a prime beach-side location?

Paterson could reinvigorate the craft, banishing the clichés of  “carpet under foot” and “handy to schools and shops” to create a true Australian art-form.

“There was movement at the auction, the house a cautious tale, default of a home debt too big to pay.

The bankers wanted cash quick, they were pushing for a sale, so all the buyers gathered to the fray.”

Would that the Bulletin had survived long enough to include a real estate section.

If writing about Bali-style bungalows was not enough to tame Paterson’s overflowing creative urges, then he could switch mediums to television.

His song writing skills and national profile would make him a natural to join the X-Factor judging panel.

Imagine the spectrum of emotions crossing Paterson’s face as he struggled to identify a soaring gospel-style cacophony being perpetrated by a contestant, only to be told it was Waltzing Matilda.

Lindsay is best known for both his risqué nude paintings and the children’s classic The Magic Pudding. This unique combination of erotica and cooking would suggest a role illustrating Nigella Lawson’s next best seller, which would possibly be the first recipe book sold behind the counter.

A prolific artist and writer, Lindsay created works with pen, paint and watercolours as well as sculptures in bronze and cement. Clearly a proponent of multimedia back when “surfing the net” meant paddling along the shark barrier at Bondi Beach, he would be right at home in the 21st century world of digital publishing.

Lawson would be the most likely to return to journalism, if only as a way to express his strongly held political views. His first act upon emerging from the time machine would be to ask about an Australian Republic, an cause he held dear. Apoplectic would be the only way to describe Lawson when he realised it was 2012 and our head of state was Queen Victoria’s great, great granddaughter.

His best lines were already sparse, witty and under 140 characters. Quips like “Beer makes you feel the way you ought to feel without beer”, and “It is quite time that our children were taught a little more about their country, for shame’s sake” are made for Twitter and @HenryLawson would quickly gain thousands of followers.

Of course, all these speculations assume the time-travellers would choose to make a living from their creative gifts. Lawson and Lindsay’s brother Lionel both travelled to Western Australia at the end of the 19th century to look for work during the colony’s first mining boom. Maybe all three would trade pens for high-vis workwear and make more money in a year than they did in their entire writing careers.

But this is my literary fantasy so I choose to dream that while bookstores go bankrupt and newspapers are hacked to death, the writers who helped form our national identity more than 100 years ago can find an audience today. At the very least, I hope Paterson produces the inevitable classic literature/horror crossover Once A Zombie Swagman.


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