Shortlist year: 2015

Shortlist category: Non-fiction

Published by: Australian Scholarly Publishing


Meticulously researched using contemporary newspaper reports, court records, published memoirs, private letters and diaries, Michael Wilding tells the story of three troubled geniuses of Australian writing.

The study spreads out to cover the early and later years of the three writers and in doing so, as its centrepiece, recreates literary and Bohemian life in Melbourne in the 1860s. It is aptly subtitled 'A documentary', since it shares many of the characteristics of that genre.

About the author

Michael Wilding

Michael Wilding is Emeritus Professor of English and Australian Literature at the University of Sydney.

He has written and edited some fifty books, including Marcus Clarke (1977), Studies in Classic Australian Fiction (1997), the novels Living Together (1974), Pacific Highway (1982), Wildest Dreams(1998), Academia Nuts (2002), Superfluous Men (2009) and Asian Dawn (2013) and editor of The Oxford Book of Australian Short Stories (1995) and co-editor of Cyril Hopkins' Marcus Clarke (2009).

He was a founding editor of Tabloid Story Magazine, Wild & Woolley publishers and Paperbark Press. He is a former Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and Chair of the NSW Writers' Centre.

Judges’ comments

This painstakingly researched and beautifully written book focuses on a deeply troubled trio of colonial writers—Adam Lindsay Gordon (1833–70), Marcus Clarke (1846–81) and Henry Kendall (1839–82).

As Wilding reveals, for a brief time, 1869 to 1870, the three founders of 19th-century Australian literature were working in Melbourne together and leading a bohemian life. In a clear and compelling style,

Wilding tells the story of these troubled geniuses of Australian writing and their world of poetry and poverty, alcohol and opiates, horse-racing and theatre, journalism and publishing. T

wo years before his death, Kendall wrote: 'In that wild bleak Bohemia south of the Murray (i.e. Melbourne), I went through Gethsemane and I am only the grey shadow of the young man who commenced to write with so much enthusiasm in 1861'.