The first draft of Gentlemen at Gyang Gyang was written in 1928 by Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin (1879 – 1954) upon her return to Australia to care for her ageing parents. However it wasn’t published until after her death in 1956.
As a little thing of four or five Bernice had been wont to lie on her stomach and draw men and animals of action and character. When still in her teens, and sent abroad by public subscription because of her promise, she met other budding geniuses contemptuous of her ability to catch resemblance: merely photographic, they said. She had succumbed to the fashion of portraying things seen in terms of things imagined—many of them evidently in nightmares or licentious orgies. She had for a time been infected with “modern” ideas, which had at least shaken her out of mere convention and the frustrations of an inartistic and middle-class environment.
this scene was marvellously captured by Bernice later. The setting was the snow-gum in her bridal bloom and her powdered grey-blue trunk and Alice-blue twigs beside the grey of the men’s hut, with the grindstone in one corner and kookaburras above.
The same men returned to him year after year. He had a picked squad of shearers that shore on all his places. The married men brought their sons to him as soon as they could handle axe or shears. He inspired in the berated native working men, who never thought of addressing him as “sir”, a voluntary loyalty approaching that of feudal retainers shaped by generations of servitude.
After dinner the men engaged in a game of five hundred. Bernice retired to her bed on the veranda to be guarded by the blackbutts and snow-gums, fairy-like in their perfumed blossom in the dim light of the stars, and the Southern Cross so near and kind that it seemed as if it could be plucked from the sky.
“Thank God for the kookaburras and magpies, for the sun and trees and whole world of blossom, and especially for the tea-tree and the creek, and all this wide and heavenly country with no awful people to drive one to distraction.”
A few months of days in the surf or at the zoo, the moving pictures or the theatre, and Burberry’s soul wilted like frost-bitten pumpkin-vines under the realization that he was of no importance in Sydney and had nothing to do.
“Good lord! I was like a cockatoo in a cage,” he explained to Labosseer. “There isn’t a blasted thing to do in those beastly suburbs. Nothing but that infernal idleness that rots a man, and among a crowd of bally imbeciles who don’t know a gummy ewe from a two-tooth wether hogget, or a heifer from a cow, or a store beast from a fat, when they see it.”
Mr Ced Spires: “You can’t live by work alone.”
Miss Bernice Gaylord: “My work is the most important thing in the world to me.”
Mr Spires: “But they all say that love is the most important thing in life to a woman.”
Miss Gaylord: “Men have made up that yarn because they want it to be so.”
After Franklin’s death, her will stipulated the establishment of a literary prize to be awarded to “a novel which is of the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases”. The first prize was awarded in 1957. The Miles Franklin Award is now Australia’s most well-known literary prize.
The need was for painters and novelists, as well as the ungifted, to break out of the established rut. A way must be found to suggest this different atmosphere both in picture and story—a fresh contribution must be made to technique.
“It’s high time that scenes that foreigners and English know nothing about were recorded for a change.”
I suspect this was one of the reasons why her work was not widely appreciated at the time. Europeans (and many Australians) considered Australia a cultural back-water, cringe-worthy and incapable of any kind of unique creativity. Some still do.
As far as I can estimate, Australian life—and I suppose it’s the same all over the world—rests on inflated values, and can’t last….Fellows I’ve had here for the summer have stayed in the winter and made ten or fifteen pounds, even twenty pounds a week. And do they save that money to better themselves? Not a bit of it!
Gentlemen at Gyang Gyang was rather fun in the end. Like Franklin, I love our country’s unique beauty and I appreciated her efforts to bring this to light in a literary way. I will certainly have a go at her other Brent of Bin Bin books.