Unlike Americans, who uncritically fawn upon their pioneering authors (such as the horrendous Mark Twain, the longwinded Longfellow and the sentimental Hawthorne), Australians pay little attention to theirs, with the possible exceptions of Paterson and Lawson. It's the same with our prominent democrats, like William Wentworth; the mercenary Macarthur, a speculator and a cad, gets all the attention. Money rules, not principle, in Australia.
And principle counted for people like Franklin and Lawson. The political ideas and the social forces that contributed to the way they lived their lives and the types of books they wrote, however, are left undisturbed by the majority of Australians, who are generally embarrassed by intellectual conversation. Real estate, though, they'll talk about until the cows come home, hence the love of Macarthur. It's a shame, but there you are, and it's the same reason why noone knows anything about Franklin and noone reads her books. I respect Wyndham for writing about unknown past winners of the Miles Franklin award - and I forgive the SMH for donating the space for it in their august vehicle - but I think it's time to ask: was Franklin any good?
Was Patrick White any good, for that matter. I personally think so, and he was innovative in a way that Franklin never even closely approached, but then again he's sort of ignored because he's a bit embarrassing after all: a homosexual and a die-hard leftie. In the case of Franklin there needs to be a bit more public discussion about why she did what she did, particularly the going-overseas thing (Stead and Richardson did the same thing, of course) and about why she wrote the kinds of books she wrote. Sure, there might be bruises. Plates might be thrown. Names will be called. Reputations shall be bruised. But our uncritical if elite celebration of Miles Franklin I personally find a bit creepy, and I think it's unhealthy too.