Talk:Ern Malley hoax

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A Long Shadow?[edit]

Exactly what is nuetral about the phrasing:

"...cast a long shadow over Australian cultural life."

Surely this is no less biased than claiming that the Ern Malley affair, "pulled back the curtain of darkness that modernism had cast on Australian cultural life." This is a biasing metaphor with no place in an article of this sort. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 18:45, 19 August 2010 (UTC)Reply[reply]


I doubt Ern would have known what "chutzpah" means! And come to that, he wasn't even under graduate...ah well, campcase, imagine if we were all seinfeld watching highschool teachers with no sense of humour..speak strine please.

Stop coming the raw prawn, acting the dog etc. And sign ya name, piker. Campcase 19:16, 8 February 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Ah, that's better, I was getting worried. This is no chat room, so I end with saying this. Anyone who is interested in Ern Malley needs a sense of humour...and a decent chip on their shoulder! My name is Christopher Chubb, sometimes I go by the name of Peter.


It would be of interset to elaborate upon Malley's position and friendships amoung his contemporaries, such as Christopher Chubb. mangonorth


This is not a very encyclopedical artical, not in style, form... It's well-written, but perhaps not in a style appropriate for WP. I think at the very least the lede should say who Malley really was, even if the "story" style of the article is kept. This has been done twice, and then reverted twice by the original author, to whom I ask - Why should the reality of Ern Malley be saved for the middle of the article (other than so we aren't "boring pedants")? Zafiroblue05 03:46, 18 November 2005 (UTC)Reply[reply]

I was just about to come on here and say the same thing. Most of the article is commentary--which is inappropriate and contrary to wikipedia standards. I deleted the entirety of the section The Last Laugh as it was nothing BUT commentary. But really the whol article needs a rewrite. Whoever wrote it needs to read the tutorials before doing any more editing. --Brentt 02:55, 21 December 2005 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Brentt: I came to this page to read up on Ern Malley because of a passing reference to him in a newspaper article. Wikipedia was temporarily down so I read the Google cached version, which still included 'The Last Laugh'. Now, while I agree that that's an inappropriate section title, nevertheless I think there was quite a lot of interesting and relevant stuff there that didn't warrant deletion. Editing, yes, but I wonder if your reading of the section (and consequent wholesale deletion of it) wasn't coloured somewhat by the ridiculous, NPOV section heading? Quite a lot of that section was, it seems to me (and despite the section heading), fairly neutral (and interesting) biographical stuff - about how the Ern Malley incident subsequently affected the lives of those involved.

Zafiroblue05: I agree - as it stands, the leader is misleading. That this article concerns a hoax should definitely be flagged up right from the start. Whoever originally structured this article was trying to tell a good story rather than write a good encyclopedia entry, I think. --Tremolo 04:45, 4 January 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

"Philistine Australia"[edit]

the philistine Australia of 1943. How is this NPOV? RickK 05:36, 27 Nov 2003 (UTC)

It is the commonly held view of Australia at that time. Anyway, I am not a slave to NPOV, and no serious historian should be. History is about interpretation, not just lists of facts. To quote Australis's most famous historian: "Look at the title page, young man. It's Manning Clark's History of Australia. If you don't like it, write your own." Adam 05:42, 27 Nov 2003 (UTC)

Hmmm. I think in the context of this piece "philistine Australia of 1943" is acceptable shorthand. It's certainly a very widely-held view that Australia was very much a cultural desert at the time. I used the phrase "dreary conservatism" to describe 1950's Melbourne. However, I should add that a (moderately) right-wing friend of mine thought that some of the Australian-oriented topics on Wikipedia showed a bit of lefty bias. It's something we should keep in mind, IMO. --Robert Merkel 10:27, 27 Nov 2003 (UTC)

I agree that is a problem with many WP contributions. But I don't think there's anything lefty about describing 1940s Australia as philistine - it's a rather elistist-conservative view in some ways. Adam 11:39, 27 Nov 2003 (UTC)

Harris publishing "indecent matter"[edit]

Can anyone help me? I read that Max Harris did jail time on a charge on "publishing indecent matter" as editor of the poems. This article doesn't mention it. Is it real? Auric The Rad 19:23, Jul 19, 2004 (UTC)

It's a while since I read up on this story, but my recollection is that he was fined, not jailed. I will check when I get home to my references (I am currently in Thailand). Adam 05:39, 20 Jul 2004 (UTC)
Harris was convicted, after a three-day trial, and fined five pounds. The poem in question (one of the Malley poems) was about a young couple in a park after dark. A policeman gave evidence that in his considerable experience young couples only go to a park after dark for one reason, and that this made the poem indecent, immoral, and obscene. Wocky 07:49, 15 August 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Alternative Prospective[edit]

Has anyone considered the possibility that the fake authors were actually lying when they said they wrote the poem in one day? Perhaps they wanted to humiliate the critics, and were willing to attempt quality poetry to do so. Superm401 | Talk 03:59, May 26, 2005 (UTC)

Michael Heyward, in "The Ern Malley Affair" goes to some lengths to counter the claim that the poems could not possibly have been written in one day - which did come up at the time. McAuley had already written most of the opening poem Durer:Innsbruck (quoted in the article) and the two poets claimed they tinkered with it a little but left it largely unchanged. This, they said, got the creative ball rolling, and the rest of Ern's output came quickly. Ethel's letters, they claimed, were much harder to get right.

Heyward establishes that McAuley in particular had a flair for satiric improvisation and that Stewart was highly regarded in poetic circles for his knowledge of other poets' works and styles. Moreoever, there was a tradition of off-the-cuff parody and (frequently ribald) versification within the Sydney poetry scene, where both McAuley and Stewart got their start.

Campcase 22:56, 6 November 2005 (UTC)Reply[reply]


The fact that this is a hoax, and an historical controversy, should be stated in the first paragraph. As it currently stands, the article is somewhat confusing and misleading - those who do not allready have knowledge of the incident would not fully understand this artilce - Matthew238 00:25, 16 November 2005 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Original author's comment[edit]

What a lot of boring farts you all are. However I agree that I would not now write the article in this way. I will make some edits. Adam 10:28, 4 January 2006 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Malley a "fraud"?[edit]

There is nothing wrong with article at all which tells the whole story of a quintessential piece of Australian ratbaggery and pompous pricking very well. Looking at the poems now (and I have not glanced at them in 20 years) I can see that whatever McCauley and Stewart said, these could NOT have been composed by the selection of random pieces of text. Analogies and conceits are pursued stanza after stanza, poem after poem. For example:

I have pursued rhyme, image, and metre,

Known all the clefts in which the foot may stick,

Stumbled often, stammered,

But in time the fading voice grows wise

And seizing the co-ordinates of all-existence

Traces the inevitable graph

Here, Malley looks with stoicism at his own impending death, and the unfinished canon of his poems. There is even the pun on “foot”. If anything, far from being abstruse and incomprehensible, the material here might appear rather commonplace today. Certainly, there are any number of “deconstructionist” texts far more obscurantist than anything in these 16 poems. It could well be that the two hoaxers exaggerated the randomness of their poetry writing to achieve the maximum with their humiliating prank. Or, as is suggested here, they were irresistibly guided by their own poetic concerns as they pieced Malley’s truncated world together. Either way, a theory of mine would be bolstered. To create poetry of this kind requires education, and a poetic sensibility, but not a great deal of technical skill. The same can be said of much abstract art. The result is that, yes, I believe that many of us could indeed write poems “as good at these”, but that does not mean the poems are a fraud. The poems are real and interesting and “poetic”. The reality of how they were constructed might reveal that poetry is nearer to our own lives than we might suppose, but that it is not the singular piece of bravura excellence that Harris had talked it up to be. Myles325a 03:51, 1 April 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]


The way this is written is confusing. Where does the story of the made up personage end and real events begin? Was Harris a real person or is this part of the hoax? When was this hoax commited. There are a lot of things int his article that are quite unclear. Effort needs to be made to clarify. --Lendorien (talk) 18:46, 24 October 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Great that you want to improve this, though it is already the best article I have read on this topic. Where the hoax begins and ends is up to the individual, but he is one of Australia's best known poets. Malley has been cited as genius and used as a cudgel. It is possible to add to this complex topic, but I would be very cautious. It would not be possible to simplify the explanation, except by adopting one of the many POVs, perhaps this is a major reason for his increasing notability. cygnis insignis 19:28, 24 October 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]
It was more that the section was poorly composed and unclear about what was part of the hoax story and what were real events. --Lendorien (talk) 19:44, 24 October 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]
It now takes the position that it is a complete hoax, some critics take the view that his poetry is on par with other published material. Anyway ... I assume you consulted a number of reliable sources before making changes to the article, please slip those into a tag and add them to the ref section. cygnis insignis 20:19, 24 October 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Mechanical men posting themselves that
Built you a gibbet in the vile morass
Which now you must dangle on, alas.
            - Malley

No offense, but I have not changed this article significantly, rather just edited the intro and clarified the background story. While Malley may be considered influentual, he WAS a hoax. The information int he article already even said as much. All I did was clarify the progression of things and made it clearer. I havent' changed any facts. This article has no intext sourcing as it is. --Lendorien (talk) 14:00, 27 October 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]


I made some edits to this article. I expanded the intro to add a few more details and a date. I clarified the background section to make the sequence of events a bit clearer. I've renamed and reorganized section headings in a more traditional way as well.

Article still needs:

  • Tone edits to fix the conversational essay tone it currently has. There's a lot of subjective statements that need to be removed.
  • It needs sourcing. There's a lot of unsourced statements in this article including quotes and unverified suggestions of notability that have nothing to back them up. Who says this hoax is important? Source them.
  • Some reorganization of this article may be in order. The why for why the hoax was done is almost at the middle bottom of the article.
  • Expansion of why Ern Malley has a legacy would be nice. What's there now isn't very detailed.

--Lendorien (talk) 19:44, 24 October 2008 (UTC)Reply[reply]

If you're the one who put the 20 odd citation requests in the article, you made it an even worse, even more incoherent mess, while leaving in ACTUAL problems that need correction. I would revert your edits, but after the censorship I encountered in the past, my input will be limited to commenting on the stupidity of edits like yours. And I took ALL of your moronic citation requests out. Fuck you if you don't like it, stop asking for multiple citations for THE SAME RUNNING QUOTE.


Anyone who rants, rages, and threatens in their obscenity-filled edit summaries will be blocked, regardless of the merit of their edits. DS (talk) 23:34, 4 May 2009 (UTC)Reply[reply]


How can it be a hoax, if McAuley and Stewart wrote original poetry. It is simply a joke, or fabrication of theirs to say that the material was written by another. Why is there no credit for the beauty, originality of the works, whoever the creator? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs) 11:26, 27 June 2009

use banners[edit]

Way to many little "citations needed", use banners instead. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:43, 22 November 2011 (UTC)Reply[reply]

last laugh[edit]

what is this "got the better of" business
why does harris get to "win" in the end, this is an encyclopedia article for christsakes. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 03:21, 31 August 2012 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Could you be more specific? I can't find the phrases you quote in the article. -- Michael Bednarek (talk) 12:49, 31 August 2012 (UTC)Reply[reply]
The last laugh is always the best laugh, so they [who?] say. Max Harris went on to have a long and fruitful career, as did McAuley and Stewart.--Shirt58 (talk) 13:41, 31 August 2012 (UTC)Reply[reply]

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words about ern malley from Harold Stewart article[edit]

i have removed the following words from the above article as it provided too much detail there:

A cure for Graves' disease does not exist but with palliative treatment the symptoms can be ameliorated. Mostly electing to ignore the warning signs of his faltering health, Ern returned to Sydney after a failed romance tested his resolve, but then, just weeks later, died in the care of his sister, leaving his unpublished manuscript for posterity.

The age of his death was contrived to draw parallels with John Keats, a principal poet of the English Romantics, who had died at the same age. More tangential clues awaited discovery, some obscure like the reference to Keats, others more obvious as when Ern writes in 'Sybilline': "It is necessary to understand / That a poet may not exist," though none were sufficiently provocative to prick the ear of suspicion, which was largely due to the credibility of Ethel. By grounding the story with a sense of humility she plays a pivotal role in securing the bond of trust..[1] Her letters display disarming candour: "It would be a kindness if you would let me know whether you think there is anything in them. I am not a literary person myself and I do not feel that I understand what he wrote, but I feel that I ought to do something about them." A couple of poems were enclosed with her first letter. The language of 'Durer: Innsbruck 1495' stunned Harris, resonating with his modern sensibilities. Even though the other poems might not have been as accomplished, Harris made his mind up with the first flush of enthusiasm and read 'Durer' over and over again, convinced that with the right promotion Ern could shine as the next big star in the modern firmament, which, in turn, would assist the promotion of modernism. The neat self-serving circularity of the plan was too delicious to resist.

While McAuley has been widely acknowledged as the main author of the meretricious poems, Ethel Malley, an ordinary suburban housewife, was primarily the product of Stewart's imagination, though McAuley and his wife Norma made some minor editorial contributions. Ethel has the warm familiarity of a congenial neighbour living in the type of lower-middle class suburb that Stewart experienced as a child but had since gladly left behind. Yet, in the letters, there is also a glimpse of a darker, more judgmental side to her personality; of a suburban philistine insulated from events in the wider world and dismissive of her brother's impulsive choices, such as his decision to quit his job in Sydney and relocate to Melbourne. Heyward notes: "Ern Malley mocked the romantic myth of the proletarian artist but Ethel anticipated by a decade that formidable icon of the Australian suburban sensibility, Edna Everage."[2]

Harris was charged with publishing obscene material though could have avoided an appearance before the Adelaide Magistrates' Court if he had known about Stewart's skill for inventing poetic masks, yet this would have cruelly denied future generations the brilliant comedy of that vaudevillian farce. Paul Kane in Australian Poetry, p. 142, describes the trial as "an incipient Monty Python skit." Detective Vogelsang was the chief witness for the prosecution and thought that 'Night Piece' was obscene. Under oath he declared: "Apparently someone is shining a torch in the dark, visiting through the park gates. To my mind they were going there for some disapproved motive . . . I have found that people who go into parks at night go there for immoral purposes." He also found the word "incestuous" indecent in 'Perspective Lovesong' but admitted he did not know the meaning of the word.[3]

The unsettled life of Ern Malley, made painfully public in Ethel Malley's correspondence where she describes a young poet battling the machinations of a materialistic modern world in the poverty of war-time rationing, desperate for the soft touch of love, for a moment that would clarify purpose with a salvatory meaning, displays an uncanny parallel to Stewart's own early life. Ironically, he went on to write poetry which represents such an enlightened moment in much the same unappreciated circumstances suffered by Ern Malley. For Stewart, the Malleys were not only a mask to hide behind, but also a mirror which reflected his own precarious life as a young aspiring poet.

Stewart was partly inspired in the creation of an imaginary poet after attending some lectures given by the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges [4] in Melbourne in 1938, though, more importantly, he had been busy inventing several other poetic identities in his earlier years, including Skald and Dulchie Renshaw. Skald was used to hide the fact that he preferred same-sex relationships. Michael Ackland in Damaged Men explores the effect this had on Stewart's life, which, if Ackland's hypothesis is right, was considerable.

Harris eventually overcame the humiliation of Ern Malley and even managed to capitalise on the celebrity gained from the hoax in his business life, but the resentment directed toward Stewart and McAuley simmered long after the last Japanese soldier had surrendered in the Pacific. Serious reservations persisted about the lack of support his poetry received from Australian critics and in a letter to Heyward he outlines his feelings about the lack of critical attention. "How would you feel if a life time's serious work in poetry and prose, based on scholarship and experience of a profound Tradition, were almost totally ignored, while an afternoon's jeu d'esprit by two bored young soldier poets amusing themselves by satirising the fashionable literary kitsch of the period is inflated into an event of national cultural importance?"

His defensive tone highlights the distant relationship he had with his home country and confirms the disregard he harboured for those Australian critics who ignored the later part of his career.

  1. ^ Malley, Ern (2017). The Darkening Ecliptic. Los Angeles: Green Integer. ISBN 978-1-55713-439-4.
  2. ^ Michael Heyward, The Ern Malley Affair, p.103. Peter Craven in The Australian, 23 August 1995, p.30, also makes the association between Ethel Malley and Edna Everage. He writes: "There are certainly moments in the literary and artistic history of this country when it seems reasonable to think that if Barry Humphries had not existed we would have had to dream him up. There is a sense in which the Ern Malley hoax was a prefiguring, in the circles of literature and public controversy, of that spirit of devilment and national self-mockery which became Humphries's hallmark. It is said that towards the end of his life McAuley took to calling Ethel Malley "Dame Ethel.""
  3. ^ Paul Kane in Australian Poetry, p.142, describes the trial as "an incipient Monty Python skit." Detective Vogelsang was the chief witness for the prosecution and thought that 'Night Piece' was obscene. Under oath he declared: "Apparently someone is shining a torch in the dark, visiting through the park gates. To my mind they were going there for some disapproved motive . . . I have found that people who go into parks at night go there for immoral purposes." He also found the word "incestuous" indecent in 'Perspective Lovesong' but admitted he did not know the meaning of the word. The use of the words "immoral purposes" in the context of parks at night suggests that Vogelsang is referring to homosexual activity. A major patron of Max Harris, especially in the early days in Adelaide during the first few editions of 'Angry Penguins,' was Charles Jury. Wealthy, single and homosexual, Jury had retired from the chair of English Literature at Adelaide University and lived in the city opposite a park similar to one described in 'Night Piece.' Sasha Soldatow, in The UTS Review, 1996, Vol 2/ No.1, May, in a review of Michael Heyward's The Ern Malley Affair, points out the relationship between Jury and Harris and describes Heyward's use of word "fruity" as homophobic. Soldatow also describes Heyward's characterisation of Jury and his relationship between Harris as "homophobic." Max Harris in Ern Malley Collected Poems describes Jury as a skilful and scholarly influence. Harris describes Jury's use of Greek mythology as a means of expressing a noble idealisation of homosexual love. Patrick Buckridge in 'Clearing A Space For Australian Literature 1940–1965,' in The Oxford Literary History of Australia (Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1988), p.174, writes that the court appearance and conviction of Harris "were a key moment in the translation of popular philistinism into repressive state power."
  4. ^ Jorge Luis Borges never came to Australia. His fictional lecture was described in a hoax article, "A Surreal Visitor", written by Guy Rundle and published in The Age newspaper 22 April 2002.

some of it may be useful for this article? Coolabahapple (talk) 04:23, 18 March 2018 (UTC)Reply[reply]