It seems that Overland magazine has ditched its old motto, “Temper; democratic. Bias; Australian” because its masthead now reads “Progressive culture since 1954”. It is more than a pity and more than a fact that the quarterly has, in recent years, become decidedly anti-Australian and now, it seems, also undemocratic, as poetry editor Peter Minter has recently banned Quadrant poets from even consideration for publication in Overland. Incredibly, the Australia Council has ruled this policy to be perfectly fine, no cause for concern or rebuke.
It seems there can be no dissent with regard to the barbarity of our refugee policy, and climate change deniers should not be allowed to open their mouths. If anyone dissents or engages in debate they are to be known as troll and should be unfriended ASAP. Debate has become intolerable to the left.
I remember trying to get published in Overland – for twenty years. In my formative years, before life drove me away from my romantic left-wing roots, I thought that one had to get published in Overland to enter the Australian literary discussion. I considered my temper and bias to be about right; after all, I told myself, Overland came from the home of The Angry Penguins, which connects Australian poetry to its emblematic hoax culture, and is the magazine which replaced The Angry Penguins, the pages where James McAuley and Harold Stewart paraded Ern Malley under the peripatetic editorship of Max Harris.
Barrett Reid was the editor during my younger years, and he used to host high teas for his friends and the general literati at Heidi — the outer-suburban Melbourne home and grounds of John and Sunday Reid, who funded The Angry Penguins — where he lived for a time. He published the poems of Shelton Lea and Eric Beach, who were friends of mine, and thus I thought that if I was persistent and observant, I might eventually find the right poem to succeed in Overland. Perhaps I, too, would be invited to a high tea. I did not realise until much later that Barrett was in love with Shelton and thus his eclectic romanticism, and his stunning beauty, were stamps on the visa that granted entrance to such hallowed circles.
Alas, time marched on, and the very best I ever managed was an ‘off-line’ exchange of letters with then-editor Ian Syson about the homosexual nature of Australian Rules Football and the bizarre complaints of ‘The Pink Magpies’, a gay support group for the Collingwood Football Club.
Overland editors have often been gay, but always Marxist feminist, and perhaps they were amongst the first to label Australia Day as jingoistic nonsense, to champion the rights of the invaded on Invasion Day and to gently mock Anzac Day. Their thirst for ‘progressive’ thought and ‘new’ poetry overwhelmed the ‘modernist’ base that Harris had established. Overland lost its once marvellous connection to the other arts, painting in particular. Perceval, Boyd and the other Angry Penguin painters, the Montsalvat and Dunmoochin artist communities. The political green left literarti seemed to swamp the magazine with an orthodoxy which could not sustain art. Not much has changed at Overland during the past 50 years. It is still entombed in a black-armband history, with an extra recent dose of misanthropy developed under the banners of animal rights and anthropogenic global warming.
Peter Minter is unapologetic, almost defiant, in his rejection of public criticism. He compares being published in Quadrant with appearing in the ‘Nazi Literary Weekly’ and seems to suggest all poets with such affiliations should be lined up against his wall. The obvious problem with Minter’s analogy is that it lacks proportion and nuance to an alarming degree. His logic not only insults Australia, it is an insult to all memory of The Holocaust. It diminishes The Holocaust, and the deaths of millions more, into propaganda.
Who will Minter next put up against his wall? I suspect that climate change deniers are already banned from Overland – we just now need to also see this editorial policy in writing. Dead white heterosexual males may also be banned. Australia Day seems banned. When did Overland last celebrate an edition devoted to Australia Day without even one back-hander?
Quadrant poets do not come from the far right. They come from everywhere, all over the real and virtual intellectual world, from across the spectrums of age, race, sexuality and gender. If you really want a true and excellent selection of Quadrant poets, read the Quadrant Book of Poetry. They may yet contain the seeds of a magnificent renaissance of deep song about the Australian diaspora in all its many archipelagos – black poets, white poets, women and Jennifer Compton. Would Overland also ban a poem written by Les Murray? I’m saddened to believe it would. Australia’s greatest living poet cannot get published in Overland! What does this say about Australia?
The Literature Board of The Australia Council has chosen not to censure Overland — though it is clear that Minter & Co. have broken the most basic of funding guidelines. Thus is Minter allowed to continue discriminating against poets on the basis of where they choose to publish their work. Also, it allows him and others to continue with the false assumption that where poets choose to publish their work betrays their political beliefs. This is patently untrue, as Joe Dolce testifies. And even if it were true, it would have nothing to do with the quality of the poem.
Minter betrays poetry for an intractable politic he disguises with poetics. He has lived in the virtual world of academics within a vaulted gulag called a university for too long, with many grants taken from ‘Indigeneity’, that fabulous goldmine industry. Perhaps he should be released from his position so that he can get out and about in the isolated Aboriginal communities to do something really useful like teach the tribal people how to read and write in English.
Somehow, about 20 years ago, on some dark night, Overland’s motto, “Temper, Democratic; bias, Australian”, was stolen by a bunch of anarchists from Williamstown, the inner-west Melbourne suburb nestled by the water at the Yarra’s mouth. They have now completed their make-over and the ‘temper’ and ‘bias’ can only be interpreted as anti-Australian and anti- democratic.
You may seek, as I once did, to enter the land of Overland as if it is another country, yet may never earn the visa to gain passage.
Bertolt Brecht thought ‘simple words/Must be enough’. “Temper, Democratic; bias, Australian” must be very complicated words indeed.