Robert Wood: On The Jindyworobaks and Rex Ingamels

  Robert Wood

  1951, Rex Ingamells’ Great South Land
  and the Language of Nationalism

  The Jindyworobaks
  JPR 07

There is no self-contained or isolated
corner of human or of global History.

Rex Ingamells, Great South Land, 1951

The Great South Land, book cover image.

Paragraph One follows — 1:

Life: REGINALD CHARLES INGAMELLS (Rex Ingamells) 1913-1955 was an Australian poet and generally credited with being the founder of the Jindyworobaks Movement.


He was born in Orroroo, South Australia and gained his love of poetry at Port Lincoln High School. He attended the University of Adelaide and received his B.A. in 1934. Four years later he married Eileen Eva Spensley at the Methodist Church, Port Broughton located on the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia.


Ingamells unsuccessfully applied for a number of academic positions. Needing a job, he took work as a journalist, publisher’s representative and a commercial traveller.


During this time he wrote Gumtops and Forgotten People. In 1938 he published Conditional Culture as his manifesto on the impact of overseas influences on Australian culture. This newfound worry over losing Australian culture led him to found the nationalistic Jindyworobaks Movement. Rex and Ian Mudie wanted writers to portray Australian people and nature the way they truly are in Australia, not as seen from a European’s perspective. An emphasis was placed on promoting Aboriginal culture and their relationship with the land as a way to recognize the

Photo of the young Rex Ingamells.


Rex, Ian and others wanted a fundamental break of Australian art and literature from English influences. Between 1938 and 1953, through his Jindyworobaks Movement as an editor and publisher he was responsible for over forty volumes of poetry and literary comment. The word Jindyworobaks, an Aboriginal word/phrase, was taken to mean to join or to join together.


Ingamells is the recipient of the Grace Levin Prize for Poetry (1945) and the Australian Literature Society’s gold medal (1951).


Rex Ingamells died in a car accident 30 December 1955 near Dimboola, Victoria Australia. He is buried in Payneham Cemetery in Adelaide, South Australia.

Ingamells’ works include:

1935 Gumtops
1936 Forgotten People
1938 Sun-Freedom
1938 Conditional Culture (with Ian Tilbrook)
1940 Memory of Hills
1942 News of the Sun
1943 Unknown Land
1943 Content are the Quiet Ranges
1944 Selected Poems
1945 Yera: A Verse Narrative
1948 Come Walkabout
1949 From Phillip to McKell: The Story of Australia
1949 Handbook of Australian Literature
1951 Because Men Went Hungry: An Essay on the Uncertainty
            of Australian Prestige
1951 The Great South Land: An Epic Poem
1952 Of Us Now Living: A Novel of Australia
1952 William Gay: Australian Man of Letters
1952 Aranda Boy: An Aboriginal Story
1954 Royalty and Australia
1955 Australian Aboriginal words: Aboriginal-English, English-Aboriginal
1987 Platypus and Kookaburra: Poem (published posthumously)
You can read these poems
        The Days of Delight
        The Camp Fires of the Past
        Ship from the Thames
        Shifting Camp
        Macquarie Harbour
        Captain William Bligh


1951 was a year of complex and competing political ideologies that played out in the field of poetics. Although the Jindyworobaks are best remembered as a nationalist collective, it is necessary to unpack their milieu, their specific political thought and the work of their greatest champion (Rex Ingamells) to shed light on post-war Australian poetry. This paper addresses these issues through an attention to print culture, reading habits and Ingamells’ own Great South Land. Among other questions, it seeks to discuss: How did Ingamells operate in a literary society? What is the Indigenous presence, or absence, in Jindyworobak correspondence? What does ‘country’, ‘nation’ and ‘Australia’ mean in Great South Land?


In the correspondence of Rex Ingamells one not only sees him lobbied by Communist sympathisers but anti-nationalists, right wing sympathisers and vested interests. As Ingamells wrote in a letter to John Ewers:


I intend to preserve my prerogative, as General Editor, to decide how I shall deal with all these people [Australia First, Communists, Capitalists, anybody] when they approach me concerning Jindyworobak.


To name these people specifically, one need only cite Ian Mudie (AFP), William Hart Smith (Communist) and Keith Murdoch (Capitalist). In writing to them, Ingamells maintained his aim of promoting a Jindyworobak view of Australian literature, which was a contested and contestable entity in and of itself already. This contest is demonstrated by Ian Mudie when he writes:


…with this pretty strong Catholic support for Jindy poems I wondered whether something that would be enthusiastically received by the Comms might not please them so well. However, its none of my business, & I’d be the last one to stick my nose in. Only I’d hate to see a foreign influenced political party getting the chance to spread the yarn that Jindy favoured them, & so helpful to antagonise other Australians. Hope you don’t think this impertinent of me.


In this letter one notices the erection of a binary — ‘Catholics’ and ‘Comms’ — and the subtle display of disavowal — ‘I’d hate to see’ and ‘Hope you don’t think this impertinent of me’. In this piece Mudie writes as a diffident and polite lobbyist, whose connection to Australia First is submerged.


Some years later, when writing to Keith Murdoch, Ingamells stated:


Ian [Mudie] and I have mightily influenced each other… he withdrew from active association with Jindyworobak because he did ‘not want the Australia First business to handicap Jindy.’ I do not think he would now associate himself with the extremist utterances of PR Stephensen, but I share a degree of his admiration for the man.

“Inky” Stephensen. Wikipedia photo.


Indeed, Stephensen was the intellectual father of the Australia First movement and his Foundations of Culture in Australia (1936) was a key text in Ingamells’ own manifesto ‘Conditional Culture’ (1938). This is not to discount other factors in the essay’s construction, which Ingamells claimed included ‘spontaneous Australianism’, ‘criticism by Professor LF Giblin’, ‘frustrations of commercialism’, ‘scornful reception accorded my coined conception of ‘environmental values’’, and ‘my discovery in the glossary in James Devaney’s The Vanished Tribes of the word ‘Jindyworobak.’ Ingamells though did suggest that ‘for Australia First I am a follower of Mr. Stephensen.’ This may have been not only due to the persuasive force of Stephensen’s own language, but also because of his ability to negate a certain type of polis. As Stephensen wrote to Ingamells:

Painting of P.R. Stephenson (1901–1965), by Edward Quicke, a fellow-internee at Tatura camp, Victoria, 1945. National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an2292667. See Craig Munro, at


I tackled the International Jews and communists… The Unholy Trinity — British, Communists, Jews… The Democ-rodents, whether Pommy, Communist or Jew, are actually a very small minority in our community. They work secretly, lurk in holes, scurry out and run around a bit in the dark, gnaw the National Fabric, then scurry back to their holes, biding their time for another gnaw.… It is a terrible insult to call a man a Pommy, or a Communist, or a Jew, if he is not a Pommy, or a Communist, or a Jew; or if you can’t prove that he is.


This phrasing fits in with an international lingua franca of fascism during the war — that of political enemies as vermin. In this case it is ‘unholy’ ‘rodents’ who ‘lurk’, ‘scurry’, ‘gnaw’, ‘scurry’, ‘gnaw’. In no response does Ingamells directly challenge Stephensen’s prejudice even as he placates those who oppose him and wants distance from his ‘extremism’. In a letter to Murdoch on 28th of September 1945, he wrote:


P R Stevensen [sic] himself, though a fool given to abuse at times, is fundamentally a great Australian, sincere and high minded though dangerously embittered. As to his closest associates, much rumour clings to them, but their advances to me have been practical, and my acceptance of help from them has been on the clear understanding that I will show no gratitude for any attempt to make Jindyworobak a political tool. I am jealous of the cultural integrity of Jindyworobak, which expresses its own opinions whether these are coincident or opposite to those of other people and institutions. …so far as politics are concerned, if one soap-box orator reminds me of mountains, rivers, deserts, bushland etc while another fails to, I am willy-nilly more in sympathy with the one that does.


Nascent in this letter is a Romantic, Green politics as well the attempt to separate art from ideology, which can account for an apathy towards the dehumanizing fascism of Stephensen himself. This is a common performance in the language game of poetry at the time that suggests it is not strategic to say that one is political. In other words, precisely when one suggests there is no politics at play one can witness the very politics of ideology and involvement. It is something Ingamells shared with other interlocutors right across the ideological spectrum. We see it, for example, in the following letter from William Hart Smith:


Although I consider Jindy itself is distinct from politics, it must inevitably lean towards any party or system that truly has the well being of Australia at heart, socially, culturally and where the land and its aboriginal people are concerned. This, I feel, is basic in Communist policy.


If Jindy is ‘distinct’, then why must it ‘inevitably lean’ towards any party? Indeed, the failure to think through the organization principles of nationalism, which Jindy promoted, means that there is a confused sense of how best to advance what was essentially an aesthetic persuasion. This means that these letter-writing poets engage with ideology as it is abstracted from the real face-to-face work of politics: policy, branch meetings and legislating. Out of Ingamells’ regular epistolary interlocutors only newspaper baron Keith Murdoch can claim to be structurally powerful. The politics in this network then is mainly the micropolitical allegiances, which can best be described as gossip and intrigue between cliques and coteries.


To that end one need only cite part of a letter Hart Smith wrote to Ingamells regarding John Ewers, who is depicted as ‘kind’, ‘sensitive’, ‘highly nervous’, ‘lacking control’, ‘lacks deductive, analytical power, the ability to think coldly and logically’, ‘imaginative, original’, ‘does not believe in himself’, ‘instability’, ‘brilliance.’ Ingamells too is not above these observations, writing back later in the year that:


Front cover, Meanjin magazine, Issue 3, 1960.

Perhaps I’m unduly suspicious, but I fancy [Clem] Christensen [editor of Meanjin] ain’t really a friend…. I’m damned if I can like the fellow or trust him. I’m a cock eyed coot myself, perhaps, but I feel justified in regarding Christensen as both crawling and shifty on occasion. He is doing a fine job with Meanjin, and I don’t want to air my views to anybody but you lest they be regarded as petty jealousy, of which, I hope, I am incapable.


But even if Ingamells felt guilty and tried to deny that these comments were ‘petty jealousy’, one is struck how at odds they are with the friendly manner in which he wrote to Christensen himself. Indeed, it is indicative how much Ingamells and his correspondents discuss the personal relations of their work. Out of thousands of letters in the State Library of Victoria archive, only Ted Strehlow, writing many years prior in 1935, discusses poetry at length. That this poetics was part of the social relations of ‘the poetry community’ is important then for realizing that aesthetics is political in both senses of being ideological and personal.

Theodor George Henry Strehlow (1908-1978), by unknown photographer Herald and Weekly Times Portrait Collection, State Library of Victoria, H38849/4419


It fits in too with a wider world of print culture, a world of small journals like Meanjin; bookstores like the Craftsman and Pioneer; of book orders from Sydney University, Phoenix Press and private individuals right across the nation; and of readings in people’s homes. Indeed, when the Great South Land was released in 1951, Ingamells held two readings ‘in aid of the equipment fund for the Malvern Memorial Kindergarten at the home of Mrs E. G. Coppel, Finch-street, East Malvern.’ The article in The Age goes on to state:


A committee, headed by Dr. C. E. G. Beveridge, is working to raise money to buy chairs, tables and other equipment for the kindergarten which is being built at the corner of Hume and William streets, Malvern. The foundation stone was laid by Mr. Trevor Oldham, M.L.A.. at a fete held near the site last Saturday. More than £100 was raised for the fund during the day and the committee expects to clear another £50 from the two reading evenings. It is expected that the kindergarten will be completed in time to open for the second term next year. It will cater for 30 children and will fill a long felt want in a district where there are no other kindergartens.

Nettie Palmer in 1943


This event was a form of direct politics, which is to say a material action aimed at creating a changed daily life for a community with a ‘long felt want’. This is where Ingamells makes a contribution to ‘Australia’ then as a lived entity, which is, of course, not to dismiss his poetic contributions, but to highlight the meaningful actions of private citizenship. In Ingamells’ private correspondence though, it was the ‘pot of tea’ that brought people together. Indeed, various people (AFP, Communist, Capitalist) from Ian Mudie to Nettie Palmer wrote to him over the years to say they wanted to ‘share a cuppa’ when they were next in town. It did not seem to matter to these loud and proud ‘Australians’ that their ritual repast of choice had its particular roots in Mother England, albeit via the plantations of India and the sugar fields of the Caribbean.


It need be observed that Ingamells existed in a dynamic, transnational literary milieu as well. In his letters there is mention of Frederico Garcia Lorca, Maxim Gorky, Stephen Spender, Alfred Tennyson, John Shaw Nielsen, W H Auden, Longfellow’s Hiawatha, Whitman’s ‘A Clear Midnight’, Clifford Whittington Beers’ ‘A Mind that Found Itself’ and Mark van Doren’s An Anthology of World Poetry. This is in addition to countless local poets and writers. Writing in 1940, Ingamells observed that the:


…books which have strongly influenced my thinking in the last year are: JWN Sullivan’s ‘Outline of the Universe’, Herbert Read’s ‘Literary Criticism’, J S Mill’s ‘On Liberty’, Arthur Weigall’s ‘Akhnaton’, an explanation of Surrealism by Hugh Sykes Davies, ‘Modern Poetry’ by Louis Macneice, ‘Essays in Popular Science’ by Julian Huxley, ‘Social Life in the Insect World’…. When I said ‘strongly’ influenced my thinking I should perhaps have said that each of these books has supplied me with valuable knowledge of the kind that makes broader thinking possible; I don’t pretend that I’m an intellectual.

Hugh Sykes-Davis. Photo copyright St John’s College, Cambridge,
courtesy of the College Library.


What this makes clear is not only the diversity of his reading diet in terms of genre, but that Ingamells also existed in a proto-colonial literary space, which is to say a space that was dominated by the transatlantic, white, male world; a world he felt close to on account of his embodied identity but which he held at a distance through his local national conditioning, his ‘Australianness’. Indeed, it was nation as a type of defining identity that demarcated boundaries, with Ingamells writing


Where I see, as I often do, unmistakable Shakespearean and other flavours creeping into modern Australian writing, I feel that the writer has not wrestled sufficiently to recognise what belongs to other people.


This is not Shakespeare as universal great, but as British imposition who ‘belongs to other people’. It returns us though to a question of influence and autonomy, of what constitutes ‘Australia’ in Ingamell’s Great South Land, which if not Shakespearean aimed to be Historic and epic. What do ‘country’, ‘nation’ and ‘Australia’ mean in Great South Land?


Great South Land is a 327 page, 12 chapter linear narrative of Australia. Beginning with ‘Before Man’ and ending with ‘Timeless Covenant’ it charts the land and its people, focusing especially on the European origins of the continent’s ‘discovery’. In this work there are three overlapping central concepts — country, nation and Australia. For Ingamells country is:


a master constellation of the Spirit,
bespeaking the Secret Life, the earnest Totems,
the Brotherhood of Man and Bird and Beast,
and Tree and Flower, and everything observed,
Water and Stone and Sacred Tjuringa,
the Wind, the Rain, the Sun, the Moon and Stars.


Country is at once cosmic (‘master constellation’), ‘secret’ and ‘earnest’ implying that this relationship and whole is both a natural thing (‘Tree and Flower’) and social construction (‘Brotherhood’). It is important to note that after a list of natural objects Ingamells invokes the ‘Tjuringa’, bringing the sacred objects of Indigenous peoples into this taxonomy.


There are several passages of high Romantic lyric heraldry when Ingamells writes about country. In the section ‘The Land’s Own Character’ there is a long list of birds and their colours from galahs and parrots to rosellas, ringnecks, lorikeets, parakeets, cockatoos, corellas, wrens, swifts, ducks and more. In his ‘Homage to the Ocean’, Ingamells makes this language active using the words ‘scavenging’, ‘wallowing’, ‘heaving’, ‘swelling’, ‘breaking’, ‘crashing’, ‘hurling’, ‘fashioning’, ‘tearing’, ‘building’, ‘piling’, ‘traversing’, ‘ravening’, ‘devouring’, ‘murmuring’, ‘dragging’, ‘wheeling’. Throughout there is a projective encompassing, a desire to fold the world of the ocean into his seeing I. There are other resonances too, and the following passage finds concordance with Aime Cesaire’s ‘Who Then, Who Then’ from Corps Perdu, which was released the same year. Ingamells writes:


Who shall ascribe remoteness from Australia / to isles of the Torres Strait, or Papua, / to Thursday Island, Melville, Milingimbi, / Groote Island, islands of the Barrier Reef?


To which Cesaire responds.


And if / I needed an island / Borneo Sumatra Maldives Laccadivea / If I needed a sandalwood–scented Timor / or Maluccas Ternate Tidore. Or Celebes or Ceylon.


But it is not only the physical ‘thing’ that intimates what country is; Ingamells also associates it with the Alcheringa, or Dreaming. Dreaming for Ingamells is myth, lore and the dreamtime. Indigenous people though, through their tjuringa and Dreaming are seen as part of nature. In a generous reading one might suggest that Ingamells pre-empts the idea of them as ‘custodians’ or ‘traditional owners’, but in other places there is a slippage that suggests a wanton appropriation, something commented upon by other scholars. His objectifying white gaze that sees the disappearance of ‘the brown people’, ‘these dusky folks’ who have ‘vanished’ from Australia, demonstrates this most clearly. Indeed, the Aborigines who people Ingamells’ work are ‘ghosts’ that haunt contemporary life.

Physical Description : Photographs – 1 silver gelatin photoprint – 12 x 10 cm. Inscriptions : “Xavier Herbert / Darwin, N.T. / 1st April, 1938, day of receipt of news of winning of Sesqui Centenary Library Prize” — inscribed on reverse in pencil.


For example, he writes of ‘the Tribal ghosts, forever wandering here’ in ‘the country of the scattered Djuan, / the Country of the Kogara, the Countries / of Euhalyi and of Narrinyeri, / of vanished Yeidji, Bibulum and Kabi, / and other wandering Tribes that leave their names.’


With sadness Ingamells notes that what remains are:


only the vestiges of a lovely people,
like Pitjintara and Aranda, studies
for anthropologists — with cameras,
notebooks and packing-case — who collect
relics of native handiwork for museums.


This sentiment fit in with a wider discourse of Aboriginal absence and is similar to the disappearance of Native Americans as noble savages that occurs in Longfellow’s Hiawatha, which we know Ingamells had read. What does remain of them, according to Ingamells, is the Dreaming. He writes:


Australia, my Country, Country of our Nation
is none the less the Country of the Past
that does not die in the Present of the Future,
whose Aborigines though gone, remain
in the timeless Dreaming of the Land itself.


Ingamells establishes himself as the voice not only of nation and Australia, but also of country, of land itself. This displays a paternal displacement that contributes to the continuing myth of Aboriginal people as disappeared, which means that someone else must speak for land. As Ingamells writes ‘I am a ghost reporter now / of Man’s beginnings, and record events, / knowing my own case best.’


As sympathetic as Ingamells desires to be, his left liberalism failed to acknowledge the contemporary reality that meant Indigenous people were still living in Adelaide or Melbourne, and right across the continent, that they were speaking for themselves and that the appropriation of language implied a questionable commitment. In answer to his own question ‘Could white men understand / the native ownership?’, Ingamells answers ‘I can’. He claims he can because ‘my heart is called to mystic sympathy / before old burial trees and bora-grounds, / and when my hands take hold of sacred objects, / the tjurunga and ceremonial shields.’


That is to say, ‘his heart’, which is a repeated motif throughout Great South Land, is the organ through which he can feel what it is to be ‘Aboriginal’ in place of the disappeared race. For Ingamells, the heart is ‘mystic’, ‘sympathetic’, ‘sacred’ and hence leads one to Dreaming for country and ultimately Truth. Through a local engagement then, one can create an Enlightenment, which is seen when Ingamells writes:

While I tell
of European progress to Australia,
I yet have sympathies, inherent, burning,
that break, like little flames and sparks from darkness,
and move and flash, as if they could, combining,
with all we have of Knowledge, make for men
one grand illumination of the Truth.


A local project then never seemed so imported, for country here is a way to return us to Rousseau, Voltaire, Condorcet and ‘make for men / one grand illumination of the Truth’. Although the simple philological use of ‘country’ would seem to resonate with current Indigenous writers including Ali Cobby Eckermann, Natalie Harkin, Lionel Fogarty and Sam Wagan Watson, with Ingamells it is one of appropriation, albeit informed by his vast reading of anthropological sources.


Next to this use of the word ‘country’ is nation. In the section ‘A Nation’s Beginning’ in chapter eleven ‘Invasion’, Ingamells cites the nation’s beginning as being the arrival of convicts and administrators in Sydney cove, not the interaction between James Cook and Indigenous people, which has become the ur moment of our own historicizing. As Ingamells writes:


Here is a Nation’s beginning, with whaling, sealing
wood-cutting, carriage-making, quarrying,
illicit stills, sly grog shops, drinking dens.


In the use of the active voice, one recalls the ‘Homage to the Ocean’ passage that I cited above, as well as the idea that the nation begins with the colonies and their industries. The story of Sydney then becomes the story of the nation and Ingamells is at pains to point out how ‘depraved’, ‘sallow’, ‘scrubby, ‘hateful’, ‘grey’ ‘strained’ and ‘ugly’ the first arrivals are. They have none of the qualities of Cook, whom for Ingamells is ‘humane’ and ‘considerate’. After the beginnings however, the nation is:


bravery in jungles, convict skeletons
the stories of gold, bales of the finest wool
full silos of wheat, a written Constitution,
lock-outs and strikes, the Broken Hill Proprietary,
home-made Governors-General, and cricketer Bradman.


But Ingamells is not an advocate of this simple nation, of exploitation industries, labour agitation and sport, for he sees the nation as something different from Australia, and he speaks as an Australian. This is made clear when he writes: I am proof of Babylonia, Egypt, / Athens, Rome and London and New York; / yet I am most primordially Australian.’ It is not enough to be Australian then, but one need be ‘primordially’ so, which is to say Australian in origin, in primitivity, in root. For Ingamells:


But Australia is more than this, more than us.
Take all our cities away, and Australia remains.
Whisk all the white men and their story away
from scenes of their jubilance and desolation,
and still Australia remains… Oh unperturbed,
lustrous and lovely, her Alcheringa.


The root of Australia then is the Dreaming. This Dreaming is disembodied from Ingamells’ peers (living Indigenous people) and it is essentially idealistic. The conflation and separation of ‘country’, ‘nation’ and ‘Australia’ though is at the root of the confusion in Ingamells own ‘nationalism’, which subsequent scholarship has tended to recapitulate albeit with question. It is not that he uses the three terms interchangeably, it’s that he fails to maintain attentiveness to them as concepts.


We could think of country as an aesthetic-legal entity of Indigenous lore; nation as a juridico-legal polity expressed as colonial then federal law; Australia as their negotiation. These concepts are nascent in Great South Land, but Ingamells’ failure to interrogate foundational myths of each has meant a simplified history and a championing of a cause rather than the doubtful complication of all appellations. He ends up simply thinking of country as land / nature and nation as history / culture. Australia becomes then a myth, an ideal in the Hegelian sense, which critics need be respond to materially. This finds it apotheosis in the absence of the contemporary Aborigine as real, living, embodied person.


This misplaced idealism only further highlights the importance of a micropolitical act of reading poems as a community fundraiser for the building of a local kindergarten. Indeed, for all the linguistic celebration of trees, rock, sunset, one is struck by Ingamells’ daily urban life. Jindy then, and Great South Land as a specific expression of that, is a heimweh creation, a projection of a city-based individual romanticising the stone, as it were.


This is not to discount his vast network of correspondence from right across Australia be that Perth, Alice Springs, Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane, Ballarat, Melbourne, Hobart, Strathalbyn, Bathhurst, Bonegilla, Seacliff, Corrinda and Gympie. However, it is to highlight a central paradox of Ingamells function as ‘author’. He was no Strehlow based on country and no Roland Robinson who travelled between the two, but a literary bureaucratic establishment organiser who leveraged the land into the national as a legitimising aesthetic persuasion.


At the time Great South Land was well received, which is not to say there was no criticism. In the popular press, a reviewer in The Advertiser wrote ‘Mr. Rex Ingamells has produced, for the first time in the history of Australian poetry, a major poem… [Great South Land] is a landmark in Australian poetry.’ The reviewer went on to say however:


Many faults will be discovered in the poem: inaccuracies, perhaps (but to discover them would be caviling, not criticising); tedious passages; limitations of the personal emphasis; the failure to touch sublimity; the acceptance of a scale of values rather rhapsodical than creative; the lack of critical pruning; a certain monotonous regularity in the verse; the prevalence of a spirit of doggedness, often where one would rather have inspiration; the inclusion of much material which some may think irrelevant and unprogressive; the sense, overruling all, that Mr. Ingamells is a poet of pedestrian rather than Olympian gifts. All this, or much of it, is true. But there is an unanswerable retort: the book has weight; it is convincing in spite of these objections.


This quality of being ‘pedestrian’ and hence unable to match the ‘Olympic’ subject matter implies the way in which Australia itself may not be Historic, in the sense of being epic as expounded by Pound. The failure though is the ‘author’s’, Ian Mudie wrote in The Age, that Ingamells ‘is one of the great characters in Australian poetry but he is not yet one of the great talents. His poems of 1944 showed as much talent as does The Great South Land in 1951.’ This displays something of the micro-politics and personal relations that effect aesthetic judgments, for their firm friendship noted in earlier correspondence had soured by this time.


In a review by James Devaney, who was Ingamell’s original source for the word ‘Jindyworobak’, there is also a complicated sense of the personal, but here we get a political concordance on Indigenous matters. He writes:


When we can love her as her own have loved her, then shall we be her own, and she be ours, and we shall be to her as her Vanished People, keeping their dreams and gentleness alive were… we native-born Australians are now part of the land and its spirit as the aborigines were.


In this passage one notices the use of ‘we’, which is assumed not to include Indigenous readers, which is supported by the phrase ‘Vanished People’. It is also striking that Australia is feminized, which ‘her’ and ‘she’ illustrate. The final sentence though is perhaps the most relevant for it completes the displacement of Aboriginal people both from the land and from the present. This suggests that Ingamells’ views were common for his circle of acquaintances, and they continued to help perpetuate the idea that Aboriginal people were absent, something that was evident in whole raft of other political and cultural conversations.


This expression of displacement of Indigenous people by an Australian ‘frame’ not only denied local Indigenous sovereignty in 1951, but it connected to the issues of appropriation and nationalism that existed in poetry communities overseas and in other cultural expressions. The question of essence and race is there in the Negritude writers; British politics and labour is important in Robert Graves’ The Common Asphodel, which was reviewed widely by Australian papers; and the avant garde New York School, which debuted with the Ninth Street Show on 21 May that year, would go on to collectively destabilize issues of form as they related to politics.

Yul Brynner, passport photo and signature, 1940s.


In the popular domain, perhaps the most pertinent example of this issue was in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I, which opened on Broadway with Russian actor Yul Brynner in the role of the King of Siam. The active denial of an appropriate actor in favour of a ‘yellowfaced’ one was not only common in American theatre at the time, but a consistent cultural practice in many parts of the West. It resonated with Ingamells’ own race politics, for the similarity between Great South Land and The King and I, with their white privilege and active displacement, suggests that an Australian can think like Americans, that the organising principle of these two works can be said to function in a similar language game. I disagree then with Paula Gunn Allen when she writes that ‘Indians never think like whites’. Indeed it is possible that Indian A and White A think more alike than Indian A and Indian Z — in other words the affective bonds that allow a group identity to cohere can be re-organised to suggest new ways of seeing the world. Any community then is held together not simply by the stories it tells themselves, but how that story occurs and by the interpretation of its Othering as a type of boundary.


We see then that the nation is an ‘imagined community’, even as Jindyworobak, as a type of nationalist group, were invested in a material community that was specific to them through their own print culture — of letters, order forms, notes and, of course, books. So, the community that is created is made possible through public / exhibited print matter and private / cult print matter. In my histotorocisation Jindy is subcultural to the nation, to the poetry world, to the Anglophonic sphere. And while the very creation of the modern nation state relied on reproducibility — that is, on specific de-authenticating material artefacts of print culture — in the case of Rex Ingamells and the Jindyworobaks this meant that their books, precisely because of their exhibited value, created a re-imagined community that they mistook for an independent nation even as it was a complex and confused amalgam of the negation of external influences (Jews, Poms, Communists) and the heraldry of romanticised local ones (country, nature, Aborigines). Moreover, print, especially in the irreproducible singular private letters of correspondence, seemed to have a relative aura compared to newer mediums like film, radio and tv, that they found legitimating, consecrating and worthwhile.


Given ‘taste classifies and classifies the classifier’, we could say of Ingamells that he reified ‘Australianness’, holding it up as an uninterrogated ideal that one should aspire to and by which one judged works of art. In his small field, he influenced a national idea of this but did not mutually ground it in his very body, preferring instead to project through the book and letter. He made ‘possible’ though, in the Foucaultian sense, a historical continentalism through appropriating the lexicon of Aboriginal Australia, or parts of that colonially constructed false whole, which had always been outside its locatedness. Ingamells was less a simple nationalist then the functional origin point whose works enabled a nativist utopianism that negated ‘Australia’ as it was culturally defined by elites and in the common man imagination determined here by popular written artefacts (newspaper principally). This reading complicates the present view of his appropriative gestures because it relocates the question of authenticity legitimated by embodied identity politics to be a textual critique of what is ‘to come’ based on traditions regarded as fodder for creativity. This is not to disembody the author but to suggest that the aura of identity lingers in the reading practices that are specific and grounded.


The politics of Great South Land’s form meant there was not only the aggrandisement of local history into epic, performing a move that Hegel, Ranke or Pound would have made, but also a re-expression of the land and time itself on a continental scale. This means Ingamells is not only important for ‘Australia’ but what comes before it on Wiradjuri land where he lived and wrote, and what comes after it in this here country. Every document of nation then is also not of it. Indeed, in Ingamells there is the idea that ‘country’ itself can save us, something not dissimilar to the ideas proposed in coterminus Indigenous discourses including by lawmen like Peter Kangushot Coppin. If it is an appropriation it is paradoxically an appropriation that contains within it the seeds of the nation’s destruction, a post-national nationalism as it were.

Image of Author Gloria Anzaldua courtesy Aunt Lute Books. From the internet.


For Ingamells, Australia as a type of ‘mestizo’, or hybrid, was a synthesis of the European and Indigenous. This not only neglects the arrival of various Others — a handful of African Americans on the early fleets in the late Eighteenth century or Chinese labourers in the late Nineteenth century gold rush for example — but that, in speaking from a position of privilege, he can only misrepresent Indigenous people and ideas. This is in a romantic fetish for their bodies and the very disappearing of those bodies. Gloria Anzaldua might be right to suggest that ‘the new mestizo copes by developing a tolerance for contradictions, a tolerance for ambiguity’, but in Ingamells there is only certainty that Australia needs progress, to move forward, to become enlightened. That certainty is the flawed basis for his important contribution to the art.


As Ingamells Great South Land sat in bookshelves from Sydney to Perth, 1952 drew to a close. On 31 December the weather was again ‘fine and warm’ in Adelaide, but locally there had been another drowning. The Adelaide Advertiser reported that the Marshall Plan was due to end and a new security and spending organisation to help with the re-building of Western Europe would commence when 1952 did. Meanwhile ‘Churchill breakfasted in bed and worked busily on official papers before dressing.’ He was due to sail to the United States to meet with President Truman the next day to ‘renew the intimate relationship he had with Roosevelt during the war.’ Next to that article, Hearne’s Bronchitis Cure for coughs and colds suggested that there was ‘real comfort in every sip’ of their product, and Adelaideans if ailed could turn to them. Like other commodities one could have a questionable faith in what was being offered.


It was a type of possibility Ingamells offered too, that if Australia had failed to realize itself till now, his ‘landmark, major poem’ held out the hope that the nation, complicated though its very definition was, had now found its own path and was walking confidently with real comfort towards the future. That it was haunted by the Dreaming and ‘vanished people’ only propelled ‘us’ further towards tomorrow, for despite their spectral presence ‘we’ had not only survived but inherited their place as ‘rightful owners’ of a very special Country itself that could not be isolated from global History as well.


News 1 January 1951 to 31 December 1951.

The Adelaide Advertiser 1 January 1951 to 31 December 1951.

The Chronicle 1 January 1951 to 31 December 1951.

The Age 1 January 1951 to 31 December 1951.

Australia First fact-sheet 28, National Archives of Australia.

Césaire, Aimé. Corps Perdu in Clayton Eshleman’s Aimé Césaire: the Collected Poetry, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984.

Devaney, James. ‘Review’ in Advocate, Melbourne, 14/2/1952, p. 9.

Graves, Robert. The Common Asphodel, London: Haskell House, 1951.

Ingamells, Rex. Correspondence, 1933-1955, State Library of Victoria.

———. Conditional Culture. Adelaide: F.W. Preece, 1938.

———. The dunce’s cap: a critical essay in self-defence, Murumbeena, 1951.

———. Great South Land, Melbourne: Georgian House, 1951.

Mudie, Ian. ‘Poet as Historian’ in The Age, 4/8/51, p. 11.

Stephensen, P.R. The Foundations of Culture in Australia: An Essay towards National Self-Respect. 1936. Reprint. Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1986.

Treaty of Japan, 1951


Attwood, Bain. A Life Together, a Life Apart: A History of Relations Between Europeans and Aborigines, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1994.

Attwood, Bain and Fiona Magowan (eds). Telling Stories: Indigenous History and Memory in Australia and New Zealand, Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2001.

Barnhisel, Greg. Cold War Modernists: art, literature and American cultural diplomacy, New York: Columbia University Press, 2015.

Bird, David S. Nazi Dreamtime: Australian Enthusiasts for Hitler’s Germany. Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2012.

Carter, David. Always Almost Modern: Australian Print Cultures and Modernity. North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2013.

Coppin, Peter and Jolly Read. Kangkushot: the life of Nyamal lawman Peter Coppin, Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 1999.

Depasquale, Paul. Rex Ingamells : towards an interpretation of his poetry, Oaklands: Pioneer Books, 2005.

Elliot, Brian. The Jindyworobaks. St Lucia: U of Queensland Press, 1979.

Filreis, Al. Counterrevolution of the Word: the conservative attack on modern poetry, 1945-1960, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008.

Foley, Gary. ‘A short history of the Australian Indigenous resistance 1950-1990’ in Allison Cadzow, John Maynard and Larissa Behrent (eds.) Nelson Aboriginal Studies, South Melbourne: Cengage Learning, 2012.

Gittins, Jean, The Diggers From China: The Story of Chinese on the Goldfields, Melbourne: Quartet Books Australia, 1981.

Lhuede, Elizabeth. The ‘new’ Australian poetry: modernist and postmodernist poetics and twentieth-century Australian poetry, Macquarie University Thesis: School Of English And Linguistics Australia, 1994

Pettigrew, Jane. A Social History of Tea, London: Benjamin Press, 2013.

Price, John. ‘A Just Peace? The 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty in Historical Perspective’ Japan Policy Research Institute, Working Paper No. 78, June 2001.

Pybus, Cassandra. Black Founders: ‘the unknown story of Australia‘s first Black settlers’, Sydney: UNSW Press, 2006.

McIntyre, Stuart. ‘The Reds: The Communist Party of Australia From Origins to Illegality’. Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1999.

McQueen, Humphrey, ‘Rex Ingamells and the Quest for Environmental Values’ in Meanjin, v.37, no.1, April 1978, p. 29-38

Mintz, Sidney. ‘Sweetness and Power: the place of sugar in modern history’, New York: Penguin, 1985.

Regan, Jayne. ‘Cosmopolitan Jindyworobak: Flexmore Hudson, Nationalism and World-Mindedness’ in Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, Vol 15, No 3, online.

Rowse, Tim. ‘Modernism, indigenism and war: a comment on the Black Swan of Trespass’ in ACH: The Journal of the History of Culture in Australia, no.24-25, 2006.

Sellick, Robert. ‘The Jindyworobaks and Aboriginality’ in Butterrs, Philip (ed.) Southwords: essays on South Australian writing, Kent Town: Wakefield Press, 1995, p. 102-115.

Smith, Ellen. ‘Local moderns: the Jindyworobak movement and Australian modernism’ in Australian Literary Studies, v.27, no.1, 2012 May, p.1-19.

VanSpanckeren, Kathryn. ‘American Poetry, 1945-1990: The Anti-Tradition’ in IIP Digital, 10/10, 2013.


Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities: reflections on the origins and spread of nationalism, London: Verso, 2006.

Anzaldua, Gloria. Borderlands/ La Frontera: the new mestiza, New York: Aunt Lute Books, 1987.

Benjamin, Walter, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility’ in Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings (ed.) Selected Writings: Volume 4, 1938-40, Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2003, pp. 251-83.

Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: a social critique of the judgement of taste, London: Routledge, 1986.

Foucault, Michel, ‘What is an Author?‘ at Societé Francais de philosophie, on 22 February 1969, collected in Laurie Finke, Barbara Johnson, Vincent Leitch (eds.) Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, Second edition, New York: Norton.

Geuss, Raymond. Philosophy and Real Politics, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008.

Gunn Allen, Paula. The Sacred Hoop: recovering the feminine in American Indian Traditions, New York: Beacon Press, 1986.

Australian writer Robert Wood.

Robert Wood holds degrees from UWA, ANU and Penn. He has delivered lectures at Berkeley, Peking and Mumbai Universities respectively. Wood will be an Endeavour Research Fellow and Visiting Scholar at Columbia University in 2017. Find out more on:


Leave a Reply