Category Archives: Australian popular culture

Rosaleen Norton ‘The Witch of Kings Cross’

Rosaleen Norton aka ‘The Witch of Kings Cross’

I was familiar with the name Rosaleen Norton long before I watched Sonia Bible’s excellent documentary about her, which takes as its title Norton’s long running nickname, The Witch of Kings Cross.

In an attempt to cash in on the upsurge of public interest in the occult that occurred throughout the west in the 1960s, the long defunct Sydney pulp publisher Horwitz Publications put together a number of salacious tabloid style non-fiction books on the so-called rise of witchcraft and Satanism in Australia. My favourite of these, which I wrote about on this site some years ago, the 1965 book Kings Cross Black Magic, was a direct attempt to piggyback on Norton’s fame.

Norton was also a semi-regular presence in the bachelor and barbershop magazines that proliferated on the shelves of Australia’s newsagents in the 1960s, titles like Adam, Man, Pix and Australasian Post. These magazines, incredibly tame by today’s standards, were once seen as very risqué. The activities of Norton slotted in well with their steady diet of stories about UFO sightings, white slavery, heroic Anzacs, shark hunting and out of control teens.

So great was interest in the occult in mid-1960s Australia that the subject even featured in a 1965 episode of the high rating locally produced Crawford TV crime show, Homicide.… Read more

Carter Brown and the Australian craze for faux American crime fiction

Author photo of Alan Yates aka Carter Brown in 1955

In 1950s Australia, one author – writing pulp novels about detectives and cities he’d never visited – gave birth to a phenomenon. I’m over at the CrimeReads writing about Australia’s most successful, least critically recognised, 20th century author, Alan Yates aka Carter Brown, and the popularity of faux American crime fiction in post-war Australia. You can read the entire article at their site here.Read more

Lockdown recollections of the outside world and the wonder of Space Age Books

The shopfront of Space Age Books, 317 Swanston Street, Melbourne, in the early 1980s

I was saddened over the Eastern weekend to hear of the death of Mervyn ‘Merv’ Binns on April 7, at the age of 85. Binns was a major participant in Melbourne science fiction fandom going back to its earliest days in the 1950s, and established Space Age Books, Australia’s first specialist science fiction bookshop, and a frequent bolt hole for myself and no doubt so many other teenagers, desperate to escape the boredom of long suburban weekends in the 1970s and 1980s.

I only met Binns once, but his passing feels particular poignant given the circumstances we currently find ourselves in, unable to leave our houses and take part in Melbourne’s physical public culture, a field in which Binns once played a small but important role, to go to the pub with friends, browse in a bookshop or go to the cinema or film club screening.

But more than this, memories of Space Age Books briefly made concrete my fears about one of the unintended consequences of the (very necessary) restrictions evoked to combat the Covid-19 virus – its potential impact on the few remaining cultural holdouts that make living in Melbourne feel special compared to a lot of other places: bookshops, including the second-hand and antiquarian bookshops, independent cinemas and cinema clubs, record stores, and other speciality businesses that deal in material cultural items and experiences and, just as importantly, provide a space to engage in face to face discussion about them.… Read more

Pulp Friday: Sharks in Australian pulp fiction

Pulp fiction has long been fascinated by sharks, and pulp published in Australia is no exception.

Being attacked by them, hunting them, sighting or being threatened by them, or just marvelling at large they grew, sharks were a perennial pre-occupation in local Australian pulp paperback fiction from the 1950s to the 1970s. They also appeared regularly in the pages of the Australian equivalent of men’s adventure pulp, publications like Adam and Man.

Although I have not included any of this material in the images below, sharks were also a staple of popular tabloid magazines like Pix and Australasia Post. Referred to in Australia as ‘barbershop magazines’, these now defunct weeklies presented punters with a steady diet of girls in bikinis, racy jokes, Hollywood gossip, and masculine adventure stories.

Many of these were set in heavily exoticised parts of the South Pacific and Asia. But there was also a rich variant that took place far-flung parts of tropical northern Australia and the outback. These latter stories depicted a sort of Australian weird – a land of gnarly, weather beaten eccentrics (much like Captain William E. Young on the cover the Shark Hunter, published by Horwitz in 1978), who had dangerous livelihoods in unimaginably remote parts of the country, and did battle regularly with the threat posed by the country’s uniquely lethal fauna, including sharks.… Read more

10 great Australian westerns

To mark the UK release of The True History of the Kelly Gang (2019), Justin Kurzel’s bold reimagining of the sage one of Australia’s most famous myths, bushranger Ned Kelly, the British Film Institute asked me to write about my ten favourite Australian westerns. Not only is Ned Kelly Australia’s most famous bushranger – the name given to convicts who had escaped and survived Australia’s harsh environment to become outlaws – his legend forms a mini industry in film and television. In addition to Kurzel’s, Kelly has been the subject of eight films. The Kelly filmography forms part of a larger of body of Australian westerns, made by overseas and local concerns. You can read my piece in full at the BFI site here.

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