Tag Archives: John Harrison

Australia’s other lost literary heritage

There’s been a bit of discussion in literary circles recently about whether enough is being done to maintain the public’s interest in the classics of Australian literature. To my surprise it’s a debate I’ve only been able to drum up half-hearted enthusiasm for.

The catalyst was an article by Text Publisher Michael Heyward in late January, in which he criticised journalists, cultural commentators and university academics for failing to create an enduring tradition for appreciating and teaching Australian literature. He singled out universities in particular for the lack of courses about Australian writing.

Perhaps in response, the latest program put out by the Wheeler Centre includes a series of talks called Literature 101, in which contemporary writers talk about classic Australian texts.

You won’t get an argument from me about the importance of Australian literature in building our individual and collective sense of historical self. I also agree universities are failing to teach Australian literature, although I think the problem lies less in any wilful neglect on the part of academics than in the gradual privatisation of our higher education system. Persistent federal government underfunding has squeezed course diversity in favour of subjects that generate income, particularly full fee income. Australian literature is not Robinson Crusoe in this regard. Try studying ancient history or the language of a country that is not one of our major trading partners, and you’ll get the picture.… Read more

Pulp Friday: Ricki Francis, Nero

“The frank, revealing story of a male prostitute.”

By far the best home-grown Australian pulp produced in the sixties and seventies came from a little known publishing house called Scripts Publications.

I’ve long wondered about the nature of this low rent operation and their bizarre roster of pulp paperbacks.

The mystery has now been solved thanks to John Harrison’s marvellous history of vintage adult paperbacks, Hip Pocket Sleaze. According to Harrison, Scripts was the in-print Horwitz used for is racier pulp titles. Key themes included crime, bikies, black magic, Japanese prison camp exploitation, and a voyeuristic fascination with the exploits of drug users and sex workers in Kings Cross, Sydney’s notorious red light district.

According to Hip Pocket Sleaze, “a total of sixteen paperback titled [were] published per month at the height of their popularity in the mid to late 1960s, with each title having an initial print run of 20,000 copies.”

For these titles Horwitz mostly used most cheap photographs for covers, something which gives the books a wonderful fly on the wall expose feeling.

Today’s Pulp Friday offering is a classic example, Rick Francis’s, Nero, published in 1971.

I don’t know who Rick Francis is, if indeed that’s his real name. But, if the other titles listed at the beginning of Nero are anything to go by, he did a damn fine line in paperback sleaze – The Butch Girls, The Sex Life of a Model, Innocents Behind Bars and The Bikies.… Read more