So Essentially Australian, No?

When I saw the finished copy of the Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry in the early 1990s, which Philip Mead and I had laboured over for years, I got quite a shock. Here is the cover.


It is a montage of every Australian image cliché you could imagine: traffic on an expressway, a sprig of leaves, a stockman on his motor-bike with three cattle dogs, a wise old Aboriginal, an abandoned building in the bush, lots of other stuff, and a red-haired freckle-faced Australian teenage girl at an Australian beach, with the Pacific Ocean in the background.


Except for one thing: I immediately recognised the montaged photo of the red-haired freckle-faced teenage girl at the beach. It had been taken a few years before on the beach at Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in the north-east of the USA, with the Atlantic Ocean in the background, by the rightly-famous American photographer Joel Meyerowitz. Here is a tiny, feeble copy of the huge and detailed large-format original. That freckle-faced kid would now be around fifty years old, if she survived skin cancer.

It features in his widely-distributed book Redheads. Every graphic designer had a copy… I suspect even Penguin’s graphic designers.


What is it doing on the front of the Penguin Book of Modern Australian Poetry? Well, I can’t be quite sure, but I guess a lot of our poetry is influenced by American models.

In fact ‘The American Model’ is the title of a huge and important poetry conference held at Macquarie University in Sydney in May 1979. The book (a collection of the papers that resulted) was titled The American Model, Joan Kirkby, Ed. Sydney: Hale and Iremonger, 1982.

As for Penguin’s designers… Did I mention my disquiet to Penguin? No.