A commonplace about Australian writing is that its traditions – or anti-traditions – are hard to pin down. It wasn’t so long ago that the idea of an Australian literature existing at all was treated, in some quarters, as a bit of a joke. The novels of Patrick White almost single-handedly put that perception to bed, and today the standing of Australia’s most prominent writers – including Peter Carey, Clive James, Les Murray and Shirley Hazzard – is everywhere taken for granted. Yet The Literature of Australia does not capitalise on that hard-won security, being notable, chiefly, for the uncertainty of its taste.
If there is a feature common to Australian writing as a whole, it is probably the studied ordinariness of its cadences, its mistrust of style. Australia, of course, has a colourful vernacular tradition – now, by and large, a thing of the past – but the default idiom