‘There are no lost cities in Australia’ : Losing and Finding Australia in the Work of Alan Moorehead

In the Australian in 1966 Alan Moorehead was claimed to be the author 'who has written more successful books than any other Australian' (Pocock, Alan Moorehead 275). In Michael Heyward's recent summary in Voices: 'Twenty-five years ago he was a household name like Patrick White or Sidney Nolan' (79). What might it have been about Moorehead, then, that had led to this level of respect? Situating him alongside White and Nolan suggests that his reputation rested on his participation in the recuperation of Australian cultural pride associated with those figures. However, Moorehead's fascinating career, perhaps the inevitably fascinating career of the foreign correspondent, is somewhat more wide-ranging than that. Moreover, while most foreign correspondents may lead absorbing lives, they are certainly not all able to transform them into prose with the good-humoured verve and genius for synthesis that Moorehead demonstrated right from the outset of his career. After the war, he took these qualities and applied them to his varied output in the realms of biography, travel-writing and narrative history, but more importantly, he took the related skeins of his writing and melded them together into a hybrid - part history, part travel writing, part adventure story, part social commentary. Into these works he injected the pace and explanatory energy of his war reporting, leaving us with a corpus of work that, while uneven, represents some of the advances, as well as the problems, associated with the developing postcolonial imagination in mid-century.

Although principally remembered now in Australian studies, if at all, as the author of Gallipoli (1956), Cooper's Creek (1963) and The Fatal Impact (1966), Moorehead wrote a much more heterogeneous string of best-selling and highly-praised books that had little to do with Australia, beginning in 1941 with the first volume of his lively summary of the war in North Africa, Mediterranean Front. The success of his despatches and the subsequent books derived from them, at a time when the written mediation of war had immensely greater importance than it has today, provided Moorehead with a prominent reputation at war's end. As Tom Pocock, war correspondent himself and subsequent biographer of Moorehead, notes in a brief recent profile in the Sunday Times of those (including Moorehead) whom he considers to have been the best at the task: 'Reporting the war was the only journalism that mattered between 1939 and 1945' (4).

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Published 1 May 1999 in Volume 19 No. 1. Subjects: Australia - Literary portrayal, Literary career, War literature.

Cite as: Callahan, David. ‘‘There are no lost cities in Australia’ : Losing and Finding Australia in the Work of Alan Moorehead.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 19, no. 1, 1999. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.b14dcc857e.