Patrick White turns 100

Looking back at the Voss journey
 Vincent Plush
'The Voss Journey’, NFSA Theatrette, 16 May 2009. Peter Hislop

Patrick Victor Martindale White was born in Knightsbridge, London, on 28 May 1912. Australia’s finest writer, White is, thus far, Australia’s sole winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature (awarded in 1973 for The Eye of the Storm). The NFSA is marking the 100th anniversary of Patrick White’s birth with several activities over the year, including an e-publication, The Voss Journey, co-authored by Vincent Plush and Robyn Holmes.

In the media, the ABC is presenting an array of programs on radio, television and online. Of particular interest to the NFSA is the latest re-broadcast of the special edition of The Music Show on ABC Radio National which related to The Voss Journey. Led by the NFSA, The Voss Journey brought together 15 national institutions over a four-day period in May 2009. Many of the leading characters in Patrick White’s life and those involved in the chronicle of his novel Voss and its successful transformation into an opera, converged on the NFSA and other Canberra venues. Some 46 hours covering 15 events were captured by the NFSA on film.

The special edition of The Music Show was a direct broadcast from the NFSA Theatrette on 16 May 2009. Host Andrew Ford introduced several musical items heard at various concerts during The Voss Journey and interviewed many of The Voss Journey’s key participants. These included writer David Malouf, director Jim Sharman, opera artistic director Moffatt Oxenbould, historian Barry Jones, singers Marilyn Richardson and Geoffrey Chard, as well as the co-curators of the event, Robyn Holmes (National Library of Australia) and myself (NFSA).

This two-hour program was re-broadcast in January 2010 and on 26 May 2012, for the centenary. According to ABC calculations, about 900,000 listeners have now heard this historic broadcast from the NFSA.

Much of the research emanating from The Voss Journey has been re-framed in the e-publication Patrick White, ‘Voss’ and The Australian Cultural Landscape which is nearing completion. Co-authored by myself and Robyn Holmes, this expansive survey includes more than 300,000 words spread over 20 chapters, with 150 clips, 400 images and a cast of over 200 people. It is a joint publication of the NFSA and the NLA for the National Year of Reading. Three chapters relating to the many abortive attempts to turn Voss into a film spring from new information from materials in the NFSA collection.

In recent weeks, I have been interviewed about The Voss Journey several times for other programs on ABC Radio National, including Creative Instincts (on 26 May) and Into the Music (28 May at 9 pm). I also presented on a panel program at the 2012 Sydney Writers Festival which will be broadcast on the Books and Arts Daily program hosted by Michael Cathcart.