The Herberts' treasure chest

The Herberts' treasure chest

Xavier Herbert is one of Australia's pre-eminent writers, winning the Miles Franklin Award for Poor Fellow My Country in 1975. The Xavier and Sadie Herbert Collection (UQFL83) contains notebooks, manuscript drafts, proofs and other papers relating to the Australian themed Capricornia, Poor Fellow My Country and his autobiographical Disturbing Element. The Fryer Library also holds Ray Crooke's original painting that features on the cover of Poor Fellow My Country, together with short stories, poems, articles, publications, newspaper cuttings, correspondence, photographs and artwork by Xavier Herbert.

'Poor Fellow My Country' cover (Left) 'Capricornia' and other Herbert novels on display (Right)

The story behind the Fryer Library’s acquisition of these papers can be traced back to a friendship formed between the Herberts and Emeritus Professor Laurie Hergenhan. Not long after Professor Hergenhan relocated from Tasmania to the University of Queensland, he visited the Herberts at their home in Redlynch, amongst the cane fields of Cairns. It was during this visit that the Herberts showed Professor Hergenhan a collection of papers spanning Xavier’s long and distinguished writing career. At Professor Hergenhan's suggestion, Xavier donated these papers to the Fryer Library. They would arrive in the very same chest that they were stored in at the house at Redlynch.

Fryer staff and guests examining the Sadie Herbert collection at the University of Queensland Library, St Lucia, Brisbane, 1979. Fryer Library University of Queensland Photograph Collection, UQFL466, Box 8, AG/P/77

Xavier Herbert would have a continuing relationship with the University. After winning the Miles Franklin Award in 1975 for the substantial 850,000 word tome, Poor Fellow My Country, Herbert became Writer in Residence at The University of Queensland in 1976 and was awarded an honorary doctorate.

Fryer Library manager, Simon Farley, describes the importance of the Poor Fellow My Country manuscripts written by Xavier Herbert:

 “They are a fascinating record of the inner struggle of the writer to give voice to a land and its stories. Such manuscript collections, echoeing the definition of the archive in the Justinian Code,‘serve as a continuing memory of that to which they attest’ – in this case, the agony and joy of artistic creation.”

In 2014, the library marked the thirtieth anniversary of Herbert’s death on 10th November 1984 by hosting a panel discussion. Craig Munro, former publishing manager of UQP and Geordie Williamson, chief literary critic for The Australian formed part of the discussion, remembering Herbert’s legacy as one of Australia’s most prodigious writers.

Farley, S. (2015). Years of agony and joy: The Sadie and Xavier Herbert Collection. Queensland Review, 22(1), 96-98.

Last updated:
21 May 2017