Gerald Murnane

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Gerald Murnane
Born (1939-02-25) 25 February 1939 (age 85)
Coburg, Victoria, Australia
Notable works
Notable awards

Gerald Murnane (born 25 February 1939)[1] is an Australian novelist, short story writer, poet and essayist. Perhaps best known for his 1982 novel The Plains,[2] he has won acclaim for his distinctive prose and exploration of memory, identity, and the Australian landscape, often blurring fiction and autobiography in the process. The New York Times described Murnane in 2018 as "the greatest living English-language writer most people have never heard of", and he is regularly tipped to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.[3]

Early life[edit]

Murnane was born in Coburg, a suburb of Melbourne in the Australian state of Victoria.[1] He is one of four children. His brother suffered an intellectual disability, was repeatedly hospitalised and died in 1985.[3] Parts of his childhood were spent in Bendigo and the Western District. In 1956 he graduated from De La Salle College, Malvern.

Murnane briefly trained for the Roman Catholic priesthood in 1957. He abandoned this path, however, instead becoming a teacher in primary schools (from 1960 to 1968), and at the Victoria Racing Club's Apprentice Jockeys' School. He received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne in 1969, then worked in the Victorian Education Department until 1973. From 1980 he began to teach creative writing at various tertiary institutions.

Murnane married in 1966 and has three sons.[4] In 1969 the family moved to the Melbourne suburb of Macleod.

After the death of his wife in 2009, Murnane moved to Goroke in country Victoria.


Murnane's first two books, Tamarisk Row (1974) and A Lifetime on Clouds (1976), seem to be semi-autobiographical accounts of his childhood and adolescence. Both are composed largely of very long but grammatical sentences.

In 1982, he attained his mature style with The Plains, a short novel about an unnamed filmmaker who travels to "inner Australia", where he endeavours to film the plains under the patronage of wealthy landowners.[5] The novel has been termed a fable, parable or allegory.[5][6] The novel is both a metaphysical parable about appearance and reality, and a parodic examination of traditions and cultural horizons. It has been suggested[7] that the book's opening features a narrator expressing an outlook that is typical to Murnane's writing:

Twenty years ago, when I first arrived on the plains, I kept my eyes open. I looked for anything in the landscape that seemed to hint at some elaborate meaning behind appearances.

My journey to the plains was much less arduous than I afterwards described it. And I cannot even say that at a certain hour I knew I had left Australia. But I recall clearly a succession of days when the flat land around me seemed more and more a place that only I could interpret.[6]

The Plains was followed by Landscape With Landscape (1985), Inland (1988), Velvet Waters (1990), and Emerald Blue (1995). A book of essays, Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs, appeared in 2005. These books are all concerned with the relation between memory, image, and landscape, and frequently with the relation between fiction and non-fiction.

2009 saw the release of Murnane's first work of fiction in over a decade, Barley Patch, which was followed by A History of Books in 2012 and A Million Windows in 2014. Will Heyward, in a review of A Million Windows for Music & Literature, suggests that these three latter works may be seen as a single, continuous project, containing "a form of fiction defined by a fragmentary style that avoids plot and characterization, and is instead narrated by association and the fugue-like repetition and variation of images."[8]

In June 2018, his 2017 autobiographical novel Border Districts was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award.

Although Murnane is primarily known within Australia, he does have a following in other countries, especially the US, Sweden[9] and Germany. In July/August 2017, The Plains was the number 1 book recommendation of South West German Radio (SWR2). His works have been translated into Italian (Velvet Waters as Una Melodia), German (The Plains as Die Ebenen, Border Districts as Grenzbezirke, Landscape With Landscape as Landschaft mit Landschaft, all publ. Suhrkamp Verlag), Spanish (The Plains as Las llanuras, and Something for the Pain as Una vida en las carreras, all published by Editorial Minúscula), Catalan (The Plains as Les planes, also published by Editorial Minúscula), and Swedish (Inland as Inlandet, The Plains as Slätterna, Velvet Waters as Sammetsvatten and Barley Patch as Korntäppa).[9][10]

Tamarisk Row and Border Districts were published in the UK by And Other Stories in 2019.

Personal life and interests[edit]

Murnane is an avid follower of horse racing, which often serves as a metaphor in his work. A documentary, Words and Silk – The Real and Imaginary Worlds of Gerald Murnane (1989), directed by Philip Tyndall, examined Murnane's childhood, work, approach to the craft of writing, and interest in horse racing. Since his retirement to the town of Goroke, Murnane has enjoyed playing golf.

He taught himself Hungarian after having read Gyula Illyés' People of the Puszta, as described in the essay "The Angel's Son: Why I Learned Hungarian Late in Life":

I have read several times during my life that this or that person was so impressed by this or that translation of this or that work of literature that the person afterwards learned the original language in order to read the original text. I have always been suspicious of this sort of claim, but, the reader of this piece of writing need not doubt the truth of the following sentence. I was so impressed by the English version of Puszták népe that I afterwards learned the language of the original and, as of now, have read a goodly part of it.

In June 2018 Murnane released a spoken word album, Words in Order.[11] The centrepiece is a 1600-word palindrome written by Murnane, which he recites over a minimalist musical score. He also performs works by Thomas Hardy, Dezső Kosztolányi, DEVO and Killdozer.




  • (1974) Tamarisk Row. William Heinemann Australia, Melbourne.
  • (1976) A Lifetime on Clouds. William Heinemann Australia, Melbourne.
  • (1982) The Plains. Norstrilia Press, Melbourne.
  • (1988) Inland. William Heinemann Australia, Melbourne.
  • (1995) Emerald Blue. McPhee Gribble, Melbourne.
  • (2009) Barley Patch. Giramondo Publishing Company, Sydney.
  • (2012) A History of Books. Giramondo Publishing Company, Sydney.
  • (2014) A Million Windows. Giramondo Publishing Company, Sydney.
  • (2017) Border Districts. Giramondo Publishing Company, Sydney.
  • (2019) A Season on Earth. Text Publishing, Melbourne. Unabridged edition of A Lifetime on Clouds[17]

Short story collections[edit]

  • (1985) Landscape with Landscape. Norstrilia Press, Melbourne.
  • (1990) Velvet Waters. McPhee Gribble, Melbourne.
  • (2018) Collected Short Fiction. Giramondo Publishing Company, Sydney. Simultaneous release in the US as Stream System: The Collected Short Fiction of Gerald Murnane. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux. ISBN 9780374126001

Essay collection[edit]

Poetry collection[edit]

  • (2019) Green Shadows and Other Poems. Giramondo Publishing Company, Sydney.


  • (2015) Something for the Pain: A Memoir of the Turf. Text Publishing, Melbourne.


  1. ^ a b Uhlmann, Anthony, ed. (2020). Gerald Murnane. Sydney University Press. pp. ix. ISBN 9781743326404.
  2. ^ "Wayne Macauley on Gerald Murnane's Most Memorable Book". Literary Hub. 24 November 2020. Retrieved 14 February 2022.
  3. ^ a b Binelli, Mark (27 March 2018). "Is the Next Nobel Laureate in Literature Tending Bar in a Dusty Australian Town?". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 27 March 2018.
  4. ^ The biographical information contained in this section can be found in Imre Salusinszky, Gerald Murnane (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1993), pp. ix-x.
  5. ^ a b Genoni, Paul (20 May 2014). "The case for Gerald Murnane's The Plains". The Conversation. Retrieved 22 January 2016.
  6. ^ a b Murnane, Gerald (2012). The Plains. Melbourne: The Text Publishing Company. pp. VII, 1. ISBN 9781921922275.
  7. ^ Hansson, Karin (2000). Gerald Murnane's Changing Geographies. Karlskrona: University of Karlskrona/Ronneby. p. 1.
  8. ^ Heyward, Will (12 August 2014). "Gerald Murnane's A Million Windows". Music & Literature.
  9. ^ a b Genoni, Paul (2009). "The Global Reception of Post-national Literary Fiction: The Case of Gerald Murnane". Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature: 7. Retrieved 23 January 2016.
  10. ^ "Gerard Murnane: "Korntäppa" - DN.SE". Dagens Nyheter (in Swedish). 7 May 2012. Retrieved 23 January 2016.
  11. ^ "Gerald Murnane: Some Albums Are To Be Dropped Into Wells, Others Into Fish Ponds". Difficult Fun. 28 July 2018. Retrieved 26 February 2019.
  12. ^ "Koch, Murnane receive emeritus awards". The Sydney Morning Herald. 12 February 2008.
  13. ^ Steger, Jason (12 November 2009). "A very Melbourne man collects literary prize". The Age.
  14. ^ "Playwright Scoops Top Prize At 2016 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards". Premier of Victoria. 28 January 2016. Retrieved 7 April 2018.
  15. ^ "Prime Minister's Literary Awards". Australian Government. Depeartment of Communication and the Arts. November 2018. Retrieved 6 December 2018.
  16. ^ Perkins, Cathy (Summer 2019). "Excellence in Literature and History". SL Magazine. 12 (4): 52–55.
  17. ^ "A Season on Earth by Gerald Murnane review – 'lost' novel holds the key to author's success". the Guardian. 6 March 2019. Retrieved 7 February 2022.
  18. ^ Stinson, Emmett (16 November 2021). "Last Letter to a Reader by Gerald Murnane review – an elegiac but cantankerous swan song". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 November 2021.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]