Frank Dalby Davison Harry Heseltine - Essay

Harry Heseltine

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Frank Dalby Davison believes] in the fundamental goodness of man, and [tests] it not so much against any intellectual system as against actual Australian situations and characters. Davison's first full-length work, Forever Morning (1931), he rightly described as a 'Romance'. It depends on a deliberate simplification of plot and character for the sake of idealizing the life of the small farmer. Something of its purpose and quality can be judged from chapter 13, 'A Bangtail Muster', which is injected into the book wholly and solely for the sake of setting down some of the old bush songs—verses which make simple literature out of simple events. A comparable idyllic quality informs the whole work. It is in his other works—Man-Shy (1931), The Wells of Beersheba (1933), and Dusty (1946)—that Davison produced his most individual contribution to the Australian novel. The Wells of Beersheba, a slight piece, is a hymn of praise to the horses of the Australian Light Horse regiments of World War I. From its special point of view, it reproduces [a] fierce national pride…. Man-Shy and Dusty are attempts to render from the inside the needs and primitive motivations of a red heifer and a cattle dog. Davison imagines his way into the animal mind with remarkable insight and complete avoidance of sentimentality…. At the same time, Davison's prose achieves an unassuming lyricism unique in Australian fiction of the period. The style itself asserts the beauty and goodness of the natural law. (pp. 208-09)

Harry Heseltine, "Australian Fiction since 1920," in The Literature of Australia, edited by Geoffrey Dutton (copyright © Penguin Books Pty Ltd, 1976), revised edition, Penguin, 1976, pp. 196-247.∗