National Library of Australia

Ern Malley: telegram

C. Bannister Ern Malley hoax material: A telegram from a private detective 1944

telegram; 15.0 x 19.5cm

in John and Sunday Reed Papers

Australian Manuscripts Collection, MS 13186

State Library of Victoria
Ern Malley hoax material: A telegram from a private detective 1944

For the editors of an avant-garde magazine devoted to the cause of modernism in Australia, Ernest Lalor Malley was a godsend: young, highly talented and, an added bonus, dead.

His sister, Ethel, sent The Darkening Ecliptic to the editors of Angry Penguins after her brother’s death, who published it in the Autumn 1944 issue.

But the poet, his sister and his poems were the inventions of James McAuley and Harold Stewart, two conservative poets who disliked modernist poetry. They had written Malley’s collection in a single afternoon in October 1943; a melange of the works of Shakespeare, several dictionaries and a report from the United States on mosquito breeding grounds.

On 25 June 1944, the Sydney Sun exposed the hoax. The story circled the world, the popular press revelling in the chance to ridicule the literary pretensions of the modernists.

Harris always maintained Malley was a genius (indeed, several consider McAuley and Stewart’s hoax better than anything they published under their own names).

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