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Authors: John Hepworth

Tags: #CLASSIC FICTION

The Long Green Shore

 

 

 

 

JOHN ALFRED HEPWORTH
was born in Pinjarra, Western Australia, in 1921 and attended Perth Modern School.

He served in the AIF in World War II, travelling to the Middle East, Ceylon and New Guinea. Australia's year-long struggle to take the northern coast of New Guinea informed
The Long Green Shore,
which was commended in a 1949
Sydney Morning Herald
literary competition and compared to Mailer's
The Naked and the Dead
.

The manuscript was rejected by an English publisher who felt that there were too many war books. Hepworth turned to journalism, poetry and drama, though he occasionally tinkered with his novel.

In the 1960s a number of his plays were performed, and in the following decade he gained prominence through his ‘Outsight' column in the
Nation Review
, a magazine he edited for several years. Hepworth then penned columns for the controversial
Toorak Times
.

From the early 1980s onwards he wrote many books, some with Bob Ellis and others illustrated by Michael Leunig.

For two decades Hepworth worked at the ABC, where he was chief subeditor on the Radio Australia news desk. He lived in Melbourne, and had a long relationship with the playwright Oriel Gray—the couple had two sons—and later with his wife Margaret.

John Hepworth died in 1995, soon after learning that
The Long Green Shore
would finally go into print. Ellis, who was instrumental in getting the book published, in an introduction put its closing soliloquy on par with the Gettysburg Address. Critics hailed it as a classic war novel, and for some time a film adaptation was to be Russell Crowe's directorial debut.

 

 

 

LLOYD JONES
lives in Wellington. His best-known works include
Mister Pip
, winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize,
The Book of Fame
and
Hand Me Down World
. His acclaimed memoir
A History of Silence
was published in 2013.

ALSO BY JOHN HEPWORTH

Non-fiction

John Hepworth…His Book
(edited by Morris Lurie, illustrated by Michael Leunig)

Boozing Out in Melbourne Pubs
(with John Hindle, illustrated by Bloo Souter)

Around the Bend
(with John Hindle, illustrated by Geoff Prior)

The Little Australian Library
(illustrated by Keith Brown)

Colonial Capers series

Fiction

The Multitude of Tigers
(illustrated by Michael Leunig)

For children

Top Kid
(with Bob Ellis)

The Paper Boy
(with Bob Ellis)

The Big Wish
(with Steve J. Spears)

Looloobelle the Lizard
(illustrated by Frank Hellard)
Hunting the Not Fair
(illustrated by Nick Donkin)

 

 

 

textclassics.com.au
textpublishing.com.au

The Text Publishing Company
Swann House
22 William Street
Melbourne Victoria 3000
Australia

Copyright © The Estate of John Hepworth 1995
Introduction copyright © Lloyd Jones 2014

The moral rights of the authors have been asserted.

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright above, no part of this publication shall be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.

First published by Picador, Pan Macmillan Australia 1995
This edition published by The Text Publishing Company 2014

Cover design by WH Chong
Page design by Text
Typeset by Midland Typesetters

Printed in Australia by Griffin Press, an Accredited ISO AS/NZS 14001:2004
Environmental Management System printer

Primary print ISBN: 9781922147820

Ebook ISBN: 9781922148810

Author: Hepworth, John, 1921– author.

Title: The long green shore / by John Hepworth; introduced by Lloyd Jones.
Series: Text classics.

Subjects: World War, 1939–1945—Campaigns—New Guinea—Fiction.

Other Authors/Contributors: Jones, Lloyd.

Dewey Number: A823.3

 

 

CONTENTS

 

INTRODUCTION

Final Dispatches
by Lloyd Jones

 

The Long Green Shore

Final Dispatches
by Lloyd Jones

THE paths of two war novelists, John Hepworth and Norman Mailer, crossed in a geographical sense, as well as in literary fortune. Mailer spent a muggy Christmas Day in 1944 aboard an American troopship in Hollandia Bay, in Papua New Guinea. At the same time, Hepworth was ashore, dodging snipers, and wishing for a bath. Both Mailer's
The Naked and the Dead
and Hepworth's
The Long Green Shore
begin in the hold of a troopship. In Hepworth's account, ‘There is always a stench, a slave smell.'

Fresh from the war both Mailer and Hepworth are told by publishers that the last thing anyone wishes to read is a book about the war. Mailer persists, shopping his manuscript around until it finds a willing publisher.
The Naked and the Dead
will go on to occupy a spot on the
New York Times
bestseller list for nearly a year, and provide the young writer and his new wife with enough money to sail to Paris and live the expat life at a dollar a day while attending the Sorbonne on the GI Bill.

Hepworth, back in Australia, is less fortunate. It seems he accepted the verdict of the one publisher he sent the manuscript to, Macmillan in London, as the final word on the matter. He shoves his manuscript in the drawer, where, according to Bob Ellis, a friend and colleague of Hepworth, it will remain for many decades, until its eventual publication by Picador in 1995—not long after the author's death.

In Ellis's preface to the first edition we learn that the 28-year-old Hepworth wrote the novel in response to a literary competition run by the
Sydney Morning Herald
. (It was highly commended in 1949.) It is hard to believe that a competition could have provided singular motivation for such an assured debut.

Fifty years on from the 1948 release of
The Naked and the Dead
, writing in the preface to the anniversary edition, Mailer describes his novel as the work of an ‘amateur'. He also refers to himself in the third person, as I suppose one might view one's callow youth from the distance of old age. But as Mailer notes, ‘the book had vigour. That is the felicity of good books by amateurs.'

Hepworth's novel has none of the same defects; no lacing of nouns with adjectives, ‘none of the bestseller style' that Mailer charges his own book with.

I think it is safe to say that neither novel would have been written without the authors' respective war experiences. But by temperament and literary ambition the two works fly in different directions.

The ambition behind
The Long Green Shore
was never to ‘out-write' others or to launch the author into the literary firmament. Hepworth's project is more modest, but no less serious for it. His aim was to transcribe an experience as truthfully as possible. And perhaps it is true to say of soldier-novelists that they have two audiences—those of us content to read from the armchair at home and those they went to war with. The second audience is bound to have a chastening effect on any exuberance or over-egging of the realities of war.

The tone of the young Hepworth's prose is entirely trustworthy. Undoubtedly some serious reading lies behind its understatedness. A hard-earned experience transcends its literary style. Hepworth's task is to speak honestly about the manner of a soldier's death: this often arrives without any warning, although the march along the long green shore might be regarded as one long rehearsal for such a moment; at times it is as though death already occupies a soldier's soul and he is simply waiting on his final dispatch.

Fear sits differently in soldiers. Hepworth seems well acquainted with its varying thresholds and black humour. Whispering John, one of the older characters, sniggers with satisfaction at his good luck to date. ‘The young blokes crack up and the old soldier keeps on going, eh?' It is a false boast, as he well knows; his own end is simply forestalled.

Now and then the presiding eye of the narrative takes a step back, such as in the opening scene, declaring that this is no ordinary war novel.

We sailed that last night through the tail end of a hurricane sea. We came up and ran naked on the open canvas square of the battened hatches, standing taut and breathless against the ecstasy of cleanliness in the driving rain…There was a spirit of carnival, a revelry of cleanliness and nakedness in the rain, with the combed wind sweeping the open deck and voices shouting and laughing in the storm while the darkened ship plunged through the rolling seas.

Between moments of barbarity and banality are occasions of great beauty, and for much of the time
The Long Green Shore
is a young soldier's paean to the puzzling thrill of being alive.

The most enduring novels about World War II turned out to be satirical—Joseph Heller's
Catch-22
and, for capturing the vulgarity and absurdity of war, Kurt Vonnegut's
Slaughterhouse 5
is in my view without peer.

The most talked-about war novel in recent times is
Yellow Birds
by Kevin Powers, which draws on his experience as a marine in Iraq. The reader walks in the combatant's boots, and hears the dry rasp of his heart and mind. There is no attempt to draw big lessons. No geopolitical agenda, just one man's experience of being cast like chaff into a horror zone. At times, Powers is guilty of prettifying the experience, which is as problematic as the poet who surrenders genuine grief to poetic form. Perversely, art ends up destroying that which it wished to preserve. In the case of the broken-hearted poet, why write a poem? Why not jump off a bridge?

The Long Green Shore
is written from a different place. It is an act of remembering mates who died—and, as it happens, did so unnecessarily. The enemy which Command is so eager to engage with is less interested in the Australians. For all that the march mattered, the platoon might as well have found a place on the beach and played volleyball until the end of the war.

Towards the end of the novel, word of the catastrophic nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki filters down to this remote area of fighting in the South Pacific. The deaths of various mates and acquaintances have already been soberly accounted. The news from Japan creates a new frame for what we have learned so far.

It is a breathtaking moment in which the futility of everything the soldiers on the long green march have gone through is painfully clear. It is clear too that this novel has earned its place on the shelves. I hope it endures.

The Long Green Shore

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