Michael Sharkey, ‘Apollo in George Street: The Life of David McKee Wright’ in ABR
Apollo in George Street: The Life of David McKee Wright
Reviewed by Geoff Page, Australian Book Review, October 2012
To some readers, Sharkey’s biography may prove a revelation. Most will have had no idea how lively was the literary and journalistic scene in pre-World War I Sydney. Each year Wright placed literally scores, sometimes hundreds, of poems in magazines such as the Bulletin, the Triad, the Worker, and others. He also, often under a range of pseudonyms, contributed short fiction, plays, critical essays, paragraphs of literary gossip, and much else. Wright was just one of dozens who worked this way, though probably the most prolific. It was also a time of transition: the bush balladry of the 1890s was more or less over, but Modernism, as represented by Kenneth Slessor, had yet to arrive. Radio and cinema were still to make an impact. Magazines and newspapers (and the books they reviewed) were, along with theatre, the main source of entertainment and intellectual debate.
If the poet was ‘of his time’, then one distinct virtue of Sharkey’s book is that it shows just how complex that time was. One may now shrink from some of the ideas then commonly held, but one cannot deny the liveliness of the participants.
A related virtue of the book is the picture that Sharkey creates of Wright’s successive female companions and the milieux in which they lived. Given their differences in personality, Wright’s 1899 marriage in New Zealand to Elizabeth Couper was almost certain to fail, despite producing a son and Wright’s becoming g for a time a successful Congregational clergyman whom many admired. His de facto relationship in Sydney with Beatrice Osborn (who wrote under the name ‘Margaret Fane’) was much happier. Together they had four sons, but this relationship too ended when, in 1919, Wright set up house with the poet and novelist Zora Cross, who bore him two more children and stayed with him until his death in 1928.