National Library of Australia
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The collection covers the period from 1889 to 1964, although only a small number of
papers have survived from before 1910. Correspondence makes up a large proportion of the
collection. As the letters are nearly all personal in their content and are seldom
restricted to any particular subject, activity or interest, it was not practicable to
divide them into series; instead they have all been kept in one chronological sequence.
Many of the letters are those which passed between Vance and Nettie on the occasions
they spent apart. Most of the remainder are from people who have achieved some standing
in Australian literary history.
The rest of the collection consists of Vance and Nettie's handwritten and typescript
drafts of novels, short stores, plays, poems, articles, broadcasts and lectures, and a
large collection of newspaper cuttings which relate to the Palmers and their work. There
are also original manuscripts of other writers and notes, printed material and cuttings
about them. There are newspaper cuttings reflecting the wide range of subjects in which
the Palmers were interested. Photographs and some miscellaneous personal items complete
the collection. There is a name index covering the correspondence.
Available for research
Items from this collection should be cited as '[Title or description of manuscript item], Papers of Vance and Nettie Palmer, National Library of Australia, [class/series/file/item number]'.
The first and largest consignment of the Vance and Nettie Palmer collection was
received by the National Library in 1965 from their daughters Aileen and Helen
Palmer, after some years of negotiations. Further batches arrived in 1966 and 1967.
It was found necessary to house the collection in different parts of the Library, for
an important part of it consisted of non-manuscript material. The large library of
books and pamphlets are housed as a distinct collection in the Australian book stacks
with each publication bearing a special Palmer book plate. The portraits of the
Palmer and Higgins families are held in the Pictorial Section.
Another collection of papers of Vance and Nettie Palmer is held at MS 3942. Smaller
collections of Vance Palmer Papers are held at MS 1386, MS 1798 and MS 1831 and of
Nettie Palmer at MS 1211, MS 1850, MS 1910, MS 6531, MS 7101, MS 7362 and MS 7455.
The Higgins family papers are held at MS 1057 and the Aileen and Helen Palmer papers
at MS 3044, MS 6083, MS 6759 and MS 7162.
VANCE PALMER (1885-1959)
Edward Vivian (Vance) Palmer was born in Bundaberg,
Queensland, on 28 August 1885, the son of Henry Burnet Palmer, a school master with
literary leanings and literary friendships. His youth was spent in a succession of
country towns between Bundaberg and Stanthorpe. In 1899 he went as a boarder to the
Ipswich Boys' Grammar School where he remained until December 1901.
In 1905 Vance went to London where he worked as a freelance journalist. After three
years he made the return journey via Finland and Russia. Back in Australia he worked for
some time as tutor and bookkeeper on a cattle station in the Maranoa district of
Queensland. On his second visit to London in 1910, Vance met many noted literary
figures, and this association - in particular with the editor of the New
Age, A.R. Orage - influenced his later social and political opinions. Orage's
magazine carried much of the contemporary radical, socialist, and Fabian social comment,
and back in Australia, Vance gravitated to groups of a similar persuasion. He became
closely allied to the Victorian Socialist Party, and was a member of the Y Club, a
discussion group formed in 1918 for those with socialist inclinations.
Vance was married in London on 23 May 1914 to Janet (Nettie) Higgins. This was the
beginning of the most famous partnership in Australian literary history, and, for Vance,
it was a personal relationship from which he was to draw steady strength for the rest of
When war broke out in 1915 the Palmers were in Brittany. Nettie had been teaching and
studying and Vance was writing. They returned to Australia in September 1915. Before
leaving England they had both published two books. Vance enlisted in the Fourteenth
Battalion, A.I.F.. He was sent overseas, but the Armistice had been signed when he
arrived in Europe.
After the war he lived for a time in Melbourne. In 1925 he and Nettie, with their two
young daughters, went to Caloundra on the Queensland coast for a holiday. They remained
there for four years. Nettie assumed the responsibility of providing for the family and
wrote thousands of words every week for papers around Australia. This left Vance free to
concentrate solely on his creative writings. During this period Vance drafted the small
group of novels where were to establish his reputation - The man Hamilton
(1928), Men are human (1930), Daybreak (1932) and
The Swayne family (1934).
The Palmers went to London in 1935. By mid-1936 they had moved to Spain where Vance
worked on Such is life and Legend for Sanderson. They left
the country after the outbreak of civil war later the same year. Aileen remained as an
interpreter with the Republican forces. The Palmers were deeply involved with the war
and on their return to Australia endeavoured to awaken the people to the issues being
fought on the other side of the world. Through his life-time Vance was vitally
interested in world events and was concerned with the apathetic attitude of the average
Australian to such matters.
Another decade had passed before Vance was to publish another novel. In 1947 he wrote
Cyclone and the next year the first volume of a trilogy Golconda
appeared. The second volume, Seedtime, was published in 1957, followed
two years later by The big fellow.
Vance had an active interest in the theatre. In 1922 and 1923 both he and Nettie had
been intimately connected with the Pioneer Players, a group of amateur actors organised
by Louis Esson and Dr Stewart Macky with the express intention of fostering and
producing native Australian drama. Vance was later to write a history of the Players in
his book Louis Esson and the Australian theatre (1948). He was also a
dramatist in his own right. The black horse and other plays was published
in 1924 and Hail tomorrow, a full length four act play, in 1947.
Vance Palmer was one of Australia's leading literary critics. He contributed review
articles to newspapers and literary magazines and also wrote several books in which he
sought to delineate the nature of the Australian social and cultural tradition. In 1940
National portraits appeared, to be followed in 1941 by A.G. Stephens: his life
and work, Frank Wilmot (1942), Old Australian bush ballads (with Margaret
Sutherland) in 1951 and The legend of the nineties in 1954.
From 1940 onwards Vance was heard regularly over the national network of the A.B.C. He
talked on a wide variety of literary matters, and it was his review programme 'Current
Books Worth Reading' to which he largely owed his reputation as one of the foremost and
reliable critics in Australia.
In 1942 he was appointed to a position on the Advisory Board of the Commonwealth
Literary Fund. Five years later he became chairman of the Board. Vance enjoyed
considerable prestige among Australian writers at this time, and he was chosen as their
representative at the Writers' Conference in New Zealand in 1951.
Vance continued on write and to lecture in spite of persistent illness in his later
years. He died unexpectedly at his home in Kew, Melbourne, on 15 July 1959.
As a writer Vance Palmer held a prominent position in the Australian
radical-nationalistic tradition which began with the Bulletin and
included such writers as Bernard O'Dowd, Louis Esson, Katharine Susannah Prichard, E.J.
Brady, and Alan Marshall. T. Inglis Moore gives Palmer particular credit with in this
tradition in being able to accept the realities of the Australian scene naturally and
'In fiction Vance was one of the pioneers ... in evolving the climate in which writers
could write about their own country and people without a twinge of either colonial
inferiority or nationalist self-consciousness'.
NETTIE PALMER (1885-1964)
Janet (Nettie) Gertrude Higgins was born in Bendigo,
Victoria, on 18 August 1885, daughter of John and Kitty Higgins. Her uncle, H.B. Higgins
was the noted federationist, parliamentarian, judge and arbitrator. Nettie was educated
at the Presbyterian Ladies' College and the University of Melbourne, where she graduated
in 1908 as an M.A. in Greek and Latin. Subsequently she spent some years in London,
Paris and Berlin, and shortly after her marriage with Vance Palmer, returned to
Australia in 1915.
The first literary recognition Nettie received was as a poet. Her earliest publications
were two volumes of verse The south wind which appeared in 1914, and, the
following year, Shadow paths.
Nettie Palmer's prose and essay works include An Australian story book
(1928), Modern Australian literature 1900-23 (1924), Talking it
over (1923), Henry Bournes Higgins: a memoir (1931), and
Henry Handel Richardson: a study (1950). Extracts from Nettie's
private journal were published as Fourteen years (1948).
Nettie Palmer was several times appointed lecturer in Australian literature for the
Commonwealth Literary Fund and spoke in most Australian capitals. In 1964 she received
an award from the Fund to enable her to complete her autobiography but the work was
never finished. She died, in Melbourne, on 19 October 1964.
Apart from her literary career, Nettie Palmer devoted herself to many humanitarian
causes, in particular to the assimilation of refugees at the end of World War II and by
giving lectures on Australian life and history to European migrants.
The correspondence covers the period from 1889 to 1964, although, there is only a small proportion before 1911. Nettie and Vance appeared to have known or taken an interest in almost every literary figure or promising writer in Australia during the first fifty years of this century and their lifelong dedication to, and enthusiasm for, Australian literature is evident in the letters from these writers in the collection. In addition, the series contains the extensive correspondence which passed between Vance and Nettie during their lifetimes. The series has been indexed in the correspondence index (10,386 items) - see attached (under Related Documentation tab).
These original 5 x 10cm diaries were kept for the years 1930, 1954 and 1959.
This series contains manuscripts of the following novels:
(a) Legend for Sanderson (Items 1-6)
(b) Golconda (Items 7-9)
(c) Seedtime (Items 10-12)
(d) The big fellow (Items 13-17)
Vance usually wrote the drafts of his novels in exercise books, writing on one side of each page and leaving the other side free for correction and revision.
Besides the chapters of the novel there are also drafts of articles and broadcasts written in these books. The draft of Golconda is incomplete within this series. However, further chapters are found in Series 5 Item 1 and background notes to the novel in Series 4 Item 2.
As well as the handwritten draft of Seedtime there is a second one which is partly typescript.
Cecil Hadgraft wrote of Vance Palmer 'As a writer of short stories he must rank among the Australian writers of that difficult form'. Although Vance was forced to turn out literally hundreds of melodramatic tales for the popular taste he was highly concerned about which of this work should be regarded as his serious writings.
After The world of men he published only three volumes of short stories: Separate lives (1931), Sea and spinifex (1934) and Let the birds fly (1955).
Many of the short stories which Vance did not select for inclusion in these volumes are in this series. Handwritten (Items 1-6) and typescript (Items 7-19) drafts have been preserved as well as some published versions from newspapers and magazines spanning the years 1916-1963 (Items 20-76).
See also Series 7 Item 1.
Including: 'Island night entertainment'; 'The big wind'; 'The right to Orioles'; 'In the track of Smith'; 'Cyclone'; 'The treasure of Stagg'; 'The island of birds'; 'Trailing'; ' Bail'; 'The Great Barrier Reef'; 'Hinchinbrook'; ['Little Girl Lost']; 'The signal'; 'Cane'; 'The King of Luggestown'; 'A northern river'; 'His second life'; 'Solomon in his glory'; 'A coral island camp' (fragment); and a draft letter to W.G. Cousins.
Including: 'The red truck'; 'Last leave'; 'The foal'; 'Matheson's wife'; 'Greta'; 'Summer picnic'; 'Serenade'. Also includes drafts of articles and broadcasts on literature, books and literary people.
Comprising: Item 3 'The seahawk'; Item 4 'The patriot'; Item 5 'The foal'; Item 6 'The sergeant's brother'
Comprising: Item 7: 'The knock'; Item 8: 'The last visit'; Item 9: Forward to volume 4 of Coast to Coast; Item 10: 'The loving wife'; Item 11: 'Little girl lost'; Item 12: 'Josie'; Item 13: 'Prisoners'; Item 14: 'Mountain idyll'; Item 15: 'The serenader'; Item 16: 'The brush off'; Item 17: 'The cantankerous cook'; Item 18-19: 'The seahawk'.
Comprising: Item 20: 'In time of war'; Item 21: 'Travelling'; Item 22: 'Renunciation'; Item 23: 'The girl and the gunboat'; Item 24: 'The marooning of Marryat'; Item 25: 'The men in the burrows'; Item 26: 'The will to live'; Item 27: 'The island of the dead'; Item 28: 'The illusion'.
Comprising: Item 29: 'The frost'; Item 30: 'Spinifex'; Item 31: 'Christine'; Item 32: 'The albatross'; Item 33: 'The circus'; Item 34: 'Tsuruga'; Item 35: 'The saving of Ameer Singh'; Item 36: 'Salvage'; Item 37: 'The return'; Item 38: 'Marnie's son'; Item 39: 'The test'.
Comprising: Item 40: 'Island night entertainment'; Item 41: 'An island night'; Item 42: 'The present'; Item 43: 'Island night entertainment'; Item 44: 'The voice'; Item 45: 'The dog'; Item 46: 'Trochus island'; Item 47: 'A touch of colour'; Item 48: 'The shadow'; Item 49: 'The voice'; Item 50: 'Kingfish'; Item 51: 'Leo's birthday'; Item 52: 'The storm'; Item 53: 'Twenty jolly sailors'; Item 54: 'The gold digger'; Item 55: 'The patient'; Item 56: 'The seahawk'; Item 57: 'Revolt'; Item 58: 'The vision'; Item 59: 'The voice from the deep'; Item 60: 'Scorpion'; Item 61: 'Sea change'; Item 62: 'Mrs Charman's Willie'; Item 63: 'The boss'.
Comprising: Item 64: 'The swan'; Item 65: 'Legend for Sanderson' (serial); Item 66: 'Symphony'; Item 67: 'Sharkbait'; Item 68: 'The Wiegerts'; Item 69: 'The silky oak'; Item 70: 'Escape'; Item 71: 'Josie'; Item 72: 'Das Fohlen' (The foal); Item 73: 'The Afghan'; Item 74: 'The rainbow-bird'; Item 75: 'The Velasquez venue'; Item 76: 'Sea-hawk' (Serial in 5 parts (part 2 missing)).
Keith Macartney wrote in 1959 'Vance Palmer's dramatic work ... is perhaps more significant for its potentialities than for its actual achievement'. Vance recognised that the dramatic form was not suited to him and his output in this field was comparatively small. There are handwritten and typescript drafts of nine of his plays in this series.
Vance also experimented with poetry early in his career, but his interest in the form was short lived. He published two books of verse The forerunners (1915) and The camp (1920). This series contains an exercise book of poems which were published in the Bulletin and the Daily Herald, and some handwritten drafts of unpublished poems (18 items).
Of Vance's historical and biographical writings, handwritten and typescript drafts of the following have been kept and arranged in this series:
Originally called 'The Australian Dream'
Contains biographical drafts on the following people:
William Charles Wentworth
Sir Henry Parkes
Vance and Nettie as part of this contribution to Australian literature reviewed a considerable number of books. Press clippings of some of these reviews have been pasted into five volumes along with reviews which others have done of the Palmer's writings. There are also loose clippings of book reviews by Vance from 1928 to 1959.
The volume of press clippings contains travel articles, sketches and short pieces dealing mainly with the north coast of Queensland. The material covers the period 1922 to 1954, the bulk of it being within the first two decades. There are also general articles about literature and writers.
Two exercise books as well as loose typescript and handwritten drafts of articles by Vance make up this series (27 items).
There are some handwritten and typescript drafts of book reviews, but the series consists mainly of press clippings.
There are some typescript drafts, but the series is mainly press clippings arranged chronologically.
The series is made up of handwritten and typescript drafts of broadcasts which Vance delivered. Most of the broadcasts are about literature and writers. The programmes 'Current books worth reading', 'Today's books', 'New Zealand broadcasts' and 'Barrier Reef' are all included here (163 items).
In this series are the lectures given under the Commonwealth Government Lectureship and the Commonwealth Literary Fund lectures given in Adelaide and Perth (69 items).
Notebooks and some unidentified pieces of writing (45 items).
Diaries for the years 1910, 1911, 1917, 1921, 1923 to 1932, 1934 to 1940, 1942 to 1947, and 1949 to 1961 (45 items).
This series contains a typescript draft and a published looseleaf version (incomplete) of Fourteen years, along with yearly notebooks, jotting-books and typescript diary notes, which form the background material for Nettie's autobiographical writings - Fourteen years. 'Next fourteen years' (unpublished), and 'Ten years' (unpublished) (303 items).
Nettie had published two volumes of poems Shadowy paths and South wind. Most of the poems in this series, however, were not printed in these volumes. There is a manuscript exercise book as well as loose pages of drafts of poems (137 items).
This series comprises 257 items.
The typescript manuscript of Henry Bournes Higgins - a memoir, a notebook belonging to H.B. Higgins and miscellaneous background notes about him.
The background material to Henry Handel Richardson - a study which includes typescript and handwritten notes, articles, broadcasts, clippings from newspapers and periodicals about H.H. Richardson and a short story by H.H. Richardson.
The typescript draft of Bernard O'Dowd by Victor Kennedy and Nettie Palmer, material which was collected in writing this biography including typescript notes, handwritten poems and notes by Bernard O'Dowd, a handwritten biographical note by A.G. Stephens, handwritten notes by Nettie Palmer, clippings from newspapers, including poems and articles about Bernard O'Dowd.
Typescript and handwritten drafts of The spirit of the country edited by Nettie Palmer.
The material in the series includes the 'Book of the Week' reviews done by Nettie Palmer for the A.B.C. weekly in 1943. There are also the book reviews published from 1929 to 1934 in The Brisbane Courier, The Illustrated Tasmanian Mail, The Sydney Bulletin and All about books.
The early articles published in newspapers are mainly of literary interest. Nettie wrote for the series 'Readers and writers' for The Argus 1916-1917, and for The Illustrated Tasmanian Mail 1928-1931. Articles were also published in the Queensland papers The Daily Mail and The Brisbane Courier during the 1920s and the early 1930s. As well as continuing to write about literature Nettie also write descriptive accounts of places. Literature remained the predominant concern but Nettie wrote on a wide number of issues until 1943.
Typescript and handwritten drafts of articles. The subject matter is diverse, ranging from Spain in 1936, to Australian and overseas literature and writers (55 items).
This series consists of book reviews of the following of Nettie's books: The south wind (1915), Modern Australian literature (1924), Henry Bournes Higgins (1931), Fourteen years: extracts from a private journal, 1925-1939 (1949), Henry Handel Richardson: a study (1950), The Dandenongs (1952) and Bernard O'Dowd (1954).
There are biographical articles and reports of various activities in which Nettie was involved.
The series includes typescript and handwritten lectures and broadcast notes on Australian and overseas writers and on general topics other than literature. There are also notes for each of the radio series 'In the looking glass', 'Rambles in bookland', 'Readers and writers' and 'Current books worth reading'. There are lectures on literature and discussion group book notes for the Council of Adult Education (88 items).
Notebooks, exercise books and loose pieces of paper (273 items).
Within this series are personal items such as the passports of Vance and Nettie, their marriage certificate, visas and certificates awarded to Nettie when she was a student (11 items).
The material in this series is arranged alphabetically by name. Vance and Nettie gathered together material relating to writers and artists. This included material which was written by the people concerned in either published or manuscript form and material written about them - newspaper clippings, notes, and addresses (631 items).
This series contains mainly newspaper clippings.
In this series are documents about royalties and also accounts from publishing houses; and minutes, memoranda, reports and newspaper clippings giving information about The Fellowship of Australian Writers, the Commonwealth Literary Fund, the Australian Society of Authors; and papers on the Tariff Board Inquiry of 1945-46.
Issues of such publications as Aussie, 1918-1923, The bookfellow, 1920-1924, Marsyas, 1935, and Barambah battler are included here, as well as programmes of the Pioneer Players and some miscellaneous leaflets and printed items (125 items).
Miscellaneous notes and press clippings.
There are formal and informal photographs of the Palmers and their friends and photographs taken of scenes from stage plays.
This consignment consists of a postcard from "R" addressed to Nettie Palmer, c/o Westminster Bank, London. Date unclear (1 packet).