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Peter Carey and the Jerilderie letter
One of Australia's greatest living authors recently agreed to drop by the Library so that I could interview him for a story for our Dome Centenary. As Peter Carey and I walked around the Dome Galleries we went past the Jerilderie letter featured in the Library's exhibition The changing face of Victoria. I was also curious to know how much of a part the letter had played in the research of his Booker Prize winning novel The true history of the Kelly gang, and also why Peter had chosen the Library to keep the papers and drafts of his novel.
'When one is thinking of Ned Kelly in particular, it’s a no-brainer; this is really where the collection should be. One of the great things that happened to me in the publication of The true history of the Kelly gang was that the original of the Jerilderie letter, which up until then had been out in the darkness, appeared at the time of publication; it was such a thrill. It was a wonderful, wonderful coincidence and a very moving one that this very important document would come into the Library. I’m very honoured to be in the same place that houses that letter. That primary source is here in the Library is a glorious and very moving thing for all of us.
'The thing I’d felt for a long time about reading the Jerilderie letter, which I read when I was very young, about 20 years old, was what an extraordinary voice it was. There was a mixture of beautiful Irish invective rolling on, unpunctuated, which reminded me somewhat of James Joyce’s Ulysses and there’s an Irishness, a rolling language. It did occur to me even at the age of 20 that this could be the basis of a literary invention which would be a modernist work about my country. It took me years and years and years to get to the position where I might do that, by then I was living in New York City far away from here. But the thing that stayed, that was really clear to me at that time, was that here was my character’s DNA, that I really could build a character from those words.
'It’s quite an extraordinary thing, that this document can be available to anybody in the world, that students of mine in New York have sat there and read the Jerilderie letter.'