Final martinis to farewell literary giant Frank Moorhouse

There were many faces to Frank Moorhouse, the Miles Franklin-winning author who died last month at 83, heard friends who gathered at the NSW State Library to bid him a final farewell on Wednesday.

The cream of Australian literati, from author Tom Keneally and TV writer Tom Gleeson, to publishers Meredith Curnow, Jane Palfreyman and Richard Walsh, came together in the Friends Room – another room in the library was needed for the overflow – to pay tribute to Moorehouse: Australian literary giant, public intellectual, raconteur, bon vivant and a pioneering activist for writers’ rights.

An image of a young Moorhouse on display at his farewell service in Sydney on Wednesday.Credit:Wolter Peeters

There was the Nowra Frank, who his older brother Arthur explained became a magician at 10 when, confined to bed due to illness, he was given a copy of Alice in Wonderland to read by his mother.

“My career as a magician would have advanced if only they’d given me a silk top hat,” Arthur said Frank once lamented, as he donned a black magician’s hat in honour of his baby brother.

There was the Frank who was the school captain of Wollongong Tech, where he started a school newspaper but wanted to be an expressive dancer – until he learnt none had graduated from Wollongong Tech. Instead, he became a cadet journalist at The Daily Telegraph.

Frank’s older brother Arthur wearing a magician’s hat in his brother’s memory.Credit:Wolter Peeters

There was warrior Frank, his friend of 60 years Don Anderson said. “Frank was a warrior for freedom from censorship, for justice to authors, freedom from sexual restrictions in life and in fiction.”

There was bushwalker Frank, said friend and fellow walker Helen Lewis, who often went off track with him in the bush.

“There were many rooms in Frank Moorhouse… but walking in the Budawangs was his heartland – he belonged in that fractured, fissured landscape, which was a bit like Frank himself,” she said. “Confused and tangled but magnificent too.”

There was groundbreaker Frank, said his friend Tim Herbert in an address read by filmmaker Julia Leigh. “Not straight or gay, not even bisexual. A groundbreaker. Likely gender-fluid, non-binary and queer ahead of his times.”

Moorhouse’s friend, fellow writer Tom Keneally, at the service on Wednesday.Credit:Wolter Peeters

Then there was the writer and novelist Frank that the public knew, said Meredith Curnow, who since 2007 had the “privilege, pleasure and associated problems” of being his publisher.

“Frank liked to say it takes many books to make a book,” she said.

Moorhouse will be remembered as the creator of one of the great characters of Australian literature, Edith Campbell Berry – the Australian diplomat heroine of his three League of Nations novels, Grand Days, Dark Palace and Cold Light.

Palfreyman, the former editor and publisher who worked with him on these books, said she “first met Frank on the page – at 18. He blew my mind and grew me up.” She even caught buses to Balmain in the hope of finding her literary hero in a pub, until she finally met on a Chippendale rooftop in the late 1980s. They have shared many literary successes and martinis since.

There was sophisticate Frank, who didn’t pronounce the “t” at the end of restaurant, says author Jessie Dettman, who spent many years with him at her parents’ Jamberoo home where he often wrote.

“He could sit with you in sorrow, and taught me the minutiae of everyday life was worthy of examination,” she said. “Although he had many homes, his friends and readers were his home.”

But the final word went to friend and fellow author Tom Keneally who called Moorhouse the lovechild of writers Walt Whitman and Dorothy Parker, who took on the “suburbs and the shame we did not want to acknowledge”.

“Frank was a real pro, a genius… may he remain reverberating amongst us for generations to come.”

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