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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Helen Garner

In their own words

Recorded 1982

Helen Garner
Audio: 2 minutes

I have gone around saying that I’ve lost friends because of things I’ve written. But when I think about it really well, I haven’t lost any friends at all. I’ve lost people who were acquaintances, or people who … And people who … real friends who’ve seen themselves in my books have taken it on the chin, you know, in a very remarkable way.

I mean there is a character… there is a person on whom the character of Javo is based. You could imagine that perhaps such a person’s life might have been altered in some way by the publication – well not the publication of the book but by the book’s success and by the amount of publicity that it’s had. He seems to me to be such a trouper about it. We very rarely see each other, but … he’s in America but he came to see me a few weeks ago, the day before he left for America, I hadn’t seen him for a long time, I hadn’t seen him since before the film was made, and he hadn’t seen the film. But he came for a visit and we just sat around, talked, had a cup of coffee, talked of what work he was doing, and this and that. And then one of us mentioned the name Monkey Grip and we both just burst out laughing. It was very encouraging and heartening because I realised that he didn’t hold anything against me, and, rather the opposite, I think he rather liked the book. And he co-operated with the director of the film, he gave a lot of help to Ken Cameron in the making of the film, which I really loved him for and admired him for.

And I think that this question of the autobiographical element or the biographical element in fiction, where people see themselves represented, or misrepresented in their view, by a fiction writer, it’s a very difficult matter, particularly in women’s writing I think. Because women do tend, at least at this point in history, to write from very close to themselves. So it’s always going to be a problem and I think it’ll continue to be a problem for me. And I don’t regret anything I’ve written.

Acknowledgements

This oral history of Helen Garner is from the De Berg Collection in the National Library of Australia. For more information, or to hear full versions of the recordings, visit the National Library of Australia website.

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Helen Garner

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Painting writing

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2007

Dr Sarah Engledow explores the portraits of writers held in the National Portrait Gallery's collection.

True Stories

Magazine article by Simon Elliott, 2005

The story behind the creation of the portrait of Helen Garner by Jenny Sages.

Jenny Sages

Paths to Portraiture

Previous exhibition, 2010

The exhibition Sages examines the process of portrait making through four large-scale portraits of women by Jenny Sages, paired with intimate preparatory drawings.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency