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Hal Porter (1911 – 1984)

Hal Porter

fl. 1956-1982


Harold Porter, always known as Hal, was born in Melbourne on 16 February 1911. When he was six his family moved to the Victorian country town of Bairnsdale, where he attended local schools and began writing, with stories and poems published in school magazines. After leaving school, he worked briefly as a journalist on the Bairnsdale Advertiser, before moving to Williamstown and becoming a school teacher. In 1939 he married, though a severe traffic accident later that year put him in hospital for a year and meant that he was unable to see active service during World War II. He was divorced in 1943 and taught in private schools in Adelaide and Hobart during and after the war. In 1949-50 he worked as a teacher with the Occupation Forces in Japan, an experience drawn on in his later fiction. After returning to Australia he spent the next three years as director of the National Theatre in Hobart. From 1953-61 he was chief librarian back in his home town of Bairnsdale, before becoming a full-time writer. In an ironic repeat of his earlier traffic accident, Porter was hit by a car in July 1983.  He spent fourteen months in a coma before his death on 29 September 1984 in Thornbury, Victoria.  In 1982 he had been made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM), for services to literature.

While best-known for his autobiographies, especially The Watcher on the Cast-Iron Balcony (1963), short stories, novels and plays, Porter also published three volumes of poetry. Like his prose, Porter's verse is highly mannered and also shares themes and preoccupations with his fiction, as well as settings in Hobart, Gippsland and Japan.  Favouring traditional forms and the use of rhyme, it is concerned with such topics as the passage of time, the ever-present fact of death and the paradoxes of personality.  Some of the poems in The Hexagon, published in 1956, were republished in Elijah's Ravens: poems (1968). In an Australian Country Graveyard and other poems (1974), features a poem sequence which gives the volume its title, together with a few other poems,  and was illustrated by Porter's own line drawings.

Poetry Collections

The Hexagon (Sydney, NSW: Angus and Robertson, 1956).

Elijah's Ravens: poems (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1968).

In an Australian Country Graveyard and other poems (Melbourne: Nelson, 1974).

Hal Porter (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1980).


Suggested Further Reading

'Hexagonal Poetry,' The Bulletin, 6 February 1957, p. 2.

'Porter's the Word,' The Bulletin, 24 June 1961, p. 3.

Bruce Beaver, [untitled review of Elijah's Raven: poems], Sydney Morning Herald, 6 April 1968, p. 18.

Bruce Beaver, [untitled review of In an Australian Country Graveyard and other poems], Sydney Morning Herald, 1 February 1975, p. 15.

Nancy Keesing, 'Of Death and Decoration,' Southerly 18.2 (1957), pp. 108-110.

Mary Lord, Hal Porter: A Man of Many Parts (Milson's Point, NSW: Random House, 1993).

Mary Lord, 'Interview with Hal Porter,' Australian Literary Studies 8.3 (1978), pp. 269-79.

David McCooey, 'Hal Porter (1911-1984),' in Selina Samuels, ed., Australian Writers, 1915-1950 (Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 2002), pp. 295-306.

Thomas Shapcott, 'Poetic Commitments,' Australian Book Review 7.7 (1968), p. 131.

Vivian Smith, 'A Bit Off the Map,' Island no.65 (1995), pp. 120-24.