Donald Friend’s diaries provide a vivid account of his personal life and a wealth of information about the origins and development of his many book projects. Writing and illustrating stories provided him with an additional creative outlet to his art. Read in relation to the diary entries, these literary pursuits offer important insights into the artist’s state of mind, his ideas and working methods.
Sketches, passages of writing, annotations and corrections make up the rare bound volume Day Book - Preliminary Notes and Sketches for Projected Illustrated Books, 1978-80. It features examples of well-known book manuscripts, exquisite drawings of birds, a beguiling 1979 self-portrait and assorted homo-erotica to wit Friend is well known.
Coogans Gully, The Life and Curious Adventures of Blue-Eyed Patty, The Farce of Sodom, The Story of Jonah and Codex Bumbooziaticus feature prominently in the volume. Most of these manuscripts were published by Richard Griffin. Griffin owned Gryphon Press, a highly respected publishing house that specialised in limited edition publications. When Griffin first saw a draft of Bumbooziana in 1978 he was so ‘ecstatic’ that he reportedly turned to Friend and exclaimed: ‘I’ve dreamed for a lifetime of publishing a book like your Bumbooziana. Now it’s turned up.’(1)
Over 1979 and 1980, Friend made many corrections and additions to the original drafts, including those included in the current bound volume. In these texts Friend explored aspects to do with human nature and relationships, historical events, sex and erotica. The most graphic of these is The Farce of Sodom, published by Gryphon Press in 1980. This work is based on the original play titled The Farce of Sodom, or the Quintessence of Debauchery written by John Wilmot, the Second Earl of Rochester (1647-1680) and published in 1864. Griffin gave a ‘rare and treasured copy’ of the book (2) to Friend in March 1979 and then commissioned him to make his own version to mark the 300th anniversary of its original author.
The content of this 17th century parlour drama is highly sexualised and uncomfortably gratuitous for most and even Donald Friend found it hard-going. He wrote: ‘I’ve made a few desultory notes on it. It is indeed an obscene play, and only parts of it show the genius one finds in the verses. The need to make each line, each speech as obscene as the rest imposes a monotonous crudity.’(3) Nevertheless Friend applied himself to re-rewriting the play and set to ‘designing sets and costumes as though for a Christmas pantomime.’(4)
Coogan’s Gully: A young person’s guide to bushranging, ecology and witchcraft takes a very different subject and shows Friend’s versatility as an illustrator. This was ‘a sort of a children’s book’, Friend commented, with the bulk of the manuscript completed by May 1979. To his lament, Griffin edited out 75% of the book’s text and many of the images so that in Friend’s opinion the final publication had become a pale imitation of his original work.(5) Friend gained recompense from the fact that many of the images and some of the passages of writing were exhibited and sold at Sydney’s Holdsworth Galleries in November 1979. Others were kept together in hard cover notebooks such as this.
The illustrated book offers skilled artists the opportunity to bring together image and text in ingenious and inventive ways. It is part of a highly valued storytelling tradition in Australia. Few can match Donald Friend in this regard. Witty, imaginative, crude and often beautifully drawn, some of the most prominent examples of these are included in the bound volume from 1978-80.
1. The Diaries of Donald Friend, ed. by John Hetherington, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 2006, p.458.
2. The Diaries of Donald Friend, p.470
4. The Diaries of Donald Friend, p.487
5. The Diaries of Donald Friend, p.484
Rodney James BA (Hons) MA