Saturday, February 05, 2005


The Most Boring Literary Crime Ever

Want to plagiarize, but need a source no one has actually read? How about using a textbook?

[Murray Bail's Eucalyptus] so beguiled Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman that they are starring in the film adaptation, in production near Bellingen this week. London's Evening Standard opined:
"You won't have read anything like it."

But a Singleton man, John Bennetts, felt he
had read something like Murray Bail's Eucalyptus. He found that several passages from Bail's novel were word-for-word matches with an out-of-print textbook, Eucalypts Vols One and Two by Stan Kelly, George Chippendale and Robert Johnston, published in 1969 and 1978.

Mr Bennetts said he discovered eight "direct lifts" from the textbook....

One such sample lift, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald: "The trunk has a short stocking of greyish bark at the base, the upper bark smooth, spotted. Its juvenile foliage is conspicuous and attractive in the undergrowth."

People, people, people: if you're going to steal, steal something interesting.

Actually, reporter Malcolm Knox renders the story as a little more complex than it may appear. The author's excuse of a notes mix-up is believable in this case. But the crowning quote comes when Knox tracks down the author of the original text.

Stan Kelly died recently, but the author of the text in Eucalypts, George Chippendale, now 83 and living in Canberra, said he had read Bail's novel and enjoyed it. Asked if he recognised his own words, he said: "Not at all!"

All's well that ends well, I suppose.

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