Big Friday sale

Under the Southern Cross by Brian McCullagh

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii January, 2002)


Okay, I admit, I'm the kind of guy who enjoys reading the occasional bibliography. Okay, I admit you may not be that kind of guy. But wait, there's more! What do you know about Australian magic books? Hardly anything, right? So, do you need this book? Does a kangaroo need a Topit?

Well, "no" to the latter, as he's already got one built in, but while you might not actually need this book, I think a lot more potential readers would enjoy it than might be suspected at first glance. In 1994, Brian McCullagh wrote Sydney's Magic Heritage, a study of the magic shops and societies of Sydney, Australia, and he followed that work with a thoroughly researched bibliography of the writings of historian Eddie Dawes, which I have previously reviewed in this column. Now this dedicated researcher has applied himself to the task of recording all the titles of magic books (not journals) published in Australia. He has researched this work extensively through libraries and private collections, and has produced an interesting and surprisingly readable document as a result.

Indeed, as the author points out in his introduction, "This is not just a list, but a book about Australian magic that can be read from cover to cover," and I not only enjoyed doing so but gladly recommend the experience to you as well. There are several reasons for this, beginning with the fact that this is not strictly a bibliography as such, and in fact the word is not present in the title, as "strict bibliographic procedures have not been followed," as the author explains in his introduction. This choice is much to the reader's benefit, as the author provides commentary throughout that lends a bit of life and insight to many of the entries, accumulating in the over-all effect of a real sense of the subject matter. (Note that the book does not address works by Australian authors published elsewhere, such as Hugard, Buckley, Waller, et al.) In service to this same interest, the author provides many illustrations throughout, consisting of scans of covers, tide pages, frontispieces, and other illustrations, all of which lend life to the items described. (Unfortunately, most of these illustrations arc of rather poor quality, which I found disappointing.) Keep in mind throughout that (again quoting from the introduction) "... apart from four titles, all books have been personally examined and the details listed were obtained from those examinations. Details have not simply been transferred from other bibliographies ..." and similar sources. Thus the task at hand is rendered all the more impressive and reliable.

Among the most notable entries includes a detailed description of "the first magic book to be published in Australia," namely Magic Grammar Of The Fashionable Science Of Parlour Magic Being The Newest Tricks Of Deception by John Henry Anderson, a pamphlet published circa 1858 during "Professor Anderson's" tour of Australia. Here are two more entries, drawn verbatim from the text, which may serve to give the reader more of the flavor of Mr. McCullagh's style (the bibliographic details have been omitted).

"Haviland, E. Cyril Spirits And Their Friends, Being An Appeal To Reason And justice, 1879. This is one of the major discoveries from my research for this work. I have not previously seen it referred to in any book or magazine although Samuel T. Knaggs' Mediums And Their Dupes is reasonably well known. It is a reply to the Knaggs (et al.) book and includes: 'Under the title of Mediums and their Dupes,' a pamphlet has lately been published in Sydney, written by four men, two of whom know nothing personally about the matter [spiritualism), except by reading a chance work here and there, and then not understanding it, and the remaining two, though they have seen Dr. Slade once or twice, through their own ignorance and crass stupidity, actually are bold enough to start forward with their weak pens to put down a truth and to deny a fact."

And here is the book's first entry:

"Adams, M[armion]. P The Rich Uncle From Fiji, 1911. Based on a series of articles by Adams in the Lone Hand magazine, gambling methods and several swindles are exposed, with the intention of 'educating the public for their interest as well as their protection.' Milo cigarettes are advertised on the back cover. The delightful illustrations scattered throughout the text are by Alek Sass. The Magic Mirror (May 1912) had this to say: 'The Rich Uncle From Fiji,' by M.P. Adams, is a book of swindles worth more than a mere mention, for Adams toted it round to several Melbourne publishers, and each turned him down; so that he published iron his own account, as he knew it would make good. The sale has gone into the tens of thousands by now, so it is up to Adams to call on those wise publishers and say, 'I told you so'."

If I haven't convinced you by now that this is an unusual work of scholarship, both academically sound as well as entertainingly writ-ten, then the task is beyond me. If you are interested in the literature of conjuring and know as little as most of us about the portion of that literature that was birthed in Australia, I encourage you to seek out this slim but amply rewarding volume.

Under the Southern Cross • by Brian McCullagh • 8.5" x 11" perfect bound • 103 pages illustrated with various book covers, title pages, frontispieces, etc. • Australian Published Magic Books (1858-2000) .