22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Herb Wharton

Portrait Herb Wharton
© Hartwig Klappert

Herb Wharton was born in 1935 in Cunnamulla (in the south-west of the Australian state of Queensland) in the Yumba Aborigine camp. He is an indigenous Murri. His grandmother was a Kooma woman from that area, while the family of his grandfather originally came from England and Ireland. Wharton already began working as a cattle drover in his adolescence. He dealt with his experience on the so-called »stock routes« later in his debut novel »Unbranded« (1992). In this story of three male friends of different origins, each one pursuing his own dreams in life, he not only evokes vivid landscapes and encounters, among others, with sheep shearers, pub owners or tourists, but also provides the reader with a differentiated look at historical backgrounds through the different historical perspectives of his main characters. The text comes across as authentic due to its use of Australian dialects, and emotionally genuine thanks to his precise observations. In »Cattle Camp: Murri Drovers and their Stories« (1994), which is illustrated with maps and photographs, Wharton makes an important contribution to the many-voiced history of his people and colleagues in the style of an oral history.

His equally humorous and touching short-story collection »Where Ya’ Been, Mate?« (1996) jumps between the Outback and the large city. »Great stories happen not only around outback campfires, they happen in city streets, wherever people gather. And the true stories are more incredible than fiction. They supply the ideas for whatever I write, be it fact or fiction« is what Wharton wrote in his introduction. »Yumba Days« (1999) looks back at memories from childhood and adolescence in the aboriginal camp where he grew up. As in all of his works, the theme of different cultures living next to and with one another plays a central role. The very first texts he wrote can be found in the collection »Kings with Empty Pockets« (2003). The same year saw the release of »IMBA: (Listen) Tell You a Story«. Both publications have a glossary in which the idiosyncratic vocabulary of the Murri that is characteristic in Wharton’s lyrical prose is explained.

In 1998, Wharton won a residency at the Pariser Cité Internationale des Arts. He has also been accepted to the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame and, in 2012, was awarded the Australia Council Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature, in 2013 he was acknowledged by the Queensland government as a Queensland Great. Wharton now lives in the same shack where he scribbled his first poems and novels.