The Nightmarkets

Penguin Books Australia Ltd,, Vic. 1986

ISBN 0 14 007586 0

National Book Council Award, 1987
Australian Literature Society Gold Medal, 1987

Where did they go–the sixties generation? Those who felt betrayed by the coup of 1975? What became of the ‘heads’ and rebels who sat blissed out in uni cafs?
What did happen to Sue Dobson and Ian Metcalfe? By 1980 Sue has become the lover of John McTaggart, the renegade patrician. Ian, mostly stoned, blunders into an obsessive friendship with Terri, a ‘hostess’ at the Crystal Palace.
Australia has changed, but how? Robert Metcalfe, Ian’s brother, watches from the suburbs where he is running for parliament. Elise, John McTaggart’s mother, wonders how his political ambition will change her class and family.
The Nightmarkets is a panorama of twentieth-century Australian life, politics and sexual manners told by these six people in ten verse narratives. There has never been anything like it.


‘Here is a poet who has a voracious appetite for all those things that make a true novelist dazzle: habits, party politics, sexual intrigue, suburban modulations. This gripping narrative responds to the subtle shifts that occur between demi-generations and make for political achievement. The tribal languages of different suburbs, cliques, parties and occupations swim around you, as exotic as tropical fish.’
Chris Wallace-Crabbe


‘The Nightmarkets is not written as if language is transparent and the narrative voice a natural fiction. In fact the first line of the poem announces that narrative needs to be induced: ‘With chaotic indecision, visiting mother can be a problem.’…You could rewrite The Nightmarkets in prose but to obtain all the same nuances and tones the work would fill shelves and have to be written by a cross between Balzac and Gaddis with the technique of a tranquilised – or rather symphonic – Firbank. The point is that poetry can do things prose can’t and not merely by way of decoration or vehicular effect. This is why it’s worth stressing that neither word in the description ‘verse novel’ subsumes the other.’
John Forbes Scripsi. vol.4 no. 3 1987 p.71-74

‘The Nightmarkets is stranger than fiction. It is a book we need to learn to read….It seems to belong at all times between forms (being both and neither), between narrative and meditation, between dramatic and lyric modes, between naturalistic detail and the sweep of the historical novel (as we follow its fortunes, the luck and the fate, of individuals, families and generations).’
David Carter Scripsi vol.4 no. 3 1987 p.79-83

‘Wearne is interested in life-stories, but his interest is in the lives’ representatives, not their dramatic shape. ‘Each tale is a culture’ (p.285): meetings and separations are contrived because of the cross-sections they offer of the attitudes of a class or a decade…”
Christopher Pollnitz Scripsi vol.4 no. 3 1987 p.91-97

‘Melbourne has always been other to itself. Things are perceived as happening elsewhere. Garner among novelists, Wallace-Crabbe among poets, have worked on its recuperation. The Nightmarkets is built on the Melbourne splits, the Melbourne contradictions, and acquires a showy multi-track self-consciousness as a result. The diction is hyperfluent, determined to fill silences. The popular construction of Melburnians as running on rails and reticent about the personal is confounded by this open slather of self-revelation and raunchiness.’
Eden Liddelow Scripsi vol.4 no. 3 1987 p.107-113

‘Wearne has a true feeling for place, often elegiac, replete with season and time of day….The structure of The Nightmarkets involves the gradual illumination of patterns, quite as much as the clarification of a narrative. Certainly, the reader’s curiosity is whetted as to how things will unravel–the narrative is in its way compelling–but the primary involvement is with what each monologue implies of a particular life. We are drawn not so much into the momentum of a story as into a whole existence, a personal web of connections which–inevitably, but almost as if incidentally–involves the progression of events.’
John Leonard Scripsi vol.4 no. 3 1987 p.117-121


Parts of The Nightmarkets are acknowledged to have appeared in the following books, newspapers and magazines. Their editors are thanked.
Poets Choice1978
The New Australian Poetry (ed. John Tranter)
The London Magazine
The Bulletin
The Age
Polar Bear
Your friendly fascist
Post neo
The catalogue of the 1978-79 Poets Travelling Exhibition
Pegasus 1977 (The magazine of Geelong College)
Surfer’s Paradise