'(How far can you see? How far?) But always … the same smalltown reply: I can see Toowoomba. I can see the Range. And here on the other side of the creek in 1963 Old Jack behind a draughthorse is ploughing a paddock for potatoes.' ‘From the Bottom of the Range, The View,’ Jean Kent
I do not have the space here to do justice to the full extent and variety of Darling Downs writing. A snapshot of the contemporary writing scene in Toowoomba and on the Darling Downs would reveal some significant established expatriate Toowoomban writers, a few well published local writers active in different forms and styles, and a number of amateur or semi-professional writers often associated with one of a number of important literary societies or writers groups. These writer's groups and societies frequently run developmental workshops and promotional activities and regularly publish local anthologies such as Downs Voices and Voices of the Downs, often with State Government Support. The journal of rural arts, Coppertales, which is produced annually by the University of Southern Queensland, also regularly features local writers and critical studies of works from the past. One only has to look at the J.L. Blyth and P.T. McNally's bibliography of Darling Downs writing to see that these different and yet communicating levels of literary activity have been an historical feature of the region since the late 1800s.
The importance of rural culture to the development of the colonial enterprise enables the writing of the Darling Downs to be seen as central to a national culture. The rise of a modern metropolitan and cosmopolitan society in the twentieth century has made such a view increasingly difficult to defend. Regional cultures are minority cultures in the sense that they depend upon their relation to more powerful centers for the criteria that allow self-definition. It is through the uneven traffic between these different cultural locations that regional literary culture is brought into being. If we are tempted to forget the importance of regional literary culture to the cultural production of the nation then it is salutary to remember that even today two of the more promising young Queensland writers have their roots or still live and work within the Darling Downs. Andrew McGahn, held by some to be the initial Australian exponent of the gritty urban sub-genre of Grunge Fiction or Dirty Realism, grew up in Dalby before venturing to the big smoke in search of a vocation. The initial reception of Praise (1992) made much of his rural beginnings before perspectives on his work were swamped by the urban grunge phenomenon [i].
More recently Jillian Watkinson, who works in a Drop-in center in central Toowoomba, won the Queensland premier's prize for an emerging Queensland Writer.
Watkinson's first novel The Architect (2000) is a self-consciously cosmopolitan narrative but like the work of McGahn and indeed many of the writers of or from the Downs it too returns to rural Australia in search of a key to the personal mysteries which seem to obsess metropolitan culture. [ii]
[i] See for example Clinton Walker, 'Andrew McGahn,' Rolling Stone December 1992, pp. 84-5.
[ii] Jillian Watkinson, The Architect, St Lucia: UQP, 2000. See Christopher Lee, Character, Disability and the Pleasures of the Body. Rev. of The Architect by Jillian Watkinson. Coppertales 7 (2001).