Guide to the Papers of Peter Koçan and Michael Dransfield [MSS 173]

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Manuscript Name Papers of Peter Koçan and Michael Dransfield
Manuscript Number MSS 173
Last Updated April 2022
Extent 6 cm (3 folders, 1 box)
Location Special Collections, UNSW Canberra
Abstract This collection includes poems, clippings and correspondence from Michael Dransfield to Peter Koçan, exchanged in the period 1967 to 1969.

Scope and Content

Michael Dransfield corresponded and exchanged poems with Peter Koçan  from 1967-1969, whilst Koçan was a patient at the Morisset Mental Hospital. The letters comprise drafts of poems by Dransfield; quotes of poems by other poets; and recommendations for books Koçan should read.

The letters also reflect Dransfield's extensive writing and reveals insights into his mental state and daily life struggles, during the period 1967-1969. One letter dated 15/X/1967, provides considerable biographical and publishing information, including poetry published in Australian, British and US magazines and newspapers, and radio and television interviews.

Date Range of Content


Biographical Note

Michael Dransfield was born on the 12 September 1948 in Sydney, and educated in Sydney, New South Wales. He studied English literature and language at the University of New South Wales and at Sydney University for a brief period before dropping out. He worked intermittently, living mainly in Paddington, Balmain, and Darlinghurst in Sydney and Casino, and travelled frequently between Tasmania and Queensland, visiting his large group of friends and fellow poets. His work often reflected the voices of people marginalised by society. Dransfield experimented with drugs and alternative lifestyles and was a member of Sydney's counter-culture. He was an active protester against the Vietnam War and was conscripted, but excused for health reasons.

Dransfield wrote his first poem at the age of eight and began to write regularly at fourteen. His poetry was first published in the mid sixties in the underground press that sprang up during that time of great political and social unrest. The quality of his poetry soon saw him gain a broader audience, and he became one of the most widely read poets of his generation. Dransfield's poems were published in Meanjin, Southerly, Poetry Australia and Poetry magazine, and his first collection, Streets of the long voyage, was published in 1970. He published two more books, including Drug poems (1972) which were the result of a drug-inspired poetic experiment.

With others of his generation, Dransfield rebelled against older conservative poets like James McAuley and A. D. Hope, but he often drew on traditional forms when crafting his poems. Critics have drawn comparisons with Tennyson and Swinburne, but his unconventional use of punctuation, typography and language produced unique expressions of his own time. Dransfield spent several periods in rural Australia, inspiring many poems which explore the differences between urban and rural existence. He also regularly explored issues related to drug use and the fragility of human relationships.

On the 20 April 1973, Dransfield, plagued for some time by ill health died, aged 24 in Sydney. The reputation of Dransfield's poetry remains strong. Rodney Hall edited and posthumously published several collections of Dransfield's poetry during the late 1970s and early 1980s, and Patricia Dobrez published in 1999 a significant biography entitled Michael Dransfield's lives : a sixties biography.

Peter Koçan AM was born Peter Raymond Douglas on 4 May 1947 in Newcastle, New South Wales and was raised in Melbourne, Victoria. His father, an engineer was killed in a motorcar accident three months before his birth. After a childhood of loneliness and disadvantage, Koçan left school at fourteen to work in country New South Wales as a labourer and station-hand, before returning to Sydney and to work as a factory-hand in a dye-factory.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1966 following an attempted assassination of Arthur Calwell. Calwell publicly forgave Koçan. Koçan was incarcerated for the next 10 years, first in prison and then in Morisset Hospital where he studied literature and began to write poetry in 1967. He has since published poetry and prose, including several plays, as well as working in amateur theatre as an actor and producer.

Koçan was released on licence from Morisset in August 1976, and lived on the Central Coast of New South Wales teaching, acting, and writing drama, poetry, and fiction. He gained public recognition for his work and received regular support from the Literary Arts Board of the Australia Council. He graduated from the University of Newcastle in 1998 with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) and Master of Creative Arts in 2003, and Doctor of Creative Arts from the University of Western Sydney in 2008.

Koçan has been awarded:
Australia Council Grants, Awards and Fellowships, Writers' Emeritus Award, 2010: Winner
Queensland Premier's Literary Awards, Best Fiction Book, 2005: shortlisted for Fresh fields
New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards, Christina Stead Prize for Fiction, 2005: shortlisted for Fresh fields
New South Wales Premier's Literary Awards, Fiction, 1983: winner for The cure
National Book Council Award for Australian Literature, 1983: shortlisted for The cure
Mattara Poetry Prize, 1982: winner for 'From the private poems of Governor Caulfield'.

Dransfield's letters to Koçan , 1967-1969
AustLit : The Resource for Australian Literature, August 2005
'Poet who lives underground', by Maurice Dunlevy, published in The Canberra times, Saturday, September 30, 1972.

Administrative Information


Access: Open Access

Restrictions on Use

Copying of material for private study and research is approved

Preferred Citation

Papers of Peter Koçan and Michael Dransfield, Special Collections, UNSW Canberra, Australian Defence Force Academy, MSS 173, Box [Number], Folder [Number].


Donated to the Academy Library, UNSW Canberra by Peter Koçan in 1990.


Additional Information

Related Material

Further material relating to Peter Koçan is located at the National Library of Australia at MS 9613 - Papers of Peter Koçan

Access Terms

Personal Names

Koçan, Peter, 1947- -- Archives.

Dransfield, Michael, 1948-1973 -- Correspondence.

Dransfield, Michael, 1948-1973 -- Archives.

Topical Subjects

Poets, Australian -- 20th century -- Archives.




Container List

Box 1

Folder 1
Manuscript and typescript correspondence, together with manuscript and typescript drafts of poems sent to Koçan by Dransfield, 4 January - 22 December 1967

Sixteen letters, including Dransfield discussing the possible publication with Angus & Robertson of a collection of poems entitled 'Ilex', addressed from 84 Bruce Street, Brighton-le-Sands, NSW and 25 East Street, Casino, NSW
Drafts of Dransfield's poems in this folder include:
First line Do too the
First line Raindrops are footsteps
First line The air is blue and white, the, 14/10/1967

Folder 2
Manuscript and typescript correspondence, together with manuscript and typescript drafts of poems sent to Koçan by Dransfield, 3 February - 25 October 1968

Twelve letters, addressed from 25 East Street and 80 Hickey Street, Casino, NSW
Drafts of Dransfield's poems in this folder include:
First line To begin with
First line Her letter came
First and second lines In the skeletal cradle of my fingers - (for K.R., 14.III.1968, Casino)
Arabesque No. 1, Debussy, 24.III.1968

Folder 3
Manuscript and typescript correspondence, together with manuscript and typescript drafts of poems sent to Koçan by Dransfield, 4 January - 5 December 1969

Fifteen letters, addressed from 84 Bruce Street, Brighton-le-Sands, NSW
Drafts of Dransfield's poems in this folder include:
'Souvenir of Casino', 28.V.1969, 9pm
'Surreptitious like Desdemona'
'Memo to the militarists and others'
'river road, forenoon, autumn'
'Ballade (from Vaslav)'
'Cetera??esunt (from Vaslav)' (the paper is torn resulting in the loss of two characters in the title) - Dransfield wrote this poem after he returned to Brighton-le-Sands from Tasmania in June
'The cocaine seance', 9.IV.1969
'Clouds Hill', for Kathy 3.IV.1969
'Belinda', for Linda 3.IV.1969
'Two things', 15.VII.1968, 6.30 pm
'On the nod, morphine', 27, 28.XII.1968
'Parnassus mad ward', for Libby. 2.I.1969
'Parthenogenesis', 3.I.1969
'Lascaux : second Chinese horse', 7.II.1969 for Peter Sculthorpe
Untitled verse first line isolations ... the ghastly, written Casino 8.II.1968
Newspaper cuttings of published poems by Dransfield, including:
'For Salvatore Quasimodo (died June 15, 1968)'
'Nocturne for Errol Buddle' published in ABC radio guide, Vol. 6, no. 8, September 3, 1968, p. 2