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A Companion to Australian Literature since 1900

A Companion to Australian Literature since 1900

Nicholas Birns
Rebecca McNeer
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 494
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  • Book Info
    A Companion to Australian Literature since 1900
    Book Description:

    Australian literature is one of the world's richest, dealing not only with "local" Australian themes and issues but with those at the forefront of global literary discussion. This book offers a fresh look at Australian literature, taking a broad view of what literature is and viewing it with Australian cultural and societal concerns in mind. Especially relevant is the heightened role of indigenous people and issues following the landmark 1992 Mabo decision on Aboriginal land rights. But attention to other multicultural connections and the competing pull of Australia's continued connection to Great Britain are also enlightening. Chapters are devoted to internationally prominent writers such as Patrick White, Peter Carey, David Malouf, and Christina Stead; fast-rising authors such as Gerald Murnane and Tim Winton; less-publicized writers such as Xavier Herbert and Dorothy Hewett; and on prose fiction, poetry, and drama, women's and gay and lesbian writing, children's literature, and science fiction. The Companion goes beyond Eurocentric ideas of national literary history to reveal the full, resplendent variety of Australian writing. Contributors: Nicholas Birns, Rebecca McNeer, Ali Gumillya Baker, Gus Worby, Anita Heiss, Ruth Feingold, Wenche Ommundsen, Susan Jacobowitz, Deborah Madsen, Marguerite Nolan, Tanya Dalziell, Richard Carr, David McCooey, Maryrose Casey, Brigid Rooney, John Beston, John Scheckter, Werner Senn, Carolyn Bliss, Paul Genono, Lyn Jacobs, Nicole Moore, Ouyang Yu, Jaroslav Kusnir, Brigid Magner, Russel Blackford, Toni Johnson-Woods, Theodore F. Sheckels, Alice Mills, Gary Clark, Damien Barlow, Leigh Dale Nicholas Birns teaches literature at the New School in New York City and is the editor of Antipodes. Rebecca McNeer is Associate Dean Emerita at Ohio University Southern.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-698-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Chronology of Main Events in Australian History, 1901–2005
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Note on the Cover Illustration and Artist
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)
    Nicholas Birns and Rebecca McNeer

    This book celebrates Australian literature of the past century. It surveys a remarkable achievement in so many forms and genres. In the proposed preamble for the Australian Constitution that he wrote in the late 1990s, Australia’s finest poet, Les Murray, spoke eloquently of aspects of Australian society that have appealed to so many readers of Australian literature worldwide: “Australians are free to be proud of their country and heritage, free to realize themselves as individuals, and free to pursue their hopes and ideals. We value excellence as well as fairness, independence as dearly as mateship.” It was a similar byplay...

  7. Part 1: Identities

    • 1: Aboriginality since Mabo: Writing, Politics, and Art
      (pp. 17-40)
      Ali Gumillya Baker and Gus Worby

      This essay is written on the land of the Kaurna Nation of the Adelaide Plains, South Australia. Its authors are, respectively, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Such an introduction foreshadows a complex and contested history of naming and being named and a politics of representation. The ways in which literature and other forms of artistic textual expression have influenced and reflected on debates around Aboriginality will be acknowledged and Indigenous perspectives will be privileged; this is a response to the historical exclusion of Aboriginal people from determining the dominant definitions of Aboriginality. Many of the authors referred to below identify as Aboriginal,...

    • 2: Writing Aboriginality: Authors on “Being Aboriginal”
      (pp. 41-60)
      Anita Heiss

      There weren’t any Aborigines in Australia before invasion. There were simply people who were identified and known by their relationships to each other through familial connections, through connections to country, through language groups, and through moieties. “Aborigines” were created when the colonizers used a Latin term meaning “original habitants” to describe the peoples whose land they were stealing. More commonly used today is the term Indigenous, another Latin term meaning “native to.”

      Since the point of invasion in 1788, the concept of Aboriginality has been an ongoing construction of colonizers, an imposed definition, and at times a political issue for...

    • 3: From Empire to Nation: The Shifting Sands of Australian National Identity
      (pp. 61-72)
      Ruth Feingold

      Which came first, the nation, or the national literature? Since the publication in 1983 of Benedict Anderson’s slim but formidable disquisition on the role of print culture in the formation of modern nation states, a discussion of either nation or literature is seldom considered complete without at least a nod to the other term. Thanks to Anderson, the phrase and concept of “Imagined Communities” has thoroughly penetrated our discourse; even before the popularization of his theories, though, many had long acknowledged the intimate links between a nation and its literary production, often attempting to manipulate the association to best effect....

    • 4: Multicultural Writing in Australia
      (pp. 73-86)
      Wenche Ommundsen

      Multiculturalism, writes Pnina Werbner, is “an important rhetoric and an impossible practice” (Werbner and Moddod 22). As I open my morning paper on Australia Day 2006, I am reminded of just how important, and how impossible, Australian multiculturalism remains three decades after its inception. “PM claims victory in culture wars,” reads the front-page headline. The article, a report on John Howard’s address to the National Press Club, details the Prime Minister’s retreat from the “excesses of multiculturalism” and the “black armband” view of history associated with the Keating Labor government (1991–96), and his conviction that the “divisive, phoney debate...

    • 5: Jewish Writers in Australia
      (pp. 87-104)

      The two mothers represented in these two passages represent the full spectrum in terms of how parents might have felt about bringing their children to Australia. Judah Waten’s mother, who came from Russia in 1911, came to regret her decision, at least for herself — perhaps not for her children, whom she never removed from Australia. From the moment Waten’s mother stepped from the boat, she wanted to go back. Her reference to Australia as a “golden kingdom” might be ironic but it might not be — she might have been acknowledging that, even if it was a place from which she...

    • 6: Asian-Australian Literature
      (pp. 105-126)
      Deborah L. Madsen

      Literature written by Australians of Asian descent presents a range of explorations in the field of hybridity. This category is, as a consequence, difficult to define in strictly nationalistic terms as “Asian-Australian literature”: where Australian literature is the controlling noun and “Asian” functions as an adjective. Some Asian-Australian writers are Australian-born, some are first-generation Australians, while others trace their descent through several generations; some write in English, others do not. For reasons of space, this essay deals only with anglophone Asian-Australian writers; Wenche Ommundsen quotes an estimate that “around 200 writers of Chinese descent live in Australia, most of them...

    • 7: The Demidenko Affair and Australian Hoaxes
      (pp. 127-138)
      Marguerite Nolan

      Norma Khouri’s international best-selling autobiography,Forbidden Love(2003), is a story of love across a religious divide; set in Jordan, it ends with Khouri fleeing her homeland after the “honor” killing of her closest friend, Dalia, who had fallen in love with a Christian air-force officer and consequently been murdered by her own family. Believing that she had fled Jordan in fear of her life, Random House, Khouri’s Australian publisher, had assisted her in obtaining a Temporary Protection Visa in Australia. Khouri was living on Bribie Island, off the coast of Brisbane, when theSydney Morning Heraldexposed her “autobiography”...

    • 8: Australian Women’s Writing from 1970 to 2005
      (pp. 139-154)
      Tanya Dalziell

      In this chapter I adopt three different approaches. In the first section I present an overview of the period under question, tracing the impact of cultural and political shifts on women’s writing in Australia. In the second part, I consider more rigorously the historical, temporal, and thematic frames in which Australian women’s writing has been produced and read. In the third section I focus on particular texts by Australian women, seeking both to enact some of the tensions signposted in the second section and to suggest formal and thematic preoccupations that inform recent Australian women’s writing. This chapter cannot (and...

  8. Part 2: Writing Across Time

    • 9: Writing the Nation, 1900–1940
      (pp. 157-172)
      Richard Carr

      Archibald G. Stephens of theBulletin, in reviewing Henry Lawson’s first complete book,Short Stories in Prose and Verse(1895), virtually canonizes the young writer: “Henry Lawson is the voice of the bush and the bush is the heart of Australia” (quoted in Barnes 2). He thought he saw in Lawson the vanguard for a rising Australian literature representing the democratic culture of the new Australian nation.

      By the 1890s, theBulletinhad firmly moved into its role as the voice of Australia. The magazine had published its version of the Australian Dream amid the nationalistic fervor that created the...

    • 10: Australian Poetry from Kenneth Slessor to Jennifer Strauss
      (pp. 173-190)
      Nicholas Birns

      This chapter covers Australian poetry of the modernist era, involving the figure of Kenneth Slessor, who is arguably not only the most talented poet Australia has ever produced but also one whose work has raised questions about the identity and thrust of Australian poetry that have resounded throughout the era.

      Australian poetry in the era of Kenneth Slessor’s generation did not enjoy an “efficient market” with respect to a world audience. To have an “efficient market” in finance means that stock prices reflect all available information, and that therefore everybody knows all the factors that lead to a stock’s valuation....

    • 11: Australian Poetry, 1970–2005
      (pp. 191-206)
      David McCooey

      In March 1973 A. D. Hope (1907–2000) wrote in his journal: “Worthy persons are always trying to encourage poetry, as though it were in danger of dying out, like a rare animal species, unless protected and fostered. In fact, it has become a sort of pest and cries out for control” (353). Hope’s facetious observation highlights the two contradictory views of contemporary Australian poetry. Whether it has been declining or proliferating (perhaps rashly) depends on one’s perspective. Evidence for the “decline” model can be seen in the deterioration of poetry as a form of public speech, low sales of...

    • 12: Australian Drama, 1900–1970
      (pp. 207-218)
      Maryrose Casey

      The history of Australian drama between 1900 and 1970 is often presented as a series of isolated renaissances. This type of framing usually acknowledges Louis Esson’s work with the Pioneer Players in the 1920s and Ray Lawler’sSummer of the Seventeenth Doll(1955) in the 1950s as isolated incidents in a largely empty landscape. This picture places the beginning of a real Australian voice on Australian stages as coinciding with the beginning of systematic government subsidy to the performing arts in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This confusion between the history of subsidized theater and the history of Australian...

    • 13: Australian Drama since 1970
      (pp. 219-232)
      Maryrose Casey

      The year 1968 marked the introduction of systematic subsidy for the performing arts in Australia. This had far-reaching effects, laying the foundation for the establishment of ongoing professional companies that provided the infrastructure for developing and producing the work of Australian theater writers in a commercial context. The concurrent changes that affected playwrights included the beginnings of press attention to Australian writing and the establishment of publishing houses dedicated to transforming the ephemeral into the tangible, that is, printed texts. In 2005, David Williamson (b. 1942), one of the most popular and most frequently produced playwrights in Australia, announced his...

  9. Part 3: International Reputations

    • 14: Christina Stead
      (pp. 235-246)
      Brigid Rooney

      In 1965, the tide began to turn for expatriate Australian writer Christina Stead (1902–83). That year, through the efforts of supporters, Stead’s 1940 novelThe Man Who Loved Childrenwas reissued. The book speaks with a double tongue, its 1930s American settings carefully grafted over the painful tissue of a pre-First World War Sydney childhood. The result was a rich, multi-layered narrative — aKünstlerroman, a satire of New Deal liberal ideologies and Oedipal drama. Though well reviewed when first published, the novel had by 1965 fallen out of circulation. With an influential introduction by Randall Jarrell, the reissue garnered...

    • 15: Patrick White
      (pp. 247-256)
      John Beston

      Patrick White (1912–90), winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1973, is widely regarded as one of the major writers in English of the twentieth century. He wrote in nearly all the chief literary genres — eight plays, three books of short stories, an autobiography, and two early short books of poems as well as his twelve novels — but it is only in the novel that his reputation is likely to endure. Critical assessment of his work other than in the novel has rarely been enthusiastic, even during his lifetime, when his overwhelming presence, both as a literary giant...

    • 16: David Malouf
      (pp. 257-268)
      John Scheckter

      Toward the end ofRemembering Babylon, the 1993 novel that brought David Malouf the first IMPAC Dublin Award and a host of other prizes, an old man eats an apple he has sliced with a pocket knife. It is a characteristic moment in Malouf’s writing: grounded in simple physical movement, the gesture resonates exquisitely toward a summation of identity, inclusiveness, and beauty.

      The old man is Lachlan Beattie, who when last seen had been “not quite thirteen” (158) in the middle of the nineteenth century; in a final chapter, we learn that he has had a career in high-level politics...

    • 17: Les Murray
      (pp. 269-280)
      Werner Senn

      Probably no Australian writer since Patrick White, and certainly no Australian poet, has achieved such a high national stature and worldwide reputation in his own lifetime as Les Murray. Born in rural Nabiac (NSW) in 1938, of Scottish descent, the author of some twenty volumes of poetry, several collected editions, two verse novels, and dozens of essays has steadily dedicated his writing to the exploration and circulation of his ideas about the human condition, about Australia, its past and future, about modern life and man’s relationship to nature and to God. His work has won him numerous national and international...

    • 18: Peter Carey
      (pp. 281-292)
      Carolyn Bliss

      Somewhere in the 1970s and early 80s, a crucial turning point in literary criticism was reached. Because of a sea change in critical approaches, whose consolidation began at that time, it has become increasingly difficult to discuss texts in terms of their intrinsic worth. Instead, the criteria for judging literary merit has tended towards the text’s allegiance to, or performance of, some ideology-driven approach or agenda, for example, the postcolonial, cultural materialist, feminist, or those emerging from queer studies. Of course, not all critics or readers have been converted. Gray eminences like Wayne Booth pleaded for an “ethics of fiction”...

    • 19: Gerald Murnane
      (pp. 293-304)
      Paul Genoni

      Gerald Murnane is one of Australia’s most intriguing and accomplished fiction writers. Amidst a national fiction that has been prone to stylistic conservatism and dominated by modes of realism, Murnane emerged as an original, both as a stylist and for his vivid expression of an intensely personal worldview. This originality may have cost Murnane a large audience in Australia, where he is widely regarded as “difficult” to the point of being abstruse, but it has also garnered a loyal readership and international critical interest.

      Indeed, critics who have tried to locate Murnane within particular traditions or movements have often looked...

  10. Part 4: Writers and Regions

    • 20: Tim Winton and West Australian Writing
      (pp. 307-320)
      Lyn Jacobs

      In fiction and poetry, imagined and real landscapes have been invested with meaning in accordance with the need for identification with place, especially in Australia as this ancient land’s Indigenous culture, with its complex affiliations and responsibilities, inscribed its meanings in song, dance, art, and oral narratives in ways completely foreign to its eighteenth-century immigrant colonizers. From “outside” the land was viewed as remote, pristine, desirable, exotic, or dangerous, and as the invaders encountered the continent’s vast coastlines, deserts, tropics, and wilderness, the sheer difference from familiar, predominantly British, terrains stimulated both utopian and dystopian responses: Arcadia/hell, pastoral/wild, old/new-world, interior/fringe,...

    • 21: Dorothy Hewett
      (pp. 321-334)
      Nicole Moore

      Born in Perth in 1923, Dorothy Hewett had become one of Australia’s best-loved and most respected writers by the time she died in 2002. Her sixty-year writing career spans the century and voices some of the most significant changes Australia witnessed during that period. Distinguished as a playwright, poet, and novelist, Hewett also won prizes forWild Card,the first volume of her autobiography, published in 1991, and was awarded the Order of Australia for services to literature and a life time Emeritus Fellowship from the Literature Board of the Australia Council. The rich legacy of her work, across many...

    • 22: Xavier Herbert
      (pp. 335-344)
      Ouyang Yu

      Born in Western Australia, Xavier Herbert attended the Christian Brothers’ School in Fremantle and then studied pharmacy and medicine in Perth and Melbourne. Early on, however, he developed an intense desire to write. He wrote his first story at thirteen, one that won first prize in an Interstate State School competition; however, he did not publish his first story until he was twenty-five, under the penname Herbert Astor. From this initial publication, until his death in 1984, he published four novels, one short-story collection,Larger Than Life(1963), and one autobiography,Disturbing Element(1963). Among his four novels, the two...

    • 23: Michael Wilding, Murray Bail, Rodney Hall, and Frank Moorhouse
      (pp. 345-358)
      Jaroslav Kušnír

      The academic and intellectual background of Michael Wilding (1942–), Murray Bail (1941–), Rodney Hall (1935–), and Frank Moorhouse (1938–) and their familiarity with contemporary tendencies in the development of literature and literary criticism, as well as with Australian literary and artistic tradition, have enabled these four authors to redirect the trajectory of Australian fiction since the 1960s.

      In addition to his writing career, Michael Wilding has edited several journals, has lectured in English at the University of Sydney, and has written scholarly books on John Milton, British fiction, and classic Australian literature. Murray Bail worked as...

    • 24: Trans-Tasman Literary Expatriates
      (pp. 359-372)
      Brigid Magner

      Over the course of the twentieth century, the relationship between Australia and New Zealand has ebbed and flowed like the Tasman Sea itself. The sea, like their common history, both links and separates the island nation and the larger continent. This body of water has witnessed considerable traffic in literary figures and their texts, enabling influences to be passed back and forth in spite of national boundaries. Expatriate writers have been responsible for a great deal of cultural commerce between the two countries, especially during the interwar period. This chapter will consider three key expatriates — Jean Devanny, Douglas Stewart, and...

  11. Part 5: Beyond the Canon

    • 25: Australian Science Fiction
      (pp. 375-386)
      Russell Blackford

      The science-fiction genre has roots that extend deep into the nineteenth century and even further into the past. Like its sister genre, modern fantasy, it developed from the fiction of Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, Edward Bellamy, William Morris, H. G. Wells, and other literary giants of the Romantic and Victorian Ages. They, in turn, drew on older narrative traditions: myth and legend; epic and romance; folktales and fables; ghost stories; utopian writings; and accounts of fantastic voyages. But the nineteenth century pioneers of science fiction and fantasy also responded — whether with enthusiasm, anxiety, or regret — to the...

    • 26: Popular Australian Writing
      (pp. 387-402)
      Toni Johnson-Woods

      Who is Guy Boothby that the Australian author ofMy Brilliant Career MilesFranklin should write like him and Rudyard Kipling admire him? Boothby is one of the many Australian authors who sold millions of books but who have remained largely ignored by literary scholars. While “literary” fiction and its authors should be celebrated, they represent only a portion of the Australian fiction landscape. This chapter documents one century of Australian popular fiction — popular is that fiction designated “genre” fiction, the crime, adventure, romance, and western novels that achieved widespread appeal and sold millions of copies in Australia and overseas....

    • 27: Australian Film
      (pp. 403-416)
      Theodore F. Sheckels

      Australia has had a feature film industry for as long as the United States. In fact, in its early years, the Australian industry pioneered several major innovations in film (Pike and Cooper, 2–3). The industry, however, fell on hard times due to war and economic depression. Consequently in the 1970s, when the government decided to revive the industry so that Australia might achieve prominence internationally through film, there was history to cite but not much expertise to turn to. Once revitalized, the industry thrived until film became so international a medium Australian films are no longer recognized as uniquely...

    • 28: Australian Children’s Literature
      (pp. 417-428)
      Alice Mills

      Literature for children has flourished in twentieth-century Australia, largely within the sphere of influence of Britain and more recently the United States. The Australianness of this literature manifests itself in serious attempts to lay out for older child readers a distinctively Australian mythos by drawing on white colonial and indigenous stories, and for younger readers, in exuberantly comic celebrations of the eccentric, disgusting, and outrageous. For the first half of the century, Australian children’s literature follows a general line of development from its nineteenth-century colonial origins, with the superbly disrespectful exception of Norman Lindsay’sThe Magic Pudding. In the second...

    • 29: Environmental Themes in Australian Literature
      (pp. 429-444)
      Gary Clark

      Engagement with the environment is a pervasive presence in Australian literature, so much so that discussions of landscape and place have for years informed critical debate. As T. Inglis Moore writes in hisSocial Patterns in Australian Literature, the Australian environment has been the “background of the nation’s story, . . . home of its heroes, the maker of its ideals, and the breeding ground of its myths” (68). During the twentieth century, however, a departure from the “bush tradition” occurred as writers began a deeper engagement with the environment, drawing on broader social, political, and scientific debates. Two strands...

    • 30: Australian Gay and Lesbian Writing
      (pp. 445-458)
      Damien Barlow and Leigh Dale

      The problem of definition looms large over gay and lesbian writing, particularly given its proliferation: the Austlit database, which lists creative works, already has more than a thousand entries pertaining to homosexuality. A set of complex questions about definition, reading position, and canonicity have been opened up in part by lesbian, gay, and queer activism (see Willett), as well as being energized by and reflected in academic study (see Donovan and Chan; Levy). If “gay,” “lesbian,” and “writing” are all potentially problematic categories, so too is “Australian,” a point at issue not only in creative writing but in criticism. There...

  12. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 459-464)
  13. Index
    (pp. 465-478)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 479-479)