A haunted land

McLaren, John (2007) A haunted land. Australian Studies, 20. pp. 153-168. ISSN 0954-0954


Since the nineteenth century, Australian art and writing has had a double vision of the country; as a sunny land of opportunity, and as a place of loneliness and loss. From the diminutive figures of Glover’s Aborigines in their sylvan setting to the weird bush and lonely bushmen of Clarke, McCubbin, Kendall and Lawson, the land is melancholy. Yet Leigh Astbury has shown that this settler view of the land is the product of selective vision influenced by English and American ideas of the exotic and the picaresque. It emphasised the lonely prospector or swagman rather than the miners and unionists and their powerful, if ultimately defeated, unions. The idea of sturdy independence, of “freedom on the wallaby”, appealed to town-dwellers hoping to own their own homes at least as much as to bushwomen lining their rough huts with pictures from the Ladies Home Journal. As Brian Kiernan suggests, Lawson’s early stories found their readership among people forced off the land and into the suburbs and slums of Sydney by the defeats of the 1890s. Recent fiction by white writers has, like Lawson, shown an awareness of the strangeness of the land, but it locates this strangeness more directly in the brutality and defeats of settlement. The sufferings of both settlers and of those they violently displaced continue to haunt their successors. This paper will examine the nature of this haunting in recent novels by white Australian writers.

Item type Article
URI https://vuir.vu.edu.au/id/eprint/1688
Subjects Historical > RFCD Classification > 410000 The Arts
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > School of Social Sciences and Psychology
Keywords Australian literature, Australian culture, colonisation, settlement, environment, landscape
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