Austrlain Novel

The Australian Novel #

Australians have been uncertain of ourselves, we felt insecure. What was the cause of this? … First … geography, the hostile environment, the fear experienced when alone; far from Europe. Second, the doubt, do we belong here, perhaps this is geography, perhaps history … third, Australia as the harlot, raped by the Europeans, coarse, vulgar, meretricious. We suffer from cultural cringe.

Tom Keneally claims until the 1970’s Australians saw themselves as a colonial people, inferior to others. We were the best in the world at soldiering, wool breeding and cricket. We were a young settler society on the oldest continent with the oldest civilization in the world.

Much of this has changed over time, and it has been our artists; painters, writers, musicians and politicians who have instilled a greater sense of identity and pride in ourselves. Much of the credit for this must go to the election of the Whitlam government in 1972 and his forging of a bold more progressive and positive mind set. The greatest progress in all areas came between 1972 and 1996, when little Johnny Howard decided to take us back to the smug 1950’s.

Originally, in 1788, the official position was that the colony should be a multi-purpose one as a penal colony, a strategic, free settler outpost, and an opportunity to acquire flax for sails and Norfolk pines for mast posts.

However, there developed two cultures and visions for the early colonies.

One, saw us as simply a colonial outpost of British civilisation located in Asia. We were a “new Britannia in another world”. Our political institutions, culture, symbols, flags, national anthems, and history were British to the bootstraps.

The other, attempted to foster a new society based on distinctive national interest and values promoting a classless society. Guess who won.

Camilla Nelson contends, The Age of Criticism, Martin Amis wrote, started with the publication of F.R. Leavis’s The Great Tradition – the book that, more than any other, is synonymous with a narrow and elitist English canon. For the Leavisites, literature was a depository of shared human values – of “felt life”. For the intellectuals of the New Left, it was a potent source of social-cultural arguments.

Either way, Literature – not writing, or English, or textual studies, but big “L” literature – was the central cultural formation around which everything turned. Until, that is, the Age of Criticism ended abruptly in the global stagflation of the early 1970s. And all the hippyish young men – and let’s make it clear, they were invariably men – discovered that literature was “one of the many leisure-class fripperies”, as Amis puts it, that the world could do without.

By the end of the 70s, literary criticism crawled back into the academy to contemplate its own death – or worse, its own irrelevance. In the public imagination, literature gave way to film, television and music, and, subsequently, the rise of the Internet, as central repositories of cultural meaning.

Inside the universities, literature through the 1980s and 1990s seemed to be losing relevance. The words on the page were suddenly insufficient. The study of writing gave way to the study of Ideology and the study of Theory.

As intellectual ventures, then, deconstruction and reconstruction were long overdue. The canon is, after all, a fiercely contested body of work that scholars – for one fiercely contested reason or another – have decided was influential in shaping the history of western culture. If one way to define the canon is “what gets taught”, then it became clear that “what gets taught” had to change. Camilla Nelson Senior Lecturer in Writing, University of Notre Dame Australia. The Conversation

Craig McGregor was another one who wrote about the great Australian stupor; satirising the modern Australian man’s conformity to a stereotype; that of a vapid predictable routine and sterile existence. He unthinkingly or blindly conforms to a life devoid of meaning. Subsiding from spiritual transcendence we soon degenerate to the sterile, mundane and moral aridity of modern man’s values and aspirations. Instead of yearning for moral enlightenment or heavenly paradise, we attempt to create it here through rampant materialism and indulgent hedonism.

“Behold the man - the Australian man of today - on Sunday mornings in the suburbs, when the high-decibel drone of the motor mower is calling the faithful to worship. A block of land, a brick veneer, and the motor-mower beside him in the wilderness - what more does he want to sustain him, except a Holden to polish, a beer with the boys, marital sex on Saturday nights, a few furtive adulteries, an occasional gamble on the horses or the lottery, the tribal rituals of football, the flickering shadows in his lounge room of cops and robbers, goodies and baddies, guys and dolls?”

What is the function (purpose) of the passage? b) Is the level of usage appropriate? c) What is the pattern of organization of ideas in the passage. d) What rhetorical techniques of sentence construction and style are used? e) To what extent does the passage use connotative language (overtones/undertones) or figures of speech?

One obvious dichotomy between writer and reader is the melancholy, even despairing view contrasted by the reader’s cheerful acceptance of the place, blowflies, dullness and all. Gloom and outright hostility induced by Australia has been an enduring theme from Gordon, Clarke, Kendall, Harpur, Boake, Lawson, Baynton, Brennan, Henry Handel Richardson, Christina Stead, Xavier Herbert, Patrick White. In some the love-hate relationship seesaws, in some there is a fear and distrust of the land itself, in others a love betrayed by crass Australians.

Gothic #

If Australia has one place where ghosts should walk it is Port Arthur. There are ruins enough here; an atmosphere of violence and decay; almost too many remembrances of human suffering. George Farwell, 1965

The tradition of literature that qualifies as Tasmanian Gothic goes back to Marcus Clarke’s For the Term of His Natural Life in 1874, and continues to this day.

Henry Lawson #

The six Joe Wilson stories are the closest Lawson came to writing a novel.

More at:

Marcus Clarke #

As a forced immigrant, (his parents died early and he was sent to live with an uncle who was a judge), Clarke became a newspaper reporter and a librarian st Victoria’s State Library, when he was sent to Tasmania to research and write about Port MacArthur where he fashioned this gothic tale. The serialised version ran from 1870 – 72 with the full novel published in 1874. Instead of returning to England as a pardoned convict, in the novel, he remains a convict and dies at sea.

Based on typical novels of his time, it hinges on long dialogues, some coincidental circumstances, fused modalities of realistic documentary style descriptions, creative fiction and fully resolved tying down loose ends - bedding down.

Wrongfully convicted of a crime he did not commit, a young aristocrat, Richard Devine, is sent to pay his dues in Van Diemen’s Land. As a criminal in this new colony, Rufus Dawes is forced to endure tremendous suffering and inhumanity, from the inhumane cruelty of those in power to the harsh brutalities of an untamed country.

Relating the intricate and savage interplay between the gaolers and the gaoled, Marcus Clarke weaves the tragic tale of his wrongfully convicted hero Rufus Dawes. This unforgettable account of the barbarous days of early white settlement has at its heart the enduring belief in the strength of the human spirit and the capacity for love to overcome adversity.

It illustrates how the brutal treatment of convicts can turn them into savages, however Dawes love for Dora saves him from that fate. Clarke’s fiction account is credible and shows how power controls narratives. When he is marooned with Lieutenant Frere, Mrs Vickers and her daughter Dora, he becomes Crusoe, builds a hut and a boat to effect their escape to saftey. However, when Mrs Vickers dies, and Dora’s coma causes her to lose her memory, the authoritarian Frere’s official story of him being the hero and Dawe a villain is accepted and Dawe is put back in chains. Each step, from Macquarie Harbour to Port Arthur, to Norfolk Island, is a regressive decent from England until the ascent to Victoria where the wilderness becomes a more natural prison and slowly Dawes regains his humanity.

D.H. Lawrence found a lack of declarations of love that flaws Australian Literature; towards each other and of the country. He also commented similarly on a “happy-go-lucky, don’t worry, we’re in Australia”, the country where there seemed to be “no inside life of any sort, just a lapse and drift”. Australia, a land of pleasure and hedonism.

A.G. Stevens, an editor of the Bulletin blamed Henry Lawson’s lack of love on his Englishness, “he was one of us but not of us”.

Much the same was said of Joseph Furphy; “he was with us, but he was not one of us”.

Ned Kelly #

A cultural icon, Australia’s most durable antihero. - bushranger or honourable freedom fighter?

Kelly captured the nation’s attention for many years with several books, novels, films and documentaries.

The 1906 Ned Kelly Film

Known as the Tait Brothers, this is believed to be the first feature film over an hour, in the world.

Other silent films versions were The Kelly Gang (1920), When the Kellys Were Out (1923). In 1934, another film, When the Kellys Rode and in 1951, The Glenrowan Affair.
1970 saw Mick Jagger, against protest, play our national hero in Ned Kelly.

That was redeemed when we had Heath Ledger portray him in 2003.

The latest one, based on Peter Carey’s The True History of the Kelly Gang, is not based on the truth at all. But then most history is based more on myth than reality. There are so many variable colourful stories about Ned Kelly, it is impossible to get to the real truth.

Australians like to make heroes of ordinary people.

We can’t seem to have an intelligent conversation about Kelly’s place and identity … We seem to have this strange, awkward relationship with him, and not an honest one.

The Kelly legend stalks the national psyche like no other, makes the point that perhaps white Australians don’t want to look past him, to the dispossession of Indigenous Australians and their ancient stewardship of the land.

“It’s always been interesting to me why we get so hung up about our history being this man and how we work so hard to define it in this man, in a way that is favourable or not,” says Kurzel. “He was a 25-year-old guy. But what about the unbelievable history that came before settlement?”

The Jerilderie Letter, Ned Kelly

The “Jerilderie Letter”, a 56-page manifesto-cum-confession written by the bushranger while on the lam from authorities in 1879, is a document whose naive poetry, rhetorical grandiosity and punctuation-free flow make it uniquely amenable to the visual grammar of film. It was not published until 1930

“Dear Sir, I wish to acquaint you with some of the occurrences of the present past and future.”

This is how infamous Australian outlaw Ned Kelly began what has become known as the Jerilderie letter, or his confessions. Alongside his statement made to the police after his arrest, this is the only other document in which we hear his own words. The Kelly gang were active between 1878 and 1880.

“But by the light that shines pegged on an ant bed with their bellies opened their fat taken out rendered and poured down their throat boiling hot, will be fool to what pleasure I will give some of them and any person aiding or harbouring or assisting the police in any way whatever or employing any person whom they know to be a detective or cad or those who would be so depraved as to take blood money will be outlawed and declared unfit to be allowed human burial their property either consumed or confiscated and them and theirs and all belonging to them exterminated of the face of the earth”.

On the 25th June 1880 the gang executed a former friend and ally turned police informer Aaron Sherritt. Ned’s father was an Irishman, John ‘Red’ Kelly who, at the age of twenty-two, was transported to Van Diemen’s Land for stealing two pigs from his native County Tipperary in 1841. After his release in 1848, he married Ellen Quinn, the daughter herself of Irish immigrants. They went on to have eight children with Kelly being the third. His father died in his mid-forties shortly after being released from another stint of hard labour. This time the six months captivity seems to have wrought damage on his health, leading to his death.

When he was around 14 Kelly was arrested after a disagreement over a horse. The Jerilderie letter proclaims his innocence of this and future crimes that marked his teenage years.

“Ned said they’ll never bring me to my knees”

This runs alongside the undercurrent of anti-British sentiment that was nourished in the colony. The language and imagery of the Irish man living under British colonialism finds expression in the letter.

“I will be compelled to show some colonial stratagem which will open the eyes of not only the Victorian Police and inhabitants but also the whole British army and no doubt they will acknowledge their hounds were barking at the wrong stump and that Fitzpatrick will be the cause of greater slaughter to the Union Jack than Saint Patrick was to the snakes and toads in Ireland, The Queen of England was as guilty as Baumgarten and Kennedy, Williamson and Skillion of what they were convicted for”.

“What would England do if America declared war and hoisted a green flag as it is all Irishmen that has got command army forts of her batterys even her very life guards and beef tasters are Irish would they not slew round and fight her with their own arms for the sake of the color they dare not wear for years and to reinstate it and rise old Erins isle once more from the pressure and tyrannism of the English yoke and which has kept in poverty and starvation and caused them to wear the enemys coat. What else can England expect is there not big fat necked unicorns enough paid to torment and drive me to do things which I don’t wish to do”.

On April 15 1878 what has become known as ‘The Fitzpatrick Incident’ occurred in the Kelly family home. Ellen, along with her baby Alice, was sentenced to three years hard labour. This deepened Kelly’s sense of injustice; he maintained that Fitzpatrick had falsified evidence to ensure that members of his family would be punished.

“but they knew well I was not there or I would have scattered their blood and brains like rain I would manure the Eleven mile with their bloated carcases and yet remember there is not one drop of murderous blood in my veins … my brothers and sisters and my mother not to be pitied also who was has no alternative only to put up with the brutal and cowardly conduct of a parcel of big ugly fat necked wombat headed big bellied magpie legged narrow hipped splawfooted sons of Irish bailiffs or English landlords which is better known as Officers of Justice or Victorian Police who some calls honest gentlemen but I would like to know what business an honest man would have in the Police”.

It was after this incident that Dan joined Kelly in the bush and he officially became an outlaw. Further to this one line in the letter, an aside to the wider argument against the police:

“if so why not send the men that gets big pay and reckoned superior to the common police after me and you shall soon save the country of high salaries to men that is fit for nothing else but getting better men than himself shot and sending orphan children to the industrial school to make Prostitutes for the Detectives and other evil disposed persons send the high paid men that receive big salaries for years in a gang by themselves”.

For many Kelly has become a kind of Robin Hood figure; a poor working man fighting against the system. The gang were well known for their good treatment of civilians and hostages. During the final Glenrowan siege it is recorded that no civilian hostages were hurt by the gang and those that did sustain injuries were shot by the police. Near the close of the Jerilderie letter one can see where this idea came from: “all those that have reason to fear me had better sell out and give £10 out of every hundred to the widow and orphan fund and do not attempt to reside in Victoria”.

Punch caricatured him as the ruler of the colony, dancing around a flag labelled “Communism”.

Ned Kelly’s place in Australian history and culture is undisputed. The worlds very first full length narrative film was about Kelly and the history of his gang. So often in popular culture, despite the dead and prison sentences behind him, he is viewed as one of the last free, wild men; he represents the end of the bushranger era. As Australian society moved inevitably towards a more urban way of life Kelly is often hailed as a reminder of a different, heavily mythologised time. The letter ends on one final message, words underlined for emphasis:

“I do not wish to give the order full force without giving timely warning but I am a Widow’s Son, outlawed and my orders must be obeyed”.

Partrick White #

Christos Tsiolkas writes that when he read David Marr’s commanding biography, Patrick White: A Life, the storyteller in me was delighted to find that the young Patrick had been shipped to Cheltenham College in England as a youth, and that there he had experienced an exile from home and family that marked his character and his writing throughout his life. Marr eloquently describes the alienation the young boy felt upon being wrenched from his privileged and cocooned upbringing in rural New South Wales and bourgeois Sydney, to find himself suddenly a colonial misfit in one of the elite centres of English life.

Christos Tsiolkas, emphasising White’s Greek connection through his relationship with maintains White railed against the parochialism and mean-spiritedness of Australian culture all his life, and this antagonism is a constant presence in his writing. It lends his wonderful autobiography, Flaws in the Glass, some of its most vivid imagery. And a fractious desire – fractious because never fulfilled, never finally consummated – to leave Australia and make Europe his permanent home is part of the life that Marr surveyed and also a recurrent desire of the characters in White’s novels. In fiction he could satisfy that longing: in both the early work, The Aunt’s Story, and the late masterpiece, The Twyborn Affair, main characters can make that great divorce.

But White himself remained in Australia till the end of his life. That in itself is an important biographical element that I think informs how we understand his work. The flight of mid-20th-century writers from Australia in order to consolidate their identities and their careers was so commonplace as to be unremarkable – so much so that we had a name for the sense of inferiority involved: “cultural cringe”. Randolph Stow and Christina Stead, two other writers of comparable ability, had to leave their home country to continue writing. And a later generation that includes Robert Hughes, Germaine Greer and Clive James also had to make that particular migration. I think one thing that marks White’s writing and makes it different from the work of these other writers is that the Australia that emerges across his work is not static. This country, in all its beauty and ugliness, in all its meanness and potential, is a perpetual character in his novels. It changes and grows, it keeps repeating the same mistakes, and yet it can surprise us. This is one of the things I adore about the man’s work. There isn’t a whiff of nostalgia for Australia in his writing.

It’s not faith that Patrick White takes from Orthodoxy, but a sensibility, one that allowed him to return to Australia and see the landscape in a way he could not before his relationship with Manoly. The seer, the hermit and the seeker will become central to his work, and the spirituality in his novels will not arise from characters pondering the existence or non-existence of a deity, but from encountering the Godhead in the violences and ecstasies of the natural world.

Christos Tsiolkas maintains Patrick White gained from his partner’s Greek Orthodoxy a sensibility that changed how he saw Australia after both fought for England in the World War.

There is something in White’s attraction to, and resentment of, his colonial status that links him to me. White railed against the parochialism and mean-spiritedness of Australian culture all his life, and this antagonism is a constant presence in his writing. It lends his wonderful autobiography, Flaws in the Glass, some of its most vivid imagery. And a fractious desire – fractious because never fulfilled, never finally consummated – to leave Australia and make Europe his permanent home is part of the life that Marr surveyed and also a recurrent desire of the characters in White’s novels.

The Tree of Man is the fourth published novel by the Australian novelist and 1973 Nobel Prize-winner, Patrick White. It is a domestic drama chronicling the lives of the Parker family and their changing fortunes over many decades. It is steeped in Australian folklore and cultural myth, and is recognised as the author’s attempt to infuse the idiosyncratic way of life in the remote Australian bush with some sense of the cultural traditions and ideologies that the epic history of Western civilisation has bequeathed to Australian society in general.

“When we came to live [in Castle Hill, Sydney]”, White wrote, in an attempt to explain the novel, “I felt the life was, on the surface, so dreary, ugly, monotonous, there must be a poetry hidden in it to give it a purpose, and so I set out to discover that secret core, and The Tree of Man emerged.”.

The title comes from A. E. Housman’s poetry cycle A Shropshire Lad, lines of which are quoted in the text. …more „ Loonies speak their own language, like educated people.“

Stan Parker, the archetypal selector, lay claim to a patch of virgin Australian bush near Sydney around 1905.

He takes a wife and makes a home as a selector in the wilderness of Australia. Amy bears his children and time brings him a procession of ordinary events - achievements, disappointments, sorrows and dreams. Stan dies on the same patch of land about 50 years later.


“ 0, conversation is imperative if gaps are to be filled, and old age, it is the last gap but one.“ Page 405

“She had begun to read in the beginning as a protection from the frightening and unpleasant things. …

“Two people do not lose themselves at the identical moment, or else they might find each other, and be saved. …

“She would have liked to love.

A D. Hope appears dispairing about our cultural cring in his:


*The river of her immense stupidity
Whose boast is not: ‘we live’ but ‘we survive’,

Where second-hand Europeans pullulate
Timidly on the edge of alien shores.*

Ronald Conway wrote books called The Great Australian Stupor (1971) and The Land of the Long Weekend 1978 ..that seared into the Australian psyche of self-examination re-enforcing Donald Horne’s The Lucky Country (1966). This earlier title sold nearly 70,000 copies, astonishing for a book of its type and as a work of social criticism was second in sales only to Horne’s better-known work.

Conway sought to diagnose what was wrong with the Australian mindset. Even the sacred cow of mateship copped a blast, along with feminism, which he said had gone too far, with the children the victims. He also attacked mindless materialism, and the public obsession with sexuality.

Describing the Australian society of the time in his autobiography, he wrote:

“Men usually drank too much (and) fraternised awkwardly. Meanwhile, the women had to respond to domestic circumstances where both fullness of purse and largesse of feeling were usually in short supply.”

The Land of the Long Weekend is a snapshot of Australia at a time when the economic and social changes were beginning to shape the society we have today.

“So many feckless young gods still need their Conway. This philosopher of human frailty was indeed a prophet that should be honoured in his own country.” By GEOFF STRONG

Bogan Australians feature strongly on television and movies. Here is a partial list: #96, Roy and HG, Kath and Kim, The Castle, Struggle Street, Frayed

Howard Jacobson #

on the ABC’s Brilliant Creatures postulated that:

In the early 1960’s Australia quietly emerged out of a cultural, intellectual and economic backwater which had stifled a number of aspiring intellectuals, including Robert Hughes, Clive James, Germaine Greer and Barry Humphreys found stifling and boring. They discovered “overseas” and became celebrated ex-patriots in the Mother country.

Howard Jacobson had a difficult time understanding this as they made an instant splash in Britain as he went from Britain to Australia to teach in what he describes as a dynamic iconoclastic intellectual environment at Sydney University.

“To the desert go prophets and hermits; through desert go pilgrims and exiles. Here the leaders of the great religions have sought the therapeutic and spiritual values of retreat, not to escape but to find reality.”Paul Shepard, Man in the Landscape: A Historic View of the Aesthetics of Nature

Jacobson speculates about this paradox; perhaps it was the pressures of boredom, that a stultification produced such diamonds, the exhilarating dullness; such beauty and exhilaration. He points out the contradiction that Australia reveres its writers more than England does, yet Australians are suspicious of tall poppies.

Colonial Australia has a larrikin nature about it. Jacobson describes them as raw, hedonistic and bloody-minded, outlandish, hoodlums in the playground with a healthy disrespect for vaunted authority.

Some political leaders capitalise on the opportunity to politicise the school curriculum for the purposes of leveraging their opponents and stoking their bases. Whenever attempts are made to read and study texts in the English classroom that reflect the diversity of Australian society – and within Australian classrooms – the backlash is intense and sustained.