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Type: Thesis
Title: Lawson, Stow, Prescott and the Mythos of the Outback Town
Author: Court, Peter Hugh
Issue Date: 2020
School/Discipline: School of Humanities : English and Creative Writing
Abstract: The ‘outback’ sits at the heart of the understanding of Australian identity; that Australia is a hard and harsh land, tamed by hard working white people. But it is a myth. However, as the thesis will examine, the ubiquity and resilience of this outback myth makes it difficult to perceive that the identity of white Australia is founded on a fictional construction. Beginning with the short story works of Henry Lawson (1867-1922), the thesis explores how the myth of the outback came to encapsulate this fictional understanding of Australia. It finds that this harshness was not the case for the Indigenous inhabitants, that Australia was originally a fruitful and fecund land. The thesis finds that the myth became entrenched to allow white Australians to cauterise a negative colonial history. The harsh ‘outback’ grew from fictional stories as a means to hide the true history of Australia’s modern settlement. This outback became embodied in the uniquely nation spanning Australian accent. The thesis examines how the accent, combined with the outback myth, has provided a powerful foundation for creating a unified white Australian identity. The thesis then explores recent fictional works that question these mythical constructs. Randolph Stow’s Tourmaline (1963) draws attention to the separating, segregating nature of the outback myth as he presents a fictional town that satirically draws attention to the belief in the myth and the self-protecting nature of it. In The Town (2017) Shaun Prescott presents the myth as causing his town to begin disappearing as it succumbs to a useless and unsupportable belief in the falsehood of its own existence. The exegesis will utilise the theoretical groundings of Barthes (1973), Gibson (2002) and Carter (1987) to explore the manner in which, as Donna Lu highlights “The process of Australian colonisation, from the systematic massacres of Indigenous people to the instatement of the White Australia policy, has enabled a national myth prioritising white hegemony” (166). By comparing the fictional texts, the thesis also examines how the outback myth and its impact have changed over time. It attends to the action of forgetting the past that is essential for the myth of the outback to continue its work of separating white and Indigenous Australia today. The thesis then turns to my own fictional work, The Willton Tales. This novel incorporates global myths of monsters alongside fantastical characters and events to present the outback town as something other than it has been culturally presented. Where the outback myth has rested on an assumption that the land at the heart of Australia is a simple, hard place populated by simple, hard people, The Willton Tales tells of people living vastly complicated, intertwined lives, frequently at odds with the hardness of the outback myth. The Willton Tales seeks to continue the work of the later authors, raising questions about, and unsettling, the false yet powerful heart of Australian national identity hidden by the outback myth and the accent that supports it.
Advisor: Rutherford, Jennifer
Castro, Brian
Dissertation Note: Thesis (Ph.D.) -- University of Adelaide, School of Humanities, 2020
Keywords: Australian fiction
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