'This full-fledged literary and critical history of Australian fiction specifies the governing themes of the fiction and its various schools; it analyzes the evolution of a canon of Australian fiction in literary history; and it demonstrates the way Australian writers and scholars have been forced to adjust their beliefs about authentic Australian literature since the emergence of Aboriginal imaginative writing in the 1960s. This study presents and analyzes the longstanding battle of Australian literature for academic and popular recognition in Australia, a struggle mirroring the larger national quest for a confident identity. The "Emigrant Mechanic," narrator of Alexander Harris' Settlers and Convicts, or Recollections of Sixteen Years Labour in the Australian Backwoods (1847), identifies themes that have persisted in Australian culture and literature--the fascination with the landscape, the rise of the New Australian, the mateship social dynamic.
'Those themes persist, for example, in the 'bush fiction' of Henry Lawson, Joseph Furphy, and their successors, fiction focusing on survival, as bush dwellers fight an environment bent on defeating human effort. Harris adds another major theme that resonates in Australia's canonical fiction when, despite his avowed aim to celebrate the Australian experience, he returns homesick to England. Much of Australian fiction is a story of leaving; the hero--the exceptional person--must escape Australia to find fulfillment.
'Those who stay, like Meg in Ethel Turner's Seven Little Australians, are best served by learning to become proper Imperial citizens. The emergence of Aboriginal fiction, poetry, and drama in the 1960s introduces a new story and theme into Australian literature, the search for the Aboriginal soul lost or disrupted with the arrival of the Europeans, when the narrator in Mudrooroo's (Colin Johnson's) landmark Wild Cat Falling (1965) breaks from the cycle of prison-release-recapture. Recognizing his heritage and recovering his Aboriginal self, he provides--in the Aboriginal journey to reclaim the soul--a potent literary counter to the cultural sense of displacement and inferiority evident throughout Australian canonical fiction. In recognizing and embracing the Aboriginal spirit of the continent, Australian writers and readers can hope to resolve their identity quest.' (National Library of Australia catalogue record)