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Australian Literature and Society (Contemporary) (ENG2213)


y separately published work icon Harland's Half Acre David Malouf , London : Chatto and Windus Hogarth Press , 1984 Z81132 1984 single work novel (taught in 3 units)

'Born on a poor dairy farm in Queensland, Frank Harland's life is centred on his great artistic gift, his passionate love for his father and four brothers and his need to repossess, through a patch of land, his family's past. The story spans Frank's life; from before the First World War, through years as a swaggie in the Great Depression and Brisbane in the forties, to his retirement to a patch of Australian scrub where he at last takes possession of his dream. Solitude and society, possession and dispossession, the obsessive and often violent claims of family life and love, illuminate the imagination of the artist and the larger world of events. This is an ambitious novel, presented simply and poetically; the narrative is absorbing, full of incident, and peopled with characters of formidable humour and power.'

Source: Publisher's blurb (Vintage reprint).

y separately published work icon Highways to a War Christopher Koch , New York (City) : Viking , 1995 Z456830 1995 single work novel (taught in 1 units)

'When Mike Langford, a war photographer with a reputation for unusual risk-taking, disappears inside Cambodia, he becomes a mythic figure in the minds of his friends. The search for him which is at the heart of this novel explores the personal highways that led him to war, and to his ultimate fate.'

Source: Publisher's blurb.

y separately published work icon The Well Elizabeth Jolley , Ringwood : Viking , 1986 Z385481 1986 single work novel (taught in 17 units)
— Appears in: Kokainovyj Bljuz [and] Kolodec 1991;

'Miss Hester Harper, middle-aged and eccentric, brings Katherine into her emotionally impoverished life. Together they sew, cook gourmet dishes for two, run the farm, make music and throw dirty dishes down the well. One night, driving along the deserted track that leads to the farm, they run into a mysterious creature. They heave the body from the roo bar and dump it into the farm's deep well. But the voice of the injured intruder will not be stilled and, most disturbing of all, the closer Katherine is drawn to the edge of the well, the farther away she gets from Hester.' (From the publisher's website.)

y separately published work icon The Tax Inspector Peter Carey , London : Faber , 1991 Z195169 1991 single work novel (taught in 1 units) Counter From Granny Catchprice, who runs her family business--and her family--with senility, cunning, and a handbag full of explosives to sixteen-year-old Benny, who dreams of transforming a failing automobile franchise into an empire--and himself into an angel--the Catchprices may be the most spectacularly contentious family since Dostoevsky's Karamozovs. But when a beautiful and very pregnant agent of the Australian Taxation Office enters their lives, the resulting collision becomes, in Carey's hands, masterpiece of coal-black humour and compassionate horror. (Source: Library of Congress Catalogue)
y separately published work icon Oscar and Lucinda Peter Carey , St Lucia : University of Queensland Press , 1988 Z359704 1988 single work novel (taught in 7 units)

'Oscar Hopkins is an Oxford seminarian with a passion for gambling. Lucinda Leplastrier is a Sydney heiress with a fascination for glass. The year is 1864. When they meet on the boat to Australia their lives will be forever changed ...'

(Source: Publisher's website)

y separately published work icon The White Garden Carmel Bird , St Lucia : University of Queensland Press , 1995 Z565978 1995 single work novel (taught in 1 units)

'Seven people die in deep sleep therapy. A woman dies from a bee-sting on the grounds of a psychiatric clinic where inmates are encouraged to live out their delusions. A doctor rapes his patients in the Sleeping Beauty Ward.
Carmel Bird's examination of the secrets of the human mind is a chronicle of tragedy that is inadvertently revealed in the search for a lost library book. It is also a compelling portrait of a doctor whose lust for power is a form of madness.'

Source: Goodreads

y separately published work icon Homesickness Murray Bail , South Melbourne : Macmillan , 1980 Z108653 1980 single work novel humour (taught in 1 units)

'It could almost have been their own country: these sections with the gums briefly framed like a traditional oil painting by the slowly passing window. The colours were as brown and parched; that chaff-coloured grass, Ah, this dun-coloured realism. Any minute now the cry of the crow or a cockatoo; but no.

'Thirteen men and women travel the world on a package tour but wherever they go nothing is as it seems.

'Challenged by the unexpected, by differences and subtleties, Bail’s tourists are in turn repelled and attracted—and all are altered.' (Publication summary)

y separately published work icon Tirra Lirra by the River Jessica Anderson , South Melbourne : Macmillan , 1978 Z300858 1978 single work novel (taught in 19 units)

'Liza used to say that she saw her past life as a string of roughly-graded balls, and so did Hilda have a linear conception of hers, thinking of it as a track with detours. But for some years now I have likened mine to a globe suspended in my head, and ever since the shocking realisation that waste is irretrievalbe, I have been careful not to let this globe spin to expose the nether side on which my marriage has left its multitude of images.

'Nora Porteous has spent most of her life waiting to escape. Fleeing from her small-town family and then from her stifling marriage to a mean-spirited husband, Nora arrives finally in London where she creates a new life for herself as a successful dressmaker.

'Now in her seventies, Nora returns to Queensland to settle into her childhood home.

'But Nora has been away a long time, and the people and events of her past are not at all like she remembered them. And while some things never change, Nora is about to discover just how selective her 'globe of memory' has been.

'Tirra Lirra by the River is a moving account of one woman's remarkable life, a beautifully written novel which displays the lyrical brevity of Jessica Anderson's award-winning style.' (Publication summary)

y separately published work icon The Faber Book of Contemporary Australian Short Stories Murray Bail (editor), London : Faber , 1988 Z356335 1988 anthology short story humour science fiction (taught in 1 units)
y separately published work icon Cross-Country : A Book of Australian Verse John Barnes (editor), Brian McFarlane (editor), Richmond : Heinemann , 1984 Z900285 1984 anthology poetry (taught in 1 units)
y separately published work icon The Man from Mukinupin : A Musical Play in Two Acts Dorothy Hewett , Fremantle Sydney : Fremantle Press Currency Press , 1979 Z513811 1979 single work musical theatre (taught in 5 units)

Described by Dorothy Hewett in her 1979 Hecate article as 'a romantic comedy, written around the principles of celebration and reconciliation... with love and the realisation of love... central to the story' (78), The Man From Mukinupin also deals with the juxtaposition of surface aspects of life and those which lie beneath the surface. The narrative concerns the courtship and eventual marriage of Polly and Jack, along with their doubles Lily and Harry. The two couples lives, played out in the mythical Western Australia wheat belt town of Mukinupin, are starkly contrasted. Jack and Polly belong to the seemingly respectable and conventional daytime society. Polly, is a double figure - an "about to be disappointed in love an life girl" but for whom everything does come out roses. Her other self is Lily (Touch-of-the-Tar), represents the outsider and outcast. Although Lily and Harry roam the dark netherworld of night-time Mukinupin, she too is able to realise her dream, to escape from the narrow little bush town with her lover. In contrast to these four are the grotesque characters, Widow Tuesday, the Black Widow of Mukinupin who delights in death and destruction; and Edie Perkins, the old lady who recites snatches of Victorian poetry. In discussing the role of her female characters Hewett indicates that the thematic struggle mostly lies within the range of the women : 'They are the most aware of the predicament and are the most violently affected by it' ('Creating Heroines', p79).

y separately published work icon Kullark / The Dreamers Jack Davis , Sydney : Currency Press , 1982 Z387542 1982 selected work drama (taught in 1 units)
y separately published work icon An Open Swimmer Tim Winton , Sydney : George Allen and Unwin , 1982 Z69109 1982 single work novel (taught in 1 units)

'Jerra and his best mate Sean set off in a beaten-up old VW to go camping on the coast. Jerra's friends and family want to know when he will finish university, when he will find a girl. But they don't understand about Sean's mother, Jewel, or the bush or the fish with the pearl. They think he needs a job, but what Jerra is searching for is more elusive. Only the sea, and perhaps the old man who lives in a shack beside it, can help. An Open Swimmer is a remarkable first novel by one of Australia's most loved and respected writers.' (Publication summary)

y separately published work icon The Twyborn Affair Patrick White , London : Jonathan Cape , 1979 Z448841 1979 single work novel (taught in 14 units)

'Eddie Twyborn is bisexual and beautiful, the son of a Judge and a drunken mother. With his androgynous hero - Eudoxia/Eddie/Eadith Twyborn - and through his search for identity, for self-affirmation and love in its many forms, Patrick White takes us into the ambiguous landscapes, sexual, psychological and spiritual, of the human condition.' (From the publisher's website.)



This unit explores the distinctive qualities of contemporary Australian literature with particular reference to poetry, short stories, novels and plays published in the last twenty years or so. It will focus on problems of regionalism, isolation and multiculturalism and also examine current social concerns expressed in contemporary Australian writing.


On completion of this unit students should be able to:

1. demonstrate knowledge of recent Australian literature;

2. appraise the principal factors in the texts studied and explore the question of whether the literature achieves a distinctive Australian character;

3. recognise the principal themes in the selected texts and relate them to Australia's cultural background.


1. Prose fiction as a literary genre: experiments with style and form, treatment of issues such as feminism, racism and regionalism.

2. Intensive study of at least three recent Australian novels: social and political commentary, multi-culturalism, and the novel as a medium for comedy.

3. Australian drama: current themes and issues; experiments in form and their implication for performance of contemporary drama.

4. Australian poetry: regionalism (with special reference to Western Australia); experiments in form and direction; satire.


Tutorial/Seminar assignment - 30%

Assignment - 30%

Examination - 40%

Supplementary Texts

Bennett, B. (Ed.). (1991). An Australian compass: Essays on place and direction in Australian literature. Perth: University of Western Australia Press.

Brewster, A. (1995). Literary formations: post-colonialism, nationalism, globalism. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.

Burns, D. R. (1975). The Directions of Australian Fiction, 1920-74. Melbourne: Cassell.

Dutton, D. (1966). The Literature of Australia. Melbourne: Penguin.

Ferrier, C. (ed.) (1985). Gender, politics and fiction: Twentieth century Australian women's novels. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press.

Fitzpatrick, P. (1979). After "The Doll". Melbourne: Edward Arnold.

Green, H. W. (1971). A History of Australian Literature, Vols. 1 & 2. Sydney: Angus & Robertson.

Hodge, B. and Mishra, V. (1990). Dark side of the dream: Australian literature and the post-colonial mind. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.

Holloway, P. (1981). Contemporary Australian drama. Sydney: Currency Press,

Kane, P. (1995). Australian poetry: Romanticism and negativity. Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.

Keesing, N. (ed.) (1975). Australian postwar novelists. Queensland: Jacaranda Press.

Kramer, L. (ed.) (1981). The Oxford History of Australian Literature. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Moore, T. I. (1971). Social Patterns in Australian Literature. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.

Palmer, J. (1979). Contemporary Australian playwrights. Adelaide: Adelaide University Press.

Phillips, A. A. (1980). The Australian tradition. Melbourne: Longman Cheshire.

Ramson, W. A. (ed.) (1974). The Australian Experience. Canberra: Australian National University Press.

Rees, L. (1978). A History of Australian drama, Vols. 1 & 2. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.

Smith, G. (1980). Australia's writers. Melbourne: Thomas Nelson.

Taylor, A. (1987). Reading Australian poetry. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press.

Walker, D. (1976). Dream and disillusion: A search for Australian cultural identity. Canberra: Australian National University Press.

Walker, S. (1983). Who is she? St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press.

Wilde, W. Hooton, J. and Andrews, B. (1985). The Oxford companion to Australian literature. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

Other Details

Only a selection of texts from those listed will be studied.

Topic also available as ENG4113 & ENG3213.

Levels: Undergraduate