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Issue Details: First known date: 2007... 2007 The Wide Brown Land : Literary Readings of Space and the Australian Continent
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AbstractHistoryArchive Description

'In his 1987 poem "Louvres" Les Murray speaks of journeys to 'the three quarters of our continent/set aside for mystic poetry" (2002, 239), a very different reading of Australia's inner space to A.D. Hope's 1939 vision of it as '[t]he Arabian desert of the human mind" (1966, 13) In this paper I review the opposed, contradictory ways in which the inner space of Australia has been perceived by Australian writers, and note changes in those literary perceptions, especially in the last fifty years. In that time what was routinely categerised, by Patrick White among others, as the "Dead heart" (1974, 94) - the disappointing desert encountered by nineteenth=century European explorers looking for another America -has been re-mythologised as the "Red Centre," the symbolic, living heart of the continent. What Barcroft Boake's 1897 poem hauntingly portrayed as out where the dead men lie" (140,-2) is now more commonly imagined as a site of spiritual exploration and psychic renewal, a place where Aboriginal identification with the land is respected and even shared. This change was powerfully symbolised in 1985 by the return to the traditional Anangu owners of the title deeds to the renamed Uluru, the great stone sited at the centre of the continent; but while this re-mythologising has been increasingly influential in literary readings, older, more negative constructions of that space as hostile and sterile have persisted, so that contradictory attitudes towards the inner space of Australia continue to be expressed. In reviewing a selection of those readings, I am conscious that they both distort and influence broader cultural perceptions. I am also aware that literary reconstructions of the past reflect both the attitudes of the time depicted and the current attitudes of the writer, and that separating the two is seldom simple. Finally, I am conscious of the connections between literary readings and those in art and film of the kind documented by Roslynn Hanes in her 1998 study Seeking the Centre: the Australian Desert in Literature, Art and Film, and those in television and advertising. I have however, with the exception of the Postscript, limited my paper to literary readings, with an emphasis on works published since Haynes's study.' (Author's abstract p. 45)


  • Epigraph:
    Her beauty and her error
    The wide brown land for me
    (Dorothea Mackellar 1971, 4)

    "A pity that you huddle," said the German. "Your country is of great subtlety"
    (Patrick White 1957, 13)

    Le silence eternel de ces espaces infinis m'effraie
    (Blaise Pascal/Randolf Stow 1958, 60)

Publication Details of Only Known VersionEarliest 2 Known Versions of

Last amended 28 Jun 2011 13:15:22
45-53 The Wide Brown Land : Literary Readings of Space and the Australian Continentsmall AustLit logo
  • Uluru, South West Northern Territory, Southern Northern Territory, Northern Territory,
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