'In Sydney, the period between the two world wars was a time of rapid change, when ‘modern’ was considered a goal to which the city and its people should strive. The 1930s were bookended by the opening of the Harbour Bridge in 1932 and the 1938 Sesquicentenary of the First Fleet’s landing, two events that figured Sydney as the triumphant end point of a narrative of national, white Australian progress. This period also saw the publication of a number of novels by Australian women writers that took the contemporary city as their setting and scrutinised urban modernity as a state of being and an ideological position. This thesis takes as its focus five novels that depict and debate the multiple and often combative discourses of modernity that flowed through Australia’s first and most populous urban centre in the interwar period: Seven Poor Men of Sydney (1934) by Christina Stead, Jungfrau (1936) by Dymphna Cusack, Waterway (1938) by Eleanor Dark, Foveaux (1939) by Kylie Tennant, and Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow (1947; 1983) by M. Barnard Eldershaw. Through close reading within and across the novels, I argue that this generation of women writers pioneered a distinctly Australian, modern urban poetics that is best described as aqueous. Responding to Sydney as a dynamic estuarine environment, each writer mobilises water as location and literary device, infusing the modern city’s spaces and processes with productively aqueous qualities of changeability and circulation, unsettlement and motility. Making heuristic use of a Benjaminian framework for dialectical urban thinking, I read this aqueous poetics of Sydney against the narrative of progress epitomised by the Bridge and Sesquicentenary, arguing that in contradistinction to this narrative, the novels present an Australian urban modernity of material emplacement in an unpredictably watery sphere, where history settles and sediments, multiple ideological schemas flow into one another, and relations between bodies, space and power generate constant contestation.'
'In the opening scene of Eleanor Dark’s novel Waterway (1938), Oliver Denning drives over Sydney’s South Head through the dawn, looking out over the red roofs of Watsons Bay to the harbour below. Oliver’s elevated perspective and physical distance allow him to offer readers a holistic assessment of Sydney, one hundred and fifty years after white settlement. As a doctor, Oliver relies on medical metaphors for his description, diagnosing the city as a germinating disease, ‘the growth of whose parent cells had fastened upon the land’ in 1788 (11). Struggling to reconcile with its cost—a land ‘violated,’ a people decimated—Denning finds himself wishing to ‘annihilate the city’ (12, 11). As the scene continues, however, the doctor forces himself to reconfirm his connection to the present place and time, as Dark shifts to second person to enfold the reader in a vision of radical community:
You were one of the red roofs, and all about you, on this shore and on the opposite shore, from Balgowah to Parramatta, were your neighbours, the other red roofs … He was very well pleased that it should be so. … What you see now, spreading itself over the foreshores, reaching back far out of sight, and still back into the very heart of the land, is something in whose ultimate good you must believe or perish. The red roofs and the quiet grey city become intimate and precious—part of a story of which you yourself are another part, and whose ending neither you nor they will see. (12-13)
'In Eleanor Dark’s novel Waterway (1938), Professor Channon is prompted by the ominous international headline ‘Failure of Peace Talks’ to imagine the world from a global perspective (120). Channon feels himself metaphorically ‘lifted away from the earth … seeing it from an incredible distance, and with an incredible, an all-embracing comprehension’ (119-20). This move outward from a located perspective to ‘a more detached overview of a wider global space’ signifies a cosmopolitan viewpoint, ‘in which the viewing subject rises above the placebound attachments of the nation-state to take the measure of the world as a wider totality’ (Hegglund 8-9). Yet even this global view is mediated by Channon’s position from within ‘a great island continent alone in its south sea’ (121). Gazing from a ‘vast distance,’ he views Europe as ‘the patches where parasitic man had lived longest and most densely,’ and from which humankind ‘went out to infect fresh lands’ (120). This description of old world Europe as ‘parasitic’ provides a glimpse of resistant nationalism, reflecting Channon’s location within one of the ‘fresh lands’ affected by colonisation. Channon is ultimately unable to sustain a ‘Godlike’ perspective in this scene, desiring ‘nothing but to return’ to local place (121). Although his view initially ‘vaults beyond the bounds of national affiliation’ (Alexander and Moran 4), this move outward does not ‘nullify an affective attachment to the more grounded locations of human attachment’ (Hegglund 20). Channon’s return to the ‘shabby home … of his own humanity’ brings a renewed sense of connection to ‘the sun-warmed rail of the gate’ and ‘the faint breeze [which] ruffled the hair back from his forehead’ (122).' (Introduction)
'The desire to challenge or escape colonial provincialism in search of a freer, more cosmopolitan modernity finds expression in three works of fiction by women writers that stage the drama of ferry wreck on Sydney Harbour, and that thread - as Wai Chee Dimock would say - local Australian scenes into the deeper time of world literature: Christina Stead's short story 'Day of Wrath' (1934), Eleanor Dark's novel Waterway (1938) and The Transit of Venus (1980) by Shirley Hazzard' [p. 102].
'In this thesis I will demonstrate that Eleanor Dark's over-riding themes are time and memory. Time informs the structure of her novels, she juxtaposes past and present. Memory in all its aspects, personal, cultural, racial dominates both her contemporary novels and The Timeless Land trilogy. The thesis considers Dark's fiction in sequence to chart her treatment oftime and memory.
'Simultaneously Dark was reaching into her own reservoir of memory and transfiguring her own experience in the characters, events and locations of her novels. In this oblique way, and through this unique form of modelling, Dark reveals little known areas of her life. Biographically Dark remains elusive; the surface events of her life are well documented but do not account for the drama of her character portrayals, the immediacy of her perceptions of the natural world, her deep intellectual responses to art, literature and politics, as well as her preoccupation with time.
'It is my contention that Dark's creative thrust was inwards; she developed the inner processes of memory and imagination. Time and memory cohere in her novels; under scrutiny they bring new interpretations to her work, and new insights into her life.' (Author's abstract)