'To the Islands concerns the ordeal of Stephen Heriot, an elderly, careworn, and disillusioned Anglican missionary who abandons his mission when he mistakenly believes he has accidentally killed one of his Aboriginal charges in a not entirely unprovoked confrontation. Heriot flees into the desert not to escape justice but to embrace its desolate beauty and its elemental purity as the one objective reality and the one certainty left available to him.
Heriot's flight and his embrace of the desert may be seen as his attempt, as a European Australian, to immerse himself in the landscape, to make himself one with the land. At this realistic level, the novel enacts the ontological and existential dilemma that confronts most — if not all — European Australians, the dilemma that Professor Hassall [in his introduction to the 2002 UQP Australian Authors version] defines as the continuing quest for psychic integration, for reconciliation with indigenous Australians, and with the land itself.'
Wells-Green, James. [Untitled Review.] JAS Review of Books 15 (May 2003)
'Unlike many city-dwelling Australians, the desert holds no terrors for me. Instead, like DH Lawrence, I find the cathedral forests of the coastal regions oppressive and disquieting. Lawrence brought to his descriptions of the Australian bush the same overwrought sensitivity that created the claustrophobic emotional landscape of 'Sons and Lovers', and the appalling, majestic insularity of the Italian mountain village in 'The Lost Girl'. He was the writer who made explicit the sense of some non-human presence in the Antipodean landscape, and while I have a different interpretation of the 'speechless, aimless solitariness' he attributes to the country, his instincts were good.' (Publication abstract)
'Kangaroos are the most visible of Australia’s unique animals, but despite their charm and national icon status, Australian writers perpetually kill them off.' (Introduction)
'In 1957 the young writer Randolph Stow travelled to Forrest River Mission in East Kimberley, Western Australia to conduct research for a new novel. His experiences and observations at the mission over four months resulted in the publication of his Miles Franklin Award-winning book To the Islands (1958). A novel that fluctuates between the symbolic imperatives of the central narrative and the material realities of Forrest River, To the Islands is both a remarkable and uneasy representation of place. Particularly unsettling is Stow’s inclusion of an oral account of massacre taken down verbatim at the mission in 1957. Arguing that this massacre narrative represents a moment of slippage in the novel – whereby the localised trauma of Forrest River can be seen to infiltrate Stow’s King Lear-like narrative – this paper draws on recent archival research to suggest the massacre account in To the Islands allows a momentary and profound register of colonial violence, not otherwise expressed in the novel.' (Publication abstract)
'The novels I shall concentrate on in discussing messiahs and millennia in Stow's work are To the Islands, Tourmaline, Visitants, and The Girl Green as Elderflower. Tourmaline and Visitants are the two which most clearly relate to millenarian themes. Tourmaline records the growth, and collapse, of a millenarian cult centred on the messianic or would-be messianic figure of the diviner Michael Random. Visitants is a structurally more complex exploration of three millenarian visions and their communal and personal repercussions, although the connotations of the title are not restricted to cargo or flying saucer cults.' (Publication abstract)