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"Offensively Australian:" Walkabout and middlebrow writers

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Osborne, PL-A (2014) "Offensively Australian:" Walkabout and middlebrow writers. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

This thesis undertakes a postcolonial reading of a selection of the fiction and non-fiction of Ion Idriess, Arthur Upfield, Ernestine Hill and John K. Ewers. It argues that their published and unpublished writing and correspondence contributed to a mid-twentieth-century literary discourse concerning identity, race and nation. The connection this study makes between these four middlebrow writers is their relationship with Walkabout, an Australian middlebrow geographic magazine. All four writers were noted contributors to the journal. In several ways their writerly endeavours—both fiction and non-fiction—paralleled Walkabout‘s attempts to influence its readers‘ views concerning identity and nation, particularly in respect to rendering the lesser known and populated regions of Australia familiar to its readership. There is no shortage of studies concerning literature‘s engagement with the constructs of identity and nation, however, few examine the unfashionable and sometimes forgotten Australian middlebrow. This thesis argues that the mostly unsophisticated writing produced by Idriess, Upfield, Hill and Ewers not only sought to thrill and entertain, it challenged dominant racial ideology, re-imagined settler history and embraced a modern yet distinct national identity. Idriess, Upfield, Hill and Ewers engaged with their considerable readership in overt ways, and in hitherto unrecognised more subtle ways. Furthermore, many of their readers read across multiple genres and forms and were capable of nuanced and insightful interpretations of these works.
The body of work examined in this thesis attracts criticism for perpetuating a nostalgic national image and adopting negative racial stereotypes. Such criticism fails to identify the more subtle manner in which this writing examined contradictions and ambiguities in mid-twentieth-century society. Idriess‘ writing reflected the period‘s acceptance of a racial hierarchy and the contested nature of Australia‘s cross-cultural relations, but it also supported the growing interest in Indigenous culture and unsettled dominant notions concerning race. Upfield‘s fiction and non-fiction undertook a similar endeavour. His examination of ambivalent relationships between black and white in pastoral Australia suggested that Aborigines should be afforded greater opportunities to participate in society. A selection of Hill and Ewers‘ writing recognised the role literature played in shaping a nation‘s culture and identity. Hill examined processes which imagined a white nation into being and shaped its identity. Ewers utilised aspects of Indigenous culture to support his representation of a distinct nation and encouraged a retreat from Empire. Both he and Upfield were outspoken advocates for the development of a broad and inclusive national literature which rejected notions of Australia‘s cultural inferiority. All four writers shifted many readers‘ gazes from urban preoccupations and encouraged them to envisage a distinct and prosperous nation which valued its unique culture above those of other Western societies.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Arthur W. Upfield, Ion L. Idriess
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2014 the author

Date Deposited: 16 Sep 2015 23:20
Last Modified: 11 Mar 2016 05:52
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