'In 1806 William Thornhill, a man of quick temper and deep feelings, is transported from the slums of London to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. With his wife Sal and their children he arrives in a harsh land he cannot understand.
'But the colony can turn a convict into a free man. Eight years later Thornhill sails up the Hawkesbury to claim a hundred acres for himself.
'Aboriginal people already live on that river. And other recent arrivals - Thomas Blackwood, Smasher Sullivan and Mrs Herring - are finding their own ways to respond to them.
'Thornhill, a man neither better nor worse than most, soon has to make the most difficult choice of his life.
'Inspired by research into her own family history, Kate Grenville vividly creates the reality of settler life, its longings, dangers and dilemmas. The Secret River is a brilliantly written book, a groundbreaking story about identity, belonging and ownership.' (From the publisher's website.)
Set in the eccentric backwater of Karakarook, New South Wales, this is the story of Douglas Cheeseman, a shy and clumsy engineer who meets Harley Savage, a woman who is known for being rather large and abrupt. Harley Savage is a plain, rawboned woman, a part-time museum curator and quilting expert with three failed marriages and a heart condition. Douglas Cheeseman is a shy, gawky engineer with jug-handle ears, one marriage gone sour, and a crippling lack of physical courage. Seeming to be incompetent was something Douglas did to protect himself, just as having a "dangerous streak" served the same purpose for Harley. Douglas is there to pull down a quaint old bridge and Harley aims to foster heritage. They are clearly on a collision course - but when they meet they are unaware that something unexpected is going to happen. (Source: Trove)
'The year is 1827, and in a remote hut on the high plains of New South Wales, two strangers spend the night in talk. One, Carney, an illiterate Irishman, ex-convict and bushranger, is to be hanged at dawn. The other, Adair, also Irish, is an officer of the police who has been sent to supervise the hanging. As the night wears on, the two discover unexpected connections between their lives, and learn new truths. Outside the hut, Adair's troopers sit uneasily, reflecting on their own pasts and futures, waiting for the morning to come. With ironic humour and in prose of starkly evocative power, the novel moves between Australia and Ireland to explore questions of nature and justice, reason and un-reason. , the workings of fate, and the small measure of freedom a man may claim in the face of death.'
Source: Publisher's blurb (Vintage reprint).
'In the mid-1840s, a thirteen-year-old boy, Gemmy Fairley, is cast ashore in the far north of Australia and taken in by Aborigines. Sixteen years later, when settlers reach the area, he moves back into the world of Europeans, men and women who are staking out their small patch of home in an alien place, hopeful and yet terrified of what it might do to them.
Given shelter by the McIvors, the family of the children who originally made contact with him, Gemmy seems at first to be guaranteed a secure role in the settlement, but there are currents of fear and mistrust in the air. To everyone he meets - from George Abbot, the romantically aspiring young teacher, to Mr Frazer, the minister, whose days are spent with Gemmy recording the local flora; from Janet McIvor, just coming to adulthood and discovering new versions of the world, to the eccentric Governor of Queensland himself - Gemmy stands as a different kind of challenge, as a force which both fascinates and repels. And Gemmy himself finds his own whiteness as unsettling in this new world as the knowledge he brings with him of the savage, the Aboriginal.' - Publisher's blurb (Chatto & Windus, 1993).
'Henry and Muriel's life on the new estate is relatively harmonious, despite the vulgar neighbours (the Tonkettes), the Second World War and the regular Sunday visits from Muriel's mother (who believes her daughter has married far below her station).
'The accidental appearance of Mr Hawthorne - Muriel's student - at their house one Sunday afternoon brings unexpected upheavals. Here is a man of respectable breeding, of munificent means, and someone capable of refined, intelligent conversation. Mr Hawthorne has something to offer everyone in the family, but his posting to London disturbs the delicate balance of personal affairs ...'
Source: Publisher's blurb.
'The Professor is married to Hazel, a diligent and generous (but rather plain) woman. She is so close to her twin, Chloe, that both women live under one roof with the Professor.
'Back from an overseas trip come their daughters — triplets — ready to celebrate their twenty-first birthday. Family life in the otherwise peaceful house swells to a chaotic crescendo on the evening of the party, as the Professor feels the tender sting of his wife's accommodating ways.'
Source: Publisher's blurb (Modern Classics ed.).
On completion of this unit students should be able to:
1. identify dominant themes in recent Australian fiction;
2. describe the principal themes in the selected texts and relate them to Australia's cultural background;
3. explore those aspects of works which appear to contribute to their distinctive Australian character;
4. explain the relationship between discourse and critical practice; and
5. apply relevant theoretical principles to the analysis and discussion of selected literary texts; in particular, theories relating to writing in settler-cultures.
1. Prose fiction as a literary genre including experiments with style and form, treatment of issues such as feminism, racism and regionalism.
2. Intensive study of at least three recent Australian novels.
3. The novel as a medium for social and cultural comment.
4. The Australian short story: current themes and issues.
5. Relationships between international literary, cultural and political developments and their impact on the Australian literary scene.
Bennett, B. (Ed.). (1991). An Australian compass: Essays on place and direction in Australian literature. Perth: University of Western Australia Press.
Ferrier, C. (Ed.) (1985). Gender, politics and fiction: Twentieth century Australian women's novels. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press.
Genoni, P. (2004). Subverting the empire: Explorers and exploration in Australian fiction. Rushcutters Bay, Altona, Vic: Common Ground Publishing.
Hodge, B. and Mishra, V. (1990). Dark side of the dream: Australian literature and the post-colonial mind. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.
Kramer, L. (Ed.) (1981). The Oxford history of Australian literature. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
Lever, S. (2000). Real relations: Feminist politics of form in Australian fiction. Rushcutters Bay, NSW: Halstead Press.
Phillips, A. A. (1980). The Australian tradition. Melbourne: Longman Cheshire.
Vanden Driesen, C. & Crane, R. (Eds). (2005). Diaspora: The Austral-Asian Experience. New Delhi: Prestige.
Vanden Driesen, C. & Nandan, S. (Eds). (2002). The Austral-Asian experience. New Delhi: Prestige.