Literature of the Pacific, Mainly Australian
AbstractThis lecture is in some ways the ‘lost’ chapter of The Cambridge History of Australian Literature (2009), one eventually not written because the projected author could find not enough literary material even in that vast Pacific Ocean, or perhaps found – as mariners have – only far separated specks in that ocean. Yet Australian literature about the nation’s Pacific littoral and the islands within the ocean and the ocean itself is varied, considerable, and often eccentric. Our greatest drinking song is Barry Humphries’s ‘The Old Pacific Sea’. The Japs and the jungle are the hallmarks of fiction, poetry and reportage of the Pacific War of 1942-5. New Guinea has attracted such writers as James McAuley, Peter Ryan, Trevor Shearston, Randolph Stow and Drusilla Modjeska. The short stories of Louis Becke are the most extensive and iconoclastic writing about the Pacific by any Australian. Yet the literature of the Pacific littoral seems thinner than that of the Indian Ocean. The map on the title page of Rolf Boldrewood’s A Modern Buccaneer (1894) shows those afore-mentioned specks in a vast expanse of water. What aesthetic challenges have Pacific writing posed and how have they been met? Have the waters of the Pacific satisfied Australians as a near offshore playground but defeated wider efforts of the imagination?
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