Tropical Island Imaginary


  • Stephen Torre James Cook University



This paper opens with a historical survey of the imaginary representation of islands in Western literature and then proceeds to a selective account of the island imaginary in largely ‘middlebrow’ writings and photography about the tropics. Complexities and paradoxes in the significances and semiotics of islands can be found in much writing about the Pacific islands of tropical Australia. E.J.Banfield largely established the paradisal perspective on tropical islands and extolled the lifestyle of the ‘beachcomber’. The often challenged ‘truth claim’ that ‘the camera cannot lie’ is most pertinent to Hurley’s work: what we see there is not only a speculum but more often a spectacle of the island imaginary; indeed the staging and replication of content so as to reflect what Hurley wanted to see in his subjects amounts to the substitution of a hyperreal, which then establishes itself in the discourse of the tropical island imaginary. Norman Lindsay tapped into some persistent motifs of the island imaginary: the excitement created by shipwreck and survival; the romance and salacious possibilities afforded by the attractions between a heroine and her suitors; and the realities of human nature stripped of civilised manners. Paradoxically, the popular works of Ion L. Idriess problematize the boundaries between material fact and textual discourse, tapping into what may well be a paradigm for the island imaginary in general—a space where contraries multiply and fantasies materialize. Lastly, Frank Clune’s ‘counterfeit adventures’ similarly play around persistent binaries and stereotypes in the island imaginary, and perpetuate a reification of the complexity and elusiveness of their subject.




How to Cite

Torre, S. (2016). Tropical Island Imaginary. ETropic: Electronic Journal of Studies in the Tropics, 12(2).