Reading Three Stories of Palm Island


  • Leigh Dale University of Wollongong



genre, fiction, non-fiction, Palm Island, cultural history, Indigenous Australia


After briefly introducing Palm Island and its history as a place of punishment for Indigenous people, this essay looks at how readers respond to three books about Palm: Thea Astley’s The Multiple Effects of Rainshadow (1996), Chloe Hooper’s The Tall Man (2008), and Cathy McLennan’s Saltwater (2016). Using reviews posted by contributors to Goodreads, I investigate the colocation of terms which recur in positive reviews, in search of a specific form of reading, described here as “absorption.” Against the publishing and broader cultural conventions which differentiate fiction from non-fiction, the evidence shows that readers who describe themselves as having become absorbed tend also to praise these books for their truth, regardless of genre. The essay proposes some points of reference for thinking about the reading experience, and concludes by briefly noting the limits of using of genre in marketing, reviewing, and studying books. The essay is built on an awareness of the radical imbalance in the distribution of literacy in the region these books depict. 

Author Biography

Leigh Dale, University of Wollongong

ProfessorLeigh Dale is an Honorary Professorial Fellow in English at the University of Wollongong. She was editor of the journal Australian Literary Studies, and is author of a historyof teaching English literatures at Australian universities, The Enchantment of English (Sydney University Press, 2012). Her other recent book is Responses to Self Harm (MacFarland,2015). Her current research is concerned with the writing and reputation of Thea Astley, and she is also working (with Graham Barwell) on a critical edition of Katharine SusannahPrichard’s 1928 serial (then novel) Coonardoo.




How to Cite

Dale, L. (2017). Reading Three Stories of Palm Island. ETropic: Electronic Journal of Studies in the Tropics, 16(2).



Essays and Articles on Australian Literature