Not Today, Old Man
Keywords:landscape, Australia, gender, violence, gothic
‘Not Today, Old Man’ was written to the journal’s call-out theme ‘Tropical Gothic’. Informed by these ideas and a long tradition of women’s writing from Austen to Atwood, ‘Not Today, Old Man’ interrogates the relationship between women and violence.
Throughout most of the twentieth century, ongoing abuse of women in a domestic environment was not considered a mitigating factor in violent action performed against the perpetrator, or indeed ‘self-defence’, unless taken at the time of attack. Unable to physically shield themselves from their abusers, and without a legal defence should they seek to protect themselves outside the temporal boundary of a violent attack, women were in a sense imprisoned within these relationships. In the comparatively rare instance that a woman was the perpetrator of domestic violence, ‘Battered Woman Syndrome’ was not available for defence in the context of Australian provocation law until the end of the twentieth century (see R v Kontinnen 1991; R v Runjanjic 1992). It is worth considering that in this same era, a man making unwelcome sexual advances to another man was considered reasonable grounds for ‘self-defence’ (R v Green 1997).
The landscape in ‘Not Today, Old Man’ is predominantly set in the tropics, but the story also alludes to the diversity of countryside and climate within Australia, both in the text itself and through allusions to authors like Gerald Murnane. The dark undertones of the piece are embedded in the depiction of these landscapes and the images they evoke. The oppressive heat, humidity, and comparatively low population of Australia’s tropical regions lends itself to gothic exploration. This dark undertone was modelled on writers like David Malouf, whose fiction and poetry have been significant in endowing Australia with a sense of mythology associated with its Northern environments. As Malouf has explained, re-mythologizing the postcolonial Australian landscape gives its diverse inhabitants a renewed, ‘symbolised place’ to ‘exist in’ (cited in Mulligan & Hill, 2001, p.110).
Mulligan, M. & Hill, S. (2001). Ecological Pioneers: A Social History of Australian Ecological Thought and Action, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
R v Green (1997) HCA 50; (1997) 191 CLR 334; (1997) 148 ALR 659; (1997) 72 ALJR 19 (7 November 1997).
R v Runjanjic & R v Kontinnen (1991). 53 A Crim R 362; (1992) 56 SASR 114.
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