Australian Poetry and Prose in the Early 20th Century

We had fun today exploring a range of authors: John Shaw Neilson, Miles Franklin, Frederic Manning, M.Barnard Eldershaw, Judith Wright, Rosemary Dobson, Francis Webb and Gwen Harwood. What an amazing cross-section of talent! The one strongest idea that came to me during the lecture was a question that arose after we pondered the meaning of A.D.Hope’s famous words:


These words led me on to reflect how is it that all human creativity – poetry, prose, painting, music, dance…..-  seeks to maintain the frame and order of the world? And in the case of every author that we glanced at today it is easy to see how the underlying motivation for every work is to do precisely just this. In Neilson’s amazing little mysterious poem “The Orange Tree” one can see how the poet is wanting to use the young girl’s response to the speaker, and her openness to the inner life of the orange tree, as a way of subverting the mind-dominated, destructive mutterings of the adults who are so filled with their own self-importance. This is Neilson’s way of “maintaining the frame and order of the world”.  Then Miles Franklin in her My Brilliant Career enacts the same purpose in her challenge to the indignities faced by young women both on the land and in their relationships with bullying men. Every author that we studied today can be thought about in these terms. Maybe Francis Webb with his “End of the Picnic” is the strongest candidate for this approach. His interrogation of what actually happened at Kurnell on the day that Captain Cook arrived with his ship the Endeavour is a powerful way of giving back to the original owners of this land a picture of how their “holy” land had been negatively impacted by the arrival of this “blasphemy”:

FRank Webb Picinic.001

The concluding lines that depict the union jack as blood-stained symbol of British domination in this Terra-Nullius  is Webb’s way of powerfully depicting the tragic consequences of the event, the very definite end of this picnic!.

It is worth reminding ourselves also that this first meeting of white and black was followed a few years later by Governor Macquarie’s troops deliberately “With Secrecy and Despatch” (the very words used by Macquarie in his official journal) drove Aboriginal women and children off the cliffs at Appin just south of Sydney. This is a horrific event that set the town for many such events up and down the east coast of Australia. There is a commemorative exhibition about this event on at the Campbelltown art centre right now and a powerful ABC program about the event right here: “With Secrecy and Despatch”

Blog Topics for Week 8:

1/Following along the lines of what I have been discussing above, discuss any of the poems/ prose pieces that we have been looking at this week in terms of how they might maintaining “the frame and order of the world”?

2/Write a short creative or critical piece that is inspired by any of the works that we have looked at this week (in lectures & tutorials).

3/Create a digital kit that explores the life and work of any one of the authors that we have looked at this week: in other words bring together a short annotated kit of digital resources that you think would inspire someone to follow up and read the author of your choice.

4/Write a short creative piece of poetry or prose that reflects your own feelings about an event such as the Appin Massacred


(Remember you must copy and paste your peer reviews into your own blog- otherwise you cannot get credit for this good work that you are doing. )





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