Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Australian literature began soon after the establishment of the country by Europeans. Early popular works tended to be of the 'ripping yarn' variety, telling tales of derring-do against the new frontier of the Australian outback. Writers such as Rolf Boldrewood, Marcus Clarke and Joseph Furphy embodied these stirring ideals in their tales and, particularly the latter, tried to accurately record the vernacular language of the common Australian. These novelists also give valuable insights into the penal colonies which helped form the country and also the early rural settlements. The transportation of prisoners, emigration to this once remote nation and the persecution and prejudice suffered by its indigenous peoples all contribute to a sense of alienation and exile which can be seen to run through at least the early writings of Australia.
Despite perhaps poetry seeming out of the typical Australian character it played an important part in the founding of Australian literature. Two poets who vie for the position of greatest Australian poet are Christopher Brennan and Adam Lindsay Gordon. Gordon was not born in Australia but the Azores. Despite this he is often called the "national poet of Australia" and is the only Australian with a monument in Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey in England.
Both Gordon’s but particularly Brennan’s works are made up of traditional styles of poetry with many classical allusions, which can be thought of as high culture, but there was also a competing, vibrant tradition of folk songs and ballads. Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson were two of the chief exponents of these popular ballads and ‘Banjo’ himself was responsible for creating what is probably the most famous Australian verse Waltzing Matilda.
In sharp contrast to these early frontier writers most of the white inhabitants of Australia were city dwellers. Even Banjo Paterson, who wrote of the archetypal swagman was a city lawyer. Nevertheless their romanticised views of the outback and the rugged characters that inhabited it played an important part in shaping the Australian nation’s psyche, just as the American Old West influenced America’s ideas of itself.
Henry Handel Richardson (the nom de plume of Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson) was, aside from being one of the first female Australian authors, one of the first to write about urban, middle-class life. The 1920s bought two of the most important proponents of Australian literature, Vance and Nettie Palmer, to the fore. The husband and wife team, Vance working on novels and Nettie on non-fiction, did much to promote their own writings but also to chronicle earlier authors.
Immigrants and expatriates
One of the most internationally famous Australian novelists Nevil Shute was, like many people in a nation formed on immigration, not native born. Shute moved to Australia and settled there after World War II, portraying world events such as the war and nuclear warfare from an Australian point of view. Some years earlier in the early 1920s D. H. Lawrence visited and in his novel Kangaroo was one of the first foreign writers to depict Australia and its people as something more than a penal colony.
Other writers have felt that the remoteness of Australia needed to be escaped. Germaine Greer, author of The Female Eunuch, has spent much of her career in England and has in the past been a fierce critic of her native land but she now regularly lives some of the year in New South Wales. Although Greer is considered a pioneering feminist writer, Louisa Lawson , mother of the poet Henry Lawson, was a suffragist and editor of The Dawn Journal a campaigning publication. Along with Nettie Palmer and Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson, Louisa Lawson is Greer’s distinguished forerunner.
Australian literature can be thought of as coming of age in 1973 when Patrick White became the first and so far only Australian to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature although being born and spending a large part of his life travelling abroad.
James Clavell in his collection of works called The Asian Saga shows an important feature of Australian literature, its portrayal of far eastern culture from the admittedly even further east, but nevertheless western cultural viewpoint just as Nevil Shute had done. Clavell was also a successful screenwriter and along with such writers as Thomas Keneally, who wrote Schindler's Ark (the book Schindler's List is based on), have expanded the topics of Australian literature far beyond that one country. Other novelists to use international themes are Gerald Murnane and Brenda Walker . To even greater distances, Greg Egan, Joel Shepherd and Traci Harding are just some of the currently popular Australian science fiction and fantasy novelists.
Despite being considered by some almost an anathema to literature the Australian born business man Rupert Murdoch is one of the most powerful men in media worldwide. His influence on literature includes the ownership of numerous newspapers in several countries and the publishing firm HarperCollins.
The hitherto unregarded voice of aboriginal australians has begun to be noticed and including the playwright Jack Davis although he is still little known. Another important milestone is the historian Manning Clark's seven volume History of Australia which is usually regarded as the definitive account of the nation.
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