Australian Literature at UWA


Those were some lines from a poem called ‘The
Land’s Meaning’ by the West Australian poet Randolph Stow. Stow wrote some memorable
poems about the harsh beauty of his native country and the way people’s lives are shaped
by its geography and history. The lines of connection between the land where
we live and writing, between country and language, between landscape and imagination, are deeply
fascinating – and fascinatingly complex. This course invites you to explore some of
the ways in which writers in Australia have used the literary resources of language to
express this fascination and this complexity. Hello. My name is Philip Mead and I teach
Australian literature here at the University of Western Australia in Perth, the university
where Randolph Stow, actually, was once a student. This course is about encounters between the
literary imagination and a continent, a hugely diverse land that is home to some of the oldest
surviving Indigenous cultures on the planet, and whose long history includes defining and
sometimes violent encounters between the old world and the new. In Aboriginal culture,
in early European encounters, and in later white settlement, we see how the awe-inspiring
and haunting landscapes of Australia have shaped and influenced a remarkably distinctive
world of writing. This course introduces you to a varied range
of Australian literary works, beginning with Indigenous oral traditions and including colonial,
early twentieth-century and contemporary writing. The texts for study include works of local
and regional focus and others that engage with the wider world – some are classic
works, some are popular. We draw on some critical perspectives you may find of interest, and
we interview some writers. It’s a rough guide because it’s a brief
introduction to a few of the traditions and themes of Australian writing. It’s also
a rough guide because we go places: in each of the 4 main weeks we start from sites, locales,
landscapes, places, that have captured the literary imagination in some distinctive way.
We also explore the significance these places have for culture and history. There are tales of the deep time of Aboriginal
creation in central Australia, of first contact between Europeans and the fabled southern
continent, of crime and punishment, of gold-seeking and spiritual quest, of mysteries and tragedies
in the desert, of families divided between the southern and northern hemispheres, of
expatriate lives and travellers’ impressions. All across a range of songs, fiction, poetry,
popular legend and non-fiction. Throughout the journey of this course we follow the ways
in which writers have adapted their language and narratives to their experiences of place
in Australia. So whether you have an interest in Australian
literature specifically or in exploring the nature of this land, or simply in literature
in general, you should find this course rewarding. There are no prerequisites for studying this
course; the only thing it requires is a curiosity about the different literatures of the world.
We look forward to sharing this experience of Australian literature with you. Enjoy the course!

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