Australian literature

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Australian literature,

the literature of Australia. Because the vast majority of early Australian settlers were transported prisoners, the beginnings of Australian literature were oral rather than written.

The Nineteenth Century

Early attempts at producing literary works were rather gentrified, written in the English style for an English audience. A good example is the work of W. C. WentworthWentworth, William Charles,
1793?–1872, Australian statesman. His exploration (1813) of the Blue Mts. in Australia revealed vast pasturelands in the western part of the continent.
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, author of Australasia, an Ode (1823), which is minor and imitative. During the next few decades Australian writers began to discover at least their subject, if not yet their voice, with the interpretive nature poetry of Charles Harpur (1813–68) and Henry Kendall (1839–82) and with the novels of Henry Kingsley (brother of Charles Kingsley), who wrote about pioneer life. The bush ballad, begun by Adam Lindsay GordonGordon, Adam Lindsay,
1833–70, Australian poet, b. the Azores. In 1853 he went to South Australia, where he joined the mounted police and later became famous as a steeplechase rider and horse owner.
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, flowered in the work of Henry Lawson (1867–1922) and A. B. ("Banjo") Paterson (1864–1941), whose Man from Snowy River and Other Verses (1895) includes the famous song "Waltzing Matilda."

Convict life was depicted in Henry Savery's Quintus Servinton (1830), but it was not until almost a century after the first prisoners arrived that they received their due, in Marcus Clarke's classic account of life in a penal colony, For the Term of His Natural Life (1874). Less powerful, but true to life in the bush, were the novels of Rolfe Boldrewood (pseud. of Thomas A. BrowneBrowne, Thomas Alexander,
pseud. Rolf Boldrewood
, 1826–1915, Australian author. A squatter, a magistrate, and a commissioner in the gold fields, he wrote many books of life in Australia, such as Robbery under Arms (1888) and Ghost Camp (1902).
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) and James Tucker, whose Ralph Rashleigh (1844) was the first book to focus on Australia's unique combination of prison life, aborigines, and bushrangersbushrangers,
bandits who terrorized the bush country of Australia in the 19th cent. The first bushrangers (c.1806–44) were mainly escaped convicts who fled to the bush and organized gangs. Their crimes were checked effectively by various Bushranging Acts passed after 1830.
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. Other important 19th-century novelists were Miles Franklin (1879–1954), whose My Brilliant Career (1901) is often designated the first authentically Australian novel, and diarist-novelist Tom Collins (pseud. of Joseph Furphy, 1843–1912). Poets of note include Hugh McCrae (1876–1958) and Dame Mary Gilmore (1865–1962).

The Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries

The increasing industrialization of the early 20th cent. rendered the pastoral nature of most Australian literature anachronistic. The present century eventually produced greater sophistication and diversity among writers. Probably the most important Australian writer of the early 20th cent. was Henry Handel RichardsonRichardson, Henry Handel,
pseud. of Ethel Richardson Robertson,
1870–1946, Australian novelist, b. Melbourne. Her years of study at the Presbyterian Ladies' College, Melbourne, were reflected in her book The Getting of Wisdom (1910).
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 (pseud. of Ethel Richardson Robertson), whose autobiographical trilogy, The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney (1930), presents a compelling portrait of Australian life. Richardson's reputation was matched at mid-century by Patrick WhiteWhite, Patrick,
1912–90, Australian novelist, b. London. Raised in England and educated at Cambridge, he returned to Australia after World War II, earning his living by farming and writing.
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 whose strong, somber novels, Australian in setting yet universal in theme, reveal the author's ambivalence toward his native land; White received the Nobel Prize in 1973.

Other notable 20th-century novelists are Brian Penton, Leonard Mann, Christina SteadStead, Christina,
1902–83, Australian novelist, b. Rockdale, New South Wales. She worked in the United States in the 1940s, emigrated to England in 1953, then returned to Australia in 1974.
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 (only one of whose novels is actually set in Australia), Arthur William Upfield (1888–1964), John O'Grady, Morris WestWest, Morris
(Morris Langlo West), 1916–99, Australian novelist, b. Melbourne. West's novels often reveal an interest in both Roman Catholicism and international politics, as reflected in his best-selling The Shoes of the Fisherman
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, C. J. Koch, Peter CareyCarey, Peter,
1943–, Australian novelist, b. near Melbourne. Carey's combination of science fiction and fantasy motifs with a realistic style, displayed in the short stories in The Fat Man in History (1974), War Crimes (1979), and Collected Stories
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, Thomas KeneallyKeneally, Thomas
, 1935–, Australian novelist, b. Sydney. For a time a student of religion, and later of law, Keneally has ranged over a wide spectrum of subjects in his many novels, including the American Civil War, Nazi Germany, POW camps, and rugby.
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, the aborigines Colin Johnson and Alexis Wright, and the Tasmanian writer Richard FlanaganFlanagan, Richard,
1961–, Australian novelist, b. Longford, Tasmania, studied Univ. of Tasmania (grad. 1982), Oxford (Rhodes scholar). Flanagan, whose novels explore the past and present of his native land, wrote four volumes of history before turning to fiction.
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. After emigrating to Australia in 1950, the English novelist Nevil ShuteShute, Nevil
(Nevil Shute Norway), 1899–1960, English novelist, b. Ealing, Middlesex, grad. Oxford, 1922. After serving in World War I, he was manager of a construction company until 1938. He fought also in World War II and emigrated to Australia in 1950.
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 subsequently produced novels with Australian settings and themes. The most popular Australian novelist of the late 20th and early 21st cent. is Tim WintonWinton, Tim
(Timothy John Winton), 1960–, Australian writer, generally regarded as the preeminent Australian novelist of his generation. Most of his books have been set in his coastal Western Australia home and celebrate its hardscrabble life, landscape, and linguistic
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. Remarkably, in a nation with such natural and human wonders, there has not yet been a major Australian poet. Current claimants, however, include R. D. Fitzgerald, Kath Walker, Judith WrightWright, Judith
(Judith Arundell Wright), 1915–2000, Australian poet. After graduating from the Univ. of Sydney, she worked variously as a clerk, secretary, and statistician. She is regarded as one of the most important Australian writers of the 20th cent.
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, J. P. McAuley, Kenneth Slessor, Vance Palmer, and Chris Wallace-Crabbe.


See H. M. Green and D. Green, A History of Australian Literature (2 vol., rev. ed. 1984); B. Argyle, An Introduction to the Australian Novel, 1830–1930 (1972); G. Dutton, The Literature of Australia (1976); L. Kramer, The Oxford History of Australian Literature (1981); and W. H. Wilde et al., The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature (1985).

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