Australia Arts and Culture: Modern Literature

Modern Aboriginal writers have fused the English language with aspects of their traditional culture. The result is often carefully fashioned to expose the injustices they have been subjected to, especially as urban dwellers. The first Aboriginal writer to be published was David Unaipon in 1929 (Native Legends).

Aboriginal literature now includes drama, fiction and poetry. The poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker), one of the most well-known of modern Aboriginal writers, was the first Aboriginal woman to have work published (We Are Going, 1964). Paperbarfc: A collection of Black Australian writings (1990) presents a great cross-section of modern Aboriginal writers, including dramatist Jack Davis and novelist Mudrooroo Narogin (Colin Johnson). The book has an excellent bibliography of Black Australian writing.

The Aboriginal in White Literature. Aboriginal people have often been used as characters in White outback literature. Usually the treatment was patronizing and somewhat short-sighted. There were exceptions, though.

Perhaps the best local depicter of the outback was Katharine Susannah Prichard. She produced a string of novels with outback themes into which she wove her political thoughts. Black Opal (1921) was the study of the fictional opal mining community of Fallen Star Ridge; Working Bullocks (1926) examined the political nature of work in the karri forests of Western Australia; and Moon of Desire (1941) follows its characters in search of a fabulous pearl from Broome to Singapore. Her trilogy of the Western Australian gold-fields was published separately as The Roaring Nineties (1946), Golden Miles (1948) and Winged Seeds (1950).

Australia's Nobel prize-winner, Patrick White, used the outback as the backdrop for a number of his monumental works. The most prominent character in Voss (1957) is an explorer, perhaps loosely based on Ludwig Leichhardt; The Tree of Man (1955) has all the outback happenings of flood, fire and drought; and the journey of The Aunt's Story4 (1948) begins on an Australian sheep station.

20th-century Novelists Miles Franklin was one of Australia's early feminists and decided early in life to become a writer rather than the traditional wife and mother. Her best-known book, My Brilliant Career, was also her first. It was written at the turn of the century when the author was only 20, and brought her both widespread fame and criticism. On her death she endowed an annual award for an Australian novel; today the Miles Franklin Award is the most prestigious in the country.

A contemporary writer of note is Peter Carey, who won the Booker Prize for Oscar and Lucinda in 1988. Thomas Keneally is well-known for his novels which deal with the suffering of oppressed peoples, for example The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith and the Booker Prize-winning Scundler's Ark, upon which the Spielberg film Schindler's List was based.

Thea Astley is far from a household name, yet she is one of the finest writers in the country. Her books include Vanishing Points, The Slow Natives, An Item from the Late News and It's Raining in Mango, the last of which is probably her finest work and expresses her outrage at the treatment of Aboriginal people.

Elizabeth Jolley is well known as a short-story writer and novelist with a keen eye for the eccentric. Her works include Mr. Scobie 's Riddle (1983), My Father's Moon (1989), Cabin Fever (1990) and The Georges' Wife (1993).

Tim Winton, from Western Australia, is one of the most exciting writers in Australia today. His works include Cloudstreet (1992) and The Riders (1994), which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.