What can a writer of fiction steal: a voice, a landscape, some history, a story, a name? Is barefaced best, ficto-critical more honest, slight of hand more deft? Good relationships and elaborate permissions have failed to protect the best of writers. Preparing for hostilities can warp a narrative.
Examining the heart of a dark obsessive story could lend to an exploration of the notion of heredity, but what if the story is historically anchored to a name, your name, or at least the name you took up with a man? Is it the weight of the exegesis bearing down, which demands of the writer such self-conscious examination of the inchoate novel, conceived but not transformed? This paper sets the rights and privacies of others, against the quirks of imagination, and the trust writers invest in themselves in order to create their work.
When I visited Ireland in 1996, its arcane landscape moved me. I could
feel a story stirring and it wasn't mine. Desire and transgression: where
would one be without the other? Writers inevitably transgress, and I will
too, but it is not the conscious object of my desire.
In 1493 a young man from Galway murdered his Spanish rival in love. Unwilling
to compromise a local jury, his father, Magistrate James Lynch Fitzstephen,
took his son to the gallows. Then after a period of depressive reflection
he hanged himself from an upstairs window. Nothing is known of the girl.
It may well be an apocryphal story, and several versions survive. Reverend
Groves published a version in Dublin, The Warden of Galway (1832),
and this play was performed in the 1830s; in Australia Irish convict Edward
Geoghegan borrowed from it for his play The Hibernian Father,
which was first performed 6 May 1844 at Sydney's Royal Victoria Theatre,
and he was accused of plagiarising from Groves. The voluble diasporic
Irish theatregoers were not so much concerned with the appropriation of
a Galway tale, as they were with the question of the play's authorship.
In 1852 Martin Lynch, his wife Mary and their three children, landed
in Portland, Victoria. By cart and on horseback they crossed swamps and
rivers into station-country west of the South Australian border, where
they ignored the lure of gold and, for fourteen years, disappeared from
the public record. Despite the dearth of labour, it is not surprising
that the writings of the wealthy English pastoralist who employed Martin,
would fail to mention an indentured Irish horseman and his family. Frontier
writings were literary constructions couched within a white hegemonic
Martin Lynch and Magistrate James Fitzstephen Lynch, both from County
Galway, share their name and perhaps some obsessive traits. My husband
and our headstrong children descend from one of them at least.
In this paper, while foreshadowing the direction of my proposed novel
set in colonial and postcolonial South Australia, I intend to defend my
writing kleptomania. I have made the characters up, their Christian names,
their points of view, their early-settler lives. Nonetheless they are
Lynches, and I will use Geoghegan's play to link them, imaginatively at
least, with James Fitzstephen Lynch.
I will argue that I am Dr Frankenstein: an amoral, foolhardy, stubborn,
writer thinking only of my creation, and that writing a novel is not just
abstraction, an intellectual exercise, but a process of construction.
Until my monster blunders into the public gaze, anything is mine for the
But there are querulous voices, conflicting histories, and disputed landscapes.
I will try to locate myself, risk-taking writer, juggling too many balls,
teetering on the edge of a precipice. And you will see me at every toss,
wrong-footed, trying not to speak for or about beleaguered objects of
history wars, constructing women, deconstructing men, searching for truth
in hereditary darkness, 'telling lies about family' - prickly Lynch patriarchs
may well say - 'using sleight of hand', whilst acting vague on tacit permissions.
I will defend these thefts, one by one: Geoghagen's play, the Lynchs'
name, blood and family, chronology and landscape, my self-conscious interest
in the psyches of the colonised: Indigenous Boandik and Irish. And, as
privileged white woman - with Protestant upbringing - I will make admissions.
I will conclude with my fears and some concessions.
Rationale for stealing the play
I want to write a book about resonance in families. It may turn Jungian.
I believe it is important to speculate, especially in an imaginative way,
about the traits that are carried by generations of families, in blood,
by adaptation to the process of colonization or, mysteriously, atavistically.
Stealing James Lynch's story via Geoghagen's play will allow me to examine
the idea of heredity in all its complexity, and at the same time provide
me with a dramatic backdrop. I believe that the Galway characters in my
novel should be familiar with this story, that its telling will be part
of their communal or collective memory, or perhaps a confronting part
of their history they may prefer to forget. It is a compelling vehicle
for exploring the notion of ancestral grief.
Although The Hibernian Father is about a father and his son,
and masculinity will be important, it is not just the lost boys I am searching
out, but their sisters. Stealing the play will bring a Lynch girl protagonist
into the arms of an actor. It is a plot device that fits my time frame
and allows the girl, who is culturally marooned, to examine her family
Finding the play
The Hibernian Father was believed missing for a almost a hundred
years, until 1966, when academic Dr Albert B. Weiner unearthed it amongst
other colonial plays in Sydney's Mitchell Library. In early New South
Wales plays could only be performed with the express approval of the Colonial
Secretary. Compliant theatres were issued with annual licenses. The Colonial
Secretary's letters permitting a performance of the play can be found
in the New South Wales State Archives. Geoghegan penned many plays in
the 1840s, all of them performed at Sydney's Royal Victoria Theatre, and
he first submitted The Hibernian Father as The Irish Father.
Weiner obtained a copy of Reverend Groves' play, The Warden of Galway,
from the National Library of Ireland in Dublin, which allowed him to compare
the two plays. He exonerates Geoghegan from the charge of plagiarism,
concluding that: 'The Warden of Galway is not a play at all,
while The Hibernian Father has distinct possibilities'
(Weiner 1966: 464). While critics were happy, then
and now, to take issue with plagiarism, there has been no questioning
the validity of two Protestant men, one a reverend, the other a convict,
neither of them from Galway, writing the tragedy of the Catholic Magistrate.
Weiner is interested, as I am, in how the plays represent an historic
drama about obsession, arguing that, 'if the play is to succeed we must
sympathise with the son'. In The Warden of Galway the Lynch father
is 'as cold-blooded a father and judge as Roderick is a murderer', while
in The Hibernian Father the son's 'only crime is attempted murder
Geoghegan is sensitive to the father's dilemma and we pity him too' (Weiner
1966: 464). In both versions, and the Galway tale they are based on, we
are presented with a father so highly principled he will kill his son.
According to Janette Pelosit, it is remarkable that copies of the play
survive at all. Borrowing them back to make copies, and failing to return
them, authors and actors lost many of those submitted. Pelosit explains
that 'some colonial plays have only survived because the actors who had
performed them retained a copy, or theatres kept collections of plays
performed in them. However many theatres of that time burned down. 'Indeed,'
she says, 'the Royal Victoria Theatre in Pitt Street Sydney was destroyed
by fire in July 1880' (Pelosit 2003).
Shortly before Weiner's rediscovery of the play, Helen Oppenheim wrote
a piece in Australian Literary Studies discussing Geoghagen,
his body of work and some critical colonial reviews. Although unable to
locate a copy of The Hibernian Father she is negative in her
appraisal not only of it, but of Geoghegan's other plays, suggesting that
they 'were bad plays but their very lack of dramatic quality, of originality
of plot, characterization or language, makes them indistinguishable from
innumerable contemporary plays which were acted on the English stage'
The play may well be nineteenth-century Gothic melodrama, but it encapsulates
the Magistrate's moral dilemma, and provides a welcome departure from
English plays of the period, in which Irish characters are commonly represented
as criminals and peasants (Booth 1977).
In my novel an actor will bring his copy of the play to a Lynch girl's
attention. She will find the Magistrate and his son, dark characters.
Their combative nature will resonate with her. Whether or not great literature,
the play will serve to drive my plot along, and illuminate the ethical
tensions between Lynch men, particularly, fathers and their sons.
Playwright Edward Geoghagen was an opportunistic son. Helen Oppenheim notes that he 'was 27 years old when he arrived in Sydney on the convict ship "Middlesex" on 25 January 1840' (NSW Archives cited Oppenheim 1966: 283).
Oppenheim claims that 'documents relating to Edward Geoghagen's early convict days as a dispenser at Cockatoo Island, which cost him his Ticket of Leave in 1843, make far livelier and more amusing reading than any of his plays' (Oppenheim 1966: 284). And that he was 'deeply involved' in a 'regular system of traffick carried on between prisoners on the Island and persons in Sydney' whereby 'shoes and "elegant workboxes, very cheap" were manufactured at Cockatoo Island and smuggled out to a well known shopkeeper in town' (Oppenheim 1966: 283). Geoghagen's pass to Sydney was 'confiscated' and
This redeployment allowed him to write prolifically.
The Hibernian Father, and the story on which it is based, will
allow me to examine the loyalties of fathers and sons, not just to each
other, but to the notion of family determination and survival. I am interested
in academic Jennifer Rutherford's belief that the concept of law as a
deterrent triggers the very behaviour in young men that it is supposed
to protect us from. She refers to 'the lawlessness of colonial masculinity'
(Rutherford 2000: 61). Confronted
by authority, nineteenth-century Irish rebelliousness may have risen quickly
to the surface.
Australians have idealised or at least offered grudging respect, to the larrikin, the bushranger, the reckless cattle rustler. After fruitless searches through church history, I stumbled over Martin Lynch and his son Patrick, in gaol records and local newspaper reports. They are both in trouble: Patrick is resisting arrest, and Martin has the law bailed up with a pitchfork. I quote from the local newspaper:
'The fantasy of Australia as the site of a lawless freedom translates
into and camouflages a law of accelerating compression,' says Rutherford
(Rutherford 2000: 73). Administration of British law may have been prejudicial
to assertive Irish men, battling to make their way in a new colony. Rutherford
refers to Lacan's argument, 'that desire flares up only because there
is the law, and the law of desire demands its transgression - because
desire itself is always beyond this law, overflowing and surpassing the
limit it enacts' (Lacan cited in Rutherford
2000: 59). With little provocation Irish descendents may exhibit the
same abhorrence for over-regulation and intrusive government. I am interested
in cultural bias, which might arise from gabby nineteenth-century Irish
jousting with police or other law-enforcement agencies.
Martin Lynch, no doubt, would take umbrage at Lacan's fancy idea, and
make a claim for justice. Without knowing the circumstances of the debt
incurred, it is difficult to know where Patrick would stand. Judge James
Fitzstephen Lynch would use the pitchfork to escort his son to gaol. 'Mrs
Lynch stood by' tells its own story. Women's lives are shaped by the behaviour
of their men. That women are overlooked in many colonial accounts is well
attested, but Mrs Lynch is present: not speaking, but at least spared
stereotypical depiction as Irish biddy, drunken and raucous in her filthy
skillion. She takes, by her mere presence, a mediating role.
So, now I have stolen the play and been distracted by Lynch men, let
us move on to name. A name can be a sticking point. Without a Lynch character
I can't hitch my wagon to the Magistrate of Galway or Geoghegan's play.
If I steal the Lynch name, I have an ethical paradox. Lynch is as common
in Ireland as Smith in England, or Nguyen in Vietnam. It is the name of
my children, and in some way it is mine. I could use the name of my father
and his father's father, or annex my mother's mother's father's name,
but I refuse to feel an interloper, the ownership of names being a male
construction, based on occupation and ownership of property.
A name is 'the symbol of organization regulating marriage,' says Rutherford.
She quotes Lacan: 'The prohibition of incest is merely its subjective
pivot' (Lacan cited in Rutherford 200: 67). And, 'The father, then, is
more than his person, more than his characteristics as father and as man.
He is primarily a name
' (Lacan cited in Rutherford 2000: 67). Women's
names constrain and define them in a different way. There is no identifier
for the Mrs Lynch, who stood by and against her man. She is subsidiary.
Our Lynches, and just a three-letter pronoun can trigger a sense
of trespass, came from East Galway. Present-day Lynches share a name with
them and, confide some women who married in, may share some personality
traits. I am kin enough to use the name, should not be marginalized by
gender. I am their wife, their mother, their daughter by marriage. Belatedly
relinquishing my father's name may leave me bedraggled between two family
umbrellas. I have intuited some tacit permission. But to use the Lynch
name, I may feel need to bring a warty kind of honour. Perhaps I will
use a pen name; or is the very act of writing a betrayal? However subversive,
writing is what writers do, and I will take my name and do it too.
Family and blood
I am bidding now for family, and indirectly, blood. Women can work with
blood, for they have seen plenty of it, and there is a potent mix of it
in their children. Women often keep the bloodlines, connect the dots;
acknowledge the lineage and authority of others. I am making a case for
using my children as a conduit into family. I am inextricably linked,
to them at least, by blood.
Many writers anguish over their place in written work. In 'Brina Israel's
Body', Terri-ann White interrogates herself over 'scrappy records' and
her yearning to 'resuscitate a family line, a connection, that was never
there' (White 1997). I am juggling
the rights and privacies of this other family against the quirks of my
imaginings. I want to highjack an historical Lynch family because it is
a vehicle that will help me explore the notion of heredity, to see how
Lynches looked then and how they might now, and because I see connections,
a paradigm. Writers are storytellers. If the house they're breaking into
is the issue, imagination is the key.
In the 1850s Ireland suffered troubled times: churches burnt down; records
were deliberately destroyed; people were on the move. Lynch families did
not record their history. Information gleaned from death, birth and marriage
certificates, is scant. The keeper of Lynch family history - my mother-in-law
and not a Lynch - has several photographs of the Lynch men, on horseback
and standing on the decks of boats. I have found traces of those Lynches
racing horses, wielding pitchforks and in gaol. There has been unsubstantiated
talk of borrowing cattle. Some family members will be bemused. They may
not take kindly to me linking our family with a medieval tale
of obsessive bloody-mindedness.
Writing family history is always fraught and not my aim. Elderly resources can die on you, or go nutty: 'Memory is for enjoyment, not for service,' one reminds me.
I am interested in the mythic and literary antecedents which might affect
the conscious and unconscious view of my characters. And I am interested
in the political, economic and social reasons why a family might leave
their country, and how this impacts upon their psyche.
All that remains of 1850s Lynch women are their names. I have a feminist
compulsion to paint histories for invisible women, to imagine lives for
them. Implicit in the narrative of Magistrate James Lynch is a girl, who,
innocent or not, watched two young men die, ostensibly over her honour.
Whether a lover of the son, or only in his mind, it is doubtful that this
nameless girl was pleased by so violent an assertion of possession. There
is a gap in the collective imagination of this event.
Similarly, nineteenth-century Mary Lynch - set down, figuratively speaking,
in a slab hut among the stringy barks, her clutch of children clinging
to her skirts, her men riding to cattle and sheep a hundred miles away
- must have a story. Perhaps a version will be told by an unreliable observer,
her fragile younger son for instance, who sees her in new territory, where
indigenous humans speak another language and are driven back with guns;
where, more than likely, Mary battles alone against floods and fires at
her back door, endures driving rain and searing heat, and encounters creatures
stranger than fiction. Chinese men surprise her, trekking past her window
on their way to the goldfields. And she may be afraid of dying alone,
unnoticed, in the strange light at the bottom of the world.
In 'Fictional Fears and Guarded facts: An Experience in Writing a Ficto-Historical
Novel', Maria Simms says, 'Through a postmodern playing with notions of
truth and historicity I intended my novel to join others in the process
of re-inscribing women into the narratives of history, particularly late
nineteenth-century history' (Simms 2004).
Many women have addressed this issue. I am no Irish orphan here.
In the 1850s several hundred so-called orphan Irish girls landed in South
Australia (Jupp 1988, Haines
1998: 48), landed with nothing but desperate optimism to buoy them
up. As a group, Irish women were diverse and adaptable. The large majority
of them married, some to Irish-born men, many to others. One of them will
take up residence in my novel. Marriage was the best way for nineteenth-century
women to become socially mobile. But the Lynch girls escaped it - not
even taking up their veils as brides of Christ. They may have been household
drudges - or busy reading Catherine Helen Spence - or involved with social
reformers: with Mrs Christina Smith trying to save the Boandik, for instance,
or with writer Catherine Martin who began a school. No one knows.
I re-orient myself again and again. If I go chasing after Mary Lynch and her daughters, distorting history, creating it as women often do, from scraps and samples, exposing my connected family: just hubris, some of them will say. I will not be writing Mary - my character - being a figment of my imagination. Mary, no doubt felt some class distinction from the English pastoralist's wife, who, with her leisure and her letters, made Irish jokes, and entertained on a grand scale at the station house. Despite the gulf of property and manner, country and language, they may have turned to each other for a pat of butter or a bunch of spring flowers. They may have shared a remedy for colic or scarlettina - a hearth, doubtful. Welcome, or not, I am going in.
I will also steal chronology; use it as a peephole; there's no sin in
that. It is a good way to trap a cast of characters, fictional and real-life.
I can blur the lines, not use names of places, events, or people. Adam
Lindsay Gordon is my poet, Father Julian Tennyson Woods my priest, and
the Tantanoola Tiger a mere flash of colour in the shadows thrown by trees.
Just as they did in the 1850s they can go about their business, moving
through the landscape of my novel, as if they belong. If my characters
labour under the weight of allegory, I will reconsider. Perhaps after
several drafts of her Book of Salt, Monica Truong turned back,
like Abraham, to name Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein.
But I am not stealing landscape. My own nineteenth-century forebears
also settled in the southeast of South Australia. I have lived there,
visited there, even now have family there, but I am no longer local; nor
are Lynches. My ancestral family-women came from Scotland, were Protestants,
who settled their skirts on the same swampy land, and under the same relentless
summer sky. Emboldened by some empathy and thoughts of our collective
unconscious, I will leave my baggage - outside Lynchs' on the road - and
go in. And fie to those 'Johnny come lately' locals, who try to warn me
This landscape may bring obligations. Attempting not to be discursive
I shall position myself to ignore the squatter men and the Boandik hunters.
I will say nothing about snorting truffling giant marsupials and the crawling
annelids of the ancient seas. I do not need to travel back so far to dip
my cap. The setting is just a backdrop, right, where I can juxtapose my
characters. A novel is not an interpretive centre, a snapshot of a place
and time. It is not about buttons and sound effects, but about creating
a disturbance that will help me see and feel and understand - and hopefully
a reader too.
Black voices: the dark psyches of the colonised
I will not speak for them in my novel. I hope not to speak about them. But nevertheless I will be accused of smoothing things out, reconstructing history in the gaps, or shouting over contradictory voices. Eva Sallis is firm on this:
I mull - hot whisky, cloves, brown sugar, Spanish lemon - the Irish
psyche. If it exists, many generations carry the blackest genes. Familial
traits are axiomatic. Predispositions are triggered. Deep in their bones,
my children know things; things that their forefathers knew, things that
I will never know. Over centuries the weight of such knowledge may bring
my children low. It may come stronger in one child than in another. Some
tensions activate in every generation. And immigrants bring their ghosts.
It is not entirely fanciful to imagine a past can transcend continents
and seas, language and intermarriage. Extrapolating family traits from
one century to another is not always scientific; it can be the work of
Some insist the English colonised the Irish: drove them off their land,
stamped out their language, and starved their children in the name of
civilization and resource management. Some say that after one of Western
Europe's worst disasters, the English used American corn to stave the
Irish up. Screeds have been written on the black psyches of the Irish,
both in relation to the deeply troubled history of their homeland, and
to their family dislocation, one million of them migrating to England,
Australia and the Americas.
The Australian Irish diaspora disproportionately filled asylums, exhibited
higher rates of psychiatric illness. In a longer paper it would be useful
to examine the work of Irish-Australian scholars David Fitzpatrick, Pauline
Rule, Oliver McDonagh and Patrick O'Farrell. Some historians argue that
figures are skewed, that the Irish were harassed, stereotyped and persecuted
by English colonists, who had consolidated power in the newly established
settlements. Trevor McLaughlin says, that in Australia, 'over-representation
of the Irish in gaols and asylums is well attested and for the most part,
accepted' (McLaughlin 1996: 157).
According to Mark Finnane, the Irish at home showed correspondingly high
levels of incarceration (Finnane 1981).
There are local factors, for example, the role of family in committal.
Historians, Robin Haines, Mark Finnane and David Fitzpatrick, caution
against overplaying mental health statistics from Ireland or Australia.
Sample groups in some studies were small. Young Irish women immigrants
arrived with no parental supervision or restraint, and swelled the demographics
(McLaughlin 1988 :144). There
were many difficulties facing nineteenth-century women, particularly single
women. In her studies of the nearby colony of Victoria, Pauline Rule outlines
some of those difficulties including unwanted pregnancies, desertion,
prejudice, the instability of spouse's employment, feeding growing families
and conflict with the law (Rule 1998:
139). Many Irish women were geographically isolated and economically marginalized,
without traditional church and community supports. This took a toll on
mental health. Trouble resonated through the generations.
Like the nineteenth-century Lynches, I am blundering into Indigenous
territory. The Boandik people were strong protagonists in the nineteenth-century
settler-wars of southeast South Australia. According to local historian,
Les Hill, in the late 1840s the Arthur Brothers from Mt Schank Station
were driven out by Boandik people, and in 1854 the Leake Brothers of Glencoe
Station erected 'Frontier House' - a 'large homestead with slits in the
walls through which rifles could be used against any likely intruder'
(Hill 1972: 26-9). In the 1850s
Indigenous people were still in the majority on South Australia's Eyre
Peninsula (Foster 2001).
I read Christina Smith's The Boandik Tribe of
South Australian Aborigines: A Sketch of their Habits, Customs, Legends
and Language (Smith 1880). Wearing my twenty-first-century
hat, I endure Mrs Smith's devastating descriptions of her 'sable friends'
and their high mortality rate. On the one hand Christina is a product
of Victorian imperialism and Christian to boot. On the other she writes
with deep compassion, and makes warm, if unconventional relationships
with the decimated Boandik.
With the assistance of her son Duncan, who later becomes an official
interpreter for the local sub-protector of Aborigines, she faithfully
records their language. Illness strikes down the Boandik people like flies.
Christina presents a grim picture of a woman believing herself literally
to be easing the dying pillow. She claims that this nation, which she
refers to as tribe, is extinct by 1880, the publication year of her book.
I have Aboriginal colleagues, friends. Warm and generous as they are,
I won't die wondering what they think. In 1850s southeastern South Australia
Boandik people were shot at, marginalized and poisoned (Foster 2001).
They are evidenced in newspapers, letters, on pay rolls, and in prison
records. The Lynch men and women may have had everyday encounters. Asserting
a terra nullius would be the worst kind of neocolonialism.
Sadly, some local historians claim there are no longer Boandik people,
nor even any direct descendents. The onus lies with me to determine the
veracity of this. Racist talk of the last 'full-bloods' dying out ignores
descendents who have married into other Aboriginal groups, the Ngarrindjeri,
for instance. Rendering the Boandik invisible, or failing to recognise
them, may be as big a sin as misrepresenting them and their history.
What do Aboriginal people say?
'Have a go,' says indigenous lawyer and writer Larissa Behrendt, not
in a derisory way, while at Flinders University launching Home,
her semi-autobiographical novel. She quotes Fanon on 'home and country
as a concept of belonging', and Martin Luther King, 'In the end, we will
remember not the words of our enemies but the silences of our friends'.
'Having a go allows indigenous people to engage,' Behrendt says, 'and
if the writer is having relationships with Aboriginal people it will make
a truer piece of work' (Behrendt 2004).
In a 2002 Southerly Anita Heiss canvases the opinions of other Aboriginal writers. She cites Sandra Phillips:
For a non-Indigenous author to achieve a true feel for their representation on Indigenous subject matter and character they would need to be very enculturated with Indigenous culture. (Phillips cited in Heiss 2002: 19 7)And Melissa Lucashenko:
Who asked you to write about Aboriginal people? If it wasn't Aboriginal people themselves I suggest you go away and look at your own lives instead of ours. We are tired of being the freak show of Australian popular culture. (Lucashenko cited in Heiss 2002: 199)
All of this is sobering, daunting, a necessary wake-up call to writers.
Being chastened may not be good enough. Indigenous people are subsumed
in a struggle for identity, self-determination, and their authority in
'In the past, "literature" about Indigenous women has been
written overwhelmingly about us, not by, for and with us,' says Anne Marshall,
reviewing Talking Up to the White Women: Indigenous Women and Feminism
by Aileen Moreton-Robinson (Marshall
2002: 188). 'Having a respect and knowledge of Aboriginal culture,
history, social issues and what was happening to Aboriginal people in
the era in which they are being written about is imperative to how one
writes the Aboriginal characters and situations,' says indigenous writer
Jackie Huggins, who has developed a checklist, in response to questions
asked by non-Indigenous writers (Huggins
cited in Heiss 2002: 197).
I am coming to the belief that I have rationalised too long. I need to
give some ground, and not just land. Aboriginal history is oral, collaborative
and hierarchical. Although interrupted by the incursions of white social
policy it continues to be transferred by a complex set of protocols, permissions
Aileen Moreton-Robinson is right, for my ' white middle-class woman's privilege is tied to colonisation and the dispossession of Indigenous people' (Moreton-Robinson 2000: xx). I should avert my gaze; ignore the testimony of the white hegemony. She says:
White Australia has come to "know" the "Indigenous woman" from the gaze of many, including the diaries of explorers, the photographs of philanthropists, the testimony of white state officials, the sexual bravado of white men and the ethnographies of anthropologists. In this textual landscape Indigenous women are objects who lack agency. (Moreton-Robinson 2000: 1)It is my responsibility to talk to Boandik people.
I am writing a novel. The Boandik are a shadowy presence; they can't
be overlooked. But perhaps the way to draw attention to their historic
plight is through an Irish character, Rosanna: working for the white woman,
forbidden to speak her language, the butt of racist jokes and impregnated
by a white houseguest. Raised by others, her child has parentage that
can't be spoken of. Rosanna's family have fled from land they are spiritually
connected to; they take comfort in alcohol and isolation, and English
pastoralists have the jump on them. There are obvious parallels.
In conclusion: what am I afraid of?
Being Given the Wrong Balls - Am I Writing Fiction, or What?
Deliberations on the nature of an exegesis, and its role in the development
of research fiction, belongs in a different paper. I hope that my novel
will, in an explicit way, explore the ways in which mid-nineteenth-century
Irish diasporic history may collide with notions of authorial intent.
Post-colonial theory and ideas about collective and ancestral memory will
inform the mythic Galway characters I am investigating, as well as those
I am constructing. Research and theory will force me to come to terms
with appropriation in the broadest sense.
In TEXT October 99 Eva Sallis makes a case for research fiction being both valid and illuminative, that it 'expresses the outcomes of a body of research, and which is the culminating point of an investigation which could have been written up, at least in part, in academic prose' (Sallis 1999).
I am researching a novel. I can take the ficto-critical path and belt
on the front door, or sneak my eccentric characters around the back to
case the joint, but as diffident as I seem, once I go inside, the nineteenth
century novel is already furnished. I must take a colonial chair, sit
back, and trust the process.
I am reminded of Caroline Brothers' interview with the late Susan Sontag. Sontag says:
In fiction you can do justice to lots of points of view and if you are really a good writer you will honour the truth of each of these points of view I feel I do more justice to the complexity of reality in fiction (Sontag in Brothers 2004)
But literati, David Marr among them, have recently sunk their boots into
'There's so little enthusiasm within publishing houses for creating fiction
and finding ways to sell it,' he says (Marr
'They say people don't buy it,' says literary agent Jenny Darling (Marr
2004) '"My view is there is a series of gatekeepers between the writer
and the reader - and no-one is taking the punt any more"' (Darling
quoted in Marr 2004). Perhaps publisher Michael Heywood is correct in
his belief that there should be more Australian publishers, more books
published, not less, and that we need our publishing culture to 'be very
aggressive about publishing fiction' (Heywood
2005). The alignment of global publishing with other modes of cultural
imperialism may demand a whole new tack.
Those of us who believe the writing journey has intrinsic value are nevertheless
dependent on market drones, and may need to stick our fingers in our ears
and hum, when we hear Lyn Tranter say, 'It's "tragic" that classes
(CW) are "churning out people who are led to believe they are going
to be published"' (Tranter quoted in Marr 2004).
Or Kathy Hunt, ostensibly reviewing two new books, who says, 'While a
PhD in creative writing is almost a contradiction in terms, the idea that,
by some alchemy, the rigours of an academic discipline can transform anyone
into a writer stubbornly persists
2004). Such statements ignore the fact that increasingly Australian
writers are drawn to universities, in hope of succour: jobs, money, time,
a quiet place, the fellowship of others; the only alternative government
support being gaol. Literary fiction is not primarily linked with entertainment,
and concerns itself with the deep exploration of ideas, the diversity
of language. In some sense, it is redemptive. A University can provide
Julienne van Loon submitted her PhD novel Road Story and won
the 2004 Australian/Vogel Award. Judge Stella Clarke is resolutely
positive. 'Doom-sayers be damned; the novel lives, indeed it jigs and
capers. In Australia at least, its health is nigh on indecent'
Having the balls snatched away
'I write very close to life,' says Helen Garner. 'This is an ethical
problem and it will never go away' (Baum
2003). If these are bad-weather alerts I am battening down to write
furiously before the storm breaks. Perhaps it will pass me by - with just
a few theatrical flashes but no rain. Perhaps I can mend the roof before
the relatives seek entry to my hovel, I mean novel. Invention, rather
than revelation, may prove to be my only transgression.
Being jeered or booed before I'm ready
Too many balls: I will drop them all
As a writer friend of mine once said, 'It is like waiting for a lover'.
Baum, Caroline (2003) 'The Writer Who Mistook My Life For a Novel'. Sunday Morning Herald July 12. Return to article
Behrendt Larissa (2004) 'Launch of Home'. Flinders
University, Adelaide, 29 June. Return to article
Booth, Michael R. (1977) 'Irish Landscape in the Victorian
Theatre'. In Andrew carpenter (ed). Place, Personality And the Irish
Writer. Irish literary Studies 1. London: Colin Smythe Gerrards
Cross. Return to article
Border Watch (1867) 16 February. Return
Brothers, Caroline (2004) Interview with Susan Sontag.
Meanjin 63, 1. Return to article
Finnane, M. (1981) Insanity and the Insane in Post-Famine
Ireland. London: Croom Helm. Return to article
Foster, Robert, Richard Hosking, and Amanda Nettleback
(2001) Fatal Collisions: The South Australian Frontier and the Violence
of Memory. Adelaide: Wakefield Press. Return to article
Haines, Robin (1998) 'Bound For Colonial Australia'.
In Trevor McClaughlin (ed). Irish Women In Colonial Australia.
Sydney: Allen & Unwin. Return to article
Hill, Les R. (1972) Mount Gambier: The City Around
a Cave. Adelaide: Investigator Press. Return to article
Huggins, Jackie (1994) 'Respect v Political Correctness'.
Australian Author 26, 3 (Spring): 12. Cited in Anita Heiss 'Writing
About Indigenous Australia: Some Issues to Consider and Protocols to Follow:
A Discussion Paper'. Southerly 62, 2 (2002). Return
Heywood, Michael, and Romana Koval (2005) 'The Fate
of fiction'. Books And Writing. ABC Radio 28 November. Return
Hunt, Kathy (2004) Review of Ophelia's Fan by
Christine Ballint and Tree of Angels by Penny Sumner. The
Weekend Australian 4 September. Return to article
Jupp, James (ed.) (1988) The Australian People:
An Encyclopedia of the Nation, Its People And Their Origins. Sydney:
Angus and Robertson. Return to article
Lacan, J. (1983) The Ethics of Psychoanalysis.
Cited in Jennifer Rutherford The Gauche Intruder: Freud, Lacan and
the White Australian Fantasy. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.
Return to article
Lucashenko, Melissa (2002) Cited in Anita Heiss 'Writing
About Indigenous Australia: Some Issues and Protocols to Follow'. Southerly
62, 2. Return to article
Marr, David (2004) 'What's the Story with Australian
Fiction?' The Age, 14 August. Return to article
Marshall, Anne (2002) Review of Talking Up the
White Women: Indigenous Women and Feminism by Aileen Moreton-Robinson.
Southerly 62, 2. Return to article
McLaughlin, Trevor (1998) 'I Was Nowhere Else: Casualties
of Colonisation in Eastern Australia in the Second Half of the Nineteenth
Century'. In Trevor McLaughlin (ed.) Irish Women In Colonial Australia.
Sydney: Allen & Unwin. Return to article
McLaughlin, Trevor (1996) 'Vulnerable Irish Women:
In Mid-to-Late Nineteenth Century Australia'. In Richard Davis, Jennifer
Livett, Ann-Maree Whitaker and Peter Moore (eds). Irish Australian
Studies: Papers Delivered at the Eighth Irish-Australian Conference.
Hobart, July 1995. Sydney: Crossing Press. Return to
Moreton-Robinson, Aileen (2000) Talkin' Up To The
White Woman: Indigenous Women And Feminism. St Lucia: University
of Queensland Press. Return to article
Oppenheim, Helen (1966) 'The Author of The Hibernian
Father: An Early Colonial Playwright'. Australian Literary Studies
2, 4 (December). Return to article
Phillips, Sandra (2002). Cited in Anita Heiss 'Writing
About Indigenous Australia: Some Issues and Protocols to Follow' Southerly
62, 2. Return to article
Rule, Pauline (1998) 'Irish Women's Experiences in Colonial Victoria'. In Trevor McLaughlin (ed.) Irish Women In Colonial Australia. Sydney: Allen & Unwin. Footnote: Yarrabend Asylum, Female Case Book, VPRS 7400/1 Return to article
Rutherford, Jennifer (2000) The Gauche Intruder:
Freud, Lacan and the White Australian Fantasy. Melbourne: University
of Melbourne Press. Return to article
Sallis, Eva (1999) 'Research Fiction'. TEXT
3, 2 (October). http://www.griffith.edu.au/school/art/text/oct99/sallis.htm
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Simms Maria (2004) 'Fictional Fears and Guarded facts:
An Experience in Writing a Ficto-Historical Novel', TEXT 8, 2.
Return to article
Smith Mrs. James (1880) The Boandik Tribe of South
Australian Aborigines: A Sketch of their Habits, Customs, Legends, and
Language. Also: An Account of the Efforts Made by Mr and Mrs.
James Smith to Christianise and Civilise Them. Adelaide: E.Spiller,
Government Printer. Return to article
Weiner, Albert (1966) 'The Hibernian Father:
The Mystery Solved'. Meanjin Quarterly. Return
White, Terri-ann (1997) 'Brina Israel's Body' TEXT 1, 2 (October) http://gu.edu.au/school/art/text/oct97/white.htm 2 Return to article
Gay Lynch is a PhD student in Creative Writing at Flinders University in South Australia. She is working on an Irish settler novel and she tutors in Fiction For Young Readers. Cleanskin her first published adult novel will be released in mid 2005. This paper was presented at theAAWP 2004 Conference: The Practitioner's Art: Juggling Roles.
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Vol 9 No 1 April 2005
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Tess Brady