So here we are at the end of another fascinating semester of Australian literature and what an experience it has been! Michael Griffith asks if Australian literature has helped me to expand the boundaries of my own experience. Well the answer is a resounding yes!!!
We began our odyssey with Judith Wright who tantalised our senses with her wondrous use of poetry. She vividly brought to life both landscapes and human emotions. She introduced us to the ‘weaver’; that enigmatic part of our mind that takes the random elements that our senses absorb from the external world and create a meaningful picture with which we can interact and explore. Reading this poem not only ignited my philosophical brain, but it also left me pondering the connection between the psyche and God.
The next wordsmith we met was Patrick White and his novel “The Tree of Man”; Wow! My last encounter with Patrick White was not very successful. After reading “Riders in the Chariot” I was left feeling rather confused and a little stupid. Maybe that experience better prepared me for this amazing novel! “The Tree of man” was a tough slog, I will not lie. However the wisdom and humanity I gleaned from the pages of this novel were astonishing. Patrick White assembles sentences like a consummate artist. He imbues all his characters with such realism and frailty that I cannot help but feel connected to every one of them. What kind of brilliant writer can compare God to a gob of spit and leave the reader not only taking it seriously, but wanting to write a complete essay on it!
The writer who had the greatest impact on me this semester was without a doubt Francis Webb. This tortured soul possessed a sublime ability to transcend the hideous depths of mental illness and create glorious poetry; although many of them can be very difficult to decipher. I would never have been able to understand and enjoy this awesome writing were it not for the combined efforts of Michael Griffith and my classmates to break down each verse and find the remarkable meanings hidden in these life-affirming gems. My own battles with mental illness were given meaning and even made seemingly heroic by this tormented writer. Francis Webb impelled me to see the value in all people and that also includes me! Self-worth and humility I take away from these readings.
We were all re-introduced to David Malouf through his novel “The Conversations at Curlow Creek”. Here is a literary talent to challenge even the amazing Patrick White. A seemingly simple, yet dreadfully morbid, tale of a man appointed to execute a captured bush-ranger manages to plum the depths of human experience. The conversations between the soldier and condemned man, together with numerous flashbacks to the soldiers past explore so many themes: Does evil exist, does God exist and is He all-forgiving, the fact that good and bad can be so subjective, socially constructed roles and hierarchy, love, jealousy, death, empathy and so much more in such a short novel. Just as with “The Tree of Man” I found myself intimately connected with the hopes and fears of all of the characters. We may all have had different backgrounds and be headed in different directions, but deep down we are all fundamentally flawed human beings.
Finally we read “My Place” by Tracey Morgan and received a rare insight into an indigenous perspective of the Australian experience. One of the most heartbreaking things about this story was the fact that Tracey Morgan’s mother and Nan were too frightened to let Tracey and her siblings even know they were aboriginal. What a heinous blight on our national history that our very own native people do not wish to own up to their origins! Tracey’s Nan seemed even ashamed of her heritage and tragically took so many possibly illuminating stories to the grave with her. I read this story many years ago in high school and it was probably my first encounter with the pain and humiliation suffered by this countries original inhabitants. As a nation we still have a long way to go, but we need to hear these tragically taboo tales. So many times while reading this book I felt angry and ashamed of my own ‘white’ heritage, but I also felt elated and optimistic with every small victory Tracey won on her journey toward her re-connection with her people and spirituality. The crimes of the past must be brought out into the light if we ever hope to heal. Stories do matter and can connect souls in a much deeper way than mere facts.
So many heart wrenching, heart warming, inspirational, question raising stories and poems. Therefore I have no qualms announcing that these amazing writers definitely expanded the boundaries of my own experience. It has been an intellectually stimulating, spiritually enlightening and emotional journey. I have had a lot of turmoil in my life this year in dealing with anxiety and depression. It has been a blessing to explore these literary artists; and a joy to take the journey with Michael Griffith and my curious and perceptive classmates.