Title

The back flats

Date of Award

1-1-2002

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts

School

School of international cultural and community studies

Faculty

Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Dr Jill Durey

Abstract

This thesis comprises two interrelated sections. The first is a Piece of creative writing, a period novel, The Back 'Flats, which is set in the coastal hamlet of Greenough in Western Australia in the years 1887-1888. The twin themes of the novel are the resolution of maternal grief and Irish settlement in Western Australia. The second section is an essay concerned with the arrival of Irish people to Australia in the nineteenth century and, the influence they exerted on the culture of the developing nation, demonstrated through history and contemporary novels. The Back Flats is about a group of Irish Catholic settlers in a rural area as they experience the effects of the death of their baby girl from pneumonia on the mother, Kate O'Brien. The close-knit community has a superstitious fear of madness, which they believe can result if a woman withdraws from family and friends as part of her mourning process. An old woman whose baby died many years previously, and who was incapacitated by the death for years afterwards, now suffers from dementia. The Villagers think that the old woman’s condition is proof of what may happen to Kate. During a major flood caused by cyclonic rains at the source of the Greenough River, Kate and the old woman are thrown into close proximity. While she comforts the old Woman, Kate recognises that the other woman is not a threat to her or to her sanity. Irish convicts and freed immigrants accounted for a third of all immigration to Australia in the first century following the arrival of the First Fleet and the beginning of white settlement. The essay describes the settlement of the Greenough region from the early 1850s and the immigration of Irish people to Australia with particular reference to Irish women. It also places The Back FIats in a context of Australian literature about Irish convicts, immigrants, settlers and wanderers.

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