From a shrew from the Orkneys to White Indigene: Re-Inventions of Eliza Fraser

Document Type

Journal Article


Universitat de Barcelona


Faculty of Education and Arts


Executive Deans Office / Centre for Research in Entertainment, Arts,Technology, Education and Communications




vanden Driesen, C. (2009). Froma shrew from the Orkneys´ to white indigene-the many re-Inventions of Eliza Fraser. Coolabah, (3), 35-42. Available here


Few episodes in postcolonial Australian history have shown so remarkable a capacity to generate ever-increasing cross-fertilisations between myth, history and memory than the narratives centred on Eliza Fraser. The archive of materials surrounding the shipwreck of this British woman and her brief sojourn among the indigenous people of the Badtjala community of Fraser Island in the nineteenth century continues to grow. Kay Schaffer’s impressive work overtook earlier studies of the phenomenon but concentrates mainly on the many European re-constructions of the episode .The fecundity of the materials is far from exhausted. This paper explores some of the Aboriginal reactions to the tale but its main focus is Patrick White’s novel A Fringe of Leaves, which grew out of his own research and constructs a new myth with implications for the nation. It is a work with the potential for developing (in Jim Davidson’s words) “a myth of reconciliation, and possibilities of growth.”This Paper shows White’s melding of history, myth, memory and imagination in this novel is illustrative of the literary artist’s contribution to “writing the nation.”

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