Title

A settler colonial and feminist study of the journeys in Oscar and Lucinda, Gilgamesh, journey to the stone country and the swan book

Date of Award

2022

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Arts and Humanities

First Advisor

Debra Dudek

Second Advisor

Ffion Murphy

Abstract

This thesis investigates how four contemporary Australian novels, Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda, Joan London’s Gilgamesh, Alex Miller’s Journey to the Stone Country and Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book, through adopting innovatively the journey motif and structure, deal with the impact of Australia’s colonial past on the country’s race and gender relationships. These journey stories variously represent Australian colonial history, explore the subjects of white guilt and settler unbelonging, and envisage an apocalyptic future for Australia. For my examination of the novels, I draw on elements of settler colonial and feminist theories, while also referring to Joseph Campbell’s and Evans Lansing Smith’s scholarship on the hero journey for the close reading of race and gender embodied in the novels. I argue that the selected novels, by means of three journeys or three phases of a journey, expose and challenge oppressive dualistic ideologies, such as white and black, male and female, the imperial centre and the empire periphery, human and Nature, and even life and death. In charting the journeys represented in the novels, I argue that i) Oscar and Lucinda, by re-enacting the scenes of early settlers’ migration to Australia and settler explorers’ expeditions into the inland of the continent, reimagines the originating moment of the colony and reveals the racist and patriarchal nature of it; ii) while Gilgamesh feminises an ancient Sumerian hero journey by having a young female embark on an epic journey, it implies the unlikelihood of white settlers’ sense of belonging in Australia; iii) the circuitous journey of the settler heroine and Aboriginal hero in Journey to the Stone Country exposes the darkness of Australia’s frontier history and reflects the uncertainty involved in Australia’s Aboriginal reconciliation movement; and iv) by likening the Aboriginal heroine’s abduction and return journey to the Aboriginal cultural practice of walkabout, in which Aboriginal Australians trek along creator ancestors’ path of creation, The Swan Book asserts Aboriginal people’s ontological sovereignty while it challenges settlers’ derivative sovereignty. The thesis contends that journeys depicted by each of the four novels evoke descent of the hero or heroine into the underworld, reminding us that until the settler authorities in Australia relinquish their colonisation of Aboriginal Australia and accommodate Aboriginal sovereignty, the country will always be beset by fraught race and gender relationships.

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