Heartwood: Spiritual homebuilding and white-vanishing in Australian gothic fiction

Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - ECU Access Only


Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Arts and Humanities

First Supervisor

Donna Mazza


This thesis represents the spiritual connection between a non-Aboriginal Australian and the Australian natural landscape through a creative work, Heartwood, and an exegesis, which engages with the white-vanishing trope in Australian Gothic fiction. It critically examines ways in which this trope has been used in Australian literature to, consciously or not, represent Aboriginal characters as Other, peripheral or absent, and sometimes appropriated their religious beliefs.

Heartwood (2021) is an Australian Gothic novel which features two white Australian characters and their spiritual connection to the landscape, in an attempt to articulate the white-vanishing trope but without othering or sidelining Aboriginal characters. The novel also attempts to explore a form of spiritual connection which does not impinge on or appropriate Aboriginal religious beliefs, a thematic concept rarely explored in Australian Gothic fiction.

This thesis utilised the Practice Based Research methodological approach in an attempt to gain new knowledge through the research and creative production of a novel, Heartwood. The subsequent exegesis explores how effective this creative work has been in seeking out this new knowledge. Since the emergence of Australian forms of Gothic fiction during colonisation, white Australian writers have explored the complex and fraught spiritual relationship between non-Aboriginal people and the landscape, often utilising corrosive narrative structures such as the lost-in-the-bush trope to do so. In these texts Aboriginal presence is sidelined or even completely ignored in favour of a primarily white Australian focus. When Aboriginal characters do appear, they have been depicted as demonic, ghostly or supernatural. Some academics believe because Aboriginal characters are depicted as inhuman, their connection to the landscape and sense of land ownership has been elided. Aboriginal religious beliefs have also been appropriated in these works to explore a non- Aboriginal sense of spirituality. Some of the most popular and critically acclaimed Australian novels of the twentieth century have been guilty of this, such as Voss by Patrick White and Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay.

This creative work, and the exegesis accompanying it, explore and ultimately seek to subvert the bias inherent in these traditions of Australian Gothic fiction. This is achieved by producing a story which refuses to appropriate Aboriginal religious and/or spiritual beliefs, as well as featuring Aboriginal characters who are not depicted as supernatural or ghostly. The novel also explores a spiritual connection between non-Aboriginal characters and the natural landscape of Western Australia’s Southern Forests region without impinging on the religious beliefs of Aboriginal people. The creative work re-emplaces Aboriginal presence into the text without appropriating an Aboriginal voice or point-of-view.

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