Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Dr Richard Rossiter


The focus of this thesis is Katharine Susannah Prichard's novel, Coonardoo ( 1929), and its capacity to provide a framework for the reconstruction of the historical situation in the North-West region of Western Australia during the period mid-1860s to late 1920s. The thesis has a dual purpose: to contextualise the novel in terms of the historical, political, ideological, and social situation; and to read the novel in ways which reveal its reconstruction of the wider historical context. My approach is a new historicist close reading of the text. Specific events or situations are scrutinised for their power to convey insights into the extra-textual situation. For example, the textualisation of the relationship between the white hero and the Aboriginal heroine leads to an exploration of attitudes to interracial sexual encounters in the period of the novel and in the author's contemporary milieu. Included in this work is an exposition of the various industries which contributed substantially to the economic development of the North-West region. These are treated in some depth in relation to their historical circumstances but with particular reference to textual events and situations. An important area of discussion is the social and economic situation which developed between the European settlers in the North-West and the indigenous population of the region. Particular reference is made to the displacement, subjugation and diaspora of the region's Aboriginal population. The pre-contact cultural and religious practices of the Aborigines of the North-West region, and the extent to which these patterns survived into the author's contemporary period, is investigated in the thesis. An appraisal is made of the author's claim that during her visit to the North-West in 1926, she directly observed the Aboriginal traditional forms represented in Coonardoo. Prichard's own socio-cultural and ideological position is explored in relation to the Aboriginal dimension in the novel. Especially relevant is the author's adherence to the theory of Social Darwinism and to the view, prevalent in her society, that the extinction of the Aborigines was imminent and inevitable. Prichard's novel is the starting point of an investigation into the social, economic and political background of the North-West region during the first sixty years of white settlement. The task of this thesis is to 'recover' the wider historical situation by reference to documents, journals, memoirs and newspapers of the period.