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In the shadow of the Australian legend: Re-reading Australian literature

Bracalente, Elisa (2011) In the shadow of the Australian legend: Re-reading Australian literature. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The Australian legend worked as a romantic myth of survival, a foundational grand narrative that legitimised white Australian belonging to the land. The construction of an identity based on the bush ethos and on those values and characteristics recognised as quintessentially Australian helped in the creation of an imagined community. This myth carried a racist underpinning which limited the typical Australian to the category 'white'. Drawing on Foucault 18s discourse analysis I argue that the legend is a discourse, grounded in an untheorised whiteness which defines Australianness. The national identity was modelled on the exclusion of the 'other' from any sense of belonging because Australianness was simply a substitute for whiteness. This exclusion worked on two levels; while it ensured cohesion among whites against a common enemy, it also provided a sense of belonging that could not be questioned because the 'real' Australians, the indigenous people as the common enemy, were left out of a definition of Australianness. Over time this discourse evolved slightly, altering its characteristics, but maintaining its power position and ensuring that its core whiteness remained unaltered. Despite the current claim of a multicultural nation, in fact, the legend is still central to Australian identity and still constitutes the defining characteristic of Australianness. Thus even in a multicultural context where 'white' Australians claim to be just one category among others, they are the ones who define the 'rules' that govern who belongs and who may be granted recognition. In this thesis the evolution of the Australian legend is analysed through readings of key literary texts. While before Federation literature was the major instrument for the construction of the legend and a sense of national identity through an uncritical celebration of the foundational myth, later writing engaged in a critique of the legend and the discourses constructed around it. Contemporary white authors have exposed the discourses of terra nullius and the violence at the foundation of the nation, thus deconstructing the legend. However, their critique is still influenced by their privileged white perspective so that even in their dismantling of the legend there is an implicit celebration of it. It is only when indigenous authors challenge the legend that we find a more radical challenge to the legend and the discourse of whiteness which underpin it. Even then, as argued in this thesis, the legend permeates Australian life and continues to play a role in one 18s understanding of 'Australianness'.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Supervisor(s): Mishra, Vijay
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