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'Windsong': Place, memory and stories in Australian literature

Atkinson, Karen (2015) 'Windsong': Place, memory and stories in Australian literature. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The production and transmission of stories, whether oral or written, is essential in the making and holding of collective memory. Stories become especially important to communities that have been displaced, where familiar places have been degraded, or even destroyed. At the same time as landscapes are shifting geographically and culturally, memory is implicated in public discourses that endorse forgetting. If we are to nurture and value our histories and collective memories, the connections between words and places are a vital aspect of story making. In considering then the importance of this interconnectedness of language with both place and memory, I draw on applicable philosophical research and, through a novella and five case studies of contemporary novels, examine representations of the landscape in Australian culture.

The dissertation comprises an exegesis and a creative work that function together to re-imagine place through multiple points of view and multiple voices. My novella ‘Windsong’ offers an account of the tension between emplacement and remembering, and is deeply concerned with the cultural construction of landscape, collective amnesia, and how memories of the past become central to the identities of the characters and their sense of belonging and loss.

Working in tandem with the explorations of memory and landscape in ‘Windsong’, the case studies in the exegetical component of the dissertation analyze the features of literary imaginative worldframes, paying particular attention to how cultural memory is, as Edward Casey describes it, emplaced (1993, 31), and how both memory and cultural identity are formed and maintained through narrative. Frequently bound up in representations of the landscape, much Australian writing points to a sense of exile, with the natural environment commonly figuring as a threat to be conquered or possessed. The exegesis draws on a range of texts that offer rich ground for the examination of the praxis of place in Australian writing, including consideration of the ways in which the preoccupations of the European colonizers have become embedded in many contemporary literary representations of the Australian landscape, and how the representation of place in storytelling might manifest through the interactions of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal writers engaging in intercultural dialogue. This dissertation draws attention to a growing interest within Australian literary studies in writing at the borders and margins of homelands, and argues that the inseparable nature and intrinsic liminality of place and memory presents storytellers with possibilities for reimagined landscapes expressed through a multiplicity of co-existing voices.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Arts
Supervisor(s): Grehan, Helena and Lazaroo, Simone
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