"Just Growing up in A Paddock"

E.O. Schlunke and Modes of Relationship in Regional Literature


  • Barbara Holloway Australian National University


Is there value in restoring little-known pre-Mabo regional fiction to Australian literary history? This essay asks that question of the fiction of E. O. Schlunke, author and farmer, raised in the community of German-speaking Lutheran immigrants in the south-eastern Wiradjuri/Riverina region of NSW from the 1930s to the '60s. At one level his fiction, primarily short stories published in periodicals, uses the simple narratives and realist style then expected to portray life in 'the bush' and small towns.

Acknowledging the rich post-Mabo literature and saluting the First Nations writers who have celebrated Wiradjuri Country, the essay contends that First Nations' dispossession is the unacknowledged reality haunting Schlunke's work. Only two stories have First Nations' characters, he recognises prior custodianship only briefly and occasionally deploys offensive phrases characteristic of his era. Close reading of his superficially conventional practice uncovers irreconcilable tensions and emotions across class, cultures, ethnicities and species until one of his last stories voices disgust at the violence inflicted on First Nations people.

After an outline of Schlunke's life and publishing history I follow Hughes D'Aeth's approach to regional literature as an 'interior apprehension of how life felt to people'. The essay  frames the many stories structured by farm work as georgian in mode. With distinctive inclusion of the other-than-human and rejection of standard farming practices, Schlunke may be read as political ecologist, skilfully giving voice and narrative roles to generate what Dipesh Chakrabarty calls 'a sense of kin' with the district's biosphere and concern for its well-being.

Author Biography

Barbara Holloway, Australian National University

Barbara Holloway works on place-writing in both creative and critical formats, mindful of First Nations ownership. Currently a Visiting Fellow in School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics at the Australian National University, she researches and publishes across environmental, (post)-colonial and regional cultural studies. Most recently she has published essays "Sheep:  Voice|Complicity|Precedent" in A/B Auto/Biography Studies (2020) and "Henry Kendall, the Trees and the Un/makings of Lives" (2020) in The Eco-Side of Australasian Literature, Tamkang Review 51:1.