Murray-Mallee Imaginaries: Towards a literary history of a region

Emily Potter, Brigid Magner

Abstract


Most literary histories of Australian regions are positioned as a small part of a national literary map, meaning that, with the restrictions brought by scope alone, these are inevitably partial, focussing on a handful of representative writers. But there are other challenges, too. ‘Literary history’ in a scholarly sense is a western idea; its tendency to focus on material textual outputs implicitly excludes oral and other modes of narrative. It is therefore a field that could easily, and sometimes willingly, participate in the colonial project which seeks to position pre-colonial time as past and outside the designation of what is culturally significant or potent.

We offer some reflections generated by a project which will produce the first dedicated literary history of the Mallee region of north-west Victoria. Exemplifying our observations of regional literary history in Australia, existing Mallee literary history is fragmented and limited, and overwhelmingly, white and male. Discussions of ‘Mallee literature’ are few, and where they occur - for instance, in national literary histories - they exclude contemporary texts, referencing only well known writers from the late nineteenth and early-mid twentieth century, and are unconnected to broader schools or groups in literary history.

In this paper we look at the Murray River as a geography (both material and discursive) that challenges a colonial, land-oriented account of Mallee literature and helps to think through how regional literary history may be done differently. Towards a conclusion, we return to the question of the postcolonial, and the possibilities for regional literary history that works with the constraints of the practice to resist, or push against, an inevitable folding into colonial logic.


Keywords


Mallee; region; literary history; Murray river

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