Ecologies of the Beachcomber in Colonial Australian Literature

Rachael Weaver

Abstract


Ideas of the beachcomber as part castaway, part vagabond – the ragged figure of the ex-sailor or convict searching for a better life somewhere in the islands of the Pacific – are no longer so familiar as they were during the nineteenth century. Beachcombing today is more often associated with scanning the shoreline to collect shipwrecked objects or natural specimens washed up by the sea, in rituals to do with monitoring and preserving the coastal environment instead of plundering it for trade. This article will explore the beachcomber’s changing investments in nature, looking at stories by the colonial Australian author Louis Becke and at later, non-fiction works by the writer and naturalist E J Banfield. It will suggest that Banfield’s 1907 book, Confessions of a Beachcomber, marks a self-conscious transformation of the beachcomber from tropical-island fugitive to ecological recluse.

Keywords


beachcomber, species, colonial fiction, nature writing

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