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Australian literature: a rough guide

University of Western Australia via Coursera

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The course is about the encounter between the literary imagination and a continent, a hugely diverse land that is home to some of the oldest surviving Indigenous cultures on the planet, and whose history includes defining and sometimes violent encounters between the old world and the new. In Aboriginal culture, in early European encounters, and in later white settlement, we see how the haunting and awe-inspiring landscapes of Australia have shaped and influenced a fascinating world of literature.

This course introduces you to a varied range of Australian literary works, beginning with Indigenous traditions and including colonial, early twentieth-century and contemporary writing. The texts for study include works of local and regional focus and others that engage with the wider world; some are classic works, some are popular.

The course offers a rough guide to some of the traditions and themes of Australian writing. Our starting point is the country, and each of the four main weeks focuses on different literary versions of a place, a landscape, or locale. Perspectives on the literary works is from both inside and outside, from within the traditions of writing in Australia and from a global view.

There are tales of the deep time of Aboriginal creation in central Australia, of first contact between Europeans and the fabled southern continent, of crime and punishment, of gold-seeking and spiritual quest, of tragedies in the desert, of families divided between the southern and northern hemispheres, of expatriate lives. All across a range of songs, fiction, poetry, popular legend and non-fiction. Throughout the journey of this course we follow the ways writers have adapted their language and narrative to the Australian environment and its history.


Week 1            literature & country

Lesson 1

Lecture 1.1 intro: literature & country (course details)

Lecture 1.2 literature & country (Tim Winton and different coasts)

Lecture 1.3 literature & country (D. H. Lawrence, Kangaroo)

Lesson 2

Lecture 1.4 Central Australia (intro to Hermannsburg & T. G. H. Strehlow)

Lecture 1.5 Central Australia (Songs of Central Australia)

Lecture 1.6 Northern Australia (‘Little Eva at Moonlight Creek’ song cycle)

Lesson 3

Lecture 1.7 Sydney (Farm Cove, Watkin Tench)

Lecture 1.8 Sydney (Barron Field)

Lecture 1.9 Sydney (Charles Harpur)


Week 2           crime & punishment

Lesson 1

Lecture 2.1 intro: crime & punishment (Australia as Hell)

Lecture 2.2 crime & punishment (‘Moreton Bay’)

Lecture 2.3 crime & punishment ('A Convict's Tour to Hell')

Lesson 2

Lecture 2.4 intro: crime & punishment (Port Arthur, Tasmania)

Lecture 2.5 crime & punishment (Marcus Clarke, For the Term of His Natural Life)

Lecture 2.6 crime & punishment (Richard Flanagan, Gould's Book of Fish)

Lesson 3

Lecture 2.7 crime & punishment (Ned Kelly, 'Jerilderie Letter')

Lecture 2.8 crime & punishment (Peter Carey, True History of the Kelly Gang)

Lecture 2.9 crime & punishment (Peter Temple, The Broken Shore)


Week 3           explorers, frontier & settlement

Lesson 1

Lecture 3.1 intro: explorers, legends, frontier

Lecture 3.2 explorers (Ludwig Leichhardt in literature)

Lecture 3.3  explorers (interlude, discussion)

Lesson 2

Lecture 3.4 explorers (Patrick White, Voss and the literary classic)

Lecture 3.5 explorers (Patrick White, Voss)

Lecture 3.6 explorers (Patrick White, Voss)

Lesson 3

Lecture 3.7 frontier & settlement

Lecture 3.8 frontier & settlement (David Malouf, Remembering Babylon)

Lecture 3.9 frontier & settlement (Kim Scott, That Deadman Dance)

Week 4           home & away

Lesson 1

Lecture 4.1 intro: home & away (A. D. Hope, ‘Australia’)

Lecture 4.2 home & away (Richardson, The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, colonial times)

Lecture 4.3 home & away (Martin Boyd, The Cardboard Crown, Anglo-Australian families)

Lesson 2

Lecture 4.4 home & away (Judith Wright, the Moonbi Range)

Lecture 4.5 home & away (Judith Wright’s New England)

Lecture 4.6 home & away (Judith Wright, pastoralism and ecology)

Lesson 3

Lecture 4.7 home & away (Christina Stead and expatriate life)

Lecture 4.8 home & away (Christina Stead, ‘Sea People,' For Love Alone)

Lecture 4.9 home & away (Christina Stead, ‘Sea People,' For Love Alone)


Week 5

Lesson 1

Lecture 5.1 summary, assignments etc.

Lecture/discussion 5.2 summary-discussion Philip Mead and Claire Jones                             


Week 6

Assignments due & peer assessed


Taught by

Philip Mead and Claire Jones


4.5 rating, based on 2 Class Central reviews

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