Australasian Journal of Ecocriticism and Cultural Ecology (AJE), Vol 3 (2013)

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Finding a Spiritual Home in the Australian Environment: Katharine Susannah Prichard and Vance Palmer in the 1920s

Deborah Jordan

Abstract


Eco-centric ideologies recognise humans as an interdependent part of a larger biotic community and the biophysical systems that support them. Constructions and narratives of one’s ‘spiritual home’ in the environment by authors and critics can challenge colonial and postcolonial understandings, of — in  this instance — Australia. Vance Palmer, Australia’s leading man of letters of the inter-war period, claimed his was a generation seeking to find ‘harmony’ with the environment; Nettie Palmer believed that writers’ powers depended on their capacity to find a spiritual home in place. Without the literary imagination, people and places appear ‘uncanny and ghostlike’, and Nettie evolved a schema in and through language to help others learn how to dwell in the land. In a time of rapid environmental change, this essay re-visits these writers, that is, Vance and Nettie Palmer, Katharine Susannah Prichard and others of their generation, and it investigates their important initiatives in challenging dominant and habitual ways of understanding and seeing the natural environment. Often as a result of their beliefs they sought out remote country locations and ‘wilderness areas’ in which to live and write about. Two key texts, Working Bullocks (1926) by Prichard and The Man Hamilton (1928) by Palmer, can be explored in context of recent discourses on ecological sensibilities, identities of place and transnational cosmopolitanism, home and homecoming in the literary imagination, and rapid change through climate change. Building on earlier literary critiques and gender analysis, very different readings of the environmental imagination at play in these texts are possible.


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