Colonial History and Post-Colonial Fiction : The Writing of Thea Astley


The relatively early novel A Kindness Cup, which focuses on the massacre of a group of Aborigines and the efforts made to forget and to remember this violence at a town reunion twenty years later, is marked largely by the rage and frustration felt by its central character who seems to mirror Astley's horror at the genial amorality that pervades some rural communities. Her most recent novel, The Multiple Effects of Rainshadow, likewise focuses on an actual historical event in north Queensland that is shaped by relations between whites and indigenes. It is, though, a more nuanced retelling of the historical event, this time violence perpetrated by a white man. Like her previous works, this novel both is part of, and represents, the struggle to reconcile the weight and material damage of history with the relative impotence of those who embody that history. It also raises complex questions about the role played by fiction, history, the body, and landscape in shaping contemporary understandings of 'being a Queenslander'. A reading of it strongly suggests that while fiction may be hopelessly inadequate for coming to terms with the past, nevertheless it may be one of the best tools available for challenging the simple-mindedly celebratory narratives of colonisation which demonstrate such extraordinary tenacity in the contemporary Australian psyche.

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Published 1 May 1999 in Volume 19 No. 1. Subjects: Australian history, Characterisation, Imagery, Symbolism, Use of language, Writer's craft, Writer's inspiration, Settler colonialism, Thea Astley.

Cite as: Dale, Leigh. ‘Colonial History and Post-Colonial Fiction : The Writing of Thea Astley.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 19, no. 1, 1999, doi: 10.20314/als.9b0ca6f2cd.