‘Did He Want to Mix and Mate with this Man?’ : Mateship, Modernism and Homoerotic Primitivism

For Patrick White the summer of 1936 marked an auspicious meeting of minds, mediums and bodies in London. Then a stillborn novelist with his poetry and plays largely ignored, White travelled through Germany and Denmark before heading back to London where he met a fellow Australian expatriate, the modernist painter Roy de Maistre. The two briefly became lovers. White later recalled, 'I began to write from the inside out when Roy de Maistre introduced me to abstract painting' (Marr 150). For White, the old world, and especially London, provided exciting new freedoms and possibilities - personal, artistic and sexual - that were unavailable to him in Australia. However, this migration to the metropolis from the colonies was not simply one way. Tim Armstrong argues that 'The centripetalism which brought these writers to London is matched by a centrifugal tendency which took English writers abroad' (138). My focus here is on English writers who undertook the opposite journey and what this 'centrifugal tendency' means in relation to that contested term 'Australian modernism'. In particular, I argue that the cross-cultural discourse created by Englishmen mixing and mating with white Australian men inscribes mateship as a type of homoerotic primitivism that encourages and supports not only the articulation but also the obfuscation of same-sex desires between men. In the first part of this essay I unpack some of my key critical terms, such as modernism and homoerotic primitivism, before exploring some exemplary literary examples from the 1920s and early 1930s: D.H. Lawrence's Kangaroo (1923), E.L. Grant Watson's The Desert Horizon (1923), and William Hatfield's Sheepmates (1931). In addition, I also discuss David Maloufs Fly Away Peter (1982) as a late-modernist novel that highlights the political and aesthetic continuities between these earlier works and more recent fiction.

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Published 1 May 2012 in Volume 27 No. 1. Subjects: Aboriginal land rights & native title, Colonialism & imperialism - Literary portrayal, Eroticism, Homosexuality, Mateship, Primitivism.

Cite as: Barlow, Damien. ‘‘Did He Want to Mix and Mate with this Man?’ : Mateship, Modernism and Homoerotic Primitivism.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 27, no. 1, 2012. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.817f70be95.