Displaced Homelands in Gerald Murnane’s Inland


Gerald Murnane is the pre-eminent chronicler of Irish-Australian Catholic male youth: its spiritual curiosity, onanistic fantasies and inevitable guilt, and the irresistible attraction to the arcane and the ceremonial. The specifically Irish-Catholic content in his early novels – principally Tamarisk Row (1974) and A Lifetime on Clouds (1976), both set in the drought-stricken plains of rural Victoria – turns on Murnane’s deliberate approximations between narrative and autobiography, sufficiently non-identical to bear plausible deniability and which lend the narration a sardonic and amused tone. His later novel Inland (1988) also has its protagonist meditating copiously on his Irish Catholic upbringing and its effects on his understanding of faith, his capacity to enter into romantic relationships, and his sense of the world. The narrative is channelled through a geography of the grasslands of Melbourne County, refracted by meditations on the Hungarian Alföld (an exclave of the great Eurasian steppe) and the North American prairie. This displacement of Irish-Australia by way of Hungary and the United States comprises a deft method by which to examine masculine Australian Irish Catholicity out in plain sight, where geomorphology, ecology, and matters of national identity illuminate the meridians of the Irish-Australian Catholic diaspora.

I learned that no thing in the world is one thing; that each thing in the world is two things at least, and probably many more than two things. I learned to find a queer pleasure in staring at a thing and dreaming of how many things it might be. (Murnane, Inland 48)

Gerald Murnane’s fiction occupies a distinctive if not unique place in the landscape of Australian literature in terms of its style, strategic use of narrative point of view, and a compulsive return to such subject matter as horseracing, grassland ecologies, the inner landscape of memory and the mysteries of a Catholic education. Murnane launched his writing career as the pre-eminent chronicler of Irish-Australian Catholic male youth, charting the inner lives of adolescent protagonists Clement Killeaton in Tamarisk Row (1974) and Adrian Sherd in A Lifetime on Clouds (1976). These novels chronicle their protagonists’ struggles with Catholicism…

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Published 30 September 2021 in Special Issue: The Uses of Irish-Australian Literature . Subjects: Allegory, American (USA) literature & writers, Memory, Catholicism, Gerald Murnane, Irish-Australian Literature, Grassland, Steppe, Exclave, Etymology, Narratology.

Cite as: Byron, Mark. ‘Displaced Homelands in Gerald Murnane’s Inland.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 36, no. 2, 2021, doi: 10.20314/als.c86da72f0a.