Sanctuary and Scars: Salt as a Landscape Element in the Novels and Non-Fiction of Tim Winton


This article argues that salt functions as a transformative marking and shaping agent in Tim Winton’s work. Salt scars both people and place (externally and internally, physically and spiritually) while also signifying sanctuary (both a refuge and a holy space). Salt leaves both subtle and obvious imprints on the landscape, the built environment, and on minor and major characters in Winton’s novels and non-fiction. Winton scripts material and psychological salt scars that result from discomfort and danger, and which foster healing and/or peace for his characters. Landscape salt in Winton’s works also generates spaces that are protective for his characters, whose situations tend to be so precarious and so isolated. Most remarkably, however, landscape salt amplifies the sacredness of these ‘thin and bitter’ places. The suggestion of sacredness is complemented by Winton’s erudite and flawed mentor characters whose conversations gesture eloquently toward the numinous in these salt landscapes.

‘… we are not saved from places, but in and through places.’

-- Leonard Hjalmarson

When Jaxie Clackton flees into the remote, empty, salt country in The Shepherd’s Hut he has no idea that he is headed toward a priest or toward his own salvation. While he hopes that the landscape might protect him and believes he needs some ‘kind of saving’, he does not imagine the salt country will shape him, scar him, transform him, lead him into sacred conversations, and evoke the numinous (Winton Shepherd’s Hut 22). Yet, he departs the salt country with newly formed identity and purpose, with the liberating knowledge that he is ‘[a]n instrument of God’ and that ‘peace is on its way’ (Shepherd’s Hut 266–67). Jaxie’s experience is an example of the way place works on characters, and of the role salt plays in Tim Winton’s novels and non-fiction. Ubiquitous to Western…

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Published 2 May 2023 in Volume 38 No. 1. Subjects: Australian landscape, Australian regional literature & writers, Coast, Landscape & identity, Tim Winton.

Cite as: Spragg, Kimberly. ‘Sanctuary and Scars: Salt as a Landscape Element in the Novels and Non-Fiction of Tim Winton.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 38, no. 1, 2023, doi: 10.20314/als.bd05e41a9b.

  • Kimberly Spragg — Kimberly Spragg has worked in higher education for over two decades at a variety of universities in the United States, Australia, and Uganda. She specializes in curating immersive, intercultural, study experiences for students. Her expertise lies in designing, implementing, and evaluating curricula that foster respectful travel and pilgrimage experiences which help students navigate new contexts and adapt across difference. Kimberly is a PhD candidate in literature and theology at Alphacrucis University College where she is exploring Tim Winton’s writing and the interconnectedness between humans and place, creaturehood and spirituality, alienation and belonging.