John M. MacKenzie’s important book, The Empire of Nature: Hunting Conservation and British Imperialism (1988), reminds us that ‘the colonial frontier was also a hunting frontier’ (7). The hunting of game in India, Africa, North America and elsewhere was always, of course, a concrete and brutal expression of settler domination over species and territory. But accounts of the kangaroo hunt in nineteenth-century Australia were also routinely imbued with imaginative force and driven by intellectual inquiry. MacKenzie notes that hunting game across the colonies was a significant indicator of the need ‘to classify and order the natural world through a new scientific understanding’ (23). But he also argues that colonial hunting as a genre of writing articulated British imperialism’s investment in what he calls ‘killing for character formation’ (41). For settlers, hunting game, he suggests, delivered an experience that was ‘rich in . . . ambiguities’. On the one hand, it…
In Australia – and no doubt in other outposts of empire – hunting provided a rite of passage for ambitious young men to learn about local conditions and establish their colonial credentials. This article argues that the kangaroo hunt narrative therefore operated as a kind of colonial bildungsroman or novel of education. It examines three kangaroo hunt novels written by women who had in fact never travelled to Australia. The first is Sarah Porter’s Alfred Dudley; or, The Australian Settlers (1830). Porter’s novel shows that the kangaroo hunt is incompatible with the bourgeois sensibilities of an aspirant settler who revolts from ‘scenes of blood’. But other colonial bildungsromans invested in the adventure of hunting as a reward in itself. The second published kangaroo hunt novel is Sarah Bowdich Lee’s Adventures in Australia; or, the Wanderings of Captain Spencer in the Bush and the Wilds (1851); the third is Anne Bowman’s The Kangaroo Hunters; or, Adventures in the Bush (1858). Lee’s novel gives free play to the kangaroo hunt, exploring its possibilities for both Aboriginal and settler identities, while Bowman’s novel puts the kangaroo hunt into an ethical discussion of killing on the frontier. These British novelists imagine frontier experiences in colonial Australia by drawing on a range of Australian source material. Their novels present Australia as a testing ground for young male adventurers. The kangaroo hunt is their defining experience, something to survive and in some cases, finally, to disavow as they transition from emigrants to settlers.
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