Since literary critic Geordie Williamson described Luke Carman’s Western Sydney-set novella An Elegant Young Man (2013) as ‘bring[ing] a vast suburban emptiness to brilliant life’, Australian literature has changed. Once marginal, writing from Western Sydney has blossomed into one of the most important and exciting arenas in Australian literature The area from which it emerges is highly culturally and linguistically diverse: 37.8% of people in the Greater Western Sydney region were born overseas (Australian Bureau of Statistics). Yet, over the past two decades, Western Sydney has also become a locus for racism and specifically Islamophobia, with anti-multicultural sentiment bolstered by John Howard’s Coalition Government between 1996 and 2007. In this essay, I analyse three novels set in Western Sydney during the Howard years to understand how writers have portrayed this time and its entanglements with ideas of both the suburbs and masculinity. Writing of Prime Minister Howard’s rhetoric, Carol Johnson…
Visions of Western Sydney in Howard’s Australia: Luke Carman’s An Elegant Young Man, Peter Polites’s Down the Hume and Michael Mohammed Ahmad’s The Lebs
Once overlooked in Australian literature, recent writing from Western Sydney is now among the field’s most dynamic and vital. Over the past two decades, Western Sydney, one of Australia’s most culturally and linguistically diverse communities, has also become a locus for Islamophobia, racism and anti-multicultural sentiment. This sentiment was bolstered by John Howard’s Coalition government between 1996 and 2007 through the creation of a ‘citizen norm’ mythologising Anglo-Celtic identity, normative expressions of masculinity, and neoliberal individualism (Johnson 197). This period also saw a sharp rise in discrimination against Muslim Australians following the MV Tampa controversy, the fabricated ‘Children Overboard’ scandal, the September 11 attacks on New York City, and the trial and conviction of a group of young Lebanese Muslim men, led by Bilal Skaf, for a series of violent gang rapes perpetrated against young women in Sydney. In this essay, I read three works by writers from Western Sydney as resistance to Howard’s citizen norm: Luke Carman’s An Elegant Young Man (2013), Peter Polites’s Down the Hume (2017) and Michael Mohammed Ahmad’s The Lebs (2018). I examine the works’ depictions of suburban locality and masculinity in the context of Howard-era multicultural Australia.
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Cite as: Grogan Lucas, Matilda. ‘Visions of Western Sydney in Howard’s Australia: Luke Carman’s An Elegant Young Man, Peter Polites’s Down the Hume and Michael Mohammed Ahmad’s The Lebs.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 37, no. 3, 2022, doi: 10.20314/als.ec34eceddb.