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ASAL Conference 2006.

A report by the Editor

The Association for the Study of Australian Literature held its annual conference in Perth at the beginning of July. Readers of Margin will not be surprised to hear that I gave a paper on John Lang at the Conference. My paper was entitled 'The Five Ghosts of John Lang' and discussed the five earliest written versions of the legend of Fisher's Ghost of Campbelltown. In the paper I claimed that John Lang invented Fisher's Ghost in the first published account of the Ghost which appeared in Hill's Life in New South Wales in 1832 entitled 'The Sprite of the Creek'. Lang was a schoolboy of fifteen. I may publish the paper or part of it in Margin at some future date. I showed the illustrations of the French version of Fisher's Ghost of 1856. It raised a laugh with the view of the country around Campbelltown which looked more like Tahiti than Australia. I did receive some additional information from Professor Elizabeth Webby of Sydney University about 'The Sprite of the Creek'. It was republished a few years later and signed by 'Felix'. This needs further investigation.

There were some other papers about early Australian writers. One was an interesting discussion of Tasma's story Love in the Antipodes which the Mulini Press published as a translation from the French by Patricia Clancy. The paper was given by Judy Johnson who is a subscriber to Margin. It is expected to be published in the ASAL Journal.

A paper by another Margin contributor was by Megan Brown of Woollongong University whose paper was entitled 'A Literary Fortune: Sex, Lies and Bushrangers'. Unfortunately I could not go to listen to Megan's paper because I was giving my own paper on John Lang at the same time. In some ways bushranging has had the ultimate masculine appeal. Megan quotes from Mary Fortune's 'Bushranger's Autobiography' of 1872. 'A bushranger is one who is brave enough to set the D*** laws at defiance and take his own rights in the world.' Megan goes on to ask: 'What if that man is cross-dressed as a woman?' As she says: 'Fortune often uses cross-dressing in many of her fictional accounts of colonial Australia'. Mary Fortune who wrote mainly for the Australian Journal before 1880 focused on bushrangers. The characters she described subverted the almost exclusively masculine accounts of bushranging familiar to modern readers and presupposes a complexity of gender identity that historical accounts rarely recognise.

Another paper was given by Ken Stewart on 'Marcus Clarke: His spectral Life'. The paper discussed several aspects of the 'lives of Marcus Clarke as intimated by himself in his letters to his first biographer Hamilton Mackinnion and by his close friend and unpublished biographer Cyril Hopkins. The only scholarly biography was written by Brian Elliott, but the Cyril Hopkins manuscript was edited by Ken Stewart and Brian Elliot. Particular themes in Marcus Clarke's works were selected for their spectral significance. The Conference theme was 'Spectres, Screens, Shadows, Mirrors'. Clarke's discussion of his school friend Gerard Manly Hopkins and Hopkins' view of Clarke are invoked and spectral apparitions in His Natural Life were discussed.

A further view of Marcus Clarke appeared in Damien Barlow's 'Oh You're Cutting My Bowels Out'. Australian convict fiction has continuously been haunted by the spectre of non-normative sexual desire and practices. He examined how Marcus Clarke's novel For His Natural Life provided a foundational image of the 'sexual horrors' of transportation with the infamous portrayal of the gang rape and subsequent flogging of the young convict Kirkland. Barlow then went on to show how convict sexual perversion went on to haunt more contemporary writing.

Another paper on a nineteenth century writer was given by Monica Anderson entitled 'A Virtuous Transformation: Migration, Adversity and Frank Layton: An Australian Story'. This children's book was first published as a serial in 1854 and then as a book in 1865. Written by George Sargent it presents the reader with lessons on how a principled person confronts adversity and how in the process character is developed. The aim of the book was to instil in the young reader an innate moral code that would guide them to the final goal of self imposed restraint. The paper reviewed the relation between the representation and the consumption of colonial views in the mid nineteenth century.

One of the papers I enjoyed very much was given by Professor Elizabeth Webby in which she discussed narrative poem by Charles Harpur which I did not know. Originally the poem was called 'Ned Connor: a Tale of the Bush': it was published in the Maitland Mercury in 1846 and later retitled 'The Spectre of the Cattle Flat'. It recounts how a stockman who had been responsible for the death of an Aboriginal boy is haunted by his ghost. It is a dramatic poem and has an interesting conclusion. I will attempt to secure a copy and publish it in a future edition of Margin. It has never been included in an anthology.

Yet another fascinating paper was given by Barbara Finlayson entitled 'Henry Handel Richardson: Voices from the other side'

When Richard and Mary Mahony arrive in England in Part II in Henry Handel Richardson's The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, London was permeated with spiritualism. 'You hardly met a person who was not a convert to the craze'. Perhaps it was inevitable that Richardson would include seances in her novel, set in the Victorian era when spiritualism was in vogue. Her agenda seems to be much deeper. It is through the conflicting positions of her main characters, Richard and Mary, that she considers the burning questing of life hereafter. Certainty and doubt are explored through the conjuring of spectres by mediums--either honest or fraudulent. This aspect of the novel may reflect Richardson's ambivalent beliefs in the paranormal. Richardson lived and wrote in an age when scientific research into departed loved ones brought doubt to this phenomenon through the exposure of frauds. For some years Richardson was actively involved in psychical research seeking rational explanations. Nevertheless she also believed in spiritualism as a means of communication. She kept in touch with her husband after his death in 1933. 'I have been in touch with him many times since he "left"'. Barbara Finlayson explored these encounters with the departed both in the fiction of Henry Handel Richardson and in her life. She also showed some amusing illustrations of spiritualists and mediums in action.

Another paper which gave me a quite different view of Norman Lindsay's children's story The Magic Pudding was presented by Christopher Kelen. The paper was entitled 'The Mirror in The Magic Pudding. Cannibal Commodifications Among Australia's Fondest Wishes'. The Magic Pudding--a variable trope--has been of key importance in cultural and political debates in Australian for most of the last century. The paper argued that the pudding may be usefully regarded as a 'mirror of wishfulness' expressive of national desires and devotions in Australia as at the end of the First World War. There's an interesting interpretation.

Adam Aitken from the University of Technology Sydney presented a paper entitled 'Cross over and Cross-dressing'. It was primarily focused on the Australian writer G.E. Morrison famous for his works on China. Morrison often dressed as a Mandarin and Aitken poses the question about the general debate about race. What are the metaphors we can use to investigate a European writer's authority to represent a true portrait of Asian subjects? He closes his paper by using his own fictionalised memoir and concludes that 'History breaks down into images, not stories.' and Cadava's tenet 'There is no word or image that is not haunted by history' This was a paper which asks many questions of today's Australians in their attitudes to Asia and its people.

There was a paper by Ian Henderson from Kings College, London who is interested in 'reading' in the nineteenth century. He spoke of Charles Dickens's signature and David Copperfield's Australia. I was unable to hear thin paper and look forward to reading it in the issue of the ASAL Journal.

There were many papers by PhD students on their research and their discoveries and different interpretations of the more modern Australian authors and their works. The whole conference was very enjoyable and stimulating

At the conference I was told that one of the Important early 'convict' novels written in Tasmania was about to be republished. The book is called The Broad Arrow Being Passages from the History of Maida Gwynnham a Lifer by Oline Keese. (Caroline Leakey) originally published in London, by Bentley, in 1859 in 2 volumes. Thin is an Important development because unlike Marcus Clarke's For the Term of His Natural Life it has been out of print for many years. Caroline Leakey was born in 1827 and died in Hobart in 1881

I will reform Margin readers when this appears, probably later in 2006.

There were many papers about twentieth century Australian writers and it was most stimulating to hear about some of these authors and interpretations of their writings. There were a number of book launches including a work by Professor Bruce Bennett of ADFA in Canberra entitled Homing In. Essays on Australian Literature and Selfhood Of special interest in relation to nineteenth century Australian writers is the Essay 'Early Prisoners an Australia: Henry Savery and John Boyle O'Reilly'. Another Essay of special interest as 'Glimpses of India' It is not about John Lang but of more recent Australian and Indian writers. There was also a new book on Australian material in nineteenth Century Periodicals by Judy Johnston and Monica Anderson Australia Imagined A collection of articles and stones from English nineteenth century periodicals. A review this book in the next Issue of Margin.

Attendance at ASAL Conferences does keep me up to date on what is happening in studies and in the reprinting of Nineteenth Century Australian writing. As well I do manage to check on some of the developments and studies of Twentieth Century authors and writing.
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Title Annotation:Association for the Study of Australian Literature
Publication:M A R G I N: life & letters in early Australia
Article Type:Conference news
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Jul 1, 2006
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