Lisa Fiander
University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada

James Cook University was host in early July 2002 to the 24th Annual Conference of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature. Papers were to be organized around two focus areas: the works of Christina Stead, and ‘Literature and Culture in the Tropics and the Pacific.’ Delegates enjoyed the intimacy of this year’s conference setting, the smaller northern campus of the university, located at the foot of a range of green, forested hills, 20 minutes outside the thriving tourist centre of the city of Cairns, in tropical north Queensland. All weekend long, the warm weather and blue skies lured participants onto the lawns outside the conference rooms between papers. Peter Pierce of James Cook University, who organized this year’s conference along with Stephen Torre, tried but failed to persuade jealous delegates from Sydney and Perth that the climate in far north Queensland is not always so lovely.

After drinks and a welcome buffet Thursday night at Stingers’ Bar on campus (named for the box jellyfish that haunts the northern beaches from October to June), the conference got properly under way on Friday morning. Following the official opening by the Rector, Eric Wainwright, papers on Australian literature and film were presented by Paul Genoni of Curtin University (the camera in recent Australian fiction) and Tony Hughes d’Aeth of the University of Western Australia (on Philip Noyce’s film Rabbit Proof Fence, based on the book by Doris Pilkington Garimara). Malati Mathur, a delegate from India, spoke about her experiences teaching Australian literature in the Indian classroom, and her efforts to engage students with a culture very different from their own. After lunch, two parallel sessions took place. Papers with postcolonial perspectives were presented by Frances de Groen of the University of Western Sydney (diaries of prisoners of war in Korea), Michael Ackland of Monash University (Orientalism in Australian literature) and Richard Lansdown of James Cook University (literature of contrition in the Pacific). Papers on Australian literature and folklore were presented by Bhama Daly of James Cook University (Sam Watson’s The Kadaitcha Sung)and Lisa Fiander of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada (fairy tales and recent Australian fiction), preceding a paper by Jim Wells-Green of the Australian Defence Force Academy on the value of reconsidering Patrick White as a satirist. The day’s sessions concluded with Nicole Moore of Macquarie University, speaking on Jean Devanny’s Sugar Heaven; Lyn Jacobs of Flinders University, speaking on Australian writers’ depictions of ‘homelands’ and ‘tropics’ as contested sites; and Ken Stewart of the University of Western Australia, presenting an engaging and sometimes hilarious paper on Shirley Walker’s autobiography Roundabout at Bangalow.

On Friday evening, the Colin Roderick Lecture was held at Cairns Regional Gallery in town. The lecturer was Peter Rose, who worked as a publisher at Oxford University Press for ten years before taking over the editorship of the Australian Book Review. Mr. Rose gave a presentation, entitled ‘The Consolations of Biography,’ on the publication in 2001 of rose boys, his biography of his late brother, the former Collingwood footballer and Victorian cricketer, who was rendered a quadriplegic in a car accident at the age of 22. The lecturer’s frank communication of his brother’s long agony and his own struggle to capture it in words was rendered even more affecting by the lovely setting for the lecture, a gallery hung with an exhibit of German artist Max Ernst’s surrealist drawings.

The conference continuing on Saturday morning, Peter Kirkpatrick of the University of Western Sydney opened with a paper on the history of recitation in Australia, illustrating it with re-enactments of elocutionary practices that stirred laughter in his appreciative audience. Lyn McCredden of Deakin University gave a paper on Tim Winton’s novel Dirt Music, which inspired a lot of excited discussion about Winton in the question period following and throughout the rest of the weekend. Following morning tea, the Christina Stead component of the conference got under way. Judith Kegan Gardiner, Professor of English and of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, gave the keynote address on Stead’s novel The Little Hotel. After lunch, papers on Stead’s legacy were presented by Sue Sheridan of Flinders University and Brigid Rooney of the University of Sydney (both on I’m Dying Laughing) and by Susan Lever of the Australian Defence Force Academy (on Stead as a teacher). The afternoon closed with papers on Stead by Joanne Winning of Middlesex University (lesbian desire in Stead), Teresa Petersen of Macquarie University (Stead and Henry Handel Richardson) and Margaret Harris of the University of Sydney (the love letters of Stead and Bill Blake). On Saturday evening, delegates gathered for a book launch at Stinger’s Bar for Bruce Bennett’s Australian Short Fiction: A History and Dennis Haskell’s Attuned to Alien Moonlight: The Poetry of Bruce Dawe, where the star attraction was Mr. Dawe himself, giving readings of several of his works for the delighted crowd.

At a break during the Stead sessions, there was also a launch of Anne Pender’s Christina Stead: Satirist, published by Common Ground and ASAL. Dr Pender is a graduate of the Australian Defence Force Academy who now lectures in Australian literature at King’s College at the University of London.

Sunday morning began with parallel sessions. One group of delegates met to hear papers by Richard Carr of the University of Alaska, speaking on Subramani’s The Fantasy Eaters, and Susan Magarey of the University of Adelaide, speaking on Australian feminist versions of alternative societies. In another session, Cheryl Taylor of James Cook University and Robert Zeller of Southeast Missouri State University gave papers on literary journalism in Queensland – Professor Taylor on Achibald Meston and Professor Zeller on E.J. Banfield – followed by a presentation by Simon Ryan of the Australian Catholic University on the history of the local tourist attraction of Kuranda village. After morning tea, Delys Bird of the University of Western Australia concluded the conference with the Dorothy Green Lecture, speaking on a collection of letters exchanged by Elizabeth Jolley and a friend of Jolley’s family, and the connections they suggest between autobiography and fiction.

Following the ASAL general meeting, delegates met for dinner at Matson Plaza Resort in town. At the dinner, Geraldine McKenzie was awarded the Mary Gilmore Poetry prize for her 2001 collection Duty, while Richard Flanagan received the ALS Gold Medal for his third novel, Gould’s Book of Fish (2002), which is based on the life of Billy Gould, a convict artist. The prize-winners entertained the dinner guests with readings.

Conference Proceedings

Proceedings of the 2000 ASAL conference are available for $15 (+ 3.50 post and handling) to ASAL Members and $25 (+ 3.50 post and handling ) to non-members. Selected papers from the 2001 conference will be published in the first number of the Association’s new journal JASAL. Papers from the 2002 conference will appear in the second number to be published in 2003.

Upcoming Conference

Next July’s ASAL conference is to be hosted in Brisbane, presented as one of two interlocking conferences, along with that of the Australasian Drama Studies Association. The theme will be Endless Horizons: Looking Inwards and Looking Outwards. The deadline for submission of proposals is March 28, 2003.