Narrating Colonial Queensland: Francis Adams, Frank Jardine and 'The Red Snake'
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Francis Adams (1862-1893) first published 'The Red Snake' in the Christmas edition of the Brisbane Boomerang on 24 December 1888, and later revised it for inclusion in a collection of his short stories, Australian Life, which was published by Chapman and Hall in London in 1892. Adams's careful selection, arrangement and revision of his stories enable Australian Life to work effectively as a retrospective collection for an English audience, but it is illuminating to look at the original versions in their Australian context. 'The Red Snake', which Adams chose to open Australian Life, is an enigmatic text. The original version makes unequivocal references to local people, places and events; in particular, it offers in Frank Melvil, a member of the 'old original colonial school', a thinly veiled representation of the infamous Frank Jardine of Somerset on Cape York Peninsula. However, Adams uses these 'real life' allusions also as a starting point for an exploration of larger questions of civilisation and modernity. The story recounts a brutal massacre, but makes no direct judgment of Melvil's actions. There is a pervasive motif of homoerotic attraction, but the text's signification of such desire is evasive in the manner of other fin de si裬e texts. Technically, the story is innovative in the complexity of its first person narration, its interest in the fleeting moment, its anticipation of 'stream of consciousness' and its lack of closure. 'The Red Snake' holds up a mirror to colonial Queensland, but is also worth resurrecting as a fine early example of the modern short story.
Copyright 2008 University of Queensland Press. The attached file is reproduced here in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher. Please refer to the journal's website for access to the definitive, published version.