'A lovely land ... by shadows dark untainted'?: whiteness and early Queensland women's writing
This paper examines the formative but largely forgotten years of white women's writing, from the establishment of the colony of Queensland in 1859 until 1939, the year in which the assimilation policy was adopted across Australia. It examines whiteness in this body of literature as a discourse that both draws upon, and helps to shape, the experience of women writers and readers as members of a recently established white colony. An ideology of whiteness underpins this work, but its formulation is neither monolithic nor static: from the beginning there are divergent tendencies, and significant new trends emerge in the 1920s as the assimilation project begins to take hold of the literary imagination. This literature tells us very little about the racial Others with which it is so preoccupied, but a great deal about the lived experience of whiteness by women in early Queensland, as well as the ways in which literary culture articulated whiteness as the centrally cohesive factor in constructing a new white nation in the Antipodes. White women writers position themselves as leaders of public opinion, articulating responses to changing preoccupations and social debates. The differences between genres are striking. Celebration of whiteness and expressions of virulent racial hatred tend to characterise poetry, while fiction generates a more complex exploration of what it means to be an author and agent of colonisation. The fictional tradition, initiated by Rosa Praed in the late nineteenth century and continued by Zora Cross, Mabel Forrest, Dorothy Cottrell and Kay Glasson Taylor in the 1920s and 1930s, is of particular interest because it explores 'dying race' and assimilation debates in the lead-up to the formal adoption of assimilation in 1939, from the point of view of women who had lived in the contact zone. Unease with the experience of racial interaction and, more generally, with women's participation in colonisation sporadically ripples the surface of fictional narratives, but such eruptions ultimately fail to unsettle the ideology of whiteness. Since World War II, the tension between these two approaches has been developed and transformed creatively by white women such as Judith Wright, Thea Astley and Janette Turner Hospital, along with Indigenous writers such as Oodgeroo Noonuccal and Melissa Lucashenko.
Whitening Race: Essays in social and cultural criticism
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