Transporting the Imaginary: Representations of the Railway in Australian Literature
This thesis identifies and explores representations of the railway in Australian literature. There have been publications that have dealt with railway history and with the econontic impact of the system. Others have been marketed around people's love of trains and in these publications emphasis has been placed upon particular journeys and personal anecdotes. These writings have tended to operate largely within the area of popular culture with special interest shown in railway songs, railway joW11als and posters, photos and illustrations.
Yet for all this attention, the railway has been given little critical consideration as a significant topic in Australian literary writing. The profound role that this system, indeed institution, has played in Australia's fictional writing has been virtually invisible. This thesis goes some way towards addressing the lack of attention to this phenomenon in Australian literary studies. It investigates ways in which Australian literary writers have taken up and imaginatively employed the railway.
An impediment to the project of locating and defining the railway's significance in Australian writing has been the assumption that this significance will reveal itself in the same way it has done in the histories and stories of Britain and the United States. However, this assumption is not soundly based and has led some people to suggest that the railway is absent from Australian literature. I would argne it is not absent but that its presence can be seen to permeate-sometimes overtly, at other times subtly--many Australian texts. Australia has its own histories, its own stories, and it also has its own way in which the railway reveals itself.
This thesis will exantine how the railway not only physically aided in the mapping of the landscape through which it travelled but also aided in the conceptualisation of space for many of its travellers. More than any other mode of transportation the railway lends itself to becoming a site of spatial struggle and eventual spatial belonging. A train may be an encased structure and it may travel on predetermined linear tracks but in a paradoxical manner these !uniting factors turn in on themselves and allow a spatial journey that can go against conventional or traditional modes of thought. Using authors who are often perceived as writers of national fictions (Henry Lawson, Barbara Baynton, Kenneth Slessor, Xavier Herbert, Judith Wright, Patrick White, Les Murray, David Malouf and Peter Carey) 1 will reveal how the railway becomes an expert vehicle for writers to explore how we know and experience space. I will also consider lesser known "train stories" from early and contemporary writers.
Drawing on a nmnber of philosophers who have addressed concepts of space (Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Foucault, de Certeau, Benjamin, Lefebvre, and Paul Carter) I will show how Australian writers of fictions, though extremely diverse in their styles, all bring to light the fact that it is through spatial knowledge and its application that we gain a sense of closeness and belonging. In Britain the railway promotes ideas of permanence and stability; in the United States it is used to symbolically unite a nation and conquer distance; in Australia the railway becomes a metaphorical vehicle for uncovering the paradox that sprawl can produce not a "tyrarmy of distance" but a sense of gathering in.