Monday musings on Australian literature: Aussie novels titled with place names
I was searching around for a light, fun idea for this week’s Monday Musings, as life is a bit busy at present, when up popped in my inbox Tony (from Tony’s Book World)’s post on novels with city or town names in their titles. That seemed like just the thing: it demanded a little thinking but not a huge amount of research, and you can all join in with your favourite books (from anywhere in the world).
Tony explained his post by saying that “fiction allows you to travel throughout the world without leaving your own house.” A cliché, he admits, but I’d respond that it’s a cliché because it contains a truth, n’est-ce pas? Tony’s list included fictional towns, but I’m going to stick to real Aussie places – and I’m using “place” here rather than city or town to allow more flexibility. Because I like to have some order, I’m listing my books alphabetically by the name of the place.
Nevil Shute, as some of you know by now, was one of my favourite writers in my youth. I particularly loved his World War 2 stories, of which A town like Alice (1950) is his most famous. Alice Springs is the second largest town in Australia’s Northern Territory, and the closest to one of our most famous tourist attractions, Uluru. However, what it is not is the main setting of Shute’s novel. The story concerns young English POW Jean who migrates to Australia to find Aussie soldier and POW Joe whom she’d met during the war. She visits Alice Springs, which impresses her, but ends up in a fictional town which she’d like to make – yes, wait for it – “like Alice”.
Carpentaria, in northwest Queensland, is a shire named for the Gulf of Carpentaria on which it is located. It also provides the one-word title for Alexis Wright’s Miles Franklin award-winning novel, Carpentaria (2005) (my review). However, although the novel is set in a real shire called Carpentaria, it largely takes place in a fictional town called Desperance. You can probably guess, from that, why she made up the town name. The novel explores black-white relations in the town – relations between the indigenous inhabitants and white settlers, and between the town’s different indigenous groups. It’s about dispossession and its ongoing, destructive impact on people, generation after generation.
Castlemaine is a small city a little north of Melbourne in Victoria. Like many places in Victoria it made its name as a city during the 1850s gold rush and now sports many historic buildings, as well as an active cultural life. The book which features it is in a genre that I don’t read much – but if I did, it would provide, I think, more titles for this post than any other genre. I’m talking crime, and the book is Kerry Greenwood’s The Castlemaine murders (2003). It’s in her popular Phryne Fisher series, which has been made even more popular by a gorgeous (delicious-to-watch) television series.
I haven’t read Melissa Lucashenko’s Mulllumbimby (2015), but I have read (and reviewed) the short story which preceded (and I think is incorporated in) the novel, “The silent majority”. Mullumbimby – I love the sound of it – is a small town in the northeastern rivers region of New South Wales. According to Wikipedia, its name is of indigneous origin and means “small round hill”. Lucashenko, in her story, exposes some of the town’s struggles, particularly for poorer people and indigenous people. Her character Jo considers the town’s early white settlers who “had tried to slash and burn their way to freedom here”, and wonders what the place was like before these settlers came.
As its name suggests, Surfers Paradise is a seaside resort. Technically it’s a suburb in a city called the Gold Coast, which is the closest thing Australia has to the retirement areas of Miami, Florida. Helen Garner, who primarily focuses on Australia’s southern states, published a collection of short stories titled Postcards from Surfers (1985) (my review). The titular story is about an adult woman coming to visit her retired parents and aunt at Surfers Paradise, having left a broken relationship and a not fully successful life behind her. She, beautifully, as I recollect anyhow, evokes the retired life of her parents and aunt.
Sydney is not, as many think, Australia’s capital but the capital of New South Wales. It is, though, where white settlement in Australia commenced. There are several books with Sydney in their titles, but the first that came to my mind was Christina Stead’s Seven poor men of Sydney (1934), her first novel and one I would like to read some time. Luckily, Lisa (ANZLitLovers) has read it. Stead wrote vividly about Sydney in For love alone, which I’ve reviewed here, but that novel moved overseas, whereas this first novel is fully set in Sydney, and particularly explores its poorer side. I gather it focuses on the tenuous lives of workers, much like Mena Calthorpe did in her Sydney-based (but not titled!) novel, The dyehouse (my review).
Next week, I might look at novels with fictional places in their titles. For one thing, they seem more numerous. I’m not sure that this (if my little hypothesis is right) means that more books are set in fictional places, but it feels like fictional places are more comfortable title material.
So now, over to you? What novels with place names in their titles do you like?