Monday musings on Australian literature: Aussie novels titled with fictional place names

Last week, inspired by Tony (from Tony’s Book World)’s post, I posted on novels with places in their titles. I limited my titles then to “real” places, but in my research I came across many books with fictional places in their titles, so, well, you know what I decided to do with that!

There are good reasons for making up a place. For a start, readers can’t complain about inaccuracies – about a street being in the wrong place, for example. Moreover, it gives writers the opportunity to create place names that mean something thereby contributing to the work’s overall meaning.

Last week, I listed my small selection of books by the name of the place, but here I’ll list under the author’s name. I’ve read four of my five chosen books, but have only blogged two, unfortunately.

Thea Astley

Thea Astley, DrylandsDrylands (1999, my review) is set in

a God-forgotten tree-stump of a town halfway to nowhere whose population (two hundred and seventy-four) was tucked for leisure either in the bar of the Legless Lizard or in front of television screens, videos, Internet adult movies or PlayStation games for the kiddies.

Such an evocative fictional town name suits Astley’s purposes for her dystopian novel about desiccating lives. It’s one of those books I haven’t forgotten, and would willingly read again.

Thea Ashley, It's raining in MangoIt’s raining in Mango (1987) is set in a completely different environment to Drylands – as the title itself makes clear – but all that rain doesn’t make it much cheerier! It’s set in the fictional town of Mango, in the tropical rainforest area of northern Queensland where Astley set several novels, including her first, Girl with a monkey. The novel follows the Laffey family through four generations, from the 1860s to the 1980s. It also tells the story of an indigenous family whose path crosses the Laffeys. Astley chronicles lawlessness, violence and dispossession, and yet, as I recollect from my long-ago reading, it has its warm, comic moments too. One I should read again.

David Malouf

David Malouf, The conversations at Curlow CreekThe conversations at Curlow Creek (1996) is not, I think, one of Malouf’s best known or most popular books, but I really liked it. It’s set in 1827, and concerns the conversations between two Irishmen, a prisoner, who is to hang in the morning, and the man guarding him. It has that mesmeric, reflective quality that I love in many of Malouf’s novels. As I was researching the book to see if I could find why Malouf chose this place name, I came across an interview with Malouf in which he says, “I’m aware of the number of times I really want to use the novel to stop time, to slow things up. You can slow up the narrative so that a second is something that can be explored maybe over pages. I like that play between movement and stillness in the novel.” I still haven’t found the origin of the name – perhaps it’s just intended to be an Irish-sounding name that was fairly typical in colonial Australia – but this statement tells me a lot about what drives his writing.

Kylie Tennant

Kylie Tennant, TiburonTiburon (1935), which won the S.H Prior Memorial Prize, was Tennant’s first novel. It is set in the fictional Australian country town of Tiburon during the Depression, and centres on the poor and unemployed. I’ve read a couple of Tennant’s novels, but not this one. She’s a great teller of stories about the lives of “ordinary” people, often in extraordinary times, like the Depression (here) and the War (Tell morning this, which I have read.) According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, the man she ended up marrying obtained a job in the country, so Tennant walked hundreds of kilometres from Sydney to see him. “On the journey,” ADB says, “she witnessed the hardship and suffering of the rural unemployed. It was the first of the many arduous, punishing walking tours Tennant undertook in the early 1930s that would form the background to her rural Depression novel Tiburon.” Apparently, she based Tiburon on Canowindra, and the residents were none too happy!

Tennant, commenting on rumours of unhappiness in the town, suggested they could raise money for the following headstone for her:

KYLIE TENNANT. Once a student of Brighton College.
Unwisely wrote Tiburon and was speared by the natives of a town that does not exist.

Clearly, if you are going to make up a place, you should make it up good and proper!

Patrick White

Patrick White, Happy ValleyHappy Valley (1939, my review) is set in a fictional town called, yes, Happy Valley, in the Snowy Mountains-Monaro region of New South Wales where Patrick White had worked as a jackeroo for a year. The town’s name, as you’ve probably guessed, is ironic, because White’s people are rarely happy. Life, as I wrote in my review, tends to be, for his people, disappointing at best, sterile, depressing and/or meaningless at worst. In other words, like Thea Astley’s Drylands, White’s titling is pointed.

So now, over to you … do you have any favourite (or, even, not so favourite) novels titled with fictional places?

30 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Aussie novels titled with fictional place names

  1. So many favorite SF titles…chronicles of this and that place (Narnia), Ringworld, Dune, Still Forms on Foxfield. And then there’s Northanger Abbey, Cold Mountain, Wuthering Heights, the Hotel New Hampshire, Jurassic Park…

  2. Two of My favourite Australian novels are Cloudstreet by Tim Winton, and The Newspaper of Claremont Street. Another favourite book of mine, though not Australian, is Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter.

    • Thanks Margaret (Meg, darn autocorrect). I had Newspaper of a Claremont St and Cloudstreet on my list but decided to keep to bigger “places” ie not homes and streets, but you don’t have to play by my rules so I’m glad you mentioned them. And, ah yes, Girl of the Limberlost. A favourite too.

      Talking kids books and smaller places, The family at Misrule, by Ethel Turner would work too.

  3. I just looked at my Ethel Turner novels. What about, We of the Never Never, by Aeneas Gunn? And Peyton Place I pinched from my Mum!

  4. Another ‘older’ one is Randolph Stow’s Tourmaline, a fictional town in WA. Also Ivan Southall’s two children’s books, Hills End and Ash Road. Happily, all three are all back in print via Text Publishing’s ‘Australian Classics’ series.

    • Great ideas Tessa. I thought about Stow but didn’t remember that book, and didn’t go as far as to look him up on Wikipedia. Good one. And those Ivan Southall ones are great. But, you know, I always thought Hills End was Hill End and based on the real place. Clearly, I hadn’t read it or I would have known that wouldn’t I?

      • There’s definitely a ‘Hill End’ in the central west of New South Wales, but I’m pretty sure Southall’s ‘Hills End’ is in Victoria. I could be wrong though! Further investigation required…

        • Yes, it’s the NSW one I’ve always thought it was – a lovely little town in fact – until I noticed for the first time that in your comment that it was HILLS not HILL! And I always thought I had a good eye for detail.

        • Southall’s books are set in Victoria, so it is not the NSW Hill End being referenced in his books (I reread them both a few years ago and had my childhood (mis)perceptions shattered!)

          My fictional towns is – The Ladies of Missalonghi by Colleen McCullough which is set in a fictional town in the Blue Mountains.

          I’m not sure of Tirra Lirra by the River by Jessica Anderson (is it a place or the house – I can’t remember).

        • Thanks Brona for all this. Clearly more than one of us had misconceptions about Southall. Love that Colleen McCullough name. I’ve never read her so had no idea what that was. I think “tirra lirra” is more like those nonsense words from a song – like “tra la la la la”. At least that’s what I’ve always thought it was.

          But, your titles have brought to mind a book I loved by New Zealand author, Janet Frame – Living in the Maniototo. That’s supposed to be a fictional place though none of the characters in the book lived there as I recollect.

  5. All the Billabong books, although of course Billabong is the name of the farm, rather than a place name. I’m impressed by your list, although I know at least two real-life places called Happy Valley…

    • Ay yes, the Billabong books, Michelle. I decided to keep to places bigger than homes and buildings but you’re allowed to expand beyond that!

      I did some googling of Happy Valley. I found a farm complex but not other places. It’s not surprising that places do exist with that name though is it. (White’s is fictional though – isn’t it? My understanding that it is set around Adaminaby).

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