'Long strange ride' & The lure of the road in contemporary Australian fiction

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The journey is an age-old literary device and its contemporary manifestation, the road story, is more commonly told through the medium of cinema. Can such a clichéd narrative structure tell us anything new? What makes an Australian road novel uniquely Australian and can it ever be more than a pale imitation of its American counterparts? The creative portion of my Master of Creative Arts thesis consists of the first two parts of a projected three-part road novel, Long Strange Ride. Set in Australia around the time of the Port Arthur massacre, the novel is narrated by 26 year-old Kaz, an inner-west lesbian working in a bar. In Part One, at her mother’s funeral Kaz meets her estranged father and his six-year old daughter Kiera. Over the next few months the two half-sisters become friends and when Kiera arrives one day with a broken arm, Kaz decides to take her away from her parents. They set out on a road trip that leads them to Broken Hill, where they find shelter with an old friend. In Part Two Kaz tells the story of Holly, her other little sister, whose unhappy life and teenage death she blames on their father and on herself; her story has cast a shadow over Kaz’s life and Kiera’s arrival has transformed Kaz’s guilt into action. In Part Three (which has not been submitted for examination) their father and the police arrive in Broken Hill and Kaz continues to hide with Kiera, heading ultimately to confrontation and a choice she must make between violence and forgiveness. The exegesis, The Lure of the Road in Contemporary Australian Fiction, examines three Australian road novels (Last Ride by Denise Young, Floundering by Romy Ash and The Low Road by Chris Womersley) and seeks to establish whether this sub-genre of contemporary fiction can be considered uniquely Australian. It engages with the key themes that emerged in the writing of Long Strange Ride that are also defining features of the three texts – the mythology of place, gender, family and social marginalisation. The critical stance is informed by the available critical literature, the most significant of these being Delia Falconer’s work on Australian road writing. It also refers to the complex and wide-ranging discussion of place and Australian national identity, drawing upon the work of Roslyn Haynes, Ross Gibson and Don Watson and showing how these three texts reflect the contradictions at the heart of Australian national mythology. While the figure of the bushman on the land is idealized, the landscape itself is demonized, perpetuating the theme of the hostile wilderness. Assessing the damaging impact of the journey upon the characters and their relationships, I argue that the lure of the road is deceptive and that the road itself is dangerous and untrustworthy. This negative characterization of the road implies a parallel affirmation of everything that the road is not – home, the feminine, family, nurture, society and belonging. In its characterization of the road and the landscape, the Australian road novel provides a distinctive narrative that privileges home over the empty promise of the journey and an encounter with a hostile land.
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