Leave No Trace
April 8, 2019 10:08 AM   Subscribe

Lost-children stories and Australia's uneasy mythology. Discussed: Migrating Clothing, Nonspecific Evil, Shrilling Cicadas, Indigenous Displacement and Massacre, The Quest for Oblivion, Starchy Pinafores and Straw Hats, Lost-Child Stories, Terra Nullius, The White Vanishing Trope, The Cult of Mateship, Weird Melancholy, The Female Register, Risk Perception, Feminine Agency and Feminine Recklessness, Bloodless Murder

Previously by Madeleine Watts
posted by zeptoweasel (10 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Ooh, this is a very good read indeed. Thanks for posting it.

There's so much covered I don't quite know what to comment on - the ways in which marriage licences and their granting was another way to control convict women, Anita Cobby and the impact that had - my mother was walking home from a train station to Rooty Hill frequently in '86, I believe, or the way the idea that the bush is malevolent resonates with my own childhood, and how this piece connecting it with the colonisation that this nation is built upon seems very right indeed.

I'm disappointed, but not surprised that Australian Gothic has an actual history - I'm only familiar the meme, which is far more concerned with current events.

I guess I'll settle for some unearned pride that Madeleine Watts appears to be yet another Australian writer who graced Honi Soit's pages in her time at USyd.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 11:14 AM on April 8, 2019 [5 favorites]

What a great article and what an irritating website. No I do not want to subscribe to your newsletter, website I have never visited before. No I do not wish to nominate you for a "Webby", whatever that is. And I don't need some blob constantly floating down in almost-inertia as I read to "help me navigate " or whatever.

But the essay - wow.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:56 PM on April 8, 2019 [5 favorites]

It's a lovely piece of writing but it feels like it floats to nowhere in the end. I was also a little surprised that she didn't mention the lost child Aboriginal stories as well - a lot of the stories involve children wandering off and being lost, or at least the ones I was told and read as a little girl. The essay feels like very powerful writing gliding over narrative - she skips right from early settlement to 1900 to the 1960s to now and there's just too much scattered about.

Her descriptions of the school uniform as a pointless exercise designed to protect/restrict was witty and exact. The light blue and the shift dress and the dreadful hats - they were meant to look good in still photographs only, not in active use, those horrible things. And blazers, gah.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 3:31 PM on April 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

Fantastic. I’m a Literature teacher who’s teaching a comparative unit on Victorian and Australian Gothic next semester, so I’m happy to eat this all up.
posted by chronic sublime at 4:36 PM on April 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

One quick observation: the Australian private school uniform code is unchanged, and remains as impractical and deleterious to children as ever. Then there's the hundred kilograms of shit they're carrying around in their enormous backpacks, and their secondary sports bags. Kids are three feet tall and carrying military tonnage, wearing dark blazers, in 40 degree heat.

School uniforms are good for me, though, because when the kids are acting like little shits on the bus it's easy to identify what school they're from, and leave a comment on the school's Facebook page about how ill-behaved their students are. So that's nice.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:39 PM on April 8, 2019 [7 favorites]

Also, this was an excellent essay, thanks for sharing.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:54 PM on April 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

That is really a great essay, and among other excellent things, offers some very interesting insights into A Picnic at Hanging Rock and its author:
The scene took many takes to complete, and when Lambert came down from the rock she walked away from the others and into the bush, still in her costume. “I was very emotional,” she told McCulloch. “It had all been too much, and I was ready to cry. At that moment, in the corner of my eye, I could see a lady making her way towards me. She was walking across these rough rocks, so I waited for her to navigate them. I realised that it was the author, Joan Lindsay. I went to hold out my hand, but she walked straight up to me, put her arms around me, and said in a very emotional way: ‘Oh Miranda, it’s been so long!’ She was shaking like a leaf. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I said very politely, ‘It’s me, Joan; it’s Anne. It’s so nice to meet you.’ But she dismissed this with a wave of her hand. She just said ‘Miranda’ again and clung to me, so I embraced her back… To her, I really was someone she had known, somewhere in time.”
It's hard to escape the conclusion that Joan Lindsay herself had a lost child back in her memory somewhere, and that it is indeed up to the reader to decide whether it's fiction or not, because the author cannot make up her mind.
posted by jamjam at 6:46 PM on April 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

This was a great read! I ended up making more sense of the Australian film ‘Walkabout’ after reading this. There is much else to think over in this article.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:15 PM on April 8, 2019

I can't believe it's 7 years since Jill Meagher died.

For some reason the lost children that I knew of growing up were boys, or mixed groups - the Beaumont children were the ones my mother grew up with and told us about, as a 9-year old girl who would have been frequently leading younger siblings around when they disappeared, and most prominent in my memory was Jaiden Leskie (I had to look up his name) and Daniel Morcombe.

I was also a little surprised that she didn't mention the lost child Aboriginal stories as well

She not only didn't mention it, she explicitly talks about "lost children stories" being a white Australian thing (" The scholar Elspeth Tilley has observed that all lost-child stories employ what she calls “the white-vanishing trope”: they begin with a white character")- it seems like an awkward note in a paragraph explicitly about dealing with being colonizers, I'd rather see it phrased as "all lost children stories by white Australians"?

But my big takeaway was damn, a mother who wouldn't let her cross the street alone and a separated dad with anger issues who left her to watch Picnic at Hanging Rock at 8 years old: hoo boy, there's a childhood.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:52 AM on April 9, 2019

The weaving of her own narrative into the expository is really well done. I was relieved when she developed her thesis around disappearing white girls and then dismantled it. I was getting antsy reading several sections with ‘what about aboriginal losses!’

She outs her thesis’s gaps around the records of indigenous losses and their relative cultural invisibility, about what happened to the colonised, the local women of this apparently frightening, inscrutable landscape, and tries to incorporate texts that fill these gaps. She shifts the colonisers’ fears of landscape (a common Australian trope of the mysterious bush) with the toxic masculinity of colonisers being the cause of this fear.

“... This story has always struck me as one of the least repressed or allegorical examples of the Australian Gothic. It spells out the consequences of our actions quite plainly. It makes visible our ghosts. The unspoken flip side to the stories we tell about particular lost white girls and women is the totalizing violence that has been wrought upon indigenous people, particularly indigenous women, since the English arrived in Australia more than two hundred years ago. These were the women left out of the folklore, the women with no names, the lubras like the one Annie Baxter caught her husband making into his mistress behind a shed....”
posted by honey-barbara at 5:16 AM on April 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

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