The eleven writers whose visits Susannah Fullerton has chosen to discuss in her book 'Brief Encounters' came from a sense of adventure, to make money or to ‘tell the colonials how’ to manage their lives.
Brief Encounters - Literary Travellers in Australia 1836 - 1939
Why did writers visit Australia in the years between Charles Darwin’s visit in 1836 and H G Wells in 1939? The eleven writers whose visits Susannah Fullerton has chosen to discuss came from a sense of adventure, to make money or to ‘tell the colonials how’ to manage their lives. Sometimes with all three aims, at least vaguely at the back of their minds. How did their time in Australia affect their writing? Are we, as Australians, the same people as we were then? If we have changed, how have we changed in that time? Do the opinions of long dead writers have any relevance to us today? These are hard questions to answer.
Fullerton provides a brief biography and a small example of the work of each author. This biography indicates which of them were here mainly out of curiosity such as Agatha Christie, and RL Stevenson. Mark Twain came on a lecture tour to make money, so that he could pay off his debts. Anthony Trollope came to see his son, and to write a travel guide. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and HG Wells came out to convert the colonials to their particular ideology. All these people had their own agenda, some were more successful than others in finding health, adventure or money. DH Lawrence, like his character Somers from Kangaroo, found simplicity and peace. Most of them used their experience in Australia in some way that we can see in their writing, sometimes positive, more often it seems, they were ambivalent about this new country and its people. Australians in books written by these travelers are likely to be crude or self-satisfied. The society in Australia was too egalitarian for their taste.
Charles Darwin was the first of the adventurers whose voyage Susannah Fullerton writes about. He was on his Beagle voyage. When he published The Origin of Species in 1859 he uses Australian fossils as examples of diversification. In science, changes to the biological paradigm are not just local they are worldwide, and in this instance, his book shattered world views and has changed society.
It is interesting to speculate about the effect of these visitors to Australia. Do Writer’s Festivals, the modern but probably easier, equivalent of Jack London’s voyage alter our perception of our place in the world? Does a visit with all the publicity inherent in it, by expatriates such as Robert Hughes or Germane Greer do any more than sell a few extra books? Are any of us, as readers likely to change our behavior because of a visit by luminaries such as Al Gore?
Susannah Fullerton’s account of early visitors to our country is interesting in itself. Importantly, though, she uses the words of early literary visitors to show that Australia was developing a distinct national character, admirable in some aspects, less so in others. And, in doing so she invites us to contemplate our present society.
Literary Travellers in Australia 1836 - 1939
By Susannah Fullerton
Format: Paperback Book
Number of pages: 416
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia