Salt-lakes and Swamps: Michael Meehan's Australian Environments

Colloquy 12:59-74 (2006)

The representation of landscape has been an important part of Australian literature, and the imagined Australian character has partly been constructed relative to interactions with the natural world. Often, the land has been framed against an idealised European landscape, and depicted in anthropomorphised terms, as being harsh and unforgiving. In keeping with the idea of landscape as important, Michael Meehan's first two novels, The Salt of Broken Tears and Stormy Weather, have rural Victoria as a setting and character. 1 Though both stories are set in the Mallee, one depicts a world of heat, dust and salt, whereas the other is an account of one day in the small town of Towaninnie on which the rain is unceasing. A major symbol of the first is the salt-lake, and of the second, the fecund greenness of the rabbiter's swamp. This paper will examine the way these two disparate environments affect the novels' characters and influence the narrative, and what both novels suggest about Australians' relationship with their environment. I will study the novels in the light of Lawrence Buell's thought, from The Environmental Imagination, and his definition of what constitutes an environmental text. 2 I will argue that an environmental text allows the reader to conceive of the natural environment in a less anthropocentric way. This is not to claim, as some in environmental writing do, that such texts, or any texts, can lead the reader to bridge the subject/object division. The two Meehan novels represent the Australian natural environment in very different ways and I will look at each separately before concluding
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