David Malouf’s The Great World uses the lives and family history of the protagonists, Digger Keen and Vic Curran, to investigate aspects of Australian history and society before, during and after World War II. The place of Australia and Australians within the world at large and the Asia-Pacific region is a broad concern of the novel, yet this is examined through the lens of the personal history of Digger, Vic and their families. The reader’s understanding of Digger and Vic as men achieves great depth through a detailed examination of their childhood and relationships with their parents; in addition, the relationship between Vic, his adopted parents and his estranged son Greg illustrate the toll that his early childhood and war experiences end up having upon his future.
The history of the Laffey family, as told in Thea Astley’s It’s Raining in Mango,
intersects with that of Bidiggi and his descendants, beginning with young George and Bidiggi’s friendship in the 1870s and ending in the 1980s with Will’s friendship to both Charley and Billy Mumbler. The tragedy underlying Australia’s colonisation begins early in the book with the slaughter of Aboriginal people, continues with the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families, and concludes with the unfair treatment of Aboriginal people by police, bartenders and the violent fight instigated by members of the general community. Astley’s depiction of these events forms a biting satire upon the treatment of Aboriginal people and shows that while many things have improved over time, many of the underlying racist attitudes have not, and damage from the past reverberates through the generations and into the future.
The period from 1930 to the 1960s was one of rapid change and maturation for Australian literature, dictated primarily by the economic, political and social turmoil caused by events both globally and locally. The changing social and political landscape resulted in varied literary responses, including the socialist realism that emerged during the Great Depression, the influences of modernism and vitalism during the same era, and nationalism during and following World War II. The Cold War period saw an unprecedented level of political influence in the literary community, so these decades brought diversity, growth, challenges and opportunities to Australian literature. Literature’s social value was challenged by political events and anti-intellectualism, yet in some sense these hindrances also encouraged new developments to occur. The journey towards a more diverse and autonomous literature is one that occurred as Australia’s political and cultural values and institutions were also in flux. Australian literature emerged from this period with a critical view of society, increased study within the universities and a new level of global recognition, which helped to assuage Australia’s cultural cringe.
“Happiness” is a story told from the perspective of an elderly Aboriginal woman, focusing on the relationship of both settlers and native people towards each other and the land in outback Australia. Katharine Susannah Prichard was a founding member of the Communist Party of Australia and her novel Coonardoo is regarded as one of the first realistic and detailed portrayals of Aboriginal people in Australian Literature (Burchill). Prichard’s Marxism included a sense that human well-being depends upon our relationship to the earth (Barker 43), but it is her vitalism which is the most apparent influence in “Happiness”.
“Short-Shift Saturday” is narrated by a mine worker named Bill, who has moved to a gold mining town for work during the Great Depression. Casey writes from Bill’s first person perspective, providing a sympathetic view of the protagonist and demonstrating the negative social effects of the Depression on working people. The story was first published in 1937 following the Depression, but clearly reflects on Casey’s own experiences working in the Kalgoorlie goldmines during the Depression era, where despite widespread unemployment across Australia, the mining industry remained prosperous (Robertson 438). “Short-Shift Saturday” is a definitive example of social realism in Australian literature in this period, with Casey focusing on the harsh realities faced by Bill, his inability to cope, and the growing distance between him and his wife, thus exposing a wider social crisis.