Aboriginal family history, tragedy and satire in Thea Astley’s “It’s Raining in Mango”

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.

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“Happiness”, by Katharine Susannah Prichard

“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”.

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Recurring themes in Australian Literature to 1950

Contrasts between the city and the bush, the rich and the poor, and insiders versus outsiders

Australian literature, from British colonisation through to 1950 covers a large body of work and genres. Such a selection may include diverse subject matter such as convict settlement, the gold-rush, nationalism and federation, feminism, larrikinism and the effects of European contact with Aboriginal people, yet among these works a common thread of contrasts can be discerned. In particular, the contrasts between city and bush life, the rich and the poor, and insiders versus outsiders are themes that recur continually in the literature and have been employed widely by writers as a means of commenting on and documenting Australian society and attitudes towards national identity, race and gender.

The contrasts between the city and the bush are a common and recurring theme in Australian literature. According to Gary Clark, “engagement with the environment is a pervasive presence in Australian literature” (429), so it is unsurprising that comparisons of the natural landscape to the urban environment are one way in which this contrast is made. In addition to this, the city is compared with the bush via the different lifestyles, attitudes and values of Australian people living in each (Seal, “The City or the Bush”). These comparisons can be found in the works of Henry Lawson, A.B. Paterson, Miles Franklin, Katherine Susannah Prichard and Kylie Tennant.

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